Lockdown launch: how I started my own law firm in a pandemic

Elena Manukyan, founder, director, and solicitor at the Injury Solicitor Ltd, discusses how she decided to launch her own law firm during lockdown.

Manager talking on a video call

Within the first few weeks of the lockdown in March 2020, I knew that I didn’t want to go back to the old way of doing things. I didn’t want to go back to the 8.30am to 5.30pm, Monday to Friday role that I had, which involved a long commute to the office.

I wanted a change, and I knew it was down to me to make that happen. At this point I had worked in the legal industry for almost 10 years having trained, qualified and become a partner at my previous firm.

I had always had an interest in business. Having overcome the challenges of studying law, getting a training contract, and then becoming partner, I wasn’t quite ready to give up on law.

I decided to combine my two passions of business and law and launch my own firm.

Getting started

I realised quickly that before I could apply to the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) for approval, I would need to get a professional indemnity insurance (PII) quote for my firm.

For this, I needed to produce a business plan, a cashflow forecast and an updated CV, as well as completing a PII application form (provided by the broker).

Getting PII proved to be one of the hardest obstacles to overcome, as the first quote I received was very expensive, and I almost gave up there and then.

But there is advice out there which recommends that you avoid approaching too many brokers, as insurers may refuse to offer cover if they see the same application too many times. But I also think it’s important to get a quote that you’re happy with. There’s no point in accepting a quote that means your business isn’t viable.

It’s also worth noting that most brokers can offer a payment plan that allows you to pay the premium over a set number of months (10, for example), instead of paying it upfront.

I managed to find a great broker through the list on the Law Society website, who improved my PII quote and made my business a reality. The SRA authorisation process took around six weeks in total and the broker was on hand to answer my questions.

Finding clients

As a new business, it was important for me to keep costs down, so I still do lots of my own marketing through various social media platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, and Twitter, as well as through Google and Google Ads.

I also told all my friends, family and neighbours (basically anyone who would listen!).

I’m considering outsourcing my legal cashiering, to free up more time to concentrate on my casework and attract new clients.

Finance and compliance

If you’ve never operated an office or client account before or held the role of compliance officer for legal practice or compliance officer for financial affairs of a firm, finding yourself in that position can be a little daunting.

Luckily, the SRA and the Law Society have some great resources to help you get to grips with your responsibilities. I’ve found Law Society Publishing’s COLP’s Toolkit and COFA’s Toolkit particularly useful.

Highs and lows

Having my own business has always been a dream of mine and getting my first client was a very proud moment.

I’ve been using LinkedIn and Law Society Connect a lot since I started my business and I’ve met lots of other solicitors, some of whom “went in alone” in 2020 like me.

But, starting a business during a global pandemic was incredibly daunting. Not knowing when, or if, life would return to normal was very worrying. I didn’t envisage the UK would still be in lockdown in 2021 and having a firm which specialises in personal injury meant that business will remain challenging until restrictions are fully lifted.

Had I known this, I may have waited a little longer to launch my business. However, there will never be a perfect time to start a business; it's something you have to decide you want to do and put all your effort into making it a success. Success tied in to one perfect moment – it's down to the continued effort you put in every day to make it a success.

Starting a law firm isn’t cheap. No matter how hard you try to keep costs down, there’s no avoiding some of the expenses that are required. PII was the most expensive expenditure for me, closely followed by SRA fees and IT equipment.

Advice for new businesses

It’s important to understand why you want to start your own firm. Is it, like me, to give you a better work-life balance? Is it to make you more money? Or is it for a completely different reason?

Once you’ve figured this out, you can then plan your business with that objective in mind. For example, wanting a better work-life balance meant that I didn’t want to rent a permanent office space, so I didn’t need to worry about that in my start-up plans.

Networking and connecting with others who have started their own firms is also very useful. I get lots of messages on LinkedIn asking me about how to draft a business plan, or to recommend a PII broker.

I didn’t do this when I was starting my business, but I wish I did, as I would have saved myself so much time by asking others for recommendations and tips. Whilst most solicitors can be very busy, we are also very helpful and will help others where we can – so don’t be afraid to reach out to others and ask questions!

 

Views expressed in our blogs are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of the Law Society.

If you're interested in discussing the issues this article raises, join the conversation at Law Society Connect, our new forum for sole practitioners and small firm owners. You will need a My LS account to join.

See our list of resources to help with managing your workload, coping with stress, mental health and contact details for organisations that can help.

Members can call our free confidential helplines staffed by solicitors for personal and pastoral advice, anti-money laundering, conveyancing, private client, litigation, solicitors' costs and professional indemnity insurance support. Staffed Monday to Friday, from 9am to 5pm.

Check our coronavirus guidance on working from home, court safety, meeting clients, and the definition of a critical worker.

Maximise your Law Society membership with My LS