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   May/June 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
 

Solos & Small Firm Practitioners

Don’t rely on the paperless office. Some lawyers are tempted to rely on computer files and memories rather than making and storing paper copies. Unfortunately, it is a fact of life that paper files are here to stay for the foreseeable future. One reason is that computers can and do crash without adequate backups. Another reason is that some clients and third parties do not have the necessary skills and technology to operate without hard-copy documents. In addition, it is only a question of time until older computer files will not be readable owing to software or hardware becoming obsolete. The highway of word processing equipment and software is littered with the corpses of systems that leave the lawyer unable to read data that was carefully stored electronically.

Adapted from How to Start & Build a Law Practice, 4th edition, by Jay G Foonberg. ABA Law Practice Management Section, 1999.

Make a time line if you move your office. Establishing a time line at the beginning of the move process provides you with a tool to focus your efforts and to track the various elements of the move. The time line may at first consist only of three dates: the date the decision to move was made; the date on which your current lease expires; and the anticipated date of the actual move. But as you proceed through the moving project, you will add elements as they occur and continue to refine your actual move date.

Adapted from "A Checklist for Opening or Moving Your Practice" by Edward Poll. Law Practice Quarterly, February 2002.

Focus discrete services on client needs. The rules regarding unbundling do not change with different areas of practice. The overriding commonality is the consumer-oriented approach toward the practice of law. Different areas of practice have different concerns and employ slightly different wrinkles in how lawyers pick and choose which tasks to unbundle. But mostly, the common focus on the client makes it possible to unbundle regardless of the area of law.

Adapted from Unbundling Legal Services: A Guide to Delivering Legal Services a la Carte by Forrest S. Mosten. ABA Law Practice Management Section, 2000.

Young Lawyers

Let your contacts advise you. Networking is simply meeting in person with professional and personal contacts to get ideas and advice on the ways your talents could best be used in the marketplace. Networking rests on the basic principle that business, jobs and careers are built on personal relationships; its true purpose is to get information, advice and referrals.

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.

Give it the old college try. Stay in touch with your alumni association. Most law schools publish an alumni directory, which is an invaluable marketing tool.

Adapted from Women Rainmakers’ 101+ Best Marketing Tips, edited by Theda C. Snyder. ABA Law Practice Management Section, 1994.

Get feedback when you’re job searching. When networking to uncover job opportunities, it is reasonable to expect several results: information; referrals to others who can help you; feedback about resumes, cover letters and approach; and opportunities to test ideas and theories. In addition, you should obtain assistance in formulating plans and seek moral support.

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.

Managing Partners

Determine Compensation Expectations An important event in any law firm is the exchange of individual expectations regarding compensation:

  • What are your objectives? Formal or informal?
  • How much money is enough?
  • How much money is not enough?
  • What does compensation mean, both personally and professionally, to each individual?
  • What level of risk sharing should take place?
  • How much disparity should exist from top to bottom?

Adapted from Compensation Plans for Law Firms, 3rd edition, edited by James D. Cotterman. ABA Law Practice Management Section, 2001.

Keep good lawyers. Behave in a manner that makes everyone in your firm feel valued. Don’t treat your lawyers like interchangeable chairs, giving the impression that if one leaves you’ll just hire another to replace that person. Also, consider the abundance of law school graduates a positive factor in your practice development. Discover how to maximize it. And help lawyers develop successful practices so they don’t feel threatened by the competition from "too many other lawyers."

Adapted from Keeping Good Lawyers: Best Practices to Create Career Satisfaction by M. Diane Vogt and Lori-Ann Rickard. ABA Law Practice Management Section, 2001.

Educate associates in the business of law. Challenge them to think like businesspeople, not just like lawyers. Associates will first need to know their total billable hours. How many hours did each associate record for the month? This data should be easily within their grasp, but the next piece may not be: They may have to ask firm management or staff how many hours the firm billed out for them. In other words, was there a markdown or write-off for some of the work? Did the firm consider some of the associate’s work as part of its investment in the learning curve?

Adapted from "What Does It Profit the Firm?" by Edward Poll. Legal Management, January/February 2002.

Experienced Lawyers

Use style guidelines for computer presentations. Always run the spell-checker and eliminate spelling errors in your presentations. Maintain consistency in punctuation and sentence structure. Use parallel structure, which involves using matching verb tenses, voices, cases and numbers (singular or plural) and consistent gender-neutral language. Minimize your use of capitalization and punctuation. In particular, avoid hyphenation. It is distracting because it tends to interrupt the reader’s flow of thought.

Adapted from Persuasive Computer Presentations: The Essential Guide for Lawyers by Ann E. Brenden and John D. Goodhue. ABA Law Practice Management Section, 2001.

Create ads that answer questions. For an effective Yellow Pages advertisement, consider what questions potential clients ask when they make their initial calls to your office. Ask your receptionist what your clients ask about. Have frontline staff make lists for you. Get all the queries written down.

Adapted from Effective Yellow Pages Advertising for Lawyers: The Complete Guide to Creating Winning Ads by Kerry Randall. ABA Law Practice Management Section, 2002.

Get the job done. Do you have trouble starting on writing projects? Try using a stream-of-consciousness approach. Just start writing down your thoughts. It doesn’t matter if what you write should properly come in the middle or even at the end. If you get stuck on a topic, leave it for a while and go on to another topic.

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

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