Category: Law Practice Management

Business PlanningLaw Practice ManagementMarketing

The Importance of Planning

JEL23652-Blackford, Sheila P3 (2)  by Sheila Blackford   ©2009   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.

Business PlanningGeneralLaw Practice ManagementMentorsProfessionalism

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

JEL23652-Blackford, Sheila P3 (2)  by Sheila Blackford   ©2009    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.

EmailLaw Practice ManagementQuality of lifeResources

Getting Control of Email Glut on a Monday Morning/Afternoon

JEL23652-Blackford, Sheila P3 (2)   by Sheila Blackford   ©2009   Had a -first-thing-Monday-morning appointment in Portland, Oregon. Rain-swollen streets made me look forward to getting into my dry office in Tigard. Until I fired up my computer and saw 399 unread emails waiting for me. Email glut on gray Monday morning is especially dreary. I know that a big chunck of the email to be reviewed isn’t timely, concise, or directed. Getting control of email glut is a priority. Luckily, I read a good book over the weekend, “The Hamster Revolution: How to Manage Your Email Before it Manages You,” by Mike Song, Vicki Halsey and Tim Burress. It’s an easy read, much like the “One Minute Manager” series by Ken Blanchard I read in the 80’s.

There are compelling reasons to get control over email glut. The book early on walks you through a math exercise. I share my results with you. I hope you do the math exercise with your own numbers to get “Getting Control of Email Glut” moved up on your priority list.

First, you want to look at your email in box and out box to come up with average daily number of emails processed.
Second, you want to multiply this by the number of annual work days, say 240, to get the total number of emails.
Third, you want to estimate the average amount of time spent on a single email, say 2 minutes, and multiply by number of emails to get total minutes spent processing emails.
Fourth, you want to divide total minutes by 60 to get total hours.
Fifth, you want to divide total hours by 8 to get total work days spent processing emails.

1. Average Number of Daily Emails: 200

2. Total Number of Emails in Year: 48000 (daily emails times 240 –or work days in year)

3. Total Time in Minutes to Process Yearly Emails: 96000 (Total number emails times 2 min or average time to process 1 email)

4. Total Hours Spent a Year Processing Emails: 1600 (Total number minutes divided by 60 equals hours spent)

5. Total 8-hour Work Days Devoted to Processing Emails: 200 (Total Hours divided by 8 hours equals workdays spent) 200 work days? 40 weeks? No wonder we eat lunch while processing email, process email from home in the evenings and weekends, drag laptops on vacations, sneak peaks at iPhones, Blackberrys, and Palm Pres.

The premise behind the “Hamster Revolution” is straight-forward – reduce email volume, improve email quality, and coach others to send you email that is actionable. If you want a preview of the book, the company responsible for Hamster Revolutions, Info Excellence, provides a free look at chapters one through three on the tool section of their website.

How to reduce email volume? Well, a big start is to resist the urge to hit “Reply All” or needless “CC.” We all have joined at least one listserv which means we’ve seen the overuse of “Reply All” and likely have contributed to that overuse. At least once, right? But it certainly adds up, and now that you know how much time it adds up to for yourself, you’ll reconsider your busy colleagues before causing their email time meters to rocket into the email glut statosphere. Reducing the volume you send out reduces the volume you get back. Simple but true.

How to improve email quality? Think about your emails. Starting with the “Subject Line,” do you make it clear what your email’s topic is and more importantly, what you want the recipient to do? Is the body of your email message clear and concise, using bullets to help process items of information? Can your email’s reader quickly figure out what you are requesting or directing or confirming?

I am reminded of an ABA CLE I attended addressing what in house counsel need from their outside law firms. An in house counsel panelist said she would not read email messages beyond what appeared in her message screen. She couldn’t afford to take the time to scroll down. If you couldn’t inform her within that window, then you didn’t get to work with her.

Because lawyers are focused on clients, it is easy to take a client-focus approach to our outgoing email messages by thinking of our email recipients, who we’d like to be our email readers. Else why hit the “Send?”

For more ideas on taming your in box, see my article, “The E-mail Blizzard: Tips for taming your inbox,” in the Bar Bulletin April 2009.

GeneralLaw Practice Management

Supporting Oregon Attorneys


Sheila M. Blackford, Attorney, Practice Management Advisor at Oregon State Bar Professional Liability Fund

 by Sheila Blackford   ©2009  Law Practice Management.  Not a course covered in law school.   Although, I must plug Northwestern School of Law of Lewis & Clark College for their program for 2009 grads: Lewis & Clark Law School Graduate Fellows Program. It’s a two-hour session that has been running about three nights a week for six weeks and broadcast on a webinar for graduates out-of-the Portland area. I covering “Calendaring, Docketing and File Tickler Systems” on Monday October 19th and “Avoiding Conflicts and Ethical Pitfalls” on Tuwesday October 27th. Topics are on a variety of law practice management issues.

Law practice management is especially difficult for the solo and small firm attorneys finding themselves needing to wear different hats requiring different skills –finance, management, marketing, and technology.   Can one person be both entrepreneur and financial officer, addressing big picture and small detail?  Unique to Oregon, lawyers in private practice must be members of the Oregon State Bar and carry professional malpractice insurance from the OSB Professional Liability Fund.  The PLF provides free access to practice aids and forms and three practice management advisors.  As a lawyer and practice management advisor, I work for Oregon attorneys throughout the beautiful state of Oregon.  There are 13,500 Oregon attorneys and there are 7,000 attorneys in private practice.   The services of the PLF practice management advisors are free and confidential. As a supplement to that fine program, I hope this blog can be a resource to the lawyer in Oregon.