Recently, I attended the Ms. JD conference in Los Angeles, CA, and was inspired by a panel about “Startup Stories.” The panel featured some amazing women who attended law school and later started their own businesses. They had wildly diverse and successful careers as the founder and executive director of a non-profit for domestic abuse survivors, the founder and CEO of a clothing consultation company, and the founder of a graduate consulting services company.
As I listened to their stories and advice, I started thinking about my own network of law school friends. Sure, some of them practice law, but they are also photographers, podcasters, filmmakers, and fitness coaches. And while I need my law degree and bar passage to be a bar exam coach, I am also a business owner.
Thinking about this, I had a brief moment of panic. Why did we spend all this money on law school if we were going to do other things? Did we totally blow it? Luckily, the moment passed relatively quickly as I firmly decided no. There are many ways our legal education helped prepare us to thrive in our chosen career paths. If you are thinking about starting a business, consider how to best leverage and transfer the following skills from your law school days.
I don’t have to tell you that law school isn’t a walk in the park. You likely had to give up a lot to make it through. Remember all of those Friday and Saturday nights that you didn’t go out with your friends or spend time with your family? Well, think of those as training for running your own business. Your time as a law students prepares you for the significant sacrifice of time, and sometimes money, that goes into starting a business.
2. Organization and Time Management
Are you one of those people whose heart races with excitement at the thought of buying a new set of highlighters and a fresh planner? It’s okay, you can tell me. Even if you weren’t that law student, there was still a minimum degree of organization you needed in order to succeed in law school. The same goes for time management. While I lived and died by my planner, even if you were slightly more laid back, you still have experience with managing multiple tasks as well as setting and meeting deadlines. These are crucial skills for a business owner to have. Particularly when you are just starting out and you are the only person in your business. There will always be more work to do than there is time in the day. Being organized and efficient will go a long way in decreasing your stress level and increasing your productivity.
3. Reading and Researching
Fear not, all that time reading/briefing cases and researching briefs/memos will not go to waste if you don’t practice law. There is a learning curve when you are getting started in business. You won’t be reading textbooks or scouring Westlaw for the perfect case, but there is still a lot of reading to do. You will need to research things, such as how to incorporate your business, marketing, money management, and about a million other things. A cautionary tale about this stage: don’t get stuck here. As law students, we are trained for perfect. As business owners, it is important to be well informed, but equally as important is taking action.
4. Ability to Advocate
Hopefully, part of your legal training involved learning how to craft arguments and be persuasive. Being able to advocate for yourself is an important part of owning your own business. One day, you may find that the bank is holding your money or a client won’t pay his or her fee. Having the tools to advocate for yourself and persuade others are extremely helpful in these kinds of situations. Also, depending on what kind of business you open, you may still find yourself advocating for your clients in a non-legal way.
5. Communication Skills
Having excellent written and oral communication skills is important in any career. You most likely spent a lot of time honing these skills law school. While it is unlikely that your new business will require you to IRAC an essay any time soon, it is still important that you are able to clearly and concisely communicate your ideas. Your communication skills are crucial to gaining new clients (e.g., marketing), keeping your existing clients happy, and creating strategic partnerships, among other things.
It is highly possible that you weren’t awesome at law school from day one. In fact, most law students that I know go through some kind of existential “do I belong here?” or “can I do this?” crisis at some point in law school. Resiliency is the most important quality for a business owner to have, particularly in the beginning. It feels a lot like that first semester of law school. Everything is new and scary, and the self-doubt can be overwhelming. But if you made it through law school, you can make it through anything.
There are a million places your legal education can take you in life. Maybe it is the practice of law, maybe it is opening your own business, or maybe it is something else entirely. Wherever you land, know that you are ready to take on whatever challenge awaits.
Kerriann Stout is a millennial law school professor and founder of Vinco (a bar exam coaching company) who is generationally trapped between her students and colleagues. Kerriann has helped hundreds of students survive law school and the bar exam with less stress and more confidence. She lives, works, and writes in the northeast. You can reach her by email at email@example.com.