If you’re one of the approximately 1.3 million lawyers in the US, odds are pretty good that you took a job at a law firm straight out of law school.
It’s a practical path. It gets you into the legal industry and gets you exposure to several types of lawyers. After you do that for a while, though, you should function as a decent legal practitioner on your own merits.
Are you thinking that it’s time to strike out on your own and launch your own legal practice? Keep reading for our guide that makes starting the best law firm simple.
Crunch the Numbers
Sure, a few people launch their law firm fresh out of law school, but most people don’t. That means you’ve probably been getting a steady paycheck for years now. You may have a family, but you certainly have bills.
You need a very clear picture of your personal expenses. Things you must account for include:
- Car payments
- Monthly food costs
- Average utility costs
- Student loans
Put everything on the list that you must cover no matter what. Got a number? Great!
Now, multiply that number by 12. If you’re very sure of yourself, multiply by 6. Ideally, you should have that much money sitting in a bank account.
Crunch the Numbers, Part 2
Yeah, there’s more math to do. With your personal expenses out of the way, now you must figure out how much running your own business will cost you for six months to a year.
You may find that you can work out of your home office and avoid the costs of an office lease. If not, consider less expensive options like shared office spaces. They give you a space for meetings, when necessary, but reduce total overhead.
Whether you go in for a full lease, shared office space, or work out of the back of your car, you must figure out how much it’ll cost. Again, do the math for 6 to 12 months. Hopefully, you’ll start bringing in paying clients to cover those bills soon, but you should still have enough tucked away to cover your operating costs for at least six months.
Invest in a Decent Computer
Everyone does everything on their computers. That will hold true for your law firm as well. So, invest in a good computer.
If you lease an office for a year, go ahead and spring for the desktop computer. If you’re going to work from home, coffee shops, or in a shared office space, get yourself a powerful notebook computer. You’ll want something you can take with you at the end of the day.
Once you have that decent computer, do yourself a favor. Get some legal document management software. The sooner you put a system in place for managing your documents, the less misery you’ll suffer later trying to fix past mistakes.
On the subject of making your life easier, get yourself some accounting software as well. Yes, you’ll probably use an accountant for your taxes, but the software will help you keep your books up to date.
Get Your Marketing in Order
These days, getting your marketing in order is almost synonymous with getting your website up and running. You don’t need the most expensive website in the world, but it should look professional. If you use a content management system like WordPress, pay for a professional theme.
Next, do an SEO audit on your site as soon as you feel like the bones are all in place. You’ll find out in a hurry how much you have left to do.
You’ll probably feel tempted to focus on the content production elements of SEO, but those technical details will sink you. Don’t ignore them.
You should also look at starting a business profile on one or two social media sites. Keep it to just one or two to ensure they don’t take too much time to manage each week.
Document Your Processes
It might feel foolish now but document your processes. Just because you’re working solo at the moment, it doesn’t mean you won’t hire help down the road. Having a document or a small booklet of documents that detail your processes can make the life of a new hire a lot easier.
For example, how do you label your paper files? Your method may feel obvious and right to you but look like madness to someone else.
How do you handle new client intake? Are there questions you always ask? If so, do you have a form new employees can use as a cheat sheet?
Did You Forget the Legal Stuff?
There are a variety of legal things you either can, should, or must do to open your practice. You will need a business license along with the usual slate of insurance coverage that any business needs. Don’t stint on your malpractice insurance, since it may help you a lot one day.
You may also want a business structure more formal than a sole proprietorship, such as an LLC, to shield your personal assets from business liabilities.
Don’t forget about opening up your bank accounts. Minimally, you’ll want a checking account and an IOLTA account. If you’re feeling optimistic, though, go ahead and open the savings account too.
If things go well, you may even have something to put in that savings account before you hit that six-month mark.
Starting Your Best Law Firm
Starting your best law firm is mostly about following sound business practices. Crunch the numbers and make sure you can survive the six months to a year that it may take to establish a regular clientele.
Get the legal hurdles like bank accounts, business licenses, and setting up an LLC out of the way early. Buy a decent computer, then use it to get your website in order. Don’t ignore SEO or your online marketing will probably fall flat.
Looking for more tips on launching a law firm? Check out the posts over in the Legal section.