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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Firing Law Firm Employees: Keep Your Humanity Intact

One of the most difficult tasks of running a law firm, or any business for that matter, is firing someone. There’s no easy way, and both sides — being let go or letting someone go — are very unpleasant.

As uncomfortable as the situation might be, sometimes firing is unavoidable. Whether you must fire an associate attorney who is just not working out or you let go of office staff because you don’t have the amount of work hoped for, you can follow these guidelines to make sure that everyone walks away from the table on the best terms possible.

Make Sure It’s Legit
All states, with the exclusion of Montana, allow employers to exercise an “at-will” employment policy, giving them the option of terminating for any reason at any time. Except for a few reasons that are illegal, which include:

Military duty
Violations of the Family Medical Leave Act
Jury duty
Discrimination
Whistle-blowing

As a lawyer, following the letter of the law in my business practices rates pretty high on my list of priorities. Make sure the situation in which you dismiss an employee is on the up and up. And, don’t forget to check your original employment contract to ensure you’re not violating any of your own binding language.

Firing Well Starts with Hiring Well
Getting fired should never come as a shock to the employee. When someone feels they’ve been fired out of nowhere without prior discussion or forewarning, they’re more likely to seek legal redress. And that’s something disgruntled associate attorneys may know quite a bit about.

The best way to avoid firing people is to be careful when hiring and working with them. When you make your expectations for employees clear and provide regular and constructive criticism through feedback, there should be no surprises if those expectations are not met. Commit to the practice of CYA (Cover Your Assets) and document disciplinary issues, performance reviews, and applicable client feedback.

Keep Calm and Carry On
During a closed-door termination discussion, volatile emotions may arise and be expressed (sometimes, loudly). If you’re not the type to enjoy confrontations – and really, who is – you may find yourself in an increasingly negative situation of accusatory back-and- forth. A terminated employee — especially a lawyer — may want to argue in their own defense.

Once you’ve made a formal decision to let an employee go, don’t belabor the point or debate it. Stay calm, follow your script, and end the discussion. Getting emotional and saying things you might regret later paves the way for legal retribution.

Don’t Make Them Fight for Their Rights
Getting fired is upsetting and sometimes humiliating. When an employer drags their feet on providing details about continuing health coverage and unemployment insurance, it’s like pouring salt in the wound (not to mention, it’s illegal).

Don’t stand in the way of former employees’; rights, and instead, let them get on with their lives as quickly as possible. Know your responsibilities as an employer and obligations when it comes to offering temporary health insurance and eligibility status for unemployment.

Running a successful law firm sometimes means reorganizing your staff to best serve your clients. At JurisDOC, we pride ourselves on hiring and keeping employees who provide an outstanding level of customer service to our lawyer customers. Visit our website to learn more and download a free trial of our legal document assembly software. An asset to any law office, JurisDOC can save you time — and that means saving money, too.


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