Build as You Go – and Four Other things you Should Know Before Opening Your Firm

  • December 11, 2023
  • Emily Sinkins

NOTE: This article orginally appeared in JUST. magazine.

While no legal practice is the same, there are some common keys to success in establishing a thriving enterprise uniquely yours while building a solid reputation and stepping up client service. With a mission to spare would-be sole and small-firm practitioners potential missteps or missed opportunities, the OBA’s Law Practice Management and Sole, Small Firm and General Practice Sections presented a program on October 2, in which lawyers representing a range of professional backgrounds and specializations tackled the topic of “Things I Wish I Knew Before I Started My Law Firm”. Below are some of the panelists’ top tips to take to heart before setting out on your own.

1. There may never be a ‘perfect’ time – but you can learn as you go

Panelists expressed a variety of different motivations for starting their own practice – from the potential for growth, gaining a foothold in an untapped niche or greater flexibility, to the power to choose location, clients and cases, not to mention create the firm culture – but when they made up their minds to pursue that path, they knew they could only be so prepared. They didn’t allow the learning curve ahead to prevent them from making the leap – they equipped themselves the best they could with a clear vison and plan, cashflow forecasts, and the essential tools of the trade (website, accounting software, contact systems, etc.) and determined to devote the time to learning as they went.

Lisa Feldstein, who established Lisa Feldstein Law Office Professional Corporation – the only law firm in Canada focused on advising and representing family caregivers – less than two years after she had been called to the bar, was still figuring out the terrain and the ins-and-outs of becoming a competent lawyer as she launched her healthcare and fertility law boutique. Her advice? Take advantage of that time when the phone is not exactly ringing of the hook to “build as you go.” In the early days, she spent time reading and getting good advice – even while marketing her services. She notes that she offered free phone-consultations that would often extend beyond half-an-hour while she got a handle on what the clients were seeking and the issues at play, then spend additional hours doing research to ensure she was well prepared going into the subsequent advice meeting. She didn’t charge clients for her learning – but the payoff was in building her expertise.

When he opened the doors on Michael Coristine Law Professional Corporation after having spent 10 years as a crown prosecutor, Michael Coristine was passionate about, but not as experienced in, the family law side of his family and criminal law focused practice. To build that business, in the beginning he invested money in paying other lawyers to consult, as he says, “to make sure I was on the right track in my research and competent in that regard.”

He agrees with Feldstein that, when you’re starting out, free consultations are important to growing your client list, but advises being very clear around what such a consultation entails, which leads to Tip 2…