Atty. Rami Hourani
A lawyer who wants to start a solo practice is often stuck with many questions. This article is my attempt to distill those questions to the most important considerations. I’ll state simply the why of each item and propose a few solutions that work at different price points. I could also just a give you a few different ways of thinking about these things. Without further ado, lets jump right in.
1. A Permanent Address
There is one thing a lawyer cannot get away from is the need for a permanent address. You will note though that I do not say that you need an office at the outset. The reason why the absolute minimum that you require is a static and permanent address is because you will need somewhere that you can receive court process and to entertain clients who want to solicit your services.
There are multiple levels that you can choose to go with this:
1. Leasing/Owning an Office – This is what most lawyers dream about when they imagine setting up their own practice. However, with the expense involved in the construction, rental and utilities most lawyers don’t act on those dreams. Definitely though, a permanent office is what all lawyers should keep in their mind as they build out their practice if only because of the potential to expand your practice. You might even elect to split this expense with another lawyer.
2. Co-Working Space – There is a new business model where people build out office space in a metropolitan area and rent it out on a per head basis. This is a happy medium between an office and merely a permanent address in terms of expense. Lawyering is also the kind of knowledge work that can make the expense worth it. An office address in a recognizable location also gives a nice impression in formal correspondence and on the top of letter heads.
3. A Virtual Office – If you’re really not in a position to spend much on a permanent address a virtual office is a good option. This is a service that is often offered by co-working spaces for businesses to register but not operate out of their address. They will receive mail for you as well as take phone inquiries.
4. Your Home – For general security purposes I don’t recommend using your home address for receiving court process. This would make your address a matter of public record. There are a few lawyers though, usually those with an established clientele or a narrow practice for whom this could work.
5. PO Box – For the price of 1,200 Pesos per year. (Yes, per year.) You can maintain a Post Office Box with PhilPost. Upsides include much quicker delivery of registered mail. However, personal service and/or documents sent through accredited couriers cannot be sent there. It won’t be sufficient for applying for a notarial commission though.
Reflections: There is no one size fits all answer to the question of what physical address you will keep. It will largely depend on factors specific to you: 1. Your Budget; 2. Your Clientele; 3. Your Specialization; etc.
2. Notarial Commission
A notarial commission is one of the easiest ways to provide a relevant legal service and provide a small stream of income to your office from the get go. You will need to update your Certificate of Registration with the BIR though so that you will be able to issue a receipt which is required for obtaining a Certificate Authorizing Registration in certain transactions. Notably, these are the kind of transactions that a notary can charge a higher professional fee for.
The added benefit of being able to issue receipts is the ability to have your professional fees be a deductible expense on the part of a company or organization that requires your services. This applies to both your notarial services and the possibility of a regular retainer. (Emphasis Supplied)
3. Set-Up, Tools and Furniture
There are a few aspects of consulting with a lawyer that dictate what features a lawyers office will have. Lawyers are consulted on sensitive matters and so your space should be able to provide you with privacy. You need constant and up to date access to information so you will need good computers and internet connectivity. You’re going to be stapling terribly thick stacks of paper and so you need a very large industrial stapler.
You are going to be dealing with a lot of paper so you are going to need a top of the line printer/scanner combo. People want to really be able to feel like they’re having a conversation with you so you need a large desk where your computer and monitor can be pushed off to the side so that you can talk to your client without them having to crane their neck over the tools you need to keep organized. You are also going to be dealing with a lot of paper and so you are going to need a way to organize all of them. This means shelves, filing cabinets, vaults, and so on and so forth.
4. An Assistant
The kind of work that a lawyer does is very high value but it entails a lot of very low value tasks. Drafting a contract? High value. Submitting the notarized contract to the court? Low value. Drafting a pleading? High value. Mailing the pleading? Low value. Negotiating a retainer with a client? High value. Photocopying the retainer agreement and sending it to the client? Low value. Doing the work you scheduled? High value. Managing your schedule? Low value.
You need someone who you can reliably delegate these tasks to. This is so that you can focus on important work like focusing on finding new clients and the actual work that requires the attention of a lawyer. For this you can get a contractual worker or a full time employee. I’ve even heard of people using Grab for some of the more routine work. If you’re truly just starting out and don’t have much of an established clientele yet you can get away, for the most, part by doing things yourself. You should be aware though that you will need to hire someone with the requisite experience eventually if you’re taking your profession seriously.
5. A Network of Lawyers
You need a group of lawyers who you’re on good terms with because you will need to ask advice occasionally when someone approaches you on a matter which you might not be intimately familiar with. The advice lawyers give to each other is probably the most valuable resource available to someone who is setting out to start his own practice.
A practical matter they can assist with is when you must swear to certain documents that you submit on behalf of your client. You are unable to administer an oath to yourself so its good to be able to sneak a freebie of a fellow lawyer on the understanding that you would do the same for them.
The foregoing list is not an exhaustive enumeration of the things that you need to get your practice going but they are some of the most basic. I hope that this helps you on your journey towards a successful practice!
Atty. Hourani practices law in Cebu City, Philippines. If you would like to set an appointment with him, you may reach him here.