Solo/Small

How To Start a Law Firm Without a Plan or Budget: Use The Right Tools

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Welcome to Day 9!

Remember back when Peter Drucker told us a business is all about innovation and marketing? We’ll get to marketing in the next two days, but today and yesterday are all about innovation — getting people what they want, when they want it.

Tech Tools You Actually Need

Let’s revisit this bit of Drucker’s wisdom: “Marketing and innovation produce results.”

Results should be the driving motivation for bringing on any particular bit of innovation. As logical as that sounds, I can’t tell you how many lawyers I’ve seen jump unthinkingly at a new bit of tech. In a world of so many shiny objects, stay focused on the pieces of technology that make you better at your job. Real innovation produces real results.

So what tools will make you better at your job? Let me describe the technology that got me through my first two years of law practice:

  1. A cell phone with a Google Voice number and app;
  2. A computer (which can be your laptop from law school or something nice your parents bought you when you passed the bar exam);
  3. A premium Dropbox account;
  4. A Fujitsu ScanSnap scanner;
  5. A cheap printer; and
  6. A forms library for my state.

That’s it. I paid all of my bills for two years with those few pieces of tech, and I did it comfortably.

You may have an iPad or a projector or a fancy camera you want to use in your practice, and that’s fine. But learn how to use them in a way that produces results. You are a lawyer, not an IT person, and spending hours every day hitting CTRL-ALT-DELETE on all your gadgets is a terrible use of your valuable time.

Maintain Flexibility

Whatever you do, keep your options flexible. A long-term lease for a clunky copier makes absolutely no sense for where you are. You are nine days into a business and you have no idea what kind of copier will work best for the way you’ll want to work.

For example, we decided our firm would go mostly virtual. Rather than have an office space with five individual attorney offices and common spaces for support staff, our space had four conference rooms and a welcome area. We simply did not operate the way we thought we would because we responded to our market.

What if we had a bunch of long-term leases or contracts for copiers, legal research programs, and books? We wouldn’t have had the flexibility to react to what our customers want.

You will not be able to “build, measure, learn” with a bunch of hefty contracts. Avoid them.

Stay Up-to-Date

As I mentioned earlier, using a platform like Dropbox to store your case files makes good sense as long as you use encryption software. The fact that some lawyers are still being taught to go paperless amazes me. Bundles of paper represent a poor use of time, space, and money. Get those files out of your hair.

Finally, make sure you stay on top of technology trends. That does not mean you should jump at every new social media platform, but that you should be aware of game-changers.

Lawyers as a group are very slow to adopt new technology. Even if you’re 10 steps behind the cutting edge, you’re a hundred steps ahead of the curve.

Entrepreneurs don’t chase shiny objects, they evaluate new innovations to see if they can produce results for their clients. Be an entrepreneur.

[Mental Exercise of the Day]:

How much of your job will robots be able to do in 10 years?

That’s a real question. Travel agents didn’t answer that question and now the market bears a tiny number of them. You need to think about what you do that technology can’t.

Lawyers always point to litigation here, but that’s not helpful when such a tiny percentage of cases go to trial.

If only 10% of us regularly go to trial, you can’t assume you’ll be in that 10%. You may be reading this guide because you thought you’d beat the stats before law school and land that big firm job, but it didn’t pan out. That’s okay. But it’s time to face the math.

Whatever products you plan to offer, you need to use technology as a tool rather than your enemy. The legal market seems to be shifting at an incredible rate, but that’s only because it didn’t adjust for decades. The future is upon us.

So, 10 years from now, what do you think robots will be able to do? If they’re handling decision trees that analyze cases or cover most compliance work, where do you fit in? Could you program the decision trees into those computers? Could you be a process expert or a customer service ninja?

Honestly, I don’t know where you will fit in, but I know you have no time to focus on work that will go away in 10 years. If your value can be replaced by robots, it will be. Considering that is an excellent use of your time.

[Big Little Step of the Day]:

The technology choice that will matter most to your clients may be your website. You’ve secured a domain name, paid for hosting, and tied in your email. Now it’s time to make your site look like something.

Go to your hosting company’s control panel and find the button to install WordPress. This is the only step that is hosting company-specific, so problems should be directed to your hosting company. Most have resources to help you out. Bluehost, for example, has created a number of helpful YouTube videos for building a WordPress site.

Why WordPress? Because it’s more than a website, it’s a content management system. And it’s also very popular, which means you can find lots of helpful guides online. We’re lawyers, not web designers, so we like helpful guides.

Once that’s done, you need to install what is called a “theme.” Themes are like the skin that goes on top of your website. They define visual elements, like where pictures go and what font will be used for the menu bar. They make a lot of decisions for you so you don’t have to.

Probably the easiest way to get a theme is to use a site like www.elegantthemes.com or www.woothemes.com. They charge a small fee, but they’ll give you lots of options.

Although a bit more complex, I would push you toward www.studiopress.com for your theme. Those themes are built on what’s called the Genesis Framework, which search engines tend to like.

No matter where you find your theme, go simple. For now. In the future you will want a content-rich site, but you don’t have that content yet. That means one of those boring, business-card-looking sites that you can put your contact info on.

Being a WordPress site, that simple stand-in will still host blog posts, but your site’s current purpose is to comfort prospective clients. Many of them will run to your site to make sure you’re legit, so put the simplest theme up on a WordPress site and you’ll be ready for your next steps.

Up Next…

Go on to the next chapter: Good Marketing Means More Money

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.