Legally Attuned

Expense Management

This post in Attuned Legal®’s small business compliance series explores expense management from a big-picture legal perspective. All content is informational—not legal advice.

Becoming comfortable with tracking expenses is an essential part of small business management.

Every business has individualized financial needs. Expenditures depend as much on the requirements for regulatory compliance as on management preferences.

As an attorney, I usually analyze how small businesses choose to spend money in light of four categories: costs necessary to open the business in a legally sound manner, recurring expenses, one-time expenditures, and closing or wind-up obligations.

This approach helps business owners evaluate the cost of counsel and potential legal liabilities by comparison to existing commitments, which matters when deciding how much to invest in papering agreements and resolving disputes. It’s particularly useful for accidental landlords, who don’t always start out treating the rental property as the business it is.

To illustrate this framework, I’ve included a partial snapshot of behind-the-scenes expenses for Attuned Legal® below, but it’s not comprehensive. Nondisclosure clauses bind the firm not to share the amount paid for certain products or services. Also, like many small business owners, I’ve experimented with things that didn’t work out, which I’m skipping over in this post.

Opening Costs
PurposeAmount
Illinois limited liability company registration$150 (initial fee)
Insurance$1,263 (first year)
Association membership to access insurance$270 ($100 partial year + $170 renewal)
Illinois Supreme Court law firm registration$50 (initial fee, good for one year)
Attuned Legal® Required Opening Costs: $1,733

The table above shows the absolutely necessary opening costs before Attuned Legal® could start serving clients. There’s a thought process behind each item, including my choice of a limited liability company structure and the specific insurance coverage I bought.

Some notable expenses missing from this table are my yearly law license renewal, Justice Entrepreneurs Project (JEP) legal incubator participation fees, and additional professional association memberships. Those costs don’t belong in this list because they’d still benefit me even if I didn’t open Attuned Legal®.

Also, when I hatched the idea for the firm, I was still working for a different employer, so I chose to pay a total of $279 for some additional services to make the business registration process happen with less personal involvement. Specifically, I paid $125 for one year of registered agent service, $50 to have the EIN filing completed and scanned for me, and $104 for limited liability company filing and a template operating agreement.

Recurring Expenses

The firm’s recurring expenses include domain names, web and email hosting, cloud data storage, phone lines, office space, mail scanning, graphics software, insurance, professional associations, yearly business and law firm registration renewals, proprietary legal research materials, and assistants.

One-Time Expenditures

When the cost of a lifetime license for a program or reference material that the firm actually uses works out better than subscription products, Attuned Legal® purchases software and certain library resources as one-time expenditures. Examples include website themes and plugins, professional PDF editing software, and refresher courses for evergreen topics. Admittedly, firm management also has a bit of an AppSumo habit—but I like that the effort that goes into building out a proof of concept using a lifetime deal isn’t lost in subscription costs later on.

Another category of one-time expenditures for Attuned Legal® is legal services that the firm pays other attorneys to provide, such as trademark registration. I find it valuable to have the perspective of another licensed attorney who isn’t involved in the firm’s day-to-day operations when handling any legal issues that come up with running the business.

Closing Obligations

Don’t worry, I have no plans to sell or close Attuned Legal® anytime soon! However, part of running a legally sound business is making sure that the firm has enough funds to fulfill all contracted expenditures. Right now, one of our contracts runs through 2026, so that money is set aside in case the firm has to buy out the remainder.

Financial Management Strategy

Attuned Legal® tracks all expenses by fiscal year in a spreadsheet with four columns: Purpose, Vendor, Total (Yearly), and Notes. The spreadsheet can be used for calculations and always shows a running total. The expense-tracking spreadsheet doesn’t include any income, because comparing income and expenses is a different type of analysis.

I experimented with more complex, automated systems before returning to the basics. Here’s why this simple approach helps me with firm management:

  • It’s a single, big-picture dashboard that I can interpret and maintain myself.
  • Putting the Purpose column first allows easy sorting when multiple vendors, such as cloud storage providers or virtual assistants, fit the same service category.
  • There’s no division between one-time and recurring expenses, so I’m less likely to accidentally duplicate resources.
  • The Notes column allows me to mark renewals, cancellations, and projected pricing over the life of contracts, as well as whether an item was bought on a lifetime deal.
  • Whenever the firm tries a new product, such as a new payment processor, user experiences can also be tracked as Notes.

Attuned Legal® files copies of paid invoices in cloud storage folders organized by fiscal year. Using the professional PDF editing software mentioned in the one-time expenditures section, the firm combines all paid invoices for a specific provider into a single document for that vendor for the fiscal year. This streamlines verifying the accuracy of the spreadsheet and makes it easy to locate the documents needed to write posts like this!

From a management perspective, keeping the firm’s financial systems simple is crucial. Even though I sometimes have assistants assigned to handle the mechanics of these tasks, I always need to be able to fill in any gaps quickly so that I’m aware of the firm’s fiscal commitments. Attuned Legal® focuses on serving low-to-middle-income people and small businesses, and keeping expenses under control is central to the firm’s mission.

How to Verify a Lawyer is Licensed in Illinois

This post in the Attuned Legal® client awareness series discusses how to check if a lawyer is licensed in Illinois. All content is informational—not legal advice.

Checking Illinois Attorney Qualifications

Attuned Legal® clients, especially those more familiar with legal systems outside Illinois, often want to verify whether a demand letter or phone call came from a legitimate attorney before responding. Assuming the communication is from the person it claims to be and not a scam, several resources are available for checking Illinois attorney qualifications.

Still, remember that a licensed attorney may advocate for a client by presenting a legal argument or position. The message recipient needs independent guidance to determine the communication’s legal effect. Seeking advice right away is important because legal issues can be very time-sensitive.

Free Legal HelpPrivate Attorneys
CARPLS – ☎️ (312) 738-9200
CCLAHD – ☎️ (855) 956-5763
Eviction Help Illinois – ☎️ (855) 631-0811
ILAO Get Legal Help (website)
Lawyers for the Creative Arts (website)
JEP – ☎️ (312) 546-3282
CBA Lawyer Referral Service – ☎️ (312) 554-2001
ISBA Illinois Lawyer Finder – ☎️ (800) 922-8757
Locating Illinois Attorneys
How to Verify an Attorney is Licensed in Illinois

In the United States, law is a profession regulated by individual states. The Illinois Supreme Court is in charge of admission to law practice in Illinois.

An Illinois law license grants an individual attorney permission to handle legal matters for clients at all levels of the state’s courts. Whether an individual attorney holds an active Illinois law license is public information. Anyone can verify whether a lawyer is licensed to serve clients in Illinois by checking with the Illinois Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission.

Individual attorneys and not employers hold Illinois law licenses. The lawyer must comply with all applicable rules, including education requirements. Although Illinois attorneys aren’t required to perform volunteer (pro bono) legal services, and employment duties prohibit some from doing so, lawyers report volunteer hours and monetary contributions to organizations providing such services each year as part of registration.

While people can represent themselves in many types of Illinois legal disputes, only licensed attorneys can practice law on behalf of clients. Nonlawyers providing legal services can be reported to the Illinois State Bar Association’s Task Force on Unauthorized Practice of Law.

How to Verify an Attorney is Licensed in Neighboring States

Checking whether a lawyer is licensed in Illinois may not be the end of the path. A client’s physical location doesn’t automatically govern where the lawyer handling a matter needs to be licensed. In places like Chicagoland, where people and goods flow across Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana, and Lake Michigan, a resident of one state might have to find an attorney licensed in a different state to address an everyday legal concern.

Illinois-licensed attorneys aren’t allowed to practice law in other states without following the license procedures required by those jurisdictions. To research whether attorneys are licensed in neighboring states, try the State Bar of Wisconsin Lawyer Search, Indiana Roll of Attorneys, Iowa Lawyer Database, Official Missouri Directory of Lawyers, Kentucky Bar Association Lawyer Locator, and State Bar of Michigan Member Directory Search.

How to Verify an Attorney is Admitted to Practice in Illinois Federal Courts

State law licenses also allow lawyers to apply for permission to practice in specific federal courts. Illinois has three federal district courts, each with its own admissions procedures, which may distinguish between categories of attorneys that don’t exist in the Illinois state scheme.

For example, I’m admitted to practice in the United States District Courts for the Northern District of Illinois and the Central District of Illinois. In a prior role, I held government attorney admission to appear before the United States District Court for the Southern District of Illinois, which expired when I left that job. I’d need to apply for general admission before representing a private client in a Southern District case.

To verify whether an attorney is admitted to practice in a specific federal court, check with the jurisdiction you’re interested in. The Northern District of Illinois offers an online Active General and Trial Bar Members Search.

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Blog Launch: Revealing Legally Attuned

All content is informational—not legal advice.

The Illinois Supreme Court issued Attuned Legal®, LLC’s Certificate of Registration on February 8, 2021. The firm started serving clients facing landlord-tenant and small business issues right away.

To celebrate three years of helping people address everyday legal problems, I’m launching the Legally Attuned blog to share insights from my journey leading Attuned Legal®.

Each month, I’ll address one topic related to legal consumer awareness and making sense of the Illinois legal services market, from attorney credentialing to billing. I’ll post an update every two months about the back-office aspects of leading this Illinois limited liability company, including regulatory compliance. And, quarterly, I’ll report on what I’ve been doing to sharpen my skills as an attorney.

One of my biggest personal challenges in running an Illinois law firm is that I can’t discuss much of my work due to client confidentiality, even when I’m really excited about what I’ve been doing. I’m proud of all Attuned Legal® has achieved in the past three years and look forward to this opportunity to offer a window into the firm’s operations.