There is so much to consider when starting your own law firm. Deciding to hang your own shingle is an exciting journey that can be very rewarding. As starting your own law firm involves a lot of research, planning, and work, it’s a good idea to build up a reliable support network of friends, family, colleagues, and mentors that will help lead you on the path to success.
Whether it be for general small business upkeep advice or practice area specific advice, the right people are there to help you—if you know where to look.
Find your community
There’s a lot more to running your own firm than just practicing law. Resources on how to keep the operations side working smoothly such as knowledge on setting your rates, how to file during tax season, and how to keep growing your business can be a big help here.
Find your own community through events put on by your local bar association or by small business associations. You could also join Facebook or LinkedIn groups to connect with lawyers in your local jurisdiction. Here are some other communities to get you started:
- LawyerSmack: LawyerSmack is an online community with 100+ channels dedicated to different legal topics, including one just for starting your own law firm. Members range from local to international and bring a wide range of experiences.
- The Lawyerist Community: This community is geared towards entrepreneurial small firm lawyers and provides resources to grow your firm through mentorship, exclusive discounts, and helpful templates and resources.
- The Law Community (TLC): With legal tech at the heart of TLC, this community that gives legal professionals an online space to share tips, best practices, and pick up new tech skills.
Taking advantage of online resources and communities can be helpful as well—the Clio blog has articles on how to write a law firm business plan, what technology your law firm will need, and more.
When you first start your law firm, your full-time employee count will likely stay at one for a while. But during this period, you may also decide that you need part-time or contract help from a legal assistant.
When hiring a legal assistant or paralegal, you can choose to hire locally or remotely (virtual legal assistant). A legal assistant is immensely helpful for taking care of administrative tasks, freeing you up to focus on interacting with clients, handling matters, and other billable tasks. Similarly, paralegals can improve your law firm’s efficiency, save you time, and help provide a better overall client-centered experience.
Depending on your area of practice, a legal assistant’s scope of work could include scheduling appointments, accounting, managing contracts, and more. However, remember to keep your hiring timing in mind. If you hire too early, there may not be enough work to justify having a legal assistant.
Some signs that it’s time to make your first hires:
- You find yourself taking on too much work
- Your client experience is suffering
- There is not enough time to keep track of day-to-day administrative tasks
When you first start out, it’s likely that you’ll be hiring a legal assistant to work on a part-time basis. However, unlike legal assistants, consultants work almost exclusively on contracts. From web designers and bookkeepers to IT consultants and more, hiring an expert can make starting your own law firm much easier and more manageable.
When hiring a consultant, here are a few things to keep in mind:
- Qualifications: You need to know whether a consultant is qualified to make sure they will do the best job possible. Ask for examples of their work, references, and certifications.
- Location: While most consultants have shifted to remote work, consider whether location matters. Different jurisdictions have specific regulations for lawyers, so it may be wise to hire local consultants who are more familiar with those requirements.
- Working hours: When you start your law firm, you may not be working the traditional 9-5 hours. Instead, you may need to work early mornings, late evenings, or throughout the day. You may also find yourself without a set schedule, depending on your workload. Be sure to coordinate working hours with consultants to ensure meeting times are aligned, especially if you are in different time zones.
- Support: Before starting a project with a consultant, ask if they can provide ongoing support. For example, if your systems need upgrading after an IT consultant sets them up for you, will they assist in providing instructions or guidance?
- Rates: Lastly, you should compare rates between consultants to get the best return on investment (ROI). Remember, a good ROI does not mean the cheapest rate. Compare and get quotes from at least two or three options before committing.
Invest in training and development
In many jurisdictions, lawyers must complete continuing legal education (CLE) requirements to maintain their licenses to practice law. Being a lawyer means keeping up-to-date with the latest changes in law, technology, and practice management.
When it comes to training and development, it’s important to balance your CLE requirements with additional upskilling as a new business owner. There are also programs that fit your CLE requirements while showing the fundamentals of owning a solo law firm. From mentoring to legal conferences, courses, and training programs, there are endless options available.
Some programs are free and others may not be. But, depending on the content and lessons involved, it can be a worthwhile investment. When you first start your law firm, it’s always a good idea to be lean—but the key is to spend wisely on positive, long-term investments.
Proper research and planning can help set your firm up for success. But having a support system can make a big difference when you run into challenges. Starting your own law firm will be made so much easier by learning from consultants, other lawyers, and mentors.
Keep in mind that you don’t need to get everything right on the first try. Getting started is the important part.