The Written Business Plan: Every business needs a business plan. And every business has one, written or not, intentional or not. Businesses work (or not) because of their methods, procedures, processes, and plans, in addition to their resources (people, money, time, equipment, materials, clients). Law firms need business plans, too. My wife says, “It’s not real unless it’s written down.” She’s right. So, in this course, we will be writing down what you learn about law practice management, and that will become your “law firm” business plan as we go through the course each week. Don’t worry. You don’t have to write an entire business plan today. Instead you will add pieces to it as we go.
If you’ve never done a business plan, here are an explanation and template from the US Small Business Administration and Palo Alto Software’s business plan app:
Word and Excel: In this course, “written” means Microsoft Word and Microsoft Excel. It’s likely that you are proficient in Word, but perhaps not so much in Excel. So, here are some training links on Microsoft’s website if you want to get up to speed (you probably know more about these apps than I do so don’t worry, be happy, as you watch and read):
Your “Law Firm”: In this course, you will be pretending /assuming /thinking /learning as if you were a lawyer in a Florida law firm. This is not real. Whether or not you have graduated from law school and whether or not you have passed the bar exam, this is not real. This is just a “supposed” law firm, not a real one. It’s to get you thinking in a certain frame of mind. And that’s important because planning for a solo practice differs from planning for a small firm and that differs from planning for a medium-sized firm and that differs from planning for a large firm and…you get it.
Size of Your “Law Firm”: So, one of the first questions you need to decide is firm size. What is the planned size of the firm? How many lawyers do you plan to have? Before you break out into smaller groups of students to discuss this, there is some data that you might find useful. And we have The Florida Bar to thank for that.
Economics and Law Office Management Survey: The Florida Bar surveys Florida lawyers every other year on law practice management matters. Throughout this course, we will refer to the most recent economics survey here: Results of the 2018 Economics and Law Office Management Survey, The Florida Bar, March 2019
Opinion Survey: The Florida Bar also surveys Florida lawyers every other year for opinions on all sorts of bar-related things. The most recent opinion survey results are here: Results of the 2019 Membership Opinion Survey, The Florida Bar, January 2020
Firm Size in Surveys: Both surveys begin with firm size and show a fact that surprises many lawyers: most lawyers work for firms of 5 or fewer lawyers. In fact, about a third of all lawyers are sole practitioners, like me. This is not a new or recent fact. It has been this way for decades. And, this fact is not limited to Florida; it is generally the make-up of law firms throughout the country. Here is question 2A of the 2018 economics survey presented as a table and as graphs:
- Firm sizes in 2018 Florida Bar economics survey – table
- Firm sizes in 2018 Florida Bar economics survey – graph
- Firm sizes in 2018 Florida Bar economics survey – graph combining firm sizes
Firm Name: The choice of a law firm name requires thought, discussion, and research. The firm name will appear on business cards, letterhead, court filings, advertising, lawyer directories, everywhere. Even sole practitioners need to choose a firm name, even though it might be their own. The choice of a firm name is constrained by legal ethics, as well as by state and federal trademark laws. Here are some helpful legal resources to consider in choosing a firm name:
- Ethics Opinions re: Firm Name, The Florida Bar
- Trademark Search, United States Patent and Trademark Office
- Florida Fictitious Name Registration
Decisions Graphic: Firm size and firm name are just two decisions you’ll need to make. Here is a graphic depiction of some of the other decisions to be made, not in class today, but as we work through the course: Diagram of Decisions to Be Made
But, before we get ahead of ourselves, we need to talk about A VERY IMPORTANT CONCEPT:
Confidentiality and Security: Confidentiality is a defining characteristic of law practice. Few businesses in history can claim such a role, such a responsibility, such an honor, in civil society. We know the war-time phrase “Loose lips sink ships”, but it is also true that “Loose lips sink clients’ cases”. So sacred is this duty of confidentiality that the legal system recognizes the attorney-client privilege and the work product doctrine. But, in order to maintain confidentiality in a high-technology world, we must be familiar with and confident with the concepts of security. Here are some starting materials to assist in getting your head around this, so to speak:
Ethics Rule 4-1.6 Confidentiality of Information:
Passwords and Passphrases: