Quitting law to start your own gig: What you need to know
Were you the kid selling lemonade on the footpath at 5 years old? Do you spend your weekends binge-watching Silicon Valley? Have you been wanting to start (or buy) your own business since way before start-ups became cool? Do you dream of quitting law and being your own boss, turning up to the office late and leaving early every day? The good news is that other former lawyers have done exactly that. The better news is that we are here to help you bridge the gap between practice and your own gig. It's no simple feat to swap your mapped out career path for a world of uncertainty and instability. In the start-up world, “taking the plunge” is akin to jumping off a 10-foot rock, without floaties, into a sea of sharks. Even at the best of times, it can be lonely. Our aim is to build a support network. A community of like-minded legal professionals who want to start their own gig.
Why should you take business advice from us? What do we know anyway? First of all, we're both former lawyers who took a leap into uncertainty. We've been at the helm of a legal recruitment business with clients in over 30 jurisdictions. We've managed distributed teams, which vast technology change has allowed. We are also members of Fishburners; one of Australia's best startup communities. Fishburners is also a co-working space. If there's something we can't help with, one of the great minds here likely can.
We're passionate about helping lawyers find their path in and outside of practice. So, naturally, we're pretty excited to empower others to run their own gigs.
Our experience buying a business
For us, the decision to buy EA was completely natural. Unfortunately, it was under circumstances that couldn't have been any more difficult. We had discussed buying the business in late 2007, but things stalled around the price so we chose to bide our time. Unbeknownst to us, 2008 would bring the GFC. This slapped the business down, hard. Revenue fell over 90% within 6 months. We were very fortunate that the first deal didn't happen!
The business ground to a halt in 2009; we stopped getting paid and were working on commission only. The law firms were letting people go. There was no demand or interest in hiring, so we were stuck and very much at the mercy of the market.
So, like any smart business person, we saw a bargain. There was plenty of potential in the market and the model. We thought the market would bounce back. Even if it didn't reach the heady heights of 2004-2008, there was still plenty of meat left on the bone. Mike and I took the plunge, negotiated down and took the leap. We jumped in at the height of the GFC. We took on all the costs of running the business and funded it ourselves until it began making money. How long did it take to start making money again? It wasn't long before we were implementing the growth strategies we'd had in mind for years. Little did we know, there were further headwinds on their way. Further European crises pushed us to adapt to turbulent markets. We continued to evolve and Beyond Billables became the next natural pivot to make.
Technological forces have also affected the markets we work in. Rather than resist this, we have bought into it and used it to our advantage. We have had to change and evolve, as have our career paths and the skills and services we offer.
We stayed true to our quality ethos and continued to work with amazing firms and lawyers. It wasn't easy - there are lots of sharks in recruitment. I'm fortunate that both Michael and I are big on quality of service and transparency. For us, doing a good job and doing the right thing is more important than making a little bit of extra money. I've been very lucky to have a business partner who shares these values. I recommend choosing a co-founder with similar values to your own.
I want to start my own business, but I don't want to quit law yet
The side hustle. Google it and you'll get around 5 million hits, most of them saying that you too can make money in your spare time. Spare time? You've got lots of that, right?
As a lawyer, you have far less spare time than most other people running a side hustle. Depending on the business, and your firm's attitude, you may also have to keep it under wraps. This can raise a whole host of issues. Your colleagues may think you're putting in the bare minimum. But in reality, you've cut the candle in half and are burning it from all four ends. Prepare to run on very little sleep. You'll be waking up early and getting a few hours' worth of hustling in before going to your real job. You can wave a big bye-bye to your weekends too.
Now, we're not trying to put you off starting a side hustle. When you're in the thick of it, you'll look forward to that 4am alarm. Your weekends will be your favourite days, working on something that matters to you. The dream of quitting law and giving practice the middle finger will keep you going.
A side hustle will be a much slower, longer slog than if you decide to go all-in. Particularly as law is demanding on your free time. But for those of you who don't have much in savings, or who don't want to answer to investors, it's a far less risky option.
Ok, so I've quit law to start a business. Now what?
First of all, congratulations. Finding the courage to back yourself enough to quit law is the first obstacle. I'm not going to sugar coat it though. Starting your own gig will throw you more obstacles than you could ever imagine. You'll need all the resilience you can muster.
Go and join your local start-up community. Get a desk in a co-working space. It may make a dent in your start-up budget but it'll reap dividends in what you'll learn and who you'll meet. As Michael often says, you don't know what you don't know, and this will be a lot more than you realise. This leads me to my next tip, outsourcing. If you're used to being good at everything, it's tempting to save money by going the DIY route. Graphic design? Sure, let me do a 10-hour on-line course. Copywriting? It can't be that hard. Web design? Why on earth should I pay someone thousands to do that for me?
You've spent the last few years of your life billing in 6-minute blocks; why should your time be worth any less now? The logo design you're wasting hours on would cost only a few hundred by an experienced designer. You wouldn't sew your own suit, for fear of making a bad first impression. Why would you launch your business on the back foot with a sub-par logo or website? Branding is everything.
The start-up journey is rarely a quick route to fast cars and tropical beach houses. Prepare to be in it for the long haul. It helps to write down your “why” for the days when everything is going wrong and you want to give up. Knowing why you started in the first place can give you that boost you need to overcome the latest obstacle. If your “why” is because you want to be the next Elon Musk, look a little deeper to find what motivates you. Be realistic, but also be ambitious. It's more exciting that way.