Looking back, there was a lot I did to launch my solo practice based purely on survival instinct, but also a lot I learned from asking and observing others who had blazed the trail before me. This article is meant to pay it forward.
Diana Schimmel, Family Lawyer
In early 2013, I did something I never envisioned for my career when I was in law school: I hung out my shingle. I started my own solo family law practice as a green attorney but with a lot of ambition. After three years and seven months, I was in the black, had employees under me, and was looking to expand. In July 2016, I partnered with another family law attorney and we doubled our presence in the family law community, the size of our firm, and forged new goals. Looking back, there was a lot I did to launch my solo practice based purely on survival instinct, but also a lot I learned from asking and observing others who had blazed the trail before me. Some of the most basic tips I learned those first few months open are tactics I implement now as I grow my partnership.
The below article is not meant to brag about how well my firm has done, but is more meant to pay it forward. If you can use at least something from the tips below, I will have done my job!
Where Do I Start?
What holds a lot of attorneys back from hanging their own shingle is the unknown. The best way to avoid that is to have a plan. Think about how much money you will need for operating expenses. What will you need to open and stay open? Calculate how much you will need for the basics like rent and office supplies, but also for things like your annual bar license renewal and CLEs. Keep initial operating costs as low as possible. Use programs to streamline your need for traditional office space. I decided to move into a shared corporate suite at first. It boasted a Class A building address for a low price, and it impressed clients. Once you know how much you will need each month, it will give you a goal to meet and hopefully exceed.
Who is Your Target Client?
Once your doors are open, think about who you want to walk through them to meet with you. Is there a particular area of law you want to focus on? You may decide to cover a few areas, but try not to spread yourself too thin. Clients are looking for an expert in their field. Is there a particular demographic you want to service? Are you committed to providing legal representation to the low-income members of your community or do you want the big fish clients with even bigger bank accounts? These questions should be answered specifically at first, but can always change and evolve as you go through practice.
What Is Your Infrastructure?
Are you planning to be a traditional solo practitioner who does everything alone, including answering the phones? Or, are you going to hire support staff? At the beginning, you may not have enough work or funds to bring on someone else, which is fine. A good compromise is taking on a law or college student. They will work for credit or for free doing basic office work while they learn. All parties benefit from the working relationship.
Once your doors are open, you want to make sure the public knows your name and where to find you. A good brand, logo, and image are important. Many lawyers use the traditional color schemes of navy and brown with a classic scales of justice logo. In a sea of those images, how will you stand out? Choose a color or logo and use it everywhere – on your business cards, website, postcards, pens, and your email signature. Start to create a scheme that becomes synonymous with your firm. It also almost goes without saying that you need a solid website to drive potential clients to your firm. Today everyone turns to the Internet when they need to search. Having an updated and functional website is a plus.
Having a positive and active social media presence is how I attribute much of my reputation and success in the community. I knew starting out that I needed both colleagues and clients to get to know me. Set up accounts for your firm on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Google+. Do not use these sites for personal posts or pictures of your dog. Find content relevant to your subject matter and share it. Write blogs and share them. Share accomplishments and awards you receive. Social media provides potential clients a real-time window into your firm’s world.
Once you have begun to spark some buzz about your practice, keep the momentum going. Reach out to other solo practitioners or small firms in areas of law related to yours. I reached out to wills and trusts, criminal and bankruptcy lawyers to begin with. Just like you, they are looking to grow their referral base. You can also help each other meet new people or mingle in different circles. Similarly, you can connect to ancillary professionals in other arenas. I have networked with divorce coaches, mediators, and family therapists. Think about how you can help each other, not just how they can help you.
Hopefully the above has given you enough to inspire and encourage. As with all business ventures, there will be highs and lows. But, there is nothing that can beat being your own boss.
Diana Schimmel has dedicated her career to family law. She established Schimmel Family Law in 2013, and after working as a solo practitioner for almost four years, Diana partnered with Melinda Previtera to establish Previtera & Schimmel
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