Whether you’re a fresh-faced law school graduate or a veteran attorney who’s tired of working for someone else, starting your own law firm is no easy feat. It’s a long, tedious, and often over complicated process that involves a lot of paperwork, a lot of money, and—sadly—a lot of criticism from both colleagues and competitors.
However, for the uncommon few who can weather all challenges and persevere, starting your own law firm is ultimately rewarding.
To help you out, we’ve put together a quick checklist for starting your own law practice. These are the things you absolutely must not miss:
Prepare Your Capital
Starting your own law firm requires capital, just like any other business. Aside from covering rent, registration, permits, documentation, and other related miscellaneous supplies, you’ll need to be able to financially sustain yourself for the first few months of your new firm. Since you’re still building your reputation and client base, it’ll be a while before you break even.
Basically, you’re looking at maybe four to six months without revenue, so make sure your financials are in order.
Name Your Law Firm
Naming your law firm is not a task that should be taken lightly. What you end up choosing will represent you, both as a lawyer and as a brand.
Using your surname is the common, traditional approach, and it works great if your surname is particularly unique. However, the problem with this naming scheme is that it doesn’t really tell people what your specific services are. For example, Morgan & Mathers, Attorneys at Law sounds like a great, professional name for a firm, but if someone is looking for, say, a divorce lawyer or legal advice regarding family affairs, the name doesn’t help much.
Another naming approach is to use a trade name, such as Divorce Lawyers, Inc. or Legal Defense, LLC. While this is more specific—and definitely more helpful for clients—it doesn’t have a personal touch to it either, which makes branding a bit more difficult.
Most people settle with a combination of both traditional and trade, which is arguably the best approach. As long as it isn’t too complicated, combining your surname and your specialization—i.e. Morgan & Mathers Legal Defense, LLC—may prove to be hugely beneficial for you.
Handle All Legalities
Being a lawyer means you need to operate by example. Forgetting legal documents for your own practice—such as business permits, licenses, identification numbers, etc.—doesn’t look good in the eyes of potential clients, for obvious reasons.
Some states require multiple registration forms and fees when setting up a business, so make sure you call the right departments to ensure nothing’s been missed before you officially throw your doors open. You also need to make sure you have all the correct requirements and information needed for things like tax and annual filing.
Build Your Network
Your network will be your number one source for clients, referrals, mentors, and general support—which is why it’s important that you begin building it as soon as possible.
As a new law firm, no one really knows you exist yet. Consequently, this means that the chances of them choosing to avail of your services are practically nonexistent. Hence, it is imperative that you build relationships with fellow lawyers and legal practitioners as soon as possible. You’ll need these people to guide you, send potential clients to you, or create mutually beneficial agreements with you.
Some of them may be your competitors, but just as many of them will be referral sources, advisors, or even prospective case partners.
Start by reaching out to friends and acquaintances, and then gradually expand your social circle through mutual connections. No matter how you choose to do it—through parties, social networking, coffee meetings, etc.—make it a point to form as many solid associations as you can.
As mentioned earlier, being a brand-new law firm isn’t one of the best positions to be in—mostly because no knows you, you’ve no field experience to speak of, and you’re starting out with a relatively non-existent consumer base.
In the previous point, we talked about finding people for your network. But in order to optimize your relations, you have to make sure that people can find you as well. That means you have to be visible in every possible area you can think of; physically, digitally, virtually, etc.
Get an official 1-800 number so that people can contact you via landline if they want to. This also establishes your firm as a serious business. Make sure you put up a professionally designed website—or a social media account—so that people can find you on Google. And lastly, print out business cards for you to hand out or pin to notice boards.
This might seem a bit too much like marketing but until you’ve established your reputation, you need to get your name out there through as many avenues as possible.
Don’t Forget the Furniture
And, lastly, don’t forget the physical aspect of your law firm. Whether you choose to have your office within the comforts of your own home or you’ve rented a small space downtown, your office should look professional and presentable. That means there should be careful consideration in choosing the color, size, and make or model of each piece of furniture.
Think about how you want people to feel when they enter your office (comfortable, impressed, slightly intimidated, etc.) and furnish the room accordingly.
There are also some law office necessities you shouldn’t forget, such as a personal laptop or computer, a direct phone line, a desk, a couple chairs (for you and your clients, unless you want them standing around), basic office supplies (pens, papers, envelopes—all preferably personalized with your letterhead, but that can be added later on), and a filing cabinet or drawers to store your files.
If you made it all the way to the end, congratulations are in order. Starting a law firm may just be the first step, but it’s an important one. What comes next is ensuring your law firm’s success through proper marketing and firm management.