Five Secrets of Successful Lawyer-Entrepreneurs

This article was co-authored with Tara U. Dawood (J.D., Harvard Law School, dawood@post.harvard.edu).

Are you a lawyer who yearns to start a business? Or are you a law student who doesn’t plan to practice for your whole career? If so, your legal education and traits that are common among lawyers give you special talents and gifts in starting a business. Below are five secrets to unlocking those talents and gifts that successful lawyer-entrepreneurs know and that we wish to share with you.

1. Use your analytical strengths

First, you likely were admitted to law school based on your grades and test scores, which indicate that you are very good at studying, research and writing.  Use those skills to prepare for starting a business.  Do exhaustive research before starting a business and incurring costs.  No entrepreneur has all of the answers about a business before founding it; however, doing thorough research is critical.

For example, do thorough research regarding the size of the market, potential customers and, perhaps most importantly, whether or not potential competitors already exist.  If you are a corporate lawyer, you probably are familiar with trade business publications, Securities and Exchange Commission filings and U.S. Patent and Trademark Office records.  Pore over those types of resources until you are satisfied that your market research is as thorough as the longest and most thorough credit agreement, indenture, brief or the like that you’ve prepared.

In addition, develop a thorough business plan based on your research and other knowledge, and be sure to understand the depth, scalability and financial needs of your business before you start it.

2. Do what you know

If you start a business doing what you already know, rather than starting based on field that is unfamiliar to you in practice, you have a stronger likelihood of success.  As a lawyer, you are fortunate to know at least two types of businesses: businesses relating to law practice and businesses that you have served a lawyer.

For example, if you are a litigator, you must be very familiar with the businesses that you have seen involved in disputes. If you are a capital markets lawyer, you likely know many types of financial services businesses very well.  If you are a corporate lawyer, you are familiar with several industries.  You may also have non-legal work experience or background in other fields.  While of course you may not even consider using any client or other confidential information from your law firm, your general knowledge of an industry should be helpful when you start your business in the field.

3. Use your alumni network

Alumni networks can be tremendous resources for contacts and ideas as you found your business.  Your alumni network includes not only alumni of your college and law school, but also alumni of other graduate schools in universities that you attended. Large law firms even have alumni networks, which you should use.

To connect with them, join alumni clubs, attend reunions and volunteer for your schools.  In addition, be helpful; offer your skills and abilities to fellow alumni just for the sake of being helpful, and without any expectation of anything in return.

4. Find others to fill gaps in your skills

While you likely have strong analytical skills as a lawyer, law school and law practice likely have not focused on other skills for building a business, such as marketing, intellectual property development and investor presentations.  Advisory boards are good ways to add people with strengths other than yours.

For example, you may have deep skills and knowledge about your company’s industry.  You may benefit from having advisory board members who have skills such as handling investor presentations and broad investor contacts, or skills such as technical knowledge about your company’s products.  Find those types of advisors, and you will complement each other to drive success.

5. Use your legal skills

Finally, use your legal talents.  While law firms generally prohibit lawyers from engaging in law practice except for firm clients, your general knowledge and skills can be helpful to other companies.  Become an advisor to other growing companies, as watching and helping them grow and prosper can be invaluable training for you when you start your own business, for your own legal career or just for enjoyment and interest in an industry.  In addition, when you start your business, use the organizational skills that you learn in law practice, such as keeping good corporate records and managing transactions, as those skills will help reduce risks that come from sloppy records and procedures.

Founding a business is challenging at best, and no business faces the same obstacles.  Using the secrets described above, however, will help ensure that you use your talents and resources as best you can, and that you found a business in a field that is a good match for you.  These practices are the foundations of creating a successful business.

More by | Christopher Edwards Christopher Edwards , Law.com Contributor
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