Check The Pedigree

“Check the pedigree” is a phrase I am often heard to say, but I have learned that it means different things to different people. I have been on both sides of the table, buying for and selling to legal services organizations. I can, with confidence, say that one of the first questions asked by legal service organizations is: “who else is…” Meaning that they want to know if any other “pedigree” organizations are using the service or product. Checking the pedigree is even more important than the actual qualities of the product itself, because often the discussion ends with the lack of pedigree. As a consequence, you will notice that products marketed to law firms often contain, in their marketing, long lists of “clients” who have already purchased the product or service. You will notice, too, that law firms often will market themselves with list of “clients” that use their services and products. It really is a cult of pedigree and, in my opinion, it has been taken too far.

Having said the cult of pedigree has gone too far, I am compelled to say that there are benefits to “checking the pedigree”, because pedigree shows a line of descent, a record of progression. What pedigree is not useful for is as a measure of success or realized benefits. And when I say “check the pedigree”, what legal professionals often hear is: read the list of “clients” – instead of what I said, “check” the pedigree, emphasis on the “check”. Why do legal professionals have a bias to the pedigree and not the checking?

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There Is Profit In Simplicity

The complexity of our modern society presses on us from all sides. The degree and speed we adapt, almost daily, is amazing. I know it’s taken for granted but to me it needs to be said... it is amazing. I am reminded of just how simple things were, oh say 10 yrs ago, when I have to navigate between my “reality” of today and the “reality” of my Mom’s today.

Have you tried to buy a phone that is just a phone lately? My Mom needs a new wall phone for the kitchen. It’s not like I am looking to replace an avocado green rotary phone. I just need a hang on the wall phone, period. I find myself searching, really searching hard for good quality “simple” products. Products like a phone that is just a phone, no caller ID, voice mail or programmable buttons; an oven that just bakes, broils and cleans (don’t want to be too simple...). Truly the list goes on and on of “simple” products that I need to keep my Mom’s today functioning. I don’t mean to sound like Mom is stuck in the 50’s, 60’s or 70’s or hell even in the 80’s. She is just stuck in the late 90’s and for all the complexity we have digested in our live over these short years, Mom is down for the count. She needs a bridge between the two todays.

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Tail Wagging The Dog?

A comment from blog reader Moe Levine brings up a great point. I wish he wrote more. From the little he has written, I am betting he has first-hand experience to share. From his perspective, I am in denial to say that law firms are more a product of the people who create them than of the clients who walk their halls. Moe indicates that law firms, and in particular law firms that cater to business clients, will do whatever the client wants. Therefore, it is the clients that are the prime architects of what law firms “are” today.

Unfortunately, Moe’s experience is confirmed by my experience as well. I was employed by a medium-small firm whose vision was to expand. One of the practice areas they set their collective eye on was a business practice. Through personal relationships, this firm landed a large group of partners from an international law firm and along with them came a Fortune 10 (“Ten”, no typo) client. It was like having the Queen of England as a permanent house guest. The tail could and sure did wag the dog. In retrospect, it was the right client in terms of money and prestige, but it was the wrong client for the firm. It eventually was a factor in the dissolution of the firm. Things were said and done which should never have been done, all because the client called the shots.

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“Joy Cometh in the Morning”

That is: any morning except Monday morning, or so it seems for at least one law firm. I assisted clearing the air at one law firm where it was the Managing Partner's habit to move all admin issues to his “non-billable” time. For him, mostly, that meant the weekend. It worked very efficiently for him, as he could look over the accounts and the issues pertaining to the weeks ahead and behind, without interruptions of phones and people. He would send out emails and leave phone messages for attorneys and staff alike. He recounted his process to me with a real sense of pride and a sense of accomplishment. It was noticeable in his tone and on his face as he spoke. Until he told of his frustration that he rarely got confirmations back as to the actions he requested. He recounted having to go chase or follow up on the status and how that was a waste of his time. He went on to chide those who were the “worst”. The sense I got from this section of the conversation was emotional frustration. To say it was “personal” would be to overstate it, and yet to say that it was not personal would be understating it. This problem stuck a cord inside this Managing Partner.

I went off to engage the recipients of all this efficiency. I was not surprised when I heard stories of Monday dread. The inevitability of the “Monday Missives” as one called them. It was a familiar thread, “He never has time to talk about things and yet he will send out directives, thinking he understands the situation.” “There is more then meets the eye, or can be or should be detailed in a memo or spreadsheet.” The collective sense I gleaned was frustration. The same emotional frustration I sensed from the Managing Partner.

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Ego and Hubris

Touchstone, Bernays, Johnston, Beall & Smith are losing “half” of their 48 lawyers and the Managing partner states that “…it came as a shock to him.”

How does that happen? Does anyone really think it was a shock? Honestly I have seen it too many times to believe that it was. This article is a quick “snapshot” of what happens when there is a break-down of communication, vision, goal setting, and expectations.

The rationale: “…adding that given their ages, which range from 35 and 46, they decided now was the time to make the break…”

The justification: “…the departing lawyers hope Walters Balido [the new firm] will be more responsive to clients' needs, operate more efficiently and therefore be more financially rewarding for the lawyers who practice at the new firm.”

The football: “…departing Touchstone Bernays partners are taking several large clients with them to Walters Balido but he declines to name them.”

The collateral damage: “…Touchstone Bernays, which has offices in Renaissance Tower in downtown Dallas, may reduce the amount of space it leases because of its reduced headcount. After the lawyers leave for Walters Balido, Touchstone Bernays will have 24 attorneys, he says.” [ no mention of the staff at all ]

Human cost: “…given how many years the lawyers at Touchstone Bernays have practiced together in a collegial manner, "there will be pain on both sides" because of the departures.”

The defense: “Balido, Crain, Ewing, Parks, Bradley and Payne did not return telephone calls seeking comment before press time. Walters refers questions to Ave.”

The truth: I have no idea what the particulars are and frankly they don’t matter. You don’t need to know the blow by blow to know that this is the result of ego and hubris.

Partnerships and Access to Capital

The partnership model does not work well for “access to capital”. It is also not good for the partners. Law firms tend to sputter for a few years before they vote to dissolve or rise from the controversy. To the unobservant or hopeful, when the dissolution does occur, it can look like sudden collapse, but the seeds can be seen long before. Poor communication, “Alpha Attorneys”, divergence of vision, lack of spending control, no “bigger picture” thinking - these all set the internal groundwork for dissolution. The warning sign that some or all of the above are at work can be seen in the “cash flow gap”. The wider the gap the more concern there should be.

The cash flow gap is the difference between when your client pays you and you pay your expenses. Converting unbilled time to billed time takes usually around 60 to 70 days and billed time to revenue takes usually 60 to 80 days. Accounts payable turns every 30 to 35 days and employee salary obligation every 14 days. So you have 120 to 150 days to your revenue cycle and an expense cycle of 14 to 35. The gap then is roughly 106 to 115 days. (This is a simple example model; many other factors enter into play here.) Where does the money come from to fill the gap? And what about the “added” expenses caused by the blessing and curse of growth?

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Attorney and Assistant: Harmony?

The relationship between an attorney and their assistant is one of the most important relationships in a law firm and must be fostered. It can add or detract from the quality of life in a law firm and the client's experience. The hours spent interacting with each other, relying on each other to meet the deadlines and expectations of the clients and the demands of the firm are sobering. Each has to understand the other's strengths, weaknesses and overall style. Beyond that understanding, each are in a constant state of prioritization and negotiation with all the competing interests for their time.

In addition to all this, the process of forming a pair bond is an art and not a science. Often times the pair is made but no bond is formed. I have spent several years, hands on, negotiating these "marriages". I would like to say that all pairs were made with an eye solely on the personalities and talents involved, but sadly that is just not reality. A fair number of times, there are very few options and it comes down to a choice of lesser evils. This means that when the playing field changes by growth, contraction or other factors, there are opportunities to make a change, which on its face is supportable by the "negative effects of a bad marriage".

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Thoughts On An Active Internet Strategy

If you are reading blogs you either have your toe in the internet waters or you are in full scuba gear. I put myself in the middle somewhere. I have a background in creating web based software to aggregate information from independent data bases into a single source user interface. I was drawn into it by necessity, as most people are to the internet.

Traditional “brochure” websites are evolving into more interactive sites and the distinction between website and blog is fading fast. The two pillars of the internet, “community” and “knowledge” are weaving together, finally, to fulfill their promise. What does all this mean to us today and tomorrow? Even the most proficient Futurists are only guessing. I will only add some practical tips on things as they now are.

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Marketing Skills Can Be Learned

Marketing is a necessary component in your Lawfirm 2.0 strategy as well as for any healthy business. Lawfirm 2.0 makes it necessary for all practitioners to become comfortable with marketing as soon as possible. It is not necessary to be a “master marketer” as the traditional “rainmaker” is labeled, but it is necessary that you become comfortable enough to take advantage of opportunities and are open to the marketing process. Often it is difficult to step back and evaluate how an aversion to the marketing process hurts progress. If you recognize the symptoms of your marketing aversion, you may be able to see a correlation between them and your lack of progress in the area of client development. Your aversion is not something to mask. It is something to accept and work towards, overcoming your aversion. It is also hard to learn what you avoid. Experience tends to strip away mystery and put people at ease with the process. If it is not second nature to market yourself, then you need to put your best foot forward to learn. If any of the “red flags” below strikes a cord in you, think about formal client development training. The process will help you overcome your aversion through role playing and other educational tools before you go for it live.

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Business Logic, Passion And A Helper’s Heart

Business logic is listed first only because it is the tested vessel to navigate within. Passion is listed second because once you have the vessel, passion is your wind. It is the one thing that can keep you going when times get rough. And last but the most important is a helper’s heart. It is your heart that will guide you and centers you like the stars in the sky.

All my talk of systems and business might leave the impression that I embrace robotic predictability and want to pump out more mechanical beings in the image of the worst capitalistic clichés. This is not what Lawfirm 2.0 is about.

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A “Reproducible Positive Client Experience” Is Not One Size Fits All

Those of you who travel a great deal may be able to relate to the feeling of a loss of control which can come at the end of the day when you are in a hotel after having dinner in this or that restaurant. At home we take for granted that our favorite food is in the refrigerator and the newspaper is on the driveway. Simple things like these orient us in our surroundings. After all, our homes are exactly as we set them up. On the road we are in an environment someone else has created based on what they think we might like or need.

Hotels and restaurants may get a good rating if they serve a killer steak or have a comfortable bed but to get an excellent rating they tend to have something more. They have learned what “I” like and need. They make “the” experience “my” experience, not a statistical crap chute based on market surveys. They have created “systems” to get to know me and educate me on my choices and remember my responses. They do this by asking what I liked and disliked. Sometimes in very subtle ways, through observation, and at other times through direct questioning. The key is that they store this knowledge, so the next time I call they know what I like without asking or know enough to ask if I will be alone or will person x be returning with me. The fact that they ask, have a system to remember, and incorporate the knowledge into our next interaction puts a sense of “control” back into my life even if I am in someone else’s world.

A similar feeling of a loss of control may accompany the act of engaging an attorney. This is more acute when the motivation of the consumer is “need” verse “want”. Often times the customer needs to be protected because something has entered their lives in a disruptive way. This could be a divorce, an adoption, a law suit filed by a neighbor or business associate. Consumers are looking for the attorney to make sense of what is happening and protect their interests. In other words to put a feeling of control back into the situation and thereby their lives. Most attorneys do this quite well as it directly relates to their core expertise in the practice of law. I encourage attorneys to develop the same skills when it comes to making the consumer comfortable with the attorney. I have said many times “attorneys are the product”. Not just for the knowledge they possess and the protection that knowledge affords but it includes the personality and interaction of the attorney with the consumer.

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Corporate Structure Is More Then Liability Protection

Business is for the enrichment of the owners. Philanthropy is for the enrichment of others. They are as different as night is to day but they are compatible and do co-exist just as night and day in our 24hr experience. The corporate structure has proven to be excellent for the success at both objectives. If your vision for your law practice lists the enrichment of others as the number one priority and the enrichment of yourself second your decision making process will be markedly different then another who’s vision is self enrichment first and enrichment of others second. Either way both are necessary components for the success of those visions. Even the best run, most respected philanthropies find it necessary to account for how they spend the money they are given in order to be given more to do their work. Similarly, businesses for self enrichment are accountable to market forces to earn income through the patronage of happy customers.

Accountability is everywhere no matter what the size, shape or form of your endeavor. Professional legal services are vital to the fabric of our society. It would be my hope that each and every organization delivering such vital necessities would, for very practical reason, commingle business and philanthropy. If you review this blog site for even a moment you will see that I strongly believe two things. First, law firms should be a safety net for those engaging in the practice of law. Secondly, the “ownership imperative” permeates the partnership structure wasting the rare resources of our legal community leading to some of the major dissatisfactions for both practitioner and consumer.

When I speak of “the corporate structure” I don’t focus on the legal implication of corporate protection. Those already exist in LLC (Limited Liability Corporation) which law partnerships avail themselves. I support and encourage those protections for law firms as I support them for “S Corps”, “C Corps”, etc. as a matter of public policy. No matter what the formation of a profit or not for profit venture they should always seek to secure these protections. So you see, it is not the formation platform that matters to my proposition that partnerships are bad, rather it is the internal operational “rules” by which partnerships conduct their business and pursue their vision.

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More Insight into the Challenges of Running a Law Practice

I posted an interview with Thomas, an attorney who ran his own practice and it attracted some attention. Thomas wrote a response which after thinking about it I like very much. Not just because it is a good response but because it adds even more insight into the challenges of running a law practice. Here it is:

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How Would a Lawfirm 2.0 Strategy be Different?

The most important distinction to the implementation of a Lawfirm 2.0 strategy must be the elimination of the “ownership imperative”, inherent in the partnership structure. The law firm should be a safety net for attorneys to practice law. It should not place the requirement of business ownership on attorneys beyond the ownership each attorney accepts through the client relationship. The “product” offered by a partnership is in reality the individual attorney. This is where the true ownership is and will always be. Failure of some partnerships to recognize this truth is a source of conflict and ultimately leads to associate and partner dissatisfaction. It is the attorney’s knowledge, passion, communication and time being sold. While it is true that the sum is sometimes greater than its individual parts, I would argue this benefit is not realized without first recognizing the individuals. There is only so much time in a human life that can be sold. Therefore, it is by definition precious and should not be wasted. For example, too often good attorneys are forced to choose between family and the firm. Those who chose family often are marginalized or left to hang a shingle with no safety net or settle for whatever they can negotiate with the law firm. This is just bad business and wastes the “product”. This is because the partnership values the firm’s bottom line over the bottom line of the individual attorney, where I believe it should be. Lawfirm 2.0 means that your legal services organization is built to be proactive and recognizes that attorneys are the product and must be accommodated as a standard course of business, not as a negotiated exception. The conservation of resources is just good business.

There is no reason for the business of law to demand “control” from attorneys. It should empower them to exercise control without being forced out of the safety net. Attorneys are accountable through the license system. The economic realities of practicing law are hard enough without heaping on unnecessary controls. The structure of a Lawfirm 2.0 should be a safety net. Not a straight jacket as happens with many partnerships.

Ethical and economic realities must be reckoned with but I believe the benefits of doing so outweigh the labor involved.

Lawfirm 2.0 -- A Reproducible Positive Client Experience

I really believe most lawyers like being lawyers. I talk to attorneys all day and often I can hear and see the passion in their eyes and excitement in their voice. I’d bet the farm that many out there love it so much they can’t see themselves retired. A blessing of being a lawyer is that you are your own product. No matter where your life takes you, there you are with your knowledge at the ready. You have options to work solo or in groups for a common ideal. For some that I talk with, the motivation is external: protecting children, social justice or human rights. Others talk about internal motivations: their family, paying it forward, sometimes independence. Whatever the motivational reason, I have yet to see or learn of a person practicing law with a negative intent. We all read, hear about and experience some attorneys who get lost along the way and cause a negative result, but even the worst of that falls short of being able to say they intended to become a lawyer to cause harm. The negative perception of the attorneys in the marketplace must have its roots somewhere else. The evolution of the legal market out of the current perception by the public at large must be founded in a “reproducible positive client experience”. I don’t see myself as naïve and I don’t look for a revolutionary shift but I am idealistic. I am looking to engage creative minds and passionate hearts to build the system model of Lawfirm 2.0.

Follow up on why “Partnerships are not good for business”

My posting on the partnership structure being bad for business has attracted at least one reader’s comment. The constructive part of what I take away from those comments is that I must more fully flesh out my thoughts.

Why is the Partnership structure not good for the business of law?

After “sole proprietor”, which is the bedrock of our economic system, people advance their ventures in society with the augmentation of skills/assets that they don’t possess, but which their venture needs to progress. This is true for both profit and nonprofit ventures. We as humans don’t possess an infinite capacity to master or even expose ourselves to all the complexities of life and knowledge. Hence the need, as social creatures, to advance our personal goals by association with others who share our goals and support those goals with their differing skill sets. Simply put, two people, looking for more success have more needs and require more skill sets. The partnership structure can in theory encompass the most complex of organizational structures. The strength of the structure is founded in the “agreement” of, in the beginning, the simple two, but then the complex thousands.

Complexity comes in the form of the “partners” but also in the “partnership’s” interactions with other people, organizations and governments. Business, with the help of the legal community, developed other business structures to mitigate the complexities. Governments have embraced these structures as a matter of public policy because they in fact greatly enhance the quality of life and the pursuit of happiness of the population. Corporations in their many forms are not perfect and they can harbor injustice. But they do in fact provide a very powerful and time tested structure to advance the goals and desires of human ventures.

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The Primacy of the Client

The client is number one. When a client’s matter is accepted you accept the client, for better or worse. This includes loosing money, other opportunities, and even family time. It’s a contract of trust.

There is a difference between following through on a client’s matter regardless of what the time/cost, and accepting additional matters from a client. One you are honor bound to undertake, the other is incumbent upon you to make a judgment. When there are no deep pockets of time and/or money and you keep accepting matters from a client who you know from experience will harm your business or personal time, then you are not going to be able to be effective in that matter or for the client.

When a client matter is concluded and there are no other matters or obligations pending, pause and evaluate the experience. It is prudent for your business and prudent for the client. Not every client is good for business. Taking a client’s matter on when it is not a good fit for you is irresponsible even when well meaning. Consider that it deprives the client from the opportunity to obtain the legal services from a place where they are a fit for the business strategy, both profit and nonprofit. One lawyer may have deep pockets of capital and time and enjoy serving the client and issues inherent in the matter at hand. Meanwhile, another lawyer may be under pressure and not be able to invest in the client as much.

In essence, your bad client experience is another attorney’s good client experience. And the same is true from the client side. Clients need your attention and steady flow of communication. When clients don’t receive both, they will tend to rate the experience bad - no matter if it is done pro-bono or for pay.

If you find yourself in the “evaluation window”: pause. If you conclude that the client is not a good fit, there is always the option of referral. Well-worded disengagements will assure the client that, although you are not in a position to meet their future needs, there are other lawyers who are.

Intelligent Design

The rain in California dulled my adventurous sprit this New Years weekend so I turned on the fireplace and enjoyed a nice lazy start to the year. I tuned into the Rose Bowl Parade and watch the rain get the best of it after only sun since 1955. My thoughts drifted and then a little factoid from the announcer caught my attention. Justice Sandra Day O’Connor was the Grand Marshal this year. I thought to myself what rotten luck that she got the only rainy parade day in 50 years. Of course the way my mind works I thought… So who was grand marshal of the parade when it last rained? (http://www.tournamentofroses.com)

Answer: Justice Earl Warren
And who says there is no such thing as “intelligent design” ;-)

Happy New Year to all! My best wishes for it to be successful and happy.

New California Statewide Superior Court Fee Schedule

In case my California readers weren't aware, beginning January 1, 2016, there is an increase in court costs as well as the implementation of a uniform statewide fee schedule. Below is the link.

http://www.courtinfo.ca.gov/courtadmin/civilfees.htm

Interview with a Solo Attorney

Over the holiday I had the opportunity to sit down with Thomas. His life experience as an attorney and businessman so intrigued me that I felt compelled to share his insight and his lessons. Thomas, with incredible grace granted this interview.

JC: Thomas, I want to thank you for allowing me to interview you and share your insight. What impulse brought you to the bar?

Thomas: I came to the bar not from an initial love for the law, but rather as a last career option on a list of career options that through parental influence, and personal choices was narrowed down to law. But once I applied myself to it, I found it exciting and intriguing. So the natural and logical thing to do was to go to law school, take the bar, and start practicing law.

JC: Which areas of law did you focus on and why did you choose them?

Thomas: I initially focused on Personal Injury cases for the high...

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Learn to Say No to Money and Yes to Success

Not every prospective client is a good client for your business strategy. When evaluating your business think about your clients as your “book of business”, like you would your investment portfolio. It must be balanced and reviewed often. Many solo attorneys take the view that “I need the retainer”. Rather take the view that you need to balance your book of business to focus on the good clients you have and not take a retainer from prospective clients who do not help your goals. One-time clients should make up the smallest percentage of your book, 10% to 15%. Transactional or repeat clients should make up 75% to 80% of your book. The remainder can be left to your community service and development activities. If your client portfolio consists of more one-time clients you are going to find yourself in a time sink hole with very little reward seen in your business strategy. You can’t afford to be a one trick pony. Even, for example, Estate Planners, who by the nature of their area a law have large numbers of one time clients, should review their portfolio of business and figure out how to augment their core business with transactional (repeat) clients. This may include adding additional practice areas to achieve the best balance.

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All Attorneys are Solo Attorneys

(Okay so in looking back on it this post is a bit of a angry rant, but what’s the fun of having a blog if you can’t have a good rant now and again :-) I will try not to indulge myself too often)

If you think you are not solo because you are in a firm guess again. The difference between you and your shingle hanging brothers and sisters is you get a paycheck and they get profits. Present day law firms are little more then hotels for legal services providers. The clients are no longer loyal to the letter head, the lawyers are no longer loyal to the firm and the Partners are no longer loyal to the firm or the employees (note: Associates this means you). Depending on your perspective you can say one side or the other is to blame but that’s just a chicken and the egg discussion. Bottom line, this is where the industry is today. Only 15% of the partner track attorneys ever make it to a tier one partnership. So where does that put the other 85%... you got it … solo. You are solo for hire or solo for a paycheck.

For the 15% who get into a partnership there is also a “solo” wake up call. Your “points” are earned by what you contribute to the bottom line. If you don’t bring in business you don’t get a seat at the table for long. And the word “partner” has a new definition grounded in inequality not equality. Politics is dressed up for public consumption but if think you are going to be protected by your “partners” when your lean times come check out the names of “past” partners… bet you will notice they did not all “retire”.

Law Firm Waste

“So you believe your own eyes… prove it”…

A classic (and very true) story to illustrate this point occurred in a very large and much respected international law firm. This firm took great pride in its offices and spared no expense to make sure no detail was left to chance. They hired a window cleaner to come into the office every night and clean the glass table tops and glass divider walls in their conference rooms, of which I recall there were around 30 big and small. It was a flat rate deal paid every month. The glass was cleaned at night and the attorneys and staff used the rooms every day. For 5 years, the glass was clean and the vendor’s check went out. The thing of it was that only after a fluke the security data was matched with the vendor list and the window washer had not used the security badge in 4 years. But how could that be? The glass was clean and never a complaint. The Office Manager stayed late to talk with the vendor, fearing they were getting past the security system, but noticed the building janitors cleaning the glass as part of their duties. The Office Manager asked “have you ever seen our window cleaner cleaning the glass?” “No” was the response, “we take great pride in our work and our building, we make sure it is spotless”.

Four years and $3500 a month went by before the impression and the reality were reconciled.

You can not innovate without understanding “reality”. There is often a disconnection between your impression of what is happening and what IS happening.

So let me ask you something…. “Are your clients happy with you?” or “do you think they are happy because you have not heard they are unhappy?”


Application Service Providers -- Just DO IT!

ASPs – Security and Confidentiality are not a bar…

In a previous post I had a conversation with Dr. Michael Franz, a professor of Computer Science at UC Irvine. There were several intriguing insights in that conversation but the one that has caught my attention today is his views on ASPs (Application Service Providers). Dr. Franz was very clear and strong in his opinion that the use of ASPs is far safer then not from a Cyber Security point of view. Given Dr. Franz’s achievement in the field I take that as a serious endorsement to an opinion I have had for years.

If ASPs are the hands down winner for security reasons, then that leaves only confidentiality concerns. For years I have heard lawyers and Administrators protest the ASP model for security and confidentiality reasons. As Dr. Franz noted, now that organized crime has entered the Cyber Crime business, it will only be a matter of time before they find the information housed in all those law firm servers valuable.

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Legal Education and Law Firm Reality

I have a long held belief that the legal education served up in our law schools is neither necessary for the practice of law nor sufficient for true legal scholarship. I can’t for the life of me find one connection between the business and practice of law that requires the kind of training provided by our law schools. Law school graduates who are proficient writers tend to have been proficient before they attended law school. Bad writers tend not to be helped through law school but improve most upon arrival at their first job, under direct mentorship. It is only by direct mentorship that I have seen improvement. Critical thinkers tend to make good lawyers but law school can only take credit for what law students think about; not for their success of mental agility. I have seen dozens of “Ivy League” law school graduates who can’t find the winning argument in discovery. I have seen night law students cut right to the quick of the winning argument. I am convinced that the qualities of a good lawyer do not track at all with the law school or the education they are selling. It’s no secret, newbie lawyers are not let off the leash...

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Law Firm Partnerships are Bad Business

The system is broken and I am not the only one to notice. The ABA’s own surveys show that 80% of all consumers of legal services feel that their situation was either not helped or in fact harmed by the legal services they received. Our current delivery methods must go the way of the Dodo bird, powdered wigs, being out of touch and the VCR.

I have spent years making improvements within the confinement of the current system, big and small law firms. Yet the wine is sour; “if the wine is sour, throw it out.” It is clear there are better foundations to assure quality of life for legal services professionals and quality of services to customers.

Partnerships make lousy business structures because they are emotional relationships. The current incentives for Associates are lousy. They are employees but because the system motivates them only toward partnership, not compensation and craft, they are judged on personality as much as writing quality (wrong on so many levels). Owners are not employees and not all employees need to be owners to be assets. Yet if an “associate” is deemed to not fit the cultural mold they are denied “partnership” and asked to leave. (talk about eating your young)

Everyday legal partnerships are founded (LLCs are partnerships set up in sheep’s clothing) without any voice to the contrary. Who is up for a fundamental shift?

So you, "just want to practice law"

Attorneys are rarely willing to listen and when they do have the impulse to listen, it's fleeting. The majority are inflicted with the “I just want to practice law” disease. Symptoms include:

• Inability to move forward with new projects or ideas.
• Indecisiveness; making work for others to avoid the moment of decision.
• Lack of commitment as revealed by the lack of accountability.
• Lack of implementation skills, yet not wanting to give this authority to others.
• Lack of management, leadership, or interpersonal skills.

The outlook is grim for any legal services business afflicted. But there is hope, even a cure. Take a nice length of 2x4 lumber and ….

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Internet Security and its Impacting the Business of Law and the Practice of Law

A Grande Latte please and keep them coming… it’s a bumpy ride.

This past Sunday I sat down and talked with Dr. Michael Franz (http://www.ics.uci.edu/~franz/), a professor of Computer Science at UC Irvine, to talk about Internet security and its impacting the business of law and the practice of law. Professor Franz is an expert in Cyber Security and his current research on CyberDefense is funded by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. It was a compelling conversation which flowed with insight and helpful tips.


JC: Dr. Franz, almost every day we hear of some new problem with the Internet. Is the Internet becoming less secure?

MF: Well, the Internet was never very secure to begin with, but what has changed in the past 2 years or so is that organized crime has got in on the act. While before it was just a few isolated little crooks (something that the intelligence community refers to as “ankle biters”) now all of a sudden we see the emergence of actual criminal networks. I was at a meeting in Arlington Virginia organized by the Department of Homeland Security just recently where someone estimated that about 30,000 people are “full time employees” of Internet fraud schemes today, and the number is growing.


JC: What kind of fraud are we talking about?

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Law Firm Hardware and Software

Build for the future with no regrets…

There is a lot of advice out there about the technology you should have to run a successful legal services business. It has a lot to do with your personal working style. (Laptop, PC, PDA, Blackberry, PC Tablet, etc) Dennis Kennedy’s blog has really great in-depth looks at all of the option. No matter what you choose remember, you are building a business not a personal toy chest. You are in business to make a business not a job. You will add a secretary, a paralegal, a bookkeeper and some day you will even add other attorneys. The cost of the hardware and for that matter the software too is “mouse nuts” compared to the cost of maintenance and service.

The most important things to focus on are: (whether you are solo or in a big firm)

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Law Firm Rankings 2016

And the winner is…. Drum roll please!

Its still 2015 but already the Vault, Inc has the 2016 Best list. Check it out.

http://www.vault.com/nr/lawrankings.jsp?law2016=1&ch_id=242

Solo Attorney Burn Out -- The Why?

Congratulations you have created a “Job”… would you like fries with that?

If you were brave enough to hang your shingle and go it solo, then you have to constantly remind yourself that you are building a business for selling legal services. From time to time you have to take stock and make sure you are really creating a business and not creating a job. Those of you who have “in reality” created a business know you are rare. Most often the solo attorney has created a “job” in sheep’s clothing. Here is a good reality check to test if you have created a job or a business.

• Can the business operate as well with you as without you?
• Can you duplicate it again and again?

If you answered no to either, you created a job dressed up to look like a business. You are stuck in the worst of both worlds. You have all the responsibilities of a business and none of the benefits of a job. There is good news. You can turn it around and create a true business. You don’t have to bail out of your dream to be in business. You have a choice. But until you make the “conscious” choice you will be stuck in that job you created, without a net.

Law is a business – it’s time to get comfortable with that and structure it as a business. That means get business advice not just practice advice. Stop asking other lawyers and start asking the manager at your local McDonalds why Ray Kroc never flipped a burger.

If this thread is of interest to you comment or send an email and I will blog on.

Marketing is the “Business Strategy of Listening”

Marketing is a lot about listening….

Marketing is a misunderstood component of a good business plan. Offering legal services is not enough. You have to “create customers” through education and accessibility. For example, research conducted by Ipsos-na.com in 2015 shows that 55% of US adults don’t have a Will. If you are a in the business of selling Estate Planning services you clearly have a marketing opportunity to maximize your potential client base by educating the public and providing a pleasant and rewarding experience for the client in the process.

Providing a duplicate able and positive experience is critical to distinguishing your business and your service from the crowd of legal service providers who still think it’s a sellers market.

Tom Kane’s blog is an excellent source of sage advice. His years of experience shine through in his no nonsense approach to explaining the do’s and don’t of marketing your service.

Will Hornsby has just launched an excellent blog where he has begun to talk about marketing and legal ethics. It’s a must read to keep abreast of the ethical challenges of marketing legal services.

The Business of Law and Your Internet Reality

If you are not serious about your internet presence you are not serious about communication to your clients…

Here are some of the highlights:

Since the 1994 debut of the first commercial web browser, the number of Americans connected to the internet has increased from practically zero to 60% by 2004.

Total Time: The average Internet user spends approximately 3 hours per day online (176 minutes); this exceeds the time the average respondent spent watching TV, which is about 1.7 hours a day.

Communications vs. Browsing: 57% of online time is spent on email and other communications, including IM and Chat rooms. The remaining 43% of online time is spent browsing web pages; news groups, maintaining websites and social networking.

People between 18 and 29 seem to favor interactive forms of online communication: They use email less then older people, but they use instant messaging and chat rooms more.

The survey was conducted by Stanford University. Its food for thought and innovation; these young internet users are your clients of the next year.