First Things First

After I decided it was time for me to start my solo law firm, I gathered information from friends who had done just that.  I created a list of tasks and placed them in an order that made sense to me at the time.  What I quickly discovered to my surprise was I had no idea what was the correct order.  I will share with you the order that unfolded.  Some of these are unique to my profession as a patent attorney, but most are universal.

  1. Choose a name (tricky for lawyers in New Jersey – there are rules that result in very unoriginal names.  My concern was with a last name like Werschulz, which is frequently – make that usually misspelled – that I would not be easily found on the web.  NJ rules require the lawyer’s name in the firm name.  So it goes.)
  2. Establish your official business address – which may mean finding rental space, setting up a virtual office or setting up a home-base business.  My landlord and friend let me sign the lease once I had an official name so that the firm was liable, not me personally.
  3. Register entity with state and obtain IRS EIN (that includes figuring out what type of business you want to form or what type of business organization you qualify for, LLC PA or INC)
  4. Set up bank accounts now that you have a name, EIN, state registration and an address.
  5. Purchase domain name for your website and email addresses and set up email accounts.

Now here is where things got tricky and may be unique to attorneys or just to patent attorneys.

  1. Create letters of engagement, retainer agreements and disengagement letters.
  2. Obtain docketing software. (Docketing software keeps track of all your clients and due dates for various matters.  Patent law is sometimes completely unforgiving and your client can lose their rights FOREVER if you miss the date)
  3. Purchase professional malpractice insurance.

Before I could take in ONE dollar from a client, I needed to have these items in place in order to obtain insurance, which could not be made retroactive.  I had not imagined that my first two weeks in existence would be occupied with writing agreements for clients I did not yet have.  Shopping for docketing software was SCARY because everything was priced at $1000 per month.  Eventually found a reasonable one designed for the smaller firm.  None of my solo/small firm friends mentioned this so this may be peculiar to patent attorneys (peculiar fitting for patent attorneys) or something new.  There are not that many underwriters for patent attorneys and I found virtually everyone uses the same company.

Lesson learned:  Find out what you need to get liability insurance, whether it is professional or general so that you can hit the ground running.  I could have all this in place for day 1, but instead I lost about three weeks preparing the materials and getting everything in place and having the policy issued.