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December 2004
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February 2005

January 2005

Building the Service-Centered Firm

A bold proposal to bring customer service back to the professional service firm.

Matt Homman of the [non]billable hour fame is writing a new treatise on a service oriented approach for law firms.  His work will be a must read for anyone serious about alternative billing and innovative business models.  Not surprisingly, he rejects the hourly billing model on the following premise:

In my essay, I’ll argue that lawyers (and other professionals such as accountants, architects, and designers) who have embraced hourly billing have based their entire business on a model that rewards inefficiency and is at odds with the best interests of the clients they serve.

He invites bloggers to comment on the outline and content.  Great work Matt.  You are truly a leader at a time when lawyers need inspiration and insight that things do not need to be as they are.  How fortunate am I that I start my non-solo practice with Matt's blog  riding second chair.   

Here is Matt's chapter outline:

1.  Learn to think for yourself.  Lawyers, in particular, are paid to be innovative and creative, but only on their clients’ behalf.  Professionals get so caught up in fixing their clients’ problems that they seldom apply that same creative energy on their own businesses.

2.  Identify your best clients.  Just as you don’t pick out a box and then find a present to put in it, you can’t build a business based upon delivering superlative customer service until you identify that customer you want to serve.   

The next five “chapters” will be the meat of my essay.  I will give dozens of customer service ideas and strategies that fall mainly under these broad chapter titles:

3.  Have something cool to sell.

4.  Make sure your customers want it.

5.  Give some of it away for free.

6.  Make the rest of it simple to buy.

7. Don’t sell it to everybody.

Finally, my last chapter will be my thoughts on the future of professional services in this country – including the commoditization of law practice.  I will suggest that those professionals who fail to embrace change now will be forced to do so, and on much poorer terms, in the near future.

Great work Matt. 

A Graceful Exit

The often dreaded client/matter meeting happened yesterday and came off very well.  As we went through my case list, we broke down clients by origination, quantum meruit, case cost, hourly or contingency, expected desire of client and other factors.  On the big contingency fee cases where the firm had a large quantum meruit and case cost figure already invested, we decided to co-counsel those cases.  Payment of money post-settlement or verdict will go something like this.  First all advanced costs are paid.  If there is not enough money to cover quantum meruit of each firm, we pro-rate the money based on the percentage loss (if there is only enough to cover 80% of the total fees, each firm gets 80% of their quantum meruit).  Money in excess of quantum meruit gets paid also on a quantum meruit basis (80% of the time gets 80% of the excess).  My current firm will pay all costs on a moving forward basis to protect their investment.

Other cases will be handled on the same quantum meruit basis with one key variable. If the firm continues to pay costs, they share in excess fees.  If they don't, they are capped and quantum.   Also, all quantum meruit calculations will be adjusted with an 8% reduction in my time since my profit sharing percentage usually ended up in that range.  The idea here is that the firm should not benefit from the fact that I am  no longer here. 

I was asked if I could be listed as 'of counsel' on the firm's letterhead after my departure.  This benefits the firm in that it will quell speculation about my departure (and many lawyers have left this firm in the middle of the night with files in hand).  I don't believe that it will hurt my marketing of services, although it might impact some potential referrals.  Regardless, I owe it to my firm to help out in this regard.  The Greatest American Lawyer would certainly do the same. 

All in all, 'doing it right' has thus far paid huge dividends.  My partners took me to lunch earlier this week and we had some great laughs.  I have the flexibility I need to get into my new office space.  My salary continues until that happens. I have covered case costs on my largest cases moving forward.  I have a great foundation upon which to build.

So many lawyers leave their firms, along with a trail of ill-will.  I could easily make an argument of being denied or ripped off in any number of ways from my time here.  But I rarely think that way.  I speak with my feet.  If I choose not to speak, then there is no blame except onto myself.   If I do speak by starting my own firm as  I have done, then there is nowhere to look except forward. Anything else would simply be a distraction from the more important things that await me (an of course the million tasks required).

Flexibility + Technology = Family

My wife's family (8 grown siblings and their mom) has been struggling to come to grips with a recent diagnosis of cancer (multiple myeloma) bestowed on her dad who is 84.  Because my wife is the only daughter close by, she has taken a lot of responsibility these last weeks as her siblings have struggled to get control over their dad's care and comfort.  Only last week did her family emerge from the denial and embrace the seriousness of the situation.  All of this is going on as I cast off from my medium-sized law firm and work diligently on all the details of office space, technology, health care, clients, upcoming trials and on and on. 

At 4 AM this morning the phone rang. Nan's dad was in an ambulance on the way to the hospital, apparently having fallen out of bed and hitting his head.  It wasn't until 10 AM that word came back from Nan at the hospital of a possible stroke, some paralysis and a lot of other unknowns.  As Nan and I spoke on the phone about my ability to watch the kids all day at home, I think we both realized that this move is going to be a key part of our new responsibilities for her dad (and her mom as well). The flexibility of staying home today to watch our 3 boys (snow day - no school for the oldest) without anyone looking over my shoulder felt very settling.  By 10 AM, I had dealt with numerous office issues by cell phone, had logged on to my office computer through my Citrix connection provided by for phone numbers, calendar events, witness names, phone messages, etc.  I had also gotten the kids dressed and outside for snow forts and shoveling. By noon, I had drafted mutual release on a large commercial settlement agreement reached yesterday which had to go out the door today. 

I spoke by cell phone to three attorneys and one key witness psychologist who I persuaded to attend a Feb  8 personal injury trial live.  All of this was a blend of serious multi-tasking, reliable technology and of course Jenny coordinating things from the office.

On a sad sobering day, I am struck by how much is possible in today's wired world without being tied to a desk.  I am gratified that my decision will allow for more days like this one which are inevitably ahead.   Non-solos only answer to themselves, their family and their clients (as if that isn't enough).  Thank goodness that I will no longer have to juggle partners, associates, politics and appearances who/which would otherwise and inevitably be vying for attention and priority in a life already filled with as many challenges as my family can handle. It is not that partners don't support each other in times like this.  It is just different not to have to rely on notions of support, latitude or consideration, especially for those of us who don't like handouts or consideration in the first place.

It is time to put my 2 year old down or a nap and refocus on finalizing business cards, lease terms on office space and DSL issues. Computer systems were ordered yesterday with delivery expected by Feb 1. My drive to succeed has multiplied exponentially today as I taste the flexibility of non-solo life so necessary for me and my family. 

p.s. Thanks for picking out carpet and paint colors today Jenny. 

Digital Dictation Test Drive

I am test driving new digital transcription software called Quickscribe.  They say about their own product ....

Quikscribe is the world's most advanced digital dictation / transcription system designed. It is capable of real-time non-destructive editing within a RICH audio file format called an 'Intelligent Audio File' (IAF) . What this means to you is, as an author, you can dictate, instantly 'Undo' and 'Redo' audio edits and seamlessly cut and paste text, spreadsheets, images, documents, templates, e-mail addresses, URL's etc into a single digital dictation file.

All other digital dictation / transcription systems focus on 'work-flow' and have ignored the actual 'work-process'. As a result they only use PLAIN digital audio (e.g. wav, dss, voc etc) which allows voice instructions only, limiting your productivity because it provides you with no new capabilities. We believe you should only change to digital dictation when you can improve both the 'work-flow' and the 'work-process' simultaneously in your organization.

In summary, the Quikscribe Transcription System makes document production faster and smarter. All other digital dictation systems simply automate the inefficient traditional tape based paradigm work-process.

Intelligent Audio File (IAF) is an advanced digital dictation file format, specifically designed by Quikscribe, to provide advanced RICH audio dictation and transcription capabilities

All other digital dictation / transcription systems focus on 'work-flow' and have ignored the actual 'work-process'. As a result they only use PLAIN digital audio (e.g. wav, dss, voc etc) which allows voice instructions only, limiting your productivity because it provides you with no new capabilities. We believe you should only change to digital dictation when you can improve both the 'work-flow' and the 'work-process' simultaneously in your organization.

I played with the recorder for an hour or so before I left work.  I dictated some notes to Jenny and sent them to her by email [there is a network feature I have not played with yet which will provide a software based transfer systems]. 

On Monday, Jenny will use the player to transcribe my dictation.  I also dictate to a .wav file which may even play through this web site.  I would like to send .wav files with my oral summary of medical records, depositions etc.  But I don't plan to write them up.  I want to store a lot of data as audio.  Each audio can be saved to a well named file for future reference.

Home Away From Home

The office space is so cool, in such an amazing wooded location.  One large room and one larger reception area with room for a conference table at one end, separated by a hall with a bathroom and shower in the middle.  Original stone foundations 1/3 up wall and original brick above.  Rafter ceilings with exposed venting and water pipes.  I will have to post pictures. 

Jenny and I have started thinking about how to buy the space we are about to rent.  At $143,000, we can have a mortgage payment about half of what we are paying in rent (which is still pretty cheap for the area).  We are the only rental in the first two commercial floors.  Everything else is 'owned' condo space.  We have to finagle a down payment and financing from a bank.  These properties are going to be amazing.  The hottest restaurant in our medium town just opened up in the building next our new 'home away from home' [they were the first commercial interest in the old buildings].  That building is amazing. It is the old rooming house for the largest mental institution in the states history, which had fallen into literal ruin before being re-developed as mixed use historic renovation.  Stunning. 

I took Nancy (wife), Jenny, Mike (Jenny's husband) and two of my three little boys to see the new office today.   I think they are going to feel right at home there.

A Feb 1 move-in date is pretty hard to believe, but we will be ready and have contingency plans either way.

One week post-'I Quit.'

Focusing on staying focused. 

I am squarely confronted with a mixture of excitement and endless tasks.  I find myself picking out carpet for new office space, to pricing computer equipment and researching DSL/cable options [SBC says there is no DSL at the commons, although the developers say it exists].  I am meeting with my computer network guy tomorrow.  He as got me into some pretty amazing stuff. Airspace wireless solution with VPN, MFP for paperless office (every piece of paper will scanned in, and paper will be boxed and stored.).  I will share technology quote on-line. 

Because of the potential two week delivery time, I have to order Monday. That leaves projected network operation date of about Feb 2.  I have a physical address and am finalizing the logo and stationary.  I am converting my blog sites into marketing for my new firm (I do about 350 hits a day on five vertical market blogs and ave generated three paying clients and one referral).  No amount of endless tasks as a non-solo.

Jenny:  How are we doing so far?

Non-Solo Karma

What a couple of days!  I am stunned and amazed by my good fortune.  My real estate agent (which big boss referred me to), took me to the hottest, most alternative new development within 100 miles. One million square feet of 1850's era state mental hospital (really a campus) which was closed down for years and is now being re-developed one building at a time. The first building was just completed (stone foundation with 1800s brick) and the initially available space has long been spoken for.  We went to look at phase two just for fun to see if I would want to obtain a sort term lease somewhere else in order to leave the option open of moving as phase 3 (phase 2 is already sold out as well) is completed  a couple of years from now.

But the developer and is family appreciated my alternative lifestyle, my unusual history, my Italian heritage, the fact that I took my wife's last name in matrimony and my appreciation for the community of people they are assembling.  They abandon two offers to purchase an entire floor of breathtaking space to accept a lease from me for 1/4 of the floor.  My new office is surrounded by a campus of beautiful buildings, woods, trails and alternative people just like me.  Kids are welcome anytime and it just happened that there is plumbing built into to a private bath which can accommodate a shower (which means I can still jog to work and back home which I ave been doing for over 10 years).

It is as though the great gods have blessed my non-solo decision and I am now being swept along by the strongest karmic winds which I ave ever experienced. EVERYTHING is falling right into place beyond my most optimistic expectations.   

Big Boss Rocks! [so far]:

Big boss has gotten over his initial disappointment in my departure and is focused on making the transition smooth and mutual.  Of course, we have not had to deal with some tricky issues which will soon come into play, like specific cases, quantum meruit, case costs, etc.  But I could not be more pleased by the attitude and professionalism of my partners [they still have not told the associates and staff yet].  So far, ‘doing it right’ is making this much easier than I ever anticipated.

Of course, the firm has identical interests as I do on many key issues such as:

1.       Diminishing the speculation ‘on the street.’

2.       Diminishing the ‘blood in the water’ mentality of the local bar [many of the top firms are built by ex-lawyers of my firm who have major grudges].

3.       Preserving quantum meruit and advanced cost investments in specific cases.

4.       Winning cases that both stay and go with me.

It help that I just settled a case that will net $30k to the firm yesterday and will no doubt bring in another $40k relatively soon.   $70k on my way out the door doesn’t hurt the process. 

Thanks For Watching

I have received a large number of emails this last few days from well wishers, non-solos, wishful non-solos and solos-to-be.  I won't reproduce their emails but I thought it would be insightful to publish my responses.  Here are a few:

I am in the most 'lawyer per capita' city in the state (tourist town).
Luckily, it is also a growing city.  I'll be posting my projected
P&L's soon so you can take a look.  So much of what I will be doing is
verbal marketing.  People need to understand the value they receive.
My business model assumes a much higher ratio of clients referrals and
repeat business than would normally occur.  Building relationships is
not the norm and as we all know, very hard to do in this business.
What we need to think about is why our clients leave dissatisfied more
often than not despite the result.  Those that pay hourly feel they've
lost either way.


Sounds like me.  6rth Circuit clerkship, big firms, rich firms, solo (stayed home and raised one boy), current 12 person firm .... non-solo.

I'll post my projected P&Ls, break even and sales forecast in the next
couple of days.  I'll be interested in your thoughts. My projected
break even is about 18k right now with me ($70k) and secretary ($30k)
plus all other expenses.  Thanks for watching.


Some one say 'lack of brains' but one way or another, we will find
out. So far so good.  I start looking for rental property tomorrow.

Carolyn Elefant (bio) gave me profs on her blog (reprodcued in part on the Blog site) for converting to the solo life. Thanks Carolyn, and kudos to her for launching MyShingle, which will no doubt inspire others who apsire to the non-solo life.


Well.  I gave the firm notice today.  Big boss took it hard, immediately doing financial calculations in his head and contemplating how this would affect him.  We agreed to disagree about his "I've invested money in you" analysis (which I knew would be his immidiate reaction) vs. my premise of  "value paid for value provided."  The fact that the firm as always made a significant profit off my efforts seems to have been lost in the calculations about how much more money I would make the firm if I stayed. 

The other partners took it very well, two of which indicated that they were surprised I stayed for so long knowing the aberrant that I am.  In short, my above board approach (I have told virtually no one of my plans and have not told a single client) has proved to be every bit as important as I thought it would be [thus far anyway].  The firm feels less threatened and more open to mutually beneficial exit strategies than I would have expected.

The best news of the day was that my secretary enthusiastically jumped on board, rejecting the immediate job offer from the firm to stay.  She is as important to my future success as anything else.  Together we shall build a one of a kind firm in our medium sized town.  Together, we shall build our dreams....speaking of which, all I can really say now is ...

Look at what's happened to me,
I can't believe it myself.
Suddenly I'm up on top of the world,
It should've been somebody else.
Believe it or not,
I'm walking on air.
I never thought I could feel so free eee eee.
Flying away on a wing and a prayer.
Who could it be?
Believe it or not it's just me.
It's like a light of a new day,
It came from out of the blue.
Breaking me out of the spell I was in,
Making all of my wishes come true ue ue.
Believe it or not,
I'm walking on air.
I never thought I could feel so free eee eee.
Flying away on a wing and a prayer.
Who could it be?
Believe it or not it's just me.

Greatest American Hero Theme Song Lyrics
Title: "Believe It Or Not"
Written By: "Mike Post and Stephen Geyer"
Performed By: "Joey Scarbury"

More later.  Tonight I am going to rest and enjoy my family.  Tomorrow, skiing.  Then there are many details which need to be taken care of.

Don't wish us luck!