What motivates attorneys to hang their own shingle? Well, I can’t speak for all attorneys, but recently during a practice management consultation with one attorney, they shared that a major factor for them was the desire for autonomy in the types of cases they handled.
Their current firm catered to high-conflict probate matters. The practitioner found this work stressful and was exhausted by the neediness of the firm’s clientele. They worked long hours and struggled to participate in important moments with their family. The pandemic exacerbated these issues. Working from home while tending to their children’s online school obligations made billing at their pre-pandemic level impossible. Paired with their firm’s inefficient practices and frustrating technology, this member felt that working for their firm—or really any firm—no longer appealed to them.
Small business ownership provides autonomy and flexibility that some attorneys cannot find in a traditional law firm setting. Entrepreneurship provides practitioners with the opportunity to make their own decisions and utilize best business practices and innovative technology and methods to deliver legal services in a more efficient manner. Furthermore, being your own boss provides an opportunity to utilize a range of techniques and be creative in how you provide quality legal services and bridge the access to justice gap.
How do you know if going independent and starting a law firm business is the right choice for you? In this article, I’ll give you some of the tools you need to determine whether it’s time to ditch a traditional office role and strike out on your own.
How Do I Know if Business Ownership is Right for Me?
As you ponder whether to start your own law firm business, you should check out the WSBA’s Law Firm Guide on Hanging Your Own Shingle, a guide designed to identify the various aspects of law office ownership; specifically, take a look at the “Questionnaire for a Prospective Business Owner.” This worksheet is designed to help legal practitioners consider starting a practice, and covers:
- Financial security—value of assets and debts; liquidity; access to lines of credit.
- Revenue—revenue needed to sustain your practice (links to spreadsheet to calculate the revenue); alternative sources of revenue.
- Living expenses and lifestyle—identify basic income stream needed to cover your living expenses.
- Income tolerance—identify how long you can pay your living expenses without any revenue.
- Business Planning
- Areas of practice you plan to focus on—analyze potential practice areas and how familiar you are with them.
- Additional skills and education needed—identify steps you can take for additional education or mentorship.
- Market research.
- Experience or skills to establish yourself with prospective clients.
- Referral sources.
- Organizations you can join to connect.
- Additional networks for finding mentors.
- Motivation to be a business owner.
- Job search impact on decision to seek business ownership.
- Do you work best in groups or on your own?
- Are you comfortable spending your day with little in-person interaction?
How Do I Get Started with Law Firm Ownership?
Once you have evaluated your situation and determined that you want to start your own firm, you should begin planning the first steps to open your new business. Here are a few initial steps to consider, which are also covered in our practice management guide:
- The logistics of opening a practice—create a business plan, consider your options for fee models, determine your business structure, understand WSBA licensing obligations, office logistics, equipment and software needs, and law firm budgeting.
- Operating a firm—how you can avoid conflicts of interest; using written engagement agreements, termination, and declination letters; timekeeping, billing, and invoicing; tracking deadlines and deliverables.
Other WSBA Member Support
- Free Lending Library: Borrow from a selection of 400 books. You can register online and start placing holds today. Titles will be shipped to you automatically.
- Free Ethics Help: You can speak to WSBA staff regarding questions of your future ethical obligations and your professional responsibility. The phone number is 206-727-8284.
- Discounts on Software and Services: Through the Practice Management Discount Network, WSBA members receive discounts on a menu of software and services to help you improve your practice and client service delivery.
For other WSBA resources and member benefits, visit www.wsba.org/MemberSupport.
Additional Business-Ownership Resources
- Business.WA.gov | Small Business Guidance
- U.S. Small Business Administration | Small Business Guide
- U.S. Small Business Administration | Choose a Business Structure
- ORIA.WA.gov | Small Business Guide
- Washington State Department of Revenue | Business Licensing
- Washington Secretary of State | Washington State Business Structures Wizard