If you're one of the many young attorneys, with JD in hand and
no job in sight, you might be thinking about opening your own law
practice. Starting a law firm is easy - print some business cards
and you're open for business. Running it successfully (and
enjoyably) is hard. Jumping in without a plan is a recipe for
failure. Law school taught you the theory of law, but to be
successful as the owner of a law firm, you also have to learn both
the practice of law and the business of law.
The practice of law
The practice of law is something that law schools don't prepare
students well for. How do you file or caption a motion? How do you
comply with Superior Court Rule 9A? How do you schedule a hearing
date? Those are issues that come up in practice every day in
addition to knowing the laws, rules and procedure of your chosen
The traditional advice given to young lawyers is that you must
first find a mentor. It's good advice, but other lawyers are busy,
and young lawyers, who are typically not well-connected, may have
difficulty finding a lawyer willing to spend the time mentoring
them and answering all their questions.
Solosez (operated by the ABA) is an online listserv that works
like communal mentorship. Instead of having one mentor, you can
have thousands of mentors from across the country. You simply post
a question to the Solosez listserv and, usually within the hour,
you'll get an answer or even forms for your particular question.
Along those same lines, MASSFORUM (operated by Massachusetts
Lawyer's Weekly) is a local Solosez just for Massachusetts
When you're a young attorney, chances are you have a lot of free
time. A good way to learn the practice of law and help other people
at the same time is to do volunteer work. The Massachusetts Bar
Association hosts a monthly Dial-A-Lawyer night where you can give
free legal advice to callers, which in turn enhances your
confidence in giving legal advice. Volunteer for Lawyer of the Day
at the probate courts if you're a family attorney. The clerks will
help and teach you while you're also helping pro se
litigants. Help with The Volunteer Lawyers Project and Senior
Partners for Justice to take on civil cases. They will give you
administrative support, free training and free MCLE classes in
return. For criminal practice, try getting on the CPCS (Committee
for Public Counsel Services) list for criminal defense
The business of law
One thing that law schools do worse than teaching the practice of
law is teaching the business of law. There are only a handful of
law schools in the country that offer a course on law practice
management, yet a majority of attorneys practice in solo or small
firm settings. The business of law - how to run a law practice,
manage employees and marketing - is just as important as knowing
the practice of law. After all, if you don't have clients, it
doesn't matter how great your legal skills are.
Before hanging your shingle, first prepare a business plan. It
doesn't have to be formal. Just write down what resources you have
to fund your firm, the projected start-up costs, income sources,
firm structure (LLC, PC, partnership, etc.) and location (shared
suite, virtual office, home office, etc.)
The next step is to write down a marketing plan. What are the
different ways you plan on marketing your law firm and what the
cost is for each of those activities. Think about a Web site, blog,
networking groups (such as Chamber of Commerce, local trade groups,
StartingOutSolo.com, Women Attorneys Network), free online
directories (Avvo, Justia, JDSupra), LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter,
print advertisements, church and faith-based groups, seminars,
newsletters and mailings.
Some activities will be costly in terms of money and/or time. The
key is to keep track of where your business is coming from so that
you can adjust your marketing plan accordingly to get the most
return for your marketing dollar.
Marketing is a continuous process. You cannot implement a
marketing idea, sit back and relax, and hope that the money
continues to flow in.
If you stop marketing, the business will eventually stop. If you
market only when you see your business dry up, you will lose
credibility with your clients; they will smell your desperation and
won't engage you.
If you put all your marketing eggs in one basket, you run the risk
of sinking your firm when the referral source dries up.
As with investments, diversify.
Starting a law firm and running it successfully takes hard work,
long hours and dedication. Any young attorney can do it, but it is
not for every young attorney. Make sure you have what it takes
before taking the plunge.