One dream a lawyer harbors upon being admitted to the bar is opening a law firm. One important thing to note is that the school system does not prepare us to build businesses so it is very possible to have professional qualifications, be good at what you do and still not be competent to build a successful business.
Maybe you have been working for other lawyers at their law firms and are doing well in your career but would still like to establish your own law practice. It is perfectly okay not to be contented to work for someone else all your life and to desire to build your own business. Here are tips to help shorten your learning curve if you have the desire to build your own law practice from scratch.
It helps to come up with a very comprehensive budget for the first one year. A plan on paper does not always go as planned so double the amount you have on paper and that way you will be prepared to take care of any unexpected turn of events.
- Fixed costs: rent, transport, Wi-Fi, full time staff salaries, website hosting, insurance, bank charges
- Variable expenses: part time staff costs, buying office supplies such as stationery, maintenance or replacement of equipment, publicity and getting yourself noticed in the market place (not advertising)
- One-time expenditure: purchase of furniture and equipment, preparation of the business premises such as partitioning and painting, design of company website.
Solo law practice versus big law firm
You may have worked for bigger law firms and that is what you have in mind as you set out to set up your own practice. The truth of the matter is that a solo law practice is not a smaller version of a big law practice. Do not start out by having a smaller version of the big law firms; having a full fledged office with a conference room, different departments and staff.
A new business takes money from you and might take time to give returns so it makes sense to save money as you prepare to take the self-employment route. Savings will keep you afloat in the initial stages of building a business so start small and build gradually as you grow.
Keep your overheads low. The location of your law practice is important but go slow in terms of the facilities until you can afford them. You don’t want to run out of money before your business has stabilized. Ensure that your office environment is comfortable and professional looking without necessarily costing an arm and a leg.
You could consider sharing office space with another lawyer. This will ensure that you have offices in an appropriate location without spending too much money upfront or getting into long leases which could prove inconveniencing should your needs change before the lease is over. Sharing office space can also come with arrangements of sharing some costs such as security, cleaning services and a receptionist.
Virtual offices are a viable option when getting started especially if where you live is quiet and conducive for working from home. This means that you do most of your work from home and only use the virtual offices when you need to such as when you have clients to meet. This can save you a lot of costs before your business picks up.
You might start out working alone and doing everything yourself, outsourcing only services such as security, cleaning, running errands, accounting and taxation expertise. If you have worked for a big law firm before deciding to start your own, you might face challenges having to answer your phone calls, maintain your dairy, book appointments and take care of administrative staff such as invoicing clients.
Doing everything yourself takes up a lot of your time that you could be devoting to more productive work. Also, when you are in court or in meetings, no one is able to reach you on phone, which could cost you business.
You will therefore need to hire at least a receptionist right from the beginning. Hiring staff comes with costs that include office space, salary, furniture and equipment. It also comes with responsibilities. It means that you have to come up with job descriptions of staff, train, mentor and supervise them. You still don’t have a human resource department so you are responsible for solving employee related issues.
Hiring the wrong staff can inconvenience and also cost you so you want to select staff carefully. Start by giving short contracts such that you do not end up with issues that come with firing staff in case you discover that they are not a good fit for your practice. You simply let them go at the end of the short contracts. It can take some time to get the right staff.
Document everything about staff; job descriptions, hiring, training, evaluation, disciplinary measures and firing procedures. This will make your work easier when you have to replace staff. It will also improve efficiency in your practice.
Everything should be documented such that an employee should be able to go about their duties without having to seek your advice every now and then. You need to focus on the most important aspects of building your practice rather than wasting time micromanaging staff.
3. Building your practice
The key to your business survival is getting enough clients to enable your law firm stay afloat. Probably in the big law firm where you worked before the issue of getting clients never bothered you because it was not your responsibility. You need to be able to get clients.
The number one way you are likely to get clients is through referrals. There are many people who need the services of a lawyer but they don’t even know it so you would do well to educate people around you about when they need to talk to a lawyer.
Get word out about the sort of services you offer and come up with a way that makes it easy for people to refer cases to you. Educate people in an effort to help them make the right decisions and not just in an effort to make anyone and everyone a client. Someone might not be a client right now but sooner or later they just might need your services. The more people out there who have good feelings about you, the better for your business.
Make it easy for people to work with you. Answer phone calls and if you miss calls, call back promptly. Be courteous when dealing with people and genuinely care about them and offer advice and helpful tips when you can.
Before people can help you, relationships need to be nurtured. Be a person of integrity, someone that people can trust. Go out of your way to be helpful to people and you are the first person who will come to mind when they need a lawyer.
The legal profession still faces restrictions about marketing and advertising. You cannot advertise your services as happens in some other professions. There are ways that you can get your name out without contravening any law. You can have a website of your business and also brand yourself online.
Ensure that your profiles on social media are professional, having a professional looking photo of yourself and indicating the name of your law firm, where you worked in the past and where you studied. Post content that people especially your potential clients find helpful.
You can get word out without advertising your services. In this technological age, clients might also want to do an online search to crosscheck what you say. Keep your online presence clean and professional. Be careful about the sort of online communities you join and the way you conduct yourself online. Do not do anything that would compromise the dignity of the legal profession.
Additional help as you grow your business
You can benefit from identifying suitable mentors who can help you find your way as you grow professionally, people who are successful in the legal profession. Business coaching can help you as you learn how to build a business. A business coach is like the manual that comes with a new piece of equipment, giving you a step by step guide to building a business.
Business coaching can help you with business building skills such as how to set goals for your personal and professional life, to overcome procrastination, rise above limiting beliefs and develop a mindset that is conducive to success. A coach holds you accountable to do what you said you would do, helping you to stay focused on the path that will lead you to your goals and avoid distractions.