Gone are the days where it’s a requirement to pay the overhead on a fancy brick-and-mortar office with “THE LAW OFFICE OF…” on the front door. Thanks to advances in technology and a willingness of most clients to meet virtually in our post-COVID world, the start-up costs to open a law practice in Massachusetts are relatively low and accessible to newly-barred lawyers and seasoned attorneys looking to strike out on their own. We are at an optimal time to open a virtual law practice. With that being said, law practice management skills are rarely taught in law school, and entrepreneurship is not for the faint of heart.
Hi! My name is Jolee Vacchi. I’m an attorney licensed to practice in Massachusetts and Rhode Island. I graduated from law school in 2012, and after working at a mid-size firm for the past 4+ years, I decided to leave my steady paycheck and hang my own shingle at Foundations Family Law & Mediation Center where we resolve family law conflicts as painlessly and peacefully as possible. In five months, I’ve been able to obtain enough clients and generate revenue to hire two full-time employees—a Case Manager and another Family Law Attorney, and we’re just getting started!
If you’re dreaming of the owner-lawyer life, here are the steps you’ll need to take to start a virtual practice:
Instead of casting a wide net by taking any case that comes through your virtual door, I encourage you to niche down to a practice area (or two) so that you can focus your marketing efforts to a specific target audience. For me, I knew that was family law.
Traditionally, many solo attorneys starting out on their own would name their practice after themselves. However, you may want to consider your future business goals when naming your practice. Do you want to hire additional attorneys or take on partners? Those plans were in my future, and I wanted my clients to be just as jazzed to work with any other attorney in the firm as they would be to work with me, which is hard to do when there is one name at the top of the letterhead. I decided on “Foundations Family Law & Mediation Center” to easily identify what practice area we specialize in, to convey positivity and stability during a time of particular uncertainty in our clients’ lives, and to open the door to hire additional attorneys.
Remember that your new law practice is, first and foremost, a business. Spend time creating a brand identity to differentiate yourself in a crowded marketplace. What makes you and your firm different from the guy across the street offering the same services? Identify your company’s values and unique perspective. Authenticity is crucial here.
Don’t use your home address as your firm address. There are lots of affordable options to obtain a business mailing street address (avoid PO Boxes). I use Anytime Mailbox.
You should also have a phone number dedicated to your business that is separate from your personal number. There are also inexpensive options to consider here that can be downloaded and used directly from your current cell phone such as RingCentral.
As a virtual practice, it will be essential for you to purchase a website domain and professional email address. Check out GoDaddy to make sure that your domain is available and purchase it as soon as you decide on a name for your practice. You can usually buy a professional email address at the same time ([email protected] instead of [email protected]).
As a new business, you’ll need to apply for an Employee Identification Number (EIN) through the IRS website so that you can pay federal taxes.
After you have your EIN, you’ll be able to register your business on Mass.gov and choose the structure of your company. If you choose to go with an LLC, you have to register as a PLLC (Professional Limited Liability Corporation) which requires you to submit a copy of a letter of good standing from the Massachusetts Board of Bar Overseers.
As attorneys, minimizing risk exposure should be one of our top priorities, so don’t skip out on obtaining your errors and omissions policy. I was pleasantly surprised to find out that my legal malpractice quote with Biberk wasn’t as exorbitant as I was expecting.
You’ll want to open an operating account and a trust account to hold any client funds. M&T Bank offers this amazing software called Nota that reconciles your trust funds for you at the click of a button. It is free if you have accounts with them, so that is who I decided to open with. You’ll also need checks and a business credit card to charge expenses.
Besides a laptop and cell phone, you’ll also need cloud software to securely store your case files (especially if you want to be a paperless practice) and billing software so that you can track your time (if you charge hourly) and get paid. Fortunately, there are lots of fantastic options for comprehensive practice management software programs for lawyers. I chose Clio which is a popular platform, and although it was a “splurge” for me at the beginning, it is worth its weight in gold.
Leaving my previous firm job to start my own practice was simultaneously the most terrifying and exhilarating decision of my life. I contribute the success of my firm so far to the mindset I cultivated when opening my business that failure simply was not an option for me. I was going to make this work, no matter what—and you can too!
If you have additional questions about starting a virtual law practice in Massachusetts, I’d be happy to pay it forward and speak with you. Please don’t hesitate to reach out to me at [email protected].
This is a contributed piece by Jolee Vacchi, a family law/divorce attorney, mediator, and owner of Foundations Family Law and Mediation Center based in Worcester County. Jolee resolves family law conflicts as painlessly and peacefully as possible in Massachusetts and Rhode Island. She is the mother to two young kiddos, and their family maintains a small farm with chickens, ducks, and Nigerian Dwarf goats.
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