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February 2006

January 2006

Blogosphere Gives Birth To The GAL

My first post ever is found here. But don't bother clicking the link except if you doubt my truthfulness.  I have reproduced the first post  of the Greatest American Lawyer in full, below:

[once upon a time]

The Greatest American Lawyer Goes Live!

My family has decided to quit our cushy hourly law firm job in a very medium sized town and strike out on our own.   We have a $70k line of credit at the bank on our house.  We have some credit cards with some hefty credit available on them.  We are betting the farm, literally. With tree kids ages 6, 4 and 2, we have decided it is more important to live life on our own terms, by our own sweat and  principles rather than protect the roof over our head. Our small family is walking away from a $150k income [which is a lot where we live] for the feel of the breeze in my hair and a goal to change the way law is practiced.

Welcome to the show! Don't wish me luck.  I'd rather have someone pick up the mail from the post-office for me in the morning, one of the many luxuries I leave behind [along with the work-out facility, firm Cadillac and end of the day scotches in the big boss' office] in my old life as a in-name-only partner at a firm run by one man [who I shall call "Big Boss"].

You think my posts are a trip this year.  You need to read some of the early posts.  Man, I was on fire. (I was also on target.).  Wait till you see some of the posts I will re-publish. Reviewing them was a shock to me, and my fingers were the ones punching the letters on the keyboard.

Perhaps now would be a good time for all of us to reflect on the humble and high risk beginnings of the Greatest American Lawyer.   I never stopped to read my prior posts b4.  I did so tonight with my wife, Nan.  They make me proud (and a bit reflective).  Looking back, I am struck by I have executed my initial thoughts with the precision and passion of anarchy. 

I only have one question.  If I did it, how come you can't do it 2? Jump Jump Jump.

Documenting Internal Process With MindManager Software

As we move towards a process based approach towards nearly everything I have found an incredible ally in technology. Part of the latest LexThink (BlawgThink) event was a couple of free downloads provided by Matt Homann over at the [non]billable hour (who organized the event). One software tool is a little gem called MindManager Pro 6. It is a software developed by a company called Mindjet. Mindjet provides software to organize information into visual maps which display relationships among pieces of information. It can be used for a variety of different things. I have used it for process management. Every topic can be broken down infinitely into sub-topics or elements.

It may take us most of the next twelve months to document all of the various processes that go on at our law firm from client intake to posting extranet projects to accepting tasks. But, we are committed to try and make that happen and MindManager is going to help us get there.

Thanks Matt Homann and BlawgThink for turning us on to this unbelievable product.

Steppin' Up When You Have To

Jenny and I just finished a flurry of post holiday activity. It is amazing how quickly the paper stacks up, even in a paperless office, when the holiday season rolls around. We took some extra days off and enjoyed ourselves through the holidays. We definitely payed for it when we got back in the saddle.

Jenny really stepped up to the plate when we returned with a number of late nights. It makes me wonder about the real downside of a eight to five existence. Jenny and I go home early when we can. We stay late when we have to. We let the amount of work and the urgency of the task set the tempo.

Extranet Heaven

I have become more and more convinced each month that the law is too relatively simple things. First, you have to have a strategy based on knowledge and information. Second, you need to break that strategy down to a series of task which lead to a logical outcome in favor of your client.

I think lawyers fall down on both of these critical aspects of legal practice all too often. Granted, it is hard to focus on such issues when you are so focused on billables that you cannot remember the last non-billable conversation with your client that you had.

I think most lawyers could come up with a reasonable strategy if they put their minds to it. The missing piece of the puzzle is the breaking down of that strategy into categories, and from categories into tasks which need to be assigned and completed.

Our extranet allows us to assign categories and tasks within categories. The extranet captures all information (if you wanted to capture all information) concerning the case, including notes of your conversations with everyone involved in the case (the write-board or Wiki). But, the million dollar value (for only $40 to $100 per month) is the ability to break categories or issues down by specific tasks and to assign those tasks.

I have a brain full of ideas on this task based approach to legal services which I will be posting on frequently in the future. We brought our case manager online today and have him on track to his new high tech life starting now.

GAL Takes On Progessive Lawyer Group Locally

I received an email three weeks back from a lawyer in town that I didn't know at all. The subject said "progressive lawyers meeting" and included information about a gathering of progressive lawyers coming up in my very own town. It is January 12th and I am in my car on the way to this meeting of progressive lawyers. I don't know what to expect. The agenda was fairly wide open and my guess is that the group doesn't know exactly what it is or what it hopes to accomplish. It is made up of a bunch of liberal political types which will be a little too far to the right for my taste. Somehow I think I'll be able to stomach the politics of it all.

Who wants to bet that the Greatest American lawyer and this websites agenda finds its way onto the mission statement.

Coming Up On One Year Post "I Quit"

January 13 is the day that I gave my old notice that I was leaving to strike out on my own. By February 8th or so, I was in fact out the door. It is amazing what Jenny and I have accomplished this last year. I can only salivate about the possibilities for 2006 knowing that I will be building from a solid foundation and un-distracted by business start up issues.

What am I most proud of? I am most proud of the fact that I have never lost my desire to think out of the box and to truly revolutionize the way that law is practiced. I often wondered that last year how easy it would be to simply slip into a pattern of familiarity or to wander back into the mainstream where all of the other fish swim. I am now more committed than ever to distinguishing myself in the market and having an impact on the profession.

The Importance of Passion And Energy

I am slowly realizing the critical nature of bringing passion and energy to your effort as many days as possible. No one can "bring it" each and every time they step into the office. But, increasing the number of days that passion and drive put a bounce in your step is critical.

So what makes the difference in putting pep in your step? Clearly, you have to have a long term vision in order to really feel compelled about what it is that you do each day. You have to know what it is that you are trying to attain. I doubt that the concept of billing clients will ever be enough to drive any person to passion in the workplace. I get up each day and remind myself that I am trying to change the way that law is practiced. Most days that thought fuels the drive and passion that I need to stay focused, driven and remain untouched by obstacles which inevitably pop up along the way.

Individuals, Wield Your Skills

For those of you who have been around for the last couple of months, you know a common caterer by the name of Moe Levine has been very active on the Greatest American Lawyer site. Moe has made some valid points along the way, but more often than not simply twists words around and throws his hands into the air in exasperation. In one such instance, Moe took aim at a series of posts concerning the move in our economy from corporate power to individual power. Moe knows that it takes teams of people to build a car, and therefore apparently individual power within our economic structure will never be really fully possible. What he misses is the distinction between those businesses that provide intellectual capital and those that are simply manual labor. I have never suggested manual labor will lost it's corporal trappings.

However, individuals within professional settings whose talent is built around intellectual work ethic receive far less value from their corporate employer, work ethic and intellect are items which are distinctly personal. Corporations have found ways to leverage that individual value. More importantly, barriers in the market existed which precluded individuals from leveraging their own intellect and work ethic directly in the market.

Does anyone doubt that the days are growing shorter for companies which amass intellectual talent and offer it collectively to the world? Individuals can now wield their own skills for themselves.

A Firm's Culture Is It's Most Important Asset

One of the most interesting things that I have noticed about the first year of my new law firm is the importance of firm culture. In other firms, the push is always to bill, bill, bill. There are discussions about capturing every hour, capturing more hours and recouping every hour of time from the client. Because we spend so much time talking about providing value to the client, being ever conscious about what we do and do not bill, instituting policies which provide detailed criteria for when something amounts to a billing event and negotiating with clients concerning budgets up front, our entire view is different. Our culture is one of careful, deliberate, and appropriate billing. Even in those instances where a particular matter has to start so quickly that we don't get to go through our usual up front due diligence, our team knows what is expected of them regardless. The culture governs the conduct.

Perhaps the opposite can be said in firms which over-zealously pursue every last penny from the client. The traditional hourly billing culture creates tremendous pressure to fudge time sheets, find new ways to pass time onto the clients, engage in double billing and related activities. In many instances, the associates and partners don't need to be told to capture every penny. The culture drives them to think about these things as though it was innate.

A New Innovative Law Group

Patrick Lamb over at the In Search Of Perfect Client Service blog had a great post about one truly innovative billing approach by the Summit Law Group. The Summit Law Group has a great website which focuses on "revolutionizing law firm practice." Here is the link.

Patrick Lamb had the money quote which most interested me as well. On their pricing page they note one innovation that I have never heard of before. It is called the "value adjustment line" on the clients bill.

Summit Law Group’s value adjustment line is a cornerstone of our billing approach. We empower each of our customers with the right to adjust our billing, upward or downward, based on our customer’s perception of the value received, not ours.

Not unexpectedly, this innovative group of thinking attorneys does not charge for yes items like classic overhead, long distance telephone calls, copying charges, local travel or even standard US postage.

For those who think that the Greatest American Lawyer and even Patrick Lamb are out on the fringes, the Summit Law Group's success in the field is yet just another example of real world attorneys at real world firms who are changing the way law is practiced right here and right now.

I agree with Patrick Lamb that Ralph Palumbo needs to join the bloggesphere and help spread the word. I am sure that Ralph would conclude as I do that a little competition would actually increase his market share. It is still critical that clients look for the type of services which your law firm provides. In other words, once the market starts demanding your brand of services, you wont be able to keep up with the demand for your services.

I also love the name of the firm "The Summit Law Group" as I have also shunned surnames in my law firm's name. It always blew me away that lawyers would spend time and energy fighting about their place on the letterhead and in the firm name. Such bickering just proved to me yet again that law firms were more about egos than they were about substance on too many days.