How do you know you're cut out to start a paralegal practice?
The Law Society of Upper Canada suggests you first consider the core traits of most successful business owners, and ask yourself if they fit your personality.
Are you an energetic self-starter and a risk-taker? Are you typically well-organized? Would you call yourself a leader who can stay cool under pressure and enjoys a good challenge?
While these are general traits, they definitely reflect the temperament needed to launch and sustain a start-up legal practice. What else will you need to get the ball rolling?
These are four key steps you'll need to complete while planning, launching, and growing your very own paralegal practice in Ontario. This process takes hard work, but it's well worth it if you're passionate about becoming your own boss.
Business Plan: Legal Focus, Location & Target Audience
The first step to launching any kind of enterprise is developing a business plan. But don't be daunted. Your business plan doesn't have to be terribly long and complex. It simply needs to answer a few key questions about the type of services you will deliver, to whom, and where. To bring your plan into focus, you'll begin by asking questions like these:
- In what city or region would I like to open my paralegal practice? (Will I stay in the Greater Toronto Area or move to another location?)
- Is there demand for paralegal services in the location I am considering opening my practice? (You don't want to select a location in which you'll face a lot of competition)
- Who is my target audience in my chosen location? (You'll need to know what kinds of services your potential clients need most, so you can tailor your offerings to those needs)
Marketing Your Paralegal Practice: Website, Advertising, Social Media
Your business plan should also include a section on how you'll get the word out about your practice, and attract new clients. You will need a website—and there are many free or low-cost DIY options out there, such as WIX and WordPress. Your answers to the questions on location, legal focus, and target audience will help determine the content of your website. You'll need sections about yourself, your services, contact information, and eventually, some client testimonials.
You may want to include both online and offline advertising in your start-up budget, so you can reach your target audience more directly. Part of your strategy may be writing a weekly blog post on legal topics of interest to your audience—and then sharing the posts on your business social media accounts. Again, you'll want to keep it simple to start (perhaps just two social media accounts), and then expand your efforts over time. Eventually, you may need to hire someone to help with marketing.
Registration, Licensing, and Financing
There is some paper work to take care of with the government, and the bank, before you can launch your paralegal practice. These are a few of the steps you'll need to walk through during the planning process:
- find out whether you need a Business Number (BN) from the federal government (if you have employees or taxable services over a certain amount, you'll need a BN)
- find out if you need to register your business name with Service Ontario (and if you do, that the name you choose complies with the Paralegal Rules of Conduct related to marketing)
- confirm whether the municipality in which you plan to open your practice requires you to obtain a licence
- determine the cost of launching your business, and how you will secure those funds: bank loan, line of credit, credit cards, etc.
- research different financial institutions to learn how they evaluate financing applications (so you can tailor your application to those criteria and boost your chance of getting accepted)
Talk With a Paralegal Who Has Successfully Started a Practice
This is one of the most important and valuable steps during your planning process. You might meet someone who owns (or used to own) a private practice during your paralegal training, at a networking event, or through friends/family. While their target audience or legal focus might be a bit different from what you have planned for your own practice, their advice and insights will be incredibly useful.
You will need support during your first few years, while you're learning the ropes and building your client base. The more paralegal business owners you know, legal associations you join, and business networking events you attend, the more support you will get during the start-up process. A strong professional network is crucial for getting advice, earning client referrals, and much more. Start making those connections while at college, and continue to build your network after graduation.
Interested in learning more about becoming a paralegal in Ontario, career paths after graduation, or training programs in your area?
Take a look at Herzing College's paralegal diploma training, delivered at the Toronto campus. The program takes just 12 months to complete, includes a 4-week internship, and boasts a 97% graduate job placement rate.
Visit the program page to learn more, and see if you qualify for $4000 in scholarships and vouchers currently available to paralegal students at Herzing!