If you’re a young lawyer thinking about starting your own firm, just do it. Don’t hesitate or overthink it. In today’s world, the transition from associate lawyer to business owner can be seamless, with the right tools and an open mindset to do things differently.
When I first launched my practice, I found that many people had the same questions: Where will you work? How can you afford it? How will you find clients? But you seem so young! My approach is straightforward and is guided by technology and relationships. Here’s how I’m succeeding as a young entrepreneur lawyer.
Office Space Options
For most lawyers, the most daunting aspect of starting their own law firm is the overhead costs. However, gone are the days of committing to a five-year lease of office space. You no longer need to hire that front-desk receptionist, buy that massive photocopier, or hang expensive art to lend credibility to your new law firm.
An abundance of options are available for new entrepreneur lawyers that simply did not exist several years ago. Think about a co-working space with other entrepreneurs—lawyers and other creative types—at WeWork, Workplace One, or Regus. Even better, you can find a space in a law chamber, and sit among other lawyers who are doing different types of work. Be creative with your workspace, because clients don’t care about fancy offices. You don’t need Harvey Specter’s corner office to get it done (unless you are Harvey Specter).
Let’s Go Virtual
Paper files and fax machines? The gap between the pace of technology use in the legal industry versus the rest of society is unfortunate. To thrive in this new legal landscape, you need to embrace technology and be part of the disruption to traditional legal practice. Your clients will be tech-savvy and they will expect that you are too. Aside from going paperless (which should be a no-brainer), a host of options are available to get you on the tech train.
Practice Management Software
Many affordable options are available beyond storing files and documents on an expensive server. Programs such as Clio, uLaw Practice, or Abacus Law offer cloud-based software, so you can access your files and docket your hours from anywhere (including your phone) at any time. I’m one step closer to my dream of working remotely from any country.
Virtual Faxes and Phones
Although the Rules of Civil Procedure are outdated and still accept service via fax, believe it or not, you do not need to have a physical fax machine. They are expensive, cumbersome and almost as ancient as a typewriter. Instead, try Hello Fax, a virtual fax machine that sends and receives faxes directly to your e-mail. No need to invest in office phones, either. Services such as Grasshopper will provide you with a business number and route calls directly to your cell phone. Alternatively, you can sign up for Ruby Receptionist and have a remote live receptionist answer your calls and take messages.
Get an online scheduling program. Tools like Calendly, Acuity Scheduling, SimplyBook, etc. will allow your clients and other lawyers to access your calendar to schedule a mutually convenient meeting in minutes. Without this booking system, this simple task can drag on for days, with several back-and-forth e-mails just to schedule a call. I think that we can all agree that that’s a waste of time.
The future of law is here, so let’s get ahead of that curve.
Don’t Just Network, Build Relationships
If you’re starting your own business, you are now the face of your firm. Like it or not, you will have to do a lot of business development. For most people, the idea of “networking” is overwhelming and attending events with hundreds of people can cause social anxiety.
Here’s a tip: instead of trying to talk to as many people as possible, identify two or three people and have a meaningful conversation with each of them. You will stand out when you can genuinely find common ground. Do you like the same sports team? What’s your current Netflix binge? Favorite travel spot? Don’t talk shop the entire time. Connect on a personal level and you will build trust, respect and they will like you, which are all important to developing a strong business relationship.
Don’t forget that it’s a mutual relationship. Be available to answer any questions that they have, consider how you can contribute to their business, and send clients their way when you can.
Focus on Your Strengths, Outsource the Rest
Let’s be clear—I am well-versed in litigation, but I know next to nothing about trust accounting, logo design, or website development. In fact, if I designed and built my own website, I would still be tinkering with a font size right now, and I’d have no business.
I believe that people should focus on their strengths and outsource the rest to experts, so they can spend that precious time on their business. Get a bookkeeper. Hire that website designer.
Above all else, this lets your clients and peers know that you’re serious about your firm and are approaching it with integrity and professionalism.
Follow Your Vision
I am willing to bet that you did a lot of soul-searching when you considered striking out on your own. Do you want to serve a certain demographic? Is work-life balance important to you? Are you striving for financial success?
It’s important to define your brand and solidify your vision at the outset. Whether you are making a small improvement or a big, firm-changing decision, your core values should guide you through and through.
For example, don’t accept work that leads you away from your core competencies or goals. If you’re a wills and estates lawyer, don’t take on that litigation file if you hate going to court. Don’t dilute your brand. You may find that doing so will steer you off course. Most of all, this will be a disservice to your client, so consider your business network and refer them out to the appropriate lawyer. As a litigator, I’ve turned down profitable solicitor’s work, but it was the right thing to do and keeps me on track to providing quality litigation representation for my current and future clients.
Stay true to your original vision and you’ll do great things.
In summary, if I can do it, then you can do it too. Be confident that you can practice outside the four walls of a traditional law firm so long as you have the right technology, nourish your business relationships, and embrace the exciting future of law.