This article was originally posted in the Chicago Daily Law Bulletin on Friday, March 2, 2012
PUBLISHER: MICHAEL B. KRAMER | EDITOR: OLIVIA CLARKE
I always wanted to have my own business, to be my own guy, to control my own destiny. Five years ago, I did just that – I started Willens Law Offices.
Looking back, I must have been out of my mind. Starting my own law firm was about as wise as walking to the edge of a cliff, looking down, jumping off and assuming I’d be able to grow wings and learn how to fly before I hit the ground. I had a general sense of what the small business statistics were – You’ve heard them: a large percent of small businesses fail within two years and even more are done before five.
So, in retrospect, starting my own law firm was an act of faith. I started my career as a personal injury trial lawyer. That is what I always wanted to do – help individuals who couldn’t go at it alone. Frankly, I’m not sure if this is the career I chose or if it chose me.
In terms of business development, from day one, I did know that developing relationships (networking) was one of the keys to success. However, early in my career, I put relationship development on hold and instead, completely focused on becoming a legal technician. I figured that, armed with some experience and some results, my own cases would start rolling in.
Besides, my employers/mentors gave me plenty of work to keep me busy, very busy. I was perfectly content just honing my skills as a trial lawyer. Then, somehow, a dozen years passed.
After 12 years, I finally had the experience and the record of success I so yearned for. So, equipped with this experience, a strong work ethic, a vision and most importantly,
supportive family and friends, I hung up a shingle. I’d like to say things started smoothly, but I can’t. In fact when I reported to my new law firm on the first day, the shingle maker had spelled my name wrong.
I told myself, “Oh well, I’ve created a business around something I know how to do, enjoyed doing and believed in my ability to get and please clients.” I was ready to apply the skills I worked so hard to develop and knew nothing could stop me, not even the shingle maker.
Now, there are some folks who start a law firm and they already have clients or a book of business. Some develop this book on their own, usually while employed for someone else. Some receive cases in one way or another from their previous law firms. Others are just “connected” and generating business comes easy. I wasn’t any of those aforementioned guys.
When I started my law firm, I had a handful of cases and none of them were very good. Nevertheless I was not willing to wait any longer to get started. I recognized that the time would never be “just right.”
When I began my practice, I hoped that given my experience and previous successful results, people would be knocking at my door to retain my services. There were some knocks, but not many, and I was concerned. I was optimistic, but concerned. I knew long ago that developing the relationships I had and creating new ones was a large part of success. So that’s what I did – I got out there and developed relationships, created new ones. After all, it’s all about relationships – taking care of each other.
As a business owner – I am keenly aware of this – With this realization, my law firm has prospered. In addition, I was and am thankful to each and every client who hires my law firm and I demonstrate that in the way I serve them. I was and am grateful to each person who sends me a case, whether a lawyer, a past client or a friend, and let that person know just how thankful I am.
Having my own law firm has added dimension to my life. From day one as a lawyer, I have learned new things about the law, new ways to practice law. That’s what makes being a lawyer so interesting. As a business owner, I also have the pleasure of learning new things about how to run a business…daily.
I’ve learned that the same unquenchable appetite for knowledge that makes me a better lawyer makes me a better businessman. I’ve learned that being a lawyer helps with my business skills and being a businessman helps with my legal skills.
I’ve made it to that five year point of having my own successful business – In those years – I’ve had the privilege of handling cases for people all over Illinois – I’ve handled interesting cases for interesting people – I’ve made friends – I’ve been given honors and accolades along the way and now I’m writing a column for the Chicago Daily Law Bulletin.
I suppose the little bit of faith I had in myself at the beginning of this journey made all the difference.
Matthew L. Willens is the founder of Willens Law Offices, a personal injury law firm. Willens has a unique understanding of the dynamics of serious injury and wrongful death cases because he has experience from both sides of the aisle. In addition to 15 years of handling a variety of plaintiff personal injury cases, he also worked for a major insurance company where he managed the strategic direction of million-dollar-plus cases. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.