Starting a Law Firm? 6 hurdles you may (probably will) have to cross

starting a law firmIf you are thinking about starting a law firm, you need to prepare yourself for some obstacles and hurdles that are going to come up along the way. Here is a quick and dirty list of the 6 main hurdles that I (and probably most other lawyers) faced when I started my first solo law practice.

Six major hurdles to starting a law firm

  1. Just get started. You have made the decision to start a law firm. You just passed the bar. You have a computer and a cell phone. You are ready to go but are scared to death. You are not alone. Starting a law firm is not easy and most lawyers at this stage will start reading through the classifieds to find a job at a firm. Don’t make that mistake. You need to start the process of building your law firm.  Have you ever seen one of those strong man competitions? During one of the competitions, these men will have to pull a tractor trailer. More energy is used in getting started than in the rest of the tractor pull. Once that inertia kicks in, the process becomes easier and things will snowball. So just get started. Today.
  2. Picking a niche. According to Dan Kennedy, a niche is “a crack, a crevice, an opportunity gap, sometimes a tiny segment of a market being overlooked, ignored, abused, or very poorly serviced.” I’m not going to lie, picking a niche has always been a struggle for me. You pick one niche and then you think you should be doing something else. You pick family law, and then a catastrophic, once in a lifetime, personal injury case calls you up. What do you do? In a perfect world, you refer out the PI case and focus on your niche – family law. In today’s day and age of specialization, you want to pick a legal niche and stick with it.
  3. Technical issues. I can’t tell you how many times young lawyers ask me about what to do with their website. They have no technical knowledge, so they aren’t sure what to do. They don’t have any money and can’t afford to hire a web developer. These are not huge problems. They should not be barriers to you starting a law firm.  Starting a website in this day and age is tremendously easy. Here’s a video on how to build a blog in less than 4 minutes. (I’m working on a more detailed how-to guide to building a law firm website and blog – if you are interested in this, please post in the comments below or sign up for our updates).
    Once you get your blog/website going, add to it daily. Spend an hour or two writing articles about your chosen niche practice area. This will accomplish two things: first, it will help you to rank well in google for your chosen legal niche and second, you will learn a great deal about the statutes, rules and case law that is relevant to your practice. The more you learn, the more confident you will become that you actually DO know what you are talking about when a client asks you a question. In addition, before long, if you keep adding to your website, your community will start to notice and will start to recognize you as a leader in your practice area.
  4. Don’t listen to the doubters. Undoubtedly, you are going to hear from your law school friends that are making half-decent salaries at their law firm jobs. They are going to tell you that you are crazy for starting your own law firm, and that you are going to starve yourself and commit malpractice. Don’t listen. Find yourself a community of other, like-minded lawyers that are starting out on their own and that you can bounce ideas off of. I am considering starting an online community for you to post questions to. Again, if you are interested in this, please respond in the comments below.
  5. Write a book. You read that right. You need to write a book. I guarantee you that no other lawyer in your practice area is doing this. You will immediately set yourself apart. You will have something to give to prospective clients and referral sources. Is it easy? No. Will it take some time? Yes. But it is doable. Take some of the content you have written for the website and start to repurpose it for the book. Use mind-mapping software to begin to put together an outline of what the book will look like. Use a tool such as Scrivener (affiliate link) to begin to write the book. Then go to a publisher to get a professional cover, and ISBN number, and some street cred. In this day and age, you can pretty much do print-on-demand, so you don’t have to order $50,000 worth of books at one time. Start with 100. When they are gone, order 100 more.
  6. Stop taking inbound phone calls. This is a major hurdle for the young attorney that just started their own practice. You want to answer that call. If the client wants to come in, you want them to meet with you immediately. Unfortunately, this is not a good business model. If you had to have heart surgery, would you want the surgeon that could fit you in later today? Or the one that can’t get you in for three weeks? Emergency complications aside, you would wait for the better surgeon. Client’s want the same thing. Most don’t want a lawyer that is available 24/7 to take their call. They want a lawyer that is too busy to take their call, but provides prompt and courteous service so that their questions and concerns are answered quickly, and so that they can schedule a phone conference with you at a pre-determined time. One of the first things I did in 2010 when I started my firm in North Carolina was to hire Ruby Receptionists (Tell them you were referred by Legal Marketing Made Easy or Jim Hart and Ruby will waive your setup fees – currently a $95 value). They have been answering my phones ever since, and I couldn’t be happier.

So those are my take on the 6 major hurdles that you are likely to encounter as you start to think about hanging out your shingle and starting a law practice.

If you have other hurdles you have faces, or want to share you story, please feel free to comment below.