Pennsylvania lawyer Todd Mosser shares the tips that have helped him to build a successful law practice.
I made the transition from government service to my own practice back in 2013. Now, six years later, my law firm is not only surviving but thriving. I’d like to share with you three tips that I wish someone expressly told me when I first started out on my own. Frankly, I had to learn most of this information the hard way.
I assume you already have a great idea, have started on your business plan, and have funds in place to get started. Now, whatever the nature of the business you are starting, you can apply these tips – just substitute what you are doing, selling, or making every time I mention lawyer or law firm.
First, You Must Think of Yourself as a Business Person Running a Law Firm, Not a Lawyer Running a Business.
I mention this first because it is the most common misconception lawyers have when starting their own practice. Of course, an attorney must be competent to practice in his or her chosen areas of law, however, that competence does not ensure the competent management of the firm. This goes for any small business start-up – a person selling widgets is not just a widget seller, but the manager of the business selling widgets.
Type of business structure
You will have to educate yourself as to the advantages and disadvantages of each type of business structure. How you structure your business will depend upon many factors and the laws of your state. Click here to review and compare common business structures such as sole proprietorship, LLC, partnership, and corporation.
Keeping overhead as low as possible is essential when starting any small business.
One large cost upfront is the rent or mortgage on the space that houses your business. In many states law firms must have a brick-and-mortar office, a place where the attorney could be found and served and where business records were kept.
In most states, this is no longer required. Virtual offices are now available, complete with part-time office and conference spaces you can use as needed, receptionist services, and mail services. These days a solo attorney can easily create the appearance of a full-time professional office at a fraction of the cost.
Why keep costs down? Frankly, the law is a very competitive business. Keeping costs down gives you as a solo the opportunity to pass savings along to clients – something big firms with lots of overhead can’t do.
Any service-based business can operate virtually. Some sales businesses might be able to as well. But businesses that produce a thing will need a space in which to do that. You should only lease or purchase enough space for your operations – wasted space is wasted money. If you have space in excess of operating needs, consider leasing it as storage or to another company.
Bookkeeping and Payroll
Rather than pay an individual to do this for you, consider a remote, online payroll service. Google it – you’ll see you have many choices. No matter how big or small your business, outsourcing this will likely be much less expensive than hiring an employee.
Second, You Must Specialize.
Here’s where your “great idea” comes in. Whatever your business is going to make, sell, or do, you have done the research showing demand for that very thing – demand that you intend to meet.
I left the District Attorney’s office to open a solo appellate practice. I admit that as a new solo lawyer, I was sorely tempted to take every kind of case that came my way – and I had friends and family offering all types of cases to me. I now know that I should have politely declined all of these. Luckily I established a reputation and retained connections from my time handling appeals as an Assistant District Attorney and attorney referrals got me off the ground.
I engage in continuing legal education regularly, not only because it is required in Pennsylvania, but because I am keen to keep myself up-to-date on the latest in appellate law and other areas. These courses are also excellent opportunities for networking.
Third, You Must Make Obtaining Peer and Client Referrals a Priority.
You could be the best attorney on the planet, but if no one knows about you, your solo law firm will fail. And once you start getting clients, you need to provide them with high-quality representation, and then capitalize on their satisfaction with you and turn that into new business.
Any business must have a good law firm website development company create a website. This site will be optimized for both content and form so that potential clients will find you AND they will be launched on their “buyer’s journey” toward you. It should be optimized for mobile, the pages should load quickly, and the various methods to contact you or purchase your product should be easy to find.
Your website must drive clients or customers to you – a website is not just an online business card anymore. I can’t think of one successful solo attorney that does not have a good website.
Reviews and Referrals
People read online reviews. You should have in place a method by which clients are able to complete a survey regarding your representation. If that survey indicates that the client is satisfied with you, there should be a way for that client to then complete an online (positive) review.
There is software that automates all of this for you. It will also create an email list that you can use once or twice a month to keep former clients abreast of, for example, a particularly good win or some development in your area of practice. This will keep you fresh in the minds of former clients, and if friends or family need your services, it could result in a referral.
Build Your Professional Network
We started talking about this with regard to attending continuing legal education, which gets me out in front of my local colleagues and shows that I am concerned with keeping current with legal developments. This is the reputation every attorney should want to create for themselves.
Membership in professional organizations and attendance at those organizations’ workshops and conferences is also important. I belong and am active in the Pennsylvania Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers and the Pennsylvania Bar Association, where I serve on the Appellate Advocacy Committee. As a result of my reputation and activity, I have been quoted in the Legal Intelligencer and have also served as a legal commentator on television. Again, all of this helps to create a reputation among peers and encourages referrals.
No matter what your business, there will be one or more professional organizations you can join. I also recommend joining your local rotary club or other organization where you can meet other local businesspeople. You never know where referrals will come from!
I hope these tips help you start your business. Good luck!
About the Author
Todd Mosser, Esq. is a Pennsylvania appeals attorney admitted to the bar in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, the U.S. Courts of Appeal for the Third, Sixth, and Ninth Circuits, and the Supreme Court of the United States. Mr. Mosser attended Shippensburg University and the University of Pittsburgh School of Law, graduating with honors.
Mr. Mosser worked for eight years as an Assistant District Attorney in the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office Appeals Unit prior to opening Moser Legal in July 2013. Since then his firm has litigated over 900 civil and criminal appeals. Mr. Mosser is a leading legal authority in his field, having been quoted in The Legal Intelligencer and having served as a television legal commentator.