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Solo In Chicago

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

Saturday, March 31, 2007

There's real cost (negative) to multi-tasking

Good post here from the [Non] Billable Hour regarding multi-tasking. The study said it takes people 15 minutes to return to serious mental tasks after stopping to respond to IM or e-mail. Frightening.

Office telephone policy

We've been thinking about how we answer our phones and client expectations. We office in one of these set-ups where the landlord provides a receptionist to answer our calls but you pay an additional amount per month. Frankly I'd like to cut back on the expense. On the mornings when my legal assistant works she handles the phones and obviously is getting to know our clientele.

Alternatives? I do come into contact with the occassional lawyer who answers her own phones but we just do too much hourly stuff for it to be feasible for me to answer calls. Once while transitioning between office spaces we just used one of these commercial answering services. I was happy with that set-up but that cost is virtually equal to what we currently pay our landlord.

Is just sending client calls to voicemail directly an option? I surely call lawyers that do that. My opinion, you can't do it. Obviously just my opinion, but no live-person answering just says tacky and inattentive business. I know we have a bunch of real estate transactions right now where deals are being delayed/threatened because of staff-less lawyers on the other side.

Friday, March 30, 2007

Commuting costs study

Saw an interesting piece in the Trib. about commuting costs.

An excerpt from the article:

The 2007 results reveal that you have to dip into pocket or purse for 50.5 to 81.5 cents for every mile you travel based on 10,000 miles of driving annually. That's $5,050 to $8,150 a year, no small sum.

It sure got me thinking about the various home office bloggers (Grant Giffiths, Chuck Newton). I'm STRONGLY considering going home office or some variation thereof at the end of our lease. Obviously there are many factors on both sides of the arguement. First and foremost for me is $$$ to the landlord. Second, I think when I closely analyze my calendar over many months I'll see that it's soooo infrequent that you actually meet with a client in-person, at the office, these days. I meet with someone in-person, at the office, 1-2 times per month. That's not worth $1,000ish per month!

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Client satisfaction programs

Saw this quote by a firm marketer:

Less than 25% of law firms are doing any client satisfaction programs at all.

True or false? We do an end-of-representation client survey. I'm not thrilled with it. Need to think up a better incentive so that clients complete them and return them.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Daley Center bits...

Couple of observations from court....

1. Is there anything more annoying than the opposing lawyer who checks in and then doesn't come back to the courtroom for more than one hour? If you're going to be in that situation, how 'bout a call the day before so I can leave and attend to other things or come late.

2. There was a great interchange between a lawyer and a judge today. Lawyer was making just a ridiculous argument complaining that she only had 21 days to respond to a motion saying she hadn't gotten notice of the motion. Then she moves on to this argument that she doesn't have the motion yet and SHE DOES NOT RECEIVE FAXES! Ah, back to the pre-fax era. Can I mention that on a blog??

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Coupon idea follow-up

More follow-up to come, but we got an immediate return on our newly instituted client coupon. We've started enclosing a coupon for a free 30 min. mtg. or a discount on a residential real estate closing with our quarterly newsletter and our monthly billing.

We sent out our spring newsletter and shazam, we got an immediate new real estate transaction call.

How do clients know your services?

Now that we've gotten our collection policy and billing package in good shape...this is one our current project. Essentially, how to make current/past clients aware of your full breadth of services when they've only used you for some tiny, little niche item. Any ideas?

Currently, we obviously have some blogs and a static Website that generally describes our practice areas. Also, at the end of representation we'll send out what we creatively call an end-of-representation letter where we again describe our three to four practice areas broadly. However, I think the information we're providing is TOO GENERAL to be useful to a potential future client.

What I'm thinking about is creating a more detailed list of services and also possibly a more detailed describtion of our firm to include for easy distribution and also at the end of representation. Simply, a much more detailed and specific (and longer...1-2 pages) listing rather than the three or four throw-away paragraphs that we currently enclose. Probably incorporate this into the Website too.

I'll discuss more as we implement...

Monday, March 12, 2007

Solo Websites for you

Here's a piece from Law.com regarding 11 great Websites for solos. I use some and others sound interesting enough for me to give a try...

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Virtual assistant - update

Just thought I'd post a nugget about how we're doing with our new offsite legal assistant...it's about three months since we brought Diane on board.

I think it's too early to really gauge much of a tangible ($$) payoff just due to the training involved but it's definately made the practice of law more pleasurable for me. Right now all Diane and I are doing is sharing a computer essentially acting as a server.

How are we using her?
  • Client billing;
  • Real estate transactional (non-legal work);
  • Client marketing;
  • Client service phone calls;
Obviously the top two things mainly are generally examples of lawyer time being freed to do more lawyering, which is great. But the second two things I'd say are purely additive and simply are things we weren't doing (or were doing rather ineffectively). The marketing encompasses a number of things including starting a client newsletter, follow-up calls to potential client contacts and sending out various mailings such as articles that lawyers write. The client service calls are just the "massaging" of clients that lawyers hadn't been doing...reminders about court, quick call/e-mail about case status or just follow-up calls about things that a client needs to be doing.

More solos in Chicago

I attended one of the CBA's luncheon presentations last week regarding business plan preparation for lawyers. These are smallish seminars, maybe 25 people in the room.

What was striking was the number of "potential" new solos that were in the room when everyone went around to introduce themselves. The recent Cook County budget cuts seem to have many lawyers thinking (and being forced into) the solo route. Drop me a note...let's talk.

Saturday, March 03, 2007

Come to my Will party

Bryan Sims over at www.theconnectedlawyer.com sent me link to this piece from Law.com.

It's about a small firm lawyer who brought small numbers of couples together for will-signing parties. Might this idea or a related concept be something you can use?

What percentage of IL lawyers are solos?

Build a Solo Practice, LLC had an interesting post recently regarding some 83% of NY lawyers being solo:

Just to keep things in perspective with all those HUGE first year associates salaries out there, today there was a report in the Wall Street Journal on Line reporting of a new article in
Crain’s New York Business which has a seven-page feature called “The Business of Law Report. In this article we learn that 83.5% of all lawyers in New York State are solos..

The report profiles three sole practitioners. “With first-year associates now commanding salaries of $160,000 at some major law firms, it might seem that every lawyer would be vying to work at one of them,” it says. “But in actuality, the vast majority — 83.5% — of lawyers in New York state are solo practitioners.” The three lawyers profiled: Judith Bass, 54, a former in-house lawyer at media companies who now structures media deals on her own; Anthony Park, a 30-year-old T&E lawyer who hung up his own shingle four years ago and has established a niche advising other young professionals on their personal affairs; and Allen Kaye, the high-profile immigration lawyer.

I have always said that law schools should teach students how to navigate down the road most travelled instead of catering to the minority. Read "Law School Learning Leaves Solos in Cold"

I wonder what the number is for Illinois? I'd guess that it's a smidge higher just because we're probably a slightly less urban state than NY. Are their needs being addressed?

I think some of the bar associations do a decent job for solos. I still think the business side of the practice of law isn't covered very well by anyone. Law school helps potential solos through clinical programs I think. Frankly, in general, what's the value of law school?

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Post-referral follow-up

Here's little nugget from Trey Ryder below...he has a good free e-mail newsletter if you're not yet getting it.

The below got me to thinking about this subject. I'd guess most lawyers are like me and consider referrals absolutely critical to business development whether from clients or other professionals. However, I spend less time (likely to my detriment) thinking about how to proceed post-referral. I'll always acknowledge referrals and likely will send a thank-you note and sometimes a gift card or something but my communication can be lacking....I can learn a lot from the following:


STEP #11: Acknowledge every referral immediately in writing. Why do people send you a referral? Often, it's because they think >highly of you and want their friend or client to receive the best you offer. Certainly, you could shoot off a quick email thanking the person for the referral. But that's the easy way out. When someone sends you a client, take time to write a letter. (Yes, an honest-to-goodness letter -- on stationery, no less!) Thank them for having confidence in you and assure them that you will do everything you can to help the person they referred.

STEP #12: Keep your referral source informed about your client's progress. Send an occasional note or email to keep the referrer up to date. This reinforces that you're working hard on the client's behalf. Don't let your referral source lapse into guessing what might have happened with the client. Guesses -- based on lack of >communication -- usually result in negative conclusions. Instead, keep your referral source on top of what's happening. He'll be so happy that you keep him informed that he will look for someone else to refer to you. When the case ends, make sure you send a summary letter explaining how you resolved the matter.

STEP #13: Help your referral source earn money. When appropriate, build your referral source into the process. If a CPA referred a client to you, help the CPA get added work from the client. If a life insurance agent sends you a client, point out to the client when it's appropriate for him to increase his life insurance. Your credibility goes a long way. If you can help the referral source get business from the person he referred, that's one more reason for your friend to refer another client.

STEP #14: Return referrals, when possible. No question, it's nice when you can return a referral. But today, with such high levels of legal specialization, referrals are often a one-way street. Return referrals when you can. If you can't, make sure you reciprocate in another way.

STEP #15: Pay referral fees. Money speaks with a loud voice. Make sure you abide by your Bar rules.

Summary: You build a solid referral base the same way you build a productive client base: With ongoing communication centered around your knowledge, skill, judgment and experience. When referral sources perceive you as an authority in your field, they are quick to send to you their friends and clients.