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 nationwide. Most of our clients are well-established criminal defense firms that dominate their market online for their niche practice areas.

We also work with experienced attorneys ready to start their own practice after leaving another well-established law firm. Some of our clients are experienced public defenders and prosecutors who are ready to enter the private sector as a solo practitioner with a limited budget.

But all of our clients have one thing in common. They needed a well-thought-out business plan to run and grow a profitable criminal defense firm. Updating the business plan is the best way to ensure the firm continues to grow and thrive.

Part of your business plan should address your internet marketing strategy. When done correctly, the law firm’s website quickly 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 for 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 to save time and money as you grow your practice the right way.

  1. Before you leave your current employer:
    • 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 advantage 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 advanced 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 platforms are updated more often than proprietary systems, integrate with more applications, and perform better in 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 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 your 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 procedural issues
      • If you know what kind of cases 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
    • If you like to write, consider having your marketing company edit and optimize your first three blog articles
    • Learn how to add blog articles to your website yourself over time with a goal of adding at least one article each month
  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:
    • Consider paid listings on legal directories, including:
      • Findlaw
      • Super Lawyers
      • Avvo
      • HG
  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 seamlessly with the types of WordPress websites we build:
      • Clio Grow (was Lexicata) (for CRM and contact management tools)
      • Clio Manage (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 connects 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 lasts 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 spent 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 your client, after the case is resolved, for their written permission to mention the case result on your website
      • Don’t include your client’s name
      • Do include 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 results 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. Get malpractice insurance which is relatively inexpensive for a practice focused solely on criminal defense
  13. Hire a good legal assistant 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 the content you provide
    • Keep track of your budget and services provided by vendors
    • Develop policies and procedures that are listed in a manual to train the second assistant
  14.  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
  15. Continue to enjoy the steady growth of your business over time

Developing an Effective Marketing Plan for Your Legal Practice

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

Consider your business plan from a marketing perspective, whether starting a new practice or expanding to a second location.

Your business plan should consider your website and internet marketing strategy. Although you might intend to rely on referrals from other attorneys and former clients, a well-designed website will help you convert those referrals into paying clients.

The website will also help you attract your ideal clients for your niche practice areas by showing up in the search engines. 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.

This blog article was last updated on Friday, August 14, 2020.

4 thoughts 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.

  2. Hello, My self Smith Patrick, I am a Law student and along with that I also write for few Law related websites. I am really impressed with the quality and the detailed information you have provide in you your article. The steps you mentioned in your article are so accurate and those who are searching for the information about “Checklist for Starting a Criminal Defense Practice” will get all the information they want here.

  3. I like that you pointed out about the claim of experience, special skills, and specialization of the lawyer by checking their certifications. I can imagine how helpful that would be when looking for a criminal defense lawyer to ensure that they actually know what they are going to do. In my opinion, criminal law can be one of the most daunting categories, since it will be convicting a certain person of a crime that can actually affect other people. So it is important to ensure that you find the right people to represent you when you are accused or you are suing another person.

  4. I like how this post underlined that when looking to hire a criminal defense attorney, we should consider their qualifications. By ensuring that they are qualified and skilled, we will be represented by the right and competent people. I will make a point to look at their resume and background when I need to hire an attorney.

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