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Some of you may be considering starting your own business or purchasing a franchise or existing small operation.  Because the news media repeatedly reports glowing stories about the latest 29-year-olds to sell their companies for twenty million dollars, many people are now deciding to act on their dream to found the next Microsoft or Starbucks.  Or perhaps the motivation driving the rapid rise in self-employment is a desire for independence—“No one is going to fire, fail to promote, underpay, or underappreciate me again!”  The incentive for lawyers is often that they get involved in a business deal and then see the non-lawyers having fun and making a lot of money, while they note that the lawyers are doing all the work and earning only an hourly wage.

But before you decide to start your own business, sufficient research on your proposed product or service is an absolute necessity.  There is a high failure rate of new businesses, and much of that failure can be attributed to lack of market research. 

Don’t just presume your clever idea will generate a successful business venture.  Find out if there is a need for your product or service.  Or if a need doesn’t currently exist, can you create one (for example, the Beanie Baby hoopla)?  Is the market already saturated?  Do you personally have, or can you hire someone with, the necessary ability or knowledge that will make the business run?  Are you self-motivated, not needing someone else to give you a deadline or set your agenda?  There are many questions to ask yourself before embarking on a solo journey, be it a law practice, wholesale or retail business, or a consulting practice.

For those of you who do decide to pursue a business endeavor, there are many excellent resources available.  In numerous communities across the country, there are offices of SCORE (Service Corps of Retired Executives), whose volunteers will consult with you, without cost, on any aspect of your business plan, accounting systems, marketing, pricing, advertising, etc.  SCORE is affiliated with the Small Business Administration, which has very good publications and classes.  Most community colleges also offer courses, generally for a minimal fee, which teach the nuts and bolts of starting and running a small business.  Additionally, look for the many specialized books, magazines and periodicals that carry relevant and helpful information about starting, buying, or running a business.

Lawyers have started and built businesses in almost every conceivable field, including a number of businesses that have become well known, such as California Pizza Kitchen and Nolo Press.  The majority of lawyers-turned-businesspeople tend to capitalize on their skills and experience to become consultants or start a retail business or buy an existing business or franchise.

Consulting:  Some lawyers may be able to parlay their skills and acquired expertise into a role as a business consultant.  Consultants either charge by the hour or negotiate a fixed price for a defined project.  For example, if you have a background in employment law, you could consult with a company’s human resources department on personnel issues, then draft that entity’s personnel policy and procedures manual.  Or you could assist companies to institute their harassment or Americans with Disabilities Act policies.  If you have a background in alternative dispute resolution, you could put together training programs for corporate managers to learn and apply ADR techniques.  Former lawyers are consulting with practicing lawyers and law firms on office technology and systems, trial preparation and presentation, law firm management and marketing, court reporting and paralegal work, catering for office events, insurance and financial planning, negotiating skills, effective written and oral communication, and law office design.

Retail:  Running a retail business is probably the most difficult transition for many lawyers, since they generally have little in-point experience with the retail field, other than as a purchaser.  Also important to note is that retail businesses initially create even more restrictive time schedules than do law practices—until the business can afford to hire an assistant, the owner must be present, from opening to closing, all day, every day.  To find out about potential business opportunities, contact a business broker (they operate the same as a headhunter—the seller pays a percentage of the sale price as a fee), read announcements and ads in your local business publications, go to Chamber of Commerce meetings, and talk to the vendors who supply the type of business in which you are interested.

Franchises:  There are as many different franchise opportunities as there are people with ideas—a few great, some good, and many terrible.  One big benefit of a franchise is that the wheel doesn’t need to be reinvented, just replicated.  But buyer beware, and plan to do some serious research and ask many in-depth questions.  Franchise fairs, where franchisers promote their particular opportunity, are good sources for exposure to the wide variety of offerings.  Be sure to ask the franchiser for the names and phone numbers of current franchisees and, especially, previous franchisees.  You may find that the “golden opportunity” is merely fool’s gold.  Also ask if marketing and product/service support is provided, what the purchase price covers (does it cover only the right to use the franchise name, or does it include materials, training, support), and if there are any ongoing royalty fees to be paid to the franchiser?

If you do finally decide to start or buy your own business, you will work harder and put in more hours than you ever did as a lawyer.  The difference is that, while the detriments are solely yours, so are the benefits.  And that’s the ultimate joy of running your own enterprise.

© 2000 Hindi Greenberg.  No reproduction by any means without express written permission from Hindi Greenberg.  Hindi Greenberg, J.D., was a business litigator for ten years before founding Lawyers in Transition(sm) in 1985. 

She is known nationwide for her expertise on career options for lawyers and is a speaker, outplacement advisor and consultant on options, job satisfaction and career change for bar associations, law firms, law schools and individual lawyers.  She has been widely interviewed by both the legal and general national media and was called "the Ann Landers for lawyers" by the Los Angeles Times.  Her newest book is the best-selling "The Lawyer's Career Change Handbook :...  published by Avon Books/HarperCollins.  

Hindi may be contacted at or visit her site at:





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