The true cost of starting your own practice

When you’re a newly minted attorney, the world seems yours for the taking. Through your hard work and perseverance, you are on the ground floor of an industry with a dizzying array of career options. But only one choice is for those who are truly daring, strong of will, and just a little bit crazy:

The choice to hang out your shingle from the get-go and open your own law office.

Law officeBefore you make that choice, however, there are some things you should understand about the challenges you would face. Listen to my advice, then decide whether this is truly the path for you.

The first challenge you will face is finding a location to set up shop. So many factors go into this choice that it is easily one of the toughest you will have to make. Rental cost, proximity to important places and easy accessibility should be your top priorities, but one factor that eager new attorneys can easily overlook is how far the office would be from their home. When you’re just getting started and clients are few and far between, it can be very tempting to just not go into the office at all. If you live a short distance away, then that temptation can be diminished.

The second challenge is the sheer amount of a financial commitment that starting your own law practice requires. You may even need to put up multiple months of rent at the beginning, putting more pressure on your already strained funds. Also not helping matters will be the cost of either physical copies of whatever books you will need or a digital subscription with one of the legal research companies out there. Add on to that the “hidden” costs of running your own business, which include everything from your Internet connection to printing supplies to banking fees. When you’re in a large firm, you have the security of knowing that someone else in the building is taking care of all that for you. When you strike out on your own, however, all of that becomes your responsibility.

Which leads to the final major challenge of opening a law office by yourself: not failing. And it’s probably the toughest of all because for the first couple of years, everything out there will be pushing you inevitably toward failure. Only through perseverance and strength of will, with a little bit of luck for good measure, can you even begin to hope to survive–let alone succeed. You’ll see clients who seemed so eager walk out your door for no reason. You’ll see former law-school classmates complaining about their hours but smiling about their paychecks. And you’ll see your friends making plans that you want to join in but you can’t quite justify leaving the office early for.

If you truly want to start your own law practice, know what you’re getting yourself into. This is what you will face, day in and day out, for so long as your shingle hangs. For those who manage to succeed, it can be an amazingly liberating and fulfilling career choice. For those who are merely surviving, it can be a perpetual strain on several aspects of one’s life. And for those who have failed, it can be a devastating setback that takes a long time to fully recover from.

But don’t let me talk you out of doing it, because this world could use some more risk-takers, and if you’ve stuck with me and my blog posts this long, Constant Reader, you just may be crazy enough to succeed.

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