Trade Shows

A few years ago, I interviewed a lawyer in Canada for our Law Practice Management Review: The Audio Magazine for Busy Attorneys.

His experience suggests that with the appropriate goal and market target, you can succeed. It is not however without its challenges. As my wife is fond of telling me, there is no free lunch. There is a cost both in money and, more importantly, in time that accompanies trade show exhibits.

The most important lesson is that i) you need appropriate planning before going into such an adventure and ii) you need full and complete follow-up to make the effort productive and worthwhile.

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Marketing plan – What works and what doesn’t

Here’s some sage advice for the end of the year from Rod Sloane, a marketing consultant in England who writes Solicitors Marketing Tips:

Here is an idea I heard a long time ago. Can’t remember where I read it, but I want to pass it on to you. The end of the year is a good time to evaluate how your marketing has worked for you.
Make a list of five things you do to market yourself, your department or your whole law firm. Do them in the order of what has worked best. Which activities bring in the most profitable new clients, develops most referral sources or generates the most enquiries. Your list might read something like:
1.Networking with other professionals and referral sources
2. Seminars
3.Web Sites

Cross the bottom two off the list.

Now you need to be ruthless, this is no time for sentiment or favorites. Stop doing them. Now, put the money you’ve invested in the bottom two back in the top three performers. What happens if your Web Site is not in your top three? Should you abandon it? Almost certainly not, but it does mean that your web site is in casualty and needs urgent attention.

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More on Float – Red Alert!

Under the rubric of Homeland Security, banks now have the authority, as of October 28, 2004, to send you a “substitute check,” which is a printed copy of your check after it has been imaged. Thus, clearing of checks (and withdrawal of funds from your account) no long depends on transporting a physical piece of paper from one location to another. The theory is that commerce can continue irrespective of attacks on our country.

From a management perspective, this is a “red flag” alert. While your revenue will come in later than the date billed, your expenses will go out almost immediately upon mailing/delivering your check.

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Legal fees – Alternatives to hourly billing

More than 25 years ago, legal fees were based not only on the time spent, but also the nature of the service, the result achieved and the amount at stake. Charging an appropriate legal fee was a matter of professional judgment.

That changed in the mid-1960s when clients began demanding detailed billing statements and lawyers used time records as a management tool to seek greater efficiencies. Today, most lawyers are paid by the hour – almost as an hourly laborer. When lawyers are paid by the number of hours worked, self-interest can and often does affect a lawyer’s judgment as to how much work to do for the client.

And, when investment in technology is required to maintain competency, the cost of operation increases. Yet, the increased technology creates greater efficiency, meaning that the time required (hours worked) to produce the same work product is reduced. This means that the revenue for the lawyer is reduced, unless he/she can get new and additional work assignments, or charge a higher fee per hour.

The ultimate result is that lawyers cannot take advantage of the efficiencies they achieve with a greater cost investment – UNLESS they go to an alternative method of billing.

Recently I had the pleasure of interviewing several General Counsel and Outside Counsel involved in promoting greater use of alternative fees. There are many different forms this movement is taking, but one common element amongst all those talking about and using the new (or not so new) modality of billing is the essential element of frequent and open communication between the lawyer and the client. But then, good communication is required no matter what billing process is used … Perhaps the lawyer just must put more effort into the process.

For more on this subject, hear the comments of General Counsel and Outside Counsel on Law Practice Management Review: The Audio Magazine for Busy Attorneys.

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Fee Sharing

Clarify your fee sharing agreement, preferably in writing.

In California, the State Supreme Court decided a case on whether a referral fee could be collected where the client did not know or agree to a fee split.

In this case, counsel for the plaintiff-attorney (seeking enforcement of an oral agreement for referral fee) argued that quantum meruit should be the minimum award even if the referral fee could not be enforced under the Rules of Professional Conduct. Otherwise, the reneging defendant-attorney is unjustly enriched. (Of course, the attorney also argued that the client was aware of the arrangement but just didn’t sign an agreement approving the arrangement.)

The California Supreme Court said there would be an unjust enrichment in either situation, but used the quantum meruit theory to award the referring attorney at least a minimum fee. Thus, both attorneys were punished to a degree, or, said in another way, there was no unjust enrichment on just one side of the issue.

In Michigan, an inactive attorney cannot enforce a referral agreement relating to a personal injury contingent fee matter.

Moral: Be crystal clear on what you’re doing with colleagues. Lawyers are no better than others — when there’s money involved, even lawyers can have selective memories!

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The Tax Man Cometh

It’s that time of year again. And, again, I say don’t wait for April 2005 to make your tax plans. Now is the time to visit your accountant and tax preparer. Here is one strategy you may want to use to keep your tax bite in 2005 to a minimum: Accelerate or defer income… (more…)

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Growth of mega-law firms

I was asked by a reporter from an Eastern newspaper today why large law firms are seeking to get larger? An interesting question, one I answer from the perspective of history. I remember ITT (International Telephone and Telegraph Co.), with Harold Geneen as CEO. At the time, it seemed as though there would remain only four corporations in the world, GM, GE, IBM and ITT. Of the four, only GE has an unblemished record of growth; IBM almost died but has regenerated itself and is mentioned as a (more…)

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