I once read an article about starting a solo legal practice that advised a budget for interior design. That's when I realized there are two types of law practice start-up: 1. the type where you are coming from a big firm with a big client and therefore, a big budget to do things like interior design; and 2. the type where you have no budget (as in none, zero, zip, $00000.00). I've actually started firms under both scenarios. Yes, it is a lot of fun to go pick out a big desk, side tables and artwork. It's also just as fulfilling to start with nothing and watch it build.
The reality is that most attorneys forming a solo law practice do not have a big budget and definitely will not be hiring an interior decorator. In fact, most solo practices are formed as a result of need or desperation: by new attorneys who can't find jobs, by older attorneys who can't find jobs, by attorneys coming off of a sabbatical of some sorts and by attorneys who are transitioning from a law firm to their own practice.
More than ever before it is entirely feasible to start a successful solo legal practice on a small, or even no, budget. Below are some tips to help you get started on your new and exciting journey:
1. Spend some time planning your firm and your practice area. Your practice area is going to be dictated by your skills and education; however, don't forget who you are and what you've accomplished thus far. You're an attorney! You went to law school, passed the bar and probably have some work experience. This means that you can learn anything and practice whatever type of law you would like to practice. However, it is very important to differentiate yourself. When you decide what you'd like to practice, create a business plan for your firm. You're about to embark upon entrepreneurship and to do that you're going to need to learn new business skills. The first step to creating a business, after the idea for the business, is to put together a business plan. It doesn't need to be anything elaborate because you're not seeking investors---but it will tell you where you are going and help you decided how much money you need to have saved up to live on while you get your business up and running.
2. Set Your Firm Up. The next step after you decide on your practice area and do your business plan is to do the work to create your firm. This includes organizing your business in your State, getting your Federal Tax ID number and all of the other tasks to bring about your business. These tasks include reserving your domain name, creating a website, registering your firm with your state Supreme Court, opening a bank account, ordering checks, pricing your services, getting insurance, creating your branding, getting an email account and setting up a way to collect payment for your services.
3. Set Your Office Up. After you set up your firm you need to decide where it will reside. The cheapest way to start is to set up a home office. However, if you have children it can definitely be challenging to have a home office. But, if you can find space at home this will save you a lot of money until you start having regular cash flow. If you can't have a home office then consider renting an office in an established firm or renting an office in a co-working space. The key is to start out by spending as little money as possible on an office space. If you have a larger budget and have always dreamed of having a leased space all your own, then by all means look for space within your budget. However, many solo attorneys actually start out working from home and in today's modern world it is very easy to accomplish setting up a home office. To set up your office you need to find some basic furniture---but don't go crazy on this because when all else fails you can work from your kitchen table if you need to. You will definitely need a computer, your cell phone and a printer/scanner. You will also have to decide on the type of programs you may need depending on the type of law you practice. I also recommend accounting software to keep you on track for your accountant. When it comes to hiring staff----that will also depend on the type of law you practice, your budget and your need. While you're growing you may consider a Virtual Assistant---it's a very cheap and practical solution on a start-up budget.
4. Market. . .Market. . .Market. Ah, marketing. Don't despair---even big firms have to market to get business. Things to get you started: business cards (a must), memberships, announcements, social media, and advertising. In order to get clients you need to learn about the way businesses market. Not the way attorneys used to market but the ways that modern businesses market. Go back to number 1 when you created your business plan. In your business plan you listed the type of law you want to practice and that will help you decide who your clients will be. Now go find your clients!
This list is the quick way to get you started on your new journey. It's the basics of what you need to get started and while some may disagree on what's important when starting out, this is the formula I used to successfully start my own firm. If you'd like to learn more about how to start your own firm sign up to be notified when the course launches.