Nov 23, 2022 | 5 min read

A step-by-step guide to starting a private law practice

While working in a large firm has its benefits, it can be exciting to take the entrepreneurial route and open your own law office, especially one that serves a local community. Being an owner of a private practice gives you the freedom to choose your specialty, hours, rates, your team, and your clients. x

This guide to opening your own law firm will detail how to start a private practice where you live.

Step 1: Lay out a business plan

Step one is to develop a business plan for your practice, which should include:

  • A mission statement
  • Your goals
  • A marketing playbook
  • Budgetary planning
  • An explanation of your competitive advantage
  • Business structure

Your finances are a crucial piece to your business plan, which should detail how much it will cost to open your firm, your monthly operating expenses, and your profit projections.

Pick a practice area

When opening a private practice, you’ll want it to be centered around the type of law you’ve worked in or have expertise in. The following fields are common for private practices or small firms:

  • Business law
  • Family law
  • Immigration Law
  • Labor law
  • Tax law
  • Entertainment law

While you may specialize in one area, your partners or other associates may offer other expertise, which will only make your offerings as a private practice stronger.

Choose a name for your firm

In the legal world, a common approach is to include your and your partners’ surnames in the name of your practice, think: “Smith & Ali Law.” This is also a great way to create name recognition in your community. 

Your firm’s name can also include your area of expertise, which could make you more searchable. Take Leigh & Dougherty Family Law in Albuquerque, NM, for example, which combines attorneys’ Tiffany Oliver Leigh and Kymberleigh Dougherty’s surnames with their specialty.

Step 2: Form a legal entity

For most businesses, including your new law practice, it’s essential to separate your personal identity from your firm with a legal entity. Depending on your expertise, it may be worth consulting with a business lawyer and an accountant when determining which type of entity to form.

Some of the most popular options for individuals or small groups are:

  • Sole proprietorship
  • Single-member limited liability company (LLC)
  • Professional Corporation
  • Limited liability partnership

Once you’ve formed an entity, you will apply for an Employer Identification Number (EIN). Even if you plan to work solo, having an EIN makes it easier to open a business bank account and hire.

Step 3: Tackle the admin work

When you’re employed at a large firm, your focus is solely on practicing law; when you open a private practice, you take on or delegate all the responsibilities, including: 

  • Securing insurance – As a business owner, you’ll want to consider insurance, including professional liability insurance to protect yourself from malpractice claims, property insurance if you work out of a physical location, and workers’ compensation insurance if hiring staff.
  • Calculating taxes – With the help of an accountant, determine your and your business’s tax needs for the year, keeping local, state, and federal tax requirements in mind. 
  • Billing clients - Will you charge by the hour, or specify certain rates and fees? To help you decide on your prices, find firms near you to compare the local competition.  

Step 4: Find your office 

Although the rise of remote work has made it possible to work as a lawyer without a physical office space, you may want a brick-and-mortar location. 

Having a real-world office not only gives you a place to meet with your team and your clients, it also makes it easier for potential clients to find you when searching for local law firms. Google uses “distance from user” as a factor when showing search results.

While law firms may not be as likely to receive walk-in traffic compared to other businesses, your signage will still help with brand awareness.

Step 5: Build an online presence

Make word-of-mouth business easier to grow with a professional online presence. You’ll need social media and a website to get the word out to neighbors, plus a consistent voice that speaks to clients seamlessly everywhere. 

Consider investing in the help of a graphic designer and web developer to launch a professional website that goes in-depth on your team, experience, and services. Magdalena Law Group in San Jose, CA, has a site that’s easy to navigate, makes contact information accessible, has photos of team members, and client testimonials.

Create a profile on relevant social media platforms, like LinkedIn and Nextdoor. While you may need creative support for your website, you’ll be able to get a free Business Page on Nextdoor in minutes. There, you unlock an instant following of your most valuable clients, neighbors, and can reach those closest to you with free posts. Include the most important information from your website — story, services, testimonials, and contact — so you make the best first impression wherever your future clients initially come into contact with you.

Step 6: Begin taking clients

Once you have your online presence up and running, start building your client base. This can include:

  • Reaching out to clients from previous firms
  • Attending community events to network with neighbors
  • Joining a local lawyer association
  • Building relationships with lawyers in your community to receive overflow cases
  • Hosting an open house at your new office
  • Running online, print, and out-of-home (OOH) ads

Build a successful local law firm with Nextdoor

With Nextdoor, you can establish your presence as a new local private practice, share your legal expertise, and reach potential clients in your community. With instant access to local businesses and neighbors, you can develop a dedicated client base from day one with your free Business Page

Define what local means for you, with advertising tools that help you get your name in specific ZIP codes or a 30-mile radius around your business. In no time, you can build a thriving private law practice that allows you to help as many neighbors as possible. 

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Author image Nextdoor Editorial Team At Nextdoor, we love local. The Nextdoor Editorial Team is dedicated to telling stories of local businesses, providing product education, and sharing marketing best practices to help businesses grow.