Checklist for Starting a Criminal Defense Practice

Checklist for Starting a Criminal Defense Practice

At Internet Lava, LLC, we build websites and internet marketing strategies for criminal defense attorneys across the country. Our clients are well-established criminal defense firms that dominate their market online for their niche practice areas.

We also work with experienced criminal defense attorneys ready to start their own practice after leaving another well-established law firm. Additionally, we work with experienced public defenders and prosecutors who are ready to enter the private sector as a solo practitioner.

Having a well-thought-out business plan gives you the best chance of running a profitable law firm from day one. By continuing to update your business plan as you begin to grow, you can ensure that your firm continues to thrive year after year.

Part of your business plan should address your internet marketing strategy. When done correctly, the law firm’s website becomes its most valuable asset. As you prepare your business plan, consider how the plan impacts your website and overall internet marketing strategy.

Creating a Business Plan for a Criminal Defense Firm

A complete business plan is a valuable tool in reaching your long-term goals. The business plan helps you define your objectives as your law firm grows and becomes more profitable.

Because we work with so many of the top criminal defense attorneys, we have developed this checklist for starting your firm or opening a second office.  If you want to maximize the impact of your marketing budget, consider adding these suggestions to your business plan.

At Internet Lava, we can help you through many of these steps so that you save time and money as you grow your practice the right way.

  1. Before you leave your current employer (the public defender’s office, the prosecutor’s office, or another law firm):
    • Find mentors who have traveled a similar path and built a successful criminal defense practice
    • Keep an organized motion and brief bank that you can take with you when you start your practice
    • Pay attention to administrative procedures and forms used in your office, particularly the forms used during the client intake process
    • Attend as many CLE seminars as possible and keep electronic versions of the seminar materials
    • Become a member of local, state, and national legal organizations related to your niche practice area
    • Find out the task requirements for becoming board certified in your state (if available) and start working towards those goals
      • Certification validates the lawyer’s claim of experience, special skills, or focus on a particular area of the law
      • Obtaining this certification will set you apart from other lawyers in your area
      • Board-certified attorneys have a huge marketing advantage both online and offline
      • Begin to gather the information you will need for the application process to become board certified including:
        • the Continuing Legal Education (CLE) seminars you have completed and the credit hours you earned for each seminar
        • any books or articles you have written that were published in a professional publication or journal
        • the number of criminal appeals you have filed
        • the number of cases you have taken to trial
    • Even if your state doesn’t have a board certification program, consider becoming board certified in:
    • Take avantage of the free resources for running a small law office provided by your state bar association
  2.  Create a comprehensive business plan that you continue to update over time
    • Figure out your niche practice areas and the geographical area that your practice will cover
    • Create a detailed budget so you know how much you will spend on opening the new practice or expanding into a new area
  3. Set up your office with a long term view
    • Keep in mind that changing the address and phone number is expensive because it can negatively impact your internet marketing campaign
    • Pick an office where you can stay and grow over time
      • for purposes of internet marketing, having a unique brick and mortar address is essential because it shows that the practice is stable and well-established
      • maintain that same location for as long as possible
      • schedule a local photographer (designated as a Google Street View Trusted Pro) to take images of the interior of your business that can be shown on Google Maps and embedded as a virtual tour on your website (approximately $400)
    • Pick a local phone number with advance call forwarding features that you can keep forever
  4. When you start your practice, invest in a really good website with a company that will help you:
    • Develop your logo and branding material
    • Create your website on an open source content management system (CMS) like WordPress
      • avoid a proprietary CMS because it can not easily be moved to a new company
      • open source CMS are updated more often then proprietary systems, integrate with more applications, and perform better in the search engines over time
    • Begin drafting at least sixty (60) pages of unique informative content for your website that will be published when it launches
      • At Internet Lava, LLC, we focus on publishing better content on the criminal defense attorney’s website
      • Think about the type of cases that you really want and what those clients will be looking for when they begin their search online for an attorney
      • If you explain the same things over and over during the initial office consultation, then consider adding some of that information to the website to answer the general questions of your potential client for different types of cases
      • If you state has 15 ways to charge a DUI, think about creating 15 pages on your website for each one explaining the elements for each charge, the statutory minimum and maximum penalties, and any special defenses or procedureal issues
      • If you know what kind of cases that you want, your internet marketing company will have a much easier time creating or optimizing the content that will attract your ideal clients
    • Learn how to use the CMS to quickly edit any page on your website or add new pages over time
    • Integrate your website with your Client Reputation Management (CRM) and contact management tools, practice management software, contact forms on your website, e-commerce and credit card payment options
  5. Prepare for the launch of your website
    • Pick a URL that you will keep forever
      • the URL should be as short as possible
      • use a .com for your main website
      • pick a URL that can be sold with your practice when you are ready to retire
    • Invest in professional pictures of you and your office that can be used on your website’s design
      • the entire website should be designed around those pictures
      • the pictures can also be used on all of your business and law firm profiles on other websites and social media listings
  6. Have your marketing company design your blog focused on criminal defense topics
    • Have your marketing company write your first three blog articles
    • Have the marketing company optimize the next set of blog articles you write
    • Learn how to add blog articles to your website yourself over time with a goal of adding at least one article each month (or have your marketing company do this for you)
  7. Set up social media profiles for the attorneys in the firm and for the firm itself (or have your internet marketing company do this for you)
    • Google Business Listings
    • Yahoo Local Business Listing
    • Bing Places for Business
    • YouTube
    • Facebook
    • LinkedIn
    • Twitter
    • Yelp
    • BBB
    • MapQuest
    • Profile listings on directories for non-profit legal organizations including:
      • the NORML National Legal Committee (NLC) for marijuana crimes
      • the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (NACDL) and the local affiliates
      • National College of DUI Defense (NCDD)(for DUI attorneys)
      • DUI Defense Lawyer Association (DUIDLA)(for DUI attorneys)
    • Free listings on legal directories that provide a valuable backlink to your firm’s website or extra features for an enhanced listing including:
      • Lawyer Legion
      • Justia
    • Consider paid listings on legal directories including:
      • Findlaw
      • Super Lawyers
      • Avvo
      • Lawyers.com
      • Lawinfo.com
  8. Spend the money on infrastructure and practice management tools that all integrate with your website
    • We recommend the following companies because their features integrate seemlessly with the types of WordPress websites we build:
      • Lexicata (for CRM and contact management tools)
      • Clio (for practice management to help you manage cases, clients, documents, bills, appointments, and accounting)
      • LawPay (to take credit card payments and add a payment page to your website)
      • Nexa (formerly known as “Answer 1”) (answering service and virtual assistant for your after hours, weekend and holiday calls)
    • Dropbox (to manage your documents, client files, and motion / brief bank)
    • Quickbooks (accounting software that connected with your bank account to automatically import and categorize transactions)
    • Westlaw Next or Lexis Nexis (for legal research tool)
      • negotiate with both companies to find the lowest price and sign a contract that last for no more than two years
      • the companies will drop the price considerably if you spend the time negotiating the best deal
      • renegotiate a lower price or switch companies every two years
  9. Learn about Search Engine Marketing (SEM)
    • Avoid paying too much on pay per click because most of your marketing budget should be spend on developing the best content for organic searches
    • Build targeted campaigns on Google Adwords for small targeted niche practice areas
    • Start small until you find your most profitable niche areas and then scale up
  10. Network with criminal defense attorneys in neighboring jurisdictions to increase referrals
    • Stay active in local, state and national legal organizations
    • Consider joining your local lawyer referral service
  11. Keep track of your case results and ask for reviews

    • If allowed by the bar rules for attorney advertising in your state, consider adding testimonials or case results on your website
    • Ask you client after the case is resolved for their written permission to mention the case result on your website
      • Don’t mention your client’s name
      • You should mention the date the case was resolved and the location so the results can be independently verified
      • Provide enough information while protecting your client’s confidentiality (with your client’s express approval of your approach)
    • Don’t forget to add a disclosure that explains:
      • the past result are not indicative of results that might be obtained in the future
      • not all results are listed
      • the results should not be taken as a representative of the firm’s quality and services
      • the facts of each case should be evaluated on their own merit
    • Don’t forget to ask your client to review your services on your Google Business Listing (or another profile like Yahoo, Bing or Yelp)
  12. Hire an good legal assistant / paralegal ASAP to:
    • Manage the administrative tasks when you are not in the office
    • Answer the phone and monitor your emails
    • Schedule your office consultations and handle client intakes
    • Update your website, case results, and blog with content you provide
    • Keep track of your budget and services provided by vendors
    • Develop policies and procedures that are listed in a manual in order to train the second assistant
  13.  Hire a second criminal defense attorney
    • Train the second attorney to handle intakes and certain administrative tasks
    • Encourage the second attorney to help you develop a manual for policies and procedures
  14. Get malpractice insurance which is relatively inexpensive for a practice focused solely on criminal defense
  15. Get a good health insurance and retirement plan for you and your employees
  16. Continue to enjoy the steady growth of your business over time

Ideally, the company that is building your website would be able to review your business plan and better understand your goals. A good internet marketing company can make suggestions before you make any costly mistakes.

Whether you are starting a new practice or expanding to a second location, consider your business plan from a marketing perspective.

Every aspect of your business plan should take your website and internet marketing strategy into consideration. A well designed website helps you convert more referrals from other attorneys and former clients.

By showing up in the search engines, the website will also help you attract your ideal clients for your niche practice areas. By considering your website and internet marketing strategy in your business plan, you give yourself the best chance for success when you open your doors.

For more information on the websites we build and our tips for internet marketing for a criminal defense practice, call Internet Lava at 1-800-292-5282.


One thought on “Checklist for Starting a Criminal Defense Practice

  1. I found it interesting how lawyers prepare themselves to develop good case result to clients. Someone recently told me that searching and reviewing an attorney before hiring is good to do. Thank you for helping me learn more about lawyer practice.

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