Start a Solo Law Practice for Under $3,000

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Starting your own solo law practice? When it comes to starting a small business, a law practice is one of the least-expensive options. A computer and a clear space on the kitchen table are about all you need. Well, almost. There are a few other things. In this article, I will lay out what you need to start up a solo law practice, plus a few nice-to-have extras. This is not a bare minimum, but I have left out things like registering an LLC or corporation ($160 in Minnesota), liability insurance (mine was $599 for my first year), and business cards and stationery (I don’t use stationery, but I buy my business cards from VistaPrint for $29.99/500).

This post proved to be quite controversial, and has generated over 100 comments. To get a more realistic picture of what it costs to start a law firm, read How Much it Really Costs to Start a Law Firm.

$3,000 too rich for your budget? Bitter Lawyer has a much-more-reasonable prescription for a $20 law practice!

Starting a Law Firm for Under $3,000

The following purchases will get you through your first year of solo law practice, at least, but the hardware should last far longer. If you shop wisely, your hardware should last at least 5 years, if not longer.

Assuming you do not already have a computer, printer and internet connection, your startup costs would be just under $3,000, leaving some room for miscellaneous supplies. If you do already have a computer and printer, you can convert them to business use and save $1,248.99 or more.

Even better, your second year overhead will drop to $837.60, since you will already have all the hardware you will need.

Computer

Obviously, you can’t do much without a computer. If you already have one, use that and save yourself about $1,000 in startup costs. If you do not already have one, get one. For the solo practitioner, a laptop is infinitely more useful than a desktop, particularly if you plan to have a paperless law office for greater efficiency and lower overhead.

For most people, a Mac just makes more sense. They last longer, are more secure, are easier to use, and have a variety of features that make them ideal for going from home to office to the courthouse. Sure, they are a bit more expensive, but if you outfit a PC with comparable components, you often pay more.

The Apple MacBook starts at $1,099.00. If you get a PC, don’t consider anything but a Lenovo. The other brands just don’t measure up, especially when it comes to durability and customer service. The ThinkPad T61 starts at $873.00 with an upgrade to Windows XP Pro or Vista Business (do not get the “home” versions, but feel free to upgrade to Ubuntu Linux). Equipped comparably to the MacBook, a T61 will cost $914.25.

Software

So you have a computer. Now you need a way to generate documents, keep track of contacts, tasks, and your calendar, and manage your accounting and billing.

To manage contacts, your calendar, and e-mail, you can use Outlook (Windows) or Entourage (Mac), but those cost money. Mozilla Thunderbird with Lightning is free and works just as well for most users. If you got a MacBook, the built in software is perfectly serviceable. Or if you installed Ubuntu, Evolution is a full Outlook replacement. Don’t spend money if you don’t need to.

The same goes for your document processing software. Openoffice.org (NeoOffice for Mac) is just as good as Microsoft Office, and free, to boot.

For accounting, I prefer GnuCash, which is free and available for Windows, Mac, and Linux, to the proprietary options like QuickBooks. GnuCash also has basic billing, but let’s assume you want something better. FreshBooks offers timekeeping and billing for $14/month, or $168/year. You could also opt for QuickBooks, at $169, which does accounting, rudimentary timekeeping, and billing. But QuickBooks wants to be upgraded every year, as well, so it is down to personal preference.

Backup

If you have a computer, you need a place to backup your files. Mozy gives you 2GB of online backup for free, and is a great option while you get going, since your business files probably will not take up anywhere near that much space.

If you are going paperless, you will want a local backup option, as well. Any external hard drive will do. I recommend one about five time the size of the files you need to back up. For most people this will not be very large, but something like the 500GB Western Digital MyBook is perfect at $142.99. It will last for years and hold your music, as well.

Copying, scanning, printing, and faxing

Stop right there. You thought I was going to recommend an all-in-one copier/printer/scanner/fax thingy. I’m not. They suck.

Get a scanner, printer, and fax service. You don’t need a copier, because a copier is more work than a scanner and printer. (With a copier, you have to make a copy every time you want one. If you scan the document the first time, you just print it out from there on.)

For a scanner, you cannot do better than the Fujitsu ScanSnap s1500, available for Windows and Mac (it works with Linux, as well, but other scanners may work better). For $429 (Windows) or $425 (Mac), you get a small, fast, duplexing document scanner and Adobe Acrobat Standard, which would run you $299 by itself.

Any laser printer will do, but I like the Lexmark E120n, which is a bargain at $149.99.

Save the money you would spend on an extra fax line, and instead just get an online fax service. There are free options, but to get a local number, you will have to pay. GreenFax is $12.95/month for inbound faxes and outbound faxes at $.07/minute. A $25 buy-in will last about two years for most people. That all adds up to about $180.40 for a year of service. A dedicated fax line, by contrast, would add up to about $672 for a year, not counting the fax machine and supplies.

Phone service

You could go with a regular land line, but at $56+/month, it is hardly a deal. Plus, it ties you to one location. A better location for mobile solo practitioners is Skype. While Skype is free, calling phones and getting calls from regular phones is not. A year of SkypePro and SkypeIn is only $43.20 when you buy SkypePro first. You will need a handset, headset, or standalone phone, as well. The Philips VOIP321 at $79.99 is nice, because you don’t need to connect through your computer.

You need an internet connection, of course. Let’s estimate that at $53.15/month, which is what I pay ComCast for cable internet. That adds up to $639/year.

Adding it all up: the $3,000 solo law office

This all adds up to less than $3,000 to start your own solo law practice:

$1,099Computer
$169FreshBooks or Quickbooks
$142.99External drive
$429Scanner
$149.99Printer
$180.40Fax service
$43.20Skype
$79.99Skype phone
$639Internet

$2,932.57TOTAL

Year 2

Keep in mind that a lot of these expenses do not continue from year to year. Assuming you don’t throw your computer out the window in frustration at some point, your continuing expenses are only for your fax service (minus $25, since you should have plenty of sending time left over), phone service, and internet, for about $837.60. Not bad.

(Photo: http://www.flickr.com/photos/rmgimages/4881843809/)

Practice Management, Starting a Law Firm

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  • Dean

    Don’t forget about marketing costs. What good is a solo practice if nobody knows it exists? Things like yellow page, internet and newspaper advertisements can cost quite a bit. Also, professional website design can cost a lot too, unless one is technically proficient enough to do it themselves.

  • http://lawyerist.com Sam Glover

    Point taken. Marketing costs will vary by practice area, however. You could just start a blog, which costs nothing but time.

  • ABC

    Great post. I would demur on Skype. I’ve always found the quality to be hit or miss, and not suitable for professional work. I would probably get a landline, if anything.

    Another place to look for a printer: eBay. You can get a very nice used Laserjet for under $100 usually. Those printers are usually very reliable, and with a $80-$90 cartridge (that has lasted me a year) make printing very easy.

    If you are in a practice where you’re out and about, and in a location where you can’t always get to Wi-Fi, consider getting a dataplan with your cell phone. For $95 or so, you can get data plus the normal cell phone service through AT&T. If your cell phone has bluetooth (most modern ones do) and your computer has supports bluetooth (Macs do), you can tether the phone to the laptop very easily and then use that to connect to the internet. On a 3G network, you’ll find emailing and doing very light web browsing stuff will work well. Edge is only adequate in a pinch.

    Note, certain cell phones do not support tethering (e.g., the iPhone).

    Also, keep your eyes open for Google Voice, a new service that is coming this summer. It’s going to have limited message transcribing services for voicemail, and a single number that you can link to any of your several phones.

    In terms of marketing, I’m genuinely curious whether anyone still finds marketing in the yellow pages relevant. I guess certain kinds of clients will look in the YellowPages (perhaps, poorer clients or elderly clients).

    Is that still suitable? Seems like a waste of money to me.

    Also the “start a blog” recommendation could work, but with 50 million blogs out there, unless you have something interesting to say, I’m a little perplexed at how spending hours blogging during a week is an effective use of time (which is money).

    Of course, if people do think blogging or yellow pages ads work, then I’d be happy to hear about it. Just skeptical, is all.

  • Will Geer

    I agee on a couple points. I am a Skype user and proponent, but I think for professional utilization, a solid landline is needed. A good voice answering service would probably be a good idea as well. As far as starting a blog, it has become a hard realization that law blogs do not get the level of traffic as some hobby blogs may bring in, but the quality is what’s important. 9 years ago I started a tech website that ran for approximately 3 years and received over 500,000 views per month,. You can have 50,000 page views per day on your tech site, but the revenue from that is strictly from advertising. A legal blog is more about controlling your online reputation and having a say in what Google actually says about you, rather than a huge numbers of readers that will not turn into clients or referring attorneys. From what I have seen, good traffic for a legal blog is around 1000 pageviews (not unique hits) per day. Time is always a factor though, and a lot of time it takes indeed.

  • http://lawyerist.com/author/samglover/ Sam Glover

    I have been using Skype as my only phone for nearly two years. I bought a Phillips Skype phone, which works great. The sound quality is excellent 99% of the time.

    On blogging, my consumer law blog, Caveat Emptor is a primary source of referrals. Your results may vary, but it has paid off very well for me.

  • Will Geer

    That’s exciting to hear Sam. I’ll definitely have to check out a phone specifically designed for Skype. My only experience thus far is directly through the computer speakers/mic

  • Miriam

    Thanks for the article! I’m basically getting on my feet practice – wise, and I basically agree with the estimates you gave. As a debt-laden graduate, its hard to imagine starting a business without going into even more debt, but I’m starting to believe its possible to keep the costs pretty low. You have some good suggestions, and here are a couple things I did that helped me cut costs even more:

    1) I use a free billing software: Bill4Time Free which is pretty basic but also… free. It goes up to $20/mo for the basic paid option, I believe.

    2) I used Photoshop (anything similar would work) to make letterhead, business cards, etc. A quick tutorial from a friend was all it took to get a logo down on paper.

    3) I opted out of buying a long distance plan on the landline. Way cheaper and I use my cell to make long-distance calls.

    4) I bought a $60 fax machine. Not as cool as the virtual fax service, but its cheaper to start out – at least for now. Its super basic and I use it as a scanner too but it gets the job done. A $20 phone card covers almost unlimited faxing if I need to do long-distance.

    5) Web-hosting + domain registration came to less than $30 for a year. Not a lot of space but hey, I don’t need it yet. I’ll pay someone to do the website, but instead of going to the higher-priced firms, I consulted a couple still-in-school graphics design students. Much cheaper but still quality work.

    The only thing I’m stuck on so far is the question of office space, which for me has been a tough one. As a recent grad, I just chose the cheapest option which was to work from home, but lately its been a pain trying to balance that with increasing client demand for meetings, etc. I see the “virtual office” thing gaining popularity, but I think if I’m going to shell out the money, it might as well be for an actual brick and mortar office. Perhaps someone here has a different opinion on that?

  • http://pennsylvaniabankruptcyinfo.com Jim

    By far marketing has been the most expensive thing for my firm. I am in month 7 though, so my name is just now starting to get out there. I picked up a magic-jack and a Verizon internet stick. Verizon internet is $50 and I can take it with me where I go, so if I’m at the office I’ll use it there, but if I’m on the go I have my internet with me.

    I found cheap office space on the outskirts of town, but since most of what I do is electronic, I could move it into the apartment if I wanted to, which I don’t. For $400 a month, its nice to have a safe haven.

  • http://lawyerist.com/author/aaronstreet/ Aaron Street

    Jim,

    If you are paying $400 a month for office space and $50 a month for internet access, but marketing is your biggest expense, I’d be curious to hear what marketing methods you are using that cost you so much money.

  • Theo

    What are you guys doing for lexisnexis or westlaw access? Isn’t that both extremely necessary and extremely expensive, especially compared to the other expenses you have listed here?

  • http://lawyerist.com/author/samglover/ Sam Glover

    Neither Lexis nor Westlaw are extremely necessary, though both are extremely expensive. If you focus on a one or a few areas of law, like I recommend, you will become very familiar with the law you need to know, and you can fill in as necessary. If you just need to get a copy of a case, you can usually do that through FindLaw, Justia, or your local court website.

    If you need to do research, law libraries are abundant, and many offer free access to one service or the other. Many bar associations now offer free access to Fastcase or a similar product, as well.

    I am perfectly happy using Fastcase, which my bar association offers for free. If I feel like I need access to the other services Lexis or Westlaw offer, I will just spend some time at the local law library.

  • Andrew

    I am a new admittee, what do you suggest for those of us with families when it comes to maintaining reasonable Health, Dental, Vision, Life Insurance?

  • http://lawyerist.com/author/samglover/ Sam Glover

    First, look to your bar association. For health insurance, for example, Blue Cross Blue Shield cost me about $225 per month for an excellent plan about three years ago. (Now I am on my wife’s employee plan.)

  • Ave

    2L here looking at the possibility of starting out with solo practice + contract work in two more years. Does Mozy make sense for storing confidential information? They probably have yada yada about confidentiality posted on their website, but do they really have a duty of any kind?

  • http://lawyerist.com/author/samglover/ Sam Glover

    Any duty any cloud service provider has is a matter of contract. Which is why it may make sense to pay for the premium service.

  • http://craigjanis.com Craig

    Backblaze.com is much better than Mozy. I just switched because it’s the same price but backblaze works well on my mac, and mozy did not.

    Re: marketing, as a 2L who would enjoy going solo that is my biggest concern. How do you get clients if you start on your own right out of law school?

  • http://www.wellsiplaw.com Nicholas Wells

    For research, I think many state bars provide Casemaker access (I know CT and UT do). Casemaker is great. It gives you search capability for most state and federal cases. It’s not nearly as powerful as Westlaw or Lexis, but you can do *a lot* with it, and it’s free.

    On marketing, offer to present seminars on legal topics to business groups or to other lawyers who might need your specialty to refer work (e.g., I do only IP work–trademark, copyright, licensing–so bankruptcy lawyers know I’m not going to take business from them). Become an expert, then share your knowledge. People remember.

    Re: the comment above on Mozy confidentiality, they have a business option under which all the data stored on their servers is encrypted. It’s not free, but it’s very safe.

  • Helena

    Re Lexis and Westlaw: I do contract work for an attorney who has a fixed-fee monthly plan and he lets me use his account for free, even for research I do for other attorneys or for my private clients. I just have to be really careful not to stray outside of the fixed plan.

  • Laurence St.Lyon

    As a new Sole Practitioner in the UK I wish my indemnity insurance was only 599. Try $7,865!

    As to the rest we have the same issues. Except a hostile regulatory regime that wants SP’s gone. (My opinion-others may differ)

    I purchased a small number of ‘core texts’ that I use a primer for wider research. As an SP unless you are truly niche you will cover a number of areas. I then use the Law Society library in Central London, I also have access to two local law faculties where I alumni. Then I have a number of on line resources for UK law and cases. One of the Best is bailii which also has US/Canadian resources.

    I set up with a Dell p3 laptop. I have a home desktop and external drive for back up.
    There are any number of free encryption programs such as ‘Trucrypt’ for securing files. You can then back up the encrypted file to online storage.

    I use an business centre for my office address. They also have meeting rooms I can hire. Otherwise I go to the client. Businesses like it. It saves them losing time travelling. given that in the life of a case you will only need to see a client two or three times the rest can be done by phone, email, letter or fax.

    Working from home can work if you have separate room and so can get into work mode. Family need to understand that you may be home but office hours are just that! (Guess what I struggle with?)

    I have just found an online service called clio which is a great idea. web based practice/case management. Still evaluating it.

    I get a lot of work via the web (still want more though) but I have only taken one paid listing and came to the conclusion it is a waste of time. far better to take every free listing you can get. search engines for all the talk of seo are still pretty dumb beasts and if you search for “solicitors Watford” or “Watford solicitors” I always come up in the top 5 most often the top 3. not a bean in cost but a couple of evenings spent form filling online.

    As to other advertising I like the look of local radio. An awful lot of bang for your buck! However, it is a bit of an outlay although by no means impossible. I will let people know what happens when I try it.

    It sounds obvious but to marketers all lawyers are rich! They obviously believe their own publicity. Most that have approached me want me to sell the kids to fund their idea. So be warned.

  • Charlene

    I had an all-in-one that was cheap but since I’m making my own copies, I just upgraded to a laser all-in-one from Canon and it’s wonderful. I don’t use the fax, however, because I use eFax. It saves the cost (and headache) of dealing with Verizon for a land line and internet service, and it helps me by forcing me to scan documents for faxing.

    Research: Fastcase through the Jenkins Law Library in Pennsylvania. It comes with 20 min/day of Lexis. Not a lot, but enough if you only need to Shepardize. Extremely cost effective, the annual cost is like $100 or $150.

    Another nicety: mobile broadband. I have it through Cricket Wireless in the DC Area for $40/month, unlimited. It is more secure than using hotspots and you can do research on the fly. It also impresses the heck out of clients when they see you in action with it. Again, no dealing with Verizon for Internet service, and their fees that fluctuate month to month. Also, as far as mobile broadband goes, all the bigs have colluded to set the amount of transfer to 5gb for $60/month. For normal business use that’s probably fine except you have to worry when you start sending a lot of pdfs in email or fax. And forget it when you have a Windows update to download. Cricket will just throttle speed if you exceed 5gb and it’s a problem.

  • Ben Groot

    I started off my own firm, and have just finished my sixth month, after having been 10 years at a previous firm. In South Africa, things are a little different, but I started off with laptop, cell, 4-in-1 printer and internet connection. Also immediately purchased a time management/billing program, which also handles all the accounts (business and trust), which costs approx R800 pm ($100). From there I expanded as money allowed, buying text books, online access to law reports, filing cabinets. Early next year I’ll move into offices. I have been buying good quality furniture at auctions, where you can sometimes pick up a bargain. My experience with marketing is that word of mouth works best, and it is free. I ask existing, satisfied clients whether they know anyone else who might need my services.

    • Arshad Pahad

      Hi Ben,

      I finished my articles about a year ago, and work at a litigation firm, although I dont know everything I am keen to open my own practice, taking into account my earnings and the fact that I can manage my own time.

      Do you have any good advice?

  • chuck

    What about insurance? dont you need to carry malpractice insurance in MN?

  • http://lawyerist.com/author/samglover/ Sam Glover

    It is optional here.

  • Dan McGinn

    Another new option for case research is Google Scholar, just click the button below the search bar. They recently started covering legal opinions. In looking for Connecticut cases I noticed that there doesn’t appear to be any Superior Court coverage, but all the Appellate level looks to be there. In the ‘advanced search’ area, one can limit the search to a specific state. Once in a case, it offers a Shepards-like way to check if the cases are still good law.

    http://scholar.google.com/

  • Lynsey Lyle Opalenik

    How realistic is it to start a solo practice right out of law school? I have some experience in a public defender’s office, but none in a private law firm.

  • http://lawyerist.com/author/samglover/ Sam Glover

    I know many people who have done it. Some have succeeded, while others have failed. I am getting pretty good at spotting someone who is likely to succeed, and the main thing that differentiates them is their commitment to succeed.

    Many who start their own practices just don’t know what else to do, and don’t really throw themselves into it. A few get lucky and survive long enough to learn better, but most wind up bailing out.

  • Paul

    Good article, although it really should be entitled what you need in the way of technology and equipment, for instance no other overhead, malpractice insurance, etc. is considered or marketing. I agree with pretty much everything you say, having done it myself a year ago. I went with a land line for the office phone, better quality and gets a yellow pages listing at least, long distance, DSL, etc. for about $100/month. Will probably switch that to cable phone and internet once my plan expires for better service at same price. Totally agree on the internet fax, once you use it and get your faxes in your email anywhere you will never go back to a stand alone fax machine. However without a good scanner (although you include one in your plan) getting faxes out can be ap ain and it may be worth buying a cheapie physical one just for outgoing faxes, so you do not have to scan, save, type up cover, etc. I personally woul go with Word rather than open office just becuase I am familiar with it. Depending on your type of practice (i.e. transactional) you can skip billing software, although for any sort of litigation practice you will need some sort of automated tickler system so you do not miss dates. And of course add malpractice insurance, probably about $2k. And as some one who has had one too many hard disks crash on my laptod definitely do some sort of automated backup be it on line or to a portable drive.

    And for others considering this I would look for physical space, you can often pick up shared space or just an office for a pretty low amount and it pays off in credibility.

    Skip the yellow pages and build a decent 5 page or so website with lots of optimized language and SEO friendly layout, with a blog and people will find you.

  • http://lawyerist.com/author/samglover/ Sam Glover

    On malpractice insurance, I paid $600 for my first year, and am still under $2,000 for two lawyers. This will obviously depend on a number of factors, from location to practice area, but malpractice insurance is a relatively cheap sleep aid.

  • Ben Rollinson

    I have been in the process of setting up my own firm ( Rollinson & Partners) now for about two months. I have found that the free advertising options available are excellent. I have already had 5 prospective client contacts and engagement letters sent to two of those so far. As far as technology is concerned I have been using my laptop which I owned prior to starting up. I am lucky that my fiance is an IT manager and has written me a bespoke CRM as good as any I have used in private practise.

    My question though is how can a newly formed firm or sp significantly increase the amount of prospective client contacts received without spending vast amounts of money?

  • http://lawyerist.com/author/samglover/ Sam Glover

    You don’t want to significantly increase the amount of prospective client contacts unless you are significantly increasing the number of prospective clients who are (1) in the right place; and (2) likely to hire you. To do that, blogging and social networking are excellent online marketing tools.

    Know your client. Figure out what they do and who they talk to, and get there first.

  • Mike

    How useful/necessary are the practice management software programs, either desktop (e.g. Amicus) or cloudbased (e.g. Clio)? It seems that based upon this post, the answer is “not much” because they are not mentioned. Does each software program mentioned perform one of the tasks (billing, scheduling, doc management) which are all performed by a practice management software program? If so, what is the advantage, if any, of shelling out the cash for one of those all-inclusive programs?

  • http://lawyerist.com/author/samglover/ Sam Glover

    For more on case management software, check out today’s post.

    Don’t assume you need CM software. You can easily get by without them. In fact, I found that the CM software I used (Time Matter) hampered my productivity and made it more difficult to manage my practice, not easier.

  • D

    I am curious, why Skype over a cell phone and their unlimited plans? It’s about $60/m or less these days, and any professional will be expected to have a cell phone anyway.

  • http://lawyerist.com/author/samglover/ Sam Glover

    A cell phone works fine if you are solo and never want anyone else to answer your phone, but (1) a cell phone is about 20 times more expensive, and (2) your number is tied to your phone. For example, we just hired a virtual assistant to answer our phones. She works from her house, about 45 minutes away, but answers the main office number using Skype. Works like a charm.

  • D

    I would consider a cell phone a fixed cost (that you didn’t have in your $3k law startup tally), so it wouldn’t be ‘extra’ over Skype. But even if one had to add the costs, with current competition for unlimited plans and the like, I can get monthly service in Washington DC for $40/m, so that’s about 10x more expensive than Skype.

    As to the number being tied to the phone, there are free services out there (Google Voice) and low-cost paid services out there (Grasshopper, etc.) which you can use to separate the firm’s number from your cell phone number.

    Google Voice doesn’t do phone trees, but it is free, while Grasshopper and like services do enable phone trees, so integrating a virtual assistant is built into that solution.

    Maybe it’s just because I have not been comfortable using Skype for mission critical calls. It sounds like you’ve been successful, but I have had enough drops in using the service for the past 4 years that I don’t want to rely on it for a main line. But then again, SkypeIn redirecting to a cell phone may be a good way to avoid those dropped call issues.

  • Andrew Cosgrove

    I am a former law clerk to a bankruptcy judge, but have no real law firm experience. I have been thinking of moving to a bigger city and setting up a solo bankruptcy practice. How feasible is this idea? I would assume that in order to make a real attempt at it in a new city, it would take more time and money than you discussed above. Have you heard of attorneys setting up solos in new cities, or is it in your experience that most new solos set up their practice in locations where they already have a solid foundation?

  • http://lawyerist.com/author/samglover/ Sam Glover

    I have seen both. It can help to be in familiar territory, but if you have a plan, you can do it. Brad Perri, who will start writing for us shortly, did exactly what you are thinking about doing.

  • http://ethicsmaven.com/ Eric Cooperstein

    @Andrew I think you should do the opposite – move to a smaller city to start your practice. Everyone moves to the big city. Why would you want to compete with big established bankruptcy firms with huge advertising budgets? The smaller markets may offer more opportunity (and lower costs).

  • Andrew Cosgrove

    Thanks for the comments. @Eric I have given lots of thought to this situation. You make a valid point, but let me explain my reasoning. I am currently staying with family in a very small town (with essentially no work, even in bankruptcy). As a solo in bankruptcy, I would generally be looking to do consumer cases for individuals. First, most larger firms are geared towards corporate chapter 11 work, so I would not be competing with them. Second, there are certain districts that have more consumer cases, especially in this downturn/mortgage crisis. I was thinking of moving to one of those districts, which happens to be in a large metropolitan area and trying to set up shop. My idea is that there are so many cases being filed there, I would have a better chance at getting some of them than if I went to a smaller place with fewer cases overall. Any advice or further comments anyone has would be greatly appreciated.

  • Charlotte Divorce Attorney

    Much of my practice is online or virtual although i do meet with clients weekly.

  • Susan

    This may go along with the “other” business expenses but you also left out bar dues and CLEs which can get pricey if you don’t have a firm paying those for you. Plus you don’t even mention what sort of operating costs one could anticipate – filing fees, travel, court reporters, etc. – it adds up quickly

  • H.Z.

    Thanks for the post. Is there any forum where lawyers can go to “hook up” to find potential law partners to start a firm, or at least find a place to share office space?

  • SJJ

    I noticed you did not mention malpractice insurance or setting up your business structure. These are two pretty hefty costs for attorneys starting a solo practice, right? Where does one find malpractice insurance and how much will it usually cost?

  • http://lawyerist.com/author/samglover/ Sam Glover

    Both may be optional, depending on your state.

    Filing LLC paperwork costs less than $200, so that doesn’t change the number, much. Your bar association is probably the best place to get started looking for malpractice insurance. It was about $600 for me for the first year (so $50/month). I’m sure the cost of malpractice insurance will vary widely by state and lawyer, though.

  • Timothy Rockcress

    This blog has been instrumental in setting up my practice in um…[I]psychiatry[I]. I’ve created redundancy in backing up the works with an inexpensive multifunctional Epson machine and an old Mac. See you in mental health court.

  • http://www.rocketmatter.com Larry Port

    This is a great article. If it doesn’t have all the nuts and bolts 100% the way I see it, it is a forceful argument for keeping fixed costs to a minimum and shows that it is possible. Well done, Sam.

    I echo Sam 100% on Skype. We built a call center with Macs, Skype, and Phone.com. We have no telephony equipment in our office. And we make hundreds of phone calls a week, for sales, support, and training, not to mention business activities.

    For legal research, Fastcase is also a good alternative and is often provided free/sold at a discount through state bar associations.

    Mobile broadband comes in really handy. But these days, I dunno if you need to buy a MiFi device or USB modem. Jailbreak your iPhone or use a Droid.

    Keeping costs down is critical. But also critical is keeping an eye on that cash flow. One simple thing you should do as you start is make sure your billing applications permit you to easily get the bills out on time each month. It has more repercussions than you might think. Get in the habit early of getting your bills out timely and accurately.

  • Nicole

    I’ve been out of work for almost two years and am planning on giving this solo practice a shot. Thanks for the tips!

    How necessary is an office the first year out? For those who couldn’t afford space right away, where did you all meet with clients?

  • http://phonewire.com/ Matt

    I would shy away from Skype and cell phones as your “business” line – just not reliable. For your business phone, I’d suggest looking at the cloud-hosted “phone system” service from PhoneWire.com. You buy the phone, usually $150 or so, but its a professional, solid, multi-line business phone made by Polycom. Then, for about $30 a month you get big features like voicemail and an after-hours automated attendant that can transfer callers to any number you want (i.e., cell phone), free music-on-hold and, lastly but most importantly, you can juggle multiple concurrent calls even though you only have one phone number. It’s like having unlimited phone lines at your disposal for as-needed conference calls (and the Polycom speakerphones sound excellent)!

  • http://lawyerist.com/author/samglover/ Sam Glover

    In the interest of full disclosure, the above commenter left “phonewire.com” as his website address. So while his comments may have merit, they also appear to be biased.

  • http://flanderslawfirm.com Joseph M. Flanders

    Sorry if this is rehash, but OpenOffice.org could be bad for two reasons (1) it is no longer supported as far as I know and (2) even if you do all your work with Open Office, the chances that your peers, clients, or the outside world as a whole also use it are minimal. I have had a lot of problems with sending Open Office files to people who use Microsoft products. It just isn’t very compatible.

    Otherwise, great article.

    • http://lawyerist.com/author/samglover/ Sam Glover

      1 is a valid point. We’ve written about the switch to LibreOffice more recently than this post. 2 is baloney. I used OpenOffice.org exclusively for 5 years, and never had anything other than trivial problems with compatibility for proposed orders, settlement agreements, and more.

      I also think sharing drafts instead of PDFs is a bad idea in general, though.

  • http://flanderslawfirm.com Joseph M. Flanders

    I didn’t think about using only PDF to share. Makes sense. Thank you.

  • http://www.SchraierLaw.com Seth D. Schraier

    I would actually argue that starting up a law practice is even cheaper than that. If someone is straight out of law school, chances are they already have all of the equipment listed above. I literally spent $0.00 when I decided to make the jump to start my own firm. The things that really matter, such as creating a website or advertising and a client referral service, can all be done for less than $2,000.00 for the year. I recently wrote about all this on my law blog: http://schraierlaw.blogspot.com/2011/09/going-solo-why-you-need-not-be-afraid.html

    • http://lawyerist.com/author/samglover/ Sam Glover

      I don’t think you meant leave out learning the law, serving clients, and gaining experience from the things that “really matter,” but it’s true that those things take more time than money.

    • http://jamesburtonlaw.com/cgi-sys/suspendedpage.cgi Jim Burton

      If you got a new computer when you started law school, it is probably about time to upgrade. I like Macs, but make sure that the software you need runs on them. For example, there is no bankruptcy petition preparation software for the Mac. (And what is out there will set you back about $1000.) If you have a Mac, but need to run a Windows only program, you will be shelling out more money for Parallels and Windows. PlayOnMac/PlayOnLinux may provide a free solution, but it is not always reliable.

      You will need a backup. If you have a Mac, get an external drive and use TimeMachine. You will also need offsite backup. I like Crashplan, as it is cross-platform, allows on-site networked backup for free, and has various prices for offsite backup.

      I recommend Google Apps with domain registration $10/year. Google Apps synchronizes well with Mail.app/iCal and Thunderbird/Lightning. You can setup a decent website and blog for very little money. Blogging is a great way to advertise and increase your credibility. Web hosting is not expensive. Be careful with free services. Many of them are free because they run ads on your site. You don’t want to see your competitors ads on your webpage.

      Used laser printers can be found cheap. Ebay is an option, but also check craigslist or occasionally thrift stores. My experience is that older models are better made, but have fewer features. If you have a Mac, be sure your printer is Mac or Linux compatible. (Mac OS X and Linux have the same printing system, cups).

      LibreOffice is a MUST have if you have a Mac because that is the only reliable way of opening WordPerfect files on that platform, and you WILL run into WordPerfect files. As for a Microsoft Office replacement, I have found it lacking compared to the old version of office I had from law school.

      GnuCash is great for bookkeeping, but you will need to take the time to learn it. For billing, not so much.

      If you are right out of law school, you will need to budget for educational materials. They don’t teach you how to practice law in law school and the materials aren’t cheap.

      • http://lawyerist.com/author/samglover/ Sam Glover

        While you might as well have a copy of LibreOffice on any computer, since it’s free, how often do you really run into WordPerfect files? I haven’t seen one in years.

        Do not use GnuCash. I could have purchased a lot of copies of QuickBooks with the money I paid an accountant to fix accounting errors that were either due to reporting bugs in GnuCash or my misunderstanding of how to use the software. If it was due to my misunderstanding of how to use the software, then it’s pretty likely that others will repeat the mistake. Use what your accountant uses, and get Quickbooks.

  • http://www.minnesotapersonalinjury.com/index.htm Mike Bryant

    I don’t see anything about the type of law that is being practiced. What will the cost be with what you are going to be doing. You will often have associated case costs that you will need to finance to do you job properly in many types of law.

    • http://lawyerist.com/author/samglover/ Sam Glover

      That’s certainly true if you do contingent fee work, but I don’t finance anything for my business clients.

  • erocks

    I possess all the knowledge and experience, but no clients. I feel compelled to focus on advertising. What type is the best? I understand the need for an SEO website. No problem. I am not a blogger.

    I need cash flow fairly quicky. Any ideas other than giving seminars. How about Lawyers.com or Total Attorneys? Anyone have experience with those? Thanks.

  • David Abbott

    I agree you can start a practice for four figures, but $3K is a stretch.

    I started a solo practice in suburban GA four years ago. I was an assistant public defender there for a year, which helped to get my name out and introduce me to the judges and prosecutors.

    In my area of practice, it’s important to have a physical office and furniture. Clients don’t want to trust their freedom to someone fly by night. They want a lawyer with ties to the community. An office near the courthouse serves this purpose and costs $400-$900 a month in a mid-sized town in the South. Furniture might run a few grand. The startup costs are only a tiny fraction of what you already paid for law school, and, you only need one new client a month to “make the rent.”

    I have spent about as much on advertising as rent. My first year, I spent $520 a month on a phone book add. This was a huge waste. Don’t do it. Direct mail has worked far better for me. For $300 a month, I can mail to 500 people who I know have been arrested recently. They key is to get good address lists, say from your local jail or from arraignment calendars at the court. Most of the attorneys I know who have tried blogging think it is a waste of time.

    In my experience, criminal law is one of the few practice areas where you can get ordinary people to pay significant fees. People are much stingier when it comes to divorces. Personal injury work can pay very well, but it will rarely pay quickly. Finally, any kind of work for corporations is hard to get unless you have an established practice. Breaking into the kind of corporate cases that pay $200-$300 an hour for a significant number of hours is a hurdle most solos will never clear.

  • ellie

    I also suggest for office space to also check out executive offices, office buildings near the courthouse and your local bar association, for offices shared with other attorneys, these are usually reasonable and furnished, have fax machines, conference rooms, and you may even be able to rent a phone line. good luck!

  • gah

    I recently started my own practice in general business, copyright, trademark and e-commerce after 8 yrs experience slaving away in a firm, most recently in a big firm. I have some clients and I’m trying to take the necessary time getting all the infrastructure in place. I’ve already done a lot of the set-up: website is close to being done, entity registered, bank account almost set up, timekeeping/invoicing system in place, etc. Now I wonder if it would be good to add another attorney to the practice to share workload at times, some of the set-up work and share overhead costs. I need to free up some of my own time for more billable work. I’d like to find someone in the same or related practice areas.

    Has anyone had any experience adding attorneys? Has it increased profits? Other tips?

    • http://lawyerist.com/author/samglover/ Sam Glover

      I have, and so have many others. This would be a great conversation to move to the LAB: lawyeristlab.com

  • Paul

    I’m six months in to my solo practice, and I love it. Last spring, while I was making my plans to open, this article, and lawyersit.com in general, helped me to no end. Especially with picking out a SnapScan, which I Iove, need, and would not have found had it not been for this site.

    One piece of advice from this article I did not follow was buying a regular desktop instead of a laptop. There is big economic and work productivity advantage to a desktop. If you have the office space, they are cheaper, faster, and less likely to break from accidental drops of spilled drinks.

    But the big reason I’m glad i went with a desktop computer is my dual monitor system. Most of the newer computer models (even the cheap ones), have video output for both VGA (standard monitor cable) and HDMI (it’s a port that looks sorta like a big usb port). Most new flat screen monitors can use either type.

    What I did was go to a yard sale and buy an old gigantic monitor from the late 90’s early 2000’s for $3, that used VGA. Now I have both monitors running on one computer. I have 36″ x 12″ of monitor space now.

    This is really important for me because I’m paperless (thanks to the snapscan). With this much viewing area, I can have a PDF, Word Doc, and internet window all open and view-able at the same time.

    I don’t have to mess with opening and closing programs from my task bar, and my work efficiency has gone up significantly due to it. (Note: I don’t personally know any other lawyers that do this. An engineer friend of mine turned me on to it. You can google “dual monitors” to get a better idea of how it looks and get testimonials as to how it increases work quality.

    • http://lawyerist.com/author/samglover/ Sam Glover

      Most of the lawyers I’ve shared office space with have had dual monitors, actually. A couple turn one monitor 90° in order to view full pages more easily.

      But you don’t need a desktop to do this. It’s just as easy to plug your laptop into an extra monitor (or two) for the best of both worlds.

  • Paul

    Sorry about the double post.

    One other thing I wanted to add was about practice areas for new lawyers fresh out of law school, who are short on clients.

    I have gotten into Consumer Advocacy. The area involves defending people who have debt collectors after them.

    Most, if not all jurisdictions have some kind of consumer protection law similar to the Federal Fair Debt Collections Practices Act. If a debt collector violates a section of the code during litigation to collect, not only is the debt ordinary erased, but the debtor can recover for emotional damages and (in my State) have an award of attorney’s fees.

    The trick is finding the clients. My State’s courts’ website system provides a pretty good level of detail on all pending matters (I know States vary on this), including small claims. I did a google search for “List of Worst Debt Collection Agencies.” I then run each company’s name through the Court’s public record system and find out which companies (that historically violate consumer protection laws), are active in my county. I then send direct mailing solicitations to those defendants. I usually get one client per 15 letters.

    • Eric

      My theory is if they can’t pay their debts, they can’t pay you. Don’t count on an award of attorney’s fees. The same applies to foreclosure defense.

      • http://lawyerist.com/author/samglover/ Sam Glover

        That’s funny. Attorney fees in FDCPA cases are mandatory, and I built a very successful practice on contingent-fee FDCPA cases plus debt collection defense (the important thing is just to make sure the client pays you before you do any work). I know quite a lot of lawyers who do just fine on contingent-fee FDCPA cases, as well.

  • Eric

    Well there you go. Good for you! Maybe I will give it a shot.

  • http://williepeacock.com/ Willie

    I’m also thinking about going the solo route. I like the idea of running my own business and since I’m nine months out of school with no job prospects, the risks are becoming more and more appealing.

    Just a few notes from a tech geek/lawyer hybrid:

    Mac is often a poorer choice than a PC. Why? It isn’t just the software problem. It’s the cost, usability, compatibility with peripherals, etc. This is of course my opinion, but a PC is going to be a far better choice. You can get a new PC with Windows for $300-400. Will it be capable of playing Crysis II? Hell no. But you are editing documents. A $300 computer and a $1000 computer will perform almost completely the same when it comes to Microsoft Word.

    OpenOffice and LibreOffice just don’t cut it for me. Fortunately, my school provided us all with a take-along license for MS Office Pro 2010. The firm I currently work (unpaid) at used LibreOffice on one PC for a week. Autosave was useless and document recovery for when Windows auto-updates didn’t exist. We lost a ten page document because we forgot to save. Now, this is our fault, but if you are used to Word auto-saving every 30 seconds in the background, it is easy to screw yourself by cheaping out on free software.

    A website is a necessity for attracting clients under 30. We are the internet generation and none of us uses the yellow pages. A blog would certainly help when choosing between the various search engine results and some of Google’s biggest factors are amount of content, time spent on the page, and frequency of content updates. Thank God I’m a geek or this would be a massive expense.

    Google Voice with an Obi110 box is a superior phone system to Skype’s paid offerings. It is free (Google) and the box ($50 on Amazon) allows you to hook a normal phone into your Google Account. Just like a landline, but free local and long distance for at least 2012. Fax machines may or may not work on here. You also get the same number routed to whatever landlines and cell you want, at whatever hours you want, and you get transcribed “visual” voicemail. You can make calls via your Gmail inbox which come from your Google Voice number and the speakerphone quality for that is perfectly adequate for conference calls.

    My concerns: malpractice insurance ($500 through CA Bar), bar dues ($500), medical insurance (no idea), practice management software or time slip and billing software (probably free), and any additional advertising costs beyond the website, which I already have (geekdom). CLE’s are also expensive.

    • http://lawyerist.com/author/samglover/ Sam Glover

      I find your logic on PC vs. Mac unpersuasive. a $400 Windows PC is a bad purchase, because there’s a good chance you will have to replace it in short order. That’s what I’ve seen again and again. If you buy crap, it will function like crap.

      There is a reason why Macs cost more, and why I buy high-quality Windows PCs instead of cheap ones. (Which means I could buy Macs for about the same price.) If you aren’t buying quality, you are probably going to buy quantity, whether you want to or not.

      • http://williepeacock.com/ Willie

        Price is not indicitive of longevity or quality. A $400 low-end spec’d PC by a reputable manufacturer (of which Lenovo is one example, Acer and Asus are others) when not abused will last years and be capable of running any legal software you can throw at it. There is no need for a $1000 top of the line Lenovo notebook or a $1000 Mac.

        Here’s an article on the matter, citing Consumer Reports.
        http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-505144_162-37044009/the-most-reliable-laptops/

        Toshiba and Acer are #1 in reliability, Apple is #2.

        Now, I’m not saying Apple is a poor choice, though I do think PC’s are more compatible overall and easier and cheaper to replace… especially desktop PCs. The choice of a computer however, does not need to be between Lenovo’s $1,000 PC and Apple’s $1,000 mac. A $600 Toshiba will do just as well.

        • http://lawyerist.com/author/samglover/ Sam Glover

          A $600 Toshiba wouldn’t last 6 months of my normal usage. I upgrade my ThinkPads after 4–6 years, and they’re usually still in good enough condition to sell, despite my heavy use.

        • http://lawyerist.com/author/samglover/ Sam Glover

          Also, from the article you cited:

          While [the number of Apple problems reported] is slightly higher than Toshiba and Acer, [Consumer Reports Senior Program Leader] Gallea actually prefers this brand.

          “If you have an Apple you probably have a leg up on everyone else,” Gallea says. When your computer does have problems, it should be easier and faster to get it fixed, he says. He also points out that Apples are less likely to get infected by viruses.

          • http://williepeacock.com/ Willie

            And from my previous post:

            “Now, I’m not saying Apple is a poor choice, though I do think PC’s are more compatible overall and easier and cheaper to replace… especially desktop PCs. The choice of a computer however, does not need to be between Lenovo’s $1,000 PC and Apple’s $1,000 mac. A $600 Toshiba will do just as well.”

            Apples are wonderful. I have an iPad that is permanently affixed to one of my appendages. That being said, they aren’t necessary. They are built to do everything for everyone, including video editing and graphic design. For lawyers pushing out paperwork, a $600 Toshiba will do the trick just as well. And if your Mac fetish is too strong to ignore, a $600 Mac Mini can also do more than anything a lawyer would throw at it.

            If the idea is to start a law practice on a budget, dumping $1100 into a MacBook isn’t the most efficient allocation of resources.

            • http://lawyerist.com/author/samglover/ Sam Glover

              And I would argue that the idea of starting a law practice on a tight budget is questionable, at best.

              • http://williepeacock.com/ Willie

                And yet, your article is “Starting a Solo Law Firm for Under $3,000?”

                • http://lawyerist.com/author/samglover/ Sam Glover

                  Nothing in this post advocates actually starting a law practice with a $3,000 budget, despite the title. It simply demonstrates that it really doesn’t cost that much to start a law practice. It also mentions several necessary add-ons that will cost more than $3,000. At the time (early 2008, before the economy imploded), there wasn’t an army of unemployed new lawyers trying to start law practices on shoestrings. I was writing to lawyers who wanted to start a firm but who were intimidated by—among other things—the perceived expense. These lawyers assumed you needed to spend $1,000 per month on a website and another $1,000 per month on legal research, and so on. I wanted to demonstrate that they were wrong.

                  In fact, I think a reasonable budget is more like $5,000–10,000 for the first year, but that will obviously depend on where you will live and work, what your personal expenses are, etc.

                  When setting a budget, the first question should be which option will help you serve clients best, whether it’s a high-end legal research service like Westlaw or LexisNexis, a well-fitting suit, or a high-quality laptop.

                  Struggling and ill-equipped firms are malpractice bombs waiting to explode, and starting a firm on a shoestring is asking for trouble. Does this mean you need to get a high-end PC or a Macbook Pro? No, but if the $400 difference in price between a cheap Windows laptop and a Macbook Pro will break your budget, that’s a pretty good indication you should not be starting a law practice. Buy based on quality, not price tag. Sometimes, quality is cheaper. Sometimes, it isn’t.

      • jay bacchus

        Here in the Detroit metro area, I am neither a law student nor a highly knowledgeable computer person. But I find this forum and some of your comments enlightening.

        You’d want to buy a 15 inch, factory recon Macbook Pro. Get one 3 years old. Absolutely spend the money and have Parallels installed on it (Parallels being the so-called ‘virtual Windows’ product). Enables your Mac to act just like a Windows machine when you need to run Windows software. If the Mac OS isn’t up to your needs, have a Mac shop upgrade it for you. Cheaper. Hell, you might not NEED any upgrade.

        As Mac gains market share, this is becoming less an issue, but it still is very much to be considered. My 3 year-old Macbook Pro has never suffered from a debilitating virus. It doesn’t recognize them. You can research WHY if you like.

        If you do go for a Mac 15 inch, do check out a Booq case, made for that computer and that computer ONLY. It is one functional, tough, handsome case. It’s designed to completely obscure your Mac camera lens. Makes it tough for anyone to watch you while you’re working.

  • Chad

    Paul/Sam

    I am in Texas and will be starting a solo practice once I graduate…and pass the bar. I am particularly interested in the Texas Deceptive Trade Practice suits. Those cases have a high rate of settling, but the turn around can be quite long. I am very interested in the FDCPA cases as well. I am curious as to which court the plaintiff would file the FDCPA suit?

    • http://lawyerist.com/author/samglover/ Sam Glover

      You’re far better off asking these questions of local consumer lawyers—there are plenty in Texas—or perhaps in the Lawyerist LAB, where I know there are some other consumer lawyers who may be able to answer your questions.

      The comments thread of an unrelated blog post probably isn’t the best forum.

  • Paul

    The Apple PC wars bring out the worst in everyone…

    • http://lawyerist.com/author/samglover/ Sam Glover

      I’m sitting on the fence. I have a Windows desktop (Dell) and laptop (ThinkPad), but I also have an iPad and a Mac Mini for a home theater PC at home. Plus, my wife uses a Macbook. I like to think I’m fairly neutral. I’ve never had any real problems with Windows, and I’m a huge fan of Windows 7 and my nearly indestructible ThinkPads.

      That said, I’m tired of the lack of any real hardware innovation on the PC side, so I’m probably going over to the Apple side when I need to replace my current hardware in 2–3 years.

      • Paul

        That’s fair. I went from a tech-know-nothing to a decent novice over the past year when I planned and opened my firm. My limited experience with apple is that they are faster, more reliable, and generally better machines at a higher cost. I went PC. I bought a decent desktop and a cheap netbook (but doubled the RAM) For about what a good apple computer would have cost. I had an extra monitor/keyboard/mouse and desk set up with the netbook, with all of my necessary programs on the netbook. I like the idea that if the main PC died without notice, I can still operate at or near normal capacity off the netbook, at least until I get a replacement. If I only had one computer and it died, I couldn’t work. Most, if not all lawyers, need their computer as much (or more) then they need a courthouse. Personally, I value the peace of mind that I have a backup plan. Then again, the likelihood of needing a backup in the first place would be significantly less with most apple products.

  • California Newbie

    What about professional liability insurance?

    • http://williepeacock.com/ Willie

      Check out California’s preferred provider’s strong start program. $500 for your first year.

      http://www.lmic.com/policies_offered/strong_start_program

      • Paul

        Mine was just over $600. $500-$700 seems to be about the average range from what I’ve heard.

    • http://lawyerist.com/author/joshcamson/ Josh Camson

      This is also going to vary depending on your practice area. Some areas (PI, med mal, etc.) are more expensive than others.

      • https://plus.google.com/117235644077949816393/about Gyi Tsakalakis

        And then there are case costs. Investigators, experts, trial support, etc.

      • http://williepeacock.com/ Willie

        Mostly true. The link I provided is $500 for your first year, $1000 for your second, regardless of practice area, though it is only for us California Newbies.

  • Scottt

    It would be really cool to see an update to this article, as it’s a few years old. There are a few new options out there for certain things. I’m in the process of starting my own firm, focusing in criminal law, so I thought an actual office is a better option for me for doing things like client meetings. I just found one that is located in a professional building in Hudson, WI that provides internet and other utilities in the rent and had a competitive rental cost. There are a bunch of other newer techs out there that are great too.
    1) Microsoft Live (the new hotmail) lets you use any domain you want and has cloud storage plus free access to Microsoft Office Live (slightly less powerful than buying office but way better than openoffice.org). Plus, you can sync folders so you don’t have to constantly back stuff up, it just happens.
    2) there are some quality all in one printers now. I have the Epson Workforce 520 which is ink jet but still prints like 20 ppm.
    3) Sites like GoDaddy that provide registration and hosting for minimal fees are great for websites and you get extra domains you can sell. I am paying my dad for access to his since you get like 10 domains at a minimum and he only used 2.
    4)Sites like Twitter and Facebook can really replace your need to blog if you do it right. Get a facebook business page and have your friends like it. Get a twitter handle and use that instead of blogging and try to hashtag effectively.

  • Jessica

    Thanks for creating the site. This might be slightly off topic and not sure if people are still posting on this site, but I was wondering how much on average most of the attorneys here grossed their first year in a solo law practice? I’ve just begun classes and after my own ordeal in the family courts system am very interested in focusing on law. Just hope it is is a realistic goal when considering all the student loans I’ll need to take on to accomplish it all. Feel free to e-mail me with any advice or information about your personal experiences at funkymonkey.boutique@yahoo.com. Thanks in advance.

  • http://www.weberfamilylaw.com Solo in Minnesota

    Where is the expense for Malpractice Insurance? Mine is $2200/year. I opened up my solo practice in May 2011, I’m not to the one year mark yet. I had other expenses:

    Downpayment for office rental
    Office desk
    My office phone system cost $1700, I have a “lease” where I am only having to pay $70/mo, and at the end of the lease I own the system.
    Filing cabinets – you really need to think about having storage space for client files. Electronic files are all well and good, but it is time consuming to scan everything. You’re likely going to need some storage space for files.
    I am fortunately located less then two blocks away from my county law library, so I can do my legal research there.

    SOFTWARE – calendars, time tracking, and billing – another good place to look is chaossoftware.com. Not the bells and whistles of the Amicus or the big Lexis/Nexis software packages, but good enough to start off with.

    • http://lawyerist.com/author/samglover/ Sam Glover

      If you’re solo in Minnesota, how in the world is your insurance that high? Mine was about $600 for my first year (I use Minnesota Lawyers Mutual).

      • Erik

        For $600 per year, what sort of deductible and liability limits do you have? I know practice area(s) matter too, but just curious as to what the $600 is buying you…

        • http://lawyerist.com/author/samglover/ Sam Glover

          I have $200,000 per claim, $600,000 aggregate, with a $2,500 deductible. My premium is up to over $1,400 a year at this point, however.

  • Steve

    It seems to me that the elephant in the room here is malpractice insurance. Sam doesn’t include it in his startup costs, but I think any lawyer would be a fool to practice without it.

    You should expect to pay at least $500/year, and perhaps more depending on the type of law you practice (e.g., securities practice or commercial real estate practice require supplemental applications and additional premiums). That brings your startup costs to at least $3,500. It’s not a huge increase over $3,000, but it’s significant, especially if money is tight. And it’s an ongoing cost that should be added to your 2nd year (and beyond) expenses.

  • Matthew Krupnck

    Good article but I don’t find it practical. If you are a plaintiff’s litigator, be redy to spend 50 – 100 thousand on a single trial, even in your first year. You also need a website and should pay someone to do it well. You will also need an assistant once you get more than a few clients. Our firm is new, but we need about 20 grand a month to keep the doors open.

    • Eric P

      $50-$100k on a trial?
      $20K per month?

      This makes no sense.

  • ryan

    what about a research service, westlaw or lexisnexis, and ability to take credit cards? I’m sure theres a fee.

  • Sierra

    Going sole practitioner in January. Any reason to pick Skype over a magic jack? I’ve already got a practice as a Legal Aid lawyer, and my practice is going with me, but the least fave part of my job is fielding phone calls from clients who are simply bored in jail. The rest of my work communications is almost always done by email, so I don’t want to spend much money on the phone.

    • http://lawyerist.com/author/samglover/ Sam Glover

      With Skype, there’s no cheapo As-Seen-On-TV!!! gadget to break or lose.

  • adam

    Have you looked into the feasibility of a recent law grad opening a small non-profit firm?

    • http://lawyerist.com/author/samglover/ Sam Glover

      What do you mean by “feasibility?” That would seem to depend on the business model, not on the experience of the person doing it or the size of the non-profit.

  • R. Siva Subramanian

    Being an Indian Lawyer (Ist generation lawyer with no back-up support via Caste, Religion, Politics and Family), my initial years of practice was tough. With the help of internet, studied the market-trend and street-smartness of other lawyers and developing my skills.

    To put on record, Lawyerist.Com is an useful website which not only provides theoretical knowledge, but, materials, too! I was fortunate enough to be gifted with an ‘Ipad’ (I presume I am the Ist & Last Indian Lawyer to gain it!), which is very handy for my practice.

    So, in my view, exploring and getting listed in useful websites is very effective and gives immense exposure to current trends!

  • Timothy Carignan

    I’ve read about a lot of people using Google Docs for research. You can use Square for credit cards, free (they take a small percentage, but no cost for the service).