How to Start a Law Practice

I proposed to my alma mater that someone should teach its students how to start a law practice, and volunteered to teach the course myself. I got this response:

Teaching law office management courses at the law school causes problems. The University doesn?t think they are ?law.

Of course! Any fool can see that teaching law students how to actually function as lawyers is clearly outside the ambit of a law school’s duties. (With apologies to Victorian Maiden.)

The local chapter of Phi Alpha Delta was interested, though (lesson 1: So Many Ways to Skin a Cat). So I’ll be conducting a three-hour introductory course on starting a law practice. It’ll be January 23rd, February 6th, and February 20th of 2008. One of the three one-hour sessions — probably the second one — will be in the evening. The others will be at noon. All will be at a location to be announced later (probably somewhere at UHLC).

To my readers: What would you tell law students who might be interested in starting their own law practices? What do you wish you had been told before you started yours?

0 responses to “How to Start a Law Practice”

  1. Define the fields you will practice in. In the beggining, when work is sparse it is tempting to take every paying client.

    If you can’t afford staff, automate. Invest in technology. Get an iphone.

    Demographics are destiny. Pick a growing area and learn Spanish.

    Get good suits. You are selling yourself.

    Be friendly, meet the local bar, and network for referrals.

  2. Well, if you are taking your presentation to the law school, the students there are going to face two chief problems:

    1) Inexperience, and
    2) Under-capitalization

    Address yourself to those issues. In particular, the under-capitalization. Robert Guest suggests investing in technology and iPhones, but frankly some of us can’t even afford the good suits he also recommends.

    So low-cost startup/office management and low-cost/free marketing would be 2 key areas.

    Bill M.

    P.S. When are you bringing your presentation to Austin?

  3. Under capitalization. To start my practice I took out a business loan. I put together a business plan and went to my bank.

  4. I would agree with Guest about defining what areas you are willing/ want to practice within. If you want to do criminal defense, don’t do divorces just to pay the rent.

    Remember that perception is reality. If they appear as though they know what they are doing, the potential clients will assume they do and will be more willing to hire them.

    Set a budget and stick to it. Especially when it comes to advertising. It is very easy when you first start out and are desperate for clients to try every advertising scheme under the sun. Pick what you want and don’t be suckered into the “next big thing.”

    Get involved and make sure others know you are there. Young Lawyers Assocs. and Bar Assocs. are good, but not the only ways to get your name out there.

    You don’t need all the books you get offers for. Use the damn law library.

    Make sure your phone is answered. At that early stage, a potential is hiring you because of reputation. If they can’t get you on the phone, they will go to someone else.

    I’m sure we all have a million of these, but these popped into my mind.

  5. Ah, so many things. Understand finance and bookkeeping – at least well enough to outsource and adequately supervise a bookkeeper. Skip the books, and stick like glue to a budget. Create your practice the way you want to – you’re not limited to “business as usual.” Embrace flat-rate billing wherever allowed by your jurisdiction and courts. Get a blog and do it right. Wrap your mind around the idea now that your clients are doing YOU a favor – not the other way around.

    I could go on, and on, and on … and as for the law school’s response, unfortunately I’m not surprised.

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