Nov/Dec 2001

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Getting Ahead
In the Business of Practicing Law


The inconceivable events of September 11 left lawyers and law firms across the country contemplating the implications and preparing their firms for any potential impact. From the destruction of client records to the potential loss of life, the legal, ethical and moral responsibilities of a lawyer in a disaster situation are myriad. • When developing a firm crisis management plan, the Law Practice Management Section has resources that may be helpful. Here are links to two excellent disaster planning and management articles located on our Web site.

Stuart Meyer, Marketing and Member Services Director

• "Developing a Crisis Management Plan," from the ABA Law Practice Management Section MDP Resource Center,

• "Surviving a Disaster and Other Office Shutdowns," from Law Practice Management magazine, /lpm/magarticle11223_front.shtml.

• For additional resources, visit

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

Need More Contacts for Networking?

Consider law school classmates, professors, college friends, family members, neighbors, former employers, colleagues and opponents, and bar association leaders and members. These people may be able to assist you in the quest for information and referrals. And attend events! Go to professional association meetings, alumni reunions and church events, and work the room. Keep in mind what brought this group together and why it is important for you to be there.

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.


Solos & Small Firm Practitioners

Choose the right organizations for your networking. Try before you buy. Attend several meetings of a professional organization before you pay for a membership. Determine whether you feel comfortable in the atmosphere and whether this population is likely to generate business for your law practice. The best organizations for your marketing efforts are probably the narrowly segmented trade associations. For example, one firm specializing in representation of homeowner associations chooses to belong, and provide pro bono counsel to, the local chapter of the Community Associations Institute.

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

What alienates clients? There are five surefire ways to lose a client. First, believe that the work you perform is far more important than the service you provide to the client. Second, answer the phone as often as possible during a client conference. Third, avoid the temptation to itemize your bills and, by all means, use abbreviations that only you understand. Fourth, never waste your time explaining a fee or discussing its impact on a client.

Finally, when meeting with a client in your office, keep plenty of files and documents from other cases piled up on your desk to constantly remind this person that he or she is just one of many clients.

Adapted from How to Draft Bills Clients Rush to Pay by J. Harris Morgan. ABA Law Practice Management Section, 1995.

Young Lawyers

Please, calm down! Maintain a neutral tone of voice when you’re having a problem-related conversation with a client. Be concerned and sincere. Convey the seriousness of the matter you need to discuss without injecting your personal anxiety. You may have significant fears and worries, but you should share these with your colleagues, not your client. Always remember that you’re the professional hired to handle the problem—so maintain a calm facade that doesn’t reveal your emotional state.

Adapted from "How to Break Bad News to Your Client" by Christine Meadows. The Young Lawyer, April 2001. Available at

Have a plan for job searching. It is important to use a well thought-out process when approaching contacts. An approach letter, followed by a phone call, informational interview and thank-you note is effective. You must be able to clearly and succinctly explain why you are requesting a meeting. What do you hope to gain from meeting with your contact? Why have you chosen this particular person? What specific-ally do you want to find out? These types of questions will help you to clarify your objectives in networking.

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.


Experienced Lawyers

Balance your life with your career. There are several simple things that you can do. Take 10 minutes each morning to think about the big picture. Map out a balanced day, with time allotted for your financial, physical, emotional and spiritual needs. In addition, ask yourself a simple question: How could I spend my days in a way that would make me feel excited about waking up in the morning? The answer may help lead you toward more balance in your life.

Adapted from Transforming Practices: Finding Joy and Satisfaction in the Legal Life by Steven Keeva. ABA Journal/Contemporary Books, 2001.

Show your stuff when responding to RFPs. When you are responding to a request for proposals (RFP), clients are not impressed by the fact that you give a computer presentation—they expect it. When a client includes a technology clause in its RFP, or asks a law firm to bring its information officer to the presentation, the signal is unmistakable. These clients expect you to keep abreast of technology developments as well as the law. If high-tech is the expectation, markers and a pad of paper balancing on an easel will not cut it during presentations.

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


Managing Partners

Take two steps for fixed fees. If you are buying an automobile, do you really care how much time it took to install the hood of the car? Before you jump to fixed-fee billing, there is an analytical process you should go through to make certain that you—and ultimately the client—know what is involved. Setting a fee properly requires knowing two things: (1) the scope of the services that will be included in the fixed fee; and (2) the cost of providing those services.

Adapted from Billing Innovations: New Win-Win Ways to End Hourly Billing by Richard C. Reed. ABA Law Practice Management Section, 1996.

Put some fun into your firm. The practice of law is a very serious undertaking, but this does not mean that the work environment has to be serious and intense at all times. Keep things as light as possible. Recognize birthdays, have a summer outing or a holiday party, or have informal parties starting at 4:30 p.m. on the last Friday of each month. Host a staff-only function from time to time, such as a Chinese luncheon, an ice cream social or a wine and cheese party to view a fall sunset. In short, strive to have a law firm that exhibits a sense of humor on a regular basis.

Adapted from Managing Partner 101: A Guide to Successful Law Firm Leadership, 2nd edition, by Lawrence G. Green. ABA Law Practice Management Section, 2001.

Managing Partner Quick Tip
Creating Money-Saving Alternatives for Clients

"Unbundling" describes the transition from the full-service package to discrete-task services. The following five steps outline the framework for delivering unbundled legal services:

• The lawyer offers a menu of services.

• The client sets the budget and selects which services the lawyer will perform.

• The client negotiates terms of payment, as per task or set fee.

• The client and lawyer agree as to which of them will be responsible for overall strategy and case management.

• The client and lawyer work together, sharing in decision making, toward resolution of the dispute.

Adapted from Unbundling Legal Services: A Guide to Delivering Legal Services a la Carte by Forrest Mosten. ABA Law Practice Management Section, 2001.

Further Reading
New! HotDocs in One Hour, 2nd Edition

Need to get your document production up to speed? HotDocs in One Hour is a quick starter for legal professionals who want to automate their legal forms using the HotDocs program. The newly released second edition offers step-by-step explanations of how HotDocs can be used with word processing to improve the document production process. Written by Bruce W. Miller, an international corporate tax lawyer, the book includes interactive lessons ranging from generating a document from a HotDocs template to inserting conditional text and creating custom dialogs. The concluding section explores advanced features, such as creating multiple-choice and computation variables.

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