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Starting a law firm – some helpful tips

If you have been thinking about starting your own law firm or becoming a sole practitioner, COVID-19 may have postponed your big goals. Alternatively, it may have become the trigger you need to put your plans into action.

If anything, the pandemic has reinforced the fact that life (and world) events are unpredictable and while some environments are more conducive to enterprise than others, there is no one perfect time to start a business, let alone a law firm. Markets change, economies crash and what was in high demand yesterday could be in over-supply tomorrow, or as we have seen, no longer possible to deliver.

The fact remains however, that people and business will continue to need legal services, perhaps now more than ever, as they navigate the myriad of issues the pandemic footprint is leaving behind. Organisations have more regulation to implement and face problems from employment law and contract disputes to cashflow and insolvency issues. Families face hardship and individuals will continue to need advice on key areas of family law and estate planning.

Starting your own law firm can allow you to draw on your strengths and develop the areas of law in which you enjoy practising. And while the future will always be uncertain, the recent past has provided scope to look at some of the ways we have been doing things through a different lens, one that may present more potential opportunity than once thought.

Lower set-up costs

Despite its challenges, remote working has proven itself to be a viable option (or alternative) to traditional work practices and has become an accepted means of conducting business, whether between other professionals or with clients. With remote work now part of the norm, there is little expectation from clients or colleagues that they will be meeting you in a CBD office filled with mahogany desks and leather-bound books. This equals big cost savings when it comes to office space, with a range of options available such as co-working spaces or occasional boardroom hire to complement your remote work needs should this be the path you choose.

Flexible service delivery

The pandemic has forced many business operators to find new and creative ways of providing goods and services, not just from the perspective of how these goods and services are delivered, but also how they might look. From a legal services perspective this has required some firms to increase their focus on certain areas of law, while other areas that have been difficult to develop or sustain in a pandemic environment were put ‘on hold’.

Provided a considered approach is taken, developing different or niche areas of law may foster the future sustainability of your new law firm. Partnering with other law firms, referrers and businesses and ‘packaging’ services may also create opportunities for growth and sustainability.

Advanced technology

Cloud-based technology is making it increasingly easier to operate remotely from just about anywhere with good internet connection, and if you weren’t already tech-savvy pre-pandemic, chances are you probably know a lot more now than you did before.

A good practice management and accounting system designed specifically for small law firms, can provide a ‘one stop shop’ to capture client details and manage, review and report not only on your current matters, but the financial health of your business. Your preferred provider of this software will likely be determined by reputation, security, service, useability, and affordability.

Offering Zoom, Skype or Microsoft Teams meetings and virtual consultations with clients can provide flexibility and opportunities to communicate ‘face-to-face’ in a less formal environment.

If you practice in property law, you will no doubt understand how much electronic conveyancing has revolutionised the former traditional settlement process enabling various property transactions to be completed online, again improving efficiency and streamlining old manual processes or the need to employ an office clerk or junior to attend settlement.

So, what is it like being a sole practitioner?

It’s likely that you will start small or go solo, so you will be wearing a number of hats – in addition to being the Principal of your firm, you might also need to be the Office Manager, Receptionist and Marketing Manager (at least in the short term). Assuming you won’t have a lot of client work to begin with, it can be challenging to determine where to spend your time when you are starting out. There is a lot to do but the work is different, and without the usual 8 am to 5 pm structure and constant pressure to work on client matters and fill in timesheets, this can become quite challenging.

Having a plan is essential to ensure that you are covering all of the bases to begin with and not spending empty hours on non-productive work. Without structure and routine, it is easy to lose focus, become unmotivated or disenchanted when the phones aren’t ringing or the emails pinging with new enquiries. There are many on-line guides and tools for increasing productivity and motivation. Having a mentor can also be helpful to get you back on track when things are not going as you planned.

Your state or territory Law Society can provide information on law firm compliance and regulation and your accountant will likely be your go-to for legal structure and other financial considerations.

Getting help marketing your new law firm

Marketing is an essential component of establishing and growing a law firm. We have written numerous articles about law firm marketing, so if you are just starting out, we would suggest:

Starting your own law firm can provide flexibility but can take a lot of hard work before the benefits outweigh the effort.

Law firm marketing is all we do, providing start-ups and established firms with effective communication strategies, content and marketing advice. We build, host, and manage secure law firm websites for optimum performance and conversion with the visitor and user in mind.

For cash strapped firms we offer a generous pay as you go arrangement for website builds where we build it and you pay it off over time and for the budget conscious, we have an ‘entry level’ website development offering.

As a lawyer it’s easy to imagine worst case scenarios your client can agree to before coming to you for advice. It’s the same with legal marketing. On so many occasions we have had a new start up lawyer belatedly ask for advice enthusiastically directing us to a poorly built and totally ineffective website or proudly inform us about some crazy marketing strategy that they were encouraged to pursue.

If you need assistance with any aspect of your online marketing or just want some advice on how to get started, email [email protected] or call me on 0407 018 109 for a no obligation discussion.

About the author
Peter Heazlewood

Peter Heazlewood

Peter Heazlewood is a management and marketing consultant, he specialises in helping law firms develop their practices using business planning marketing and performance reporting techniques refined in his own successful law firm. Peter lives in Sydney with his wife and is the father of five adult children.
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