How to Compile a Checklist for Starting a New Law Firm
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It's well worth opening your own law firm. It will require thorough planning and a lot of research. To get started, you should create a checklist of everything you need to do before doors open. After drafting the checklist, meet a lawyer who has recently started their own business and ask if you have anything missing.
Part 1 of 4: Drafting Your Checklist
Step 1. Identify steps to create your business structure
Your law firm needs to have some sort of business structure. In some states, you may be limited in what structure you can form. Get up to your checklist to determine your business structure:
Find state requirements, if any
Analyze the benefits and costs of each potential business structure: sole proprietorship, partnerships, professional corporations, limited liability companies
Discuss the advantages of each structure with a certified professional accountant
Choose your firm name
Collect forms to create a business structure
Get the fee for filing forms
Get a federal Employer Identification Number
Register with your state Supreme Court (if required)
Obtain the necessary business licenses
Step 2. Plan your finances
You also want to include in your checklist the steps needed to operate your law firm financially. You should consider adding the following to your checklist:
Consider funding needs
Find sources of credit (credit unions, banks, personal or business loans, etc.)
Open a bank account
Review ethical rules for securing client property
Create a trust account for client funds
Register your trust account with your state bar
Draft a budget for the law firm
Research malpractice insurance
Step 3. List the necessary overheads
Once you have created your legal structure, you will need the equipment to get started and run your business. Think about what you have to buy. If you have worked in another firm, identify the equipment you have used regularly. Your checklist may read something like this:
Find an acceptable office space
Consider office sharing
Purchase of computer and printer
Westlaw or LexisNexis research costs
Step 4. Identify all the necessary office systems
If you have never run a business before, you may be surprised at how much you rely on computer office systems to make everything run smoothly. You will want to find suppliers for the following:
Billing and time tracking software
Conflict checking system
Payroll service (if employed)
Step 5. Make a checklist of the legal forms you will need
To start your law firm, you will need some basic forms. You should draft these ahead of time so you can spend more time on clients who are actually serving when you open. Consider the following:
Letters of participation and non-participation
Client intake sheets
Client survey forms
General correspondence forms and notices for clients
Step 6. Remember advertising
You will want to take actionable action on your advertising. Of course, the type of advertising you use will depend on how much money you have, as well as your area of practice. But you should at least add the following to your checklist:
Website creation research cost
Have business cards made
Research paid advertising such as Google AdWords, Yellow Pages ads, radio ads, etc.
Join solicitor referral services (both bar and private referral services)
Draft blogs or articles
Step 7. Think about staffing needs
You may or may not need a team. Some lawyers who have started their own businesses swear that staffing is an unnecessary expense, especially when starting out. However, your checklist should include an assessment of your staffing needs. As your business grows, you will no doubt feel the need for help.
Contact staff agencies
Announce to staff
Periodically reassess staffing needs
Step 8. Don’t forget ongoing obligations
Opening a business is a great achievement. But you will have to continue to invest time and money to stay accredited as a lawyer. You should map out the different steps you need to take. Add the following to your checklist:
Happy Continuing Legal Education (CLE) Courses
File the required corporate forms with your state
Renewal of legal license annually
Step 9. Talk to another lawyer
Find someone who started their own law firm a year or so ago. Ask them to have lunch and choose their brains about the steps you need to take to open your new law firm. Take a rough draft of your checklist and review it as necessary.
Ideally, you should meet a lot of people. Not everyone’s experience is the same.
You can find new lawyers by questioning around or by going to your local bar association's to-do list. Introduce yourself and ask if they can spend some time talking to you.
Get their business card so you can contact them in the future. If you need to hire temporary staff or get administrative office software, they will be a handy source of information.
Part 2 of 4: Starting Your Business
Step 1. Create your business entity
You can easily create your business entity by completing several forms with the office of your Secretary of State. To form a personal corporation, you will file Articles of Incorporation. To create an LLC, file Organizational Articles.
States control what form a law firm can take. For example, some states do not allow you to set up a regular corporation. Instead, you need to set up a "professional corporation". Read your state's rules of ethics to find out how your business can form and what kind of business name you can use.
If you are creating a partnership, you should really consult a business lawyer. You will need a partnership agreement before you even open your law firm.
Step 2. Get your tax ID
Get your federal tax identification number from the IRS at this Web site: https://www.irs.gov/businesses/small-businesses-self-employed/apply-for-an-employer-identification-number-ein-online . You will need this number to open bank accounts and file your taxes.
Step 3. Obtain business licenses
You will need a business license from your state tax collector's office. Depending on where you are located, you will need to obtain a license from your county or city government. You should call and check.
Step 4. Write your business plan
Lenders will want to see a business plan before extending any credit. However, a business plan helps you stay on track and rethink your business strategy. You can use this as a guide when drafting your own. Include the following in your business plan:
A general description of your law firm. This will help you focus on the type of law you practice and who your clients will be.
Your financial plan. As far as you can, project your gross receipts and estimate your overhead costs.
Partnership or management agreements. If you are single, you do not need to do this. Instead, you will only describe how you manage your business. However, larger firms need to set out the management structure.
Your marketing plan. Here you will identify your client base, your advertising methods, and how to increase your profile.
Step 5. Open the required bank accounts
Once you have your tax ID, go to a bank and ask if you can open a business account. They will want to see your business documents (such as Organizational Articles) as well as your tax ID.
Don't forget to create a separate client trust account. You must deposit containers and client property in this account. Commemorating client assets with your own business or personal assets is a violation of ethics, and state bars have started to decline on this.
Your client trust account must have an IOLTA account, which represents "interest on a solicitor's trust account." Only these banks have these accounts, so check ahead before opening them.
In many states, you must register your client trust account with your state bar association. You usually need to fill out a form and send it to your state bar.
Part 3 of 4: Finding Office Space
Step 1. Consider working from home
Working from home is cheaper than renting, but it is not a suitable arrangement for everyone. Inviting a client into your home can be awful, and zoning may not allow you to run a home office out of a residential area. If you want a home office, consider the following:
Is your office secure? Many home offices have a door that leads directly into the office. You probably don't want people walking around your house.
Can clients move around your office? Is it really accessible?
Is there a bathroom that clients can use? Think of any office you have visited - the dentist, the doctor, etc. There is usually a bathroom. Where will your clients go while they wait for you?
Step 2. Find office space to share
Another great option is to share an office with another lawyer. Sometimes lawyers advertise on Craigslist or a state bar association list. It is often cheaper to rent a space to someone else.
If you share office space, then understand the dangers. You need to make sure the public understands that you are not in partnership with the other lawyer. For example, do not use the same letterhead or signage.
You also need to pay higher attention to potential conflicts. Specifically, you should not represent clients who are opposed to clients represented by the other lawyer.
Also be careful about sharing the support team. This can also create conflict issues.
Your state bar association may have published ethical opinions regarding sharing office space with other lawyers. You should find them and read them before making this arrangement.
Step 3. Identify acceptable rental offices
If you choose to rent office space yourself, first create your needs list. This will save you time by eliminating unacceptable office spaces. Consider your needs:
location and proximity to parking
the reputation of the landlord
location other solicitors
Part 4 of 4: Purchasing Essential Hardware and Software
Step 1. Buy an all-in-one printer
You can find detailed checklists online listing many of the hardware you will need to start your law firm. Many of these checklists seem to describe the hardware requirements of large law firms. If you are just starting out, then buy "all in one" printer systems that combine printing and photocopying.
Step 2. Set up your phone system
Your budget will drive your purchasing decisions. If you are opening a new business with fifteen employees, then you will probably need landline telephone numbers for all lawyers and assistants. You will also need voicemail or messaging services.
Step 3. Invest in a new laptop
It is best to buy a laptop when you are just starting out. You can also use it in the office and carry it with you when you go to court or travel. If you buy a desk, you will also need a laptop, so it is cheaper to go with the laptop.
You should also dedicate a laptop to your business and not use it as a personal laptop. You do not want to accidentally send confidential information or accidentally host something on Google Docs that should not be shared. Dedicating one laptop to work will reduce the likelihood of you exposing yourself to something.
Remember that you need a way to backup client files. Common backup services include Mozy and Carbonite.
Step 4. Purchase legal research donations
As a law student, you probably used Westlaw or Lexis, which provide their services to law students for free. If you went to a business, you probably continued to use them without thinking about the costs. As a law firm owner, you must now consider the costs of purchasing these subscriptions. Contact a representative and discuss.
It is difficult to find pricing information online. As of 2015, Lexis provided a teaser rate of about $ 50 for an individual practitioner to reach their state's decisions. This increased in the second year (about $ 100) and then increased in the third year to a few hundred dollars a month.
If you do not want to buy a subscription, there are other free options. However, you need to do a thorough research on them. For example, you can find instances on Google Scholar, but it does not provide anything like the Westlaw or Lexis service. Many associations also offer Fastcase bars. You should use it first to see if it is acceptable.
You can also find your office close to your law library. However, only Reporters may be leather bound in the library.
Step 5. Research practice management systems
There are a number of "all-in-one" systems that handle billing, timekeeping and conflict checks. Contact your state bar association, who may recommend packages. You may also qualify for a discount if you belong to the bar association.