When the young, newly licensed lawyer could not find a job with a firm, a corporation, or a governmental unit, he decided to set up his own private practice of law. His confidence was exceeded only by his optimism, so he rented a storefront in a strip mall in his small city and furnished it with nice furniture and equipment which he charged on the credit card he had been mailed during the final semester of law school. He ordered his computer and phone service, his advertising, his insurance, and leased an automobile.
He drove expectantly to the new office, installed his diploma and license on the wall, and turned the sign in the window to read “OPEN.” The view of the parking lot was excellent, and he rocked back and forth in his new leather office chair contemplating the money and fame which would soon befall him. Magically, a handsome young man with a Coke commercial tool belt walked across the parking lot and headed straight for the young lawyer’s door. Divorce? Personal Injury? Workman’s Compensation? crossed his mind and he knew he was ready for anything! All he had to do was keep the young man from knowing how inexperienced he was, and his first fee would be earned.
When the young man opened the law office door, the lawyer grabbed his phone and put it to his ear and said: “Of course, we handle cases of that sort routinely and would be pleased to represent you upon your paying the $1,000.00 retainer we discussed.” He then confidently, but casually, said good day and proceeded to look up at the young man who had entered the office.
“Now, sir, how may I help you this fine morning,” he gushed, convinced that his first fee was certainly at hand.
The young worker looked down and moved his head slowly from left to right and repeated the motion, saying: “Mister, I don’t think you can help me. But I can help you: I’m here to install your phone!”
The humorous tale intentionally makes fun of lawyers.
The field suffers from pride, conceit and overconfidence. Those who enter it must learn to deal with it and overcome it. We overcome pride with humility, we combat conceit with preparation, we correct overconfidence with knowledge and experience.
Receptionists, secretaries, paralegals, investigators, clerks, interns, lawyers, partners and managing partners require business plans: one for the individual and one for the entity. A credit card is not a business plan; a burning desire for wealth is not a business plan; and skill beyond compare is not a business plan. Trolling for clients in courthouse hallways and writing unethical letters to injured or bereaved victims will never constitute a business plan.
A good business plan begins with a statement of purpose and intention. The statement must be in writing and should be quite simple. For example,
1. I plan to become a computer operator at a law firm.
2. I plan to practice domestic relations law.
3. I plan to investigate criminal prosecutions for a criminal defense attorney.
4. I plan to act as paralegal for a personal injury law firm.
The simple statement of purpose and intention then expands to include the skills required for the accomplishment of the goal. Courses of study, a bar exam, a college degree, a computer course may be required. Throughout the process, the individual must continue to study, to learn, and to apply the learning in order to gain the experience and confidence necessary to advance to the next stage of the business plan and eventually to become the fulfillment of the goal.
When my young partners wrote the business plan for our law offices, they were very optimistic and as a direct result the plan contained many flaws. The estimate of earnings was a high number and the analysis of expenses was based upon wishful thinking. Earnings are not real until the funds are in hand (earned and collected). Expenses on the other hand tend to be constant and predictable. The cost of furniture and equipment can be determined exactly and the determination should be made in the business plan. Utilities, rent and contingencies cannot be determined precisely, but they can be estimated with accuracy.
After determination of expenses, the business plan estimates income. No one should begin a law practice without a definite source of income. Clients, friends and relatives are not secure sources of income unless and until the establishment of the business relationship and the determination of work which will be done by the law firm. Representing a corporation or other business or individual results in income only when work has been completed and fee payment made. Client lists are only as good as the income they generate for the firm.
If your business plan involves trolling the courthouse for clients, then your expenses should be limited to cost of a briefcase, and your income should be supplemented by spouse or parent.
The measurement of the business plan involves the institution of a double entry bookkeeping system and the careful examination of the information contained in it. My office can produce records showing income and expense for every calendar quarter since June of 1977. The bookkeeping remains as important in the thirtieth year of practice as it was in the first year of practice.
Of course, a plan always includes the establishment of a line of credit at a financial institution. Income varies and expenses continue constantly. To bridge the shortfalls, one must have the ability to borrow money and the wise business person does not wait until borrowing is necessary to do the paper work. The old adage about banks loaning to the people who do not need to borrow remains true today. Establish your line of credit when you do not yet need it. Draw against it as infrequently as possible and never establish a line of credit which exceeds your investment in the business.
For example, if you have invested $100,000.00 as start up capital, your line of credit should not exceed that figure and your business should be operated if possible on a fraction of the credit line. Of course, invest your profits in your business prior to investing in luxuries and recreational activities. Anything that can be done by you should be done by you. Do your own painting, cleaning and shoveling.
Those people who become successful in the law are the ones who work to learn as they learn to work and continue to learn and to work after they achieve their initial goals. We thrive when we constantly seek further knowledge, greater understanding and advanced training. In the law, education and training are one and the same and they are constant and never ending.
Make your plan, then study and work, study and work, study and work. If you cannot get paid, then study and volunteer until you are accomplished enough that someone will pay you for your knowledge and experience. Most importantly, enjoy good luck.
Mitch Elliott  has handled thousands of criminal cases for the State of Missouri and for municipalities, and will use his experience to defend individuals charged with felonies and misdemeanors. He also handles business, real estate, estate planning and probate litigation.
Interested in a legal career? Check out these books at the library.
Careers in Law 
By Gary A. Munneke
Careers for Legal Eagles & Other Law-and-Order Types 
By Blythe Camenson
The Path to Partnership: A Guide for Junior Associates 
By Steven C. Bennett