Setting up a personal injury law firm requires planning. You need the resources to represent clients from the moment you open your doors. Without preparation, you could face client complaints and even professional sanctions.
Every firm has to start somewhere. If you build a solid base of personal injury clients and have the people and infrastructure to represent them, your firm could grow rapidly and rival the most powerful firms in your area.
Constraints on new law firms
New law firms have the same ethical constraints as established law firms. The main rules you should watch for as you open your law firm include:
Almost every state has a version of ABA Model Rule 1.3. This is one of the shortest rules in the Rules of Professional Conduct, and it requires lawyers to act with reasonable diligence and promptness when representing clients.
Diligence and promptness mean you need to set aside time to do your work. When you establish a new law firm, you could find yourself buried under a mountain of administrative tasks that might cause you to inadvertently neglect your clients. This can have grave consequences for your new firm.
Handling client funds
The ethical rules require you to safeguard client property. Mishandling client funds is one of the most dangerous violations of ethical rules. If a disciplinary board finds that you violated this rule, it might suspend or disbar you.
Worse yet, a trust violation might expose you to criminal liability for fraud and theft from your clients. Depending on how the trust violation happened, you could face federal charges for wire fraud or mail fraud, as well as state charges for embezzlement and larceny.
Solicitation rules cover how you can solicit clients and the types of marketing you can use. State solicitation rules vary widely from each other. Most states also have deceptive trade practices laws that apply to law firms.
Since the state bar is sensitive to the legal profession’s appearance, disciplinary boards do not look kindly at violations of the solicitation rules. Additionally, the public often views excessive lawyer advertising as distasteful.
After reviewing these constraints, here are the top five things you’ll need to set up a personal injury law firm.
Top five things you need to start a personal injury law firm
Navigating the risks and reaping the rewards of starting a personal injury law firm requires careful planning. Some critical steps you must complete to start your law firm include:
1. Law firm trust account
Every state requires a lawyer trust account. The trust account is a core feature of every personal injury law firm. When you receive settlement funds or damage awards for your client, they must go into a trust account until you can generate the final billing statement and release the funds to your client.
You must also establish a law firm trust account. This is not just a second general account. Banks usually have special rules for trust accounts, including reporting any overdrafts to your state’s bar association.
In most states, you must inform the bank that you need a law firm trust account. After opening the account, you must report the bank’s name and account number to the state bar.
2. Marketing plan
You need a marketing plan to get new clients. This plan will list how you will advertise your firm’s services through various marketing channels, including:
- A law firm website
- Phone directories
- Lawyer listing services
- Search engines
- Referral services
- Print advertising
Personal injury law firms also develop relationships with medical practices. Chiropractors, doctors, and rehab centers can provide an important source of referrals.
Regardless of how you plan to market, make sure you have met all the limitations of your state’s solicitation rules. Creativity and cutting corners can expose you to discipline.
3. Time management plan
You need a time management plan. A plan is not the same thing as software tools for managing your time. A plan includes how you will divide your time among your:
- Law firm administrative duties
- Professional development
- Commitments to friends and family
Many lawyers leave their employers due to dissatisfaction with their work-life balance. One of the benefits of starting your own law firm is your ability to control and set your time management plan.
4. Staff plan
When you start your law firm, you might not have the resources to immediately hire legal staff. But you could quickly need help so that you do not waste time on tasks that do not require a lawyer, such as:
- Requesting medical records and accident reports
- Managing documents
- Formatting court filings
- Maintaining your calendar
Having a legal assistant or paralegal is an important source of cross-checking. If two sets of eyes look at every letter and court filing, you have a much better chance of catching mistakes before they go out the door.
Develop a plan for hiring staff. This plan should include how you will solicit, screen, and compensate your staff members.
Your law firm will start with no clients. Remember that clients do not belong to a lawyer and that clients cannot transfer their work until you set up your new law firm.
You might expect some or all of your clients to transfer their work to you. This might allow you to hit the ground running after you start your law firm. But you will still need capital to establish your firm before any clients arrive.
Develop a plan for funding the following items and services:
- Office space
- Utilities, including phone, internet, and electricity
- Office equipment, including a scanner, printer, and copier
- Supplies, such as letterhead and business cards
Most law firms begin with a combination of small business loans, credit lines, and personal investments by the shareholders.
Starting a new personal injury law firm
Starting a law firm is both rewarding and challenging. But if you have a plan, you can launch your law firm in a stable way that minimizes the risks of financial or disciplinary issues.