Got what it takes to establish law as a business rather than a practice? 3 roles you need to master

Do you have what it takes to become a successful entrepreneur in law and make the law a business? Sure, we all practice law. But can you make law your business?

If you are serious about leaving big law, it is time to stop thinking simply knowing the technical aspects of the law, is enough to succeed. 

Unleashing the entrepreneur in you is critical to your success. And we are going to dig in and find your entrepreneurial-self.

My friend, your business can be a success. It can thrive. Businesses fail because they miss the three roles, I am about to show you.

See the business beyond your legal work: embrace your inner legal entrepreneur

As Peter Drucker puts it: 

“Entrepreneurship is neither a science nor an art. It is a practice.”

Many lawyers believe they are good lawyers so they will succeed in business as well. And when they set up their own company, they continue the work the same way as before: continuing the same career in a different setting. 

It might look like entrepreneurship, but it is self-employment. Why? They work in, and not on, their business.

If self-employment aligns with your goals, great. Chances are you are looking for something different. You want the business of your dreams. Successful, thriving rather than being self-employed without the guarantee of a steady paycheck.

The key to breaking this pattern is to break free from seeing yourself in your old role as a commodity lawyer. And start looking at your law as a business. It is time to start looking at the way you deliver your law, rather than the law itself.

The three roles of a lawyer-entrepreneur

When it comes to starting your business in law, there are three roles you need to learn.

Love a good read? Grab a copy of The E-Myth Revisited, by Michael E. Gerber. He described three different roles you must play and develop as an entrepreneur. All three of these hats are essential to entrepreneurship and running a successful business.

The good news is you already have the three roles inside you. There is no need to hire two new employees. All you need to do is unpack and nurture the three mindsets already inside you.

The first role: lawyer as a technician

This is the easiest role because it is where your journey will likely begin. In this role, you are a legal expert and a service provider. Playing the part you know best, helping customers with their legal needs.

Once you escape big law and start your own business you easily rely on familiar and safe ways of running your business. A day to day lawyer. You focus on the now and your survival. It may seem too scary to think about your customer needs or what would make sense for your business. For now, it is about you and you are not quite reaching the entrepreneurial level yet.

Traditional law firms operate on the manual work of lawyers. The business model of billable hours: exchanging time for money. (I was so happy when I finally rid my life of billable hours. You will be too.)

To make law a business, moving past this model is essential. Continuing to do everything yourself means the work controls you. You are not free to grow and nurture the other roles. You are too busy chasing more work.

Not very liberating or satisfying, is it? It is the exact model you are trying to leave behind when leaving big law.

I started my entrepreneurship this way. I jumped without a plan. For many moons, I focused on taking care of the assignments like a professional lawyer. Doing the same things I did before. Legal research, drafting contracts, negotiating and meeting customers. 

It was important to my clients, but not enough. Life was feast or famine and unpredictable.

There’s no need for you repeat the mistakes that I and so many newbie entrepreneurs have made. You don’t have to reinvent the wheel. You can start developing the other two roles right from the start and master running the law as business.

Workbook cover - 4 steps to start your business without leaving your day job

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4 steps to start your business without leaving your job

The second role: lawyer as an entrepreneur

Every successful business needs an entrepreneur! My friend, it is you.

One who has a vision, who thinks creatively, and brings energy to achieve the vision. The entrepreneur in you sees the future. It is the task and the duty of an entrepreneur to dream. Identify opportunities and seize them, as impossible as they first seem.

Without vision and direction, your business stays put and stagnates. Staying small, stuck in the patterns you already know.

An entrepreneur spends time on strategic work: listening to customers, exploring opportunities, creating new ideas. This is legal design applied to your legal business. Discovering the right problems and innovating new solutions, getting feedback and always learning. 

An entrepreneur is your inner-visionary. The entrepreneur is the one with the energy to push through and keep going when it gets tough. And it will, I have been there. Yet, I know you can do it. You are a smart woman.

The entrepreneur sees the business in your work. It moves outside looks at the big picture. All the nitty-gritty details of everyday work still exist. But your entrepreneur will not let them distract you from planning for a big future.

In my journey, I always knew I had the entrepreneurial side in me. Yet it took time to get it out and let it run the show now and then. Many times we, especially women, play it small. We keep hiding and not use our voice. I had ideas, but I did not value them, or I did not trust I had it in me to make them come true.

Then I decided to learn to be better. I read dozens and dozens of books on starting your own business. I used what I learned and put it into practice. It is something I do every day: reading and practicing. I love to learn and grow.

I also decided to ask for help. I have had a few great mentors to guide my way, strategically and mentally. I had all the information, yet I was worried I was doing something wrong. Was I focusing on the right things? Was I doing them in the correct order? I needed guidance to keep me grounded and reassured. I had many self-limiting beliefs I needed to resolve.

Getting in touch with your entrepreneur takes time and effort, but it is the best decision you will ever make. For your life and your business.

The third role: lawyer as a manager

Once you have found your technician and entrepreneur, it is time to find the manager. Your business needs a pragmatist. The manager who transforms the ideas of the entrepreneur into reality.

Your inner-manager makes plans, schedules and budgets. The manager creates structures and makes your operations efficient.

Without a plan and action, your vision is a dream. The role of a manager may seem boring, but it is as important as the other two roles. Routines and structures will carry you forward through the difficult times.

A word of caution. Do not confuse being a manager with being a leader.

You might think that managing: organizing and controlling stuff is enough. The manager only manages what already exists. Your entrepreneur must continue to stand outside your business and innovate. The manager can then put in place the innovations. This is growth, and it is limited only by the entrepreneur lawyer in you.

I was a great manager. If you gave me something to organize, I was all over it. I excelled. Once I decided to grow my entrepreneurial brain, the manager in me suffered a little. But I’m not sad, not one bit.

This was a great blessing. I had found if I tried to keep everything under my control, the possibilities I saw were also limited. When I dared to let go of control, I paved the way for new opportunities and new legal innovations. And then I called on my lawyer manager brain so those opportunities could come to life. (Because the lawyer-entrepreneur had left the building by then.)

It’s all beautifully connected. Can you see the harmony?

Law as a business combines all three roles

If you want to translate your law into business, you need to be active in all three of these roles.

Like a Japanese proverb says: 

Vision without action is a daydream. Action without vision is a nightmare.

All three roles are critical to your success, and you cannot focus on one. Otherwise, the other two suffer

You will also need new skills for yourself with the roles (like I did). The best news is everything is learnable. For you as a lawyer, your success in new business does not depend on knowledge and knowing things. You have mastered that already. Celebrate. You are a third of the way there.

Your success depends on your ability to focus on one thing at a time. The leap from big law to entrepreneurship requires you do the right things in the proper order. 

You will get the confidence you need to embark on your entrepreneurial path by starting before you are ready. What? How?

You start with small digestible steps. Grab this free resource to support you along the way.

I believe in you. You can do this. Chase your dream. And use your three hats to make it happen.

Workbook cover - 4 steps to start your business without leaving your day job

FREE WORKBOOK

4 steps to start your business without leaving your job

Image of Hannele Korhonen Legal Designer

Who’s writing?

Hi, I’m Hannele. I am an ex-corporate lawyer, legal designer, pioneer in legal tech, serial entrepreneur and blogger.  I am the founder and teacher in Lawyer’s Design School.

I’m here to teach you new skills and mindset of legal design to thrive in the future of law.

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