The IRS lost its appeal to institute competency exams for as many as 700,000 paid tax preparers. The federal court said the IRS lacked the authority to impose the new rules without congressional authorization. While this argument would not likely hold water as concerns additional licensing requirements for lawyers, the arguments used rang a bell.
For example, i) the proposed regulations were onerous; ii) the proposed regulations would have put thousands of mom-and-pop tax preparers out of business. On the other side of the coin, the IRS needed to weed out ill-trained and incompetent tax preparers.
Paid tax preparers fill out 60% of all U.S. tax returns and the government has found significant problems over the years by the work done by this group.
The arguments are all to familiar and can be super-imposed on the legal profession where more than 60% of the practitioners are solo.
The question always is "how good does good have to be?" What would these people do if they couldn't find a tax preparer (substitute attorney) at a price they could afford to pay for work that was substantially correct,even if not perfect?
I would like perfection ... but even the best lawyers from major law schools (in my experience) are not perfect ... are always at a price that most of us can't afford to pay. As one of my mentors has said, don't shoot for perfection; when you're 80% good, go!
Related to this, though by a stretch, I listened to an NPR program in the last couple of days that talked about teenage suicide, a growing epidemic. The psychologists maintain that the stress caused by our current generation seeking perfection, and then realizing they can't reach that goal, is the catalyst for many suicide attempts.
To the IRS and to the Bar: Define "competence" so our professionals can attain the standard and the average American citizen can afford to engage professional assistance.
Linda Popky, marketing consultant of Leverage2Market, writes her Top of Mind piece this week about a serious marketing blunder, as follows:
“.... (T)he local Orchard Supply Hardware (OSH) store featured a great buy on a tabletop propane heater....There was only one problem. A propane heater naturally requires propane to work. And even though OSH carries small portable propane tanks, they didn't have the ones in the proper configuration to fit the heater. Whoops.
“So making this (purchase) work required an additional trip to ... Home Depot (to get the correct propane tank) ... Driving your customers to visit your competition to complete their product experience with you (is) not the best way to keep the flames of loyalty burning bright.”
As Linda suggests, make it easy to do business with you, not hard. Examples include answering phone calls quickly (as on the first ring) and messages returned promptly (no later than the next day. Being astute in The Business of Law® will create loyal clients.
While doom-sayers proclaim that the legal profession’s problem is too many lawyers, practical experience often tells a different story. A friend recently shared this story with me:
“When we needed an immigration attorney, only one returned our calls of enquiry from the several my husband called locally, (she got our business) and when we were looking for a lawyer for wills and other family matters recently, only one was interested in the bread and butter stuff we're looking for help with. Couple this with the 'non-lawyer' who dealt with our house sale (very efficiently) in the UK, as consumers we see the 'lawyer' crisis differently!”
There may be an oversupply of lawyers for jobs at Biglaw (the high paying positions too many law school graduates still want), but the demand (the bread-and-butter business with the Main Street folks who can’t pay $1,000 an hour legal fees) is still there.
My friend’s experience suggests this simple solution for any lawyer worried about having enough business: pick up the phone! The teachings of my father many years ago come to mind. When the phone rings, and you respond, you will be hired. But, if you don’t respond, you won’t be hired. This is similar to the adage that if you don’t swing the bat, you can’t hit the ball.
Marketing efforts are designed to make people aware of you and to encourage them to call. But all the effective marketing in the world won’t make up for calls missed or not promptly returned. Service is fundamental. If clients want you, it’s because of the quality service you can and should provide. If you’re there right from the start it shows what you will do going forward.
I wrote recently about the great chasm between lawyer supply and demand for legal services. I suggested that this is an age-old problem only because many lawyers are courting a very small market segment, the large companies of the world. The bulk of the consuming public has less ability to pay but still great need. And the Bar hasn't yet figured out how to incentivize lawyers to serve this need.
But perhaps the real issue is not so much the supply, but rather the lack of service provided by lawyers. The following several instances were reported to me from one who had repeated unpleasant interactions with lawyers. It's a shame that she had more than one such experience, but most people can identify with what happened to her.
"When we needed an immigration attorney," she says, "only one returned our calls of inquiry from the several my husband called locally. When we were looking for a lawyer for wills and other family matters recently, only one was interested in the bread and butter stuff we needed addressed." She continues by making the further observation, "Instead of using a lawyer, we used a 'non-lawyer' for our house sale; she was very efficient." She concludes that "... as consumers, we see the 'lawyer' crisis differently!."
Lawyers get a bad rap deservedly in too many instances!
Today Ed revisits a topic he discussed a few months ago. This week's clip will have you consider answer 2 important questions: What can you gain by hiring a new person, and how much will it cost?
For the 2013 academic year, law school admissions were headed for a 30-year low, a decline driven by student worries about rising tuition, debt load and unemployment after graduation. Potential law students increasingly understand that today it is a fool’s gamble to spend many thousands of dollars in the hope of getting a well-paying job at the end of three years, and as they pursue other careers the legal profession will shrink.
Demographics present another way to reduce the supply of lawyers. There are more than 1.2 million lawyers in the United States, at least half of them sole practitioners and some 400,000 poised to retire by the year 2020. To suggest that this latter group should be treated differently from any other group in the organized bar would create allegations of ageism and prohibited discrimination. However, a metric that is applicable to all lawyers, such as “competence in professional skills,” is safer ground. Of course, if this metric also achieves the basic goal of reducing the number of lawyers, by implying that older lawyers are less competent to serve clients, so much the better.
The problem with this metric is that it is never applied uniformly. If we look at new lawyers, those who have been admitted to practice for three years or less, there will undoubtedly be many who are not “competent,” despite the fact that they have passed the bar exam. What is the competence metric for “older” lawyers? Do they have to pass another bar exam? If yes why should age be the factor that determines whether they have to take a new examination? If not, what might it be? There is no examination at anywhere in the time spectrum of a lawyer’s career that requires such an examination.
It is the rare lawyer who has not thought at some point, “My opponent is not very good.” Often this is another way of saying, “My opponent doesn’t seem very competent.” This is impressionistic only, but to be valid it must be applied throughout the entire career life cycle.
It is not accurate to automatically assume that older lawyers are more careless, have too many distractions and make too many errors leading to discipline. Young lawyers are closer to the teaching of the rules of professional conduct than are the older lawyers. But, that does not assure that all younger lawyers are competent to offer the advice they're asked for ... and, with MCLE, older lawyers generally keep their skills up. Regardless of lawyers’ ages, the majority of the complaints against the profession relate to careless dealings with clients... Age is not a determining factor in such a scenario.
What is the difference between Marketing and Selling, and how are both needed at your firm? This week, Ed shares his wisdom on these topics.
I had never thought of digital assets being inherited! Wow, what an oversight. Clearly, digital property is an asset and can be passed on to the next generation. Have you thought about the goodwill represented by your Twitter account, your blog, you website and all the other digital assets you create? If not, you should because but for an affirmative act on your part, the rights to that property may be lost.
Most lawyers will pooh-pooh the idea that their electronic/digital property is worth anything ... they said this about the value of their law practice also. Many lawyers are beginning to adjust their thinking, recognizing that law practice goodwill has value ... and together, this property could be worth tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of dollars. Why should this value evaporate? Take care and plan not only your estate but also the estate of your law practice, including digital assets!
A Canadian lawyer was on his way to a hearing for a client. Driving to the airport, he found himself in a deluge that "buried" his car, a new Ferrari. He abandoned his car and found another way to the airport to fly from his city to another for a hearing on the following morning. All this for the benefit of his client. By the way, he won his motion on the following day!
Client service to the extreme! What have you done for your clients lately?
Today Ed talks about a basic sales mantra: "Meet People! Meet People! Meet People!" He shares how Five Cards and Three Feet can help do this.
MyCase features my guest blog post suggesting that there is plenty of work for those lawyers willing to be realistic both in the nature of the clients they serve and the fees they charge.
While you're at their web site, check out their software. It has been reviewed by many and is well - regarded.
Most of us can notice when something “isn’t right” with our bodies, and we often are quick to jump to a conclusion about the cause. Yet what we perceive to be the problem, and the reality behind it, may be much different.
A urologist recently shared an example with me, saying that many people come to him to “fix the problem” of an over-active bladder at night. They typically attribute it to a “plumbing” issue that a pill or even surgery can cure. Yet this doctor suggested that, as people age, they sleep less and they’re likely to be awakened more easily by sounds that didn’t disturb them in earlier years – a dog barking, the house creaking. Once they’re awake, they decide to honor the bladder urge so they can go back to sleep. The perception is that there is a physical medical problem. The real cause is the natural aging process and the best “cure” is to accept it.
Transfer this lesson to a law practice. Most lawyers are quick to perceive a problem when there is less money coming in the door. They immediately jump to a conclusion about “the cure” – do more marketing, or raise rates. The reality is that declining revenue typically began long before as a problem with receivables. Generating new work to cover declining revenue simply isn’t the answer. The strategy is to make sure clients know they must pay their bills within 30 days. And the way to do that is specify clear collection terms in the engagement agreement. Lawyers perceive every client as valuable and hate to cut them loose; the reality is that continuing to do work for overdue clients who don’t pay shows those clients are not worth keeping.
A new study by George Washington Law School showed that realization rates (the amount of money billed that is collected) average 83.6 percent for all law firms, a figure that is a historic low. If you perceive your revenue is down, and the reality is that you only collect 80 cents on the dollar, you’re like the urologist’s patients – you won’t get many good nights of sleep.
McDonald’s advertising is changing, according to one report. Last year, Big M promoted higher-priced menu items. While more healthy food is important, Big M couldn’t show the value of its new menu items to the consumer. Today, the company's emphasis is on “value,” the lower priced items that its customer base is accustomed to receiving.
If your market is the commodity-type legal services, then you will have less flexibility in setting legal fees. If your market is more toward the unique, the special or the bet-the-company type practice, then you will have greater flexibility and can charge more for your services. The key element is to understand the nature of your customer and then communicate effectively with the client.
Georgetown Law School's Center for the Study of the Legal Profession recently suggested that earlier realization rates of 92% have gone down to a historic low of 85%. That means for every dollar billed, the law firm is collecting only 85 cents.
My suspicion is that these numbers are reflective of "Big Law," and not the profession as a whole, certainly not the sole practitioner who comprises the bulk of the profession. That is why I wrote: Collecting Your Fee: Getting Paid from Intake to Invoice, published by the American Bar Association. Few lawyers understand the difference and fewer can cite the numbers from their own law practice. This is an area where additional revenue can be obtained easily, merely by paying attention to your clients payment records and understanding who doesn't pay your full bill and why ... and then dealing with this issue. This is one of the most challenging issues in my coaching/consulting practice...helping lawyers be more effective with their clients and receive a higher percentage of their billings from satisfied clients.
In today’s Wall Street Journal, the writer suggests that high priced lawyers are for sale, that is, that clients are pushing back and demanding lower fees irrespective of the stated hourly rates of their lawyers. The reporter’s perspective is skewed only to the larger law firms, “Big Law.” Small firm and sole practitioners have always walked this tight rope between client acceptance and lawyers’ fees, but this doesn’t make news.
The battle between lawyer as vendor and client as purchaser has always existed. The “battle” or adversarial conflict just never received so much publicity as it does now ... And yes, some clients have become bolder as a result of the recent Depression (aka Great Recession).
Also, however, some lawyers will raise their purported rates knowing the financial officer of the corporate client will demand a discount. This way, the law firm receives the engagement, the General Counsel gets served and can protect the rights of the company, and the finance officer can assert he/she saved money for the company. A nice game.
A lawyer who was interviewed for the article suggests the real issue for all concerned: The client must believe he/she/it is receiving value for the fee paid. In other words, it’s the total cost of the legal service, not the rate per hour, that is significant. With more clients and attorneys beginning to speak this language, the real issue is coming into focus.
Ed reveals how to define your target market and the tactics necessary to reach it.
Ed discusses 8 steps that law practitioners can take to survive a recession.
Ed is often asked how much a law firm should allocate for advertising. The first thing he asks back is, "What is advertising?" Watch this week's clip to learn more.
Ed discusses the virtual office and the importance of face-to-face client contact.
What's the difference between a Successful Lawyer and a Challenged Lawyer? They've both got lessons to learn. Watch today as Ed teaches some of the most important ones.
Ed's wife reminds him that there's no such thing as a free lunch, but today Ed shares tips that will promote your firm and services at little expense.
Two weeks ago, I purchased a Motorola Razr Maxx from Verizon and an iPad. I'm happy with both, but both need some adjusting. Perhaps I would be more correct in saying that the owner of the devices needs some adjusting ... or relearning.
In any event, I went into Verizon this afternoon, the same store from where the purchases were made., and asked for assistance. I was told that they now have a new policy: They would help me if I want to buy a new device or accessory. But, they would need to make an appointment with me for another time if I want to ask questions or get some help about the devices I already own.
The old policy was to wait your turn until a representative had finished with a current customer and was available to meet with you. That seemed fair.
Apple, a much larger store, will put you on their list and you wait your turn. Yes, they will also make an appointment for you at the Genius Bar. And there are many knowledgeable sales people walking the floor who can answer most of the questions I've had ... and are willing to do so.
This reminds me of the lawyer who plays telephone tag with a client ... to the frustration of the client. If you're not in when the client calls and cannot return the phone call quickly, have your assistant make an appointment. It's clearly better, however, to take that call on the first attempt if you're in the office. Failure to connect is still the #1 complaint against lawyers.
Verizon does not seem to get this simple fact of customer relations! Do not let the customer go away angry because you are unwilling to answer his/her questions about the device you sold. Oh, yes, I forgot. They can be as nasty as they want because they have you tied to a two year contract! Just think what would happen without that contract? I'd be back at AT&T in a heartbeat!
In the Opinion section of today's Wall Street Journal, two fellows from the Brookings Institute espouse their philosophy for deregulating the legal profession: Let anyone practice law; whether they've gone through law school or not, and allow anyone to own a law firm.
These are not new ideas, but the assertion that these ideas are the key to lowering costs of delivery of legal services is misplaced.
First, the licensing of lawyers is to protect the public; they are not there to protect the interests of lawyers. For example, an individual must be competent to represent and advocate for the interests of a client. It’s the same principle as licensing doctors. Incompetence either in court or in the operating room can cost people their lives.
Second, technology provides many avenues to reduce legal costs. Removing the licensing requirements has no impact on this issue. Yes, requiring a license does cost money and does cost time (opportunity costs for the student), but it also impacts the quality of services delivered ... just as in the case of medicine (oh yes, and plumbing), etc. Why not remove licensing requirements for everyone in everything, from medicine, to plumbing, to driving a car. Licensing assures a minimum standard of quality. Licensing requirements in specific areas of human endeavor are society's way of self-protection. Caveat emptor is acceptable, but not to the degree apparently desired by the authors of the Brookings report.
If lower legal costs are the objective, the argument should focus more on the pricing modalities as they impact the cost of legal services rather than the governance of the law firm. We've talked about this on previous occasions.
Third, the underlying premise that licensing provides an insurmountable barrier to entry and substantially raises costs by controlling supply might be true if one doesn't look at the facts of recent and current reality. There are many more lawyers than the current demand can accommodate. Many lawyers cannot find work. Thus, it is illogical to suggest that licensing is the cause for higher legal costs. Those lawyers who are working often provide legal services at lower rates than they used to charge. Even large law firms find significant resistance to raising their rates. Are legal expenses high? Yes, but compared to what? How low should these prices be before they are acceptable? And, if there is no regulation, we might likely see larger law firms pattern their pricing after one another, just as the unregulated airlines currently do, so that the benefit of lower costs would not be evident.
There is no price regulation now in the airline industry. Yet, it's remarkable how similar airline prices are. Yes, there are a few low cost airlines such as Southwest. And, yes, there are also lower cost law firms as we sit here today, even with the regulations we have in place. The only benefit of the authors' "non-licensing" proposal would be the destruction of minimum standards of quality. Caveat emptor might be acceptable if the public had a way of knowing what the quality standards should be ... but they don't and they won't.
Combining other skills such as accounting into one organization (the old "multi-discipline" argument) is not required ... many law firms already work closely with allied professionals for the benefit of clients. This is merely a non-issue.
Dewey, which went into Bankruptcy Court last night, did not fail for lack of credit. The firm had been extended bank lines of credit. It failed for lack of effective management. It's unlikely that investors or others would have given Dewey more money if they understood the true nature of the firm's economics and governance. Thus, this is also a non-issue for the authors’ arguments.
In sum, law firms function no differently from all other businesses. Good, solid business decisions must be made to attract customers/clients and operate cost-effectively. Dewey failed on both counts. The arguments put forth by the authors would not have changed this outcome. But, in the terms of business, by going into bankruptcy, the firm may be able to disgorge its unfunded pension obligations and become a viable candidate for acquisition by another large firm. That’s when the principle of caveat emptor really comes into play – as a normal risk that businesses take every day.
In a recent issue of a major legal publication, as reported by the American Bar Association, the magazine looked at pension plans of law firms. It appears that a number of the country’s largest law firms have pension plans that are unfunded. In other words, these are firms with pension plans, but without money to pay the obligations of those pension plans as their lawyers retire. What we will increasingly see are law firms with the bulk of their lawyers leaving the practice for retirement with the hope and prayer that the fewer remaining, younger partners will be willing to fund the firms' obligations. We will also see many situations where these younger lawyers will find it to their economic advantage to torpedo the existing law firm and its pension obligations in exchange for creating a new firm with no pension obligations. Doing so will give them the opportunity to take on more of the revenue that is produced by their efforts. They will earn more and pay less.
This phenomenon will exacerbate the generation warfare that is building in today's law firms.
The Wall Street Journal, perhaps reflecting the concerns of its corporate readership, continues to emphasize what it considers to be the overpaid lawyers at the pinnacle of the profession. In a recent article that had the less-than-subtle title, “Biggest Lawyers Grab Fee Bounty,” the Journal reported that partners in the top 25% of more than 4,000 law firms examined in a new study boosted their average price to $873 an hour last year, up 4.9% from 2010. At the same time, the lowest-billing partners struggled to keep pace with inflation. Partners in the bottom 25% of surveyed firms charged an average of $204 last year, up just 1.3%. As the paper said, “That disparity between who can raise prices – and who can't – spotlights a growing segmentation in the $100 billion corporate legal market.”
Once again, it is confirmed that law practice is a business. As I've been saying since I received the registered mark for The Business of Law®, law practice is a business. Yes, it's a profession AND also a business, a service business. Dewey & LeBoeuf confirms this.
This large, national law firm has just retained outside bankruptcy counsel. Why? To consider whether they can create a controlled bankruptcy ... filing a bankruptcy application with creditors and potential acquirer already in place. The beauty of such a filing is that it will i) stop the bleeding of lawyers leaving the firm a few at a time, ii) eliminate the unfunded pensions that would be a drain on the firm assets and future revenue, and iii) enable another firm to complete an outstanding acquisition quickly with a clean balance sheet and revenue stream intact. A side benefit of eliminating the unfunded pension obligations would be to avoid generation warfare that frequently arises between retiring partners and younger partners left with the responsibility of using current revenue to pay for the old debt.
This process is precisely the same process used by so many other companies, including some of the large companies in the recent financial crises that survived, but in different configurations. This is the same process as the airlines are implementing today ... to reduce their obligations to labor. This is the same process being contemplated by a number of prominent government entities (cities and counties) to get rid of their unfunded pension obligations that are expected to require more than 60% of their current tax revenues.
So what is different about Dewey? Nothing. We are in the world of business, The Business of Law®.
Among the topics discussed on this day were:
- Social media
- Financial metrics of a successful law practice
- Marketing gravity and the need to have something in each stroke of the marketing wheel
- Cash flow as the single most important financial statement for a law office.
The Law Practice Management Institute raised a number of issues and produced great discussion among the attendees. Some of the issues in the first day were:
- Creating a marketing plan is important for success
- Alternative fee structures and billing modalities opened possibilities not previously considered
- Sending a satisfaction survey to clients helps maintain and build the relationship as well as provide a defense against malpractice and disciplinary complaints
- Guaranteeing satisfaction with the service of the law firm will reduce the hesitancy of many clients to engage your firm
- The statistics of why clients leave their present firm and why they refer their present firm to their friends and colleagues was an eye-opener.
- Always put yourself in the shoes of the client and seek to understand, and avoid, what makes the client unsure and/or angry about your service.
The Wall Street Journal seems to focus on fees being charged by large law firms to large clients. It seems almost every other week, there is an article on the subject. In today's paper, Jennifer Smith writes about the "resetting of legal costs." Her basic premise is that clients who obtained the "upper hand" during the Great Recession" in negotiating fees with law firms are not going back to the old ways of the billable hour despite the more robust economy today.
Alternative fees have become a larger percentage of law firms' revenue. To use alternative fees, usually meaning fixed fees, requires a trusting relationship between law firm and corporate client. Of course, alternative fees also depends on the practice area. For example, it's easier for lawyers to quote a fixed fee in areas such as estate planning or a percentage fee in personal injury or debt collection than it is in litigation. But, even litigators are moving to alternative fees when they can work with the client as a trusted adviser ... and both sides look out for the interests of the other side.
What Ms. Smith ignores, however, is the real impetus for alternative fees. It is technology. Because of advances in technology,some tasks such as document review that used to take hundreds of lawyers many hours can now be done in a fraction of the time with a fraction of the number of lawyers. Further, when lawyers charge by the hour and see their time reduced, and thus their revenue, there is an impetus to charge a fixed fee. The client gets certainty. The lawyer gets to keep a portion of the savings resulting from the technology. Both sides benefit.
This is classic in every industry where technological innovation occurs. The legal profession is now experiencing the same upheaval. And both clients and lawyers are benefiting.
Not bad enough that legal services are already expensive, but court closures resulting from budget cutbacks will make legal services of all kinds even more expensive. Alternative methods of dispute resolution will need to be engaged. This is like a bad heart, needing new arteries created from exercise. But, we don't know yet what the "exercise" will be to enable the cost of legal services to go down. Will it be technology? Will it be alternative dispute resolution? Will it be "why can't we all just get along?" attitude changes?
Marlo Van Oorschot talks about the cost of a divorce rising, as just one example. But, she puts it in terms that everyone can understand.
More budget cuts are going to cause court closures in the family law department this year. This means the time and cost to bring a family law case to conclusion is going to increase. Unless an alternative means of resolving a case is implemented, parties should plan on spending two years and their children's college education funds waiting to have their day in court.
In our video (see blog post below), we talk about lawyer advertising. That commentary now must be supplemented. A twist to advertising for lawyers ... at least in South Carolina ... is that testimonials from clients are now permitted. Yes, there is a restriction: A disclaimer must be included to the effect that results for one client may not be duplicated in another matter.
But, the entire notion of confidentiality has now come into question. We could not disclose our client list, that violated the confidence of the client. We had to get permission to make any such disclosure. And most were reluctant to even ask clients for this permission. What now?
This will only be the first step toward the complete erosion of this rule and others like it. Yes, the client must participate. Yes, we must tell the truth. And, yes, the results in one matter do not guarantee that the same results will be achieved in a second matter.
We continue down the slippery slope of eroding those vestiges of the legal profession that are different from all other businesses.
Ed talks about restrictions on how lawyers use advertising on social media websites.
Today Ed talks about a basic sales mantra: "Meet People! Meet People! Meet People!" He shares how Five Cards and Three Feet can help do this.
There is much talk about how competitive the legal market has become. And this reminds me of an old Chinese proverb: “He who doesn't turn runs far. “
In track and field events, the coach tells you to look at the tape in front of you, not who is behind you. Likewise, in running your law practice, do the best you can, focus on your skills (and improve them), on the efficiency and cost of delivering your legal services (use technology to improve your efficiency) ... and, of course, on your clients and their needs (and wants). Then, you will have given it (your profession) your best shot.
John Wooden said, “The scoreboard? Championships? A sales quota? The bottom line? As goals, predictions, hopes, or dreams to be sealed up (in an envelope) and filed away, fine. But, as a day to day preoccupation they’re a waste of time, stealing attention and effort from the present and squandering it on the future. You control the former, not the latter.
“An organization - a team - that’s always looking up at the scoreboard will find a worthy opponent stealing the ball right out from under you....” Coach seldom scouted the opposition, focusing instead on what needed to be done to improve his team and prepare them to be the best they could be.
Ed shares some thoughts on electronic marketing and offers ideas on how traditional marketing can help you stand out in the crowd.
You are more likely to be remembered, thus contacted, if you reach people on a personal level.
Differentiating yourself will lead to increased:
- calls by clients and prospects
- calls from the media
And most importantly:
More money in the bank.
Factors to Consider When Marketing You Firm:
-Have a Marketing Plan
-Consider the commonality between you and prospective clients.
-Play the Numbers Game
-The more people you can get in front of; the better the chance of someone engaging you.
-Build a quality referral sources
-Understand that people learn differently
-Connect with other professions who share your market
In a December issue of the Wall Street Journal, the headline implies that lawyers are making far too much money in a Delaware case. This, despite the unheralded reduction in their fee request. But, it's easy too trash lawyers, and good headline writers (a special art in writing) are brilliant in getting readers to pick up the paper and keep reading ...
But, let's look at the facts:
First, the judge in the case said that the plaintiffs lawyers did an outstanding job, not just good, and such work should be rewarded. This is the same judge who historically penalizes lawyers when they fail to get results.
Second, the agreement between plaintiffs' lawyers and plaintiffs permitted counsel to ask the court for 30% and they applied for less, only 15%, not a normally outrageous percentage.
Third, the risk reward element of contingency cases should be evaluated as of the beginning of a matter. And in this case, the risk of no recovery was substantial. Victory was, by no means, assured. Monday morning quarter-backing is always performed by those who have a corporate bias, have no interest in the matter and just want to carp, are jealous or, worse, feel that lawyers should be heard, not seen. Reminds me of the criticism against lawyers who sued Ronald Reagan, as governor of California. Despite the fact that the lawyers won most, if not all, the lawsuits brought against the abuse by the State, neither the facts nor the victories was much discussed by those with a political agenda.
Last, these arguments that the lawyers' hourly billing rates were too high fly in the face of value billing, the new wave for corporate America. In other words, the results in this case were based on the value to the clients resulting from the effort and skill of the lawyers. In most cases, hourly billing results in higher legal fees ... fees unrelated to the value received by the client ... and fees that created certainty in the cost of the legal proceeding, an important factor to clients in most matters. It's important to know what the legal cost will be before embarking on a matter. Value billing provides this.
Thus, the criticism offered by the writer in the WSJ is off target, to say the least. Most criticisms against legal billings involve the hourly billings ... here, value billing was requested by the lawyers and their clients and approved by the court. Hoorays should have been the proffered by the writer, not whining.
Jane's comments about holiday cards vs email cards is are worth noting. It is a tough time of year for many with cards and gifts decisions to make ... But, as my mother used to say, "... if you don't remember me364 days of the year, forget me on my birthday!" In other words, the one day a year remembrance doesn't do much, especially for busy people.
Rules against lawyers sharing fees with non-lawyers might need to be loosened to allow U.S. firms to compete globally. The proposal says that any firm with non-lawyer owners must have “as its sole purpose providing legal services to clients.”
This is the foot in the door.The next thing you'll see is Latham & Watkins, or other billion dollar law firm opening offices in Wal-Mart or Target stores for curbside service. This is not necessarily a bad thing. It will certainly bring the law to the people ... And it will certainly change the perception of the law.
I've always maintained that the rules of professional conduct are controlled by the large firms, AmLaw 100 and 250. When their economic needs change, the rules get changed and the sole and small firm practitioners have to adapt accordingly. In other words, the rules are not made in a vacuum, not made because of their inherent righteousness or goodness. They change and are made to serve the economic interests of the few ... oh, if the public is served, so much the better.
But if you're a solo, watch out ... your interests may not matter. Such has been the case in recent times when solos' interests were not protected, in fact hurt, by changes in the rules .. But, here, to allow the larger firms to complete on a global scale, we see the rules begin to change and allow allied professions to join in the ownership of law firms, not merely as allied professionals independently serving the same client.
Economics control .. as always ... even here in the rules of professional conduct.
Large firms, more than we care to know, have made news in the last couple of years by "going under," i.e., defunct! Firms such as Howrey and Heller Erhman became the targets of personnel raids. Very good lawyers from these, and similar, law firms departed and joined other major, national law firms. Today's WSJ comments on the current state of affairs for some of AmLaw 100 law firms.
Some folks are asking whether your new lateral partner have any unwanted baggage? In some instances, the new firm accepted partners from the old firm with the understanding that the lawyer would bring over clients from the old firm as well as his "unfinished business." This provides for immediate billing .. and therefore an opportunity to acquire great talent at a very low or zero cost.
These firms, and others, have gone into bankruptcy to collect funds to pay the firms' creditors. In a law firm, the major assets "walk out the door every evening. Computers, furniture and real estate are of minimum value, if any, in a law firm. Accounts receivable are a major asset, though often difficult to collect from clients when they know there will be little serious effort to collect.
But, when the partners from the old, now defunct, law firm went, they generally took "their" book of business with them ... and the "unfinished business" of the clients that went with them. One argument is that clients have a right to seek their own choice of lawyer. And the other argument is that the partner and new law firm benefited, resulting in a profit to the new firm that truly belongs to the old firm.
This battle will be fought for years, I suspect. But, the reality of our world is that anyone can sue anyone else, even if wrong. In the meantime, the largest pool of cash available to the trustee in bankruptcy for the defunct firms is the new firm and, perhaps, the lawyers, individually, from the old firm. Whether legitimate or not, new firms have been economically compelled to settle many of such claims in order to go on with the new firm business.
The new firms thought they were getting a steal! Maybe. But, I'm reminded of the old say that "...if it looks too good to be true, it probably is too good to be true." There is a cost to everything, even a very attractive, new lateral partner with great talent and a great book of business.
From time to time, we will have a guest on our blog.
This week, Erik M. Pelton with Erik M. Pelton & Associates, PLLC is our guest blogger.
One of the keys to a successful law practice of any size is communication. Not only communication with staff and colleagues but communication with clients.
Smaller law firms have the advantage of being more transparent and having less bureaucracy. Clients of smaller firms expect to receive more personal service, and rightly so. Here are some simple tips for maximizing the benefits of client communications:Continue Reading...
From time to time, we will have a guest on our blog. This is something new for LawBiz Blog and we hope you find value in the expertise of those who will join us on occasion.
This week, Erik M. Pelton with Erik M. Pelton & Associates, PLLC is our guest blogger.
A steady stream of new clients and new business is critical to the success of any small law firm. Key marketing decisions such as to whom, about what, and in what manner will marketing be done should be well planned to be targeted, measured, and efficient. When developing a marketing plan, it is key to consider and include the following factors:Continue Reading...
If you haven’t already, I suggest reading “Personal Best” by Atul Gawande on newyorker.com. Dr. Gawande examines the need for and nature of coaching for professionals of all walks of life.
Musicians and singers, he points out, think of their coaches as “outside eyes and ears”. They hear and see things that even the best performers can’t detect about their own performances. In endurance coaching, anyone can design hard workouts. Anyone can make you tired and push you into the darkness. In coaching lawyers, anyone can tell you what to do even if it is beyond your comfort zone.
But a good coach will help you understand where you want to go, devise a plan that is within your comfort zone and that will get you there, and then be your mentor and accountability partner to assure your success.
Who is your coach? Is it your colleague, your spouse or significant other or a professional whose career is devoted to helping others like you to succeed? Whomever it may be, we all succeed sooner and stay on top longer when we have a coach, our "outside eyes and ears."
Our travels have taken us over 8,000 miles thus far. We finally turned the corner in Cleveland and have begun our trek back west. Today, we left Chicago for Madison and will go to Minneapolis and Omaha before boogeying back home. We will likely have traveled more than 11,000 by the time of our return.
Despite the diversity of our geography and of our people, I have found that lawyers are facing the same issues irrespective of whether they are in small communities or larger cities, in solo practice or in major law firms, in general practice or in a specialty boutique. Are there differences? Yes, but I like to view it in terms of nuances rather than differences. In other words, the "differences" are smaller in nature than many contend.
Oh, I know, we all think we're different. We all think we're special and face special circumstances. My experiences in both industry and in law tells me different, that all commercial enterprises, whether professional or trade, have the same basic characteristics. In other words, we all have to get the business (marketing), do the work (production) and get paid (finance). Each of us excel in certain areas and need guidance and support in others.
My travels has renewed my energy to coach and to produce more material (audio and electronic) that will guide lawyers to improve their connection with their clients. Though our trip has not yet concluded, it's never to early to thank those many lawyers who've attended our programs and been generous with their comments of support. I look forward to continuing our work together.
Yesterday, one of the attendees at the Kansas City Metropolitan Bar Association suggested that increased competition was the largest challenge facing lawyers. He said that more lawyers are using television as a major promotional venue ... and it's very difficult to compete against. These are not just the lawyers on late night, early morning spot ads. But, rather, lawyers throughout the day and in a variety of practice areas.
Television advertising is an important marketing tool for many lawyers. It has become more important for some, despite the increasing importance of the internet.
One way to address these competitors is to focus on existing clients. Bond with existing clients, serve them in ways that creates loyalty, and have these very same clients be your advocates with others.
In such a case, you don't need television. You won't have competitors! You will be in your own bubble, growing your revenue and growing your profitability with clients who continue to return and who refer others to you.
At a recent presentation on our Road to Revenue National Tour, a young lawyer was concerned. She said that she has a new practice and has been successful in keeping her accounts receivable to a minimum. In other words, she has been able to work, bill and get paid quickly, the three elements of my 3Dimensional Lawyer® . Her concern, though, is that her pipeline for new business seems to be empty. She is concerned that prompt payment has an impact on additional work to be lined up for her to do.
In order of priority, one needs to get the work … marketing. Then, one must do the work. Production. Next, one needs to get paid. Finance. These are the three legs of the stool. The successful lawyer/law firm must focus on collections. Less than a 90% realization/collection rate is a symbol of future trouble.
In this lawyer’s situation, she is successful in the collection phase. In fact, it’s difficult to imagine a higher success rate when you have little to no accounts receivable.
The focus, then, needs to be on marketing, getting more work to fill the pipeline. These are separate and distinct issues. Relish in your success collecting your billings and address the marketing to attract more clients.
The Oregon State Bar (OSB) Association was at its most hospitable best. The standing room only group of lawyers shared their experiences as I talked about how to create stronger bonds of loyalty between client and lawyer. When I asked why we should care about this issue, two very poignant answers were shouted out: i) We'd like to get paid and an unhappy client won't pay their bill; and ii) when we deal with disappointed clients, disappointed in us, not the other party to the transaction or result of the matter, our own stress goes through the roof!
Increased revenue and decreased stress, two outstanding reasons why we should care ... I think the members of this audience hit it on the nail!
Next stop is Seattle ... come join us if you're in the area..
Ed Poll talks about how marketing is about differentiation. Stand out. Be remember. Be called. Get clients.
How do you know if it's working? If you get more money, more calls, more referrals.
It's all a numbers game.
Ed Poll talks about the factors to Consider When Marketing You Firm.
Even marketing folks are concerned about the return on the investment in one's daily activities. While some folks, yes, lawyers too, ignore the money, marketing professionals are trying to convince their management that they are important to the success of their organization, that they are responsible for a lot of new business.
AdAge says: "...Return on advertising investment has always been a priority for marketers, but in the recession it flew to the top of the list. As chief marketing officers fought to justify spending within their organizations -- often via spirited discussions with procurement departments about where the dollars are going... " The Days, the subject matter of this article, I'm pleased to say are friends ... and outstanding marketers who focus on providing a profit on marketing dollars spent.
Do you look at this issue? Can you determine whether the money you spend is producing a profit, is enabling you to expand in your practice area, is improving your skill as a lawyer, or otherwise contributing to the improvement of your law practice? You should. If not, you're in the gardening, playing with the dirt rather than growing gorgeous roses for sale to others who can appreciate your skills.
Alan Weiss, a noted consultant (and my coach) said today: "... I've never seen happy customers when there are unhappy employees (either naturally unhappy or angry at the employer). I have seen happy employees and unhappy customers (no supervision, lazy, entitled). Always hire enthusiasm, you can teach the content.(emphasis added) ... And make sure you demonstrate within the business the behavior you'd like to see bestowed on the customer. .."
Another way of saying this is what I've always preached: Hire for work ethic; hire someone who is passionate about their work, about making a contribution to the organization. and about focusing on the client, not themselves. The rest can be taught. Skills can be taught, attitude cannot.
"The NLJ 250 collectively employed 9,567 fewer lawyers in 2010 than it did in 2008, a decline of nearly 8 percent in headcount, with the 10 largest firms in the U.S. alone losing more than 1,000 lawyers last year. This is just the second time in the 34-year history of the NLJ 250 survey that the nation’s largest law firms have experienced a net reduction in employed lawyers for two consecutive years."
This group of law firms, the largest of which is Baker & McKenzie at 3,700+ lawyers, makes up less than 5% of the attorney population. Their growth, like all corporate growth, has its expansion and contraction phases. There are at least two questions that come to mind:
1. Is this contraction permanent? Is this contraction a reflection of the entire industry?
2. Does this contraction reflect a major shift in the way legal services will be delivered in the future?
My crystal ball does not give me the answers. But, I believe that
i) even sole and small firm practitioners felt the change;
ii) though the numbers in the survey reflect 2008 as the base year, there does seem to be a cautiously upbeat attitude among lawyers today. More lawyers are contacting me with the serious questions of how do we make our practice better, how do we grow our practice ... in other words, lawyers are starting to come out from their caves, a bit shell shocked, but ready to understand the needs of clients and focus on providing solutions to their clients;
iii) it's not the contraction that will cause the shift in the way services are delivered, it's the continuing evolution of technology that will impact the delivery of services. And this conclusion would have been the same with or without the contraction. It's just that, because of the contraction, we're more sensitive to the changes. But, these changes began before 2007-2008, and they will continue after 2011.
Lawyers have to be more sensitive to technological changes and how these changes can improve their efficiency and mode of delivery. Clients certainly are and they are looking for those lawyers who can reduce their legal costs (not necessarily hourly rate). Thus, even the decades-old billing and pricing models will be subject to pressures that mere conversation failed to impact until now.
As Oprah said yesterday while interviewing the President and First Lady, "... keep your eyes on the prize." Know what you want in your practice. Know what your clients want from you ... what is the ultimate solution they are seeking by engaging your services? Stay focused and you will have happy clients ... happy clients pay their bills ... happy clients refer their colleagues and friends ... While doing good, you will be able to do well.
Yes, say some.
Only a short time ago, we believed that non-lawyers would be able to participate in the ownership of American law firms. The pressure, so we believed, would come from the British Empire. Australia already allows this and it will soon be permitted in England. But, not the U.S. ... until now.
The District of Columbia permits non-lawyer ownership to the extent of 25% interest in a law firm. And, now, North Carolina has a bill before its Senate that would allow 49% non-lawyer ownership.
One argument is that law firms have expanded and are now very large organizations. In order to grow, they need additional capital ... and capital is best raised in the capital markets, not from individual partners of law firms ... and that means non-lawyer ownership. While large law firms are looking more and more like their corporate clients, it is still a stretch to suggest that law firms should raise outside capital.
Do law firms need to grow? Why can't corporate clients' interests be served well by smaller regional law firms? Why does the corporate law firm have to be as large as the client? We saw unions grow in both size and power in response to corporate and management growth and power. And we now see unions fighting to stay alive. Will that also happen to large law firms of the future? Will technology enable small groups of lawyers to be effective in large corporate representation?
Some argue that the rules of professional conduct wouldn't bind non-lawyers in matters of confidentiality and charging reasonable fees. Further, the very independence of lawyer's judgment might come into question. But, the rules have been bent, if not changed or discarded entirely, when large firms' economic interests were at stake. So, it will be fascinating to see who argues on which side and how this issue develops.
Is it possible that this issue will finally cause the break up of the mandatory (integrated) bar association into State licensing agencies on the one hand and voluntary bar associations on the other hand ... with the latter being the home of sole and small firm practitioners banding together to serve their own economic interests?
In today's L.A. Times, a doctor talks about her reaction to meeting a patient in an airport restroom. The patient was out of context and the doctor was taken aback, at first not recognizing the patient. She concludes by suggesting how much she learned about the patient by seeing her in her own environment, the place where she works. As a consequence, she starts to think about how her future treatment of this patient will be altered.
How often do we, as lawyers, see our clients in their habitat? What kinds of information might we gather, mostly unspoken information, that would dramatically alter the advice we provide? In many cases, quite a bit! Yet, not many lawyers take the time, unbillable time, to visit our clients to really get to know more about them, their work and family environments, and the possible impact on the clients of the advice we provide.
Like the doctor writing the article, I suspect our approach would be somewhat different. And, perhaps more important, the connection the client has with us would be dramatically different! That bond, needless to say, would result in better representation and more referrals. Interested?
I recently wrote in my LawBiz Tips Ezine about how law schools continue to churn out new graduates even as demand for them drops, and cited a New York Times article on this issue that concluded: “Today, American law schools are like factories that no force has the power to slow down – not even the timeless dictates of supply and demand.”
Now it appears that the law of supply and demand has not been repealed after all. The Wall Street Journal reports numbers from the Law School Admissions Council showing that the number of law-school applicants this year is down 11.5% from a year ago to 66,876. The figure, which is a tally of applications for the fall 2011 class, is the lowest since 2001 at this stage of the process, which is almost 90% completed.
The reasons aren’t hard to understand. Firms increasingly prefer to hire lateral attorneys who have already had on-the-job training and books of business, rather than new graduates who don’t understand “The Business of Law®” and will take years to begin returning a profit on the investment made in them. And from the student side, the realization that going six figures into debt to get a J.D. degree that offers no assurance of gainful employment is not exactly a smart idea – especially for those whose main motivation to attend law school was to make the supposed “big bucks” available rather than to pursue a legal career.
So who is hurt most if the law school bubble does burst? We can only hope it will be the law schools themselves, who continue to pour huge resources into “gaming” the law school rankings so that they can move up from number 19 to number 17 and thereby (they presume) entice more students to enroll. When the housing bubble burst, it was – and continues to be – the financial geniuses at the banks who were left holding the bag. Are law school administrators any smarter?
After my last post about customer service, Orbea, the manufacturer of the bike frame I was riding when I was involved in an accident, a company representative contacted me. His explanation for the less than appropriate company response was that it was sent from Spain, the company headquarters, and the sender had challenges with the English language.
Whether this is true, I cannot say. But, Mr. Paul Alexander of the U.S. Orbea arm said that I should visit a local Orbea retailer and I would receive a 15% - 20% discount on a new bike. He said, "I look forward to getting you back on your bike and leave you a satisfied Orbea cyclist."
Thank you, Mr. Alexander. That should have been the first response from Orbea. My wife asked for information about the company's "crash program." Even an expression of sympathy/concern and a statement that the company doesn't have a crash program would have sufficed ... and saved unfavorable ink in this blog. Commenting on Orbea's warranty program was not the subject of my wife's inquiry.
I'm glad to see that the company has recouped so gracefully. Some companies don't do even that. Some time ago, you may remember that United Airlines committed a major gaff. By not treating their customers with due respect, a song was written about the company and it appeared in the social media. The company stock dropped 10% as a result! That is still the subject of some discussion.
I'm glad that Orbea represented the cycling industry more professionally and with greater sensitivity on the rebound.
Last week, I had an accident. A preoccupied driver who admitted she didn’t see me failed to yield the right of way and turned left before I could see her. My bicycle hit her right front fender. You can see a picture of the damage to the car. Sometimes, it's better to hit than be hit. Because I hit her car, rather than she hitting me, I am alive and still walking, albeit with some difficulty. The fireman and paramedics said they'd never seen such damage to a car from a bike. “... Either the car was made of plastic or you are a man of steel!...”
If I were made of steel, I would not be so sore and bruised as I am still today. My thighs and quads have turned colors I never knew existed; like burnt toast. The bike down tube is cracked and very good, beautiful and cherished Orbea Orca carbon fiber bike is history. I'm lucky, frankly, to be alive ... The alternative is not appealing.
Once things settled down, several days later, and a mechanic suggested that some manufacturers offer deep discounts for bike frame replacements needed because of a crash, my wife found the e-mail address for Orbea and sent them this note: “...My husband was involved in a traffic accident with his 2008 Orbea-Orca .... He is apparently okay with major bruising but his beloved Orbea has a damaged frame on the post between the seat and the pedals. Is there an incentive Orbea offers to encourage customers to replace a damaged bike with Orbea? ... Thank you.
CANNOT MAKE THIS UP
The company response follows: “Good morning, Thank you for contacting with Orbea! In case of accident, Orbea’s Warranty is null and void. Sincerely, ...”
We never entered a warranty claim; that was never in my mind. My wife was merely checking out the status of their crash program. Some companies retain the loyalty of their customers by allowing them deep discounts to replace a damaged bike (product) and then studying the returned item for future research and improved manufacturing processes. My wife’s response was classic understatement: “We were not expecting to file a Warranty claim. We understand that some bike manufacturers give a discount on purchasing a new bike when a bike has been in an accident. You might consider doing the same. We are in the market now for a new bike. Thank you for your concern.”
Lessons here are legion.
First, listen to your customer’s comments and requests. This reminds me of the classic instruction from a lawyer to his client: Listen to the question. Answer only the question. Then shut up! Wait for the next question. Don’t answer what you think should have been the question.
Second lesson: Everyone in your firm represents the organization. If a receptionist is rude, if a secretary fails to give you a message; if an associate is ill-prepared for a conference or court appearance, this reflects poorly on you as the senior lawyer and the firm as a whole. Education and training is not limited to the lawyers in the firm. Everyone needs to take continuing education programs to maintain and elevate skills and service levels.
Third lesson, don’t “piss off” the economic buyer (in this case, my wife) in your organization or you will never retain the business, and accompanying revenue.
Fourth lesson, live your life for now. There may not be a tomorrow. Yes, we have to keep an eye on the future, saving, planning and preparing. But, don’t do so without having some joy and value (your subjective opinion here) each day that passes. For me, the pleasure and reward is a vigorous bike ride, especially as a reward for something I did during that day. Whatever it is for you, “just do it.”
I’m sure you can provide other valuable lessons from this experience. Contact me or write your comment below. Let’s see how many lessons we can create from this one true-life experience.
The article by David Streitfeld is a good piece. He's the housing reporter for the NY Times and spends most of his time in California. In response to an earlier piece by him on the subject, where he failed to mention California, I contacted him. He knew nothing about the law in California (since 2009) or the State Bar's modification of its Rules of Professional Conduct that made it a crime to take money from clients in advance of completion of the loan modification, not even for deposit into a client's trust account.
I told him about the new law and pointed him to several of my blog posts on this topic where he could learn more.
I'm glad that he's written about it now, in more detail and highlighted California's experience.
As a side note, an officer of Bank of America claims that of the Bank's loan modifications, more than 70% go back into default within 2 years ... a scary statistic. Should the Bank be responsible for maintaining a family in a home which it can't afford, even with a modified loan structure? I'm not sure ... Or, should the government offer some help. They have bailed out the big banks on Wall Street, how about some help for the people on Main Street? I'm not sure what is the right answer. It's clear, however, that if no one helps, we'll have many more foreclosures in 2011 and 2012. Our political spectrum is so polarized today that all we seem to hear is noise, white noise, and more noise.
BTW, it was a politician seeking headlines that started the ball rolling. And, it was the absence of lawyers in the legislature (only about 23% today) that permitted it. And, a non-lawyer governor who signed it. And, it seems, non-profit organizations who lobbied for it (a little competition there, would you say?). Who gets screwed? The people.
Too bad the State Bar president failed to support sole and small firm lawyers who worked in this area. Rather, he seemed hell bent on chastising the whole because of a few bad apples. Rather, the Bar and the District Attorney could have used the many rules (moral turpitude and others) and laws (Penal Code against theft) already on the books to protect the people scammed by lawyers without removing entirely the good lawyers from this process. Provisions on the books already protect against any lawyer taking money from a client under false pretenses (theft) and the rules of professional conduct protects against moral turpitude and for not performing work that was promised. The State Bar didn't have to follow the urging of the bar president to support this effort.
The state bar president, at the very best, gives no more than lip service to solos ... See my open letter.
Recently, several states and the ABA have been reviewing and discussing the limits to which lawyers may use social media ... LinkedIn, Facebook, et al ... without violating the restrictions on advertising.
Now, there seems to be a similar but more mild review and reaction to judges using social media. I'm somewhat surprised that lawyers are being restricted but judges are not in their use of social media. For example, Ohio, Kentucky, New York and South Carolina similarly answered the friend question ... Judges can befriend attorneys and others. The warning, if one were to call it that, is that judges need to tread carefully...Not to befriend lawyers and others who are to appear in their court.
But, how do you know that someone you "friend" today won't be a party or lawyer in your court tomorrow? While I normally do not concur with the Florida restrictions on lawyer advertising, I am more inclined to support their somewhat more stringent approach in this area. In 2009, the Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee for the Florida Supreme Court decided that judges could not add lawyers who appear before them as friends online. Personally, I don't think this restriction goes far enough.
As I've noted in a previous post, judges must "not only be chaste, they must also appear to be chaste." (With due apologies to the Bard.) Appearances of appropriate judicial conduct is essential. And judges' participation in social media networks violates the appearance of impartiality.
In Friday's Wall Street Journal, there was an article about Bert Lahr's 1956 Broadway performance of Waiting for Godot.
The article was enticing and caused me to go to Amazon.com to order the mp3 download of the performance. I purchased the download, but had trouble viewing it. I went to Amazon's "help" section and followed the instructions for over an hour ... then I saw that I could contact them. They asked if I wanted email response, a phone call later or a phone call NOW. I asked for the latter and within less than a minute received a call. Now, that is SERVICE!
The person must have been from India (after all, it's a holiday week-end here <g>), but I could understand him. He offered to give me a refund or download the play again. I chose to download it again ... after all, I did make the purchase because I wanted it. But, we still had trouble and what was downloaded did not appear to be what the WSJ review promised. So, without argument, protest or difficulty, the man said I would get a refund.
While I didn't get what I wanted, my recourse is to go back to the journalist and determine what I didn't understand. BUT, I was super impressed by the detail to service presented by Amazon. They will now address the issue for me on their end, I was not charged for something I didn't get and I will sing their praises. (Oh, I guess that's what I just did.)
Amazon, thus, is not just a repository of books. That can be had in a library. But, they are a customer experience to satisfies. Congratulations to the folks at Amazon. I am one very pleased customer.
Do the clients of your law firm say the same thing about dealing with you? Is the experience of dealing with your law firm, despite the stress of their legal challenge, more than satisfying? Are they being cared for? Demonstrate that you care for them and care fully.
In August 2009, the California legislature enacted a law requiring the State Bar to examine how it governs itself. I don't think any other state in the Union has a legislature overseeing the bar. This is usually a function for the State Supreme Court. However, in California, since the 1920s, the Bar must get permission for it to send out dues bills to members; thus, the legislature has the power to impact the legal system through the back door.
Does this remind you of law firms whose compensation structures govern what its lawyers find to be important? If the firm emphasizes and rewards new client acquisition more than work performed, that is what lawyers will spend their energy doing ("eat what you kill"). If, on the other hand, the firm compensates more for hours expended, then focus on new client generation will go down and billable hours will go up.
The same is true in the relationship between the bar and the legislature. Today, with less than 30% of the members in the legislature having a law school degree, there surfaces an animosity between lawyers (the bar) and those (the legislature) who approve the dues to be paid by lawyers to retain their license. Oh, did I forget to say? California is a mandatory license state, meaning that you must be a member of the State Bar in order to practice law. Voluntary bars exist at the county and local levels, not at the state level. The state is mandatory. Voluntary bars exist, but only at the local (county and city) levels.
So, what's the big deal? The fear by legislators is that a self-regulating body (more than half of the Board of Governors are elected by lawyers; others are appointed by the Governor and others) will serve the interests of their constituencies, not the public interests. I thought that was the whole point of public members being part of the Board; they are, they participate and they have a significant influence from the Board. The legislature wants the Bar to "protect the public" only; the well-being of lawyers is unimportant.
More than 50% of lawyers earn less than $100,000, a relatively paltry sum when considering the number of years of education required and the good that lawyers provide. (Yes, I know there are a few bad apples, but that is true in every profession ... hmmmm, even with law makers.
If lawyers were helped by the bar and did earn more money, there would be far less temptation to invade clients' trust accounts. This would be real public protection.
I have yet to find a set of rules of professional conduct that favor lawyers over the public. And what the rules of professional conduct does not "catch," the penal code does. And sometimes rules are made that hurt the public. For example, in the loan modification fracas, the legislature enacted a new penal code provision that made it a felony to take money from clients for loan mod work before the work is done ... can't even take money for the clients' trust account! The rules of professional conduct were similarly altered. But, no intelligent, business savvy, lawyer would now represent such clients unless pro bono. If the client has insufficient funds to keep the mortgage current, what makes legislators believe such clients will pay their lawyers after the modification is completed? The clients didn't suddenly get flush with money! So, lawyers will not now help the people who need help the most, those about to be kicked out of their homes ...
A new wrinkle to this, however, is that the law seems not to apply when a lawsuit is filed. So, the lawyer might take the client into bankruptcy or sue the lender on some pretense, all with the ultimate objective of merely getting a loan modification. This is more costly and adversarial than needs to be ... if the law makers kept their hands off! There were already rules on the books sufficient to punish the "bad apples" in the profession who were guilty of fraud on the clients.
Back to the main point: If the legislature removes governance from lawyers, the resulting agency will be merely a licensing and disciplinary agency ... and lawyers who volunteered their time and expertise to the bar for the benefit of many in the public and produced much good work will go elsewhere. That would be a grave loss that will hurt the public.
The Bar should push back and fight the legislature ... All the more reason for the separation of powers! Let the legislature do its job ... and this does not include determining how lawyers govern themselves.
From Michael Bryant of CTS Consulting in Baltimore comes these gems of phrases to ditch now:
It isn’t fair.
Translated: I didn’t get my way.
I’m too busy.
You’re not “too” busy; you’re as busy as you are. “Too busy” means I over planned, or over promised.
In today's WSJ, a lead article talks about the courts in New York requiring the lenders in foreclosure suits to be honest in the filing of their documents. This follows the Florida cases with "robo signers." Affidavits claiming full knowledge of the facts of each matter were signed by employees of the lenders and the mortgage servicing companies as well as improperly notarized. Lawyers are being blamed for filing defective documents.
Lenders made the loans, their servicing agents prepared the information and signed the affidavits under penalty of perjury. Yet, the focus of attention seems to be falling on the attorneys. Somehow, attorneys are expected to verify that their clients are telling the truth. I thought that was the function of the trier of fact, either the jury or the judge. What am I missing here? Or, is this just one more case of seeking to toss the blame anywhere but where it belongs.
Lawyers in our system of justice are the messenger. Lawyers present the evidence in the light best suited to tell the client's story ... but it is the client's story ... and the only obligation on the part of the attorney is not to allow known perjury to be placed before the trier of fact. How and why is that now being altered?
The mortgage companies are now saying that the cost of foreclosures and loan modifications will increase, hurting consumers! Wow, it is an affront to human intelligence to suggest that the cleanup of their corruption (filing false documents with the court) will cause consumers to pay more!
The current political mood of the country seems to be that "less is more," at least when it comes to government intervention. A student of American history will note the changes and mood swings between federal/national involvement and states' action. On reflection, we may be going through one of those swings now.
A similar reaction is being generated by the mere mention of the American Bar Association reviewing the Model Rules of Professional Conduct to determine whether new rules should be created or old rules modified in reaction to the new technology. The problem is that new technology such as social media is merely a distribution method of ideas. Rules already exist that deal with statements to the public, advertising, self-promotion and the creation of attorney-client relationships, just to mention a few.
There is nothing inherently wrong with the ABA reviewing the rules. But, sole and small firm practitioners are fearful that the ABA will not stop at merely a "review." And, as Carolyn Elefant so eloquently pointed out, the members of the task force/commission that are reviewing the impact of the social media are, themselves, devoid of any personal experience with the media. That would be like someone with no newspaper experience at all seeking to create rules of procedure for the newspaper industry. Or someone with no automotive experience trying to design a car.
Here, the case can be made that there are now rules on the books; more are not needed.
Strange how this discussion takes me back to the conversation about the Bar preventing lawyers from taking retainers to do loan modification and loan foreclosure prevention work. Who does the Bar represent anyway? Ah, but that's another question for another day.
I'm seeking to connect with lawyer(s) who either did or are currently doing loan refinance work for homeowners. In some states, the bar and/or legislature has created regulations preventing lawyers from taking money from clients for this work in advance of completing the work.
I've written about this and now have a major newspaper interested in talking with such lawyers to inquire whether such work is still available and how the lawyer is handling the fee.
Please contact me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org
Are you a thought leader? Does a lawyer need to be a thought leader? Only if you want more revenue, only if you want people to recognize your name and seek you out. Lawyers, since the beginnings of our country, have been thought leaders. People like John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln and many other of our founding fathers, were trained in the law.
Until recently, more than 50% of our Congress were trained in the law. Today, less than 25% have such training. Where have all our thought leaders gone? Is it that lawyers no longer see public service as a calling? Is it that lawyers who might otherwise serve earn a disproportionately higher income in the practice than they could in public service and therefore the lure to politics is diminished? Is it that the legal profession no longer focuses on pro bono and community service as a differentiator between practicing law and engaging in other professions? Is it that lawyers have stooped to being ill-tempered and without civility, therefore just not commanding or deserving the respect of the community as in years past?
Far more questions than answers. But, we used to produce statesmen with a legal education and no longer seem to be able to do this.
This famous quote from Shakespeare is used by politicians seeking to divert attention from any issue of controversy. Of course, what they fail to quote is the balance of that sentence, “... if we want to control the society.”
Ronald Reagan, while governor of California, used this tactic quite effectively. And, of course, he failed to finish the comment with the fact that many of the lawsuits brought against him in his capacity as governor of the state were successful. Lawyers, both for fee and for free (pro bono), were seeking to redress social wrongs.
Fast forward to 2010. Politicians, mortgage holders and bankers are once again lambasting lawyers. This time, the targets are those lawyers who have the temerity to question foreclosure procedures. In particular, lawyers are finding that mortgage/bank representatives are signing declarations (under penalty of perjury) that they have reviewed the file and know the contents of the loan default to be true. This unexpected discovery of “robo-signers” by an attorney in Florida has thrown the entire foreclosure business (23 states require such signing) into turmoil.
The net result for the plaintiffs is that they get additional time to remain in their homes and, in some cases, the opportunity to renegotiate the terms of their loan or to remove the foreclosure from a credit report in order to refinance the house and start over.
One lawyer, representing the mortgage lending industry, said that people don’t have the right to a “fee house.” This is true. But what is the difference between this and a business filing an answer and using other dilatory tactics in order to delay ultimate payment of a legitimate debt? Using the legal system for personal advantage is common. And, in the case of the housing industry, where bankruptcy proceedings have no authority to discharge the debt, let alone even modify the payment schedule to permit the debtor to retain the house while making “affordable” payments, there may be no other alternative.
Again, the legal profession has come to the aid of those in need. And, what is also common is for monied-interests to seek to limit the effectiveness of the legal profession to help the disadvantaged amongst us.
As a follow up to the success of the Florida lawyer who devised this new tactic for his clients, some states attorneys general are seeking new laws to void “technical problems” as a defense where the foreclosure is “substantially appropriate.” In California, for example, both a new penal code and rule of professional conduct, prevent a lawyer from taking a retainer in a mortgage refinance case. In other words, a lawyer cannot take a retainer from a client if the gravamen of the service will be to negotiate with a lender for the refinance of the house mortgage. Even when the retainer will be placed into the client’s trust account and not removed until the service is delivered. How will a lawyer be able to represent such a person?
A person with admitted financial problems, whose problems will not go away merely by refinancing. This lawyer will then be working pro bono in most cases. California, in effect, has prevented lawyers from helping an endangered class of troubled Americans ... the home owner suffering from the current woes of our economy. The claim was that there were some lawyers who “stole” from this unsophisticated group of people and took advantage of their fears. However, theft is already a crime and moral turpitude violates the rules of professional conduct and subjects a lawyer to disbarment. This new law/rule, adopted “to protect the public,” actually hurts the very people it’s intended to protect by denying them access to counsel.
The battle goes on ... between those lawyers seeking to help needy clients and those monied-interests seeking to control the society.
There is a great deal of heat generated thus far over the ABA looking into the issues of internet marketing/advertising/promotion ... They have not overtly yet taken a position, only solicited commentary for the ethics commission to consider.
Yet, many bloggers and commentators believe that the ABA is seeking to destroy the marketing advantage gained in the social media by sole and small firm practitioners.
The mood of the country, as seen in the recent election, appears to be that less is more. (Though I believe that that is true only as an electioneering slogan -- just wait until "they" get into power.) Translating that feeling, though, into the legal world and we want fewer rules to regulate our conduct.
Yes, there are enough rules already on the books to protect the innocent and govern the "guilty." But, new technology does require a new look ... perhaps even a loosening of the current ad hoc rules. Frankly, I'd rather have the ABA review these issues than the many states who tend to take a far more restrictive stance than does the ABA.
The press will fixate on this lawyer's hourly billing rate. But, that is not why he was disbarred. Rather, he was disbarred because of his wild and bizarre conduct.
There is no prohibition to charging a high hourly rate so long as at least 3 factors co-exist: 1.) The client receives value commensurate with the charge; 2.) The client perceives he/she has received value commensurate with the fee; and 3) There is sufficient communication between the lawyer and the client to confirm that the client understands what the charges will be ... and the client is sophisticated enough to accept or reject the engagement agreement and fee being proposed.
The difficulty with fee disputes is that they are always "Monday morning quarterbacking," usually being determined by people who are using outdated standards of evaluation. The only real issues are 1) Did the client understand the fee structure and 2) Did the client receive sufficient value (not time) to justify the fee.
What are you doing to create a wow experience for your clients? And I don't mean winning the case. Have you ever had the experience of walking out of the court room only to hear your client say something like, "Why didn't we get xxxx?" Of course, you respond by saying you/we got everything we asked for .. everything that the law permits? You didn't educate you client along the road from the beginning of the engagement to the point of conclusion.
What can you do to create a wow experience of dealing with you?
I am now in Las Vegas to give their customer law practice management conference keynote presentation. The conference is being held in the Aria Hotel. The hotel is new (December 2009) in their City Center. Wow! What a facility. Green. Electronics all over the place. Large, bigger than life. This is not just Las Vegas. This is Las Vegas on steroids. And, tomorrow evening, we'll go to the Cirque show, Elvis, that is playing here. I've been to Las Vegas before. But, I've never been so impressed ... This is not just big, it is beautiful and much more.
Time for me to go .. I get to take my wife to dinner at one of the fine restaurants in LV.
The Business of Lawâ is continuously changing— from fee structures, to marketing strategies, to client preferences. In today’s economic climate, law firms have no way to catch up once they fall behind.
The good news is that the success or failure of your firm is completely in your hands. If you learn the newest practices, develop your business plan, and understand the economic situation you’re operating in, you can achieve financial performances you’ve only dreamed of.
The good news is that the success or failure of your firm is completely in your hands. If you learn the newest practices, develop your business plan, and understand the economic situation you’re operating in, you can achieve financial performances you’ve only dreamed of.
So what’s the fastest, easiest and most innovative way to update traditional methods and boost business to the next level?
So what’s the fastest, easiest and most innovative way to update traditional methods and boost business to the next level?
Introducing the 2nd Annual Midwestern Law Firm Management Conference- The New Norm: Understanding How To Thrive in the New Economy.
Introducing the 2nd Annual Midwestern Law Firm Management Conference- The New Norm: Understanding How To Thrive in the New Economy.
I met with an attorney today ... he's 61 ... who is terrified that he now is solo and has never had to do anything in his career to attract clients. He was always part of a firm that delivered litigation clients to his doorstep. Now, he doesn't have that ... What can/should he do?
No matter what he does, the ultimate challenge for him will be on retirement, not that far away. Will he have developed any goodwill to be able to add more wealth to his capital for his heirs? The answer is: Maybe, but more likely not. That will be a crime after having been a very good lawyer for his entire career.
What are you doing to enhance the value of your practice? Do you have a succession plan? Does your law practice have an "estate plan?"
While I was in Yreka, CA, I learned about The State of Jefferson. This was a political movement in the late 1930s. The focus of the movement was to create a new state out of southern Oregon (dissatisfied with the power of northern Oregon) and Northern California (wanting to keep its riches - water) out of the greedy hands of Southern California.
Pearl Harbor, December 7th, 1941, put an end to this effort. The entire effort of everyone was turned to the War ... Though I didn't know about this group, they surfaced again in the early 1960s, if not earlier. It was Pat Brown, the greatest governor (IMHO) California ever had. It was his focus that built the University of California into a powerhouse, and it was he that successfully lead the Feather River project on the ballot. This assured that water from the north would flow into southern California. This brought water for the farmers in the area as well as the growing population. With water connecting the State, there is very little likelihood the two segments will be separated at any time.
But, the State of Jefferson is still a state of mind. There are many folks who would like to see the separation. But there is no consensus. So, it appears to be more of an historical society.
In working with your clients, are you separate from them? Or are you able to create an inseparable bond, as Governor Pat Brown did for the people of California?
We're in Canyonville, OR, at the Seven Feathers RV Park. This is the best RV park I've ever seen ... and they claim to be among the top 4 in the country. What a way to end the day.
We were staying in Yreka, CA, using that as a base to commute to Ashland, OR for the annual Oregon Shakespeare Festival. Got to see two great plays, She Loves Me and Twelfth Night. Then, today, my wife said her patience will permit us to stay in one spot only for 3 days. So, we got up and left Yreka.
En route, we developed a flat tire in the trailer. Had to call Good Sam to bail us out. They were great, get us help within the hour. The RV park my wife selected not only is one of the best, but also has a truck and tire facility adjacent to it ... the only one open today, July 4th! What a coincidence. They looked at our tire; they believe it was the stem, not the tire ... and took care of it. They will even come to the RV Park tomorrow to check it again, making sure the tire pressure holds, before we embark on our next phase of the trip.
That is service! That is caring for the customer ... What have you done with your clients lately to compel them to say such things about you? His name and number will go in my book ... and should I ever need someone of his skill set anywhere in the State of Oregon, he's the first one I'll call. Will your clients and former clients call you before they call anyone else? Will they call you on behalf of their friends and colleagues before they call anyone else? If not, why not? Look inward to address your operations and client management challenges before you look outward ... Why waste your money on marketing if you can't satisfy your clients once they arrive?
As quoted by Alan Weiss, citing an IBM survey, CEO's focus on three elements:
1. Embody creative leadership (take prudent risk, invite disruptive innovation)
2. Reinvent customer relationships (set priority of customer intimacy)
3. Operating dexterity (flexible cost structures and opportunistic capabilities)
Shouldn't this be what law firms do? Take prudent risk to grow the practice and enhance the well-being of its members and staff; focus their energies outward, to benefit their clients, which would include both pricing and costing flexibility.
Too often, law firms are all about their lawyers, and they forget the well-being (intimacy) of their customers/clients.
I've just talked with two legal industry "executive search" recruiters. They have never been busier in the last 5 years! And quality laterals are being sought!
That tells me that the economy is in recovery mode; that lateral partners are still being pruned from large law firms; that partners are getting tired of the politics in larger law firms where they see no rational basis for decisions being made that may very well impact their economic future; and that most law firms have yet to act as enterprises rather than as hotels for sole practitioners. Laterals with good books of business can just as easily move to another firm that will provide them with a larger umbrella and greater opportunity ... or even start their own boutique law firm.
This further suggests that while the economy has forced changes in law firms, the sea change some discuss hasn't yet taken place ... and may never. As I've said before, we're in an evolutionary, not revolutionary, mode. Write me with your thoughts and experiences on this.
In a recent blog post, I commented that you should talk to your clients - do a survey of them to determine if they think you are meeting their expectations.
On a recent trip to Castle Inn, in Newport, Rhode Island, I was very impressed with their facilities. I was there for a conference. The weather was cool and clear and scenery exquisite. Castle Hill is on the point of a bay. Let your imagination flow. It was that pretty.
But, I digress. The day after departing, I received an email with a request to take a survey. Most often, I ignore these. But, this time, I did respond. I wanted to let them know that their food was superb; the chef had been accommodating to my request to prepare a vegan menu for me in addition to the exquisite quality of the food in general. But, I had been mildly upset by their absence of a workout facility on the premises.
No more than a day later, I received a follow up letter from their manager, thanking me for my response. This was not a form letter. This letter i) thanked me for my response; ii) said my compliments about their food would be conveyed to the chef, with their appreciation; and iii) explaining their rationale for not have a fitness room on premises. My survey response had been read and a personal note in reply was crafted. That has never happened to me before.
In asking for survey responses, be sure you act. In some fashion, respond to the survey responders. Let them know what you will do with their voluntary critiques, given at your request. There are 3 responses possible: 1) Thank you, we will consider and review your comments, and let you know what we intend to do; 2) Thank you, we disagree with your suggestion or we are unable to make the modification you suggest because of .....; 3) Thank for pointing this out to us, we will make the change you suggest in the very near future.
People want to know what you will do with the response that you asked for. Theirs was not an unsolicited piece of advice. You have an obligation to continue the dialogue. Failure to do so will cause more enmity than if you had never asked questions.
While in law school, the marketing mantra we learned was do good work and the world will beat a path to your door. This mantra is seductive because it suggests that you have to do only that which you love ... legal work.
This philosophy suggests you don't have to market your services, you don't have to speak in public, you don't have to write articles, and you don't have to be concerned with clients' wishes, even if their desires conflict with what you think they really need. In today's world, irrespective of the past, that clearly is not the case.
In my earlier days, owning and operating manufacturing companies, my focus was to serve my customers. By doing so, I am proud to say that I earned not just their continuing business, I also earned their loyalty. That loyalty assured my companies' continuity and growth.
As a lawyer, what are you doing to earn the respect and loyalty of your clients? If you can't answer quickly with specifics, you ought to go back to the drawing board. Better yet, you ought to ask your clients how they feel. In some circles, this is called a survey ... However, I don't mean the traditional survey ... More on this in a later post.
Before I conclude here, though, I want to share an example of the type of service I'm talking about. Several weeks ago, during a trip Chicago, I shopped at Paul Stuart, a menswear store. (I've purchased clothes there before). This time, I bought an raincoat. The sleeves needed to be shortened. The first opportunity I had to wear the coat was in the wet and cool climate of New York two weeks later. To my surprise, the sleeves were cut too short. I called Paul Stuart in Chicago. To their credit, their immediate response was to suggest I either go to their New York store or to a trusted tailor and then send them the bill.
I chose to go directly to the New York store; we were close by; we explained what had happened. They looked at the coat, agreed it was too short, and checked to see if it could be repaired. They said it could not be and offered to replace the coat with a new one. The sales manager, Mr. Barry Goldsmith, and his colleagues who assisted us were all very pleasant, professional and conciliatory -- exactly what I would expect from a quality organization. While I expect this, I also know that it is rare to find in today's business world. I appreciated the attitude and actions of the Paul Stuart staff. This approach usually creates loyalty ... and more business. And it did here.
Remember: The “Growing Your Law Practice in Tough Times” contest is running through the entire month of April, so there’s still plenty of time to enter! Look back at this post from the beginning of the month to learn about all the ways you can participate.
It’s easy (and fun!) – in a nutshell, all you have to do is become a fan of LawBiz Management on Facebook and post a photo with you and the book on the Facebook wall or…for more points, write a review on our publisher’s site and post a link to it on the Facebook wall.
The winnings for this contest are big, so don’t forget to enter! The first place winner will receive a Fujitsu ScanSnap S1300 Mobile Scanner – valued at $295! Second place will get a half hour coaching session with me (which is priceless), and the third place winner will get my set of 4 Special Reports (PDF versions), which retails at more than $200!
But only those who enter will win…
West Pub. Co. has announced the pre-release offering for my new book, Growing Your Law Practice in Tough Times.
I'm very excited about the new book ... and encourage you to take advantage of West's offer. You can also see the new offering at LawBiz.
In today's newsletter, I talk about how to find success in growing your practice. The column is entitled Finding Success By Looking in the Mirror.
It's also the time of year to wish y'all the best for the holiday season. My wife and I, and our latest family entrant, Bandit, of our photo contest fame, have come together to express our thanks for what we have, hope that you are enjoying the fruits of your labor and to wish that the contentiousness of 2009 fades away into a more peaceful 2010.
My father, when I first started my law practice, gave me sage advice: Be by the phone when a customer calls.'
The same advice is true for when the press calls for they have deadlines that generally can't be moved. If they reach you, you are likely to get quoted. If they don't reach you, you'll read someone else's quote.
This week, I was fortuitously by the phone when two reporters called.
The article in the LA Times (and the following day in the Chicago Tribune, the Times' parent) was about Facebook.
The CNN.com article was about the employment plight of recent law school graduates.
Very cool to sit by the phone and actually have it ring with a reporter at the other end.
Of course, reporters don't call people who have little expertise. The challenge, then, is to increase one's expertise and to increase the awareness of that expertise by others. As marketing folks have told me for years, it's a "snowball effect." Once the ball starts rolling, others will see who you are ... learn how much you have to offer your client base ... and then seek you out even more.
Thanks go to all of my clients and readers.
California now has the nation's first "Civil Gideon" statute, which provides a lawyer to people who cannot afford one in civil cases related to critical basic human needs.
There's much talk about the end of the billable hour. Because it's easy to administer, it will be stay around so long as clients accept it.
This highlights the difference between the large firms and others. The large firms deal with large clients ... who have purchasing power others don't.
The real question is not whether large firms will accept this new way of billing/pricing, but rather whether small firms will create a laundry list of unbundled services and fixed prices/fees. If they all do, then the consumer of these services may ultimately have more power ... by walking among lawyers to opt for the least expensive ... Until then, there are few ways, if any, for the consumer to make price comparisons among small firm or sole practitioners.
If they all don't, my prediction is that the billable hour will remain as the last vestige of a maturing legal community. On the other hand (said like a true lawyer), perhaps some will break with tradition and create that laundry list in order to differentiate their law practice from others ... and urge clients to come to them so they can know, in advance, what their cost exposure will be and so they can budget for their legal cost.
Where do you think your firm is headed? ... to undbundle and create fixed fees as in a laundry list ... or retain the billable hour? Please comment with your prediction.
News about the health care reform package is getting more interesting. As we get closer to a vote of some kind, the identities of the players and respective positions are becoming more clear.
In today's analysis, the drug companies are joyous. If universal health care is adopted, the pharmaceutical industry benefits ... with more folks insured, more drugs will be prescribed that will be covered by insurance ... to their benefit. However, insurance companies will hurt a bit ... no one is yet sure how much. With more people insured, their costs presumably increase. With the right to maintain - retain insurance despite the loss of employment, COBRA income goes down. With prior medical history being irrelevant for coverage, insurance carriers will have to take on some risks they would have eschewed earlier. Hmmmm. Sounds a bit like mandatory auto insurance. The details are not so significant to the ideas here and certainly not to some of the stakeholders. Can you name them all?
In your law practice, even if a sole practitioner, can you name all of the stakeholders? How do you seek to reconcile the differences among all of your stakeholders? As I mentioned in an earlier article, providing value is the name of the game in today's world. And how much more value could you provide with the stakeholders on "the same page," all working together for you and the same goal? And with that, how much more profitable would your firm be -- how much more income would you receive -- if you could create harmony among your various stakeholders .... such as clients, associates, staff, assistants, et al.?
Congratulations to Anthony Bushnell of Minnesota! He submitted the winning caption, which you can see above. Anthony will receive a copy of The Business of Law (2nd edition) and a free ½ hour consulting session with me.
Thanks again to everyone who participated. There were many great captions, which made the decision tough.
Remember, The Business of Law, 2nd ed., along with all of my other books and products, are available for sale at our web site.
Welcome to the first ever LawBiz® photo caption contest! All week you’ll have the opportunity to post captions for the picture above of the newest edition to my family, Bandit, a 2-3 year old boxer. Be creative, be serious, be funny – post whatever you think the caption for this photo should be.
At the end of the contest period, we’ll choose a winner who will receive a FREE copy of my book The Business of Law2nd ed., (valued at $120) and a FREE ½ hour consultation with me.
There are a few rules to this contest, so please take note:
· No more than five (5) entries may be submitted per person. Limit of one (1) per day.
· Entries should be submitted as comments and must include email addresses.
· Entries must be received by 5pm PST on Friday, September 25, 2009 to be considered.
· No lewd language or vulgarities. Such language will disqualify entry and will be removed by the administrator.
· Have fun!
A winner will be picked by Wednesday, September 30, 2009 and announced here on the blog. Good luck!
For the second day in a row, the WSJ ragged on lawyers. It's front page headline says "How to Surgically Remove Lawyers From Hospitals" .... Without reading more than the front page headline, one would think that lawyers are a problem for hospitals and need to be removed ... and here's how to do it.
But, when you turn to the Personal Journal section of the paper, the article talks about hospitals' negligence and the fact that many deaths and serious injuries/illnesses are caused by the hospitals and their staffs after the patients enter for other maladies than that which resulted in death.
The writer states that some hospitals are admitting their negligence and approaching the patients and their families with apologies and financial offerings that make sense. Under such circumstances, of course, the patients don't need to work with lawyers ... and that's one way of keeping lawyers out of the discussion. (There are other issues here from the perspective of the patient's protection; that's a subject for another time.)
The real reason for the lawyer is that the institution denies culpability and seeks to stonewall the injured party. What a novel idea -- actually talk to the injured party, admit responsibility and seek to negotiate/mediate a solution acceptable to all parties.
That, however, is not the tone of the headline, nor the attitude of the newspaper. Too bad. Truth should be the standard, not paper sales. I should admit that the headline is not false, just conveys the wrong impression of the article's content.
Paraphrasing a quote I heard yesterday: There have been more causes of action created in the last six months than in all of recorded history before that!
What a bonanza for lawyers ... in addition to being forced to deal with changes in the market place, we now have the opportunity to add to our intellectual skills and help people with new ideas never before faced ...
Linda J. Popky, "The Marketing Master," recently had to completely change her diet in order to treat a persistent cough. She compared her experience to that of businesses suffering in today's economy. She says that they will need to change the way they do business, or suffer the consequences...Continue Reading...
In today’s economic world, marketing is more important than ever. The people who are bringing in business are the ones who are out there courting it. That’s why I am happy to share with you a special opportunity. For the next 48 hours only, my colleague Paula Black is offering a collection of FREE bonus gifts to anyone who purchases her latest book: “The Little Black Book: A Lawyer’s Guide To Creating A Marketing Habit in 21 Days.”
Designed to help lawyers integrate marketing into their daily lives, this book is quick, easy and inspirational. And by purchasing it within the next 48 hours you will receive special access to information and resources from more than 30 experts. A compilation of advice from some of the most sought-after experts in the legal arena, “The Smart Lawyer’s Toolkit” gives you instant admittance to an incredible collection of tips and information. Click here for details…but do it fast!
Preparing a case budget is the subject of a recent article. Doing such a budget and getting the client to approve the budget goes a long way toward assuring that you will collect your fee as the matter progresses. And, if the client balks at the beginning, you know you will have difficulties. Then, the choice becomes yours ... whether to accept this client on a pro bono basis or go cycling ...
If you're looking for some "simple, but smart" ideas to grow your practice, check with Tom Kane today.
An innovator continues to invent even through a recession! In fact, those companies (and law firms) that do, come out the other side of the tunnel in a far stronger than before.
A client of mine asked me whether he should charge a prospective client a fee for their initial consultation, the meeting before being engaged.
There are three approaches to this issue, long debated amongst lawyers:
1. Free initial consultation
2. Paid initial consultation
3. Paid initial consultation with the payment applied to the total bill if they engage you.
There is no one right answer or magic bullet in response to this question. Obviously, everyone wants to get something for nothing. But, we then also run into the bromide that "you get what you paid for." In this case, nothing.
Whether you can charge for the initial consultation is normally a question of the client’s trust in you, their confidence in you … and how long it takes to generate those feelings in the client toward you …
I don’t think “free” connotes expertise … and that’s what prospective clients are looking for. In deference to the current economy, and the need attract clients, you might consider alternative #3 ... charge them an initial consultation fee, and apply that amount toward the total fee in the event they should retain you.
This is never an easy choice. But, we must remember that people do believe they get what they pay for ... and anything free is usually viewed with suspicion either as to motive or expertise. A discount in an on-going relationship, however, is viewed differently and not to be confused with the issue at hand.
The other day, I was cycling up Red Rock Canyon in Las Vegas, NV.
I went from about 2500 feet to 4713 feet. En route, the road was rolling hills. So, sometimes I went down, but then there was an ascent next ... all the way to the top, about 7.75 miles from the start.
Before I reached the top, however, I was complaining to myself about how hard this ride was ... and whether I could complete the ride as I had intended. When I reached the final plateau, not having ever ridden there before, I was not sure that was the top. I thought there were more rolling hills ahead of me. I asked a couple of cyclists who were descending. When they told me this was the top, I was elated I had made it to the top, relieved that the pain of the trek was over and quite surprised at how hard I had fought with myself.
How many of our clients don’t realize or appreciate the success we bring to the table for them? What have you done to educate them about the process of your representation? I was fighting myself because I had never been in Red Rock Canyon before. Most of your clients have never been involved in the judicial process before. And even sophisticated clients with previous involvement don't truly appreciate what lies ahead. What have you done to show them a preview of what’s to come? What have you done to make their journey easier? What have you done to shine a flashlight on the road in front of them?
When you shine the flashlight, and they still agree to move forward, the likelihood is that they will pay you your full fee without question and promptly in accordance with your engagement agreement.
Use the flashlight!
One could view the current situation with the attitude that whenever there is challenge (a much over-used word today), there is also opportunity. Certainly better to consider opportunities than feeling like a victim in constant pain.
Our new newsletter is now on the stands.
In response to Tom Kane, I wrote the following:
Yes, we "sell" all the time. My definition of "marketing" is the process by which we persuade another of the merits of our idea. This comes in the context of persuading a judge or jury of our client's position; of persuading our supervising partner that we're the right person to work on a matter (in a large firm); of convincing a prospective client that we can get the result they seek. This is all marketing/selling. And we do it all the time. I even do it in my sleep when I seek to persuade my wife that I'm entitled to a portion of the bed when we move around. Marketing/selling is both conscious and unconscious. When we make it conscious, we have a better chance of succeeding.
In this morning's session of large law firm managing partners, a group I've facilitated for more than 10 years, I heard hand-wringing I've never heard before. September 2008 was a watershed benchmark for revenue. Since then, revenues have decreased each month for many of the firms. There are only occasional rays of hope in certain practice areas. There seems to be a significant excess supply of lawyers. This is a significant change. As one lawyer cautioned, though, when the paradigm shifts again (as in the past), there will be an inadequate supply of experienced lawyers available to meet the demand.
How do you see the future both for the profession as well as for your own practice area?
Years ago, a good friend, Denis Campbell, allowed me to interview him. He was an expert marketing director at a major law firm. His topic, titled Five Cards and Three Feet, was the inspiration of this week's vid-cast.
I recently returned from a week in the Santa Ynez Valley, CA area. The purpose of my vacation was to ride a bike with 35 others from around the world who were similarly enthusiastic about cycling, plus coaches and staff. The Amgen Tour of California started in Northern California and went south, passing through this area (Solvang, Los Olivos and surrounding communities). I watched the Tour’s time trial held in the valley. It was exciting to see Lance Armstrong and other elite cyclists pitting themselves against the clock to see who was the fastest.
Armstrong finished 12th in the time trial, one of his specialties before retiring 4 years ago. And he finished the overall Tour in 7th. In other words, in two races he's entered (the other last month in Australia), he's finished in the top 10 ... after only a few months of training ... and 2 competitive races! And he is 37 years old, an age past which most cyclists are not seen in competition. What a remarkable achievement.
From a psychological perspective, the man is unhappy at not finishing higher up the ladder, because he has such high expectations of himself. He has to continually be coached to greater success as well as to recognize his progress, to keep reality in place. His plan is working and is on target.
Trust the plan. Work the plan. Good advice for Lance Armstrong, a winner in all respects. And good advice for lawyers wanting to achieve greater success.
Prepare a plan. Work the plan. Trust the plan. Make adjustments where and when appropriate as you progress through the benchmarks of your plan.
When it's time to separate from your spouse, do you think of the cost of doing so? Certainly in community property states, one must. But, a New York firm has gone the extra step in removing the cost of lawyers out of the equation. 60 Minutes Divorce! A brilliant marketing tactic ... and one way to seize an opportunity offered by the sour economy.
See the ABA Journal that predicts a 20% drop in legal revenues and a 50% drop in associate billings, spurred primarily by technology and client resistance.
There are opportunities in the market. Thinking optimistically may open you to them. Thinking pessimistically certainly will cause you to miss them. How much of today's firm layoffs is because of pessimism, not because of critical analysis of the firm's position and client (and prospective clients) needs? Like much else in the law firm environment, I suspect that this is much of a knee-jerk reaction rather than serious review and strategic planning.
I'm reminded of a statement from one of the recent TED speakers who said pessimism will certainly cause you to retract while optimism will at least allow you to see the opportunities, no matter how few, that are there. Seeing the opportunities is the first step to taking advantage of them.
The California Guide to Opening and Managing a Law Office has just arrived! It's a 600 page power packed treatise that evey sole practitioner should review. It, along with the ABA's Flying Solo, is uniquely designed to raise issues that need answers for success.
Disclaimer: I'm responsible for two of the volume's chapters. There are many contributors and editors who have made this an outstanding reference work.
Heather Milligan provides good advice to both lawyers and marketing folks. Before disclosing the name of a client anywhere, get written consent from the client. Apparently, Quinn Emanuel did not do this ... and is now being sued by the client. They allegedly disclosed what was supposed to be a confidential settlement as part of one of their promotional brochures. A definite "no-no"!
Mimi Donaldson is a football fan (who knew?), but a major fan! She was glued to the television and, while the game was on, came up with the following life's lessons from the game:
What do we do for money right now?
Here are 3 tips we can learn from last Sunday's Super Bowl to help us manage in these troubled times.
Ben Roethlisberger, the winning quarterback, extended many plays with tremendous focus and presence of mind. Larry Fitzgerald, a brilliant wide receiver, turned the game around with a long touchdown run because he looked for an opening and never looked back.
Lesson – We need to focus on the value of our product and service, stay calm in the face of doubters, and look for an opening for success -- and never look back!
At the end of the first half, James Harrison intercepted the ball and returned it 100 yards (the length of the field) for a touchdown with the longest run in Super Bowl history. The interception changed the context of the game and shifted the momentum.
Lesson – This is not in the traditional job description of a linebacker (he needed oxygen afterwards). In our businesses, we need to do something different now; attend a meeting you've never attended; look for an opportunity in a non-traditional place.
#3 – WHEN THE WHISTLE BLOWS, THE PLAY IS OVER!
Santonio Holmes caught the winning touchdown. But he had dropped a sure touchdown pass just moments before. He begged his quarterback for one more chance – telling him, “Please let me get this game for you.” Each man respected the finality of the play before. They did not allow it to affect the next play.
Lesson – We need to shake off our past mistakes and the alarming economic forecast, and recognize that each moment is a new moment of now.
Friday’s New York Times has brought light to a steamy debate in the legal community: Is billing clients by the hour the most effective and profitable way for a lawyer to collect his or her fees? In these recessionary times, this norm has become more unpopular. Clients are asking more questions and wondering if law firms are prolonging their problems instead of resolving them.
According to the American Bar Association’s Model Rule of Professional Conduct 1.5, “a lawyer shall not make an agreement for, charge, or collect an unreasonable fee.” Reasonableness is further defined by several criteria. Ultimately, though, what lawyers charge must be commensurate with the value their clients receive.Continue Reading...
One of my law firm clients has a lawyer who is what I would call a "reluctant marketer." This lawyer is a great lawyer, a "worker-bee," but not a great rainmaker. The managing partner considered engaging a coach to help the lawyer improve his skills within his comfort zone. Why is this important? Because the amount of work for this lawyer that is being internally generated is lessening. In other words, this lawyer has to begin helping himself a bit.
Parenthetically, I saw a recent survey that shows the amount of hours being worked by lawyers, generally, is coming down. But more on that later.
But, the management committee has come back and said that "costs" are frozen. No more spending. Is this a backward way to look at the situation? What about looking at expenditures from the ROI perspective? If you buy a new piece of equipment and it pays for itself in a couple of months, wouldn't you move forward? I think you should. If a coach or marketing director can help the lawyer increase his/her revenue because of improved rainmaking efforts, shouldn't you invest in the process?
And what would this mean to the other lawyers? A reduction in their take home pay? When you're already earning hundreds of thousands of dollars, a collective reduction by only a few dollars in sdthe short run for an ROI building expenditure may be worthwhile.
“A carriage builder in an automobile world.”
That’s how one staff person described his boss, an attorney not willing to become an effective marketer, but yet believes he’s entitled to receive the same level of business that he has for years. He doesn’t understand that the world is changing, that practice areas once popular are no more and that he has to adapt or be swept out of the practice.
Association of Corporate Counsel is workingon a "Value Challenge Index." Susan Hacktt, Senior Vice President and General Counsel for ACC, talked about the Index before the Los Angeles chapter of Legal Marketing Association today.
Susan made several significant points. One concerned the traditional allocation of revenue: 1/3 for overhead, 1/3 for associate compensation and 1/3 for partner income. The net result is that 2/3 of the revenue received by law firms is funneled toward attorney compensation.
Susan suggested that General Counsel, as lawyers, understand this formula and are therefore more resistant to outside counsel increasing billing rates. Lawyers wanting to earn more to move up in the AmLaw PPP (profit per partner) ranking isn't sufficient reason for the corporate client to pay more. And the rationale that expenses have increased is also not well received ... 1/3 of the firm's expenses may have increased somewhat, but the more sophisticated clients believe that the primary factor for increased expenses is increased associates' compensation. Since associates' contribution to the law firms' delivered value is suspect, clients are reluctant to pay increased rates. In fact, some clients refuse to pay for any first year associates' work on their matters.Continue Reading...
I came from an immigrant family as many people in my generation did, and still do. Growing up, my parents were involved in the labor movement and unemployment insurance was a big deal. In today’s context, unemployment insurance s hardly significant. But, don’t tell that to the many who are seeking this benefit and can’t crash through the long lines and busy telephone lines.
NPR did a piece today on what unemployment insurance is today and what it means.
Here are some statistics that I find fascinating, and which I did not previously appreciate. There are about 10 million unemployed workers, about half of them being in only eight states including California, Florida, Michigan and New York. There are millions more who don’t even qualify because they were self-employed or have been out of work too long ... they sort of get lost in the system.
Some time ago, I wrote that lawyers have seasons in their practices. Today, I received a note from Lawyers Weekly USA in which they confirm that family law lawyers are saying that January is proving to be a boon month. While spouses didn't file for divorce in December because of the children and holidays, January is a different story ... and the stresses caused by the holidays are just too much to handle any longer. So, they file for divorce.
Bankruptcy lawyers may be facing a bonanza that goes beyond a month, or even a year, if our current crises are not resolved soon.
And on down the list. Each practice area has its own time of year. You've got to be sensitive to it and plan accordingly, both for your financial stability as well as your marketing efforts.Continue Reading...
The Edge Annual Question Center asks the question for 2009: What will change everything?
Profound question, indeed. And the answers are equally profound. Scroll down the pages and see the responses from the brightest minds of our time ... my head was swimming just reading the titles of the responses.
Thank you Matt Homann for bringing this to my attention.
Clients seek to control the costs of their legal challenges. According to a study by the Association of Corporate Counsel, as noted by Larry Bodine, corporate general counsel do so in the following ways:
"The most common methods to control outside legal spending during the past year were: case/matter budgets (52.9%), discounted/alternative fees (52.9%), re-allocation of work to firms with lower rates (43.7%), billing guidelines/ spending rules (43.7%), and electronic bill reviewing and auditing (34.6%)."0
While reallocation of work seems to be an obvious choice, I've always wondered why more law firms don't do this. If you have several choices among quality law firms, why wouldn't you go with the less expensive? Perhaps because business is often based on relationships, and if there is a good relationship between client and counsel, the legal work may not go into play to find out whether there is a less expensive option available. This is often called "loyalty," the most desired state of affairs for vendor-partners.
Carlolyn Elefant has created yet another e-book, available for free, and worth reading.
Bill padding is the perfect crime, according to William Ross. There are many examples lawyers can point to in their own firms. However, there may be an element that some are overlooking. That is the obligation to "snitch" on one's peers if they suspect the practice is being committed by a colleague.
Obviously, such practices are difficult to detect by clients. The question is whether such practices can be detected by a colleague and then, if suspicion exists, what needs to be done about it. Must the lawyer report the suspected practice to the firm? Must the lawyer report the suspected practice to the client? Must the lawyer report the suspected practice to the State Bar disciplinary board?Continue Reading...
Complete your daily timesheets by day’s end. The best practice is to keep a running log of time (software-based or otherwise) of everything you do as you do it. Or, certainly before leaving the office that day. Even if your memory rivals that of the elephant, you will miss things if you don’t do this every single day.
One missed 10th of an hour each day translates to 23 lost hours a year. At $100 per hour, computing this time, without doing more work at all, will result in $2,300 additional revenue. That isn't much, but it's more than a good dinner. Increase these numbers by your actual billable rate ... and the time you actually don't bill, you will increase revenue by a very significant number!
LawBiz® facilitated a webinar about social networking and the benefits of this new technology for lawyers. David Nour, an expert on Relationship Economics, joined me in what the audience described as an outstanding learning experience. As the saying goes, it was like "drinking from a fire hose."
Substantially more than 100 people signed up and others contacted me with calendar conflicts. By popular demand, we will do our program again; we also will produce a DVD of this week's program; and my teleseminar with West LegalEdcenter on December 9th at 11 a.m. PT will bring David and me together again for another edition of social networking.
Stay tuned. Subcribe to LawBiz® Tips for current information as it is posted.
The Business of Law® is not a generic term. In 1995, lawyers did not think they were in a business, let alone a service business. And I was successful in my application to register this as my mark. It has been my mark for more than 10 years.
Today, lawyers in the large law firms understand that law is an honorable profession, but is also a business.
Peter Zeughauser in the ALM Law Firm Leaders conference said that the AmLaw 100 revenues are $64.5 B. That’s BILLION dollars. And 3 firms account for 10% of that number; that “profits” (why are we talking about profits if we’re not in business?) increased 8.7% in 2008, ranging from a low of $410,000 to $4.95 million.
Extend the Reach of Your Rain Making Using Web 2.0
VENICE, CALIF. October 14, 2008—Law management guru, Ed Poll, JD, MBA, CMC, and social networking guru, David Nour, will present a free webinar for managing partners and law firm administrators on October 28, 2008 at 12:00PM (PST). The webinar will show listeners how they can extend the reach of their business development activities using social media strategies such as LinkedIn, Twitter, Second Life, and Plaxo.
Webinar host, Ed Poll, is a nationally recognized management consultant who has helped to transform many law practices into profitable and successful businesses. Featured guest, David Nour, is a social networking strategist and author of Relationship Economics (Wiley, 2008). In this webinar, the hosts will show listeners how to develop a meaningful online presence on social networking sites that enhance online visibility and search engine ranking, modernize business development by bringing it into the 21st century and increase profitability.
This one-hour presentation will provide an overview of LinkedIn: the ultimate business-to-business social networking platform, and discuss how to create a content-rich profile that will position a law firm or an individual practitioner on one of the networking platforms to enhance prospective client outreach and provide quality information about the services offered.
Additionally, the webinar will discuss the best practices used by social networkers on how to handle stagnated relationships, unanswered requests, unsolicited invitations and how not to abuse the system. Content covered in the webinar will also include the more advanced strategies of social networking, including advanced search techniques for a more targeted effort, turning answers into alliances, knowledge management, and the value of premium memberships.
For more information on how to register for the webinar, held on October 28, 2008 at 12:00 PM (PST), please visit www.lawbiz.com.
About Ed Poll
Ed Poll, JD, MBA, CMC, is a nationally recognized expert in law practice management. He helps attorneys and law firms increase their profitability, consulting with them on issues of internal operations, business development, and financial matters. Ed brings his clients a solid background in both law and business. He has 25 years experience as a practicing attorney and has also served as CEO and COO for several manufacturing businesses. In 1990 he founded LawBiz® Management Company and is now focused on coaching, speaking, and training law firms.
Ed is the author of numerous publications that have become the definitive works in the field and has just released his newest book Law Firm Fees & Compensation: Value & Growth Dynamics (LawBiz® Management Co., 2008). He is also a columnist for the Association of Legal Administrators and contributes the “LawBiz® Coach’s Corner” to Lawyers Weekly.
About David Nour
David Nour is a social networking strategist and one of the foremost thought leaders on the quantifiable value of business relationships. In a global economy that is becoming increasingly disconnected, BeOne Now is solving global client challenges with intracompany, as well as externally focused, Strategic Relationship Planning™.
David is the author of Relationship Economics (Wiley, 2008) and What Every Entrepreneur Needs To Know About Raising Capital (Praeger, 2009), a senior management advisor, and a featured speaker for corporate, association and academic forums, where he shares his knowledge and experience as a leading change agent and catalyst for Relationship Economics® - the art and science of business relationships.
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Confidence makes the world go 'round. In our current financial crises and credit restrictions, one lesson becomes very clear: Our financial markets require the confidence of banks and the public that loans will be repaid and that the extension of credit is safe. Until our public regains that confidence, the markets will have difficulties and the NASDAQ will continue to slide downward.
So, too, people must have confidence in their lawyer and the honesty and trustworthiness of their lawyer. What has our profession come to when a lawyer must promote his honesty?
During an economic crisis, yes, some call it a depression, Heather Milligan has some cogent ideas to market your practice:
- What are your clients’ key industry pubs reporting on today? Understand how the financial markets impact their companies.
- If your clients/referral sources are at risk, call and see how you can be of service to THEM. Not just their companies, but THEM. If their company is on the brink of collapse or bankruptcy, their first concerns will be about putting food on their table, not who is handling the filings.
- Face time. Face time. Face time. You need to be, and stay, top-of-mind with your key contacts.
- For we marketers, time to start thinking about clearing our budgets of “unnecessary” items. Now might not be the best time to kick-off a rebranding campaign or overhaul the website. I’m not going to ask for a high-capacity color laser printer right now. End-of-year charitable contributions/tables-of-ten will soon be reaching your desks. How are you going to evaluate them?
The days of multi-million dollar profits per partner and rapidly rising triple-digit associate salaries were never real for most law firms, especially when considered in light of the demographic of law - more than 70% are in small law firms. But, now firms big and small, conservative and highly leveraged, all feel the business pressure from the economic downturn.
The WSJ, August 26th, front page, discusses law school rankings ... and the ability of school deans to "game" the system used by U.S. News & World Report to rank law schools. This reminds me of the accounting adage, "Figures don't lie, but liars figure."Continue Reading...
Does more information become competitive intelligence ... or just more information? Read Ann Lee Gibson at her new blog only if you want to learn more, i.e., become more intelligent! Congratulations to Ann for a great start.
Famous words. And the legal community is beginning to feel them.Continue Reading...
In our Managing Partners Roundtable discussion this morning, we talked about the effect and value of surveys. Not enough law firms ask their clients "how am I doing?" Too often, marketing gurus suggest that written surveys be sent in the mail after a matter or litigation is concluded. I suggest that this is the wrong time ... no matter what you learn from the responses (and in my experience, you won't get many responses, probably not even a statistically valid amount), it's after the fact. That means that you will not be able to salvage that client relationship if there is real dissatisfaction!
One of my clients taught me an important lesson: Send a short survey with the first billing. If there is anything wrong, it's best to know at the beginning when you have time to correct any deficiency.
Most lawyers are reluctant to ask the question. They're afraid of the answer. But, what better result could you get than to be told there is something that you can correct ... and thereby strenghthen the relationship when you do. The client feels appreciated and heard ... and recognizes that you care enough to ask and to make a change.
In larger firms, we concluded that it is very beneficial for the managing partner to periodically visit the top 10 clients of the firm. Even when I was in industry, the fact that I as CEO cared enough to visit a customer had a dramatic impact on our relationship and the buyer's/customer's goodwill toward us.
Bottom line, we don't exist in a vacuum. We must understand and know the needs and wants of our clients ... and what better way to find than to ask, directly. In addition, this process confirms that the relationship is between the client and the firm, not an individual lawyer in the firm.
Obviously, there was much more said this morning, but this concept caused the managing partners to vow to make changes in their firms. What are you prepared to do in your relationships?
The organization is designed to gather documents used by one lawyer that the first lawyer is willing to share with another lawyer ... this is a great way to find a starting point in a practice area in which you are not well versed. It may even be a great way to find a good format and content to use in your matter/case that someone else has used in another, similar matter.
Years ago, when practicing law and as chair of the Beverly Hills Bar Association's Family Law Committee, I organized and chaired a stellar group of family law lawyers to create and edit a Bar/Bench book with forms that the trial judges were using in the Los Angeles Superior Court. It was called The Billy G. Mills Bench Book. Judge Mills, at the time, was the presiding judge of the Family Law Court. The joint effort produced an outstanding work that helped many lawyers address the concerns of the Bench for the benefit of clients.
Today, JDSupra is using technology to produce an even greater result for attorneys seeking the right form at the right time to be more efficient and avoid rifling through files to find that elusive document that they remember seeing, but just can't find right now, the moment of need!
JDSupra will also introduce content that I will produce for law firm management. We hope to provide an ever broader platform to help lawyers become more effective with their clients, more efficient in the delivery of their legal services and more profitable for themselves, the objective of LawBiz Management.
Someone asked what I think of an attorney charging a client for work done while he/she is on vacation?
The comment, specifically, was: "Attorneys do need a vacation... what do you think about attorneys that (sic) file Notice of Unavailability and charge clients for work performed while on there (sic) vacation."
Wherever and whenever an attorney performs legal services, he/she should be able to charge for the work done so long as it is in compliance with the engagement agreement. There is normally no exception for work done for clients while on vacation or after "normal" business hours. So I don't see any problem here, unless there is a subsidiary inference that the attorney is not truly working or working at a slower pace than would have been the case if he/she were elsewhere.
As an additional point, I believe (as I've said quite some time ago) that the attorney has the right to charge the client for preparing and filing (and even appearing in court thereon) the Notice of Unavailability. But for the notice, the attorney might have to spend much more time defending against notices/motions if the adversary takes advantage of the attorney's absence on vacation ...
Nick Abrahams, chair of the Sydney, Australia office of Deacons, which has branches throughout Asia, discussed his firm's survey on technology.
The survey, among other things, that "If you’re over 35, you're the loneliest person on Facebook because only 1 percent of workers in that age group are using it." But a quarter of the survey respondents between 25 and 34 are on Facebook, he said, and for workers under 25, the rate of Facebook users increases to a third of those surveyed.
It is still early to discern how the new social networking sites will impact a law firm's marketing efforts; but, it is clear that these sites will not disappear in the new future ... and lawyers will need to pay attention to whether these sites can benefit them in the market places in which they operate.
I don't think we've yet got to the "tipping point" in this phenomenon, though we seem to be getting closer and closer with ever greater speed.
Unlike Leo Durocher's famous statement that "nice guys finish last," she believes that "nice girls finish first." After all, she asserts, people like to buy from people they like ... And we generally don't like people who are not nice to us. Kaplan says it's easier to be mean and gruff. It takes a special effort to be nice. Paraphrasing a saying my mother used so often, "You get more with honey than with vinegar."
This seems so obvious to me, but obviously is something that our profession finds so difficult to understand. Many Bars have adopted "Lawyer Civility Codes." Why should this even be needed? Quoting an infamous source, "Why can't we all just get along?" Why is it that we need be rude and obnoxious to our adversaries? Do we truly believe that such conduct will win us points or cause our client's position to be moved forward? On the contrary, such behavior often merely entrenches the opposition further. Being nice, courteous and kind requires neither that we be a doormat nor that we cave in to our adversary's position ... we can stand forthright to advocate our client's interest and position, yet still be civil and nice.
Again paraphrasing, "Try it, you might like it." Certainly, there will be reduced stress all around.
P.S. This works with colleagues and staff as well.
That’s a pretty broad statement, yet lacks simplicity and directness. This may be one reason why the seat at the table is still denied to many who claim the title “marketer.” Continue Reading...
There is no simple conclusion. But one element may very well be that clients (General Counsel) feel pressure down from their CEOs and Boards of Directors. They need to be more price and cost sensitive. Partners in larger law firms, on the other hand, want larger compensation packages for themselves in order to be seen as peers of the CEOs who are earning far more than in the past; lawyers do not want to be seen as vendors, but as peers ... and frequently compensation is a factor in this perspective. Of course, it's hard to be a peer with a CEO whose average compensation went from 4:1 to 17 and even 34:1 between him/her and the average employee working for him. And it's a bit disingenuous for that executive to say that lawyers' fees are too high. Even in companies whose stock is falling, or whose profits are falling, it is rare to see the CEO offering to reduce his/her compensation.
Here are some of the key findings of the research report and my thoughts related thereto:Continue Reading...
Likewise, in our law practice. Clients get angry with us, they have financial reverses, they didn't get the result they expected or, for some unknown reason, they just don't pay their bill. Can we do something to avoid this situation? More so than with weather, the answer is "yes." We can be more proactive in both our intake session --- setting reasonable expectations --- and we can be more vigilant monitoring our clients' behavior after our billings are mailed, making sure we get paid for work we do or we stop working before the client will be prejudiced by our cessation.
I discuss some of these scenarios in my book, Collecting Your Fee: Getting Paid from Intake to Invoice, which is mentioned in today's LawBiz® Tips alongside my article, "If All Else Fails, Sue."
There is a new twist raised in these cases. Under the "double billing" phenomenon, a lawyer cannot bill two clients for the same minute of time. When using the hourly billing system, you can bill only one client for each segment of time to be billed. In other words, when waiting in court for a matter to be called, and billing client A for that time, the lawyer cannot bill client B for that same waiting time though he/she is doing other work for client B pending the call of the court. Or, while charging client A for travel time, the lawyer cannot charge client B for working on his matter on the plane.
The new twist is that lawyers in two law firms were listed as employees of the New York State's pension funds. This gave them retirement credits from the funds even though they either did no work at all for the funds or were gainfully employed and paid by the law firms, not the funds. This takes "double billing" to entirely new level!
"Who’s licensed to practice law in Illinois? None of your business.
That’s what the state Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission has told a Seattle company that wants to post the names of lawyers on the Internet and assign grades based on performance, awards, experience and disciplinary records.
Avvo (listen to our podcast interview with Mark Britton, CEO and Founder of Avvo, Inc.) has posted information online about lawyers in more than a dozen states. The company, which started its Web site a year ago, says it has received lists of lawyers from 30 states. Illinois, however, has balked.
Many lawyers, unfortunately, never figure out that their client is unhappy. They just think that the client has no additional legal work. They don't realize that the client was so unhappy that, though they didn't complain, they just didn't return! What a shame not to have the sensibility to even know this.
The rule is flawed, as I’ve argued in more than one past post. Since lawyers are skilled in finding loopholes, I suspect that this new rule will be honored in its breach ... and therefore not provide meaningful protection to clients.
There are creative alternatives the 30,000 sole and small firm lawyers impacted by this rule may take to avoid the intent of the Board and its new rule: Continue Reading...
This week, in consecutive phone calls, I was hired for two separate, large engagements. I’m excited about both of them. And in the process, the teachings of my father many years ago came to mind. Stay by the phone. When the phone rings, and you respond, you will be hired. But, if you don’t respond, you won’t be hired. This is similar to the adage that if you don’t swing the bat, you can’t hit the ball. Marketing efforts are designed to make people aware of us and to encourage them to call.
A corollary for me was that I can’t “sell” anything to anyone. I can only hope to make people aware of my skills and availability. If they have a need, and they know who I am, they will contact me to discuss whether my skills match their needs. It is always the buyer who makes the decision, not the seller. With this mind set, then, the “seller’s” obligation is to educate the buyer about the value of the services provided and the benefits to be received ... not the “features” being offered by the seller.
These are lessons learned early in my career that I believe still resonate today.
It's time to stop focusing on real estate, construction, banks, mortgage companies and airlines, according to Larry Bodine. Go where the money is: energy, steel, industrial metals, coal companies and railroads. See the 10 Best Performing Industries on MarketWatch.com.This reminds me of the book written by Harvey MacKay, Dig Your Well Before You're Thirsty or the phrase "... fish where the bass are..."
In other words, provide services that your clients need ... If your skills are no longer in hot demand, modify your practice area to adapt your skills to the needs of the clients. If you're in the larger firms, and are practicing real estate law currently, you might be better advised to learn bankruptcy or workouts to adapt your current skills to the needs of the clients. If you're in a small firm or sole practice, this might be more difficult to accomplish with less personal economic impact, but still possible.
The key is to either provide services the market needs ... or to have the capital to sustain the wait until the market comes back to your skills.
He says, "
Price and value are clearly not the same when it comes to legal fees. While both are time sensitive (as of any given moment in time), the former generally is set by the seller/lawyer and the latter is generally perceived by the buyer/client. Price can be value, in my opinion, when the client is involved in the setting of the legal fee and price is determined by the value perceived by the client. Some folks call this "value billing."
Because our “new” vintage Airstream is still being built and our “old” vintage Airstream was totaled from our December accident, we could not stay at the rally, but had sleeping quarters about 10 miles away, a short car ride. To get there, we had a short stint on Highway 550, a heavily trafficked thoroughfare in the area, so I’m told. As we got close to our destination, I noticed the highway was streaming with police. It looked like a major car accident; as I got closer, it looked like a disaster. I could tell the roadway had been narrowed by cones and police cars into one lane. And as I approached the head of the line, a policeman approached me. Suddenly, I realized that I was in the middle of a road block!
Professor Alan Childress of
How about going to a Vintage Airstream Rally with no Airstream? Continue Reading...
In a recent article by Larry Bodine, he cited the following statistics: Less than 8% surveyed believe social networking is important to them; 91% said they spend less than 25% of their online time working with social networks. Still, these are rather large numbers to be devoting to a networking process that is relatively new ... As with other technologies, we will have to wait and see if this takes hold.
Does any or all of these new approaches increase the cost of doing business? Possibly. Do they increase satisfaction of your clients. Definitely. Do they increase your revenue? Quite probably.
These approaches are worth considering and perhaps adopting for your practice.
Because of his comments, I began to think about this subject in a way different than I have ever done in the past. I want to share some of my revelations as, perhaps, a catalyst for your further consideration on what clearly is a very important issue.
Are there any lessons to be learned from this excitement for lawyers and law firms?
Learn why legal fees and compensation are integral components of the same dynamic!
For me, this is reminiscent of the discussion I had recently with a client who asked me to do a profitability analysis of her firm She and her partner believed that the expenses of their small firm were too high My review of the data indicated that there were areas where reductions or revised characterization would be relevant. For example, several capital expenditures could be removed from the expense side of the profit and loss statement and recast as assets; a management fee could be removed or recast as a draw by one of the partners because such a fee is inappropriate for a small firm. However, the real focus for this firm should be on increasing its revenue. That would have the most dramatic impact on the performance of the firm. Recasting the expenses would not change the cash flow of the firm, but would help generate the mental toughness confidence that they are not in terrible shape, that they could succeed, and provide the mental toughness to continue seeking the appropriate client base to generate increased revenue.
Looking at the relevant data helps remove the fear of failure, engender confidence that small changes in one's own behavior can have large impact on one's success, and bring the realization that success is just around the corner.
Also, I talk about dreaming having a poor ROI. What does this mean for the law firm? Read LawBiz Tips and learn my approach.
We went to dinner while in Chicago this last week and she took several photographs. Here are two of them that are listed on Facebook, one of the sprouting social networks. One should be careful what is placed on internet boards such as this ... This entry is sedate and trustworthy. This is the first posting for me, excluding our Airstream trailer, of photos on this site.
Karen Mathis, immediate past chair of the American Bar Association, focused her year on developing a new awareness for the legal profession. She said recently that 400,000 lawyers will retire in the next 10 years. That’s the entire current membership of the
However, as the Executive Director of the ABA, Henry F. White, Jr., at the ABA’s Solo Caucus in Los Angeles’ Mid-Year meeting, February 10th, said, “At the end of the day, it’s all about money, despite the goodness.” He, and his fellow panelists, M. Joe Crosthwait, Jr. (moderator), Karen J. Mathis (ABA immediate past president), and H. Thomas Wells, Jr. (ABA president-elect), were preaching to the choir. Continue Reading...
- Income fluctuations
- Managing the practice
- Lack of help in the practice
- Isolation from other attorneys
- Inability to discuss ideas with colleagues
He gives us 3 steps to follow if we love our practice ... and 3 steps, if your answer is "no," to fall back in love with your business.
Respondents said "yes" (15%), "no" (84%) and "don't know" (1%). It is clear that people are tired of bombastic behavior, at least in the workplace. Can this be translated into a more collegial, and team-oriented work environment?
Patrick Lamb, a leading proponent of "value billing" has certainly committed himself to the concept of team effort. He opened a new practice with two other partners in January 2008. Collegiality, outstanding client service and billing for value delivered (not time spent) gets promoted one step at a time. Patrick has taken that first step in his new firm. Congratulations and best wishes for his continued success.
As more lawyers succeed in this business model, perhaps others will follow. Then, perhaps, will civility in the profession be achieved.
As a side note, I'm currently reading (actually, listening) the recently published book about Lincoln and his leadership skills. I'm struck by the number of lawyers who were the leaders of our country and the large percentage of our representatives in government (House of Representatives, Senate, and State legislatures) who were lawyers. At one time, the balance substantially exceeded 50%. Contrast that to today when only around 25%, if that, of these bodies are lawyers. Perhaps the lack of civility in our society in general and the legal profession in particular, is the reason for the lack of faith in lawyers. I don't know the reason or the answer to this dilemma. But, I do know that many lawyers are stressed, are "burned out" and are unhappy with their chosen profession.
Given this history, I am quite surprised and pleased that 3 of the viable, now 2, Democratic candidates for President are lawyers.
The theory is that knowledge by clients will prevent fraud. I've never known knowledge of such settlements preventing thievery. But, then, I've also never known clients who walk away just because a lawyer has one sentence in a fee agreement that they have no malpractice insurance.
First, there is a very small percentage of "bad apples" in the legal profession. Second, remedies such as the "disclosure" requirement are band-aids on a scab. They are not truly remedial of the cause of the problems. While the rubric is "client protection," the real protection will come from better education of lawyers, including practice management education, providing affordable malpractice insurance, and then requiring every lawyer to have malpractice insurance -- real insurance, not self-insurance!
- There are more than 63 million active users on Facebook
- Since 2007, Facebook grows by more than 250,000 per year
- There's been an average 3% growth annually since 2007
- Active users double every 6 months
One challenge, though, is how many of these professional and social networking entities can one participate in ... Consider, for example, LinkedIn, supposedly a primary business networking entity. And what about YouTube? One could spend an entire life in this new, virtual world ... and I'm not sure that would produce the best results. So, how does one choose?
Christy Burke, a marketing and public relations expert in New York, has the following comment on this subject in a new article: "...If you have decided to start a blog, consider teaming up with another attorney to share the writing workload, hire a freelance writer to help you when you’re swamped, or stockpile a number of “canned” posts which are not time-sensitive and can be used when no news items are coming up in your field .."
There is nothing in the Rules of Professional Conduct to prevent this; there is nothing in the Rules to prevent another person from writing a brief to which you affix your name as the author (you are still the responsible attorney); and there is nothing in the Rules to prevent someone from editing your work. Nor is there a requirement that you disclose who assisted you in the performance of your obligations and work product. The point is to produce quality work, address the expectations and challenges of your clients, and earn a profit to be able to pay the folks who work for you and feed your family (that’s called running a business!).
According to one source, crisis management statistics include causes that are outside of those traditionally thought about by law firms. But, in addition to Katrina, broken pipes, etc. think about the following:
About 53% of marketing executives responding to a recent survey by BtoB and Eric Mower and Associates, said they have experienced a business crisis that resulted in negative news coverage, declining sales or reduced profitability. About the same number (57%) reported that their company does not have a crisis response plan currently in place.
Of the 43% of companies that have developed a plan, 10% worry about their ability to carry it out, and only one-half have trained spokespersons ready.
Some 23% of respondents who went through a crisis said it took three months to a year for their brand to fully recover, while 13.3% said recovery took more than two years and 17.7% said they have not yet recovered after two years.
Causes for these companies' crises vary. A majority of survey respondents (55.7%) said layoffs, shutdowns or business foreclosures created the crisis. Some 45.2% blamed operational or services failures, 33% cited legal or ethical problems and 32.2% pointed to a competitive attack, such as negative word-of-mouth or messaging by others who have a vested interest in damaging the company.
Her main points are:
1. Return a reporter's call or email promptly
2. Find out what the reporter is interested in writing about
3. Know what you want to say and stick to it
4. Determine how you want to be identified
5. Be a resource for the reporter
This latter point is particularly important. Even if your name doesn't get into the story, the reporter will remember how helpful and prompt you were this time, and call you again! Being on a reporter's "call sheet" is gold!
However, where there is delayed payment, be sure it is not because of a legitimate complaint against you or the service provided. Given that, if the client has the ability but not the commitment to pay, you may want to consider filing suit against the former client.
You should review certain considerations before doing so: Continue Reading...
Casual day (turned into casual all the time by many) really doesn't have a place in the minds of many traditional law firms. And we're seeing a move back to traditional dressing standards. Only in certain areas of practice is it appropriate to dress "down." Otherwise, what Mom told us, "dress for success," really is true.
My earlier post summarized their comments and included a few of my challenges to their concepts.
Susan has given permission to include her notes from their Power Point presentation.
The discussion has been joined. Please email your thoughts to me. We all will have a hand in the shaping of the future of our profession.
Publishing can be an important boost to one’s status and credibility. This is an outstanding method of demonstrating your expertise.
There are many examples of this in the legal profession. Today’s LA Daily Journal highlights one such example. In an article entitled “The Book Stops Here: Treatises Identify Firm,” the law firm of Miller Starr Regalia, a northern California real estate law firm, is featured. Their seminal work, the highly regarded Miller Starr California Real Estate Book, is known far and wide, even outside California boundaries. Since its first publication in 1965, the book has grown to 12 volumes and is highly regarded as an encyclopedia of California real estate law.
Not only does the firm receive a respectable revenue flow, more important benefits result. One is greater respect for all of its attorneys in the court room. After all, if your firm is the leading authority on the law and is cited by courts in making their decisions, you start with an advantage over your adversary. Also, clients want to be represented by the leading authority. Thus, their revenue is greater than it would otherwise be.
Think about what your expertise is, who your target market is and how you might best reach your market. Publishing is only one approach.
ACC, at its annual meeting in Seattle, WA in October 2008 intends to roll out an effort to relate law firm billings to client perceptions of value. To some degree, the panelists suggest that they seek to roll back the clock 40 years, when there was a “professionalism” about billing, a stronger and more effective bridge of communication between the client and its relationship partner at t he law firm and less emphasis on increased profits per partner. ACC is not quite sure how they intend to get there nor what the “it” will look like. But, the discussions with stakeholders has begun. And the ride promises to be interesting, to say the least.
Q: Ed, can Outsourcing really make a firm more productive and profitable?Continue Reading...
Q: Ed, do you have any fresh ideas about how I can market my law business?
A: There is no better way to establish effective prospect relationships than by establishing a presence for your firm or your practice at industry trade shows and association meetings. By properly researching and targeting your audience, you can meet more prospects in one day than you might otherwise meet in months. And by physically being present at these meetings of potential clients, you demonstrate that you know their business, understand their concerns, and are serious about offering solutions.Continue Reading...
Another article in this edition concerns the changing landscape of the legal profession and outsourcing, written by me.
Ed, you’re an avid blogger—I read LawBiz® Blog all the time. I’ve even contemplated starting my own blog. What could blogging do for my private law practice? Continue Reading...
Rees Morrison observed, "Certainly no law firm can hazard more than a guess on the worth to a particular client at a particular time of its 10 paralegal hours, 20 associate hours, and 8 partner hours on a revision of a major sublease. For much that law firms do, value and cost are incommensurable."
I agree with Rees when one looks backwards. However, if one reviews the matter with the client before the engagement actually begins, the client generally will be able to assess the value to him/her/it. At that point, the law firm and client, together, should evaluate whether the anticipated service can be delivered for a fee that is commensurate with the value delivered as perceived by the client.
Budgeting for the matter, with the involvement and concurrence of the client, will go a long way to establish both the value to the client and likely fees the law firm will charge.
In this discussion, we must be careful not to equate the result for the client with the value because no law firm can guarantee the outcome.
That amended proposal, then, was defeated; a subsequent sense of the Board was to send this issue to its own committee (Regulations, Admissions & Discipline Committee, not the original task force that was submitting the proposal) for further study. Two issues were uppermost in the Board’s mind. One was whether the amended proposal could be adopted by the Board without further public comment and, second, whether the full ramifications of the original proposal were completely understood by the Board.
It is hoped that the RAD committee will be successful in addressing the issues that face all of the stakeholders involved, the public and members of the Bar, without the perception of self-interest or financial gain for the Bar ... and with the interest of all lawyers in mind (including the 30,000 not currently insured). Continue Reading...
While making a presentation about recovering from disasters to the Association of Legal Administrators national conference for financial issues, (see my latest book, Disaster Preparedness & Recovery Planning) I listened to another presenter talking about the insurance aspects of disaster. She noted some frightening statistics: More than 40% of all businesses never reopen after they experience a disaster; of those that do open, more than 30% fail after two more years of operation.Continue Reading...
- 83% of medium businesses (more than 100 people) have remote or mobile workers
- That means that only 17% of such businesses have no mobile workers at all
- Lifestyles today blend work and personal activities with fluid boundaries between the two
- 15% of our workforce are telecommuters
- 23% of our workforce travel long distance
- 27% of our workforce travel locally
- "Anywhere solutions" can boost productivity and enhance the probability of recovery in the event of disasters
- New technology for unified communications, not yet a driving force, is generally reviewed, if at all, at the time of replacement or updates rather than as an independent purchase now
- One of the greatest challenges facing today's business is that information is lost or stranded within the head of one individual
That means that technology becomes even more important in the management of a law firm. Technology affects current law firm profitability and becomes essential for survival and continuity in times of disaster. In current terminology, "knowledge management" will be the backbone of the success and survival of a law firm. And knowledge management needs enhanced technology to be effective and readily available. As I've said before, I believe law firms of the future will grow or die based on their effective implementation of knowledge management.
Q: My practice is in a rut and I don’t know why. How can I attract more clientele—both old and new—as well as those who come from diverse backgrounds?Continue Reading...
Q: As a sole practitioner, I’m nervous about the possibility that new requirements that lawyers must disclose in writing if we don't have malpractice insurance. How will mandatory disclosure affect my business?
Q: As a lawyer who runs her own practice, it seems like everything I do revolves around trying to make more money. Is it professional to always be concerned about turning a profit? Or should I focus more on other things?Continue Reading...
"The organization of the future is a verb, not a noun." He continued by asking: "Who will own the stock of the organization?" He said that users will control the company; his examples include www.digg.com and other similar Internet operations such as "youtube" and "facebook." Yes, the stock of the company may be "owned" by one or two people, but the control of the operation is really in the hands of the users. He cited examples of where the users did not agree with a company policy and forced the company to retract its stand.
This is an interesting concept. I'm reminded of the phrase, "... the more things change, the more they stay the same!" I'm referring to the fact that, even in the "old days," the real control of a business was and is in the hands of consumers. Unless you have customers willing to purchase your goods or services, you have no business! Unless you have clients, there is no reason for you to have a law practice. Yes, you may technically "own" the company or law firm, but you will have no business ... no revenue ... without clients.
Thus, the clarion call: Treat thy clients as they would like to be treated, or you will have no clients! This is a paraphrase of Tony Alessandra's "Platinum Rule" of asking your clients how they want to be treated, or Ben Franklin's mantra, "... take care of the pence and the pence will take care of you."
Another way of looking at this concept is to suggest that law is a verb, not a noun; that law is constantly changing. Our courts, though they use precedents, constantly interpret the written word to mean something different in different times, always seeking to keep the law relevant to the day's values. In other words, the law changes or is a verb, not a noun.
At the end of his presentation, Bhatt observed that business used to be about putting together the puzzle. Seven steps to this, five steps to that, etc. We will see how this process orientation is no longer appropriate. We will be asked to solve the mystery, not create a process. And if/when we bring value to the table to help our clients solve their business mystery, we will be their colleague, their "partner " in helping them solve the mystery then facing their business.
Pretty sophisticated stuff ... and lawyers who can "get it," will remain the top lawyers of our profession.
I am amazed at how many (a lot!) did not carry business cards with them. Don't carry business cards if you don't want more clients or more revenue!
And, of those that gave us their business cards, many still don't have e-mail accounts. To me, that is like not having a telephone number on your card. How is that possible in today's world? Again, only if you don't want more clients ... and if you don't want people to contact you.
Put in positive framework, make it easy for people to reach you ... make it easy for people to do business with you. They, generally, will not go out of their way to do so.
The tidal wave has not yet struck! That means there is still time to save ourselves.
The California State Bar Board of Governors voted today on the proposal to require disclosure to prospective clients that they do not have malpractice insurance (if they don't). Other lawyers who are either exempt under the rule or who do have E & O coverage do not have to discuss malpractice insurance or disclose anything about the subject in their engagement agreement.Continue Reading...
This is an interesting, though not earth-shattering, topic.
|Venice, CA 90291||September 25 2007|
|Law Practice Management Tips and Business Secrets to Arrive Weekly
VENICE, Calif., September 25, 2007—Law business growth and management consultant Ed Poll announces the release of the new version of his free eNewsletter, LawBiz® Tips, that has a fresh updated look and is presented in a modern HTML design. Arriving weekly instead of monthly, this version offers a new twist on Poll’s already famous advice for lawyers on how to make running a law practice easier, less stressful, and more profitable.
“As readers will notice in the very first issue, the new newsletter has a high value content like the old one but is now delivered in more ‘bite-size’ chunks,” says Poll, founder and president of LawBiz Management Company. Poll practiced law for 25 years, was the CEO and COO of several manufacturing businesses, and has been a consultant to small and large law firms for 15 years. “I’m excited about our new format and hope readers will find it more enjoyable.”
The average issue will feature one article that focuses on a critical aspect of the reader’s law career and business, whether it is low-cost strategies to improve marketing, managing, selling, client management skills, account keeping, or employee relations. The newsletter will also cover some of the personal issues lawyers who run their own practice might feel uncomfortable discussing, such as how to improve relationships at work or what to do with a partner who is not pulling his or her weight. And just like the old newsletter, this one will still feature Ed’s own personal commentary, updating readers on upcoming speaking engagements and family news.
In each issue subscribers also get:
• Access to free gifts and special offers
• Announcements of special events
• Discounts on Poll’s CLE products and coaching
• Their privacy protected. Participants can unsubscribe anytime.
The first issue that was released today discusses why law firm managers should focus less on making money themselves and channel that energy into being a better leader and decision-maker for the firm as a whole. To sign up to receive this issue and many more, please visit www.LawBizTips.com.
To schedule an interview with Ed Poll, or to find out more about his law business consulting and coaching, please contact Carolyn McKibbin at 617-230-4886 or Carolyn@ictusinitiative.com.
|Carolyn McKibbin (Carolyn@ictusinitiative.com)
The Ictus Initiative
343 Commercial St
Boston, MA 02109
Phone : 617-230-4886
I appreciate the opportunity he gives me to expand my thoughts on this subject further. What follows is my response to Scott:
I truly enjoyed reading your comments on what I did not say; quite amusing. I think, however, that you miss the true value of blawging (blogging). It is to convey value, to convey information and to convey help to the reader. Oh, yes, it can be to vent and it can be to journal, but that was not the context in which I made my comment. Lawyers use the blawging process to communicate their existence to the world - to express their expertise so as to make prospective clients aware of them ... and, hopefully, to become clients. If this is true, and I believe it to be and can point to many examples, then it is a marketing tool. Just as large firms have marketing and business development departments, producing quality material that may or may not be written by attorneys (but for which the attorneys/law firm are responsible), so to can blogging be performed under the direction of an attorney though not written by him/her.
Attorneys do not do everything done in a law firm. That doesn't make the information or the service a "scam." There are trial briefs written by paralegals -- is this a scam? There are deposition summaries written by paralegals -- is this a scam? There are many things done for lawyers under the lawyers direction/responsibility that provide benefit for clients .. and enable lawyers to more effectively market their services to new prospects.
Take this out of the context of the law office, there are many books written for famous people that appropriately convey the intent and meaning of the "author." Are these scams? Does the public not get value in better understanding the character and message of the famous person? Lee Iacoca is one that comes to mind quickly. We learned a lot about him, his life and his message ... though he didn't write the book himself.
Blogging is not the last, great American novel ... it is a business tool. As such, one can take a business-like approach to its application. Google certainly does, so I'm not sure why you don't.
Again, thanks for writing about my belief system and allowing me the opportunity to expand on it a bit more ... though I certainly didn't say all the things you said I said. <g> Continue Reading...
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE CONTACT: Ed Poll
LAWBIZ® EXPERT RENEWED AS PROVIDER FOR LEGAL EDUCATION
Ed Poll Was Renewed as an Approved Provider of Education for California Lawyers
Venice, Calif. September 13, 2007 – California-based law practice management expert and lawyer Edward Poll was once again approved as a provider of education for lawyers licensed by the State of California for the term of September 1, 2007 to December 31, 2010.
Thus, today's article in The American Lawyer by David Brown may shock those of us who are over the age of 30!
He talks about the “paycheck report,” a survey of “mid-level” associate compensation. Associates’ paychecks exceed $200,000 per year and, in some instances, reach $350,000!
This is consistent with statistics that show experienced lawyers earning less than the public believes lawyers earn: 50% at less than $100,000 and 25% at less than $50,000!
Thus, lawyers are "between a rock and a hard place!" The public believes that figures reported in the Wall Street Journal of August 22nd to the effect that lawyers are now charging $1,000 per hour is the norm or standard. Yet, only a few lawyers are commanding that fee level, and then only in the "bet the company" kind of cases. Commoditized work cannot command that rate. Even in extraordinary matters, that rate approaches what one New York law firm partner said is clients' "vomit point."
What's in it for you? There are many reasons, but here are three:
- Enhance you uniqueness in business strategy and leadership to enhance your bottom line.
- Learn the 6-step formula for proven goal setting and high achievement, plus how to have more fun and take your practice to the next level.
- Discover five simple questions you can ask informally that can teach you so much about other people and make them feel important.
Being effective with clients, efficient in the delivery of services to clients and therefore more profitable, we are actually protecting the public by providing sufficient resources to the lawyer to feed his/her family and therefore have no need to invade the trust account funds.
To say that law is a business, a service business, is not to deny that it is also a profession rooted in the highest ideals from the very beginning of our country. Continue Reading...
Lawyers have a very difficult time truly understanding what we (lawyers) provide to clients. Clearly, this is not easy for most of us. Saying "we provide solutions" is not sufficient.
Because of this, it is difficult to differentiate ourselves from the other 1 million lawyers in this country! As the legal profession matures and lawyers come to fully understand the business-like qualities of professional service providers, being able to state the differentiation in ways clients understand may be one key to economic survival.
" ... In Alexander v. Cahill, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of New York analyzed the lawyer advertising and solicitation rules adopted by the Appellate Division of Supreme Court effective February 1, 2007. The Court upheld many of the rules, but did find some portions unconstitutional as protected free speech under the First Amendment. The decision is available online at www.nysba.org/AttyAdvCourtDecision. ... "
New York Bar committees will review the issues further in light of the Court decision and, thus, the rules are still in flux.
Join me in our next West LegalEdcenter teleseminar on July 18th -- 11 a.m. PT / 2 p.m. ET.
It shows the creativity of this young Philadelphia lawyer. My hat's off in admiration for what, based on the book store's display, is quite likely to be a very successful venture and great marketing ploy.
Florida, one of the most restrictive States in the country, follows New York's recent changes.
Thank you, Monica, for focusing more lucid comment on the advertising issues presented by the recent New York State Bar regulations.
I particularly like the focus that the Bar's energies seem to be inward-looking. As lawyers should be looking at the needs and wants of their cliens/customers, so should the Bar ... looking to the needs of its customers, lawyers. While the Bar's responsibility is to protect the public (from lawers?), the Bar also owes a responsibility to its members. Creating unmanageable requirements is not the way to protect either the public or the members/lawyers.
One doesn't have to go that far ... just look at your State Bar's disciplinary system reports. The number one complaint, by far, from clients is the lack of caring --- said in many different ways such as failure to return phone calls --
If lawyers want to stay in business, let alone become profitable and continue to grow their practices, they need to pay better attention to the needs of their clients and respond to their wants.
New York is not alone. See new rules in Kentucky. Other rules already exist in Texas and Florida. And advertising rules are being examined around the country such as in California.
Do these rules violate Free Speech? Isn't any and every communication from a lawyer intended to attract new business, directly or indirectly? Is this a slippery slope for the Bar?
1. Show up on time
2. Do what you say
3. Finish what you start
4. Say please and thank you
These are the single, simplest, most important rules to remember in dealing with all people, not just clients, in my opinion. Continue Reading...