Any new small business owner runs into immediate needs the moment the door to the shop swings open. New law firms, whether a newly minted attorney or a veteran litigator breaking off from Big Law to go it alone won’t find it any different. After all a law practice is a business.
In drawing from an evergreen white paper – Hanging Your Shingle 101: The 12 Realities of Starting Your Own Law Firm – we offer this “cliff notes” version alongside some additional helpful resources.
1. Invest in the basics. Starting a firm doesn’t need to break the bank, but at the outset, there are a few non-negotiable purchases that need to be made in order to sustain a business. They include:
- Printer, scanners and copiers
- Software for case management and accounting
2. Run a law firm like a business. An equally critical step to making small investments to support the firm at the outset, is developing a well-executed business plan. This includes defining how the firm intends to do the following:
- Make money
- Grow clients
- Sustain business
Also, prepare to periodically review the plan to see whether the firm is not meeting, meeting, or exceeding business goals and, adjust accordingly.
3. Develop a marketing plan. The first step to developing a winning marketing plan is to envision the type of firm you want be and/or what practice and/or specialty area you want to service. Once the firm’s vision is defined a well-executed marketing plan should include the following:
- List of clients and prospects
- Strategy for how you plan to reach them
- List of key competitors
- Analysis of the firm’s strengths and weaknesses
Resources to help inform this process can also be found at local bar associations as well as these helpful links:
- Small Business Administration
- ABA: Solo and Small Law Resource Center
- LexisNexis: Independents’ Way
- Paperless Chase: Small Firm Bootcamp
- MyShingle: Start a Law Firm Guide
- Solo Practice University
4. Begin with the end in mind. While it seems counterintuitive, be sure to have an exit strategy in place before opening a firm. The one certainty in life, is that it can be anything but predictable. Since attorneys have a myriad of ethical considerations to prepare when closing a firm, it’s better to figure out an exit strategy now. In other words, it’s always best to be prepared if the unexpected happens inhibiting your ability to represent the firm’s clientele. You’ll thank yourself later.
5. Focus on your craft and let technology handle the rest. Just as a client wouldn’t hire an accountant to handle their legal affairs, it doesn’t make sense for a busy solo attorney to waste time on arduous non-billable accounting, billing and record keeping tasks.
It makes much more sense to invest in affordable online practice management tools that can handle this non-billable work with greater accuracy and efficiency. For clients, it means more attention is being paid to their legal matters. After all, that’s why they hired an attorney in the first place. For attorneys it means less administrative headaches and more time spent on substantive legal work which actually pays the bills. In short, it’s win-win all around.
While there’s a lot that goes into hanging your own shingle, it seems like the secret to success comes from a both a deep drive within and preparation.
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