How to Start a Personal Injury Law Practice

Three Parts:Becoming a Licensed AttorneySetting Up ShopBuilding Your Client Base

More than half of all attorneys engaged in private practice work solo or in small firms – and many of them work in personal injury law.[1] While your first-year torts class may have given you a basic understanding of personal injury law, starting a personal injury law practice requires more than just legal knowledge. When you start your own law practice, you are a small business owner as well as a lawyer. This means you must have a flair for sales and marketing, as well as a basic understanding of how to run a business.[2]

Part 1
Becoming a Licensed Attorney

  1. Image titled Start a Personal Injury Law Practice Step 1
    Get your law degree. In most cases, you must have a law degree to sit for the bar exam and become licensed to practice law.
    • Torts class is a required first-year law class, but if you plan to practice personal injury law you should take courses in your second and third years on insurance, medical malpractice, products liability, and workers' compensation law, as well as courses such as evidence and trial practice that focus on litigation.[3][4]
    • Since you want to open your own law firm, you may want to take some business law classes.[5] If you don't have a business background, you also might want to take some classes at a nearby business school.
  2. Image titled Start a Personal Injury Law Practice Step 2
    Complete your bar application. Before you take your bar exam, you must complete the bar exam along with any other state requirements.
    • Since these requirements vary from state to state, you should check with the board of bar examiners in the jurisdiction where you want to practice. Get a copy of the application and read through it well in advance of the deadline to register, so you have a sense of the questions asked and have time to gather the information you'll need to complete it.[6]
    • Most states also require you to take the Multistate Professional Responsibility Exam, a multiple-choice test that measures your understanding of the model code of professional ethics.[7]
    • In addition, your bar application asks a number of questions about your background so the application examiners can review your character and fitness for the practice of law. You must provide information yourself, and typically include both personal and professional references.[8]
  3. Image titled Start a Personal Injury Law Practice Step 3
    Pass the bar exam. The bar exam is a two- or three-day test measuring your knowledge and understanding of basic legal concepts.
    • Most commonly, you will spend one day taking the Multistate Bar Examination, a 200-question multiple choice test standardized for all states. The second day, you will take essay tests focused primarily on the law in the state where you've applied to practice.[9]
    • A passing score on the bar exam is essential to being licensed to practice law in your state.[10]
  4. Image titled Start a Personal Injury Law Practice Step 4
    Join professional associations. Your local bar association and other groups related specifically to personal injury law can provide valuable resources as you start your law firm.
    • Professional associations can connect you with experienced attorneys who can give you advice when you have a particularly tricky case. Additionally, many practice areas have group listservs you can send questions to and get multiple answers from attorneys in your community with experience.[11]

Part 2
Setting Up Shop

  1. Image titled Start a Personal Injury Law Practice Step 5
    Draft a business plan. Particularly if you intend to apply for small business loans to start your law firm, you must have a solid business plan that outlines your assets, projected expenses, and marketing and growth plans for the first five years of operation.
    • Generally, your business plan should include an outline of the structure of your firm, the services you plan to offer, administrative functions such as personnel, accounting, and payroll, a marketing plan, and projections for income and growth.[12][13]
    • Your state or local bar association may have more information on how to build your business plan, or you can talk to established solo practitioners or even friends you have who went to business school.[14]
    • As part of your business plan, you should decide how you're going to organize your law firm and include those costs in your start-up expenses. For example, if you want to establish an LLC, you will have to register with your state, pay registration fees, and file organizational documents.[15]
    • You also might consider having your plan critiqued by other lawyers who have started their own firm. They can point out expenses or issues you might have missed.[16]
  2. Image titled Start a Personal Injury Law Practice Step 6
    Choose an area of law. When you're starting out, it may be tempting to take any business that comes your way, but the best plan for solid growth is to focus on one or two specific areas where you can specialize and become an expert.[17]
    • Even personal injury law is a rather broad area. There are personal injury lawyers, for example, who only take medical malpractice cases, or who specialize in auto accidents. Picking a particular specialty enables you to learn more detailed information and come to understand the subtle nuances of certain cases.
  3. Image titled Start a Personal Injury Law Practice Step 7
    Build your starting capital. Generally you should make sure you have at least enough to keep yourself and your business running for at least a year while you build your practice.[18]
    • Generally, how much money you will need depends on your personal expenses as well as the projected expenses of running your firm.
    • As a personal injury attorney, you probably will be handling most of your cases on a contingency fee basis. Since you might not see any income from these cases for awhile, it's good to have operating funds available for a longer period of time.[19]
    • Make sure you include the costs of maintaining your license in your start-up costs. Most states have minimum hours of continuing legal education that must be completed each year, as well as bar dues and licensing or privilege taxes. If you are a member of various professional organizations, you also may have annual dues you must pay to keep that membership.[20]
  4. Image titled Start a Personal Injury Law Practice Step 8
    Find a good location. For a personal injury law practice, having a location that is accessible to clients is far more important than your office's size or whether you have a prestigious address.
    • If you are a personal injury attorney, you should assume that a large percentage of your clients will be disabled. Look for an office space that has ample parking and not a lot of sharp corners, narrow hallways, or stairs. For example, while many solo attorneys and small firms use houses to set up their office, this may not be the best option if the only parking is on the curb of a residential street, and clients must climb the porch stairs to reach the front door.
    • Since you also want an inexpensive location, you might be able to find an existing law firm that's willing to rent a few rooms for you to use as your office. Another option would be to get together with a few other attorneys starting a solo practice. The benefits include shared utility and building costs as well as the ability to share basic personnel such as receptionists and legal assistants.[21]
    • If you're able to lease space from an existing practice, it could eliminate or substantially lessen the cost of buying or renting furniture for your office.[22]
  5. Image titled Start a Personal Injury Law Practice Step 9
    Buy insurance. In addition to malpractice insurance, consider buying renter's insurance and business interruption insurance to protect your investment.
    • Since you'll be dealing with potentially litigious plaintiffs, the need for malpractice insurance is obvious – not to mention the fact that a growing number of states require law firms to carry it.[23]
    • Business interruption insurance will save you from financial ruin if there is a catastrophic event, and renter's insurance will protect your business assets from water damage, fire, or theft.[24]
  6. Image titled Start a Personal Injury Law Practice Step 10
    Create your virtual office. Your website probably will be the first thing potential clients see, so it should be informative and easy to navigate.
    • Choose a domain registration service and register a domain that's intuitive and easy to both communicate and remember. Avoid a domain name with a bunch of hyphens or other special characters, as these can be confusing when people see them in print and easy to forget.
    • Keep your name simple and unique to you rather than trying to make it creative or fancy. For example, if your last name is Sullivan, "" or "" would be potential domain names that are simple and easy to communicate and remember.[25]
    • If you don't have the resources to hire a full-service firm to design your website, you can use the hosting and design services available through the company from which you buy your domain name.
    • Once you've set up your website, make sure it's being indexed by the major search firms so potential clients can find you.[26]
  7. Image titled Start a Personal Injury Law Practice Step 11
    Invest in office furniture and technology. Outfit your office space with the pieces necessary for you to work there efficiently and effectively.
    • Make sure you have a server with enough capacity to handle the documents you will amass during discovery for your cases. You also need at least one desktop computer that you can rely on for several years, as well as other computers as necessary for whatever staff you may want to hire.[27]
    • You also should consider investing in case management software that will enable you to manage all your documents, organize your cases, and keep track of your deadlines and court dates.[28] This is especially true if you don't anticipate having the means to hire a paralegal at start up who would be able to take care of these tasks for you.
    • Avoid spending money if you don't have to spend it. For example, the email client that came with your computer probably will suit your needs and won't cost you any additional money. Paying for additional applications or software just to organize your email only bloats your start-up costs. Learn how to use the applications you have before you decide you need to buy something different.[29]
  8. Image titled Start a Personal Injury Law Practice Step 12
    Set up your internet and phone lines. Before your first clients step through the door, make sure your phones are working and you have a secure internet network to protect your information.
    • High-speed internet is a must, as is a private network behind a firewall with adequate virus protection.
    • You also might consider setting up a dedicated cell phone for your work that you can synch with your office calendars and your office's phone system.[30]

Part 3
Building Your Client Base

  1. Image titled Start a Personal Injury Law Practice Step 13
    Create social media accounts. Social media networks, if used properly, can provide your firm with valuable networking opportunities and free advertising.
    • Keep in mind that there are a lot of lawyers out there. Use your social media accounts to emphasize your personality and differentiate yourself from the masses.[31] You also can use social media to share practice news such as big wins and educate people on their rights and the legal options available to them if they are in an accident.
  2. Image titled Start a Personal Injury Law Practice Step 14
    Participate in community events. Making connections as a trusted member of your community can help ensure that people will come to you when they need a lawyer.[32]
    • Networking with people in your community, such as through volunteer services or other events, can be more beneficial than spending money on splashy marketing campaigns. Especially when people have had their lives torn apart by a recent accident or injury, they are more likely to call on someone they already know and trust than a flashy attorney they only know from TV commercials.
  3. Image titled Start a Personal Injury Law Practice Step 15
    Join referral networks. Many local and state bar associations have referral networks you can join so other attorneys can help you build your practice.
    • Referrals from other attorneys can bring in stronger cases and enable you to spend less time and money on advertising and marketing. Becoming active in your local bar association or your state trial lawyers' association will help you make connections with other attorneys. If they have a client with a case for which they think you are better suited, they will send the client your way.[33]
    • Paying a referral fee can be a good way to boost the number of referrals you get, but make sure you check your state's ethics rules first so you know what you're legally allowed to do.[34]
  4. Image titled Start a Personal Injury Law Practice Step 16
    List your law firm on legal search services. Search services such as Martindale Hubbell allow people who need an attorney to find someone local who best suits their needs.[35]
    • Additionally, having a high rating on Martindale Hubbell can help boost your reputation, bringing you more referrals.[36]
    • Other associations and interest groups such as AARP also have legal search and referral networks that can bring you business if their members have a need for the services you offer.[37]
  5. Image titled Start a Personal Injury Law Practice Step 17
    Consider starting a blog. Providing information and explaining complex legal topics in layman's terms can help people understand their case and determine whether they need a lawyer's assistance.
    • Building a successful blog not only gets your name out there, but can help you establish credibility as an expert in your field. You can write posts ahead of time and queue them to run on a daily or even weekly basis. Then set up your Twitter, Facebook, or other social media accounts to share a link to your blog post.[38]

Sources and Citations

Show more... (35)

Article Info

Categories: Injury and Accidents | Legal Matters