January 15, 2009

Why Partnerships May Seem Good But Can Be Costing You Money

I am working with a very committed client at the moment who has been sharing stories with me of her partnership experiences and why she knows she will be leaving her firm and is working towards this goal very soon.  And her story is probably more common then most realize.

She is the partner in a five person law firm in a well-heeled town in Maryland.  She has been the partner in this firm for more than 8 years. She is the youngest partner and does very well in her two chosen practice areas.  She made partner because she was good, really good at rainmaking and handling her clients.  This is perfect.  However, as typical, her partners are second wave with extraordinary overhead, support-staff heavy and associates overpaid to the point they are disinterested in learning rainmaking activities themselves.  They are just very comfortable with their paychecks and she is just one voice.  And this typical partnership expects the younger partners to start buying out the older partners in a few years while pushing the associates up through the partnership track.  That's the model.

In 2007 she alone brought in $400,000 more in billables than any other partner.   She took home only an extra $106,000 from all her work.  The following year, believing she may have to go overseas because she is in the reserves, she wanted to spend more time with her family, took fewer cases. Yet her partners relied upon her to do all the heavy lifting.  When she didn't they responded typically not realizing they had an obligation to up their game as well and said, 'wassup?'.  They just depended upon her for their income and got lazy.

This was when the lightbulb went off. She realized if she can generate this type of revenue and is just giving it away because the others aren't pulling their weight, why should she be in a partnership?  And so she is breaking free.

If her partners weren't so archaic in their thinking, billable hours, high overhead, support-staff heavy, they would be more profitable.  But their behaviors aren't going to change.  She recognizes she needs to be out from under this way of thinking.  This is also the mindset of a solo - if I'm going to work this hard, I'm going to do it for myself.'

I bring this up now because as more and more people are being forced into going solo (I get at least two e-mails a day of stories of lawyers being laid off and frantic about what to do) they are also going to make decisions based upon fear.  And fear drives them to form unhealthy partnerships without understanding what partnerships really are.

So, I am going to resurrect an older post as it is timely today:

To Partner or Not To Partner - That Is The Question.

I remember reading years ago about a marriage prenuptial agreement that was so specific as to each spouse’s responsibilities, right down to the husband’s obligation to put the toothpaste cap back on the toothpaste tube, that most people thought it was a prenup on steroids. The spouses, however, clearly loved it because it laid out all the expectations each had of the other so neither one was in the dark about their responsibilities in the marriage.

Well, partnerships are like marriages. Half will last a lifetime, the whole being greater then the sum of it’s parts; growing together, getting stronger through adversity and filled with compromise. The other half will end up in a bitter and nasty separation and dissolution fighting over assets and the custody of the children (read "clients"). Therefore the burning question that’s always asked and must be answered is, "to partner or not to partner?"

Like marriage, partnering should be for the right reasons. However, most lawyers enter partnerships for the wrong reasons borne out of fear of the unknown, doubt about their own capabilities and a lack of understanding about what partnership truly means. Do you really need a partner and all of the emotional and financial entanglements it entails in order to assuage those fears? The answer is a resounding "no."

These are the wrong reasons to partner with another lawyer:

"I want someone to bounce ideas off of." As a rule, most lawyers are very generous with their knowledge and will give invaluable guidance if asked. It is important to maintain relationships with your peers, law school alumni, your bar associations and the like and you will get all the guidance and mentoring you need. Continuing legal education will provide a great base for practical knowledge and an opportunity to network with others in your area of concentration. Depending upon your office selection, should you choose a shared suite, you will have a built-in sounding board without the financial intimacy.

"I want to be able to take a vacation and know my clients are being taken care of." (And from the client’s perspective, "who will take care of my case if you are not available?") Any solo will tell you they have strong reciprocal relationships with other solos and cover for one another when necessary. It is very important you have a dialogue with your clients about a planned or unplanned absence even if the client never asks because it is a legitimate concern of clients who hire solos.

"I don’t want to take all the financial risk." If you are going out on your own, you are taking a calculated risk, period. If you wish to defray cost, how you set up your office, whether working in a suite of other lawyers with shared services or setting up shop by yourself, will determine your cash outlay and financial risk. If you’ve already invested nearly $100,000 in your education is a few more thousand any riskier?

"I’m not very good at (fill in the blank)" Sharing your profits with someone simply because they have an accounting background while you can’t balance a checkbook is not a reason to take on a partner. It is a reason to hire an accountant. If they don’t work out you get another. Not so easy with a partner.

"I want to partner with someone who can teach me." Again, sharing the profits in exchange for guidance you can pretty much get for free if you are properly networked, belong to the right associations and taking continuing legal education, is just giving away your hard-earned dollars.

Do not take on a partner out of fear. You will be living and breathing this partner morning, noon and night. You are depending upon this person for your livelihood while making them the caretaker of your professional reputation.

The short list of the right reasons to take on a partner is: You share a similar vision of where you want to go with your law practice and how you want to get there and are committed to being in it for the long haul. You respect each other's ability as a lawyer and trust the other to make decisions in your absence which will be binding upon you. Each of you has something of comparable value to bring to the partnership, skill sets which compliment and enhance each other. Both of you recognize your equal responsibility to develop business and bring in clients. You share a work ethic and morals. (Partnership brings both benefits and liabilities and you do not want to be vulnerable to the ethical missteps of a partner who does not necessarily share your values). You work well together.

Partnerships can be a wonderful experience when entered into for all the rights reasons and with the right partner. If you decide to partner, make sure you have a partnership agreement that clearly spells out all the financial agreements between the partners not just while you are together but also should you part company....right down to who puts the toothpaste cap back on the toothpaste tube.

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October 08, 2008

Solos - Defending Speeders Can Be Profitable

Under a new law in Florida, fines for those who speed can be between $1,000 and $5,000:http://content.answers.com/main/content/wp/en/thumb/5/54/300px-Gtp_sports_cars.jpg

On the second day the new law was in effect this month, officers using airplanes cited 80 drivers traveling at up to 150 mph for excessive speeding, the newspaper says. The tickets were issued in less than two hours, at one end of the Palmetto Expressway, in Miami-Dade County.

Although the $1,000 ticket may seem steep, compared to the previous $250 fine for those who exceeded the speed limit by 30 mph, the new law provides for even stiffer penalties for scofflaws. "Get caught a second time, and you'll fork over $2,500 and lose your license for a year," the newspaper writes. "You'll pay $5,000 for the third offense and forfeit your license for 10 years."

Motorcyclists now can also be fined for popping wheelies.

I won't get into the merits or intentions of the law.  However, you don't need to be a rocket scientist to do the math. I know I would hire an attorney versus going pro se on a matter which pillages the wallet to this degree and threatens my ability to drive...especially in these very difficult times.

So, my recommendation?  Start learning how to defend speeding tickets. I'm not prescient but I wouldn't be surprised if other states jump on board (if some haven't already) because speeding tickets are quite lucrative to municipalities and states.  So, this area of law has the ability to be quite lucrative. Those issued a ticket will certainly be looking to hire a lawyer instead of paying these fines and/or risk losing their license and livelihood.  And solos could easily make a name for themselves in this area.

Start buying your domain names now! TheSpeedingTicketLawyer.com sounds good...doesn't it?

October 03, 2008

What Lawyers Can Learn About Marketing from the Presidential Election

(Update: 11/8/08 - Entrepreneurs can learn social media strategy from the Obama campaign.  I feel vindicated for those who thought I was just stumping for Obama.)

(UPDATE: 11/3/08 New York Times article on how technology has changed election (marketing) strategy...great lessons for solos.

(UPDATE: I wrote this post in February, 2007 to highlight brilliant marketing, not to endorse one candidate over another - at that time he was vying for the democratic nomination against Hillary Clinton.  However, the Obama campaign has show marketing genius to reach its desired demographic and done it, again, with an Iphone application.  The genius of his marketing gurus cannot be denied.  They are in touch with those who would see him elected.  10/2/08)

In marketing it is known that the "client doesn't care how much you know until they know how much you care...about them and their problems."  This cornerstone of marketing wisdom was made famous by the founder of the National Speaker's Association, the late Cavett Robert, who said it not only first but best. Yet we talk about our inability to effectively reach our potential client base and then we search out the 'marketing gurus', primarily those who are in the legal community as if somehow they alone hold within their professional hands the secret to all that is holy in the legal marketing world. (Am I poking some fun at myself, too?  Of course.)

The reality is there are universal marketing principles, universal human needs that must be addressed when marketing to "human beings" regardless the product or service.  Once you understand them, then they can be redefined, redesigned, manipulated, massaged, reworked, reworded and applied for your intended audience and their specific problems. 

However, in my opinion, never has an example of "the essence of marketing" been produced that lays bare the core of this universal wisdom, shucks the oyster, gets rid of the slime and exposes that perfect 10mm pearl, until this powerful grassroots campaign launched by presidential hopeful Barack Obama.

    • Whether he is your new president of choice is irrelevant. 

      In one fell swoop he has defined his targeted demographic as those who feel disenfranchised and powerless in this country and penetrated the soft underbelly of each one of them with surgical precision.

      His message to that demographic is:

      "This Campaign is About You."

      Message: "You have felt disenfranchised during the term of this last administration, helpless, on the sidelines, your voice not heard. I am your man and I will help you to help yourself.  I will give you the tools to help you empower yourself and by empowering yourself you will put me in office so you are no longer disenfranchised."   

      Logic:  I want something. So I am going to help you get what you want so you give me what I want.  And in turn I will continue to give you what you want....and the cycle repeats itself over and over, again. It's not a 50/50 win, either.  It is a 100/100 win...the perfect win.

      Call to Action: "It's your job to put me in office if you want to retake your country and be heard and here are the marketing tools to help you put me in office."

      "The Obama Principle." He is hoping to achieve his goal of becoming President by helping identified potential voters to achieve their goal of no longer feeling helpless and disenfranchised.  This is the heart of his campaign.

      To date:(2/2007)

      • 70,000 members signed up;
      • 4,000 blogs started
      • 3,000 fundraising pages started
      • 2,400 groups started

      He identified the "problem" of the disenfranchised in the current administration.  He is turning each and every one of them into his personal ambassador or evangelist.  If every one of them knows 250 people and he already has 70,000 people signed up on this site, over 4000 new blogs created spreading the word of Obama, that's 17,500,000 possible voters right there.  And with the power of effective blogging, the spidery web woven reaches even more potential voters. He is giving each potential voter both the tools and the manual on how to empower themselves and effect change, to solve their problem of feeling helpless within the current Administration.

      He is involving each and everyone of them in a grass roots campaign through the use of technology, using technology to address their overwhelming need to be empowered, again, to not feel so helpless. And in his blog posts are newsy anecdotes about John and Mary Doe taking charge of their own campaigning efforts, reinforcing the newsworthiness and value of self-empowerment. He publicizes their efforts, encourages them to submit photos to his blog of their campaigning efforts.  From a marketing perspective, it's a beautiful thing to watch.

      Now the creators of his marketing campaign are the real gurus and we should be taking lessons from them because they loaded that bow and shot the a bullseye straight into the heart of these voters and it will have profound results.

      How do we utilize this lesson in our own practice?  Start by defining the real need of your client.  And don't make the mistake of thinking slick, cute, "play on words" nonsense.  When you are talking and manipulating you can't be listening. Listen to your potential client's words, their word choice, the tone and emotion conveyed when they discuss their problems that need solving and then serve their words back to them consistently in every form of communication you utilize helping them to repeatedly identify your services as the only solution to their problem.  Applaud their efforts, then give them the tools to help them tell others how you are the only solution to the next person's problem.

      I'm going to dub it "The Obama Principle" because never has this marketing principle been so readily observable to those hungry to learn the essence of brilliant marketing....and a textbook lesson in the power of language as a tool.

      My favorite language lesson is one taught to me by a friend from Australia.  He was gifted gabber in any crowd.  No matter what type of group we were socializing with he always fit in and I noticed the manner in which he spoke subtly shifted, too.  Finally, I said , "how do you do that?  You are almost chameleon-like and no one is the wiser for it.  You can blend in with any crowd."  His answer was "language is like clothing.  Don't wear a ballgown to a picnic and expect to fit in."

      It's the same with word choice.  Whether your website, blog, literature or conversations with your clients. You don't have to dummy down or inflate yourself with bloated verbiage. Just speak the language of your clients.

      And continue to watch the "The Obama Principle" in action regardless of your affiliation.  It is a very expensive Ivy League education offered to you for free courtesy of the internet.

      September 16, 2008

      When Catastrophe Strikes Your Solo Practice

                              An alligator crosses Gulfway drive into Hurricane Ike flood ...                    

      My friend, Chuck Newton, a solo practitioner from The Woodlands, Texas, wrote this post yesterday:


      I found someone to let me use Internet a short time.  It looks likely that this blog will be out of business for a couple or few weeks in that Hurricane Ike hit The Woodlands especially hard.  Currently, we are told that the destruction to the electric grid is catastrophic. They are telling us that it will be about 2 weeks before electricity is restored.  As such, there is no air conditioning, lights, computer usage, cell phone, phone or Internet access in all or most of the Woodlands.  Driving to other places is now limited because there is no gasoline and gas lines on the few stations open run three or four hours.  Also fallen pine trees block almost every road still so driving is difficult.  Will update you when I can, but need to get off right now.

      And based upon the devastation in Texas it reminded me of a post I wrote last year and wanted to resurrect for you today called "When Bad Weather Hits Do You Have A Back Up Communications Plan?"

      What happens when your power is down for 10 days during an unexpected emergency?  Or you conduct business communications while traveling via your iphone, blackberry, cell phone, internet and you hit an unserviced area for an extended period of time.  Unfortunately, this has happened to my good friend Grant Griffiths. First, an unexpected death in the family had him travelling to California in the mountains where internet and cell service were challenging at best.  He did not know this.  How could he.  Then he comes back to Kansas City to be hit with a major ice storm which knocked out power, for hundreds of thousands, indefinitely.  For him, intermittently.  The result is the same: client communications are interrupted abruptly.

      While the event was unforeseen, a plan for such an event should have been in place.  Fortunately for Grant, he has many friends who communicated to his clients for him spontaneously.  But that leaves the pressing and important issue:  what do you do when you can't communicate via instantaneous technologies and you are dealing with clients not just in your immediate area suffering the same fate as yourself (and who, generally, will be more sympathetic) but across the country or the world?

      First, all this should be communicated to the client at the onset of the relationship, regardless where you live.  It could be snow storms, floods, wildfires.  It doesn't matter.  In the event of an emergency orchestrated by mother nature what can the client expect regarding communications?  For instance, in the event of such an emergency, imagine if you have in place a plan whereby the client knows if there is a serious weather condition impacting where you work they can contact another law firm in another part of the country, or a fellow blogger who will post the emergency status for where you work?  (Yes, they can watch the news, but honestly, you can't rely upon that.  Nor is it good planning.)

      What is your back up plan?  Just another good reason to use Twitter!

      August 04, 2008

      $7.00 Gas and the Solo Practitioner - A Glimpse Into the Future?

      I've shied away from what some call 'doom and gloom' but it's time to start getting back to economic realities and this dove tails nicely with my recent post on Creating a Total Client Experience.

      Job losses will probably accelerate through this year and into 2009, and the job market will probably stay weak even longer. Home prices will probably keep falling, shrinking household wealth and eroding spending power.

      "The open question is whether we're in for a bad couple of years, or a bad decade," said Kenneth S. Rogoff, a former chief economist at the International   Monetary Fund, now a professor at Harvard. (NYT July 22, 2008)

      And Kiplinger says, "plan to dig deep for groceries for years to come."  They also say to anticipate double digit increases in your health care costs:

      Expect health care premiums to go up 8% on average in 2009, about the same as this year. It marks the sixth straight year that the rise in premium hikes has slowed or held steady after peaking in 2003 at 14%.

      But premium increases will accelerate into double digits in 2010 and beyond.

      Here is the million dollar question for you as a solo practitioner:

      http://blogs.herald.com/photos/uncategorized/gas_2.jpgHow will $7.00 gas, layoffs, skyrocketing food costs, a trend towards urban living, and overall much tighter economic times for the majority of Americans impact how you market to, attract, and deliver your legal services to your potential clients?

      Oil at $146? That was just the opening skirmish in the “peak oil” wars. The latest smart money? $200 oil in 2010, with gasoline at $7 a gallon. And that is going to turn Americans into car-shunning Europeans once and for all—poor Americans, at least.

      That’s the latest gloomy forecast from Jeff Rubin at Canadian brokerage CIBC World Markets, who just a few months ago figured $200 oil would be a thing of the distant future—like 2012.

      Attention-grabber (CIBC)

      Mr. Rubin laughs off recent attempts to take the steam out of global oil markets. Saudi production promises of 200,000 barrels a day doesn’t dent the 4 million barrel-per-day decline from aging fields every year, for starters. And it will just be “gobbled up” by increasing domestic consumption in Saudi Arabia, like other oil-producing countries that subsidize fuel.

      So what about China’s flirtation with market reality by unwinding some fuel subsidies? No luck in curbing demand or prices, either. Not only does China’s recent move translate into $3.25 a gallon gas—still a steal, relatively speaking—it’s given fresh legs to beleaguered Chinese refiners who’ve been operating in the red, thanks to Chinese price controls. So now they are producing even more gasoline and fueling even more cars than they were before. The upshot?

      Over the next four years, we are likely to witness the greatest mass exodus of vehicles off America’s highways in history. By 2012, there should be some 10 million fewer vehicles on American roadways than there are today—a decline that dwarfs all previous adjustments including those during the two OPEC oil shocks.

      And who will be parking their cars? The 57 million American households that have both cars and access to something resembling public transit. Gasoline at $7 begins to approach prices Europeans have paid for years, meaning that chunk of America “will start to act more and more like Europeans,” Mr. Rubin says. Not soccer moms in a minivan—soccer fans, searching for tokens:

      Our analysis suggests that about half of the number of cars coming off the road in the next four years will be from low income households who have access to public transit. At their current driving habits, filling up the tank will have risen from about 7% of their income to 20%, an increase that will see many start taking the bus.

      Gas prices already appear to be reshaping suburbia. But what Mr. Rubin is predicting is a far bigger shock to the American system. Europe has had decades to develop a society based on expensive energy. What will happen if Americans suddenly are forced to shoulder European-style energy prices — but without the European-style society to cope with them?

      (Agora Financial News - June, 2008)

      Consider the above and then factor in all the layoffs you are reading about.  When people get laid off and can't find another job they look to start their own businesses.  Well, they are going to go to banks to try and get small business loans. 

      As losses mount at American banks and the pain of the credit crisis spreads from housing and finance to the broader economy, many small companies complain it is increasingly difficult to obtain loans.

      Tighter credit could not only help to push the United States into recession, but prolong the downturn as ideas for new businesses get stymied once entrepreneurs sit down with local bank managers, small business representatives warn. (USA Today, July 20, 2008)

      How will this rather sudden change in a client's ability to afford your services impact you?  How will unemployment as well as the drastic change in their driving habits, relocation closer to work or becoming remote workers, shifting from suburban living to urban living, impact your solo practice?  You need to give serious thought to this reality. The lawyer who recognizes this inevitable change in a client's autonomy and the impact on their wallet of unemployment, rising oil and food prices and their inability to get loans..... will have more clients then they can handle.

      You need to offer clients more virtual ways of interacting with you; it's less time consuming for both you and the client, less expensive for you and these savings can be passed onto the client while still providing you with a profit.  And it more than adequately addresses these trends which are already upon us (although in the earliest stages).

      You should now be looking into Virtual Law Offices (VLO), video conferencing, web-based applications which give clients access to their files 24/7, house calls, home offices and any other way you can conceive of which will minimize your costs and allow you to still profit by improving the client's total experience in these challenging times.  This isn't a temporary solution to a temporary problem.  It is the future of legal practice and how clients will want to interact with lawyers for their own convenience...and driven by their dwindling discretionary income.  Solos are the quickest out of the gate when it comes to identifying trends and racing towards the future.  Be one of them.

      If you've already started to adjust for these trends, please share.

      July 07, 2008

      How You Can Make Money By Turning Cases Down

      David Swanner of the South Carolina Trial Lawyer Blog writes a very important post called, "How You Can Make Money By Turning Cases Down."  There are multiple reasons this post is important and they go beyond what David has written:

      ..if I take their case, do an investigation, get the accident report, the insurance information, the medical records and do a full and complete workup and the case, really , really isn't worth much and I work my butt off to get nuisance value out of it, am I really helping the client?  I don't think so.  If I know the case is a loser, I don't think that I'm doing the client a favor by getting his hopes up and using a lot of resources in documenting and working up a case that can't be won.

      Now realize I’m not talking small cases that have value, but not a significant dollar amount. I’m talking a case, where there is no causative link between the injuries and the incident with significant intervening factors.

      By not taking the case in the first place, I didn’t give the client false hopes. I also saved my office the time and effort of running around and documenting a losing case. That time can be better spent working on our good cases.

      One can argue that a lawyer should not take a non-meritorious case to begin with but that's not what David is emphasizing.  He's saying if your gut and experience as a counselor at law tells you there is nothing there, don't squander your resources as this costs you money and time which can better be used on cases with merit (regardless the size) which will generate income.  In addition, it is more harmful to the client if you do take the case by giving false hope (And if you are thinking, "it's a client..I need a client" you're time will still be better spent marketing, networking and building your web-presence.)

      But there is another point.  Over time you will recognize how much it costs you in time and resources to represent a client (as well as NOT HAVE TIME for cases which generate more income).  There will come a point where even if a case has merit, it is not the right case for you as it will be a negative income-generator.  This means no matter how you slice it, your investment will be greater than the return.  How can that be if you get your fees plus expenses?  Because you can't replicate time and your time may be better spent on greater incoming-producing cases.

      And that's where new solos who have lower overhead and are trying to establish themselves  step in .  You want to catch these cases.  There was a time I did a lot of referral work.  Clients knew to come to me because I would match them up with the right lawyer.  Right lawyer didn't mean my friends.  'Right lawyer' meant the lawyer who was the proper all around fit for the client's case.  If there is a client who's legitimate case is worth $20,000 and you shop them to a firm whose cases are routinely $1million and up, this would not necessarily be a good fit.  Yet this client may have a great case for a solo/small firm building a track record providing you believe the solo/small firm will take good care of the client.  The client is trusting you to refer them to the 'right lawyer' if you decide to decline the case.

      Do you routinely feel you have to take every client who wants to hire you even if it will ultimately cost you money?

      June 27, 2008

      What Should You Pay For Website/Blog Design with Support and Hosting Package?

      http://www.bloggingtricks.com/uploaded_images/iStock_000001627298Small-737898.jpgThis post idea has been percolating in my mind for a while because of client questions about what is a fair cost for the complete construction of a website/blog which includes quality design, security, support, education and monthly carrying costs for hosting, customer support and education.  This post was still languishing until I received a phone call from someone telling me an absolutely outrageous quote he was given at a 'conference.'  I nearly fell off my chair...except it has side arms and prevented this :-)

      So, I'm going to share with you what I have learned over the past two years as well as my opinions.  But, remember, they remain my opinions but they are some of the very same opinions I share with my clients.

      If you choose to hire an 'expert' to design your web presence on a blogging platform which can include multiple static pages with other types of functionality, you should anticipate paying between $1,500 - $3,000 for the site alone.  (This is in contrast to a Typepad, Terapad, Blogger or Wordpress with pre-designed templates)

      The price range noted turns on the components: the number of landing pages such as your "About" "Practice Areas" "Contact", and all the 'moving parts' you require to make the site a valuable go-to resource for potential clients and current clients.  It is an attraction marketing tool and needs to be substantial enough to present the necessary attractors to give clients what they need to make a decision about hiring you.  You are paying for their time to do this, not necessarily for the software as if a company is well established they have long since paid for basic templates which they design off of or are using free blogging software platforms.  Remember, you are buying their time. (You are lawyers..you get that, right?)

      After your up front costs for creation and production, there is generally a carrying cost which includes hosting of the site, security, backups, customer support and education.  Based upon feedback from across the profession, and my personal investigation of numerous services, in my opinion, this should not cost you more than $50.00 per month.  For someone to host your site is literally pennies per month.  So, the bulk of the monthly cost is projected for the occasional technical support and early education. Since you won't need this every month averaging it out to $50.00 per month is not unreasonable. You shouldn't begrudge any company these fees if you are comfortable and happy with what you will be provided for this fee and the company delivers in a customer-friendly way.  In some ways, the monthly carrying cost serves as an insurance policy for your very important marketing presence.

      However, some people still choose to move their newly designed webpresence to their own host because maybe they are more tech savvy and don't want the monthly carrying cost because for them it doesn't provide value.  And this is okay, too.  The option should always be yours once the website has been produced and the company should allow for this in their contract.

      So, let me tell you the story which had me outraged.  I received a phone call on this very subject from someone who had been in attendance at a well-promoted seminar weekend on growing your legal practice.  As makes good sense, vendors were selected to be present to provide a complete solution for the needs of the attendees.  These attendees were presented with a vendor who would provide a website with a blog component for...are you sitting down....$16,000!  THAT'S INSANE! It should be considered a felony.  What's worse, is by having this vendor in attendance, the host of the seminar was endorsing the vendor and the prices.  (I won't go any further on this.)

      And do not let others sell you their overpriced product by drawing comparison to other marketing tools.  If you currently spend outrageous sums on yellow pages and want to switch over to an internet presence do not look at what you will save compared to yellow page advertising.  That creates a false economy and you will be inclined to overpay for a web presence.  It's a great sales tactic.  But you should be smarter than that. Compare apples and apples; not apples and gorillas.

      Now, lawyers have a reputation for spending because they can if they think they are going to get something no one else has.  So, here's my proposal to you: If you've got $13,000 extra dollars to throw away on a product which you shouldn't pay more than $3,000 for at the high end...please donate it to Solo Practice University so we can set up a couple of new solos in their own practices from soup to nuts, instead.  You'll certainly feel better for it, I promise. 

      Related Links:  What I've Learned About Blogging These Past 18 Months

                             Free Blogs at Solo Practice University

                             If You're Serious About Marketing,,,,,,,,,,,,,

      May 22, 2008

      "Solo Transformation" - The Changing Landscape of Solo Practice

      I'm very flattered to be featured with others in this cover story from the April/May Edition of  the Canadian Bar Association's National Magazine written by Susan Goldberg. 

      The article "Solo Transformation" discusses the changing legal practice landscape for solo practitioners in Canada...but they might as well have been writing about the United States because all issues transcend borders.


      • Commoditization of Law
      • Technology and the solo practitioner
      • Blogging as the great equalizer
      • Niche versus generalized practice

      Solos highlighted include Donna Seale and Brian Maude, both practitioners in Canada.

      And there is so much more.  It really is a great read.

      April 28, 2008

      A Great Lesson in Customer Service and Tip for Following Your "Buzz"

      Yesterday's Tip of the Week proved fortuitous. I encouraged my readers to investigate BradsDeals.com and I also cautioned them to check the sales advertised because I was upset a sale alert on Wii wasn't as stated in the daily e-mail notice I received.

      Within hours of the post I received an e-mail from Brad Wilson, editor-in-chief of HandPicked savings and author of BradsDeals.com (who appears on NBC's The Today Show). He thanked me for posting about his site stating he always thought there was a way for small businesses to take advantage of his alerts and website.  He also acknowledged the mistake about the Wii sale indicating the company changed their offer right after the daily e-mail alert (sounds like the company got wind of the alert) and he yanked the mention of the sale from the actual site...but it was too late to change the mention in the e-mail alert.

      I appreciated his concern for not only the consumer but for me as an evangelist for his services and brand.  His actions were an example of excellent customer service-orientation as well as protection of his own reputation as he builds his business, something we all can learn from.

      What system do you have in place to first identify then acknowledge misinformation and then following up with people who take the time to discuss you positively (or negatively) on the internet and/or through word-of-mouth?  How do you take a potential negative and turn it into a positive when your reputation is questioned or your virtues extolled?

      Recommendation:  Track your personal name, firm name on Google Alerts or similar service. For more in depth tracking I recommend paying for a service such as Andiamosystems.com who advertises as follows:

      Pssst...people are talking about you. Your business. Your products. Your competitors. Your customers. On the millions of blogs, forums, social networks, review sites & message boards. On mainstream media and PR newswires. Listen, understand and you'll prosper.

      (How did I learn about Andiamo?  In checking my referring stats these past three days I noticed them as a referring site several times.  Someone's been monitoring their 'buzz' on my site following their brand's recent mention in my post on Friday.)

      April 21, 2008

      Solo/Small Firms Win Big Clients on Value - Not Price

      Marcie Shunk of BTI Consulting wrote a powerful article for The Complete Lawyer called, "Welcome to the Age of the Smaller Firm" where she discusses how smaller firms are quickly becoming favorites on the short lists of law firms selected by the Fortune 1000. 

      Surveys conducted over the past seven years show clearly that client service is king...not price.

      Client service is one of the most powerful advantages smaller law firms are using to win over large clients. In an environment rampant with dissatisfaction (just 34.6% of corporate counsel recommend their primary law firm first) smaller firms are distinguishing themselves through superior communication, client focus and value.

      Each year, BTI asks more than 250 corporate counsel to tell us which law firms stand out as the absolute best in 17 activities that are critical to the law firm-client relationship. Smaller law firms consistently outperform their super-sized peers in the four activities that truly differentiate a law firm in the eyes of clients:

      • Client focus
      • Understanding the client’s business
      • Providing value for the dollar
      • Commitment to help

      Smaller law firms also stand out in the two problem-solving skills that are essential to establishing solid relationships: handling problems and dealing with unexpected changes.

      Moreover, smaller law firms have raised their profile in several realms historically reserved for larger law firms including breadth of services and bringing together national resources (though they still lag their bigger competitors).

      The client service advantages offered by many smaller law firms are winning the kudos—and dollars—of in-house counsel at top companies. Corporate counsel applaud the attention they get from smaller firms, as well as the feeling that their law firm is truly dedicated to helping them achieve their business goals.

      Value: It's Not Low Rates

      A component of client service, value earns independent distinction as an advantage for many smaller firms. Nearly half of the law firms corporate counsel recognize as best at providing value for the dollar are outside of the top 200. Yet it is not simply a matter of rates that places these firms at the top of the value list. Rather, corporate counsel laud smaller firms for their:

      • Practical approach
      • Superb communications and updates
      • Wise staffing decisions
      • Keen sense of risk and reward
      • Talent at articulating business stakes in client-friendly terms

      All of these drive value in the eyes of corporate counsel.

      This exceptional ability to deliver high value is one of the factors that helped vault smaller firms to the forefront of client short lists. It is also one that, in conjunction with client service, will help keep them there. Law firms that deliver value are, according to corporate counsel, a hot commodity. 30.1% of corporate counsel report that finding a law firm that delivers better value is one of their top unmet needs for 2008. To the extent that smaller law firms can continue to distinguish themselves in this arena, they will be well-positioned to maintain their current advantage over big name competition.

      What Can We Learn From The Little Guys?

      The advantages of smaller law firms are wide and varied, according to the feedback of hundreds of clients. Yet each of them finds their strength in a single place: Differentiation.

      Whereas many of the large, national law firms have grown increasingly similar to one another in their breadth, scope and reputation, smaller law firms have managed to represent unique characteristics that help them stand out in the eyes of corporate counsel. We can all learn from their ascent into the short lists of the world’s largest companies.

      Sometimes we hear the word 'differentiation' and we don't quite get what that means.  Differentiation is really listening to complaints and doing the opposite of what is causing the complaining.  If you hear often enough that clients are not satisfied with not getting phone calls returned, bad attitudes, not feeling important...then overcharging, you are not hearing 'my lawyers are overpriced.'  You are hearing 'I'm not getting the kind of service I was willing to pay for.'  So, you take this potential client who was willing to pay and market to them they will receive what they have complained they did not with their current lawyer.  This creates that elusive 'value' you also hear so much about.

      Differentiation is also about presentation.  If you are technologically forward market this.  Market how it enhances the client's experience when working with your firm.  Showcase how it adds to the client experience because you understand and have listened to the client when they express their needs when hiring a lawyer. Market the nimbleness of your solo practice, your one-on-one connection with the client and attention to their goals. 

      It's not about price.  It's about a client not getting what in her mind she paid for.  Yet lawyers bring their own prejudices about pricing, their own self-esteem issues believing they are not worth it, infuse their own morality to their pricing structure.  And thusly, they believe pricing is the number one factor in the client's selection process.

      Pricing is part of the equation, but it is wrongly placed in first position for many solo and small firm practitioners.  If you listen to what your clients need and you are ready, willing and able to satisfy what they deem valuable in an attorney/client relationship you will be able to price yourself properly to make an enjoyable living while servicing the clients you choose.

      Do you have an opinion about pricing?  Let's discuss.

      Links of Interest:  In a Weakening Economy, Will BigLaw......