Published: 2008-03-26

How to Start a Law Firm: Startup Checklist

Thinking of opening a law office? The following is a simple, basic checklist to get your office up and running, but the checklist will actually vary depending on your individual needs, the type of law you will practice, staffing needs, and various other factors.

  • Name your Firm

    In some ways, this is one of the most important decisions to be made as your firm will be identified and remembered with the name you select. Traditionally, the names of the attorneys involved in starting a firm was a surefire way to go. However, some may feel that this naming convention will not sucessfully distinguish their firm and make it appealing to potential clients, and instead go with a name relating to their practice area.

  • Location, location, location!

    Although to some degree, the importance of location for a small business is arguably decreased in the law firm context, it is still a key consideration. Some lawyers, especially when they are starting out, may decide to work from home due to financing considerations. On the other hand, meeting with clients and running a practice at home is usually not a viable long-term option, so selecting an office location from the start may be worthwhile. Also, sharing space in an office may decrease the financial impact on the lawyer or firm just starting out.

  • Permits, licenses and identification numbers

    Your practice will almost surely need a federal Employer ID Number (EIN), and there may be additional state or local licensing requirements varying by locale.

  • Office Equipment

    1. Furniture:
    2. a. Desks
      b. Chairs
      c. Cabinets
      d. Book shelves
      e. Trash cans, recycling basket

    3. Electronics:

      a. Telephone System and Requisite Service
      b. Computers, Software, Printers, Scanner
      c. Photocopy machine
      d. Fax machine
      e. Calculator and typewriter

  • Supplies

    A law office typically requires all the usual office equipment including paper, envelopes, a vast supply of sticky notes, pens, pencils, staplers, 2 and 3 hole punches, a chron date stamp, file folders, rubber bands, tape, binders, staple remover, paper clips, colored sticky tabs, and more. It might be best to visit the nearest office supply store and just clean out the appropriate aisle!

  • Staff

    Sure, if you're a real hands-on type of attorney you could handle the every-day tasks of running a solo practice by yourself and really cut costs. But does it really sound like a good use of your time to spend half your day filing, paying bills, and staffing the phones? Once a practice is up and running, those kinds of administrative and office tasks will become very time-consuming and you will likely want help to deal with them.

  • Library

    A lawyer needs a decent library to function properly, but a decent library is not only expensive, but is a continually ongoing expense due to the evolving nature of the law. Most practice guides, and, of course, all case law are continually being updated and it is an expensive proposition to have an up-to-date library. However, selecting a location near an accessible law library can eliminate this expense, and availing one's self of online resources can also be considered, too.

  • Open necessary accounts for your office such as trust account, and prepare a budget for the firm.

  • Obtain necessary insurance such as malpractice insurance

    Obtaining and maintaining professional liability and additional applicable insurance is crucial. For more information on insurance, please visit the Malpractice Insurance section of the Law Firm Business Center.

  • Determine what type of marketing and advertising you will use

    As a law firm is a business in every sense of the word, marketing and advertising should be important considerations. Yellow pages, online advertising, newsletters, brochures, signage, and business cards are various options to consider. For more information on marketing and advertising, please visit the Marketing section of the Law Firm Business Center.

  • Design and set up any necessary office systems:

    The day-to-day operation of a firm requires establishing various methodologies. The following are some of the key systems:

    1. Docketing and calendaring systems - A firm absolutely must have a system, electronic or otherwise, for case docketing and calendaring. A lawyer should know off-the-bat that he or she will not be able to rely at all on memory for anything relating to their work.

    2. Accounting - there are numerous software options available for accounting purposes, and of course hiring an accountant or making friends with one is always a good idea.

    3. Time tracking and billing - keeping clients happy and making money go hand-in-hand via the establishment of a good time tracking and billing system. If clients are billed regularly and in a timely manner for work as it is done, one of lawyers' common headaches -- the angry client calling about billing -- can be more often avoided.

    4. Filing - accessing files easily and finding documents on short notice is important to a lawyer and establishing a reliable filing system is crucial. Although the methods out there are countless, picking one and consistently using it is of the utmost importance to the organized lawyer.

    5. Conflict - establishing a system for running conflict checks should be a consideration for the lawyer. For a solo fresh out of law school, this is usually less of a problem, but it is good to establish the system early.