UCLA School of Law, Pepperdine University School of Law and Southwestern Law School have been awarded a one-year grant from the State Bar of California’s Commission on Access to Justice to establish a modest means incubator, a pilot program to help new attorneys launch and develop viable law practices serving modest means clients.
A New York consulting firm recently conducted a survey and found that eight of the top 10 companies that no longer provided extraordinary support for their products and services for technology companies. Companies like Samsung, Apple and others apparently are appealing to a younger audience that is not accustomed to having handholding as an element of value.
Dunkin’ Donuts was one company that was more traditional and not technology based. Apple, while no longer enabling you to make an appointment at their “Genius Bar” online nevertheless still had a service component by opening more stores in more cities with more personnel to help those with operational issues. Apple found that the Genius Bar is better left for hardware and software glitches; other issues can be addressed by the consumer taking a class in either their store or their phone provider. But, Apple did not forsake its consumer who needed technical assistance.
Nothing replaces human contact, even for the youngest generation. A very astute technology company called “www.gethuman.com” build some of the gap for older folks by finding phone numbers of the very same companies who seek to hide their presence from consumers.
Companies, even technology companies, must realize that customer service is a marathon, not a sprint. Consumers, myself included, recently have left Samsung and purchased the new Apple iPhone 6. Why? because Samsung refused to connect with their consumer to solve the consumer’s issues. Apple does. And while Samsung’s commercials suggest that Apple 6+ is nearly a copy, it is a “copy” that works and carries with it a service component.
A member of the California State Legislature announced that he will ask for “…a financial and operational audit…” of the State Bar. In his press statement, the Assemblyman said he wants the State Auditor “…to investigate, study, analyze, and assess the financial practices and the performance” of the bar. The politician said “… “(m)andatory bar dues should be spent on regulating our profession and improving legal services to the public,”
This utterance is not the only one arising from the recent turmoil resulting from the dismissal of the Bar’s Executive Director. The seriousness of the charges and counter-charges cannot be underestimated. But, the seriousness is heightened by the fact that the State Bar must get permission from the State Legislature to assess and collect annual fees from its lawyers. One might question whether this is a true separation of powers required by the Constitution, but it’s been the standard in California since 1927.
Perhaps the California Bar should be segmented, as is the New York Bar, into a regulatory/licensing function and a member benefit function. California lawyers had their opportunity during Gov. Pete Wilson’s reign and let it pass. Perhaps the issue should be revisited.
Achieving success in business—including, of course, the business of law—is an art. The artist (lawyer) must create a scene on a canvas (atmosphere) that draws in clients, making clients want to immerse themselves in that canvas.
Last night, I was talking with a friend and venting about the paperwork requiring signatures in order for us to complete the process of buying a house. Between the escrow company and lender, it seemed as though there had to have been pounds of paper, quite a few of which required a notarized signature. My friend commented that it took only a few pieces of paper with a simple signature—no notary—to buy and drive off in a Lamborghini or other fancy car. In contrast, a house can’t be moved. One would think that the lender and the seller would be more worried about the car than the house.
How have such signatory processes been formulated? More importantly, is the buyer made to feel like an honored and respected participant or, rather, like someone who is not trustworthy?
Although this metaphor is not totally applicable to the business of law and the lawyer-client relationship, the fact is that the lawyer must make his/her client feel honored and comfortable. The lawyer must make the client feel that the law office and the lawyer’s services are like an art museum surrounding the client with masterpieces that the client will willingly return to again and again.
Jeffrey Toobin, legal writer for the New Yorker Magazine, notes the following in this week’s edition:
“… As with law firms, the top law schools are doing fine. Graduates of the most highly regarded institutions may not have the cornucopia of options that their predecessors enjoyed a few years ago, but few, if any, will go jobless. These students have large loans, too, but they’ll be able to repay them. As in days past, they will migrate to the big firms, where, by and large, their prospects are bright. And the cycle will continue: the rich (in credentials, at least initially) prospering, and the poor struggling. So it goes for lawyers—and, it seems, for everyone else…”
But even the top law schools are reporting that their graduates are not getting placed as quickly or as high on the totem pole as in past years. Yet, the law school still seems to be a mecca for many students. Perhaps it is the image of being a law school graduate (a lawyer); perhaps it’s the Socratic method of learning that enhances performance in even non-legal endeavors.
But, the economics of legal education, its ups and downs with the rest of the economy, suggests one more piece of evidence that The Business of Law® is no different than other areas of economic endeavor.
A customer challenge and how to create customer ill will:
I sent two framed pieces of art, one of them a print by Salvador Dali, to my son in New York. I’m in Los Angeles. The representative at the counter of the Marina del Rey FedEx store assured me that FedEx packaging the prints would guarantee a) that they would be packaged well, b) if there were any damage, FedEx would not assert a claim of improper packaging. I paid extra for this service and was given a $1,000 insurance policy at no extra charge.
The prints arrived in New York … with the cover glass broken and the outside packaging ripped. I filed a claim with the company as requested, with photos and a claim estimate from a frame company. After what seemed like more time than it should have taken, I received a letter denying the claim…. because the prints were improperly packaged. I called to inquire further but was told that the person who denied the claim, the person whose name is on the letter of denial, had to be the person to talk with me. I called several times, leaving my name and number, requesting a return call. Still …. no response.
I called the local (point of shipment) office. They again assured me that they were responsible for packaging … and proof of FedEx packaging is both in the pictures (they used blue packaging tape) and on the invoice issued by FedEx. But, I was told, they have no authority to settle a claim. Apparently, neither does the New York (locus of delivery) office.
Several calls to the claims department of FedEx in the East have not been returned. Yet, another department of the company is now threatening me with a collection letter.
This denial and silence breeds ill-will among customers/clients. I read a marketing statistic that suggests that for every good service experience, you tell one person; for every bad service experience, you tell 20 people. This amplification is not what any responsible company wants to experience.
Moral to my audience: Make it easy to reach you; don’t hide behind complex web site walls. Return calls and resolve disputes … that’s how you create goodwill.
Gary Kinder, founder and CEO of WordRake® writes the following:
“…Each of us has three vocabularies:
our reading or comprehension vocabulary – by far the largest;
our writing vocabulary – in the middle; and
our speaking vocabulary – the smallest and least grammatical.
When speaking, we use, and tolerate (to a point) others using, ers and uhs and sos and wells and likes, and confusing who with whom and lay with lie because most of us can’t think fast enough when we speak to get it all grammatically correct; plus we have tone of voice, facial expressions, and body language to help us communicate. Our writing must be more precise than our speech because we have only words to convey meaning.
Email is a weird hybrid existing between speaking and writing. In that gap, our email mindset might be loose and informal, but our business recipients do not forgive our typos, grammatical slips, and bloated, unnecessary, abstract, sometimes nonsensical phrasing. That’s where the tension lies: we write it as though the message is impermanent; they judge it and us as though it’s permanent….”
When in business, we know the validity of “dress for success.” So, too, when communicating even in e-mail, write/speak commensurate with your market, the recipients of your communication. “Talking” with personal friends is a different matter.
Recently, a lawyer sent a collection letter to his client. The letter allegedly included implied threats to sue. The court said that, despite the lawyer’s right to sue, the manner in which the letter was written might have confused the debtor as to the statutory right to dispute the debt. The court further stated that the FDCPA was not intended to protect lawyers, but rather to protect “regular people.”
The defendant-lawyer said that if he has the right to sue (which he does); how does his mentioning that fact violate the Act by saying so? Reading the opinion does not give a clear answer to this question.
However, the moral of the saga, is that a lawyer’s writing must be very clear. The underlying message of the case, it seems to me, supports my lifelong premise: do not threaten. Mean what you say and say what you mean. In other words, if you are not sure whether you are going to sue, do not say so. And when you say you will sue, mean it and follow through by filing an action.
This becomes particularly important in dealing with clients and former clients, and especially those that are governed by a federal act such as the FDCPA.
“The state bar is overcharging its cases.” Thus started the commentary by Carol M Langford, in the newspaper, The Recorder, in San Francisco. Langford is a defense counsel and former chair of the State Bar’s Law Practice Management and Technology Section. She quotes the California Supreme Court to the effect that “bar matters are ‘quasi criminal’ in nature.” She asserts that respondents before the State Bar Court have none of the usual constitutional safeguards in a normal criminal proceeding.
She further asserts that the Chief Trial Counsel (Jayne Kim) commented that the bar had to be “tougher” as evidenced by the Supreme Court’s rejection of 24 stipulations in 2012. Ms. Kim responded to Langford’s August 28th Viewpoint column, claiming she was misquoted.
This sounds a bit like the classic prosecutor/defense counsel “difference” of opinion. Ms. Langford would obviously prefer more stipulations that favor respondent attorneys; Ms. Kim would obviously prefer that those attorneys being “charged” be locked in jail and the key thrown away. The bottom line is that the general fund of the State Bar of California is $64 million, 75 to 80% of which goes to fund the bar’s disciplinary system. That is a whopping $48 million, give or take, that is expended to discipline attorneys who allegedly violate the rules of professional conduct.
I have watched this scenario for more than 40 years. In that time, there is only one State Bar president who indicated that the goal of the State Bar was twofold, one to protect the public and two to educate lawyers in more effectively running their law practice. By doing the latter, we do achieve the former as well. But for Jim Heiting, the president who suggested this, the State Bar is now in an adversarial position with its members, lawyers.
Langford suggests that the State Bar should make “real offers to respondents to settle matters…” A lawyer signs a stipulation still receives punishment. In none of the comments made by Langford did she suggest that the respondent lawyer not receive discipline. The focus is whether there be a stipulation without a trial (and the concomitant additional cost to both the State Bar and to the respondent) or whether all matters need to go to trial. Why does the State Bar trial department not focus its energies against lawyers who turned down good offers reflective of the misconduct at issue.
This is a good question and one that is not answered merely by suggesting that the current legislation in California mandates that the public be protected. “Cleaning out a backlog” by offering reasonable stipulations, educating lawyers (members of the bar) on client relations and economics of the practice of law and developing a mutually respectful relationship between the Bar and its members will go a long way toward reducing the cost of attorney discipline and (Heaven help us) reducing the cost of membership in the State Bar.
Many writers and “pundits” suggest a doom and gloom forecast for the legal profession, Among those who say, “Wait a minute,” Neil J. Squillante puts a different spin on our world. See Neil J. Squillante. First, he separates the legal business into segments. Not every segment will be impacted in the same manner. And thus the close to 80% of the legal profession who represent the “consumer” market of individual customers are likely not to be affected, at least in the short run.
And yes, while technology will impact every lawyer, the impact will have different ramifications and benefit lawyers and legal consumers differently. First, being more efficient, lawyers can be more profitable … or at the very least, get off the annual rate increase treadmill. Not all consumers will need or understand the effects of technology on a lawyer’s practice. Richard Susskind, a thought leader in our profession, suggests four elements of change that will dramatically alter the profession. I concur with him in only one of his four elements, and that is technology. The others can have their impact traced to earlier times, just as in other industries. But, technology, that is an area where the legal community has lagged far behind in innovation. Today, such innovation is moving ahead at lightning speed. And its impact has been recognized even by the organized Bar which is including technology proficiency as an element of the definition of “competency” to practice law.
Being more efficient and effective in using technology to perform legal services will, for the first time, enable and encourage lawyers to alter their billing modalities and move away from the billable hour should they choose to do so … and this will have a major impact on consumers, both large and small. This will be a game changer. While technology itself will not be the catalyst for major change, the changes wrought from technology’s utilization will. This will not happen overnight, but when we look back in the rear-view mirror, we will ask ourselves “how did that happen so quickly?”