You’ve probably had to answer a lot of questions about why family law is your specialty. After all, the emotional nature of divorce, custody, and a myriad of other trying situations in your practice can make people wonder why anyone would become a family law attorney.
Yet, if you went to law school to help people or to make a difference, you know that altering a child’s visitation schedule can do just that. If you dreamed of courtrooms, family law lawyers see the inside of them far more than most other practice areas.
You’ve found your niche and are passionate about the work; you’ve probably thought about opening your own practice. So what should you consider before starting a new family law firm?
Doctors and lawyers top the list for respected professions. Unfortunately, they also top the list for poor money management skills. Plus, if you graduated in the last decade you probably did so with a mountain of debt. Law school tuition was almost three times as expensive in 2019 as it was in 1985 –– even after adjusting for inflation. Paying it off isn’t easy.
Although the median first-year base salary for associates topped 150K last year, at firms with fewer than 10 lawyers, it’s under $60,000. That isn’t terrible –– unless you need to service a huge pile of debt. Worse, the profession’s long hours make it more likely that you’ll be spending lots of money on meal delivery, dry cleaning delivery, grocery delivery, and online shopping in general.
The bottom line is your bottom line should be fairly healthy before you’re also responsible for an office lease, utilities and the numerous costs associated with running a business. Get good at budgeting and start setting some funds aside now.
Hopefully you already have a mentor. If you don’t, finding one before you set up shop can be enormously helpful. A family law practice is a business and someone who has their own practice can offer insight into its pitfalls.
You should be attending meetings or other gatherings for your speciality. You should also take older associates for coffee to pick their brains. Being in business can be lonely –– acquire a healthy network of contacts before you set up shop.
Although you’ll have war stories of your own, family law is nuanced. Your mentor or other colleagues may have examples of how different settlements were structured, the times they had to go to court to adjust a custody agreement, and even how seeming minutia like child support for extracurricular activities actually improved a client’s family life.
Take time to listen and learn –– not only in the office but in the courtroom. Both the judge and the opposing counsel can offer an education beyond what you acquired in law school.
Helpful colleagues can help you set your fee structure. Determining what you will charge can determine the clientele you’ll attract. Set your rates too high and you won’t get many clients, too low and you’ll have trouble paying bills. You may also want to consider a flat fee for simple filings that don’t require long hours of research or court appearances.
Spend some time looking at the competition. Be honest –– what do they do well? Also, pay attention to how many firms there already are in your speciality. A skilled attorney will do well no matter what the competition, but you may want to shift your focus to an unfilled niche.
Beyond your specialty, setting up shop is like opening any other business. You’ll want to find a good location, one comfortable for clients, but affordable for you. You’ll want to look at advertising, from social media to radio and bus stop benches. The key is preparation –– knowing the pitfalls before you encounter them will help you in your business and with your clients.