YourABA June 2011 Masthead

Practical tips on hanging out a shingle

Attorney Lisa Harris Jones knows first hand the challenges of law firm ownership, establishing Harris Jones and Malone, LLC, in Baltimore more than 10 years ago. In her Law Practice Today article, “Making Your Dream a Reality: Tips for Owning Your Own Firm,” she offers six practical tips to help others mirror her success.

Have a plan. Take time to set a proper foundation. “Before you make the leap, develop a portable book of business that will follow you to your new firm,” advises Jones, telling lawyers to build strong relationships with their current clients to help ensure a steady flow of business when starting up.

Next, meet with an accountant to determine costs such as the lease for office space, equipment and staff salaries. Lawyers should also determine their services and the rates they can charge based on their skills and experience. When planning, factor in a likely pay cut in the short term while cash flow stabilizes, warns Jones.

“Taking on more work than you are capable of handling will lead quickly to disgruntled clients and expose you to a malpractice suit,” says Jones.

Be confident. Business owners take on multiple roles—CEO, marketing director, CFO, disciplinarian and rainmaker, among them—bringing new challenges. While Jones encourages new owners to face these challenges confidently, she also cautions them not to bite off more than they can chew. “Taking on more work than you are capable of handling will lead quickly to disgruntled clients and expose you to a malpractice suit.”

Be an expert. “It does you no good to be a jack-of-all-trades and a master of none,” says Jones, advocating that lawyers become experts in a particular subject matter as a way to make a name for themselves. Doing so requires that lawyers constantly sharpen their skills. Consider reading journal articles, developing connections with other practitioners and publishing articles in journals, legal magazines and even local newspapers. Once you have built a reputation as a leader in a particular area, clients will eventually come to you, says Jones.

Volunteer. Peer-building and advocacy organizations are excellent places to find others who can provide guidance, mentorship and resources to help build business, says Jones, citing local women’s groups, chambers of commerce and bar associations as examples. “Some of my best referrals have come from other practitioners and business leaders with whom I worked as a volunteer.”

Foster your relationships. Advocating work-life balance, Jones writes, “It is important to remember all of the people who got you to where you are today.” Becoming a firm owner means having a mountain of commitments, but friends and family may not always understand why they are important. “When these things happen—and they will—be sure to remind all of the people you love how much they mean to you.”

Get certified. Getting her woman-owned and minority-owned business enterprise certified has allowed Jones to contract her services to businesses bidding for public works contracts as well as to provide her services directly to government agencies. “Most jurisdictions have WBE and MBE goals for their procurement of between 5 percent and 20 percent of the total contract price, requiring businesses and agency officials to use their best efforts to include businesses like yours,” says Jones.

Making Your Dream a Reality: Tips for Owning Your Own Firm” appeared in the January 2011 issue of Law Practice Today, the monthly webzine of the Law Practice Management Section.






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