Opening your own law practice: where do you start?

Many lawyers ask me how to go about opening their own law practice. At the risk of sounding glib and too clever for my own good, my short answer is “you just do”.

You find a place to park your carcass and see clients and then you go get some.

Okay, let’s see if we can break this down a bit. I will assume that you don’t have a lot of cash, or you don’t want to spend it up front, which is a good plan even if you do have a lot of cash.

You may be able to do most of your work from home initially, but you will need a place to see clients. So the first step is to find someone who will let you use their conference room or a spare office to do that. You can offer to pay them by the hour or a flat monthly fee or you can do appearances or other legal work to pay for it.

You could do this in any office but there are advantages to renting space in an office occupied by attorneys: access to their library, surrounding yourself with colleagues who can help you when you have a question, and the ability to get overflow work.

Which leads to the next step: getting clients.

First, set up a simple website. Get your own domain name (youname.com) and at least a single page site that describes who you are, what you do, and how to contact you.

Put your domain name and email address (firstname@yourname.com) and phone number on everything: business cards, stationery, email signature, social media profiles, etc.

Next, if you worked for a firm before, contact clients you did work for or know and let them know you’ve opened your own office. Call them personally. Don’t pressure them, just let them know your news. Give them your website. Make a note to contact them again in a month or two.

After that, tell everyone else you know that you’re open for business and send them to your website. Don’t send announcements. Nobody reads them. Send letters or emails. Explain why you opened your own office and the services you are now offering.

Call five or ten of these folks a day and ask how they are doing. You’ve got the time, bub. Ask if they got your letter or email. At the end of the call, say what every new real estate agents says: “If you know anyone who needs/is thinking about. . . please send them my way”.

Plant the seed that you’re open for referrals.

Add this: “Also, I know a lot of attorneys in other areas of practice, so if you know someone with ANY legal need, let me know and I’ll refer them to a good attorney”.

One of the best ways to get referrals from other attorneys is to give them referrals.

When they say they will, say thanks and tell them you’ll be sending them some additional information.

Onward.

When I opened my office, I got most of my first clients from other attorneys, so contact every attorney you know and let them know you’re available for overflow and appearances. See Lawyer to Lawyer Referrals to learn more.

Next, write something. A report or ebook that helps people understand problems and solutions. At the end, tell them how you can help them and the people they know.

Then get that report into as many hands as possible, through as many methods as possible. Let the report sell you and your services. See The 30 Day Referral Blitz on how to write an effective report and how to distribute it.

Now what? Now, you explore other ways for marketing yourself and there are many others. Many ways to get your name in front of people, build a list, expand your website and get more traffic, get more referrals, and otherwise bring in business. Once you start getting clients, there are ways to leverage your relationships to bring in even more.

You can expect the early days to be rough going. They were for me. But today, you have the Internet and a lot of other tools for finding clients, and you also have me. Read my blog, get my courses, educate yourself, and take action every day. Focus on marketing and you will make it.

Is it scary? Hell yes. But so is being unemployed and not knowing what to do, or wanting to open your own office and thinking there’s too much to do and you don’t know where to start.

Now you know where to start. And starting is everything.

The keys to building a successful law practice: click here

Pros and cons of starting a law practice

I was reading some statistics about the failure rate of small businesses. The numbers are brutal. 50% fail in their first year. 95% are out of business within five years.

It got me thinking about the survival rate for a new law practice. I don’t know what the actual numbers are but it wouldn’t surprise me if you told me that 95% are still going after five years.

Then I got to thinking about why. What is it about the business model of a small law practice that allows for such a high survival rate compared to other small businesses?

If you’re thinking about starting a law practice, here are the pros and cons I came up with:

THE PROS

  • Lower start up costs. You have rent deposits, furniture and computers (which can be financed), but no inventory or expensive equipment, and you can start without any employees.
  • Lower overhead. Your biggest fixed costs are rent and insurance. As you grow, you can hire employees or outsource, unlike a restaurant which cannot operate without employees.
  • Lower marketing costs. You need a web site. You can bring in business by networking. You don’t need to advertise.
  • Higher margins. You don’t sell a $10 product, you sell a $5,000 product. You can break even with just one or two new clients a month.
  • Steady work (business clients). Business clients tend to have ongoing legal needs. (But see below.)

THE CONS

  • Limited time. There are only so many hours in a day available for you to produce work product. If you have employees, you must supervise them. You have to reach a certain size before you can justify hiring staff to manage staff.
  • Limited growth options. You can’t franchise. You can’t take on investors. Bank financing is more difficult without inventory or other assets as collateral. If you want to open additional offices, you must be willing to stretch your time even thinner.
  • Competition. There are more lawyers today and fewer clients (with money). You also have competition with legal form companies, paralegals, and legal plan companies.
  • Feast or famine. Business clients go out of business and take their legal work with them. Consumer clients hire you once and often never again.
  • Limited retirement options. It’s difficult to sell a law practice for a decent multiple. You usually have to carry a note and depend on the buyer’s ability to pay (and many of your clients won’t stay with the buyer).

So, what do you think? Did I miss any? Does it look like a law practice is a sound business model? Please share your thoughts in the comments.

Learn how to earn more than you ever thought possible in your law practice. Click here.

If I were starting my law practice today, here’s what I would do to bring in clients

If I were opening a law practice today, my “marketing plan” would be very different than it was when I opened my office thirty-plus years ago.

The Internet changes everything.

So. . . here’s what I would do:

I would start by setting up a web site to showcase what I do. It would be my online brochure as well as a mechanism for networking and lead generation. It would be an information hub, the center of all of my marketing activities.

My web site would be a self-hosted WordPress blog so I could update it without depending on anyone else. I would spend less than $10/yr. for a domain, and less than $10/mo. for hosting.

I would keep things simple, with a clean, professional look. I would favor quality content over bells and whistles. The look would say, “competent, confident, accomplished and approachable,” because that’s what I would want if I was looking for an attorney.

I would add articles and other content to the site, to provide value to visitors and generate search engine traffic. I would continue to add content, seeking to make my site the most comprehensive in my practice area. When someone needed an answer, everyone would point them to my site.

I would make it easy for visitors to contact me through the site and I would encourage this. I want people to ask questions. My answers bring me one step closer to an appointment and a new client. Their questions and my answers would also give me fodder for new content.

I would add testminonials and success stories to the site, providing social proof of my capabilities and add a dramatic aspect to otherwise dry material.

I would set up a lead capture system, using an autoresponder to deliver an online newsletter. I would encourage visitors to subscribe so I could stay in touch with them. Over time, I know they will become clients, provide referrals, and generate even more traffic to my site through their social media channels.

Once my hub was set up, my focus would be to drive traffic to the site and grow my list. I would start by leveraging my existing contacts, telling them about my site and the benefits of visiting. I would ask them to spread the word to the people they know.

Every piece of printed collateral, including my business cards, would include a link to my web site. Every email I sent would link to the site. Every article I wrote would include a resource box and a link to my site.

I would become active in forums and on social media. I would do some networking and speaking to meet new contacts and to stay up to date with the news in my target market.

I would look for other professionals who target my market and propose writing for each other’s blogs and newsletters. If they were physically near me, I would meet them for coffee and explore other ways we could help each other.

I would regularly email to my list, notifying them of new content on the site and sending them other content I found that I thought they might like to see. I would stay in touch with them so that I would be “in their minds and their mailboxes” when they needed my services or encountered someone who did.

I would let people know I appreciate their referrals and thank those who have provided them in the past. I would suggest other ways they could help me, i.e., forwarding my emails to their friends and contacts, promoting my seminar or other event, or introducing me to people they know that I should meet.

I would look for ways to provide added value to my list and even more so to my clients. I would give them information and advice, but not necessarily in my practice area or even anything legal.

I would smother my clients with attention, exceeding their expectations in every way possible, because I know the best way to build a law practice is with referrals from satisfied clients and other people who know, like, and trust me.

Wait. . .  the Internet doesn’t change everything. Marketing is the same today as it was thirty years ago. The Internet just makes it easier, quicker, and less expensive.