I’m going to start by asking the big, bold question, “Is selling your law firm really a thing?”. Well, it was for me, but it’s interesting that we even must ask that question. To me, after having been an elder law and estate planning lawyer for 19 years, asking that question, is just like asking, “Do I need a last will and testament when I’m about to die? Is that a real thing? “. It is when lawyers are ready to retire or they just don’t like running their practice anymore, or maybe they have an illness that makes it more difficult, if not impossible, to continue to practice. Then essentially you exit.
But how do you exit? Selling a law firm is an option, a real option, but that’s not the option that so many people take.
Creating My Own Niche
I sold my law firm in 2020. but before we even get there, before we talk about the sale, I want to talk about the 19 years before. When I went to law school, I was older than most law school students. I was 29 when I started, and most people are already graduated well before 29. I had joined the military before entering, college and law school, and I worked as a paralegal before going to law school.
When I graduated from law school, I opened my own firm right from the beginning. As an Aries from Texas coupled with my paralegal experience, I was a bit confident, if not arrogant. Then, within about four years, I had started off in a niche, a niche that was still just kind of new in the world of law. Estate planning has been around since before the United States has been around. Wills had already existed, but elder law was a newer practice area and had only been in existence since about the 1980s.
By 2006, I had created a niche within that niche, which was a very tiny part of veterans’ benefits. This tiny part of veterans’ benefits was what I taught the nation of lawyers: how to incorporate it into their state planning practice as well as into elder law planning practice. Not to mention, I obviously had a big following of clients in my own state compiled of non-lawyers whom we could help with VA benefits. And so, I became a recognized leader in that niche, traveling all over the world. I even wrote a top-selling book on the matter helping prepare me for quite the journey before I sold my firm 19 years later.
So how and when did I decide it was time to sell?
Knowing when it is time to sell is a process that took me back and forth three distinct times over 19 years. The truth is unless you’re simply aging out and thinking retirement is the next step, the only other way really is that angst telling you, “I need to get out of here.”
The first time I contemplated getting out of law was after experiencing the loss of a 19-week pregnancy with my wife which sent me into a very deep depression. I just didn’t want to do anything anymore. It wasn’t specific to my law firm; it was just I didn’t want to do anything. I found myself sitting at my desk with clients coming in while I sat there thinking, “I don’t care”, and that is not who I am or have ever been. I thought to myself, “If this is how I am, I either need help or I need to get out.” Fortunately, I got help: therapy got me through that one.
The second time was when I was just exhausted. I had decided I was going to finally break the $1 million barrier, I was going to put everything in, no matter the cost. Well, the cost was my health, and I was just spent. I just cannot continue like this anymore, it is not healthy. So, I found a coach: I learned my way through it. I then continuously thereafter broke that barrier year after year and was not exhausted. I was excited, pumped up, and motivated. This hard work and success brought me everything that I believed the law firm should bring me: a great lifestyle where my family was traveling the world. My family was fortunate enough to bring our children to Italy at the age of six! I was excited by the success and happiness it was affording us.
But the final time, the third time, it occurred to me in a very unexpected way. Remember how I said I had created a niche within a niche? I practiced elder law, and within that, I became an expert on VA benefits. I was teaching others how to do that, but I was still also very involved in my community.
On Veterans Day, I was giving a presentation at an assisted living facility, which is where many of our World War II and Korean veterans and their widows still live because they need that additional help and care. That’s the type of benefit that I was the expert in; helping wartime veterans receive additional income to help pay for long-term care, like home health care, assisted living care, and things like that. So, assisted living would always want to bring someone in to let their residents know about the benefits. What better day than Veterans Day? I’m a veteran. So, I’m there giving this presentation, and there is this one resident on the front row that was cantankerous and just continues to be that way. I thought to myself inside my head, “shut up.” The moment that I realized I had daggers in my eyes and this thought in my head, I said oh “no, I have to go”.
There isn’t any kind of coaching or therapy that’s going to get me past this because I’m done. And when you’re done, you know you’re done. It’s not that I didn’t have compassion or empathy for the elderly, or veterans. I worked in a nursing home before I went into the Air Force. I took care of people hands-on. I always felt I was serving my country even more by serving veterans than I did when I was on active duty in the Air Force. But when this happened, I just knew I need to go.
Starting a Plan To Get Out
That’s when I started putting a plan in place to sell my Law Firm. It was quite a mental transition and I had to really think about what’s it going to look like after I sell the firm. I was making good money and I had a great team, but I knew my firm was not yet ready to be sold from a buyer’s perspective. Why? Because at that time I had a law firm, and I did not have a business. While sometimes people can sell their law firms and make a little bit of money, you do better when you have a business.
If you want to learn the rest of the story, listen to our podcast episode, “Is Selling a Law Firm a Real Thing?” On your favorite streaming platform or here: