Management Assistance Program

Ten Tips From the OBA Opening Your Law Practice Program

By Jim Calloway

It’s a challenge to open your own law firm directly out of law school.

We provide some basic training to Oklahoma lawyers who are opening their own law practices.

Since 2012, we have offered a free program in the spring and fall called Opening Your Law Practice. Prior to that, we called the program New Lawyer Experience, but we learned some of our attendees were not “new” lawyers, but included some lawyers who were leaving public service and re-entering private practice along with some veteran small firm lawyers who just wanted a refresher on what our department suggested for various law firm management challenges, so we renamed the program.

We have completed Opening Your Law Practice for 2018. We appreciate Oklahoma Attorneys Mutual Insurance Company (OAMIC) for providing sponsorship and talking about buying professional liability insurance. We also appreciate Judge David Lewis of the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals speaking on professionalism, OBA General Counsel Gina Hendrix speaking on ethics and trust accounting and James A. Porter III, CPA, who spoke on accounting and taxes.

So, for this month’s Law Practice Tips column we share some tips from Opening Your Law Practice. Maybe we will see you there next year.

  • In the future, almost every successful law practice will rely even more heavily on technology tools than they do today. What worked in the past for lawyers may not work as well in the future.
  • Our Opening Your Law Practice Directory has lots of great materials for download including First Steps in Building Your New Law Firm, a 65-page downloadable PDF originally prepared for ABA TECHSHOW 2016 that contains forms and a sample business plan.
  • The OBA Family Law Section Practice Manual is still a good deal at $100 a year and those who are starting a new practice without many existing clients will probably find themselves doing some family law.
  • If you are going to open a solo practice, or a new small firm, today you are making an extremely poor decision if you don’t use practice management software and digital client files. This is easier to implement when you don’t have dozens of open files.
  • Don’t forget that six practice management tools were added as OBA member benefits this summer.
  • With digital files, the scanner is the new “two-hole punch.” You need one at the workstation of everyone who may need to place a document into a digital client file in our view. Yes, we know often a large firm IT department or vendor prefer the firm purchase the larger multifunction machines and place them in each hall, but we don’t think your two-hole punch needs to be down the hall. We still like the Fujitsu ScanSnaps. The model we use is the IX500.
  • While it is true that failing to appropriately communicate with clients (e.g., failing to return client phone calls within a reasonable time) is a very common source of client complaints, and systems should be in place to avoid these failures, the converse is important as well. That means having great communications with clients producing great client satisfaction means your practice generates satisfied clients that refer other clients to you and may return for future legal services. Having good client communications systems in place is equal in importance to having systems for the delivery of legal services.
  • Setting appropriate expectations for a new client is an important part of assuring client satisfaction. As lawyers all understand, this can be difficult when some of the important facts are not yet determined.
  • New lawyers just beginning their practices must have a marketing plan which includes a website and online resources. But they also have to get out and be active in their communities.
  • Attorney-client agreements signed by a lawyer and client should be a part of almost every engagement. There are form agreements OBA members can use as a starting point available in the MyOKBar Practice Management Advice community. To access it, log in to your MyOKBar account using the link at the top of the OBA’s recently redesigned website, then click the red MYOKBAR Communities (Sections and Committees) link. From there, select Communities, then All Communities and you will see the _Practice Management Advice Forum. If you’d like to get updates on items posted here, click the blue Join Community button on the right.

All lawyers today, no matter what their level of experience and what the size of their law firm, need to re-evaluate their business processes and technology tools regularly. Hopefully, these tips for opening a new practice spark some ideas for your practice.

Mr. Calloway is OBA Management Assistance Program director. Need a quick answer to a tech problem or help solving a management dilemma? Contact him at 405-416-7008, 800-522-8065, jimc@okbar.org. It’s a free member benefit!

Originally published in the Oklahoma Bar Journal — Nov., 2018 — Vol. 89, No. 29

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