In January, Donna Seyle described the new role of freelance lawyers in the profession in Is Freelance Lawyering Your Thing? To follow up, here’s her checklist of the characteristics of a successful freelancer. Does this sound like you?
As with anything in life, succeeding in a freelance practice takes a certain mindset and a few specific personal characteristics.
First, you must evaluate your desire. What are your reasons for choosing freelance work? If they include such things as desperation or the path of least resistance, just go ahead and cross this career move off your list. Like any solo business, freelance lawyering requires hard work and determination. To be profitable, you must enjoy and be comfortable with the characteristics required of a freelancer. Let’s take a look at what they are.
- A love of independence. Some people just don’t make good employees. They want to feel in control of their own lives, define their tasks and agendas, work in environments that are comfortable to them—where and when they choose, and escape office politics. If this is you, then you’re off to a good start.
- A high tolerance for uncertainty. Anyone who is self-employed needs to be comfortable with the fact that work comes and goes. There’s no steady paycheck, no paid vacation or benefits. Being able to succeed under those conditions, however, is very fulfilling for some people.
- Self-motivation. Although the hiring attorney will give you deadlines, you are the only person around making sure you get the work done. You must have the discipline to stay on schedule.
- An enterprising nature. Building a freelance practice requires ambition and initiative. The work does not come to you without effort. Are you good at spotting and taking advantage of opportunities for business development? Are you resourceful in new situations and with new people?
- Business management know-how. Freelancing is a business. Do you know, or want to learn, how to run one? Are you good at managing time and money? Organized and efficient when juggling several projects at once?
These are the most important attributes to consider before making the decision to pursue a freelance career. Be honest with yourself. Working where and when you choose can be a very seductive proposition. But you must remember that it takes motivation and discipline to succeed as a freelance lawyer. Whether or not these characteristics come easily to you will make the difference between frustration and success.
Donna Seyle is the founder of Law Practice Strategy, a coaching and training service and resource for lawyers seeking to establish a solo or small firm, or wanting to take their existing practices into the 21st century.