January 21, 2008

Virtual Law Office(VLO) - It's Not Your Mother's Law Office - Guest Blogger, Stephanie Kimbro

(UPDATE:  1/22/08 - A nice addition to this particular conversation)

Guest Blogger Stephanie Kimbro is an attorney practicing in Wilmington, North Carolina.  I asked Stephanie if she would guest post on Build A Solo Practice because she represents, in my opinion, the law office of many future solos.  She operates her office completely virtual.  And she offers unbundled legal services and publishes her prices on her site. While there might be others out there doing this or attempting to do so, Stephanie's is fully operational. 

Virtual Solo - Stephanie Kimbro

My solo law practice is a completely virtual law office (vlo) which operates from a web-based application. More specifically it is a secure (https), hosted, software as a service (SaaS) application. I access my entire office wherever I can access the Internet and the same goes for my clients.

My vlo is my entire law office. My client files, client data, billing, invoices, accounts receivable, other accounting and administrative tools, calendars and other data management tools are located in the backend of the office. I have a central point where all of my cases are organized and it shows me the status and priority for better time management.

Unlike standard law firm websites, I do not use email or “fill in the form” requests with my online clients. Email is most often not encrypted so it is not as secure as https communication. My vlo is also not a legalzoom.com or nolo.com website where the public can purchase form-generated legal documents.

On my client’s side, they have access to their own homepages where they may view all of our online communications, pay me online, download and upload documents, and update client data, among other features. My clients feel like they can communicate with me 24/7 and on weekends which is a convenience to them and helps them feel like they are kept current on the status of the legal services they have asked me to work on.

The vlo is a convenience to me because I do not have to respond only during business hours but can set my own schedule. I have a 24 hour policy of responding to clients on the website even if it’s just a quick “thank you for contacting me….” I have a folder of standard responses for certain requests that come up on a regular basis so it takes a minimal amount of time to handle client intake. The new or updated client feels attended to and then I can better allocate my time towards actual legal research or drafting based on the priority of the cases I have lined up. ….” If I take a vacation or a few days away from work, I let my existing clients know through their homepages that my response time will be longer than usual.

Why did I decide to run a solo vlo and provide services on a fixed price basis?

There were two reasons for creating the vlo: the personal (wanting a better work/life balance that I could control) and the practical (law school loans must be repaid). Necessity is the mother of invention.

As for the practical, a virtual law office that runs on a web-based application means minimal overhead and minimized startup costs. To open the doors to my solo, so to speak, I did not have to invest in computers, hardware or software and could use the equipment and internet connection I already had.

With a virtual law office, I tap into the online consumers and broaden my client base to the entire state where I am licensed and even to clients in other states with N.C. legal issues. This allows me to compete with larger firms, especially those that have planted branches of their Biglaw firms in our small town. Having access to a larger potential client base also lessened the amount of startup time that it took for my solo to get a decent client base and get off the ground.

Before I started the vlo, I spent a couple years researching the feasibility of offering unbundled legal services online and how that would work for a solo. From my previous experience in a larger firm, clients do not always “get” the billable hour even after signing retainer agreements. I also noticed a large segment of the public who need transactional legal work handled but who want to do the footwork themselves. That is a significant market need that the right technology could be used to fill.

As far as billing practices, I actually keep my billing options flexible. I list sample prices on my vlo website to give potential clients an idea of the price ranges, but I provide them with a price quote based on the information they give me in our communications after they register with the vlo. I occasionally use the billable hour with clients when they come back to me and want additional work handled that extends beyond our original, agreed upon project. I also offer payment plans for clients if from our communications I think that it would be easier for them to budget.

I handle billing on a case by case basis and the software application allows for that flexibility. If I wanted to revert to a billable hour only method I could do so but I would be giving the client that billable hour to accept rather than a fixed price. Their acceptance of the quoted fee along with the terms and conditions that they accept and our initial communications all make up the equivalent of a traditional retainer agreement. In some cases, I do require a retainer fee before starting work. Again, as in a physical law office and in any small business, how I decide to structure the fees depends on multiple factors, including the client’s legal matter, who referred them, etc.

About the Technology

For over two years my programmer husband and I have worked on developing the vlo software application. A patent was filed for the vlo technology in the summer of 2007. We formed a company called Virtual Law Office Technology, LLC (VLOTech) which will serve both as a company to provide vlo technology to other attorneys but also as a portal for the public to find or be referred to vlos offering the legal services they are seeking.

In developing the software application, security was our primary concern so it has been designed with this as the primary foundation. As new concerns in technology security arise, new protections or modifications are made. My husband has ten years of experience in writing security programs, including those for state government and court systems. We are bootstrapping our company and doing something we believe will make a positive difference in the lives of others in the legal profession and for those in the public seeking a more accessible and convenient way to obtain legal services.

We have a handful of attorneys who will begin using the release version of the virtual law office technology this year. Most of these attorneys are solos who have contacted us wanting to set up virtual law offices similar to my practice.

I certainly do not think that vlos will ever replace brick and mortar law offices but I think they will provide another option for attorneys wanting their own solos or for existing law firms that want to tap into the online market to generate additional client revenue. The public is ready for this form of communication with attorneys, and in my opinion, the public will ultimately be what drives the profession into this method of practicing the law.

Kimbro Legal Services, LLC
Stephanie L. Kimbro, Esq., M.A., J.D.
(910) 762-3698 office
(910) 619-5530 cell
P.O. Box 4484
Wilmington, NC 28406
Featured in Lawyers USA and NC Lawyers Weekly.
Winner of the 2007 Wilmington Parent Family Favorite Award.

December 10, 2007

Legal Process Outsourcing is a Hot Topic - Can Solos Benefit?

Photo_632_200512081_2 (UPDATE 12/10/07:  This little tidbit via Idealawg on LPO's

According to the American Bar Association Journal, there are about 100 LPO companies in India and the legal outsourcing industry there is estimated at $80 million per year. The industry is expected to reach $4 billion by 2015.)

Due to the ABA Journal Awards I discovered a blog called Legal Process Outsourcing and its author, the highly animated Rahul Jindal from Delhi, India who has been tracking the legal outsourcing phenomenon since 2005.  I asked him to guest post on this topic.  Regardless your interest in outsourcing specifically to India, Rahul discusses very important issues you would need to know before outsourcing your legal work to anyone.

Am I personally endorsing outsourcing to India in lieu of our many talented contract attorneys or law students?  No. However, I understand this is a burgeoning and competitive marketplace and we live in a capitalistic society. Therefore, all options need to be explored to see what is best for each and every individual practitioner. 

Guest Blogger:  Rahul Jindal - Legal Process Outsourcing

I have always held that Offshoring of legal work, when managed with adequate diligence and care, can be a godsend for solos/smaller firms. The ability to scale up without having to buy the mahogony future, indulge in firm politics, or getting your head grey is something that LPO should be able to offer to enterprising solos.

As you may have read over the past few years, India has become the destination for knowledge driven industries and call-centers. IT outsourcing was the first to pick up and there now exist behemoth Indian companies in that space. There is a grand range of activities getting outsourced, from call centers to animations, from payroll to architecture design. Somewhere in that spectrum lies the outsourcing of legal work. As has been repeated ad nauseam, two of the critical reasons that enable the Indians to serve low to medium complexity western legal work are the common law background of the country’s own legal system and that most Indians study in what are known as “English-medium” schools i.e. schools where the medium of instruction is English. And given the fact that the great Indian middle class lays an almost inordinate amount of stress on the importance of education, there are enough kids who are good. Add to it the fact that it is a country with a billion plus people, you have many very competent people. A joke about the competitiveness ingrained in Indians goes like, “In India, even if you are so gifted to be one in a million, there are more than a thousand people like you!” So all of these factors combine to make the phenomenon of legal outsourcing a reasonable success at the moment and outstanding success-to-be in the times to come.

And you can be a part of this success. Go offshore! No, I didn’t mean that you move to India yourself but rather that you think about having some people work for you and build your practice, helping you become increasingly competitive and profitable at the same time. If using offshore resources also enables you to scale up your own operations, why not?

That said it isn’t straightforward to embrace legal offshoring, at least not just yet. I keep a tab on the industry development and growth and my own research says there are more than 140 “LPOs”, all shapes and sizes, including some fly-by-night operators. Nascence and lack of regulation has led to the presence of some players and companies that no serious and mature industry will let survive. However, help is close by!

First, remember that trusting the vendor you ultimately choose is very important. If there is cynicism in your mind, the relationship will not succeed.

Choosing the vendor: For solos like you it is not always advisable to go after the big names. You won’t be the largest client for them and therefore not always high on their priority list. One big client and your work will be de-prioritized. Choose a mid-sized vendor, who has certain advantages that work in his favor, may be a non-metro location or may be attractive stock options for employees or whatever, such that he is able to provide you with quality resources and commitment to service. Make sure you meet the vendor before you start regular work with them. This may mean sitting in a coach seat for a trip half way round the world, but if the relation works out and grows, it will be worth the backache and the bad food!

Confidentiality: It is just natural to be worried about the confidentiality of the documents you send offshore. India and Indians are no better or worse when it comes to protecting the confidentiality of data, so take the same amount of caution as you would in your country. There are vendors who might be able to do the work cheap for you but let’s face it, there is no way for you to know or control a situation where your work is floating around to sub-contractors of the vendor who couldn’t care less for confidentiality. So don’t take this lightly and take utmost care to build confidentiality into the contract that you sign with the vendor with heavy penalties in the event of a violation.

Conduct pilots: Good looking websites, impressive management profiles, ISO standards for data security are great first level of filters in your due-diligence process. However, you must ensure that the vendor has people who can deliver according to, or close to, what you need. Conduct pilot projects with the vendor, paid pilots if you have to. Usually some research or draft that has already undergone your scrutiny and efforts can make for a good pilot.

Train your people: No one knows more about your style and nuances better than yourself, so the best teacher for people who work for you is you. Train the team who works for you on law, research and analysis, drafting, etc. Having said that, make sure your vendor respects the fact that you spent effort in training their people and that your intellectual property is not used beyond what you permit. Also, make sure you work with the vendor to help him retain the people you train.

Try and increase the skill of the people: Just as your coaching job does not stop at the initial training when you hire in your own country, having a resource offshore is no different. Conduct constant feedback sessions for the people who work for you. Such sessions don’t have to be elaborate: inline comments, regular teleconferences and occasional video-conferences, if both your vendor and you have access to, are enough. Start with low complexity work for your offshore resources and over time (few months or as applicable) increase the complexity of the work that you send offshore. For example, if you are a patent prosecution lawyer, start by asking the vendor to conduct searches, gradually moving the writing the more descriptive sections and over a longer period of time moving to claims drafting. Work with your vendor to draft a guidebook for your style. Conduct periodic tests for the people who work for you. They will value it.

Meet them: Agreed, physically seeing your vendor or his resources may not be often possible. But do it when it is possible, combine an Asian vacation with a day’s visit to your vendor’s premises. Speak to your team often. Form a relation; it matters a lot to Indian people if you ask about their family, interests and aspirations.

Form a group: You must realize that you will not be the largest client for your vendor, so you cannot always have very pressing deadlines and too much iteration beyond the original scope of work agreed. The simple lesson there is that, scope your work carefully and don’t leave it to the first draft to realize what all should have or should not have been done. Like it or not, in this world, might is right. Therefore, do form a loose association or a group of people in your profession who can pool together to have enough regular work for a couple of vendor’s people (or more, depending on your specific case), if you can. Having a predictable inflow of work is also good for your vendor and thus you (or your group) will always be an important client for him.

Legal Body Shopping: This isn’t a common form of practice in the LPO space and I am not aware of a prior use of this phrase, but do work with your client to see if it is possible to form an arrangement where the people who work for you can be trained at your location for sometime and then sent back to the vendor’s location but dedicated for your work for a committed period of time. This notion worked very well for IT companies and their western clients in the 90s. Move to Full-Time Employee (FTE) model when possible for you, it boosts productivity, reduces costs and helps increase the complexity of work that you can get done offshore.

Billing rates: You are in it for long and for value. As with any other relation, getting it to work to your benefit will take time and effort, so don’t nickel and dime about the rate too much. As the saying goes, if you pay only peanuts, you get only monkeys!

Be nice: Give references to the vendor, if you like them. Doing so will make the vendor always respect you, your work and your demands. Seeing friends benefit from LPO, a notion that you introduced to them, will only make you popular and respected! After you have become confident of the quality of the work product, share it with your clients and pass on the benefits to your clients. You are sure to gather a lot of goodwill doing so. However, make sure your vendor does not poach your clients, make the relation work to your benefit.

Do remember, persistence pays, so don’t give up because an experiment or two failed.
Make offshoring work for you. Welcome to India!

Cheers!

Rahul Jindal

Jindal.rahul@gmail.com

November 05, 2007

Even a Solo Needs a Crisis Management Plan - Guest Post, Paramjit Mahli

Why Solos Need a Crisis Management Plan - Guest Blogger, Paramjit Mahli

“By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.”  Benjamin Franklin

In my final guest blog post for Susan, I’m going to discuss crisis communications, what it is and why having a plan in place is indispensable for attorneys, including solos, particularly when litigating.

Recent events such as the shootings at Virginia Tech, Katrina, Enron and September 11, all reveal how well (or not) the organizations involved were prepared for crisis. All of them, responded but their responses had one thing in common. They all demonstrated how effective each of the crisis communications plans were. As a result of the success of their plans or the lack of it, some parties involved have built their reputations, while others lost all credibility in the public arena.

So, what exactly is a crisis? A crisis is essentially, any situation that threatens the integrity or reputation of your firm or your client. A crisis can range from a class action suit, high profile client involved in some criminal activity, product recall to a manmade disaster. What is absolutely imperative is that these cases do have to be addressed both from the legal and media perspective. Winning in a court of law won’t do much good if your client’s reputation has been diminished in the public court and as direct result the economic welfare of the client is in jeopardy. Put another way, if marketing and public relations builds brands and reputations, then crisis communication is all about preservation and/ minimizing the loss of reputation in the court of public opinion.

The role of public relations is then to communicate to all the various target groups in an accurate, prompt manner and keep them informed and updated.

Crisis communication plans at the very basic are templates. They provide an organizational framework of who will be responsible for which specific task when and if a crisis should occur. Without a plan regardless the left hand won't know what the right hand is doing when the press is knocking on your door.

Specifically, a good crisis communication plan in its most basic form will outline in detail operational procedures.  This includes contact systems, point persons coordinating with press and spokespersons (usually the primary attorney) back up spokesperson, and reporters who cover the beat. It will also include how and what to communicate to any other organization, stakeholder or community that has a specific interest in the particular case your firm is involved with.

My advice, even if you don’t have a plan is do not do the following:

DO NOT:

  1. Treat the media like your enemy or point out stories where reporters got their facts wrong!

  2. Make only written statements, ignore requests from the press, and make yourself unavailable.

  3. Be evasive. Use legal language. Be factual and ignore the emotional element.

  4. Don’t to anything.

  5. Get stuck in the reactive mode rather than taking a proactive approach.

In the final analysis an ounce of prevention is considerably better than a spontaneous or negative reaction. Remember, crisis communications plans are living organisms and need to be updated and modified. No two crisis plans will be entirely the same.

Finally, I’d like to thank the wonderful Ms. Cartier Liebel for giving me the opportunity to be a guest blogger! She has now initiated me into the world of blogging! Thank you Susan

Cheers,

Paramjit

Bio: Throughout her professional career both as a journalist and a public relation professional Paramjit understands the importance of perception. Bottom-line perception is reality. Many attorneys, practice groups and boutique law firms have a superior level of expertise and/or a better track record of helping clients, locally nationally and globally solve their problems, but if they are not as well known as their competitors then they are probably not considered as good as their competitors. 
A strategically guided public relations campaign is an extremely cost effective way of leveraging your success and credibly touting achievements in your target market.  A good strategic plan also entails having contingency crisis communication media plans in place. For example, when you have very high profile client or a case of national or international importance getting your message across to the right target audiences will be paramount importance.

For more about Paramjit visit: Sun Communications Group Paramjit Mahli Biography. For more information on services offered go to Sun Communications Group Services. To view some of the press coverage Sun Communications Group has gotten for clients visit: Sun Communications Group Resources

October 29, 2007

Why Solos and Small Firms Need Good PR

Guest Blogger: Paramjit Mahli

Paramjit_5

This is the second part of my series of guest blog posts that Susan has kindly asked me to write on. This blog post will focus on the importance of public relations in law firm marketing.    


Solo practitioners and attorneys from small law firms often resist public relations, especially working with the press. Many attorneys consider the press as ‘the enemy’ because "they never get the proper story out."

The other frequent complaint I hear is "I gave all this information to the reporter, spent almost an hour and never got mentioned in the story."

Complaints such as these coupled with stereotypes of the press, such as "reporters only use sources from large firms," or "they only want the drama and not the facts," prove it’s no surprise that media relations is relegated to the bottom of business development activities, particularly if the firm has already achieved some “visibility” and it did not result in new clients immediately.

The reality is public relations is an indispensable part of business development strategy for every firm, regardless of size. Becoming a source and getting quoted in news stories, both in targeted industry publications and mainstream media, is one of the most cost-effective ways of securing exposure in specific target markets that are essential to the growth of your business. Last Monday October 22nd CNBC had an hour long program with the king of self-promotion Donald Trump. He discussed traits of the millionaire mindset. What grabbed my attention was a question by an audience member about getting the best exposure for their business: whether advertising would be effective? Mr. Trump responded to the question by saying that buying advertising slots are often a lot more cost prohibitive than a good public relations program.  Mr. Trump understands the value of good public relations.
    Now, I understand that not all of us have the same profile or visibility as he does.  However, attorneys need to understand that a good public relations plan serves several purposes:

  • it builds reputation and visibility,
  • allows firms, practice areas and solo practitioners to become known, liked and trusted in their target market, and
  • finally (and most importantly) helps to bring more business.


Becoming known as an expert, whether it be speaking, getting published or being quoted by the press,is only part of the equation; the other part is leveraging these opportunities successfully into other marketing activities. Articles, columns and/or bylines written by attorneys can be sent to prospects, strategic alliances and clients with the view of providing value, rather than circulating them with the intent of getting the attorney known. All published or sourced works can be included in firm newsletters. Don’t forget, they can be used as a basis for a speech or presentation to your target audience. And they should be added to your Web site.

Finally, it is absolutely imperative to recognize and understand that building credibility and visibility does not happen overnight and rarely does it reap immediate results. It may take just a nanosecond to destroy a reputation (no attorney, firm or corporation is immune to this), but building a good reputation in your target markets takes time, effort and commitment from all the decision makers in the firm even if the firm has only one decision-maker. However, with a sustained campaign working in conjunction with other marketing activities, public relations will reap huge dividends.

Action Tip: Make a complete list of all the subject areas you can talk with to the press.

Next week I will be talking about having disaster plans in place - What to do when your clients are in the center of media firestorm.



For more about Paramjit visit: Sun Communcations Group Paramjit Mahli Biography.

For more information on services offered go to Sun Communications Group Services

To view some of the press coverage Sun Comunications Group has gotten for clients visit: Sun Communications Group Resources

October 22, 2007

How Solos Can Grab A Piece of "Chindia" - Guest Blogger, Paramjit Mahli

At a recent conference I met a stunningly intelligent and thoughtful woman named Paramjit Mahli of Sun Communications Group, native to India, reared in England and now a resident of New York, who works with all sized law firms across the country and abroad to help them publicize their services through intelligent media exposure, management of public relations crises, and strategic public relations to expand their legal services business.  Given she did this while employed at CNN, is a journalist, a talented speaker and writer of countless articles on the subject,  I'm thrilled she's sharing her thoughts on my blog.

And she has agreed to guest post on three seperate topics beneficial to my readership, solos and small firms.  Why am I having her talk about getting a piece of the pie in India?  Because if you follow the U.S. and world economy at all, you know China in part, but India primarily ("Chindia") is a growing economy that is looking westward for expansion flush with money and a young population ready to spend.

So, without further ado, I give you Paramjit Mahli:

Paramjit_5

First of all, I’d like to start by thanking Susan for inviting me to do a series of guest blog posts. I’m delighted to write them and welcome feedback from her readers.

I plan on doing three posts. The first will focus upon what law firms, regardless of size need to do in order to do business with India. Recently, there has been fair degree of press coverage on both sides of the Atlantic regarding India’s booming economy and the opportunities that are opening up for law firms.

The second post will focus on how and why solo’s and small law firms should build relationships with local press and how this will increase their bottomline. Finally, the third post will focus on crisis communications. Specifically, what plans to have in place and how to work effectively with the press when they albeit, uninvited are knocking on your door!  And it doesn't have to be a large lawfirm like Nixon Peabody.  It can be the solo who takes on a high profile criminal matter pro bono who needs to have plans for the press in place to protect their client and their own reputation.

Last Thursday I attended a panel organized by the South Asian Bar Association of New York, hosted at the offices of Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP.

The meeting, “Developing A South Asia Practice” included a well-rounded group of panelists: Satya S. Hegde, Senior Vice President & General Counsel of Tata Consultancy Services; Poojitha Rao, Special Counsel, Thelen Reid Brown Raysman & Steiner LLP; Rahoul Roy, Brown Rudnick; and Lata Setty, SVP Intellectual Property & Patent Litigation at Pangea3. All have a remarkable degree of experience in both the US and Indian market.

The first part of the session focused on the panelists’ own experience and changes they have witnessed over the last decade. Outsourcing was the hot topic subject of the second portion.

The audience, a mix of attorneys of South East Asian descent and others, at times seemed stunned at the breakneck speed at which developments are occurring in the Indian legal industry and economy.

Just to put this into perspective, a recent article in American Lawyer Media, ‘Spending Spree’ by John Bringardner, cited India flush with cash from outsourcing and venture capital deals with Silicon Valley. India, he indicated, is on a bit of a shopping spree:

  1. Outbound Indian deals topped 26 billion up from 8.08 billion in 2006.

  2. Recent deals include Tata Steel Limited acquisition of Britain’s Corus Group plc for $13.4 billion.

  3. Tata Motors Limited and Mahindra & Mahindra are currently mulling over competing bids for Jaguar Cars Limited and Land Rover, currently owned by Ford Motor Company. 

When the panel was asked the question of how to build your book of business with India, the answer shouldn't have stunned me but it did, nonetheless. The answer was as old and universal as one can expect. It transcends language, time and culture and when distilled to its essence: people do business with whom, they like, know and trust. One of the panelists put it quite succinctly: networking is shared communities and experience and one that involves contact, to build familiarity and comfort.

Below are some specific tips from the panelists:

  1. Do an inventory of where your strengths lie. Don’t just assume that there is only technology-related work in India. Do your due diligence.

  2. Build reciprocal relationships with law firms in India.

  3. Find out who the players of outsourcing are in the United States.

  4. Start attending trade groups such as the TIE The Indus Entrepreneur and the USIndian Business Council (http://www.usibc.com).

In conclusion, it just doesn’t really matter what area of law you practice. Right now, India is flush with money and is on a global shopping spree. And with any rapid growth and prosperity a host of opportunities arise, such as immigration, real estate investments, entrepreneurship, such as forming subsidiaries, etc.

My advice: Find out if there is a local Indian consulate in your area and start attending their events and see if you can become actively involved. A note of caution, not always possible with consulates BUT they will be able to steer you to other South East Asian associations and contacts in the region. Don’t forget the obvious: the yellow pages and internet.

Until next week.

Cheers,

Paramjit

Bio: Throughout her professional career both as a journalist and a public relation professional Paramjit understands the importance of perception. Bottom-line  perception is reality. Many attorneys, practice groups and boutique law firms  have a superior level of expertise and/or a better track record of helping clients, locally nationally and globally solve their problems, but if they are not as well known as their competitors then they are probably not considered as  good as their competitors.
A strategically guided public relations campaign is an extremely cost effective way of leveraging your success and credibly touting  achievements in your target market.  A good strategic plan also entails having contingency crisis communication media plans in place. For example, when you have very high profile client or a case of national or international importance  getting your message across to the right target audiences will be paramount importance.

For more about Paramjit visit: Sun Communcations Group Paramjit Mahli Biography.

For more information on services offered go to Sun Communications Group Services

To view some of the press coverage Sun Comunications Group has gotten for clients visit: Sun Communications Group Resources

August 28, 2007

17 Year Veteran Bar Counsel Prosecutor, Michael Frisch Talks About Avoiding/Dealing with Bar Complaints

Michael Frisch, a 17 year veteran Bar Counsel Prosecutor for the D.C. Bar counsel office from 1984 through 2001, current adjunct professor at Georgetown University School of Law and Ethics Counsel for the Law Center graciously offered to guest post on Build A Solo Practice because of the recent conversations on the issue of whether or not solos are disproportionately targeted by Statewide Bar counsels.  This matter was discussed here and also on Carolyn Elefant's MyShingle so I thought we should get the lowdown from someone with nearly two decades of inside knowledge and expertise.

How to Avoid and/or Deal with Bar Complaints - Michael Frisch, Esq.

Susan has asked me to guest post for her readership on avoiding/dealing with bar complaints.

I was a federal public defender and in small firm practice (the last eighteen months as a solo) before joining the D.C. Bar Counsel office in 1984. I was there until 2001. I currently hang my hat at Georgetown While I am most intimately familiar with the process in the District of Columbia, I also worked closely with other jurisdictions, particularly Maryland and Virginia, in cases where we shared disciplinary authority or responsibility. These comments are intended to be generic to all bar discipline matters, except where indicated. (Of course, the views expressed here are my own.)

A couple of preliminary matters should be mentioned. First, in any disciplinary complaint, the bar prosecutor is the key decisionmaker. If the prosecutor decides to bring charges, charges will likely be brought. If the bar prosecutor wants to admonish the lawyer, the lawyer will likely be admonished. If you get a complaint, you must deal with it. There is nothing more important that I can say. Failure to respond to a complaint is a free-standing ethical violation that is the easiest charge in the world to prove. Bar counsel will only get the most negative view of your ability to practice if you won't deal with them. If you need more time, call or write and request it. If you need help in responding, get it. Second, understand the disciplinary process in your jurisdiction. What sanctions may be imposed? How are addiction/depression issues dealt with? Who (court, disciplinary board, bar prosecutor) shapes policy? The rules that govern bar discipline procedures are available online virtually everywhere. If you have a complaint against you, understand the process and know what avenues for resolution of a complaint exist

Is bar discipline biased against solo/small firm lawyers? The answer is not simple. Bar discipline is complaint driven: bar prosecutors react to what they get. It is received wisdom that complainants go to bar counsel when they have no where else to go. Big firm clients tend to change lawyers when they are dissatisfied; small firm clients are far more likely to complain to bar counsel. I perceive no bias at the complaint stage.

There is much greater likelihood of at least subtle bias at the charging stage. Complicated conflicts cases tend to get shunted aside in favor of cases involving neglect, failure to cooperate and, most significantly, money cases. If there is a strong case that the lawyer has fiddled with entrusted funds (i.e. other people's money), the case will likely be prosecuted regardless of the lawyer's status. At the decisionmaking stage, the key question is: who makes the critical credibility decisions in the process? It may be a judge or a panel of lawyers/laypersons. At this stage, I believe that bias can exist in a not so subtle form. It is not so much anti-small firm as pro-big firm. It is also quite pro-partner and anti-associate when those interests clash. My article in the Georgetown Journal of Legal Ethics (spring 2005) makes this argument regarding the District of Columbia disciplinary system in some detail

Avoiding and Resolving Bar Complaints

1. Avoid problem clients. If the client has wildly unrealistic expectations, wants much justice than he or she can afford, or has had several prior lawyers all of whom are liars and cheats, it may be prudent not to get involved. If you decline the case, promptly confirm that fact in writing. Bar Counsel gets plenty of cases where the lawyer and putative client disagree on whether or not there is an agreement to represent. doubt may be resolved in the client's favor. Return any documents if you are not taking the cases

2. Provide competent service. There is no substitute for a sufficient degree of obsessive-complusive behavior toward deadlines, maintaining your calender and being able to document your time and attention to the client's matter. A well-kept file can serve you well if the bar comes calling

3. Communicate. Return calls. Send written updates. Care about the client and the matter. As many complaints arise from a bad bedside manner as a bad law practice. I'm convinced that there are plenty of marginally competent lawyers who never get complaints because their clients like them.

4. Don't encourage unreasonable expectations. This can be tough in practice as the matter evolves and may be unavoidable to some extent, but it is something to keep a close eye on throughout the representation

5. Honesty is the only policy. If there is bad news, deliver it. If it involves your conduct, don't conceal it from the client. The adage that it's the cover up not the misconduct that ruins a career is absolutely true in bar discipline. Don't make a minor problem a suspension-worthy offense. Abide by the rules that relate to honesty with tribunals, opposing parties and third parties

6. Other peoples money. The rules of escrow of entrusted funds are the most important to all lawyers who wish to maintain their license. Know the rules: are you obligated to escrow unearned fees? Escrow violations are considered the most serious violations throughout the country. Follow the rules and keep the required records or have a post-lawyer career plan.

7. If the client fires you (which is the client's right), don't react in anger. While you can protect your right to fees, you should return the file immediately and fully cooperate in the transition to new counsel. Many bar discipline cases have a genesis in a suit for unpaid fees, so be prepared for that if you sue the former client.

If you wish to continue this discussion, I believe Attorney Frisch is willing to answer questions in future blog posts

August 06, 2007

Follow Up To " I'm a Solo Growing By Leaps and Bounds. Should I Hire An Associate?"

This post generated a lot of excellent commentary from talented lawyers and lawyers-turned-marketers and so I thought it was appropriate to make a separate blog post listing their commentary rather than have it buried in the comments section:  Here is the original post "I'm a Solo Growing By Leaps and Bounds.  Should I Hire an Associate?"

The latest comments are from Kimberlie Ryan, Ryan Law Firm, LLC, solo extraordinaire who practices in the arena of employment law; Allison Shields of Legal Ease catering primarily to those solo and small firm lawyers who are established but are now suffering from growing pains and in need of a business renovation, and Dustin Cole, author of Attorneys Master Class, helping practitioners break through their revenue ceiling.

Original Question:

I have been a solo practitioner since 2003. This year I have experienced a tremendous surge in referrals as well as an increase in my 'ideal clients.,  As a result I am consistently
inundated with more work than I find myself able to handle while still maintaining the level of excellent service I am known to provide. 

The hallmark of my success turns on quick turn-around times and rapid response to my clients' needs.

I know this is defined as a good problem to have. It appears I may need to obtain the services of another lawyer to assist me. I need someone who can cover routine motion hearings and can do high-caliber legal and research writing.

Should I hire an associate? The conventional wisdom from my peers is 'yes,'
that I would profit off of an associate, I would not be chained to my office and
my overall well-being would improve.

Will  I really be able to afford to pay an associate, can I really count on an associate to increase my firm's profits or will it be a net drain on profits?, what about providing benefits like health care, unemployment, worker's compensation and the like?

Answer: Kimberlie Ryan, Ryan Law Firm, LLC

Hi Susan - Love your blog. What an excellent discussion!  I second everything that has been said already and I have a few new comments from the perspective of an employment lawyer.  As a solo practitioner, I have worked with contract lawyers and I even hired an associate for a while.  I've found excellent results with both.  Currently, I'm back with contractors, and they are fantastic!  They're especially good for lawyers who want to keep virtual offices and have other attorneys  working with them remotely from their homes.  I've found new law graduates to be the best.  They are sharp, eager, and usually have not developed too many bad practice habits yet.  They do take a bit more mentoring, but that's one of the best parts!  They always surprise me with their acumen.

As an employment lawyer, here's a quick reminder that there are legal implications for either relationship you choose .  For example, beware of different tax treatment for employees and independent contractors, requirements for workers' compensation insurance coverage, and of course, anti-discrimination laws kick in for employees.
Make sure that you understand the type of working relationship you actually have if you bring other lawyers on in any capacity.  Essentially, the difference between an employee and an independent contractor boils down to the amount of control you have over their means, method, and tools of work.  I have devoted an entire chapter to this topic in my book Employment Law Guidebook:  For Colorado Business Owners and Human Resource Professionalshttp://www.lawyers.com/ryanfirm/articles.jsp   ( Note: while my book includes Colorado law, much of it is based on federal law and may still be a good tool for those of you in other states).
Since I can't put my whole book here, here are a few quick tips: 
1)  If you work with independent contract attorneys, be sure to have a written independent contractor agreement, both clarifying the terms of the relationship in case of IRS questions, and for the substantive scope of the work. 
2)  Have your contract attorney sign off on his or her ethical obligations to you and the clients.  I simply copied the relevant portions of the Rules of Professional Conduct into a form that I go over with the contract attorney to make sure we are all clear on our responsibilities, such as confidentiality of client matters, etc.   I have the contractor sign it, and I keep a copy in the contractor file.
3)  Best case scenario for preserving independent contractor status is to have a contractor who also works for other attorneys.  Get a list of your contractor's other clients, and keep a file of documents confirming the contractor status.
4.  If possible, make sure your independent contractor has insurance and put a copy of the policy in your file.
5.  Never refer to your independent contractor as an associate or employee - stick with attorney.
Simply calling someone an independent contractor does not make her one.  There can be dire consequences with the IRS or other agencies if you misclassify an employee as an independent contractor.   If you decide to work with a contract attorney, be sure to take all the steps necessary to protect yourself and to preserve the independent contractor status.

Answer:  Allison Shields, LegalEase, LLC

Susan - Thanks for opening up a great discussion on this topic. I, too, have heard this question (in various forms) from many attorneys whom I have worked with in my practice helping lawyers become more productive and profitable by examining the business, marketing, operations and client development aspects of their practices. Outsourcing is one great solution. It's a good way to test the waters to see whether you really need to hire a full time (or even part time) associate.

But there are other things to consider as well, before making the leap to hiring another attorney.  Technology is a great friend of the solo - it's one of the reasons the playing field is becoming much more level and solos are able to compete for business that only a few years ago they wouldn't have been able to even consider. Hiring a lawyer can be an expensive proposition, not just in terms of a salary and possible benefits, tax considerations, malpractice and the other issues raised in the post, but in training time, emotional investment, and other management issues which many attorneys fail to consider before hiring employees. In addition, the costs involved, both in time and money, for recruiting must be considered. And when hiring an attorney, there are even more factors that might come into play.

Before jumping to the conclusion that you need to hire another attorney, ask yourself the following questions: How much legal work is actually being performed during the day, and how much time is spent on other endeavors, particularly administrative and non-billable tasks? Are my processes and systems such that I am not 'reinventing the wheel' every time I create a document, write a letter, or perform a specific task within the practice? Am I re-using or modifying the work I've already done (whether legal work, forms, or business development) for other clients/matters, rather than starting from scratch each time? Are there billable tasks within the office that can be performed (either fully or partially) by someone other than an attorney? Do I have set procedures for how I perform specific tasks or handle certain types of matters within my practice? Is my practice structured in such a way that repetitive tasks are performed 'automatically' (by the use of technology or otherwise)? Do I have the people and management skills to be a boss and a leader? Do I have a vision for the future of my firm for my clients and my employees? Do I know how an associate would fit in to that vision? Am I making the best use of the available technology (hardware and software) at my disposal? Am I working with the clients and matters I most want to work with? Are my clients loyal clients who refer business to me and pay their bills in full and on time? Can I alter my fee structure or the fees themselves to bring in more revenue without hiring another lawyer? (In other words, can I continue to work at the same level but make more money?)

While this is by no means a comprehensive list, answering these questions will go a long way toward determining whether it's appropriate to hire an associate. The answers may reveal that you don't have enough work (or enough of the right kind of work) to delegate to another lawyer. They also might reveal that there are other tasks that you can delegate or outsource so that you can spend your time doing the tasks that you get paid for or that bring in business. This exercise can also help you determine whether your practice can handle an employee from a business and management perspective.

If you haven't determined the steps involved in particular tasks or the manner in which you prefer those tasks to be accomplished, if you don't have forms or procedures, if you don't bill regularly or don't have billing guidelines, etc., you're probably preventing yourself from maximizing the revenue from your own time, but you're also likely to have difficulty training an associate and help ing them to be productive and profitable. Likewise, if you can increase revenue by attracting a higher level of client, change your fee structure to eliminate or reduce administrative time for billing and collections, or raise your fees (which may eliminate some lower value clients, but free you up to perform higher value work), you may decide that hiring an associate just isn't necessary.

Finally, many solos are solos because they wanted to go their own way and didn't want to deal with the politics at a firm. Being a boss is a responsibility, and it takes more than just legal skill and available work to keep an associate happy and productive. It's a commitment, an additional responsibility and potentially an additional source of stress. Hiring an associate (or any employee, for that matter) is a business decision that should be made based on more than just the volume of legal work you're currently bringing into your practice.

Answer: Dustin Cole, Attorneys Master Class

I am always surprised that lawyers who get too busy move directly to the conclusion that they should duplicate themselves and hire an associate. They should first look at a simple concept called "leverage."

Building leverage means analyzing how you are spending your time and identifying what tasks -- and parts of tasks -- could be done by a person with a lower level of expertise, such as a (better) secretary or a paralegal. The fact is that many solo practitioners spend far too much time doing the firm "housekeeping" which keeps them from doing billable work. So the area of non-legal work, should be the first place to look. The more $9 per hour skill-level work you can move to another person means the lawyer has more time to do the higher-level legal work at, say, $250 per hour.

The same concept is true for legal work. The work doesn't all require the same level of legal expertise. In fact, a large precentage often requires only a fairly low level of skill. So the smart sole practitioner's approach to this issue should start with the question "how am I spending my time?" Followed by "what could be accomplished at a lower level, and do I have anyone at that level I can delegate it to?"

At this point we get into a morass of discussion about the frustration of hiring, managing and delegating -- which isn't really about that at all, but is really about the attorney's (usually nonexistent) business and people management skills. The bottom line is that few sole practices will ever reach the biggest bucks without a great support team in place. But that support team doesn't have to be attorneys.

Bottom line: Stop jumping to the "hire an attorney" conclusion, past the needed investigation into WHAT you are doing and how you are working. Step back and do your due diligence by examining the expertise level of the various kinds of work you do every day. You'll be surprised at what you discover.

Let's keep the discussion going.  If you have thoughts, ideas, experiences with this very common question please contribute.  We would love to hear your thoughts.

July 24, 2007

You Want to Be Competitive? Go Paper - 'Less'.

The future is upon us.  And solo practitioners who want to be lean, mean and competitive have the technological tools to rocket ahead.  These tools, when used properly, will help you to create the ultimate paper - 'Less' office.  Paperless does not mean 'no paper.'  It means LESS paper. 

Going paper - "Less" means configuring the right hardware and software for yourself and it remains subjective because there is a huge technological world out there with many products.  The basics remain the same, however.

This is why I invited Grant Griffiths to guest post on the elements of his paper - "Less" office.  Grant is a solo practitioner and home office lawyer.  He's got it down to a science. The programs he recommends work for him and he is partial to Macintosh. But it gives you an insight into the basic products needed.

The Paper - "Less" Office - Grant Griffiths, Home Office Lawyer

"I am quite honored Susan has asked me again for a guest post for this great blog. Susan and I recently had a discussion concerning my method of using a paper - "Less"/Virtual Office in my law practice. During that visit, Susan stated to me, "you realize you are describing to me your next guest post?" And she was right. Below is a description of how I use the technology, both hardware and software available to everyone.

In order for me to handle the case load I do and to be able to travel from one county courthouse to another, I had to utilize a paper-"Less"/Virtual Office model. Because I no longer care physical files with me to court or appointments with clients, I had to make sure the main piece of hardware I was using was the most reliable on the market. The only choice in my opinion is the Apple MacBook or MacBook Pro. The hardware is outstanding and, best of all, it works. The OSX operating system is stable and not subject to viruses or worms. The next piece of the hardware puzzle is the scanner. Price, reliability and function were the key features I looked for. And I found all of that in the Fujitsu ScanSnap. The ScanSnap “quickly converts paper documents into PDF files you can organize, share, and protect.“

With the MacBook and ScanSnap I scan every document that comes into my office each day. In order to organize the number of documents I get in my family law practice, I set each client up on my harddrive in a virtual file cabinet. Each client has a folder for each case or matter I am handling for them. And inside each folder are sub-folders designed to handle the different type of documents we deal with. From pleadings, discovery, notes, experts reports and billing. With this simple system, every document for every client in my practice is at my finger tips. Even if I am not in the office. It is actually quite amazing how fast I can locate a document with this system when I am in court or on the phone. With just a few clicks of the mouse or touchpad, I have the document right there in front of my on the computer display. (Depending upon the file management program used, clients can have 24/7 password protected access to their files to know the status of their case.)

Next, for those cases which are contested and going to trial, I use a wonderful program called Circus Ponies Notebook. And to take Notebook even one step further, I set up the Notebook just like those legal binders you can buy from Bindertek. With Notebook, you can even color code the tabs to match those in Bindertek. You simply link or copy all the documents and discovery into Notebook and you have a virtual trial notebook. With this great tool, you can find what you need in trial fast and easy. And what is best, are the looks and stares you will get from opposing counsel when you can locate their exhibits and documents faster than they can.

Finally, in order to maintain the paper-"Less" office to its next level, I don't own a traditional fax machine. What I use is my Mac Mini which I have set up as my file/fax server. On the Mini and the MacBook, I have a program called pagesender. With pagesender, all of my faxes come into my Mini and are emailed to my MacBook no matter where I might be. When a fax arrives that needs my signature, I sign it by pasting my signature in the correct location in the document. I have my signature saved to my desktop. I rarely if ever, print any of my faxes to hard copy. Once I have reviewed them, I do a number of things with them. I save them to the client’s virtual file folder for the case it is associated with. Next, I email a copy to my client. I try to educate my clients on the importance of using email in this way. If another attorney or party is involved in the case, I will email them a copy of the same document. Or send them a fax of the document. If by chance there is a document I need to fax and it is not in my virtual file cabinet, I just scan it with the ScanSnap and send it off with pagesender. All of this has been done and the document has never been printed.

One thing we all need to keep in mind however is, we will never have a paperless office. That is why I too use the word paper-"Less.". I do maintain originals I may need in trial as an exhibit.

By using the paper-"Less"/virtual office described above, I have been able to work out of a home office without the need for walls full of file cabinets, a loud and expensive copier and piles of file folders taking up good carpet space."

Grant Griffiths publishes and maintains the Home Office Lawyer Blog. In addition he is in the process of developing a new program called Blawg for Profit. Grant is working with Michael Sherman on this project. Grant also publishes the Kansas Family & Divorce Lawyer blog which has been a great marketing tool in his practice.

July 10, 2007

Guest Blogger - C. Stephen Weaver - Solo 'Entertainment' Lawyer

This guest blog post ia rare treat for me, and I hope for you, because 1) it turns out this 27 year solo veteran was a reader of my blog and happened to comment, and 2) I got an opportunity to talk on the telephone with Steve about being a solo practitioner in the entertainment industry, a niche I incorrectly assumed was reserved for Big Law. So, I asked Steve very nicely to please guest post to give others some insight into this area of law...and how to do it if this is what you want to achieve.

Guest Post:  C. Stephen Weaver, Esq. www.musicrowlawyer.com  Client List

I have been slow to write this piece for Susan’s blog.  I think the reason might be that asking me to write about being a solo entertainment lawyer is like asking a squirrel to write about eating nuts.  It’s good!  I’ve always done it—this is what I do to stay alive!  I was first licensed to practice law in Georgia in 1980 and then in Tennessee in 1990.  I have been a solo all of those years except for the first two.  And all of those years I have been an entertainment lawyer—three years in Atlanta, twelve years in my hometown of Memphis, and the last twelve years in Nashville (where I maintained a satellite office for five years before relocating).

I need to back up just a bit to share how I was able to get into the entertainment law business.  Actually I need to back up to age 9 when I first started playing the guitar, drums and piano.  I had my first rock & roll band when I was in the 6th grade and continued along that path until my early 20s.  I have always had passion for music and the music business—whether as a listener, performer or business person/professional.  (Many of my entertainment attorney friends come from a similar background.)  Fast forward.  I went to law school because I wanted to stay in the music business but in what I considered to be a more “stable” calling than being a guitar player.  While in law school I clerked for one of Memphis’ few entertainment attorneys.  That man helped me get my first job out of law school:  Assistant Professor and Director of the Commercial Music/Recording Program at Georgia State University in Atlanta (a program that taught the business aspects of the music industry).  This was a high profile position in Atlanta’s music industry.  I became active in music industry associations and organizations.  Because of my community involvement and networking over the next three years at GSU I was offered my first law job by one of the country’s top entertainment attorneys, Joel A. Katz.  The firm consisted of Joel Katz (master deal maker) Joel Cherry (senior associate) and me.  (Joel Katz, by the way, was and continued to be a solo or senior partner in small boutique firms until a few years ago when he sold his practice to the multinational firm, Greenberg-Traurig.  He is now the Chair of that firm’s Global Entertainment Practice.)  I hope in this short paragraph you will be able to see two things that enabled me to achieve my goal of being a music biz lawyer:  One, a life-long passion for music and the music business and, two, the proper alignment of the stars . . . er “luck”!
I am grateful to Joel Katz and Joel Cherry for being my mentors and teachers.  I was extremely fortunate to get my training at a law firm that represented several multi-platinum acts.  Anyone considering becoming an entertainment law practitioner should include “Find a Mentor” as part of his or her business plan.  Becoming and remaining a solo was (and is) a reflection of my personality.  I like making my own decisions, deciding who I will represent, choosing which artists I want to help, etc.  I am not a type “A” personality and I would probably have made more money as a big firm lawyer.  But I don’t care.  I am happy and absolutely love the freedom that comes with being a solo.  The largest firm I have owned consisted of me, an associate and a full-time assistant.  Today The Law Office of C. Stephen Weaver is a part-time student assistant and myself—and that is by choice.  I like it this way.  Because of technology I can work from home 2 or 3 days a week, completely connected to my office and my assistant.  I also love the entrepreneurial element of being a solo practitioner—sort of inbred having come from a family of several generations of business owners.
If you decide to become a solo entertainment attorney, these are just a few opinions and suggestions to help you achieve success (based of course on my personal experience and observations):
  • Make not only rain – make and develop industry relationships.
  • Find a mentor.
  • If you are not located in one of the 3 major music centers (New York, LA, Nashville) then you should plan on making regular trips to those cities to meet and greet all you can.
  • Let your practice reflect who you are—your personality and strengths.  I spent far too many years trying to be Joel Katz.  Once I decide to be Steve Weaver my practice began to flourish.
  • Take advantage of all of the amazing technology available today. 
  • Have fun and don’t take yourself too seriously!
Of all the entertainment attorneys I know in Nashville and throughout the United States, most are solos.  And even the “big firms” are not that big as far as law firms go.  They would be considered boutiques.  Some of the most prominent entertainment attorneys I know either were or are solo practitioners.  So come on in!  The water’s fine!
Ó C. Stephen Weaver 2007

April 23, 2007

Interview with Successful-Blog.com author, Liz Strauss - Parts II & III

Interview with Liz Strauss (Parts II & III)

 

Susan: In my last question I asked you if there are specific steps a blogger can take to establish relationships?

 

Liz: Are their specific steps?

 

I wouldn't say that relationship building has specific steps, but I would say there things to pay attention to when blogging that make a real difference in how quickly and how well relationships form. Here are some thoughts on that.

 

Writing for the web is different than writing for print. The voice on blogs is conversational, which is less formal. Be brief, don't write one. Paragraphs are short and sweet. Blog posts are often about a single idea. People skim first to see whether they want to read deeply.

 

The folks who read and write blogs are a self-selected group. We tend to be highly curious and intelligent readers, who understand a thing or two. So if you want to get to know us, leave room for us to respond to what you write about. Don't make every list so complete. Don't tie every thought up with a bow. Don't teach us what you know, instead throw an idea out there or discuss an issue that has you thinking, but not quite convinced yet.

 

Write for someone who is as intelligent as you are, but who might not remember or know what you are saying.

Be positive. No one likes to hear what they are doing wrong.

 

Be sure to have an About Page that tells me who you are and how to contact you.

 

Read the blogs of the people you want to know and comment thoughfully. They'll follow you home to read yours.

 

Just like everything else in life, blogging is about the people. The people make the words on the screen come alive. The folks I've met blogging are just as real as the folks I've met on the streets of Chicago. I've met many of them in person, so I know exactly what I mean when I say that.

 

We're all connected by relationships. Some of those I've made online are will last the rest of my life.

Blogging has brought the virtual into reality for me.

 

Susan: How important is search engine ranking with these services, Technorati, Alexa, etc. to building your core readership and converting readers to clients or referrer of clients?

Liz: Susan, what a great question! I suspect that SEO mavens would have a different answer than the one I'm about to give you.

I often say that when I took the SAT and GRE that I wanted to answer every question with "it depends." I'm there again. It depends on the client and that client's priorities. That said, of all the search engines the most accessed is Google. If I want to get a client's attention quickly, I find a way to have that person Google my name. Google doesn't need to be explained.

 

Technorati holds a mystique mostly for bloggers who understand what it is and how it works. It's fairly powerful to put in a document that a blog is ranked 46,234 out of 60 million by the search engine index Technorati. Some clients who read Technorati partners such as BusinessWeekOnline or who blog themselves, however, will see through to the fact that the rank isn't as impressive as it might sound. Most folks I know don't follow Alexa too closely. It's sort of common wisdom that the mysterious Alexa algorithm is way off base from reality.

The question then becomes 'do search engine visitors become clients?'

Again the answer is "it depends."

Let's start with the idea that there are two kinds of traffic; those that read your blog every day and those that visit via search engines. Loyal readers get to know you. Therefore, when a problem arises in their life, you have already become a trusted entity. That's the value of relationship. When we're in trouble we turn to the folks we trust. I don't want a lawyer from a directory. I want a lawyer I can believe in.

Search engine visitors come in because they have typed a keyword or phrase into a search engine query box. That puts them on a landing page which that (hopefully) contains that information.  Most often, once their immediate need is answered or not, they leave. Many search engine visitors stop to look see that you don't have what they expected and then move on immediately.

When it comes to understanding how SEO works for getting clients, it's fairly easy if you think about how you use search engines when you need information about a service. If you type in 'dentist' and a location near you, you're most likely to choose a dentist on the front page of the search engine you use. The title and description text that appears there is critical as to whether or not you click through. Then what you see on the page is also of key importance. Studies show that you decide in 20 seconds whether to stay or leave.

Some SEO fun tidbits, tips, and relationships -

For a really full picture and a stats crazy time that will steal hours from you. Try www.wholinkstome.com/ . Also don't forget the impact of http://www.stumbleupon.com  and http://www.mybloglog.com/ both are social networking sites that provide readership opportunities.

At the end of the day, quality writing that is meant for people is what works for search engines, as well. If you think about it, you'll see that it makes sense. Search engines serve up content to people. That's how they support the ads that pay for their daily bread. So, first, write for people. Then when you have everything as you would like it, go back and make sure you have subheads with keywords to help guide the search engine spiders as they crawl through your content. You'll know the keywords by imagining what you would type into a search engine to find the article you just wrote.

The keywords and subheads show spiders the relationships between your content parts and ideas. The links you create show the spiders the relationships between your articles and other articles like yours.

Thanks, Susan, for having me. This new relationship with you and your blog is one of the best of 2007. I've so enjoyed the chance to spend this time with you.

Liz