Where are your go to resources?

What is the best trust accounting software I should adopt for my firm?
When should I run a conflicts search?
How long I should keep closed client files – if my client has a copy already?
Where should I open my office to get more business?
Which networking events may be helpful to me as a new attorney?
Who can help me figure out what I need to do to open my own office?

These are all questions that get asked over and over by lawyers. The big question behind all of them is one: where are your go to resources? Today, I’d like to tell you about where you can find a variety of valuable of go to resources.

Ask a Practice Management Advisor
I work for the Oregon State Bar Professional Liability Fund as a practice management advisor. If you are an Oregon lawyer or member of an Oregon lawyer’s firm, then you know the PLF is the mandatory malpractice insurance carrier for the basic coverage required of Oregon lawyers in private practice. If you are not an Oregon attorney, you may have a practice management advisor associated with your state bar association. To see a list of practice management advisors in North American, see here ABA Law Practice Management Section Practice Management Advisors/State & Local Bar Outreach Committee. Call your practice management advisor! We are a resource to getting you the answers to your questions.

Practice Aids & Forms
What you may not realize is that the PLF has a huge variety of free practice aids and forms that can be downloaded from www.osbplf.org. See Loss Prevention on the menu and select the last item, practice aids and forms. Download all of them in Word or WordPerfect and you can customize them. You find a variety of checklists to help you to tackle various substantive practice areas – adoptions to workers’ compensation– plus topics that cut across all practice areas like conflicts of interest, calendaring and docketing, engagement, nonengagement, disengagement, file management, opening your law office, closing your law office, trust accounting, and technology. Lawyers are surprised by the number of practice aids and forms that are available.

Publications
You want to open your own law office? The PLF has free guides which you can download in PDF format from the PLF website, on the menu under Loss Prevention, select Books from the PLF: A Guide to Setting Up & Running Your Law Office, A Guide to Setting Up & Managing Your Lawyer Trust Account, Planning Ahead: A Guide to Protecting Your Clients’ Interests in the Event of Your Disability or Death, and Oregon Statutory Time Limitations Handbook.

Books from the OSB: BarBooks is a resource you simply must take advantage of because you are entitled to free access to excellent books specific to your desired practice area, such as the helpful five volume Advising Oregon Businesses. If you want to look at what publications the OSB offers, see the Legal Publications Catalog. Don’t overlook valuable publications that are associated with CLEs.

CLE Seminars
You want to learn about practicing in different areas?
CLEs from the PLF:You can find CLEs geared to avoiding malpractice traps in family law or how to set up a conflict system or handling your trust account or improving your understanding of financial considerations about managing your law office plus a great variety of other practice management at the PLF. See PLF website then on menu under Loss Prevention select CLE to review on-demand programs, access programs available on DVD of a CLE you might have missed and download the CLE’s handouts, or learn about an upcoming in-person CLE.

CLEs from the OSB:You can find CLEs specific to your desired practice area plus other CLEs – find out what CLEs are available in a variety of formats, QuickCalls, CLE On Demand learn about upcoming live seminars you can attend in person or by webinar by accessing the OSB CLE and Seminars catalog at OSBCLE.org.

CLEs from the Oregon Law Institute (OLI):You can find CLE offerings that fit your needs at OLI. Don’t overlook the OLI resources, whether in person seminars, webinars, MP3 courses, or review their product catalog.

American Bar Law Practice Management Section CLEs: The LPM Section offers CLEs produced by the American Law Institute (ALI). You do not have to be a member of the ABA LPM Section, though you may want to join. See information about the LPM CLEs here.

Battling Dragons as You Start Your Solo Practice

I see more lawyers these days who are launching their solo practice. Some line up office-sharing arrangements while others decide to go slow by initially working from home. An article I wrote for the Oregon Bar Bulletin, “Home Alone: Where to Hang Your Shingle” may give some ideas for lawyers thinking about this option.

An over-riding concern of lawyers starting up their solo practice is making sure that they don’t spend too much money all at once. For some, starting up on the proverbial shoestring seems to be the best they can do given the circumstances. Almost two years later, I still find my article “Law Office Start-Up: Law Office on a Shoestring” can help some lawyers think through their early budget. No matter how small, a budget is essential.

Starting up a law practice as a solo is starting up your professional life. Do it with at much thoughtful investigation as you can. Make a business plan and put it in writing. I remember the following adage: “Those who fail to plan, plan to fail” being drilled into my head early in the business world. It made me a planner! Sucessful ventures are usually accompanied by well-thought-out plans.

Not all of us are entrepreneurial. Not all successful solo lawyers are either. It is natural to feel nervous and even fearful starting up a business, especially a law practice. Some starting up now will be successful and some will hang it up before the year is up. The important thing is not to become paralyzed by fear wondering which will be your destiny. It’s not knowable today. Today, the task before is to take the first step. Summoning courage that carried you to this point, enables you to move forward or as Goethe urged, “to begin it.”

“Each indecision brings its own delays and days are lost lamenting over lost days…What you can do or think you can do, begin it. For boldness has Magic, Power, and Genius in it.” – Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Don’t Let Your Referral Sources Dry Up

It is very important not to let your referral sources dry up. Referrals dry up when you lose contact, so you should stay in consistent contact. Put together a list of your referral sources and adopt of regular program of contact.

Do you have a written list of your referral sources? Do you categorize your referral sources? You might find it helpful to do so.

Here’s how you might do it:
1. You have your top very important sources of referrals – these are your A list. These are the people who can and do send you good clients.
2. You have other referral sources who only occasionally refer new business to you and these are your B list.
3. Then you have others who are potential sources of referrals but have not yet referred– these are your C list.

The idea is to definitely stay connected with your A list so they don’t drift away, and connected with your B list so they don’t drift away, and connected with your C list so even they don’t drift away. You might come to conclude that a C list person is an A list person your gradually lost contact with or a B list person you ignored. If you don’t stay in touch, your connection begins to weaken. “Where has the time gone?”

Why not call them every 30 days, mail to them every 60 days, and see them every 90 days? I usually encourage the lawyers I work with to do Marketing Breakfasts. Take a different referral source to breakfast once a week or even twice a week. Breakfast is incredibly affordable. Put it into your marketing budget. Best of all, people can usually find time in their week to meet for breakfast at 7 a.m. where trying to find a mutual lunch time free on the calendar can push contacts to back burners.

Collect names of good breakfast spots in the areas close to where your referral sources work or live. Notate some favorite spots on your referral source’s contact card in your Outlook or Rolodex. Lawyers who have adopted this idea tell me that these marketing breakfasts are looked forward to and appreciated by them and their breakfast guest.

Do your referral sources know all the services you provide and the various types of cases you can handle? Do they know you are open to take new clients? It’s nice to be known as busy; it’s nicer to be known as accepting new clients. Consider making a list of services and types of cases you can handle on your letterhead and mailing it with a cover letter that says you welcome new clients and are always grateful for their confidence in referring new clients to you.

Do you know all your referral sources? Some prospective clients let you know who referred them to you. Consider tracking where your new clients come from with a simple question on your new client intake form: “Why did you choose our office?” If you are in need of a new client intake form, you don’t have to reinvent the wheel. The PLF has a sample New Client Information form that can be downloaded — and customized– in Word or WordPerfect in the File Management – New Client Information category of Practice Aids and Forms. All the practice aids and forms can be found at the PLF website under Loss Prevention.

New Year’s Resolution: Don’t let your referral sources dry up.

The Importance of Planning

I spoke at the The Oregon Minority Lawyers Association (OMLA) and the Multnomah Bar Association (MBA) Hanging Out Your Shingle yesterday with two successful Portland, Oregon solo practitioners, Ken Mitchell-Phillips of Mitchell Phillips Law PC and John Kodachi of John A. Kodachi, PC. Our panel was moderated by Anastasia Yu Meisner, Guyer Meisner, Attorneys, a small firm that has found its sucessful niche in Lake Oswego, Oregon.

We talked about the importance of planning – having a written business plan. Ken shared his great experience with having a written business plan and using it as a guide for staying focused. John stressed how difficult it is for new solo practitioners to juggle wearing different hats and maintaining focus. Both Ken and John keep the business coming in the door by having sound client development plans which include staying connected in their networks.

Have a plan and stay focused by using the plan. Fine tune where you are hoping to end up. Much like having a planned route and adjusting directions to take into account road construction and other barriers to getting to one’s destination on time and not frazzled.

In working with Oregon attorneys gearing up to go out on their own, I stress having a written business plan. It is a big effort to put together a business plan, but worth it. You don’t want to skimp on your business plan and just create some barely helpful document you put in a file and forget. Your business plan should include a Marketing Plan, Management Plan, and Financial Plan. Don’t just keep your plan in your head: write it down. Studies of Harvard School of Business grads have indicated that the focus is sharpened considerably by writing down the plan. Otherwise, it’s too easy to get derailed. For lawyers, trying to run their own firm, there is much coming – fast and frequent– that leads to derailment. I think the Pareto Rule: 80% of your result comes from 20% of your effort sums up things. One lawyer can become exhausted doing 80% of the things that only goes toward 20% of his result. You have to focus on the 20% effort going toward 80% of your result. Being efficient, is doing things right, being effective is doing the right things. Having that written business plan, as Ken shared, will keep you effective.

Can you create your own business plan? Yes. There are lots of resources for business plans. You need to address professional services issues that general retail businesses don’t. I personally think that the resources shared by Dan Pinnington, Director of Toronto’s PracticePRO, a part of LAWPRO, Ontario’s malpractice insurance carrier, are priceless! See PracticePRO for the practice aids for managing the finances of law practice including an excellent Business Plan template. Thanks, Dan and PracticePro.

Remembering the first year of law practice– a call to mentor our new lawyers.

When I was in my last year of McGeorge Law School in Sacramento, California, I decided to start my own law practice. Along with my law books, I toted Jay Foonberg’s “How to Start & Build a Law Practice,” getting myself ready to run my own show. Jay was my mentor. Then I moved to Oregon. Took and passed the bar and opened up my solo practice in Portland, Oregon. Luckily, I rented office space from a great group of attorneys who owned their building and were willing to rent out the small office at the top of the stairs. Thanks, Bob Demary, Mike Sandoval, Susan Teller, and Carol Westendorf! You each supplied a bit of mentoring on the fly and devoted time to just talk about how it was going or wasn’t going. Shortly after moving into my office, I joined the Multnomah Bar Association. Through the MBA’s formal mentor-mentee program, I got my mentor choice in elder law, Cynthia Barrett who let me come into her elder law office and see how to best handle everything from client intake to document signing. I remember Susan and Carol both encouraged me to keep a journal of my first year – that it was an important one. I was too busy to keep a journal, but I kept good memories. That first year went fast. Though I was a solo, I wasn’t alone.

Last night I got to do my second of two mini-classes for the Lewis & Clark School of Law Graduate Fellows Program for the 2009 graduates. Wonderful young attorneys eager to start their careers. Eager to learn last week about calendaring, docketing, and file tickling and last night, avoiding conflicts of interests and ethical pitfalls. The first year is a foundational year. Many of the faces were young and I expect they will still be practicing law in 30 and 40 years. In 30 to 40 years, I’ll be looking among their midsts for a good elder law attorney no doubt!

Next Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday the PLF does its annual “Learning the Ropes” program for newly admitted attorneys and others entering private practice. There will be young lawyers who hail from Lewis & Clark, Willamette, and University of Oregon, and likely others like me who came from law schools elsewhere. What is their first year as a lawyer going to be like? Many of them will be wondering that same question. I don’t know how many of them have landed jobs already.

I suspect this year will be lean for law jobs. It may not be an exaggeration that the majority of newly admitted Oregon lawyers likely have not yet landed jobs. Some may decide to hang their own shingle as a solo or gather together a few fellow law school graduates to start their own firm. How are they going to get mentored?

I put out a call to each of you to remember your first year as a lawyer. If you’re an alumni of one our law schools, Lewis & Clark, U of O, or Willamette, give your alumni office a call and reach out to a recent grad. If you come across a new lawyer, offer to get together for a cup of coffee to find out how it’s going or not going. A year goes fast.

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