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For many lawyers—new grads and established attorneys alike—starting a law firm is an appealing goal.
Whether you’re ready to begin putting those dreams into action or you’re simply exploring the idea of turning your legal career into an entrepreneurial endeavor, there are some things to consider. We put together these ten tips, compiled from our extensive experience working with dozens of budding law firms, to help you hit the ground running.
1. Determine Whether You Have the Time to Be a Business Owner
If you’ve reached the point where you’re thinking about starting your own law firm, you’re probably more than familiar with the daily demands of being a lawyer. However, starting a law firm does not only require legal skills but business know-how as well.
Before you jump right into launching your firm, take a few moments to consider the time commitment it will require. Once your firm is up and running, you will no longer be just a lawyer who’s solely responsible for working on cases—you’ll also be a business owner. From employee management to bookkeeping, this role could easily add several hours of work to your daily schedule.
2. Determine Your Staffing Needs
If you anticipate a tight schedule between your legal and entrepreneurial duties, you may want to consider getting help with certain tasks.
To do so, make a list of all the responsibilities you will have when your firm is established. Note which of those you could use the most help with along with an estimate of the number of hours those tasks will take each week. This will help you pinpoint your staffing needs as well as a rough budget for hiring those staff members.
3. Fine-Tune Your Practice Areas
You probably already have an idea of the type of law you’ll practice, but many new law firms make the mistake of casting too wide of a net. As any marketing expert will tell you, finding your niche is key. This is why it’s worth taking some time to carefully consider and fine-tune your practice areas.
Let’s say you have experience in criminal defense, family law, and personal injury. Although some established firms can get away with practicing all three of these, new law firms will have greater luck focusing exclusively on what they do best.
Once you’ve chosen your niche, narrow in even further. Offering something that other nearby firms don’t provide can quickly set you apart from your competition.
4. Choose Your Location
Clients want to know that they can conveniently reach your office. With this in mind, it pays to think carefully about the physical location of your law firm.
First, consider the local supply and demand of lawyers in your chosen practice area. Which neighborhood has the greatest need?
If you’ve pinpointed an area you think you could succeed in, consider its accessibility to other areas in your region. How close is it to the nearest highway? Are there any other potential obstacles, like excessive traffic? The answers to these questions can help you decide where to put down your roots.
5. Choose Your Business Name Wisely
The name of your firm is another major factor that will influence its success.
The primary goal of your business name is to ensure that prospective and current clients can remember it and differentiate it from other firms. On that note, there are a few features that your firm’s name should have: professionalism, simplicity, memorability, and something indicating that it’s a law firm.
Words or phrases you should consider using include the founding attorneys’ names, your core practice area, or your location. Keep it creative, straightforward, and original. This is your first opportunity to let your law firm shine!
6. Work Out the Financials
It’s time to crunch some numbers. As an aspiring business owner, you want to make sure you will have a steady stream of revenue that always remains greater than your expenses. Starting your firm will also require considerable upfront expenses, so you should make sure you can cover those, too.
Before you get your law firm off the ground, you may want to consider working with an accountant or a financial advisor to ensure that your firm’s business model is financially viable. If this doesn’t fit within your budget, you should set aside some time to figure out your pricing and billing structure.
With that information, you should lay out all of your expected expenses and compare them to your firm’s sources of capital, then make adjustments as needed. This should be followed with a detailed plan to set aside money for overhead and taxes. Be sure to choose your corporate entity status and register your EIN as well.
7. Have a Marketing Plan
Now comes the most critical part of starting a law firm: acquiring clients.
As soon as you have the foundation of your firm laid out, it’s time to develop a marketing plan. Marketing can come in many forms, but as leading law firm marketing pros, we recommend SEO (search engine optimization) and ads, with a few other strategies sprinkled in.
Before you begin your marketing campaign, you’ll need a functional, eye-catching website. This is where you will publish your optimized content.
If this sounds intimidating, don’t worry! There are some relatively simple ways to achieve this yourself—see our guide here. Alternatively, you may want to consider letting a digital marketing company handle this for you so you can spend more time working directly with your clients.
8. Develop a Client Management Strategy
Even if you haven’t built a client base yet, it’s a good idea to outline your client management strategy before you’re inundated with cases. How will you consult with a prospective client? How will you communicate case updates to your clients? How will you collect payments from them? These are just a few of the questions you’ll want to answer.
As you work out these details, keep a written record of them. Having clear, well-documented client management processes can help ensure that your law firm runs smoothly at all times and that clients are always left satisfied.
9. Explore Your Software Options
Now we’re getting into the nitty-gritty of law firm operations—let’s talk software.
With so much innovative and accessible law firm management software available today, there’s no need to rely on inefficient, outdated technology. Taking advantage of Law Practice Management Software is crucial for the modern law firm to stay on top of the various components of its business.
This type of software connects multiple independent functions of a legal firm. However, all are not created equal, so it’s a good idea to do some research before choosing one.
10. Establish Other Office Systems, Policies, and Procedures
There are a few other details you’ll want to work out before you officially launch your law firm. From calendaring to record filing, the day-to-day of a law firm’s operations involves a variety of moving parts. Establishing and documenting these systems early on can help you gain momentum, and you can always make adjustments later as you begin putting them into action.
Some other systems you may want to outline include the following:
- Organizational mission and structure
- Administrative procedures
- Time tracking
- Employee onboarding
- Conflict checking
- Management, training, and delegation
- Goal setting
- Workplace health (See: Meditation for Lawyers) and safety
- Security and confidentiality
- Cancellations and missed appointments
These are just a few examples of the systems, policies, and procedures you should consider putting into writing. Additional elements unique to your firm may require further procedures, so be sure to evaluate the individual needs of your law firm.
Starting a law firm is a challenging endeavor but a worthy one for motivated legal professionals. However, you don’t have to take on each of these tasks alone.
For example, suppose you don’t have much hiring or management experience. In that case, you may want to hire an HR professional or an office manager to help you determine your firm’s staffing and procedural needs and effectively implement them. Similarly, if you aren’t comfortable with the marketing side of running a law firm, you can consider working with a marketing firm to handle it for you.
At Constellation Marketing, law firm marketing isn’t just what we do — it’s all we do. Ready to bring your vision of a thriving law firm to life? Book a call with us today and find out how we can help you do exactly that.