The Wall Street Journal carried a column on November 11, 2013, “Big Law Mergers Questioned," that contained two blinding glimpses of the obvious – one explicit, one implicit. The explicit one was straightforward, yet seemed to elude the understanding of the writer: that in pursuing mergers to create ever-bigger organizations, law firms are simply following the paths of their clients. We saw this in the 1930s and 1940s and later when unions became larger in order to do battle with management. Today law firms are combining in order to be more respected, better received, and perceived as players in the corporate world. Small law firms supposedly can’t play in the same ballpark as a very large customer (corporate America).
Does merging law firms to make them bigger actually make them better? The answer is “yes” only when the parties have thought through what they want to accomplish and what synergies exist between them. One has to be old enough to recall that corporate America once thought that “bigger was better” when viewing itself. Then these conglomerates seemed to collapse of their own weight. The phrase, “getting back to core competencies,” became the watchword and large enterprises began breaking up into smaller units.
That’s where we get the second “blinding glimpse” – the smallest unit in a law firm is the lawyer. And corporate client after corporate client in the Journal article said that the individual lawyer is most important to them. “We hire lawyers, not law firms,” the GC of Hewlett Packard said flatly. There is some disagreement over this assertion.
Theoretically teams institutionalize the work done for a given client as they involve other firm lawyers in the delivery of legal services, even if one lawyer remains the client’s primary contact. But in a megafirm of thousands of lawyers, team members are interchangeable.
When you have a problem with your car, do you contact GM or Toyota headquarters, or the friendly mechanic at your neighborhood garage? Even neighborhood garages grow, but their size is infinitesimal compared to GM or Toyota. There is a limit to "bigger is better" beyond which "core competencies" begin to falter. Firms are kidding themselves if they think bigger by itself makes them better. And clients, often wanting to be close to the center of the law firm, will still engage a smaller, but yet large (regional) law firm.
Most people will agree that there are too many lawyers, an oversupply. (Parenthetically, I disagree; it seems to me that there is a dislocation between the supply and the demand for legal services, a situation that the organized bar has never been able to reconcile with successfully.) But I digress.
Assuming, for the moment, that there is an oversupply of lawyers, why should we care? Would that not mean the fees for legal services would come down? Would it not be best to let the marketplace handle supply and demand?
But, If the Bar wants to reign in the supply, how could they? Of course, get rid of some of the lawyers. (Making admission to the organized bar is another way, longer term. Economics seem to be handling this quite nicely, thank you. Law school admissions are down by 10 to 15%. Applications hit a 30 year low. Potential law students understand that spending many thousands of dollars to take the gamble that they will not be able to get a well-paying job at the end of three years is a fool’s gamble.)
Economics, once again, helps us answer the question of how to reduce the supply. There are more than 1 million lawyers in the United States. Of this group, it has been estimated that at least one half of this group are sole practitioners. Another statistic suggests that at least 400,000 lawyers will retire by the year 2020.
If we look at this latter group, and suggest that we treat it any differently than any other group in the organized bar, we would be accused of ageism, and prohibited discrimination. However, if we come up with a metric that is applicable to all lawyers, such as “competence,” then we are safe. Of course, if this metric also achieves our basic goal of reducing the number of lawyers available to serve clients, so much the better.
But, this metric is never applied uniformly. If we look at new lawyers, those who have been admitted to practice for three years or less, I am sure we will find many who are not “competent,” despite the fact that they have passed the bar exam. How many times have "mature" lawyers said, mostly to themselves, that they were happy that they were not the client "back then," that they didn't know enough to be really competent to handle the matter they did .... that they learned "on the job."
What is the 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? Nowhere in the time spectrum of a lawyer’s career is there a requirement for such an examination.
How many times have you, as an adversary, said to yourself my opponent is not very good? In fact, how many times have you said my opponent is not “competent?” Until the appropriate metric can be accepted and applied throughout the entire career life cycle, it seems to this writer that the real focus should be on meeting the needs of our clients who are not served or who are under-served, making sure that all lawyers, young and old alike, are “competent” and move away from even the appearance of ageism.
Ed offers 5 ways to increase your law firm's revenue.
1. Emphasize collections.
2. Hire lateral lawyers to meet specific demands, a new practice area, a new need.
3. Leverage technology.
4. Create a cooperative compensation model that emphasizes the law firm as an institution.
5. Outsource functions that are better done by others. Delegate.
The following note is prompted by the comments of Susan Cartier Liebel of Solo Practice University® and her post about Kimberly, a young mother who just gave birth to her third child and was a 3L law student at Stetson. She became ill but failed to go to a doctor to address her own health. She was busy with her family and "stuff."
This is for all of you out there whether lawyer or law student, mother or father, who puts
themselves last. You put off going to the doctor for that chronic cough while you rush your child to the pediatrician for a hang nail. You eat your cold dinner out of a jar standing up and talking on the phone while you make sure your child’s meal is hot and she’s seated lest she choke on her food. You do so because ‘you can handle it’. Well, here’s the truth. You can’t.
You can’t care for your kids or your spouse if you break down physically. You can’t care for your clients if you don’t take time to reinvigorate and refresh. Remember the airline admonition: Put your air mask on first and then help your child and others around you. None of us are superhuman or immortal. There is nothing more important than your health, no final, no brief, no exam, no trial, no event. Remember this the next time you get no sleep or ignore that persistent cough or inexplicable pain in your side because ‘you don’t have time’ to slow down. Remember you can break down, too. No machine and certainly no human can work without stop and without repair from time to time.
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.
Virtual veterinarian faces a legal test in Texas. He moved his practice online and talked to distressed pet owners by email and telephone. He charged a flat fee, generally, and recommended treatment options. The Texas State Board of Veterinary Medical Examiners suspended his license for violating the state law that prevents veterinarians from setting up a medical relationship solely by telephone or electronic means.
The AVMA claims that it is protecting the public's interest. The vet claims that the regulation is intended to protect the brick-and-mortar veterinarian practices.
Does this sound familiar? Every Bar regulation that I've ever reviewed (or testified against) has been sustained on the basis of protecting the public. Where are the interests of the membership, the very professionals who pay dues to keep staff employed? These interests seem to be relegated to the back of the bus, if not ignored completely. In the legal community, this "ship" has sailed. I don't think anyone would claim that a "virtual" law practice is illegal. It will be interesting to see how the Texas court rules in this matter.
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.
Life After Law, What Will You Do For the Next 6000 Days? My soon- to-be-released book is a guide to why aging baby boomer lawyers should be planning for their next career. The ABA has concluded that 400,000 lawyers will retire in the next 10 years. That is equivalent to the entire membership of the ABA, the largest volunteer organization in the world!
According to a different report, without reference to law, 10,000 people retire daily!
Look for a dramatic change in our culture as we seek to learn how to live longer, productive lives in different careers. Of course, the economy will also change as older folks become the dominant consumers in this country.
At the end of the day, the value of our law practice is based on our success and the many people we have touched over the years. This is a significant legacy we will leave on retiring from the practice.
Most lawyers all around the country with whom I've spoken don't understand this and can't comprehend even the possibility that their many years of effort may actually have produced a monetizeable value of some significance. This value can enhance their retirement. It is a challenge to overcome such deep-seeded beliefs among many Baby-Boomers as they get ready to move on to their second season. This is the difference between personal goodwill and organizational goodwill. There is more of the latter than most people believe.
My conversations have convinced me that the most feared word in the English language is “retirement.” That may contribute to the refusal to consider an alternative to closing the office; we will maintain our office and work until our last breath. It is possible, however, to do both! The sale or merger of your law practice, rather than the closing of the office, should be an alternative that is kept open for your consideration.
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 reveals the communication tools professionals can use to guarantee their work.
In today’s Wall Street Journal, staff writer, Jacqueline Palank discusses the Justice Department’s attempt to control fees that bankruptcy lawyers seek. Creditors and employees may, at times, be a bit disgruntled by such fees. So, now, the U.S. Trustee Program appears to be entering the fray.
Before going further, it should be noted that i) any fee sought by an attorney must first be approved by the client going into bankruptcy; ii) the fee cannot be paid before a Bankruptcy Court Judge approves the fee request; iii) the legal fees most often are a pittance compared to the debts of the company and thus have little or no impact on either the creditors or the employees. In fact, the current proposal is limited to companies whose assets and debts exceed $50 million, hardly your "normal" bankruptcy.
The only reason for focusing on the legal fees is that this is a topic that makes good reading in the tabloids, including the WSJ. While the quoted hourly rate received by some attorneys seems high, by comparing this to the compensation received by incompetent CEOs and others in the C-suite offices, it is insignificant. Why don’t the tabloids focus on the cause of the bankruptcy? Why not focus on the compensation of the management team, oftentimes earning historically astronomically higher multiples compared the lowest paid employees of the company? Why not seek redress against the management that is responsible for bringing the company to its knees? Although this focus may be more important for us to understand how our economic system works, it clearly is not sexy enough to sell many papers.
The U.S. Trustee is proposing, according to the writer, several new approaches to control lawyers’ fees, including:
• Though the lawyer applicant must disclose his/her hourly rate now, the Department wants the lawyer to disclose the lowest, highest and average hourly rates the law firm charges in all its matters.
• The Department wants the lawyer applicant to create and disclose to the Court a budget for legal expenses. This budget would, necessarily, disclose to all involved, including the creditors who are adversaries of the bankrupt, the legal strategy to be engaged in by the client.
In the 1960s, the Supreme Court ruled that it was anti-competitive for bar associations to maintain a listing of suggested fees for different types of work. This listing, in particular, helped younger and newer lawyers set their fees at rates that were more in line with more senior lawyers. Not having such a list would compel lawyers to set their own fees, the theory being that lawyers would then be more competitive with one another to the consumers’ benefit. The Trustee by its first proposal ignores this. The existing disclosure already provides information that tends to be anti-competitive. Law firms can see what others are charging and price their services accordingly, causing rates to slowly increase over the years.
Intruding into practice areas, such as general business matters, estate planning, tax work, and other areas of work performed by the firms who also do bankruptcy work has no bearing on the special expertise of large company bankruptcy lawyers. No area of law other than bankruptcy requires such disclosure for court approval. Fees are left to be negotiated between attorney and client. Other than precedent, there is no reason disclosure should be made here either. But, the process should not be extended. “Transparency” is a bogus issue. This is not some backroom conspiracy. All the proceedings are public and must be approved by the Court before attorneys are paid anything.
Budgets are good. I recommend them to my attorney-clients with whom I consult. This is a process, however, between the client and the attorney. By requiring that these budgets, which reveal legal strategy, be made public, the U.S. Trustee is saying that bankrupt companies have no rights. They have no right to advocacy; they have no right to develop a strategy that might affect creditors' claims; and they have no right of privacy. This is clearly contrary to the U.S. Constitution and our entire judicial system. While the bankrupts, and their inept management, may have proceeded down an economically unwise path, they still have rights to seek the best of what is left to them in their economic environment.
Don’t worry about the lawyers hourly rates once the bankruptcy petition is filed. They are regulated first, by the client, and second, by the Court. Who is watching the compensation of the management team before they enter bankruptcy? Why are they not punished with fines, or worse, for malfeasance and negligent management tactics? Why are they allowed to benefit so expansively at the expense of their workers? Why don’t the tabloids focus their sharp light there?
Oh, I forgot, the tabloids need to sell papers, they are part of the industrial complex that both Presidents Washington and Eisenhower warned us about as they left office.
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.
Departures from large law firms continue. And more than one person is now asking what is the "normal" rate of departures? One estimate suggested 7%.
We are living in an environment that many people call a “new normal.” Our economy, as well as the legal community, has been turned upside down in the last couple of years. There is no ”typical” answer that has emerged yet. Departures are sometimes voluntary for better opportunities (or retirement) and sometimes involuntary where law firms are seeking to adjust their supply of lawyers with their clients’ demand.
As I mentioned in a recent interview in the New York Times, older lawyers are being asked to leave law firms when their productivity declines. That didn't happen so frequently in the past. Generally, the age factor is only coincidental with the decrease in productivity. Though sometimes it is directly correlated because of a change in attitude by the experienced practitioner who wants to slow down and spend more time in other adventures. This tends to be a personal decision, not a trend. We have many lawyers in their 70s and 80s still active and capable contributors to their clients and the profession.
At the other end of the spectrum, newer lawyers who are not asked to become a partner in a firm believe their opportunities will be greater with another firm. They seek to make a lateral transfer from their existing firm to another one. The second law firm may accept them because they see a skilled practitioner, someone who received training at the expense of another law firm, who will fill a gap in their business model. This comes when they want to grow and enhance their capacity for clients or begin a new practice area to enhance their service offerings for existing clients. The nes lateral fits well under these circumstances.
Then, there are the new law school graduates who are finding the pipeline from education to practice being clogged up by the decrease in client demands and oversupply in some law firms. It will take several years for this phenomenon to adjust. Until then, I don’t think we can say there is a “typical” law firm departure rate.
Bob Denney says "... “70% of the managing partners [or CEOs] do not have a job description and most partners do not know what their MP does. In addition, in firms of more than 100 lawyers, only 10% have full-time managing partners.”
No wonder that in 1995, the USPO concurred with me that "The Business of Law" was a unique phrase and granted my request for a registered mark. Major law firms still, as Denny confirms, require that "managing partners" maintain a full client load of billable time. There may be some concessions, but by and large, they are evaluated on their client production rather than their effectiveness in keeping the firm together and moving forward.
I think of the analogy with Lee Iococca. Though he was given credit for designing and producing the Mustang, he could no longer perform the design or product management functions in his position as CEO and later Chairman of Chrysler. How is it that law firms believe the managing partner (CEO) of a multi-million dollar professional service organization can do more than an industry giant?
More than 23% of the Washington State Bar Association, a mandatory bar, are 60 years or older. Several years ago, the American Bar Association, a voluntary bar, estimated that 400,000 lawyers would retire in the next 10 years. For the ABA, that’s equal to its entire membership. And that's equal to about 40% of all lawyers and a majority of private practitioners.
How will the ABA, in effect, replace itself? Will the WSBA replace these 23% as they leave the practice? Law school admissions are down by more than 10%. Will our recent economic turmoil be played out in the supply and demand of legal services? This is the 50,000 foot, or macro, perspective.
At the ground level, lawyers in the Baby Boomer generation will need to look at their “second season.” What plans do they have for their future? Or, as I ask myself each day, “What do I want to be when I grow up?” What is it that “turns me on?” What do I enjoy doing? How is it that I want to make a contribution?
One-third of the 23% in Washington have said, their “exit strategy” from the practice of law is to “die at their desk.” In cowboy literature, it’s the equivalent of “dying in one’s boots.” In other words, doing what they're doing is what they love doing and that is how they want to be remembered, not as a faded shadow of themselves in retirement. Some might say that it is a shame that that is all they have, their law practice. On the other hand, think of the valuable contribution they're making to the lives of all their clients. Better that than nothing. Better that than feeling useless. Better that than aging overnight because your hobby and profession, one and the same, were removed from you.
A friend, and former trial court judge in California, Ellen Peck developed the idea of an “Estate Plan for the law practice.” She says it’s equivalent to malpractice not to plan for how one’s clients will be served in the event of death or disability of the lawyer.
Recently, I was engaged by the family of a deceased lawyer to value the practice and assist in its sale. On inspection, we found that there were inadequate time records; a trust account that was in shambles and needed an audit to reconstruct and reconciled; and inadequate client records to know precisely what had been done and yet needed to be done. This is a perfect example of where an “estate plan” for the law practice would have served everyone’s interests, the family, the clients and the judicial system.
Those lawyers who fail to address this issue put their families and loved ones at risk. Not only will the family have to deal with the emotional trauma of a sudden death, they will also have to deal with the economic turmoil left by the lawyer. If negligence is found after the lawyer’s death, or if the lawyer failed to balance the clients’ trust account (to the penny!), the family could be responsible.
In the case of a famous actor, who was educated as a lawyer, he failed to have an estate plan ... and his family paid the consequences (estate taxes). This left quite a hole in the wealth of the family. Fortunately in this case, there were no other repercussions. But, this result is not necessary.
Do all lawyers need to have a succession plan was one question raised in my recent WSBA presentation. Yes, and no. No, in the sense that some lawyers … those lawyers in firms … will have other lawyers in their immediate environment to take on his/her practice and files. Thus, the lawyers will be protected. The interests of the lawyers will be protected and the heirs will receive their appropriate due. This assumes, of course, that the firm has addressed the issue of how to compensate the lawyer for the value of his practice. That, unfortunately, is not always the case. But at least, the files will be parsed out and the clients protected.
One-third of the lawyers in WSBA … and more in the ABA … are sole practitioners. They must have a plan or force their heirs and loved ones to close their office and transition their clients to other lawyers who can serve their interests.
And Yes in the sense that all lawyers need to decide when to retire … to leave the practice … how they will do that, whether by merely closing the doors (a tragedy in my opinion) or selling the practice … and what they will do in their “second season.”
One WSBA member said we’ve always gone TO somewhere. We went to grade school, went to high school, went to college, went to law school … became a lawyer … and now, what will we do … where will we be going TO? That is a question that all lawyers must address … or “die at their desk.”
Venice, CA – June 6, 2011. Award-winning law business management coach and consultant Ed Poll is bringing his nationally recognized practices, tips and advice to bar associations, law schools and other top venues across America this summer.
The tour will include 15-20 stops throughout the US from June through September 2011, starting on the West Coast and heading East. Tentative tour stops include Portland, Seattle, the San Francisco Bay Area, San Jose, Dallas, Oklahoma City, Kansas City, Chicago, Nashville, Memphis, Columbus, Cleveland, Washington, DC, Atlanta, Philadelphia, New York City and Boston. For more information about the tour, please go to www.lawbiz.com/roadshow
The tour, which is sponsored by Fujitsu ScanSnap and others, will include presentations for CLE credit on law practice management issues, on topics such as Managing Client Expectations, Collecting Fees and Getting Paid, Metrics of Financial Performance, Tips for Increased Revenue, and The Exit Strategy: Succession & Retirement.
Presentations will include time for Q&A and will be followed by a special Coach’s Corner coaching session. In this unique format, Ed will offer coaching help to one or two attendees about their specific law business management issues, within the group context. This allows the entire audience to watch the interaction and consider how they may apply the discussion to their own specific situation.
“For the first time in American history, thousands of lawyers have been laid-off,” said Ed Poll. “Lawyers need to know more about The Business of Law® in order to survive, let alone thrive, by effectively meeting the needs and expectations of clients. This tour will help address many of the challenges facing the sole practitioners and small firms today.”
About Ed Poll
Recently quoted in the New York Times and the ABA Journal, Ed Poll, founder of LawBiz Management, is a nationally recognized expert in law practice management. He helps attorneys and law firms increase their profitability by consulting with them on issues of internal operations, business development, and financial matters. Poll 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 2010, he received the first ever Lifetime Achievement Award from the California Bar Association’s Law Practice Management and Technology Section.
Poll is the author of numerous publications that have become the definitive works in the field, including 18 books, CDs and DVD collections. His newest offerings are Growing Your Law Practice in Tough Times (West Publishing, 2010) and 8 Steps to Greater Profitability: The Lawyer’s Guide to Prosperity (LawBiz Management, 2011). He has also authored books on business planning for attorneys, improving collections, buying and selling law practices, disaster preparedness and recovery, and exit strategies for legal practitioners. His offerings are available at LawBizStore.com.
Poll hosts the LawBiz Forum, an interactive community for the legal profession, as well as the LegalPadTM video series. He is a columnist for several publications geared to the legal community, including the Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly and Legal Management, and hosts regular webinars for West Legal Management. Poll earned BS and JD degrees from the University of California, Los Angeles, and an MBA from the University of Southern California.
About LawBiz Management
LawBiz Management is the nation’s leading firm dedicated to managing the Business of Law® . The company focuses on helping lawyers reach their goals and law firms improve their practices by increasing revenues, improving profits, and reducing the stress of the practice experienced by lawyers. Among the services offered are coaching, consulting, speaking and managing firm retreats. LawBiz Management also consults on the buying and selling of law practices.
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?
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?
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.
A major player in the IP field announced that its merger plans with another IP firm have been called off. The assertion is that there were conflicts issues with one major client that could not be resolved and the client would not waive the conflict. While I may be dubious about the veracity of this assertion, sitting on the outside, it does happen.
But, then the firm announces that "... the downturn in patent litigation persists, with fewer cases being filed and more settling earlier.... (C)ases coming in are smaller with tighter budgets and leaner staffing expectations...." And this results in firings/terminations/layoffs (say it anyway you want, the people are gone) of lawyers and staff. In other words, the troubled economy is still having its impact on law firms.
So far, so good. But, then the firm also announces that it sees an increase in patent prosecution, counseling and reexamination work, particularly in the electronics and software practice and the firm will hire first-year associates. Again, from the outside, it looks like the firm is firing experienced lawyers who get paid 3X and will hire first year associates who will get paid 1X. You fill in the numbers. When industry does this, it's called "age discrimination." It may also be called "stupid" because it negatively impacts the morale of the organization ... and you don't build a loyal, cohesive and capable workforce by seeking the least expensive team members. Why couldn't the firm offer the presumably lower paying jobs to the experienced folks? In this economy, they might not like it, but they'd rather stay employed and working with colleagues they know and like and trust. And, the organization will look like a caring place to work, making needed economic changes but also sensitive to the needs of its current work force.
Just seems to me to be a better way to do things. And, at the very least, the PR ineptness of these announcements coming on the heels of one another is just astounding.
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?"
Doctors, like lawyers, have little or no business education in medical/law school. Today's Wall Street Journal (Education for Executives) discusses doctors journey back to school (business) in order to learn skills that were omitted from their medical education. They need these skills in order to run their medical practices, medical groups and hospitals.
Doctors outreach for management training demonstrates a recent shift in thinking: "...we are much more similar to other businesses that we are different." Taking the business side of medicine more seriously can benefit not only doctors, but also patients, a fact slowly being understood in the medical profession.
Why is it that doctors are ahead of lawyers in this understanding? Why is it that medical schools are incorporating management principles into their teaching and few, if any, law schools do? Why is it that lawyers continue to be reactive, rather than be proactive? Worse still, why is it that lawyers fail to react to their clients wishes? Bar disciplinary proceedings continue to show that more than 50% of clients' complaints relate to poor management practices. Why?
Can you imagine that Twitter, WITHOUT any revenue stream, is valued at $1Billion! Wow. Not many employees and no revenue stream ... and no prospects in sight to get revenue.
Just think what your law firm, with a decent revenue stream, might be worth? What is the difference? And why isn't your firm worth $1B?
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!
What are you doing about recruiting? Most of the larger firms have either delayed entry of those to whom they extended offers ... by a few months, at least. And some have outplaced these folks to public interest activities for a year with only a stipend.
More law schools are experiencing reduced recruiting efforts ... And the real hurt will be felt by 1L students because of the blockage in 3L and 2L's.
What do you see for the future recruiting efforts for your firm and for the industry?
And how does this phenomenon impact the recruiting of lateral associates/partners to smaller law firms?
NEW ONLINE FORUM LAUNCHES FOR LEGAL PROFESSIONALS
Ed Poll Unveils LawBiz® Forum as New Online Community
VENICE, CA MAY 5, 2009 - Nationally recognized law firm management expert Ed Poll, JD, MBA, CMC, announced today the launch of www.LawBizForum.com, an online destination for lawyers, sole practitioners, partners, managing partners, of-counsel and in-house counsel, and others who are members of the legal community providing services to the American people.
LawBiz® Forum will promote discussion about issues that enable lawyers to more effectively and efficiently deliver their services to their clients, such as management, marketing, technology and finance, and others. LawBiz® Forum is a place where the legal community can exchange ideas and techniques in order to improve the personal and professional lives of its members.
“Law is an honorable profession. Only lawyers are given the unique responsibility in the United States Constitution to help those accused of a crime, a fundamental right guaranteed to all citizens,” remarks Poll. “This helping, caring nature of the legal community sometimes is forgotten by the psychological, social, and economic pressures facing lawyers, and I created this forum so that we can care for each other.”
LawBiz® Forum will have several levels of membership. All visitors to the site can review the discussions at no cost. However, members will be able to contribute to the discussions, participate in exclusive webinars, and have online access to Poll’s books and audio products.
In addition to LawBiz® Forum, Ed has a popular YouTube Channel and has also started to use Twitter as a way to reach out to the cyber sphere.
About Ed Poll
Ed Poll, J.D., M.B.A., 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. Poll 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 lawyers, speaking, and writing.
Poll is the author of numerous publications that have become the definitive works in the legal field, including: Law Firm Fees & Compensation: Value and Growth Dynamics (LawBiz© Management Co. 2008), Attorney & Law Firm Guide to The Business of Law: Planning and Operating for Survival and Growth, 2nd ed. (American Bar Assoc. 2003); The Profitable Law Office Handbook: Attorney’s Guide to Successful Business Planning (LawBiz® Management Co. 1996); Secrets of the Business of Law®: Successful Practices for Increasing Your Profits! (LawBiz® Management Co. 1998)