How to hang a shingle for under $1,000.00
Law schools are cranking out more graduates than ever, but according to recent American Bar Association employment figures released in The National Law Journal only 55 percent of the class of 2011 found full-time, long-term jobs that require bar passage within nine months of graduation. Whether you're fresh out of law school and cannot find a job, tired of your current job, or unexpectedly released from your job, now may be the right time for you to consider private practice. Consider the following:
- Most law schools only focus on the theory of law, rather than practical aspects such as how to arraign a client or how to strike a jury; and
- Almost no law schools offer any concurrent business classes on how to start your own private practice; and
- If you're fresh out of law school or unexpectedly released from a job, you don't likely have a pile of money with which to start a firm.
For these reasons, I've listed the steps below that you can take to open a private practice for under a grand. While these steps and links are focused on opening a law firm in Georgia, they can be applied to any state in the nation.
BUSINESS SIDE: (~$845.00)
- Decide on a name for your firm (i.e. Crawford Law Firm, Crawford Law Group, Eric C. Crawford) and incorporate with the Georgia Secretary of State as an LLC or PC. http://www.sos.ga.gov/corporations/ ($100.00)
- Rent a Post Office Box in the city in which you intend to do business. Try to get one near your house so it's easy to pick up your mail every day. https://poboxes.usps.com/ ($25.00)
- Apply for an Employer Identification Number (EIN) with the IRS for your new firm. (FREE) https://sa1.www4.irs.gov/modiein/individual/index.jsp While you're on the IRS website, read up on withholding rules (yes, you have to send estimated taxes to the IRS four times a year.)
- Register your Business with the State of Georgia to get a taxpayer ID number. https://gtc.dor.ga.gov/_/#2 (FREE)
- Find a bank that offers free small business checking and go sign up for two accounts: an operating account and an IOLTA trust account. (FREE) *Do NOT buy checks from the bank, as bank checks are highly overpriced.
- Instead of buying checks from the bank, purchase the checks online at a substantial discount. Hint: go with basic checks, and use a different color for your operating account and IOLTA account to avoid confusing the two. http://www.walmartchecks.com/ ($50.00 combined for both accounts and shipping)
- Purchase a phone service, such as Ring Central mobile, which gives you a phone number, fax number, voicemail, auto-receptionist, answering rules, etc. Sure, you could simply use your cell phone number for business, but do you really want people calling at all hours of the night on your personal line, and do you want to give up your cell phone number when your business grows enough to have an office, a real phone system, and a receptionist? http://www.ringcentral.com/ ($25/mo)
- Register an internet domain name and e-mail account, such as [email protected]. Unless you're proficient with web design, wait until you're established to get the website going. http://smallbusiness.yahoo.com OR http://www.google.com/apps/business ($15)
- If you don't have a laptop computer, it's probably a good idea to purchase one solely for business use. You can use public computers in libraries or law libraries, however you might compromise your client's data or file integrity if you do that. You can usually find a solid performing laptop on sale at http://www.techbargains.com/ for about $350.00.
- Load up your laptop with free software, including word processing software (http://www.openoffice.org/), accounting software ( http://www.gnucash.org/), and anti-virus software (http://free.avg.com/). (FREE)
- Purchase and install Carbonite on your computer to back up all of your important files and data. Believe me, in the event of a stolen or broken laptop, access to your client's files is invaluable. http://www.carbonite.org/ ($60/year)
- If you don't already have a multi-function printer, purchase a laser printer that will allow for printing, copying, and scanning. This will be important for printing motions, scanning client files, scanning for faxes, etc. You can get a good one, such as the Brother MFC7360N, for a little over $100. http://www.amazon.com/ ($110.00)
- Buy general office supplies: folders, stapler, staples, staple remover, pens, copy paper, legal pads, paperclips, envelopes, etc. ($100.00)
- Buy business cards; choose a professional design, include all of your contact information on it. Vistaprint frequently runs sales such as 250 cards for $10 with free shipping. http://www.vistaprint.com/ ($10)
- If you're going to do any court appointed work, you'll probably need to register with E-Verify. http://www.uscis.gov/ (Free)
LEGAL SIDE: (~$140.00)
- Meet with clients at courthouses. Most courthouses have lounge areas, attorney conference rooms, law libraries, or other places where you can meet for free. Plus, meeting in the courthouse makes you look busy and successful.
- Decide what area(s) you're going to practice in, and sign up with a specialty group within that area of practice. This gives you access to forms, motions, briefs, and other attorneys who can mentor you or whom you can ask about certain legal problems. If you practice in criminal law, the Georgia Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers is an excellent resource - http://gacdl.memberlodge.org/. ($90) If you're doing civil work, sign up with Legal Aid Georgia, which has a whole wealth of resources, and can send you pro bono cases to get your feet wet - http://www.legalaid-ga.org/. (FREE)
- Don't subscribe to Lexis, Westlaw, etc. for legal research. Most courthouses have well stocked law libraries where you can find whatever you need, and most bar associations offer free case law searches with bar membership. Don't forget free resources such as http://scholar.google.com. (FREE)
- Join a local bar association (or two). This is a great way to meet other practicing lawyers, meet the judges in your circuit, find a mentor, get referrals, and start to become a full member of the legal community. Additionally, most bar associations will have a "referrals" page where you can list your name under your areas of practice, which is a dirt cheap way to get your foot in the door of legal advertising. ($50).
- If you want to do criminal work or just want a steady stream of income, visit with local courts and find out if they have an appointed attorney list. Municipal, Probate, Recorders, and City courts are a great, low pressure place to get started and make some money. You'll be handling cases such as traffic violations, disorderly conduct, DUI, etc, and can build a client base who can also refer paying clients if they're satisfied with your services. Plus, you can typically bill at $45/hour out-of-court and $60/hour in-court, so with half a week's work (20 hours) you can earn back your initial $1,000 investment in your firm. You can receive multiple cases if you go and sit on court days and make yourself available to the judge.
So there you have it. For approximately $985.00, you can start your own firm. While there are, of course, many additional different embellishments you can make or other things you can spend money on, such as print or online advertising, this bare bones template will get you out there and practicing before you know it!
Eric C. Crawford
Attorney at Law
Crawford and Boyle, LLC