Upon some initial success as a law firm, a key question that is faced is what is the appropriate trajectory for growth. This is simply the fancy way of saying, “Do we have enough money for new things?”
New things may include real office space, an administrative assistant, or your first associate. If it is really your first “expansion” conversation, it could include items like finally getting your RingCentral account for faxing or upgrading to a paid Dropbox account. Regardless of what stage you are at in terms of your growth, it is important to pause and make sure the particular amount of growth is right for you…
A natural step for an attorney or a law firm is to acquire office space. The reality is that some clients are going to want to meet with you in person and having a privileged conversation with a barista shouting for someone to grab their macchiato in the background may not be conducive to the clients’ (or your) best interest.
This is one of those times to step back and think about what you really need. First, wipe out the image of every cool law firm office you have ever seen on a television show. That type of real estate in real life is way out of your price range and even if you have the capital, is not the best investment.
Forget oak-paneled conference rooms, big ostentatious furniture, and rows of law books. Be practical and find a space that allows for you to meet with clients in a professional environment while not drowning you in overhead you cannot afford.
The advice here is pretty simple: Do not buy equipment that weighs much more than you do (except a refrigerator when you need it). You do not need the type of copy machine you will find at a Kinkos. Hop on Amazon and find a model from a reputable brand that will get the job done.
Fancy phone systems with multiple lines? Two words: Google Voice.
Bookcases for your law books (which may frankly just be from law school or also scored “Used” on Amazon)? Try Ikea. You will get some much needed life experience with the hours you spend assembling 100 pieces of matter out of a box with a name on it you may not know how to pronounce. If you want to splurge, get a TaskRabbit to take care of the assembly.
The point is that you can make your office look perfectly nice and have equipment that gets the job done without breaking the bank.
You will likely want to expand your legal posse of one or two to a few more people. Think strategically about making hires. If you need some extra hands on deck, first think how you may be able to do so economically.
There are a variety of law schools that offer externship opportunities to students for class credit. This is a perfect fit for a small firm for cost reasons and a good opportunity for a law student to get some actual hands-on experience with legal work. Our firm really had no choice but to get our first clerks up to speed and in action immediately. They got exposure to tangible legal matters that they really needed.
Once you are prepared to hire, make sure you understand what that means. It is not just a salary. It also includes taxes, benefits, and other financial investments.
Growth of your team may further be a conscious decision as to how big you want your team to get. If you want your firm to be flexible and close knit, keeping your team small might be the best bet.
Even as practitioners, we still tend to have these expectations of grandeur for what conditions a lawyer is supposed to operate in. Yet, we need to remember we live in a “post-2008 legal dinosaurs came crashing around us” world. Keeping things lean and manageable is surely the best bet for long-term sustainability.
Christina Gagnier leads the Intellectual Property, Internet & Technology practice at Gagnier Margossian LLP, with a specialization in social media, copyright and information privacy. She is also at the helm of REALPOLITECH, a digital public relations consultancy that provides a broad range of services, including crisis communications. She serves on the Board of Directors of Without My Consent, combating issues like revenge porn. If you ever need to find her, start with Twitter at @gagnier or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.