3 keys to launching a successful solo practice
A marketing guide for solo attorneys
Originally published 2018
Starting out as a solo attorney can be daunting.
Whether you are coming from an established practice or fresh out of law school, there is inevitably an element of uncertainty about getting your new business up and running.
This guide highlights key tips from seasoned solo attorneys. It is our goal to help you succeed as you embark on your new solo venture.
1. Keep your costs low — set a budget and prioritize
One of the most common tips that we have heard from solo attorneys is to keep a low overhead when starting out.
When launching any business, cash flow is often an uncertainty — and law firms are no different. Getting up and running as a solo practitioner requires careful planning. Knowing how to maximize a limited budget is a key skill for success.
While there are many ways to prioritize your business expenses, the following approach has proven successful for many solo practitioners:
- Minimizing your contractual obligations
- Sharing office resources with other attorneys
- Choosing a niche area to spend your marketing dollars
Budget maximizer: Minimize your contracts
Until you get a good idea of what your business will look like, be sure to assess your needs and prioritize them. Is an online research tool essential to your success? Do you need office space to meet with clients? How much do you want to spend on marketing your firm? By prioritizing and budgeting for the essentials, you can ensure that your practice has the financial flexibility to succeed during those often-tenuous early days.
“I always knew I wanted to be my own boss, so I started my solo practice from the basement of my parents’ home. I have never practiced for anyone else or with anyone else. I did it all on my own.”
Solo Practitioner, Dayton, Ohio
Father’s Rights attorney, Aaron Hartley, was able to start out with a lean overhead. Aaron started his practice in his parents’ basement and as his business steadily grew, he was able to expand into new office space and even eventually hired office support staff.
Similarly, to keep her overhead low, Family Law attorney, Kelly Staples, maintains a home office. Not only does this strategy cut down on a recurring monthly bill, it also allows her increased flexibility. “My office is at home and a majority of my work is done at home,” Kelly says. “It makes it really easy to keep up with the kids.”
Solo attorney, Lorenzo Napolitano, recommends minimizing expenses by sharing office space with other solo attorneys, not only for potential cost-efficiencies and the ability to share resources, but for the opportunity to collaborate with others without the commitments of a traditional law firm.
Budget maximizer: Share office resources
One way to reap the benefits of having a formal office space and resources without breaking the bank can include sharing arrangements. Sharing office space and resources such as expensive printers, conference rooms, common spaces, and even office support staff can be a great way to capitalize on the formal law firm experience without shouldering the entire expense.
“By office sharing, you have an informal ‘law firm’ that allows you to ask questions and bounce ideas off of other attorneys.”
Solo Practitioner, Rochester, New York
Sharing space with other solo attorneys can marry the benefits of practicing in a firm with the benefits of a solo practice. “By office sharing, you have an informal ‘law firm’ that allows you to ask questions and bounce ideas off of other attorneys, but you still maintain your solo flexibility and other benefits,” Lorenzo Napolitano recommends. “I wouldn’t advise that a new solo attorney get an office alone. It can be very difficult to be so isolated, especially when starting out.”
Budget maximizer: Find your marketing niche
Reaching new clients when starting your solo practice can seem overwhelming, but it is an absolute necessity. In fact, one of the most common concerns of solo practitioners is the ability to generate a steady stream of quality clients. In addition to the tried and true methods of business development such as networking and referrals, many successful solo practitioners credit savvy online marketing with the success of their firms.
While the options for online advertising are seemingly endless, the best way to maximize your marketing budget is to target a very specific customer base.
Lorenzo Napolitano advises starting with a targeted advertising niche that you can track and refine. “Don’t do radio or TV,” he says. “Stick to one or two targeted pay-per-click ads or directories, and focus on your niche.” Lorenzo recommends building on this strategy as the business grows. “It’s a snowball effect,” he says. “The more revenue you produce, the more you can invest in your business.”
Rather than try to be everywhere and spreading your marketing budget too thin, start by choosing a specific practice area and focus your resources there. Not only will you get more bang for your buck, you will begin to assert your reputation as an expert among your audience.
2. Become involved in the community
Maintaining a strong connection to the legal community is worth the effort when you are just starting out. Many new solos cite seclusion as a top concern, and one way to combat it is to create strong times to your peers.
“Solo practice can feel isolating at times and it is important to stay connected to the legal community.”
Solo Practitioner, West St. Paul, Minnesota
Kelly Staples says that building a knowledge base is an important reason to stay connected. “Solo practice can feel isolating at times and it is important to stay connected to the legal community. It can be intimidating to ask questions and to acknowledge that you don’t know everything, but it is important to ask the questions. Nobody wants to see another attorney fail. There are other solo attorneys out there that are willing to help.”
In addition to be a fantastic resource for questions, legal community involvement can also foster mentor relationships and a referral network. In fact, referrals account for 48 percent of offline attorney recommendations.¹
Kelly highly recommends finding an online community to help connect with other attorneys. She has found success connecting on listservs and recommends checking with your local Bar Association to see if they have online communities, or signing up for the Thomson Reuters Legal Community, which is free if you’re a customer.
3. Educate yourself on law firm management
In addition to the challenges of client acquisition, solo practice presents other risks including time and business management.
Kelly Staples explains, “You need to know how to set up your trust account, manage your billing software, and make sure that you don’t miss deadlines.” She cautions, “If you’re going to take on a solo practice, you’re going to do these things on your own without the support that you would typically get in a firm. You really have to make sure that you are ready to take on these risks. Make sure that you know what you’re doing.”
Organization and effective time management are key to ensuring that you are efficiently operating your practice. By investing time in developing a Law firm management and client acquisition strategy, you’ll ensure that you are able to focus more time on valuable, billable hours and less time on administrative tasks.
Know your worth
Another common pitfall new solo attorneys can fall victim to is undercutting their rates in an effort to bring clients in the door.
Lorenzo Napolitano cautions that if you are a new solo attorney, or just trying to build up your client base, it is important to resist the temptation to offer rock bottom legal fees. “Don’t sell yourself short,” he says. “Don’t take a low legal fee just to get the work because this begins a series of underpaying clients. Don’t be afraid to say no to work that you don’t want to do.”
Keep these tips in mind when you launch your solo practice
Time and again, new solo attorneys report that the business of law is, unfortunately, not something they were taught in law school. As you launch your solo practice, keep in mind the best ways to maximize your practice without breaking the bank.
In addition to the fiscal management of your new venture, establishing involvement in your local legal community will pay dividends, not only as a way to stay connected, but through potential referral opportunities.
Finally, be sure to acquaint yourself with the necessities of running a small business. Finding a mentor to offer advice on some of the day-to-day tasks of running your firm is a good starting point to ensure that all aspects of the practice are being taken care of.
Take these keys to success into account as you launch your new business and you’ll find that you are already ahead of the pack and well on your way to a successful practice.
- 2018 FindLaw U.S. Consumer Legal Needs Survey
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