Veteran attorney shares start-up advice

By Jim Kendall

This column originally appeared in the September 14, 2015 Daily Herald

                A law firm is not an accounting practice, advertising agency, consulting business of almost any sort, IT support business, headhunter, sales advisor, business broker, financial planner, architect, online publisher, engineering firm, interior decorator, or personal coach-consultant-advisor.

But there is one place where all those businesses – and others I don’t have space to list – come together with a law firm: Starting up.

Kerry Lavelle knows. He’s an attorney in Palatine – founding partner, Lavelle Law Ltd. – and author of “The Business Guide to Law: Creating and Operating a Successful Law Firm.”

The book is worth a read, whether you’re a lawyer or not. In Lavelle’s process, the practical start-up advice that fills his book’s 500-plus pages works just as well for the hopeful entrepreneur opening an architectural practice as it does for an attorney hanging her, or his, first shingle.

Simply read “accountant” or “planner” or whatever profession fits when you come across the term “attorney” in Lavelle’s book.

The book is based on what Lavelle learned as a young lawyer, seasoned now by 25 years of experience building his present firm. “We made many, many mistakes,” Lavelle says. “There were a lot of things that didn’t work.”

The value for non-lawyers is that “I didn’t write the book to tell (attorneys) how to practice law. I wrote to tell them how to market. How to put disciplined systems in place. How to look at people.”

Those are issues every start-up must face. In fact, Lavelle early on (page 15 in the proof book I have) has a rather intimidating list of “tasks that you will be required to do, besides practicing law” – or coaching others, creating ads and making columns of figures balance.

The list ranges from “ordering supplies (to) working on computer glitches, with or without an IT professional; dealing with the landlord; posting on social media sites; (and) conducting non-billable client interviews and consultations.”

Among the chapters I think are most helpful for any start-up are The Necessities, which include such things as phone systems, office furniture, letterhead and hiring an accountant; Finding Office Space, which might be in your home or a sharing arrangement; Hiring Support Staff, including the sometimes sticky issues, especially in the legal profession, of incentive pay and bonuses; and Marketing and Lead Generation.

Although Lavelle also likes the chapter on lead generation – “Why should someone hire you?” he asks. “What’s your unique selling proposition?” – Lavelle’s vote as most-important goes to chapters 29 and 30, which deal with developing a business culture and raise such ultimately important topics as your business’ core purpose and why your business exists in the first place.

Although Lavelle expects the book eventually to be for sale on Amazon, today you must buy it from the American Bar Association,

The book isn’t cheap, but what it might save you in possible start-up mistakes has significant worth.


© 2015 Kendall Communications Inc. Follow Jim Kendall on LinkedIn and Twitter. Write him at Listen to Jim’s Business Owners’ Pod Talk at