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Opening a law office

post #1 of 82
Thread Starter 
Who here has done it?

I've got the money saved to live on for about 6 months, I've got a space to use in the short term (i will probably do most of the work from home, but I have a space I can use to meet clients that I can pay for with a few hours of work per week), I even have a source of at least a few clients already lined up.

Given these facts, what is your advice? What are mistakes I need to be on the lookout for? How do I market a new solo form run by a relatively young attorney?
post #2 of 82
Quote:
Originally Posted by munchausen View Post
Who here has done it?

I've got the money saved to live on for about 6 months, I've got a space to use in the short term (i will probably do most of the work from home, but I have a space I can use to meet clients that I can pay for with a few hours of work per week), I even have a source of at least a few clients already lined up.

Given these facts, what is your advice? What are mistakes I need to be on the lookout for? How do I market a new solo form run by a relatively young attorney?

Be sure to factor in the cost of malpractice insurance. What type of law do you/will you practice? As far as marketing, join various groups in your city that are catered towards potential clients. For instance, if you'll practice business law, look into joining the local chamber of commerce, professional groups, etc. Also, hire someone to design a decent webpage, create a facebook page/twitter/linked in/avvo, etc.
post #3 of 82
I've done it and have my own practice. Happy to give you any pointers I can.
post #4 of 82
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by Sid View Post
I've done it and have my own practice. Happy to give you any pointers I can.
What sort of practice? My experience is in PI, and that is mainly what I want to do, but I know a solo firm typically needs to take whatever comes in the door. Other than trial and error, whats a good way to get quickly acquainted with things like uncontested divorce, bankruptcy, misdemeanor defense, tickets, wills, etc? Are there good books that will give your a step by step, nuts and bolts rundown of those kind of practices?
post #5 of 82
I left a big firm about two years ago and opened my own practice at a fairly young age. The best thing to do is get out there and shake as many hands as possible. The best clients come as referrals from other attorneys, former clients, friends, and other people who know you personally. Then all you have to do is kick ass for your clients and develop a good reputation.

If you have any specific questions, I'd be happy to answer them.
post #6 of 82
Thread Starter 
I've got two boutique firms that have promised to refer me their overflow. I'm guessing there will be a lot of garbage, but I'm sure I can find some gold in there.

What are your thoughts on specializing vs. taking whatever jobs I can get?
post #7 of 82
I did it almost a decade ago. I'm just headed out the door right now but maybe I can stop by later and add my two cents.
post #8 of 82
Quote:
Originally Posted by munchausen View Post
I've got two boutique firms that have promised to refer me their overflow. I'm guessing there will be a lot of garbage, but I'm sure I can find some gold in there.

What are your thoughts on specializing vs. taking whatever jobs I can get?

Before you take on a bunch of garbage, just make sure you are getting paid. As the saying goes, it's better to not do the work and not get paid than to do the work and not get paid. If you take on a bunch of garbage in the beginning, you may regret it a year from now when you're a lot busier and those garbage cases are still around and still wasting your time.

However, it can be good if you do something that a lot of other firms don't do. For example, I do a lot of criminal defense, DWIs, etc. Most of my contacts are in big civil defense firms who don't do any criminal defense or DWI, so they refer those types of cases to me, even where those cases are decent size cases.

Another thing is make friends with other lawyers in the practice areas where you practice. A lot of my best referrals have been conflict cases coming from other criminal lawyers (e.g., co-defendants in the same case where the lawyer can't represent both).
post #9 of 82
Quote:
Originally Posted by munchausen View Post
Who here has done it?

I've got the money saved to live on for about 6 months, I've got a space to use in the short term (i will probably do most of the work from home, but I have a space I can use to meet clients that I can pay for with a few hours of work per week), I even have a source of at least a few clients already lined up.

Given these facts, what is your advice? What are mistakes I need to be on the lookout for? How do I market a new solo form run by a relatively young attorney?

First, congrats on your ambitious effort. While I haven't taken that route, some of the best lawyers I know have. Here's a few pointers I can offer regarding clients in general:

-90% of the time, when you provide work to a client, they have no way to judge whether you've done a good job or not. You will be judged by how responsive you are to your clients needs, how available you are, and how much they feel they can trust you. Act accordingly.

-If you aren't talking to your client, someone else is.

-Know the value of your time. You will sacrifice important things in your life for your career. Make sure the sacrifice is worth it.

Be a problem solver. Always think of your services through the lens of a businessman, not a lawyer. Why is your client paying you and not someone else? That's a question you should always ask yourself.

I would try to become a generalist as much as possible if you're on your own. Get involved with your local legal community as much as possible. Referrals from other attorneys can be very valuable (odoreater and others pointed this out). While the overflow from the boutique firm sounds great, get your own clients. I can't stress this enough!

Best of luck! It sounds like you're already on the right track.
post #10 of 82
Like others have said, you have to remember that you're a small business, first and foremost. You have to get out and market yourself. For my firm, one of the best things we did was to invest into our website and search engine optimization. You can leapfrog a lot of your larger, more established competitors if you spend a few bucks to show up first in your local market on the search engines. Find someone who is an expert in this--don't waste your time doing it yourself. On a related note, get your own domain name. You need it for your website anyway, but definitely use it for your e-mail address. Anytime I see "bobjoneslaw@gmail.com," my first thought is that the attorney who owns that address is operating out of his garage.

Like Eponym said, usually your clients won't be able to tell whether you've done a good job as an attorney or not. This is especially true for me--I focus on estate planning and business transactions and structuring. Although my goal is to make my trusts and corporations as bulletproof as they can be, the simple truth is that 98 percent of them won't ever be contested or sued. So to help clients understand the value underlying your fees, you have to go with the secondary stuff. Make sure you use (really) nice paper for your documents. Talk to a graphic designer and have him or her choose a couple of signature fonts for you to use on all your documents, so that you start to develop a recognizable style (but keep it simple). Have nice business cards. Have real, pre-printed letterhead. Don't just have a "letterhead" header at the top of the first page of your documents that gets laser printed like everything else. Everything a client touches should scream class and value.

I suppose it goes without saying on StyleForum, but this extends to your own appearance as well. Dress nicely. A client needs to feel that you are serious, trustworthy, smart, and an expert in dealing with his kinds of problems.

Even if you're a solo shop, hire an answering service that will answer your phone calls as if they are your employees, with the name of your firm. This gives you at least one fake employee and, again, helps potential clients feel comfortable that you aren't just some fly-by-night rookie. You don't have to be deceitful about this--when you meet a client, you can let him know that your answering service does a great job and that it sure makes you easier to get a hold of. When I call a lawyer and he answers his own phone, for better or worse I assume he's working out of a Starbucks somewhere.

Be relentless in your marketing--this is sort of a mantra for me now. It's easy to go out and network, get some work in, get busy, and stop marketing/networking. Then you run out of work and have to scramble to make ends meet. You have to take time every day (or at least multiple times a week) to reach out and generate new business, whether from other attorneys, existing/past clients, or allied professionals. Otherwise it's just a matter of time before the well dries up.

I hope this isn't all "duh" level stuff. Some of these things were sort of hard lessons for me to learn--and I had a pretty solid background in marketing and advertising before I went to law school.
post #11 of 82
Quote:
Originally Posted by munchausen View Post
What sort of practice? My experience is in PI, and that is mainly what I want to do, but I know a solo firm typically needs to take whatever comes in the door. Other than trial and error, whats a good way to get quickly acquainted with things like uncontested divorce, bankruptcy, misdemeanor defense, tickets, wills, etc? Are there good books that will give your a step by step, nuts and bolts rundown of those kind of practices?

You're not starting a successful PI firm solo with six months of living expenses as capital. You should know this if you have PI experience. You have no way to fund experts and thousands of dollars worth of medical records requests. PI also probably has the longest time horizon for getting to positive cash flow out of any practice area. You better take on some criminal cases in volume to fund that shit, and then only take the best PI cases. Criminal law is easy to learn, many of the lawyers doing it suck, and you get paid up front, making it ideal as a starting practice area.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Eponym View Post
I would try to become a generalist as much as possible if you're on your own. Get involved with your local legal community as much as possible. Referrals from other attorneys can be very valuable (odoreater and others pointed this out). While the overflow from the boutique firm sounds great, get your own clients. I can't stress this enough!

The bolded portion is pretty much the worst idea ever and a recipe for failure. Successful solos usually pick two or three practice areas and market themselves that way. You're basically suggesting that he become a bottom feeder. He's not going to be good or efficient at anything, and to get good referrals, you need to refer cases to others instead of being a generalist and trying to do it all.
post #12 of 82
Thread Starter 
Criminal law is definitely what I have in mind, as wills and divorces aren't as prevalent in my social circle as DWIs. Where does one obtain criminal cases in large volume?

Btw, I will own up to this idea being half baked. It's a fairly new plan for me and i'm not about to give my notice to my job right now. I would like to do this by the end of the year, though, and the sooner the better.
post #13 of 82
Quote:
Originally Posted by munchausen View Post
Criminal law is definitely what I have in mind, as wills and divorces aren't as prevalent in my social circle as DWIs. Where does one obtain criminal cases in large volume?

Btw, I will own up to this idea being half baked. It's a fairly new plan for me and i'm not about to give my notice to my job right now. I would like to do this by the end of the year, though, and the sooner the better.
I would advise with any new business that you have more than 6 months worth of personal living expenses saved. No less than 1 year. I don't know how much your operational costs will be but perhaps 6 months worth would be sufficient for starting up. Is there some reason you need to do this sooner rather than later, when you're in a better financial position?
post #14 of 82
Thread Starter 
Just fed up working for other people. I'm not too sure how much longer I can continue dealing with employers before I start to hate what I do for a living.
post #15 of 82
Quote:
Originally Posted by bdbb View Post
The bolded portion is pretty much the worst idea ever and a recipe for failure. Successful solos usually pick two or three practice areas and market themselves that way. You're basically suggesting that he become a bottom feeder. He's not going to be good or efficient at anything, and to get good referrals, you need to refer cases to others instead of being a generalist and trying to do it all.

I said the OP should be a generalist as much as possible. That means not limiting his practice to one area like PI. That also means knowing when to refer cases out that he can't handle and staying away from garbage.

Worst idea ever? Ok.
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