Previous month:
May 2005
Next month:
July 2005

June 2005

Trust Me. It All Works Out In The End.

When you own your own business, the buck really does “stop here.” I would encourage any attorney who is contemplating going out on their own to make sure that they continually remind themselves to balance the law firm,their clients, their family and their friends.

It is very easy to get lost with all the day to day management issues when you are running your own law firm. The task list never ends. The to-do list continues to grow longer each day. At some point, you can get lost with all the day to day activities of your firm. Remember, you have chosen an independent practice in order to obtain a better quality of life.

Trust me.  The rest will simply work out.

Re-investing Profits: Idiocy Or Confidence?

One of the difficult decisions that an independent practitioner is faced with on a daily basis in how much money to reinvest into their law firm.  If I find software or a technology solution which will help me deliver value, I do not hesitate to purchase it and incorporate it into our practice. If I believe that I need another staff person in order to ensure that customer service is delivered, I make that investment without hesitation.

I suppose my business model can best be described as one that is driven by customer service. My fundamental belief is that by providing customer service, the firm will continue to grow and expand.  In short, I can spend money now to ensure greater revenues later. Of course this doesn’t keep me from lying awake at night wondering about profits and losses. 

Partners Can Be Major Drag On Innovation

I often wondered when I was thinking about starting my own firm which direction the firm would head when I no longer had to answer to my partners or other interests. While I am still shedding old skin from an hourly billing life, I have to remind myself to take a look at all that has been achieved. I am surprised at the level of innovation which is possible when you don’t have outside influence weighing you down. If I wake up in the morning with a great idea, I can have that idea implemented by noon. This could never happen in a partnership practice.

One of the great adventures of the independent practitioner is letting the strength of their own thoughts and ideas propel them forward.

Flat Fee Billing With A Kicker

One of my most successful billing models has been the flat rate with a achievement kicker on the back end. I bid out a particular project on a flat rate basis and then indicate to the client that the last twenty-five percent of the fee does not need t be paid unless certain goals or benchmarks are achieved. The client receives cost certainty, the client is also assured that their attorney has a stake in the outcome. I have achieved an excellent return on investment under this billing model. If the fee is charged on a flat rate, non-refundable basis, you do not have to place the fee in an IOLTA account.  Instead, the fee is earned immediately.

The most difficult part of hanging out a shingle.

I have regularly posted about the joys of being an independent practitioner and striking out on my own. An equally relevant question is the opposite one; what is the most difficult part about being an independent practitioner?

Without question, the most difficult part about being an independent practitioner is the stress and strain of running your own business. There is a tremendous amount of uncertainty in any business effort. The hardest part about being an independent practitioner is laying awake at night worrying about all those things you can’t control. I would be the first to admit that good old fashioned dumb luck certainly plays a part in success or failure. However, success is far more likely if you have the right mindset. You have to find a way to deal with all those issues you can’t control which crop up almost every day in your practice and set you back. Instead of worrying about those things you have to accept them and embrace them. Psychologically, you have to view them for what they are, problems. Then you have to set out to solve the problems as they arise.

Too often those problems seem bigger than they really are. The phone line goes down. The internet connection goes down. Email stops working. The file server disappears off the network. A disgruntled client calls and starts giving you grief. You're uncertain about whether or not new clients will walk in the door tomorrow, next week or next month. Bills arrive at your desk which you forgot about or didn’t anticipate. You end up with too much work and cant possibly get it done in a timely fashion. The problems which arise are endless. A successful lawyer views those problems for what they are and sets out to solve them in a rational way.

The hardest part about being an independent practitioner is finding the right mindset to deal with the issues which arise and laying in be awake at night trying to figure out how you are going to solve them.    

Yet another benefit of blogging

One of the interesting things that happens when you start a blog is that you find yourself thinking about things a lot more than you used to. Sometimes, I think we live  in a world which discourages people from having opinions. Sure, we live in a democracy where freedom of speech is supposed to be paramount. However, we also live in a democracy which has only two parties which basically stand for the same thing. We discourage alternative viewpoints. Many people fail to realize that America is not the land of diversity. Our political system discourages diversity, in favor of pushing everyone towards the middle.

When you start to actively blog, you find yourself having opinions you never knew you had. Blogging not only gives you a voice. Blogging creates a possibility that your voice will actually be heard. Even better, blogging creates the potential that you can actually effectuate change.

Blogging is one of the few technologies born of the internet age which truly pushes the boundaries of free speech. Perhaps for the first time in American history, the first amendment will be tested in ways originally anticipated by our founding fathers.

A Bloggers Duty to Comment

There has been much written over the past year about a lawyers duty to blog. There are many who believe that professionals such as lawyers, as well as business executives, politicians and others have a duty to make their views known on the internet. Blogging technology makes it possible, for the very first time, to easily post ones thoughts, comments and opinions on the World Wide Web easily and cost effectively. It would not surprise me if many people reading blog posts about the duty to blog have been inspired and launched their own blogs.

            The point of blogging is not only to post thoughts, opinion and commentary but also to start discussion. By definition, is never one person’s blog post. A discussion is what happens thereafter when someone posts a comment about that opinion. When things are really working well, people comment about comments on the issues raised by the original blog post.

            As you surf the blogosphere, you will notice that there are far more blog posts, than there are posts with comments attached. While many have responded to the duty to blog, few actually take the time to post comments on other people’s blogs. It is my belief that web surfers, and especially blog authors, have an equal duty to comment about issues raised on other blogs. In short, I believe that people have a duty to participate in discussions in addition to posting their views. Until people spend as much time participating in comment-based discussions as they do in posting their original content, the blogosphere will not reach its true potential.

Independent Heaven

Five great things about the independent practitioner:

  1. The only interests you serve are your own and your clients;
  2. The ability to make decisions and execute those decisions immediately without partnership input, bureaucracy or approval;
  3. The ability to think completely outside the box. After all, the only reputation on the line is your own;
  4. Deemphasizing hours and emphasizing value and client relationships;
  5. Seeing the results of your efforts and knowing that you and your small staff are responsible of the firm’s achievements;

Bikini Clad Paris Hilton Endorses New Law Firm Billing Model

Lawyers and law firms often forget exactly how limited they are by ethical rules about advertising.  These limitations keep us all in a small (although not so neat) little box. 

How small is the box which regulates lawyer advertising? There can be no better contrast between business advertising and legal business advertising than this Paris Hilton commercial for the Hardee's / Carl Jr hamburger chain [a MUST see since it sets the bar for mixing sex and message in advertising]. 

Now, after watching the video, watch it again and imagine (or fantasize if you wish) that Paris was selling legal services.  Not an injury lawywer advertisement. Imagine a clever ad about alternative billing.  Imagine the ad is so novel it gets played nationally on the news and receives hundreds of thousands of hits on the world wide web each day.

While lawyers struggle with issues such as client endorsements and blogging advertising policies, other US businesses actively mix sex, luxury vehicles, a lot of water, a hose, major tongue action and a barely clothed Paris Hilton to get the consumer's attention so they can broadcast their barbecue burger message.

After seeing the video, I am struck that the lawyer advertising box is indeed as tiny as Paris' bikini. I admit that I am indeed jealous of other businesses which have almost limitless ways to get out their message. 

Would I want Paris to market my message of "changing the way law is practiced" ...  My immediate thought is 'hell yes' (although I admit that I might be somewhat dazed from Paris' burger commercial ... her video talents are legendary).   Instead of struggling to get my message of change and innovation heard, the message would drop like a atom bomb.  And I thought blogs were great.

Advertising has always been a cornerstone of American business.  Good advertisement added to a quality product delivers market (and yes financial) success.  I think I heard it called capitalism once; capitalism in the true sense of what was originally intended by Adam Smith and re-introduced by Adam Smith, Esquire.  I am not talking about today's capitalism which I think we all realize is a function of momentum, money and power at this point, far more than talent or value. 

When marketing meets muscle, entire service markets are changed and even created. You don't see that in the law, probably because many think it would be prohibited by ethical rules concerning lawyer advertising. 

Ask yourself.  Where do legal consumer turn for information when they hire a lawyer?  Even with today's Internet, the number one complaint of prospective clients is that they don't know how to hire a lawyer.  Of course, the rich know who they are and which ones are most connected. What about he average business person, the middle class Joe or the upwardly mobile Jane? Don't they deserve information and alternatives?

It makes me wonder, if Paris Hilton endorsed a law firm by labeling a firms alternative billing model "That's Cool!" while wearing nothing but a skimpy bikini, would the public really be in jeopardy of being deceived?  It is an extreme example but one that makes you think. Don't limitations on advertising leave most legal consumers completely in the dark, or worse, left to the back page of the yellow book? What's worse, Paris in a bikini pushing value billing or leaving clients to guess about law firms (loaded question).  How about, can't we loosen up the advertising rules for non-personal injury/employment advertising?

Handcuffing lawyers from distinguishing themselves from their competition is simply protecting the status quo.  It is time to overhaul the lawyer advertising rules with a system that protects consumers from misrepresentation, but allows law firms to freely and creatively inform and entice consumers with alternatives to the traditional law firm.

I agree there is a professionalism difference here so don't leave a comment lawyers are different than burgers.  Da.  If that's your comment, you miss the point completely.  The question is not we are a higher grade product than a Hardee's burger with spicy barbecue sauce dripping down the sides (Hmm, maybe that would be a good debate after all).  The question is are we killing innovation on non-contingency fee business models by severely limiting advertisement by lawyers. The question is whether we are so busy trying convincing ourselves that advertising is unprofessional, we have forgotten to integrate professionalism in our practices where it counts. 

My god, have we really convinced ourselves that we are saving the profession by killing the free speech of lawyers about the profession itself.  And if lawyers don't say it in advertisements, where do they say it to the broader public?  Church?

And what the hell are we protecting exactly.  The answer supposedly is that we are protecting the institution of law itself.  But those institutions are not focused on upholding lady justice in today's legal market (oh, can you imagine Paris as Lady Justice?).  The institution is an army powerful machines of hourly billing focused on greed and ego (I can almost see Paris "lady" Justice battling hourly billing killing machines ...).

Paris I am too hungry for a Spicy Barbecue Burger to write any more  ....[GAL leaves the blogosphere trying to find his car keys and a late night window @ Hardee's ...]