After law school, many lawyers choose to go to an established midsize or large law firm. They want stability, the client pool, learning opportunities, and the potential for future partner positions.
This comes at a cost, however. Many lawyers leave established firms because of long hours, poor work-life balance, little flexibility or control, or simply because they want more out of their career and practice.
For these lawyers, the best option is to venture out on their own and start a firm themselves. This isn’t an easy task, however. Like any other business, starting from the ground up can be difficult and it could take a while to become profitable.
Here’s what you need to know about quitting your stable position at an established firm to go out on your own. You don’t need to do it as a side hustle (who has time?), but you do need to plan.
Plan Your Departure Carefully
The terms of leaving your current position at your firm can have a big impact on your future in your solo venture, for better or worse. It’s important to leave on good terms with plenty of notice and transparency to maintain a good relationship.
You need to think about how you’ll get clients and whether you can count on your firm to help with referrals.
For example, your established firm may struggle to fit in smaller cases, and they could refer them to you. But that won’t happen if you leave on bad terms or try to poach their clients for yourself.
Aside from the benefits to your future business, you also want to remember that this firm gave you a shot when you were a fresh grad. It’s only fair that you return the favor by being diplomatic in how you leave and how you interact with your firm in the future.
Have a Strategy for Client Acquisition
Lawyers may have been able to rely on only their reputations in the past to bring in business, but that’s not true of the current competitive market. In today’s world, clients are finding lawyers in a variety of ways, and you may need more than just a name and network to get a steady flow of new clients.
You should have a strategy in place for client acquisition to ensure that you hit the ground running with your new firm. Clients may find law firms with traditional marketing like television and radio ads or with online ads on social media or search.
Other clients may find your firm by searching for legal information and stumbling upon a blog post or article. Content like this is valuable for not only answering the client’s question but getting your firm on their radar.
No matter how you choose to approach client acquisition, you need to have an overall strategy with goals, objectives, client profiles, a website, and a variety of traditional and digital marketing activities that are targeted to your ideal clients. Without a plan, you’ll have no way of knowing what’s working and what isn’t.
Do the Math for Your Firm
The financial aspects of starting a business – any business – can be among the most difficult. It’s hard to anticipate costs and budget effectively, but it’s crucial that you do this before you venture out on your own.
There’s no simple number for how much it costs to start a firm. There are too many variables. You can estimate your expenses and determine how much money you will need, though.
Start by considering all your expenses, including your office space and supplies, technology like software and computers, internet and phone service, and professional expenses like malpractice insurance, memberships, and licensing fees. You should also consider expenses for staffing or outsourcing work.
Some lawyers find success in starting a virtual firm. This keeps overhead low and helps you determine how much space you’ll need before getting locked into a lease for an office building. If you go this route, plan on building a timeline for when you’ll open a physical office and how much money you’ll need.
Consider other expenses as well, such as office furniture and décor or a coffee machine. These smaller expenses can add up quickly.
If possible, build up enough money for your professional and personal expenses for at least a year or two. If your firm grows quickly or you come up against unexpected hurdles, you have some financial cushion to stay afloat until you have more clients and billable hours.
Some lawyers are confident in going solo without a financial cushion like this. If that works for you, there’s no problem taking the leap. But keep in mind that you could face considerable challenges and you don’t want your personal finances to be impacted by your business, so plan carefully.
Nurture Your Network
If you’re fortunate enough to get referrals from your previous law firm, great! If not, you have your own personal and professional network to leverage for referrals. Think about the types of people who may need your legal services and reach out to them.
If you’re in family law, for example, you can speak to other prenuptial agreement lawyers. If you’re in tax law, let your accountant know that you’re opening a solo practice. If you’re in personal injury law, local doctor’s offices or physical therapy offices may have referrals for you.
It’s never too early to network. If you’re planning to go solo, start letting people know as early as you can. While it’s not appropriate to talk to your current firm’s clients about your plans without informing them, you can speak to friends, family, and former classmates to get the word out early.
Venture Out on Your Own
Making the decision to go solo can be scary and overwhelming, but it’s also exciting! You’ll be taking charge of your career and your practice, setting your own hours, and bringing in your own clients – and money. The challenges you face along the way are worth the rewards.
Maxwell Hills is the founder of Hills Law Group, a premier Orange County divorce lawyer law firm with a concentration on high net worth divorces. Max’s entrepreneurial career stretches back to his teenage days when he had his music used in Grey’s Anatomy and ESPN. Today, Max has used that experience to build Hills Law Group with 0 customers and $0 in revenue into a respected firm in the industry.
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