When you’ve made the decision to start your own law firm, it’s going to be a life-changing experience - it can also be incredibly rewarding. Out of the many benefits lawyers can enjoy by going out on their own, some of the most impactful can be:
- Having the ability to choose your own specialty and individual clients.
- Being able to control how your business is run.
- Hiring the team you want to work with and developing your relationships in the legal work on your own terms.
- Running a business that’s centered around your goals and values.
Of course, a lot goes into building a new law firm from the ground up, including many challenges. You will need to define your business strategies clearly, your expectations from the firm, and in what direction you expect and want to grow in. Devising a realistic and detailed plan and taking steps appropriately can determine the success of your firm.
Below you’ll find a carefully curated guide on how to start a law firm. With intent, discipline, and careful coordination, you could be on your way to owning your own successful law practice sooner than you think.
Consider Your Reasons for Wanting to Start Your Law Firm
Before you dive headfirst into beginning your law firm, it’s crucial that you have a clear grasp of why you’re embarking on this journey. When you make this decision, it’s going to impact your life and your career going forward profoundly. While starting your firm may sound appealing, it’s a lot of hard work, and it helps if you’re one hundred percent invested in it.
Consider the following:
- Is there an unfulfilled need in the legal industry in your area?
- Is there a high demand for the type of legal work you’d like to do?
- Are you considering starting your own firm because you’re unhappy with your current one?
- Do you have the skills to start your own business? If not, do you have a plan to develop them?
- Do you have a sound support system, including other legal professionals, that can help you along the way?
- How do you plan to make an impact on the legal community?
Decide if You Want a Partner
Determining if you want to take on a partner(s) or go in as a solo practitioner is an important decision. Very often, lawyers who are starting their own firm will do so with one or multiple partners who share the same vision. It can be helpful to partner, as each attorney will add their own knowledge and expertise; However, some lawyers prefer to start their firms on their own, allowing themselves the opportunity to develop their concept and dig their heels in before bringing someone else into the mix.
Choose a Company Name
Choosing the name for your firm is not only fun, but it’s also a pretty important decision. Don’t rush to any conclusions in this area - With any luck, you’ll be practicing law under this name for many years to come. The name of your firm is one that should exude confidence, easily identify the type of firm you are, and be easily remembered by potential clients. Keep in mind that down the road you’ll be beginning a website for your law firm - you’ll want to be sure your firm’s name is internet-friendly as well.
Seek Advice and Counseling
Experts in any industry will tell you one of the most critical steps to starting your own company is consulting with those who’ve already “been there, done that.” Be a sponge. Soak up all the knowledge offered to you and take diligent notes. After you’ve decided to start your own firm, schedule lunches, phone calls, and coffee dates with legal professionals you respect and who are willing to help. Be sure to ask the tough questions, i.e. What to do when (insert problem here) goes wrong? You’ll be glad you did late one night when you run into a new issue and need to make a tough call.
Determine Your Legal Area of Expertise
If there is anything the legal field isn’t about, it’s generalizing. When you aim to begin your own legal start-up, you’ll need to have a precise idea of what type of law you plan to practice. It’s essential to weigh the pros and cons of each area of law and make this decision carefully. Remember, while one area of law might be the most appealing, it’s possibly not the most practical of choices.
Below are some thoughts for you to consider while you narrow things down:
- Do you have experience in a specific field of law? This can help when it comes to strategizing and building up new clientele.
- What is the competition like in the area of law you’re considering? Is it filled with other law firms like personal injury law, or is it a more specialized area like business environmental law?
- What need does the area you plan to practice in have for your type of law? If you’re in a smaller town, for instance, picking the right legal area of expertise could give you a leg up if there’s a demand that hasn’t yet been met.
- What are you passionate about? While the legal field is mostly logical, it certainly helps if your heart’s in it as well. You may find it tough to begin and maintain a law firm if you don’t enjoy or have a passion for the type of law you’re practicing.
Outline Your Financial Plan
Opening any business, particularly a law firm, is going to require money. It won’t necessarily require much financial income to start, but it is going to rely heavily on having a clearly defined budget, strategy, and plan for financial stability and growth. Your financial plan should be one to help your law firm thrive, while also planning for when you may not be bringing in as much money as you need to meet our bottom line. According to Clio’s Legal Trends Report, many lawyers often fall short of having a sound financial plan in place for their firms. They estimate that lawyers spend just 2.3 hours per day on billable tasks - meaning many are working simply to keep going and retain some type of income instead of seeing actual growth.
As previously mentioned, it doesn’t necessarily take as much money as you’d think to start-up your own law firm, but it does require some element of a nest egg. According to Lawyerist, you should realistically plan for $5,000 to $15,000 in savings for starting your own firm. This amount can vary, however, depending on your financial plan, location, type of practice, office space requirements, and other components.
Open Financial Accounts
Your law firm is going to require the necessary financial accounts to keep your finances running smoothly. You’ll need to begin with two types of accounts: your operating account and your client’s trust account. The operating account is meant to house all business financials that are required to run your firm, pay yourself, and pay any employees you have. Your client’s trust account should in no way be impacted by operating expenses and should always be maintained separately.
In the legal profession, especially in certain areas, it can all boil down to whom you know. By building an excellent referral network, you’re helping your law firm gain much-needed referrals and reputability. By reaching out to and networking with lawyers in other fields of law, you can gain valuable referral sources for new clients. The goal is to be at the top of everyone’s Rolodex when a client contacts them looking for a lawyer who specializes in your area. Don’t be a pest, but regularly reach out, offer to take a legal acquaintance to lunch, attend get-togethers and conferences - the goal is to establish a name for yourself.
Reach Out to Potential Clientele
Depending on the type of law you chose to practice, your first clients could be right under your nose in the form of friends, family members, and the referrals they send your way. At this crucial point in time, consider everyone a potential client and “always be selling.” At the start of your practice, when you put the work in to secure your first clients, it often results in ongoing work from referrals and reputation.
Choose an Office
For many just starting out, they choose to work out of a home office instead of securing their own space. When money’s tight and your firm is new, holding off on establishing an office can make sense; However, it can also hurt your business depending on how often you meet with clients and what type of clients they are. CEO’s of a large corporation, for instance, aren’t going to be too keen on sitting in your living room and reviewing the legalities of their business. As a compromise, some start-up law firms will find a shared space office location, where they can open up shop while sharing space with other companies to save money. Some law firms even choose to go the virtual route; Learn more about running a virtual law firm here.
Research Permit, License, and Insurance Requirements
The absolute last thing you want to do is get your law firm going and then run into an issue of missing the proper permits, licenses, insurance, or other state requirements. It’s imperative that you dedicate time to researching what you’ll legally need to conduct business and practice law in your area. Then, apply for the appropriate licenses and permits and continue moving forward only once you have what’s necessary.
Devise Your Marketing Plan
Aside from referrals and networking, how do you plan to get your law firm's name out there? Devising a marketing strategy for your new firm is imperative. Here are some things to consider:
- Have you considered your branding at all? What’s your mission statement? The image you convey will have a lot to do with the amount and type of clientele you secure.
- Consider the clientele you’re trying to secure - this will heavily influence your marketing strategy. Useful advertising to acquire business clients is going to vary significantly from how you would advertise to a predominantly senior crowd.
- Client testimonials can go a long way to helping your budding law firm. With each new client job complete, ask for a referral if everything went well. Don’t be shy. Most clients will be more than happy to help, and this information can be put to good use on your website and review sites.
- Look into guest-blogging on other sites to build credibility and trust.
- Determine how much effort you want to place into a website for your law firm. These days, many individuals and companies rely heavily on what they see online. While you’ll definitely want to have a professional and robust website, you may not need to put too much effort into this side of marketing depending on the type of law you plan to practice.
Of course there are plenty of books as well that address marketing. We have complied a great list here as well for you to check out.
Start a Website
As mentioned before, you’ll absolutely be expected to have a website for your law firm. Moreover, why wouldn’t you want one? A well-crafted website can be an essential and valuable marketing tool for your law firm. If you plan to utilize it for a significant portion of client acquisition, you’ll want to make sure you have some fundamental components down:
- SEO - SEO, or search engine optimization, is vital to law firms because it can help establish a higher market position with higher search engine rankings. It will also ensure your website brings in more targeted traffic, which means better lead conversion rates for your law firm. To increase the SEO of your website, be sure to research high-ranking keywords for your industry, optimize your meta descriptions in search results, consistently write and share content, and engage and target your local community with your content and services.
- Clearly Written Information - Essentially, this means don’t fill your website with legal jargon. Remember, most of your visitors and potential clients are not going to be lawyers themselves. It’s important to place yourself in the position of your potential clientele and gain an understanding of what they’d possibly be looking for in a law firm. Write clearly, concisely, and directly.
- Case Studies - Sharing and referring to relevant case studies on your website does two things. Number one, it helps to inform your potential client in the area in which they’re looking for legal service. Number two, it establishes you as a knowledgeable industry expert. Your clients will appreciate the information and experience in the area that you’re bringing to the table.
- Client Reviews - Having a dedicated spot on your site for client reviews is crucial. As soon as you’ve gathered a few reviews, immediately place them on your website. Continue this process every time you receive a new positive review. Potential clients value seeing the feedback of others and boasting an excellent client review repertoire will help establish your reputation as a great law firm.
- Google AdWords - Having that perfectly placed ad at just the right time is gold for your website. When you’re building your website, be sure to establish a Google AdWords account so you can begin advertising online to potential new clients. The great thing about Google AdWords is that they have many tools to help you gain insight into how best to target your audience as well as providing you with SEO keyword help.
- Directory Registration - Once you have your website complete, you should head over to some of the online legal directories and get your law firm registered. By increasing your presence in law directories, you can ensure a better chance of your law firm showing up in search results and potentially increase your web traffic. A good legal directory to check out is Avvo.Com.
It’s almost guaranteed that whichever area of law you chose has a dedicated association or organizations that you can join. This is a crucial step for you as an attorney, and for your law firm, because it connects you with other attorneys that you can seek advice from co-counsel with, and network with. In the legal industry, knowledge truly is power, and when you’re part of an organization that you can seek guidance from it can mean all the difference to your start-up law firm. As a bonus, many of these organizations also have something called a “listserv.” A listserv is an email network that allows you to email every single member of the organization, thus providing an invaluable networking tool.
Plan Your Infrastructure
To have a successful law firm, you need to time-track and bill effectively. To make this a reality, setting up the operating essentials to your law firm’s day-to-day is vital.
Here are some of the critical components you’ll need to strategize and plan for:
- Accounting and Financial - When setting up your accounting, you’ll need to decide if you plan to hire an accountant or if you’re going to utilize software to keep track of the financial aspect of your law firm.
- Time-Tracking - In the legal industry, work is billed by the hour and minute. Before taking on any clients, you’ll need to decide how you’d like to keep track of time. Optimizing your time-tracking and staying organized will ensure your clients have a great experience with your law firm and that you’re maximizing your billing.
- Billing - Billing goes hand-in-hand with time-racking. You’ll need to figure out how you plan to bill your clients. Which software do you plan to use? Also, are you going to give your clients the ability to pay online or through your website?
- Docketing and Calendaring - As a lawyer, you’re already familiar with the importance of case docketing and calendaring. The system and software you use should be organized, thorough, and allow for easy collaboration between your clients and any potential team members.
- File Organization and Storage - How are you planning on storing your files? You’ll need to store all documents and data securely, but also be able to access them easily. These days, many law firms are choosing to store documents and files through cloud storage solutions, skipping the traditional method of paper filing.
Choose Your Technology and Cloud Software
When starting your new law firm, it’s crucial that you take steps to technologically keep-up with your clients. All businesses these days are racing towards better and more efficient ways to communicate, maximize their company’s capability and profit, and improve their growth strategies. The same can be said for personal clients - effective communication, task completion, and transparency are essential. Your clients are going to expect your law firm to maintain pace and provide them with practical solutions. Luckily, with the growth of cloud computing software, there are many solutions out there to help your law firm establish itself as a leader in the industry. Take the time to carefully consider which cloud-based software you’d like to incorporate into your law firm.
We've written a great guide for law firms to use when implementing technology and includes everything they must know and plan for to achieve a positive ROI.
When you’ve decided to begin a new law firm, it can be a life-changing event that seals your position in the legal industry and allows you to build a firm in accordance with your vision. When you proceed with a concrete plan, and after calculated thought, you can find the process rewarding. Remember, beginning any new business from scratch will have its individual and unique challenges, but with persistence, it can be advantageous and gratifying.