Lawyers entering solo practice face some unique issues in addition to the usual small business challenges. If you’re considering starting, or have recently started, a solo or small-firm practice, make sure you’re prepared to handle these five key challenges:
Marketing and advertising
Lawyers, unlike other professions, often face strict rules regarding marketing and advertising. For example, in many jurisdictions, legal advertisements must contain disclaimers, and rules often prohibit certain types of content.
Regulations may even extend to the method of transmission. For example, in Colorado, unsolicited print ads can only be mailed to potential clients through regular U.S. mail. If you’re planning to advertise your firm through television, radio, or print ads, make sure you’re familiar with your jurisdiction’s marketing and advertising rules, and carefully vet any ads you develop before they air or run.
Many jurisdictions also have strict rules about whether and to what extent lawyers can give or receive payment for referrals. For example, in Colorado, referral agreements cannot be exclusive, and payments cannot exceed reasonable fees for communication. If you plan to develop referral relationships with other attorneys and/or with non-profit attorney referral services, be sure that any agreements you reach and any payments you make fully comply with your jurisdiction’s referral rules.
While every business needs insurance, attorneys also need to carry malpractice insurance. Malpractice insurance policies can vary widely in the types of coverage offered, so make sure that your policy offers the correct type of coverage for your firm. It’s tempting to choose a malpractice insurance plan based predominantly on cost. After all, no attorney ever plans to commit malpractice and, in the short-term, even the smallest cost savings can improve your new firm’s financial circumstances, but having the wrong insurance in place puts at risk the long-term success of your business and possibly even your law license.
While every business owner needs to carefully monitor and manage his or her bank accounts, it is especially important for attorneys because the Bar will discipline or potentially disbar an attorney who mismanages a client’s funds, even inadvertently. For example, in Colorado, in the first quarter of 2015 alone, the Bar disciplined seven attorneys who failed to properly manage client funds. Don’t become a statistic; keep a careful eye on your business accounts at all times.
Maintaining your law license
For many attorneys who work in mid-size or large law firms, firm staff members monitor licensing requirements. So-called Big Law firms, in particular, often have staff whose primary responsibility is to help attorneys keep track of things like registration deadlines, continuing legal education, pro bono work and any other requirements to maintain your license to practice law. Once you start an independent law practice or form a small firm, that responsibility will fall to you. Make sure you are familiar with your jurisdiction’s requirements for admission and keep up with all requirements.
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