Law on the Edge: Networking to Build Your Own Law Firm

October 21, 2011

Phil Wormdahl was introduced on the blog for his Small Law Lifestyle and later featured for the first “Law on the Edge” series: Trip to Iraq. The series continues with details on how this DUI and criminal defense attorney from Salt Lake City built a successful solo criminal defense firm.

The decision to start a firm came out of necessity.  Familiar to many new graduates, the economy did not provide a robust environment for job opportunities when Phil was coming out of law school.  He interviewed with several firms, but was competing with attorneys with more experience. Rather than continuing to wait for an opportunity to come along, he created one for himself using his strong work ethic and network of resources.

Location, Location, Location

The first step was to find an office location.  Phil contacted one of the law firms where he applied, but did not get the job.  They said he could go to them if he ever needed anything…and they really meant it.  Now was a time of need.  Phil mentioned he was going to start his own practice and needed a place to set up shop.  They graciously extended an open door invitation for him to join their building, so he did.  They are a pure criminal defense firm with five attorneys and over 100 years of combined experience. This environment minimizes overhead costs, and gives Phil access to their knowledge and extended networking opportunities.

The Golden Rule

The business took off quickly with a lot of traditional networking.  One of Phil’s law school professors told him, “be nice to your classmates or they are never going to refer clients to you.”  As it turns out, his first felony drug case came from a classmate who passed on the case and referred Phil.  He has also had at least a handful of cases from other attorneys because they do not want to do a particular case, or are too busy.

Birds of a Feather Flock Together

Networking with clients has kept the business momentum going.  Phil’s job is to take care of each client, and “take care doesn’t necessarily mean to get an acquittal, but at least put them in control of their life and their situation, educate them, and make them aware.”  By doing so, he adds recognizable value as an attorney so current clients will refer him to their friends.  The next client is right there.

 Tips from Phil for starting your own practice:

  1. “Just go for it. The startup cost is minimal and if it doesn’t work, what are you out?! You are not a worse lawyer for trying.”
  2.  “Don’t bite off more than you can chew.  Especially when it comes to the business side of running a firm, there is no reason to do something that you can pay someone else to do and bill that time.”
  3. “Keep your head up.  Even situations that don’t seem promising, such as not getting a job that you really want, can still provide opportunities down the road.  Keep that reference in your network.”
  4.  “Seriously, be nice to other attorneys or they are never going to refer clients to you.”

Be sure to check out Phil’s website, follow him on Twitter @UtahDUIAdvocate and friend him on Facebook.