Starting a new law firm is a significant endeavor that requires careful planning and consideration. This article has two parts:
- Main Considerations
- Common Lawyer questions
1. Main Considerations
- Area of Specialization: This should be one of the first considerations when starting a new law firm. It’s crucial to identify the area of law you want to specialize in. This could range from corporate law to family law, from criminal law to intellectual property law. Your area of expertise, potential clientele, market needs, and personal interests will greatly influence this decision.
- Business Plan: A comprehensive business plan will outline the firm’s purpose, target market, competitors, financial projections, marketing and growth strategies, and operational plans. This is also where you will define your mission, vision, and values.
- Location: The location of your law firm can greatly influence its success. You need to consider the proximity to your target clientele, access to courts, local competition, and cost of office space.
- Funding: Starting a law firm can be expensive, particularly with upfront costs such as rent, technology, marketing, and staff salaries. It’s important to have a clear understanding of your financial needs and options, including personal savings, loans, or investors.
- Legal Structure: You need to decide on the legal structure of your firm – whether it will be a sole proprietorship, partnership, LLP, or corporation. Each has its own legal and tax implications.
- Compliance and Licensing: You must ensure that you and any partners or employees have the necessary licensing to practice law. You must also comply with relevant local, state, and federal laws and regulations.
- Staffing: Depending on your plan, you may need to hire staff. This could include paralegals, administrative support, or other attorneys.
- Marketing and Client Acquisition: A key part of any law firm’s success is its ability to attract and retain clients. This will require a comprehensive marketing strategy, including online presence (website, SEO, social media), networking, and possibly advertising.
- Technology: You’ll need to consider what kind of technology you will need, including case management software, legal research tools, billing and time tracking software, and basic office software and hardware.
- Risk Management: Make sure you have appropriate insurance coverage, like malpractice insurance. Also, it’s essential to have secure methods to protect client data and meet ethical obligations.
2. Common Questions
Here are some common questions from lawyers considering starting a new law firm.
- What should you name your new firm?
- What entity should be used to form the firm? (an LLC? or an S-Corp? etc.)
- Initial publicity – how to best let people know you’re starting out
- When is the best time to announce it?
- When and how do you let your old firm know you’re leaving?
- How to avoid or minimize rancor with your old firm once you tell them that you’re leaving
- Trust accounting concerns – how to set up properly? what are the requirements?
- Getting the right technology (read this article)
- Business management strategies
If you’re starting a solo practice, these are common concerns:
- Fear of practicing law alone (e.g., concern about not having anyone else to bounce ideas off of)
- Concern about loss of prestige/stature (perceived or actual)
Getting New Business
No matter what kind of firm you start, there will be a need to attract new clients, which in turn triggers concerns about:
- Cash flow – paying monthly expenses, payroll, etc.
- Concerns about getting clients going forward in a steady enough stream
- Concerns about getting “bread & butter” clients
Marketing Your Practice
Getting clients requires you to market yourself and your firm so that raises questions like:
- Should you have a website? How will you do that? Who will help?
- Domain name? (yes, you’ll need it for @lawfirm email; and for your website)
- Business cards – where to get them? how to have them designed properly?
- Announcements: how will you make it known you started your own practice?
These are common concerns:
- Malpractice insurance: where to get, and how much to pay
- Office Space – Regular, Home Office, Co-Working Space, etc.
- Office Furniture – desk, chair, lighting, file cabinets
- Accounting costs & fees
- Bookkeeping costs
- Time & Billing software
- Legal Research service – free or paid? – FastCase, Casemaker, Westlaw, Lexis
Staffing Your Firm
You will probably want administrative, secretarial or paralegal help. This means questions about:
- Hiring the right support staff (what can you afford?)
- Not having support staff (because you can’t afford it)
- Delegation – how good are you at managing staff or letting go of tasks you shouldn’t do?
- Secretarial needs (can you use software and outsourcing to do this?)
- Paralegal needs (can outsourcing cover some of this?)
- Receptionist (you can definitely outsource this and should)
What technology do you need? Here’s a short checklist of top-level considerations:
- Technology Equipment – computer, printer, extra monitor, scanner
- Technology Software – Microsoft Word, Excel, Outlook, Adobe Acrobat etc.
- Business Phone Service – Landline, VOIP, soft-phone
- Email account (should be set up with a domain like @yourlawfirm.com)
- Practice Management Software
- Technology consulting fees & costs
- And for more insight, read this article.
Starting a law firm is not just about practicing law; it’s about running a business. It requires strategic planning, financial management, and expert technology assessment.
Seeking advice from experienced colleagues, mentors and even hiring a business consultant could prove beneficial.