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Solo In Chicago

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

Monday, October 29, 2007

What's "AV" rated??

Seriously, does anyone under 35 years old know what this means? I don't and yet it's regularly in attorney classified ads. Hello?

Another online billing option...

It's exciting to see all the options sprouting up regarding legal billing. Saw this one recently: Bill4Time. An online professional billing service.

Entrepreneurship contest

Intuit's having an entrepreneurship contest...check it out at Union Station Thur. and Fri.

Become a "Super" Lawyer for only $20,000...

Saw this little nugget disclosing costs to be labeled a "Super" Lawyer.

Caregiver discrimination

A budding practice area: caregiver bias...an interesting read. Seems the cases are falling in these three areas:

•Some employees claim they were denied leave or retaliated against for taking time off to handle care giving of a child, which is covered by the federal Family and Medical Leave Act.

•Under the Americans With Disabilities Act, employees are protected from discrimination if they are caring for a relative with a disability. Some employees denied accommodations to provide care allege that employers are violating the federal law.

•Others bring claims alleging gender discrimination -- for example, women with young children who say they are not given the same treatment as new fathers.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Law Firm Billing Comments...

Saw this nugget from a colleague (how true, how true...):

Over the years, we have used a myriad of internal billing systems; we had problems with each and every one, from non-support to internal errors, to mandatory upgrades, etc. It was frustrating and costly in the long run.

We researched many options and found that it was not worth our while to do our small office billing in house. We have opted to farm it out to a billing service and have found it to be more than we ever dreamed possible.The time we spent doing it in house was a waste; we found it more effective, both from a cost standpoint and an efficiency standpoint to use the services of TimeBillers. www.timebillers.com

Printer Cartidge refills...

Off pure legal stuff for a second, can I say I will never use ink-jet refills again...I'll always buy new...Walgreen's and Cartridge World - not acceptable.

IL legal malpractice insurance...

Anyone have a view on the best provider in IL?? I've only ever been insured through ISBA Mutual and Minnesota Lawyers Mutual. Since I've been flyin' solo I've only used MN Lawyers. They have great customer service and it's easy to sign-up/renew on the Web. ISBA Mutual is still in PDF and print-out land...too much work. Any other viable options out there?? I think we pay just over $100 per month for 500k/1.5 mil. caps.

When did divorce start in Illinois?

While I'm talking law firm advertising, how can a firm celebrating its 75th Anniversary claim to be the "oldest" matrimonial law firm in IL (Rinella & Rinella)? Did we not have divorce pre-1934?

Niche Marketing...

Saw this one in Divorce Magazine...Feinberg & Berry, The Executive Divorce. Good marketing? I haven't seen "executive" defined in the Illinois Marriage and Dissolution of Marriage Act...of course there's no such thing as a "divorce" in Illinois either.

Robert Half 2008 legal salary guide

All you law firm managers out there Robert Half Legal just published its 2008 Salary Guide. Free copies available on the site.

Average starting salaries for all legal professionals are projected to rise by 4.2% next year to the range of $84,750 to $130,500. There was a little blurb about the piece in the Law Bulletin...they sound pretty bullish.

That's not what I'm hearing "on the ground" from recent law school grads.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

32 W. Randolph, 15th Floor

I attended an administrative hearing yesterday before the IL Dept. of Healthcare and Family Services (IDHFS) at the above yesterday. You've got to go there to see jurisprudence and due process at its finest. The 15th Floor deals with cases where IDHFS has frozen assets of non-custodial parents (NCP) who owe back child support arrearages.

So first our case was scheduled at 1015am and we didn't get called until 230pm. I'm there w/o my client who's out-of-state and the non-custodial-parent is there having appealed an account of his that had been frozen. He alleged that it was a "convenience" account and that the funds were his mother's. Then when your case gets called you go into a pre-hearing with an IDHFS advocate (who opposes the NCP). And it's laughable...the NCP doesn't realize that this person really is his opposition and yet this individual is actually advising the NCP. Next, we go into a hearing. We're on the record with an old cassette player as transcriber and a non-lawyer as hearing officer. It's kangaroo court at it's finest.

Don't ya love...

Opposing counsels who don't communicate with you at all between court dates and then show up five minutes early for a status hearing, have an "Agreed" Order entered and then leave. Real classy.

Helpful retainer info. from ARDC

The Attorneys Registration and Disciplinary Commission is posting some guidance regarding the recent Dowling case concerning attorney retainers. Here's a nugget:

In Dowling, the Court recognized the following three types of retainers:

(1) A classic retainer, also referred to as a true or general retainer, is paid by a client to the lawyer in order to secure the lawyer’s availability during a specified period of time or for a specified matter. This type of retainer is earned when paid and immediately becomes property of the lawyer, regardless of whether the lawyer ever actually performs any services for the client. Dowling at *6.

(2) A security retainer is where funds paid to the lawyer are not considered present payment for future services but are intended to secure payment of fees for the future services the lawyer is expected to perform. This type of retainer remains the property of the client and, therefore, must be deposited in a trust account and kept separate from the lawyer’s own property until the lawyer applies it to charges for services that are actually rendered. Dowling at *6. Any unused portion of the retainer is refunded to the client under Rules 1.15(b) and 1.16(d) of the Illinois Rules of Professional Conduct. Dowling at *12.

(3) An advance payment retainer consists of a present payment to the lawyer in exchange for the commitment to provide legal services in the future. Ownership of this retainer passes to the lawyer immediately upon payment. Dowling at *6, 11.

I don't think I've ever used anything but a "security retainer." Anyone using the others much??

Client relation tip:

Saw this bit of billing advice on a listserve I'm on...thought I'd pass it on:

As an in house counsel, here are my recommendations also:

1. When you get the 1st piece of business from a new client:

-do a good job, on time and for a reasonable price. I recommend that you cut a few hours from the 1st piece of business because the new client will be comparing you to their existing attorney, both quality and cost. Hopefully, you should not have to cut hours after the first few pieces of business.

- Don't try to bill for every second. If your firm allows it, show the reduction on the bill (REDUCED ON REVIEW). It shows the client that you care.

- Your work (and cost) on the 1st piece of business are all that the new client will consider when deciding to hire you again. Do a good job, and at a reasonable price.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

50 marketing tips

50 ways to market your practice from ABA.

Chuck's lawyer logos

Chuck Newton's take on lawyer logos.

Good lawyer marketing...once in a great while it does exist

So I had an interview with a law firm the other day...what I can I say I do keep my eyes open for potential opportunities. Well, the position wasn't quite what I was looking for but it was an interesting learning experience on a couple of levels...

First, all this guy (firm's lone principal) did was sales. Essentially the model is to do a ton of marketing to generate heavy phone inquiries. Then offer an initial free consultation. Then his skill is getting the clients signed-up at the initial free consultation. This is all he does for 5 1/2 days of the week. Then all the legal work is farmed out to associates. Might some part of this idea be worth pursuing. The traditional strengths of a good practitioner I don't think generally include sales and yet aren't most small firm lawyers doing both: sales and practice. Maybe there's a better way? I know selling isn't my strength.

Second, the use of multiple law firms for marketing purposes. Essentially this guy had a firm with his name and then another called something like the National Law Firm (slightly different). And he discussed the background of the idea...he mentioned another firm that did sort of high end legal work for a state's governor and then the "same" firm had another storefront firm for the "average Joe" clients. All you need is one a separate phone number and perhaps a Website. Maybe you have your name firm and then others with practice areas in the title or geographic locations.

A little good marketing will seriously separate you from 95% of lawyers out there.

Legal recruiting...

Yeah so that posting is from our Firm...real funny.

Serious thought though, why are so many firms listing jobs in the Law Bulletin and not simply using the free career bulletins at local law schools?

Part-Time attorney

Saw this job posting for a distinguished Chicago law firm:

A growing, Chicago-based solo specializing in family and elder law seeks a new attorney for court coverage and occasional project work. Great opportunity for a new attorney going into solo practice. Willing to mentor and provide office space for client meetings. Of Counsel or partnership opportunities considered. Please send resumes to Peter Olson (petero@olsonlawfirm.net) if interested.

My first eLance project

Anyone use eLance? I posted my first project yesterday and we're starting to get some responses. It's essentially an outsourcing forum where you can post work/jobs and others bid on them.

Making a home-based business work...

The eight things you need to make a home-based business work:

Professional website for your business Don't skimp on something that has so much potential to help your business succeed!

Computer High functionality is available for lower prices than ever.

High-Speed Internet More than half of American households now have broadband Internet access-to make the most of your time and your online resources, get fast!

Cell phone To stay tuned in and on top of your business, consider a "smart" phone that has multiple functions, like calendar, email, contacts, etc.

Professional-looking logo Your brand is your first impression and will either turn on or turn off the interest of your customers. Make sure you pay special attention to this.

Top notch business cards Shaking hands and making connections is a critically important activity for you as you build your business-even if it's a home business. So be sure to get your business cards printed up and always have them on hand.

A network of other smart business owners You're going to need people to turn to for advice and camaraderie-especially when you feel isolated from the business community because you're based out of the extra bedroom! This network must be cultivated with a dedicated effort.

A passion for what you do The magical ingredient for all entrepreneurs is PASSION! That unwavering commitment and obsession with taking your business dreams to new heights is a fundamental resource. Your passion will help you survive the hard times, and will fuel the adrenaline rush in the great times.

Question, does anyone have thoughts/examples on logos for lawyers? I go round and round on this one myself. Not many small firms have them. Who has an effective logo other than the scales of justice??

Monday, October 15, 2007

A Virtual General Counsel?

Here's some lawyer innovation: Virtual General Counsel. Part-time, on-demand general counsel.

We don't need lawyers, says the Old Grey Lady

NYTimes had a piece Sunday pitching the various online providers of non-lawyer estate planning documents. Nothing too new...now that we have these sophisticated software programs who needs lawyers yada yada yada...

One thing I take from this article though is a mindset I think is just wrong. Essentially, that all legal services are expensive. And, if this is the public mindset this should be changed because it's wrong...particularly in some of these basic estate planning areas. Here's a quote from the article:

“I don’t like lawyers. I think they’re extremely overpaid,” Mr. Chuang said. “With all the services on LegalZoom, I don’t see myself using a lawyer for anything, unless it’s a lawsuit.”

Surely anyone who paints a broad swath of people as the quote does is ignorant but I surely think the "overpaid" misperception is out there. We should work to change that because that working/middle class is under-lawyered in reality and it's a very fertile market.

Here was an innovative nugget from the article:

In 2003, an Albuquerque tax lawyer, Matthew Urrea, started Walk in Wills, a strip-mall storefront next to a Target store. Clients meet with a lawyer for a free initial consultation, then pay a flat fee if they decide to draw up a will ($249 for individuals, $349 for couples) or a living trust ($995 and up).

Monday, October 08, 2007

Home-based business contest

Start-up Nation is doing its first annual ranking of the top 100 home-based businesses...enter here.

Wine trails, artists, and lawyers...

So this past weekend I was down in Southern Illinois for a number of reasons but primarily a 5-year reunion from law school. Why only four people from my class showed up I don't know (I still think way too many people think WHAT you know is more important than WHO you know...I disagree)...but I digress. Another thing we did down there was do some wine tastings at the various wineries on the Shawnee Hills wine trail. These are nine wineries that do a lot of shared events and shared marketing. My personal favorite is the Pomona Winery; I brought home a case of the Orchard Spice. While I'm on Midwest travel the Blue Coast Artists (Michigan) are another good example of this concept.

Why don't more solo/small firm lawyers do this? Like Red Mountain.

I think it's the foolish concept of individual self-reliance and sort of the great trial lawyer (singular) making some great strategic move to save the day. Isn't this singularity almost part of the "lawyer mystique"? It's stupid and bad business is what it is. All the great business leaders say decentralize and push everything you can down the chain. Anyone else doing anything innovative by staying small but playing big?

George H.W. Bush (41) and me...

Tom Kane had a posting about shyness hindering lawyers in their marketing efforts. The post got me to thinking about a trait I think often limits my marketing efforts: modesty. Like Bush in '92...he had a pretty good presidency but he couldn't compete with marketing efforts of William J. Clinton. Bush has acknowledged his patrician background where modesty was encouraged hurt him. Well I'm not the son of a U.S. Senator but I would say modesty and humility are values that I cherish and respect. But the problem...

I can think of maybe five people I've heard in recent times (after-the-fact) who needed legal work and they didn't use me (home sales primarily). And the people I'm thinking about are in the acquaintance/not-too-close friend category. Close friends and family know me well enough but it's sort of this second-tier friends group that I shake my head at. And, not to be immodest, but I think it's often because of my personal modesty and actually my strong social skills that I don't end of tooting my own horn much. For example, I'll be at a luncheon and I'll go out of my way to talk about the other persons or the interests of others. And often things don't get turned back to be to discuss "what I do." What to do?

Posting from the Home Office

Hey gang...well I'm back in the fold. Between moving the office and filing my first appellate brief there wasn't a lot of time for blogging. I'm now officially The (a) home office lawyer, part II. No complaints so far except an office full of unpacked boxes. Also, I want to make sure I have enough "alternative" office options just to get out of the house. I'm still amazed that in 2007 there still isn't nearly enough free WiFi around...it's not like this in San Fran. is it? I think the only two free WiFi options in the downtown area of the suburb I live in are the public library and Panera. The coffee shops all have their "hotspots" aligned with a specific provider. I'll still get to downtown Chicago a good bit for court...still waiting for that Daley Center law library WiFi. Isn't there something wrong that the outdoor area of Daley Plaza is a free WiFi location but not the law library on the 29th floor?