There are approximately close to 1.6 million Juris Doctor Degree holders in the US with almost 1.4 million of them licensed to practice law. Roughly, 360,000 practicing lawyers have solo law firms.
There are too many lawyers in the US vying for the same jobs thus flooding the market and bring down salaries. This has led to a good number of law graduates to start a solo law firm because they believe they get fair compensation for their work.
Running a solo law firm is just like running your own business. You will have to deal with the operational, sales, and marketing aspects of the business. The services you offer as a lawyer are the product of your business.
This may sound daunting but do not be scared. There is an increasing number of practicing lawyers in the US who have solo law firms and are making money. The American Bar Association says that in 2005, 49% of private law practitioners have their solo law firms.
Juris Doctor graduates who have clear goals, want to be a practicing lawyer for the long term, and have entrepreneurial skills should consider having a solo law firm.
Benefits of being a proud owner of a solo law firm include:
• Full control in choosing clients. Most lawyers want to practice a specific area of law.
• You can do more than just practice law. Legal services will be the bread and butter of your solo law firm but you can also build your business based on your terms.
• You can build your solo law firm based on what works for you in terms of choosing clients and the team to work with.
You will experience stiff competition if you choose to go into a solo law practice. You will be facing the same stiff competition if you will be looking for a job. Going into a solo law practice will benefit you more in terms of career growth and financially.
It does not require a lot of money to start a solo law firm in the US. It does require a business strategy, a good financial model and budget, and clear goals. It also needs at its helm, someone who is dedicated to their profession and who does not mind working alone.
It is not right to accept just any client who comes to your door. You need to pick one or two (maximum) areas of law you want your law firm to focus on. You cannot be a “Jack of all Trades,” it does not work that way.
• Choose an area of law in which you are most interested.
• Determine if there are adequate demand and supply. In the 1990s, many law graduates went into litigation practice instead of transactional or corporate law because the supply could not meet the demand.
• Make sure you have the required set of skills, - as in personality (patience) and professional credentials (if you choose patent law as an area of practice, you will need to have an undergraduate engineering degree.)
Choose your area of practice well as it will have a huge effect on the success of your solo law firm.
A solo law firm is a business and will, therefore, require a business and marketing plan. First on the list should, of course, be the area of law your law firm will focus on – this will be the core of your business. You will then need to create a marketing plan on how to get clients. Your marketing plan should also include a Sales forecast and an estimated profit and loss statement. You need to have a guide on how long you can sustain your solo law practice without any income before you go broke.
• Referral Network
Spread the news to friends, families, and colleagues that you are starting a solo law firm and the area of law you will be focusing on. You can also ask your network of contacts to send you some referrals. If necessary, you can offer to pay a referral fee as an incentive. The State Bar has ethical rules to follow about referral fees so you need to comply with these rules.
• Join Listservs and Organizations
Check out lawyers’ organizations in your area. Most lawyers’ organizations have listservs which include the email addresses of their members.
This lawyers’ organization is a good venue to communicate with co-counsels. When you are a new lawyer, it will work to your advantage if you work with an experienced lawyer. You not only split the professional fee, but you will also learn a lot from an experienced lawyer.
• Build a website
Possible clients do not any more open the phone book when they need a lawyer. They use Google. Your solo law firm should, therefore, be visible on the Internet. You can build a free website with WordPress and pay a small annual fee to host it.
Your website is a powerful lead-generating tool where many solo law firms get a majority of their clients. You can hire a good web designer to create your website.
A solo law firm is a business so you need to invest both time and money. Make a list of the logistics you need to start your solo practice. If you do not have the financial resources, perhaps it is still not time to start your solo practice. These are the minimum financial requirement you will need to start your business:
• Cash in Bank
You will need cash from between $3,000 to $15,000. The amount of investment depends on the location of your law firm, area of law, and other expenses needed to start a business. You will also need money for the office space you intend to rent and the staff you need to hire.
It is important to have cash in bank good for the first six to twelve months of operations (rent, salaries, representation expenses, office supplies, etc..) so you can focus on building your solo law practice instead of worrying where to get money for this month’s rent.
• Professional Expenses
Before your solo law firm becomes operational you need to spend on business licensing, malpractice insurance, events and conferences you need to attend for continuing legal education and to meet possible clients, and members in organizations that will benefit your law firm.
• Office Supplies
You will need to furnish your office space with office furniture (office tables, conference tables, others). You will also need office supplies for a smooth operation. Buy furniture that will give a professional ambiance to your office space. This will give your clients a good impression.
The minimum equipment you will need to start a business is a phone, a computer, a scanner, a back-up drive, and a printer. You can check out a Legal Technology buyer’s guide to know the basic hardware you need.
• Legal Software
The internet is a powerful tool for all businesses these days. Legal software will also ensure the smooth daily operations of your law firm. Here is some of the software you will need to ensure maximum productivity.
• Microsoft Office or Google Suite for documents, calendar, and email
• Law practice management software
• Legal research software
• Accounting software
• Legal marketing
• Billing and timekeeping software
• Paperless office tools (external hard drive and remote backup)
These are the minimum requirements to jumpstart your solo law firm. Make sure your capitalization will be enough to cover these expenses. Your clients will not care about your Masters in Law degree. Neither will they care about your GPA. What matters to your clients are the final results – a solution to his legal problem. If you are confident you can help clients and earn more with a solo law firm, then go for it!