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Small Firm Startup: Straight Out of School? 4 Tips

By William Peacock, Esq. | Last updated on

Okay, got a template for the motion. Seems simple enough. Facts go there, law goes there, tack on a supporting declaration ... what about that date field? Date of Hearing. What do I put for Date of Hearing in the motion when I haven't filed the motion with the clerk yet. Doesn't she assign the date after filing? I don't know what the judge's schedule is like ...

What's the hardest part of being a new lawyer and sole practitioner? Learning all of the stupid little tricks. For instance, the answer to that query was to call the clerk, get a proposed date, and then add it to the motion before filing. All it took to figure that out was to ask a friend who has been in practice for a few years, which brings us to the first tip:

1. Ask the Stupid Question

You'll need help along the way. Do you think the answer to that question was available online, or on the court's website? Of course not. Call a friend. Call the clerk. Hire an experienced paralegal. Pride is for people who actually know what they are doing. You don't ... yet.

2. Be Upfront With Clients

Most new grads have baby faces, say "ummm" a lot, and don't have all the answers. This makes it easy for clients to tell if you are dishonest about your experience, especially when you're only a year or so out of school. So what do you say when your prospective client asks about your experience?

One idea is full, but properly framed, disclosure. "I haven't handled a case exactly like this, but these are my thoughts and I won't hesitate to heavily research strategies for your case and to consult more experienced attorneys if necessary."

Some clients will respect your honesty and earnestness. Others will leave and go with a more experienced attorney. That's fine. Those are likely the high-maintenance clients anyway.

3. Keep the Overhead Low

When you are starting out, you probably won't be handling high net worth divorce cases or a celebrity's murder trial. You'll be handling cut rate DUIs and divorce paperwork.

That means, in order to take the cases that the bigger firms reject, you'll want to have less overhead. Repurpose your law school laptop. Stick to a cheap cell phone plan. Use a cloud practice management platform instead of expensive legacy accounting, contact management, and calendaring software. Consider whether an office is necessary for your practice area.

4. Have a Massive Internet Presence

Duh, right? It's 2013. Websites have been necessary since ... 1995 or so. That's just the beginning, however. You'll also want to be listed on services like Yelp! and Google's Local Search. Social media is also a necessity (and take down the drinking-in-a-Santa-suit pictures from law school). When someone searches for your name, your site, social profiles, and local listings should all show up. If you can't find you, clients won't either.

These are just a few of the thousands of things you'll have to consider when running your firm in your first few years. Want more information on marketing, client management, tech choices, and other issues that you'll face? Bookmark this blog, and watch for more posts in our Small Firm Start-Up series.

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