Checklist for Success:
A Basic Guide to Opening Your Own Law Firm
By Jeremy M. Evans, Attorney at Law
When law school begins, we are thinking about civil procedure, criminal law, legal writing, torts and how to survive law school. The bar exam seems like a nagging errand you need to run. Knowing what kind of law you want to practice, let alone the firm you are going to work for are all ideas for the distant future.
Eventually, graduation comes and goes, and all of sudden you are in a way, stuck in the lost and found section of your local library, committed to reading, writing, and analysis. When you climb out of the proverbial bunker and ready for the swearing in ceremony and entering of the legal world, questions of work, paying your bills, and making a living crowd out all other worries. It was at this stage that I found myself a month or so ago and the purpose of this writing here; to show how I found a job, by starting my own law practice.
Now, to be clear, starting my own law firm was at the back of mind before, during, and after law school. It was, for me, a question and answer soul-searching process: do I want a boss? No. Do I want the freedom to choose clients, when I work, and how I work? Yes to all. Do I want to sit at my desk and think why I am not getting paid for the work I do? No, I want to choose my destiny. It was from those basic questions and seeing how hard my father and mother worked in the furniture business and as a registered nurse delivering children for 20-30 years, with far less reward than deserved, which convinced me that going out solo, and hanging out my own shingle, was the best path for me. Ultimately, in starting your own law practice, you are the reason your law firm will sink or swim and that can be scary. However, I find that most folks fear success over failure.
With that being said, my hope here is to provide you with the tools I used, the things I learned in the process of launching my firm. Simply put, this is a checklist for success in opening you own law practice, today!
1. Read some books by lawyers who actually opened their own solo law practices.
“The Rainmaker’s Toolkit: Power Strategies for Finding, Keeping, and Growing Profitable Clients” by Harry Mills.
“Grinding it Out: How To Create A Six-Figure Law Practice” by Chris Shella.
“Make It Your Own Law Firm: The Ultimate Law Student’s Guide to Owning, Managing, and Marketing Your Own Successful Law Firm” by Spencer Marc Aronfeld.
2. Meet with the best lawyers in your city, state, county, etc. for Informational Interviews.
Start with the friends and colleagues you made during law school or even before law school. Branch out from there. This process will be made a lot easier if you know the area of law you want to practice and books above or others will help to narrow down the areas. For me it was the two areas of law I enjoyed the most and was almost the best at understanding and the lawyers whom I enjoyed being around.
Information Interviews are like job interviews except you are not asking for a job, you are your own boss, remember. You are interviewing the lawyer about their work, how they got started, tips/advice, etc. The knowledge you gain here will not be found in books and referrals will flow from this.
3. Transactional items:
a. File a DBA form (Doing Business As) if your law firm is a name different from yours. For example, for my law firm, CSLegal, I had to file a DBA ($42) with the County of San Diego and then run an ad in a local San Diego newspaper or publication once per week for four consecutive weeks to put the public on notice that you have opened or are opening your own law firm. (If I had chosen to name my firm “The Law Offices of Jeremy Evans,” I would not have had to do this). Later, you may wish to set-up an APC to protect your assets.
b. Pay your Business Tax License online with the City of San Diego ($51).
c. Obtain a Federal Tax ID number (“EIN”) for tax purposes.
d. Order business cards (come up with a logo, brand, etc.). This will help your marketing, advertising and “rain-making efforts.”
e. Obtain Malpractice Insurance (See Lawyers Mutual/$500.00 first year, paid in monthly installments as part of “Strong Start Program”).
f. Open a Client Trust and Business Bank Account (See Union Bank, Bank of America, or Wells Fargo, etc.).
g. Obtain a Domain Name, Create an Email Account(s) for the firm, and Build a website (See GoDaddy.com/$60 for hosting, building, managing for the entire year or check out WordPress.com for excellent professional theme options).
h. Obtain sample fee agreements and contracts from the lawyer friends and colleagues you have established a good relationship with (or go on the State Bar of California website).
i. Set up a business address or office space (See ‘Post Annex’ for actual address, not a P.O. Box; or if you have start-up money rent office space; See temporary rental units for conference rooms). Use your business address for all client communication, transactional items, and everything related to your law firm.
4. Marketing & Building Relationships & Getting Clients
This may be the most important section of this Checklist. Building relationships could be replaced with the word Networking, but I find that “networking” takes away the genuineness of building relationships with the community, your friends, and colleagues.
a. Build a Facebook Page for your Firm.
b. Join Free and Paid Bar Membership Associations beyond the State Bar of California: SDCBA, CDBA, Consumer Attorneys of San Diego, SDESL, NCBA, etc. This will be a network for referrals (via the list-serves or in person contact, advice,and friendships).
c. Tell your Friends, Colleagues, and Family that you are opening your own law practice. Remember to be classy and ethical about this.
d. Update your LinkedIn page and market yourself (If you do not have one already, get one). Make sure your social media accounts cross-reference your website and information so you will be easy to connect with and be the first thing on everyone’s minds when they need legal services.
e. Consider advertising: Google AdWords can help bring traffic to your site.
f. Meet with you law school legal clinic [or with a program like Law Business World to learn where to start].
5. Other Resources:
a. State Bar of California Ethics Hotline for simple and complex questions:
b. Helpful article by friend and colleague, Judi Sanzo, Solo Practitioner:
c. Another article:
d. Sign-up for free newsletters on tips and advice See David M. Ward on marketing; Rainmaker’s Toolkit, Trial Tips Newsletter, etc. These are helpful and free. (Believe me, graduating law school and passing the bar exam does not make you a great lawyer, there is a reason we call it the practice of law).
e. Checklist for Success and Informational Interviews will bring forth a host of other questions, ideas, and opportunities regarding opening your law practice. Do not get overwhelmed, take it all in, make adjustments, take notes, make the most of the opportunity to learn and grow yourself and your law firm. Realize that as you are growing your law firm and its potential, you are truly growing yourself, skill-set and marketability.
f. Consider associating on cases with your colleagues (i.e., better attorneys than yourself to save effort, time, and to add skill and possibly better outcomes to your cases). This will also help you set-up fee structures and how to bill clients for your work.
g. Collecting billings: Remember this antidote—the last time pizza was delivered to your door, did the pizza man give you your pizza for free? Meaning, did the pizza man say, here is a free pizza even though I provided a service (the pizza and delivery). The answer is no. Your legal services are worth more than pizza, and so are your ethics and the bar license you hold. Remember that. Pro Bono work is just as important as getting paid.
h. Note: the above is not an exhaustive list and should not be considered legal advice—it should however guide you in taking the leap of faith to start your own firm.
Jeremy M. Evans
Jeremy Evans, Attorney at Law
CSLlegal Criminal Defense & Sports Law