Have you been practicing law for a while? Today, many lawyers are stepping into the entrepreneurship world to open their law firms. Indeed, practicing under experienced lawyers gives a lot of exposure but having autonomy at work is equally vital. You can choose clients and legal cases of your choice and practice in a particular area. Likewise, you can enjoy flexibility and freedom, make decisions, and set your priorities.
However, most lawyers don’t understand that starting a law firm is more than practicing law. Apart from legal responsibilities, you have to recruit people, market the law firm, and most importantly, manage finances. You have to document a long-term financial strategy to stay on top of your daily budget and earn profits. At the same time, you have to manage taxes, acquire funding, handle invoices, and much more.
To help you get started, here is a comprehensive guide to law firm finance in 2021.
1. Create a Long-Term Financial Strategy:
As a law firm owner, you have to establish a vision for the firm’s future. Do you picture a multi-lawyer firm handing corporate clients? Or you want to step into litigation or criminal law? Having a clear idea of long-term goals will help in creating a well-defined financial strategy. You can start putting funds aside for expansion from the beginning.
Likewise, you have to keep up with numbers, forecasts, and budgets to manage the day-to-day cash flow. You have to ensure the business has enough funds to secure new clients and take cases to trial. After all, not every case settles. However, if you don’t have a knack for numbers, consider learning the ropes.
You can look for virtual programs such as MSF online to avoid the hassle of traveling to college. After all, online education gives students a lot of flexibility, motivating them to keep learning. As for your law firm, it will help in managing finances efficiently while practicing law.
2. Get Access to Funding:
Although you are stepping into a service business, you will need a hefty amount of capital and cash to start a law firm. From office rentals, conference rooms, stationary costs to staffing – you will come across a long list of expenses. Therefore, look for ways to obtain capital for your law firm. Here are some of the options you can explore.
Whenever starting a business, make sure a small chunk of the capital comes from personal savings. That way, you will keep working in the game because you won’t be liable to another person when things get tough.
You can start with a few thousand dollars, but more capital gives lawyers enough runway to make the business profitable. Hence, if your savings don’t seem sufficient, opt for a bank loan or open a credit line to raise capital.
Today, many incubators connect new business owners with funding to get going. Often, they use their contacts with angel investors to fund new businesses or seek help from venture capitalists.
3. Manage Taxes:
Most attorneys operating law firms aren’t aware of legal obligations. As a result, taxes hit them in surprising ways. You might get a call from Internal Revenue System (IRS) or a hefty fine for missing the deadline.
Similarly, many lawyers have difficulty categorizing deductibles. You might think everything is deductible, whereas your tax liability is higher than you predicted. These pitfalls not only halt business operations but are super pricey too.
Hence, consider bringing an experienced tax specialist on board. However, if you don’t have a budget for additional hiring, learn about the taxation policies yourself. It doesn’t mean you have to go back to school; instead, look for online programs. You can opt for an online LLM tax program and learn from the comfort of your home and office. It will help you plan for tax liability, closing doors for IRS audit, and incorrect tax deductions.
4. Streamline Invoicing & Payment System:
Usually, lawyers have different payment policies. When dealing with corporate clients, they charge a monthly fee and have separate legal charges for cases. On the other hand, they don’t charge when fighting for accident victims until the negligent party’s proven guilty. Despite having different payment policies, you must have an appropriate invoicing and payment system at the firm. You can leverage savvy software to automate the firm’s finances.
Moreover, record your income correctly. If you charge a retainer fee, treat it as an advance payment and track its spending on every case. Similarly, avoid recording any income in your financials until you have won the case. It will give you a realistic view of the firm’s financial position, making sure you are on the right track. Besides this, don’t forget to set flexible billing terms with the clients and discuss everything upfront to avoid issues later.
5. Prepare Budgets, Reports, & KPIs:
Having a budget is imperative for your law firm’s financial success. You have to estimate your expenses and the revenue you expect to earn. It will give you a solid idea of how much you should work to make the business profitable. Likewise, you have to prepare financials to catch a glimpse of profitability.
Well, to begin effective financial reporting, you have to start with the bookkeeping basics. You have to record all financial transactions and maintain a separate account for every client.
After this, you can prepare an income statement and balance sheet to determine the law firm’s equity. Also, create a cash flow statement to understand how much cash goes out and comes into the business. All these financials will be a brilliant source of insights about your law firm. You can spot trends, overcome weaknesses, and capitalize on your strengths to make the business more profitable.
Every successful law firm considers numbers and data first. You have to create an excellent financial plan with a growth vision to make your law firm successful. Similarly, you have to manage cash flow, follow a detailed billing process, and raise sufficient capital. As you progress forward, a strong financial position will unfold new growth opportunities. You can tap into new practice areas, offer more services, and expand your team.