So you want to become a legal entrepreneur?

By: March 28, 2017

Fall in love with a problem

Bulb head entrepreneur

Starting a legal business is, in some ways, easier than ever. New companies pop up every day, and we’re seeing an explosion of technology startups. As a lawyer and legal entrepreneur, this is an exciting time for the legal industry.

I began my legal career at Gowling Lafleur Henderson LLP in 1997, right out of law school. I worked there for a few years, and then moved to a general counsel role before the entrepreneurial bug bit me. In 2012, I launched my own legal business Conduit Law, where we provide on-demand, in-house counsel to Canadian clients. In doing this, we took a new and innovative approach to providing legal service: working alongside our clients and charging them fixed rates for results.

I’m often asked by law students and junior lawyers what it takes to become a legal entrepreneur. A quick flip through the Merriam-Webster dictionary will give you a workable definition: an entrepreneur is “one who organizes, manages and assumes the risks of a business or enterprise.” Not bad. But it doesn’t capture the highs and the lows, the excitement and fear, or the pride and the pain.

I always prefer this definition I stumbled across in a Harvard Business School publication: entrepreneurship is “the pursuit of opportunity without regard to resources controlled.” As entrepreneurs, we don’t cross bridges as we come upon them. We have to build bridges along the way. Lawyers have a real tough time dealing with this kind of uncertainty.

Another trait of entrepreneurs is that they’re problem solvers. It’s a part of their job, but also their hobby. That’s how you, as an entrepreneur, will discover real opportunities: find a problem you’ll wake up to, every day, with a burning desire to solve. This stands true regardless of whether you’re building a for-profit enterprise or a not-for-profit one, a social venture or a non-governmental organization.

Some people find it easy to spot the problem (“wouldn’t it be great if…,” “somebody should invent a….” “I wish my widget could do this…”). For others, the search is longer, slower and tougher. When I launched Conduit Law, I thought, there must be a way to practise law that’s better for the client. That’s how I got to my fixed-fee, on-demand model.

However you stumble upon the problem, what’s important is to have an emotional, almost irrational response to solving it. Your passion, your energy, and your attention should be fully focused on finding a solution.

So where to begin? Well, start by doing what you know and love. Do something that makes a positive difference in the lives of others, that’s worthy of your time, your energy, your genius and your spirit. If you can solve a problem in people’s lives, then you will succeed. And that’s the right way to start your entrepreneur’s journey.

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are the author’s alone.

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