Quote from Theodore Roosevelt

Delegation is the magic principle for successful small firms and perhaps best expressed by Teddy Roosevelt:

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Of 6 million annually reported car crashes, half are related to distracted driving, according to the American Automobile Association. The AAA suggests that it’s not the act of holding the device, but rather the discussion that causes accidents.

If you’re distracted by an intense conversation, and you’re using a headset , you could still get into an accident. Sometimes you’re not even seeing what’s in front of you because your mind is somewhere else.

A small but growing number of companies are publishing guidelines for cellphone use inside the office and the car, as some high-profile liability cases catch the eye of corporate America.

“It’s a hot liability topic,” said Kathryn Lusby- Treber, executive director of the Network of Employers for Traffic Safety in Vienna, Va. “The company is certainly at risk. If they have an employee who’s driving for business and they’re in a crash, the employer can be held responsible for the crash.”

Will these guidelines protect the company? Not necessarily.

In October 2004, Cooley Godward of San Francisco settled a $30 million lawsuit in the death of 15- year-old Naeun Yoon, who was struck and killed in 2000 on a busy highway outside Fairfax, Va., by one of its employees – a lawyer accused of making a business call on her cellphone while driving. After serving a year in jail and surrendering her law license, Jane Wagner was ordered to pay $2 million in damages to Yoon’s family by a circuit court jury in Loudoun County, Va. While the firm’s insurance company paid $92,500, according to its attorney, John McGavin of Fairfax, the firm was not held liable.

However, the case of Yoon v. Cooley Godward has broader implications. This decision suggests that employers could be “vicariously liable for the cellphone-induced distracted driving of their employees, even if phone calling is not within the scope of employment,” noted Ross Guberman, an adjunct professor at George Washington University Law School who has written about the case.

Perhaps the use of cell phones, Blackberries and other mobile technology should be reexamined to take advantage of their benefits while not exposing our law firms to damages and concomitant loss of reputation.

See more.

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Governance of a law firm can be complex

At the Managing Partners Forum being held in San Diego, CA, Larry Bodine of PM Forum, reports that Mary Cranston, chair of Pillsbury Winthrop in San Francisco, revealed how her firm grew from a California firm to an international firm.

What struck me about Larry’s comment is the governance or structure that Ms. Cranston described; she revealed that the firm thinks in multi-dimensions:
Practice groups think of new “products” and new solutions to sell.

Industry teams, which are cross-office and cross-practice, take the firm’s products and refine them for specific industries.

Client teams are the methods her firm uses to deliver the product to current clients.

This is sounding more and more like the corporate model where large corporations have R & D Departments, industry or product management leaders and client or customer account executives. Wow!

Look for more changes in the legal world that reflect our corporate culture.

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Lawyers & Clients Collide

At a Managing Partners Forum currently being held in San Diego, CA, Larry Bodine Regional Diretor of PM Forum, writes that R. Bruce McLean, chairman of Akin Gump in Washington, DC, said that next year will mark the first time a lawyer charges over $1,000 per hour. He said that law firm pricing and client demands for lower rates are on a collision course. (Haven’t we heard this before?) “There is a real opportunity to be a market leader in alternative pricing,” he said.

You may want to review our earlier discussion about alternative fees becomes even more important. In Law Practice Management Review: The Audio Magazine for Busy Attorneys, we interviewed six major corporate General Counsel and Outside Counsel; they shared their concerns and expectations for future billing relationships. Now may be the time for you to review their conversations again.

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Is a Large Law Firm a Partnership or an Employer?

Despite being called partnerships (or LLP’s or PC’s), the governance of large law firms has fallen to a very few in the organization (“the management committee”). And, the remaining “partners” have begun to look like, act like and think like employees, not owners.

The headline in the January 18th Los Angeles Times is: “U.S. Charges Law Partnership With Age Bias” … In a class-action suit, the EEOC says one of the nation’s oldest and largest (Sidley Austin Brown & Wood, based in Chicago, IL) law firms broke the age discrimination law by forcing out 32 older lawyers.

The EEOC’s class-action suit – the first of its kind against a law firm – alleges that Sidley Austin has maintained an illegal “age-based retirement policy” since at least 1978 and that the firm arbitrarily forced out 32 partners in 1999.

Sidley has 1,500 lawyers in a dozen cities, including Los Angeles, spread over three continents. It represents a number of large corporations, including Tribune Co., the parent company of the Los Angeles Times.

Historically, law firm partnerships have not been subject to discrimination laws because partners, as the co-owners of an enterprise, were considered employers. Sidley consistently has taken the position that all its partners were employers, and therefore not covered by age-discrimination law.

The EEOC alleges that the “retired”/”fired” lawyers were partners in name only because they had no voice in the firm’s management – including hiring, firing and salary decisions. Consequently, the lawyers were “employees” entitled to the protections of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act.

This is the traditional “form vs. substance” argument used by the Internal Revenue Service in tax cases. If it walks like a duck and talks like a duck, it must be a duck.” The article continues by quoting Kimberly Yuracko, who teaches employment law at Northwestern Law School in Chicago, saying that “… ultimately, the case will turn on the real way Sidley operated, not the titles the individual lawyers held.

The facts of this particular case are not so important as is the fact that large law firms are becoming … and are becoming viewed as … what they are: employers.

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Marginal Value of Smaller Clients

Most professionals who bill by the hour focus on their hourly rate … to get it as high as possible. What they forget is that the client who may contribute either a lower hourly rate or a smaller total revenue contribution is still a

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Position is Everything

Harry Beckwith, author (Selling the Invisible and What Clients Love) suggests that the number one marketing mistake law firms continue to make is their failure to establish a position.

“Specialists thrive, generalists die.” This paraphrases Beckwith’s belief. OR, “Generalists are flexible and survive during economic troubles.” This paraphrases Alan Weiss’ belief.

Another way to paraphrase these concepts is: “Specialize or die.” “Generalize and thrive.”

Beckwith believes that promoting one specific skill will provide a law firm with competitive advantage. And competitive advantage will yield more revenue and more profit.

What do you believe? What is the USP (unique selling position) of your law firm?

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Under-promise, Over-deliver

It’s always really tough to lower expectations of a client starting out and then over-deliver on a project. It’s hard to sell someone on the idea of doing anything but a superlative job, so we tend to outdo ourselves with rosy promises up front.

But the opposite is deadly — promising the moon and falling far short. We all end up doing that once, twice, or way too often.

Sometimes the best way to go, with a new initiative, is simply to limit yourself to very consistent, well-planned effort on ONE PROJECT ONLY until it’s complete. Some projects don’t lend themselves to this, it’s true. And financially, sometimes you simply MUST do several projects at once to make ends meet. But if there is any way at all to focus on one thing at a time, it always pays off.

And never feel afraid to turn down a new project (client) when it will clearly steal time from other things you care about more. That word “No” is highly underrated.

by Halley Suitt on Business as seen in Worthwhile Magazine

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Laws of Buying a Law Practice (cont’d)

Jungle Law #12: After Buying A Business, Do Not Change Anything (At First)!
In general, if the law practice you are buying is profitable, leave it alone while you learn how to manage it in accordance with the status quo. Then, slowly, make changes. Years ago, when I was observing the retail food industry, I saw major East Coast chains buy West Coast chains, until there were no more home-grown chains left. But, many of those folks failed and had to sell the chains back to their original owners or to third parties because they didn’t understand that the Eastern and Western business cultures, even though both American, were different. They didn’t allow themselves sufficient time to acclimate themselves to the new environment and then slowly change that which could/should be changed.

(Taken and adapted from “Strategies for Successfully Buying or Selling a Business” written by Russell L. Brown, a business broker.)

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