How to Support Yourself While Launching Your Law Firm

One of the most popular questions I got while overseeing the Justice Entrepreneurs Project was “How do I support myself as I launch my business?” It’s a great question and one that anyone serious about starting their own law firm should ask themselves. It takes time to generate sustainable revenue, and in the beginning, there will be a stretch when you aren’t making as much money as you would like. How long that ramp-up period lasts depends on several factors like the individual entrepreneur, practice areas, and geographic location, but no matter what, it often is longer than we’d like. 

That’s why it’s important to have a plan before you open the business of how you will support yourself while your law firm is in launch mode. Below are three approaches that lawyers and other legal professionals can take when launching a law firm.

Approach #1: Plan & Save

The approach I’ve seen work best is to plan ahead and save money that can be drawn upon during the launch phase. Ideally, you would be to save enough to cover at least nine to twelve months’ worth of living and business expenses. Launching a business and bringing in clients is a time-consuming endeavor that will require 100% of your time, energy, and focus. Having adequate savings on hand will allow you to spend your time building a solid business that will hopefully generate the revenue needed by its one-year anniversary.

I recognize this approach may not be available to everyone because it is a privilege. Don’t worry – this is not the only path! The other two approaches are accessible to everyone and many attorneys in our incubator program used them and built successful businesses.

Approach #2: Find Supplemental Work

A second approach is to find a side gig that will help cover living and business expenses until the law firm is generating enough revenue. The key here is to find supplemental work that can be completed outside of regular business hours. I know what you’re thinking – if I work on my law firm during business hours and then work my side gig after hours, I’m not going to have a life! Yep, that is right. It’s part of being an entrepreneur launching a business. It’s a short-term sacrifice for long-term gains. It won’t be forever, and it’ll be worth it in the end!

You may find side gig opportunities doing document review work. While this type of work can seem like a good fit, be cautious. Many document review projects are inflexible, require work to be done during regular business hours, and expect a full 40-hour week. These demands make it difficult to complete the work needed to build your own law firm, so proceed with caution.

A better alternative may be paid court coverage or handling contract work for other attorneys. You can typically find this type of work by letting people in your professional circles know that you’re looking for it. Legal aid organizations also have contract work available from time to time depending on their needs and funding. And don’t forget about non-legal work! I’ve seen attorneys bartend, waitress, and project manage on the side while building up their practice.

Approach #3: Think Expansively About Client Development

A third approach that can be pursued in combination with one of the first two is to think expansively about how to get clients. Consider applying to be an independent attorney with a legal insurance company such as ARAG or LegalShield, with a national law firm such as the Marble Law Firm, or with a self-represented litigant self-help platform like Courtroom5

Some states have created agencies to handle certain types of cases, and the agencies then contract the work out to private attorneys. For example, in Colorado, the Office of the Alternate Defense Counsel (OADC) provides representation for indigent persons in criminal and juvenile delinquency cases in which the Public Defender’s office determines that a conflict of interest exists. OADC hires private criminal defense attorneys on a contract basis to handle these cases. Other state agencies have similar arrangements for other case types. Deciding to launch your own law firm is a thrilling and scary decision. It’s important to go into it with realistic expectations and a plan during the launch phase to support yourself and your family. No matter what, we think you’re amazing for taking the step and would love to continue to support you on your entrepreneurial journey. Subscribe to our monthly newsletter and receive curated resources that take the mystery out of building a profitable practice.