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Solo In Chicago

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

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Everyone has ideas

Here's a piece from Sunday's New York Times about idea sharing in companies. The article looks at a number of innovative companies and how they're encouraging employee participation in business development. Most of the piece was about a company called Rite-Solutions, a software company, that created an internal stock market where employee ideas are listed as stocks and then employees have "opinion money" to allocate among the offerings. However if the idea becomes a product or delivers savings, then the employees share the proceeds in real money.

How can this general idea, as one of the business-persons quoted in the article called an "architecture of participation," be applied in a law firm setting? Can it? Speaking generally, I'd think that most law firms may find themselves at the opposite end of this spectrum with very limited total organization involvement. And as lawyers, legal advice needs to be coming from us as an ethical matter. But, what percentage of everything that happens inside of your firm's walls is specifically limited to legal advice? 10%? 25% It may be the main income generator, but there are many, many businesses processes and general office procedures that surely are NOT legal advice.

Does your law firm promote an architecture of participation in the vast majority of your business that is NOT legal advice? Don't let your organization's quiet genius go untapped.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Reaching out to Hispanics

Obviously not a new story, but I noticed another Census Bureau Report out yesterday regarding Hispanic-owned businesses. I know here in the Chicago this isn't new news, but I know I continue to lag in my outreach efforts to this community. I've been on slow road to spanish fluency over the past decade and need to get over that hurdble because I really suspect it is starting to hurt me in the pocket-book by not being able to converse with our large spanish population. I think beyond your obvious southwestern cities/states, Chicago & Illinois are number one in Hispanic population.

Some report highlights:

  • Hispanic-owned businesses grew at three times the national rate for all companies.
  • The number grew by 27% in Illinois...$7.4 billion in revenue.
  • Hispanics own 7% of all businesses.
  • Hispanics are 13% of the U.S. population.
  • 44% of Hispanic business owners were of Mexican descent.

Yeah those Hispanics are just terrible for our country, right Jim Oberweis (is he finally gone for good this time)? Also, the report was based on 2002 data so the numbers are probably higher today.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Daley Center law library

Can someone tell me why Daley's law library on the 29th floor doesn't offer Wi-Fi? It's a great law library with a great view and not nearly as useful as it could be because there's NO wireless internet access!

On a related point, has anyone tried Cingular's new broadband anywhere product? They offer this card/transmitter that you can stick into your laptop and get Internet access anywhere. I used it about nine months ago and wasn't too happy with it. It made a noise, sort of a low beeping/humming all the time as an indication that it was connected, plus I didn't think the coverage was 100% either. But I know they've recently upgraded their network and hardware and just wondering if anyone found it any better? Thoughts?

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Welcome to a new blogger

Check out Victor Medina's Small Business and Solo Law Practice Blog...http://victormedina.typepad.com/.

Adding a new practice area

And a nice blurb over at The Practice regarding adding a new practice area. Four easy steps!

March madness and my madness

Well, now that all the Midwest teams (except Bradley...go Braves), including my law school alma mater, Southern Illinois University, are out of the tourney and my wife is up in Michigan visiting her parents, I'm going to spend my Sunday afternoon thinking about law firm organization.

The last month or so has really got me realizing I need to add some pieces to this puzzle ASAP! The man and his laptop along with occasional independent contractor secretarial support is just not enough anymore. Not that I haven't been thinking and planning some of these issues for a while, but now it's action time.

The Greatest American Lawyer and Home Office Lawyer have provided some great ideas that I'm going to steal. I suspect the first "big" move I'm making is just getting a virtual legal assistant on board along with a digital dictation solution in place. I'm just doing way too much nonbillable work right now or billable work is getting put off as I do other billable work. Right now my office set-up is such that having multiple employees in one located is just not realistic so they have to be offsite, as least for now.

Probably the longer-term and bigger picture issues I'm thinking about are the missions and structures of the Firm. I have a number of thoughts in my head and hopefully over the next couple hours here I can make some progress. I have sort of three "models" going around in my head.

1. Solo practice with multiple support staff. My first lawyer position out of law school was as the first lawyer employee for this type of set-up. I see a lot of upside to it. The lawyer-proprietor after training this model for 20 years had 4 great support staff, none of whom worked full time and none of whom had benefits. I thought the staff gave great customer service and the set-up allowed the lawyer-proprietor to really be out of the office a lot and still maintain a real nice living. The downside I saw to this model was just sometimes feeling a little "out-gunned" when you had a case against a big firm with a bunch of lawyers at their disposal and also I sort of like the idea of leading or being part of a team rather than just being on my own.

2. Traditional law firm. I suppose there's not just one "traditional" set-up. What I mean by this category is the law firm with one secretary per lawyer and then likely some minimal reception staff and then often a pool of paralegals that might be shared depending on the size of the firm. I haven't been involved with this set-up a ton since a couple of big firm summer jobs during law school, however, to me the failure here is simply too low of a lawyer to support staff ratio. It seems to me you want to get to 2/3:1 ratio of support staff to lawyer rather than 1:1. Isn't that where you make the money? Having non-lawyers under the direction of a lawyer getting legal work done and not paying lawyer salaries for them?

3. De-centralized model. This is where I'm focusing my attention. In the near term I would expect to somewhat follow item #1. Longer term simply I'd like to get the Firm larger than that. As I sit here in the early planning stages, I'm envisioning five teams. Three of the teams would be simply practice specific legal groups in our three practice areas: family, healthcare/elder, and real estate law. Then there would be two additional teams: office management and marketing.

So I'm sort of fettering out item #3 as we speak. And the other aspect of item #3 is the question of how to add additional lawyers? I'll say it right out front, I hate the idea of "Associates." I didn't like being one when I was one and there's just a certain condescension in the word, I think. You're a competent lawyer or your not, right? But I digress. I'm thinking of sort of a network of freelance lawyers or Of Counsel arrangements to assist me. Dennis Kennedy had a good recent posting on Of Counsel resources. Or will these people not really part of the firm undermine our mission? I don't know yet. It just seems to me that hiring lawyers can be so expensive, though I expect it will happen eventually.

Okay, that's what is on my mind for the next few hours, errr, months...

Where is the blog leading me...

Just thought I'd share some some funny and facinating things that have been cropping up lately, solely out of the blogsphere. Like most of us I suppose I don't really "know" everyone who's reading the blog but then you get some e-mails from people and it's it kind of a "wow" moment.

First, I did an interview with LawCrossing.com for their Legal Stars section. I haven't seen the article up yet, but a good bit of the reporter's questions were technology and blog-related and I wouldn't be suprised if that's how the reporter got in touch with me (having seen my blogs).

Second, of a more Illinois specific nature, I just got contacted by Helen W. Gunnarsson who is sort of the main features writer with the Illinois Bar Journal (monthly Illinois Bar Association Magazine) to discuss "blawgging" as she calls it.

And lastly, I just set-up a lunch date for a couple 3Ls from DePaul who are interested in starting a practice out of law school and read the blog. So I'm happy to help and who knows where various people in my network might lead me.

My ego-stroking aside, it's just facinating where these little web logs can take us!

Saturday, March 11, 2006

Back to blogging

Sorry about the lack of blogging the last couple weeks, a big trial that has been the culmination of over three years of litigation started this past Thursday and it was keeping me off the blogger!

Business bootstrapping

There was a short blurb in Crain's entitled How to Build a Business by Your Bootstraps that I thought had some nice tips that are very applicable to the business of law.

Some of my highlights:

1. Choose wisely. Essentially, the type of business is critcal. If there's steady and immediate cash flow, funding a business yourself is reasonable. If you can get customers to pay up front, your business can probably finance itself. These two factors do exist in the law biz and I've had little problem with cash-flow from our inception.

2. Come to terms. Work with vendors to stretch out the payment cycle. I certainly do this and like the article says, most of your vendors are small businesses too and just be truthful about the terms you need.

3. Hire smart. You can't afford to over-pay employees, but you also can't afford hire bad hires. There's a funny example in this item where an employer hired college theater majors as customer service reps for $10 an hour and they were great. I need to hire smart...like right now!