How to Start a Law Firm
By Adrian Aguilera
Today is the day that you’re ready to open a law firm of your own. Maybe you want to do things your way—setting your own schedule, choosing clients you want to work with, and reporting to yourself. Plus, keeping the entire chest of gold doubloons you work long hours to earn.
But then, you freeze up at the thought of everything you need to do to get off the ground.
- How much money do I need to get started?
- Will I be financially stable?
- How will I secure enough clients to cover my expenses and earn a profit?
- What if I fail and end up worse off than I am?
- And so on
In this overview, we’ll detail how to start a law firm using practical “small” steps, so you don’t put off the idea for yet another year. This includes what to consider before starting, the costs, and practical tips on how to open a successful law firm.
What Should You Consider Before Starting a Law Firm?
Before journeying into your own solo practice, you’ll want to measure out the pros and cons to ensure that the path is worth it. Consider the points listed below.
Pros of opening a law firm of your own
- Freedom and control to assign your own hours
- Liberty to choose the type and amount of cases that interest you
- Lower general cost of starting your own firm today compared to the past (due to virtual office options and technology)
- Keeping all earned profit
Cons of opening a law firm of your own
- Handling all law firm operations, which includes securing new clients, developing/maintaining a business plan, and possibly hiring your own staff
- Increased isolation and possible lack of immediate mentorship from senior colleagues
- No coverage for vacations (unless you hire partner attorneys)
- The possibility of feast or famine from unsteady paychecks
Why Do You Want to Create Your Own Law Firm?
If you decide that a solo firm is the path for you, develop your “why.” Once determined, write it out and post it up on your bathroom mirror, door, bedroom ceiling, or wherever else you can see it every day. Starting your own gig won’t be a walk in the park, so your “why” will help you stay motivated when it seems too tough or you want to quit.
How Can I Ensure That I’m Financially Secure?
Start by calculating your personal/family finances. This can include:
- Mortgage or rent (plus utilities)
- Wifi and phone bills
- Car payment(s)
- Streaming services
- Gym membership dues
- Budgeted fun money (outings and shopping)
Add up the total monthly amount to determine how much money you need to be financially stable. Next, ensure that you make at least $1,000 or (preferably) $2,000 more per month than your total expenses to account for savings or sudden emergencies. This will also provide your base for how much you’ll charge hourly.
For example, if your monthly expenses equate to $5,000, you’ll want to preferably make $7,000 per month. This means (for instance) you can possibly charge $175 per hour for 40 hours of work a month. That equates to 10 billable hours per week.
For more information, check out our charts on the average lawyer hourly rate, which is organized by city and state.
How Much Does It Cost to Start a Law Firm?
The costs associated with starting a law firm varies depending on factors such as:
- Building a virtual versus physical office
- Potential staff salaries and expenses
- Support services like marketing consultants
- Purchased technology, including legal practice management software
- Business licensing and registration fees
As a result, the total cost could range between $20,000 to $200,000 (or more). Don’t let this figure paralyze you. A good starting point for investing in the start of your own firm is somewhere between $5,000 to $20,000. If you have a nice nest egg, choose the higher end of this scale or (at least) $3K-$5K to start off (investing more over time).
Additionally, it may be best to start as a remote lawyer and slowly work into a physical office (if preferred).
How to Open a Law Firm: Steps to Get Started
1. Choose a Practice Area and Name Your Firm
Begin by choosing the type of practice you want to run and the type of clients you’ll take on. For instance, will you run a solo personal injury firm, real estate, or family law practice? Or possibly a general practice? The beauty of going solo is that you have the liberty to choose what you want; however, make this decision in the beginning as this will influence aspects of your business such as website design, marketing, and referrals.
Next, choose your business practice name, but make sure that it doesn’t break any compliance rules. For example, if you don’t own multiple offices, don’t name your firm John Doe Law Offices. And if you’re entirely solo, don’t go with the name John Doe and Associates.
Finally, purchase annual malpractice insurance—even if it’s not required in your state. This will provide peace of mind and protection should an error occur while providing services.
2. Form an Entity
Select an entity option that makes sense for your business. Your decision will influence when and how tax is paid, which taxes you pay, and the liability in running your firm. Entity options for running a solo firm include:
- Sole proprietorship
- Limited liability partnership
- Professional corporation
It’s best to hire a trusted advisor to help you choose an entity that is right for you and to help with the associated filings.
3. Set Up Financial Accounts
Next, set up the necessary accounts to ensure that you’re in compliance when handling business finances and client funds. You’ll need to visit your local bank or credit union to develop a few accounts and prevent commingling.
All monthly overhead and business expenses should be maintained in an operating account.
This account is where unearned money is stored. This includes client retainer or flat fees, settlement money, court fees, and advanced costs.
Interest on Lawyers Trust Account (IOLTA)
IOLTA consists of a separate account for interest earned on trust accounts, as they cannot be pulled for clients or personal use. These pooled funds require donations toward pro bono or non-profit legal services.
For more about ensuring trust account compliance, read our trust account guide.
4. Secure a Physical Office Space or Build a Remote Office
Decide where you want to house your solo law firm from the start. A physical office space will require additional costs in the form of a lease, furniture, and utilities, but does have the luxury of cross-promotion with other local businesses in the area.
On the other hand, it’s entirely possible to run a successful fully-remote firm. A virtual office will save you costly lease expenses, as well as add a layer of convenience for you and your clients with aspects such as virtual meetings, digital payment options, and automated invoices.
You can also hire virtual assistants as a fairly cost-efficient way to handle phone calls and admin activities.
Next, invest in the initial hardware items you need such as a business laptop and printer. Also consider cloud-based legal software to manage essential tasks, such as tracking time, sending invoices, and accepting online payments.
5. Construct a Website and Develop Essential Brand Materials
Your website is an essential part of selling your services and boosting client intake. We strongly recommend hiring an expert or service to develop your law firm website rather than building it yourself. For more, read this article that highlights “do-it-yourself” (DIY) website design versus third-party design.
In addition, you’ll also need to build your brand with the following:
- A logo
- Color scheme that is universal across all marketing
- Font type that is universal across all marketing materials and documents
When building your new business fund, save a small chunk of money toward these initial marketing materials. This is an essential element toward building your name and winning clients over your competition.
6. Build Your Network
Last, you’ll need to build a network for client referrals. Develop business cards (using your brand scheme) and get your name out there by attending social events such as workshops, conferences, fundraisers, and mixers. You can also form professional relationships with other lawyers who may refer you to clients that aren’t applicable to their practice but apply to yours.
For additional tips, read seven ways for new lawyers to get first-time clients.
Consider MyCase Practice Management Software
During your solo law firm launch, consider legal case management software to automate non-billable administrative work, boost efficiency, and maximize cash flow.
- Document management
- Workflow automation
- Time tracking
- Billing and invoicing
- Client communication
- And more
Try MyCase today risk-free with a 10-day free trial. We offer affordable monthly and yearly subscriptions. Plus, no commitment or credit card is required, and you can cancel anytime.
Also, subscribe to our “For The Record” email newsletter for more insightful articles on improving online workflows, increasing client intake, and more. Subscribe now by entering your email address in the right-hand sidebar near the top of the page.