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You’ve finished law school and passed the bar. Now the youthful energy that carried you through six, seven or eight years of higher education needs to focus on paying the bills. If you are like many new attorneys, you are carrying six figures of debt on your back. So what if you’re part of a trend? It still feels like a very personal, very heavy load.
Should you look for a job in a local or state government agency? With a nonprofit? At an established firm? Or maybe you’ll start all by yourself in a solo law practice? There are many factors to consider about setting up shop, from practice area to personality fit, to items related to dollars and cents (or sense). However, for many new lawyers, the most important issue is money.
If starting your own practice sounds appealing, let me give you a few tips from my own experience.
1. Be cheap when you start. All you need to get the ball rolling is an LLC, your liability insurance, a computer, accounting software, a website, a social media presence, and either a home office or shared suite. Having a brick-and-mortar office is an important part of establishing a law firm, but technology has made it less of a factor. Most of the personal injury attorneys I know are rarely in the office. (Lawyers need to be out lawyering right?) When starting out, being able to work effectively from home or from a space you share with other lawyers can give you a leg up over competitors.
2. Embrace your smart devices. Technology, a car and determination can give your new firm a nimbleness that many larger firms can’t match. Simply switching to my iPhone has saved me untold amounts of time in my work. With cloud technology, you can take your show on the road. You can share documents and handle email from the passenger seat of your car while recording testimony on your phone. Using free online apps, shareware or Microsoft Office, you can prepare professional documents and make effective presentations anywhere you find an Internet connection.
3. Outsource tasks. Use a shared receptionist or answering service and make sure you have a phone that can easily reroute calls when you are out of touch during trial, depositions, mediations and meetings. Look for other opportunities to outsource tasks that take your focus away from practicing law and meeting new people.
4. Build your brand online. It is free to create profiles on Google+, LinkedIn, Facebook and most legal directories. Investigate other effective means of marketing to get your name out there and break the “name-on-the-back-of-a-phonebook” lawyer stereotype.
5. Build a smarter network. Other like-minded legal experts can offer their experience and expertise in ways you may not realize. Consider partnering with paralegals or other professionals to expand your nascent business.
All of these steps may seem straightforward, but it’s easy to lose focus when you are starting out. Remember to keep your operating costs down, and take time to learn and use all the tools available to a 21st-century law practice. You can outmaneuver the established players — if you play it smart.
Michael Ehline is the lead attorney at Ehline Law Firm PC, a statewide personal injury firm based in Southern California. He founded the Circle of Legal Trust to discuss with others in the legal field better client services and ways to improve the profession.
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