5 Issues to Consider Before Starting Your Own Law Practice

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5 Issues to Consider Before Starting Your Own Law Practice

You survived law school and passed the bar. You’ve been working at a law firm for some time now, and have recently been feeling vaguely unsatisfied with the job. Or maybe you were laid off and are trying to figure out the next step in your career.

Whatever the reason, you’re considering hanging out your shingle and starting your own firm. But before you pack your briefcase and bolt from your cushy office, there are several important questions to consider.

First, you need to establish whether or not you would be comfortable establishing your own firm. Consider the following:

#1   Are you comfortable taking on multiple roles?

To run your own law firm, you must be more than just a good lawyer. You will have to take on administrative and money-management duties (and personnel management if you decide to expand your practice), in addition to your normal responsibilities. In short, you need to be a business man/woman, as well as a lawyer. If you don’t already have strong business skills, be sure you are willing to learn them.

#2   Which do you value more—security or autonomy?

Opening your own firm involves taking risks. Be prepared to live with uncertainties such as not having a steady paycheck and your company’s expenses exceeding your projections. If these are not situations you think you can live with, then starting your own firm is probably not the best course of action.

However, if you’ve come this far and feel that you have the right personality for starting your own firm, now it’s time to consider your personality and preferences in order to determine what kind of firm to start.

 #3   Are you a lone wolf or a team player?

Knowing what kind of work environment in which you work best will help you decide whether to be a sole practitioner or to bring others into the practice. If you thrive off of the energy of others and prefer a team approach, enlist others to join you. If you prefer to work on your own, a solo practice may be the way to go. Tailor the company to your strengths, and it will be more likely to succeed.

Personality traits aren’t the only thing to consider in the matter of starting your own firm. You also have to think about the following more practical considerations:

#4   Do you have the money?

If you do not have money saved, be ready to borrow. This may be with a line of credit or with a credit card. In addition, you will want to keep overhead costs as low as possible—it may be tempting to rent a nice office with a view and hire a lot of staff right off the bat, but if you can work out of your home or find another low-cost option and function with no or only a few staff members initially, you will reduce your overhead significantly. Most businesses fail because they don’t have enough money to get through the first year, so be realistic about what you can afford.

#5   Do you have the experience?

One thing that will help your business succeed is having experience in a specific field. You don’t necessarily need to be an expert, but things will likely go more smoothly if you have a level of experience and expertise that allows you to feel comfortable fielding any question a prospective client might have. If you are fresh out of law school or still very new to the area of law in which you want to practice, you may want to consider waiting a year or two (or more) before starting your own firm.

If you decide that opening your own practice IS the right move, having the right technology will help ensure success. JurisDOC can help your practice run more smoothly with our legal document assembly software that makes it easier and faster for law firms to generate pleadings and other legal documents. Priced at only $50/month per user, JurisDOC delivers a quick return on investment and frees you to focus on clients, not paperwork.

We’re so sure that you’ll find JurisDOC useful that we offer a free trial. You’ll be amazed at how quickly you can start saving time and money.


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A Good Lawyer Is Not Enough

For many lawyers looking to run their own firms, taking the idea of a solo or partner practice and putting it into — well, practice — requires one part entrepreneurship, one part business acumen, and two parts patience to handle a transitional period that could take years.

Bringing in the clients — and the money that comes with the clients — rests on the shoulders of you and your associate lawyers, but once the work becomes regular enough to warrant extra help, you’ll find yourself ready to take on non-lawyer personnel. Whether you view and treat your staff as overhead or as valuable assets will determine how critical they become to the growth of your firm.

Know the Right Position
Traditionally, law offices have been supported by legal secretaries and paralegals — each having a unique and separate list of responsibilities. Legal secretaries performed administrative and office duties, while paralegals, or legal assistants, conducted research and provided support to lawyers on client cases.

But, times, they are a changin’. Like every other industry, the business of doing law has evolved with technological advances in workflow and communication.

We lawyers no longer rely on secretaries to transcribe and mail letters for us. We write our own emails and hit the send button. Paralegals search for information in databases rather than in law books or cardboard boxes of files. Legal assistants use automated legal software to populate paperwork instead of cutting and pasting from previous documents.

In fact, many times the functions of these positions can blur job roles or spawn new ones, like that of a legal technology specialist or an e-discovery professional — someone with a background in IT and law, who uses technology to assist in legal proceedings.

For lawyers who may not be as versed in technology, hiring a tech-savvy staff member provides a crucial element of support for the firm. To attract someone who is looking for a career in the field, make sure you get a good understanding of the value such a team player brings to the table and offer a competitive salary and benefits package.

Nurture the Right Personality
While hiring from a pool of prospects with high-level skills may guarantee an employee who is competent and understands how technology supports a modern office, you can’t ignore the basics of matching the right personality with the job description and day-to-day tasks.

If you’re looking to fill a client-facing position, you need someone who enjoys working directly with people. Conversely, a researcher should feel content sitting alone sifting through online databases for hours at a time. Fulfilling careers are ones that align with people’s attributes, and if you understand that as a manager, you’ll foster a team of dedicated and fulfilled employees.

Incentivize Right for Success
Even if you don’t consider work as fun, you want to at least be content in an office where you spend a large percentage of your time. Make sure you are aware of the importance of how your employees’ environment and office structure affects morale and productivity. Are managers encouraging and empowering? Is the work-life balance tipping too much to either side? Are you giving quality of work precedence over hours logged? Take regular stock of how you are motivating your staff to put forth their best.

Remember, too, that the needs of your office will change as it grows. Are your staff members evolving, as well? Talented personnel may desire an increasing level of challenge over time. Being open to developing roles and responsibilities within your office structure can prevent personnel turnover.

Nurturing your non-lawyer staff can result in increased productivity and efficiency in your office, which is well worth the initial investment you may make in people and technology. At JurisDOC, we believe in making those investments. At JurisDOC, we believe in making those investments. Click here to download a free trial of our legal document assembly software and see how quickly you can save money — and time.


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4 Fundamentals for Managing a Law Office

Fellow lawyers, whether you are green around the ears or counting the days until retirement, the amount of time you spend in your law firm office probably rivals the hours you spend outside of it. How smoothly that office is maintained and how effectively the management is handled makes a huge difference in how content you are spending all of that time there.

A law office, whether large or small, is only as successful as the team running it. Without clear policies and procedures in place, a lack of cohesion creates a shortfall of focus. If you’ re in charge of managing that office, it could mean the difference between efficiency and chaos. Consider these fundamentals:

#1 Do One Thing at a Time
Multi-tasking is only an effective practice if you’re able to focus equally on each task you’re tackling. And, since it’s a good idea to give 100% of your focus to whatever endeavor you’re undertaking — especially client work — the benefits of multi-tasking quickly dim.

I know we live in a business world that’s short on minutes, patience, and tolerance, but promoting an office atmosphere that focuses on doing one job right the first time may save money and hours in the long run. Encourage partners and employees to turn off device notifications when concentrating on client work. Suggest follow-up phone calls for clarification rather than an endless stream of misunderstood texts or chats.

#2 Respect and Be Respected
Get a whole bunch of lawyers — or actually a whole bunch of anybodies — working together in an office and there are bound to be conflicting personalities.

The key to maintaining harmony in the office is ensuring everyone understands how to play nice. Create and keep a respectful workplace by having established rules of conduct. No aggressive behaviors, no bullying, and no personal attacks. It may sound obvious, but some folks with larger personalities may need to be reminded about the basics of appropriate decorum in an office setting.

When possible and practical, gather your staff to socialize and get to know each other. Practicing the law can be a full-court press of client interaction, research, deadlines, and court appearances. Taking time to celebrate, to commiserate, to motivate each other builds relationships and strengthens the whole team.

#3 Invest Today and Save Tomorrow
Investing in an office means spending time and money on technology and people. Central workplace servers and automated legal document software streamlines workflow and saves hours.

Take the time to train employees on standard policies and procedures. Educate associates on the way the office is run, the internal billing structure, and other supporting technologies. Instruct office staff on integrated systems and software.

And whether it’s the administrative staff or associate attorneys — professional development supports individual career growth and increases each person’s value to the firm. Encourage your team to explore and exploit learning opportunities, and if you can, help them pay for classes or workshops.

#4 Write It Down
As lawyers, we know that anything worth doing is worth documenting. We tell our clients to document their actions, and it’s wise advice that we should follow, too.

Remove ambiguity and keep policies and procedures clear and concise by compiling them into an employee handbook to be reviewed and signed by staff and partners. Include any non-disclosure agreements (NDAs) and professional contracts together with documentation on confidentiality and client rights.

Promoting a client-focused office environment means creating a cohesive group of like-minded lawyers and employees. That’s exactly what we strive to do at JurisDOC. Visit our website to learn more about a free trial of our legal document assembly software and see how quickly you can start saving time — and money.


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5 Resolutions to Make 2016 a Knockout Year for Your Law Firm

2016 is right around the corner, and if you’re anything like me, you’re starting to think about your New Year’s resolutions. While you’re deliberating about how to better yourself, why not commit to making your firm better as well? The following resolutions will help your firm get off to a strong start in 2016, and I promise you’ll be able to stick to them past July.

#1 Trim the Fat
No, not belly fat, but rather the fat (i.e., wasteful practices) at your firm. Now is the time to cut out unnecessary operating costs and make sure your practice runs as efficiently as possible. Investigate to see if there are cheaper options for certain expenses, and consider whether other costs are really worth their price tag. Remember, even small savings can add up at the end of the year.

#2 Get Paid
If you’re not already doing it, now’s the time to start billing and collecting monthly. This is the legal industry’s best practice when it comes to billing: bill all of a month’s time at the end of that same month, then send a bill to the client on a monthly basis. Monthly billing will quickly result in a monthly collections cycle with your clients, which will improve your firm’s cash flow and reduce your reliance on lines of credit, especially in the first two quarters of the year.

#3 Help Others
Encourage the attorneys in your firm to perform pro bono work, and do so yourself as well. It’s a great way to develop useful experience and knowledge in other practice areas while helping people who couldn’t normally afford those services. It’s also a great way to make connections that could end up coming in handy down the road.

#4 Get a Makeover
The New Year is a great time to update your firm’s look. Your website is likely the first place prospective clients go to find out more about you—make sure it’s up to date (with correct information and working hyperlinks), engaging and professional. If you’re using social networks, like LinkedIn. to connect with potential clients and other professionals, take time to update those profiles as well. These sites create a first impression—make sure it’s a good one.

#5 Question Tradition
One of the major obstacles to effective change and growth for a law firm is the fact that they are stuck in the past, in a manner of speaking. We’ve all been there—we don’t want to change the way we’re doing things because “it’s the way it’s always been done.”

Traditions should be respected, but not at any cost. Take a look at the present value of your firm’s traditions. Keep the ones that are still effective (that is, they actually help the firm to be profitable and productive) in place, but replace the ones that have become ineffective. It’s time to embrace new approaches that can help the firm grow and maintain profitability.

Everyone can benefit from New Year’s resolutions—especially when we stick to them. By promising to do one or more of the above in 2016, you’ll be setting realistic goals for your firm and setting the practice on a path to a stronger future. Now that’s something to cheers to!

Jump start 2016 by automating your document assembly, timekeeping and invoicing with a free trial of JurisDOC software! Our document assembly software makes it easier and faster for law firms to generate pleadings and other legal documents.

Check us out at http://jurisdocpro.com or start your free trial here: https://www.jurisdocpro.com/download.


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