“The wastebasket is the writer’s best friend.” (Isaac Bashevis Singer) “Mine is not very full.” (Gary Bauer)
Since our last newsletter in February, the Section Council conducted a meeting with John Gorzalski from the Legal Administrator Section to discuss the possibility of merger with our organization. The Legal Administrators Section members tend to come from larger firms in this state. Since over two-thirds of our members report that they are from small or solo practice environments and only 23% report that they are practicing in large firms, we are particularly interested in how a merger might enhance our ability to serve the small/solo practitioners.
We will conduct several more meetings with John and others from that Section who might be interested in participating in a continuing dialog about common interests and concerns to see if the merger is a viable option. At our last meeting, John discussed a number of common areas of interest, and he has explored some of those ideas below in this newsletter. I think you will find them very interesting. He certainly gave the Council members an opportunity to see how his expertise and that of others like him might be a very positive contribution to the small/solo bottom line.
After our last newsletter, I received positive responses from a number of you wishing to attend future meetings and get involved in this Section’s activities. I would encourage others who are interested to do so as well. We have a number of active members who have been involved with this Section for a number of years, and their service is greatly appreciated and a very valuable way of giving back to the legal profession. Those individuals are essential to the smooth operation of our Section’s affairs, and I want that to continue.
Although we have a pretty diverse group from the perspective of age, years in practice, practice style, and substantive practice, we are limited by geographic distribution (most from the more populated areas of the state) and until recently, most were very experienced practitioners. I have attempted to introduce new members who are recent graduates, and several new Council members are less than two years from graduation. One of those new Council members, James Schmier, a recent grad who decided to go solo, is represented in a short article he wrote below.
We are always looking for others who can contribute with perspectives that are different and address the needs of those lawyers we don’t reach or represent. If you feel you can be active and want to contribute, send me an e-mail at email@example.com or call me at (517) 334-5760. We would also like to hear from you regarding how we might address your needs through local presentations. In the past, we have sponsored “Nuts and Bolts” presentations throughout the state emphasizing practice management techniques to improve efficiency and profitability. We are in the process of planning additional presentations this year. If you feel you have special skills or knowledge that you would like to share or needs that aren’t being addressed by other organizations, contact me or any other Council member to discuss them to see if they would be appropriate for our Section sponsorship or participation.
“Tell me and I will forget; show me and I might remember. Involve me and I will understand.” (Native American proverb)
Gary P. Bauer
Experts and non-experts alike have been active in creating and maintaining legal blogs. Jim Calloway is an example of the former and his blog, Jimcalloway.typepad.com/lawpracticetips/ is a great resource for topics and tips relating to law practice management. Jim is the director of the Oklahoma Bar Association’s Management Assistance Program and is very active in law practice management. Clicking on topics such as “Alternative Billing,” “Electronic Discovery,” and “Internet” on his blog provides discussions related to these topics. The website includes an opportunity to subscribe to an RSS feed.
Another blog worth your review is Ross Ipsa Loquitur (www.rossipsa.com). This is another legal technology and law practice management blog with frequent entries including reviews of new legal technology and practice tips. This blog is maintained by Ross Kodner, a legal technology consultant from Milwaukee.
Ernie Gifford practices intellectual property law at Gifford, Krass, Sprinkle, Anderson & Citkowski P.C. in Troy and is the editor of this newsletter.
As the number of new lawyers and new law firms continues to grow, the ability of the lawyer to differentiate his practice becomes increasingly important. For many lawyers, the failure to create a brand of legal services and effectively manage that brand will subject them to a competitive marketplace where potential new clients consider only price when purchasing legal services. To compete in this environment, the unbranded lawyer will be continually pressured to lower his fees, leading him or her on a downward spiral in a competitive race to the bottom.
In the business world, commoditization describes the process where the market for unique goods or services is transformed into one that is based solely on price competition. This generally occurs when the market becomes saturated and there are more products or services in a particular field being offered than there is demand for them. This results in products that formerly carried a premium price losing that advantage and becoming commodities where the consumer considers only cost when making a purchase decision. This over-saturation in the legal profession can be seen clearly in the number of new lawyers that are admitted into the Bar every year. Just look at the Yellow Pages. There is page after page of lawyers offering their services. Most of them are competent, have gone to the same law schools, have received the same legal training, and in many cases, do the same type of legal work. So unless the lawyer is able to demonstrate to a potential client that he offers something different and unique, with added value that cannot be obtained elsewhere, the only way to attract new customers is to lower his fees below that of his competition. The result is that we drive the fees for our services lower and reinforce the idea that we are a commodity based business more akin to pork belly futures than a highly trained and specialized profession.
So what can the lawyer do if he or she wants to get off this treadmill that leads to lower prices? The solution is brand management, which seeks through marketing techniques to increase our product's perceived value to the customer. In Michigan, we have a great example of this. In 1991, General Motors established Saturn Corporation. The early advertising tagline for this new automobile was “ A different kind of Car, A different kind of Company.” Saturn was clearly the best small car that America had produced to date; the car magazines, Consumer Reports and even the people who worked for Saturn itself admitted that the car was really not any better than the Hondas or Toyotas it was designed to compete against. look at the advertising. Saturn did not advertise the car itself, but rather a new way of doing business. “No Haggle, No Hassle.” “A company that cares.” A car company that was more a friend than dealer, was involved in the community, had barbecues and service workshops, had reunions in Tennessee, and cheered each customer as he took possession of his new vehicle. Was it successful? This company which for 10 years offered only two, essentially unchanged, models, has survived and flourished, is regarded as a model for other companies to emulate and has developed a loyal customer base that is the envy of other companies around the world. In short, Saturn created a brand which added value to its product by emphasizing the purchase, ownership, and service experience rather than talking about the product itself.
As lawyers, in this era of over-saturation of legal services, we, too, must work to differentiate our legal practices and create our brands. Whether it is through targeted advertising, increasing traffic to our websites, developing referral business, or other marketing strategies, the lawyer who effectively manages his brand will be well equipped to survive and grow his business in a future that promises to be even more competitive than it is today. In upcoming newsletters, we will look at those firms that have been in the forefront of brand management, look at what they have done to manage and develop their brands, and suggest marketing strategies and techniques to help you grow your business for the future.
James Schmier is a recent Thomas M. Cooley graduate who, for 25 years prior to attending law school, owned and operated his own video production and marketing communications company. Contact Mr. Schmier with any questions or suggestions at firstname.lastname@example.org.
As the Councils of the Law Practice Management Section (LPM) and the Legal Administrator Section (LAS) of the State Bar of Michigan consider merging, both Sections are brainstorming potential benefits of the proposed merger, including considering the possibility of joint programming for their respective members. While the LPM traditionally has been focused on the needs of Michigan's smaller firms and sole practitioners, and the LAS on larger firms, these brainstorming activities led to the conclusion that when it comes to programming topics, firms share the same general interests and challenges, regardless of their size or specialty. These topics include:
Many clients are becoming aware of the cost saving opportunities available when certain processing tasks are performed by licensed attorneys overseas, and may begin wondering if their Michigan-based attorney can save them money by outsourcing these types of activities.
Additionally, clients are becoming more technologically sophisticated, causing the pace of work to accelerate in certain legal practice areas. Establishing a collaborative, online document sharing arrangement between the law firm and client is a growing trend in many firms. Once this extranet database system is in place, it can help enhance the bond between the firm and its clients.
Private Investigator Services
Professional private investigations are fundamental to due diligence when evaluating joint venture prospects, fact gathering, and otherwise developing intelligence in connection with a wide range of civil law practices. It is important for attorneys to chose a professional investigative agency familiar with the requirements of civil litigation, as opposed to companies conducting Internet-based research, or investigators with law enforcement backgrounds that do not handle civil
Additionally, law firms face many issues relating to legal research resources. The consolidation of legal publishers, for example, has monopolized some areas of legal research, allowing publishers to establish prices unfettered by competition. Many law firms are confronting price increases by limiting the resources purchased, or limiting the breadth of their collections. Firms must decide whether to continue building their print collections or consider purchasing electronic versions of the print materials. If firms opt for electronic research, they must consider licensing and its challenges.
Furthermore, in today's digital age, states are hesitant to identify the materials they place on their websites as "authenticated," fearing hackers might compromise the information. Firms may question whether the primary legal information released by the state is authenticated.
Marketing Plan While business development and marketing are relatively new to most law firms, and while these terms often are used interchangeably, business development and marketing are not the same thing. Business development is synonymous with selling a firm's services and attorneys. Marketing is the message that rainmakers within law firms use to convince a client prospect to purchase your legal services and use your attorneys instead of another firm. However, business development in both small and large law firms often benefits from and relies on the creation and implementation of a successful marketing plan, branding initiative, public relations, and advertising campaign.
If you have comments or questions about the topics covered in this article or the proposed merger noted in paragraph one, please feel free to e-mail me directly at email@example.com.
John D. Gorzalski,
Law Office Procedures Manual forSolos and Small Firms, Third Edition, by Demetrious Dimitriou
The Law Office Procedures Manual for Solos and Small Firms, Third Edition is a publication that should be a included in every solo practitioner’s office and the offices of all small law firms. Further, it should be provided to participants in every course of study for lawyers practicing as solos and with small law firms.
The author, Demetrious Dimitriou, currently practices as a solo. He has practiced with a small firm; however, he found that practicing as a solo is the option that he prefers. The author’s note at the beginning of the publication describes the purpose of the publication:it was written to provide a resource for lawyers and staff. It describes the procedures, expectations, and protocols and includes other information that explains the operation of a law office.
The manual begins with information about the author, the CD, and the individuals who in some manner contributed to it. It continues with the introduction that opens the door to the effective use of the manual. The 125-page manual is replete with information that is vital to the successful organization of a law office.
The manual is a wonderful inventory of subjects that should be contained in law office manuals. However, the reader must remember that the application of each subject should reflect the policies, procedures, and practices of the office where the manual will be used. To enable each office to develop its own manual, the publication is accompanied by a CD-ROM that contains the text of the manual in Microsoft Word format. This feature enables the law firm or lawyer introducing the elements of the manual in his office to customize the elements to meet the needs of his office. The author has organized the manual into four sections. Each section is organized into parts that contain the important elements in the section. The organization of the manual enables the reader to identify, locate, and use the information that meets his immediate needs.
Section One focuses on Personnel. It contains seven parts. Part 1 sets forth general policies relating to Office Policies. Part 2 focuses on Employment including employee classifications, the probation period, evaluations, and termination. Part 3, Personal Conduct, deals with personnel management issues that many firms have difficulty addressing. Among the subjects covered are office attire, office dating, personal cell phones, and audio equipment and the internet e-mail address. Part 4 discusses the Hours of Work and polices affecting the general subject. Part 5 describes Compensation as it relates to office polices governing the elements of compensation in a law firm. Part 6 addresses the important and expensive element of an employee’s compensation, Benefits. Part 7 concludes with the discussion of organized absences from the office including Holidays, Vacations, and Sick Leave.
Section Two takes the reader to Office Structure. In three distinct parts, the author briefly outlines Job Descriptions, Office Structure, and Supplies and Equipment.
In Section Three, Office Procedures, Mr. Dimitriou uses eight parts to identify and describe best practices in this important area. The eight parts include Security; Injury, Emergency, or Disaster; Representing the Firm; Representing Clients; Office Filing Systems; Docket Control System; Communications, and Finance. Several parts of this section include both the description of the elements of the section and appendices that provide the user with the forms necessary to implement the procedures. This section is an outstanding tool for training a novice legal secretary or office manager in effective management of a law firm or a lawyer’s practice.
Section Four of the manual, Office Format and Sample Forms, brings the student of effective law firm management to the conclusion of the lessons to be learned in Law Office Procedures Manual for Solos and Small Law Firms, Third Edition. Part 1, Format, should be at every legal secretary’s desk, for it contains the information vital to successfully drafting various legal documents and communications pieces. Part 2 Forms, includes sample documents, computer form files, and macros.
The Law Office Procedures Manual for Solos and Small Law Firms provides the opportunity for every law office, solo, small firm, and large firm to develop and implement systems that will ensure a well managed firm that effectively delivers legal products in a timely manner. I recommend that it be read from beginning to end by the lawyer and anyone else who is responsible for the management of the firm. The person responsible for successfully managing the firm should then invest time in adapting it to meet the needs of the firm. The manual should then be adopted by the individual or group responsible for firm management. Following the adoption of the manual, it should be implemented in the firm. Once implemented, the policies and procedures should be reviewed annually to insure they continue to meet firm needs.
Copyrighted, used with permission.