Starting Your Own Law Practice
By Jimmy Fein*
Starting a new legal practice can be a daunting experience filled with excitement, anticipation and yes, fear and anxiety. Yet every week, hundreds of young lawyers make the switch to self-employment either alone or with partner(s).
When you decide, here are some useful tips:
1. If you are venturing out with partners, you need to have a basic written partnership agreement.
Don't be like the shoemaker who has no shoes for his family because he is too busy helping others. The agreement should spell out what to do in case of death, disability and dissolution. This will save a lot of aggravation in the future.
2. Set aside reasonable budgeting goals for your first year.
You can decide your own budget and how many, if any, employees to start. Remember, it may take a months before fees are generated so having a sum of money to carry you through the beginning takes away some stress.
3 . Decide if you want to start with a professional corporation, LLC, Subchapter S or some other business form.
You should consult with an accountant or someone familiar with your business structure to decide which approach is best for you.
4. Pick only one or two areas of law to start your practice.
Focusing on only a few areas of law will increase your ability to set up a referral network with lawyers in other fields of law. The days of taking everything that comes through the door are gone.
5. Immediately get a professional website online.
Pick a web designer you feel comfortable working with, (or do it yourself) and decide what you want people will see when they first visit your homepage. The average that someone looks at your website is less than 30 seconds so make the most of that time to draw attention to what you do.
6. Send a nice formal announcement by snail mail (yes! snail mail) to law firms, businesses and others you have addresses to send.
Also post your announcement on your website, LinkedIn, Facebook, etc. It must include all your professional contact information and be instructive of the type of cases you are seeking.
7. Referrals from other lawyers is a great way to get started.
Schedule lunches with older attorneys in your field of law. I'll bet a lot will be willing to help and may even pick up the tab for lunch. There is a supportive community out there who once did the same thing you are doing.
8. Have a formal office space to initially meet clients.
Sharing space with other lawyers is usually the most economical way to start. Meeting clients at restaurants and coffee shops can be acceptable but can also give the client the wrong impression of your intended professionalism.
9. Join all the professional organizations you can and network with other lawyers within them.
For example, lawyers under 40 years old can join the bar's young lawyer division. Personal injury lawyers can join Arizona Association for Justice, and there are many organizations with their respective listserve for criminal lawyers, probate lawyers and family law lawyers. Also check with lawyer referral services and appointment by the courts on cases such as criminal or probate matters.
10. Leave your grade point average at home.
Most clients (and other attorneys) do not care if you graduated first or last in your class or if you were on the law journal. What a client desires is someone who shows genuine concern for their problems and will work hard on their behalf. The best referral source you can have is satisfied clients spreading the word on your behalf. From time to time, take a breather and a break. Stay strong and healthy. This will make you think more clearly to make good decisions for yourself and clients.
When you build your own law practice, you are building a customized firm that proudly represents your values and business practices. Self-employed lawyers are their own boss and maintain full control of their lifestyle and caseload. Having a mentor or coach to help gives you further assurance shows you are on the right tract to success. Good Luck!