From Law Firm Associate to Entrepreneur

Leaving the law to start your own business? Learn more about the pros and cons of making such a jump.

What Should I Consider Before Leaving the Law to Start My Own Business?

Q: I am a mid-level associate in a large law firm. While I have received great training and a ton of responsibility here, I do not see myself as a law firm partner. The thought of starting my own company appeals to me because it would give me the opportunity to build something. Before I make this leap, I'd like to make sure that I'm going in with my eyes open. What have you found to be the major pros and cons of starting and running your own business? How did you know that it was time for you, personally, to make the transition out of the traditional law practice?

A: I knew it was time for me to leave when I realized that each day when I came to work, I found myself thinking of nothing other than the new business opportunity I was looking at. I felt my clients were not getting "Full Measure" from my time and that it was not fair to them for me to be so preoccupied. The other clear indication for me was that I was haunted by the fear that an opportunity was passing me by if I did not act soon. There was a short window of opportunity to jump on my idea, and a lot of work ahead. I knew if I did not act soon, I'd lose the opportunity.

As far as eyes open, it's hard to say. Major pros and cons for me were largely in my head. When you are working outside your normal support structure (the firm, the friends, the professional associations built up over the years), you need to be strong-willed and focused to make things happen. It is not easy to stay positive and focused when you are alone in the effort because you have been stripped of your normal safety net. Spouses can only help so much (they don't like a lot of whining) and kids don't really care much as long as you are happy. Best thing is to talk to others who have gone before you and pick their brain as often as possible....don't be bashful about asking the most basic of questions. Establish a mentor relationship with someone who has done what you are attempting.

What Does Being Your Own Boss Do to Your Stress Level?

Q: Do you find that you actually are under more stress as your own boss or less stress because you are able to control your workload?

A: Yes and yes! Life is full of stressors, both positive and negative, and self-employment offers lots of both. For me, though, the negative stress of having to drum up business and worry about costs and cash flow has always been outweighed by the good stress of being motivated to do my best, in my own way, and on my own schedule.

Is It Possible to Run a Business and Have a Life?

Q: Is it possible to have time for a family life, or a life outside of the office, when you are running a successful business?

A: Yes....but you have to work at it. My experience is that it is best to explain to spouse, significant other and any children, that you are beginning a venture that will change the way you spend time with them. Be as clear and as specific as possible. For example, on the issue of travel away from home, don't just say, "I'll be traveling from time to time." Instead say, I am going to Atlanta to meet with Coca-Cola, the people who make the pop you like to drink. Try to relate your travel to something in your loved ones' lives. It makes you being gone much more tolerable.

Second tip: use the technology available to you to keep close touch. Cell phones are great for immediate contact. I once interrupted a funding meeting to listen to the finishing moments of a crew race my daughter was participating in. The folks around the table got so interested in the narration, we put my other daughter on the speaker phone for a moment and everyone congratulated her on the race. It was fun and it made my daughter feel like I was interested in what she was doing (I was interested!) even though I was on the road. E-mail is also great.

When home, make an extra effort to let family know both the good and the bad of your daily life. My kids share my pain when something doesn't go right and they hear about it when things are good. I tell them we're all on a journey for which there is not much of a road map. But part of the fun is the discovery along the way.