Having worked with lawyers for 40 years, I have a pretty good sense for lawyers who go out on their own without a strategic business plan or the necessary forethought of who their clients are going to be, putting up a website that doesn’t cost $10,000.00 and how they are going to survive for the first 6 to 12 months while it takes time to build up the practice. They are the lawyers who will take anything that walks through the door or that will keep the light on. If you ask them what they practice, they tell you everything. They post on Facebook and other social media to cover hearings or conflicts for other lawyers - as opposed to lawyers who start their own firm for the specific purpose of contracting work for other lawyers.
Working with a firm and leaving to start your own firm and leaving the safety net of a paycheck without a plan is often a recipe for disaster.
However, even more surprising is that statistics are showing that more law school graduates than ever are skipping the $40 or $50k a year job and opting to open their own firm when they graduate.
The naysayers will say that is insane and that anyone doing this will be destitute in 6 months and begging for that $40k a year job. Don’t be too hasty or judgmental. That law school graduate probably has a better chance of being successful right out of law school than someone who leaves the sanctuary of a steady paycheck on a whim.
It takes planning - strategic planning - for the firm and financial planning so you can support yourself until the firm gets going. These are the essentials that you must do to start and grow a successful law firm right out of law school:
1. Ignore the people who tell you that are you crazy. First you do not need that negativity or pessimism. Lawyers generally like to tell people what they can’t do - and especially if they never tried it - they are not speaking from experience. If they have tried it and failed - that means they did not do something right.
2. Plan ahead. Be sure to have a strategic business plan. Include in your strategy anything and everything that you can think of that you need to do, set up, buy and plan for. Be sure to consider the cost. Someday you can have a $10,000 website and pay a lot of money to host it - but not when you first go out on your own. Business cards don’t have to cost $1000 for 500 cards. There are many places to get professional and expensive looking business cards without blowing all your start up funds on business cards.
3. Save up a nest egg that will cover your expenses for 4 - 6 months. The area of law you choose to practice will be telling of how long it will take to start generating revenues.
4. For now, pick one or two areas of law that you want to practice. Make sure it is an area that you enjoy or already know you are interested in, because you are going to have market it to death and immerse yourself in your work. Consider two areas that might generate cross referrals - such as family law and bankruptcy, or criminal and personal injury. You are just out of law school and have a lot to learn still. Try to get some experience in the area of law you choose before graduating - through a clerkship or internship. This will give you more confidence as you venture out on your own.
5. Start building a referral network - immediately. Tell everyone you meet that you plan to start your own firm. Business cards are one of the cheapest forms of advertising. Attending networking events (not with other lawyers who are your competition especially if they have more experience) but events that the public will attend. Try to have lunch with practicing attorneys and ask them about their practice, their advertising, etc. Some will share a lot of information, some might be guarded about certain areas of their law business. The good news is they will probably pay for lunch.
6. Think of a name for your firm and buy up the domain immediately. In fact, if you have 2 or 3 domains in mind beside what you want the name of your firm to be, buy those up too. They are cheap enough. Get a website up immediately. Again, to start it doesn’t have to be a $10,000 website. But without a website, a business is non-existent.
7. There are very effective no/low budget marketing techniques that are business like and tasteful and don’t look like you are just throwing everything out there to see if something sticks. Even if it is no/low budget, it still has to be professional. You want to attract good, quality paying clients.
There are probably 100 other things I could tell you about starting a firm right out of law school, or even when you leave another firm to strike out on your own.
Remember, people are very perceptive. I know I am. I can tell when an attorney went out on his or her own without a business plan or strategy just by looking at their marketing efforts.
I have been working with the legal profession for over 40 years. I currently work as a Practice Management Consultant and Independent Law Firm Administrator. I am the author of the best seller, “From Lawyer to Law Firm - How to Manage a Successful Law Business”. Keep in mind - there are 2 parts to a law firm - the practice of law and managing the business of practicing law®.
Need some help or have a question?
Call me at 813-340-9569. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Check out my website at: fromlawyertolawfirm.com.