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The Five M’s: 5 Things I Wish I Knew When Starting My Law Practice

If I could go back and speak to the young Raj launching his practice, there are so many things I would want to say.

I think I’d start with, what the f&%$ were you thinking?!

Actually, I do know what I was thinking. I was naively multiplying a billable rate by the number of hours in a week and thinking “I’m going to make a fortune!”… But as we all know, it ain’t that easy.

Anyway, to save you from some of the same pain, here are the top 5 most important nuggets of advice I’d give any lawyer who’s either interested in seeing Raj’s Greatest Fails, or maybe taking away a nugget or two.

1. MAKE a business, not a practice.

Like I said, when I started my practice, I assumed that I could hang a shingle, open my doors, and start making money. I was dead wrong.

In building a successful law practice there is a huge difference between practicing law and building a law business. The former is a service and the latter is a creating business entity that offers a service, which happens to be legal work. And unless you’re interested in being enslaved to clients that demand constant attention, I’d recommend the latter. Focus on the business.

It may seem like a subtle and insignificant difference now, but the implications are enormous. Don’t set out only to offer services to new clients. Set out to build a business.

2. MODEL other businesses (not practices) that work.

As a young attorney with my own practice, I wasted a lot of time mimicking other practices. Then I realized that most lawyers aren’t businesspeople. It’s no wonder why so many of their practices are financially unsustainable and mismanaged.

Don’t model other law practices. Find successful service-oriented companies and learn from their business models (noting that in the truly successful ones, the owners aren’t on the factory floor). The rules of business and economy are universal. Don’t be afraid to cross industry lines to find the very best methods and tactics of acquiring the right clients and increasing revenue.

3. Find a MENTOR.

90% of mistakes that young lawyers make in launching a practice could have been avoided if they had learned from someone else’s experience.

Find someone with experience that has built a successful business similar to what you want. Pay them for coaching for a season.

There is absolutely nothing more worth financially investing into than yourself and your business. The ROI you’ll see from educating yourself on business and management is far superior to any stock trade or tech startup seed round you can find.

My mom fled Hungary in the 50’s, leaving after the Soviets installed a post-War communist regime, divesting citizens of any property. My grandparents bribed the border guards with all they had - family heirloom jewelery they'd hidden - to let their four girls climb under the fence.

Mom always told me “the one thing that can never be taken from you is what you learn.” Her experience certainly different from ours, but it’s true. An investment in knowledge will always be with you.

4. MARKET wearing X-ray glasses.

Early on, it's tempting to sell your soul to get more clients. I remember offering all kinds of “ creative” (or just really stupid) payment structures to attract new clientele. (see more about this here) And it worked. New clients came. Unfortunately, they were all the wrong kinds of clients.

After a good percentage of those clients either wouldn’t pay, I realized that quality of client is far more important to the success and growth of my business than quantity of client.

When you market, market with a target. Define your perfect client profile (read more on this) and wear X-ray glasses that only see them when selling your services.

Not an ideal client? Leave them out.

5. MASTER your business.

Many believe mastering your business is about learning to manage your business well. Actually, it’s just the opposite. When one masters their business, they no longer have to manage their business.

Mastering your business is about making it predictable and independent. It means streamlining systems and operations (predictability) to make it run with no dependence on one individual (independent).

And why is mastery so important to your practice? Because it’s the key to creating a business that serves you and your ideal lifestyle, rather than a machine that demands to constantly be served.

It can be done. I did it, other attorneys have done it, you can do it.

Raj Jha