Almost all lawyers who start their own firms do so with a great deal of trepidation, and more than a few questions: “What if I don’t get any clients?” “What if I get clients, but they don’t pay me?” “What if I get in over my head with expenses and can’t pay my bills?”
All of which even very established firms also spend time worrying about.
The difference? In many ways, new firms have a tremendous advantage over their more established counterparts.
The difference-maker? Technology. While all law firms have access to the same automation tools today, older firms tend to have large investments in existing hardware and software that can make them reluctant to make the move to today’s more agile, efficient choices.
Attorneys opening new firms, for the most part, have no such burdens weighing down their practices.
What they do have is an enormous list of opportunities to be more efficient, more productive and more responsive to their clients through technology. If you’re just starting out, think lean, lithe and agile, starting with these three tips:
- Go paperless – Going paperless is one giant leap toward maximizing efficiency. It’s so important, in fact, that many a traditional firm has bitten the bullet to turn even very old paper files into the electronic variety. Attorney and law firm owner Randy Coleman made the commitment to go paperless in 2002, converting old files from as far back as 1995. “It is really impressive to a client when they call about a document that was completed 10, 15 or 20 years ago, and we can immediately pull it up to review it,” he said.
- Hire a legal technologist – Unless you have an unlimited amount of money to draw on, you’re much better off finding a technology expert you trust BEFORE you make your first purchase. According to Craig Bayer, founder and owner of Optiable legal technology consulting, every decision is dependent on every other. “Are you going Mac or PC, cloud or premise-based, Microsoft Office or Google apps? And that’s all before you even start investigating legal software,” he said. “Once those decisions are made, I advise getting your billing and accounting software in place. Even if you work on contingency and don’t bill clients, you still have to track expenses, you still have to pay taxes, you still need to know whether you’re profitable. All of those things are so much easier with software made specifically for law firms. Plumbers use QuickBooks. You’re not a plumber.”
- Repeat as many times as it takes: “I am not too old” – According to Ernie Svenson, who started his own litigation firm in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina brought the 50-attorney firm he had been working for to its knees, “If you’ve been working for someone else your entire career, you have friends you can ask about their experiences. I certainly did and it’s because of all those people who helped me that I started the Small Law Firm Bootcamp for others going out on their own. You may not know that much about business, but you can learn. If you’re smart enough to pass the bar exam, you can learn about good business practices, you can learn how to use technology.” Just ask Ronald Thompson, who retired from the successful litigation firm he had founded 40 years before, moved to his vacation home on the resort island of Gig Harbor and hung out a new shingle at the age of 70. “When I first started this, I hardly knew how to turn on a computer. Now I use PCLaw law on a daily basis.”
Attorneys going out on their own to start new firms can learn more about getting off to the right start, right from the start, in the new interactive infographic, Independents’ Guide.