Building a Business Law Practice
Business lawyers can play many roles. They may negotiate major transactions, advise clients on regulatory compliance, or help local businesses avoid liability. Business lawyers may be among their clients’ most trusted advisors.
Choosing Business Law
It’s hard to establish a business law practice without prior legal or real-world experience. To represent major companies in complex transactions, you need enough experience to know how to structure and document the transaction. For small businesses, solving legal troubles often means knowing the law as well as the practical realities of running a business. It helps to have an interest in business and in the kind of clients you’re hoping to attract.
It also helps to choose a niche – a target client to whom your firm can market its services. Examples include:
- A practice focused on a particular industry. You might concentrate on representing healthcare companies or software developers, for example. An industry focus allows you to develop expertise in the particular types of issues and contracts that companies in your industry regularly encounter. In-house counsel and corporate executives commonly complain that lawyers don’t understand their industry. An industry-specific focus allows you to develop that understanding and stand apart from the competition.
- A practice focused on a particular type of business law, such as intellectual property or mergers and acquisitions. Becoming an authority in one area can help you get referrals from other business lawyers who have a more general practice. And the clients who come to you because of your specialized knowledge may ask you to handle more general matters as well.
Getting Started – Resources and Staff
Transactional lawyers typically don’t have court appearances or filings, and that makes a transactional business practice easier to set up with a minimum of overhead. A simple transactional practice may require little in the way of office or staff, and there aren’t as many deadlines or calendaring issues as in some other types of practice.
Business lawyers do, however, need a library of forms for common documents. You can get these from other lawyers, through free resources on the internet, or through a legal research service. Practice guides are useful, as are CLE presentations that cover the practical aspects of representing businesses.
Business lawyers can better serve their clients if they also have a broad understanding of related legal areas, including labor and employment, intellectual property and real estate. Understanding financing and insurance and having contacts who can help with those issues also helps business lawyers improve their client service.
Marketing for Business Lawyers
Although a website can showcase your firm’s talents and bring in small business owners who may use Google to find a lawyer, much of a business lawyer’s clientele will come through referrals and participation in industry organizations.
If your firm focuses on a particular industry, become active in trade organizations, serving on committees or boards, making presentations, and writing for industry publications. Network with businesspeople in your industry and keep in touch through email or LinkedIn. No matter what your focus, network with people in complementary roles, such as insurance agents, accountants, bankers and commercial real estate agents. Stay active in local bar associations and seek referrals from lawyers who serve the same clientele you do.
And importantly, stay in touch with current and former clients through newsletters, by sending articles of interest, and by regularly checking in to see how things are going. Business clients tend to have repeat business, and you miss an important opportunity if you don’t work to keep the clients you have.