(6) In the Beginning, This is More About Marketing than Technical Proficiency
When you’re starting a law firm, you should spend 90% of your time marketing your practice — and, that figure may even be low. In order to maintain your business, the vessel through which you practice law, you’ll need enough clients to pay your bills and for you to draw at least a subsistence wage. Unless you have an existing book of business to port over to your new law firm, you’ll be building your client base from scratch. Even if you have some money set aside, or have taken a loan to launch your law firm, it doesn’t mean you have to dip into those reserves, if you can avoid it. Even lawyers who run their law firms like their hair is on fire and their pants are catching know that you deal with areas of most immediate need first; and, when you’re starting a law firm, there is no more immediate need than client acquisition. Without clients, there is no law firm, and there is no practicing law. You’ve had three solid years of training on substantive law practice (more if you worked at someone else’s law firm before you started your own): you can figure that part out. When launching a law firm, there is no more important effort you can make than creating and delivering on a well-rounded marketing plan.
(7) Now is the Time to Reach Out to (Literally) Everyone You’ve Ever Known
It’s impossible to know exactly how you’ll generate your first client; but, the wider you cast your net, the more likely you’ll be to secure that client more quickly than you otherwise would have. Oftentimes, new law firms acquire their first referrals from family and friends, i.e.–the people you’ve known forever, but don’t necessarily consider business resources. Those are especially important contacts for lawyers who decide to launch start-up law practices in their hometowns. Consider also that general good will is at its highest when you’re just starting a business: you haven’t made any clients angry at this point, and the majority of your friends and colleagues will want to help you out then more than ever, as it will become old news relatively quickly that you’re a business owner now. So, at the very least, gather up all of the email addresses you have, and put those into a usable format (Excel, CSV), so that you can engage an email list management tool (like Constant Contact or Mail Chimp) to send out an opening announcement.
(8) You’re Gonna Have to Manage a Lot of Data
The amount of data that lawyers have to manage is staggering; and, the pile seems to increase every day. Emails and documents are only the start, given the sheer number of messaging and drafting systems now available. Are you going to text your new clients? How will you archive that data? What if you maintain hybrid files, part paper and part electronic? How will you make those files cohere? Beyond standard questions of process like those, there are ethics rules and state laws covering data security that attorneys must adhere to. That’s certainly a challenge; but, it’s also an opportunity. As a start-up law office owner, you can install the policies and procedures necessary to implement best practices in the realm of data management at your firm . . . even if your colleagues choose to ignore their responsibility. Helpful along the path are the adoption of password managers, a comprehensive backup program and the institution of a formal data management plan, to place a nice bow on things.
(9) You’ll Quickly Begin to Hate Email
If you thought you hated email as a regular person, wait until you start receiving email as a businessperson. Why would anyone want to talk anymore, when they could just send an email that could get misconstrued? Like the rest of the data you have to manage, you’re gonna need to archive your email in some repository (a case management system is probably the best option) — but, that presupposes that you’ve figured out a way to manage it in the first place. One way to make it easier for you to manage your email is to get less of it. There are several tactics new business owners can use to get a head start on reducing their email load. Engaging a client portal means that you can easily share notifications and documents with clients; that means less swapping of edits via email attachment. Developing and adhering to communications policies (included in your fee agreement) for your new law firm will establish expectations for clients; if you don’t want emails, tell your clients you prefer phone calls and that you only check email once a day. One of the easiest ways to arrest email overflow is by restricting internal law firm communications to a separate platform, like the immensely popular Slack. Lastly, you can consider a scheduling tool.
(10) Scheduling Will Become the Bane of Your Existence
About that. One of the true bummers when it comes to owning a new law firm is that, more often than not, staffing is limited. That means that you’re going to end up becoming chief cook and bottlewasher for all things law firm-related. Since you’ll be spending most of your time on marketing (right?) and improving your craft (substantive legal practice), the administrative tasks that go into managing a law practice are likely to become the first thing that overwhelm you. Among those, the most difficult to accomplish via email (which you hate, remember) is scheduling meetings. There is no more inefficient way to schedule a meeting than via email exchange. One of the best early investments you can make as a business owner who is just starting to get busy is to purchase a scheduling tool that links to your calendar. There are more of these than you can shake a stick at — but, the key feature is that these tools will allow your clients (and, potentially, your leads, also) to schedule with you without your interference/engagement, by selecting available dates and times from your linked calendar.