Is it a good idea to start your own law firm?

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Lawyers start their own law firms for many reasons.

They might be fed up with working for someone else, want more control over their clients and the type of work they do, or they could believe that having your own firm may mean dictating your own working hours.

The formal requirements for starting your own firm are simply that you have 2 years or more of post admission experience as a lawyer and have undertaken the short 2 to 3 day program to gain your unrestricted practising certificate.

Starting your own law firm can be incredibly rewarding, but it is also extremely hard work – and the hours don’t get less the longer you have one.

In fact, the hours may well get longer as your firm expands due to the additional managerial and compliance requirements.

Whether you’ve only been admitted for a couple of years or are a seasoned lawyer, going out on your own is a big decision.

If you are thinking about starting a law firm, here are a few things you might want to take into consideration before you take the plunge.

How much do you need a guaranteed steady income?

No matter how great a lawyer you are, it will take you a while to build up your business, and in the long run you may not be able to earn as much as you could if you stayed working for someone else.

Your income is likely to be erratic, especially in the beginning, and it’s important to be aware of this.

If you are young and you don’t have any dependants, this may not be a problem.

But if you have a family to feed, or don’t feel comfortable without a steady paycheque, you may want to reconsider starting your law firm – or at least make sure you have a solid base of savings to tide you over until your income is more steady.

Are you prepared to put in long hours?

When you have a criminal law firm, you can expect to work seven days a week and be at call 24 hours a day – after all, people don’t always choose when they’re arrested!

You will be thinking about your business around the clock, which can take a heavy personal toll after a while.

At first it is likely that you will have to do pretty much everything by yourself until you are in a position to hire more staff.

This will mean late nights and weekends – not always great if you started your own law firm so you could enjoy a better work/life balance!

Burnout can also be a real problem, and you will need to be really committed to if you want longevity in the criminal law profession.

Do you want control over the work you do?

You may think that going out on your own gives you control over the type of clients and cases you take on, but in reality you may be taking on every case you can get your hands on just to try and make ends meet.

However, having your own firm will mean that you can put 100% effort into every case, rather than being bound by rules and policies that may get in the way of focusing on each case.

So, you may well have more of a say in how you handle each case, and thereby secure great outcomes for your clients – which, after-all, is what being a criminal lawyer should be about!

Are you self motivated?

If you have your own law firm, it’s all up to you.

Nobody will be doing the marketing required to get the clients for you, or be responsible for the daily compliance requirements, or pay the overheads for you.

Equally, nobody will be standing over you cracking the whip, and if you are not able to motivate yourself you may find it difficult to keep your head above water in all aspects of the business.

Self-motivation and initiative are key qualities to make a success out of your law firm.

You will need to stay focused and determined if want your firm to survive and prosper.

Do you have a strong professional network?

No law firm can be successful without clients.

Finding clients will be less of a problem if you already have a large professional network, and a great reputation.

If you are inexperienced and just getting started, it might be more of a challenge.

In this case, it could be worth spending some time building up a professional network and raising your profile in your field before you go out on your own, so you aren’t completely starting from scratch.

Do you have a solid plan in place?

Starting a law firm on a whim or just diving in and hoping it all works out are two methods that are likely to lead to a complete disaster.

If you want to start your own law firm, you will need to create a plan so you know where you want to go and how you are going to get there.

Starting a law firm is like any other business, and it needs to be approached with a business mindset.

Planning beforehand can help you avoid obvious pitfalls, and give you a direction rather than just floundering around.

There is a lot to be said for the security of having a job, reasonably set employment hours and then enjoying the paycheque on weekends and evenings.

Many lawyers are happy working in regular jobs.

But if working in a steady job doesn’t appeal, or if you are looking for a challenge, starting your own law firm can be rewarding and exciting, although extremely stressful and sometimes overwhelming.

There are many, many successful law firms out there, and if you are motivated and prepared to put in an enormous amount of work, to implement extensive systems to ensure compliance, to spend time getting clients, and have a good overall plan in place, it may be the best option for you.

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Ugur Nedim

Ugur Nedim

Ugur Nedim is an Accredited Criminal Law Specialist with 25 years of experience as a Criminal Defence Lawyer. He is the Principal of Sydney Criminal Lawyers®.

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