When should I begin serious planning about starting my own law practice?
Well, even if you are still in law school, the answer is sooner rather than later. While you can certainly “hang out a shingle” without much planning, your chances for success will be greatly improved if you have a business plan, a marketing plan and a budget before you even consider signing the lease on office space. It will certainly be difficult to prepare a budget when you have little idea about revenues and expenses, but it’s better to have some outline than nothing – especially when you open the doors and the salesmen descend on you with “must have” services and products.
You should already be working on this if you are taking the bar exam this summer. First of all you need to buy, not borrow, Jay Foonberg’s How to Start and Build a Law Practice, 5th Edition. This will be a book you will refer to again and again. You will note on the link that members of the ABA Law Student Division can purchase it really cheaply. Start reading it for the first time now!
For marketing ideas for the solo and small firm lawyer, I’d direct your attention to my Marketing Magic pieces here and here. I’ve received more reprint requests for these articles than anything else I’ve ever written. Jay Foonberg also has a book on this topic titled “How to Get and Keep Good Clients.” You must prepare a marketing plan in writing with deadlines even if it is rather modest at first. Do not fail to send an announcement of your new law practice to everyone you know (and everyone your parents know, if you are starting in your home community) with a business card enclosed. There’s a budget item for printing and postage.
On financial issues, start by reading the online article “A Rose by Any Other Name: Characteristics of an Efficient Practice” by Pat Yevics of the Maryland State Bar. Visit the resources linked at the bottom of the article. There are many articles about law firm finances at Law Practice Today and the ABA Law Practice Management Section’s Website. Your state bar may have other resources.
I’ve referenced hours of reading and planning fun here. That’s why you need to start many months before you open your door. The law student, whose head has been crammed full of torts and defenses, and codes and cases, will need to do some mental adjustment. Opening your own law practice has little to do with all of that. You will be immersed in issues common to opening any small business: marketing, cash flow and overhead, location, staff, tax deposits, bank accounts, budgeting, finance, invoicing and billing, office policies and procedures, office supplies and dozens of other things you haven’t been thinking about much in law school. Get going!