Starting a business in any profession is a challenge. But starting your own law firm presents its own hurdles unique to the legal field. Law firm start-up advice is so sought after, in fact, that it prompted my guest, Sam Glover, to start Lawyerist.com.
Lawyerist.com is a one-stop resource for all of your solo-practice start-up needs. Over the years, Sam has curated advice on a huge number of topics and even co-authored the book: The Small Firm Roadmap.
We can't craft an article to address all of your small firm queries - Lawyerist.com already has that covered. But we can go through three of the top challenges you might encounter along with some possible solutions.
1. Finding Clients
Really this one is about clients finding you - but that heading isn't as snappy. Headings aside - the first thing you're going to need when you start your law firm is clients. But how do you get them onto your books?
Gaining new clients, at first, is going to rely a lot on how you market yourself and advertise. There are a lot of ways to advertise: TV and radio commercials, PPC ads, billboards, newspapers and so on.
These are all great ways to spread your brand, but they cost money too. So turn to the tool that most Americans spend an average of 2 hours and 3 minutes on each day. Social media.
For an in-depth exploration on how to use social media for your law practice, check out our post on social media for lawyers. But to give you somewhere to start, here are a few things to consider:
- Think about your brand - if you're a PI, make your social media reflect that. Make the title clear in profiles, talk about personal injury issues, and like and follow relevant articles and people. It sounds obvious, but you need to position yourself in the areas clients will be looking.
- Interact with your followers - having a profile with expertly taken cover photos and a well-crafted tagline is a great start. But you need to be active. You need to answer inquiries and you need to post regularly and comment on things to show that somebody's home. After all - you wouldn't put on your best suit and go to a networking event and ignore everyone, would you?
- Join groups - following on from points 1 and 2, you need to be active in the right circles. Think about legal advice pages and local groups. Here you can help people with their questions and simultaneously advertise your business. What might start as a "you could have a case" comment could soon turn into another client on the books.
- Manage your activity - once you build up a presence, you'll need to maintain it. There are tools, such as Hootsuite, you can use to schedule posts and there are built-in schedulers on Facebook too. You can also set up auto-replies to handle incoming messages to let people know you'll get back to them ASAP. And don't forget low-tech solutions. One easy way to manage and maintain your presence is to delegate social media activities to others. You could give them to an intern, assign them to a different person each week or bring in a social media executive - though that might be for when you've grown a bit more.
2. Managing Clients
Now that you've got some clients, you're going to need to organize them. Thankfully, there are a lot of tools out there to help you manage this. A customer relationship management tool (CRM) allows you to manage and track potential, current, and past clients. With this, you can analyze previous interactions with individual clients as well as look at your entire history to get an idea of wider aspects such as client retention. You can find out a bit more about the importance of CRMs in our interview with Eric Chaffin.
There are lots of CRMs to choose from, such as Salesforce. And the one you choose is dependent on which one suits your needs best. But if you've got a lot of intake to deal with and need to manage a growing client list, you might want to check out SimplyConvert. Though it's not just a CRM, it's extra features might be useful too.
We discussed SimplyConvert in a previous episode of The Rankings Podcast with its creator, Jessie Hoerman. As well as housing a fully functional CRM, it has other powerful features, such as:
- automatic referrals
- AI chatbots
- automated contracts
- smart forms
- and much more.
Nearly the entire client intake process can be automated. This saves you time as (you don't have to read through every inquiry) and money (as you don't have to hire someone to do the sorting for you).
As we said, this solution might not be for everyone. So think about your needs, do some research and choose the CRM that best meets your requirements.
3. Hiring and Staffing
You've got your clients, they're nicely organized and now your firm is starting to run smoothly. But now you're doing a little too well. You've got all these clients but you haven't got the time in the day to represent them all. Sounds like it's time for you to bring in some new staff. But how?
First of all, you need to determine if you actually do need new staff. Whether you need to hire, according to The Lawyerist is determined by these questions:
- Are you turning away clients?
- Is the service you provide declining?
- Are business tasks getting away from you?
- Are you always working?
- Do you lack a solid growth strategy?
Answering yes to any of these, The Lawyerist says, is a good indication that it's time to bring in some fresh blood.
So much can be said about hiring. There's even a whole chapter dedicated to it and staffing in The Small Firm Roadmap. So we'll just take a look at one specific area you should be mindful of in the hiring process, and that is company values.
Making sure you hire employees that hold the same values as you is important because it ensures everyone will work towards the same goal. It also means they'll care more about the results you're trying to achieve, which will give them personal motivation to excel.
To help you find candidates that share your values, The Lawyerist recommends:
- Publicly displaying your values (on your website and socials perhaps). This makes your beliefs clear to candidates and will help them to determine if they are the right fit for the role.
- Discuss your values in the interview. This will let you and the candidate push each other on the firm's values. Discussions like this allow you to go deeper into understanding whether the candidate genuinely believes in the firm’s culture or whether they're just gaming the system for a job.
- Don't focus too much on skills-based questions. It can be tempting to limit interview questions to determining technical ability. By all means you should ask them, but don't get too lost in their proficiency in writing briefs. Remember that employees are part of a wider machine and it's that all-important shared goal that keeps everything running smoothly.
This is by no means an exhaustive list of everything to consider when starting a law firm. After all, Sam Glover wrote a whole book about it. So if you want to learn more about setting up your own practice, check out Lawyerist.com or have a read of The Small Firm Roadmap.