A solo attorney is an attorney who practices his law firm alone. There are no partners or associates involved. Solo attorneys handle a variety of legal matters, from family law, personal injury, contract law, personal injury, and criminal defense. Not just that, but they also have to handle the management and financial tasks of their business.
From client acquisition to legal research, case management, and other administrative tasks, they have to do themselves. Similarly, all the business tasks like billing and accounts, are handled by them. To avoid workload and confusion, many solo attorneys pick one particular area of law. You must be wondering why choose to go solo if all the workload is to be handled by the attorney. Freedom is one of the main reasons why lawyers start their solo practice. Freedom to choose cases, freedom to say no to a case, and freedom to choose how many hours you want to work. If given this choice many lawyers will love to leave their firms and start solo. But it is not as easy as that; there are many things you need to learn to acquire clients, manage your cases, and run a successful business.
This post will help you understand what things you need to do to set up a successful solo attorney practice.
Steps to set up solo attorney practice:
Choose an area of expertise:
Instead of being a jack of all trades, choose an area of expertise. What interests you? Which area are you most experienced in? What are you good at? Pick an area of law based on that. Working in all kinds of legal matters will require spending time learning about different aspects of the practice. You will not just spend unbillable time learning but also risk making mistakes in areas you are not experienced in.
Choose your corporate identity:
Before opening your practice, decide on your business structure. Discuss with your tax preparer and decide whether you want to be a sole proprietor, APC, or S-Corp. Register your business, open a business account, get your business cards printed, and start practicing.
Be open about accepting work:
Don’t expect lots of clients at the start of your practice. It is wise to accept work from other law firms to keep the bill rolling. Take on some freelance work from other firms even if it is not a big case. Do research or paperwork; you will gain experience and form new alliances. Be professional and meticulous to gain a good reputation. If word spreads out that you are good at your work, you will get clients easily. It is like earning while self-marketing your skills.
Set up an online presence:
As a freelance lawyer, you need to promote yourself to get clients. A very effective way is to get an online presence. When people search for attorneys, your name should be among the answers. Even if you don’t have a complete website developed, at least put up a welcome page with your name, qualifications, and contact information. Get a personal domain to make your practice look legit.
Get business cards printed:
The next thing after the website is to get your business cards printed. When you meet prospective clients or peers from the industry, they come in handy. Put your business address and contact information on your business cards. Don’t put your phone numbers or address even if you work from home. Get a virtual business address if you are working from home.
You need business phone numbers:
You would need a dedicated business phone number or toll number for your practice. A fax number is also important for sharing documents and information. But getting these numbers is expensive, especially at the start of your practice. The perfect solution is to get a virtual office service or virtual phone number and get your calls forwarded to your number. That way you can look professional and protect your privacy as well. You can get an eFax account instead of a dedicated fax account and get your documents in various digital formats.
It is best to have a mentor:
When you start as a new solo attorney, you will be confused about a lot of things. It will help you a lot to have someone experienced to consult about things. Many seasoned attorneys like to help out newcomers in the industry.
Get errors and omissions insurance:
As a new attorney, you should buy insurance. It is not a must but you will find its benefits once you start practicing and make a mistake. If you don’t want to get it, there is no compulsion but you should inform your clients if you don’t have it.
Join the law library in your area:
Many cities offer free access to law libraries. You can get practice guides and digital access to every kind of form needed in law practice. They also lend self-study CDs and offer free online programs. If you become a regular, you will get many benefits. If the library is not free, it will be affordable. Get your membership as soon as you can.
Understand and calculate your taxes and overheads:
Now that you have started your business, you have to pay taxes as a contractor instead of as an employee. Talk to your tax consultant and set aside a calculated percentage for each check to pay your overhead costs and taxes.