By Jennifer Anderson
As a former California attorney, I had the great fortune to work at a big firm, a boutique firm, and to eventually start my own law firm.
In this article, we’ll explore some general tips for finding success as a solo practitioner and take a look at some of the technology trends that may impact your decision to start your own firm.
Think like a lawyer and a business owner
When you start your own law firm, you are no longer just an attorney. In fact, your skill set as an attorney is now just a service you offer to your clients. Like it or not, you will need many other skills to succeed in your new venture.
For example, you’ll likely need to form a fictitious business entity and determine whether the entity form you’ve chosen is acceptable in your state. You may also need to set up client trust accounts and other accounting systems to track your firm’s income and spending. You may need to negotiate a lease, hire and pay employees, and make quarterly tax payments. None of those are things you can take lightly. Fortunately, there are plenty of useful guides that can help you begin thinking like a business owner.
Just because you build it does not mean they will come
Marketing and business development are skills most lawyers are woefully bad at. In truth, you need to have a marketing plan in place before you ever leave your current job. How are you going to attract new clients? What is your practice niche? Who are your competitors? What will your client retention efforts look like? How will you advertise? Are your advertising plans ethically appropriate?
These are the questions you need to be asking yourself well before you’re sitting in your new office, all alone, with nothing to do. The good news is, there are plenty of online lawyer marketing resources that you can begin studying today.
Find help before you need it
Of course, there is always the possibility that your initial marketing efforts will be fruitful and you’ll find yourself with more work than you can possibly handle. Guess what? If that happens, you won’t have time to look for employees. Therefore, it’s a good idea to have a plan in place before you find yourself underwater.
Here’s the catch. Just because you’re busy today doesn’t mean you’ll be busy a month from now. In today’s remote-work environment, there are plenty of freelance attorneys who are looking to help you on a project-by-project basis. Just be sure you’ve considered the ethical implications of hiring a freelancer before you pull the trigger. Offering your services on a freelance basis is a good way to start your solo career or to explore how you like working for yourself before going to the trouble of formally starting your own firm.)
Embrace technology wisely
Some of the best news about starting your own law firm in 2021 is that there are endless technologies that simply make your practice easier. Perhaps the best examples are found in things like billing software, practice and case management software, and/or document management software, particularly where each of those tools accomplishes more than one task. When it comes to in-house technologies, it’s a good idea to study the recommendations of other lawyers. Find out what has worked for them when it comes to things like file storage, hardware, internet service providers, and IT professionals. You didn’t go to law school to become a computer systems analyst. There’s no shame in leaning on the advice of people who know more about this than you do.
Find a mentor
Perhaps the most important thing you can do for your solo legal career (especially if you’re starting your firm right out of law school) is to find yourself a quality legal mentor. Even if you’ve been practicing law for 20 years before going solo, having another person to bounce ideas off of is critical to your practice. Don’t be afraid to be choosy about finding a mentor. In fact, it is often advisable to find a mentor who is a lot like you. That person will have already made a lot of mistakes and they’ll be happy to help you avoid making the same mistakes.
Creating your own law firm is as fun as it is challenging. Keep in mind that when you add the mindset of a business owner to your firm’s strategic outlook, you’re allowing yourself to be exposed to more concepts that will serve your success. Continue to stay informed of best practices, methodologies, and strategies that will help you balance both the attorney and business owner role.