Start a Law Firm for Less than Twenty Bucks

About every two days I get an advertisement in the post about how to start my law firm for $10,000 and an adjustable-rate mortgage. Thing is, I started my firm a long time ago. For twenty bucks. And that’s still all you need. Yes, you can be like Chank and spend $57,000. Or like that Glover kid, who financed a law practice by trading in a used Fiat along with a case of Cheetohs. All I’m saying is you need twenty bucks. Here you go.

  • Flyswatter. A must have for hot summer months with your windows open and a Dr. Pepper on your desk. Cost: $1.50.
  • Amiga Commodore. My workhorse. Plus, Chank’s got tips on how to get more out of one. Cost: Free from your local recycling center. Not that I recycle, but other people do and they apparently throw these machines away.
  • Thumbtacks. Most clients want to see proof that you graduated from a law school, other than a stack of mail in the corner from Sallie Mae. You could spend $1,000 framing diplomas or just a few cents hanging them on the wall with thumbtacks. Pick thumbtacks. They also come in handy when serving papers on an attorney when he doesn’t answer his door at home. Cost: $0.70 for a pack of forty.
  • Fax Machine. Self-evident. Cost: $8.00, usually from Craigslist. I actually just got a machine off Craigslist that prints, copies, and faxes. Ten bucks (with 3 rolls of thermal fax paper!), so this is more like $2.50 if you throw in the printer and copier.
  • Antonin Scalia Bobblehead. I got this for a buck at a Detroit flea market. The Iranian vendor who sold it to me said it was Salman Rushdie without whiskers. I use it to channel legal arguments or to make a point with clients. You should too. Cost: $1.00.
  • USA Stick Flag. Required. Place it on your desk or carry one to client meetings in your front suit pocket. Best model is a 4×6 USA Standard Stick Flag with Spear Tip. Cost: $0.50, though consider buying in bulk to lower the cost. Give the flags to colleagues to thank them for referrals.
  • Set of Law Books (Used). I often crate as many books as I can and carry them with me to court for hearings. Don’t expect a complete set, as most lawyers who give away their law books stopped receiving pocket part updates in 1997. Cost: Free. If you can, bargain for some fresh corn dogs and a six-pack of Hamm’s as the price for moving the books out.
  • Library Card. When you’ve exhausted legal research with your books, head over to the local law library to review Wikipedia or the latest ALR volumes. Cost: Free. A pricier alternative is America Online, but that starts around ten bucks per month. You also have to have at least a 28.8 baud modem and a CD, or so I’m told.
  • Memo Pad. I call it my aPad. For billing and invoicing. Gotta have it in case a client asks about your bill, “for services rendered.” Cost: $3.99 per pad but lasts a long time unless you are bringing in lots of work. Otherwise, I use the back of paper placemats I collect from Waffle House (also free).
  • Nail Clippers. Having well-trimmed nails is essential. Don’t cut corners with scissors or teeth. Plus, this expense can be capitalized. Cost: $2.50 at Walgreen’s (includes toenail set).
  • Bic Four-Color Ball Point Pen. Honestly, no self-respecting attorney uses a fancy fountain pen. If they do, they also likely wear cufflinks and pantyhose. One four-color Bic pen will keep you in business for at least six months and allows you to write in black, sign in blue, and edit in red, with green reserved for something else. Though a bit pricey, think of it as four pens in one. Which it is. Cost: $2.54.

Some would say that I’ve left out some essentials, like liability insurance and Yellow Pages. But I’m self-insured, and have been for forty years. Insurance is for mistake-prone pannywaists. And the Yellow Pages doesn’t work for Third Amendment lawyers. Maybe they work for you, but that’s the beauty of my niche. Word just gets out.


Note: This post originally appeared on Big Legal Brain in 2011

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