June 27, 2011 Practice Points

Words of Wisdom Before Opening Up Shop

By Lauren M. Koloseike

As the legal industry continues to evolve, so too do the opportunities for lawyers to be creative in their career plans. One path attorneys frequently consider, whether newly licensed or not, is the opportunity to open up their own small, specialized firm. Running a successful firm, however, requires a certain amount of strategy and planning at the forefront. Jay Shepherd offers 13 pieces of advice to attorneys interested in starting their own small firms, which he learned over the course of 13 years running his own boutique employment-law firm in the Boston area.

Running a small firm is like operating a small business. As owner and operator, awareness of your firm's current financial situation is essential. A constant knowledge of finances allows for accurate firm planning and development. With consideration of finances also comes the need to balance priorities. It is important to spend wisely, splurging on things that make a difference while saving in areas of less importance. Additionally, although it may sound obvious, always pay yourself first. Attorneys often put the firm expenses before their own paychecks, which takes away from the most imperative cost: the cost of your own knowledge and expertise. Not any less valuable than finances are your employees. Building a strong workforce requires retaining people who are passionate in the firm's vision and beliefs. To achieve this uniform mentality, practice patience in the hiring process. When you do decide to hire, trust your lawyers and treat all your employees like family. A family-like ambiance promotes hard work, accountability, and support in a small-firm environment. Additionally, be selective not only with your workforce but also your clientele. It is vital to become an advocate for clients you enjoy working with rather than those merely acquired to pay the bills. And while working hard is always important, it is insignificant unless you have clients to work for. To keep clients coming in, marketing your firm and yourself needs to always be a top priority. Finally, although expanding brings uncertainty, do not be afraid to let your small firm grow. With growth comes new opportunity, so be open to it and plan accordingly.

There are many challenges in the legal industry, and maintaining a successful firm is just one. Constantly considering these fundamental aspects of a small firm will inevitably make these challenges easier. And with the right management, workforce, and vision, the opportunities to succeed are immense.

Lauren M. Koloseike is at Loyola University Chicago, School of Law in Chicago, Illinois.


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