As an experienced attorney who has built his own practice from the ground up, Stephen Diaco knows well the challenges faced by lawyers when opening their own private practices. Building a successful practice requires a great deal out of any individual. Every state has its own requirements of Limited Liability Partnerships (LLPs), but as with any business, the key is getting customers through the door.
A member of the Board of the Tampa-Hillsborough Expressway Authority and a former board member of the American Cancer Society, Tampa Chapter, Stephen Diaco is happy to offer advice to young professionals who want to strike out on their own. “One piece of advice I would give a young lawyer who’s just starting their practice is to just never give up,” he says.
“Get up off the canvas, because you will get knocked down and you will fail. And the more resilient you are, and the harder you work, and the more driven you are, the opportunities will come. I learned so much more from my failures than I ever did from my successes,” Diaco continues.
Mistakes are almost a given in the complex and high-pressure situation that is arranging and organizing every detail of a practice, from office space and furniture to escrow accounts and advertising.
New practices should look at renting office space for the first few years of operation in order to minimize overhead expenses as much as possible. Some companies, such as Regus, offer office space, including furniture and utilities, for rent on a monthly basis at hundreds of locations across the United States.
One obstacle that can stand in the way of any successful venture, whether it’s a legal firm or retail store, can be a lack of foot traffic or public awareness. An individual who depends on his or her own social network may know hundreds of people, at best. However, the people known by those in your extended social network can easily number into the thousands.
“Building a great referral network begins by identifying the people who already have a relationship with the people you want as clients,” wrote Stephen Fairley in The National Law Review. “For example, if you target small business owners, you would look for those who already have a relationship with small business owners. These could be accountants, financial planners, local bankers, CPA’s, commercial real estate agents, etc.”
It might be beneficial to use some of the limited resources of a new practice to join professional organizations, such as local professional associations or your local chamber of commerce.
“You may still be in law school or at another job, but before you start thinking of opening your own law firm, you need to get your contacts in order,” explained lawyer Victoria Pynchon in a Forbes article. “Collect business cards for everyone currently in your network of acquaintances and friends.”
Even if everything goes exactly as planned and all of the details, however minute, are attended to, there is no guarantee of success. In order to get the best handle on matters outside of their experience, individuals looking to begin a practice should consult with a financial advisor or accountant to arrange for trust accounts.
“The early years were a struggle—all the doubting, the sleepless nights, hiring people, building the business,” Stephen Diaco recalls. “My family was supportive through the whole process, which was really important.”
Support systems, like family and close friends, can often mean the difference between success and failure, and the difference between giving up out of frustration and stress and persevering.
However, success will ultimately depend on an individual’s commitment to the practice and its future success. Discipline and self-control, or the lack of these attributes, can determine how much energy and attention a new lawyer can devote to casework and networking.
“I work 12 to 18 hours a day, no lunch break, bathroom breaks of less than 30 seconds. In the beginning, I assumed my staff shared my vision and passion and expected them to be excited just because I was,” attorney Sheela Murthy told The New York Times. “I still expect a lot from people, but I’ve had a reality check. I understand how important it is that they understand my vision and feel like partners.”
For Diaco, the satisfaction of succeeding through his own efforts has been a reward that he did not anticipate before he started the process.
“Growing a firm was a daunting task. And in hindsight, I cannot believe what I have been able to accomplish,” says Stephen Diaco.
Samantha Nash contributed to this article.