On two different occasions I started my own law firm. The first time after I had been out of law school a total of 18 months. The second time a little over two years ago. In today’s blog post I wanted to go over 10 things that I have learned about starting your own solo law firm practice:
(1) Plan Before Launch - But Don’t Delay: For sure it is necessary to put in quite a bit of preparation prior to making the leap and starting your own practice. But I have found that some lawyers get caught up in the preparation stage so long that they never launch. Get what you need to start your practice: a website, a computer, a printer, a scanner, and practice management software, and get going.
(2) If You Have the Funds, Get a Quality Website: The first time I started a law practice it was 2005 and having a great website wasn’t that important. But then again, soon after starting my practice in 2005 I went out and got a yellow pages ad – something I would never do now.
No matter your practice area, your clients are going to want to learn more about you, your law practice, and what you can do for them by visiting your website. Your online presence is today’s storefront. If you throw up a cheapo website it reflects poorly on your law practice. If possible, get a mobile responsive website that is easy to read and use on mobile phones and tablets. You won’t regret investing your website. For all of my websites I have used Rowboat Media.
(3) Keep Monthly Overhead Low: When I first started a law firm I was coming from a mid-sized firm of about 25 lawyers and about 30 staff members. When it came to law firms, this was all I knew. So when I created my own solo practice, I tried to copy what I had seen – a much larger law firm.
This was a mistake. Bigger firms are not even in the same universe as solo practices. The biggest difference is money. The bigger law firm has much more of it. When starting your own practice it can be tempting to want to create a smaller version of the larger law firm you just left. Avoid this at all costs. The first time around I brought on a lot of staff and upgraded on two different occasions to a larger office. All this did was stress me out and require that I work night and day just to meet payroll.
Initially, keep things simple. Limit expensive costs like office space and staff. When I started my solo law practice the second time I operated out of a home office with three “virtual” offices where I could meet clients. This reduced my monthly overhead tremendously.
Next, I didn’t hire any staff. I know in some practice areas this is simply not possible. But I started out with a virtual receptionist at Call Ruby and handled the administrative stuff on my own. It meant a lot more work for me, but it was nice not having to cut a big check for payroll and rent.
Eventually I moved up to a contract paralegal who helped with specific jobs, and then I moved to a full time staff person. I also moved into a permanent office two years after starting my practice. Growing slowly the second time around has made a world of difference and kept the growth of the practice slow but steady.
(4) Keep Your Marketing In-House: Of course I am going to say this. The entire purpose of the JDBlogger blog/podcast is to teach attorneys that you can market your practice through blogging, podcasting, and social media and not pay thousands of dollars per month to SEO consultants.
If you aren’t familiar with content marketing such as blogging then follow this blog and take the time to learn what it takes to create a quality blog for your law practice. If you are consistent, I know you will find out what I did, that you can bring in all the work that you can handle simply by being helpful and writing articles that answer the questions you get day in and day out.
(5) Don’t Do Print Advertising: Print advertising like yellow pages, billboards, and newspapers/magazines are super expensive and I haven’t seen them to be particularly effective unless you have the cash flow to do this on a huge scale. If you have the budget to put of dozens or billboards all over town it may get a return that makes this worth your time and money. On the other hand, if you are thinking of throwing up a single bilboard along the freeway, you will likely find the only result is that you are a few thousand dollars lighter than you would otherwise have been.
(6) Buy a Fujitsu ScanSnap iX500 Scanner
and Ditch the Copy Machine
Technology makes starting your own practice so much less expensive than it used to be. One of the largest expenses in many offices is the copy machine. Initially, if you buy one the cost will be several thousand dollars, and even if you lease you are looking at a large monthly payment.
Then comes the service plan – and you have to get the service plan because it will, without fail, breakdown. A lot. This adds another huge payment to the monthly pile of bills.
You can avoid a copy machine by purchasing a good scanner and a printer. I recommend (as do several lawyers) the Fujitsu ScanSnap iX500 Scanner. It is blazing fast, scans both sides of the page, and makes scanning all of your files very easy. I simply scan documents as the come in each day and then if I need a copy I can just print one. Often whoever needs the copy can just be emailed the pdf copy and save you the time, toner, and paper.
(7) Buy a Fujitsu Scanner and Ditch the Fax Machine
Like the copy machine, technology has made the fax machine unnecessary. Again, I scan everything in the office and then if I need to fax something I use a service called MyMaxEmail. This service is very cheap at $20 per month and allows you upload pdf’s from your computer and send them as faxes and also allows you to receive faxes directly to your computer.
(8) Purchase eBook Versions of Your Statute Books and Legal Manuals
Basically anything in print is going to cost you a lot of money. I remember when I reached the one year anniversary of my law firm the first time around I bought myself an entire set of Arizona Revised Statutes. Price tag: $5,000! And little did I know, I also received a $600 bill every January for the updates.
Most legal books can now be purchased in ebook form. Get yourself an iPad and purchase as many of your manuals in an ebook format. You will always have them with you, they are often very searchable, and the overall costs is much less expensive as are the updates.
(9) Use Cloud-Based Systems: Another area where you can increase productivity and reduce cost is through the use of cloud-based systems when it comes to practice management software and data storage.
In the old days you would be required to spend thousands of dollars for a decent law practice management software. On top of that you would be required to spend more money on yearly service packages.
Now you can get online cloud-based systems that have all the bells and whistles at a fraction of the cost. And they are mobile so you can access them from anywhere (which means you can work 24/7 -hooray!). I use Rocket Matter and over the last two years have found it to do everything I need in a practice management system, and it only costs about $70 per month.
(10) Innovate: One the greatest – if not the greatest – thing about being a solo or small firm attorney is the flexibility you have. You can change the way things have always been done, incorporate new technology to meet the demands of your clients, and adapt your business to the way you like to do business.
Because things don’t have to be run through a committee you can try new systems out, incorporate different practice areas, and accommodate to meet the needs of your clients like no big law firm could ever do. Don’t be afraid to try new things. Educate yourself on new technologies and how your clients incorporate them into their business or lifestyle and then see what you can do to make the decision of hiring you all that much easier.
Innovation is the fun part of running your own business. Embrace it.
It is rare that I run into a lawyer who hasn’t at least thought of opening up their practice. It is not for everyone. Independence comes with its own stresses and difficulties, but it does provide a level of freedom (and by this I don’t mean freedom from hard work) that you can’t get working for someone else.
*Note – some of these links are affiliate links. This means that I get a commission if you decide to purchase an item by clicking on the link above. It won’t cost you a penny more. Please note that I don’t recommend any product that I don’t personally use and have found to be very useful/reliable.