Five tips to start as an independent lawyer.
My first year as an independent lawyer just flew by. It was a special year with many highlights, many great clients, assignments and the icing on the cake: a nomination for the best independent lawyer of the year in the Netherlands (Dutch Independent Legal Award)!
Are you also thinking of starting for yourself as an independent lawyer? Then I have five tips for you.
Why I started Chao Legal
It had been an ‘itch’ for many years … entrepreneurship. I come from an entrepreneurial family. My parents are Chinese immigrants who left the Chinese countryside for the Netherlands in the 70s, which in itself was quite an undertaking. My parents are from a region in China (Wenzhou) known for its entrepreneurial people. Basically I grew up with entrepreneurship. However, I never dared to take the leap and chose the ‘safe side’ of employment in law firms and the corporate world. But after 12 years of employment, I could no longer resist my entrepreneurial ‘itch’ and I had to take action. There were many uncertainties, but I knew that if I did not take the leap of faith now, I would regret it later. After much consideration, I quit my job at a big law firm, and I registered my own law firm at the Chamber of Commerce and the Dutch Bar Association. Chao Legal was a fact!
5 tips to get you started as an independent lawyer
Do you want to be an independent lawyer as well? I can definitely recommend it! Based on my own experience, I want to give you the following tips:
Tip 1: Know yourself.
Know what your qualities are and where your interests lie. For example: I outsource my administrative and fiscal tasks, because my accountant can do this much faster and better than me. So it is worth the investment. This allows me to focus more on what I really like to do, and what I believe I am good at: legal advice and legal trainings.
Tip 2: Build your network.
Actively seek out other like-minded lawyers and entrepreneurial lawyers to share experiences, learn from each other and join forces. It is not only nice to meet other independent lawyers, but it can also lead to work, in the long run. Your personal/business network could be your best source of work, if you are patient and sincere (no one wants to listen to a sales pitch!). Make those lunch and coffee appointments, because you never know what comes out of it. Do not expect immediate results, but slowly build up your business relationships.
Tip 3: Prepare yourself, mentally and financially.
Be prepared that you may not be immediately fully booked once you start your own business, because this takes time. It also takes a while before money actually comes into your bank account. If you have done work in month 1, you can only invoice in month 2 and then you often only get paid in month 3 or 4. So give yourself a few months (around 6 months) to build up your practice. Start the entrepreneurial adventure if you have sufficient financial funds. You will have to make some investments in the beginning (for example for your website and training courses; see the following tip). You will have a better (and more relaxed) start of your business, if you can rely on your funds for a while.
Tip 4: Keep investing in yourself.
Give yourself a training budget and then use it. For example, I obtained a few privacy certifications at my own expense and followed a specialised IT law course (Grotius Informaticarecht). It was tough and expensive, but it was well worth it. Certifications demonstrate your expertise, and that can sometimes make the difference with a (potential) client. It also helps for your self-confidence that your legal knowledge is up to date.
Tip 5. Be visible, online and offline.
Although you may not get your client and assignments via social media, it is better to be visible, both online and offline. You do this to be (and stay) “top of mind” with your network, in case they need legal advice. Network drinks are certainly relevant, but with social media you will have a bigger reach. Therefore I believe in a combination of online and offline networking. Social media is suitable to demonstrate your expertise and share knowledge, so that your network knows for what topics they can approach you. So if you want to be known for your IT law expertise, just blog, vlog and/or speak about this topic. Just keep in mind who you are writing for, and adjust your language. It is important that you write about relevant, practical topics, and that you speak the language of your target audience.
Bonus tip 6: Just go ahead and follow those dreams.
It look a long time before I dared to take the step of entrepreneurship, and to be honest there is never really a “best time” or a “good time” to go for it. There will always be reasons not to do it, and to play it safe. But now that I have actually tasted entrepreneurship and have met so many inspiring people, I want more of it. For the coming years, I want to take further steps to realize my (other) dreams. I want to grow my business, and look at collaborations with other lawyers. I also want to give more presentations, legal trainings and coaching.
In my personal life, there are some vacations on my list (Iceland and North America). Besides my “normal” work, I also want to seriously work out (kickboxing and Zumba dance). It looks like it will be an active and inspiring year! Because life is more than just work and entrepreneurship, my bonus tip for you is: Prioritize realizing your (business and personal) dreams, like right now!
Do you want to know more about legal entrepreneurship, and have a nice cup of coffee/tea with it? Send me a message.