Managing A Small Law Firm or Solo Practice: Five Steps to Get Started and Find Success
Do you want financial stability and flexible hours as an attorney? Do you hate the idea of big firm life? Starting a solo practice - and eventually growing into a small law firm - may be a sustainable option for you. With these five essential steps, you’ll be on your way to owning and managing your own small law firm.
1. Figure Out the Foundation. To run a solo practice - and eventually grow into a small firm - you need to know a lot more than the law. You need to know the business. Before you get started, ask yourself a few questions: Do you want to run a partnership? A solo law firm? A limited liability? Do you want to have a general practice that handles various kinds of law, or are you going to specialize? Do you want to be a low volume boutique firm, or will you handle a high volume of lower impact cases? Once you’ve determined the answers to these questions, consult with an accountant or transactional business attorney to start getting set up.
2. Hire Great People. The other people you work with can make or break your law firm, so choose wisely. Ask yourself the following questions: Do you want an associate who you can train, or do you have a colleague who would want to join forces as a partner? Both of these choices can create liabilities. An associate will require more work, but a partner will have their own opinions about how to run things. Will you have a support staff? What positions will you be hiring - secretary, bookkeeper, paralegal? What kind of oversight will you provide? Do you want them to send “to-do/done” emails at the end of each day, or will you have a more hands-off approach?
3. Manage Your Time. You need to make sure you are using your time productively, and to set up your employees for success as well. Set aside time to plan for the future - this will keep you from needing to manage predictable crises down the road. Keep a task list on hand for when you have downtime. Make sure the right people are doing non-legal tasks - as a lawyer, your day should not be filled with non-billable time.
4. Manage Your Cases. Case management is crucial, and clients don’t like to see their lawyers change from week to week. If you have brought on additional attorneys, create a plan for assigning cases. This may be based on practice area, or on a rotation for new clients. Additionally, identify what kind of tasks your support staff will handle.
5. Address Mistakes Promptly. Everyone makes mistakes. The most important thing is your response. Whether it’s something you did, or one of your support staff, act quickly to identify what happened, address the issue, and plan to avoid the same problem in the future.
Managing a business is never easy, and a law firm has particular liabilities and challenges, but also significant rewards. As you get started, remember to set objectives for your employees and yourself, prioritize time management, and cultivate a productive work environment. With enough planning, you will be on your way to success.
To learn more, check out Alissa Van Horn’s Small Law Firm Management – How to Start and Succeed as a Solo and Small Law Firm.
*This article was prepared with assistance from Tamanna Saidi, a pre-law sophomore at Baruch College in New York City.