By: Christina Ioannou and Edward F. Kim
Starting your own law firm at any age is a massive undertaking. Not only will you be a practicing lawyer, but you will also be running a business. And then, there is the realization that your education did not prepare you for the real world.
Whether you just graduated from law school or have been practicing law for a decade, you will never feel “prepared” to launch your own practice. However, the same skills and finesse that make you an amazing lawyer will also make you an amazing business owner.
Owning a successful law firm is all about problem-solving and that’s your zone of genius. So, put the fear of the unknown behind you, give yourself some much-needed validation, and take the leap of faith. All you need are the real steps to declaring your business and the keys to open the doors. You own this journey, so why not model it after yourself? Successful, effective, and fearless.
[Related: Top Five Legal Basics for Business Owners]
Just do it!
So law school may not have taught you whether a PC or an LLC is better, or how to source office furniture, or what technology is best suited for running a law firm, or how to hire and terminate employees. But what it did teach you is the fundamental business concept of “how to identify problems and find solutions,” says Edward F. Kim, Esq., Founder of KIM LAW.
Lucky for you, Kim is a lawyer who took that leap, started his own practice directly upon graduating from law school, and is willing to share everything he knows about how to own your law firm today. Take it from Kim; these are the steps from a lawyer for lawyers:
- Name your law firm and file it with the Secretary of State.
- Form a proper business structure, whether it’s an LLC, PC, or Partnership.
- Obtain an EIN number for tax purposes.
- Open a business bank account.
- Open a business credit card.
- Separate personal and business credit.
- Open a separate business phone number to keep your personal and business calls separate.
Once you complete these necessary steps, you will literally form your own law firm and you do not even need a physical office space in the new digital age. Okay, so now that your firm is open for business, what next?
You’re new, you have a lot of upfront expenses, and this makes you tempted to take whatever cases show up at your door, but this is not advisable. Kim says:
If you want to become an expert, you must set a high standard in one particular area of law. I am a personal injury lawyer and I handle only personal injury cases.
Being seen as an expert means declaring the type of litigation cases your law firm specifically handles. It is a smart strategy to handle exclusive types of law because you will make a name for yourself and build your brand more quickly by specializing in one particular area of law. Once you establish a brand, you must also build a referral network.
A referral network is built by doing excellent work and passing on the cases you do not take to other trusted lawyers so that they will in return refer your speciality cases to your firm, thus building a name for your business through word of mouth.
1) Networking is gold.
When the phones are dead silent and there is not a client in sight, panic is inevitable. But you must overcome this natural state of panic through networking. Whether you are an introvert or an extrovert, it does not matter. Embrace getting to everyone and anyone. The more people who know you and know what you do, the more likely you will be recommended to potential clients.
Networking is not just about going to dinner parties and events. No, networking is talking about what you do with whoever will listen. Be authentic and build genuine relationships to create strong business networks.
This way, Kim says:
You can stay fresh in the minds of people by being authentic, kind, and memorable. The more people who know you and know what you do, the more they are inclined to refer their friends, family, and co-workers to you.
Enthusiasm is infectious. So do not be afraid to share the excitement and passion you have for your law firm. You just started your own law firm and that is worth bragging about! Be unapologetic about owning your business. Share that enthusiasm and be memorable because your story is what will bring clients through the doors.
[Related: Three Steps to a Well-Designed Career]
2) Authenticity sells.
When you have a genuine passion for what you are doing, people will gravitate toward you. They will feel you are chasing a worthy goal. Chase becoming the best lawyer and providing outstanding legal service and the money will naturally follow. A fake or phony reputation will arise in a small industry circle as well as show up in poor reviews in the age of the internet.
Good reviews are critical to success, especially when your firm is newly founded. Good reviews come from clients who receive service above and beyond their expectations. This is where authenticity is vital. When your work is genuine, good reviews are a natural byproduct of this feedback loop. Authentically sharing your story will help you crush the game of free marketing.
3) Advertising can be free.
Networking and word of mouth are important, but how can you capitalize on all the positive buzz about you? The answer is social media. Social media is free and effectively communicates to millions of people who are seeking the services your firm offers.
The law firm TV commercials you see are pretty lame and cost tens of thousands of dollars to secure 60 seconds of airtime. But YouTube and Instagram are free ways to share your video content. You can present your services authentically and creatively in a manner that is much more effective than an actor portraying a lawyer in a TV commercial.
Don’t waste your overhead budget buying signs on park benches, buses, or billboards. Those are old marketing tactics that are only effective for established law firms. As a new firm owner, you cannot compete with the deep pockets of TV commercial law firms. Instead, use the internet to your advantage and stand out from the crowd with social media creativity.
Ultimately, the focus is on what matters most, your work. But you can use social media to help advertise your brand and spread your message for free. Let technology be your new best friend.
4) Embrace technology.
Since we live in a digital age, technology is essential and will allow you to decrease the clutter and confusion of archaic filing cabinets. It helps you become more organized and efficient.
Embrace technology. Digital filing systems, case management software, and apps that allow for secure information sharing — the more automated your firm is, the more hands-on you can be with the more important aspects of your caseload.
With technology, you can have your entire firm at the tips of your fingers.
I’m sure when you started reading this article you thought, “There’s no way I can start my own firm. I just finished law school!” and look at you now! You are already thinking about how to build your own successful law firm.
So why not skip the promotion to partner and focus on your very own successful, effective, and fearless practice? You really can have your own firm today!
[Related: Ten Legal Mistakes to Avoid as an Entrepreneur]
Christina Ioannou is an established professional with experience in advertising, marketing, and arts and design.
Edward F. Kim, Esq. is the Founder of KIM LAW.