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   March 2002


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Getting Ahead In the Business of Practicing Law

Quick Tips

How-to Advice for Solos and Small Firms, Managing Partners, Experienced Lawyers and Young Lawyers

The ABA Law Practice Management Section is the place to go for both innovative and practical information on marketing, management and technology, enabling legal professionals to better serve clients, achieve career goals and balance their lives.

Quick Tips: Solos & Small Firm Practitioners

Recompense in gentler ways. Don’t necessarily believe salary studies. These studies are often limited to the largest firms or contain self-reported results, driving up the numbers. Compensate for a lack of cash with a congenial atmosphere, low stress and other low-cost benefits. Many will opt for lower wages in exchange for lowered blood pressure.

Adapted from Running a Law Practice on a Shoestring by Theda C. Snyder. ABA Law Practice Management Section, 1997.

Reel them in with attention. Take the time to get to know each client’s needs and give them extra attention. Established lawyers are often too busy to pay attention to smaller clients. A prospective client may like the idea of being a big fish in your small pond. Point out that you will handle the work personally, not turn it over to a junior associate as often happens in larger firms.

Adapted from How to Build and Manage an Entertainment Law Practice by Gary Greenberg. ABA Law Practice Management Section, 2001.

Check your card fees. Credit card issuers that impose an annual fee may waive it for good customers. If you have been paying an annual fee, call customer service to request a fee waiver and explain you will stop using the card if you don’t get the waiver.

Adapted from Running a Law Practice on a Shoestring by Theda C. Snyder. ABA Law Practice Management Section, 1997.

Quick Tips: Young Lawyers

Conduct an effective long-distance job search. Review your resume. Is it reader-friendly to employers in this particular location? Have you included your ties or connections to this location? Do you mention your knowledge of industries that are part of this area’s economy? Is your bar admission status for this state included? Incorporate the right info.

Adapted from Changing Jobs: A Handbook for Lawyers in the New Millennium, 3rd edition, edited by Heidi McNeil Staudenmaier. ABA Law Practice Management Section, 1999.

Use strong leads in articles. The lead of an article hooks readers. It catches their eye. The lead should contain (or head directly into) the main problem the article addresses. Common lead examples are: stories or anecdotes, quotes, statistics, startling or provocative statements, and metaphors and analogies.

Adapted from "Successful Publication Writing: 11 Tips and Tricks from the Editorial Trenches" by Harald Johnson. Law Practice Quarterly, February 2002.

Keep first meetings simple. When prospective clients call you or come into your office, all they really want to know is whether you will help them. In advising clients at that first meeting, your job is simply to do the following:

1. Answer their questions.

2. Tell them whether you can help them.

3. Do what you say you will do.

Adapted from How to Build and Manage a Personal Injury Practice by K. William Gibson. ABA Law Practice Management Section, 1997.

Quick Tips: Managing Partners

What’s your medical leave policy? Remember that the Federal Family and Medical Leave Act applies only to employers with 50 or more employees. Many firms not subject to the federal or local acts nevertheless adopt a Family and Medical Leave of Absence Policy. Check with your state laws first to determine if you have specific requirements.

Adapted from Law Office Procedures Manual for Solos and Small Firms, 2nd edition, by Demetrios Dimitriou. ABA Law Practice Management Section, 2000.

Guard privacy of electronic media. It’s important to emphasize in your employee manual that a firm’s lawyers and employees waive any right to privacy in anything they create, store, send or receive on the firm’s computers, computer systems or the Internet accessed using firm equipment or other assets.

Adapted from Law Office Procedures Manual for Solos and Small Firms, 2nd edition, by Demetrios Dimitriou. ABA Law Practice Management Section, 2000.

Dress with success. With dress codes, it’s best not to emphasize specific clothing requirements to avoid charges of discrimination or violation of relevant federal or local state laws. Instead, set appropriate dress standards by example, consistent within your own professional community and the public image of your firm.

Adapted from Law Office Procedures Manual for Solos and Small Firms, 2nd edition, by Demetrios Dimitriou. ABA Law Practice Management Section, 2000.

Quick Tips: Experienced Lawyers

Listen Up There are three levels of listening in which we engage:

Level One: This type of listening is empathetic, nonjudgmental and truly attentive.

Level Two: At this level, we hear the words but aren’t truly listening. We make little effort to understand the speaker’s intent.

Level Three: We listen in spurts. We tune in and out, allowing ourselves to be distracted.

At different times, we all experience listening at each of these levels. The goal, however, is to eliminate listening at level three, reduce the time we spend at level two and maximize our efforts at becoming level one listeners.

Adapted from "Listening Well" by George W. Kaufman. Law Practice Management, April 2001.

Promote from the inside. Do not underestimate the power of promoting yourself internally at your law firm. Your partners and associates could be a great source of referrals. Take time to get to know them. Moreover, let them get to know you. Invite a lawyer from your firm to a presentation you are giving. Promoting your expertise internally to your firm is just as important as promoting yourself externally to your target market.

Adapted from "How to Win Clients and Influence Peers: The Power of Public Relations" by Sharen Viola. Law Practice Quarterly, December 2001.

Call their bluff. The "check is in the mail" excuse only works if you allow it. When you hear the excuse, affirm what the client says: "Okay. If you mailed that check on Thursday, it will arrive here no later than Monday. I’ll mark my file for Monday." Then use a tickler system to follow up exactly when you said you would. Once the client realizes he or she can’t bluff on payment arrangements, you are more likely to get paid.

Adapted from Running a Law Practice on a Shoestring by Theda C. Snyder. ABA Law Practice Management Section, 1997.

Further Reading

Unlock the Latest Technology from ABATECHSHOW® Program materials, resources and exhibitor materials from the 65 educational programs presented at ABA TECHSHOW 2002: Unlocking the Magic of Legal Technology, held March 14-16, 2002, in Chicago, are now available on CD-ROM. Program tracks include litigation, security, strategies, ethics, enterprise, general, solo and small firm, and in-house and government counsel. The CD-ROM costs $395. The materials are presented in easy-to-use Adobe Acrobat format, making it a snap to search for program topics and speakers. To order the CD-ROM, go to the TECHSHOW Web site at www.techshow.com or call (888) 711-1138.

To order ABA Law Practice Management Section Publications and back issues of the magazine, or to request a catalog, call (800) 285-2221. You may also order books through the Section’s Web site at www. abanet.org/catalog.