You can’t get rich on someone else’s money. Eventually, those ambitions that led you to become a lawyer are either going to fizzle out (with a change of career or retirement) or bubble over into starting your own firm. Those are the options.
Assuming you’re still reading, let’s look at some law firm startup tips to help you take your legal company from a napkin business plan to the biggest courtrooms in the land.
Before you get started with welcoming your first member to the team, you need to be clear over one very critical aspect of running your business: time (feel free to check out time tracking software for small business).
Now, time tracking isn’t just time tracking. Far from it. With powerful software giving you a bird’s eye view of how long each staff member is spending on tasks, you can make several important decisions to help drive your business forward. What kind of decisions, you ask?
For a start, where one member of staff is clearly taking much longer to complete tasks than everybody else, you will instantly know that either the person is not right for the role or that you have not provided the requisite training. Both paths lead to a solution.
Secondly, where your clients are paying for services that cost you more in staff wages than the generated revenue, you need to know. All too often, businesses lose money in this way without realising it. Time tracking software is the answer.
This top tip speaks for itself. Nevertheless, let’s dive in with an example. Let’s say you walk into the lobby of a business that sells cookies. There is no reception area, as such, just a table with a printed sheet of cookie options on it and to the far side of the room there is a hole in the wall where someone appears and asks what do you want.
Now, let’s pretend you walk into a different cookie firm that has a glass-fronted reception area, complete with backlit wall menus and professional staff in uniforms waiting to help you make your selection.
We all know which company is going to get more business.
Call Handling Software
Speaking from experience, customers want to be given a Las Vegas service at caravan park cabaret prices. Where your call handling software is nothing more than you yourself answering the phone and stumbling over how to direct the call, you are going to look amateurish. Worse still, asking any member of staff to answer the phone (without training) is basically asking your staff to deliver a hit and miss welcoming service.
You need call handling software. Nobody likes to sit keying endless streams of numbers into their phones when prompted (press 1 for legal services, press 2 for divorce services, press 3 if you want to keep the house, press 4 to keep the silverware, press 5 if you’re going to hang up now through sheer boredom). Choose your call handling system with care, and make sure your clients are met with professionalism and timely answers.
It’s easy to think you’ll set your business up and your clients will just miraculously find their way to you, but unfortunately, it doesn’t always quite work out like that. Without strong marketing, you’re only halfway there. Whilst you may have the best services to offer people, what good is that if nobody knows your law firm exists?
So, where do you begin? First things first, you need a user-friendly website that your target market can easily find. This calls for strong SEO (Search Engine Optimisation) tactics and a professional, straightforward site that clearly demonstrates what it is you offer. If all of this is going straight over your head, you may want to consider outsourcing the tasks, which could save you a lot of time and money in the long run, as otherwise, you could put all your efforts into creating and nurturing something to ultimately discover that it’s not right. This is why sometimes these things are best left to the experts – you can stick to law, whilst the marketers can push your business in the right direction.
There are also traditional forms of marketing that you can consider, such as leaflets, billboards, radio adverts etc. However, the beauty of going digital is that you can much more easily monitor where your efforts are working and where they aren’t. With tools such as Google Analytics, you can easily track how users are finding your website, and how they are engaging with it, along with if they make any conversions (like getting in touch or signing up to your newsletter). Digital marketing often proves to be much more cost-effective, as you can target the demographics you want.
Another form of online marketing that you should never neglect is your business social media platforms. You could consider Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram, Twitter… Wherever you want to get your name out there. These are great for connecting with clients and prospective clients, as you can show a more human side to the business, whilst answering any queries and keeping your audience in the loop with your latest business news. Posted a new blog on your site? Great, share it on Facebook. Want to highlight your latest case win? Send out a tweet (provided it’s not confidential information!). Looking to do some networking or even collaborate with other businesses? LinkedIn is calling your name. The beauty of social media is that it’s simple, you can promote brand awareness and it’s mostly cost-free. If you’re not on it, you’re most certainly missing a trick.
As you will already be more than aware, there are so many different areas of law out there, so you can’t possibly cover every part of the legal sector as a law firm startup. So, for the first year or so, you have to focus solely on what you specialise in, whether it’s family law, criminal law, accident law etc… Perhaps further down the line once you are more established you can branch out into multiple sectors, but to begin with, you need to just hone in on what you’re best at. This means you should be able to perform to the best of your ability, as you should have the most experience in this type of law, and will keep on continuing to learn and improve as each case comes and goes. Having different people on board with skills and experience that differs to you is always great, as you can bring different qualities to the table, teaching one another as you go along.
This brings us to our next consideration: recruitment. Although as a startup you’re not likely to have a huge team, if you do hire people to be a part of your business, you must always ensure that you are hiring the right people for the job. This means you should implement a thorough interview process, that perhaps includes some sort of task or test so that you can get more of an idea of if the person is suitable for the role. You should always check their credentials or references, particularly if you are planning on giving them a fairly senior, powerful role in the business.
You must also make sure you are clear of what you want from them, and that you are offering them what they want in terms of the role, its requirements, and salary, as you don’t want to have them handing their notice in 2 weeks into the job. Transparency and communication is key for both parties when it comes to this. Recruitment can be a tricky task to get right but if you want your startup to grow, it is often a major part of the process.
Another point to make is to be sure to have proper contracts set out, along with probation periods. This can be beneficial to you and your employees, as this way you both know where you stand and your business will be protected if, for example, you need to terminate their employment due to improper conduct. The probation period acts as a trial for both you and the employee, as you get to know one another and discover how effectively the agreement works out.
You want your law firm to be memorable with a strong brand. How do you achieve this in the simplest way? With a catchy name and perhaps even a slogan to go with it. Consider a way of summarsing your firm through the name you chose – for example, if you plan on just sticking to one specialism, then this should be included in your business name. It’s very common for law firms to have the surname or full name of the founder in the name, which is also something you can consider. Then, if you’re looking to stick to and target one particular city you could also see if the location goes into the name nicely. Get a piece of paper and a pen, and write down these different points, then play around with potential names until you find ‘the one’. Your slogan should be able to follow this once you have found your feet and know exactly how you wish to portray you business.
These three little words mean a whole lot when it comes to a law startup. They also crossover and connect perfectly – you can plan your budget and goals, budget for your plans and goals, and have goals to achieve certain plans and budgets! Without extensively mapping these out, you may find yourself in a whole world of trouble. Let’s look into each of them in a bit more detail.
Planning – your plan is everything. It keeps you organised. Without a plan you might not know what you’re doing, when, how or why. These are all things you must consider and account for. Make sure you have a detailed calendar and that you fill it with your schedule. Life at a law firm can be extremely fast-paced so you need all your meetings, events and even plans for your personal life laid out in a clear fashion, where you can access it and get reminders to keep you on top of everything.
Setting Goals – without clear goals, how do you know what you are you aiming for? You should have monthly, bi-annual and annual targets. It not only gives you something to work towards but it can also be a great incentive for your employees, and something for you to feel proud of once achieved. Goals help you to strive for success, and they allow you to see how far you’ve come as time goes by. Make sure they are realistic and review them each month. Whether they are client wins, monetary gains or even how many people you employ, consider all different areas of your business that you want to help flourish.
Budgeting – starting up any business is a financial risk, and one that you need to have backup plans for. The good news is that there will always be people who need help from law firms, so hopefully, your potential client base shouldn’t be in short supply, you just need to understand that it may take a little while to build this up over time. With a sensible budget that you stick to, you can ensure that you don’t incur too many great spends and that your business doesn’t go too far into the red. You may have to consider borrowing money to get you off the ground or to initially finance your living costs. Whatever you do, try not to borrow so much that you cannot pay it back. There is always a chance that you won’t be as successful as you anticipate, which is something to be acutely aware of. Be frugal, don’t dive in too quickly and monitor your budget closely. In an ideal world, you should see a rise in your incoming cash flow month upon month but the world of business can be unpredictable.