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Is it in your best interest to go solo or pair up with a partner?
A lot of lawyers dream about making a name for themselves on their own – being their own boss and running their own practice. However, the reality is that going solo can be a daunting experience. That doesn’t mean it’s not an option worth exploring though; as, with any important business decision, it’s important to be fully aware of the pros and cons of forming a partnership before deciding which arrangement best suits your personality and work style.
The pros of a partnership
Any burden is more easily managed when shared, and that’s particularly true in business. A partner can help with:
- Costs: Sharing the expense of rent, staffing, software, research, marketing, signage, stationery, and technology means you can start out in style.
- Responsibility: Having a partner may bring peace of mind to your clients since there’s someone available to cover for you if a personal emergency should arise. They can also assist in managing the staff of the legal practice, saving time and effort better spent on clients.
- Brainstorming: Whether it’s how to bring in new business or solve a complicated issue, two heads are better than one and having someone to bounce ideas off can help with both positivity and productivity.
- Appearance: For better or worse, partnerships often bring a sense of security to new clients in that they seem more established than a sole practitioner might. A partnership also greatly expands your sphere of personal influence in terms of marketing since you’re now doubling your audience of family, friends, and former clients.
The cons of co-ownership
A business partnership isn’t all sunshine, shared costs, and roses, though. As with all things, the good comes with some bad and part of your decision in taking on a partner involves weighing out the potential for problems.
- Less control: This could be a good or bad thing, depending on your personality, but if you have strong ideas on how things should work and dislike the idea of making concessions or negotiating around your expectations, then a partner could involve more emotional labor than you’re willing to take on.
- More liability: It’s relatively easy to guard and manage your own work ethic and reputation but adding a partner to your practice comes with the risk of dealing with someone else’s potentially bad behavior and, if worse comes to worst, a malpractice suit.
- Conflict of interest: Depending on the size of your practice area, adding a partner could increase the likelihood of running into a conflict of interest that could prohibit your firm from taking on a case.
- Dissolution: Hopefully it never comes to this but dissolving a business can be as acrimonious as a divorce, and then you’re faced with some degree of starting over again. If you decide to commit to a partnership, choose carefully.
Making a match
The key to a successful partnership in any business involves finding the right match. The greatest benefit to a partnership comes with choosing someone whose strengths and weaknesses complement your own. For instance, an extrovert with strong ideas on marketing and networking is an asset to an introverted personality type who just wants to study and practice law. Diversifying your skill sets can increase productivity and profit while making day to day tasks more seamless.
A difference in perspective can be advantageous too. Avoid tunnel vision in your business goals or client cases by integrating the fresh opinions of someone you respect into the daily dialogue. Although being set in your ways feels comfortable, it leads to stagnation. Find someone who can articulate their ideas in a way that you appreciate and learn to listen with an open mind.
When it comes to finding a partner, you want someone who you can trust, admire, and communicate easily with – much like a marriage. Be clear in your initial intentions and expectations and make sure your business goals line up in a way that’s compatible. Make sure your partner is someone you can vent to, brainstorm with, and that you’ll feel comfortable with when having difficult conversations or exchanging constructive criticism.
Ideally, a partner would be someone you have an existing long-standing professional relationship with; not quite a friend, but more than an acquaintance.
And perhaps you’ll decide that a partnership isn’t for you – and that’s okay too. It’s far better to make that decision up front than to find out along the way. Take the time to assess all your options and invest your time and energy into whatever business arrangement aligns best with your future goals.
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