There is no shortage of voices out there offering tips to attorneys who are looking to go out and start their own firm. Unfortunately, with so many lengthy articles, e-books, webinars, and other resources circulating, it can be hard for attorneys to narrow down this information into practical, actionable items they can take to help make their new venture a success.
Here at LawPay, we’ve worked with countless attorneys over the past decade who have taken the leap and started their own firms, and here are a few pieces of advice that we have heard from them time and time again.
Make a Plan
Whether you worked in a larger firm or you’re fresh out of law school, starting your own firm is going to come with a host of responsibilities you’ve never dealt with before. Lots of attorneys who start their own firm realize very soon that while law school taught them to be excellent attorneys, it didn’t teach them how to run a business.
As such, you should make a detailed plan for running your firm before you jump in and start attracting clients and taking cases. Things you’re going to want to do will include creating a formal business plan (you can get some great tips for doing so by clicking here), buying necessary office supplies, and investing in legal software that will help you run your firm. You may also consider talking to various professionals who can inform different parts of your business plan, including cybersecurity experts, accountants, and other attorneys who have successfully started their own practices.
Take Advantage of Technology
For a new practitioner who is trying to do more with less, taking advantage of existing technology is a must when setting up your business. This can take a lot of different forms. For example, rather than investing in a large, expensive copy/fax machine, get an affordable desktop printer/scanner, and make the jump to digital communications.
Additionally, there is incredible legal technology that exists solely to make your life easier. For example, many online legal tools were specifically developed to help solo and small firms run efficiently even with a small staff and a small budget. Some options you should look into for your practice include full-service practice management software, online credit card processing/payment solutions, document automation software, client-intake software, lead generating resource, invoicing/billing tools, and more.
Choose a Specialization for Your Practice
A common mistake among attorneys starting their own firm is that they think being a general practitioner is the safest way to drum up a large client base. Unfortunately, trying to be everything to everyone will not only wear you out as an attorney, but it will also limit your ability to truly become an expert in your field and gain recognition for this.
Choose a specialty and focus in on it. If you have multiple areas of interest, you may benefit from doing some simple market research in your targeted area of service to see if any particular practice areas are over- or underrepresented. Once you focus your practice, you can build a reputation as a “go-to” attorney for whatever it is you select, so take the time to choose a specialty or practice area you think you could be happy with for a while.
Take Marketing Seriously
Marketing your practice is obviously necessary, but using an outside firm can be financially draining. To save your new firm serious money, take the time to learn some legal marketing best practices and handle your marketing yourself, at least initially. The first thing you need to do from a marketing standpoint is build a professional website. The internet is the main way that people will search for a lawyer, and potential clients will make lots of assumptions about you based on the appearance of your website.
Once you have a sleek, professional website, you can start marketing your practice. Some simple and free or low-cost ways you can market your practice include:
- Regularly add rich, meaningful content to your website to help improve your site’s search engine rankings
- Contribute content to industry publications to help build your reputation
- Make sure your business is listed in major legal directories (like FindLaw and AVVO), and ensure that your profiles are as robust as possible
- Network on professional social networking sites like LinkedIn and attend local networking events to cultivate potential professional referral sources
- Cultivate relationships with the clients and former clients to try and secure repeat business and referrals
- Develop a social media presence for your firm
Once you establish a steady cash flow for your practice, you’ll be able to explore other paid marketing opportunities. In the meantime, the options will allow you to effectively market your new practice without spending thousands of dollars that you may not have in your budget.
Leave Your Current Job in the Right Way
If you’re leaving an existing firm to go off on your own, remember that it’s extremely important to leave in the right way. Like leaving any other professional position, don’t burn bridges or bad mouth your old firm, try not to leave in the middle of a large project, and make sure you give your employer plenty of notice—two weeks is the standard, but you may want to give more if particular circumstances warrant doing so. Additionally, there could be legal requirements involved in leaving an existing firm, including fiduciary duties. Because best practices can change from state to state, consider meeting with a business lawyer and with your state bar to make sure you aren’t forgetting any requirements or responsibilities.
When you’re ready to take your first client in your new firm, you’ll need an attorney-fee agreement. Below you can download a sample agreement that you can start using immediately in your new practice.