Smart First Steps When Going Solo
By Kevin Taccino and Kristen Hamilton
Kevin Taccino and Kristen Hamilton are partners with Arnoult, Taccino & Hamilton LLC, in Chambersburg, Pennsylvania, and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com.
Starting your own law firm can be the best experience in the world; it can also feel like the most daunting task you will ever undertake. Having just started our own firm, we offer the following guidance to consider before diving into your own practice.
Know the demographics of your location. If you are in a rural area, a business focused in corporate law may not be the best match. If you are in an area saturated with law firms, it may take longer for you to make your mark. Either way, you should be aware of the people and other businesses that are in your service area and identify a need that your firm can fulfill.
Purchase only the necessities at first. Everyone wants the big mahogany desk and law books lining the walls. That environment conveys a sense of professionalism to any client who walks in your office. However, unless you have a trust fund, these items are likely not going to be easily purchased right away. You need to establish a realistic budget for startup costs and ongoing monthly expenses and stick to it. Overspending can cause your firm to hit a money crunch soon after inception. Remember that when you own your own firm, your paycheck is what is left after paying all the bills, overspending will hit home quickly. Do not hesitate to shop around for all purchases. Inexpensive does not necessarily equal cheap. If you do not need something immediately, you may want to consider purchasing it down the road. There are plenty of ways to reduce overhead and still make a great impression with the office.
Figure out who will be managing the Interest on Lawyers Trust Accounts (IOLTA) and general funds early. Your books need to be accurate from the beginning and remain that way at all costs. The last thing you need five months into the business is a withdrawal you cannot find or a deposit you missed. This is a worry that most new attorneys have and with good reason as IOLTA mismanagement could lead to an inquiry and sanctions by the state’s disciplinary board.
Maintain good bar association relations. Our county has an excellent bar association that has been extremely supportive of our new venture. We hope your bar association will be equally supportive. Make sure to keep any connections that you already have in your bar associations, and continue to make new ones. In most bar associations, word of mouth is very influential; the more lawyers with whom you have solid relationships, the more referrals you are likely to receive. Further, when you encounter an unexpected snag in a case, you may be able to call on these contacts for advice. It is often very helpful to have another lawyer’s perspective on a matter, particularly as a newer attorney.
Hire people you can trust. When you start your own firm, you will be interviewing people for positions in your office. Your staff is the first impression that potential clients have of your firm, so if your staff is not reliable, professional, and trustworthy, you could lose business. Before you enter into a partnership, make sure you trust the potential partners and believe that the partnership can endure the ups and downs of owning your own business.
Review your state’s ethical rules and opinions for a lawyer leaving a law firm. If you are leaving a legal job to start your own practice, you and/or your law firm may be required to contact clients prior to leaving the firm. The client chooses the attorney, not vice versa. If you would like certain clients to join you at your new law firm, you need to give them adequate time and opportunity to make a choice between firms. The best way to ensure that you do not run afoul of any obligations to your client or current law firm is to contact all of your clients in writing soon after you inform your firm that you are leaving.
If you are considering starting your own law firm, be ready to make many important decisions in a very short timeframe. At first, it may seem that something new rears its ugly head every day. However, if you research your service area, establish good ties in the community, and maintain a realistic budget, your firm will stand a greater chance of success. And make sure that IOLTA account is spot-on.
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