LawBiz® Blog

LawBiz® Blog

Your Practical Guide to Profit ™.

LawBiz® Legal Pad: Controlling Clients’ Legal Costs

Posted in Videos

Ed discusses how to estimate future costs by listing your assumptions.
Most clients don’t complain about hourly rates; they complain about the totality of their legal costs.  In order to control legal costs, one help is budgets.
How to estimate future costs: List your assumptions and make sure the client understands these and also provide for change-orders if any of these assumptions prove to be erroneous. That’s how you keep the costs down and that’s how you keep the client satisfied.

Speak and Write for Success

Posted in Audio & Podcasts, Management, Marketing, Technology, Uncategorized

Gary Kinder, founder and CEO of WordRake® writes the following:

“…Each of us has three vocabularies:
1.    our reading or comprehension vocabulary – by far the largest;
2.    our writing vocabulary – in the middle; and
3.    our speaking vocabulary – the smallest and least grammatical.

When speaking, we use, and tolerate (to a point) others using, ers and uhs and sos and wells and likes, and confusing who with whom and lay with lie because most of us can’t think fast enough when we speak to get it all grammatically correct; plus we have tone of voice, facial expressions, and body language to help us communicate. Our writing must be more precise than our speech because we have only words to convey meaning.

Email is a weird hybrid existing between speaking and writing. In that gap, our email mindset might be loose and informal, but our business recipients do not forgive our typos, grammatical slips, and bloated, unnecessary, abstract, sometimes nonsensical phrasing. That’s where the tension lies: we write it as though the message is impermanent; they judge it and us as though it’s permanent….”

When in business, we know the validity of “dress for success.” So, too, when communicating even in e-mail, write/speak commensurate with your market, the recipients of your communication. “Talking” with personal friends is a different matter.

Listen to my podcast discussion with Gary Kinder.

The Fair Debt Act and collection efforts for lawyers

Posted in Management, Personal Thoughts

Recently, a lawyer sent a collection letter to his client.  The letter allegedly included implied threats to sue.  The court said that, despite the lawyer’s right to sue, the manner in which the letter was written might have confused the debtor as to the statutory right to dispute the debt.  The court further stated that the FDCPA was not intended to protect lawyers, but rather to protect “regular people.”

The defendant-lawyer said that if he has the right to sue (which he does); how does his mentioning that fact violate the Act by saying so?  Reading the opinion does not give a clear answer to this question.

However, the moral of the saga, is that a lawyer’s writing must be very clear.  The underlying message of the case, it seems to me, supports my lifelong premise: do not threatenMean what you say and say what you mean.  In other words, if you are not sure whether you are going to sue, do not say so.  And when you say you will sue, mean it and follow through by filing an action.

This becomes particularly important in dealing with clients and former clients, and especially those that are governed by a federal act such as the FDCPA.

Which rules should we follow? When is it appropriate to change a rule?

Posted in Personal Thoughts, Technology

In this month’s issue of the American Bar Journal, an article was written about the CEO of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, Travis Tygart, and his efforts to prove that Lance Armstrong “cheated” in his bike racing. In the article, reference was made to his being a Christian and Lance Armstrong to being an atheist.

Such reference was gratuitous and does not make one a good person and the other a bad person. Religion does not make the accused guilty or the accuser innocent.  Religion detracts from the message of the article.

Also, two issues of significant importance were not addressed. One was why a U.S. agency was so “hot to trot” over a French event, the Tour de France? It devolved into what was seemingly a personal vendetta between two opinionated and arrogant personalities.

What was not mentioned is more important to the issue.  Technology has improved the performance on the bike by make the bike lighter and more aerodynamic; nutrition has improved the performance of the athletes by making them healthier; and psychology has improved the focus of athletes. Why should not science also be able to improve the performance of the athlete by using his own blood? We allow training at high elevation. How different is this? “Doping” has been an element of racing in the Tour for decades. Just check out wikipedia  for details.

In the free speech movement in the 1960s, in prison reform and in civil rights, we have made many changes over the years. If one were arrested before such changes, were they considered unethical? They were chastised and even arrested, and some killed.

Perhaps the more important issue in this case should be whether the rule should be changed, whether people ought to use the latest and best technology for both their equipment and their bodies? In this discussion, that the rule may wrong does not get reviewed.

Should lawyers care about this issue? Isn’t it “old hat” at this point? We are being urged to be creative, to use new technologies and new or at least not previously test modalities of management and client services. At what point will the Bar say lawyers overstepped the boundaries of propriety? While being created and assertive (perhaps “aggressive” or “uncivil”), some might say we/you have crossed the line of propriety.

In with the new, out with the old

Posted in In The News, Marketing, Personal Thoughts

When I first heard the news, I was surprised that Baker Hostleter accepted the assignment from the Republican Party to sue President Obama for allegedly overstepping the boundaries of Executive Power. Why? The first reason that came to mind was that such a high profile assignment would identify them as a Republican oriented law firm. This likely would alienate half the population.  Why would one willingly toss away one-half of your prospective market?

Of course, some believe that any publicity is good publicity. For example, Baker Hostetler was lampooned earlier this month when Jimmy Fallon on the Tonight Show ran a fake commercial for the law firm. “At Baker Hostetler, we specialize in one thing: suing the president,” the parody ad said. “For instance, have you ever been forced to pass Obamacare, even though you didn’t like it? We can help you waste thousands of dollars in taxpayer money to fight for what you sort of believe in.” For their target market, the business world, I do not think this is the image they want.

The second reason is that, at least in my mind, the case to limit Executive Power is likely not to be won despite a Republican-oriented Court. This essentially is a political issue that can be addressed in the political arena of electioneering. Elections will be held in the near future. Executive Power has expanded with each President, including Republicans. Any curtailment would apply to future Presidents, including Republicans. Why, as a Party, would they want to do this?

Of course, this is a suit against the Executive being brought by the Congress … and therein may lie the answer for the suit. That does not answer the question, though, as to why a law firm would want to be so identified. Baker understood its business base and perhaps had second thoughts. Quinn Emanuel, having recently won some big lawsuits, may be feeling its oats and believe they are impervious to such considerations … or perhaps they want to be so identified.

Serious Challenges for the New CalBar President

Posted in Coaching, In The News, Personal Thoughts

Congratulations to Craig E. Holden, the new president of the State Bar of California. Among other attributes, Mr. Holden is a partner in the major law firm of Lewis Brisbois Bisgaard & Smith LLP, a person of color, a former member of the executive committee of the CalBar Law Practice Management & Technology Section, and the youngest person to be elected president of the California State Bar. Each of these attributes is sufficient to give Mr. Holden a sensitivity to the needs of the average lawyer. However, taken together, they provide an appropriate backdrop for one of his major goals during his tenure: to help lawyers succeed. Success in this context means helping lawyers be more effective in dealing with their clients, be more efficient and encounter less stress in their practice.

Not since Jim Heiting was president years ago as any California State Bar president suggested anything but a regulatory and enforcement goal for the State Bar. Mr. Holden is even suggesting that State Bar funds might be used to support this goal. He seeks to expand his concept by creating a system of mentorship for young lawyers. Personally, my hope is that he expands this idea to include all lawyers in the state of California.

Adopting Mr. Holden’s perspective can also be financially rewarding for the State Bar as well as its lawyer members. The current budget for the State Bar includes approximately 80%, or $32 million for disciplinary activities. If the education that Mr. Holden envisions enables lawyers  to avoid future discipline, even if only to the extent of 50%,  the State Bar will save $16 million. These funds could then be used to meet other goals of the State Bar.

“The proposed initiative is part of Holden’s broader goal to re-examine the State Bar’s mission of public protection. Ever since the Bar radically reformed its  governance structure four years ago (in response to legislative mandate), many lawyers have come to believe that ‘all we do is regulate,’ he said…. ‘That is the core function… But I don’t agree that that’s all we do.’” He continued by saying that “‘… My ultimate goal is to broadly define our mission and what it means to protect the public… Our mission should be retooled… To ensure that public protection is not viewed myopically… As a punitive machine.’”

Mr. Holden clearly has his work cut out for him. As noted in my recent writings, the State Bar has wrapped itself in the cloak of regulation and punitive enforcement. While the recent vote in Scotland was to remain part of the United Kingdom, I am sure that a similar vote among California lawyers would not be so favorable; based on recent actions and non-actions of the State Bar, I am convinced the overwhelming vote of California lawyers would be to separate public protection activities from lawyer education and improvement. Perhaps Mr. Holden will persuade a sufficient number of Board members to see the world as he does. This will be a tough challenge and one that I heartily endorse.