Getting a Quicker Response in Workers Comp Cases

I have been experiencing a distubring lack of response to my settlement demands in workers compensation cases. More often than not I believe it’s because the insurance company hasn’t given the attorney authority to settle the case and they are reluctant to call back with nothing. I’ve put together a standard form letter with suggested responses for the defense attorney and have received a positive response and more information about my cases. The form letter is below the fold. Continue Reading Posted inPractice Management |Comments (0) |Permalink

Smart Advocate - The Best Program that's NOT being Sold

I’ve had a strange odyssey in my search for case management programs. I knew I needed to upgrade, but honestly didn’t know how to manage my firm. I knew how to practice law, but not how to manage my practice.

No problem, I thought. I’ll just get the best program out there, use the examples they have and then adjust and modify from there. It turns out that none of the case management software companies know anything about case management. That seems somewhat odd and surreal, but it’s true. You would think that they would compile a ‘Best of’ reports that seem to be the most popular for people and see the common interests, but they don’t. That’s not saying anything bad about any of the programs in particular, but against all of the software companies. I would ask about management reports and they would say “Yep. Got them”. Yes, but what……”Anything you want. We have a report writer that can do anything you want”. Yes, but what….”Anything you want. We have a report writer that can do anything you want”. Okay. Continue Reading Posted inPractice Management |Comments (1) |Permalink

Hiring an Associate Lawyer in Myrtle Beach

I'm getting close to the point where I need to bring on another attorney. My options are:
  • Associate Straight out of School
  • Associate with 2–3 years experience
  • Journeyman attorney with 5–10 years experience that doesn’t want to be a partner
  • Partner

I’m leaning towards hiring an associate. When settling a workers comp case last week, I was talking to a senior partner of a firm that had about 20 lawyers. I asked him what recommendations he had in hiring an associate. These were his thoughts:

  • Grades – Didn’t have to be top notch, but you wanted someone with decent grades. You don’t want to hire someone at the bottom of their class or with terrible grades.
  • Work Ethic – This is something that people have, or they don’t have and you don’t train them in or not. His recommendation was to hire two people to clerk for one permanent position and you’ll know relatively easy which on you want to work for you.
  • Personality – Once they get their feet on the ground, you’ll want them to be able to bring in business. They won’t be able to do that without a personality. They need to be pleasant, decent to work with, nice people and able to talk to, shmooze and bring in business.

That’s a pretty good list and something I will be looking for towards. Does anyone else have any ideas or thoughts about hiring an associate?

Posted inPractice Management |Comments (6) |Permalink

What's the Game Plan for Your Practice?

I’ve been working with Cheryl Leone of Catalyst, Inc. for awhile. Cheryl is a very talented law firm coach. Cheryl has taught me to focus on the type of cases I take. In addition to traditional screening “Is it a good case?” but also is it a good fit for my practice and the resources in both staffing and money at the time. Her philosophy is:

Find out what you’re good at, and get better at it. What you’re not good at, don’t do. 

Pretty simple when you put it in those terms.  Or another way of putting it, is that nursing home cases can be good cases to handle, but if you just have one of them, you’re going to spend way too much time on the case and regardless of how much you make in attorney’s fees, it won’t be worth it. If you’re going to do nursing home cases, then do them, but don’t just do one of them. If you don’t want to get involved, then pass on the case or associate a firm that specializes in that type of case.

I’m learning to be very, very careful in taking ‘one off’ cases, where all of the research, pleadings and motions have to be developed from scratch. I’m using the extra time to get that much better at the areas of law that I have experience with. 

Posted inPractice Management |Comments (4) |Permalink

What Do Your Reports Say?

There’s an old joke that goes “What time does your watch say it is?” and the response is “It doesn’t say anything. You have to look at it”.

It’s the same way with reports and your cases. It doesn’t matter what reports you have or information you have on your cases. If you don’t constantly review them and keep moving them forward, you won’t get far.

Last December, I visited Cheryl and Beth Leone. Cheryl is a law firm management consultant and Beth has a personal injury practice in Raleigh, North Carolina. Beth was also Needles User of the Year a year or so back. As interested as I am in case management, I was very interested in seeing what they had put together.

They had done an impressive job of putting together the information that they needed. With Needles, it was a bit more kludgy than I would like. That means that they had to go through a number of menu structures, pull something into Excel, pull up Excel and sort it in a number of ways, rather than just have the information at their fingertips.

As an ex-computer person, the solution wasn’t as elegant as I would prefer, but the information was there. They did a great job by relentlessly reviewing their cases and moving the cases forward.

So the answer is what do your reports say? Nothing. You have to look at them.

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Book Review: The Art of Learning

The Art of LearningI just finished reading the Art of Learning by Josh Waitzkin. Josh was the young chess prodigy that was featured in the movie Waiting for Bobby Fischer. Well, Josh has gone from winning a number of National chess championships to moving to Tai Chi, a martial arts. He’s won a stack of National Championships in Tai-Chi and some World Championships in Taiwan.

Josh has written a book about his learning and performance styles that have taught him to excel. The thing that stuck out most in my mind is how aggressively he has looked at his weaknesses, or taken any time that he has been beat and rather than running away from it, ignoring it, or pretending it didn’t happen, he would turn straight into the weakness and turn it into a positive.

One example was that when he was playing chess, he didn’t do well with distractions. Most people don’t. Some of the ‘diry players’ would purposefully kick him under the table and then act innocent, hum a tune and the pretend nothing happen when monitors were around and so forth. So instead of trying to call them out on it, or jump up and down and complain, Josh realized that this was 1) taking him out of his game and 2) giving the poor sports a leg up. So he started training with distractions and found a way to get into a ‘soft zone’ and eliminate this ‘advantage’.

Good stuff about a highly talented person that is constantly measuring himself and finding ways to improve. This is one of the best books I’ve read not only this year, but ever.

Posted inDecision Making, Misc, Practice Management, Trial Techniques |Comments (5) |Permalink

Making Money by Not Taking Cases

I did a very difficult thing yesterday. I turned down a case of a friend’s son. The facts aren’t important, other than it wasn’t a good case. Liability and causation of injuries were not there. There was a significant gap in treatment and even pain symptoms and the young man worked in construction.

In days gone by, I would have oredered the accident report, got the initial meds and seen what we could do with it. But in the long run, we really wouldn’t be able to do much of anything with it. The insurance company might have settled it for nuisance value, but that’s about it. So, I talked to the man and told him that we could not help him and why.

It was difficult, I had done a significant case for his father. I had done a number of cases for the family. I took a second, third and fourth look at the case trying to convince myself that I would be able to do something with the case, but in the long run, I knew that I couldn’t, so I turned the case down. Continue Reading Posted inPractice Management |Comments (5) |Permalink

What is Your Average Case Settlement?

I’ve been working with Cheryl Leone of Catalyst Group and one of the metrics that she harps on is the average case settlement. After being an injury lawyer for a period of time, I’ve noticed that if I divide the cases into smaller, medium and more substantial cases that they tend to follow the same pattern.

For example, I know any case over $100,000 will require filing suit and conducting discovery. The only way a larger case will settle early is if we clearly have a $250,000 case with only $100,000 insurance coverage. On the sizeale cases, we know that we’ll have to do our work.

Before, I had grouped cases into various categories to determine projected settlement dates and cash flow. So I wondered why the average case settlement was important. When I thought about it, it became obvious. Continue Reading Posted inPractice Management |Comments (6) |Permalink

What Do You Want From Your Employees?

I was at a practice management retreat where they posed a question. Looking for a new staff member, you have the option of choosing two great people. The first has 20 years experience and can hit the ground running, but is very expensive. The second has limited experience, is a fast learner is relatively inexpensive, but will require training. Which one do you pick?

The question was very careful to be weighted evenly and the answers were more of a rorschach test of the attorney, rather than which would make a better employee. The responses were interesting. Some people like to work side by side with their employees, handing off information to type, research and get out, on a regularly through the day. Others wanted to touch base briefly during the day and then each taking care of their own work. It isn’t a matter of what’s better or worse, but what is a better fit.

I personally, want to be able to touch base in the morning and let the employee do their work.

There were a lot of good responses to the question, but the one response that stuck in my mind was a very sharp attorney that had been around for more than 30 years. He said “I would have normally said the experienced, expensive paralegal, but I’m finding more and more ‘kids’ come in with limited experience being able to find nearly anything on the internet. They can use computers and technology to run rings around experienced paralegals without technical savvy”.

That might be an exaggeration, but I think that’s right. I don’t have any interest in employees that can’t find basic information on the internet with a simple Google search.

Posted inPractice Management |Comments (2) |Permalink

How to Ace a Job Interview with Me

I’m willing to give away a few secrets. Here is how to ace a job interview with me:

  • Read this Blog Post – One of the first questions I ask is “What do you know about me?” It amazes me the number of people of people that don’t even take the time and effort to type my name in Google and see what pops up. I have a reasonable internet presence and to not even look at my website or weblog, before coming to the interview is slack. I don’t expect someone to know everything about me, but to not even look at the website and the areas of practice shows a profound lack of interest, that I find unattractive in a job candidate.
  • Read the Practice Management Section of the Blog – I’ve been writing for 2 1/2 years and have very specific ideas about how I want a law practice to run. My ideas are well thought out, but run counter to a lot of lawyers out there. But you can really get an idea for what I want by reading the practice management section of the blog.
  • Be a Real Person – I’m not a high falutin’ person. Just because I have a J.D. doesn’t make me snobby. While I’ll be nice and cordial, I don’t want a hoity-toity employee. Be nice and be yourself.
  • Be Used to Dealing with People – I have a Plaintiff’s practice and we deal with the public. We have a lot of workers comp cases and construction workers and other blue collar people. I find a lot of defense paralegals aren’t used to dealing with the public. Very few people really have the knowledge and skills to accurately judge how good of lawyers we are, but 100% know whether we’re nice to them.
  • Be Technically Adept – You don’t have to be a power user, but knowing how to do a Google search and find information on the internet is useful. Knowing the difference between a .pdf and a .jpg is helpful. Knowing how to get information on the internets is helpful.

In the scheme of things, the only make or break question is someone that doesn’t even take the time before the interview to type my name into a search engine to see what pops up. So giving this tip on my blog isn’t really that much of a tip-off anyways. And in case you’re wondering, if someone has just moved and doesn’t have their computer unpacked or cable service set up, I will cut them some slack for that.

Posted inPractice Management, Things Lawyers Want to Tell Their Paralegals, Top 5 |Comments (3) |Permalink

Give Your Staff Friday Afternoon Off

I got this idea from Cheryl Leone in Raleigh. At the beginning of April, we started leaving the office at 1:00 p.m. on Fridays.

We cut the lunch hour from an hour to half an hour and came in half an hour early each day of the week. Then we work through lunch on Friday and leave at 1:00 p.m.

This give the employees time to schedule doctor’s appointments, get their hair cut, make appointments, run errands or just start the weekend early.

The nice thing about it is that they have a set time off each week to take care of things if they need to. Plus, it’s nice to have Friday afternoons off in the summertime at the beach.

Posted inPractice Management |Comments (3) |Permalink

SmartAdvocate New Case Management System on the Block

Sample_case_screenI am very interested in SmartAdvocate. It’s a new case management system that’s coming out on the market.

It’s specifically geared towards, plaintiff’s personal injury work.

It is an off-shoot of the in-house program that Parker & Waichman has been using.

I heard about this system a few years ago and it looks great.

A few of the features that I like, when a case is set up, it sets up an extra-net or ‘mini-website’ for each client and case that allows them to see the accident reports, medical records or other information as it comes in.

Continue Reading Posted inOffice Technology, Practice Management, Technology |Comments (0) |Permalink

A Good Case with a Bad Client is a Bad Case

No matter how good the case is, if you have a ‘bad client’, it’s still a bad case. What is a bad client?

What Cases Do You Take?

I was talking with a friend recently about case selection. He said he was taught to take the following cases:

  • Limited Damages with Very Clear Liability
  • Tough Liability with Significant Damages

That’s a good rule of thumb. It takes an awful lot of time and effort to gear up for trial, and you typically want significant damages to be cost effective, but if there’s very clear liability, you can do that with lesser damages. Also, if your clients has several hundred thousand in doctor’s bills, then it doesn’t hurt to look harder for liability, or fight liability issues on contested cases. But I’ll add another caveat:

  • If the Client is a Bad Client, Regardless of Anything Else, It’s a Bad Case

If there’s clear liability and significant damages, but your client is a problem client or bad client, then it’s a bad case. If they’re a bad client, they will find a way to sabotage their case.

Posted inPractice Management |Comments (1) |Permalink

How Fast Can You Make Your Case?

I go to a lot of seminars and conferences on how to be a better trial lawyer. There are always better ways to build your case, but they almost never focus on practice management on how to you can build your case faster.

I’ve been talking to Cheryl Leone and she has emphasized this point. Cheryl says “If you have a case that’s worth $25,000 and you get the client $25,000 a year from now, or you get them $25,000 in a few weeks, which do you think makes for a happier client?”

That makes a lot of sense and I’ve never heard anyone say it before. The same amount of money sooner, makes for a happier client. Happy clients make for a better practice and a better life for the lawyer.

So the question becomes, what can you do to have the cases move quicker and resolve quicker? I’m not talking about slamming cases out the door, but what can you do to put cases together efficiently and quickly? Here’s a short list to get started:

  • Only take cases that you have a familiarity with and can handle well
  • Make certain you get the information you need to prepare the case at the beginning
  • Only work with clients that are willing to help their own case
  • Standardize documents – correspondence, pleadings, discovery
  • Create checklists that your staff can follow on the handling of the case
  • Order the medical records as treatment is completed
  • Maintain contact with the client, so that you know about changes in the case as it happens.

I think that running a trial practice efficiently is critical.

Posted inPractice Management |Comments (0) |Permalink

Marketing Ideas for Lawyers from Stacy West Clark

Tom Kane of the Legal Marketing Blog points to an article My 2007 Holiday Gift: Advice from Top Marketing Consultants by Stacy Clark. The bulletpoints of the advice is below. Click on the link for the full article.

* Give so you can receive (Sally Schmidt)
* Visit Clients (yours truly)
* Fix up your web site (Deborah McMurray)
* Don’t waste marketing dollars (Andy Havens)
* Focus on your own market (Susan Saltonstall Duncan)
* Spend 200 hours on marketing (Larry Bodine)
* Have a plan (John Remsen)
* Happy Birthday, client (Elizabeth Lampert)
* Meet face to face (Sylvia Coulter)
* Keep what works secret (Micah Buchdahl)

I think these are all great ideas, but I don’t agree with Micah Buchdahl’s suggestion of keeping what works secret. I think the best marketing is something that fits you (or the firm) very well and can’t be copied easily.

Also, marketing by it’s very nature means that you are going out and  putting your information in front of the public (or targeted segment). So it can’t really be a secret.

I’m a big believer in the idea of giving things of value away as a means of marketing. I’ve given out over 3,000 of the PowerPoint compilation disks that everyone helped put together.

Of course, you don’t have to give away everything and every piece of information you possess, but I think that good marketing is hard for others to duplicate.

Posted inPractice Management |Comments (3) |Permalink

My Goals for the Firm for 2008

It’s the time of year to take stock.  Looking back at the year we’re finishing and the year ahead. One of my goals is to get cases prepared and moving as quick as possible. Cases don’t do any good sitting in the filing cabinet. So here are the goals:

  • Demand Packages are prepared and sent out within 30 days of the client finishing treatment.
  • If we need a questionnaire, future costs projection, vocational report or other expert report, the demand package is sent out within 60 days of the client finishing treatment.
  • Within 30 days of the demand package being sent out, the case is settled or suit is filed.
  • When we file suit, we bring a motion to put the case on the trial roster within 6 months.
  • Discovery is answered within 15 days of receiving it.
  • We never ask for more time or a continuance.
  • We don’t grant the defense’s requests to delay the case from going to trial.
  • Every client is called every 30 days (at a minimum). Every client is called by a lawyer every 60 days (at a minimum).

What we want to do is maximize the number of client touches, but minimize the number of times we touch the file. What are we going to do to make this happen?

  • Do better intakes, getting copies of the client’s driver’s licenses and the answers to nearly every question that would be asked during discovery.
  • Identify what the problem areas are on most cases and come up with appropriate solutions for the most common problems.
  • For problems that can’t be determined with a flow chart, have a system set up to identify what the facts are so that I can make a determination quickly regarding what we need to do on the case.
  • Order incident reports and emergency room records at the beginning of the case.
  • Do a review of the parties at the beginning of the case, to include getting the driving records of both parties (if appropriate), doing a google search on all of the parties, doing an insurance company search for prior suits, doing a myspace and facebook search.
  • Keeping contact with the client and ordering records as the client finishes with treatment.
  • Standardizing the way that medical binders are kept (in .pdf format), updated and reviewed.
  • Standardizing the way that medical treatment is summarized and identifying any problems (pre-existing injuries, non-related treatment) up front.
  • Standardizing pleadings, discovery and motions, so that they can be generated and modified easily.
  • Scanning of documents and good use of .pdf’s to control the case.
  • Identify the appropriate experts early in the process.
  • Work on standardizing model questions, cross exams, openings and closings.
  • Document generation to quickly generate the appropriate documents.
  • Work on customizing the case management system to provide the information that is needed to get out high quality work.
  • Determine the processes involved in putting a case together and clearly defining in detail exactly how that case will be put together.
  • Refining the processes in putting the case together, staying in contact with the client and keeping the client informed.
  • Once the process is defined, convert building a case to task based system, instead of a case based system. That allows cases to be put together by people friendly secretaries instead of paralegals and allows for easier training and more consistency of work product, allowing paralegals to do the work that they are most suited for.

It looks like we have our work cut out for us. It should be an interesting and exciting new year. I’ll keep everyone posted on how we do converting.

Posted inPractice Management |Comments (3) |Permalink

The Myrtle Beach Lawyer Goes Digital

After that great guest post on using an open source PBX system, I thought I would share what we’ve been working on. We’ve been working on taking the entire office electronic. It’s time to take the office digital. What does that mean?

  • Documents Will be Digital – Everything coming in or going out of the office will be scanned. There’s a number of options we could have gone with. I chose to put a scanner on everyone’s desk. The easier it is to use, the more likely it is to get used. My first choice was a Fujitsu Scan Snap, but that didn’t have a TWAIN or ISIS compliant driver to scan from within case management or document management programs. We decided to go with the Xerox Documate 250. All incoming mail will be scanned, all outgoing mail will be scanned. The entire file will be available on the computer as a pdf.
  • PDF’s Will be How We Like Them – Everyone gets a full version of Adobe Acrobat to combine pfs, rearrange pages, or set up chapters, bookmarks and hyperlinks. Picture writing a demand package that talks about medical treatment that has a link to the appropriate page of the medical records.
  • Faxes Will be Digital – We are installing a fax server so that anyone can send or receive a fax directly from their desk. I was looking at eFax.com, but you have to use their number and can’t take the number with you if/when you leave. We’ll be setting up a separate fax server.
  • Bookkeeping will be Digital – I’m embarassed to admit this, but I’m still writing checks manually and entering the information on a 2002 version of QuickBooks for the accountant. We’ll now be writing the checks on the computer, downloading the monthly statements from the bank to automatically reconcile. We’ll also link the case management program and client expenses, operating account and trust account to automatically generate cost sheets, disbursement statements and preliminary disbursements for the trust account.
  • VPN Router to Allow Access to the Network – A Virtual Private Network (VPN). What’s that? It allows access to your local network even when you are not local. It’s similar to GoToMyPC or PCAnywhere and allows you to log on to your network from anywhere. When you’re out of town, you can log in and get your messages. You can work from your home office, your paralegal can work from home when their child is sick. Or….if everything is digital, then an employee can work without being in the office to work on the file.

Having the entire file in a digital format creates a lot of benefits. I’ve got a great staff and we’re ready to take this to the next level.

Posted inOffice Technology, Practice Management, Tech Trends, Technology |Comments (2) |Permalink

How Does a Case Get a Year Behind?

I’ve been reading The Mythical Man-Month: Essays on Software Engineering by Frederick Brooks. Why would a lawyer be reading an essay on software engineering? Because it’s all about project management. Some of it is computer specific, but the vast bulk of the book is how to get a large group of talented people all going in the same direction.

I’ve noticed that even with smart, sharp, dedicated people it’s still difficult getting everyone on the same page. Frederick Brooks was in charge of building IBM’s System 36 and was behind on a project, so he threw more people at the project to knock it out. He found out that adding people to a late project just made the project even later. Ouch.

So he began studying the project. Looking at what worked and what didn’t work. There’s a lot of good stuff in this book and I’ll bring you a few nuggets at a time. First off?

How does a project get one year behind? One day at a time.

It’s hard to argue with that. The implication is that you have to constantly review your cases, looking at what needs to be done and making certain it gets done.

I have a number of cases with thorny issues that if I’m running and too busy, I’ll do a review and say “I need to do something about that”. Make the time, take the time to keep the cases moving, because the only way a case can get a year behind is one day at a time.

 

 

 

 

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Remote Mail Service

I’m working on a project that requires people to be able to work remotely. That means everything has to be digital and scanned into the computer. Most of the information already is scanned, but what do we do about the things that aren’t digital?

I just found out about Remote Control Mail from Mark Zamora of A GeorgiaLawyer. What does it do? You have your mail sent to a P.O. Box in any of 20 diifferent cities and then they will send you an e-mail that looks like this:  

Ecm_ui.full

Remote Control Mail will then give you the choice of recycling, shredding, scanning and then shredding, forwarding the hard copy to your office, or storing the hard copy at your office. They’re used to handling high volume for coprorate consumers and fees are very low.

You can handle your e-mail and regular mail at the same time and with the same ease, forwarding documents or replying to them quickly and easily.

We’re going to use it initially for our medical records. Neat stuff.

Posted inPractice Management, Tech Trends, Technology |Comments (2) |Permalink

Why Cases Get Stuck

Last weekend, I re-read The Goal. I’ve previously written about the relation of statistical variances and dependent events. Other posts on this topic are here .  The mathematical principle is that delays accumulate rather than average out. In re-reading this, I came to another understanding on why cases get stuck:

  • There is a FINITE ability to speed things up – If you hire a lifecare planner, vocational expert, economist, engineer…. the soonest they can give you their report and evaluation is immediately. That’s not a realistic goal, but the fastest that it can possibly happen.
  • There is an INFINITE ability to slow things down – Information can sit on someone’s desk, inbox or to do list for a long time.

It’s our job to keep the cases moving, and not only hire the right experts and staff, but make certain that they keep things going.

Posted inPractice Management |Comments (0) |Permalink

What's Keeping You From Starting Your Practice?

I talk to a lot of people that want to start their own practice, but don’t know how to get started. The main problem some people have is not with logisitics of getting office space, a computer and a desk, but in getting the gumption to get started in the first place.

Sheryl Sisk Schelin of the Inspired Solo Blog describes some of the rood blocks that keep people from going solo:

When I contemplated going solo, there was always a “yes, but …” at the end of every thought:

Yes, but - I don’t have enough experience.

Yes, but - I don’t have enough money saved.

Yes, but - I don’t want to practice law like everyone else does with all the billable hours and nonsense.

Yes, but - what can I do? I’ve been practicing municipal/county law for so long.

Sheryl describes an Inspired Solo as someone who likes the practice of law, is happy, likes their clients and treats people right. I’m paraphrasing, you can click on the link for her full description.

Sheryl also writes

We’re starting to see more and more South Carolina legal blogs. That’s a good thing that more lawyers are willing to share their information.

Posted inPractice Management |Comments (2) |Permalink

What CEO Blogs Do You Read?

I have about 138 blogs in my newsreader. Some of my favorite are blogs written by CEOs. These are people that have risen to the top, been successful,  and they’re willing to offer their opinions for free. Here are some of my favorites:

What CEO blogs do you read? Am I missing any that are worthwhile and helpful to you? Whenever talented people offer their hard fought knowledge, I’m going to take it.

Posted inPractice Management |Comments (0) |Permalink

Networking Means Showing Up

Yesterday, I gave a presentation on technology and the lawyer for the Mass. Bar’s Lawyer’s in Transition seminar. It was a very interesting program, designed for people that had been out of the workplace and were looking to get back on the ‘lawyer track’.

Most of the people had been out of the legal field for 2–5 years, some a bit longer. The most common reasons for being out of the work filed were raising children, elder health care or personal health problems. It seemed like half of the people were thinking of going the sole practitioner route.

Being a sole practitioner myself I was very interested in the presentations and learned some new thins.

However, there was something very shocking to me. Every speaker. And I do mean every speaker emphasized networking. They emphasized networking to find a job and talked about how to define your ‘network’, how to tap into your network and how to expand your network.

Personally, I think of the same issues as people I know, talking to people I know and getting to know more people, but I’m a simple person.

Anyways, lots of good advice on networking. In the half day I was at the seminar, I heard 7 presenters (there were a number of panels) push the issue of networking. Networking, networking, networking.

So there’s a networking reception after the seminar with food and drinks to get to know people. What happens? Only 25% of the seminar participants even went!

The first rule of networking? You have to show up.  Judge Edward M. Ginsburg and I were discussing that on a break. His comment was “You just have to get out there and you never know what happens. Oftentimes the thing you really expect to happen never does, but some random event changes your life.” Yep. I totally agree.

Posted inPractice Management |Comments (1) |Permalink

What Kind of Cases Do You Want?

I’ve been talking to a few people about what kind of cases they want to handle, what kind of work they want to do for a living and what kind of life they want to live.

I think this is a constant reevaluation. Even if you find something that you are really good at, are successful and profitable, it won’t last forever. You only have a limited window where it will be a real good opportunity and then you have to find other opportunities.

I worked my way through law school writing a computer system for an asbestos plaintiff firm. That was good for awhile, but has dwindled down. The large mass torts and ‘warehousing’ of cases was very profitable for a period of time, but that time period has passed. I have a friend that did very well with stucco cases for a period, but now those have dwindled down.

What’s the moral to this story? Even if you get a lot of cases that are profitable and that you’re good at, it won’t last forever.

So what kind of cases do you want? More complex high dollar cases? Medium size cases that don’t bring in as much  money, but are easier to work up? Lots and lots of little cases that are very easy to standardize and you can hand off to an associate? Cases that you feel you’re making a difference in your clients life? Cases where you feel that you’re making a difference in upholding (or changing) the system?

Once you identify the kind of cases you want, where do those cases come from? Who are the clients? Who do the clients go to for advice? Where are the gathering spots for the referrals? Who are the connectors in the industry? And by connector,  I mean who out there knows everyone and can give you referrals.

This takes thought. The high dollar cases with clear liability, serious damages and unlimited insurance/collectability are few and far between.

There’s a lot of legal work out there and the clients are going to hire someone. It might as well be you.

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I Accidentally Deleted My Inbox...and I Feel Fine

While working on Friday, I accidentally deleted my entire Inbox. I meant to delete an entire directory of spam, but I made a mistake.

I probably had about 750 e-mails in my inbox of things I needed to sort, return messages to, put in various folders (civil procedure, damages, evidence, experts, tort reform…). That’s far too many too keep up with. And the number kept growing…….and growing……and growing.

Now it’s gone. And I’m okay with that. While I try to weed through them in random moments of the day, like when I’m waiting on hold, it had really gotten out of hand. And really, if I was waiting to respond to an e-mail from last July, it’s probably just easier to say “I didn’t do it” as opposed to thinking I would get to it soon.

I feel like a big weight has been lifted off my shoulders and I get to start fresh. In reality I could call my tech guy and have him pull the e-mails from Thursday night’s backup, but I’m not going to do that.

 

Posted inPractice Management, Tech Trends, Technology |Comments (0) |Permalink

Why It's So Hard to Move Cases

I wrote about an experiment we tried at our office concerning moving cases at the Trial Lawyer Resource Center. An excerpt:

We have a magical law firm where we have as many cases as we want and there is an unlimited supply of cases where the people have finished medical treatment. This big bowl of peanut M & M’s is our supply of cases. Each M & M is a case. We can help as many people as we can get out the door.

I have a six sided dice here. Each person is going to roll the dice and they ‘move’ or produce as many cases as they roll. 5–6 is a good week. 1–2 is a bad week. 3–4 is an average week. Now we all know all of the possible reasons for having a non-productive week, some of them are within are control and some are not.

Our goal here is not to be judgmental about good reasons or bad reasons, or productive vs. non-productive time. That’s what the dice is for. A high number is a good week and a low number is a bad week.

Each roll of the dice is a ‘week’. We’ll run through 10 weeks, which is going through the whole team in sequence ten times. Halfway between one and six is 3.5 (I know your first thought is 3, but that’s halfway between 0–6). My expectation for my staff at the end of ten weeks is that we will have moved 35 cases.

Every turn, I want my staff member to roll the dice and then take that many ‘cases’ from the cup to the left. The first person in the chain has an unlimited supply of cases. Each person down the lline from there can only take as many cases as they roll, or as is actually in the cup. Okay, let’s go.

Check out the whole post at Why It's So Hard to Move Cases.

 

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Why Case Management Matters

I was at the Kentucky Academy of Trial Attorney's program on Technology: Learn How It Can Help You Be A Better Trial Lawyer. I gave a presentation on weblogs and what they mean for trial lawyers. Why you should write one, why you should read them and why they are changing the face of the internet.

I also listened to other great presentations at the program. I especially enjoyed Mike Burman from Hopkinsville, Kentucky. Mike gave a presentation on case management, a subject near and dear to my heart. Mike is using Needles and has it integrated with ecopy, a scanning networked copy machine. It looked like a slick operation.

In addition to what you can do with good case management, Mike talked about WHY you would want case management. Answer? It gives you more time to talk to your client. It allows you more time to think about the case. It allows you to be more organized and deal with problems before they occur.

Sounds good to me. I always say, it is important for the lawyer to manage his cases, or the cases manage him. Thanks for the input Mike.

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I Want to OutSource Legal Services

There. I said it. And I mean it. But it's probably not what you think.

At the WILG Convention in San Antonio, there was a vendor selling outsourced legal services. The company was from Bangalore, India. That was the first time I've personally seen a company from out of the country selling their services. It's rather ironic, that they were selling their services at a Convention of lawyers that are dedicated to protecting injured workers and their rights.

So do I want to have my demand packages written in India? I don't think so. So what do I mean when I say I want to outsource?

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What Are Your Goals for 2007?

I'm in the process of setting my goals for 2007. But to do that, I need to know overall where I'm going. Here are two quotes I like a lot. From Alice in Wonderland when Alice reaches a fork in the road:

Alice: "Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?"
Cheshire Cat: "That depends a good deal on where you want to get to," said the Cat.

Alice: "I don't much care"
Cheshire Cat: "Then it doesn't matter which way you go".

And a Dr. Seuss Quote:

You have brains is your head.
You have feet in your shoes.
You can steer yourself any direction you choose.

-Dr. Seuss (Oh, the Places You'll Go!)


So what do I want to do? How do I keep on track? I'm writing down the following goals.

What Kind of Life Do I Want? - When I'm 82 and look back over my life, what would make me say "That was a good life. It was worth living and I'm glad I did it." If I have a long life, full career and good family, what does that look like? What is my definition of that? The more I think about this and clearer I am on this aspect, the more things fall in place and happen, almost automatically.

One exercise that's recommended is to write your obituary. Not as a morbid exercise, but to say at the end of your life, what do you want people saying about you? What do you want as accomplishments? What kind of life do you want to live?

What Is Your Ideal Law Firm? - As an exercise in thought, what is your Ideal Law Firm? If you could wave a magic wand and your wildest dreams come true and anything you want could happen, what kind of law firm would you want?

You get up in the morning, drive to work and open the door. There in front of you is your Ideal Law Firm. What does it look like? I'm mapping out the practice areas, the kind of cases, the number of cases, the difference between a good client and a bad client, how to differentiate those, how I'm going to get the cases, the operations, the systems I need in place, the type of employees that I want, the traits I'm looking for in an employee and the work that I will do.

Basically, a model business plan not for my current practice, but for my Ideal Law Firm.

What Are My Goals for 2007? - At the beginning of the year, the papers and the media get carried away with the 'Year in Review'. I sat down and thought "Okay, it's January 1, 2007. Another year has passed. What would I like to see happen in 2007?" What would have to happen for me to look back on December 31, 2007 and say "Man. That was a good year. I had a good 2007 and I'm very pleased with the work that I did, the things I did. That was fantastic and I can't wait for 2008"?

What Are My Monthly Goals? - Once I have my yearly goals set, then I can sit down and figure out where I have to be halfway through the year to make them happen, then a quarter way through the year and what I need to accomplish every month to make those goals happen. Once I have the monthly goals, I can break those down to weekly goals and communicate those to my staff.

What Work Do I like Doing? - Of all the parts of being a lawyer, what do I like best? What do I really like to do? What do I dislike doing? What do I procrastinate on? What should I be doing more of, and what Should I be doing less of?

Or in shorter terms, I'm setting short term, medium range and long term goals. By putting them down in writing, I can see how well they are aligned and whether they actually match. Do I need to be doing something different today? Are my short, medium and long range goals at odds with themselves? Am I working towards where I want to be or working against it?

The clearer you are about where you want to go, the easier it is to get there. Brains in the head and feet in the shoes.

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How Connected Should You Be to Your Client?

The age of technology allows us to be more and more connected to the office and our clients. But the question is how connected should we be?  The Greatest American Lawyer gives his answer:

The answer to this debate is simple, not easy, but simple. Ours is a service industry, and as connectedness becomes more and more the norm, those who we serve are going to demand the same from us. If you want your firm to succeed in the 21st century - the age of unparalleled communication - you need to make yourself available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. For if you don't you will be left in the dust of the 9 to 5, watching as other attorney's offer full-time availability to their clients and reap the benefits.

For further thoughts regarding this subject, please check out this post titled: "Ball and Chain? Key to Freedom?" by Patrick J. Lamb. Patrick hits the issue right on the head: "Those who put clients in second place are going to find out that they don't have to worry about that problem any more."

I strongly disagree with this. Connectivity is great. On Friday afternoon, my wife who is about to have our second child was unexpectedly admitted to the hospital for testing. After the tests, but before the results were in she was reading a book and I logged in to the office network, checked e-mail, checked messages and answered a few questions. Before the age of technology, I would have had to leave either my wife or the office in the lurch. Wi-fi is a good thing.

I am the first to admit that I don’t have the most balanced life between work and family. I write articles, do research, read business books, do legal research, put together presentations and read and breakdown depositions in the evenings and weekends. I’m finding out with a small child (and soon to be children) that I can do that less and less. Continue Reading Posted inPractice Management |Comments (1) |Permalink

What is the Best Marketing Plan for Your Law Firm?

I write about practice management and marketing a goodly amount and get a decent number of e-mails and questions about marketing and what is the best plan of action for their firm. There’s no right or wrong, but here’s a few things to take into consideration:

  • What size market are you in? – I have a number of friends that are lawyers in Atlanta. The greater Atlanta area has 22,000 lawyers and a population of about 4 million. The entire state of South Carolina has about 11,500 lawyers and 3 million people. I live and work in Myrtle Beach.  Myrtle Beach has about 400 lawyers and a population of about 100,000. Different approaches are necessary for the different sizes.
  • Are you in a high tech market? – In Myrtle Beach, we have a lot of construction workers and service industry workers (restaurant and hotel workers). We are a resort town with 1,500 restaurants. We’re a pretty low tech town. A lot of my workers comp clients don’t have a phone number throughout the entire engagement, much less an internet connection. You have to take a totally different approach in a high tech market such as Boston, Austin, Huntsville, San Jose or cities that are highly connected.
  • Do the Yellow Pages Work?  – Based on the size of the market, different ways of reaching clients make more sense. I went heavy into the Yellow Pages in Myrtle Beach early on. At the moment, I have a full page ad for litigation, front and back of a divider tab between the white pages and yellow pages, a half page ad for workers comp and a handful of in column ads. That’s quite a bit, but in Myrtle Beach, it’s not too expensive. I also got in early enough on the full page ads to be in the number five spot of about 30 full page ads. Would it be worth it today to be in the 31st position? Probably not. I hate to think how much the same ad would cost in Manhattan, or any decent size city. In fact, even in Charleston, South Carolina, the Yellow Pages would probably cost 2–3 times the amount. Is it worth it to have just a little ad the size of a business card or a dollar bill? Hmmm……Probably not. Continue Reading Posted inPractice Management |Comments (0) |Permalink

Do You Focus on the Bottom Line or the Top Dollar?

What’s the difference? Do put your focus on controlling expenses, counting pennies from goingout the door while keeping dollars from coming in the door in the first place? Or do you focus on the ‘top dollar’? Working on getting more money to come in to the business? Tom Peters is a huge proponent on focusing on the top dollar. Putting your time and energy into generating more business and not counting the pennies. This is the same principle of penny wise and pound foolish. Tom is also fairly derogative of MBA programs. He feels that business needs more leaders and thinks that there should be higher aspirations than business ‘administration’. Why would any want to be an ‘administrator’? It beats me. Posted inPractice Management |Comments (0) |Permalink

Recipe for Success

Over the past few years, I’ve done a lot of reading, thinking and learning about what it takes to be successful. While I’m smart and do well on standardized tests. Being smart is not a requirement for being successful. The world is full of intelligent losers. The world is full of incredibly bright people who just can’t seem to put things together. There are also people of average intelligence who do very well. Here are the three basic things that I think it takes to be successful:

  • Building a Good Team – What kind of team can you put together? Unless you are small and want to stay very small, you are going to have to rely on your employees. If you have golden employees, you’re a hero. If you have mediocre or less employees, you’re a goat. If you have the ability to put together, build and keep happy a good team, then your team will make you look good. In addition to employees, the better team you can put together for your cases (private investigators, future costs experts, doctors that care about their patients and will give honest opinions, but will take the time to really look at what is wrong, lifecare planners, case managers…) the better you will be able to work your case up and the easier your life will be.
  • Paying Attention to What Works and What Doesn’t – Taking the time to look at your firm and see what is working well and what is not. The things that are working well, think about what you can do to do more of them. The things that are not working well, do what you can to fix the problem or eliminate it. Are soft tissue cases not being profitable? How many cases do you have? Is there anything you can do to handle them better and make them more profitable? Or do you have too many of them and they’re not profitable and taking up a lot of time and energy of your staff that could be better put on your other cases and you would be better off wrapping up your existing soft-tissue cases and not taking them in the future. Or….a combination of still taking soft tissue cases, but being very selective about the cases you take and making certain your staff knows your criteria. If you can identify what is not working, it’s not too hard to identify what the solution is. It is important to be able to identify and articulate what the problem is.

Also pay attention to what works and doesn’t work at trial. After a trial, talk to the jurors (following the appropriate rules of course) and find out what they liked and didn’t like. You’ll be amazed and surprised at what you hear. If there is a lawyer in your area that tends to get tremendous results, take him to lunch and ask him why he thinks his verdicts are so high.

I also like to pay attention to business and what works there. Technology and the internet were supposed to be the next big thing, but Wal-Mart came out of nowhere to be by far the largest company in America. And they did it in retail sales, a vanilla field that has been around forever. Target came out of nowhere to beat K-Mart at their own game. The continued excellence of McDonalds is a story worth studying. Disney reinvented itself after the passing of Walt Disney. These are all stories worth studying and learning from. As lawyers should we copy them? No. Can we learn from them and adapt lessons from them? Absolutely. We ignore the successes at our own peril.

Of course we ignore the failures at our own peril as well. We can learn quite a lot from the decline and/or demise of the American car industry, Osborne Computers, IBM giving up the software rights to MicroSoft (and there’s a re-invention success after that), Sears, K-Mart, the tnetire airline industry (except for JetBlue and SouthWest, two more success stories) and many more. What was their fatal flaw? Where did they go wrong?

Why didn’t they fix their problems? How do we as lawyers anticipate situations and not make the same mistakes?

As lawyers, we are trained to be analytical. We apply logic to the case we’re working on. As trial lawyers, we’re trained to be ruthless in using what works and doesn’t work. I’ve had demonstrative exhibits that I’ve spent a tremendous amount of time on and absolutlely loved. People didn’t like them and reacted much more strongly to a simple picture than I thought. Out goes the fancy (expensive) exhibit and in goes the picture. If I have an argument that I love, but the target audience doesn’t, the argument gets pitched. We’re trained to do this as lawyers, but more often than not, fail to do this in our practice. We need to use what works, and fix or stop doing what doesn’t work.

  • Pay Attention to the Day to Day – How many cases are coming in? How many demand packages went out the door? How many cases do you have where something needs to be resolved? How quickly are your cases moving? While it’s important to think strategically, the ‘big thoughts’ of what’s working, what’s not and what you can do to be a better lawyer, run a better law firm or get more/better cases it’s just as important to not forget the daily work and determine what needs to be done and what’s getting done.

 There you have it. Build a good team, pay attention to what works (and what doesn’t) and pay attention to the day to day. That’s my recipe for success. What’s yours?

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What Do Your Business Cards Say About You?

There is no cheaper advertising than your business card. You can get 1,000 business cards for $30–40. It kills me when I see business cards with perforated edges and blurry ink that a lawyer printed up on his own with an ink-jet printer. It drives me crazy when I get a lawyer’s business card that has something printed on the back because they got it printed for a discount. It drives me to distraction when I see a business card on cheap, flimsy card stock.

The business card is a descendant of the ‘calling card’ that announced who you were. Do you really want to tell the world you’re too cheap to have your cards professionally printed? If the card looks clean, sharp and professional, there is a good chance they will think that you and your firm are clean, sharp and professional. If you give them a cheap card, odds are people will think you are cheap.

There are a lot of things that the big firms do, that solos don’t have the money for. But $35 for a thousand cards? Please. By not getting clean, sharp, professional business cards, you are doing yourself and your firm a disservice.

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Focus on Practice Management

Last week I was a speaker at the Solo and Small Law Office Conference that was put on by the Virginia Trial Lawyer’s Association. They had speakers from around the country and was (I believe) the best conference of this type in the country. I was very impressed with the speakers, but was more impressed with the participants. The lawyers were very engaged and actively listening and participating in the sessions. They were very involved in the discussions and how to better their practice.

Several weeks before that, I just got back from a practice management retreat that was fabulous. It was a private retreat and I’m still digesting all of the information that I received. Right now, I’m spending a lot of time focusing on the cases and moving them forward.

Why the focus on practice management? The better run your office is, the better lawyer you can be. The more smoothly your office runs, the more time you can spend being a lawyer.

While my overall focus is on being the best trial lawyer I can be, don’t be surprised if the posts are slanted towards practice management for a bit.

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A Perfect Storm for Plaintiff's Lawyers

During the Fall Retreat for the Southern Trial Lawyers, we talked about the ATLA name change, the image and perception of trial lawyer’s and the future of the profession. It was a fascinating conversation, but one thing emerged. Two forces are changing the the world we live in. The changes are going to be dramatic.

Force one is the extended pressure the corporate world has exerted to deny compensation to people they have injured. This is commonly known as tort reform. The corporate world has alwyas wanted to limit their liability, but it has really picked up steam in the past few years. And don’t think that it’s over or that they will be happy with their successes. In South Carolina, after tort ‘reform’ was pushed through, the very next year they tried to gut the workers compensation system based on false information and lies. We survived this year without changes, but the fight isn’t over.

Force two is advertising. Typically when lawyers think of advertising, it’s the ‘schlock’ lawyers, the ‘One call that’s all’ or the ‘Got a wreck? Get a check’, or the ‘strong arm’ or ‘heavy hitter’ lawyers that they think of advertising. In Florida, there’s a firm that has spent more than $6.5 million in advertising. From what I hear, the advertising is classy and tasteful. The firm has 85 lawyers working for them and a high percentage of the lawyers are board certified. They go to trial and do a good job. This firm started in Tampa (I think) and has now spread to the entire state of Florida. They have now moved into the Atlanta market and doing heavy advertising there.

What does that mean for you? It means it’s only a matter of time before this firm (or someone else with the same business plan) moves into your town. I now know how a well run mom and pop shop felt when Wal-Mart moved into their town.

Our world is changing and it’s changing fast. What is the proper response to take? It depends on the size of your firm, the focus of your practice, how many years of practicing law you have left, the size of your market and your goals. There’s no easy answer. However, I can easily say the ‘golden years’ of plaintiff practie are over and it will take some careful navigation to avoid the rocky shoals ahead.

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Why are There So Many Legal Consultants?

Michelle Golden of Legal Ease Blog asks: What's With All of the Legal Consultants?:

It’s only natural that more and more consultants would be cropping up as more and more people graduate from law school and competition gets stiffer and stiffer. Perhaps years ago you could just hang out a shingle and as long as you knew what you were doing in the legal arena, you’d get business. With less lawyers to compete against, it was easier for the community to find the lawyers, and more people knew who was who. That just isn’t the case now.

Law is a business, and there are plently of lawyers who need help with running a business, managing people, managing time, managing cases, bringing in business, and keeping clients happy. Clients are getting more demanding, and lawyers need to start focusing more on what the clients want and less on the lawyer’s skills.

I think it’s a brave new world and you don’t get ahead by doing the same thing everyone else does. I use the following consultants:

  • Business Coaching – To maximize my strong suits and minimize my weak points. I have found that rhw rwm I build is just as important as my trial skills. I use a two person team of business coaches. One an attorney with 35 plus years experience, and the other is just a business guru.
  • Trial Consultant – To stay up on the latest techniques and tips on trial work. With tort reform in the news and the changing demographic pool of the jury, the landscape is shifting for injury lawyers. In addition to using a trial consultant for any individual case, I schedule monthly meetings to stay up on the current ‘tech’.
  • Marketing Consultant  – To help design a logo, stationary and other literature and to help get my message across.
  • Blogging Consultant – To help stay current on all of the weblog tech.
  • Website Consultant – To stay current on SEO topics.
  • Case Management Consultant – To help on maximizing my case management software.

I try to find the most knowledgeable people in the country and use them. I think it helps to leverage their knowledge and shorten my learning curve. I also have a number of informal mentors that have provided a lot of guidance. After awhile, you build a team that’s large enough that you can’t do everything. Plus…I need all the help I can get.

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Going to a Paperless Law Office

In a recent discussion on scanning and going paperless, John Powers of Powers & Santola in Albany, had such terrific input that I had to share it. Take it away, John:

We’ve been paperless for nearly three years, using TrialWorks as our case management system.  The keys to going paperless are having a dependable HIGH SPEED scanner and a plan to make certain that everything gets scanned before it gets into the hands of a lawyer.

With 7 lawyers in the firm we are using the Canon 9080C scanner, which has color capability and scans at 90 pages per minute (180 pages per minute in duplex) in black and white and 50 pages per minute (100 ppm in duplex) in color.  We started with one scanner and subsequently added a second 9080C scanner to alleviate the frustration that occasionally arose when someone was “waiting for the scanner to be free”.  We also have three Canon 2080C portable scanners for use in court, at depositions or for gathering records outside of the office. Continue Reading Posted inOffice Technology, Practice Management, Technology |Comments (6) |Permalink

Questions about Starting a Law Practice

My post giving more advice on starting a law practice has generated a lot of interest and comments. I had previously posted on Starting Your Own Practice Out of Law School, and also How to Start a New Law Firm  which talked more about the nuts and bolts of computers and software.

Michael has asked two questions:

  • Which litigation practice areas work best for startup solo practice?
  • What marketing techniques have worked best for you?

These are two common questions. I understand where they’re coming from, but I don’t think they can be answered well as they’re based on false assumptions. And if I’m reading too much into this Michael, I apologize, but I see these questions again and again. Let’s take them one at a time.  

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More Advice on Starting a Law Practice

I started my practice straight out of law school and have written a few posts regarding starting a law practice and also been linked to by the incomparable Carolyn Elefant of MyShingle on starting a law practice. I get e-mails from younger attorneys that want to go out on their own asking for advice. Here is the response I gave to an attorney that is a few years out of school and wants to have a criminal defense practice in New York City.

I think you're *way* over thinking things at this stage. I think you have to just jump in and do it. Personally, I would do the following (You might do more or less. Others might give different advice):

  1. Get a phone line – A commercial line, that you can keep the same number once you get an established office. The number can be forwarded to your cell phone, but you will want one number that doesn't change for as long as possible. Some people are okay with just going with the cell phone, but you're going to want the landline later and you don't want client dropout because they were calling an old number.
  2. Get an office – Maybe - Share office space from another attorney, or work from your house. Grant Griffiths has a home office blog, that has lots of helpful advice. With technology this is a lot more feasible than it used to be.  The main thing is to keep your costs down. Get an executive suite, share space, work out of your house, but find *some* place to work that isn't too expensive.
  3. Get Cards - Have nice ones made up. Don't scrimp. It's the best bang you will ever get for your buck. Even if you're paying $50 per thousand, get nice cards made up. ($25 for cheap ones, $30 for nice ones, $35 for real nice ones).  I think with my custom logo and 2 color cards, I pay about $65 per thousand. It's worth getting good cards.
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Need Help With Management Reports Examples

Fellow denizens of the blogosphere, I need help.
 
The dirty little secret of case management programs is that they know everything about their software, but it seems that none of them know anything about running a law firm. I have spent a lot of time talking to a lot of the vendors. Regardless of how good their software is, they all seemed relatively clueless about the actual management of a law firm.
 
I'm going to be giving a presentation at our state TLA Convention (and a Virginia TLA Conference on Small Law Office Operation)  on reports that are helpful in managing a law firm. Primarily a plaintiff's firm, but in reality it could be any type of practice.
 
I need your help I have a number of reports that I've designed on my own but I would like to include more examples. I would like a copy of any report that you find helpful in your practice. Whether it's keeping the practice on pace, an 'exceptions' report of problem children, a month end report, a report that helps keep track of a case, status reports, reports that help show what a paralegal is getting done ... I am looking for ANY report that actually helps you with your practice.
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Building Your Practice

I was having dinner with a friend of mine the other day. He is a very accomplished trial attorney that’s been practicing for 28 years and has had some major jury verdicts. We were talking about practice development. I told him about what I had been working on with business coaching, the blog, and a few other web based projects I have in the works.

He told me “Dave. Forget about the blog. Forget about coaching. Forget about the internet projects. Just focus on your cases. Take your biggest case and hit it hard, work the stuffing out of it. Or, take your highest profile case. A case where maybe there’s not that much money in, but if you do well, you’ll get recognition for. Or if you don’t have a high dollar or high profile case, take a little case and work it so hard that your life depends on it. Your clients will appreciate it, and if you do this on a consistent basis, you’ll start getting the big cases.”

Was he right? Yes and no. (There’s a lawyer answer for you). I think if you had to choose absolutely between one and the other, I would pick good lawyering skills over practice development and marketing. But good trial skills alone won’t get you as far if you don’t mix it with practice development. And if you can’t run a good office and keep good staff, all the trial skills in the world won’t help.

The old model of the best cases being referred to the most experienced trial attorneys is changing. People are using the internet for travel arrangements, to check the weather and shop. They’re also using the internet to look for lawyers. If you don’t have an internet presence, people can’t find you. It doesn’t matter how good you are in the courtroom if you don’t get the client in the first place.

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What Projects Will You Still Be Working on Two Years from Now?

I’ve been reading It's Not What You Say...It's What You Do by Lauraence Haughton. It’s a great book. Laurence talks about a study that studied 160 businesses. They studied businesses that went zooming ahead, businesses that were sinking and businesses tht were just marking place. They checked to see if there were any business processes being used and what the common denominator was between the successful businesses.

It turns out that it didn’t matter if a business was using a TQM, Sigma 6, ISO 6000, or CRM business model. The only thing that made a difference was the follow through of the business. They determined that fully 50% of the business initiatives that were started were abandoned within 2 years. 50%! Half of the fabulous projects that are started with great fanfare and effort are just abandoned on the side of the road. Hmmm……

It makes me think about the projects that I’m working on, what I want to do now and what I still want to be doing two years from now. There’s a lot of good stuff in the book. Joe Bob says check it out.

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Do You Enjoy Practicing Law?

I was chatting with an attorney that’s been practicing for about 20+ years. She is talented, has a good reputation and a solid practice. She asked me a question that totally floored me “Come on, Dave. Honestly, how many lawyers do you know that actually enjoy the practicing law?” 

“Ummm…..Almost all of the ones that I deal with.” Of course, most of the lawyers that I talk to are active in the various trial lawyer’s associations, and really work their cases hard. One of the things that makes a difference for me is sitting down and talking to the clients. So I know who I am helping.

I am helping a person with a life, who needs someone to be their voice. I’m not representing a broken arm in a car wreck. I’m helping Tony with two kids, one in grade school and the other a toddler, who just bought a house before the crash because he was making decent money for the first time in his life. But now he’s lost his job and is in danger of losing the house and really needs some help. Personally, I get a lot more satisfaction from helping Tony, than processing through ‘another broken arm’ t-bone case.

The attorney I was talking to said that if she had to do it over again, she would go to medical school because doctors can set an easier schedule than lawyers. I think that’s just pigheaded thinking. If you’re unhappy, then change the situation. If you don’t like practicing law, change what you don’t like.

  • Don’t like the hours? – Cut back on the number of cases you handle. Reduce the different types of cases you handle and specialize.
  • Don’t like the money? – How much money do you want to make? Work on getting bigger cases, or better clients. Which lawyers are making the kind of money that you would like? What is the difference between them and you? What would it take to get to the kind of cases or money that you would like to make?
  • Don’t like your cases? – What kind of cases do you want to handle? How can you get more of those cases? I can tell you that when I started out, family court is a good way to cut your teeth, but doing divorces for a living wore me down. It’s tough seeing people go through the hardest part of their life. What do you want to do?
  • Don’t like your clients? – More often than not, a very small number of clients take up a huge portion of your time. If there’s a client that’s driving you crazy, get rid of them. Of course, you’ll want to do it politely, and in a way that won’t prejudice their case, but if you get them to a lawyer that is more their temperament, you will probably make them just as happy as yourself.
  • Don’t Like Your Job? – Identify what’s making you unhappy. Talk to your boss and fix it. If you can’t improve the situation, go out on your own and hang out a shingle.

You deserve to be happy. Don’t settle for less. If you’re not happy, figure out what’s going wrong and fix it. Being a lawyer doesn’t have to be a drag.

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Invite Your Client to Tell You More Information

One of my firm mottoes is “Relatively few clients really have the ability to evaluate our legal services, but 100% of our clients know how nice we are to them.” People understand that things don’t always go as well as well as they would like, but they don’t understand not getting phone calls back, and the lawyer or employees not being nice to them.

I’m often tempted to write about examples of really bad customer service that I encounter. Especially if it appears to be a corporate policy. Some of them seem designed to drive customers away. But bad customer service is a way of life and not tremendously interesting. In the past week, I had two experiences that I thought were out of the ordinary.

Last week, my wife and I went to dinner with some friends. The manager stopped by and asked “Have all of your expectations been met this evening?” Wow. What a question. Not “How was your food?” or “Is everything all right?” Both of those questions, elicit a direct and pointed response and don’t open a dialogue. But “Have all of your expectations been met?” That invites the diner to give an open ended response and to talk about anything that they wanted out of the dining experience that they might not have received. It’s not a matter of food, it’s a matter of dining out and making the evening special. I had never heard that question before and was impressed with it.

Yesterday I went for a haircut and the stylist asked me “How has your life been?” Wow. Another great question. Not “What do you do?” Not “Where are you from originally?” (a popular question in a resort town like Myrtle Beach). But “How has your life been?” Rather than channelling the conversation into a few dead end sentences, it invites the person to talk about anything in their life. I asked her what kind of response she normally got on that, and she told me that sometimes you get complainers, and some people that think she’s asking about how their life will be, but most of the people talk about what’s important to them.

Interesting questions. I liked seeing different ways to get their customers/clients open up to tell them what is important. When I talk to clients, I most always ask them “What questions do you have regarding this?” I think that’s better than asking “Do you have any questions?”  because it assumes that they will have questions and invites them to ask questions. But I have to admit, my invitation to the client isn’t as good as the two examples I ran into in the last week. I’ll have to think on that and come up with something better.

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Break Projects Into Bite-Size Chunks

If you have a project that you can handle, but it seems too big to wrap your arms around, cut it in half. If it’s still too big, cut it in half again. Keep on doing that until you’ve gotten down to a basic building block of your project. If you cut things down to ‘bite size’ pieces and then re-assemble them, you’d be amazed at the kind of projects you can complete.

I was fortunate enough to work my way through law school doing custom programming. I had banks, manufacturers, laboratories and businesses as clients, but two thirds of my work was for Robert Sweeney, an asbestos plaintiff firm in Cleveland, Ohio. I wrote and developed a program for them that took 3,000 plaintiffs and matched their exposure (30,000 combinations of time and place) on 8,000 job sites in Ohio and surrounding states against 50,000 pieces of admissible evidence. We came up with 750,000 matches and then knocked those down into over 50,000 plaintiff / defendant combinations. Obviously, it was a large group effort, but I was the only programmer / computer guy. All of that was done on 286 computers. Wow!

Looking back on it, I would say it couldn’t be done. Especially writing it on the fly like that, but we accomplished the goal by breaking things into bite-size pieces.

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How to Make More Time

Short answer. You don’t. Everyone gets 24 hours a day. Everyone gets seven days in a week. I used to say “Oh. I don’t have time for that”. “I don’t have time to exercise. I don’t have time to manage money better. I don’t have time to learn that area of law”. Everyone gets the same amount of time. You and I have the same amount of time that Aristotle, Leonardo DaVinci and Henry David Thoreau had.

David Ball likes to say that a trial, just like a play is about what it spends it time on. If you spend all your time on liability and not damages, the issue becomes one of right and wrong and not about the extent of the wrong. I believe our lives are the same way. They are about what we spend on our time on. We all get 24 hours and spend those 24 hours. I always make time to check my e-mail. I always make time to check my favorite political sites on the internet. I make time to read my favorite blogs. It’s a cop out for me to say that I don’t have time to exercise. In reality, when we say that we don’t have time for something, we’re saying “It’s not a high enough priority to get to”.

So the short answer is you can’t make more time, but you can consciously spend more time on things that make you happy and help your life.

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How to Start a New Law Firm

A friend of mine recently asked for recommendations on the best equipment and ideas on starting a law practice on a budget. He is going from a public agency to private practice. This means two things 1) he’s starting from scratch; and 2) he’s starting on a tight budget. Since I started my own practice straight out of law school with $1,500 in my pocket, this is right up my alley. And of course what follows is my opinion. Feel free to use as much or as little as you want. None of this is Gospel or set in stone.

Phones – I think it’s very important to have a permanent, commercial phone number. When you’re a start up solo, it’s acceptable to use a cell phone as your main phone, but you don’t want the number changing. If you talk to your local carrier, I believe you can get them to assign you a phone number and pay a reduced fee for that and have it permanently forwarded to your cell phone. The main thing is to have a commercial number that can move with you. (This used to be very important, but might be less so with the new number portability). Your at one line now, but you’d be surprised at how fast you get up to 5 lines, so it pays to check things out beforehand.

Office – If you’re on a budget, see if there’s a lawyer that has some spare office space and you can pay him a few hundred dollars a month rent. The advantage to this is access to a lobby, conference room, law books… If you can’t find a set up like that, an office suite arrangement, where they provide the copiers, fax machines and receptionist is the next best thing. I think you can move physical space, you just want that phone number to stay the same.

Computer – You’re going to want to start off with a laptop. A lot of people go for laptops with a big (17 or 19 inch) screen. I love, love, love ultralights. I tote my laptop everywhere with me and want it light. The difference between 4 pounds and 6 pounds might not seem like much until you tote one everywhere you go, plus the assorted accessories. Averatec makes good laptops with lots of features for a good price tag. They’re not cutting edge, but they have a good feature set for the price. Fujitsu also makes good laptops. I’ll get into a discussion on the value of going Mac towards the end.

Printer – At this point, I would get an all in one laser/copier/fax. They are very inexpensive. Rather than do a lot of comparison shopping, I just get the HP printer  in my price and feature range. I know I can save a few dollars or get a few features more for the same price tag by doing a lot of comparison shopping, but so far I’ve never had problems or gone wrong with an HP printer. (For the same reason I also get a Dell in my price range when I buy desktops).

Word Processor – I have to admit that I’m partial to WordPerfect. If you don’t have business clients that you’ll need to swap documents with, you can use WordPerfect and pick up copies cheap on ebay. If you want to use MicroSoft Office and don’t want the expense along with it, you can get Open Office which is an open source office suite whose documents are compatible with MicroSoft Office, but it’s free. The last time I looked at Open Office, it had all of the meat and potatoes of Microsoft, but without some of the bells and whistles. Me? I’d stick with WordPerfect, which is still widely in use within the legal community.

Web Browser – Firefox. It’s free and with lots of extensions to customize it. My personal favorite is Opera. Mainly because I like the shiny blue metallic skin from their 6.0 version, but we all have our little quirks (perhaps I’m sharing too much with that). Firefox is free and Opera costs $29. Not much, but when you’re on a budget…

Trial Presentation Software – Sanction and Trial Director are both highly regarded. My preference is towards Sanction, but there’s a number of people who’s opinion I highly respect that prefer Trial Director. While this will be a key in a litigation practice, you probably won’t need one to start off. There is open source software out there, but I was unable to locate links to it. The open source part means that it is free. I hear that it is pretty good, but haven’t used it. If someone knows the software I’m talking to, I’ll update this post with the appropriate information.

Case Management Software – I would recommend TimeMatters or Amicus Attorney as starting off. They are both solid general purpose programs that should handle a bunch of different case types. Download them both, try them out and see which one you are drawn to. I’m currently using TimeMatters, but you won’t go wrong with either one. Depending on how tight things are after you buy a computer and get settled in an office, you might want to keep the information manually and wait a few months to move to the case management software.

Thinking of Going Mac – My buddy asked about going Mac. A PowerBook and the Mac Office Suite is a good choice. The main thing you’re giving up is the access to trial presentation software and specialized case management software with document assembly. The question is “How important is that to you?” To me, the document assembly to generate documents directly off the database is very important. The trial presentation software is also key. I’m not willing to give that up. However, with the new PowerBooks running an Intel chip that means that it won’t be too long until you can dual boot the Mac. That means that you’ll be able to run Mac OS X and Windows on the same computer. Hmmm……  It’s tempting to go to a Mac. You’ll also have to do a lot of stuff on your own, because it’s less ‘mainstream’. The flipside of that is that many things are  much easier to do on a Mac. Hmmm……. It’s tempting, but so far I haven’t bitten the bullet to make the switch myself. I bought a PowerBook for my wife and she loves it. Hmmmm……..Tempting.

Any more questions?

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What Cases Do You Refuse?

When dealing with a new matter, what cases do you or should you refuse? Obviously, you do an initial screening to determine whether there is liability and damages. You will probably have a threshold for the amount of damages that the client has to make it worthwhile. I won’t take a case where the client can’t answer simple questions. If you can’t get information from the client, or can’t have a discussion with the client, you’re going to have a long road to go with the representation.

When I say, simple questions I mean simple questions. Like “You fell off the roof and hurt your arm. What treatment did you get for your arm?”  After a non responsive answer from the potential client. “Did the doctor look at your arm?” non responsive answer. “Did they take x-rays of the arm?” non responsive answer. “Did they put your arm in a sling or a cast?” non responsive answer. “Did you receive physical therapy on your arm?” non responsive answer. “Of all of the medications the doctor gave you, were any of them specifically for your arm?” non responsive answer. 

Hmmm……….  How can you take a case like that? If you can’t get a straight answer, it’s better to turn down the case. I think you make money on the cases you don’t take. Cases that frustrate or upset you take up to much mental energy and take away from the good cases. When I was just starting my practice, I would look at a case like that and see that the damages seemed to far outweigh the amount of insurance and that the case would resolve quickly and would take the case. Or a client would come in on in a workers compensation case that had a hearing 2 weeks from then. Both of those were a mistake on my part. I thought “How bad can it be?” Answer. Pretty bad.

It’s easier to just finish up some of your other cases a little faster and be happy.

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Managing a Plaintiff's Personal Injury Practice

I’m embarrassed to admit this, but before this year I didn’t manage my law firm. Yes, I worked the cases and prioritized the work by urgency, importance and age. Yes, I hired and trained employees.  As time went on, the size of the case and the number of referrals increased. All the typical things that lawyers do, but I didn’t actively manage my business.

When I started looking at case management software, I was very interested in seeing the reports that they had and was always disappointed by how generic they were. I asked what reports other firms were using and was told that they could do produce whatever reports I wanted. Report writers are great that way. But what did I want? I didn’t know. Last February, at the Southern Trial Lawyer’s Convention, John Romano gave a great presentation on the future of plaintiff firms and how we needed to do a better job of managing our firms. So I sat down to think about what information I wanted to see, and to where I wanted the firm to go. Continue Reading Posted inPractice Management |Comments (2) |Permalink

Getting to Basics with Case Management

I was starting to get bogged down in the minutiae on getting a case management program running so I decided to step back, take a deep breath and see where things where going. What’s even the purpose of having one and what did I want it to accomplish?

Basic Goals: To have a smooth running, efficient office. I want to help people, do quality legal work and also be profitable. I would like the computer to help me with that.

Okay. So far so good. That’s some fine goal making, but what does that mean? Here’s some processes that should be streamlined: Continue Reading Posted inOffice Technology, Practice Management, Technology |Comments (1) |Permalink

Choosing a Case Management System for a Law Firm

We’re about to put in a new computer system. I’ve had TimeMatters for 8 years and really like it alot. However, for whatever reason we’ve never got the full use out of it. Some of it might be our fault, but we’ve got lots of use out of it, but haven’t been able to use it to it’s full capacity. Since we first bought TimeMatters, we’ve gone from a general practice to a straight trial practice and it’s time to put in litigation specific software. Although, I’m not opposed to looking to others, the leading candidates are TrialWorks and Needles. Needles has always been considered the high end in litigation software. In the past 5 plus years, TrialWorks has been coming on strong and while has a smaller market share, has really taken a sizeable portion of the market in a relatively short period of time.

After spending more than 30 hours with each of the programs exploring the nooks and crannies, I think they are both fabulous programs. My impressions in a nutshell are that TrialWorks looks like it was built with all of the functionality of Needles, but with all of the technology that was available 5 years later. Needles on the other hand, has made customer service it’s number one priority, has a number of local and regional user groups and tours and TrialWorks hasn’t had the time to catch up with the customer support and large installed user based of Needles yet.

This is some of the things that I’m looking for in a case management program: Continue Reading Posted inOffice Technology, Practice Management, Technology |Comments (10) |Permalink

Trial Attorneys Doing Business with Advertising Attorneys

Last weekend at Auto Torts, I met with my friend Mark Zamora, of A Georgia Lawyer. And he said something that was simple, yet brilliant. Advertising has come slow to the trial lawyer community. A lot of trial lawyers look down on advertising. Personally, I don’t mind advertising as long as it’s done in a way that doesn’t hurt the profession. I don’t like the schlocky advertising with firms that are run as settlement mills and they never try cases.

However, advertising firms generate a lot of cases. More cases than they can handle. Mark asked:

My question to trial attorneys: When is the last time you either wrote, emailed or even cold called an advertising attorney in your state? I am not asking you to think city only. Think the statewide advertisers.

I thought that was a great idea. Imagine my surprise to get home and check out my newsreader and find that Mark had just written a post on that. Mark lays out how to talk about what kind of cases you want to receive from the other attorney, what the fee structure should be and what they will expect in return. Very smart business. Thanks for the ideas Mark.

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Marketing for the Plaintiff's Attorney

In the current legal environment, more cases get mediated than go to trial. I had been using a combination of focus groups, video, pictures and PowerPoint to good success. But I wanted to see what other lawyers were doing. The only problem was that there were no products commercially available.

So, I put out a call to other attorneys asking them to send me a copy of their work. In exchange for their single contribution, I would put all of them on a disk and give everyone a copy with everyone’s examples on there. Continue Reading Posted inPractice Management |Comments (4) |Permalink

Some More Thoughts On Eliminating Bottlenecks in Lawsuits

I’ve talked previously about using the Theory of Constraints in running a law practice. Discussing the theory of constraints, applying theory of constraints to law firms, the effect of dependent events and John Day’s excellent comments on eliminating bottlenecks.  Where are the bottlenecks (or constraints if you want a more positive term) in your firm? What slows down a case from being ready for trial? What slows down a case from being ready for settlement? I'm a sole practitioner and at my firm at least, the lawyer is the biggest bottleneck. I have 3 full time employees and a part-time employee. They are in the office working all of the time. I'm in court, meeting with clients, taking depositions, going to seminars and giving presentations. That leaves comparatively little time in the office. So how do you minimize the bottlenecks?

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Solutions to Minimizing Bottlenecks and Moving Cases

John Day of Day on Torts, posted a Comment on my post for Why It’s So Hard to Move Cases that was so good, I decided to move the text up into a post for everyone to read. Take it away John:

In many places, significant cases do not get resolved until there is a trial date.  The "trick" then is to do what you need to do to get a trial date, which will depend on what that judge requires you to have done before you ask for a trial date.

In order to keep a trial date once you get it it is essential that your office meet all deadlines.  You cannot complain about your opponent missing deadlines if you do not meet them yourself. 

All of this requires, as you say in your post, knowing how long things will take to get completed and building in time for the inevitable bottlenecks.  I would caution, however, that bottlenecks on our side can often be avoided.

For example, one bottleneck is getting plaintiffs to do what they need to do to get discovery answered. Solution:  get them a questionnaire that asks all the questions the future interrogatories will ask and get them to work on it early, before the complaint is filed.  We rarely have to ask for an extension to complete our discovery because we have gotten a headstart on it.  The source for the questionnaire?  Take the most burdensome discovery you have ever gotten and convert it into a questionnaire.  You may miss one or two of the interrogatories you eventually get, but then (a) you have 30 days to get that limited information and (b) you amend your questionnaire for future use.

Another bottleneck:  getting a defendant to send discovery.  Some defendants will postpone sending written discovery to prevent the plaintiff from getting a trial date.  My response:  I serve "Interrrogatories and Requests for Production the Defendant Would Have Served on the Defendant" on myself and then respond to them.  After 24 years I know what they are going to ask.  (No; I don't answer myself any questions that are "tough" for that case.)  Then they have their discovery.  The judges get a real kick out of it.

You can eliminate time crunches by knowing what’s going to come up as time crunches and pro-actively plan ahead. Good thinking. Thanks for the thoughts John.

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Skill is More Important Than Talent

I was reading a good article on ESPN.com about Atlanta Falcon’s 2nd year phenom DeAngelo Hall. For a young guy, he sure has his head on straight. A partial quote:

"…Athletically, I'm pretty darn good; that's why I got drafted eighth overall. But in the big picture, don't none of that matter. It's all about study and film and experience and game knowledge. Because a 4.2 running the wrong way is always gonna get beat by a 4.5 running the right way." [emphasis added]

What a great quote. It doesn’t matter how fast you’re running if you’re running in the wrong direction. Of course, the flip side of that is if you’re going in the right direction, but going a bit slower than you want, don’t worry. Just keep going in the right direction and good things will happen.

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Why It's So Hard to Move Cases

What is the relationship of dependent events and statistical fluctuations? What does that mean? Who cares? And what does this have to do with running a law firm?

What is a dependent event? An event that is dependent upon another event occurring first. A has to be done before B, which has to be done before C, which will lead to D. You can’t get to D, before A, B and C are done. These are dependent events. Do we have dependent events in law firms? Sure do. You can’t get an economist’s reports before you have the costs of the future medical treatment and the vocational report. That's a dependent event. You can’t get a vocational evaluation until you have all of the medical records and work restrictions. That’s a dependent event. You can’t get the medical reports (at least they won’t do any good) if the client hasn’t reached maximum medical improvement or at least the treatment stabilizes out. That’s a dependent event. Continue Reading Posted inPractice Management |Comments (2) |Permalink

Having a Written Plan for Your Firm

Yesterday I discussed having a case plan, financial plan, marketing plan, business plan and life plan. I resisted this for a long period of time, because it seemed to rigid and structured for me. However, the purpose of having these plans is not to fill up every second of your day and to be a perfect Type A “Go, Go, Go” personality. The purpose of the plan is to be happier and lead the life you want.

Do you want to spend more time with your family? Make more money? Get away to the beach? Having goals in place and actively working towards them will help with whatever you do. The goals don’t have to be (and in my opinion shouldn’t be) money, money, money. If that’s what you want, you might as well be working for a defense firm.

I firmly believe in having written plans. The process of putting things down on paper forces me to make general thoughts more specific and clarify my goals.

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New Trust Account Requirements Go Into Effect on 10/1/05

Professor John Freeman at the University of South Carolina School of Law reminds us of the changes to the Rules of Professional Conduct, As of October 1, 2005, every lawyer in SC who maintains a trust account must, under new Rule 1.15(h), "file with the financial institution a written directive requiring the institution to report to the Commission on Lawyer Conduct when any properly payable instrument drawn on the account is presented for payment against insufficient funds.

Professor Freeman suggests a sample letter: Continue Reading Posted inPractice Management |Comments (3) |Permalink

The Keys to a Smoothly Run Law Office

What do you need to have a smooth running law office? Other than just working, working, working. How do you become more profitable without working yourself to death? How do you minimize the stress in your life? The answer is planning. Ah… but planning about what? Here’s what I see are the keys to having a smoothly run office:

  • Case Plan – How do you handle cases from start to finish? Does everyone in your firm know exactly what to do and how to do it on your cases? Most of the raves that I’ve heard about Needles and TrialWorks are not for their technical abilities as case management programs, but that they force the firm to define and use a case plan for every case. And you know what? Both the lawyers and paralegals love it.
  • Financial Plan – How much do you understand your finance? If you’re like most lawyers, the answer is not much.  Do you know when your cash comes in and plan accordingly? Our business is pretty cyclical from the tourist trade. Do you have a ‘big case’ budget and know how much you can afford to spend on your cases? What big purchases are you going to make and when is the best time to make them? Is there going to be any disruptions in your cash flow?
  • Marketing Plan – Lawyers often confuse advertising and marketing. What are you doing to let people know you are a good lawyer and out there doing good work? Giving presentations? Participating on listservs? Writing books? Going to conferences? Spending time with other lawyers? I have seen on more than one occasion, an attorney who was one of the top attorneys in his field, who had written several books on a legal subject, had done research and had a Master’s thesis in the subject and had contributed several chapters to other’s books state that he didn’t market. Yes, he does. Being the leading expert in his field and writing books is marketing. Having a plan in place helps.
  • Business Plan – What kind of practice do you want to have? If you could design your perfect practice, what kind of cases would you handle? What kind of clients would you have? How many staff members would you have? And how do these goals match what you’re doing today? How do these goals integrate with your case plan, financial plan and marketing plan?
  • Life Plan – What kind of life do you want to have? At the end of your days and you look back on your life, what will make you the proudest? What do you want to have accomplished? What role do you want your work to take in your life? What role do you want family, and friends to take? What hobbies do you have? What do you want your legacy to be? What drives you?

Do, I have a written plan for all of these? No. But, I’m working on it. I have two coaches that are assisting me, keeping me on track towards where I want to go and helping me move toward my goals instead of just going forward a day at a time. The hardest part is clearly defining your goals.

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The E-Myth Lawyer: Why Most Legal Practices Don't Work

Last weekend, I read The E-Myth Physician: Why Most Medical Practices Don't Work and What to Do About It by Michael Gerber. Yes, I know it says E-Myth Physician, and we’re lawyers, but a professional services firm is a professional services firm. Michael defines the E-Myth as:

E-Myth: the entrepreneurial myth: the myth that most people who start small businesses are entrepreneurs 2: the fatal assumption that an individual who understands the technical work of a business can successfully run a business that does that technical work.  

In other words, it doesn’t matter how good of a lawyer you are, it doesn’t mean beans about running a lawyer shop. This is a shorter, more focused version of Michael’s earlier book The E-Myth Revisited: Why Most Small Businesses Don't Work and What to Do About It. I think he’s right. Running a business is much different than being a good lawyer and we ignore the difference at our peril. More tidbits from the book  soon.

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Looking for a Secretary in Myrtle Beach

Well, we’re growing and it’s time to add another staff member. I’m looking for a secretary/receptionist. Stephanie’s done a great job and I’m moving her up to paralegal, so it’s time for a new person. We need someone that is very personable and can deal with people over the phone. We sat down and thought about the characteristics we need in a person and came up with:

  • Not afraid to make mistakes – The ability to work independently and bring the finished product back without poking your head in every few minutes asking questions.
  • Computer literate – If you’re reading this on a blog, you probably have that one covered, but we’re looking for familiarity with Windows programs e.g. menus, drop-down boxes…, cutting and pasting from one application to another, finding information on the internet, ordering things on the internet …
  • Fun – We all get along so well together and joke around. We want someone that will fit in with us and can enjoy being in that atmosphere. I’m a part-time comedian, do you think that there weren’t any jokes in the office?? 
  • Hardworking – We chat, joke around some, but when it comes down to it we work pretty hard. We need someone that’s going to be hardworking and help move the cases.
  • Respectful – We’re pretty informal, but all have a great deal of respect for each other. 
  • Resourceful – Can you find a way to get the job done? If the first try doesn’t work out, can you think of a way to get things to work?
  • Creative – Hand in hand with the resourcefulness up above.

 Bloggers are always talking about the power of the blogosphere. Let’s see if it can do the trick here. I’m using the normal channels such as a newspaper ad and employment agency, but we’ll see if we get a response from this. I pay above market value because I want the best staff there is.

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Great Quotes on Time

I came across these quotes the other day:

“Don’t say you don’t have enough time. You have exactly the same number of hours per fay that were given to Helen Keller, Pasteur, Michelangelo, Mother Teresa, Leonardo DaVinci, Thomas Jefferson and Albert Einstein.”  H. Jackson Brown, Jr.

Continue Reading Posted inPractice Management |Comments (0) |Permalink

How to Screen Cases

We have a special treat today. A guest post from Charleston lawyer Vernon Glenn. Vernon writes about how to screen cases. Take it away Vernon:

We all want to take on good cases, cases that reward our clients and us too. It's a two-way street and must be that way in order to have good effect. For the prospective case and client, I always use the THREE WAY TEST (No, this is not Rotary):

  1. Do you like the folks sitting in your office? Really like them?
  2. Does the case have the "Oh My God!!" factor ( Does the case create an involuntary reflex of sympathy, disgust, horror) ?
  3. After thinking about how you would DEFEND the case, do you still like it?

This 'checklist' must be hit viscerally and quickly; any hesitation most likely foreshadows problems somewhere. If so, leave them for someone else. A very wise, battle-tested lawyer named Norwood Robinson from up in North Carolina, who was one of my early mentors, said to me, "The Most Important cases you have are the ones you don't take." Think about it. Ah, the truth of Stengalese.

Good stuff. Thanks for the guest post, Vernon.

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Best PCR Application You'll Ever See

As attorneys we get appointed to both DSS and criminal cases. Of the criminal cases, we often get Post Conviction Relief appointments. These are appointments for people that have been convicted of crimes and later file an appeal. The most common appeal is inadequate assistance of counsel.  Bryan Braddock recently received the following language in an appointed PCR appeal:

Had it not been for the poor, albeit reprehensible representattion that abridges any distinction of competency as the Petitioner was cast into the abyss of the Public Defenders maw, to be masticated as if grizzle, and to, without any credible point of mitigation, supplication, clarification or justification remanded without adversarial process his client, the Petitioner to a quick and unjust plea.

I think this guy took writing classes from Jackie Chiles.

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Sadness for a Friend - Kerry Randall

Last Monday, Kerry Randall suffered a major heart attack and has not regained consciousness. His family has set up a blog to update people on Kerry’s status.

Kerry wrote the excellent book Effective Yellow Pages Advertising for Lawyers: The Complete Guide to Creating Winning Ads that totally changed how I viewed and approached marketing. After reading the book, I did a search on the net and called Kerry. After an exhilirating two hour talk, Kerry and I decided to work together.

He designed my personal injury and workers comp yellow pages ad. He (and his graphics guru Andru Johnson) designed the logo for my weblog with the legal books morphing into a laptop. They also did my firm logo (upper right hand corner) with the blue swoopy thing. They did a lot more work for me, but the main thing is that Kerry was one of the good guys.

Kerry was passionately interested in bettering the legal field and taking a holistic approach to marketing so that any advertising would reflect favorably on the profession. Kerry would send me books on marketing so that I could learn more. He recommended books on psychology, how people make decisions and how people are influenced. Very important information for a trial lawyer to learn.

Kerry was a friend. With a lively sense of humor and a sense of adventure on every project. He was extraordinarily talented and always had a positive attitude for everything. He was one of the best in the country that specialized in plaintiff’s work. When his redesigned yellow pages ad came out, we actually got less phone traffic, but more cases with people that were seriously injured. As per David Ball, I refuse to call those "good cases". That’s really quite a feat.

I only worked with Kerry for a year, but I have lost a friend, a mentor and an important member of my team. My heart and prayers go out to his family, his friends and the members of his team.

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Things to Do on Your Way to Work

I live 20 minutes from my office. That means I spend 167 hours a year going to and from work (20 x 2 = 40 minutes a day; x 5 = 200 minutes / 3 1/3 hours a week; x 50 weeks = 167 hours a year). This doesn’t include any trips for depositions, court hearings or other travel. Here’s some good ways to make use of the time:

  • Dictation – Every morning, I run through the things I have to do that day. The most important tasks, the most time sensitive and urgent tasks and other issues that are running through my mind. I have the number and code for YouDictate on speed dial of my cellphone. I can leave a message of the tasks I want to do, notes on a case or anything else. When I get to the office, I’ll have an e-mail with the information waiting for me. I can then cut and paste the information into the appropriate case, or add the appropriate tasks on to my case management program.
  • Learning – I have over 50 hours of ATLA presentations on my mp3 player. Everything from better presentations to discovery and storytelling. You can get a bargain if you get some of the older presentations. I picked up a year old copy of Overcoming Juror Bias for $99 instead of the $295 price tag for the new Overcoming Juror Bias tapes.
  • Laughing – I’m a big fan of comedy. I have over 70 hours of comedy on my mp3 player. About half of the comedy is from regional touring acts, the other half is from established comedy giants (Bill Cosby, Bob Newhart, Woody Allen, Lenny Bruce, Phyllis Diller, Don Rickles, Jackie Mason, Shelly Berman, Buddy Hacket, Burns and Allen, Abbott and Costello…). Amazon and Laugh are great places to get comedy material.
  • Catch up on Reading – Whether you enjoy popular fiction, business books or anything in between, you can listen to the books on your mp3 player. Audio Books Download, Audio Books Online and Amazon have an extensive collection of books on cd that can be downloaded down to your mp3 player.
  • Mood Changers – Use music to help get you in the proper frame of mind. If you want to get pumped for the day, try high energy music. If you want to mellow out after a rough day, try new age or alternative music. Consciously pick music that will match the mood that you want to get the most out of your day.
  • Stay up on the News – You can use satellite radio to stay up on the national news, or you can download podcasts of the news to your mp3 player. ABC News to Go or Podcasting News are good places for podcast news.
  • Stay Up on Your Favorite Podcasting Blogs – A number of bloggers have audio versions of their blog posts. This is known as podcasting, so you can keep up on your blogs while driving to and from work. Evan Schaeffer and Kevin Heller have a great site Blawgcast that collects legal podcasts and also explains what it’s all about. Tim Stanley of Justia also has a round-up on legal podcasts. I have to admit that I haven’t been enamored of the whole podcasting phenomena, but a lot of people really love it.

If you notice, most of these are ways use an mp3 player. It amazes me the number of lawyers that I talk to that don’t have an mp3 player yet. Apple’s iPod is the most popular player. I have a 5 gig Rio Carbon that I love. The Rio has more memory, twice the battery length (18 hours), slightly smaller and it costs less.

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Persistence, persistence, persistence

Steve Pavlina’s Personal Development Blog has an excellent post on post on perserverance. There’s a lot of good quotes in the post. I am often surprised how effective persistence is. It beats talent, looks and money any day of the week. In life, I have accomplished more good from being persistent than being smart. A few of the quotes that Steve pulled are below:

Perseverance is the hard work you do after you get tired of doing the hard work you already did.
- Newt Gingrich

Nothing in the world can take the place of Persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent. The slogan “Press On” has solved and always will solve the problems of the human race.
- Calvin Coolidge

They who lack talent expect things to happen without effort. They ascribe failure to a lack of inspiration or ability, or to misfortune, rather than to insufficient application. At the core of every true talent there is an awareness of the difficulties inherent in any achievement, and the confidence that by persistence and patience something worthwhile will be realized. Thus talent is a species of vigor.
- Eric Hoffer

Energy and persistence conquer all things.
- Benjamin Franklin

To bring one’s self to a frame of mind and to the proper energy to accomplish things that require plain hard work continuously is the one big battle that everyone has. When this battle is won for all time, then everything is easy.
- Thomas A. Buckner

 

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Learn from the Smartest People You Know

Who are the smartest people you know? Are you learning from them? If not, why not? 

Organize a monthly or quarterly dinner to get together the smartest and most successful business people you know. They don’t have to know anything about the law, they just need to be smart, insightful and willing to share their information. Let the people mingle and learn from each other. You’d be surprised at the synergy that creates.

I have a friend that does litigation support and she gets lawyers, doctors and other experts together on a quarterly basis. Everyone chats, has a good time and learns more about what the others do. The doctors talk to the litigation experts and learn more about what will help them prove the case. The lawyers talk to the doctors and experts and learn more about their specialty. It helps everyone. This is a legal specific example, but it will work well with anyone that is sharp and competent.

Also, talk to the best consultants in the country. If you can’t afford their services, talk to them about spending one hour a month picking their brain. You can learn an awful lot from drafting off the brains of the brightest.

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Have Your Paralegal Send a Followup Letter to the Client

I have a small office (myself, a paralegal and a secretary). One of the things I always do on an initial intake is introduce the client to both my staff members. I want the client to know who they’re talking to and be more comfortable when they call in. Even if my paralegal is in the middle of something, she can still raise her head, wave and say hello to the new client.

Another idea is to send a follow up welcome letter not from you, not from the firm, but from the paralegal. We use language like this:

As the paralegal assigned to assist Mr. Swanner in the handling of your case, I would like to take this opportunity to let you know that I am available at any time should you have questions concerning your case. I wanted to introduce myself and let you know that we will work very hard on your case. If you ever have any questions or problems concerning your case please let me know so I can help you.

If you feel it’s appropriate, you can also have them add that the lawyer is often out of the office meeting with clients, witnesses and investigators, taking or defending depositions, attending or presenting at conferences, and preparing for or attending court, but that the paralegal will be in the office and will be available to help them out.

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Visit Other Firms to Learn How to Run a Better Law Firm

Find a law firm that you admire the most and talk to them about visiting and seeing their operations.

  • What makes them tick?
  • What forms do they use to stay on top of things?
  • What checklists do they use to assist them?
  • What metrics do they use measure their success?
  • How do they keep clients happy?
  • How do they keep their staff happy?
  • How do they manage their referral system?
  • What do they think makes them better than the average firm?

Not every firm will open their doors to you and help you out that way. But you’d be surprised how many will. I firmly believe that the best want to see other lawyers succeed.

You’ll be surprised at some of the innovative ways that other firms deal with some very basic issues.

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Who Has the Fastest Computer in Your Office?

Years ago, when I was a computer consultant. I would see secretaries, paralegals and support staff with under powered machines, while the boss man would have the fastest, shiniest box on the market. What does he use that monster machine for? “Nothing. Every now and then he’ll check e-mail.”

So let me get this straight. The person who uses the most computing horsepower has the slowest computer and the person who uses his computer the least has the fastest most expensive one? Yep.

Who uses the computers in your office the most? And do they have the tools they need to succeed?

Posted inOffice Technology, Practice Management |Comments (4) |Permalink

What Do You Value in an Employee?

I recently conducted a search for a lead paralegal and was thinking about the most important traits I was looking for in an employee. I came up with

  1. Loyalty
  2. Communication
  3. Work Hard

I value intelligence quite a bit and was rather surprised it didn’t make my short list. And of course talent makes a huge difference, but I don’t think any of that matters if you don’t have the first three. What do you guys think?

Posted inPractice Management |Comments (2) |Permalink

Keeping Client's Happy by Sending Them Copies

This is a basic tip that’s been around for ages. Send the client a copy of all of the correspondence that comes in and goes out on their case. This keeps them informed and makes them happy. Well, that’s a real good idea, but who has time to do that? I’ve tried doing this, and it works for a period of time until things get hectic or there’s a staff change. Here’s how I think we can keep the client informed with a minimal amount of time and effort.

  • Print Envelopes When the Case is Opened – When the case is opened, have the secretary print 10 envelopes with the client’s name and address on them and place them in the client’s folder. This makes it quick and easy when the filing, or copying is done to just make an extra copy, stick it in the envelope and drop it in the mail. When the secretary gets to the last envelope, she can print 10 more.
  • Get Self-Inking ‘Copy’ Stamps – Order self inking stamps from Office Depot that say “COPY This is to keep you informed of your case. You do not need to do anything with these papers.” or words to that effect. A quick Copy Stamp, drop in the envelope and away you go.

I’d love to hear from anyone that regularly copies their clients with all of the correspondence on their case. What they’re doing, how they keep it going and what effect it’s had on client communications.

Posted inPractice Management |Comments (5) |Permalink

Loyalty is the Most Important Thing

I just ran into this Elbert Hubbard quote “An ounce of loyalty is worth a pound of cleverness.”

I really believe that. No matter how smart a person is or how hard they work, it doesn’t mean a thing without loyalty. It’s always surprises me when people don’t get this simple concept.

Elbert Hubbard was a very interesting person and collected the wisdom known to his generation in: Elbert Hubbard's Scrap Book: Containing the Inspired and Inspiring Selections Gathered During a Life Time of Discriminating Reading for His Own Use. Fascinating reading if you get the chance. He has quotes from Sun Tsu next to Robespierre, Voltaire, Benjamin Franklin, Ralph Waldo Emerson and other people from his generation that I'm not familiar with. There's about 20 quotes per page all inspiring much to think about. I’m amazed at all that he managed to collect and organize before Google and the internet.  

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Good Incentive Programs are Hard to Design

A great New Yorker article on article on doctor compensation has an interview with Harris Berman who started with a small doctors group and grew it into the largest HMO in the Northeast. Here’s what Harris has to say about incentive programs:

Over the course of thirty years, Berman told me, he’d tried paying physicians almost every conceivable way. He’d paid low salaries and high salaries and still watched them go home at three in the afternoon. He’d paid fee-for-service and watched the paperwork accumulate and the doctors run up the bills to make more money. He’d come up with complicated bonus schemes for productivity and given doctors budgets to oversee. He’d given patients cash accounts to pay their doctors themselves. But no system was able to provide both simplicity and the right balance of thriftiness and reward for good patient care. (emphasis added)

 Sounds right to me. It’s a difficult balancing act.

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Take the Call. Take the Hit.

Back to basics time again. About 2 months ago I was  interviewing for a paralegal. When interviewing, one of the questions I asked was ‘In your opinion, what is the difference between a well run law firm and one not so well run?” I also asked “What is the one thing you think most law firms could do better?” Overwhelmingly, the most common response was talk to clients, taking phone calls and returning clients calls.

As lawyers we have great excuses for not taking phone calls. He’s in a meeting, preparing for court, in a deposition, out of the office… it makes it easy to duck calls. I was amazed at how common of a response this was. When talking with Shirley Hughes, this was her response:

The one downfall I have seen with attorneys is they NEVER return their calls on time and caller ID is the bane of our society. No matter who is on that line, take the call and take the consequences right then....it's never as bad as your conscience thinks it will be. Every day the call isn't returned turns up the "guilt factor" until you find you get mad at the client, creditor, or opposing counsel for calling. Just human nature.

Good points. Thanks Shirley.

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What Will Be Important to You Five Years From Now?

I was talking to Larry Levin and he made the statement that there are only two things that will be important five years from now:

  1. The People You Know
  2. The Books You Read

Hmmm…. When he first said that, I thought, “Okay, that sounds good. I don’t know if I agree with it, but I don’t totally disagree with it”. After thinking about it, I believe he’s right. Relationships with the people you know and the knowledge you acquire. What else is important in life?

With the ease of ordering of books online, instead of recommending good books to friends I’ve started sending them a copy of the books. It’s a good way to build a friendship.

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Simple Things in Life

Jason Calcanis has a great post on dealing with young turks and realizations he has in dealing in business. Jason says:

The older I get the more I realize that business is about three very basic things:

1. Hustle
2. Passion
3. Resiliency

You have those things it really doesn’t matter what the idea is… you can change your ideas all day long, in fact evolving is what you’re supposed to do in business. However, you can’t substitute hustle, passion, or resiliency.

Sounds right to me. Thanks to Jim Logan for pointing it out.  

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What is Your Big Case Budget?

I was talking to a good friend the other day. He and his partner are starting to do pretty well. They’ve helped a number of seriously injured clients and helped their clients receive some sizeable settlements. When we were talking over lunch though he was talking about how bad his cash flow was. The answer to his problem was that he was self-financing too many large cases without the cash reserves to do that.

  • Do you have an operating budget for the year?
  • Have you determined how much you can afford to spend on big cases?
  • Do you have a plan for associating other attorneys when you exceed your case budget?

Most of us have to say no to this. That we don’t have a set operating budget that we actually follow. At the Southern Trial Lawyer’s Association Convention, when John Romano asked this question only 2 out of seventy five attorneys answered that they had an operating budget. When asked if they followed the budget, both the people lowered their hands.

In my friends case, success was making him broke because he didn’t have a coherent business plan.

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Doctor's Focus on Practice Management Too

From a recent New Yorker article:

Doctors quickly learn that how much they make has little to do with how good they are. It largely depends on how they handle the business side of their practice.  …

A well-run office can get the insurer’s rejection rate down from thirty per cent to, say, fifteen per cent. That’s how a doctor makes money, she told me. It’s a war with insurance, every step of the way.

Hmmm…. Sounds right to me and is the same thing that I’ve been saying about the practice of law.

Thanks to Notes from the (Legal) Underground for the link to this article.

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Ten Minute Mentor: Great Resource of Video Talks from the Greats

Imagine being able to sit down with one of the best lawyers in the state for 10 minutes of advice. Now multiply that by 100. That’s what the Texas Young Lawyer’s Association did. They took a video production crew around the state for several months, videotaping 10 minute presentations from some of the best lawyers in Texas. Robert Ambrogi describes the project well:

In cooperation with Texas Bar CLE, TYLA created a library of short video presentations by some of the state's best-known experts on key points of law, firm-building, tactics and personal development. Anyone -- no need to be from Texas to find value in this series -- can hear veteran trial lawyer Harry M. Reasoner of Vinson & Elkins tell how to structure a legal argument, "King of Torts" Joseph D. Jamail discuss the lawyer's role in society, and Haynes Boone co-founder Michael M. Boone tell how to build a law firm that will last.

The site is Ten Minute Mentor. You can browse by topic, or by author. A lot of the information is not Texas specific. The best part of it is that it’s free. The project is described as “Concise. Practical. Free."  Yep.

[Note: I’m slow to post about this great resource. In addition to Robert Ambrogi, MyShingle, Illinois Trial Practice Blog, Al Nye the Lawyer Guy and Jim Calloway’s Law Practice Tips Blog have also gotten out the word.]

Posted inPractice Management, Presentation, Resources, Trial Techniques, Websites/Weblogs |Comments (0) |Permalink

Why the Focus on Practice Management?

I tend to be a thinker and oftentimes not the most practical, until I came to the following realization:

  • Tremendously Talented Trial Attorney + Poorly Run Office = Miserable lawyer
  • Moderately Competent Attorney + Well Run Office = Happy Lawyer

While I put a lot of time and effort into my trial skills, it’s really how good of an office I run that will have a greater effect on my profitability and happiness.

Posted inPractice Management |Comments (2) |Permalink

A Word About Lawyer Civility and Points of View

A few weeks ago I had a workers comp case come up for hearing. It involved a painter that had fallen when a makeshift scaffolding gave way. My client broke one leg and shattered the other. He needed reconstructive surgery and spent about 7 days in the hospital. The employer was unemployed and we had to file against the workers comp insurance of the subcontractor who had hired my client’s employer. In workers comp talk this is an upstream or statutory employer. Pretty standard stuff. But the case was denied. Because the subcontractor contended that he hadn’t hired the guy. The law is crystal clear on this, but it was still denied.

It took us about 7 months to get to a hearing. During this time, my client did not have any doctor’s bills paid and was not getting a paycheck. Well, he first lost his apartment and lived with one relative after another, he then lost his car. After about 4–5 months, his relatives (primarily their spouses) got tired of him sleeping on the couch and one by one their doors started closing. Eventually, he was living in a homeless shelter. All because the insurance company denied his claim. Continue Reading Posted inDecision Making, Practice Management |Comments (0) |Permalink

Distributing the Workload to Move the Cases

Today, we have a guest post from Shirley Hughes, an independent paralegal in New Mexico. Shirley and I have been talking about the best way to keep cases moving.

Every person has their likes and dislikes when it comes to a job. You can't make any one paralegal totally responsible for the cases, the attorney’s the one who has to take on that burden. You need people who can work as a team to keep things moving. Find out what each one, including you, absolutely hates to do and split the work load accordingly between yourself, the senior paralegal, junior paralegal, and the secretary.

If everyone in your office knows everything about the cases, you would be amazed at the great input you get from all of them and each one of them always has a backup, if they need some time off.

Staff usually have a very different opinion of the client than you do. They're the ones who have to take the calls and cover your butt when something doesn't get done. The clients never make nasty remarks to the attorney like they will to the staff.

Good stuff. Thanks for the help Shirley.

Posted inPractice Management |Comments (0) |Permalink

It's All About Helping People

How do you approach your cases? Do you talk about what a great case you have, or do you talk about helping people?

This was a tip from a lawyer at Southern Trial Lawyer’s convention, who I unfortunately forgot who said it. I think the story is apocryphal, but there is a lot of truth in it. He was working on his first medical malpractice case. The client was seriously injured and he called a doctor to get a medical opinion. The conversation went something like this:

Lawyer: “Doc, I think I’ve got a good case, I need you to take a look….”

Doctor: “Kid, stop right there. I won’t help you with your ‘good case’. I don’t care about you. If you keep talking like that, I’ll hang up the phone. Tell me ‘I’m trying to help my client’ and I’ll do whatever I can.”

Excellent point. Are we trying to help our client, or trying to help ourselves? One thing I tell my clients is that they have to be better off when they walk out the door, than when they walked in my door or else I’m not doing my job.

 

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Hire an Insurance Adjuster to Settle Cases

The other day I was surfing the net checking out other lawyer web sites and ran across the site for Lewis and Daggett. They are have about 34 employees, of which 2 of them are licensed insurance adjusters. Interesting. I called David Daggett to ask him how that worked for him and he said that the results had been fantastic. David uses an attorney to set a range, then the adjuster goes to work and tries to settle the case.

20 years of training and experience in the insurance industry. Trained by the insurance industry and they know all of the tricks and issues that will pressure an insurance company. Meanwhile settling cases is their whole job. They don’t have to worry about trial skills, client management or other issues. Pretty smart.

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Call Your Client and See What's Up

Another back to basics tip. How often do you contact your clients just to see how they’re doing? I try to call the clients once a month, just to see how they’re doing. I normally call on a Sunday afternoon when I’m away from the office. I tell them that I don’t have the file in front of me, but I’m just calling to say howdy and see how the office is doing. I ask them if they are getting all of their questions answered and if we’re taking care of what we need to. I then close by asking if there is anything we need to be doing for them that we aren’t.

That goes along way towards client satisfaction. People are surprised that their lawyer is calling them before they call him. That’s a pretty sad commentary on our profession, that a basic phone call and minimal contact is considered going above and beyond. We so often spend so much time and effort working for our client, that we forget the client. That’s not right.

Continue Reading Posted inPractice Management |Comments (1) |Permalink

Part-Time Stay at Home Moms - Ready to Work

What is the one of the biggest untapped resources? Stay at home moms. There’s a wealth of talent out there. With the advent of technology, people can work at home and get the information to the office. I’m thinking my case management gurus are in North Carolina and New Jersey, my marketing consultant is in Portland, Oregon, my weblog consultant is in Seattle, Washington and my website developer is in Palo Alto, California.

Why not have people working part-time from home in Myrtle Beach and Conway?

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Law Firm Marketing 101

This should go without saying, but sometimes it helps to actually say the things that go without saying. I’ve been reading a lot of information on marketing principles for law firms. Before getting to the fancy stuff, here’s a basic marketing plan that will get you 80% of the way there.

  1. Competent work in a timely manner
  2. Return phone calls
  3. Be nice to people

That should be a baseline. If you don’t have that going for you, the fancy stuff won’t work.

Posted inPractice Management |Comments (4) |Permalink

Sometimes you Add by Subtracting

Bruce MacEwen of Adam Smith Esq. points to an article by Michael Schrage in CIO magazine.

How common is this scenario?: The CIO needs to improve the quality and credibility of the firm's IT implementations, but since he lacks the money and resources he believes would be needed, he's looking for a less expensive way to boost IT's performance.

If he asked you, what would you recommend? Beats me as well, but Michael Schrage, co-director of MIT's Media Lab and a monthly columnist for CIO magazine, has a snappy comeback: Fire the right person.

Continue Reading Posted inPractice Management |Comments (0) |Permalink

How Do you Keep the Cases Moving?

One of the things I have been focusing on lately is getting procedures in place to keep the cases moving and getting the work out the door. I’m sure we have all had difficulties with this at one time or another. Todd O’Malley came up with a great name for this: litigation constipation. The cases come in, but they don’t go out. How do you avoid that?  A few things come to mind:

  1. Have a System – Use a master checklist that is complete and so people know what they’re supposed to do. If you’re clear about what you want done, it’s a lot more likely to get done.
  2. Track the time from when the client completes treatment to when the demand package gets out – As Bob Parson says in his Rules of Survival: “Measure everything of significance. I swear this is true. Anything that is measured and watched, improves.”
  3. Base an Incentive System on the Time to Get the Package Out – I was talking with David Daggett who said that his firm measures this and uses the time frame to get the package out a performance measure for bonuses and incentives and it definitely has helped move the cases.
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Use a Client Advocate to Keep Clients Happy

How do you keep clients happy and make certain all problems are resolved? One way is to hire a client advocate. Let the client know that if there is a problem, that they can call this person and she will track down the problem and get a resolution to the problem. You can also have the client advocate call the clients on a regular basis (once a month, every two weeks…) and see how things are going, are they getting answers to all of their questions, are calls being returned in a timely manner… 

I was talking to one lawyer about this and he thought it would be a great role for a new employee, to help them learn the problems they will encounter, the employees and the clients. The website of Hardison and Leone in North Carolina has a client advocate. Here is what they say her duties are:

  • Talking to our clients if they are unhappy with our services
  • Taking steps to investigate and remedy the concern of the client
  • Offering same day response to any complaint from a client
  • Receiving praises and compliments for attorneys and staff
  • Making sure attorneys and staff complimented by our clients receive the proper recognition
  • Doing random client surveys to make sure we are meeting our goals of personal attention to our client
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Focus and Positioning in Marketing Your Firm

In the classic Selling the Invisible, Harry Beckwith talks about focus and positioning as a cornerstone of marketing. Quoting Positioning: The Battle for Your Mind by Al Ries and Jack Trout:

  1. You must position yourself in your prospect’s mind.
  2. Your position should be singular: one simple message.
  3. Your position must set you apart from your competitors.
  4. You must sacrifice: You cannot be all things to all people; you must focus on one thing.

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Starting Your Own Practice Out of Law School

A third year law student wrote to Carolyn Elefant of Myshingle and asked the following question:

I graduated law school last year and am finishing up another graduate degree...and am taking the bar this summer.  For law students with little "real world" legal training (some law clerking), any advice on going solo out of law school? I read on your site about attorneys getting $40/hr court appointed cases, but I much prefer non-trial work.

I’m a sole practitioner that started my own practice straight out of law school. I’ve been practicing ten years and now have a straight trial practice.  Looking back, it was tough but not impossible starting a law practice straight out of law school. Here are my recommendations for getting business:

Family law and criminal are two areas of law where there is always more work than money. Performing $2,500 of divorce work for $1,500 isn’t good business, unless you’re just starting off and have no work to do. Then it’s a lifesaver. While both these areas require skill, with the smaller cases, clients will call around and price shop. In the long run these are not the clients that will make you the most money, but they will help you get started. Continue Reading Posted inPractice Management |Comments (15) |Permalink

Exit Interviews Urged For Small Business

LexisOne has an article regarding conducting exit interviews of employees.

The information gleaned from an exit interview can be as valuable as complaints from a customer - it can help business owners discover and correct some of the weaknesses in their companies. So sitting down to talk with a departing employee should be a matter of course.

I think that’s good advice. However, hopefully the firm could stay on top of the situation without their people quitting. Thanks to Shirley Hughes for the heads up on the article.

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Above all else, Loyalty

I was talking to Todd O’Malley the other day about practice management. Todd tells his employees they don’t have to be the smartest, they don’t have to be the fastest, but they do have to be loyal.

Their number one loyalty is to the client. Their number two loyalty is to the firm. As long as they do that, everything else can be worked out.

I like that.

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Reid Traut Reviews E-Myth Revisited

Reid Traut reviews the book  E-Myth Revisited: Why Most Small Businesses Don't Work and What to Do About It on his new blog. The review is here.

Gerber’s main thesis is that many people go into business for themselves because they are good technicians, meaning they are good plumbers, accountants, or whatever, so they decide to go out on their own. This includes lawyers too. They reason that if they do good work, then clients will beat a path to their door. However, many of these businesses fail, according to Gerber, because the technician fails to wear the other two other hats needed to run a business: In addition to being a good “technician”, you must also be a manager and an entrepreneur.   … Continue Reading Posted inPractice Management |Comments (2) |Permalink

Hire an In House Investigator to Help Move Cases

Howard Spiva gives the tip of hiring an in house investigator. At his firm, when a client calls in the morning, the investigator goes out get the incident report, takes pictures of the car (or site) and then videotapes the car and then talk to and videotapes all of the witnesses. Later in the afternoon when Howard talks to the clients, he already has the key evidence and witnesses of the case nailed down.

Needless to say this allows him to more accurately assess the case, plus it gives him a tremendous leg up in preparing the case. Pretty cool. Thanks Howard. 

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Godaddy Domain Names and Bob Parson's Rules of Survival

Al Nye, the Lawyer Guy picks up the hubbub with Go Daddy’s Super Bowl Ad. Right now, I consider Godaddy.com the best place to register a domain name. You can register a domain for $7.95 and park it with godaddy. It’s quick, cheap and easy.

Godaddy.com was founded by Bob Parsons, who has a great  16 Rules of Survival. My favorite rules?

  • Always be moving forward. Never stop investing. Never stop improving. Never stop doing something new. The moment you stop improving your organization, it starts to die. Make it your goal to be better each and every day, in some small way. Remember the Japanese concept of Kaizen. Small daily improvements eventually result in huge advantages.
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Applying TOC to Law Firms

I wrote earlier about the Theory of Constraints. Assuming we buy into the theory and want to increase efficiency by getting rid of the largest bottlenecks. What are the bottlenecks in a law firm? Here are the ones that immediately come to mind.

1. The lawyer - As a sole practitioner, there is only so many items I can review, or tasks I can perform in a day. Regardless of how efficient I am, there are only so many 'touches' the lawyer can have.

The solution: minimize the amount of things the lawyer needs to do. This involves standardized letters and forms, checklists for the employees and standardized questionnaires for screening and client intake.

It also means standardizing the best of your work, so that your paralegal knows where it is without interrupting you.

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Eliminate Bottlenecks for Huge Productivity Gains

I've been reading a lot by Eli Goldratt on the Theory of Constraints recently. Eli thinks that any system, no matter how complex, is based on inherent simplicity. In fact, the larger and more complex a system is, that the fewer bottlenecks or pressure points the system has.

Eli says, forget TQM, ISO 9000, 6 Sigma and other quality endeavors. Your organization is only as good as it's weakest link. It doesn't make sense spending time and effort making your strong links stronger. Focus directly on the weakest link, bottleneck or constraint.

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The [non] Billable Hour Primer

Matt Homann has a general practice. One year ago, he decided that he would not do any hourly billing at all. A tall task indeed. His weblog the non billable hour details some of his triumphs and the ideas that he has put in to place.

Recently Matt posted the reference materials for his presentation at the upcoming ABA Techshow. These 100+ tips are a great introduction to Matt, his ideas and his weblog.

It's well worth the time to browse through his archives and check out the ideas he's gathered. There's a lot of good stuff there. It's almost like trying to drink from an idea fire hydrant. But having too many good ideas is not a bad problem to have.

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Use a Part-Time Paralegal to Help with Staffing Crunches

In order to help with staffing problems, Larry Levin suggests hiring a paralegal to work 10 hours a week, but with the flexibility to work more hours. The paralegal could fill in on vacations, pregnancies or other staffing vacancies and then go back to the part-time status when the situation was over.

The great part of this is that paralegal would be able to step in and be productive, because she would already know your office, the computers, the cases and the clients.

Sounds like a great idea for a stay at home mom who wants to keep her hand in a bit.

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Are Your People Doing the Computer's Job?

"One machine can do the work of fifty ordinary men. No machine can do the work of one extraordinary man." - Elbert Hubbard

That's a great quote. Are the computers in your office doing the work of 50 ordinary men? How much paperwork can be generated automatically on the computer? Is your staff doing the work of an extraordinary person and leaving the ordinary work to the machines? Is your staff's time free for problem solving and dealing with your clients? I can't say that I have my machines (computers) set up that way in my office yet.

One of my goals this year is to have this quote come true for the operation of my firm.

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Employee Retention for Law Firms

I was hiring a paralegal a few months ago and received about 150 resumes for the position. I was struck that 95% of the jobs on the resumes had been held for between 6 months to a year and a half. There were a handful of jobs with greater longevity, but not many.

There was an average of 5 jobs per resume so that's approximately 750 jobs. Out of the 750 jobs, I have to think that the vast majority of both employers and employees entered into those jobs with the best of intentions. Yet within a year (or less), the employee left or was asked to leave. That's not good.

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Best Practices for Information Technology also Best Practices for Law Management

Jeff Beard of Law Tech Guru posts about a CIO.com article summarizing the following four best practices that can lead to better IT performance at a lower cost.

Better use of outsourcing
Simplification and standardization of IT systems
Higher levels of process discipline, and
Better alignment with business goals

Reading that, it seemed to me the same could be applied to law firm management.

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