A business plan will help to establish how your firm will operate and what you aim to accomplish. Banks will ask to see a copy of this before you open an account. Bullet points will highlight key ideas and make the plan easier to digest. Essential information includes:
- Your company details
- An executive overview, including your unique selling proposition
- Details of your business management team and support – show key strengths, skills, qualifications and management experience of your partners and any senior staff
- The legal services you will offer, your pricing structure, and the market for your services
- How you will attract new business/the marketing and promotion you will carry out
- Your forecasts and budgets.
A business plan template can be downloaded from www.bgateway.com
If two or more are starting a practice, you will need to agree at the outset what your relationship will look like, the ownership split and on what basis you will be remunerated.
You will need to organise a partnership, LLP or shareholders’ agreement to govern your commercial relationship with each other. You should also understand your common law and statutory duties to one and other as partners, members or directors. See Section 7.
Marketing, promotion and attracting business
In your business planning, you will have identified what services you are going to provide, your potential clients and how much you are going to charge. How you promote your services will depend on your chosen market. As with any new business, expect to pay more in the initial years as you establish your firm.
- Channels - How will your clients find you? Channels include advertising in local newspapers, leaflets and brochures, your office window, website, activities on social media and networking/word of mouth. You do not have to use them all – work out where your clients are most likely to find out about you and choose a combination of marketing tools.
- Message - Be clear about the value and benefits of the services you are offering, as well as listing what you do. Keep the language simple and jargon free – make it easy for your potential clients.
- Brand - Whether you are promoting your services from an office or online (or both), spend time getting your visual brand set up (logo, fonts, colour palette, images etc). Make sure that your brand is consistently applied across your office, website, literature, letterheads, and so on. The key is to devise a brand identity that reflects how you want your clients to view your business.
- Customer service - Make sure your colleagues not only understand your marketing activities, but also appreciate the role they can play. Whether it is following up on leads or being polite and friendly on the phone/email, good customer service is a key ingredient in attracting new business.
- Use the Law Society brand - Using the Law Society’s ‘Member’ logo lets your potential clients know that you are part of a regulated profession. The logo is available as a window sticker and electronically, and can be used on websites, literature, emails and letterheads. You should also update your ‘categories of work’ in the member section of the website. This populates the Find A Solicitor function on the website, which can drive traffic to your website.
Be proactive and refine your marketing activities as you go along. Use feedback from your clients to point you in the right direction.
If you are leaving an existing practice to set up on your own, there are specific rules on what is and is not permissible in terms of approaching your existing clients. Read Rule B3 for more information.
See rule and guidance B3, which covers advertising, advertising fees and mandates relating to where your clients come from.
Email the Law Society’s marketing department
Communication with clients
It is both a Law Society rule and good practice to write to clients with certain information before carrying out a new piece of work. Properly drafted, these letters of engagement play a key role in managing the relationship with your client. This includes minimising the risk of complaints and claims by managing the client’s expectations
The Master Policy broker, Lockton, has produced an interactive guide to letters of engagement with information you should consider including in your letters, together with some sample text. www.locktonlaw.scot
Practice and file management
There are advantages, risks and challenges with whatever system you choose to organise and store your files. It is important to understand the approach that is right for you. Ultimately, you need to be clear about:
Several practice management software systems are available on the market, with various options for cloud-based, server-based, fixed cost, pay as you go, and so on. A number of practice management providers are listed in our Member Benefit Scheme. These companies have been through a process to gain ‘Approved Supplier’ status. However, since individual firm requirements vary, we do not endorse any one system. You need to ensure the relevant products or services meet with your needs, being careful to agree what services will be provided and what the total cost will be.
You could also use a combination of system-based and paper-based storage, with paper files stored in lockable and fireproof cabinets.
See the guidance – Section E, Division B: the ownership and destruction of files.
See our Guide to Cloud Computing and our Member Benefits pages.
We offer training on risk management, cybersecurity and fraud. To be effective, training should be provided to all members of staff.
Practice management course
If you have not previously done so (or you haven’t been a manager in the preceding three years), you will need to undertake the practice management course within 12 months of starting your new practice. The course is usually hosted three times a year – typically in March, June and October – though this will depend on demand.
Template policies are useful tools which can be utilised by new practice units. Below are a few examples that you might find useful.
- Information management and security policy
- Clear desk and clear screen policy
- Remote working and removable media policy
- Internet and communications policy