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December 2008

Why I Love Hourly Billing!

OK.  So the title of this post brought you in.  You couldn’t resist.  How can GAL love hourly billing?

The answer is pretty simple and straightforward.  Our competitors who bill by the hour regularly piss off their clients so much, that those clients switch their services to us. 

This morning, I received a call from someone who had another local firm handling their IP work.  She explained that she had received a letter from that attorney indicating that an additional filing with the trademark and patent office was coming due.  The last line of the letter indicated that “the letter was free of charge.”  The client contacted the attorney to ask what the fee was.  This telephone call and the resulting follow-up letter resulted in $200.00 in additional billing.  Just to find out what the filing fee is for a rudimentary process at the trademark and patent office?

We of course hear these stories all the time.  We always encourage attorneys who are billing by the hour to never bill for client phone calls or administrative type letters.  These always piss off clients.  If the call or letter was important enough, it will most certainly end up generating additional work which is substantive.  That substantive work can be billed for. 

The best part about our alternative billing approach is that our clients can contact us at any time and speak to us as long as they want for no fee.  We have eliminated the walls between us and our client which would otherwise tend to preclude client contact.  Again, if it is an important enough conversation or letter, there will most certainly be work coming your way.  The old saying “pigs get fat, hogs get slaughtered” applies to hourly billing as well.   Of course, we love the hogs.  Their clients typically end up at our door. 


The Best Things in Life Really Are Free: A Thumbs Down To Copernic Desktop Search for Pay Version

Those of you who have been around for a while know that one of my favorite software products of all time has been Copernic Desktop Search.  Two years ago, I downloaded the free desktop and network search tool which essentially pre-indexes all of your emails and selected files so that you could search for virtually anything and the results would come back in less than a second.  In fact, my entire email process changed as a result of Copernic.  No longer did I file any emails, delete spam or otherwise.  I treated email as a big data drop and simply used Copernic search in order to almost instantly identify any single email, or group of emails. 

About four months ago, my Copernic stopped working.  The company apparently had decided to abandon its free version for network search (you can still apparently get a free version to search only your own computer) and start charging $49.95 per license for its professional edition and $59.95 for its corporate edition

Normally, this wouldn’t bother me at all.  Copernic deserves a license fee for its otherwise amazing product…except that it’s no longer an amazing product.  In fact, my new “for pay” version has barely worked since I installed it.  It is prone to crash, freezes up, and does not deliver returns nearly like it used to.  For whatever reason, I was never able to get it to index my Outlook archives, essentially rendering my email search process useless.  You can either “for sure” find what you’re looking for using this kind of tool or not.  If it’s not reliable, then you likely won’t use it at all.

The search tool that comes with Microsoft Windows has always been downright awful.  I am now left to wonder, is there a desktop and network search tool that will get the job done?

I’d be interested in anyone out there who has a good client and network side pre-indexing search tool that will pull all types of data files and integrate fully with Outlook.  In the meantime, my plan is to contact Copernic and let them know my problems.  I’ll let you know how customer support goes and whether or not my experience is the exception or the rule…


Regurgitation Thursday: Who is The Greatest American Lawyer?

Topics covered in this episode of GAL Radio:

  • Practicing towards an ideal rather than a minimum number of billable hours.
  • Clients could use a super hero to protect them from their own lawyers.
  • How to tell when someone you know has been abducted by aliens.
  • It’s the end of the year and the hourly billing clock will start again on January 2.  Now is the time to reflect and consider your own plight as an attorney.
  • Jump.  Jump.  Jump.

CIRCA 2004: 

I have already been asked the question, “Why did you call this blog “The Greatest American Lawyer?”  No, I am not referring to myself (I shun egos and refuse to include my own name in my firm name, as I did back in the mid-1990s when I founded my first firm out of the trunk of my fancy car), but to an ideal.  The Greatest American Lawyer is a set of standards which I aspire to, which standards I will share with you as I embark on my new non-solo practice.  These ideals fly in the face of what many of us have come to understand as the common methods of legal practice. These standards focus on both the “professional” aspect of what we do without compromising our right to receive value for value delivered.  Here is the remainder of the post from 2004 called Who Is The Greatest American Lawyer? And check out the GAL Radio broadcast below while you are at it with the original post re-read by GAL with insights and commentary not found on the original post.

GALRadio Play Show


Regurgitation Thursday: Who is The Greatest American Lawyer?

Topics covered in this episode of GAL Radio:

  • Practicing towards an ideal rather than a minimum number of billable hours.
  • Clients could use a super hero to protect them from their own lawyers.
  • How to tell when someone you know has been abducted by aliens.
  • It’s the end of the year and the hourly billing clock will start again on January 2.  Now is the time to reflect and consider your own plight as an attorney.
  • Jump.  Jump.  Jump.

CIRCA 2004: 

I have already been asked the question, “Why did you call this blog “The Greatest American Lawyer?”  No, I am not referring to myself (I shun egos and refuse to include my own name in my firm name, as I did back in the mid-1990s when I founded my first firm out of the trunk of my fancy car), but to an ideal.  The Greatest American Lawyer is a set of standards which I aspire to, which standards I will share with you as I embark on my new non-solo practice.  These ideals fly in the face of what many of us have come to understand as the common methods of legal practice. These standards focus on both the “professional” aspect of what we do without compromising our right to receive value for value delivered.  Here is the remainder of the post from 2004 called Who Is The Greatest American Lawyer? And check out the GAL Radio broadcast below while you are at it with the original post re-read by GAL with insights and commentary not found on the original post.

GALRadio Play Show


Are Solo Practitioners A More Difficult Lot Than Big Law Partners?

Paul Schorn over at the Texas Lawyer and as republished at law.com, has provided his instructions for the care and feeding of solos.  This is a fairly comical article, no doubt written a bit tongue in cheek, however, it does raise the issue as to whether or not solo practitioners are solo for a reason.  Are solos really tougher personality types than most other attorneys?

Only a fool or a saint would marry a lawyer. We tend to be argumentative, rule-oriented, competitive and stressed out, hardly the makings of an easy mate. The maxim is twice as true when applied to solo practitioners. We are a colorful lot; however, the solitary nature of our work can make us even more closed-off than other lawyers, while our lack of professional support can make us even more needy. If we were easy to work with, we'd probably have law partners.

The most interesting part of the article are the recommendations by Mr. Schorn.  Schorn provides recommendations concerning the care and feeding of the solo practitioner by that solos significant other, broken down by categories of financial support, social support, mental health support and miscellaneous other. 

Are solos really solo for the reason that their tougher to get along with?  Let me know your thoughts…


The 13 Worst Things about Hourly Billing

I am driving to work.  It’s 10 degrees Fahrenheit in Traverse City Michigan.  In celebration of the cold air that is rushing through our area, solidifying winters grip, I give you a list of the 13 worst things about hourly billing:

1. Reducing lawyers to assembly line workers whose product is six-minute increments.
2. The feeling the lawyer gets in the pit of their stomach when they’re out to lunch with someone who’s not on the clock, or their spouse calls during the middle of the day disrupting and invading the number of six minute increments which can be billed in a single day.
3. The reality that a shitty lawyer can make a great living for the simple fact that they can fill out and fill up a time sheet.
4. The moment a client opens up an hourly bill and realizes that the last month effort just cost three times more than she expected for the entire project.
5. The built-in and often overwhelming incentive built into the hourly system for lawyers to spin their wheels on otherwise low value or even meaningless activities.
6. The simple fact that each lawyer task is valued at exactly the same rate irrespective of quality.
7. The fact that your client doesn’t want to call you to tell you what important things are going on, because they don’t want to incur a .50 time entry.
8. The fact that every conversation with the client you must avoid topics like “how’s your family” because of the uneasiness created as to whether or not the client will get billed for telling you the answer.
9. The simple fact that the lawyer’s incentive is to keep the matter alive, so it can billed, while the client’s interest is to solve the problem and end the matter.
10. The pain and grief that is caused when any person begins to think of his or her life as measured in six-minute increments.
11. The disincentive to create efficiencies within the business model of law when all that matters is an eight-hour day.
12. The fact that the brightest and best new lawyers are taught to think like stop watch, rewarded for the same, and become blind to the thought of measuring value.
13. The lack of incentive and reward in the hourly bonus formulas for anything beyond hours billed and hours collected.

Can you think of other items that should be on this list? Especially if you are stuck in an hourly billing system, you know better than anyone what might be missing from this list.  I encourage you to add to the list by way of comment, send this to your friends, and post it to your blogs.  Let’s see if we can get the most comprehensive list of hourly billing negatives going on the web.  After we get the list in place, we’ll turn it into a poll and see if we can rate them and identify the number 1 negative impact of hourly billing.


Are Bloggers Willing To Work For A Backlink?

The Myshingle Blogroll is coming down.  I thought we were supposed to be moving towards socialism where everything in life is free?

But for those with legitimate content and something legitimate to say, Myshingle offers an even better alternative.  It is running two contests with real prizes including a free computer.  If you want a legitimate backlink from Myshingle, you’ll have to break out your writing tablet!

Carolyn raises an interesting point.  Most people don’t want to work for SEO results.  At the end of the day, the Google algorithm and blogosphere sifted out the legitimate content providers, from those who are simply looking for a marketing shortcut. 

As part of my overhaul, my Other Shingles blogroll will come down from the front page.  I may create a stand alone page for it, or adopt the submit yourself option that Grant recently implemented as his site.  For the time being, however, the best way to gain exposure at my site is to earn it!  I am running two contests -- an essay contest (with a choice of Why I (a Solo/Small Firm/Independent) Lawyer Matter or How Technology Has Improved the Way I Serve Clients and/or Practice Law) and Twitter the Day Away.  These are real contests, with real prizes - an Asus computer or bottle of wine (not just a free ebook or even a copy of my book, Solo by Choice).  You'll get a by-line in the post header that is likely to wind up on the first page of Google search ranking (of course, this isn't  a guarantee)  And I'll publish all the essays that I deem worthy, not just the eventual winner.

Do you want to prove yourself as a top legal thinker and blogger?  Submit something for Carolyn’s contest and you’ll get notoriety and link juice all rolled up into one.

Note that submissions are due on December 23, 2008 with winners picked on January 2, 2009. 



Are You A Virtual Worker Looking For A Job? Are You A Law Firm Looking For Virtual Worker?

As you know, our law firm has had tremendous success with its virtual worker program, working through a basecamphq.com extranet system.  What you may not recall is that we launched a job board for both virtual workers and employers looking for independent contract workers at the Greatest American Worker Job Board

We have been extremely impressed with the response. Thus far, 141 job seekers have added their resumes and 37 employers are looking to hire.  Note that posting for both employers and employees is, at this point, free.  There are some amazing resumes available online.  You might want to register here and check them out.


Introducing Regurgitation Thursdays & GAL Radio ... This is Going to Be Ugly!

Oh man.  Reading back through some of my posts from 2004 makes me a little bit proud, a lot nostalgic but mostly amazed. I must have been crazy to think I could quit my partnership and start my own firm based on alternative billing techniques and business models?  Or was it aliens which drove me to jump .. jump ... jump?   Even if I was crazy or alien-inspired, I have to brag a little here.   Most of my 2004 predictions came true, and many of my dreams in the process.  

WallaceheadWhat I know for sure is that many of those early posts are worth re-reading.  Even better, how about we launch our own Radio station called GAL Radio and broadcast those posts as read by me as audio files, the author of the Greatest American Lawyer Blog? 

From here on out, every Thursday will be "Regurgitation Thursday" where we will dig up an old blog post, broadcast it through GAL Radio and, yes, comment on it ad nauseum. 

Sound fun?  I think you will enjoy listening to my 2004 insanity as much as I enjoy re-living it.  We already did one broadcast below.  Mark your calendars and make sure not to eat Chinese food on Wednesday nights.   This week will explore how and why this blog got its name, what I have in common with Rasheed Wallace and whether non-solo practice might be for you too. In the meantime, here is the GAL Radio show from last week.  Enjoy ...

Déjà Vu from 2004: Don’t call me a solo