According to the American Bar Association, there well over a million licensed attorneys in America. An overwhelming number (75%) are in private practice. Of these 950,000 lawyers in private practice, almost 50% are solo attorneys. That’s over 475,000 attorneys nationwide. The rewards of owning your own practice is tremendous. You make your own schedule. You answer only to yourself and you get to pick your clients. That being said, starting a solo practice brings the same risks as any small business. To increase your chances of growing your practice and hiring new associates to do the heavy lifting, preparation is essential. Here are five key strategies to start your solo practice:
CREATE A REALISTIC BUSINESS PLAN
Your practice is no different from any other startup. To measure success you need to determine your short term and long term goals. Make a realistic budget factoring your minimum monthly costs and projected cash flows. At this stage of the game, you need to be creative with your finances. You need to separate the “need to have” from the “nice to have.” Develop a SWOT matrix. List and characterize your strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and any threats to your practice. You need to determine who your competitors are, where your clientele base will be drawn from, how will you market to them, and your social media strategy.
After developing the first draft of your business plan, seek out advisors that you respect and trust. Present them with your business plan for review. Get feedback, discuss, and then revise your business plan accordingly.
DON’T SETTLE FOR A BASIC WEBSITE
Your website is your brand. Invest in your website wisely. In today’s world, there is no reason why you cannot have a great looking website up in a matter of days. Your first option should be selecting a WordPress theme for your site. WordPress is fantastic because you really need little or no programming knowledge to customize your site. WordPress themes are available from dozens of sites online (we recommend ThemeForest.net.) For about $50, you can purchase a responsive website with all the rich features you need for your practice. Even if you want someone to do the work, you can find qualified developers from such sites as Elance.com and WordPressDevelopers.com at very reasonable prices.
Company Logo – Invest in a great logo. Take the time to consider the basics – colors, basic shapes, and your target clientele. Advertising Fizz has a great article on the logo development process. Even if you do not have time or interest to consider the finer aspects of logo design, you should at a minimum consult a professional designer or go to online companies like LogoMaker.com.
Website Design and Content – Make sure your site is consistent with your target clientele. If your practice area is intellectual property, your site should look modern and clean. If your practice area is family law, your site should have warmer colors and more images of families. Make sure your site’s color selection is consistent on every page. A good rule of thumb is to use the primary color in your company logo as the color for your links, your favicon, and primary buttons. A great site to look at popular color combinations for your website is colorlovers.com.
The content of your website is just as important to your brand as the overall design. A family law practice may require a more informal writing style. A bankruptcy focused law firm most likely will require a formal, third person narrative. The key is to keep your writing style, whether formal or informal, consistent on every page.
FULLY LEVERAGE THE BENEFITS OF ONLINE SOCIAL MEDIA & OFFLINE PARTNERSHIPS
Revising your LinkedIn profile and Facebook account is just the beginning. Networking in the social media landscape is about conversation and relationship building. The more you give, the more you will get in return. You need to join social media discussion forums and engage in the conversation. Contribute your expertise to discussion groups. Be selective in which groups you join. You do not have time to contribute equally to all relevant groups. Pick groups with the largest membership size for your practice area.
If you are engaging and contributing thoughtful ideas to members of your targeted group, the greater the opportunity to be recognized as a “Top Influencer.” This title will enhance your visibility and strengthen your authority within the group. Your peers will then start reaching out to you for advice. That sage advice may eventually lead into a steady stream of referrals.
Offline networking and partnerships are still important. Find and reach out to non-competive companies that go after the same target clientele. Compare notes and develop joint marketing efforts. Successful partnerships will reduce your out-of-pocket marketing costs while strengthening your brand.
USE THE BEST OF TECHNOLOGY TO LOWER COSTS AND MAXIMIZE PROFIT
The good news is that technology is cheaper than ever. In keeping with a start-up mentality, you should have a minimum to start your practice:
- Reliable Office Phone System – make sure your selection has the basics- voice mail, call forwarding, conference call option, and caller ID.
- Computer – With processing speeds up and pricing dramatically down over the last several years, a laptop computer should be strongly considered as a primary computer. A reliable laptop with impressive hardware features are now available for just a few hundred dollars.
- Smartphone – Whether you select an iPhone or an Android device, both have thousands of productivity apps for attorneys that are either free or cost very little to add to your mobile device. Some key apps to consider are Dropbox, Evernote, Fastcase, and Dragon Dictation.
- Printer – Your office needs at least two all-in-one laser printers. As with the rest of the tech sector, the cost of printers have also fallen considerably. You can now get a top rated Canon All-in-One laser printer for just $118.
- Software – Every attorney of course needs Microsoft Office, Adobe Acrobat Reader, and a solid and reliable billing and practice management software application like CosmoLex.
For any service based business, you need to differentiate your practice from your competitors. Though the legal profession in general is a slow moving industry, that does not mean you have to be in the same lane. Be open to change. Have you ever thought about offering legal document services from your practice website? Would you consider providing online reputation management services along with your primary practice? What about providing alternate fee arrangements for your clients? Being innovative is not just for the tech sector. Being innovative is providing a better service experience for your clients while maximizing your profits.
Opening up your own practice is not for the faint of heart. It will be full of daily challenges and require stamina and patience. The key to success is to prepare yourself with a realistic plan, make smart choices in your office and technology purchases, and establishing mutually beneficial alliances that will strengthen your practice.
About the Author
This article was provided by LegalEase Solutions. LegalEase is a specialized legal research and writing company serving attorneys, law firms and legal departments across the US and beyond since 2004. For more information, please feel free to contact us at 1(877) 712-8003 or email us.
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