Not bad enough that legal services are already expensive, but court closures resulting from budget cutbacks will make legal services of all kinds even more expensive. Alternative methods of dispute resolution will need to be engaged. This is like a bad heart, needing new arteries created from exercise. But, we don’t know yet what the "exercise" will be to enable the cost of legal services to go down. Will it be technology? Will it be alternative dispute resolution? Will it be "why can’t we all just get along?" attitude changes?
Marlo Van Oorschot talks about the cost of a divorce rising, as just one example. But, she puts it in terms that everyone can understand.
More budget cuts are going to cause court closures in the family law department this year. This means the time and cost to bring a family law case to conclusion is going to increase. Unless an alternative means of resolving a case is implemented, parties should plan on spending two years and their children’s college education funds waiting to have their day in court.
Large firms, more than we care to know, have made news in the last couple of years by "going under," i.e., defunct! Firms such as Howrey and Heller Erhman became the targets of personnel raids. Very good lawyers from these, and similar, law firms departed and joined other major, national law firms. Today’s WSJ comments on the current state of affairs for some of AmLaw 100 law firms.
Some folks are asking whether your new lateral partner have any unwanted baggage? In some instances, the new firm accepted partners from the old firm with the understanding that the lawyer would bring over clients from the old firm as well as his "unfinished business." This provides for immediate billing .. and therefore an opportunity to acquire great talent at a very low or zero cost.
These firms, and others, have gone into bankruptcy to collect funds to pay the firms’ creditors. In a law firm, the major assets "walk out the door every evening. Computers, furniture and real estate are of minimum value, if any, in a law firm. Accounts receivable are a major asset, though often difficult to collect from clients when they know there will be little serious effort to collect.
But, when the partners from the old, now defunct, law firm went, they generally took "their" book of business with them … and the "unfinished business" of the clients that went with them. One argument is that clients have a right to seek their own choice of lawyer. And the other argument is that the partner and new law firm benefited, resulting in a profit to the new firm that truly belongs to the old firm.
This battle will be fought for years, I suspect. But, the reality of our world is that anyone can sue anyone else, even if wrong. In the meantime, the largest pool of cash available to the trustee in bankruptcy for the defunct firms is the new firm and, perhaps, the lawyers, individually, from the old firm. Whether legitimate or not, new firms have been economically compelled to settle many of such claims in order to go on with the new firm business.
The new firms thought they were getting a steal! Maybe. But, I’m reminded of the old say that "…if it looks too good to be true, it probably is too good to be true." There is a cost to everything, even a very attractive, new lateral partner with great talent and a great book of business.
At a recent presentation on our Road to Revenue National Tour, a young lawyer was concerned. She said that she has a new practice and has been successful in keeping her accounts receivable to a minimum. In other words, she has been able to work, bill and get paid quickly, the three elements of my 3Dimensional Lawyer® . Her concern, though, is that her pipeline for new business seems to be empty. She is concerned that prompt payment has an impact on additional work to be lined up for her to do.
In order of priority, one needs to get the work … marketing. Then, one must do the work. Production. Next, one needs to get paid. Finance.These are the three legs of the stool. The successful lawyer/law firm must focus on collections. Less than a 90% realization/collection rate is a symbol of future trouble.
In this lawyer’s situation, she is successful in the collection phase. In fact, it’s difficult to imagine a higher success rate when you have little to no accounts receivable.
The focus, then, needs to be on marketing, getting more work to fill the pipeline. These are separate and distinct issues. Relish in your successcollecting your billings and address the marketingto attract more clients.
Bob Denney says "… “70% of the managing partners [or CEOs] do not have a job description and most partners do not know what their MP does. In addition, in firms of more than 100 lawyers, only 10% have full-time managing partners.”
No wonder that in 1995, the USPO concurred with me that "The Business of Law" was a unique phrase and granted my request for a registered mark. Major law firms still, as Denny confirms, require that "managing partners" maintain a full client load of billable time. There may be some concessions, but by and large, they are evaluated on their client production rather than their effectiveness in keeping the firm together and moving forward.
I think of the analogy with Lee Iococca. Though he was given credit for designing and producing the Mustang, he could no longer perform the design or product management functions in his position as CEO and later Chairman of Chrysler. How is it that law firms believe the managing partner (CEO) of a multi-million dollar professional service organization can do more than an industry giant?
Insurance companies hire lawyers as in-house counsel at reduced (wholesale) rates, pay lawyers in accordance with insurance policies for their insureds, and otherwise have a dramatic influence over the billing practices in the legal community. Wasn’t it insurance companies in or about the 1960s that demanded lawyers submit bills that showed the time expended in matters for which they pay? And then, as a consequence, lawyers began using time increments as a basis for pricing, not just as a management tool. Before then, lawyers based their fees on the value received by the client.
Perhaps the insurance industry will, once again, have a dramatic impact on the legal profession, but indirectly this time. In Rhode Island, it’s reported that the Lifespan hospital group and Blue Cross have reached an agreement intended to overturn the way hospital care is financed. The goal is to promote and pay for health (value) rather than episodes (hourly) of treatment. Currently, when you go to a hospital, you pay (and the insurance company reimburses or pays directly) for your stay in the hospital, for tests performed and surgeries and related care. Does this remind you of the hourly bill that lawyers produce monthly (hopefully no less frequently?.
The agreement is the first to meet Rhode Island’s unique rules concerning health insurance policies and their premiums. Blue Cross, the largest health plan in the state, and Lifespan, the largest provider in the state, have agreed in principle (details yet to be worked out). The program will provide for fixed fees (alternative, or value, billing) for given procedures, thus discouraging tests and procedures that might not be needed – but usually performed because of insurance payments or attempts to make sure “no stone is unturned” in the treatment. Does this sound familiar? Performing more discovery than needed just to make sure “no stone is unturned” and to avoid an accusation of malpractice for failure to uncover the hidden evidence.
The hospital will be eligible for bonus payments when they meet as yet to be determined quality standards. Again, does this sound familiar? Bonus payments for faster resolution of the litigation, payment for results below the insurance company’s reserve or other standards determined by the parties. Almost sounds like a sport’s figure’s bonus payments when playing more games or hitting more home runs, etc. than set forth as minimums in the contract.
Increased and more effective communications and streamlining payment processes to increase the hospitals cash flow are also part of the agreement. Again, does this sound familiar? When lawyers have effective communications in place, it is seldom that the client is upset with the lawyer and it is seldom the client refuses to pay in accord with the engagement agreement, thus increasing realization rates for the lawyer.
Tying payment to quality care is available elsewhere, but to a modest extent and never before to an entire state. The insurance commissioner in Rhode Island is mandating change in connection with premium rate reviews. As they say elsewhere, “follow the money.” In this case, when customers demand change, suppliers change. Here, the review process for payment of insurance premiums and health care will change, not overnight, but quite assuredly … only because the customer (or regulator) demands the change. When will clients of lawyers finally say “enough is enough” and demand change? Until then, lawyers are not likely to alter current billing practices
I’m seeking to connect with lawyer(s) who either did or are currently doing loan refinance work for homeowners. In some states, the bar and/or legislature has created regulations preventing lawyers from taking money from clients for this work in advance of completing the work.
I’ve written about this and now have a major newspaper interested in talking with such lawyers to inquire whether such work is still available and how the lawyer is handling the fee.
Today, I had a discussion with a very bright individual who is seeking new office quarters. He was having difficulty with the math, so he thought. He was seeking to understand the interplay between basic rent, common area charges (charges for maintenance, taxes, etc. that the landlord assesses at the end of each lease year to cover the cost of operating the building, paid pro rata by each tenant), and his actual cost of occupancy (total actual rent!).
I suggested that he walk away from this bottom down thinking. Instead, I suggested he look at the situation bottom up, and get his real estate broker involved to earn his keep.
First, figure out what you want to pay for monthly and/or annual rent. You can do this in a number of different ways. You can say that historically I’ve earned X% profit on Y number of revenue dollars; when I move into new quarters, I will earn more revenue because (better facilities, closer to prospective clients, larger space to hire more staff, etc.) and therefore, with the same percentage for occupancy cost, I can pay more …. and that number is $X.
Or you can say my revenue is likely to stay the same even after the move (or I’m not sure and I want to be conservative) … and don’t want to pay more than the same rent I’m paying now. That number is $X.
With that number in mind, tell your broker to find you the space you require (with the specifications you want) for that amount. Don’t worry what words are used, whether base rent or common area charges, etc. The lease contract must state that the maximum annual rent will be $X.
If the broker says that you can find plenty of space for that amount, great; if he says you’re crazy, there is no space for that amount, then you have choices to make: Work harder, work smarter to earn more revenue/profit to pay the higher rent, reduce your profit and take-home pay, or join forces with another to share the space and cost of the space.
But, don’t let others dictate how you should think. Don’t let the system force you into a thinking pattern that will confuse you or prevent you from knowing what your cost of operation will be.
In the recent California Lawyer’s Annual Professional Liability Insurance Report, the writer quotes the ABA. Their study shows that 44,000 claims were lodged against insured lawyers nationally within the study’s three year period. Of this group, “…(s)olos and smaller firms were sued the most: 70 percent of all insurance claims were brought against lawyers in firms with one to five attorneys.”
I suppose this was the basis for arguing that lawyers either need malpractice insurance or should disclose to their clients that they don’t have such insurance. Yet, if 70% of the legal community works in the small firm environment, wouldn’t it make sense that 70% of the claims would be filed against this goup?
Despite these statistics, there is no study ever cited that shows how many claims, IF ANY, were filed against the approximately 30,000 (20%) attorneys in California who do not carry malpractice insurance. There is no study to conclude they have claims filed against them; there is no study to conclude they have been unable to negotiate settlements with their aggrieved clients, if any; there is no study to conclude these are “bad” or negligent attorneys from whom the public needs protection.
Despite this, the Bar (now about 23 states) has moved forward in lock-step to punish this group of attorneys by increasing their already marginal cost of operation and forcing them to become adversarial with their prospective clients by having this discussion.
Clever lawyers who may seek to avoid the negative consequences of this new rule can take a number of alternative paths to side-step the issue. They can obtain the most minimal policy, the true net effect of which will leave nothing for the client at the end of any malpractice litigation. They can bury the required disclosure language in a long written engagement agreement, seldom read by clients, thus avoiding the necessity of raising the issue with the client. Among other tactics.
As in other instances, the Bar fails to protect its members who pay their salaries and fails to protect the public by availing attorneys with affordable negligence insurance.