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Checklist for Starting a Criminal Defense Practice

At Internet Lava, LLC, we help criminal defense law firms of all sizes by building their website and managing their internet marketing. Most of our clients are well-established law firms that are ready to dominate the market online for their niche practice areas.

We also work with experienced criminal defense attorneys ready to start their own practice, usually after leaving another well established law firm focused on criminal defense in state or federal court.

Because we have worked with so many of these criminal defense attorneys, we have developed this checklist on things to do when starting your firm or opening a second office.  If you want to maximize the impact of your marketing budget, make sure you consider the suggestions in this checklist and add them to your business plan.

At Internet LAVA, LLC, we can help you through each of these steps so that you save time, save money, and make sure it is done correctly the first time.

  1. Before you leave your current employer (the public defender’s office, the prosecutor’s office, or another law firm) start making plans to:
    • 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 for client intakes
    • 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 mentors who have traveled a similar path and built a successful criminal defense practice
    • 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 in a particular area of the law.
      • board certified attorneys have a huge marketing advantage online
    • Save every penny you can to start your small or solo practice
  2. Set up your office with a long term view
    • 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 the practice is stable and well-established
      • schedule a local photographer 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. Changing the address and phone number is expensive because it can negatively impact your internet marketing campaign
    • Get malpractice insurance which is relatively inexpensive for a practice focused solely on criminal defense
  3. When you start your practice, invest in a really good website with a company that will:
    • Develop a 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
    • Write at least sixty (60) pages of unique informative content for your website that will be published when it launches
    • Help you learn how to use the CMS to quickly edit any page on your website or add new pages over time (or hire a company that can continue to add content for you on an ongoing basis)
  4. 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 (take additional professional photographs every few years)
      • 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
  5. Set up the 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 backlink to your website including:
      • Lawyer Legion
      • Justia
    • Consider paid listings on legal directories including:
  6. Spend the money on infrastructure and practice management tools that all integrate with your website
    • Lexicata (for intake management)
    • Clio (for practice management)
    • LawPay (to take credit card payments)
    • 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)
    • 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 the price or switch companies every two years
  7. Have your marketing company design and launch your blog
    • 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)
  8. Learn about Search Engine Marketing (SEM)
    • Avoid paying too much on pay per click
    • Build targeted campaigns on Google Adwords and Bing Ads for small targeted niche practice areas
  9. 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
  10. 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
  11.  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
  12. Get a good health insurance and retirement plan for you and your employees
  13. Continue to enjoy the steady growth of your business over time

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