Archive for February, 2011

What Law Firms Can Learn From

Author: Debra Baker
February 23, 2011

TechnoLawyer’s BlawgWorld (free subscription required) had an interesting item a few weeks ago about how LegalZoom is beta testing a concept that would allow it to offer its legal services through small firms under the LegalZoom brand. It’s fraught with ethcial complications, which were outlined by the blog’s author Richard Granat on his eLawyering Blog.

From my perspective, LegalZoom is merely emblematic of why law firms need to reevaluate the way the offer legal services.

For those unfamiliar, LegalZoom provides commoditized business services for flat rates. You can do everything from forming your LLC to filing a trademark. They provide easy to understand descriptions of the requirements for filing. They walk you through a series of questions to help you fill out the required forms. They will even call you on occasion to point out facts that will help you make sound decisions without the advice of a lawyer.

For example, I recently used LegalZoom to create an LLC in California. They called to ask me what day I wanted to file, noting that if I filed before a certain date I would be assessed a tax in 2010. If I filed after that date, I wouldn’t be assessed the tax until 2011. They didn’t advise me on what to do, they merely read me the rules.

In sum, LegalZoom has taken an area of the law that can seem onerous and has demystified it by making it easy to understand.

Legal ethicists and regulators will have the last call on whether this constitutes practicing law. For lawyers practicing in this area, the onus is on them to show what added value they can bring to the table that makes the one-on-one service worth the cost of admission.

That’s not a bad thing. It is just different and it’s a reflection of how the practice of law needs to change to provide better service.

Balancing the Practice of Law with Business Development

Author: Debra Baker
February 16, 2011

In the quest for the perfect law firm business model, I’m often asked about the best way to balance the practice of law with the time needed to develop new business.

While there is no silver bullet, here are three first steps to consider when developing a plan to grow your practice.

1) Start with the partnership.

If your firm has a strong business development culture, your equity partners are regularly out there marketing themselves and your firm. But do a gut check. Typically 20% of partners generate 80% of a firm’s business. That may mean that more attention should be focused on helping rainmakers generate more rain. However, it does not mean that they are the only ones who need to be marketing.

Every attorney in the firm has a responsibility to dedicate non-billable time on helping the firm grow. In my experience, not every attorney needs a personal business plan. Non-rainmaker attorney time may be better spent supporting specific marketing and business development initiatives at the firm or practice group level.

2) Evaluate your current workload.

Where does your work come from currently? If it’s another partner that is feeding you work, how can your support her business development goals? If you rely on referrals, what are you doing to stay in touch with those referral sources? If you are trying to develop a new area of practice, what speaking or writing opportunities are available to you to raise your visibility before prospective clients?

3) What is your current utilization?

To meet your professional goals (firm or personal), how much of your time are you willing to work?

What percentage of that time must be spent on billable matters to meet your minimum financial goals?

How much time is left?

If the answer is zero, you need to rethink your business plan. There are only 24 hours in every day. To maintain a steady pipeline of business, you need to make time to do it. That means spending less time on current clients or devoting more non-work time toward your business development efforts.

It’s all about balance.

How are those resolutions coming?

Author: Debra Baker
February 1, 2011

By Debra Baker

I was reading in the New York Times last week about a website called StickK, where people share publicly their goals and resolutions, even putting money on the line in the event they fail.

The concept, according to the Times article, is that “people are more likely to achieve their goals if they stake their reputations – or their bank accounts – on success.” Apparently, if you fail to achieve your resolution, the money gets donated to a charity of their choice.

There are more than 63,000 StickK contracts with more than $5.9 million at stake.

It got me thinking about the challenges law firms face in developing business development programs that are acted upon in a consistent and ongoing way.

Part of the problem is that law firms don’t place as high a priority on business development as they do on billing clients. Firms may offer encouragement, have the best of intentions, even provide training. The breakdown comes with enforcement. What needs to be done to get the attorneys to act?

Maybe it is as easy as making their plans public and staking their reputations – and bank accounts – on success. Imagine that instead of sending practice group plans and personal business plans to an executive committee for review, plans are made public.

Attorneys are assigned roles based on their interests and needs. Those charged with overseeing the plans are required to make quarterly updates to the partnership. They report on activities, what’s working, what isn’t, how the plans have been adjusted and for what reasons. Those that don’t keep up get fined. The money can even go to the firm’s charitable contributions.

It’s February 1, 32 days into the new year. How are those resolutions coming?