Pop Quiz: Do You Have What It Takes To Start A Firm?

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I have often argued that that law schools do little to prepare graduates for dealing with the business of law — finance, practice management, client relations — that determines practice success. That puts the onus on new lawyers to do the preparation themselves, especially if they are starting a practice on their own.

Solo or small-firm lawyers need all the traits of an entrepreneur: motivation, acceptance of risk, resiliency, commitment, persistence. You may think you have these traits in abundance, but what do they really mean on a personal level if you want to run your own firm?

A new resource enables lawyers to get some definitive answers for themselves. The U.S. Small Business Administration now offers a self-test at http://web.sba.gov/sbtn/sbat/index.cfm?Tool=4, aimed at anyone interested in starting a small business.

The test will prompt you with questions and assist you in evaluating skills, characteristics and experience as they relate to your potential as an entrepreneur. Responses are scored automatically to create an assessment profile for how prepared you are to run your own business. And make no mistake: A law firm is a business.

These are just some of the key questions; consider for a moment how they relate to your own personal knowledge and inclinations:

  • Do you have support for your business from family and friends?
  • Have you ever taken a course or seminar designed to teach you how to start and manage a small business?
  • Have you discussed your business idea, business plan or proposed business with a business coach or counselor?
  • Do you have enough confidence in yourself and your abilities to sustain yourself in business if or when things get tough?
  • Are you prepared, if needed, to temporarily lower your standard of living until your business is firmly established?
  • Do you have a business plan for the business you are planning to start?
  • Do you know if your business will require a special license or permit and how to obtain it?
  • Do you know where to find demographic data and information about your customers?
  • Do you know how to compute the financial "break-even point" for your business?

If there is one running theme here, it's that the lawyer starting a firm must make a commitment to success. Expressing success in relative terms such as "more revenue" or "greater satisfaction" sets a subjective standard that is difficult to achieve.

The truly successful person wants and needs a target. To successfully start a firm, know what you want to do, who you want to be and how you will provide your clients with value.

Ask a coach or other independent person with knowledge of the profession, its requirements and the requisite skills of entrepreneurship. Ask this person to react to your analysis of your strengths, weaknesses and opportunities. Although such an analysis will be at least somewhat subjective, it is essential to help you understand if you have what it takes to start your own firm.

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