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Solo In Chicago

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

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Car repair service and my law firm

One of the best repeating customer service experiences that I have is with my car dealer and car repair center (same place). I won't name names, but it's located in the northern suburbs of Chicago. And I mention this because I really don't like it when I need to buy a car or have repairs done. I am not a car person at all! And that's what is amazing. Despite my feelings about cars, I thoroughly enjoy and appreciate the service I get and my family has not purchased a car anywhere other than this place in 30 years.

What's their trick? What can I apply to my business? Here's what I appreciate:

1. Respectfully classy. Referring to me as "Mr. Olson." Being gracious.

2. Thorough diagnostic check everytime. They look at everything. And sometimes they find things other than what I came in for. I can do a better job of this as a lawyer. We shouldn't let client's define what they're coming in for when the "law" is our expertise. I'm not saying to sell crap that people don't need, but show your concern and broad expertise.

3. Great hours. They're open 630am to 1130pm on weekdays. Are you offering night hours to clients? Weekends?

4. Geographical convenience. This place is right by the train station and I can drop the car off and go right downtown. How 'bout your office? We have three offices in Chicago, Oakbrook Terrace and Schaumburg so I feel pretty good about this issue. What about house calls? Do you do them? Why not...especially with the elderly.

5. Car wash after every service. Just a nice touch...classy. What can your law firm do? Some small but meaningful give-a-way? Gift card? Dinner?

6. Personal deals. This car dealer always slashes prices for me. Granted, it's partly because of a personal relationship with the manager of the place. But it feels good. Why not give things away to clients? Especially repeat clients or referral sources. Free closing? POA? Will?

I mention the above because I am absolutely loyal to this company as I mention above. But maybe even more important is price is just not a factor. Now if things got ridiculous I suppose it could become one. But in this area that I really don't like and am not knowledgeable in, I'm going to pay for the great service and trust that this company has earned.

Shouldn't my law firm aspire to this same standard?

60 marketing tips from the ABA Techshow

Here's a link to 60 marketing ideas for your firm from last week's ABA Techshow:


Wednesday, April 19, 2006

CBA is hearing us...

I got an e-mail from CBA about a solo and small firm seminar set for May 2, 2006.

Here's the bare bones:

How to Build Your Practice: Ethically and Effectively
Tuesday, May 2, 2006 3:00-6:00 p.m.
The Chicago Bar Association 321 S. Plymouth Court
$50 CBA Member/$75 Nonmember/$35 Gov't Member (additional $10 on-site

Virtual assistant

Check out a piece from ABA's Law Practice Today regarding virtual assistants. I'm interviewing candidate's in this category right now myself...very pertinent.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Another free resource...

Hey gang I came upon another pretty good free resource: www.HowToMakeItRain.com. Take a look. The Website has some decent testomonials from practicing attorneys and they publish a weekly newsletter tailored to small law firms.

Saturday, April 08, 2006

Another problem with hourly billing...

I'm posting a blurb from the What about clients blog? below (first time I visited) regarding a problem with hourly billing:

B. Hourly billing creates an inherent conflict of interest between attorney and client. The client wants outstanding legal services at the lowest price possible, i.e., in the least amount of time. However, a lawyer billing by the hour has no incentive to be efficient, and in fact has the incentive to be inefficient, i.e., take up as much time as possible. I think that might be one of the reasons for the “scorched earth” letters that often come from counsel, looking at every possible nuance of a given question.

I agree with the gist of the above. I want to be more innovative in my billing. The one rather simple change we recently made was to often put a cap on our fees up front, particularly on rather basic matters that we do a lot and have a good feel for the time they might take. At this point matters like modifying child support or child visitation, we've tried to cap fees at $1500 to $2000. I think clients like it and if our hourly billing is lower we give them whatever it came to.

How to have a 36 hour day

Here's a great and informative blog post about How to have a 36 hour day...really great tips.

Friday, April 07, 2006

Good free resource

I've just started getting e-mails from www.technolawyer.com but have found them to be very useful already. They were linked to Minnesota Lawyers Mutual's website.

Take a look. It's a nice forum where various legal technology products are reviewed, sometimes by the software company but also by practicing attorneys who can give you a great practical perspective.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

A timely e-mail from the CBA President...

Look what popped into my inbox today....progress (maybe):


The CBA is considering 1) offering Law Practice Management Seminars; and 2) Creation of a Law Practice Management Assistance Center for Solos and Small Firms (1 -20 attorneys). Your input as to the services and information you need is essential. We are committed to heeding our members' voices when providing membership benefits. We would appreciate your taking a few minutes to help yourself and your firm by completing this survey and returning it by April 13, 2005. Here is a link to the survey:

Thank you for your time and feedback.

Michael B. Hyman
CBA President

Have I been brainwashed?

I was taking the 745am Metra train into Chicago from the 'burbs this morning reading my April 2006 edition of Entrepreneur magazine and came upon a nice piece about a woman's small bookstore business called Book Lovers Bookstore. Now I don't want to digress too far, although I am an avid reader, but what dawned on me as I read about her travails with creating a logo, Website design, marketing, and business culture was how much in common I have with this woman and different small business owners in similar situations. Duh...right?

Here's where I'm coming from on this: Doesn't it seem that a ridiculously small amount of legal education from law school to bar association committees to continuing legal education seminars just completely ignore this simple yet critical fact of business, i.e., we need to make money and run a lean business or we don't exist? Granted I'm on a little bit of a kick right now after having recently taken my annual trip to my accountant and getting slightly reamed out for not keeping my books better than I do. But where I'm coming from is just thinking about all of the legal seminars I attend from every issue regarding Illinois divorce law to probate and real estate transactions. And I enjoy the subject-matter seminars and want to be the best lawyer I can be. But where are the programs regarding accounting for lawyers or employee retention or using Quickbooks or business plan development for lawyers? Isn't the business side of things the foundation from which all the great lawyering begins?

And I don't want to slip into the old business vs. profession debate because clearly lawyers are both. But we've got to run great businesses or we don't exist. I think I'm going to start really seeking out more small business type events in supplement to the typical legal seminars. I want to build a better business foundation for my firm and heck I'll go drum up some non-lawyer small business clients at the same time!

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Shameless self-promotion

Lawcrossing.com did a profile of yours truly here.

TechnoFeature piece on starting a firm

I'm an e-mail list from www.technolawyer.com that sends pretty good little tech tips for lawyers. It's free sign-up if you're interested. Here's a blurb from today's piece regarding
10 business tips for law firms:

1. Have a comprehensive business plan.
2. Remember that the client comes first. Without clients, there is no reason for a lawyer to exist.
3. Sell solutions ("provide value") to clients, not time as expressed in billable hours.
4. Begin each matter with an engagement letter — a written agreement outlining the scope and responsibility of each party, including the client's responsibility to pay.
5. Prepare budgets for each matter: tasks, events, timing and resources to be used for the benefit of the client. This process requires early analysis and client signoff.
6. Understand that their inventory is not "billable hours," it's the cash those hours represent, and they focus on collecting accounts receivable and maintain a high realization rate.
7. Practice effective cash flow management by getting funds into the bank as quickly as possible.
8. Recognize that technology — e-mails, blogs, cell phones, and voice mail — cannot replace personal relationships, personal integrity, and rapport with clients.
9. Work with a coach or mentor to achieve business and practice success more quickly.
10. Have a disaster plan in place and keep it current. Business survival and succession cannot be left to chance.

The above piece was written by Edward Poll, a law firm management consultant. I don't know him but he's got a website and a blog that seem to have some good legal business stuff.