Many lawyers dream of opening their own practice. Maybe they are tired of being a small part of a big firm and they want to branch out on their own. Perhaps they want to relocate and open a firm in a smaller town.
Whatever the reason, starting your own law firm can be intimidating, especially if you are just out of law school. There’s no doubt that this experience can be very challenging; however, with a few smart decisions it can be very rewarding. Here are five tips that you can use to give yourself an advantage when you are starting your own law firm.
Start marketing early
To put it bluntly, your law firm cannot stay open if you can’t pay the bills. The only way to make sure that you have the funds to operate is to get new clients into your office. If clients don’t know that you’re there, the whole system breaks down.
Ideally, you should have a good amount of savings set aside for your first few months in your new office. If not, start saving now. Those savings will keep you open in the beginning and they will also help you set up your marketing budget. Above all, you will need a website.
It’s possible to put together a simple blog very cheaply and easily but it won’t look very professional. Hire a local web designer or find an affordable service that will help you create a great-looking website. It costs a bit more, but you’ll get a great site to attract clients and you’ll have someone to call if your site crashes. Make sure you set up social media pages as well. This advertising is more effective and less costly than traditional print ads.
Live by your plan
Months before you start up your firm, you need to begin planning. You need to understand how you will attract clients, how you will meet other local attorneys and how you will manage daily tasks.
Find some reliable organizational software with a calendar to help you keep track of your schedule and plans. Schedule meetings with attorneys in your area and don’t be afraid to ask questions. Visit the property where you will set up your office and begin planning how to set things up. Don’t neglect things like finding good utility companies and local office supply stores. The more solutions that you have on file for potential issues, the better you’ll be able to deal with management stress.
Remember, you’re not just practicing law, you’re also managing a business.
Cut costs whenever possible
Starting a law firm is an exercise in budgeting. You will always end up spending more than you anticipated and your savings will run out eventually. Find discounts and savings wherever you can to manage your finances.
Fortunately, it’s gotten much easier in the last few years to keep office costs down. Instead of expensive, bulky printers and copiers, you can purchase all-in-one desktop units that print, scan, copy and fax. Use e-mails and PDFs to cut down on clutter and supply costs.
Use a virtual voicemail and virtual assistants to manage appointments and meetings. Use Skype for meetings and conferences to cut down on driving time and fuel costs. You may be able to add an extra line to your current cell phone plan for less than the cost of having office phones installed. Cutting costs can help you to have the money you need to spend where it really counts.
Supplement your income
You’ll be very busy during your first few months of operation but it might not be the business you’re hoping for. It takes time to start attracting clients and you might not have as much business as you would like starting out.
This can lead to some financial restrictions as your income is limited. Supplement your income by filling your work hours with other ways to earn an income. Contract work is a great solution.
Help other attorneys with research and take on legal writing projects. You might even be able to tutor law students from a local college. If you can get some additional income established, you’ll have a much easier time keeping your doors open.
Managing your own firm gives you a huge amount of flexibility and freedom but it comes at a cost. You’ll have to be very disciplined about managing your time effectively.
At first, you probably won’t have enough extra income to hire a legal assistant. That means you’ll to manage a lot of things on your own.
Make this easier on yourself by learning to prioritize. Use your organizational software to make detailed lists of the most important tasks to complete each day. Start with the most important and work your way down.
Above all, be judicious with your time. Skype calls and law firm management software can help you save money but they can also save you a huge deal of time. You’ll have to put in some long hours at first but, if you stick by strict self-management principles, you’ll get a handle on your workflow quickly.
Law firm management checklist
After reading these five tips, you’ll have plenty to think about. Don’t get too overwhelmed, though, remember to focus on the basics. Here’s a checklist of basic things that you’ll need to have in order to launch your firm:
- Marketing (social media, website, etc.)
- Functional office (printer/scanner, computer, phone line, management software)
- Knowledge of your area (meetings with local attorneys and clients)
- Financial support system (savings, contract work, extra income)
The final entry on that checklist may be the most important. Every law firm will have a tough first year. If you follow these tips, thoroughly prepare and remain determined to stick it out through the hard times, things will start to turn in your direction as more clients see your hard work.