How do I start a law firm without cash?
I am looking to start a solo legal practice in civil and commercial litigation as well as class actions. However, because I am low on cash, I need strategies to obtain contracts and grow my business step by step while limiting my needs for financing. I am looking for general advice or to learn about services or concepts that already exist and work well.
I assume you're starting up somewhere in the USA. If not, some of this may need to be tweaked.
1) If this sounds like I'm stereotyping, it's because I am...Lawyers often get confused about priorities in budgeting. DO NOT blow your cash on stuff people don't care about (i.e. $2/sheet stationary is a huge waste of money).
Other areas you need to trim on:
- skip an external office unless you can barter for it or get it for free somehow
- don't hire an assistant until you are making enough in one month to cover three to six months of their salary (to hedge against unforeseen lull in business)
- don't do EVERYTHING yourself manually. Leverage cheap third-party services to help you save your time and focus on building your business. i.e. Fiverr is a good place to get some scutt work done really cheaply as long as you know what you're getting for $5. It'll take some trial/error to get a sense of what is and isn't worth outsourcing.
- don't blow a lot of money on a website or SEO work. you won't see an ROI fast enough for it to make sense.
2) Don't be prejudice about the work you take. As long as it's not LOSING you money, take all the work you can, and deliver top-notch service. You need to get your name circulating, and you'll get that going by giving good service to people who are used to being treated poorly by larger firms. You won't want to deal with these people directly once you've got the $$ rolling in, but you can bring on juniors to keep that user-base happy
3) it's going to suck, but you've got to add more value than your competitors when you're starting.
4) you're going to need a fairly elaborate networking strategy. I can't outline it all here, but hit me up directly if you're interested in learning more.
5) get your elevator pitch down perfectly. it should follow the rules (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Elevator_pitch) and focus on why you're awesome (don't focus on leeching strategies in your elevator pitch).
6) depending on the vision you have for your practice, consider brining on partners or associates early.
Pitch: I'm a strategic advisor for a few start-ups (and one university). If you are looking for long-term experienced advice and strategic assistance, PM me and I'll be happy to dig in deep to help you out.
Julien, the good thing about providing services is that you don't need to invest a lot of money. It is all about relations so you have let everybody know what you are doing. I assume you already know how to incorporate your business and how to obtain the EIN at the IRS website...I recommend the following:
> Create a logo, if you don't have a friend to help out. Go to freelancer.com and post a logo job request to pay at least $20.
> Create your website: Sign in in goddady.com and buy host service "website builder" for about $3.50 / month and if you buy it first the domain is free.
> Create a Facebook page
> Create a LinkedIn page and update your profile
> Business cards. Design in MS word and Office Max or depot can print them for you in a nice professional paper.
> Attend to networking events and forums: Universities, City, SBA, Meet up, etc.
> Join LinkedIn groups and participate in discussions
> Ask for free business coaching at your local city government office
Keep all the receipts, they can be electronic copies. You will need them your tax deductions. Don't forget to file your taxes.
Once you start making money and having a lot of activity please feel free to contact me if you need CFO services, tax strategy, bookkeeping, planning, etc.
I hope this helps.
I am not an attorney, however I have seen a lot of law firms spend tons of money on street signs etc. They usually have a good not great website with minimal web presence.
I would look at a website, usually inexpensive, also a FB, LinkedIn, and Twitter account. Tie them all together start posting on line services. Add as many free sights that you can tie together to build web exposure. Takes a lot of work however it does work and it is free for the lost part. Best f success, Gil
If I were you I think I would start with taking some bankruptcy cases. Now that the economy starting to pick up a lot of people will want out from under the debt they amassed and you get your fees right up front on these types of cases.
It is always easiest to work out of your home but beg borrow or steal enough to get a decent office setup.
I have found that doing a weekly article of the local newspaper(s) is a good way to get new clients. Let them send in questions and you can give the answers. You most likely will not get paid by the newspaper but you will get a lot of free advertising. This would also be a good way to get started on the internet. Go to one of the blogging sites and set up a legal blog. Let people email you questions and use them for both the newspaper articles and the internet. If you choose WordPress as your software (there are a lot of places where you can get free hosting for it) you can even make that the start of your website. There are lots of free templates and addon's for free like a newsletter e-mailing list add on and a lot more. Godaddy.com is also a good choice, if you purchase a domain name from them, you get free basic web hosting. So for less than 20 bucks you have a web identy and with a little work on your part a website with all the bells and whistles. Seriously if you can read you can put up a website like this.
To further market yourself start a social networking program. Spend one hour a day looking for sites where you can answer legal questions, posting to your Facebook page and also sending out tweets. Make sure you have a least a presence on the most popular social networks.
This is all free or very close to being free.
You have gotten some good advice so far, concerning marketing that is essentially free. But, you need to hone your marketing messages so that you have a compelling story to tell potential clients as to why they should engage with you and not any of the dozens of other choices they must have.
Then, collect an up-front retainer that will sustain you through whatever period of time you need to pay your expenses before the next payment is made.
The only thoughts I have are that there are a lot of places that have a template based web site available that is inexpensive and easy to set up, probably in a couple of hours. You should get a web site since that is far more important than most anything else you can do. Then try cold calling some of the businesses, particularly the small to medium sized ones that may have a litigation situation they could use help with. Starting in they may have other kinds of business they can shift your way. Sometimes the personal approach pays off.
I would think it might be good to do more than class action and litigation since those strike me as areas that have a big payoff but may take years to get that payoff. You may find eating in the meantime something good for your health.
Why? Why are you looking to do this? Why are you low on cash? Are you a new attorney or lacking success? You can not afford the cost or time it takes to do class action suits. As for picking up contracts, you need a great story about why someone should use a start-up.
As a warning, do not discount your way into poverty and business attorneys are not the first to get paid. Make sure you collect retainers for your work.
One of the best recommendations I can think of for anyone looking to promote their business that is low on cash would be via social media. You can create a a lot of these pages for free. This avenue has the potential to reach thousands of people through your immediate list of contacts. Simply create your page, share it with your contacts and ask them to continue to share your link with their contacts. Pretty soon your page should be getting plenty of attention. Most of the social media websites have pages that are completely customizable so you could put your logo out there and start to get recognition.
Networking personally and virtually could help obtaining contacts/contracts.
Do you currently have a job? If so, you might consider starting your practice on the side. Obviously, you have to make sure you are legally permitted to do so under your relationship with your current employer, secure your own insurance and keep the businesses separate. This is a great way, if possible, to build your clientele and your personal brand.