In reviewing the materials in preparation for the Law Society of Upper Canada’s “Opening Your Own Practice” conference on September 16th I perused the participant questions we received at last year’s conference. All the questions were excellent so I decided to reproduce some of the Q. & A.s here:
Q: If thinking about going out on your own, how would you go about doing a market analysis to help with the conceptualization of your practice focus? In particular, I am talking about a situation where you would have to build a client base from scratch.
A good approach is to visit some of the communities you are considering and contact local members of that Bar (maybe start with the local Bar association) and invite a few out for lunch. Ask them some pointed questions as where there is a need for legal services and how you can enter that market.
Q: How much should I pay my bookkeeper who will be an independent contractor? I am in Brantford, where lawyers charge a lot less than Toronto. Incidentally, what do solo lawyers charge by the hour for general litigation in Toronto?
See my comments below.
Q: how much should I expect to pay an assistant? How can I present a business plan to a bank without numbers. They’ll say I’m an idiot
The salary for your assistant will depend on where you practice and the person’s experience and qualifications. Expect to a pay a premium if you are in downtown Toronto. Consider using a chartered account to help you with your business plan for the bank. They often work with banks and have precedents of what the bank is looking for.
Q: For Russell re tech support – No Panic Computing leases laptops that come with 24/7 tech support. For Rinku – a virtual office allows you to have reception and accept mail/courier packages, but only rent an office by the hour to see clients. Really reduces start up costs, can rent a full-time office in the building when have enough files.
Buying or leasing computer or office equipment with good warranties is a great idea. The warranties are reasonable priced and they can replace of fix the equipment if it fails usually within a day or two.
Q: What is the typical annual expense to allocate to advertising and what is the most successful venue of advertising?
Spend on advertising depends on where you practice and the size of your firm. The best form of advertising is word of mouth from current and previous clients. Focus on service and satisfied clients. Social media also offers great exposure at relatively little or no costs. Consider blogging, twitter, facebook and LinkedIn as good starting points.
Q: What is the best method to use in terms of handling delinquent accounts?
Regularly monitor your clients’ trust balances and stop working for them when there is no money left in trust. In other words do not let the account become delinquent. Require your client to provide you with proper retainers when you open their file.
Q: Do any of you use twitter/facebook/linkedin, etc, for marketing purposes? Any tips/pitfalls to share?
We use most social media platforms. The American Bar Association has books on the use of social media designed specifically for lawyers that discuss the risks and advantages. You can call me and borrow my copies of these books if you like. Here’s a link to the ABA http://apps.americanbar.org/abastore/index.cfm
Q: Earlier this panel mentioned book keepers. Can anyone suggest what is a good yearly rate for such a service?
Book keeping rates will likely depend on where you practice and the bookkeeper’s experience. In smaller communities the rates will likely be lower than larger cities. You can call some of the larger accounting firms such as BDO to get an idea of their rates and then go from there.
Q: Does Dropbox comply with LSUC on confidentiality and are there other sites?
It is my understanding that Dropbox is secure and meets your confidentiality requirements. Passwords can be used to secure you data. Dropbox is the leading site in my opinion.