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You’ve Got to Stay the Course

Young solo lawyers sometimes come to me and ask about growing their practices. I’m oddly enthusiastic about helping them (the fact that I’m enthusiastic about anything always surprises me).

They don’t listen.

They do what they were going to do regardless of what I tell them.

I’m not sure why I keep telling them the same stuff when I know they won’t do it.

I suppose they don’t really intend to listen to me. They’re probably not really seeking advice. They probably just want to meet me and get me to refer business to them.

That’s fine, I suppose. I’m pretty sure I didn’t listen to anyone when I was a young lawyer, so why should they?

I give them my great talk about finding new clients and building referral relationships. They head out and do whatever it is they were going to do and pretty much ignore my advice (of course, a few of them listen and read this blog, so I’ll admit to a few successes).

Then, about a year later, I check to see what has happened to them (mostly, I never hear from them again after the first meeting). Why do I check? Because I have a habit of looking at my calendar from a year ago (in order to confirm my belief that nothing ever changes), which gets me curious. Then I go Google the young lawyers to see what happened.

Most of them have (1) given up their practice and gone to work for someone else or (2) switched practice areas to something else and started over on building a different type of practice.

Why did they give up?

They ran out of money, energy, or motivation. Mostly, from what I can tell, they think they gave it a good shot and it didn’t work, so they felt that they had to shift gears.

When I was a young lawyer, the word was that it took two years to grow a practice from zero to struggling. No one expected to buy a BMW, except those hired by big firms, right away or anytime soon. That’s not the case now.

Many of the young lawyers I talk to expect to earn big dollars right away.

That doesn’t happen in the real world.

You’ve got to stay the course. It takes time. It takes at least a couple of years to get going.

Think about it. If you need referral relationships, and nearly everyone does, then you need time to build those connections.

At two marketing lunches per week (you could do more, but most won’t), you can only go to lunch 200 times in two years. If you have lunch every three months with your best referral sources, you’ll only have enough lunches to handle about 20 referral sources. I’m not going to do the math, but plot it out on a calendar and you’ll find that those 20 folks take up 80 of your 100 slots in year two. See?

If you build those relationships, over time, you’ll own an asset that pays dividends from now until you retire.

If, however, you switch gears before the first year is over, you won’t build that asset. You’ll start over and probably get frustrated when the new thing takes as long or longer than the old thing.

You’ve got to stay the course if this is going to work. You can’t hit the reset button and view that as progress. It’s not.

Mostly, we’re all headed in the same direction and we’re all doing the same thing in one way or another. Our path requires relationships, and they require time and commitment.

Stay the course.


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  • Angela McIlveen

    I completely agree! Most people just want to have someone give them suggestions without really wanting to put in the work. When people ask me how my practice has become so successful in such a short period of time, I tell them that I work long hours, I read blogs like this one, and take advantage of all the ideas and free advice that people who have done this before are willing to share with me. Having a successful law firm means running a business. Most attorneys don’t want to or know how to run a business. Keep posting new ideas for me but beware I actually do follow them :)¬†

  • Steve Rensch

    Like Angela, I’m in that small group that follows your suggestions.¬† But then I’m an old guy.¬† I started this current¬†firm with the primary goal of mentoring young grads, but I ran into so much sense of entitlement and law school brain washing re work simply being handed to them, that I had to abandon that model.¬† Maybe there is just no way to protect people from learning the hard way.¬† That’s how I did it.

  • Megan C. Hunt

    I read every post you put up, and I’m constantly looking for ways to implement your advice. ¬†I completely agree that ~2 years is when referral relationships start to pay off. ¬†I tweaked your advice a little bit and have attended networking group lunches. When I meet someone I like, I try to spend some one-on-one time with them. ¬†(Some of the networking groups I’ve joined offer great opportunities for this too.) ¬†Overall, I shoot for 2-3 networking “events” per month.

Lee Rosen

Lee Rosen has practiced family law for more than twenty years. With four offices, Rosen Law Firm serves Raleigh, Charlotte, Durham and Chapel Hill, North Carolina. Rosen served as the Law Practice Management Editor of the ABA Family Advocate for more than a decade and received the ABA James Keane Award for excellence in eLawyering. He served as Chair of the Law Practice Management Section of the North Carolina Bar Association, is a frequent speaker and is often sought out by the media as a source of family law insight and commentary.