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Solo In Chicago

...empowering the Second City's entrepreneurial legal community

Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Law firm staffing

I came across a very interesting post from The Greatest American Lawyer entitled, "Is it Time to Re-Think Law Firm Staffing?" regarding personnel and staffing structure at law firms. The article discusses his unique set-up through the use of technology. He notes that in his office there's one attorney and 9 full and part-time staffing supporting him. I find that impressive.

Our firm is nearing its one year anniversary and we need to make some decisions about our growth. Currently as part of our office set-up, our landlord provides a pool of office support staff that covers our receptionist and basic clerical needs. But we need more! The first move I'm planning on making in the next one to two months is adding a couple of part-time virtual personal who can work for us off-site.

The best set-up I've seen on a first-hand basis was my initial employer Gordon A. Cochrane, a sole practitioner in Olympia Fields, Illinois. He had four part-time staff that totaled about three full-time employees in terms of total hours. Also, all of them were married so benefits were non-existent and were obtained through their spouses.

You want 'Clients for Life'?

Just finished my second read (is that endorsement enough?) of Clients for Life: How Great Professionals Develop Breakthrough Relationships by Jagdish Sheth & Andrew Sobel. This is a great read for any aspiring lawyer or any consultant-type individual. It is very applicable to the practicing attorney such as myself but it's pleasantly not lawyer specific. We lawyers are very much in business too!

These were some of the take-away points I outlined after reading (characteristics of great professionals):

a. Selfless Independence. Balance between dedication to clients and detachment.
b. Empathetic. Listening & learning. Put yourself into new situations, travel. More listening than talking.
c. Deep Generalists. Clients want your expertise beyond your core expertise. Enjoy exploring subjects that have nothing to do with work.
d. Cultivate Powers of Synthesis.
e. Develop Great Judgment.
f. Powers of Conviction.
g. Trust through Integrity. Deeper broader trust based on professional competence and personal integrity.

What I think adds to the book's readability is how the authors intertwine historical examples of great advisors. There are useful discussions of General George Marshall, Henry Kissinger, Machiavelli, Harry Hopkins and J.P. Morgan to name a few. Many thanks to Matthew Homann at The [non]billable hour who initially recommended the book to me.

Friday, February 24, 2006

Legal billing: yesterday's time and tomorrow's business

There was a very nice dos & don't's article from the February 2006 ISBA Bar News and Illinois Courts Bulletin. One overarching point that the author, Dustin A. Cole, makes is the emphasis of legal billing as a critical form of client communication. Not only can vague or delayed billings cost you money regarding yesterday's time but it can also cost you tomorrow's business. Your business is being judged by all its many aspects...billing/collection is one of them.

Here's a list of some of the particularly useful problems/solutions:

1a) Problem - Periodic Reconstruction of billable time.

1b) Solution - Track your time concurrently.

2a) Problem - The Good Client Courtesy and not billing for nickle-and-dime short calls.

2b) Solution - Record everything, without judgment, and decide only once, at pre-bill, what to bill or comp.

3a) Problem - Interruptions.

3b) Solution - Keep your door closed and train your staff to honor this. Designate non-call times and call-return times.

4a) Problem - Inconsistent billing.

4b) Solution - Bill monthly.

The article closes...

You must stop tracking billable hours and start tracking time. That's right. Record everything. Don't make those moment-to-moment value judgments about billable or not billable. Simply record all of your time, and then only make one judgment each month about how much you're going to bill.

Great CLE deal through Chicago Bar

I don't always know exactly who's reading this blog, but those non-lawyers of you may not know that Illinois recently became a state where mandatory continuing legal education is required for all active attorneys. So now everyone's sort running around as to who will be offering the various seminars, costs, ect.

The Chicago Bar Association is offering what I think is the best deal going through its CLE-Advantage program (I have no affiliation with the CBA other than just being a regular, old member). In essence for $125 you get unlimited CLE for 1.5 years and also free usage of any DVDs or tapes of seminars. The typical CBA CLE is from 2-6pm on weekdays.

Compare this to the your IICLE stuff or other for-profit places where you're always looking at $250 minimum for their seminars...I haven't seen anything that beats it. So take it for what it's worth.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

More work-life stuff regarding lawyers

The National Association of Law Placement Foundation put out a study recently entitled, In Pursuit of Attorney Work-Life Balance: Best Practices in Management.

I don't want to repeat many of the similar findings from my February 9, 2006 post, but here are a couple nuggests I thought critical:

  • Flex-time was the work-life initiative that is most effective in addressing work-life conflicts.
  • Second best was the work-at-home option.
  • More than 75% of supervised attorneys (associates) reported having moderate to major problems in meeting their personal/health needs.

Hmmm...let's think, do I want to die when I'm 50 or earn $150,000 right out of law school? I guess the answer is the former for many lawyers.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Will this person be at my funeral?

There's an article that's both humorous and sad entitled, Work/Life Balance Survey: Lawyers Seek the Magic Blend for Fulfillment from the February 2006 Chicago Lawyer. The article highlights a study of more than 500 Chicago area lawyers regarding quality of life issues.

Some findings:

  • Government lawyers had the highest average level of work/life balance while law firm (more than 20 lawyers) had the lowest average work/life balance.
  • Work satisfaction tracked exactly inverse with hours worked...Most hours and least satisfaction.
  • The amount that professional work reduces time spent with family goes up right along with income level.
But beyond the findings there are some great quotes that are very pungent and telling regarding big law firm life.

There's a quote from an attorney, "I was talking to a friend of mine in a big firm and I said I was doing something on Sunday. He said he was working on Sunday, and I said, 'What? You're working Sunday?' He said he hadn't had a day off in two years. That's not for me. I like my kids."

Or, "Get out of the big firms if you want a life outside of work."

And, "You don't need to be the richest corpse in the cemetery."

I don't get it. If this survey has any modicum of accuracy, it says professional satisfaction and our families are not important to large swaths of the big law firm community. Why is this so?

Is the American dollar that important to some people? Also, isn't it an illusion that the legal field is all that great of a place to get wealthy? I mean even if you're generating a nice salary it's not like most other businesses where at the end of the day you can build a business and then sell it for a nice profit at the end of the day.

I can't imagine being anywhere but a sole practice or smallish firm that I control and making a nice living. Alas, nobody on their deathbed says they should have worked more.