Starting a Law Firm | More of This and That
This post is from the first blog I started, called “How to Start a Law Firm.” Over the years I’ve moved to different sites a few times and wanted to catalog all of my content in one place. If an article refers to a link and there is no link, sorry, that’s consequence of the move. Enjoy!
Whew, what a week! Got a little busy last week, plus had some family visiting from out of town, so I didn’t have time to write any posts. I’m making it up to you by giving you three this week, including this long one covering several topics, including: more on taxes; phone systems revisted; how to write marketing articles; and my quest to find the perfect law firm office space.
This could end up being long, but I’ll do my best to keep you entertained.
Update on the Taxes Talk
After that article on taxes and accountants I am now fully aware that some people read these posts and actually read them all the way through! Guess I just needed to talk about something lawyers could relate to on a real lawyerly level – the tax code – to get your juices flowing.
If you take a look at my last post on law firm taxes, you’ll see that I didn’t pay any quarterly taxes last year. And you’ll see the comments where people are concerned about that (which I actually really appreciate). To quell any fears, I wanted to let you know that I did a little research (after the fact, admittedly) and it turns out I’m going to be okay for not paying my quarterly taxes last year. What you pay year to year depends on what you took in the year prior. Because I only had 6 months of revenue (if you’d call it that) I didn’t have much of a tax base at all. Using those numbers I wouldn’t have had to pay quarterly taxes. I wouldn’t have qualified.
This year is a different story, and I know it’s time to start taking that stuff seriously. That’s why I met with an accountant prospect last week. We shared a couple of pitchers of beer together, talked business, talked life, and talked accounting. I think he knows what he’s doing so I’m going to give him a shot to see if he can help me out. The best part about it is I can stop worrying about having to do it myself.
To give you an idea of what we worked out, he bills hourly, though not for phone calls and things like that (which I get). And, if I prefer, we might be able to work out a flat fee. He open to negotiate. From there he’s just going to start helping me out to take advantage of everything I can to keep this business on the right track.
I’ll keep you updated on the progress.
Phone Systems Revisited
If you weren’t already aware, my phone system is basically set up like this. At the top of the pyramid are two google voice numbers. One of those numbers is my primary number. It is used on all of my marketing materials. It is what people call when they want to reach the firm.
The next layer of the pyramid are two Skype phone numbers and a virtual receptionist. One skype number is assigned to me and one to my assistant. With skype we basically have an office phone system on our computer. We can instant message (though we use google chat for that mostly – way faster), we can put people on hold, we can transfer calls, and we can do video conferencing if necessary. I think the cost for Skype is around $15 a month, though I could be wrong on that.
The virtual receptionist is $79 a month plus a per call fee (typically runs about another $50 a month. They will answer the phones 24 hours a day, 7 days a week if I want them too.
The third and final layer of the phone system is my cell phone and my assistant’s cell phone. Depending on the status of the phone systems our cell phones serve as a last resort backup and also have the capability of dialing out with the Google voice number with the recipient believing it came straight from the office.
During normal business hours (i.e. when Kelsey, my assistant is here) the Google voice number is pointed to ring her and my Skype numbers. This takes about 5 seconds at the beginning of the day. When someone dials the google voice number it is automatically routed directly to the Skype number.
When Kelsey is not here, the phone is switched to the virtual assistant. Whenever anyone calls it is routed to them. They answer like they were here (with my law firm name and everything) and then buzz my cellphone to see if I would like to take the call. If I don’t answer (or even if I do) I get an email from them with the callers name, phone number, and the purpose of the call.
The system was working okay, but not perfectly. We were getting frustrated because sometimes the number would only ring on skype once or twice before getting kicked to voice mail (typically it rings for about 20 seconds). Other times, our microphones wouldn’t work when a call was picked up, or a call would be dropped for unknown reasons. It got to the point where it was starting to be more than annoying, so I started looking into other stuff.
And I did look. But I didn’t find much. Actually, I didn’t find anything. Sure, you can set up some kind of huge PBX system and get servers and that kind of stuff, but that’s exactly what I’m against. Advances in technology should allow you to do all of that stuff easily and cheaply. And, as I soon learned, my setup is probably the easiest and cheapest way to do it.
The other great thing about it is it is highly mobile. That means I can set up my office anywhere. If I want to make some calls from the beach in Bali, as long as I’ve got an internet connection I’m good to go (which is easier to get now more than ever). And should there ever be a disaster of any kind where I live, my office literally wouldn’t skip a beat (unless the electricity and internet went out – but then everyone would be paralyzed from a communications standpoint).
To fix our phone problems we made a couple of minor fixes that might help you too if you’re experiencing problems. First, when Kelsey comes in in the morning she is only going to point google voice at her skype number, at least until I come in (yes, you can logically deduce that she’s here before me). Second, I set up the internet connection so she has a hard connection (as opposed to the wireless that she did have). This should help eliminate any dropped calls or bad reception (there are two of us on a business bandwidth). That’s it. Problems should be solved. I’ll update you in a couple of months.
Writing Good Marketing Articles
If you don’t know by now critical to starting a successful law firm is finding clients. Read another way – marketing. If you’ve been reading this blog for a while then you know a lot of my time is spent on internet marketing, which includes writing articles (including on this site).
As part of that effort, I’ve got some sites where I will post articles submitted by other writers to be posted on my site. The benefit for me is that I get fresh content. The benefit for them is they get a relevant article with a link back to their site. It’s a win win for everyone.
But lately I’ve been getting terrible article submissions. Not only are they thoughtless and lazy, but the grammar is terrible (and I don’t mean a couple of misspellings – some of the articles read like Yoda wrote them). So I thought I’d talk for a couple of minutes about article writing and how to do it right.
First things first, at least 300 words. That is your bare bones minimum. But it isn’t that much. To give you an idea, this article, up to this point, is 1371 words. That’s at least four times longer than it needs to be. So, don’t be afraid to be brief and make one point in one article.
Which brings me to point number two – keep it simple. Write like you are talking to a client. Explain to them what the terms you are using mean and when a 1 cent word will do, use it (versus a $5 word).
Which brings me to point number three – write about things your client cares about. Think t
hey care about what that new case says? They don’t. What they care about is what the case means. Talk about the fact, what the rule is, and how they can use that rule in the future to their benefit. If you want to do a little lawyerly analysis fine. But keep it brief.
Fourth, and finally, don’t outsource your article writing to a third party, unless it’s someone in your office or a law clerk or someone like that. I guess what I’m trying to say is, when you outsource your marketing you outsource your reputation. Read that article to see exactly what I’m talking about. When you write crappy articles, sometimes people will find them. And sometimes those people aren’t nice.
You can make a lot of headway online if you work hard and do it right. You just have to keep after it.
Law Firm Office Space
I don’t know if I’ve talked much about this lately or not, but I’m in the market for new office space. My space now isn’t terrible, but it certainly isn’t ideal. I’ve been here for almost a year, and it’s time to move on. I’m glad I came here, though. It’s kind of one of those, “you don’t know what you don’t like until you experience it” kind of moments.
There are a couple of things I think are important for a law office. First, I think it needs to work like people expect an office to work. That means people need to be able to get to it, you need to have a conference room area, and if you are seeing a lot of people, you need to have a waiting area. Second,it needs to look like an office, at least to the extent that it give people confidence that you know what you are doing. People expect things when they come and see you (like wearing a tie) and when they don’t pick up those expected cues it can fluster them. Not good. Third, it needs to be fairly easy to get to. Someone should be able to plug it into GPS and find it.
My office right now really meets none of those criteria, and that’s a problem. So I’m fixing it. There are some things about my office that will not be traditional. It will have an open concept – if there is division required it will be with glass, not with drywall. It will utilize technology to the nth degree. It will be cool.
But some of the traditional aspects must remain. Clients need a place to sit. We need a place to discuss things. We need a place to have meetings. I need a place to work. Those things are non-negotiable.
The spaces I’m looking at right now range from $1,000-$1,500 a month and from 800 square feet to 1200 square feet. They are the kind of place we can grow into (to give you an idea, right now my office is only 200 square feet tops. It will be interesting to see how I fill the place up!
You don’t need an office to be successful, but if you are going to get one you might as well get something you can be proud of. That’s what I’m going for here. Something I can be proud of, and something I can in for a long time. As with everything else, I’ll keep you updated, maybe even post some pictures and let you help me decide!
Okay, this is plenty long. I’ll write more about something else tomorrow. Let me know if you’d like me to talk about anything specifically. And, as always I welcome your comments!