Checklist for Starting a Law Practice (Part 2)
Starting your own law practice can seem daunting. What follows serves as part two of a two-part “checklist” that can serve as a basic guide for launching your own practice. In Part 1, we covered certain tasks, including identifying practice areas, selecting an organizational structure, managing finances, and developing clients. In Part 2, we cover additional tasks, including implementing systems and procedures, incorporating technology, selecting office space, hiring staff, and marketing the firm.
Systems and Procedures
Implement administrative systems and procedures before you start taking on new clients. This will avoid untold headaches in the future, and if you are not alone in the practice, will ensure that your clients have a consistent experience with your firm and that everyone is on the same page.
Specifically, give thought to how your files will be organized, how documents will be named, and how client data will be stored. Create forms and templates for client intake, basic correspondence, and often-used documents in your practice, including retainer agreements, basic pleadings, and more.
Implement procedures for running conflicts, handling billing and collections, and opening and closing files. If you intend to have partners or employees, establish firm-wide policies on social media use, remote access to client files and data, vacation and sick leave, employee discipline, and others.
Every new firm needs to incorporate technology. Start with basic hardware including:
- Computers, printers, faxes, scanners
- Networks and firewalls
Next, think about the type of software and systems you will need to run your practice, such as:
- Office suite software (such as Microsoft 365), including word processing, calendaring and email
- Time, billing, and accounting software
- Practice/case management software
- Document assembly programs
- Practice-specific software
- Conflicts checking software
In addition to the hardware and software, you will need to choose providers for your internet access, telephone service, and, depending on your practice, legal research. Don’t forget about cybersecurity and confidentiality concerns, too – you’ll need a firewall and virus software at a minimum. Also, develop security protocols for use of hardware and software both within and outside of your office, including when your client data is being accessed remotely from a laptop, home computer, smartphone or tablet.
Office space is one of the largest expenses of any law practice. When choosing office space, think not only about the type of space you need now, but also, the type of space you expect to need in five years. When designing your office, keep your employees and clients in mind—and give them what they want. To save expenses, you may want to create a ‘virtual firm,’ where each employee works largely from home, through a connected telephone system and cloud-based practice management system, renting or using your limited office space for client meetings, depositions, etc. only when needed.
Solo and really small firms should also consider sub-letting space from another firm or using a shared office space option. To keep office space to a minimum, consider storing files and data electronically, in lieu of in large file cabinets.
Staff is another major law firm expense. If you are just starting out, keep staff at a minimum until you are generating a steady cash flow. At the same time, don’t fall into the trap that many solos and small firm lawyers find themselves by trying to do everything yourself, which can end up costing more in lost time and revenue than it saves. Think seriously about whether you should be handling all of the day-to-day tasks of running the business end of the practice while you are trying to do legal work for your clients, or whether there are some tasks that can be delegated or outsourced.
Even if you don’t hire staff, you might want to outsource functions such as bookkeeping and accounting to consultants, or hire a virtual assistant to answer the phone, schedule appointments, etc. Similarly, law students clerking part-time is a low cost way to develop additional cash flow and inexpensive complete many legal-related tasks, such as legal research.
Marketing and Business Development
Marketing and business development are critical to the success of your new firm. In that regard, being a great attorney does not ensure financial success—but being a great attorney and a great marketer does. When opening your new practice, you’ll want to begin with an announcement that your firm is opening – whether that announcement is sent digitally or in print. You’ll also want to print business cards and stationery. Depending on your budget, you may want to work with a marketing professional and/or a graphic designer to develop a firm logo and other branding materials.
In today’s world, a website is an essential marketing tool, but you should also expand your firm’s online presence to include social media accounts on LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter and other popular social networking sites. Another excellent way to generate business online is by signing up for Legal Services Link, which allows you to seamlessly connect with potential clients from your new office, at the click of a button.
Other marketing and business development activities include networking, speaking engagements and CLE programs, and writing articles that clients and potential referral sources will see. Determine how much of your resources (including both time and money) you want to devote to marketing and business development, and how you will measure return on that investment.
Additional Marketing Resources
While our Two Part Checklist for Starting a Law Practice is not an exhaustive list of all steps that need to be taken to ensure the successful launch of a new law practice, it is a great start, and will get you well on your way to operating a successful practice in no time!
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