Everyone knows there are a record-number of lawyers out there looking for jobs. In a magical place called la-la-land, law schools crank out thousands of lawyers each year who will all land jobs in mahogany-paneled offices making $160,000 a year. What really happens is the top 5 percent of law grads get jobs in cubicle farms billing 2,200 hours a year working for equally overworked and unhappy partners who take two-thirds of every dollar they bring in.
What no one tells you is that there are also a record number of people looking for legal help. And there are a lot of new ways to charge them for so-called "limited scope" or a-la-carte legal services that make legal fees more affordable for the masses. Believe it or not, "creative disruption" is coming to the legal world and—shhhhh, don't tell the big firms—it's going to be led by small-firm lawyers who decide to go out on their own and help people one at a time.
Just for fun, I jotted a few things down that I think will get you started on your way to making a killing with your own law firm. It just takes a few days to set up and you’ll be in business.
1. Get a name. Go to the Texas Secretary of State’s website and fill out the Certificate of Formation for a professional corporation. I’m a PC, but other firms I know are PLLC’s. Don’t matter. Just pick a name like "Yourlastname Law PC" (or PLLC) and go with it. Fill out the paper, walk it on down to the Sec. of State’s office on 11th, pay them $300, and they’ll do the rest (you can also do all this online, instantly, through the Secretary of State’s draconian SOSDirect website, but you have to register for an account (not hard) and navigate through several circa-1998 web pages). Then, go to the IRS’s website and get an Employer Identification Number. This is like your business’s Social Security number and will be necessary for the next few steps.
2. Get a bank account. Free. Go to any bank (I use Chase) and tell them you need to open a law firm checking account. You need one operating account for firm expenses and one IOLTA account for client funds. They will know exactly what to do. This should take 30 minutes. While you’re at it, apply for a business credit card too so you can better manage and track expenses (and build airline miles—I use the totally amazing Chase Southwest Airlines Visa card).
3. Get Quickbooks Online. This is a must. I use the “Plus” version, which allows for the most flexibility for a law firm with multiple client accounts. $24/mo. This is the single, best accounting software on the planet. It is universally used and understood by almost all bookkeepers and accountants and, since it is now web based, can be viewed and edited anytime, anywhere, in real-time, by anyone you want. Oh, and with a few short clicks, you’ll be set up to send invoices and take client credit card and bank payments over the phone and online. It’s real slick. Then, with your new bank accounts and Quickbooks subscription in hand, click on the “Order Checks” button in Quickbooks and order yourself 250 checks for each account—Operating and IOLTA. Yes, Quickbooks checks are a little more expensive then the internet check printing mills, but they are immensely better quality and pre-formatted to work with Quickbooks. Just do it. It’s worth it.
4. Get a room. You don’t need a fancy office to do legal work. Your kitchen table or living room couch will work just fine for now. But if you regularly meet with clients, you’ll need a place to do it that won’t creep them out. Starbucks works OK for this, but it’s probably better to have a dedicated conference room in an established-looking office. Clients are shopping around for lawyers and, like it or not, appearance matters. A nice office will sell your firm better than you can. There are a bajillion office sharing spaces that sell subscriptions that allow you to use their facilities, mailing address, and conference rooms for a small, monthly fee. Regis and Intelligent Office are the biggest ones. WeWork is another—more hipster oriented—space. Oh, and you don’t need a fancy law library or Westlaw account either (who pays for that???). Just use the incredibly powerful and FREE legal research software that comes with your bar membership FastCase and CaseMaker (both available on the SBOT website after you log in) or use Ravel, a pretty cool (but a little wet-behind-the-ears) case law research tool that is about to eat Westlaw for lunch.
5. Get some clients. OK, here’s where we get down to brass-tacks. You need clients or you will slowly starve to death. First things first: Get a website. This is a cake walk. Go to squarespace.com and sign up. It’s going to cost you a little money ($12/month), but it’s nothing compared to the thousands a web designer would cost to do the same thing. Then register a domain name (yourlastnamelaw.com is a good start, but, for search engine ranking purposes, I like generalized addresses like austin-car-accident-lawyer.com) and pick a website template. Just follow the prompts and Squarespace will do the rest. It doesn’t have to be a fancy or huge site. Remember, in marketing—especially in today’s attention span-deprived world, less is more. Be succinct, brief, and tell your customers what you do and why you do it. Throw up some background photos of the city you live in (people love to see their city), list your new “office” address, and your cell phone number, and hit the “Publish” button. Boom. Done. Next, list your business on Google. Go to Google My Business and register. This is what will get you listed on Google Maps and business listings and will make the Google Gods aware of your existence. I like to do everything Google asks—upload photos, fill out every blank, wave incense over my computer keyboard—whatever they want to make sure they rank you higher than your competitors. Finally, get the word out. Tell everyone you know—friends, family, people at the grocery store, that you’re in business. You will be amazed at the people who come out of the woodwork needing your services. Don’t worry. If you build it, they will come.
OK, there are probably a few more things in each area to expand on, but this is the basic list. In no time, you’ll be earning more money than you ever got paid by your former big law firm slave masters and spending less time billing hours at the office.
Now get to work.