Starting your own law firm means building out processes and systems that fit to the way you work. Now that you’ve started your journey as a lawyer and a new business owner, you can manage your own operations, build a client base, and handle day-to-day administrative tasks the way you want.
With the right systems and processes, you can create a solid foundation that will make starting and running your own law firm easy. In fact, firms using technology to streamline their systems and processes averaged a higher volume of casework, up to 21% more than firms that weren’t using technology.
Setting up your law firm’s systems and processes includes knowing where to start, how to intake clients, and what software will help you tie everything together. With a little planning and some organization, you’ll be one step closer to running a successful solo practice.
Mapping out your internal operations and workflows
After you’ve created a business plan, organized your finances, and officially registered your business, it’s time to start mapping out your operations and workflows. To start, ask yourself this very simple question: “Where will I work?”
In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, many lawyers no longer need to have a physical office to practice law. For lawyers starting their own law firms, this means that you can work anywhere—from home, a coworking space, a shared office, or elsewhere.
Once you’ve decided the “where,” it’s time to move on to the “what” and “how.” Here’re a few more questions to ask yourself as you plan your next steps:
- What are my working hours?
- How should I send and receive mail?
- Where will I have client meetings?
- How will I keep client information secure?
Remember that this is just a starting point. Depending on your practice area, there may be more specific workflows you’ll need to think through as well.
Once you have the answers for the questions above, make sure they’re recorded for easy reference. These workflows are important to keep yourself organized and avoid burnout. For example, creating processes around working hours (e.g., no client emails on Saturday or after 8pm on weekdays) can help give yourself a much-need break. And, be sure to check in with yourself regularly on what’s working and what isn’t, and remain open to adapting processes as necessary.
Creating effective external client processes
Once you’ve mapped out your internal operations and workflows, it’s time to look outwards. While you may have already interacted with clients regularly throughout your career, setting up formal processes for client intake, invoicing, and communication are important for a good client experience.
Consider questions like:
- When in the intake process should we talk about fees? After or before prescreening?
- When should I send invoices?
- What channels will I offer communication through? Just email and/or phone? What about social media or live chat?
As Clio CEO and co-founder Jack Newton mentions in his book, The Client-Centered Law Firm, providing great client experiences isn’t about wowing clients: It’s about meeting expectations and giving them what they want and need for their specific situation. Having consistent, clear processes is pivotal to achieve that goal.
And, part of creating external client processes is being open to feedback and constant iteration. For example, perhaps you’ll start by charging an hourly rate, then move to charging flat fees as you get a better understanding of your clients and matters. Or you could start offering communication through different channels as the desire for it arises.
Selecting the right software
If you’re already a practicing attorney, you may prefer specific tools that you want to continue using in your own practice. But unfortunately, your favorite legal software may only make sense cost-wise for larger law firms, so be sure to check the cost and see if it makes sense for a new law firm.
Most lawyers starting out on their own will be better with a cloud-based legal practice management platform, like Clio. For tracking time, hourly billing, trust accounting, and sorting client files, an all-in-one platform like Clio will save you time and streamline your workflows. According to Clio’s legal trends report, firms using this type of platform saw 20% more casework and 26% more revenue.
Depending on the type of practice you want to set up, you may also want to look into other tools to help make your workflows easier. Once you’ve mapped out your internal operations and external client processes, take a look at areas you could automate and optimize. Then, put those tools on your wishlist.
Take your time when vetting software—lawyers often handle confidential information, so any software you choose absolutely must be secure and encrypted.
The list of the most popular/powerful tools for any new law firm below should help you get started. This list is not exhaustive, so keep space open on your software wishlist. You may not know what you truly need until you’ve started.
Cloud-based practice management software
Your practice management software will be where your firm keeps matters and client information organized, tracks time and expenses, creates calendar events, sends invoices, and more. It’s possible to fulfill your case management needs with a group of individual tools for each function, but using one unified platform saves time and removes much of the risk of error from duplicate data entry.
With cloud-based practice management software like Clio Manage, you can access, share, and collaborate on important case details from anywhere. Additionally, features like the Firm Dashboard help your firm track productivity and see how individuals in the firm are performing.
Cloud-based document storage
As a lawyer, you may need to access important case documents from wherever you’re working, such as the courthouse or a client’s office. To meet this need, we recommend storing documents in the cloud. Many cloud-based solutions offer plenty of customization and robust search capabilities, making it easy to find what you need quickly. Clio offers unlimited document storage and also connects with popular cloud-storage solutions include OneDrive, Box, Dropbox, and Google Drive.
Cloud-based client relationship management software (CRM)
Keeping new client information organized is critical to making sure no potential clients fall through the cracks, and no follow-ups get missed.
Client relationship management software like Clio Grow helps with client intake, scheduling, e-signatures, and more to keep the entire client intake process streamlined and simple. What’s more, if you use the Clio Suite, which includes Clio Grow and Clio Manage, you can easily sync new client information with their relevant matter—no double data entry required.
Secure client portal
To keep documents, sensitive communications, invoices, and more secure and confidential, you might want to use a secure client portal when sharing information and communicating with clients. Clients can then access their cases so they can check case information themselves, saving you time on updates and meetings.
As part of your Clio Manage subscription, Clio Connect is a secure client portal that lets you easily share resources and information with clients.
Online payment services
While you may have been traditionally paid through checks, we recommend offering online credit card payments, which are more convenient for you and your clients. Solutions like Clio Payments allow lawyers to operate in compliance with trust accounting rules, and allow clients to pay bills quickly and easily via a secure link.
It can be easy to skip establishing formal processes and systems. But creating clear administrative workflows will help create structure and stability for yourself and clients. Taking the time to navigate, set up, and automate these processes is an essential part of starting a law firm and will set you up for success in the future.