You’ve decided to branch out on your own and start a law practice. Congratulations on a bold and adventurous decision! The first part of this post included preparation tips for this exciting transition. Part Two focuses on helping you through those first few months. So, let’s pick up where we left off.
- Fixed fee or hourly rate – When setting your fees, you need to decide whether your practice will use hourly or fixed fee billing. While hourly billing is a tradition within the legal community, many attorneys have chosen to move away from it, in favor of fixed fees or hybrid billing models. Clients tend to prefer these options because they are better informed about what your legal services will cost. They also do not have to worry about a larger-than-expected invoice down the line. For you, fixed fee billing can prove more efficient and more profitable. Do your research and decide which option (or combination of options) is best for your start-up law firm.
- Get a mentor – Starting your own legal practice can be an extremely stressful endeavor. It’s useful to find a mentor who has already gone through the growing pains and can offer you advice on how to get through successfully. Local Bar meetings are a great way to meet potential mentors. Have you seen an attorney who impressed you in court or in some other professional setting? Why not simply pick up the phone and start a conversation? You never know what good advice you may receive.
- Start taking cases – Once you have officially hung out the shingle, it’s time to jump into the case pool. If you aren’t used to handling cases on your own, you may want to start with smaller, less taxing matters. Volunteer at a pro bono clinic in your town. These consultations can sometimes result in paying clients. You can also ask some of the established attorneys in your area to send you cases they do not take on. You may even want to establish an of counsel relationship, where you handle some of their less serious (Caveat- usually less profitable) cases for them. This way you can build your confidence and experience, while also establishing yourself within your new legal community.
- Track your time – Don’t let one single day go by without establishing a method for time tracking. It is so easy to fall into bad habits when it comes to tracking your time and billing clients. Right from the start, select an effective time tracking software like TimeSolv to quickly record time spent on client matters from virtually anywhere in the world and easily generate detailed billing statements that your clients will appreciate.
- Excellent customer service – Once you start getting clients in the door, it’s important to consistently treat them well. Unfortunately, the legal profession is not known for its stellar customer service, but that doesn’t mean that you cannot be the exception. Treat your clients with respect. Be honest with them about their cases and the cost of your services. Respond to phone calls and emails. Send timely, detailed invoices. Your clients will notice and appreciate your efforts, which can result in repeat business and stellar referrals.
- Maintain your calendar – When you really get up and running, busy will be an understatement in describing your day. There will be multiple meetings, conferences, court appearances, and massive amounts of paperwork. Keeping track of what’s due and when is crucial to providing your clients with good service and protecting your license. Make sure to get and use an effective calendaring system. Relying on your memory can lead to serious trouble. Instead, record every single deadline and appointment on your calendar. Then review it every morning and evening to make sure you know what’s ahead.
- Efficient invoicing – If you want to get paid for all of the hard work you complete for your clients, you need to bill them on a regular basis. For many attorneys, billing is a stressful and time-consuming task, but it doesn’t have to be with the right technology to assist you. With TimeSolv legal billing software, you (or your support staff) can quickly create timely and detailed billing statements for your clients.
- Running reports – To run a successful business, you have to take its temperature once in a while. This is done through reports. Whether you choose to run them on a weekly or monthly basis, it is important that you know how your law firm is doing financially. Is there an abundance of outstanding invoices? Is time not being properly tracked? Is your overhead too high? All of these issues can be identified through regular reports. With more than 30 reporting capabilities, TimeSolv allows you to easily run the reports you need to keep your law practice viable and open for business.
- Keep learning – Don’t forget about your CLE requirements. It can be easy to get so caught up in your practice, that you stop learning new legal concepts and case law. Don’t fall into that trap. Review your CLE requirements twice a year to ensure compliance. It also doesn’t hurt to read some practice area related magazines or websites to keep on top of current trends or emerging issues. It’s never too late to learn something new, so make an effort to stay up-to-date in your profession. It will keep you and your law office relevant.
- Have fun – There will be bad days… some difficult clients, a lost case, slow payments… but remember, that this is the profession you chose and at the heart of it lies the passion for law that lives inside of you. It’s okay to adjust along the way. Maybe you want to explore a new practice area or hire new staff members. Be cognizant about what is and is not working, so you can create the best law office environment for you… and try to have a little fun in the process.
About Erika Winston:
Erika Winston is a freelance writer with a passion for law. Through her business, The Legal Writing Studio, she helps legal professionals deliver effective written messages. Erika is a regular contributor to TimeSolv and a variety of other publications.