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The Ups and Downs of Starting Your Own Practice

Like many of your classmates, you joined an existing firm right after law school. It was a smart move, it helped you learn about the actual practice of law instead of just the theories behind it. You were able to make connections and even build a base of clients to call your own. Now, though, you’ve decided to really take charge of your career and go your own way. You’re ready to break out on your own, but you’re not sure how and, more importantly, how to ensure your success. Here are some tips to help you out:

Set Yourself Up for Tax Success

Unless you specialized in tax law, figuring out how to do your business taxes--especially if you are hiring employees during your startup phase--is likely overwhelming. According to the ADP Compliance Insights, 40% of small business owners (that’s you!) choose to outsource their tax and accounting duties. To be sure, unless you’re already familiar with tax law, it’s better to have a professional handle your business taxes in the beginning. You can always move the operation in-house later, after your new firm has found its feet.

Your Clients

As you’ve seen on television and likely within the firm you joined, attorneys (and the firms that house them) are notoriously territorial over their clients. Before you tell your clients that you’re setting out on your own or try to convince them to come with you, read back over your contract. Make sure that you didn’t agree to transfer all client relationships to the firm upon your departure. The last thing you need when you first start out is to be subjected to a lawsuit!

Choose Your Space Wisely

Yes, you can start your new practice in a corner of your living room. Just because you can doesn’t mean you should. Unless you can provide a home space like Alicia Florrick’s, it’s better to rent or lease a professional space. You don’t have to rent a large space. Even a small private office in a co-working building is often sufficient for startup firms, especially if you are the only employee. What matters is that the space looks professional and that it is private. You don’t want anybody overhearing your meetings with your clients!

HR Compliance

If you’re working alone or only with a partner or two, you probably don’t have to give HR a lot of thought. When you start to bring in actual employees, however, HR becomes a big deal. There is more to hiring, firing, and maintaining a safe and happy workspace than simply reading resumes and taking the office out for happy hour on Fridays. You need a professional to ensure that contracts are worded properly, that your workspace meets OSHA and other regulations, etc. It is also important to have this person on hand for when an employee has a problem and, for whatever reason, doesn’t feel comfortable addressing it with you directly.

Budgeting

It’s tempting to scrimp and save on every single expense when you are first starting out. And, to be sure, there is that romantic feeling about bootstrapping your startup. At the same time, your clients are going to expect a certain level of professionalism. We’ve already talked about your workspace. You’ll also want to budget for good equipment and security systems. You can thrift shop for desks and filing cabinets and decor, but don’t scrimp when it comes to keeping your clients comfortable and their information safe. Leave your dad’s Windows 95 desktop at home and spring for the tablet.

Marketing

Like we mentioned earlier, how you initially market your practice may be governed by the contract you signed with your employer when you were hired. There might be details that prevent you from openly shopping for clients for a certain time frame or in certain ways. Consult your contract before you decide how you want to market your new practice. Once you know what you are legally allowed to do, you can start promoting your firm, taking on new clients, etc.

There are many details to manage when you transition from employee to employer. We’ve talked about some of them here. Have you recently made the leap to freelance or self-employed status? What is the one thing you wish you had learned along the way?

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