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Make the Business Fund Itself

Make the Business Fund Itself

Sheila Dee

I went to law school in 2008 just as the U.S. economy, and the legal job market, tanked. By the time I graduated in 2011, legal jobs were hard to come by if you weren’t at the top of the class. It seemed a lot of my classmates were taking any job they could get. Prior to law school, I was a mental health therapist, specializing in treating adults with HIV. I went to law school because I was unhappy with my previous career. I felt like I was trapped in my office all day, listening to my clients talk about their problems, and the only thing I could do was listen and make suggestions. I decided I needed a career change to a job that let me be more hands-on in the problem-solving process. I wasn’t going to continue to have jobs that didn’t make me happy after I graduated.

I knew early on that I didn’t want to work at a traditional law firm where I’d be expected to work 80 hours a week on projects and cases that I didn’t care about. During law school, I became somewhat of an outspoken blogger with my website, The Undeniable Ruth. I suspect many firms might have been afraid of how my weekly posts would affect the company. I definitely wasn’t going to give up the blog that I loved for a job.

I met a lawyer, Sam Glover, who is an American Bar Association Legal Rebel, while I was a law student. He told me that there was no reason not to go solo right out of law school. It would have been nice to work for a year at a firm to learn some of the nuts and bolts of practicing law and to make myself a little more financially stable, but that opportunity didn’t present itself. I made the decision to go into business for myself in October 2011, even before I had my bar exam results. I was admitted to the State Bar of Arizona in December 2011, and opened Carter Law Firm in January 2012. It’s a law firm in Phoenix that specializes in intellectual property, internet law, and business formation and contracts.

One of the best pieces of advice I got when I opened my firm came from fellow lawyer, Rachel Rodgers. She told me to make my law firm fund itself. I took her advice to heart and became very frugal with my business expenses. If I can’t afford something, I don’t buy it. Here are some of the ways I keep my overhead expenses down.

  • My law firm is required to have a mailing address, which is public information. I wasn’t going to use my home as my address because I don’t want my clients to know where I live. I looked into virtual offices and mailing services, and I ended up renting a mailbox at the UPS Store near my house. I could rent a mailbox there for seven months for the same amount that it would have cost me to use a virtual office for one month.
  • I use Google Voice for my phone number. It’s a free service and it automatically forwards my calls to my cell phone.
  • The State Bar of Arizona has conference rooms that dues-paying members can use for free. I frequently use them to meet with clients. I also like to meet with clients using Google Hangouts for short meetings.
  • I try to attend free networking events. A lot of groups let you attend one or two events before they make you join, and there are a lot of events for businesses where there’s no charge to attend. I don’t like to spend money on a membership until I know I’m going to get a good return on my investment.

I lived like a poor college student before I opened my business, and I continue to live like a poor student to minimize my living expenses. I realized early on that every dollar I don’t spend on frivolous things is an extra dollar I can put towards what I really want.

Transitioning from being a student and working for a company to being my own boss has been a huge adjustment. My days have very little structure, and there’s no such thing as a typical day for me. I rarely take a day off, and it’s not uncommon for me to not know what day it is when I wake up in the morning. I have long to-do lists but not many deadlines I have to meet. I have no external pressure on me to get work done, so there’s no one to stop me from procrastinating on my work and watching YouTube all day. I counteract that by setting goals for myself every day, and I can’t go to bed until they’re done.

The majority of my day-to-day activities involve marketing my firm. I market my firm by writing blog posts every week, participating in discussions on LinkedIn groups, writing guest articles for websites and magazines, speaking at webinars and seminars, and by being active on Facebook, Twitter, and Google+. There’s usually a bigger time lapse than I like between when I meet a prospective client to when they become a paying client. When I’m feeling stressed about finding clients, I try to remember the advice I got from my friend Eric Mayer. He said when you open a law firm, you need six months of money and twelve months of patience. Seeing lawyers like him succeed in opening their firms reminds me that most solo practices who are willing to do the work make it.

Opening a law firm is stressful and it comes with a lot of uncertainty. I often wonder where my next client will come from, but so far the bills are getting paid. On the flip side, I have a tremendous amount of professional freedom. I’ve been able to begin writing my first ebook and to travel whenever I feel like it. I work most days from my home office in jeans and t-shirts, and I have the freedom to do things like take a half day off to participate in a flash mob.

Going into business for myself has definitely been an adventure, but every day I feel like I’m doing the footwork that will eventually turn into the professional life I’ve always wanted.

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Carter-Law-Firm-PLLC/151220761659953

LinkedIn: http://www.linkedin.com/in/ruthcarter

Twitter: https://twitter.com/#!/rbcarter

Law firm website: http://carterlawaz.com/

My personal blog: http://www.undeniableruth.com/

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