Going to law school, passing the bar, and becoming an attorney takes a special kind of person. Not everyone can learn that much material, understand all the jargon, and withstand the pressure of being cold-called out in class. The bonus is that those abilities give you an edge for learning how to start and run a successful business.
Whether you decide to open a law firm or forge a path in a different direction, it’s clear knowing the law can help you mitigate risk. It did for my husband and me. I graduated magna cum laude from the University of La Verne, College of Law in 1999, and my husband graduated from Pepperdine Law School. But, we had no interest in getting hired as low-earning law clerks. From our tiny apartment, we bought a web domain and started an online business. It grew into a successful company, which we sold for millions a few years after startup.
Our next entrepreneurial adventure was the business we own now, CorpNet, which we started in 2009, and still, to this day, use the skills we learned studying to be lawyers.
Law school gives you an excellent foundation for understanding many business aspects, including contracts, regulations, product challenges, and more. Did you know Nina and Tim Zagat met while attending Yale Law School? They came up with the idea for Zagat restaurant reviews while at a dinner party.
Law school graduates become artists, authors, musicians, actors, you name it. I recently spoke to a few law school alums about how studying to be attorneys honed their skills and helped them start a business.
Law School Trains You to Look for Things That Can Go Wrong
Entrepreneurs are risk-takers, but they take calculated risks. That’s a significant difference. Smart business owners act after they vet the risks. Law school teaches you to look for and identify potential risks.
- Vendors failing to deliver: What contract terms should I add to an agreement to lessen the risk?
- Claims of negligence: How can I protect my company from getting sued by consumers of my products/services?
- Are there disasters (natural or otherwise) that could keep customers from patronizing my business, and what insurance coverage do I need to mitigate that risk?
- What local, state, and federal regulations must I comply with, and how costly/complex will it be to manage compliance?
- How can I protect my brand from competitors?
- How can I protect my personal assets from my business’s liabilities?
The Legal Profession Teaches You to Look Outside the Box
Too often, business owners get fixated on specific processes or products, confident they’re the best solutions. They lack the ability or training to step back and objectively evaluate their ideas.
Lawyers are taught to look at issues from multiple viewpoints. This is not only beneficial; it helps avoid tunnel vision. In business, this skill helps you discover alternative solutions and spot potential pitfalls before they happen.
You Learn How to Speak Publicly and Sell Persuasively
Public speaking is a vital and useful marketing tool for small business owners—whether you’re speaking in front of an audience, in a webinar, podcast, or one-on-one with potential clients, partners, or investors. Whenever they speak, business owners build awareness for their brands, promote themselves as industry experts, and boost their reputation in their communities and industries.
Practicing law requires critical thinking skills and learning how to write and speak succinctly yet persuasively. You are taught to organize your thoughts and make an argument in small pieces. As a business owner, those skills come in handy during the sales process, whether you’re trying to close the deal with a customer or convince a banker or VC to invest in your company.
Being comfortable expressing yourself is a crucial skill since there’s no room (or time) for shyness or insecurity—entrepreneurs have to be comfortable and confident when talking to just about anyone.
Good communicators become go-to sources for members of the media, which gives you more exposure and authority. Using your writing skills to guest blog for relevant websites helps you build credibility and boosts your brand awareness.
Ideas for Businesses
My husband and I started two online legal document and compliance businesses with the skills and knowledge we learned as lawyers. However, there are many other non-legal business opportunities where your legal knowledge and skills give you an advantage.
For example, with your expertise in identifying and managing risk, you can start a cybersecurity or insurance business. Cybersecurity is a massive area of opportunity right now with a shortage of qualified resources, so if you add some IT knowledge to your existing risk management abilities, it increases your chances of success.
Companies and consumers need to understand and know how to apply the many data privacy laws now emerging. Since you studied regulatory compliance, you could start a consulting firm, helping other businesses be and stay compliant.
If you have the ability to listen to all sides, negotiate fairly, and articulate solutions, with a little extra schooling, you could be a therapist or mediator.
No matter your expert niche, being a lawyer gives you a solid foundation to build a business on and improves your chances of success in whatever business you decide to start.
This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of The Bureau of National Affairs, Inc. or its owners
Nellie Akalp is the founder and CEO of CorpNet.com, a service provider for business incorporation, LLC filings, and corporate compliance services. Akalp and her team recently launched a partner program for legal, tax, and business professionals to help them streamline the business incorporation and compliance process for their clients.