Tag Archive: Law

Managing Partners are few and far between

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?

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Succession is uppermost in the minds of majority of lawyers

More than 23% of the Washington State Bar Association, a mandatory bar, are 60 years or older. Several years ago, the American Bar Association, a voluntary bar, estimated that 400,000 lawyers would retire in the next 10 years.  For the ABA, that’s equal to its entire membership. And that’s equal to about 40% of all lawyers and a majority of private practitioners.


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Law Firm Strategist Ed Poll Launches Nationwide Roadshow

Venice, CA – June 6, 2011. Award-winning law business management coach and consultant Ed Poll is bringing his nationally recognized practices, tips and advice to bar associations, law schools and other top venues across America this summer.

The tour will include 15-20 stops throughout the US from June through September 2011, starting on the West Coast and heading East. Tentative tour stops include Portland, Seattle, the San Francisco Bay Area, San Jose, Dallas, Oklahoma City, Kansas City, Chicago, Nashville, Memphis, Columbus, Cleveland, Washington, DC, Atlanta, Philadelphia, New York City and Boston. For more information about the tour, please go to www.lawbiz.com/roadshow

The tour, which is sponsored by Fujitsu ScanSnap and others, will include presentations for CLE credit on law practice management issues, on topics such as Managing Client Expectations, Collecting Fees and Getting Paid, Metrics of Financial Performance, Tips for Increased Revenue, and The Exit Strategy: Succession & Retirement.

Presentations will include time for Q&A and will be followed by a special Coach’s Corner coaching session. In this unique format, Ed will offer coaching help to one or two attendees about their specific law business management issues, within the group context. This allows the entire audience to watch the interaction and consider how they may apply the discussion to their own specific situation.

“For the first time in American history, thousands of lawyers have been laid-off,” said Ed Poll. “Lawyers need to know more about The Business of Law® in order to survive, let alone thrive, by effectively meeting the needs and expectations of clients. This tour will help address many of the challenges facing the sole practitioners and small firms today.”

About Ed Poll

Recently quoted in the New York Times and the ABA Journal, Ed Poll, founder of LawBiz Management, is a nationally recognized expert in law practice management. He helps attorneys and law firms increase their profitability by consulting with them on issues of internal operations, business development, and financial matters. Poll brings his clients a solid background in both law and business. He has 25 years experience as a practicing attorney and has also served as CEO and COO for several manufacturing businesses. In 2010, he received the first ever Lifetime Achievement Award from the California Bar Association’s Law Practice Management and Technology Section.

Poll is the author of numerous publications that have become the definitive works in the field, including 18 books, CDs and DVD collections. His newest offerings are Growing Your Law Practice in Tough Times (West Publishing, 2010) and 8 Steps to Greater Profitability: The Lawyer’s Guide to Prosperity (LawBiz Management, 2011). He has also authored books on business planning for attorneys, improving collections, buying and selling law practices, disaster preparedness and recovery, and exit strategies for legal practitioners. His offerings are available at LawBizStore.com.

Poll hosts the LawBiz Forum, an interactive community for the legal profession, as well as the LegalPadTM video series. He is a columnist for several publications geared to the legal community, including the Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly and Legal Management, and hosts regular webinars for West Legal Management. Poll earned BS and JD degrees from the University of California, Los Angeles, and an MBA from the University of Southern California.

About LawBiz Management

LawBiz Management is the nation’s leading firm dedicated to managing the Business of Law® . The company focuses on helping lawyers reach their goals and law firms improve their practices by increasing revenues, improving profits, and reducing the stress of the practice experienced by lawyers. Among the services offered are coaching, consulting, speaking and managing firm retreats. LawBiz Management also consults on the buying and selling of law practices.

For more information on tour sponsorship or booking a presentation on the tour, please go to www.lawbiz.com/roadshow or www.facebook.com/lawbiztour, or contact Ed Poll, edpoll@lawbiz.com.

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Can non-lawyers own a law firm?

Yes, say some.

Only a short time ago, we believed that non-lawyers would be able to participate in the ownership of American law firms. The pressure, so we believed, would come from the British Empire. Australia already allows this and it will soon be permitted in England. But, not the U.S. … until now.

The District of Columbia permits non-lawyer ownership to the extent of 25% interest in a law firm. And, now, North Carolina has a bill before its Senate that would allow 49% non-lawyer ownership.

One argument is that law firms have expanded and are now very large organizations. In order to grow, they need additional capital … and capital is best raised in the capital markets, not from individual partners of law firms … and that means non-lawyer ownership. While large law firms are looking more and more like their corporate clients, it is still a stretch to suggest that law firms should raise outside capital.

Do law firms need to grow? Why can’t corporate clients’ interests be served well by smaller regional law firms? Why does the corporate law firm have to be as large as the client? We saw unions grow in both size and power in response to corporate and management  growth and power. And we now see unions fighting to stay alive. Will that also happen to large law firms of the future? Will technology enable small groups of lawyers to be effective in large corporate representation? 

Some argue that the rules of professional conduct wouldn’t bind non-lawyers in matters of confidentiality and charging reasonable fees. Further, the very independence of lawyer’s judgment might come into question. But, the rules have been bent, if not changed or discarded entirely, when large firms’ economic interests were at stake. So, it will be fascinating to see who argues on which side and how this issue develops.

Is it possible that this issue will finally cause the break up of the mandatory (integrated) bar association into State licensing agencies on the one hand and voluntary bar associations on the other hand … with the latter being the home of sole and small firm practitioners banding together to serve their own economic interests?

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The law of supply and demand is still alive & well

I recently wrote in my LawBiz Tips Ezine about how law schools continue to churn out new graduates even as demand for them drops, and cited a New York Times article on this issue that concluded:  “Today, American law schools are like factories that no force has the power to slow down – not even the timeless dictates of supply and demand.”

Now it appears that the law of supply and demand has not been repealed after all.  The Wall Street Journal reports numbers from the Law School Admissions Council showing that the number of law-school applicants this year is down 11.5% from a year ago to 66,876. The figure, which is a tally of applications for the fall 2011 class, is the lowest since 2001 at this stage of the process, which is almost 90% completed.  

The reasons aren’t hard to understand.  Firms increasingly prefer to hire lateral attorneys who have already had on-the-job training and books of business, rather than new graduates who don’t understand “The Business of Law®” and will take years to begin returning a profit on the investment made in them.  And from the student side, the realization that going six figures into debt to get a J.D. degree that offers no assurance of gainful employment is not exactly a smart idea – especially for those whose main motivation to attend law school was to make the supposed “big bucks” available rather than to pursue a legal career.

So who is hurt most if the law school bubble does burst?  We can only hope it will be the law schools themselves, who continue to pour huge resources into “gaming” the law school rankings so that they can move up from number 19 to number 17 and thereby (they presume) entice more students to enroll.  When the housing bubble burst, it was – and continues to be – the financial geniuses at the banks who were left holding the bag.  Are law school administrators any smarter?

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Customer Service – A True Story

Last week, I had an accident. A preoccupied driver who admitted she didn’t see me failed to yield the right of way and turned left before I could see her. My bicycle hit her right front fender. You can see a picture of the damage to the car.  Sometimes, it’s better to hit than be hit. Because I hit her car, rather than she hitting me, I am alive and still walking, albeit with some difficulty. The fireman and paramedics said they’d never seen such damage to a car from a bike. “… Either the car was made of plastic or you are a man of steel!…”

If I were made of steel, I would not be so sore and bruised as I am still today. My thighs and quads have turned colors I never knew existed; like burnt toast. The bike down tube is cracked and very good, beautiful and cherished Orbea Orca carbon fiber bike is history. I’m lucky, frankly, to be alive … The alternative is not appealing.

Once things settled down, several days later, and a mechanic suggested that some manufacturers offer deep discounts for bike frame replacements needed because of a crash, my wife found the e-mail address for Orbea and sent them this note: “…My husband was involved in a traffic accident with his 2008 Orbea-Orca …. He is apparently okay with major bruising but his beloved Orbea has a damaged frame on the post between the seat and the pedals. Is there an incentive Orbea offers to encourage customers to replace a damaged bike with Orbea? … Thank you.

The company response follows: “Good morning, Thank you for contacting with Orbea! In case of accident, Orbea’s Warranty is null and void. Sincerely, …”

We never entered a warranty claim; that was never in my mind. My wife was merely checking out the status of their crash program. Some companies retain the loyalty of their customers by allowing them deep discounts to replace a damaged bike (product) and then studying the returned item for future research and improved manufacturing processes. My wife’s response was classic understatement: “We were not expecting to file a Warranty claim. We understand that some bike manufacturers give a discount on purchasing a new bike when a bike has been in an accident. You might consider doing the same.  We are in the market now for a new bike. Thank you for your concern.”

Lessons here are legion.

First, listen to your customer’s comments and requests. This reminds me of the classic instruction from a lawyer to his client: Listen to the question. Answer only the question. Then shut up! Wait for the next question. Don’t answer what you think should have been the question.

Second lesson: Everyone in your firm represents the organization. If a receptionist is rude, if a secretary fails to give you a message; if an associate is ill-prepared for a conference or court appearance, this reflects poorly on you as the senior lawyer and the firm as a whole. Education and training is not limited to the lawyers in the firm. Everyone needs to take continuing education programs to maintain and elevate skills and service levels.

Third lesson, don’t “piss off” the economic buyer (in this case, my wife) in your organization or you will never retain the business, and accompanying revenue.

Fourth lesson, live your life for now. There may not be a tomorrow. Yes, we have to keep an eye on the future, saving, planning and preparing. But, don’t do so without having some joy and value (your subjective opinion here) each day that passes. For me, the pleasure and reward is a vigorous bike ride, especially as a reward for something I did during that day. Whatever it is for you, “just do it.”

I’m sure you can provide other valuable lessons from this experience. Contact me or write your comment below. Let’s see how many lessons we can create from this one true-life experience.


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Merger off, lawyers fired, and lawyers hired – Rational?

A major player in the IP field announced that its merger plans with another IP firm have been called off. The assertion is that there were conflicts issues with one major client that could not be resolved and the client would not waive the conflict. While I may be dubious about the veracity of this assertion, sitting on the outside, it does happen.

But, then the firm announces that "… the downturn in patent litigation persists, with fewer cases being filed and more settling earlier…. (C)ases coming in are smaller with tighter budgets and leaner staffing expectations…."  And this results in firings/terminations/layoffs (say it anyway you want, the people are gone) of lawyers and staff.  In other words, the troubled economy is still having its impact on law firms.

So far, so good. But, then the firm also announces that it sees an increase in patent prosecution, counseling and reexamination work, particularly in the electronics and software practice and the firm will hire first-year associates. Again, from the outside, it looks like the firm is firing experienced lawyers who get paid 3X and will hire first year associates who will get paid 1X. You fill in the numbers. When industry does this, it’s called "age discrimination." It may also be called "stupid" because it negatively impacts the morale of the organization … and you don’t build a loyal, cohesive and capable workforce by seeking the least expensive team members. Why couldn’t the firm offer the presumably lower paying jobs to the experienced folks? In this economy, they might not like it, but they’d rather stay employed and working with colleagues they know and like and trust. And, the organization will look like a caring place to work, making needed economic changes but also sensitive to the needs of its current work force.

Just seems to me to be a better way to do things.  And, at the very least, the PR ineptness of these announcements coming on the heels of one another is just astounding.

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What will be the value of your practice?

I met with an attorney today … he’s 61 … who is terrified that he now is solo and has never had to do anything in his career to attract clients. He was always part of a firm that delivered litigation clients to his doorstep. Now, he doesn’t have that … What can/should he do?

No matter what he does, the ultimate challenge for him will be on retirement, not that far away. Will he have developed any goodwill to be able to add more wealth to his capital for his heirs? The answer is: Maybe, but more likely not. That will be a crime after having been a very good lawyer for his entire career.

What are you doing to enhance the value of your practice? Do you have a succession plan? Does your law practice have an "estate plan?"

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Doctors do it, why don’t lawyers?

Doctors, like lawyers, have little or no business education in medical/law school. Today’s Wall Street Journal  (Education for Executives) discusses doctors journey back to school (business) in order to learn skills that were omitted from their medical education. They need these skills in order to run their medical practices, medical groups and hospitals.

Doctors outreach for management training demonstrates a recent shift in thinking: "…we are much more similar to other businesses that we are different." Taking the business side of medicine more seriously can benefit not only doctors, but also patients, a fact slowly being understood in the medical profession.

Why is it that doctors are ahead of lawyers in this understanding? Why is it that medical schools are incorporating management principles into their teaching and few, if any, law schools do? Why is it that lawyers continue to be reactive, rather than be proactive? Worse still, why is it that lawyers fail to react to their clients wishes?  Bar disciplinary proceedings continue to show that more than 50% of clients’ complaints relate to poor management practices. Why?

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Twitter and money – an oxymoron?

Can you imagine that Twitter, WITHOUT any revenue stream, is valued at $1Billion! Wow. Not many employees and no revenue stream … and no prospects in sight to get revenue.

Just think what your law firm, with a decent revenue stream, might be worth? What is the difference? And why isn’t your firm worth $1B?

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