Why Law Firms Fail: 8 Things Unsuccessful Solo Attorneys Do

By Joleena Louis - March 9, 2016
Why Law Firms Fail: 8 Things Unsuccessful Solo Attorneys Do

In this week’s edition of Things I Wish I Knew, solo attorney Joleena Louis explains why law firms fail and shares her tips for being a successful solo attorney.

Solo attorneys put a lot on the line when they decide to start their own practice, including money, reputation, and personal relationships. There is a lot of risk– and fear–associated with hanging a shingle because there are many reasons why law firms fail and solos must work hard to sustain their practice.

Although there is no formula for success, there are things you can do to make sure you maintain a high level of quality service, work product and lifestyle as a solo attorney. Avoiding certain habits will contribute to success.

Here is a list of 8 things unsuccessful solos are guilty of doing: 

1.  Accept less than what they are worth

Solo attorneys lacking the confidence to assert their worth is a big reason why law firms fail. It’s a mistake many solos make because they’re too focused on bringing in new business.

Solo attorneys lacking the confidence to assert their worth is a big reason why law firms fail Click To Tweet

Don’t let the desire to close a client cause you to discount yourself or your services. If you don’t value your services enough to charge what you are worth, then your clients won’t value your services enough to pay you.

Successful solos stand by their fees and only offer discounts based on strategic parameters that they decide in advance. For example, I often decide not to charge a consultation fee to clients who were referred to me by other attorneys as a gesture of goodwill.

If you want to be successful, you have to be willing to lose the business of people who can’t or won’t pay your full fee.

2.  Make Excuses

Unsuccessful solos make excuses. They are afraid to admit when they don’t have an answer and they fail to take responsibility for their mistakes.

Admitting when you’re wrong helps you build a reputation as someone who is honest and trustworthy, which both your clients and colleagues will appreciate. Lawyers who value transparency over pride are the first to be thought of when someone is making a referral.

3.  Fail to plan

Have you ever heard the Benjamin Franklin quote, “if you fail to plan, you are planning to fail?” It’s especially true in small firm practice.

Unsuccessful solos don’t realize that in order to have a good day, week or year, they must have a plan. They start each day not knowing what needs to be done, they don’t know how to optimize their time and they often miss deadlines. This results in poor work quality and unhappy clients.

4.  Let negative people influence their decisions

Like many others, I have always had people tell me that my goals and dreams were not achievable, including becoming a lawyer and starting my own solo law practice. In high school, one of my own teachers told me that people like me didn’t go to law school and I needed to choose a more “realistic” career. If I had allowed any of this negativity to influence my decisions, then I wouldn’t be where I am today.

Not everyone will see or understand your vision. To be truly successful, you have to fight for your dreams even when everyone around you is saying you can’t do it.

You have to know what success will look like for you so you are not influenced by naysayers. It also helps to be honest with yourself and recognize who in your life is being negative and unsupportive. Then seek out mentors who will help build your confidence and offer you encouragement.

5.  Sacrifice the quality of their brand  

A fundamental reason why law firms fail is branding that lacks attention to detail. Unsuccessful solos don’t realize that everything they do reflects on their business and their brand. For example, they fail to recognize that the quality of their office or virtual office matters because the physical office space they meet clients in should match their brand.

A fundamental reason why law firms fail is branding that lacks attention to detail Click To Tweet

Other brand blunders they tend to make include having incomplete social profiles, sloppy websites, not wearing the right professional attire and not communicating to clients in a timely manner. Remember that everything about you– from your online presence to your physical appearance– contributes to your reputation.

Successful solos are dedicated to maintaining an image of success because that is how they attract and close new business. They won’t sacrifice quality to save time or pinch pennies because they realize the extra attention to detail helps set them apart and satisfy clients.

6.  Limit themselves

When you’re a solo attorney, don’t worry too much about playing it safe because nothing about running your own practice is as safe, comfortable or secure as you want it to be. Unsuccessful solos are too afraid to embrace the risk of small firm practice, which prevents them from thinking big.

On the other hand, successful solos don’t doubt they can attract high-end clients. They don’t think twice about raising their billable rate if they know they’re adding more value. Successful solos know there is no limit to what they can do with preparation, planning and hard work.

7.  Stop learning

Unsuccessful solos forget to keep learning. No matter how long you’ve been practicing or how good you think you are, there will always be things you don’t know or things you can do better. Taking the time to teach yourself new skills or even learn more about yourself will make you a better, more successful lawyer.

For example, corporate attorney, Mark Guay, was able to transform his legal career and find success by simply doing some deep reading and making an effort to learn more about life and people.

“I used what I learned to gain insight into life’s roadblocks, both personal and business.” Guay said.

8.  Let failure stop them

While it’s important to understand why law firms fail, you must also understand that not all setbacks are complete failures. Sometimes you’ll learn more from your mistakes and your challenges than from your accomplishments.

Failure is a key part of success and if you haven’t failed at anything, then you are not taking big enough risks.

It is understandable for solos to naturally avoid risk because lawyers are trained and hired to mitigate, if not remove, risk. Take too much risk on a client matter, and you may be subject to a malpractice claim. However, you must learn how to separate out the “business risk” of running a law practice from the “legal risk” in representing clients because these are not the same.

Successful solos understand that taking more risks as a business owner and experiencing possible failures are the best opportunities for them to experience growth and change in their law practice.

Most of the time you have to try something to know if it will work. Once you fail and learn the lesson, you know how to do it better next time.

What else would you add to the list?
Organize for Success

About Joleena Louis

Joleena Louis is a matrimonial and family law attorney at Joleena Louis Law, a firm she founded after leaving a boutique matrimonial firm in Brooklyn. Joleena is a client in Law Firm Suites’ Financial District location. Her weekly blog series Things I Wish I Knew... explores her thought process and experiences in her transition from small law firm employee to successful solo practice entrepreneur. Follow Joleena on Twitter.

3 thoughts on “Why Law Firms Fail: 8 Things Unsuccessful Solo Attorneys Do

  1. The thing I really don’t like about this article is how the money thing is first. Biggest failures I’ve had using attorneys is when they are focused on the money and all the other stuff comes after that. If as an attorney you don’t feel u can add or help, why sign on to a persons payroll and often at as high a dollar values as possible. Rather, one can be results-focused building a good and not bad reputation and the money follows. That’s a long term plan!

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