Starting your own law firm is a huge undertaking. It means starting your own business (likely, with little-to-no business experience), building up a client base, and handling day-to-day administrative tasks in addition to practicing law.
What would make that experience even harder? Starting your own firm straight out of law school.
In addition to having little business experience, lawyers starting their own firms right after graduation have almost no experience actually practicing law. They also may or may not have a large amount of student debt to contend with, making the financial aspects of starting a firm even more daunting.
On the other hand, if you’re a recent law school graduate, chances are you don’t have a mortgage to pay for or a family to support. You’re arguably better positioned to take the risk of starting your own law firm than lawyers in an established practice.
In short, starting your own law firm right after law school isn’t impossible—Branigan Robertson did it, and so can you.
Here are a few of his tips for succeeding as a young solo, taken from his guide, How I Started My Own Law Firm Right After Law School.
1. Ignore the haters
Plenty of people told Branigan that he was nuts for trying to start his own law firm straight out of law school.
His advice? If it’s something you really want to do, don’t let anyone stop you, and don’t let negative comments weaken your resolve.
“They’ve never tried it, so they don’t know what’s possible,” Branigan says. “If you believe them, there is no chance you’ll succeed.”
2. Plan, plan, plan
Branigan didn’t decide to start his own law firm on graduation day—he “obsessed” about it for most of law school, and did plenty of research and planning to set himself up for success. It’s never too early to start.
I had full-blown financials, a strong market analysis, my mission statement, and had listed all my competitive advantages. I knew what my office, phone, research, hardware, software, cloud, and accounting expenses would be long before I ever decided to open up shop.
How did he do all that without any business or marketing experience? He used this thing called the internet. It’s a great resource for educating yourself on any topic.
(Side note: it’s also how Branigan discovered Clio.)
It might be difficult to do all that research while also staying on top of your school assignments, but keep in mind that you don’t need to get your business plan right on the first try. Getting started is the important part.
Also, Branigan sought feedback on his plans from practicing employment lawyers to ensure he was heading in the right direction. Which brings us to our next point …
3. Find a mentor
Proper research and planning can help set your firm up for success, but a supportive mentor can be a big help when you run into challenges. You may be starting your own law firm, but that doesn’t mean you have to do it all alone.
For example, Branigan found a professor at his law school who supported his goals.
“He was the only one in law school that encouraged me to start me a firm immediately,” Branigan says. “The rest thought I was an idiot.”
4. Pick one area of law to focus on
Starting your own law firm is hard enough without having to learn about multiple practice areas at once. Save yourself the trouble and pick a single practice area to focus on. Better yet, pick a focus early in your degree, and try to get experience in that area before you graduate.
For example, Branigan clerked in employment law at two different firms before he graduated, an experience that he says gave him “a huge amount of confidence” before taking the leap into a solo practice.
Beyond that, when choosing an area of law to focus on, there are two key questions to keep in mind:
- How difficult is it to break into a given practice area? For example, corporate clients expect lawyers to have an extended track record, so it might be more difficult to gain their trust and bring them on board. Do a bit of research before making your choice.
- Where do your personal strengths, weaknesses, and interests lie? Branigan picked employment law because he’s a people person, and because he has a knack for grappling the multitude of grey areas in employment law. It’s important to be honest with yourself about what you enjoy—you’ll have a much more fulfilling career this way.
5. Make a website
Having an online presence is absolutely key. Setting up a personal website for your firm is the first step to helping potential clients find you online.
Branigan concurs: He used WordPress to set up a site that he pays about $70 per year to host. “This is powerful because it is one of my largest lead generation tools and costs about as much as a fancy bottle of wine,” he says. (Learn more about finding new clients without spending a dime in our free guide, The Lawyer’s Guide to Marketing Your Firm Online.)
Starting your own law firm is possible
If you want to start your own law firm, there’s no time like the present—even if you’re a fresh law school graduate. With a little planning and a lot of grit, you can start up a successful solo practice.
That said, there’s a lot more to starting your own law firm than what we’ve outlined in the points above. Branigan also has plenty of advice on:
- Securing your first clients
- Building a support network
- Getting a handle on the financial aspects of running a law firm
- Letting go of your GPA
You can read the rest of his advice in our free guide, How I Started My Own Law Firm Right After Law School.
Good luck, and remember: You can do it!
Get our 10 essential tips for both new and experienced lawyers looking to strike out on their own by downloading our free report, How to Start Your Own Law Firm.
Branigan Robertson is an employment lawyer in California. years. He is admitted to practice in courts of the State of California and he is a member of the California Bar and the California Employment Lawyers Association. Mr. Robertson can be contacted from his website.