Last year, I started my own law firm, the Heidemann Law Firm, PLLC. My firm specializes in writing bar exam appeals. Admittedly, it is not my only source of income so I do not have the pressure that many of my friends and students who have started their own firms have.
Many people wonder if they should start their own law firm, and if so, where to begin. Some people want to start their own firms right after law school. Others start them after gaining a year or two of practice under their belt.
So we compiled a list of tips that our friends, our students, and ourselves have found helpful in starting our own law firms. This is by no means a detailed guide to starting your own law firm. Nor does it answer the question, “Should I start my own law firm?” It is, however, a very helpful list of ten things to consider before starting your own law firm.
Ten Tips for Starting Your Own Law Firm:
1. Make sure it is what you want. If you are looking to have a steady paycheck, and a life outside of work, starting your own firm will not get you that (at least at first!). It will be a lot of work, unsteady income, and a lot of challenges — big and small, for a substantial period of time. However, while it will be very difficult, it will also be extremely rewarding and exciting!
2. Have a vision and a plan. Start by creating your vision. What is your goal? Why start your own firm? What are your values?
Then create a business plan that tracks your vision. What are your expenses? Don’t forget to include rent, utilities, internet, phone, and marketing expenses, How many hours do you need to bill to cover those expenses? Be as detailed as possible. You do not need a fancy business plan. Just start with the basics. Run it by some attorneys who have started their own firms to make sure you are being realistic.
3. Have a cushion. Don’t expect to make a lot of money right away. Save up some money before taking the leap so that there is less pressure to make money right away. A few months’ worth of a cushion should be sufficient to get the ball rolling.
4. Get ready to put in the work. Remember, when you start your own law firm, you are not just an attorney. You are an attorney, accountant, paralegal, marketer, secretary, janitor, and CEO. And all of these roles take time and energy. You can expect to put in long days when you start your own firm. You can also expect to develop skills you might not have ever thought you would develop (like accounting, marketing, entrepreneurial skills, etc.). This is what makes it so interesting and exciting to start your own firm — but it also makes it time-consuming!
5. Ignore naysayers. A lot of people will be critical of you. This could be for many reasons − some may be honestly concerned or have good advice to consider before starting your own firm. However, others will be jealous or defensive because you are implicitly challenging their worldview and making them uncomfortable that they are not trying cool new things on their own!
Separate out the healthy advice from the criticism and learn to ignore the criticism. Do not go into this expecting to get permission or approval from everyone. (And the good news is that you do not need it.)
6. Find a mentor and a network. This is critical. Find an attorney mentor who you can call and chat with when you have a question or need advice. Also, find a network that you can depend on. Try to add as much value to your network as you can. You don’t want to only “take” from your mentors, network, and referrals. You want to give back as much as you can to keep a positive relationship.
7. Market. Make a website. Start a blog. Ask to write guest articles in newspapers or publications. If you are not a known expert on a subject, follow the lead of big firms and make yourself an expert on a subject by volunteering to be a writer and a speaker. We recommend you try a mixture of traditional and nontraditional marketing techniques to see what works.
If you are just starting out, you will not have a ton of money to spend on marketing; the best approach is to try marketing using a variety of techniques (we recommend you make a list of literally every marketing technique you can think of, then go down the list and try them!), evaluate what works and what doesn’t, and spend your time and energy on the ones that work.
8. Pick a specific area of law that you have experience in. It is a good idea to start by picking one or two areas of law that you have experience clerking, working, or volunteering in. If you are still in law school, find a way to pick up those skills while in law school or perhaps plan to work at a firm for a year or two before starting your own. (We have seen people successfully start firms right out of law school, but these individuals usually have some background or experience in their field.)
This is not to say you cannot expand your areas of practice as time goes on; it is only to say that you will be better off narrowing your field to begin with.
9. Plan time to evaluate regularly. Set aside a time every week to evaluate what is working and what isn’t working. Are some of your marketing techniques working − and some aren’t working? Ramp up the ones that are working and stop putting energy and money into the ones that aren’t. Do you like some areas of law better than others? Find ways to increase your client base in those that you like. Taking ten minutes to an hour every week to have a cup of coffee or glass of wine and reflect on your business is crucial for business success! Otherwise, you will be on “autopilot” and miss the important business insight that can only be picked up through honest reflection.
10. Make time to take breaks and remember the advantages of working for yourself. Part of the joy of working for yourself is you can set your own schedule. You can have a long lunch or leave early one day — without asking for anyone’s permission! You can have “casual Fridays” and work-from-home Mondays. You are in charge! Don’t forget to take advantage of this aspect of the business. After all, it is probably one of the things that draw you toward starting your own firm in the first place!
If you have any tips for starting your own law firm, please post them below! We would love to hear your thoughts!
If you are considering starting your own firm and looking for extra assistance in learning attorney skills before diving into your own practice, please don’t hesitate to contact us. We offer specialized packages (between 2 hours and 40 hours!) where we teach you basic attorney skills, including legal research, legal writing, and court appearances. We also help you set up your law firm and advise you on documents that need to be filed, how to set up a proper firm bank account, and a good way to budget for office space, marketing, etc.
Good luck starting your firm!
Ms. Ashley Heidemann scored over a 180 on the Michigan Bar Exam in February of 2011. She offers private one-on-one tutoring for bar exam students nationwide as well as Michigan bar exam courses and seminars . For any questions about her bar exam services, please click here to contact us. We are happy to assist you in any way we can.