General Practice, Solo & Small Firm DivisionTechnology & Practice Guide

Solo/News for Solo Practitioners

A Little Insight into Your Audience You're presenting a talk on tax how-to's at your local library (a good way to meet potential clients). Wouldn't you like to have a general idea of what your audience wants you to do? Here are some educated guesses, based on a study by a professor of marketing at Northern Illinois University.

  • Be available before and after your talk to answer questions and review important points.
  • Use effective visuals, and know how they "work" ahead of time. Audiences like visuals, but they aren't too fond of speakers who can't get the slide show going, the videotape to rewind, the movie screen to lower, and so on.
  • Encourage audience participation in whatever way seems appropriate. Audiences like speakers who provide more than a straight lecture.
  • Be sure you have mastered your subject, but keep in mind that your audience hasn't, and you'll have to present it at a level they can understand.
Source: Creative Training Techniques.

When Deciding Which Law Books to Buy, Spend a Little to Save a Lot The cost of law books has risen more than 500 percent in the past 20 years, according to the Law Library Journal. The average law firm spends more than $2,000 per lawyer on legal publications. Most solos probably spend more (a minimum number of books are necessary no matter how many lawyers are in the office).

A good way to ensure that your own purchasing decisions are sound--and to know what new books are out there--is to read reviews of law books. The following are three publications devoted primarily or exclusively to publishing reviews of law books. Reviewers include experienced practitioners, law professors, and reference librarians.

  1. 1. The Bimonthly Review of Law Books, published six times a year (Fred B. Rothman & Co.), reviews contemporary works--from treatises to novels--on a variety of legal topics. It also includes abstracts of reviews published elsewhere. Subscriptions are $85 per year. To subscribe, or for more information, call 800/457-1986; fax to 303/978-1457.
  2. Legal Information Alert, published 10 times a year (Alert Publications, Inc.), is geared toward librarians and legal researchers. Each issue contains about a dozen brief book reviews and some articles on what's new in legal publications, databases, and research techniques. Subscriptions are $157 per year. To subscribe, or for more information, call 312/525-7594; fax to 312/525-7015. An electronic version of this publication is available via NewsNet; call 800/952-0122 for more information.
  3. Law Books in Review, a quarterly (Glanville Publishers Inc.), reviews about 40 law and law-related books in each issue, and provides more coverage of foreign publications than the other newsletters on this list. Subscriptions are $75 per year ($65 plus shipping and handling). To subscribe, or for more information, call 914/693-8100; fax to 914/693-0402.
You may be able to find these publications at your local law library. If not, you may want to pass along this list with your recommendation for purchase.

Source: N. O. Stockmeyer, Jr., professor of law, Thomas M. Cooley Law School, Lansing, Michigan.

Never Met a Reporter You Liked? Read On...
The relationship between most lawyers and most reporters is less than harmonious--a typical lawyer wants to say one thing and a typical reporter wants to hear another.

There are lots of ways a lawyers can ease this tension and, at the same time, pass along the information he or she wants the reporter to hear. For starters: "Be honest enough with yourself to address the questions you dread, as well as those you welcome," says Susan Silk, president of the Media Strategies Training Center in Chicago. "It's just like preparing a witness for cross examination. There is no excuse for being taken by surprise."

Silk urges lawyers to think about interviews with the media as dialogues, opportunities for discussion. To prepare, she suggests you:

  • Develop a 20-word message that summarizes why the case is significant; write it on an index card and put the card in your pocket.
  • Make a list of the five questions the reporter is likely to ask and prepare a response for each.
  • Make a list of the five questions you would like the reporter to ask and write them on the back of the index card (the one in your pocket). These are the five points you should insist on making during the interview.
To ensure you get a chance to make them, Silk recommends the following tactics:
  1. Bridging. Always answer the question that has been asked, but in the course of answering, try to work in one of your five points. Avoid a common mistake: Don't raise your point before you answer the reporter's question. If you do, you will appear combative and evasive, and the reporter will focus all the more intently on his or her initial question.
  2. Hooking. This is a way of ensuring that the reporter allows you to answer fully before he or she interrupts you with another question. For example, if the reporter asks why the case is important, you can begin your answer with something like, "This case has three critical elements." Because you announced up front that you have three points to make, the reporter will be less likely to cut you off before you get to the third point.

    However, "hooking" won't work if you spend 15 minutes expounding on each point. Be concise.

    3. Flagging. This is a way of letting the reporter know what you think is important. "You have to remember that these reporters aren't attorneys and sometimes they're looking for guidance," Silk says. If the reporter asks one of the questions you wanted to answer--one you wrote on the index card--let the reporter know that he or she has hit on something significant. It can't hurt.

Source: Lawyers Weekly USA, August 14, 1995.

A Staff Primer on Bankruptcy Law
Even the most competent new-hire can't master the basics of consumer bankruptcy law without training. You can train the new employee yourself, or you can check out the new, hour-long videotape designed to train new employees for you: "Basics of Consumer Bankruptcy" by Forms of Law, Inc., of Hopkins, Minnesota.

The tape covers key terms, processes, and procedures, including:

  • Chapters 7 and 13
  • the client interview
  • assets and liabilities; debts and liens
  • initial and partial filings
  • Schedules A through J
  • Chapter 13 Plan
  • the Automatic Stay
  • exemptions; dischargeable and nondischargeable debts
  • discharge, conversion, dismissal
The tape features attorney Thomas J. Lallier of Foley & Mansfield, PLLP, Minneapolis, a member of the ABA's Consumer Bankruptcy Committee and a frequent lecturer on bankruptcy issues.

The cost of the tape is $119 plus shipping and handling. To order, or for more information, call 612/931-0084.

Source: Forms of Law

The Employee Interview: If You Ask a Dumb Question...
There's a little bit of art involved in interviewing prospective employees. The better your questions, the better the answers you'll receive. The following is a list of typical questions and suggested rewrites to make them stronger:

  1. Are you pleased with your career so far? How about: Where would you like to go from here in your career and how do you plan to accomplish your goals?
  2. Can you learn complex material quickly? How about: What kinds of materials do you feel you learn best?
  3. Do you find it easy to work with your supervisor? How about: In what ways do you and your current supervisor think alike? How do you differ?
  4. Do you work well with people? How about: How did you handle an important relationship you had to maintain?
  5. Can you take criticism? How about: How do you react when someone criticizes you?
  6. Can you make decisions? How about: What do you do when you have to make an important decision?
Source: The Hiring, Firing (and Everything in Between) Personnel Forms Book by James Jenks (Round Lake Publishing).

A Lot Like a House Call (Except for the Cows)
A while back, when there were lots of clients and not so many lawyers, a solo could count on his or her phone ringing. But these days, with clients fewer and farther between and lawyers more numerous than ever, solos have to learn a thing or two about marketing: placing ads in the Yellow Pages, volunteering to do committee work at the local bar, splurging for spiffy new business cards. Sound familiar?

A couple of Lansing, Michigan, lawyers have come up with a new solution--barn calls. It's based on a simple idea: When the client won't come to you, go to the client.

Since September, lawyers Dan Kraft and Jo Anne Buberniak have been holding "office hours" one Saturday a month at the Weldon Farm in nearby Webberville, Michigan. Farmers can stop by (and they have) to talk about such matters as farm reorganizations, estate and business planning, and collections. No appointment is necessary and the first consultation is free. Kraft and Buberniak came up with the concept after hearing area farmers complain about the inconvenience of having to take time away from daily farm chores to travel to Lansing to see a lawyer. Kraft specializes in agricultural law; Buberniak specializes in estate planning and equine law.

Both are enthusiastic about their new marketing idea. "It's very nice to provide legal services in this environment," says Buberniak. "I think our guests...appreciate the relaxed and serene atmosphere we can provide here."

Source: A. J. Evenson in the Lansing State Journal, November 5, 1995.

Your Real Estate Clients Will Thank You
If part of your practice involves real estate transactions, take a look at the new ABA booklet, "Buying or Selling Your Home." The 32-page booklet will bring your clients up to speed on the basics of buying and selling real estate. It covers the purchase contract, mortgages, common interest ownership (condos, co-ops), buying on contract, tax aspects, and title considerations. Plus, it provides definitions of common real estate terms and includes a section on special concerns of senior citizens.

"Buying or Selling Your Home" was published as a public service by the ABA Standing Committee on Lawyers' Title Guaranty Funds. Each copy is $2 plus shipping and handling; discounts are available for bulk orders. To order, call 312/988-5522.

Wise Workers Know: There's More than One Way To Be Productive
Whether a firm has ten lawyers or two (or even just one and his or her support staff), the failure to pay attention to different personality types can result in crippling miscommunication.

Lawrence Richard, a litigator-turned-organizational psychologist, helps law firms identify and work effectively with divergent personalities. His company, Richard Consulting Group in suburban Philadelphia, uses a psychological model known as the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator.

The Myers-Briggs divides perception into four broad categories, each with two opposing styles. It is not a test to determine abnormal personalities, and there is no right or wrong style, according to Richard. It's a tool for helping people learn more about themselves and about how they interact with others.

Briefly, the Myers-Briggs types are:

  • One's source of energy. Extroverts are more comfortable in the external world; draw energy from social interaction. Introverts are more comfortable in the internal world; draw energy from within.
  • How one gathers information. Sensors perceive the world around them in terms of facts, observations, and measurements. Intuitives perceive the world more broadly; think in an abstract, impressionistic manner; prefer to read between the lines for deeper meaning and draw intuitive conclusions.
  • How one makes decisions: Thinkers make decisions in a detached, objective, and logical fashion. Feelers make decisions subjectively, based on personal values and attitudes.
  • How one deals with people, information, and deadlines: Judgers tend to be decisive and methodical; cannot tolerate people who don't get to the point immediately. Perceivers tend to be spontaneous and roll with the punches; like to improvise; leave things to the last minute.
The difference between "thinkers" and "feelers" is particularly important in law firms, Richard says. The key element in this category is its egocentricity: Thinkers assume everyone is driven by logic and they demean anyone who lacks a logical explanation for his or her decisions. Yet "feelers" perceive "thinkers" to be insensitive and out of touch.

Most people have some of every type, Richard says. The differences come in which traits dominate and to what degree.

Firms can take steps to enhance awareness of personality differences. Some opt for seminars or out-of-office retreats; some hire consultants like Richard to administer and interpret personality tests. Other firms, such as Calhoun & Stacy, a 19-lawyer firm in Dallas, have hired a psychologist to sit in on firm meetings and do what is essentially "family" counseling.

The goal of each of these methods is the same: to teach everyone involved that people think and listen in fundamentally different ways. To communicate effectively with others, a person must understand his or her own style as well as the style of the people around him or her.

Source: Bill Ibelle in Lawyers Weekly USA, October 23, 1995.

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