How to Start Your Own Law Firm: A Complete Guide and What You Need to Know

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Summary: Opening your own law firm can be satisfying if you’re willing to put the work into it.
How to Start Your Own Law Firm: A Complete Guide and What You Need to Know
  • Opening and running your own law firm can be a challenge.
  • At the same time, presiding over your own firm can be quite satisfying.
  • As law and business continually morph into what is really a legal business, law firms have begun to take on business-like qualities.
  • Taken directly from the business world, the suggestions found in this article can help you if you want to open and run your own law firm.
Be your own boss. Set your own hours. You have to admit — you have thought about running your own law firm while sitting in your office working another late night. Running a firm is not easy. It takes leadership, patience, and some serious grit.

As with any business, you will need to set up your location, scout your talent, and secure those clients. If you are even entertaining the idea of running your own business, then there are a few key steps you should keep in mind.
Evaluate Yourself — Can You Handle Opening Your Own Law Firm?
This may seem like an easy one, but it is the cornerstone of a successful firm. Are you ready to make the move on your own?
Have you thought about your qualifications? Now is the time to go back to school to finish that MBA you were putting off or taking that extra class at the community college for fun. Once your new firm is up and running, you will be so busy managing that you may not have the opportunity to go back to school for a while. Take your time now to finish all necessary schooling.
Are you business savvy? Even if you know all of the nuts and bolts of practicing law, there is a crucial difference between working for someone and doing all the behind the scenes work. You need to be able to think critically and analyze your company’s production to make sure that your firm is profitable.
Are you determined? Sure, you made it through law school and your first job at the big firm, but now is a true test of your resilience. It takes long hours and multiple failures before your business is operating smoothly. You need to accept failures and take them in stride!
Are you willing to do what it takes to succeed? This could mean specializing in an area of law that you are not particularly interested in. At the end of the day, you need to put money on the books and food on the table. Are you willing to go into a less interesting area to collect those checks each month? This is definitely something to think about.
Analyze Your Legal Market
This process is two-fold. You need to evaluate your area to see if your market can support another business. A good way to measure this is to evaluate your existing clients. Do you have a list of loyal clients that would be willing to move with you to a new firm?
Utilize this customer base and build upon it. Now is the time to send out referrals, gift baskets, and thank you cards to the best group of clients around. Starting your new firm with a curated list of clients will cut out any downtime you may encounter when first setting up in a new spot.
Another great idea to bring in clients is to ask your fellow attorneys if they would like to work for your firm. They may bring their contacts with them as well, which only increases your brand reputation and territory.
Finding the Right Team of Lawyers
This may be the most critical part of your new venture. The legal staff that you take with you is the backbone of your firm. There are two approaches to this problem:
  1. Hire Attorneys You Know Well: You already know how everything about them—from how they take their coffee to how they write their memos. If you know a team you can trust, then this route can be very rewarding. Going into a venture with this team means you take your work family with you. BUT, keep in mind most people recommend not working with friends or family. If things go sour or someone isn’t pulling their weight, that means you may have to fire them or kick them out of the firm. Relationships could be ruined here, so make sure that this team is one you trust.
  1. Hiring Outside Attorneys: If you haven’t led an interview process before, now is the time to sit down and determine what type of person you are looking to hire. Make a list of the traits that you would like to see in a worker, as well as a list of goals for your company. These employees need to know what kind of work culture your business offers them, so that they can determine if your business is a good fit for them too.
    • Look online at other job ads to see how the competition is looking for talent and what they are offering.
    • Make the office a comfortable place to work. You want people to feel comfortable in this environment and able to get things done.
    • There are a variety of online tools available to employers who are seeking potential hires. Try sites like LinkedIn, Indeed, and Monster to review the available talent.
Finding And Keeping Clients
Marketing is the bane of any business owner’s struggle. If you don’t already have a large established group of clients, you are going to need to entice your local population. You need to put yourself in the shoes of your customers and think, “What would I want from my legal representation?” and give that to them! Your business will only survive if you can answer that question.
Once you have figured out what your clients are looking for, you have to get out there and advertise! It may be helpful here to hire an outside marketing professional to help you create a marketing campaign that speaks to your clients. The trick here is to put aside your pride and use whatever strategy works. Sure, you may be embarrassed to have your face plastered on a park bench or the side of a bus, but if it brings in clients then you are going to have to get used to it!
Analyze your market to see what your competition is doing. You may choose to utilize similar ads in competition, or you could use something completely new to get people’s attention…
Legal Marketing Trends for Your Firm
Blue Corona is a company offering measurable marketing solutions to all types of small businesses. In their article, “Law Firm Marketing: How to market your legal practice online”, they discuss the importance of a strong digital footprint in today’s technological landscape. The site recommends three key points:
  1. Prioritize your website and invest in industry specific SEO
  2. Expand beyond your website into other online avenues
  3. Utilize your online presence to recruit potential clients
When building your website, it needs to be easy to navigate, fast, and accessible from mobile and tablet devices. Over 57% of online searches in the U.S. are conducted on a smart phone. If a customer can’t navigate your website well, they are more likely to leave and find a competitor’s site.
Perhaps most important, your website needs to be easy to find. There are many ways to accomplish this, from organic traffic gained by posting targeted content onto your site to purchasing ads online. Blue Corona emphasizes the importance of search results on Google stating. “Your law firm needs to be on page one of Google, or it may as well not be listed at all — 55% of all clicks go to one of the first three organic search results.
And we can’t discuss search results without talking about Search Engine Optimization (SEO). For those who aren’t familiar, SEO is a marketing strategy, where you research common search words used by potential clients to find businesses like yours. Once you know these phrases and keywords, you can include them on your site so that Google ranks you higher in search results, because your website closely matches what customers are searching for. Now this is a very basic overview of SEO and there are many facets to this as well. If you really want to create a functioning site that brings in clients, you may want to consult a web designer and/or marketing expert.
Worried about spending too much money on a marketing professional or content writer? Don’t be. There are plenty of online sites that feature contract workers that can evaluate and improve your site for a one-time fee or a temporary time period.
Keep Track of Your Progress
You have done the research, hired the team, built the website, and set up shop in your new office space. Now what?
According to the Small Business Association (SBA), 30% of small businesses fail within two years and 50% fail within five years. The best way to avoid this statistic is to track how your business is progressing over time, constantly making changes to improve various sections of your business as you can.
Track everything! You can track your website to see how clients found your page. Did they come from Google? Great, then you know your SEO strategy is working. Did you here about you from a friend? Keep up the good work with your customer experience to build up more referrals.
Monitoring your progress also provides you with crucial data about client activity such as slow business times, high business dates, average amount spent by clients, and average case time. All of these factors can help you to optimize your workflow and marketing strategy to reach the most customers as possible.
Treat Your Staff and Clients Like Family
A holiday card sent to your long-term clients around the holidays can mean a lot to them. Try to show them that they are more than a client to you, and they will trust you in return. Such a small gesture can go a long way to strengthen your relationships with clients and their families.
Don’t forget about your staff either! A firm couldn’t run without the help of interns, legal secretaries, paralegals, post office workers, and more. Take time to talk to your support staff and ask them what they need to work to the best of their ability. Give them a small token of your appreciation from time to time. Studies show that if staff feels appreciated in the workplace, their work efficiency significantly increases, so this benefits them and you!
Take Care of Yourself
Running a business is hard, especially a law firm, because the work itself can be very labor intensive. While the media portrays the business owner as a hardworking, go-getter who eats and sleeps their business, you can quickly wear yourself down if you don’t work efficiently. Late nights and long hours can lead to a decline in your health and mental state if you do not take the time to care for yourself.
When you start to feel stressed and overwhelmed, do some stress-relieving activities, such as listening to music, working out, going outside, taking a break, or something similar. Do not fall into the trap of using alcohol or drugs to calm down! This only goes downhill!
A healthy worker is an energetic worker. As long as you organize your team and establish clear steps to achieve your business goals, you can succeed!
Join Your Local Chamber of Commerce
You may also find it helpful to join your local chamber of commerce. Here you can meet with other small business owners, allowing you to network and share similar struggles that you all may be experiencing. Also, by listing your business in the Commerce directory, you give your firm additional marketing potential within the community.
Each group regularly meets up for events such as mixers or conferences, to listen to speakers and discuss new ideas. Using this resource could help you become a better business owner in the long run.
Final Thoughts
Running your own law firm can be a difficult process, requiring large amounts of time and stress. But, the final results can be worth it. Once you have your firm up and running on a consistent schedule with a regular set of incoming clients, you can relax with the knowledge that you accomplished such a large goal.
If you are still deciding on if you want to open a firm, I encourage you to do your own research and talk to owners on forums, in your city, or at public meetings. In the end, you will be the one making the decision!
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