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Starting a Law Firm as a Solo Practitioner

published July 23, 2007

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( 159 votes, average: 5 out of 5)
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Law school prepares you to think like an attorney, but it does not teach you how to run a successful law firm.
Starting a Law Firm as a Solo Practitioner

law firm is first and foremost a business—a business that provides expert legal services. If you are a recent law school graduate, consider working with an experienced attorney for several years to gain practical experience and confidence before venturing out on your own. For those who are ready, I offer the following advice based on my experiences.

Start with a business plan and a marketing plan. Remember, a law firm is a business. As with any other business, a business and marketing plan is critical to success. The failure to commit an idea to paper usually results in a lack of commitment and follow-through.

Your business plan should consider several factors:
  • Determine the location of your physical presence. Will it be a home-based office, a solo office space, or a shared office arrangement? This decision will be largely driven by finances. Are you interested in leasing office space or purchasing a building? A cost-effective alternative is an executive office arrangement. An example is a virtual office with an answering service and shared conference room facilities, which can give your law firm a bigger presence.

    Another factor is your existing or target client base. Many corporate clients indicate that a home-based office does not convey professionalism.
  • Determine your staffing needs. Will you begin by running all aspects of your business, including the secretarial aspects? Will you hire a legal assistant? There are alternatives to incurring a large payroll. You can utilize temporary paralegal services until your law firm is able to support staff. An experienced paralegal may be preferable to hiring an associate attorney.

    You could establish "of counsel" relationships or strategic alliances with other practitioners who specialize in areas of the law that complement your expertise. This type of arrangement works well for solo practitioners and establishes a larger presence.
  • Create office procedures. The bestselling book The E-Myth Revisited by Michael E. Gerber makes this point. Draft an operations manual that covers all office procedures. I found our law firm's operations manual essential during my paralegal's maternity leave. The office continued to run smoothly because knowledge and procedural information was documented. Let your systems and procedures drive operations so that your law firm can function during staff absences.
  • Marketing is key to any successful business, including a law firm. You will not increase revenues waiting for the telephone to ring.

    Take a multi-pronged approach. Marketing efforts should include distinctive business cards, professional stationery, and client brochures. Invest in professional marketing collateral. It is the first impression your firm makes.

    Have a presence on the Internet. Your website can be simple, and there are web design services to fit any budget. Client newsletters are also effective. They provide opportunities to share important information with clients and are a form of goodwill. Your clients will feel they are receiving free information. Many attorneys advertise, but I have found it expensive, yielding a low return on investment.

    Public relations efforts are also important. Networking with other professionals and trade organizations allows you to create personal awareness of your legal services. Speaking engagements are highly effective. They're opportunities to demonstrate your legal expertise and knowledge and can result in prospective clients for your firm. I feel public relations is so important that I hired a public relations consultant. As a result, my law firm was featured in several magazine and news articles. By far, public relations and networking efforts have yielded the best results.

    Lastly, follow-up is key to turning interest into business for your law firm.
  • Be aware of your finances at all times. Engage the services of an accountant you trust. Use the accountant to prepare your tax returns and serve as a business advisor. Speak to your accountant quarterly to review expenses, revenue, taxes, and cash flow. Engaging the services of a business coach or advisor can be helpful. It provides you with someone who can act as a board member, providing business insights.

    Keep on top of your receivables. Having a large balance in your accounts receivable is good only if you are collecting on it in a timely manner. If you are unwilling or unable to contact clients about delinquent payments, delegate this responsibility. It could mean the difference between keeping your doors open or closing.

If you take the time to do your due diligence and set up a strong framework, you have given your law firm an opportunity to thrive and be successful. Having your own practice can be a rewarding and fulfilling experience. It is great to be the captain of your own ship!

Rona M. Lum can be reached at For more information about Rona M. Lum, P.C., visit

published July 23, 2007

( 159 votes, average: 5 out of 5)
What do you think about this article? Rate it using the stars above and let us know what you think in the comments below.