There is a confusing blog post written recently which highlights a big problem within the legal field — confusing self-employment with entrepreneurship.
Now, I often write about both solo practice and entrepreneurship on my blog. But, I never confuse the two.
Going solo does not make you an entrepreneur. It makes you self-employed.
Let me explain the differences and why they are important. By way of example:
A man loves to bake cupcakes. He decides to open up a cupcake store. He has no desire to do anything beyond working ‘in’ his business as the baker and this is all he knows. His wife helps him negotiate a bank loan and line of credit, keeps the books, negotiates leased space, orders supplies, and fills orders. He hires help as needed. He markets his products through social media, local 'taste of the community' events and special promotions. He sustains himself. He works ‘in’ his business. He is self-employed.
In contrast, a woman loves to bake exotic cupcakes, wants to get national exposure on Cupcake Wars, get investment dollars from the Shark Tank, has already mapped out how she’s going to have 1, then 10, cupcake trucks, build out a franchise for these trucks across the country and eventually build a cupcake empire under her brand, quite possibly expanding into other baked goods. She’ll hire bakers, get a manufacturing plant and distribution center. She's already working on a decorating tool which will revolutionize how cupcakes are frosted and there is a patent pending. She spends her time working ‘on’ her business. She’s creating a new world, one from her own imagination. She’s an entrepreneur.
Solo and small firm practitioners for the most part are not entrepreneurs. They are self-employed.
And there is nothing wrong, in fact there is much right, with this status. But they are not entrepreneurs. While statistics cited in the referenced post showcase that there is ever-increasing self-employment, it is not ever-increasing entrepreneurship.
In a perfect world law schools would actually be teaching entrepreneurship and technology, hosting hackathons and cerebral ironman competitions, unleashing the creativity of law students that for so long has been pushed aside or squashed. They would be encouraging students to reimagine and reshape the delivery of legal services while simultaneously teaching core doctrine, ethics, client communications, and negotiation. Students would be provided an environment to build that better mouse trap within the profession and they would be encouragedto do so in law school. Law schools would be producing the next great legal startups in addition to competent attorneys. I do agree that the majority of law schools are ill prepared to do this.
That's the sad truth.
I can say there are some schools headed in the right direction. I have been an entrepreneur mentor for the Law Without Walls program originating from University of Miami School of Law for going on four years. This program is very unique in that it teams up law students from over 30 law and business schools across the globe to create solutions to problems existing within the profession and they then pitch their ideas to Venture Capitalists. I'm also on the advisory board of the Suffolk School of Law Institute on Law Practice Technology and Innovation which is definitely being steered in the right direction captained by their newest Dean, Andrew Perlman. He has already begun to revamp the curriculum to focus on technology education, delivery systems and much more alongside traditional education and working with the Sawyer Business School. These pioneering programs will start to turn out legal entrepreneurs.
At the end of the day, law schools should be turning out legal entrepreneurs. But given they have only just started to grasp the fact they should at the very least turn out lawyers who are capable of being self-employed, I don't hold out much hope for the near future. I'm fairly confident it will be a very, very long time before the majority of law schools will have a stated goal of (or are capable of) turning out legal entrepreneurs even though this is exactly what the profession needs at this time.
Susan Cartier Liebel is the Founder & CEO of Solo Practice University®, the only educational and professional networking community for lawyers and law students designed for those who want to create and grow their solo or small firm practices. A coach/consultant for solos and small firms, an attorney who started her own practice right out of law school, an Entrepreneur Advisor for Law Without Walls, an adjunct professor at Quinnipiac University School of Law for eight years teaching law students how to open their own legal practices right out of law school, a columnist for LawyersUSA Weekly, the Connecticut Law Tribune, The Complete Lawyer, and Law.com, she has contributed to numerous online publications such as Forbes.com, legal publications and books on this topic as well as the issues facing women in the workforce. She speaks frequently to law schools and professional organizations around the country on issues facing solos, offering both practical knowledge and inspiration.