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So, you’re starting a law practice, eh? Awesome. But as you undoubtably know, starting your own law firm requires more than moxie, pluck and fresh business cards. How do you get clients? And if you want to grow, how do you get more clients?
It may be overwhelming when you first toss around the idea of starting your own legal practice but, when you break it down, the process is far more manageable. In fact, we’ve put together a list of five tips to help you hang out your shingle.
You’re obviously passionate about law. Which is good, because you’re going to need it for the endurance race ahead. But in order to get clients, make sure there’s a trajectory for what legal areas you plan to specialize in.
Are you pursuing a hyper-niche specialization? That’s fine, as long as there are enough clients out there to sustain your businesses. Even if you’re offering general legal services, if the market is already flooded with general practice firms, you could be in for a tough slog—especially in the early years.
Take a look at the geographic area where you’re setting up shop too. Regardless if you’re planning a virtual office (more on that in a sec), many clients will want you nearby. You may have to balance your ideal practice specialization with the realities of local economics.
OK, so building a business plan should probably be more than a single line item on this list. (Why didn’t we just say “be profitable” and call it a day, right?) There have been entire articles written about how to draft a law firm business plan. In fact, here’s one now.
Though you probably didn’t learn a whole lot about balance sheets, equipment amortization and cost analysis in law school, it is nonetheless essential knowledge for anyone who wants to run a small business. And make no mistake—a law firm is first and foremost, a small business.
But it’s not as scary as it seems. You don’t need an MBA in your back pocket, and you can hire outside accountants and tax specialists when the time comes (if your budget allows, of course).
Let’s be clear, while marketing should be part of your business plan, it totally demands its own line item on this list.
A quote attributed to P.T. Barnum simply states “Without promotion, something terrible happens: Nothing.” And he’s right. You could be the best lawyer on the planet and have a comprehensive background in business operations, yet without a solid marketing strategy, your efforts are futile.
The good news is that there are plenty of smart ways to get your law firm marketing off the ground—and a lot of them are free or relatively inexpensive. Read this: Six Budget-Friendly Marketing Tips and then this: Pros and Cons of Four Internet Marketing Strategies
That’s a legit question in the 21st century. Technology has matured to the point where a brick-and-mortar physical location is no longer necessary. And for attorneys seeking a good work/life balance, working from a home office can be an attractive option.
More importantly, the tech is there to run a law firm with associates and partners across a wide geographical area. Stories abound of firms having remote lawyers based all over a state (even in multiple states) to increase their firm’s footprint.
There are strong arguments for both sides of the physical/virtual office debate—you should read this article before coming to a conclusion for your small law firm.
And we say network, we mean Network. All. The. Time.
Build a network of lawyers as colleagues. They can be great sounding boards and can be very beneficial when you consider the role of referrals in your practice. Attend local bar functions, participate in community events, sit on boards—you can get some tips on how to network here.
Speaking of community, becoming engrained in your neighborhood fabric is absolutely essential to growth, especially in a new firm’s infancy. Become a subject matter expert, help by volunteering somewhere, donate your time and talents to a local charity Pro Bono. Many attorneys who operate their own firms will highlight the importance of community involvement in regard to attracting new clients and strengthening existing relationships.