IF YOUR DESIRE IS TO GROW YOUR LAW PRACTICE from a “true solo” to a law firm, you will, at some point, need to invest money in growth. This could mean hiring experts to help you create a business development and growth plan, a lead-generating website with compelling copy and search engine optimization, an effective online ad campaign, or implementation of some other rainmaking strategy.
As you start attracting more ideal clients, it also could mean you need money for more (or more qualified) staff, equipment, space, insurance, etc.
Regardless, growth requires funding. If you want to grow and you are not sure how to create the money to do it, here are 10 ideas to get you started, and some pros and cons of each:
OPTION 1: Work a day job until you have enough money saved.
- You have a steady income while you build your practice.
- You won’t worry as much about money to pay your personal bills, so you all the money you make in your practice can go back into growing the practice.
- Since you aren’t worried about money, you can focus your attention on the work of growing your practice.
- You might make some connections with people you otherwise would not meet that could become clients for your law practice.
- Your employer may perceive your practice to be competition for your time and attention. Also, depending on the nature of your job, your private practice might be a conflict.
- You could struggle to effectively service your clients if you are working for someone else during regular business hours.
- You might find you are less motivated to build your practice because you already have enough money coming in, and you are too tired at the end of the day to do the work your practice requires.
- The time you have to devote to both working IN your business and ON your business, will be limited by the time you need to work your “day” job, plus do all the other things in your life, like spend time with your family.
OPTION 2: Borrow against a 401(k) (perhaps from your previous employer).
- You’ll be paying yourself back.
- You’ll have access to a chunk of money for investing in your business instead of small amounts over time.
- You’ll have a few years to pay it back.
- You may not have a 401(k).
- You might not be able to borrow as much as you think because there are caps. You can only borrow up to half of your vested interest (usually).
- You have a limited time to pay it back.
- You might not be able to pay it back. You might be penalized if you have to take some out or can’t pay it back.
- You lose bankruptcy protection 401(k)s may provide.
- You might not have enough in your 401(k) to make it worth borrowing.
- You could stall the growth of your 401(k) if you don’t continue to contribute on an ongoing basis (if that is still an option).
- You put all your eggs in one investment basket by shifting your retirement investment to your business.
OPTION 3: Borrow from friends and family.
- Your friends and family may be eager to support you in growing your business and want to help in any way they can.
- This may be one of the quickest ways to raise capital.
- You might be able to get an interest free loan this way (or even a gift—though that could have tax implications).
- Your friends and family may not have money available (or be willing) to invest in your practice.
- You might damage the relationship if you fail to pay them back timely, or with interest.
- You might not be able to pay them back, despite your best efforts, which could cause hard feelings.
- You might feel weird about putting an agreement in writing and, thus, not have a controlling document to turn to if something goes wrong.
- You might wind up in a lawsuit with a friend or relative.
OPTION 4: Apply for a line of credit or a loan from a lender.
- Getting a loan or line of credit from a bank or some other lender that is a stranger to you is considered an arms-length transaction (unlike borrowing from family) so there’s more likely to be a contract to protect both of you. (FYI, A line of credit is available for you to charge against as you need it, whereas with a loan, you immediately obtain the full amount.)
Terms would be clearly spelled out with a lender.
- Loans from lenders for your business could have a positive impact on your credit long-term if you are timely in making payments, which could enhance your ability to borrow more in the future.
- Lenders like to lend to professionals, especially if they have good credit, collateral, proof of high income and several years of experience in solo practice.
- It can be hard to get a line of credit or loan from your bank or some other lender without collateral, proof of a certain amount of income, years of experience running your own successful law firm, and a good to great credit score. Small Business Administration (SBA) loans, in particular, are nearly impossible to obtain and you need an abundance of patience to continually jump through their hoops. Still, if you meet the criteria and make it through the process, this could be a viable option.
- As a lawyer, you might have an issue getting someone to co-sign because attorneys cannot partner with non-attorneys in a law practice; therefore, a co-signer could not do so for an equity share in the business until he or she is a lawyer licensed to practice in the same state.
- If you obtain the loan and then fail to pay it back, it could negatively impact your ability to borrow for your business for years to come.
OPTION 5: Use personal credit cards.
- Credit cards are pretty easy to obtain.
- If you default, you might be able to discharge them in bankruptcy. (Unlike student loans and back taxes, for instance.)
- You don’t need to rely on anyone else to obtain a credit card.
- You can raise quite a bit of money quickly if you obtain multiple cards.
- The more you use them and timely pay the payments, the more likely you are to get credit line increases.
- Credit cards are the risky of credit options. You can quickly get in over your head.
- Interest rates may be high and, as a result, that easy money make cost you way more than it’s worth in the long run.
- You might quickly find yourself only able to make minimum payments, which does nothing to pay the cards off and could pose an issue when you want to obtain a line of credit or loan from a lender in the future (particularly if you want to buy a building, let’s say).
- You might be saddling your new business with debt it might take you years to repay.
- You might have to bankrupt your business and/or file personal bankruptcy if you borrow too much and can’t pay it back.
- You could severely damage your credit history if you borrow too much or can’t make timely payments for some reason.
OPTION 6: Check into lawsuit financing.
- If you need to carry litigation in a contingency case, for example, where you won’t get paid until the end of the case, this might be a viable option. There are lenders who target clients and those who target lawyers. Lenders targeting lawyers are generally looking for firms handling class actions, medical malpractice, or other complex (expensive) litigation. It can be hard for small firms to break into these practice areas because of limited funding, so if this is something you want to pursue, this type of funding could be the best option for you.
- These loans are considered high risk because of the perceived creditworthiness (or, rather, creditworthlessness) of the clients and the risk of the outcome of the case, so the interest rates likely will reflect that.
- Some loans are non-recourse (meaning if you don’t win they don’t require repayment) but many require repayment regardless of the outcome, so it’s important to read and understand the fine print (whether you are the one borrowing or you are advising clients).
- You might not win the contingency case and have trouble paying it back if it does require repayment.
- Also, there are numerous scammy financing companies out there, so you’ll need to be cautious in taking this approach.
- You’ll definitely want to check the laws, Bar rules and ethics rules in your jurisdiction before seeking this type of funding.
OPTION 7: Bring in partners willing to contribute capital investments.
- You’ll create an influx of capital for growth.
- You’ll have people which whom you can share expenses.
- You’ll have people with whom you can share decision-making.
- You invite more folks to share the profits, insert their opinions (and votes) on how you run things, and create expenses. Will they contribute to the book of business? Will they bring their own? Will they want to leach off of you? Will they want to benefit like a partner but behave like an employee? All are important considerations before you embark on the partnership path.
- Remember, too, lawyers in many (maybe all) jurisdictions cannot be partners in a law practice with non-lawyers. Check the rules in your jurisdiction.
- The capital raised may dissipate quickly and then what’s the plan?
OPTION 8: Create other, passive sources of income.
- Once you set up a passive income stream, it’s fairly easy to continue generating income with minimal effort.
- It also can be a fun way to make money through an existing hobby or by sharing your expertise.
- A passive income stream could take the pressure off needing “extra” money to pay personal bills or for extracurricular activities.
- Sometimes, passive income streams can make you a whole lot of money, which can create more options for you in your life in many ways.
- Deciding what to sell and how to sell it takes some thought.
- Setting up an online sales funnel can be costly and time-consuming at the outset, particularly if you don’t know what you are doing. It’s not really “passive” so much as it is “residual.”
- It may be hard for a lawyer to come up with good options to create long-term passive income. If you want to make it law-related check your Bar rules before you invest too much time and money. Make sure you are not inadvertently creating an attorney/client relationship or violating conflicts. (You could, instead, do something related to a hobby. Again, though, this may take time and focus away from building your law practice.)
- If it were as easy as a lot of internet marketers would have you believe, everyone you know would be a millionaire.
OPTION 9: Engage in a side hustle.
- Many attorneys I know have engaged in a side hustle, like being an adjunct professor at a local college or university, for instance, or working in a family business part-time, or selling MLM products. The pro of this is that you create some cash flow from an outside resource.
- You might also meet more people who could become clients for your law practice.
- This might reduce your cash-flow related stress enough to allow you to seek ideal clients instead of taking on every case that walks through the door.
- Could one more client in your business make you the same or more money than your side hustle can? If so, then you might not want to do it because a) side hustles can be a distraction from growing your business, and b) it might cause some confusion in the mind of potential clients about your priorities.
OPTION 10: Bootstrap (self-fund as you go).
- You make it before you spend it so you are beholden to no one.
- You maintain 100 percent control of your results (and you get to “keep it small, keep it all” so you make more income than if you had partners or other burdensome expenses).
- You can focus entirely on your practice without distraction.
- You can devote more time to growing your practice because you are not trying to create other streams of income at the same time.
- You don’t have to pay anyone back or worry about losing your firm if you can’t.
- You don’t have to jump through hoops to borrow money or put all your other assets on the line.
- You must make it before you have it to invest—which may limit how quickly you can invest and, therefore, how quickly you can grow.
- It may take you longer to get where you want to go.
- You may never be able to make the kind of money you want to make because you may be limited by the hours you can work and how much you are willing to charge per hour.
There may be other ways to fund your law practice (we didn’t even touch on selling a significant asset you already own, relying on a spouse’s income, living with relatives to keep expenses low so you can save, or tapping into an existing savings account or inheritance, for some more examples). I encourage you to think creatively!
Also, I’ve just listed some of the pros and cons here of each of the 10 options I’ve shared. There may be more, and my recommendation to you is to create your own chart to make the best decision for you.
Remember, though, if you want to grow a thriving law practice, you may be (most likely will be) required to take some risks—that’s just the nature of entrepreneurship. Make thoughtful, informed decisions, but don’t get caught up in analysis paralysis! Doing nothing is a decision in and of itself, and often times, not one that serves you well.
If you’d like to know more about how to create enough revenue in your law practice that you don’t need to rely on outside sources for growth capital, I invite you to schedule a practice growth discovery session with me. We’ll spend about 30 minutes on a virtual video chat so I can learn more about your practice and your aspirations, and we can assess the best way for me to help you.
Sound good? If so, complete this quick and easy business assessment, submit it to me, and we’ll schedule a time to meet.
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