Alexander Y. Benikov 2016-08-25 02:48:06
Is Two Better Than One? Why a lawyer should think twice before starting a practice with a partner. One of the most common questions I get from lawyers thinking about starting their own practices is whether they should have a partner. The person they are thinking about starting a practice with could be a law school friend, a fellow lawyer, or a significant other. When I ask why they are thinking of starting a practice with a partner, these are the most common reasons: (1) If there are two people starting a practice, it will be less scary; (2) Having a partner means one person won’t be lonely and there will be someone to bounce ideas off of; (3) The partner will have different skills and will bring something new to the practice; (4) The partner will help with costs so everything will be half as expensive; and (5) The person gets along well with his or her potential law partner and thinks it will be fun to practice together. But I don’t like the idea of starting a practice with a partner. To demonstrate why, allow me to go through each reason outlined above and also add one of my own. While I understand the idea that having a partner may make it seem like your new venture will be less scary, in reality it will not. Chances are your partner will have the same amount of experience, or inexperience, as you. This means both of you may be in the dark and not know what you are doing. If you think you will find a partner who has all the experience in the world and will hold your hand, ask yourself why this person would want to partner with you. Being worried about not having people around you in a new practice can be a legitimate concern because no one wants to feel lonely and isolated. There are a number of steps you can take to avoid this. If you properly network in your new practice, you will get to know many people who can become mentors or friends. Also, once you have enough cases and spend enough time in court, you will meet lots of other lawyers who you can socialize with. I am in court almost every day and get to interact with many of my lawyer friends. Remember that your practice is a job. Do your job and then go socialize. Having someone to bounce ideas off of is a cousin of worrying about being lonely. Once your lawyer contact circle grows, there will be lots of lawyers who you can turn to for advice. When I started my practice I would call lawyer friends almost every day with questions ranging from where to park to what to charge for a case. It is likely that you and your partner will have different skill sets. The problem with this is that what you view as a positive could potentially be a negative. You may be super shy and your partner is great with people. Because of this you figure your partner can do all the talking to clients. The problem is that you will never develop your own people skills. This is just one example where you could be hampering your own growth. For me, I had never dealt with balancing a business budget. Since I didn’t have a partner who I could rely on to do the finances, I had to learn how to do them on my own. The payoff was that I did learn and now I am comfortable with the responsibility. While it is true that having a partner means you will only be paying for half of everything, this is only half of the story. In reality you will also have more expenses because you have a partner. Instead of one desk you will need two—and the same goes for laptops, office space, and lots of other expenses. Remember that having a partner means there are now two mouths to feed, figuratively and literally. The idea that you will have fun working with a partner since you are friends is probably the biggest mistake you can make. Remember that being friends and business partners with someone are two very different things. A friend does not affect your ability to make a living and shape your professional future; a business partner does. Not only do you have to worry about your business partner potentially hurting your practice, you also have to worry about being on the same page. Around the time I started my own practice I had two lawyer friends who opened a criminal defense practice. They were super close friends and thought running a practice together would be fun. They ended their professional relationship and almost ruined their friendship in less than a year. Their story is all too common. One of the attorneys hustled from sun up to late at night. The other attorney did not. It wasn’t long before the hardworking attorney got fed up with this arrangement and started a solo practice. If you are thinking of having a partner, are you going to be on the same page with him or her five or 10 or 15 years from now? ALEXANDER Y. BENIKOV has owned and run his own practice for the past six years in Phoenix, Arizona. He is also a law professor, lecturer, and author of three books. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Published by State Bar of Texas. View All Articles.
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