Ruth Carter wants you to read these four books before opening a law firm — and she shares two top 10 lists from lawyers around the web.
Jay Foonberg’s “How to Start and Build a Law Practice” has long been the go-to book that many lawyers read when they want to start their own law firm. Billed as the “comprehensive guide to planning, launching, and growing a successful practice,” with tens of thousands of readers, it’s obviously done something right. I confess that I can’t speak to this book personally. By the time this book hit my hands, I had already been in practice for over a year, so the nuts and bolts were already in place — and I was too involved in running my practice to read its 600-plus pages. Still, there are plenty of books that have helped guide me through opening and operating a law firm.
My Top Four Books on Opening a Law Firm
Opening a law firm has changed dramatically since the 1970s when Foonberg wrote the first edition of “How to Start and Build a Law Practice.” (Its sixth edition came out in 2020.) When I was in law school, it seemed like there was one way to be a lawyer, and the main differences were whether you worked for the government or in private practice, for a bigger or smaller firm.
In my experience, that couldn’t be further from the truth.
When I embraced the idea that I could create my own multifaceted experience as a lawyer, writer, speaker and creator, I realized I had more options than I could ever explore. These are the top four books that came to mind when my editor asked what books I recommend to someone considering opening a firm.
- “Body of Work: Finding the Thread that Ties Your Story Together”by Pam Slim. I love “Aunt Pam.” Yes, I know her and attended one of her retreats in the first year I was in business. This book talks about how to have a multifaceted career with a common theme but use different ways to present the same type of information and reach different audiences. It helped me look at my work as constantly evolving, rather than committing to doing the same thing day in and day out.
- “Reinventing Professional Services: Building Your Business in the Digital Marketplace” by Ari Kaplan. This is a must-have on every entrepreneurial lawyer’s bookshelf. Written by a former lawyer, it gives you the nuts and bolts for how you can integrate new technology and digital platforms into your business to be more easily found on the internet and provide more value to your audience by being a resource.
- “Content Inc.: How Entrepreneurs Use Content to Build Massive Audiences and Create Radically Successful Businesses” by Joe Pulizzi. It’s no secret that I’m a huge fan of Joe’s work. I’ve written about him at least twice in my column: once about his e-book Corona Marketing and once about setting scary marketing goals. “Content Inc.” (now in its second edition) is an amazing book. By the time I finished, I had 10 pages of notes that I had used to write my marketing plan. (BTW, I sent Joe my scary marketing plan, and he said my goals weren’t scary enough.)
- “Own Your Weird: An Oddly Effective Way for Finding Happiness in Work, Life, and Love” by Jason Zook. Whenever Jason writes a book, I both cheer and cringe because I know it’s going to be filled with amazing information and inspire so many ideas that I will barely be able to contain myself. He inspires me as an entrepreneur to embrace being different than the day-to-day grind. This part of the book description says it all: “‘Own Your Weird’ is the permission slip you need to take that big risk. To finally chase down that big idea. And to let go of ‘supposed to’ thoughts. See how life opens up when you break out of the blueprint.”
Books for Lawyers Recommended by Lawyers
I put out the call and received over 30 book recommendations. Here are my top 10 picks specifically related to opening and operating a law firm.
- “It’s Time to Do Law Differently: How to Reshape Your Firm and Regain Your Life” by Lucy Dickens
- “The Practice: Brutal Truths About Lawyers and Lawyering” by Brian Tannebaum
- “The Small Firm Roadmap: A Survival Guide to the Future of Your Law Practice” by Aaron Street, Sam Glover, Stephanie Everett and Marshall Lichty
- “The E-Myth Attorney: Why Most Legal Practices Don’t Work and What to Do About It” by Michael Gerber (I read the original “The E-Myth Revisited” when I was preparing to open my practice, and it was fantastic.)
- “Avoiding Extinction: Reimagining Legal Services for the 21st Century” by Mitchell Kowalski
- “Legal Upheaval: A Guide to Creativity, Collaboration, and Innovation in Law” by Michele DeStefano
- “How to Capture and Keep Clients: Marketing Strategies for Lawyers” by Jennifer Rose
- “Winning at Local Search: The Nifty Guide to Online Marketing for Lawyers” by Mike Ramsey
- “Law Is a Buyer’s Market: Building a Client-First Law Firm” by Jordan Furlong
- “The Solo and Small Firm Legal Technology Guide” by Sharon Nelson, John Simek and Michael Maschke
Other Books Recommended by Lawyers
Frequently, I recommend mainstream business and marketing books written for all entrepreneurs, not just lawyers. I’m pleased to see that other lawyers also find these types of books valuable, as well as books from other sections of the bookstore. Here are my top 10 picks based on their descriptions.
- “Profit First: Transform Your Business from a Cash-Eating Monster to a Money-Making Machine” by Mike Michalowicz
- “Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion” by Robert Cialdini
- “Disarming the Narcissist: Surviving and Thriving with the Self-Absorbed” by Wendy Behary (This looks like a good book for dealing with difficult clients and opposing counsel.)
- “Never Split the Difference: Negotiating As If Your Life Depended on It” by Chris Voss
- “Traction: Get a Grip on Your Business” by Gino Wickman
- “The Law of Success: The Master Wealth-Builder’s Complete and Original Lesson Plan for Achieving Your Dreams” by Napoleon Hill
- “Purple Cow: Transform Your Business by Being Remarkable” by Seth Godin (Excellent book. I’ve read it.)
- “Overwhelmed: How to Work, Love, and Play When No One Has the Time” by Brigid Schulte
- “The Compound Effect: Jumpstart Your Income, Your Life, Your Success” by Darren Hardy
- “Hug Your Haters: How to Embrace Complaints and Keep Your Customers” by Jay Baer (If Jay is speaking, I show up and listen.)
My Reading List
I’m fortunate that I get to speak at mainstream marketing conferences where I also get to attend sessions from top-notch speakers who have either written their own books or recommend certain books to the audience. As a result, I have a substantial stack of books to read on my bedside table.
- “Everybody Writes: Your Go-To Guide to Creating Ridiculously Good Content” by Ann Handley (This is one of the most recommended books I hear about at marketing conferences.)
- “The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck: A Counterintuitive Approach to Living a Good Life” by Mark Manson
- “Unbranding: 100 Branding Lessons for the Age of Disruption” by Scott Stratten and Alison Stratten
- “The Storytelling Edge: How to Transform Your Business, Stop Screaming into the Void, and Make People Love You” by Joe Lazauskas and Shane Snow
- “Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World” by Cal Newport
- “The Law Firm of Your Dreams: Say Goodbye to Your Boss, Say Hello to the Law Firm You’ve Always Dreamed Of” by John Fisher (John Fisher saw me asking for book recommendations online and offered to send me one of his books. I picked this one.)
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Of course, this list isn’t exhaustive. Attorney at Work has reviewed (and published) other great books. So, if you have a favorite book or think we should have included yours, let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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