In a recent article, the writer describes a twist in medical fees. A specialist, in this case a cardiologist, is charging a premium retainer fee for accessibility. That’s access, not treatment! The levels of service created by the cardiologist are $7,500 per year for “concierge” service, $1,800 for “premier” status, and $500 for “select” status. The differences among the levels range from priority to get an appointment to 24/7 access by phone or email. Medicare or private insurance still pays (or doesn’t) for the actual service. But this doctor says that Medicare reduces his billing rate and this is a way to earn the money he can and wants. This is brutally frank. But, as in other areas, economics control.
I had never thought of digital assets being inherited! Wow, what an oversight. Clearly, digital property is an asset and can be passed on to the next generation. Have you thought about the goodwill represented by your Twitter account, your blog, you website and all the other digital assets you create? If not, you should because but for an affirmative act on your part, the rights to that property may be lost.
Most lawyers will pooh-pooh the idea that their electronic/digital property is worth anything … they said this about the value of their law practice also. Many lawyers are beginning to adjust their thinking, recognizing that law practice goodwill has value … and together, this property could be worth tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of dollars. Why should this value evaporate? Take care and plan not only your estate but also the estate of your law practice, including digital assets!
Most of us can notice when something “isn’t right” with our bodies, and we often are quick to jump to a conclusion about the cause.Yet what we perceive to be the problem, and the reality behind it, may be much different.
A urologist recently shared an example with me, saying that many people come to him to “fix the problem” of an over-active bladder at night.They typically attribute it to a “plumbing” issue that a pill or even surgery can cure.Yet this doctor suggested that, as people age, they sleep less and they’re likely to be awakened more easily by sounds that didn’t disturb them in earlier years – a dog barking, the house creaking.Once they’re awake, they decide to honor the bladder urge so they can go back to sleep. The perception is that there is a physical medical problem.The real cause is the natural aging process and the best “cure” is to accept it.
Transfer this lesson to a law practice.Most lawyers are quick to perceive a problem when there is less money coming in the door.They immediately jump to a conclusion about “the cure” – do more marketing, or raise rates.The reality is that declining revenue typically began long before as a problem with receivables.Generating new work to cover declining revenue simply isn’t the answer.The strategy is to make sure clients know they must pay their bills within 30 days.And the way to do that is specify clear collection terms in the engagement agreement. Lawyers perceive every client as valuable and hate to cut them loose; the reality is that continuing to do work for overdue clients who don’t pay shows those clients are not worth keeping.
A new study by George Washington Law School showed that realization rates (the amount of money billed that is collected) average 83.6 percent for all law firms, a figure that is a historic low.If you perceive your revenue is down, and the reality is that you only collect 80 cents on the dollar, you’re like the urologist’s patients – you won’t get many good nights of sleep.
I’ve talked about a lawyer having an estate plan. I’ve talked about creating an estate plan for your law practice; this is an idea first generated by Ellen Peck, retired judge of the California State Bar Trial Court. Now, there is another estate plan to prepare: Digital.
What are you going to do with all your passwords, all your email accounts, all your accounts in social media and all your other accounts that reside in the internet?
Your virtual life doesn’t end just because you die. And in some arenas, the material you have on the internet cannot be removed or taken down. You may even have money residing in some of the internet residences such as PayPal, on-line gambling accounts, etc. Be sure to appoint or designate someone to be responsible for dealing with these issues. Be sure to write down all the accounts and passwords. And be sure to contact such companies as LinkedIn, Facebook, Google, etc. to comply with their policies.
There is little or no case law to date about planning for digital assets after death, and certainly no precedent of which I’m aware on this. But, for just that reason, it’s time to think about these issues.
In a recent issue of a major legal publication, as reported by the American Bar Association, the magazine looked at pension plans of law firms. It appears that a number of the country’s largest law firms have pension plans that are unfunded. In other words, these are firms with pension plans, but without money to pay the obligations of those pension plans as their lawyers retire. What we will increasingly see are law firms with the bulk of their lawyers leaving the practice for retirement with the hope and prayer that the fewer remaining, younger partners will be willing to fund the firms’ obligations. We will also see many situations where these younger lawyers will find it to their economic advantage to torpedo the existing law firm and its pension obligations in exchange for creating a new firm with no pension obligations. Doing so will give them the opportunity to take on more of the revenue that is produced by their efforts. They will earn more and pay less.
This phenomenon will exacerbate the generation warfare that is building in today’s law firms.
The Wall Street Journal, perhaps reflecting the concerns of its corporate readership, continues to emphasize what it considers to be the overpaid lawyers at the pinnacle of the profession. In a recent article that had the less-than-subtle title, “Biggest Lawyers Grab Fee Bounty,” the Journal reported that partners in the top 25% of more than 4,000 law firms examined in a new study boosted their average price to $873 an hour last year, up 4.9% from 2010. At the same time, the lowest-billing partners struggled to keep pace with inflation. Partners in the bottom 25% of surveyed firms charged an average of $204 last year, up just 1.3%.As the paper said, “That disparity between who can raise prices – and who can’t – spotlights a growing segmentation in the $100 billion corporate legal market.”
Once again, it is confirmed that law practice is a business. As I’ve been saying since I received the registered mark for The Business of Law®, law practice is a business. Yes, it’s a profession AND also a business, a service business. Dewey & LeBoeuf confirms this.
This large, national law firm has just retained outside bankruptcy counsel. Why? To consider whether they can create a controlled bankruptcy … filing a bankruptcy application with creditors and potential acquirer already in place. The beauty of such a filing is that it will i) stop the bleeding of lawyers leaving the firm a few at a time, ii) eliminate the unfunded pensions that would be a drain on the firm assets and future revenue, and iii) enable another firm to complete an outstanding acquisition quickly with a clean balance sheet and revenue stream intact. A side benefit of eliminating the unfunded pension obligations would be to avoid generation warfare that frequently arises between retiring partners and younger partners left with the responsibility of using current revenue to pay for the old debt.
This process is precisely the same process used by so many other companies, including some of the large companies in the recent financial crises that survived, but in different configurations. This is the same process as the airlines are implementing today … to reduce their obligations to labor. This is the same process being contemplated by a number of prominent government entities (cities and counties) to get rid of their unfunded pension obligations that are expected to require more than 60% of their current tax revenues.
So what is different about Dewey? Nothing. We are in the world of business, The Business of Law®.
There is much talk about how competitive the legal market has become. And this reminds me of an old Chinese proverb: “He who doesn’t turn runs far. “
In track and field events, the coach tells you to look at the tape in front of you, not who is behind you. Likewise, in running your law practice, do the best you can, focus on your skills (and improve them), on the efficiency and cost of delivering your legal services (use technology to improve your efficiency) … and, of course, on your clients and their needs (and wants). Then, you will have given it (your profession) your best shot.
John Wooden said, “The scoreboard? Championships? A sales quota? The bottom line? As goals, predictions, hopes, or dreams to be sealed up (in an envelope) and filed away, fine. But, as a day to day preoccupation they’re a waste of time, stealing attention and effort from the present and squandering it on the future. You control the former, not the latter.
“An organization – a team – that’s always looking up at the scoreboard will find a worthy opponent stealing the ball right out from under you….” Coach seldom scouted the opposition, focusing instead on what needed to be done to improve his team and prepare them to be the best they could be.