Friday Funbag! Interview with Jennifer Wells (Yeah, That’s Me) About Starting a Firm from Scratch

JENNIFER.jpg

I’m back. And I’m better, faster, stronger…OK, I’m actually sick and slightly behind on actual work projects due to this horrendous sinus stuff. BUT! Business is going well. Family seems happy enough. I’m ready to start blogging again.

I have some great interviews already lined up for the next few months.  but I decided to interview myself for my first post since my hiatus. I’ve had a crazy past couple of months and all I can say is how incredibly glad I am to have taken the plunge and opened my own firm. It feels a bit odd asking and answering my own questions, but…oh well, here we go!

Q: Tell us a little bit about your firm. 

A. It’s called Wells Law Firm, PLLC. We are in a historic building in downtown Little Rock, on Second St. We both work out of one room, which is getting a little crazy and we are already looking at expanding a little.  I have one associate, Leslie Copeland, who just passed the bar this fall, and zero staff (unless you count my friendly mailman and the poor receptionist next door). We do a fairly general practice. I handle just about everything except domestic relations, which is Leslie’s area. We don’t do EEOC or admiralty law. So far, those are my only areas that I am firmly saying “no” to.

inside wlf

Q: Did you always plan to have your own firm?

A: No. I have almost no business administration training, except for some accounting and a few college business classes. I like being a lawyer and doing legal work of starting a business (formation, dissolution, etc.), but the administrative part has never really appealed to me, so I thought I would always be with a firm. I ended up leaving my firm because there simply wasn’t enough flexibility in my schedule to accommodate my daughter’s new school schedule when she moved from daycare to a “real” school.

Q: What made you decide to have an associate?

A: At first, I thought I was going to be solo. I also did not want to do any domestic relations work. It soon became apparent to me that a brand new start up law firm would have to take domestic relations cases. They are the most frequent type of legal cases we get calls about. So, I found Leslie, who actually wanted to do DR work. She is one of those special people with a gift of knowing how to help families in emotional crises. I wasn’t born with that touch, so I let her handle that part of it. It’s paying off. I don’t have to turn DR clients away and I still don’t have to do it myself. I help Leslie with her cases when she has questions, but honestly, her clinic classes prepared her well. She usually knows what to do and her clients love her.

Q: What is the hardest part of starting a new firm? 

A: Honestly, there are two things that I think are difficult. One is learning to budget the money. The other is just figuring out all of the things it you have to do to start a business. We are finally getting there.

Q: How much were your start up costs? 

A. I have an interest free line of credit of $10,000, plus a $10,000 business credit card. I thought it would cost me a couple of thousand, maybe, to get started. I quickly discovered that it took closer to $9,000 (for two lawyers) just to get up and running. Now, I definitely could have done it cheaper than that. I like having good technology (good computers and printers) and good health insurance. That stuff costs more up front, but I think it pays off in the long run.

Q: What were some of your unexpected costs? 

A: I honestly never thought I would need a payroll company, but I learned that relying on a professional for wage withholding, etc. is definitely worth the price. I planned to handle my own bookkeeping (I have some accounting background), but doing that stuff means I wouldn’t have any time for legal work, which is how I make my money. I also didn’t realize how much malpractice insurance would cost. And we both joined ATLA, with is our trial lawyer association and paid for unlimited CLE passes. That stuff isn’t cheap, but it has been well-worth it.

Q: Where have you been able to save money? 

A: My website. My logo. I do all my own graphics work and I built my site through squarespace. It is much cheaper than paying to have it built. But, I have some graphics background and I love doing creative stuff. It isn’t for everyone. I don’t have a secretary or receptionist, but I have always done my own typing, etc.

This is an example of an advertising packet I did with materials from Office Depot:

ad packages

Q: Would you recommend starting a law firm right out of law school? 

A: No, I wouldn’t recommend it. I would do everything I could to avoid it, actually, but I understand that isn’t a possibility for everyone. I was lucky enough to have three years in a firm, 16 months clerking full-time for a judge, 6 law clerkships, and 4 years as a paralegal before I started my own firm. And it’s still a bit overwhelming, but that’s mainly the business side. The legal side isn’t the problem. I’m not afraid to admit what I don’t know, but at this point, I know who to call to find out what I need to know. If I were brand new, I would make sure I had several good mentors who were willing to spend the time and effort to mentor me from the ground up. Theoretically, you are ready to practice law when you get that bar license, but it’s so, so easy to commit malpractice without even knowing it! I love being an ATLA member for that reason. There are so many people willing to answer questions, night and day. It’s incredible.

Q: Which programs do you use?

A: We are an all mac office, which limits our choices (I think that’s a good thing). We currently use Rocket Matter, but also tested MyCase and liked it. I also use Google Drive, Evernote, and Dropbox. I love transcript pad and trial pad for iPad. I do my accounting stuff by hand right now: I use both paper sheets and an electronic sheet that I created for myself.

Q:What’s the best part of working for yourself? 

A: Deciding which cases I want to take and ordering my schedule the way I need to. I don’t work any less (probably more) but I do it at times that are more convenience for me. I also love the thrill I get every time I see my letterhead with my name on the top (it’s in bold dark pink, of course).

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