How To Start A Law Firm In California: California a state in the Western side of the United States, and the third largest state in America by area. It is also the largest state by population in America, recording over 38 million residents. The legal profession is a one of all-round relevance in all parts of the world. It is equally a restricted profession in the sense that only people who have fulfilled the requirements and have been duly licensed, can start up a law firm or offer any legal service.
Same is applicable in California. Practising without license is a criminal offence which is punishable. In this article, how to start up a law firm in California shall be discussed in three segments which are: the preconditions to qualify as an attorney, how to start a law firm, and how to keep the law firm running after it has been established.
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The following are the preconditions to be fulfilled before one can qualify to start a law firm in California:
1. Get a bachelor’s degree: Recall that California is a state in America. One thing that is unique about the legal profession in America is that before one can qualify to get a law degree, that person must have first obtained a bachelor’s degree in any other course from any accredited university. Law in California is done only as a second degree. It cannot be studied as a first degree. This applies to both foreign candidates and national candidates.
2. Write the Law School Admission Test (LSAT): Having gotten a first degree, the next step to take is to obtain or sign in for the Law School Admission Test. Candidates are required to obtain a certain score as may be prescribed by the authority from time to time, in order to quality for admission into the law school.
3. Obtain a Juris Doctor (JD) from the law school: Having qualified via the Law School Admission Test, admission will be offered to candidates in an accredited law school. The law school must be one accredited by the American Bar Association (ABA). Through this level of study, the candidates obtain the degree of Juris Doctor (JD).
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4. Pass the Bar Exam: California Bar Exam is usually taken two times in a year. The format of the examination is multiple-choice questions and essay. The questions of course, are targeted at testing the knowledge of the candidates on California law. Candidates must pass the examination in order to take the next step forward.
5. Multistate Professional responsibility Examination (MPRE)
The Multistate Professional responsibility Examination tests the candidates’ mastery of the ethics of the legal profession.
6. Oath of office: Having fulfilled the preceding requirements, the candidates then qualify to take oath of office which is symbolic of the candidates’ admission into the legal profession.
The preconditions to becoming an attorney in California are basically about academic qualifications. Of course, character and ethics form part of the preconditions. Having become an attorney by virtue of the oath of office sworn to, one is then licensed to start a law firm where he can offer various legal services.
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These are the measures to put in place in starting a law firm in California:
1. Choose a legal structure for the firm: The operation of a law firm is of course a business. Thus, there is need to first determine the legal structure of the business. The legal structure also gives identity to the firm. So, one has to determine whether he wants to run the firm as a sole proprietorship, as a partnership, or as a company or corporation. Most commonly, law firms are run as partnership as opposed to limited liability company in a case where the firm is intended to involve more than one attorney.
The partners are designated and regulated by the partnership agreement; same as their powers, rights and liabilities. And of course, not all members of the firm are partners. Whichever legal structure that is chosen has its legal effect and peculiarities. So, it is best advised to consult the relevant laws and regulations relating to business structures in California, or consult experts in the field in order to chose the structure that is best suitable for you. The legal structure will have to be registered accordingly.
2. Choose an area of specialty: It is always best to have areas of specialization. This of course does not preclude you from exploring and practising on other areas which are not your specialty. But then, it is just always best to be expert in certain fields, which of course should be guided by your passion.
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3. Registration of the firm: Having determined the legal structure you want the firm to operate under, there’d still be need to register the firm with the California Secretary of State. There, the owner of the firm shall be given the required business license or permit for the operation of the firm.
4. Setting up of the firm: Having concluded with the procedural requirements for the starting of a law firm, the next is to set up the firm to your taste. There is need to designate rooms as offices, relaxation rooms, dining room, conveniences, library, storage and archives, and so on. Certain equipment are needed for the smooth operation of the firm, such as printers, computers, power and utilities, communication devices, and so on.
5. Hiring of staff: Setting up the firm includes the need to employ workers like attorneys, secretaries, agents, and other various vital officers. It is most advised that in hiring employees, the extant laws and regulations relating to employment should be complied with.
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Post-recommendations for the smooth operation of the law firm:
1. Draw a business plan: As earlier noted, the offering of legal services is a business. So, just like every business, there is need to develop a plan which should include strategies to permeate the legal market and obtain clients. Not just obtaining clients but taking such strategies as to get the people to trust your firm.
2. Get your Tax ID Number (TIN): Every business in California is subjected to tax. Without being chased, it is best to obtain your tax identification number from the Internal Revenue Service with which you shall ensure the payment of tax accordingly.
3. Maximize the existing technologies: Resorting to the use of the existing technologies takes you a step beyond average. Technology is most appreciated in California. It makes things easier for both the firm and the clients. For instance, if you can own a website, that’s also best.
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4. Have an account for your firm: Your firm should have an account separate of that of its members. In order words, personal accounts should be used for the firm. Asides the fact that it builds trust on the surface, substantial accountability is guaranteed especially as it relates to client’s funds.
5. Compliance with the ethics of the profession: It is not enough to have passed the test on ethics during your academic years. The professional ethics are meant to be mastered and lived up to. Any act that is undeserving of an attorney can be penalized by the appropriate body. Living up to the ethical demands sets your firm to high standards which in turn increases your prospects.
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Businesses in California are regulated, and the business of the legal practice is not exempted from regulations. As already seen, one needs to earn some qualifications before he can qualify to start a law firm in California. Even after the academic qualifications have been obtained, some steps still need to be taken before a qualified attorney can start a law firm. The knowledge of these facts is necessary for a swift set-up of a law firm.
Edeh Samuel Chukwuemeka, ACMC, is a lawyer and a certified mediator/conciliator in Nigeria. He is also a developer with knowledge in various programming languages. Samuel is determined to leverage his skills in technology, SEO, and legal practice to revolutionize the legal profession worldwide by creating web and mobile applications that simplify legal research. Sam is also passionate about educating and providing valuable information to people.