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Legal Tech Briefs: Small Law Firm Startup with Heidi S. Alexander

Legal Tech Briefs  Small Law Firm Startup

“Managing a solo- or small-law law firm practice requires business acumen.” 

So says Heidi S. Alexander a law practice management advisor with Massachusetts LOMAP – the law office management assistance program. Her experience – and by extension advice – stems from her role as an advisor and entrepreneur with solo law firm experience.

Ms. Alexander joined us for a Google Hangout interview this week, of which the complete video is embedded nearby. Here’s summary (paraphrase) of some of the primary questions – and her answers.

What are some of the common pitfalls attorneys make when establishing a new law firm?

A law firm is a business and newly minted solo- or small-law firm attorneys don’t realize when they begin, that a significant portion of their time will be dedicated to managing the business. All law firms need to dedicate time to managing a practice or risk winding up in trouble both ethically and financially, says Ms. Alexander.

A good way to mitigate such risk is to have a business plan that outlines a roadmap for the business side of a practice. A business plan doesn’t have to be a formal document, but a set of guidelines, including a budget and a marketing plan, that can be reviewed and adjusted every few months. The mental exercise of business planning helps attorneys make better business decisions and set goals for the growth of a practice.

The other mistake Ms. Alexander observes is a lack of organization.  Attorneys in small law firms tend to juggle multiple responsibilities and she recommends small law firms use a law practice management program.  Such software helps attorneys track clients, matters, deadlines, court dates, conflict checks, billing among a number of other routine management tasks a small law firm attorney needs to be concerned about.

In a small law firm, the attorney is also the brand – anywhere they go – they have to “sell themselves.”

What do solo- or small law firm attorneys do well, which they may not always recognize, or give themselves credit for?

Many don’t give themselves credit for how much they actually know about marketing instinctively.  In a small law firm, the attorney is also the brand – anywhere they go – they have to “sell themselves.” As a result, solo and small law firm attorneys naturally tend to get pretty good at marketing.

Ms. Alexander also finds that small law firm attorneys tend to work efficiently.  She believes this is a consequence of the fact that the attorneys must do much of the administrative work required to run a practice. Those attorneys that excel at efficiency are the ones that establish good workflow from the very beginning and make effective use of technology.

* * *

The complete interview runs about 19 minutes and she explores some of the options for new law graduates considering starting a firm near the end.  Ms. Alexander can be found on Twitter, LinkedIn and Google+ – and she also co-hosts a podcast with the Legal Talk Network called the Legal Toolkit.

Additional helpful resources

Photo credit:  Flickr via Creative Commons

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About Frank Strong

Frank Strong
Frank Strong is the communications director for the LexisNexis software division located on NC State’s Centennial Campus in Raleigh. In this capacity, he leads communications efforts in support of software products for law practice and law department management and also litigation tools – across large law, small law and corporate counsel segments. With more than 15 years of experience in the high-tech sector, Strong previously served as director of public relations for Vocus, which developed marketing, PR and media monitoring software. He has held multiple roles both in-house with corporations, ranging from startups to global organizations, and has also endured the rigors of billable hours, having completed gigs at PR firms including the top 10 global firm Hill & Knowlton. A veteran of two year-long deployments, Strong has concurrently served in uniform in reserve components of the military for more than 20 years, initially as an enlisted Marine and later as an infantry officer in the Army National Guard. Strong holds a BA in Film and TV production from Worcester State University, an M.A. in Public Communication from American University, and an M.B.A. from Marymount University. He is a PADI-certified Master Scuba Diver and holds a USPA "B" skydiving license.