Taking the leap
Earlier this year, Women and the Law Member Erin Wilson took a leap that was a long time in the making. After 10 years helping another female lawyer, Gail O’Connor, build her family law practice, Erin hung up her own shingle and launched The Law Office of Erin M. Wilson LLC. She and I sat down to discuss how and why she took the leap.
What inspired you to go out on your own?
After 10 years of developing my skills and learning how to manage complex cases through to trial, I no longer had any fear holding me back. I wanted flexibility for myself and my family and felt like I could best do that through my own firm.
What advice do you have for other attorneys who want to launch their own firm?
Get some experience under your belt first. Working for another firm for ten years allowed me to build up my legal skills and also learn about business development and management of team members. I had a great experience as an employee and as a partner and I feel like that taught me a lot about running a business without the risks of being on my own.
Plus, the clients and relationships I developed working for my prior firm followed me and gave me a solid base to start from.
How did you handle your exit from your prior firm?
I worked with a great partner who taught me a lot so it was important for me to leave in a way that was respectful of her. I made sure that I did not discuss my plans with anyone in the firm until after she and I spoke and I gave her the opportunity to determine how we would announce my separation. We told both the office and our clients together.
We both handled everything in a way that was positive and allowed us to maintain our relationship.
What have been the biggest challenges of starting your own firm?
First, my husband and I are now both entrepreneurs, which makes everything a bit scarier. He has had his firm for three years so it is a bit more established, but it’s still a young firm. At the same time, he has gone through everything I am experiencing so it is nice to have a sounding board who understands the challenges I am facing.
The hardest part has been learning to do everything on my own. Before, I had a team of associates, law clerks and paralegals. Now, I have to handle the online filing system, decide what software to use and manage all aspects of my cases completely on my own. I’m learning something new every day.
I’m also learning better time management skills, in that I have to be the lawyer, business developer, office manager, and mom. There are many early mornings and late nights.
What did you do to prepare prior to launching your firm?
I sat down with friends and colleagues who have launched their own firms. Sarah Toney, who is also a member, gives a lot of presentations about how to launch your own firm and build a practice. She gave me her checklist. It included things like building a website, getting malpractice insurance, creating forms for client intakes, creating a retainer agreement, and all the basics that can be easily overlooked.
Lawyers spend most of their time advising clients and litigating matters. What do you do to generate business?
The community of divorce attorneys is really supportive. I let my colleagues and judges know about some of the more unique services I am offering, such as serving as a neutral in parenting coordination matters, mediation and I got on the guardian ad litem list.
The most important thing is reconnecting with friends, associates and colleagues. I spent the last ten years primarily focusing solely on practicing law. Now, I need to manage my time better so that I can continue providing my clients with great service while also building more relationships and developing more business.
I am excited to be completely in control of my career and my future.