One of the largest fires seen in the Los Angeles area (Da Vinci Apartment project) also damaged 8 of the adjoining building’s 16 floors that housed the firm’s Los Angeles office with 250 lawyers and staff. The office’s managing partner, Timothy R. Graves, put the best face on the situation by saying their experience in New York (Hurricane Sandy) gives them some advantage in dealing with the Los Angeles experience. Technology further helps alleviate potential damage that might otherwise have been experienced. Remotely working, however, does not remove the consequences of significant water damage to paper files and client unease … When one goes to sleep, one doesn’t expect a 1 a.m. fire to change your life, but it can happen.
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.
Those who are worried about there being too many lawyers may have their wish come true. The reports (LA Times, Dec 8) are that, for the first time in nearly a decade, the pass rate of the bar examination is less than 50%. And, there are fewer candidates. And law school enrollment is declining. This certainly will decrease the number of lawyers in the future … especially with the Baby Boomers retiring in greater numbers as each year passes.
However, as noted before on the LawBiz Blog, this is the wrong issue to focus on. Rather, we need to look at how to get our law school graduates and lawyers positioned to earn a living by serving the currently under-served population.
With the turmoil escalating in California by the firing of the Bar’s Executive Director and charges/counter-charges flying all over, the image, reputation and credibility of the bar and its constituent members continues to decline. No wonder people find it difficult to trust lawyers. As an aside, I was in a store yesterday and overheard a customer say to the employee, “I’m a lawyer, be careful what you say.” How arrogant! I felt the need to later apologize to the employee for his comment. She apparently is accustomed to that behavior.
When an organization is arrogant and ignores the best interests of its members or customers, there will be no support for the organization in challenging times. The State Bar of California finds itself, once again, in a time of challenge with little support from its members, the attorneys of the state pay dues to keep the organization afloat. This time around, however, should there be a move by the State legislature to abolish the State Bar and convert it to a licensing agency only, there will be little or no opposition from members of the bar.
In what is the scandal of all time, the Board of Trustees summarily fired its executive director, Joe Dunn. This followed an internal personnel complaint filed by the bar’s chief trial counsel, Jayne Kim. The exact nature of the charges and counter-charges are yet to be disclosed, though the Board said they were reacting to “… serious, wide-ranging allegations … ” of mis-deeds.
Dunn, a former state senator, was hired four years ago to shepherd the transition from a bar governing board comprising mainly of lawyers elected by other lawyers to one with members primarily appointed by the Supreme Court of the state and state officials. While a primary goal of the bar was to protect the public, a secondary goal of earlier boards was to help lawyers become more effective and more efficient in relating to clients. The bar never achieved this secondary goal because 75 to 80 percent of the State Bar’s budget was and still is directed to the disciplinary system.
The current scandal is now not only an internal matter within the bar, it is in the court system, Dunn having sued on being terminated. High-powered lawyers have been retained by all principles involved. It is clear we have not seen the last of this. It is also clear, however, that lawyers should expect no help, education or sympathy from the governing body they must join on entry to the bar.
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.
Ed discusses how to estimate future costs by listing your assumptions.
Most clients don’t complain about hourly rates; they complain about the totality of their legal costs. In order to control legal costs, one help is budgets.
How to estimate future costs: List your assumptions and make sure the client understands these and also provide for change-orders if any of these assumptions prove to be erroneous. That’s how you keep the costs down and that’s how you keep the client satisfied.