So you’ve been working for someone else for awhile and are thinking it is time to start your own law firm. Although BigLaw is known to grind their associates, don’t think that starting your own law firm is easy—it is not. Although you are no longer required by partners to put in long hours, you may find that the initial years of starting your law firm, like any business, will require just as many if not more hours than what BigLaw associates put in. However, you may find that having your own law firm is much more rewarding in the end than working as a lawyer for another firm.
This guide is written specifically for lawyers who are interested in striking out on their own and starting their own law firm. If that is you, read on. Here is what you will need to start your own law firm.
A website now is no longer an option, it is a necessity. A website is your law firm’s front and is how people find you and how people contact you.
Once you get an online presence be sure to nurture it by getting your clients to do testimonials and reviews on third-party websites.
As you should already know, a business license is needed to establish a law firm. The type of license you need to open your law firm depends on how many partners you plan on having. The most common type of business license for small solo firms is an LLC. For partnerships, the most common types are General Partnership and Professional Limited Liability Partnership (“LLP”). To file the paperwork and establish your business, go look up the instructions for your respective state. You can also go to sites like Nolo and pay to easily get paperwork done for your law firm.
As a lawyer, you will need software to bill your clients. You can go with general systems like Freshbooks but if you want billing software catered to lawyers, you may want to look at some of these options below:
PracticePanther legal billing software offers a free trial for the first three clients/cases. Thereafter, if you want to keep using it, it is $39/mo per user. This is a highly-rate billing software that is used often by small and big firms alike. They have a mobile app available for both iPhone and Android.
CosmoLex is advertised as an all-in-one system for lawyers. CosmoLex lets small firms law firms manage their practice, billing, and accounting all with the same program. This is convenient for those that want convienence. They offer a one-month free trial with no credit card required. Thereafter, it is $59/month if you want to pay monthly or $49/mo if you want to pay annually. Although CosmoLex does not have a dedicated mobile app, they do have a mobile version of the website that lets you accomplish pretty much anything the full software can.
MyCase is another popular option for lawyers when it comes to billing. It is a cloud-based system so no download is necessary. It is a billing and time tracking software built in one. This software offers a one-month trial and thereafter is $39/mo per lawyer and $29/mo for paralegals and non-lawyer staff. MyCase has a mobile app but it is not as highly rated as the PracticePanther app.
Clio is another powerful cloud-based software for managing your law firm, including invoicing. It features integration with different software, including Microsoft Office 365. It also features time tracking and payment processing. They offer a free trial and plans start at $49/mo if paid monthly and $39/mo if paid yearly. However, at that pricepoint, your features are limited. The most popular feature is in the mid-tier package, which is $69/mo if paying monthly or $59/mo if paying yearly. Clio also has a dedicated mobile app.
You may also want to invest in case management software if you are going to start your own law firm. Here are some options for case management systems:
Juralaw is a docketing system that features complete case history and allow firms to record all important matters pertaining to individual cases.
Clio, the invoice and billing software I mentioned above, is also a case management and docketing system. Go to their website to see if their case management software is robust enough for your practice.
Aderant (formerly Compulaw) is a popular calendar management software that is made for firms of all sizes. Aderant services 77 of the top 100 Global Law Firms and more than 88 percent of the top 200 law firms of the United States. It is safe to say that unless you your law firm isn’t at least mid-sized, you may be able to find much more cost efficient solutions.
MA3000 is a popular calendar and docketing system for many big law firms. It features integration with Microsoft Outlook and of course rule-based calendar system. The software generate dockets and diaries from data transmitted by state and federal courts. You can also view complete case history with MA3000.
Besides some of the things listed above, here are some other things you will need when starting a firm:
Here are some of the basic office equipment you will need to get started:
Here are some others that you may want to get:
Being a lawyer, legal research is essential to your firm. As you may know, LexisNexis is the cream of the crop when it comes to legal research software. However, the steep price tag of it may dissuade some from subscribing. Here are 5 cheaper alternatives for legal research:
Like doctors, lawyers will also need malpractice insurance. The good news is that malpractice insurance for lawyers are a lot lower than that of doctors. Malpractice insurance will cover your behind when you get sued. There are many factors affecting how much lawyers need to pay for malpractice insurance, including the length of time you have been practicing, area of practice, and how much your deductible is. New lawyers pay less in malpractice insurance than experienced lawyers. New lawyers can find malpractice insurance for as low as $700 a year while experienced lawyers will find rates anywhere from $5,000 to $15,000 a year. These numbers are from TheLawDictionary.
Office space is another necessary cost for lawyers. However, cost of office space varies widely. If you are cost conscious, you can start out at a co-working space. Many co-working spaces let you work in their office for as little as $100 a month. Many of these co-working spaces have meeting rooms for you to meet with your clients. If you want your own office in these co-working spaces, you can also pay for that and will cost you less than getting your own dedicated office building. These co-working spaces also offer phone answering service and mail forwarding also.
If you want your own office and do not want to share, then get with a commercial real estate agent to go find a good location for your office.
You will also need to establish a business checking account for your own law firm. Business checking accounts provide an easier way to separate your personal and business spending. You will thank yourself when it comes to tax season. When it comes time to merge, bring on a partner, or sell your firm, due diligence will become much easier.
Once you are starting your firm you will also have to do some marketing. Marketing efforts can vary in cost. Networking and word-of-mouth are the most inexpensive methods for marketing. Then there is paid marketing efforts such as Facebook advertising and pay-per-click marketing. Another cost-efficient but time consuming marketing tactic is to start blogging and become well-known in your field. Blogging is free and the better your blog is, the more well-known your law practice becomes.
If you need marketing help, reach out to me for a consultation. Although I no longer do marketing for businesses, I can provide a roadmap and advice to get you started.