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December 2005

The Stupidest American Lawyer

I am sitting back in my office for the first time in a week.  Last Thursday, Friday, I started dragging after lunch.  I just was loosing energy.  By Saturday morning I had a temperature.  By Sunday, I could not get the temp below 103 degrees even with Tylenol.  On Monday, my temp wavered around 102.5  most of the day and then eased down around 100 by nightfall.  I thought I was over the hump.  On Tuesday morning, my temp was down and I started thinking I had kicked 'wahtever it was.'  Whoops, back into high temps again by afternoon.  I decided to go to urgent care.

Turns out I had pneumonia.  Here it is Friday and I have stopped in the office to do a few things.  I can still hear my lungs gurgle when I cough and it will be a few more days before I get back in the swing of  things.

I apologize for disappearing.  But of all  my sins this last week, waiting 5 days before going to see a doctor clearly makes me The Stupidest American Lawyer.

Can worker bees originate new clients?

     Gerry Riskin over at Amazing Firms Amazing Practices Blog. Takes issue with Dr. Witmer's view reported on Larry Bodine's Professional Marketing Blog. Gerry Riskin does not agree with Dr. Witmer who concludes that the "grinders and drones lack the essential personality elements to develop new business, you cannot change their personalities, and they may be unable to change themselves." What Dr. Witmer is essentially saying is that many associates and some partners simply don't have the skills to develop new business and become rain makers. Gerry takes issue with the use of the word "drones" in describing those members of a firm who don't make it rain. Gerry doubts the conclusion that lawyers can't be trained to become rain makers when provided the appropriate skill set.

      I would take Gerry's thought one step further. Making it rain takes time, energy and commitment which have nothing to do with billing hours and driving the immediate need for revenue. I would suggest that many big firms are set up to discourage large numbers of attorneys from making it rain. After all, if large law firms allowed everyone to meet potential clients for breakfast, lunch and dinner, and spend the time with those clients that is necessary in order to land their business, there would be no one back at the office billing hours. Large law firms are structured in part around the different roles that make the business go. Many (but not all) of the top rain makers of a firm simply don't spend as much time billing hours day to day. Those rain makers need the so called worker bees to bill the clients they bring through the door. The issue is not that the worker bees can't make it rain (although certainly some do not have the social skills necessary to accomplish that goal). The issue is that they are not provided the resources and tool sets, or the time, to do so. Nor are they encouraged to do so. In some instances they are effectively precluded from doing so (I should know seeing as I worked in at least two such firms).

      My point is that large firms should re-think their business model so that each lawyer has a healthy balance and incentive to be both a worker bee and a rain maker. After all, that is what independent practitioners do every day. It makes us more well rounded. It provides us time doing that great legal work that we all went to law school to do. It also stimulates our social need to get out in the world and mix with business men and individuals who need legal services. A law firm which cultivated its entire legal staff to be independent practitioners in the context of big firm practice would be an interesting experiment.

      I also agree with Gerry that lawyers can be trained to become rain makers. It is not a natural skill set for many people. Law firms do little if anything to help worker bee partners and associates to do anything but be worker bees. Necessity breeds invention. Independent practitioners are forced to go out and drive business. Most do so, and obtain the skill set they need to accomplish their goal, a few do not and their firms fail. One of the great things about the blogesphere is that there are awesome websites like Gerry Riskin's and Larry Bowdine's to help practitioners such as myself understand the in's and out's of marketing and inspire us to hit the streets and drive new business.

Has anyone else noticed that the quality of legal blogs which are coming online seems to be exploding?

      It used to be that I would search through other people's blog links in search of those that I found relevant and interesting. I certainly found many which were worthy of reading but I have noticed recently that the number of quality blogs which are being launched seems to be growing at a substantial rate. For those who have predicted that blogs will become an important form of media, perhaps someday even eclipsing the importance of newspapers, quality blogs will need to continue their growth. I have also noticed that a large number of blogs that are purely informational are coming online everyday. Of course, one of the common complaints of those who are generally suspect of blogs are that they are simply used to attack and inflame, rather than to inform. I wonder which category my blog falls into? Is my content informational, or one of the many attack blogs, in this instance attacking the traditional hourly billing system and law firm structure?

Lawyer vs. Doctor, whose ethical obligations are higher?

      My Shingle has a great post titled "Would you fire a client who doesn't take your advice? Here is what doctors are doing..." I have posted previously about the necessity of firing clients on a regular basis in order to maintain the health of your law firm. (find another post here)

      The article reported on My Shingle discusses the ethical obligations of a doctor to handle a patients care even when the patient is not following the advice of the doctor. For me, I would fire a clients simply because they don't match my business model, my business philosophy or a simply see them as a problem client. I have never thought that I have any ethical obligation to provide legal services to any particular prospect. This makes me wonder whether the physicians ethical duty is actually higher than the lawyers. It would not be surprising to me if it is substantially higher since there is a difference between a patient who does not receive the medical care that they require and client who potentially does not get to assert a right that they believe they have. Are health issues more important than legal rights? Should lawyers be forced by ethical obligation to represent anyone who comes through their door whose legal rights have been objectively violated? Is there a difference between a client who comes to you with questionable causes of action versus a client that comes to you with clear causes of action who you simply do not what to service?

Thinking about your Law Firm as the Airport from which all Legal Matters Take Off

      I had a nice conversation with a doctor who had referred me to one of her partners for a simple construction problem. It was the classic situation where the builder had effectively left the job with a bullet list of things that had yet to be accomplished. I did the project out on a flat fee and preformed all the tasks defined in the initial proposal. We achieved the goal for the client and got the matters taken care of quickly. When the client got the bill he went and spoke to this other doctor about whether it was ethical for him to pay me more than the bill reflected. He and his wife believed they got far more value out of my services than I was billing them for.

      I explained to my friend that I was very satisfied with the value of the bill compared to the value of the services rendered and explained that my hourly rate basically varies depending on the project. On this particular project it was something closer to $100 dollars an hour. But, I told her it was more important for people to think of me whenever they have a legal problem. I explained to her that I want to be the airport where every legal problem takes off from. It it is within my area of expertise I will handle it. If it is not within my area of expertise, I will send the matter to the appropriate attorney who operates consistently with my value billing model thereby strengthening my relationship with other attorneys in town.

      We had an opportunity to really discuss in detail the differences between the way I do business and the way most law firms do business. It was fun listening to myself evangelize about changing the way law is practiced.

      I realize even more each day how easy it is for me to distinguish myself and my practice from the other practices in town. I have said it before and I will say it again. Our firm has no competition in the local market. It is all a matter of getting the word out and watching the clients come in. Today alone, I am meeting with and likely signing up three new substantial matters based purely on word of mouth.

A Major Thumbs Up for incorporating an outsourced Base Camp Extra-net in your law firm

    I am starting to aggressively use my extra-net. I started by using it to manage projects, tasks and workers. I am now inviting clients into the extra-net so they can see exactly what is being done, by whom it is being done and why it is being done. As an added no extra charge bonus, the base camp software offers a wiki as an independent application.   I use the wiki to document the clients goals, the problems with the case and, more important that any single other element the expected budget for the project. Instead of having random discussions with clients about where we are in the case and what to expect in future, including on the issue of fees, I try to invite clients in or speak with them over the phone while looking at the extra-net at the same time. This constant reminder of what we are doing, why we are doing it, what expectations are sought and what the budget is gives my firm and my clients its best opportunity to be on the same page. For one hundred dollars a month, I can create unlimited projects fully encrypted over the Internet through base camp. If that isn't the deal of the century, I don't know what is.