.comment-link {margin-left:.6em;}

Solo In Chicago

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

Saturday, December 30, 2006

Shameless plug

This is a shameless plug for a great new holiday book by my dad, royolson.com/. Take a look, it's a good read for the longtime Chicago/Illinois politicos. He's an old Chicago newspaper guy.

Initial client meeting billing?

How do people handle these?

There was a good discussion recently on one of the listservs I frequent on the subject. This is another topic I think that in the "start-up" fever I gave short shirk too and now want to think about again. And I want to talk in the context of the non-contingent fee type representation. I do NO contingent fee work, but it's my understanding that in your various PI, Med. Mal. cases where big settlements/verdicts are possible, almost everyone does free initial client meetings.

The common issues that were raised:

**Should you charge anything?
**Should you charge your normal hourly rate or a lower "initial meeting" rate?
**Flat fee?
**How is your policy communicated to the potential new client?
**How is payment handled?

My policy thus far (and I'm mainly talking about family law cases here) has been to offer a free initial 30 minute meeting. I think I'm going to change. That's a lot of unrecovered time/money for me. Main reason? I think free initial meetings attract lower income clientele. That's my experience. I wouldn't go to my lawyer or accountant and not expect to pay them for their time. But I think at a certain socio-economic level this isn't understand and they always have their hand-out.

So my 2007 new meeting procedure will be: always present client intake form to client pre-meeting with fee on page and signature line; charge $75 flat fee for initial 30ish minute client meeting.

How does everyone handle this issue?

Friday, December 29, 2006

Hmmm...I think I've seen this guy somewhere before...

A wonderful overview article here by Attorney Enrico Schaefer of Traverse Legal regarding his firm's virtual worker program. He sounds a bit like one of our favorite bloggers...no?

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Online legal matching

Here's an overview piece from the October 2006 eCommerce Law & Strategy regarding the current state of online legal matching. I think it's a fair piece. I know in the legal community many of the online matching companies have gotten a negative rap. That's not my view. Online legal matching has been by far my most successful client acquisition source. I think this quote from the article says it all:

Today, more than 4 million people are conducting legal-services searches online each month, and the number is expected to reach more than 7 million legal-services searches per month by consumers by next year, according to the Pew Internet & American Life Project.

To be blunt, I wish there were more players in the industry to keep my costs to use OLM down. I think bottom line: where do most people start any search for information? An Internet search engine I bet and likely Google.

Monday, December 18, 2006

So what is the best blog host??

I'm going to post a little nuggest from Yaro Starak's newsletter on blogging traffic. He blogs over at http://www.blogtrafficschool.com/blog/. I think his point is valid...anyone had a similar experience? To think that I could log onto Solo In Chicago someday and it could be gone...

I'll tell you a story about Steve. Steve is a niche blogger. He set up lots of little blogs on all kinds of topics (niches) aiming to make a few dollars from each blog by placing Google AdSense advertisements on them. Google pays you when someone clicks on the ads. After a few months he did really well and built up his income. None of his blogs had a lot of traffic, but they got enough from search engines that each blog earned between $1 and $10 per day. In total he earned over $2000 per month from his blogs - not a bad effort. One day he turned on his computer and all his blogs had gone. Disappeared. Vanished without a trace... What happened you ask? He was using one Blogger.com account to manage his blogs and Blogger.com determined that what he was doing was violating their terms of service. They thought all his blogs were what are called "splogs" - SPAM blogs. Splogs are blogs set up to get traffic to other sites. They are usually automatically generated and the owners have no intention of producing a useful website - they just want to get traffic. Essentially they are the SPAM of the blogging world. Steve contacted the support staff at Blogger.com to explain that his sites were not SPAM sites but it was difficult to convince them and he never got his blogs reactivated. Overnight he lost his regular $2000 per month income in one hit.


If Steve had hosted his blogs on WordPress on his own servers with his own domains this simply would not have happened. It may cost a bit more upfront to buy the domain names and rent the server space (WordPress itself is free) but the security and control makes it worthwhile.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

The right kind of goals...

I think this is great chunk of information (that I don't follow nearly well enough) from RJon Robbins from over at Howtomakeitrain.com:

I told you I'd be connecting-up all the dots we've been looking at over the past few weeks and showing you the foundation upon which all of my success with all of my Rainmakers, is based. It's all based on the premise that you should be happy.

And happiness is a natural consequence when a rational person takes consistent action in pursuit of his or her goals consistent with your values. The foundation for all of this is having the RIGHT set of goals.

"The 'RIGHT' kinds of goals!?! Hey, RJon, where do you get off trying to tell me what my goals should be?!?" Whoa, there! I'm not going to tell you what your goals should be. But I am going to say that after having helped hundreds of lawyers build their law firms, I can tell you that the ones who've had the greatest successes are those who developed the right kinds of goals.

That is, realistic and measurable goals which address all of their true motivations, not just financial. In my experience, the right kinds of goals are those that address your Financial, Social and Professional needs. To put it bluntly, if your law firm business isn't serving each of these needs, you're in trouble.

How To Predict A Lawyer's SuccessI was first exposed to the idea that a lawyer's goals had to be multi-dimensional when I was introduced to a fantastic book by Cynthia Kersey called Unstoppable. Once I absorbed those lessons, I finally had an analytic framework for understanding exactly why some lawyers are only moderately successful while others with seemingly no greater talent or skill enjoy extra-ordinary success in their professional and personal lives.I've seen lawyers make a success of themselves in almost every practice area imaginable, and I've seen plenty who have failed at those same practice areas. But I've never been able to predict success or failure based on age, race, personality, what law school a lawyer went to, what kind of grades they earned, or even how many hours they spent in The Barn.

The Best Predictor Of SuccessThe best, in fact the only reliable predictor I've found for whether and how successful a lawyer is going to be in the long-run with his or her business is the degree to which their career and their firm supports all three of the lawyer's needs: Financial, Social and Professional.

Legal versus Business career...

Here's a nice piece with a helpful analysis of sort of the mindset analysis as to whether you're a lawyer who should be practicing law versus perhaps a career in business. Was it just my experience or doesn't it seem like practicing law and the who "pure" lawyer role and Judges as royalty are over-emphasized in legal education (and the profession as well)?

The summary points from the piece:

1. The attorney who belongs on the business side of the equation is more interested in the business elements of what is going on than he or she is in the legal implications.

2. The fact that you are good at law does not mean you are good at business; you need to understand both fields before acting.

3. If you thrive on expansionist (as opposed to reductionist) thinking, you are likely to be a good businessperson.

4. If people imagine you in business and not as an attorney, this should tell you something.

5. If you went to law school to make money, you may belong in business.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

I was nickeled and dimed...

This is a mostly serious post but admittedly part rant...

The issue: getting nickled & dimed to death as a customer and it's application to the practice of law.

My personal experience was a hotel in downtown Chicago where my wife and I stayed this past weekend. Not the most deluxe quality but probably one step below the most deluxe...so quite nice. And yet for the $200-something you're paying to stay there, there's an extra fee to use the health club and swimming pool. Also, the same at the hotel's restaurant...everything's a la carte. I suppose we all have our "issues" that peeve us but really. I'll go to the Motel 6 next time...they don't charge me to go swimming.

What's the right amount of nickel and diming in our legal billing? I'm sort of thinking out loud here...I've been at a place that charged for everything from the stamps to single copies. I don't like that. However, I almost think I've swung too far to the other side and don't charge enough for certified mail or major copy jobs. What's the correct balance?

Obviously all court costs are client costs. Something like any costs over $1.00 are the client's responsibility? Is this too minor to care about? I'm just anal about some things and want them perfect.

CBA's referral policies

I've heard reports from fellow family law attorneys about the number of referrals they get through the Chicago Bar Association so I had the new virtual assistance give them a call. I know they have a general family law referral service and then there's a separate listing to represent indigent people who are on the wrong side of a contempt finding.

What did we find? There's a minimum requirement of 5 years in practice to get onto their referral service. For those of you who don't know me, I'm just entering my fifth year of practice. What a joke! How anti-young lawyer and frankly anti-sole practitioner. A youngish, sole practitioner is who some of those services should be made for. I'm still scraping the pavement to drum up business, ect. We're going to do something about this (beyond blogging).

What are my dues getting me?

Thursday, December 07, 2006

ISBA Annual meeting...

Anyone gonna be over at the ISBA Annual mtg. at the Sheraton this weekend? I'll be there for parts of Friday and Saturday. I think the ISBA list serve crowd is meeting up at 630pm on Friday if you're interested...shoot me a note (Sorry I'll be having an anniversary dinner w/ my wife). I'm disappointed that the CLE isn't too exciting...I'd like to make day out of it over there on Friday with my section council meeting, ect. It seems ISBA has laid-off CLE during the annual and mid-year meetings...hmmmm.

New off-site employee

Well, I've added off-site employee #1...I'm very excited. I know it's really nothing new in the blogsphere here but it's a big step for a newby sole practitioner. I know Grant Griffiths over at Home Office Lawyer and Greatest American Lawyer have been on the train for a while, but we just want to be like Walgreens, not the first with technology, just the best in its application.

My main usage of the off-site staff will be for customer service and book-keeping/financial analysis. When she's working she'll be totally handling the phones. Further, and most critically, she's going to step-it-up for us with the business side of things. I obviously currently send out my bills each month but that's about it.

The way I see it, running a law practice is two halves: legal work & business (financial, marketing, management). The business half of things with me has languished over the last year. NO MORE!

Monday, December 04, 2006

Welcome to the blogsphere, Susan

I've seen Susan Cartier Liebel commenting a bit around these parts recently. She's new-to-me...blogging at Build a Solo Practice, LLC.

Why you didn't get my business...

A very accurate post here about why we often don't get prospective clients' business.

My favorites and all to common for small firm lawyers:

1. You returned my call in which I asked for a price quote…a week later.

4. Your web site looks abandoned. (Copyright 2004? Are you even still in business?)

6. You never, ever answer your phone. It always go to voice mail.

10. You’re “invisible.” Like it or not, showing up in a Google search (or not) is a credibility factor these days.