Greetings Section Members!
I hope you are all faring well in our winter wonderland! Personally, I'm ready for spring.
The council has been busy, with some exciting things going on. Rebecca Simkins has been hard at work with our Law School Outreach Program. Rebecca coordinates speaking engagements at area law schools. Several section members have volunteered their time to go to the various law schools and speak to students about solo and small firm law practice. Our presentations are always well received, and the students truly appreciate the information given. Thank you, Rebecca, for your efforts in this worthwhile endeavor!
The annual ABATech Show is coming up, and we will again be sending two or three Council members to attend the Chicago event. The show always draws a crowd, and our members come back with all kinds of technological information to share. Look for their reports in an upcoming newsletter!
We now have a Facebook page, thanks to Melonie Stothers and Kris Krol. This is a great way to keep up with the happenings of the LPM Section. Please check it out, and let us know what you think.
Once again, the council voted to maintain its support for the Solo and Small Firm Institute this year by providing a financial contribution, three scholarships, and three ICLE Partnerships.
The council also filled officer vacancies that arose at the end of the terms in September. The current officers are myself, chair; Vince Romano, chair-elect; Kris Krol, vice-chair; Elizabeth Jolliffe, secretary; and Joseph Ernst, treasurer.
There are vacancies to be filled on the council. If you know someone who might be interested in serving, please pass his or her name on to an officer. The time commitment is manageable, and it's a great opportunity to serve our section.
Stay warm! Spring will be here soon!
Stacey L. Dinser-Hohl has a practice in Hamburg and is the Section Chair Person.
Many of my clients are working on identifying and selecting a niche practice, or capitalizing on one or two specialties and related target markets that are already part of their law practice. The broad legal areas in which they practice include business litigation, estate planning, business tax, criminal defense, health law, family law, employee benefits, construction, corporate work, bankruptcy, banking, etc. But within those practice areas are specialties and niches where they can see, and are seizing, opportunities to develop a client base or expand their book of business.
By developing a niche you can maximize your marketing efforts and resources. You can:
Rather than going to numerous random, interesting, yet ultimately unproductive networking events, spend time on events or activities you enjoy involving the target market for your niche. Spend time identifying and getting to know people who are most likely to be good potential clients or good potential referral sources for your niche. Unless you believe you will receive a lot of referrals from other lawyers, or you are building your credentials, do not spend time educating other lawyers through articles or presentations. Focus your efforts and resources on your market niche.
Jennifer is a senior associate. She realized she really enjoyed her work on a few cases involving unique circumstances, and she wanted more of them. She started letting her client contacts and other contacts know that she has experience with those kinds of cases. She started to write articles on the subject for this market. The word spread in the offices of her firm's corporate clients. She also started educating her client contacts on the front end so that the transactions are less likely to become cases in the future. As a result, Jennifer is seen as the go-to person on this kind of work, and she now receives these cases on a frequent basis. She also lets colleagues and other people know of her expertise by telling fun stories about the cases. A good story is a comfortable way for her to appropriately promote herself, and it helps people remember her expertise in this area.
I know the idea of selecting and developing a niche scares some lawyers, especially newer ones. They think they will lose out on business. But by targeting the specific market niche you want to serve, you are focusing yourself to develop business and you are building a name—a brand—for yourself. If clients outside your niche show up on your doorstep, you can still decide whether to work with them.
Elizabeth Jolliffe is a certified career management and business development coach for lawyers. She practiced for 19 years as a business litigator and partner at Clark Hill PLC. Elizabeth helps her clients take charge of their career and reach their own definition of success. (734) 663-7905 or Elizabeth@YourBenchmarkCoach.com.
"Cloud" computing seems to be the latest catch word in computing. Basically it means using the services and computer resources of an offsite facility to perform computer tasks using a local computer and the web for connection to the offsite computer. "Hybrid cloud" computing results when the cloud is used to store data and to perform tasks relating to the stored data but a local computer is used to perform at least some of the tasks offline.
A good way to get started using the cloud with little risk and limited expense is through programs like Evernote. Visit evernote.com to get started. Evernote is a free service which provides a means of collecting notes and storing the notes off site. The program which can be downloaded from the website evernote.com enables the user to create "notebooks" in which notes can be collected from computers and smart phones and then stored with Evernote. The data is synchronized almost instantly so when you have a note that you want to add to a notebook it can be done from almost any computer or smart phone, and it will be almost instantly available on any of the computers.
The notes that you collect can be in the form of text or photos and even pieces of web pages or e-mail. The notebooks can be easily located and viewed to review the notes that you have taken relating to a particular subject.
In addition to the free version which subjects you to some advertising and which has some limitations on the monthly storage, there is a commercial version costing $5 per month or $45 a year which eliminates the ads and which has some premium features. My recommendation is to give the free version a try, and if you find it useful consider upgrading to the commercial version.
Ernest I. Gifford practices IP law in Troy, MI and Venice, FL, and is the editor of the section's newsletter.
The Annual Meeting this year was special for me. I attended in three roles: 1) a vendor at the Lexis Nexis booth demonstrating TimeMatters practice management software, 2) recipient of a Solo & Small Practice Institute scholarship, and 3) presenter at the Law Practice Management and Legal Administrators Section's "Ask the Expert" luncheon on Friday. The Annual Meeting was held at Devos Place in Grand Rapids. Facilities were ample. However, I would note that no wireless Internet service was available.
Prior to starting my day on Thursday at the Lexis booth, I decided to sit in on the keynote presentation by Larry Rice. He was certainly worth the time. He is very energetic, and I learned quite a lot in just that session. Afterward, I headed back to the Lexis booth for demos. There were a couple takers, but as not many attorneys were interested in the demonstrations, I attended more of the Solo & Small Firm presentations than I had intended.
After lunch, I headed down to the Marketing Track for "Clients: Getting, Keeping, and Sometimes Controlling the Pesky People Who Pay the Bills," featuring Larry Rice again. He explained how best to deal with clients. Among his tips for building and maintaining client relationships were sending practice announcements, sending a short joke if no announcement for a particular month, using a plastic business card that includes both business and home numbers for "special clients," sending birthday cards and generic season's greetings cards. Advertising tips included not advertising on TV that you're the "cheapest lawyer around," being a sponsor on public radio, providing seminars for the public, and writing a newsletter when something in the law changes. He also provided information on keeping client expectations realistic. This included not giving them false expectations and making promises no lawyer can live up to. More specifically, underpromise and overdeliver. This discussion went on for two sessions and was well worth the time.
Following that, I headed next door to the next session of the Marketing Track, "Powerful Persuasive Writing Techniques for Your Marketing Materials and Briefs," with Lisa Soloman. I'm sure some found great information is this session. However, I was looking for "marketing" information, and her presentation seemed mostly targeted to brief writing. I found the title and description of this session to be very misleading, and would have preferred to use my time elsewhere.
On Friday, I headed for the keynote and then opted for the Technology Track. The keynote was presented by Jim Calloway and was entitled "Keeping Them Satisfied - Exceeding Client Expectations Every Day."
Following that, I hit the best session of all, in my opinion, if only because it gave me hope that I can truly practice law with just my iPhone, my iPad and a wireless keyboard. "iPhone + iPad = iPractice" was presented by Randy Musbach from Ann Arbor. He walked in with only an iPad in hand, hooked it up to the presentation equipment and gave his entire talk from that. When he was finished. He folded it up and walked out. I, of course, followed him and began questioning him about using his iPad for trial and other things. During our chat, he indicated he had a trial coming up in late November, and that would be his first trial with the iPad. I thought I might be able to attend his trial and watch, but that didn't work out, unfortunately, so I haven't followed up with him to see how it went. During his talk, he showed several applications available in the App Store, with which he runs his practice entirely oh his iPad. This was of such great interest to me because of my recent acquisition of an iPad in May and the iPhone 4 in July. I kept him talking outside the conference room for at least 20 to 30 minutes, causing me to miss the next session. Oh, well! I was busy learning from someone who had made the iPad work for productivity at a time when people were still speculating about whether it was merely an expensive "toy" or actually useful for business. So, I headed to lunch.
Breaking from tradition, the LPM & LA Section sponsored a luncheon for anyone who wanted to attend an "Ask the Expert" session the final day of the Annual Meeting from noon until 2:00 p.m., offering general discussion of marketing, technology, and practice management. We were surprised to have a slightly larger-than-expected turnout, since we were competing with other lunch offerings. There was some good discussion, and even attendees were welcome to participate, in a roundtable-type atmosphere. We were also pleased to be able to arrange a donation of the leftover brown-bag lunches to a local mission.
For the afternoon, I checked out the Law Practice Management Track, beginning with Jim Calloway's discussion entitled "Winning Alternatives to the Billable Hour." He laid out a plan for using task-based billing, rather than flat or hourly fee billing. Not charging by the hour should not mean that we work more for a smaller fee. He referenced some resource materials, including Susskind's The End of Lawyers. I promptly logged onto amazon.com and purchased my Kindle copy for immediate download.
After that, I sat in on "Collecting Your Judgment—You Won the Case; Now Get Paid!" presented by David Myers. One key to getting paid on your case is to begin collecting information from the very beginning of representation that you can use to collect later. It was interesting but not as exciting as the technology stuff. He discussed liens, garnishments, debtor exams, and receiverships, generally. He also talked about how important it is to build relationships with the court officers and court clerks. They have access to information about the defendant that you may not have otherwise gathered. Overall, it was good information. You can also use some of these tips if you're trying to collect against a client who refuses to pay the final bill.
Finally, I attended the "Social Networking in Your Law Practice" session, presented by Priya Marwah Doornbos, of Plymouth; Timothy P. Flynn, of Clarkston; and Judge Donald H. Passenger, of the 61st District Court in Grand Rapids. This was a good one, too. Because of this session, I've boosted my use of several online resources for some basic marketing. There were pros and cons for using Facebook and Twitter. There were tips for effectively blogging, as well. I hope that all who attended found some valuable information. I know I did!
Kristen Krol is small-firm attorney with Debt Relief Legal Clinic of Michigan, in Lansing, specializing in Chapters 7 and 13 Bankruptcies. Until December 2010, she was a solo attorney in her own practice, The Krol Law Firm, also of Lansing, for 12 years. Ms. Krol is keen on technology and how it can be used best in the efficient practice of law and is available to assist other lawyers in assessing their own needs in the area of technology. She can be reached at (517) 321-6804 or email@example.com.