Michael F. Brennan is a busy man. Not only is he an attorney of a virtual law practice operating in Wisconsin, Illinois and Minnesota but he recently wrote Solo out of Law School. His book is probably the 1st book you should read in determining if opening a solo law practice is right for you and your life. Of course, ours would be the 2nd in helping you start one!
Much of running a solo law practice is having the right mental attitude and focus. The author is honest about what takes to maintain a practice and how to handle set-backs, self-doubt, and what other people think.
We asked Michael Brennan about the keys to his success and what he learned through the process.
Q. There are probably several, but what is one thing you wish someone had told you before opening up your own firm?
A. That it doesn’t happen overnight. Sure, plenty of people will tell you that, so to speak, but when it comes around to telling you how long it really took them to build a sustainable firm, they fudge the truth. Building a firm isn’t easy, and anyone who tells you that it’s going to be all unicorns and rainbows in a year, or eighteen months max, he’s lying to you and probably lying to himself. By that point you will probably have an idea of whether you’re going to be able to realistically make it. But, it takes years to build a firm to a point where you can really tell yourself you have made it.
Q. What made you open up your own practice?
A. When I was in law school I always looked at the practice of law as something that can make a difference for people, but I was never too fond of the business of law. I wanted to mold a career into something I wanted it to be rather than simply chase a paycheck. It was too east to look around and see others in the profession who worked twelve-hour days, missed their kids’ events, sacrificed vacations and gave up on seeking any sort of desirable work-life balance. That wasn’t for me. Spending time with my family, working with the type of clients that interested me and being able to challenge myself were important to me. Starting my own firm and steering the ship was a way to give me those things.
Q. One point that you make is that you should not be afraid of failure and that if you don’t make it in solo practice it doesn’t preclude you from other opportunities and working for other firms in the future. Can you expand on that?
I always like to think of things in the context of worst case scenarios – not in a dark and depressing way, but quite the opposite. When I approach a new challenge that intimidates me I try to ask myself what the absolute worst possible outcome could be if I simply 100% completely failed at it. The reason I do that is because it gives me perspective on the significance (or many times, the lack thereof) of that challenge in the grand scheme of my life.
When it comes to starting a law firm, there is no doubt plenty of fear and pessimism, even for the more well prepared. What happens if I don’t make any money? What happens if I completely screw up a case? What if the phones just don’t ring? What if I just don’t have what it takes to sustain my own firm?
All of those are very real fears, but stepping back and thinking about the answers to those questions makes the fears suddenly less substantial. So what if you don’t make any money and have to close your firm? Obviously that will be incredibly disappointing, but the sun will still rise. You’ll still have family and friends. You’ll still have a professional degree and the knowledge you gained, not only about the practice of law, but about running a business. So, in the absolute worst case scenario, you learned a bunch and now may need to put that knowledge to good use working for someone else.
I think when you look at what the worst case scenario is before tackling something as substantial as starting a law firm it helps you keep perspective on how that decision fits in with your life and enables you to approach it with peace of mind knowing that, even if you completely failed at it, you’re really not worse off than you were at the beginning of the journey.
Solo out of Law School by Michael F. Brennan, Esq. can be found on Amazon.com.
Want more tips and advice for your awesome solo law practice? Check out Law Office on a Laptop, Second Edition: How to Set Up Your Own Successful Law Mobile Law Practice.