Is 2022 the year to launch your own firm?

19 January 2022 By Jerome Doraisamy

Lawyers Weekly spoke with four award-winning and nominated professionals about whether this year is the right time for others to consider venturing out on their own.

According to Crossover Law Group founder and principal Marial Lewis, there is “no better time for lawyers to launch their own law firms than now”.

Ms Lewis – who last year won the Migration Law category at the 30 Under 30 Awards and has been a finalist for nine other Lawyers Weekly awards – said that the market is “booming” for multiple practice areas.

“There is a much-needed demand for savvy lawyers and clients always look for better law firms and models that combine excellent legal knowledge, technology and true focus on client’s serviceability,” she posited.

Advertisement
Advertisement

RTI Consultants founder and director Rebecca Murray “absolutely” agreed that now is the time for lawyers to venture out on their own, if they so wish.

“If not now, when?” she said.

Why now?

Ms Murray, who won the Sole Practitioner of the Year category at the 2020 Women in Law Awards, said that whenever someone feels the drive to start a law firm, they should feel encouraged to do so, and a new year beginning offers an optimal window for such vocational change.

“I don’t think anyone who starts a firm feels 100 per cent ready to do so, but they push past the fear and go for it,” she said.

PROMOTED CONTENT

“The pandemic has provided so much flexibility in terms of how lawyers can work and I think now is a great time to take advantage of this new world we are living in!”

MCC Advisory principal William McCullough, who was a finalist for the Sole Practitioner of the Year category at the 2021 Australian Law Awards, supported this, saying that the pandemic has shown that businesses are open to new ways of working in a world where relationships are more important than ever.

“The opportunity to access lawyering ‘done differently’ – whether it’s more responsive, flexible, cost-effective or otherwise – has become an attractive proposition for many businesses,” he surmised.

Katsoolis + Co principal Peter Katsoolis, who was also a finalist in last year’s Sole Practitioner of the Year category at the Australian Law Awards, added that there is “plenty” of work out there for those wanting to venture out.

“I think it’s a good time. Working through COVID-19 is challenging and there is much uncertainty. At times it feels relentless. But if you believe the time is right to launch your own firm and you have the necessary resilience, and infra- and support structures in place, then go for it,” he encouraged.

Factors working in your favour

A virtual office – now a mainstream option in a post-pandemic world – can be more cost-effective and safer to run, Mr Katsoolis remarked.

“It is location-independent. You can appear in Sydney, country Victoria and later in Western Australia all in one day. You can service more work, not less,” he said.

“As a sole practitioner, I have always been able to work flexibly and to deliver a highly individualised service to clients. My practice adapted to the new normal of the pandemic very efficiently. I do however have serious concerns for clients, particularly those in custody, and for counsel whose trial matters are not being reached and there continues to be mounting delays.”

Mr McCullough supported this, noting that lawyers “do not need a traditional law firm’s infrastructure, admin support and other overheads to run a successful practice”.

“IT providers to the legal industry have sensed this shift and have released products aimed at sole practitioners and smaller firms at reasonable rates. To the IT-savvy lawyer, the right IT solution increases the time available for productive work each day,” he said.

Ms Murray also surmised as much: “The removal of the burden of an office space has made starting up a firm more financially possible for many lawyers.”

Elsewhere, while the prospect of completing a practice management course if one holds a supervised practising certificate might be a burden for some, there are also many on-demand CPD and related training programs pertaining to leadership and business management that lawyers can consider on their own time, and complete online, Ms Lewis pointed out.

“Because of the pandemic, many services and courses are available more online which can speed things up. I would say take your time to do a thorough research to see what services that can help you run your practice from booking tools to e-signatures,” she suggested.  

For those with children or other carer responsibilities, the prospect of being your own boss is hugely appealing, Ms Lewis added.

“If you are a parent, having your own firm can remove pressure of working set hours during the day and a shift to focus on better client delivery and efficiency giving you a good combination between family life and work,” she said.

“This may sound hard with the pandemic, but many parents successfully executed it and I’m one of them.

“No regrets at all!”

Lessons to learn

Mr McCullough advised that new firm owners have a “firm, but flexible” three-year plan as to the direction of the emerging business.

“Consider whether you will take on employees, business partners or new practice areas. Be ready to decline work if it will not take your business in the right direction. Listen to your clients more than ever and be ready to adapt to your client’s needs,” he outlined.

Also, he continued, invest in your IT.

“Spend time trialling IT solutions (accounting systems, practice management, knowledge libraries, security solutions, etc.) to ensure they actually fit within your needs and your budget. If you are using cloud solutions, understand where and how your data is stored and have a plan in place if that solution goes down or suffers a security event,” Mr McCullough detailed.

“Finally, brush up on your financial literacy and ensure you know your way around your firm’s balance sheet and profit and loss accounts.”

Separately, new firm owners should be unafraid of diversifying away from their core areas of practice, Mr Katsoolis advised.

“Cherish your professional reputation. At the end of day, it’s all you’ve got – and cherish good support staff. Maintain a healthy support network in and out of the profession so you don’t get isolated. Try to maintain a healthy work/life balance especially when time is so much more elastic during the pandemic,” he said.

Ms Murray offered two key pieces of advice: one, that new firm owners should not fear failure.

“It will happen, because nobody is perfect. However, you will learn so much from that failure and pick yourself up and start over again,” she proclaimed.

Secondly, Ms Murray insisted that avoiding burnout would be paramount.

“In the first few years of starting a firm it is common to work until you drop but burnout is very detrimental to the success of a firm. Your firm can only flourish if you are well!” she said.

Excitement on the horizon

“Having lived for the past 20 years on the end of a phone, even when I’m in the shower or getting off a plane in Tokyo, the freedom and autonomy of being your own firm can sometimes feel like ‘a gaol on wheels’, to quote The Clash,” Mr Katsoolis reflected.

However, he stressed, it can also be “exciting and immensely satisfying”.

“I can take on pro bono and public interest matters at my discretion as well as help people in the music industry who could not otherwise afford legal services,” he noted.

Having your own firm, Ms Lewis submitted, means flexibility around one’s lifestyle rather than trying to fit one’s life around work.

“If you are burnt out or frustrated from your current workplace, having your own firm is a great way to practice the way you want, take on matters that interest you or develop a niche within your area of law, have autonomy and focus on what your values and ethics are,” she explained.

“Running your own firm can also mean learning about other aspects such as management, HR, marketing, social media, business development, etc., which can be exciting to dive in and fun for some lawyers to do besides legal work.”

Starting a firm comes with a lot of challenges, Ms Murray acknowledged, but also a lot of joy.

“I love knowing that I have helped a client through a rough patch and provided assistance at a time they needed it most. I also love the freedom of being able to take on work that I am passionate about and the ability to determine my day,” she detailed.

Other reflections

New and emerging firm owners “must be passionate” about their ventures, Mr McCullough warned, and be clear about what will set it apart from competitors.

“Starting your own firm is not without risk and there will be unexpected challenges,” he said.

“However, if you have a solid business plan and stay focussed, it will be well worth it.”

Finally, if lawyers are interested in the idea of starting their own firm but remain hesitant, Ms Lewis said, they should chat with someone who has done it and pick their brain as much as possible. Mr Katsoolis agreed: “After 20 years, I’m still learning. Don’t be afraid to ask for help.”

Moreover, Ms Lewis added, “do not compare your journey to others who had a firm for a few years or are already ahead. Think about why you want to do it, the pros and cons, what you need and then take the leap.

“Remember, you can take your firm at your own pace and grow it as you go. You do not have to feel pressured to be a huge success from day one. You got this!”

Ms Murray, on the other hand, pointed aspiring business owners to a Tony Robbins quote: If you can’t, you must. If you must, you can.

“I hope anyone thinking about starting a new firm in 2022 considers this,” she mused. 

Is 2022 the year to launch your own firm?
Intro image
lawyersweekly logo