2020 is an intimidating year to start a law firm. The COVID-19 pandemic has just about everyone feeling nervous about the future and that uncertainty is holding many talented lawyers back from breaking away and starting their own firms. With that said, there’s always a need for legal counsel, and waiting might not be the best option for your career.
So how do you start your own law firm? What can you do to set yourself up for success and confidently bring in new cases right from the beginning? At the SMB Team, we love helping lawyers to build and grow their practices, and we’ve learned a lot over the years about what makes a new firm successful. This essential checklist will teach you exactly how to start a law firm.
Is Now A Good Time To Start A Law Firm?
There’s always a need for legal counsel, and waiting might not be the best option for your career
– Bill Hauser
Step 1: Plan Your Exit
If you’re starting from scratch and you don’t already work for an existing law firm, you can go ahead and skip this step. More likely, though, you’re planning to leave a law firm you work for to strike out on your own. If this is the case, then you need to plan your exit strategy carefully.
Before you quit, think about what you need to get squared away first. What cases are you working on? Are there any bonuses you’d be giving up by leaving right away? Do you have the money you need to get your new law firm up and running? These are all questions you should be asking yourself before you resign and start your own law firm.
It’s important not to leave anything to chance. Make sure you have your partnership situation lined up and solidified. You don’t want to quit and then find out that the attorney you were planning to work with isn’t 100% on board. The more you plan in advance before leaving your current firm, the better.
Step 2: Choose Your Practice Area and Location
It might seem obvious, but you need to decide on where geographically you’ll be opening your practice and what kind of niche(s) you’ll be serving. If you’ve always wanted to live out in the country, for instance, you’ll have to accept that you will need to be a general practice lawyer, since there isn’t much demand in rural areas for niche practice areas like estate planning.
If you’re more interested in serving an urban area, you have more options. In a big city, you’re better off sticking to one or two closely-related niches, like personal injury and worker’s compensation or divorce and child custody.
Obviously, it’s important to choose a location you love and a type of law that you’re passionate about—otherwise you’ll never have the motivation to build your firm. Be honest with yourself and choose the location and practice area that makes the most sense for where you see yourself in the future.
Step 3: Cut Your Expenses and Get Creative
Bringing in new cases can be a challenge when you’re just starting your law firm. You can leverage your prior experience, but you won’t have many testimonials or word-of-mouth referrals yet.
Since you’re not likely to have a big marketing budget at the very beginning, you need to get creative and cut your expenses. Don’t spend thousands of dollars per month on client acquisition. Instead, start with low-cost options, like LinkedIn, Facebook, and local SEO.
To save money, you have to get creative. Focus on a couple of acquisition strategies at the beginning instead of spreading out your efforts and trying to do everything. Really get into your prospective client’s head. When would they be looking to hire an attorney? Where do they spend their time online? What would they need from you to feel comfortable booking a consultation?
In the beginning, you need to focus on the essentials. Building up your marketing budget and getting fancy can wait. When you’re just starting out, you should identify the most powerful and inexpensive sources of traffic possible and focus on using those to build your practice.
Why Planning is Vitally Important
Think of this step as laying the foundations for the future of your firm. Understanding what your firm’s values and goals are will guide you in everything you do, from marketing to hiring. You want to differentiate yourself from other law firms in the area and give yourself a road map for success.
– Bill Hauser
Step 4: Get Your Firm Name and Website Squared Away
By this point, you should be thinking about your law firm’s name. Your website will be an important tool for marketing and bringing in new business, and it’s important to get your website’s URL locked in as soon as you can.
Don’t rush into naming your law firm, but keep in mind that it takes time for Google to recognize new websites. From a marketing perspective, the sooner you buy your domain name, the better. Even if you’re not yet ready to build your law firm’s website, purchase your URL as soon as possible.
If you’re not confident in your ability to design a website that pulls in leads, it can be a good idea to hire help. Your website is your “virtual storefront” and you want it to look great. Your site should be easy to navigate, welcoming, and should quickly direct visitors to take the next step in booking your services. Just be sure that anyone you hire to design your website allows you to maintain full ownership of it!
Step 5: Plan and Strategize
If you don’t have to start pulling in cases immediately to pay the bills, it can be a good idea to take a step back for a few weeks or months to plan and strategize. Giving yourself the space to figure out your firm’s values, mission, business model, and KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) will pay off as you grow your practice.
Think of this step as laying the foundations for the future of your law firm. Understanding what your firm’s values and goals are will guide you in everything you do, from marketing to hiring. You want to differentiate yourself from other law firms in the area and give yourself a road map for success.
Defining your KPIs is essential for making the best use of your law firm’s marketing dollars and time. By figuring out how much you’d realistically like to spend per case, you can decide on the best marketing methods and channels for growing your firm. If you start marketing with no budget or KPIs as an anchor, you might find yourself overspending for cases and not getting the results you’re looking for.
For marketing, you should start by choosing a single client acquisition strategy. You can always branch out later, but it’s best to have the goal of dominating one platform in the beginning. By focusing your strategy this way, you’ll get better results.
Step 6: Delegate!
Building a law firm from scratch takes a lot of time and effort and you’re going to need some help. The best strategy is to hand off administrative and marketing tasks that you don’t need to be involved in so you can focus on what you do best.
Delegating might seem like a luxury you can’t afford at the beginning, but it’s actually something you can’t afford NOT to do. You can’t focus on cases and running the business if you’re writing every ad or dealing with administrative tasks. Taking some tasks off your plate will not only give you more time but also clear space in your brain for strategy and working with clients.
Getting a case manager as soon as possible should be a top priority. Whenever you spend time on administrative tasks, you’re cutting down on the number of cases you can take on. Get your hands out of the day-to-day management work and delegate those tasks to someone you can trust!
You’ll also probably need to hire marketing help. Although most lawyers are extremely capable of doing their own marketing, it’s not necessarily the best use of their time. An agency like SMB can help you plan and execute a marketing strategy that will leave you with plenty of time for your other responsibilities.
Build Your Law Firm with a Strong Foundation
It’s always going to be easier to start your business with a strong foundation and solid planning, rather than to course-correct down the line. With that said, don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good. Don’t spend so much time planning and strategizing that you never open your doors.
As you start to grow your practice, remember to delegate when you can. Working cases and building relationships should be your main priorities. Over time, those happy clients and word-of-mouth referrals will grow your business even faster.
If you’re struggling with creating a marketing strategy for your new firm, SMB Team is here to help. We take care of everything that it takes to start a law firm, including purchasing your URL and getting your website up and running. For a free website consultation, call us today or apply.