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How to Start Your Law Firm – Part 1 – Overview

By May 20, 2019July 21st, 2022No Comments

Thinking about starting your own law firm? Whether you are starting straight out of law school or leaving a larger firm to start one, it will not be easy. But we are here to offer friendly advice and to help you if we can! We have done it, like thousands of other lawyers, and the ability to create an excellent law firm consistent with your own vision, makes every drop of sweat, sleepless night, and long day worth it. Your clients need the unique legal skills you can offer, and having your own law firm is a great way to deliver those skills to them.

For reasons I will discuss in another post, I encourage nobody to start a law firm straight out of law school without first gaining experience, skills, legal knowledge, and good habits at a bigger firm for several years first. Law schools, even (particularly) the best ones, teach you a lot about thinking, but not much about actually doing law. So you need some time for other lawyers to teach you in the real world first. And it takes time at a bigger firm to make the connections who will send you work to do. However, I get it. Sometimes you have no choice but to start a firm out of law school, and this blog is for those of you in that position too. If you must start a law firm straight out of law school, secure and develop close relationships with as many mentors as you can.

Who am I to Tell You How to Start or Run a Law Firm?

First of all, what I tell you on this website is simply business stuff I have learned as I have done my best to start and grow my own firm. A law firm is a business. Hopefully you are mastering the law side, as we have. But here, I want to share with you what we have learned about the business side of your law firm: business skills and practices we have learned here through a combination of successes and a few mistakes, trial and error, reading and study, and extensive thought and reflection. I don’t pretend to have any genius at running a business, but so far, so good at our firm. In my mind, I am just a good, hardworking federal criminal and civil litigator who is learning the business side of running a law firm. In the process of doing that, I have picked up a number of ideas that I thought may interest and help people on my path of starting or building a firm. I talk about that more elsewhere within this blog. I am proud of what we have accomplished with my firm, and whatever I can share to help others, I would like to. More about what this blog is about here.

What is my relevant background? I have seen a lot of the inside of law firms and court rooms. I worked at some big firms before starting my Charlotte-based law firm, Terpening Law. After graduating from Duke Law and clerking for a federal judge here in Charlotte around two decades ago now, I started my career as a practicing lawyer at Alston & Bird, an excellent but extremely large mega-firm based out of Atlanta. It was a great learning experience: I practiced exclusively securities litigation, got into the habit of working 12 hour days and forgetting about the weekends (i.e., good work ethic), and worked for mentors who demanded total perfection. I would recommend that kind of “Devil Wears Prada” experience to any young lawyer. My problems with Alston & Bird were limited in number but severe as far as my career was concerned: my practice group did not try cases very often, and I wanted to be a “real” trial lawyer; and my practice group did not let me work with other practice groups, and I wanted to do more white collar criminal defense. So I quit, went someplace where I could learn to be a trial lawyer and do more criminal work, and have followed that path for many years through different kinds of office platforms now. Of note, I was the managing partner of the Charlotte office of a large regional firm before deciding I wanted to do things my way, and starting Terpening Law in early 2016. So I have been around enough to have learned some things, in some different offices, about what to do and not do with a the business side of a law firm.

What Questions and Issues Will This Blog Discuss?

If it’s relevant to the experience or the journey of starting and growing a law firm, we will discuss it here at some point. We will cover everything from the nuts and bolts of getting the enterprise running to our ideas about how to litigate cases and serve clients as well as possible. We’ll hear from everyone at the firm — paralegals, associates, anyone who contributes around here — not just me, the managing partner. But you’ll mostly hear from me, because I am a bit garrulous.

In an effort to make this blog user-friendly to those who are looking for advice on starting a law firm, I will start with two series of blog entries: How to Start Your Law Firm, and How to Grow Your Law Firm. Then, we will expand the website with discussion of other matters of interest to folks running or working at growing law firms, including matters like technology, marketing and branding, client service, law skills improvement, and more. Visit often and follow us on social media to see when we update the page.

Contact me with questions any time, whether you’re a practicing lawyer, a client trying to decide what to look for in hiring a firm, or anyone else. Our contact info is on the Terpening Law website, spread around this blog, and in the related social media. This is one of a series of blog posts about starting your firm. You can read others here. And you can learn more about what this blog is for here.

And read about our law firm on its real website,, to see how we serve our federal white collar criminal defense clients, and others, every day!

Will Terpening, Charlotte, February 27, 2019.