I’m often contacted by lawyers for advice about going solo. In the legal world, going solo is the equivalent of quitting your day job and launching your startup full-time. So I’m dedicating this blog post to provide some background about how I launched my startup law firm. I know many of you aren’t lawyers but hopefully some of the advice might be helpful.
I launched my startup 2 years ago. I refer to my law firm as a startup because I run it like one, except for the fact I can’t raise capital. The concept of bootstrapping and working in a startup wasn’t new to me–I had just left a startup company. (Long story for another day)
How did you choose your law firm’s location?
I selected my law firm’s location based on what I’ve dubbed the “Cheesecake Factory Principle.” Growing up in California, I noticed that the Cheesecake Factory always opened their restaurants in thriving business areas. Thus, I decided to open my law firm in Southlake, Texas, a suburb of Dallas and also home to a new Cheesecake Factory. I figured I would just borrow the Cheesecake Factory’s R&D on Southlake and move on to other decisions. The point is–don’t pay for or waste time on finding answers to questions that have already been answered for you by others.
What type of office do you have?
I started out in a mid-range executive suite and have since moved to one with a better location and conference room. I have intentionally avoided signing any type of long term lease (12+ months) because I feel flexibility is key in your first 2-3 years as solo. You might need 3 offices next year, or what you thought was a great location might not be that great 6 months later.
How do you market your law firm?
Before I started out, I was warned by an older attorney that I wouldn’t be able to go out on my own because I couldn’t afford the overhead expenses like yellow page advertising. Yellow pages? The last time I saw one of those books it was being torn in half by The Power Team in my high school’s auditorium. Forget about large marketing expenses and bootstrap your law firm’s marketing. If you are going to spend, do it on your business cards and website (and when I say “website” I mean blog used as a website)
How important is technology?
Use technology to your advantage. Afraid of technology? Then rethink going solo. Technology is that critical to a solo’s success. If you know how to do 2/3 of the phrases in Daft Punk’s “Technologic” you are tech savvy enough to go solo.
As lawyers, we are about 6 years behind the tech curve and that may be generous. For example, law firms are not currently interested in search engine optimization (SEO) and you can level the marketing playing field via blogs and practice area websites. For example, Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati, a fantastic law firm with a killer venture capital practice states on its website:
We have more experienced attorneys focused on representing start-up companies seeking venture capital financing than any other law firm
Well Google doesn’t think so. I googled “venture capital lawyers” and stopped looking for a Wilson Sonsini URL after the 10th page.
How did I select practice areas?
I’m a big believer in focusing in on one or two (if both are related) areas of law. If your practice areas look like a laundry list of legal areas, you run the risk of becoming a jack of all trades, master of none. While difficult, resist the urge to cast a wide net for potential clients. The more I have reduced my areas of practice, the better the practice has done in terms of both revenue and clientele.
What would I do different?
React quicker. I saw a t-shirt at the mall recently that said “Procrastinators Unite Tomorrow.” I felt like buying one just to tack to my wall. As a solo, you can change every part of your law firm quicker than any larger firm. Use this to your advantage.
2010 Update: I realize having a web presence is vital to launching a law practice. But don’t get suckered into (over)paying Lexis, Westlaw, or Findlaw for a bad template website and/or blog. Find a web developer/designer who actually understands web design and social media. I used Dave Onkels for this site and proudly recommend him.