Running a small law firm in Pennsylvania: 5 owners share their stories

pennsylvania small law firms

The common problem of the small law firm owners in Pennsylvania is the feeling of isolation. There are few places to go to ask for help when they encounter challenges. One of such places is the Pennsylvania Bar Association. But that’s about it. 

This issue has become especially relevant after the hit of the pandemic. The latter has even caused some Pennsylvanian law firms to permanently close

We at Loio believe that learning from each other can help small firms succeed. That’s why we’ve approached five boutique law firm owners to ask them to share their experience of starting a law firm, coping with the pandemic, and boosting the efficiency of their business. 

Let’s see what they have said!

Owen McGrann, the founding member of McGrannLAW LLC, in Pittsburgh, PA.

Our first expert is the owner of a boutique estate planning and small business firm McGrannLAW LLC in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. 

What was the scariest part of starting your own law firm? How did you find the courage to go on?

“The scariest part of opening up your own shop is directly tied to what is most exciting: you’re not using old systems or entrenched models; you are responsible for creating a business in your own image. This was the animating reason I left the world of medium and large law firms. Things are “scary” because they involve uncertainty. Can I do this? Am I crazy for believing there’s a better way to practice law? Good god, I’m ditching the billable hour…

Gaining courage isn’t hard; maintaining the courage is. It’s critical to seek out like-minded entrepreneurs who have gone or are going through this same journey.  There are a lot of us! Nearly half of all attorneys are solo. Law school shoehorns us into the Law Factory model and we adapt our understanding of the industry to meet those expectations.”

Owen adds: 

“I’ve done the Law Factory gig, the 100 hour weeks, the sleeping on the floor of my office, the insanity of FaceTime on weekends. You don’t have to live that way. Courage is maintained by knowing that on the other end, you can make more money and work 40-hour weeks, with a dog at your feet.”

What do you consider to be the best decision regarding running your law firm you’ve made since the pandemic started?

“The pandemic merely amplified a decision I had already made: I run a mostly virtual practice. Thanks to the pandemic, my Zoom consultations have been normalized. Here’s a secret: your clients don’t want to come to your stuffy office and feel uncomfortable. They dread it. Why would you make your client uncomfortable just to show off how fancy your teak-clad conference room is?”

As a small law firm owner, you strive for efficiency. How do you boost it? 

“Don’t be afraid to invest in a virtual receptionist and document automation software. Efficiency is critical for small or solo practices. Find law firm management software that works for you.”

Owen emphasizes:

“The most important thing is to celebrate failures. There will be many, and each one gets you closer to knowing how to do it your way.”

“As Joyce said, “A man of genius makes no mistakes. His errors are volitional and are the portals of discovery.” Success comes through knowing with specificity what you’re trying to build and the iterative process of creating it.” 

Jeffrey Reiff, the founding partner at Reiff Law Firm in Philadelphia, PA.

The next expert we’ve spoken to is Jeffrey Reiff who runs a small law firm in Philadelphia with his son Justin. Jeffrey Reiff has been focusing on personal injury law for over 40 years.

What was the scariest part of starting your own law firm? How did you find the courage to go on? 

“The scariest part of starting your own law firm involves venturing into the unknown. How much is it going to cost? What happens if I can’t get clients? How, when, and where do I market my services? Can I afford support staff? How much is it going to cost to build and develop a website? What types of insurance do I need? Who is going to handle the bookkeeping and accounting for the law firm? What happens if I run out of money? 

Starting a law firm is extremely challenging, and will almost always require an attorney to work longer hours than they expect. In addition to serving their clients, an attorney starting a new firm will oftentimes have to handle a significant number of other tasks they likely have never encountered before. Even after opening a new law firm, it can take anywhere from 6 months to several years before the firm turns a profit. This is always an extremely stressful time.”

Jeffrey puts emphasis on the proper goal setting when starting a law firm: 

“You find the courage to open a law firm by believing in yourself, setting realistic goals, and developing a clear purpose and mission for the law firm. You must know what you are capable of and you must deliver the services you promised to your clients.”

What do you consider to be the best decision regarding running your law firm you’ve made since the pandemic started? 

“The best decision our law firm made during the pandemic was to quickly accept and adjust to the situation the pandemic presented. Everyone at our firm immediately took the necessary time to familiarize themselves with programs like Zoom and DocuSign. 

Additionally, everyone at the firm took the time to finally get used to the countless features offered by the firm’s VOIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) telephone system which had previously been in place for years. The VOIP telephone system enabled our firm to work from home and communicate with one another as if we were all working in the office. Incoming calls could immediately be transferred to their intended recipient, and members of the firm could use their smartphones and portable electronic devices to contact clients and other parties the same as if they were in the office.”

As a small law firm owner, you strive for efficiency. How do you boost it? 

“As a small firm, we boost efficiency by using clear and direct lines of communication. This helps us delegate responsibilities.” 

Jeffrey believes that teamwork and delegation are key to efficiency.

“As a small firm, we must work as a team, with each member knowing and taking responsibility for their role. There must always be a balance of authority and responsibility. It is important to delegate a certain amount of authority to everyone at the firm because with authority comes responsibility.”

He adds:

“During the pandemic employees were required to make certain decisions without running to their superiors seeking approval or permission. This resulted in the employee becoming more confident and in just about every instance resulted in them performing their jobs better.”

Ted Kaplun, the founding partner at KaplunMarx in Bala Cynwyd, PA.

The next person who has shared his milestones and life hacks with us is Ted Kaplun, a personal injury lawyer and the founder at KaplunMarx in Bala Cynwyd, Pennsylvania. During his 15 years in law, Kaplun has earned millions of dollars for his clients. He knows how to go above and beyond the call of duty to exceed his clients’ expectations in each case. 

What was the scariest part of starting your own law firm? How did you find the courage to go on? 

“Starting a business in any industry is a scary venture, but starting a boutique law firm in the personal injury space is a bear of a proposition. As a personal injury lawyer in the Philadelphia, PA metro area, we faced a plethora of challenges, the most important of which was how do we bring in viable personal injury cases and compete with firms that have enormous marketing budgets. 

Luckily, having an entrepreneurial background helped, putting as many oars in the water as possible, bootstrapping a lot of the work before making any hires, and doing outstanding work allowed our law firm to grow. Getting clients outstanding results translated into reviews which detailed the experience, allowing people who found us online to get a real picture of what it is like to work with our personal injury lawyers.”

What do you consider to be the best decision regarding running your law firm you’ve made since the pandemic started?

“The challenges continued to come at us throughout the COVID-19 pandemic where we had to quickly pivot to remote work with the world shut down and fewer people out meant fewer cases available.”

Matthew believes that their best step taken during the pandemic was to focus on marketing: 

“The best decision we made was to double down on our marketing efforts when a lot of personal injury law firms spent less on marketing, we spent more, allowing us to bring in more viable cases in this trying time.”

As a small law firm owner, you strive for efficiency. How do you boost it? 

“Efficiency was addressed via a new case management system that we implemented during the COVID lockdown, allowing us to better communicate with our clients. As we come out of the pandemic, our law firm is poised for enormous growth by using the volatile time to streamline our processes and marketing efforts.”

Andrew

Andrew Lacy, the founder and owner of The Lacy Employment Law Firm in Pittsburg, PA.

The next law firm owner is Andrew Lacy, the founder of The Lacy Employment Law Firm, which was launched in January 2021. He focuses on all facets of employment law, including wrongful termination, harassment, and discrimination. 

What was the scariest part of starting your own law firm? How did you find the courage to go on? 

“The scariest part of opening my law firm was the belief that I might not get clients.  Before I made the jump, many people told me how hard it was to get clients and that I would probably fail.  It was tough to leave my safety net in Big Law to make the jump, knowing that others thought I would fail.  Finding the courage to take the leap anyway was not easy.  You really are making a bet on yourself. You have to have confidence.  And, if you’ve made it this far, you’ve likely succeeded in almost everything you’ve done in your life. This is just one more thing. You cannot let those that can’t, or are too scared themselves, stop you from doing.”

What do you consider to be the best decision regarding running your law firm you’ve made since the pandemic started?

“The best decision, by far, is learning search engine optimization (“SEO”).  If you Google any variation of The Lacy Employment Law Firm or my name, you will easily find me. I also rank number 1 for several keywords and rank highly in the local Map Pack.”

Andy recommends being heavy on technology and innovations:

“If you are a younger lawyer starting a law firm, you have to learn technology. The older lawyers have their referral relationships in place. It can take some time for you to break into those. But Millennials and Gen Z can make a quick splash through internet marketing, social media, and other creative marketing ventures.”

As a small law firm owner, you strive for efficiency. How do you boost it?

“I boost efficiency in multiple ways. My office is paperless. I save all files into G Drive and they are stored in the cloud. My computers and monitor setup are far more advanced than when I was at the large firm. My applications, which include task management, CRM, billing, and google add-ons, are lighter and more efficient than my previous setup. Simply, I leverage better technology. These applications also come with automation in the form of text messages, emails, and document saving.”

Matthew T. Eyet, Principal of Eyet Law LLC, NJ.

The next law practitioner who shared his story with us is Matthew T. Eyet. Although today he resides in New Jersey where he runs a law firm called Eyet Law, Matthew is admitted to practice and has extensively practiced in Pennsylvania court. He is a native son of Pennsylvania who fulfilled his undergrad studies and law school studies in the state. 

What was the scariest part of starting your own law firm? How did you find the courage to go on? 

“The scariest part of starting my own law firm was carrying clients over from my old firm. As an attorney, you cannot ask clients to stick with you when you leave a practice. Not knowing if I would have my clientele and the possibility of starting from scratch was by far the scariest part of starting my firm.

The courage to go on resulted from my unwavering belief in myself as well as having my clients continue to use my services. Thankfully, I was able to retain most of my clients which helped boost my confidence as well as establish my new firm.”

What do you consider to be the best decision regarding running your law firm you’ve made since the pandemic started?

“The best decision I have made for my firm during the COVID-19 pandemic has been attaining all possible federal and state aid possible. Eligibility for grants and other funding opportunities helped my firm stay afloat.” 

Matthew adds:

“My firm also made it a priority to focus on efficiency in a remote workplace. Being able to work fully online was at times a challenge, but once we focused on the best ways to continue our work virtually, we were able to streamline our practice.”

As a small law firm owner, you strive for efficiency. How do you boost it?

“As a small law firm owner, the best way to boost efficiency was simply finding ways to return to a normal workplace. A big part of that was ensuring my employees have a high level of happiness. I was able to provide benefits to my employees such as laptops, printing services, and work phones which helped eliminate any possible obstacles. 

I was also able to speed up the process of returning to the office by providing time off for COVID-19 vaccination, socially distancing the desks in the office, and setting up dividers to protect from any possible infection. With these protective measures, I was able to ensure safety for my employees which, in turn, helped raise the level of efficiency at Eyet Law.”  

Wrapping up

As we can see, even despite such challenges as COVID-19, small law firms in Pennsylvania are finding new ways to flourish. 

After speaking with five boutique law firm owners, we’ve distinguished five key lessons for their fellow colleagues: 

  • Develop a clear purpose and mission for your law firm.
  • Delegate some parts of authority to your team members.
  • Be heavy on technology and innovation.
  • Invest in legaltech; document review software can be an option here (some small law firms have already done it to save $150,000 per year).
  • Ensure your employees are happy.

And, of course, seek out like-minded entrepreneurs who are walking the same path. Learning from each other is our key to success. 

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