Of late I have read a number of articles and have watched a video of the "No Money Man", who has lived for 14 months without any money. Now I am not that extreme, but I have often thought that someone can start up and run a law firm with no extra money should they so wish. And, in fact, most of the money that I spend, as with most law firms to varying degrees, is for services perceived as luxuries. Most often I and the other law firms are wrong in our analysis of need, but the money is spent, the earnings are lost, and we are not better off personally as a result.
The first place an attorney would start in the quest of the no money law firm would be to cut the office overhead to nothing by moving the office home. It is true that an attorney is likely paying rent or a mortgage and taxes, but creating a small space for a law firm at home adds little if anything to what it already costs the lawyer to live away from the office.
The same is true for office furnishings and a computer. A lawyer likely has a computer, and furnishings for a surface on which to work and sit are easily available at home, from a garage sale, of with the castoffs of relatives and friends.
Broadband is necessary. It can be expensive. But, the truth of the matter is that most of us have broadband in one form or the other at home already. After all, we cannot be expected to miss the big game, or our favorite cable show. Those lawyers who are right wing fanatics cannot miss Fox News, for example, or for liberals MSNBC is a must have. For me and my girlfriend, it is HGTV and Food Network all the way. Many of these broadband services now provide you a wireless router. If wire is what you need, it is not impossible for you to string some Cat 6 through the walls to the router.
With the overhead annihilated, the thing to worry about are ongoing monthly cost. These costs can add up quickly. In almost every instance there is a low cost or no cost solution that will provide you 90% or what you think you need.
Law, like it or not, is all about drafting -- pleadings, briefing, and billing. With some adjustment, however, this can all be accomplished with Google Docs. In that this free service is in the cloud, so to speak, it allows you to collaborate on matters with other attorneys, such as in preparing things like joint pretrial orders and statements.
Law is about collaborating, but as such it is also about communication with clients, opposing counsel, the courts, agencies, referral sources, and the like. With the expansion of efiling, it is increasingly possible to greatly reduce, if not eliminate mail and postage. Here too, Google mainly has you covered. For email there is Gmail. Like most everything Google, it is free. You can attach documents in PDF an TIFF for others to view. There is software online to convert documents to PDF for free. You have been able to receive free phone calls in the past with Google Voice, but now you will be able to make calls out through Gmail. With the combination of Gmail and Voice you can conduct conference calls, including video conferencing. I presently use Skype. It is cheap, but I am cheaper. I intend to lose that service for Google in the near future.
One problem concerns those few attorneys, courts and clients that still cling to faxing. It is frustrating. Except for communicating with these people on an immediate basis, there is no reason to send on outgoing fax. Needing to provide someone an incoming fax in this day and age is just frustrating. My first thought is to simply refuse to have a fax number, but you want to be accommodating. In this day and age it is a little like relying on Pony Express or maintaining a devise to read smoke signals. You can apparently fax out with Google Voice, although I have never done it. Also, since faxing is becoming more rare, there are some free limited fax services such as FreeFax.Com, although you are limited to the number of faxes per day.
Marketing or advertising a law practice is a necessity. I still think what works best is shoe leather and networking aggressively for referrals. But, you need a way to keep in touch with referrals sources and to stand out. You need extra marketing avenues. Almost all of these are free. It just take some time and effort. It is possible to build a free blog, for example, but you do have to stick with it. Blogger and WordPress are examples of his. Then of course there is social media, including Facebook, MySpace, LinkedIn, Twitter and others. Some of these can act as advertising sources as well if you can get your organic listing on Google high enough. Then, of course, there are pure solicitation sites such as Craigslist and YouTube.
Legal research is often necessary, but in reality, unless you are in the field of drafting briefs of one kind or another on a regular basis, a dynamic research site is likely a waste of money. Believe it or not, if it is just a matter of reviewing the basis of a pleading, you can almost always find the relevant law on Google. If not basic Google, then Google Scholar. If it is a matter of keeping up with the relevant law for general application, you can program FindLaw to notify you of relevant court decisions in your practice area when handed down, and you can get alerts from Google when a news or blog story meeting your criteria is posted. Then many bar associations and other groups of which you are already a member provide access to free or cheap legal research databases. If intense legal research is occasionally needed, there are any number of free libraries in most areas, including law school libraries, bar associations, other law firms and courthouses.
I am afraid that when it comes to office supplies I am a bit too much like the No Money Man. First, I try had not to use office supplies. You can wean yourself from this nasty, clutter task. If you learn to operate on your laptop, it might not be possible to be paperless, but it is possible to use substantially less paper, for example. I do not buy pens, pads and the like. I gather them at seminars and meetings for free.
I tend to get my CLE one of two ways. First, I take advantage of all of the free CLE credit out there, including the self study allowances. Courts, law schools and groups often host meetings in which the CLE is provided free for just showing up. My law school, STCL, often hosts documentaries or debates by the anti-defamation league and the like, which are free and open to the public, and which results in CLE. I learn a lot and I take advantage of it. I also work for my CLE by presenting papers and speaking at CLE events. Both of these avenues also offers extraordinary marketing opportunities. Also, many bar associations have complimentary courses.
I continue to hear that meeting space continues to be a problem, but in reality there are a lot of options for free or inexpensive meeting space, if you care to be upfront with your clients. In the past I listed many of these in "Where Do You Meet With Clients When You Want To Work From Home?" Although this list is long, courthouses, coffee shops and libraries are often free and available.
The bottom line is that you spend money to start up or operate a law firm because you want to, and not because you have to. Complaining about the cost of operating a law firm is a matter of the image you hold for yourself as a lawyer. To complain about the cost of starting or operating a law firm is a little like complaining about all of the sex and violence on your DVD player. It is of your own making.
Clients are the main thing, but what you have to realize is that soliciting clients has little to do with the inner workings and cost of a practice, and it has everything to do with the lawyer doing what is necessary to naturally get their name and services before those that need them. It is kind of like recitation in law school. It is what concerns you on a day to day basis, but it has very little to do with preparing for and passing your law school exams or the bar. Soliciting clients often does not take money as it does time, intensity and purpose on the part of the lawyer. Unfortunately, lawyers convince themselves, for some reason, that things that increase start up costs and overhead can be substitutes for the hard work of finding clients. This theory, however, just does not compute.