Solo/Small

How To Start a Law Firm Without a Plan or Budget: You Can Do This

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Welcome to Day 1!

Do you feel doubt? Are you scared? Is the thought of starting your own law firm keeping you up at night? I know it kept me up, but I’m here to tell you how I dug myself out of that hole.

What Brought You Here

Law practice got screwed up. Before October 2008, it seemed like the golden ticket. Salaries had exploded over decades and big firms preened like peacocks to charm new associates. They promised money, training, and snacks in the breakroom.

I went to law school in September of 2008. Obviously. The last goofball that didn’t see it coming. By that time, the only people handing out snacks were the companies that profited off of students — bar exam prep companies, law schools, and Sallie Mae.

When it hit us, students realized that we owned our futures. Honestly, some realized it sooner than others, but we eventually all had to face the same soul-crushing fact: The golden ticket wasn’t coming.

Even now, we’re producing more lawyers than the high-income employment market can bear. Maybe you’re starting a firm because a better opportunity didn’t come up, or maybe you have family commitments that require more control, or maybe you just can’t see yourself working for a boss.

Whatever brought you here, you’re more qualified than you think.

Your Community Needs You

Law school and the bar exam seem tailor made to create insecurity.

You went from being the smartest kid in the room all your life to being one of the smart kids among many. And then they put you on a curve, ranked you, and handed you a test.

It’s easy to feel like you’re not good enough to help anyone as an attorney, much less as a solo.

Here’s the truth: YOU are a genius. In the age of internet gurus selling video courses with little real knowledge or experience, you are a trained professional. I’m not saying you’re an expert — that takes years — but you are a trained professional.

Several thousand people in your area could benefit from your knowledge. If you find them, and if you offer what you know (and I’ll show you how to do both), you could change their lives. Seriously.

[Mental Exercise of the Day]:

(Each day in this next two weeks, I’ll give you something to churn over in your brain. Today’s task is hard.)

Spend some time with yourself today and figure out whether you want to be a lawyer, no matter the cost. This is no small thing. Maybe you’ve wrestled with the question before, and maybe you’ve ignored it while debt piled on. Time’s up. Make a call.

Once you make that decision, once you’ve “resolutely determined” as Honest Abe put it, you’re ready to act. Which means it’s time to put yourself out there.

[Big Little Step of the Day]:

(Every day I’ll also give you a task to handle. This is your “to do list,” and I can guarantee that doing will get you further than reading. So take these tasks seriously.)

In the internet age, putting yourself out there means getting a website. Websites can be a tangled mess that quickly derails you. They’re important, but not important enough to slow you down. So today we’ll handle a very manageable chunk: reserving a domain name.

Head to www.instantdomainsearch.com and start typing in variations of your name and some law-related term. Don’t overthink this. You’re coming up with a domain name, not writing Moby Dick.

My firm’s domain name was whelanlawfirm.com, which is a terrible name. It’s too long and my name is tough to spell. Who cares? I made lots of money my first year in practice and didn’t get disbarred. I promise your uncreative domain name won’t bury you either.

A few tips that might help:

  • Keep it short. A domain name is supposed to be memorable, and we have short memories. Don’t make it hard on us.
  • If your name is hard to spell, try initials. This can be tough with the amount of law firm domains out there, but who knows? Give it a shot.
  • Avoid practice area-specific names. It once was true that domain names with specific search terms were helpful (which is why we see domains like houstondivorcelawattorney.com), but that’s no longer true. Trust me when I tell you that your practice area will likely change over the course of your career. Don’t box yourself in with a domain name that doesn’t help you anyway.
  • Realize that few people come to your website through the front page. If you do your website right (which we’ll discuss later), potential customers will find you through a helpful content page after a search online. They won’t even see your domain name, much less type it in, so don’t worry.

That’s it. Get a domain name. You don’t have to buy hosting at this point and I wouldn’t recommend it anyway. (Hosting is basically the house where your website lives, and you’re a few steps from laying the foundation for that house. No need to lock yourself down right now.)

The domain name is cheap and a quick win. Just get one. And move on.

Up Next…

Go on to the next chapter: You Are Ill-Prepared

Or, go back to the Table of Contents

Mike Whelan, Jr. is Managing Editor at Casetext. He spends most of his day advocating for and training solo and small firm attorneys in topics as varied as writing, marketing, design, and collaboration. He was a solo attorney himself for several years after graduating from the University of Texas School of Law. He lives in the Kansas City area with his lovely wife and four rambunctious children.