When starting your own law firm, apprehension is understandable. It’s essentially a business venture—one that’s going to need every scrap of your intellect, talent, and know-how to get by. The results are ultimately worth it, of course, but never expect the first few months (or even year) to be anything less than grueling and demanding.
You’re also going to get a lot of conflicting pieces of advice. Some will tell you that you need a permanent business address. Others say you can set up an office from home. Some will recommend outsourcing administrative tasks so you can focus on improving your law firm. Still others will tell you to save money and handle the small tasks by yourself until you break even.
With that in mind, here are the 3 top tips to starting your own law firm that most any law firm owner will agree on.
Compromise Where You Can …
A law firm, like all small businesses, needs a fair amount of capital to start up. You’ll need funds for all the necessary licenses, permits, documents, equipment, tools, and human resources. However, there are ways to shave off a couple hundred (or even thousand) dollars off your overall costs. You just need to differentiate the non-negotiables from the items you can do without.
Case in point: you’ll definitely need a phone with a direct line, a personal computer, and a base of operations. You’ll also need one or two good suits (never underestimate the importance of dressing to impress) and maybe a solid filing cabinet to keep hard copies organized.
But when starting your own law firm, do you really need that hand-carved mahogany desk, that state-of-the-art ergonomic swivel desk chair, and that gilded bookshelf? Do you want to invest money in a scanner, photocopier, and laser printer now, or is there a decent store nearby that can do all that for you? Do you need to hire an assistant on your first day, or should you focus on getting your systems in place and building your client list before you add on to human resources?
Compromise where you can and develop a standard of leanness to help guide your investments. Every dollar you spend for your new firm has to improve your ability to generate revenue—otherwise, you’ve spent it wrong.
… But Don’t Cut Corners
Earlier, we mentioned licenses, documents, and permits you’ll need to secure when starting your own law firm. These are all non-negotiable items that you need to spend money on in order to operate as a legal business. There are also certain tools and equipment that you absolutely must not compromise. Sometimes cutting corners and skimping on the essentials can end up costing you more time than money, and that’s not an ideal situation.
Time is money, and as a lawyer, it’s your most precious commodity.
For example, during the construction or renovation of your office space, spend that little extra for insurance or coverage. Invest in good lights and durable wires and cabling to minimize the risk of future outages or power issues. Don’t be afraid to pay more for experienced, professional contractors and technicians. Pay for fast internet and a solid phone plan, as you’ll most likely be using these services a lot.
Have a Diverse Network
Everyone would prefer for their network to be full of potential clients, right? However, as a new face in the game, you won’t get your name out there without a little help.
Since you basically have very little experience to fall back on, get out there and approach the seasoned lawyers and veterans. Build relationships with them as mentors, referrals sources, and general casual friends/acquaintances. Some of them may be your competitors, but just as many of them won’t specialize in the same areas you do. Ergo, they’ll have no qualms about sending clients your way once they come across a case that isn’t in their area of focus.
For you to reach this level of familiarity and solidarity with them, start by getting to know them. Meet up with them for lunch or coffee, ask questions about their practice—again, you don’t practice the same area of law; this is fine—and just generally do what you can to make them more than just another line in your contacts.
Many lawyers are comfortable with being a referral source, as they know it will be done for them as well. And keep in mind that you’re not the only one starting your own law firm. People who are going through the same thing you are don’t necessarily have to be competitors. If you play your cards right, they could be far more beneficial to you as friends, referral sources, support systems, or even future partners.