Starting your own firm is an exciting endeavor. No longer will you be restricted by the rules and processes of your Big Law firm. There are so many decisions to be made like new email addresses and websites, internet service providers, document storage options, logos, marketing opportunities, social media…. The to-do list can seem endless.
But before you leave the comforts of Big Law, there are a few items that you might want to consider taking with you. While Big Law may have been confining, it also provided many of the creature comforts that you need to consider as you are embarking on this new adventure. They include:
- Documents — In many instances, your documents may have existed in a firm-wide server-based document management system. While such a system was great in a large firm for finding documents, such a system might not be ideal in a smaller firm. Take what documents you can, with the approval of your firm, and make sure they are in a format that can be used in a small office. The export of documents in a folder and subfolder structure with clients and matters, and document types, is fine. Ensure that the names of the documents that are exported for you are correct and not some gobbledygook name from the document management system that you no longer have access to.
- Contacts and calendars — Hopefully, you have the ability to take your existing contact list and calendar with you as you move away from your old firm. If you know the system that you would like to use in your new firm, be sure that your contacts and calendars are exported in that format. For most people, one of the following two options will work:
- CSV (comma separated values) — The .csv files are easily imported into cloud-based systems.
- PST (Outlook data file) — The.pst files are easily imported into Microsoft Outlook.
If you are not sure of the system you will be using in your new firm, ask if you can have your data in both formats so you do not limit your opportunities.
- Templates and “Go-Bys” — Most attorneys do not creating every document from scratch but often use go-bys and templates to create documents from Motions to Briefs. If you can, again with the approval of your firm, copy these standard documents and templates that you will use to create your new documents. Everyone has those favorite documents that you use over and over. These documents are an essential tool for your new practice.
- Pictures and biography information — In addition to creating a new firm, you will be creating a new website as well. Photos are essential piece of your new website and if you have good photos from your old firm that you can take with you that will assist with your new website. In addition, many attorneys include their biography information on their websites as well. Before that information is taken off of your old firm site, be sure you have a copy of that information for your new site. You will most likely be updating it (and hopefully getting some new pictures as well), but it is nice to know the information that was on your old site and not have to start from scratch.
Now that we have talked about the information to take with you, let’s talk about what not to take. The prospect of creating a new firm is exciting, but if you’ve been practicing for 20 years, Big Law is all you know. Now that your new firm will be small and nimble, try to break the preconceived notions of how law firms work. Consider some of the Big Law ideas to leave behind:
- Paper and Electronic Files — If your old firm was a paper monster, consider using tools like a ScanSnap iX500 scanner to move your firm toward a paperless office. Did your old firm pay thousands a month for off-site storage as a result of this paper monster? Make plans now on how to keep (or not keep) those paper files so you don’t suffer the same expense down the road.
- Client Numbering — Was your old firm bogged down in six digit client and matter numbers that no one could remember? Consider a client numbering or naming strategy that will work for your new firm and establish procedures for this system to accommodate growth. Do you need six digits for client number? Probably not to start off, but a sound numbering or name strategy is essential for organization.
- Time Entry — If you had someone else entering your time, is that an option for your new firm? If not, consider easily accessible tools on iPhones and iPads (like the iTimekeep app or Bill4Time.com) to enter your own time easily. These options may not have been as cost-effective in a larger firm, but they can be the key to accurately capturing time in a small firm.
- Virtual Services — If you used internal transcription services, consider using voice recognition software (like Dragon NaturallySpeaking 12) or a virtual transcription or digital dictation service. If you need an assistant, consider hiring a virtual assistant to start rather than a physical assistant.
- Hourly rates — Were your hourly rates so high to compensate for the Big Law overhead? Leave the big firm overhead behind and lower your hourly rate accordingly. Consider flat fees and alternative fee arrangements for clients interested in alternative billing arrangements that big firms were reluctant to offer.
It is a huge transition to move from Big Law to a solo or small practice, and thinking ahead can ease the difficulty inherent in the process. But, by utilizing your Big Law experience, bringing with you some tools that will help in the transition and leaving the Big Law processes behind, your new firm will flourish. Best of luck to you in this new adventure!