Solo and small-firm lawyers often cite their strong personal relationships with clients as one of the main reasons why computers aren’t going to make them irrelevant any time soon. While lawyers probably aren’t going to become irrelevant any time soon, it probably is not because their personal relationships with clients are so strong.
I think many of those lawyers are overestimating those relationships. Most lawyers’ relationships with clients are pretty superficial and businesslike. Lawyers rarely get more personal than posting “Happy birthday!” on the client’s Facebook wall (or, worse, a holiday card with the firm’s logo and a stamped signature).
But what should worry lawyers more is that it is absolutely possible for bigger companies to forge strong personal relationships with customers through great client service. Here is an example.
It was really touching, and I have told that story again and again …
My first daughter, Caroline, was born in 2009. On my way to the hospital, I called Ruby Receptionists and told them to hold my calls for 48 hours. When I stopped by my office a few days later to check the mail, a care package from Ruby was waiting for me. There was no Ruby branding, just a note and a few nice things from a high-quality baby brand — a rattle, a onesie, and a pacifier, I think — for our new baby. It was really touching, and I have told that story again and again as an example of why I love Ruby. The first time I met some of Ruby’s people at a conference, I felt like I needed to give them a hug (and they were okay with that).
What is the most thoughtful thing you have done for a client? If someone else did the same thing for you, how much of your loyalty would it earn? Would it make you want to give them a hug?
Ruby’s approach is actually pretty simple. According to Ruby’s Katie Wilson, “We start by looking for people who genuinely enjoy making other people’s days. Then, we incentivize them, share stories of what other Rubys have done, and provide various tools to make it easy.” One of those tools is the “WOW Station,” a well-stocked desk full of gifts, cards, wrapping paper, and tools.
Further, Ruby maintains a prepaid Amazon account that any employee can use to buy anything for any client at any time, no questions asked. The only guideline is to avoid “wowing” the same client more than once in a four-month period — although that is also a judgment call Ruby leaves to its employees. Wilson says the gifts make up roughly 2% of the company’s marketing budget, but since 60% of Ruby’s clients come from word of mouth, it’s a pretty great return on investment.
Call it institutionalized thoughtfulness. It is obviously impossible for any one person at Ruby to have a deep personal relationship with any one client, but individual employees are empowered to act on what they may learn during a phone call or request from a client. It’s not faked, either. Ruby receptionists really are paying attention and looking for opportunities to surprise and delight clients. Being thoughtful is part of their job.
The bottom line is that big companies can deliver greater client service — better even than most solos and small firms. Not all of them do, sure, but for every Comcast, there are plenty of examples of companies that know how to suprise and delight customers and clients. (Ruby Receptionists, Zappos, Freshbooks, USAA, and Trader Joe’s are just a few that come immediately to mind.)
Keep a box of nice, brand-new toys and puzzles and games in your office and let your clients’ children pick something to take home.
Great client service and relationships should be even easier for a solo or small firm, but I think a lot of lawyers are deluding themselves about the strength of their client relationships. Clients probably aren’t all that thrilled just because they got to meet you at your office a couple of times, or that you send a holiday email every year.
You can take a page from Ruby’s playbook, though. Stock a cupboard with gifts, cards, and mailing supplies, or just give yourself permission to send a thoughtful gift to anyone you know, whenever it occurs to you. Don’t keep a box of toys and puzzles and games in your waiting room for clients’ children to play with. Keep a box of nice, brand-new toys and puzzles and games in your office and let each kid pick something to take home. If you are crafty, keep a supply of your handiwork for your clients, when the occasion arises.
The gifts you give don’t need to have your law firm name plastered all over them, by the way. The act is more important than the thing. People will be even more likely to appreciate a gift and remember who it came from if it isn’t blatant marketing. If it is a coffee mug, fine, put your logo on it. If it is a onesie or a fountain pen, skip the logo and include a personal note.
No gift cards, either. A $10 gift card to Amazon or Starbucks is pretty unremarkable. A $10 teddy bear for your client’s kid, however, is potentially memorable.
If you want to make your client relationships strong, the key is to find a way to incorporate thoughtfulness into the way you do business. If you do that successfully, your client relationships really will be as strong as you think they are.
Originally published on 2014-08-21. Last updated on 2015-09-03.
Featured image: “Business man offering a gift” from Shutterstock.
Your Personal Relationships with Clients Probably Aren’t As Strong As You Think was originally published on Lawyerist.
Your car says a lot about you to your clients. When clients pull into your parking lot and see your ride, or see you show up to their arraignment, they are making judgments about your abilities as a lawyer by the type of vehicle you drive.
Is this shallow?
But it’s reality. Sorry.
Clients can look at your car and decide, “This lawyer is good at what she does.”
What vehicles scare away clients? Click the next button and find out if yours made the list.
Featured image: “Yellow sport car” from Shutterstock.
Microsoft is about to launch a practice-management solution. Or something. Actually, it’s not clear what it is launching, who it will be for, or what you will do with it. (Aaron and I talk more about this on next week’s podcast, actually.) [LawSites]
Dictate much? Dropvox is a handy app for iOS users that automatically uploads your dictated sound files to Dropbox. [h/t Lisa Needham]
If self-driving cars never break traffic laws, cops will never have a reason to pull you over, right? Right? [Metcalf Harden]
Holy cow there are a lot of incubators. Are incubators becoming the new form of new-lawyer mentoring? [ABA]
Lazarus Form Recovery is a handy browser add-on for Chrome and Firefox that auto-saves the contents of web forms so that you don’t have to start over if the website or your browser craps out on you in mid-paragraph. [h/t Lisa Needham]
Featured image: “Digital pencil illustration of a gorilla” from Shutterstock.
Briefs: 800-Pound Gorilla Launches Practice Management Software, Etc. was originally published on Lawyerist.
The Florida Bar is in the middle of a growing fight over the future of law practice in the state. The Bar is pushing its “Vision 2016” agenda, which includes taking long hard looks at things like computers, non-lawyer licensing, and reciprocity with other states. Florida’s lawyers are pushing back, so much so that the Bar has had to ask them to stop freaking out. In an effort to smooth the waters, the Florida Bar has hired a public relations firm to sell its message of “prepar[ing] today’s lawyer for tomorrow’s practice” to its own members, to the tune of $96,000.00. Before you say “well that seems like a lot of money” (and it is), consider that the Florida Bar’s operating budget for 2015-2016 is over $75,000,000.00.
The approved marketing proposal is thick with PR-speak phrases like “identify opportunities to leverage existing marketing materials,” “help ‘seed’ stories for immediate coverage,” and “shape our narrative moving forward.” The prior proposal was apparently even thicker with jargon:
The final draft of the Miami firm’s proposal kept the story ideas but deleted references to Abadin and the “forward-looking agenda.” Renee Thompson, who chairs the communications committee of the Bar’s governing board, said the proposal was changed to make it clear that the board, not Abadin, had hired the firm. As for the phrase “forward-looking agenda,” she said it was removed because “we didn’t know what that meant.”
The Bar has planned town hall meetings in cities across the state, as well as a member forum in Tampa, in order to give lawyers a chance to voice their complaints in person rather than through angry letters. Maybe hiring a PR firm will help the Bar advance its message, but right now it just seems to be making things worse.
Featured image: “Business man pointing to transparent board with text: Plan B” from Shutterstock.
Summer creates tremendous challenges for parents with school-age kids. Schools and daycares are closed, but work continues unabated. Parents are left to cobble together care for their children while still heading to the office. Providing that care is a huge challenge, as is evidenced by the fact that children between the ages of four and twelve are left alone three times longer during the summer.
The average American family spends about $7,000 on summer child care, about half their annual care budget, according to Sheila Marcelo, the founder of Care, a website that helps families find care. That estimate is probably low for lawyers. It does not account for the revenue lost because of time lawyer parents must take away from work and business development to fill in the gaps in summer care.
The solutions require some planning and can be expensive, but here are some ideas to help you and your family solve the summer child care dilemma. Planning early for next year can help pave the way for an enjoyable summer for everyone.Strategic Vacations
Some parents stagger their vacations, with one parent taking off a couple of weeks and then the other parent following suit. If each parent has two weeks of vacation, staggered vacations can provide a full month of child care. The upside is that parents get to enjoy summer with their children without depleting their budget. The downside is that this plan leaves very little time for the family as a whole to enjoy summer. And, if you work for yourself or have heavy business development responsibilities, it may not be feasible (or financially friendly) to take a full two weeks off. Nevertheless, juggling vacation time can be a useful tool for getting through the summer, especially if you have children who are too young for organized programs like camps.
Even if you do not stagger your vacations, you will probably have to (and want to) use some vacation time in the summer. To minimize the financial hit to your practice, consider vacationing in August when many others are vacationing, too. Courts tend to slow down and opposing counsel may be on vacation.Develop a Deep Bench of Babysitters
No matter how well you plan your vacations and activities, there will be times when you need extra help. Something will come up at work or you just need a break. Cultivating a deep bench of reliable babysitters can help. Aim for four-to-five people that you trust and your children. This guarantees you will still have someone to call in case your regular babysitter is unavailable. The good news is students and many teachers are available to babysit in the summer, so it is a buyer’s market. Babysitting rates may be lower than at other times during the year because of the extra supply. Check here for the going rate in your area.
To find a good babysitter, many parents rely on word-of-mouth. Care is another excellent resource that many use to find nannies and sitters.There are also many agencies that can help you find summer sitters and nannies. Popular ones include College Nannies and Tutors and Sittercity.
To cut down on costs, consider sharing a sitter with another family or two. If you can find a sitter willing to watch several kids, and you can find families you and your kids are compatible with, this can be a great option. It may take some organization on the front end, but the kids will be happy and so will your wallet.Grandparents and Other Relatives
Grandparents and other relatives can be a wonderful way to provide care for your children and a memorable summer. If relatives are willing and able to help out, consider allowing your kids to spend some time with them. You can rest assured that your children are loved and well cared for, and your kids will no doubt be making memories.Camps
Once your kids are old enough to need and like playing with other children, you will probably have to sign up for at least one camp. Camps range tremendously in price, from the very expensive overnight camps to far more affordable day camps. The trick with camps is to figure out the duration. Some overnight camps last weeks, which can get you through a good chunk of the summer. Others may be just a week or two and only during the day. You may have to cobble together a few different camps and even arrange for pick-up and drop-off help, though some camps do offer that service. To help you find a good fit, the American Camp Association has a searchable database here.
For affordable camp options, check your local public schools. Many have extended care programs for the summers. Religious camps can also be very affordable. And the YMCA, which is in most locales, offers many programs at good rates.
Overnight camps can be pricey, but some of them can provide amazing experiences or specialized skills, like computer programming or sports.
The summer child care dilemma is not going to be easily solved anytime soon. But with some planning and work, you can make your children’s summers fun and memorable while still building your law practice.
Featured image: “Father and mother Teaching children to do their homework at home” from Shutterstock.
How To Survive the Summer Child-Care Void Next Year was originally published on Lawyerist.
Incubators are all the rage in the (non-law) business world. They exist to provide start-ups of all flavors with resources, connections, and sometimes outright cold hard cash so that they can succeed. In the law arena, incubators have been a bit slower to catch on, but there are now a number of programs housed at law schools and bar associations across the country. Many are focused on access to justice issues, but several concentrate on solosmall practice.
The University of Detroit Mercy has one, as does the University of Missouri – Kansas City. Charlotte School of Law has a small practice center aimed at providing office space and mentors to recent graduates. The Cleveland-Marshall School of Law helps recent grads establish a private law practice right away and the Chicago-Kent School of Law’s incubator program targets “entrepreneurially-minded” graduates.
What most of these programs have in common, however, is that they are available only to people that graduate from that institution. This is true, even, of the program run by the Memphis Bar Association: it’s co-facilitated by the Cecil C. Humphreys School of Law and you have to be a recent graduate of that school.
The new program from the State Bar of Georgia, however, flings the doors wide open to recent grads from any of the ABA-accredited schools in the state (there are five, in case you were wondering).
The state bar’s board of governors in June agreed to contribute $85,000 a year for three years to help fund the program. Each of Georgia’s five law schools has agreed to chip in another $25,000 toward the program’s first year of operation.
Participants get training, office space, and mentors. You have to start shelling out money (although at “less than the prevailing rate for office space”) for that office space, located in downtown in Atlanta, after 6 months, though, but hopefully the connections and mentoring might be worth it to a new graduate that wants to make a go of a solo or small practice. Juggernauts like Dropbox came out of the famed Y-Combinator business incubator and that has been valued in the billions — that’s with a “b” — so who is to say that an incubator can’t produce the Next Big Solosmall Thing?
Featured image: “Human hand holding a new born little baby chicken in incubator ” from Shutterstock.
What does a law firm look like without the traditional hierarchy? Sonia Miller Van Oort’s firm has a flat governance structure, transparent compensation, and offers alternative-fee arrangements to every client. Plus, why it’s silly to let your hardware dictate your law-firm policy.What Happens When Your Hardware Dictates Your Law-Firm Policy
When the Oakland Police Department started snapping pictures of license plates, it didn’t have a data retention policy; it was just going to keep its data forever — until it ran into the natural limits of its Windows XP computer with its 80 GB hard drive. Once that ran out of space, it decided to keep data for six months only.
On the one hand, great. Even six months is probably longer than necessary, but it’s much better than forever. But while the result is good, the reason is dumb. A 1 terabyte hard drive is like $50. There’s no good reason to let hardware limitations dictate policy like this.
But how many lawyers are making decisions like this because they don’t want to upgrade the technology at their firms (or don’t know they can)?Sonia Miller Van Oort’s Non-Traditional Law Firm
Sonia Miller Van Oort’s firm, Sapientia Law Group, is different for a lot of reasons. It is owned by women and minorities. The governance structure is flat, so all members of the firm have a say in how it is run. The compensation structure rewards collaboration over hoarding. And everyone knows how everyone else is compensated.
Listen to the show to learn how it all fits together.
Thanks to Ruby Receptionists for sponsoring this episode!Listen and Subscribe
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Podcast #32: Sonia Miller Van Oort’s Non-Traditional Law Firm was originally published on Lawyerist.
Solosmall practitioners, it is assumed, gaze upon the perks offered by BigLaw with great envy. What if you had the marble floor entryway, the shiny elevator on the 32nd floor, the sweet private office where you get to choose your own desk? Yeah, about that last part.
In [Paul Hasting LLP’s] new midtown Manhattan space, junior lawyers won’t get the offices many dream of in law school. Instead, they’re getting a cubicle.
The move will only affect first- and second-year associates, who will be seated in pods of 12 in prime window-lined real estate on the ends of floors. For now, the firm is calling them the “end zones.”
Of course they are calling them something ridiculous like “end zones,” because that is what you do when you are trying to make people feel better about the fact that you have literally stuffed them into a little box. Note also the other bone thrown: you’ll have a great view! Except you will be in a glass box for all to see.
The open zones will be cordoned off from the rest of the office by a wall of glass, and dividers will separate each desk. “There’s plenty of privacy,” [Barry Brooks, the chair of the firm’s New York office] said.
That must be a definition of “privacy” that we were hitherto unaware of. So, solosmall folks, comfort yourself with the fact that even though you might have to work in the spare bedroom at home with the kids’ toys and the dog underfoot, you are not working in a glass box.
Featured image: “Office Workers And Their Individual Cubicles Working Space character illustration” from Shutterstock.
 To maintain the requisite knowledge and skill, a lawyer should keep abreast of changes in the law and its practice, including the benefits and risks associated with relevant technology, engage in continuing study and education and comply with all continuing legal education requirements to which the lawyer is subject.
Comment 8 to Rule 1.1 of the ABA Model Rules of Professional Conduct, above, got a lot of attention when it came out in 2012. And for good reason, the ABA came right out and explicitly said lawyers should be technologically competent. Since then, state bars (fourteen so far) have been making similar modifications to their rules.
The general feeling seems to be that the duty of technological competence is something new. The comment itself seems to support this view, since it says should, not must, and since it is a comment after all, not the body of the rule. But technological competence was part of Rule 1.1 long before 2012. The comment did not create the obligation to be technologically competent. It has always been part and parcel of regular old professional competence.
In the report accompanying the new comment, the ABA Commission on Ethics 20/20 explained:
The proposed amendment, which appears in a Comment, does not impose any new obligations on lawyers. Rather, the amendment is intended to serve as a reminder to lawyers that they should remain aware of technology, including the benefits and risks associated with it, as part of a lawyer’s general ethical duty to remain competent.
That last part is the important part. Technological competence is “part of a lawyer’s general ethical duty to remain competent.” The comment is just a reminder of the technological component of that duty.
So what is competence? Remember that being incompetent does not mean you are stupid or a bad lawyer. It means that you lack the skills or knowledge necessary to represent your client. You can become competent by acquiring those skills. That might mean spending extra time reading up on the relevant law, or it might mean associating with another lawyer who is competent. But you must become competent before you represent that client.
In the case of technology, competence has more to do with the tools you use than the substance of your legal arguments and strategies. Can you communicate securely with your clients? Can you build a useful, well-structured contract in Microsoft Word? Can you lay a foundation for a tweet in a deposition or trial? Can you properly redact a PDF? Can you store your client’s information securely on your computer, your network, or the cloud?Remember that being incompetent does not mean you are stupid or a bad lawyer.
Your brilliant legal strategy will not count for much if you can not navigate e-discovery or if you lose your draft summary judgment memorandum hours before it is due. And sooner or later, your clients will find another lawyer if you waste their money and time on basic tasks because you aren’t proficient with your devices.
There are a whole lot of incompetent lawyers out there. Not technologically incompetent, mind you. Incompetent. As in should not be representing clients. They are incompetent because they think an email disclaimer counts as a security measure. Or because they think they aren’t using the cloud. Or because they don’t know how to use Styles in Word.
What does it mean to be technologically competent? The rule obviously does not contain a checklist (nor should it; technology changes too fast), so I made one. It is necessarily a work in progress (hence the DRAFT watermark) but it is a good start. If you want to reassure yourself that you are basically competent, block off time each week to address one thing on the checklist. Start looking for information using the search box here on Lawyerist, look up the terms on Wikipedia, or explore Google.
Whether or not you get my checklist (or agree with the things I’ve chosen to put on it), you cannot put competence off. Start working on it now.
Featured image: “ Curious. Portrait senior man investigator looking through magnifying glass at smart phone isolated grey wall background. Human face expression. Security safety or bad vision concept ” from Shutterstock.
You Already Have an Ethical Obligation to be Technologically Competent was originally published on Lawyerist.
When you first see the headline “Lawyer Is Suspended for His Response to Internet Criticism,” it is easy to assume that a tech-hating functionary sitting in a professional responsibility office somewhere fundamentally misunderstood the internet and hung some poor lawyer out to dry. Yeah, not in this instance.
After doing the run-of-the-mill sorts of things that always get attorneys in trouble — asking for money for filing fees when there actually are no filing fees, failing to keep clients apprised of litigation events — Colorado attorney James Underhill found that his clients were, unsurprisingly, unhappy with his performance. In fact, they took to social media to talk about it, which is where things went awry in a spectacular and novel fashion.
He responded with internet postings that publicly shamed the couple by disclosing highly sensitive and confidential information gleaned from attorney-client discussions.
That is a bad idea! And then Underhill made it even worse.
Underhill then sued the couple for defamation. Although he knew that the couple had retained counsel, Underhill communicated with them ex parte on several occasions, even though their counsel repeatedly implored him not to do so. […] When the lawsuit was dismissed, Underhill brought a second defamation action in a different court, alleging without adequate factual basis that the couple had made other defamatory internet postings.
Even if you have only the most rudimentary understanding of how the Internet works, you are probably pretty clear on the idea that you do not post privileged information there, and you are certainly clear that ex parte communication with someone you are suing is the worst idea ever. This lawyer isn’t a Luddite, he’s a fool.
Featured image: “Furious frustrated businessman hitting the computer” from Shutterstock.
Posting Attorney-Client Communications On The Internet Is A Very Bad Idea was originally published on Lawyerist.
In this post, we will compare four credit-card processors designed for lawyers: LawCharge, PayPros Legal, LawPay, and Lex/Actum. In addition, we will look at three general-purpose credit-card processors: Stripe, Authorize.Net, PayPal, Square, and QuickBooks. All these services let you take credit card payments via the web, and some will let you hook up a physical terminal, as well.Index
Related Find Your State Bar Opinion
Credit card payments and trust accounting can be a thorny ethical issue. While moonlighting at Attorney at Work, Megan Zavieh wrote that lawyers should get over the fear of taking credit cards because (a) credit cards are how most people pay for things, and (b) there is no prohibition on taking credit cards. Familiarize yourself with the rules on advance fees and credit-card chargebacks in your jurisdiction. Finally, consider using a lawyer-specific credit card processor that avoids taking fees from trust accounts. It can also be helpful to put language in your retainer requiring your client to dispute payment with you, first, instead of going straight to the credit card company.Understanding Credit-Card Processing
Credit card processing is a complicated mess of components and fees. No matter who you choose, it is hard not to feel as if you are getting nickeled-and-dimed.
That said, credit card processing boils down to two main components, each of which involve a monthly fee that applies to every transaction:
Although there are a lot of different fee possibilities, it should not be impossible for you to determine how much money you will spend. For any service you choose to use, expect monthly fees anywhere from $5–100. Per-transaction fees generally include a flat fee plus a percentage of the amount charged. This can vary from 10-75¢ for the flat fee, and 1.95-3.5% for the percentage. (The per-transaction charges get smaller if you do enough business by credit card. If you expect a lot of payments, investigate the options.)
You usually have to pay for extra services, like recurring billing, or integration with external software like Quickbooks. Unlike monthly fees and processing costs, this information may not be easily available. You may have to talk to a sales representative to get more information. Additionally, these extra costs may vary widely based on how much business you are planning on doing, and how much the processor wants your business.Lex/Actum
Lex/Actum’s pricing tier was not readily available on its site, but it took only a quick email to get detailed info about its plans. Lex/Actum’s pricing structure forgoes certain types of transaction costs in favor of higher monthly costs.
With Lex/Actum, attorneys that process less than $10,000/month of payments have two choices:$19/month
Attorneys that process more than $10,000/month also have two options:$59/month
All of the options come with a dedicated payment page for your firm (example here).
Much like LawPay, the lower tiers of Lex/Actum do not include the separation of trust and operating accounts, making those plans a poor choice if you regularly deal with advance fees.
Although Lex/Actum does not charge percentage fees, you can not get around the interchange costs charged by Visa and Mastercard, which are 1-2% of a transaction. Every merchant pays those fees, period. Card processors typically pass this cost along to you and then add a bit on top, which is why you see the 1.95-3.5% fees with other providers. Lex/Actum gets rid of additional fees in its pricing scheme (though you’ll still pay them to Visa/Mastercard no matter what) in favor of the higher monthly costs.
Lex/Actum is a good choice for firms that can predict how many transactions they process each month, and would rather have the certainty of steady monthly costs.LawPay
If you feel most comfortable with a high-profile endorsement, LawPay is for you. LawPay boasts endorsements from the ABA and 39 state bars. That does not mean you are free of worrying about ethical issues, but it does indicate acceptance among lawyers, for whatever that is worth.
LawPay offers three separate tiers of service depending on your firm’s credit card processing needs:Small Firm Plan
None of the plans come with setup fees, though those may exist if you have special processing needs. Both the Small Firm Plan and Lawpay Plan are attractive to small firms at first blush, as the low monthly subscription fee keeps your overhead low, but those two plans will not provide you with the seamless trust account options that the Trust Program offers. If you choose the Trust Program, you get a plan that separates your funds immediately into trust and operating accounts, with processing fees being deducted from your operating account. There is no commingling and no need to move money from one account to the other depending on the kind of payment.
The lower-cost plans are good choices for attorneys who process a few, usually-small transactions each month, but the real accolades for LawPay are based on the features of the highest-priced plan. That said, the $20/month fee and 1.95% + 20¢ transaction fee are completely in line with other plans we looked at. If integration features are appealing, and you frequently need to deal with trust accounting issues, LawPay may be your first choice.PayPros Legal
PayPros Legal is a lawyer-specific branch of a long-time credit card processor, PayPros. Although it is geared towards general credit card processing questions, PayPros seems to understand the ethical obligations lawyers face, and can set up separate operating and trust accounts for you. Additionally, PayPros Legal ensures that fees are deducted only from the operating account. PayPros also partners with MyCase and Lexis, among others. Along with the standard virtual terminal, PayPro Legal provides eBilling and a mobile payment platform. However, much of the business model is built around encouraging a physical card swipe.
PayPros Legal’s pricing structure is the functional opposite of Lex/Actum. PayPros does not charge any monthly fees, nor does it require a contract. Instead, you will pay anywhere from 1.69% to 2.99% per transaction depending on the type of card you accept. However, that low-end rate of 1.69% is only available if you swipe rather than key the card, which means you have to buy a swipe terminal from PayPros Legal ($60), or pick one up elsewhere. That may be an unattractive option for an attorney who is looking to handle payments with minimal fuss. If you (or your client, possibly) key in a card, you will pay 2.75% per transaction. While the transaction cost is high, the lack of monthly fees might make this a great option for an attorney who only needs to take credit card payments sparingly.LawCharge
LawCharge provides the key feature — ability to deposit to multiple accounts, and thus avoid commingling — that the other legal-specific providers do. However, the website comes with a relatively loose explanation of how fees will be charged.
Your setup fee will be $100-$200, but you can request that the fee be waived if you are moving from another processor. Your monthly charges can range anywhere from $0 to $20. Per transaction fees can span anywhere from 19¢ to 75¢ per transaction, and your percentage per transaction can only be obtained by calling for an additional quote, and that quote will be determined by the type of processing you need. However, once you are all set up, LawCharge will let you deposit fees to both your trust, and operating accounts, with fees debited from the operating account at the the end of the month.
LawCharge also offers what it calls a “private payment portal,” where your client would go to LawCharge’s website, and pay via that site. The client then pays the transaction fees as a convenience fee, essentially, and you never have access to their credit card information.
LawCharge integrates with Clio, and offers a mobile app as well. It is entirely possible that LawCharge can live up to its claim that it is the most cost-effective option for attorneys, but unfortunately you will not find that out unless you invest some time discussing pricing scenarios with them directly.
With so many lawyer-specific options, it is tempting to avoid the general service credit card processors entirely. Regardless, these services may be valuable for lawyers who charge flat fees or rarely deal with trust funds.Authorize.Net
Three years ago, we were impressed with how responsive they were to pricing inquiries, and how easy it was to set up their services. They offer the obligatory virtual terminal, and a free mobile app. Even though they have shifted the pricing structure on their website, it remains roughly the same as when we looked three years ago, which is nice to see.
Authorize.Net does not offer different tiers, but instead charges extra for some add-ons. Here are the fees you have to pay no matter what you are setting up:
Setting up recurring billing will cost you an additional $20/month, and fraud protection runs $9.95/month.
It is easy to connect Authorize.Net to external software like Freshbooks and Xero, and Authorize.Net makes it seamless for attorneys to generate invoices, and clients to pay those invoices. The only downside to Authorize.Net for lawyers is that it is not set up for trust payments, and given that a lot of lawyer-specific services now exist, that might be a dealbreaker, as you will either need to engage in some very complicated maneuvering to deal with advance fees, or forego them entirely.Stripe
Full disclosure: Lawyerist is currently using Stripe.
Though Stripe will not help you address the trust account issue, if you do not frequently find yourself processing advance fees, Stripe is probably a good credit card processor. Your only fees are a 2.9% + 30¢ transaction fee. There are no monthly fees, no setup fees, and no small-print-at-the-bottom-of-the-page fees. If you process an upwards of $80,000/month, shoot them an email for a custom pricing scheme.
Stripe provides a payment form that works across smartphones, tablets, and desktops without any additional setup on your end. They will also transfer funds to your existing bank account for free, but they will charge you 25¢ per transfer if you want to send it to a third-party account. If you enjoy having a wide variety of features, Stripe has a large number of third-party add-ons that can handle tasks such recurring billing, integrating with Quickbooks, or building your own custom payment platform. If that was not enough, Stripe is also an official partner of Apple Pay. All the options.Braintree
Acquired by PayPal a year ago, Braintree is the closest competitor to Stripe. While Braintree does not offer as many third-party apps, it does offer exclusive integration with PayPal’s ubiquitous payments platform. There are no minimum or monthly fees, and there are no transaction fees on the first $50,000 in payments you process. Braintree will also support Apple Pay, even though its parent company took out a full-page ad against Apple.PayPal
Three years ago, PayPal was clunky to navigate. That has changed somewhat as PayPal has moved towards trying to offer a Stripe-like out-of-the-virtual-box experience. Paypal will charge you the same amount as Stripe — 2.9% + 30¢ per transaction — for the basic PayPal experience that many of your clients may already be familiar with. However, if you want to keep your clients on your site while they pay, rather than kicking them over to PayPal, you will need to go with PayPal Payments Pro, which will run you $30/month. This will then lead you down the most complicated labyrinth of possible fees imaginable.
Several years ago, PayPal was an attractive option despite its misgivings due to its familiarity, and integration with services such as Quickbooks — albeit at a steep cost. Now, the PayPal interface feels dated and it is still difficult to navigate. It is also unseemly to kick your client over to the same type of website he or she would use if they won an eBay auction for a vintage Metallica t-shirt. If you need to accept credit cards more than a few times a year, there is no reason to go with PayPal when Stripe or Braintree exists.Square
Square has always focused on point-of-sale credit card swiping, and is an excellent choice for small merchants who sell products on the go or at multiple locations. They will even send you a free card reader just for signing up. Swiped cards cost you 2.75% in transaction fees, which is well within the average range of other payment processors.
You can also send your clients a Square Invoice via email, which they can pay using their credit or debit card. However, Square invoices come with some significant limitations. You cannot apply discounts or send the invoice to more than one email address. Additionally, the invoices look very much like an invoice for a sale of an item, not a charge for services. That said, Square provides you with a dashboard to track your invoices, and sends payments to your bank within one to two business days.
If you choose to accept a credit card without using the free Square reader, you will be charged 3.15% + 15¢ a transaction, which is definitely in the high range. It is difficult to see why Square would be a useful option for lawyers given the number of competitors that offer more versatility, lower fees, or both.Intuit QuickBooks Payments
Many lawyers are likely using Quickbooks to track accounts payables and receivables and other profit/loss information. If that is the case, it is natural to look at QuickBooks Payments as a credit card processor. For an existing QuickBooks user, Intuit’s card processing service has no set-up fee and no contract, which is attractive to the attorney who only needs to run a few credit card payments per year.
QuickBooks offers two processing options for current QuickBooks users. For $19.95 a month, your transaction cost will be 1.75% + 25¢ for swiped cards, and 3.15% + 25¢ for cards that are keyed in. At $0 a month, a transaction will cost you 2.4% + 25¢ for swiped cards, and 3.4% + 25¢ for keyed cards. QuickBooks also allows you to send invoices, and updates your books when the invoice is paid. Additionally, QuickBooks will auto-deposit your funds. For current customers, these extras make Quickbooks an attractive option to Stripe, even though the swiped card rates are higher.
If you are not already a QuickBooks user, the transaction costs will remain the same, but you will have to use their GoPayment mobile app to accept payment. If you want to accept payments via the web, you or your client have to go through QuickBooks’ unattractive and cumbersome Online Service Center. Like PayPal, your clients will also have to leave your site to make a payment. This makes Stripe a superior contender to Quickbooks if you are not a customer.Closing the Sale with a Credit Card
Three years ago, there were virtually no lawyer-specific options, leaving us to recommend the best general card processor. In that arena, Stripe is the current leader, simply because it has taken the guesswork out of running a credit card processor. However, for attorneys that need to routinely process advance fees, it is difficult to go with a general services provider.
In that event, LawPay’s mountain of bar endorsements speaks to the fact that it is well-respected. Keep in mind, however, if you go with LawPay, you need pay for their Trust Program to get the benefit of the trust account separation. If you are using any of the other payment services, let us know how those are working out for you.
Featured image: “Businessman in business suit pay by credit card.”
Choosing the methods you will use to promote your law firm is one of the most concrete stages of a marketing plan. But unless you spend time on the first three steps, you will not have the essential data you need to create a smart, data-driven marketing plan. If you have read the prior posts, you’ve defined your niche(s) and ideal customers, identified your strengths and opportunities, and developed your unique competitive advantage.
Now, let’s put together concrete ways to get clients.Advertising
The most obvious method of getting clients is advertising. Getting advertising right among today’s skeptical audience is a big financial investment. But it also shows that a firm means business.
However, most traditional forms of advertising — advertisements in newspapers and in the Yellow Pages, for example — feel a little dated. The best form of advertisement in the Internet Age is content marketing — giving people useful information that provides them with value so that audiences associate your business with quality. Traditional advertising invades and interrupts, while content marketing is made up of actual useful content, sponsored by your firm that promotes your reputation.
Writing recurring columns in local or national publications is a fairly simple way of gaining “expert” status and being seen as a resource. Not to mention, small articles and interviews are often picked up and spread across the Internet.Make Appearances
So much of marketing is just showing up. You can show up to lead workshops, speak at classes or for associations, or get quoted as an expert on a subject in a publication. This strategy can be particularly effective for excellent public speakers. People who are dazzled by your knowledge and ability to lead a room will remember you when they need a lawyer.
One key to making a good impression is actually packing your workshop or CLE with valuable information. Do not worry about giving away too much information. Show audiences how insightful you are and how helpful and capable you can be in your field. These appearances are not just events where you tell people to hire you. Giving people some sort of value will make them remember you.
Brainstorm on what you feel comfortable speaking about. What problems can you solve for people just by laying out a plan or delivering some information? Also be prepared with a game plan for following up after the appearance.Networking
The easier, less formal method for interacting with people to drum up business is networking. If your forté is one-on-one interaction rather than speaking to a room, invest in conferences, associations, and political events that will allow you to show off your people skills. Do not think only in terms of where lawyers congregate. Think instead about the associations and events that attract your ideal client.
Avoid slipping into all fun and no work by setting a clear goal for your efforts. At a conference, your goal might be to find a new associate. At an exclusive country club, your goal may be to get your card into people’s hands or to mention that you are a lawyer specializing in a certain practice area. However, keep a balance between work and friendliness. Try to make professional friends and take the connection offline.
In any networking situation, the main goal is to develop relationships with people who may refer you to others. The point of networking is helping others who may one day help you.
### Online Presence
Customers expect to be able to find your website as well as seeing reviews of your service through sites like Yelp or Avvo. They expect to see your firm’s lawyers mentioned in articles or in association with reputable organizations. Build an online presence with a website, blog, and some social media accounts where you can draw people to your page with consistent reminders that you are still in business.
Advertising on the web can be a complicated process because of the hidden skills that go into crafting SEO-heavy content that will cause your page to rank well in search engine results and attract certain audiences. Hiring a professional who can design and maintain your online presence will free up your time to focus on higher level tasks.Developing Specific Marketing Strategies is Important
You’ve probably seen thriving businesses that have made you stop and wonder how they can be doing so well despite their poor service. The answer is marketing. Great marketing can make or break a business. While a mediocre firm with great marketing can succeed for a while, it is also true that a phenomenal firm can fail without marketing. Every firm must invest in the marketing strategies best aligned with the firm’s competitive advantage and effective with their ideal clients.
Next month’s post will focus on how to pay for all of these excellent — but often expensive — marketing strategies.
Featured image: “Man with a Note and Strategy Concept” from Shutterstock.
5-Step Legal Marketing Plan, Step 4: Marketing Strategies was originally published on Lawyerist.
The Oakland PD uses a computer running Windows XP with a paltry 80GB hard drive to store license plate photos — and ran out of space like your parents on vacation. The upside is they will stop trying to store license plate data forever. [Ars Technica]
Ten (apparently) reasons visitors leave your website:
Click the link for the full list. (Or hey, get our guide and you won’t have these problems.) [VinciDigital]
Lawyer v. Yelp. Again. Lawyer is going to lose. Again. [Popehat]
Get a Notorious RBG manicure. You know you want one. [Above the Law]
Ubuntu did a dumb thing with its disk encryption implementation, but it’s fixed now. [Cyber Smashup]
If you use Dropbox for Business, Sookasa can scan users’ accounts for files that violate your security policy. [Sookasa]
Briefs: Police Computers, Drone Future, RBG Nails, Etc. was originally published on Lawyerist.
When a lot of lawyers think of cross-examination, they think of a fight-to-the-death cage match between the lawyer and the witness. They think of scenes like these from prosecutor Juan Martinez’s cross-examination of Jodi Arias:
Those of you who don’t want to do cross-examination like this can breathe easy—there’s a better way. You’ve guessed it; Terry MacCarthy says it best:
To improve and to change your thoughts on cross-examination, I suggest you seek, in cross-examination, to:
Tell a Story
Use Short Statements
—MacCarthy on Cross-Examination, pg. 5
How does the Jodi Arias cross-examination meet this test? Looking at just the first section of at the snippet above, we watch this happen:
It goes downhill from there. Takeaways: (1) he looks bad; (2) Jodi Arias gets to tell her story about being mistreated by her boyfriend and Juan Martinez; and (3) he feeds Jodi Arias long questions instead of short statements. I’ve been there. This kind of cross-examination looks more like an argument between 3-year-old children:
What is Juan Martinez trying to show the jury before he is sidetracked? That Jodi Arias hung out with a supposedly abusive man after he sent her text messages that she found offensive. Here’s another way the cross-examination could have gone:
Q. I’m going to ask you questions about some of Travis’s text messages. You understand?
Q. They were on his phone?
Q. He was asleep?
Q. You looked at them when he was asleep?
Q. You read the messages?
Q. They were sexually explicit?
Q. You told the jury on direct that they offended you?
Q. After reading these offensive messages, you went on vacation with Travis?
And so on. He proves his point, and if she answers anything other then “yes,” she looks bad. The jury doesn’t have to squirm in their seats. And there are many other ways to attack her memory. I’ll address how to deal with a witness’s faulty memory in a future note.
Featured image: “Boxers In A Posed Series, Dunlevy Gym, Sydney, Between 1925-1940 / Photograph” by Sam Hood is licensed CC.
How Cross-Examination Bullying Can Wreck Your Case was originally published on Lawyerist.
Although most states have come around — a mere five years or so after everyone else — to being comfortable with lawyers storing data in the cloud, that semi-forward thinking is not extended to being comfortable with lawyers not having an office. A few state bars have issued ethics opinions explicitly affirming your right to go virtual, but several still retain the “bona fide office” rule, which says you have to have an actual physical office in order to practice in the state.
And then there is the weird middle ground: many states track the language of Model Rule 7.2, which states that if a lawyer advertises, they must “include the name and office address of at least one lawyer or law firm responsible for its content.” A cautious reading of that would be to assume that state requires you to maintain an actual office. A less cautious reading would be to assume that state only wishes you to provide some sort of address on your advertising materials.
Here’s where all fifty states (and the District of Columbia) stand on the issue right now.StateOffice RequirementAlabamaNo clear prohibition against having a virtual law office.AlaskaA bona fide office is required. Under rule 7.2 of the Alaska Rules of Professional Conduct, any attorney advertisement "shall include the name and office address of at least one lawyer or law firm responsible for its content."ArizonaNo clear prohibition against having a virtual law office.ArkansasNo clear prohibition against having a virtual law office.CaliforniaNo clear prohibition against having a virtual law office. California has sanctioned virtual law offices from a technology security perspective, but has not otherwise addressed the issue.PennsylvaniaPennsylvania has issued an ethics opinion that states that virtual law offices are permitted.DelawareDelaware requires a bona fide office in the state and suspended an attorney for two years for maintaining only a virtual office.New YorkNew York has issued an ethics opinion that it is permissible to use a virtual law office address to satisfy the "principal law office address" requirement in the New York rules if the attorney is a New York resident. If the attorney is licensed in New York but resides elsewhere, New York statutes currently require the nonresident attorney to maintain an office, although a current lawsuit may change that.ColoradoA bona fide office is required. Under rule 7.2 of the Colorado Rules of Professional Conduct, any attorney advertisement "shall include the name and office address of at least one lawyer or law firm responsible for its content."North CarolinaNorth Carolina has issued an ethics opinion that states that virtual law offices are permitted.FloridaA bona fide office is required. Under Florida Rules of Professional Conduct 4-7.12, all advertisements must include "the city, town, or county of 1 or more bona fide office locations of the lawyer who will perform the services advertised."GeorgiaUnclear. Rule 7.2 of the Georgia Rules of Professional Conduct states that "any advertisement shall include the name, physical location and telephone number of each lawyer or law firm who paid for the advertisement and who takes full personal responsibility for the advertisement." However, the rule goes on to say that in the absence of a bona fide physical office, the lawyer may disclose the full address to the Georgia Bar instead.HawaiiNo clear prohibition against having a virtual law office.IdahoA bona fide office is required. Under Idaho Rules of Professional Conduct Rule 7.2, all advertisements must include "the name and office address of at least one lawyer or law firm responsible for its content."IllinoisA bona fide office is required. Under Illinois Rules of Professional Conduct Rule 7.2, all advertisements must include "the name and office address of at least one lawyer or law firm responsible for its content."IndianaA bona fide office is required. Under Indiana Rules of Professional Conduct Rule 7.2, all advertisements must include "the name and office address of at least one lawyer or law firm responsible for its content."IowaA bona fide office is required. Under Iowa Rules of Professional Conduct Rule 37:7:2, all advertisements must include "the name and office of at least one lawyer or law firm responsible for the content."KansasNo clear prohibition against having a virtual law office.KentuckyNo clear prohibition against having a virtual law office.LouisianaNo clear prohibition against having a virtual law office.MaineA bona fide office is required. Under Maine Bar Rules Rule 7.2, all advertisements must include "the name and office address of at least one lawyer or law firm responsible for its content."MarylandNo clear prohibition against having a virtual law office.MassachusettsNo clear prohibition against having a virtual law office.MichiganNo clear prohibition against having a virtual law office.MinnesotaNo clear prohibition against having a virtual law office.MississippiUnclear. Mississippi Rules of Professional Conduct Rule 7.2 states that an advertisement "shall disclose the geographic location by city and state of one or more offices of the lawyer or lawyers whose services are advertised or shall state that additional information about the lawyer or firm can be obtained by contacting the Mississippi Bar at a number designated by the Bar and included in the advertisement."MissouriNo clear prohibition against having a virtual law office.MontanaA bona fide office is required. Under Montana Rules of Professional Conduct Rule 7.2, all advertisements must include "the name and office address of at least one lawyer or law firm responsible for its content."NebraskaA bona fide office is required. Under Nebraska Rules of Professional Conduct Rule 3-507.2, all advertisements must include "the name and office address of at least one lawyer or law firm responsible for its content."NevadaNo clear prohibition against having a virtual law office.New HampshireA bona fide office is required. Under New Hampshire Rules of Professional conduct Rule 7.2, all advertisements must include "the name and office address of at least one lawyer or law firm responsible for its content."New JerseyNew Jersey's Rules of Practice explicitly allow for virtual law offices.New MexicoNo clear prohibition against having a virtual law office.North DakotaA bona fide office is required. Under North Dakota Rules of Professional Conduct Rule 7.2, all advertisements must include "the name and office address of at least one lawyer or law firm responsible for its contents."OhioA bona fide office is required. Under Ohio Dakota Rules of Professional Conduct Rule 7.2, all advertisements must include "the name and office address of at least one lawyer or law firm responsible for its contents."OklahomaA bona fide office is required. Under Oklahoma Dakota Rules of Professional Conduct Rule 7.2, all advertisements must include "the name and office address of at least one lawyer or law firm responsible for its contents."OregonA bona fide office is required. Under Oregon Rules of Professional Conduct Rule 7.2, all advertisements must include "the name and office address of at least one lawyer or law firm responsible for its contents."Rhode IslandA bona fide office is required. Under Rhode Island Rules of Professional Conduct Rule 7.2, all advertisements must include "the name and office address of at least one lawyer or law firm responsible for its contents."South CarolinaA bona fide office is required. Under South Carolina Rules of Professional Conduct Rule 7.2, all advertisements must include "the name and office address of at least one lawyer or law firm responsible for its contents."South DakotaA bona fide office is required. Under South Dakota Rules of Professional Conduct Rule 7.2, all advertisements must include "the name and office address of at least one lawyer or law firm responsible for its contents."TennesseeA bona fide office is required. Under Tennessee Rules of Professional Conduct Rule 7.2, all advertisements must include "the name and office address of at least one lawyer or law firm assuming responsibility for the communication."TexasNo clear prohibition against having a virtual law office.UtahA bona fide office is required. Under Utah Rules of Professional Conduct Rule 7.2, all advertisements must include "the name and office address of at least one lawyer or law firm responsible for its contents."VermontA bona fide office is required. Under Vermont Rules of Professional Conduct Rule 7.2, all advertisements must include "the name and office address of at least one lawyer or law firm responsible for its contents."VirginiaUnclear. Rule 7.1 of the Virginia Rules of Professional Conduct states that all advertising must include "the name and office address of at least one lawyer responsible for its content; or, in the alternative, a law firm may file with the Virginia State Bar a current written statement identifying the lawyer responsible for the law firm’s advertising and its office address." However, a 2013 ethics opinion seems to consider the possibility of virtual offices.WashingtonA bona fide office is required. Under Washington Rules of Professional Conduct Rule 7.2 all advertisements must include "the name and office address of at least one lawyer or law firm responsible for its contents."West VirginiaNo clear prohibition against having a virtual office.WisconsinA bona fide office is required. Under Wisconsin Rules of Professional Conduct Rule 7.2, all advertisements must include "the name and office address of at least one lawyer or law firm responsible for its contents."WyomingA bona fide office is required. Under Wyoming Rules of Professional Conduct Rule 7.2, all advertisements must include "the name and office address of at least one lawyer or law firm responsible for its contents."Washington D.C.No clear prohibition against having a virtual office.ConnecticutNo clear prohibition against having a virtual office
Featured image: “woman handcuffed to her desk at work” from Shutterstock.
That political cartoon appears to be an older political cartoon by Jack Ohman while he was at the Oregonian. The archives don’t go back to April 2012, though, which is apparently when it ran in the paper. It seems about right for the current state of law enforcement.What This Is
Like many people who research and write about the legal industry, I come across a lot of links I can’t write about (in some cases because they have nothing to do with law practice). So a few times a week, I’m going to collect the best ones here, in a series of posts I’m calling Briefs. I hope you enjoy them.Briefs
Great, now your socks can be hacked. [Fusion]
Apparently there is still some question about whether you can have an all-Mac law office. Related: it’s now possible to communicate with people electronically using something called “email.” Be sure to tune your television dial to the news at 11 for more information. [Attorney at Work]
You cannot copyright a chicken sandwich. Sandwich trolls everywhere cry out in frustration. [Fusion]
The death of BigLaw may have been misunderestimated. [BloombergView]
I’m so conflicted about Lenovo. On the one hand, ThinkPads are among the best computers ever made. On the other, now they come with unremovable crapware. [Bitter Empire]
And now for something completely different:
Briefs: Smart Socks, the Death of BigLaw (Again), Accordions, Etc. was originally published on Lawyerist.
Shantelle Argyle has a non-profit law firm, something many people talk about but few attempt. Well, the non-profit firm Argyle co-founded doesn’t just work, it’s flourishing. Find out more on today’s podcast after we talk about the ridiculous disconnect between law and science — and by the way, should trials be held virtually?The Disconnect Between Law and Science
Insane doesn’t mean what the legal system thinks it means. Eyewitness testimony is often worthless. Latent bias has more to do with the outcomes of trials than anyone wants to admit. These are just a few examples of the disconnect between law and science mentioned in a recent article in Wired.
We talked about these problems, and also about one of the proposed solutions: virtual trials, which could eliminate the effect of bias by presenting a jury with neutral avatars in place of the judge, parties, and lawyers.Shantelle Argyle’s Non-Profit Law Firm
Shantelle Argyle is one of the founders of Open Legal Services, a non-profit law firm in Utah that represents clients who fall into the access to justice gap — those with incomes starting at 125% of the federal poverty line. All clients are represented on a sliding scale, from $60–145 per hour — numbers that allow the non-profit to fund itself through legal fees.
In this episode, Argyle talks about what it takes to start a non-profit law firm, how OLS has become profitable and grown from two lawyers to six in less than two years. She breaks down the fee schedule works, and explains how to go about starting a non-profit law firm of your own.
Thanks to Ruby Receptionists for sponsoring this episode!Listen and Subscribe
To listen to the podcast, just scroll up and hit the play button.
To make sure you don’t miss an episode of the Lawyerist Podcast, subscribe now in iTunes, Stitcher, or any other podcast player. Or find out about new episodes by subscribing to the Lawyerist Insider, our email newsletter. We will announce new episodes in the Insider, and you can listen to them right here on Lawyerist.
Podcast #31: Shantelle Argyle’s Non-Profit Law Firm was originally published on Lawyerist.
A growing number of attorneys are turning to a set of project management and process improvement techniques commonly known as “Agile.”
As you might expect from the name, going Agile certainly helps businesses be more nimble and responsive to their customers. However, Agile also has been shown to pay huge dividends in improved productivity, increased teamwork and worker engagement, and higher quality products and services.
Agile is more a philosophy than a methodology. Although the term “Agile” was coined fairly recently, many of its teachings are grounded in age-old wisdom about individual productivity and group dynamics.
While it would be impossible to give a full explanation of these methods in these brief pages, there are several techniques that are common to Agile practices that are easy to adopt but that can pay immediate dividends in productivity, client satisfaction, and the overall health of your practice. I’ll discuss three of them that you can start using today.Technique #1: Make Your Work (and Your Workflow) Visible.
The simplest way to start experiencing an Agile methodology is to just grab a pack of sticky notes and clear a patch of your wall (windows work too). Make three stickys for your column headers and then write out a separate sticky for each task you can reasonably hope to accomplish today. Those notes go in your “to-do” column with the most important task on top and the least important on the bottom. As you begin work on a task, move it over to the “doing” column (ideally you’ll do them one-by-one, but at least keep it to 2-3). Then as you complete the tasks move them to done. It’s that simple. Then review your completed tasks at the end of the day, maybe populate your “to-do” column with a few things you hope to accomplish tomorrow, and then do it again tomorrow.Technique #2: Trade in tasks for stories
Agile practitioners most commonly use a set of open-ended sentences known as a “User Story” to describe problems that need solving. In short, a User Story is a snapshot of a particular customer need and the reasons behind that need. User stories follow a simple format:
As a _______________, I need to be able to _______________________, so that I can __________________.
Each blank represents information that you need to capture based on the best information you have about the customer.
Once you’ve developed these high level stories you can use them to inform the work you do in your practice. Family law, for example, a lawyer might replace a task (or set of tasks) having to do with filing temporary orders at the beginning of the dissolution with one or more user stories describing what problems she is trying to solve for her client. The measure of “done,” then, becomes not whether the work was completed but whether the problems have been solved.Technique #3: Be Retrospective
Where the first three rituals are mainly about planning and doing the work, the Retrospective is about the process for doing the work. It typically follows a three-question format, and everyone on the team is expected to participate (though they are equally powerful for the solo practitioner). The questions are simple:
The answers to these questions (and the act of addressing them) provide the basis for continuous improvement (a/k/a the Lean concept of Kaizen). By getting into the habit of conducting a periodic retrospective, you and your team are forced to acknowledge both your strengths and your shortcomings. Better yet, it allows you to come up with a plan to capitalize on the former and reduce the latter.
Lean Legal: Three Techniques for the Agile Lawyer (Sponsored) was originally published on Lawyerist.
Direct examination is one of the most important parts of trial. It is your vehicle for establishing the key facts in your case, laying the foundation for your evidence, and connecting with a jury. An effective direct examination doesn’t happen by accident. As Gerry Spence notes, it must be part of a bigger narrative:
If we haven’t spent the necessary time preparing out direct examination will be of little value. And most assuredly, if we can’t tell the story effectively, our direct examination will be more confusing than enlightening. The direct examination is also storytelling—telling the story through the lips of the witness. Our job is to help the witness tell the part of the story the witness knows.
—Win Your Case, pg. 149
In the James Holmes theater shooting case, his counsel set out to prove that James Holmes was legally insane when he opened fire on an Aurora, Colorado theater audience and booby-trapped his apartment with explosive devices. Here’s a snipet (ending at 1:06:20) of his lawyer’s direct examination of an expert witness:
The direct could be much better. What went wrong? His questions are long, leading, and they tend to squash the expert’s ability to display his expertise. Notably, the lawyer uses almost no who/what/when/where/why questions. Here’s what a much better direct examination looks like, followed by an analysis of how it could be even better:
What’s the difference? Some of Terry MacCarthy’s Rules of Trial Advocacy illustrate why Ms. Wilson’s direct is better:
Don’t you wish more lawyers were this good at direct examination?
For more great trial advocacy material, check out Professor Charlie Rose’s YouTube channel.
Featured image: “Justices of the Peace, Thomas Ryan, William Young and Frank Davis sit on the bench at the Drouin Courthouse,Victoria” by National Library of Australia is licensed CC. The image has been modified.
Lawyers Whose Direct Examinations Sound Like James Joyce Novels was originally published on Lawyerist.
73% of law firms deal with past-due accounts from as much as 39% of clients. What the heck is going on here?
In ten years, only three clients owed me money. The first was because I didn’t know any better. The second, years later, was because I needed a reminder not to work unless I have been paid. And the third was basically unavoidable due to a weird confluence of things.Never work unless you have been paid.
There is no great secret to getting paid. All you have to do is follow this rule: never work unless you have been paid. Contingent-fee matters are the only exception. In that case, your client has given you everything you asked for by signing your contingent-fee agreement. In all other cases, get paid first.
Related “Solve the Receivables Problem Forever”
It is a simple rule, and you should always follow it. Whenever I have been tempted to make an exception, I think of how the first two clients made me feel taken advantage of. It’s a sucky feeling, and the only way to avoid it is to get paid before you agree to do any work.Getting Hourly Fees Up Front
Despite the increasing popularity of fixed fees, hourly fees are still the most popular way lawyers charge for their services. Traditionally with hourly-fee clients, you send out a bill every month for the time you billed during the previous month. That’s fine — as long as you have already been paid.
How? Require your client to give you a retainer — an advance on fees — that is large enough to cover the work you are going to do for that client. If you use up the retainer, require the client to give you another one before you do any more work.
Be draconian. If someone says they will have your money next Monday, tell them you will start working for them on Monday when they sign your agreement and hand over a check.
Consider including a “dead-man’s switch” in your hourly-fee agreement so that your client’s failure to refresh the retainer is all the notification required to terminate the representation.
This representation will terminate when the retainer exhausted unless you pay any outstanding invoice(s) and refresh the retainer within 10 days after receiving an invoice with an outstanding balance.
When your client’s retainer reaches zero, send a friendly letter with your invoice that includes a reminder of this provision and a due date. If you do not get a check by the due date, send your letter acknowledging that you have been fired. If the client calls you in a panic as soon as he gets your letter and offers to drop off a cashier’s check that afternoon, think twice. You may not want to represent him again after he has shown an inability to pay on time.Getting Flat Fees Up Front
The rule is more obvious for flat-fee arrangements. Get the fee before you do the work. Any time someone asks for a few days to come up with the money, make an appointment for the day they plan to have the money and tell them you will be happy to start working with them on that day. Do not sign a retainer agreement before you have the money in your hand.
Sure, some potential clients won’t come back. Those are the ones who probably would not have paid you anyway, so it is no great loss.
For more complicated billing arrangements like billing in phases, separate the phases by carefully defining the scope of representation in your retainer agreement. For example, if you are going to represent someone up to but not including trial, make sure your agreement lays out when the representation will terminate, and make sure that point in the litigation will not prejudice the client or make it difficult for you to withdraw. Then if the client wants to hire you for trial, execute a new agreement and get paid.
If you will not be able to withdraw once you start, get the entire amount up front.Bounced Checks
If a client bounces a check, follow up immediately and give her a very short time frame to show up at your office with cash or a money order, or to wire the money to your account. Bouncing a check may be a show of bad faith, but it is definitely a sign of an unreliable person. And it is a breach of your retainer agreement. Make sure your client understands that if she wants a lawyer, she has to pay your fee.
To prevent check bouncing, you might want to require cash for some fees. I used to require cash for all fees and retainers of $3,000 or less if I had to take any action on the client’s behalf (like filing something with the court) within 10 days. (If you do this and your bank isn’t within about a block of your office, you might want to get a safe.)
Even if your client makes up for a bounced check by giving you cash right away, you should give them a stern talking-to about the importance of making payments on time. Make sure they understand that any further bounced checks or missed payments will result in immediate termination of the representation, because you do not work for free, and you do not work for people who try to take advantage of you,Pro Bono v. Free “[Pro bono] is not work you do for people who don’t pay their bills.”
You should absolutely do pro bono work, but writing off a bill is not the same as pro bono. That’s called working for free. That’s also allowing yourself to be taken advantage of.
Pro bono is work you do for people who cannot afford to pay for a lawyer. It is not work you do for people who do not pay their bills. The decision to work pro bono is one you make at the outset, not after a client has decided he cannot (or will not) pay your bill.
How do free consultations fit in? Go ahead and do them if you want to. Just don’t bill for something and then write it off later and call it pro bono.Remember this Rule Never work unless you have been paid.
It is deceptively simple, but it is the only 100% guaranteed way to ensure you never have to worry about dealing with past-due accounts again. Next time a someone asks you to do something, ask yourself whether you have been paid for that work. If the answer is no, do not do it. Ask your client for some money, first.
Featured image: “man handing over money on white background” from Shutterstock.
The Road to Not Getting Paid is Paved with Good Intentions was originally published on Lawyerist.