This is part of my series where I try to help anonymous strangers on Reddit. You can find the original post here.
Just told my boss a few weeks ago that I am leaving and going solo. I have been working at a PI firm for the past 2-3 years and have always wanted to start and run my own firm since before law school. I have a background in business and sales and will use these strengths to get PI cases in the door.
Any advice, tips, and tricks, will be greatly appreciated. Especially by people who have done this and failed or succeeded. What advice would you give yourself if you could do it all over again? Also, encouragement would be greatly appreciated./u/olderlawstudent
Congrats! There has never been a better time in the history of lawyers to hang your shingle.
The tools, the systems, and the support are all excellent, and getting better all the time.
Three specific thoughts:
Niches make riches
You’ll take what you can get as you’re starting out (this is normal), but that doesn’t mean your marketing / branding should be “Welcome to the Law Office of u/olderlawstudent, I’ll take what I can get.” Nobody wants to see that in their lawyer.
Spend some quality time checking in with yourself to determine your best current answers to two questions:
(1) Who are the kinds of people I like to help?
(2) What are the kinds of problems I like helping people solve?
That’s your niche. Don’t worry too much about what other lawyers are doing. Obviously if there are already 100 firms practicing that niche, maybe pick something else (or niche down further!), but a little competition is healthy and is a decent sign that the market is viable. For more on this I recommend picking up Seth Godin’s book Tribes.
A good client experience is the best marketing
Too many new lawyers spend too much time and money building fancy websites and pipelines and the like. The reality is that most of your cases will come from referrals at first. That means that the primary purpose of your website is to (1) verify that you exist and (2) make it easy to get in touch with you.
You don’t need to impress referred prospects with your site, what’s most important is making sure they feel like they’re in the right place. If your website starts with a message that says “Hi, I’m u/olderlawstudent. I help <people like you> solve <problems like the one you have>” you’ll be 90% of the way there. Over time you may build it out with lots of content and whiz-bang sales funnels, but when you’re starting out (and maybe forever) a simple brochureware site is just fine.
What really matters is a good client experience, because that’s what will get back to your referral sources and will get past clients to refer new ones to you. They also help you get testimonials which, in turn, help build social capital.
Make the on-boarding process as friendly and user-centered as possible—remember, you’re solving their problems first, then you can recruit them to solve yours. Make sure you have a regular communication cadence where every single client gets an update every X weeks (even if that update is a “no-update update”). Make it really clear how clients can interact with you, and what they can expect the process to be like. This is likely their first trip through the civil justice system and they want to feel like they’re working with an experienced guide.
Invest in good tools early
For some reason, a lot of lawyers like to skimp on practice management software when they’re starting out on their own. They make the mistake of thinking of it as an expense, rather than an investment. Yes, the software can feel expensive. But in an era where you don’t really even need to rent an office space, your enabling technology really is THE thing that can make or break your practice.
I’m sure others will chime in on tools, but the LPM I hear the most accolades for from my plaintiff’s attorney clients is FileVine. It isn’t quite a plaintiff’s practice in a box, but it’s awfully close. Others that people tend to feel good about (and, of course, have nits to pick with) include Clio, PracticePanther, and Lawcus. The main thing for me is to pick a tool that has a good API so that you can extend its functionality with complimentary 3rd party software when you need to. That rules out Zola and any of the installed-software tools.
If I had to choose between a high-price website and a good practice management tool, I’d pick practice management every time. You’re ability to take on new work is going to be constrained by your ability to get existing cases moved through your process, and a good practice management tool will help you do that (and deliver that good client experience to boot).
Good luck, you’ve made a great choice!