Many young lawyers, myself included, long harbored a secret desire that they could only speak of in whispers at the office. No, I’m not talking about the urge to show the copy machine what you really think of it, I’m talking about the desire to one day open up your own law firm. Whether it is a desire to break free from the “golden handcuffs,” a consequence of law firm downsizing or just a yearn to have more independence in the practice of law, lawyers of all ages have any number of reasons to start their own practice.
My own path to starting my own firm grew from a desire to have more independence and to change from a defense-oriented practice to one focused on representing plaintiffs. Whatever your reasons might be, the reality of starting your own firm can be substantially different than the picture you have in your mind. You may have pleasant surprises—like receiving a referral from an opposing lawyer you have not spoken to in months—but other times they will be anything but pleasant—like realizing you have no idea how to handle tax withholdings for your salary. As someone who just started my own law firm this year, I can personally attest to the highs and lows that come with pursuing the dream of being my own boss. Every young lawyer should keep a few things in mind as they begin their journey to start their own practice.
First, assuming that the circumstances allow it, the best thing to do before starting your own practice is to give serious, deliberate thought to the decision. Seek out information and guidance from other lawyers, mentors, and even state bar associations. The Florida Bar, for example, has tremendous resources available at www.legalfuel.com for anyone considering starting their own firm. These include step-by-step outlines for how to choose a name, select a legal structure, and even free templates for many of the documents you may need in your new practice. Best of all, all of these resources are entirely free, and many of them are useful regardless of the state you may practice in. In addition to bar resources, I have found that other young lawyers (and not-so-young lawyers) are more than willing to share their own experiences and insight on what steps to take and what mistakes to avoid. Much like the practice of law itself, learning from the experience of others is an invaluable resource and one that cost me nothing.
Regardless of how much time you take before starting your practice, one thing I was told repeatedly was to take action and commit to making the practice a success once the decision has been made. For me, this meant making sure that I had done everything I could to set myself up for success, including setting up a realistic budget, coming up with a detailed plan for my first year, and reaching out to as many other lawyers, friends and even former opposing counsel that I thought would be interested to know I was starting my own practice. This had two major benefits. First, it informed a large part of my network that I was on my own and opened up the possibility of receiving referrals down the road. But the public nature of my announcement was also, in effect, a very public promise that I was making to myself that my firm would be successful. The saying goes that necessity is the mother of invention, but a related saying could probably be that fear of public failure is a great motivator, if you need it.
Once the commitment is made, the actual logistics of the opening of your firm becomes the next priority. Lawyers often feel that we should be able to figure out anything and everything that comes our way in terms of obstacles. But another useful piece of advice I was given is that it is okay to rely on others. As a new business owner, it is literally just as important to work on your business as it is to work in your business. This goes to the very heart of transitioning from the employee, who merely works on cases, to the law firm owner, who must now find the cases in the first place. At first, I felt guilty trying to outsource certain parts of the day-to-day realities of running my own practice, particularly considering my overwhelming desire to keep my overhead as low as possible. But I also quickly realized that a very real financial cost is associated with doing things that, frankly, require time that could be much better spent working on other parts of your new firm.
For example, even if you are not billing by the hour, the hour you spend at the post office trying to send out that certified letter is an hour you could have spent networking with potential referral sources, following up on potential new client leads, or even doing actual legal work that will eventually lead to revenue for your firm. Incurring the relatively minor monthly cost of a digital postage meter and printing postage at the office easily pays for itself with a single saved trip to the post office. Depending on your practice area and your available resources, the same may be true when it comes to doing more frequent tasks, such as answering the phone, conducting initial intake, sending out letters, etc. As young lawyers, we are often associated with being the most tech-savvy members of our firms. Use that to your advantage, and investigate the numerous platforms available to help automate, or at least delegate, some of the more simplistic and repetitive parts of your practice, so you can focus your time and efforts on growing your business.
Obviously, relying on others at the beginning of opening a firm has limits. Like any new business, you will juggle your desire to keep overhead low with your desire to be more efficient. For my part, if I find myself with a few hours of downtime in a day, I make sure that I am taking advantage of that time to take steps to grow my business. Whether it is creating an outline for processes that can potentially be automated to writing an article like this one, the universal truth I have found is that I can always be doing something to try and make my business more successful down the road. If you decide to take the plunge for yourself and open your own firm, just remember that literally thousands of other young lawyers have already done it. With persistence, hard work and perhaps some assistance from your young lawyer colleagues, you can do it too.
About the Author
Mike Redondo is the founder and managing partner of Redondo Law P.A. in Miami, Florida. He practices in the areas of personal injury, insurance cases, and business litigation. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.