My firm was up and running within two months. Work has been trickling in rapidly thanks to friends and clients’ constant support and referrals. I have clients from my old firm trusting and following me to my new establishment. I also have clients who were excellent paymasters. One even pays a day after I issued my bill! I must thank all of them for the great support.
Many thanks to Poh Lim of Messrs Daniel & Wong (which is also a new law firm) for guiding me on how to register a law firm in Malaysia. Without further ado, the steps are:-
1. Write to the Malaysian Bar Council for consent to set up a law firm. You can send the letter requesting consent even before you leave your current firm. In fact, you should write for consent before you leave because the Malaysian Bar Council will take few weeks to respond. Malaysian Bar Council will send you the letter or you can collect it from them. The letter should include the proposed name of your law firm, address and date of commencement. More details at the Malaysian Bar website.
Here’s a sample letter that you may use:-
Badan Peguam Malaysia,
No. 13, 15 & 17, Leboh Pasar Besar,
50050 Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
Commencement of new practice
We refer to the above and would like to notify the Malaysian Bar of our intention to commence legal practice by way of a partnership [/ as a sole proprietor] under the name and style of “INSERT FIRM NAME”.
The tentative date of commencement of practice is “INSERT DATE OF COMMENCEMENT OF PRACTICE”.
Kindly let us know if the name is suitable for use as soon as possible for our further action.
[INSERT NAME(S) OF PROPRIETOR / ALL PARTNERS – SIGNED BY ALL PARTNERS]
2. Once you get the letter of consent from the Bar Council, notify your State Bar on the new firm.
3. Firm Stamp. The stamp should have your firm name and address. This only costs a few Ringgit. Other than firm stamp, you should also have a Advocate and Solicitor stamp with your name and BC number.
4. Phone line and fax line. Bring along your Bar Council consent letter and your company stamp. Internet connection if required. For fax, Eddie from eLawyer and PuchongJobs.com had kindly sponsored a one year subscription of iFax, a service that send and receives faxes via Internet, as a gift for my new law firm. With this service, I don’t need a fax machine. Faxes are sent and received through emails.
5. Insurance. Apply for insurance coverage from Jardine Lloyd Thompson.
6. Bank Accounts. On the day you start the business, open 2 bank accounts namely the client account and office account. Bring along the Bar Council consent letter and company stamp to the bank. If you have a partner, you need your partner to be there to sign a mandate letter.
7. [Edited: 10 August 2016]
Register your firm with the Royal Customs Department to get your Service Tax Licence. You can do it online at http://jkdm.customskl.gov.my/elesen.
8. Logo, letterhead and Name cards! You can hire a designer to do it for you. Fortunately, my friend, Jamie Toh designed my logo, letterhead and name cards for me.
These are the minimum you need to do have the firm up. On the operation side, you should get the following:-
1. Domain name. Get a domain name for your website and email. Engage a web designer. My climbing buddies from Soulizen designed my page. If you want to save costs, you can even build a website using WordPress.
2. Photocopier, scanner and printer. I have a scanner, photocopier and printer all rolled up into one for RM90 a month. However, it’s unreliable as its an old machine (hence the cheap price). I have a Samsung Laser Printer – SCX-3405 to back me up.
I also run a paperless office. Paperless doesn’t mean no paper. It means “less paper”. A paperless office allows cost deduction and time saving plus mobility. The cost of paper and printing will be reduced. You will save on the time for printing, sorting and filing your documents.
When I met Chandell, a lawyer from India, he told me that he runs a paperless office. He stores his documents in electronic copy. He disposed all his old physical files (before that digitalized them) and made some money from recycling his old files.
When he goes to Court, he brings three iPads. One for himself and two for his assistants! Following his footstep, I sometimes go to Court with just an iPad.
3. Have your personal profile and firm profile nicely written. Handy when prospective clients request for your details. You can get a designer to design your firm profile.
4. Office equipment and stationery. Binding machine, comb binders, staples, hole punchers, plastic cover, paper (80g preferred), ribbons, folders and envelopes.
5. Partnership Agreement. You MUST, MUST AND MUST have a partnership agreement if you have a partner. This website has a very good sample.
6. Accounting. If you do not have an accounting software, you may consider preparing a standard templates for your invoices and payment vouchers. An accounting software may be useful but if not, a Microsoft Excel file will do. To keep track of your daily expenses, you can try Expensify . It’s a free App which is available in most mobile devices. Also, read David Wang aka blogjunkie’s guide on accounting for layman at http://blogjunkie.net/2011/06/accounting-freelance-microbusiness.
7. A computer obviously. I now have a Samsung Ultrabook Series 5. It’s light and portable.
With this, I can work anywhere I want. Read my review of the Ultrabook is here.
My office is everywhere!
A tablet is optional. If you do, you may consider reading my “All Lawyers Should Have an iPad” article for some tips on how to use iPad for your legal practice.
8. Software. Microsoft Office is the standard document processing software for most businesses. However, it comes with a price. RM600 for their home office professional version. If you want to use open source software (free stuff), try OpenOffice. Unfortunately, documents formatted in OpenOffice will not look the same when opened in Microsoft Word (not sure about the new version). Alternatively, you can try LibreOffice or Google Docs. I have not tried the former.
In respect of email, you can try Mozilla ThunderBird if you’re too stingy to get Microsoft Outlook. But for me, I’m fine using Gmail as my email client. I prefer Gmail as my email client because it’s easy to use, secure and accessible anywhere. I didn’t want to get my own server because it’s expensive and I don’t see any justification to have one when Google has all the top minds to secure its server. But the recent case about NSA spying on our data is disturbing.
9. Client(s). No business will survive without them. They are your best friends and your worst enemies. I know of friends who started off with only 2 clients. I think one should have at least one client, whether small or large, before determining whether to start up their own firm. Also, do make sure you have at least 3 to 6 months of savings as reserve.
10. Marketing plan. This is an important consideration. The plan need not be a written one but a series of actions is required. For me, I write a lot and I distribute these writings to all my business contacts and publish them on my blawg. Of course, there are many other ways. For Social Media Marketing for Lawyer, do read my slides here.
11. [Edited: 11 February 2014] Basic File Management Documents: You will need to create a masterlist for your files, Invoice, Credit Note and Debit Note with running numbers. This basically keep tracks of the files you open / invoices you billed / debit and credit notes issued. You can use a spreadsheet. Google Docs spreadsheet is good because you can access your file anywhere you like.
Also, you should prepare template invoice, credit note, debit note and official receipt.
I guess these are the things one needs to have or do when running a new firm. Running your own firm is tough for the first few months and even years. But it’s rewarding.
When I attended a talk by Messrs Skrine when I was a student, a student asked a senior partner on how much can one achieve as a lawyer. The senior partner answered, “The sky’s the limit!”.
For a lawyer to reach the sky, my view is that the best way is to start his own firm. A lawyer employed by another would have all sorts of obstacle before him.
I wish those on the same boat with me all the best!