The following is adapted from The New Law Business Model, Revealed book, by Ali Katz, New Law Business Model Founder—find it on Amazon.
Other than parenting and marriage, entrepreneurship is the greatest personal growth practice there is, and if you see your law practice as a “dojo of personal growth” you’ll be extremely rewarded.
As lawyers, we are extremely fortunate to have the ability to offer services that everyone needs. So with the right business structures of a legal service you love to deliver, intake and enrollment structures, and powerful education of your community, you can rapidly grow your law practice into a business. The only thing standing in your way is whether your personal growth can keep up with your capacity for professional growth.
Maybe you’re a natural-born leader and you don’t have to do much growing in order to be the captain of your own metaphorical ship. In that case, great, you’re ahead of the game. Many lawyers, however, are great at being lawyers, but don’t necessarily know how to lead a business. This is where personal growth comes in.
Being a business leader requires you to be able to see a clear vision, make investments to support that vision, enroll others in your vision while at the same time supporting those you enroll to speak up for their own vision so you can support full alignment and agreement.
As you shift from solo practitioner to hiring your first team member to leading a whole staff, and maybe even training and leading other attorneys to work in your office, you get to invest at greater and greater levels, growing into a leader who can earn more and invest more.
Remember this: when you have a million-dollar-a-year practice, you’re writing checks or paying bills each month in the neighborhood of $60,000 or more each month.
My guess is you’ve never had the experience of moving so much money through your bank accounts, and as you can imagine, this can be quite scary at first. The way you handle this fear will either grow you or contract you. And, if you want to grow, you’re going to need to learn to face these fears and move through them, expansively.
I had learned leadership from my dad (who had a lot of charisma, but limited leadership skills) and the law firm partners at a major law firm, some of whom were really great, but others who were stuck in negative and unproductive patterns that I’m sure we all know well.
I discovered that grouchy, ungrateful, demanding, and perfectionistic was how I dealt with fear, and these ways of being didn’t result in me becoming a lawyer I loved to be.
Employees want structure, routine, clear metrics of success, regular reviews to know how they are doing, and to feel as if they are part of a winning team.
That requires you to become a person who can provide all of that, and to let go of any parts of yourself that feel as if you are superior because you went to law school. You need to let go of the part of you that believes your employees should be grateful just because you’re signing their paychecks. You need to become a person who can set clear metrics of success, communicate them clearly, and manage your emotions when things are getting scary financially.
Now, listen, I didn’t know any of this when I was starting out in business. In fact, it’s probably the piece of the business puzzle that took me the longest to learn. I don’t think I fully came to understand the meaning of leadership until just a couple of years ago.
When I sold my law practice, I didn’t realize how important leadership was, which was why I sold it to a guy who had never run a million-dollar-law practice, never led a team, or even had any employees at all. So, no surprise: within six months, he handed the law practice back to me and said he couldn’t run it; I could either take it back or he would close it down.
That was my first lesson in learning that being a million-dollar practice owner is not just about perfecting the systems, it’s about who you become in the process of growing the practice.
To me, leadership is the ability to see the big picture, set a clear directional compass to get there, and then manage your emotions and stay calm and focused and in appreciation, even when the shit’s hitting the fan along the journey.
Unless you’ve built a successful, sustainable, and thriving business before or been an executive in a company, you probably have little or no experience with any of this. You haven’t been taught to find, hire, and train teams. You haven’t learned how to manage your emotions when you’re scared. Perhaps you’ve picked up leadership ideas from other lawyers—including the flaws I saw in myself and many lawyers around me.
We lawyers can be impatient and intimidating. We tend to have some degree of a superiority complex, while at the same time we may feel deeply insecure. Some of us (raising my hand here) went to law school to prove that we were good enough, or that we were smart enough. We went because we like to be in control. None of this is conducive to leading people to do their best. To build a great team, you must be a great leader.
You can learn how to act with confidence and maturity when you encounter those new and potentially unexpected opportunities, responsibilities, and obstacles. Running your own practice is not just an opportunity for financial growth; it is also—perhaps even primarily, in some ways—an opportunity for personal growth. You just have to embrace every chance you get to learn.
For more advice on opportunities for personal growth in running your own law practice, you can find The New Law Business Model on Amazon.