November 12, 2012 Articles

Five Tips for Young Lawyers Hanging a Shingle

By Cindy Albracht-Crogan

The National Association for Law Placement (NALP) completed its employment study related to 2010 law school graduates. The research reveals that 53 percent of the law-firm jobs taken by the class of 2010 were in firms of 50 or fewer attorneys, compared with 46 percent for the class of 2009. The research also concluded that more graduates were establishing themselves as solo practitioners right out of law school and were satisfied with their career choice.

If you are planning to start your own firm after graduation, keep in mind the following five helpful practice tips:

Create a Business Plan
Business plans can be invaluable to guide a solo practice. A well-rounded business plan should address a firm's sustainability, its affordability, its accessibility to clients, a mission statement, an overhead estimate and annual projections for the first five years. Consider a plan that includes the following: an executive summary briefly outlining your practice's profile and goals; a market analysis; a company description; an outline of organization and management; a sales and marketing strategy; and lastly, financial projections for your firm.

Solidify Expertise and Client Base
Decide what area of law you want to practice in and become an expert. There's no better way to fully understand your practice area than to dig in and work your cases. Other ways to do so is to pursue specialization (if it is permitted by your State Board organization) and attend seminars, CLEs, and other forums where the latest practice tips in your field are being discussed. In addition, it is vital to become an advocate for clients you enjoy working with, rather than those merely acquired to pay the bills. Knowing your expertise and your client base will help solidify a strong practice.

Branding Benefits
While working hard is always important, it is insignificant unless you have clients to work for. In order to keep clients coming in, marketing your firm and yourself needs to always be a top priority. Think about branding: creating a brand name for your law firm or incorporating your specific type of practice is a clear and consistent way to communicate what your firm is about. And, more and more potential clients are consulting websites before selecting a lawyer. Think carefully about your website and the image you want to project before establishing a professional website. In addition, you may want to engage in social media by being active on LinkedIn, starting a Facebook page, or blogging. Blogging is one of the most efficient forms of social media in terms of generating business. It enhances your reputation as a go-to person in your practice area, generates leads, helps you rise in search-engine ranking and more. Another way to obtain exposure is to write articles in your field of practice or participate as a panel member in upcoming CLEs or conferences.

Consider Overhead Costs
Many lawyers have abandoned traditional offices to work from virtual offices in their homes. While cost-effective, a physical office can also provide credibility for clients, motivate the lawyer, and keep the lawyer focused on work. Cutting payroll should also be carefully evaluated. While younger attorneys will need less secretarial assistance, attorneys should not be spending otherwise billable hours copying invoices, stuffing envelopes, and formatting briefs. Administrative assistance, when streamlined, can be invaluable to a law practice and set the stage for future growth. An alternative to a virtual office is "coworking," which involves sharing office space with other professionals. Depending upon the setup, you may have access to many amenities generally available in a large office that are highly beneficial to both your business and your clients (i.e. high-speed broadband internet access, tech support, print/copy/fax/scan capabilities, mail services, front-desk services, kitchen area).

Know When and How to Expand
Solo practitioners often struggle with whether and when to grow. A primary reason that solo firms may decide to expand is the unexpected excess in demand for the firms' services. When faced with a choice of too much work on the one hand, and not enough work on the other hand, a logical decision may be postpone the growth of a firm. However, a client may perceive the firm as not having sufficient resources to handle a larger matter. Thus, in some respects, having more employees may in fact promote demand for business. One potential solution is to hire contract attorneys. They are available when a firm has a need and can allow a solo firm to quickly increase or decrease the employee base as the need arises.

Keywords: litigation, solo and small firm, solo practitioner, business plan, expertise, practice area, self-marketing, branding, clientele, overhead costs

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