Whether you have just passed the bar exams, or are employed at a law firm with some previous experience in the field, a common dream among lawyers is to be able to spread their wings and start their own practice.
Although the freedom from a big firm’s internal politics, internal rivalry and the “nagging” partner sound intriguing, there are some downsides to “running your own show.” The stakes are higher, you bear more personal responsibility and you have to deal with management aspects of a law firm that aren’t always simple and taught in law school.
An employed lawyer – in Israel – enjoys a steady paycheck from a law firm and enjoys benefits and rights that are guaranteed by law. However, sometimes that paycheck is not enough, even if you have gained extensive experience in the field of law.
The way to independence is not as easy as it seems, and opening your own law firm can be a very complicated process which is why lawyers should be aware of all the challenges they may face before making such a decision.
Making the Decision – when making the decision to open your own practice, you must be sure of two things. First, consider that this decision is not just a fleeting whim, an idea that sounds exhilarating and promising, without seriously weighing the pros and cons of such a decision. Ensure that this is the correct time to take this step at the current point in your career.
Secondly, you must be completely committed to your idea and committed to your future clients and employees.
Step 1: Forming a Business Plan
Where do we start? The first step is to build a formal business plan that will be your guide when starting to build your firm. The business plan must include:
- Long term operative goals – you must build a feasible framework, formulated in a measurable manner including a timetable for implementation.
- Financial data – establish the resources available to your firm, including primary capital and the anticipated financial needs that accompany the initial stages of setting-up your firm.
- Determining the main practice areas of the firm, your fields of expertise – the choice of areas to focus your practice on is a combination of considerations based on business feasibility and the professional expertise of the firm’s partners. In fact, this decision is one of the most important strategic business decisions you’ll have to make.
- Forecast of expenses during the building period in relation to the initial capital raised to start your company.
- Assessment of the manpower required in the initial stages. An inseparable derivative of your financial capabilities. When you are responsible for other people’s salary, the commitment increases accordingly.
- Realistic expectations of projected income. It is important to remember that optimism is important, but it can also lead you to financial trouble.
Step 2: The Physical Move
There is a famous phrase to remind people that the main criteria to achieve a successful business are “location, location, location”. This phrase applies to the legal arena as well. But why is it actually so important…?
The two key considerations regarding the choice of the geographic location of your law firm are the target area of activity, your place of residence, and the place of residence/business of the clients that the firm wishes to attract.
There are several possibilities as to where and how to run your firm:
- Standard rental – renting an office with a defined and independent operating area. The obvious advantage is having control over the feeling and atmosphere of the work space. The downside – the high costs associated with renting office space.
- Renting a space in a shared office building – a joint lease with other attorneys. The advantages are lower rental expenses, and the use of common spaces such as conference rooms and the reception area. Another advantage is the familiarity with other attorneys and the possibility of sharing cases with shared expertise. The disadvantage of this option is the lack of control over the atmosphere, the noise and the working environment in the office.
- Working from home – this is an option for small firms and attorneys at the start of their careers, to work from home. This option saves expenses along with a flexible and comfortable work style. However, the nature of this work has many disadvantages, including difficulties in meeting clients or colleagues in a professional atmosphere, a limited ability to attract large clients due to the image of a “small” firm and of course – the self-discipline required in a home work environment.
Step 3: Initial Marketing Efforts
Many independent lawyer’s find it difficult to attract new clients. Some lawyer’s still rely on the word-of-mouth marketing method, but in the Israeli law market, which is awash with law-abiding lawyers, lawyers are becoming accustomed to a new reality in which they try to market their legal activity to the general public (under the Attorneys’ Code of Ethics of course).
Even without a set budget for marketing, it is possible to market the firm in a very attractive way if enough time, energy and creativity are put into it. There are a few useful tools you can use, such as:
- Creating an identity for your firm – there is a clear need to differentiate your firm from its competitors, to create a unique identity and added value of your firm. In order to differentiate your firm from its surroundings, analyze the strengths and benefits of your firm and highlight them. Actual differentiation is created gradually and after a long accumulation of experience, but it is possible and desirable to influence the image of the firm at the stage of its creation. Among the first steps recommended for implementation in this regard, is to focus on choosing a slogan for the office, choosing a logo and of course – setting up a website.
- Setting up a website – in an era when the search for an attorney often starts on the internet, the firm’s website serves as an identity card and is the first impression of the firm – hence its significance. Even at a low cost, it is possible to establish an effective site while creating the right user experience, which is expressed by leaving a mark of quality and a positive impression on those surfing the internet. The Bar Association ethical code of ethics are strict in this area, but there is ample room for demonstrating creativity and originality. It is worthwhile to plan a creative site that is well-written, visually appealing and user-friendly, allowing to simply move around the firm’s areas of activity and to place particular emphasis on the profiles of its partners.
- Tell everyone – the starting point in the marketing of a law firm in general, and a new office in particular, is to initiate and actively recruit new clients to the law firm. The period when clients have appeared almost out of thin air has passed, and in this competitive environment this is the time to spread the word about the opening of your firm. Tell your relatives, family, colleagues, friends and acquaintances that you have opened a new law firm. Word-of-mouth should be directed to a large number of recipients in various social and business circles. The more energy and enthusiasm you have, and the more creative you are, the more likely you are to attract new clients.
- Open a blog – a blog is a kind of “web diary” where you can publish an endless variety of content on the topic of law, such as your opinion on legal matters, professional and academic articles and more. Blogging is a fairly effective way of improving your office’s position in Google search results, constantly adding up-to-date content to the firm’s website, increasing the number of visitors to your website, promoting topics that are important to you personally, and more. It should be emphasized that writing a blog is tantamount to running a marathon. This is a long-term investment, and the success of a blog is measured within at least six months. We recommend writing few posts at once, posting them on the blog bit by bit, updating friends and customers and waiting for results.
- Be active on social networks – social networks (such as Facebook and LinkedIn) have become an integral part of the daily life of the business community and enable direct contact with potential clients. The downside of having your law firm on social networks is being exposed to open criticism by web surfers. On the other hand, negative criticism can be minimized by proper conduct, sincerity and transparency which will benefit your firm and its lawyers, and will present the firm as open to criticism and able to deal with complaints quickly and effectively.
- Initial customer pooling – it is important to develop personal relationships with your first clients. We recommend, at the first stage, to be generous with your customers and avoid petty charges for short phone calls or short emails. The cost of charging for these actions is not worth the damage to your image. It is very important to give complete service to your initial customers. Create satisfied customers!
Step 4: Launching Your Firm
- Informing those around you – with the decision to officially open your firm, you will want to formulate a message that spreads the word in order to create awareness among potential colleagues and clients. We recommend that you prepare an e-mail message along with a well-written, professionally printed message to create the first impression you want to convey to clients.
- A launching event – create an attractive and professional invitation for the event. Hire a reputable caterer and photographer for the event and ensure the use of images of the event on the firm website, in social networks or as a gift to clients.
- Get out there – print out a proper business card and get out of the office. Network, network, network! Meet school friends, schedule a lunch with your internship apprentice, grab a coffee with your university professor, and meet the owner of the company you worked for during your studies. Make a list of the people with whom you worked, learned and were acquainted with – and set out to renew old relationships. Update everyone that you have opened a new law firm, ask for advice, direct clients, and help connect to business owners and more. Join business groups such as Biz or one of the BNI groups and create a new network of connections. These business groups can bring in many potential clients if you invest enough time in networking.
- Press Release – connections in the media? This is the time to use them. It is worthwhile to send a press release about the opening event to the economic newspapers and local newspapers, and to mention the uniqueness of your new firm.
Step 5: Learn from Others’ Mistakes
Most law firm failures are a result of poor planning, short-term visions and goals. Here are some errors that can and should be avoided when planning your own law firm:
- Working with an unorganized and improvised schedule, with no structured timetable. Establishing a law firm is complex. You need to manage the firm’s business aspect alongside ongoing legal work which will create a heavy workload in a short span of time. Lawyers accustomed to postponing tasks or who are unorganized may find themselves faced with pressure they cannot handle. The solution is to plan an organized, realistic timetable for the implementation of all tasks and to ensure they are followed through.
- Professionalism – the quality of your work is critical! It is important to invest considerable time and effort in your legal work, which will be the basis for getting more clients in the future and to build a good reputation. The recommendations of customers to their friends is incomparably more valuable than any newspaper or Google ad you pay for at the start of your independent journey.
- Entering the fields of practice that you are not familiar with – avoid dealing with these issues. Money may be tempting, but the damage you will suffer from an unfavorable legal outcome is far greater than the fees you will charge (not to mention the compensation you will have to pay for the damages you will incur and the bad reputation you will create for yourself).
- Failure to create a budget and / or non-implementation of your budget – the establishment of a firm involves many start-up costs. In any financial operation, you must act within your prepared budget, from purchasing office equipment to employing the required number of attorneys and support staff.
- Use your marketing budget wisely – we recommend avoiding large expenditures on marketing during the initial stages of firm’s establishment. As we have already mentioned, the most effective marketing is through high quality work for your first clients and creating and maintaining good interpersonal relationships. Moreover, if you have the time (and you’re likely to have it at the beginning), it’s better to spend your marketing efforts on social networks where advertising is less costly.
- Failure to create awareness of the office – even if the firm’s partners come from well renowned firms, your new firm must create an independent reputation and a certain ‘buzz’. Recruitment of clients to a new firm is a process that requires a great deal of effort, and therefore you must prepare for this in advance and take measures aimed at maximizing the awareness of your firm to potential targeted clients.
- Poor planning of the physical location of the office – when looking for an office space for your practice a few things must be considered. The resources available to the firm, the required size of the space and the nature of the lease. In order to avoid any inconveniences in the future you must consider the approximate location of where your employees live and take into account the potential of growth and adding more lawyers to your firm.
- The importance of your relationships with external offices – the new firm is managed by you, but many external professionals are involved and may assist you in your ongoing activities and even in recruiting clients – insurance agents, accountants, tax consultants, private investigators, journalists and professional organizations. Managing these relationships can be vital for the ongoing activities of the firm and can bring in new clients.
Opening a new law firm and becoming self-employed is appealing to many lawyers. The opportunity for a higher income as well as the possibility of being your own boss creates an incentive to “jump into the deep end” and embark on a new and independent path.