Practice Tips

by Dave Bilinsky, Practice Management Advisor

Management moment

At the end of the day, you look around and see the piles of files that you had every intention of attacking today - and yesterday and the day before that. You shake your head, as you just do not seem to be able to get at them. You resolve to look up the latest time management books for methods and techniques on how to create more time in your day to conquer your growing piles of ignored files. You are certain that this problem can be overcome with the best of intentions .

While all of us have temporary work "blockages," and all of us can benefit by being better organized and by studiously applying time management tips and techniques, those piles of files are also sending us a message - and our practices and our career satisfaction stand to benefit by listening. It is no accident that when we are working on a file that is interesting, motivating and rewarding, we are motivated and the file naturally tends to "bubble" to the top of our to-do list. Conversely, if we have difficulty staying focused on a file, if we hesitate to call the client, or if we have a strong visceral reaction when just thinking about the file, it is time to listen to the message from the file pile.

Many lawyers state that they are not sure of how to set a strategic direction for their practice. Yet the pile of files are a compass needle that is clearly pointing in the direction that is 180 degrees away from your best work and your strongest motivators. If you are prepared to pause and give the situation your total attention, you will realize that you are at a "strategic moment" that empowers you to redefine your future. As a new year's resolution, by way of preventative medicine, categorize the files in your file pile, and resolve not to take on any further files or clients that in any way resemble those in your file piles. Recognize that motivation is the magic ingredient that allows us to use our best talents, resources, and knowledge and turn it into productive work - which in turn is rewarded by a happy, paying client. Negative motivation can only result in delay, unhappy clients and in the worst case, a complaint to the Law Society and/or potential liability for missing important dates.

Now, look at your list of recently closed files. Highlight those that were particularly satisfying - and dig into the reasons for your satisfaction. Was it because the work was in a particular legal area or legal problem? Did the client come from a particular industry or business? Was it because the client came from a particular group or area? Did you right a wrong in a certain area? Did you triumph against the establishment? (Personally, I always identified with the David v. Goliath metaphor....) Once you have identified as many commonalities as possible, you are ready to decide which ones have the greatest potential for being developed into a strategic direction for you and your practice.

The next step? Search your head and your heart. The best outcomes for our clients and ourselves occur when our value system, abilities and passion are in alignment.

Certainly, change cannot happen overnight. However, as Yogi Berra once said, "You got to be very careful if you don't know where you are going, because you might not get there." The important fact is that you can make it happen. Make up a list of goals that will take you to your future - such as creating an electronic newsletter that can be used to market yourself in your preferred area, or speaking at a Chamber of Commerce gathering on what it is that you do. There may be areas of self-development, such as immersing yourself in an industry, or attaining skills such as management skills, communication skills, computer skills or interpersonal skills that you need to master. If so, make a start on those immediately. Furthermore, recognize that, while you may have to approach your ultimate goal gradually, the other work that you do is paying and paving the way. Sooner rather than later, you will be on your way to better things.

Practice Q & A

Can I take a rebate from a registry service?

Question: As a lawyer, I have been approached by a registry service that is offering an annual rebate back to me, calculated as a percentage of the total value of the registry work that I send their way. Is it proper for me to enter into this type of arrangement?

Answer: The Professional Conduct Handbook, Chapter 9, rules 8 and 9 states as follows:

8. A lawyer shall take no fee, reward, costs, commission, interest, rebate, agency or forwarding allowance or other compensation whatsoever related to the lawyer's professional employment from anyone other than the client or the person who is paying part or all of the lawyer's fee on behalf of the client, without full disclosure to and consent of the client or that other person.

9. A lawyer who is financially interested in the person to whom disbursements are made or by whom services are performed, such as an investigating, brokerage or copying company, shall expressly disclose this fact to the client.

In the circumstances, it would be incumbent on you at the initiation of the client's engagement of your services, to disclose this rebate to and receive the consent of each client to your receiving it.

Recent books

Winning Alternatives to the Billable Hour - Strategies that Work, by James Calloway and Mark A. Robertson, Editors.

As lawyers we have long decried the billable hour, yet relatively little has been done to innovate our billing methods to take us beyond the hourly rate into the realm of value. In 175 pages, Calloway and Robertson have written a great overview of the issues involved in alternate billing methods. They have then devoted the next 112 pages to precedents: alternative fee agreements, retainer letters and other resources (which are also provided in electronic form on a companion disk). This is a must read for anyone who would like to redefine the financial relationship with their clients in ways that are mutually beneficial and rewarding. ($149.95 US regular price, $129.95 US for ABA members.)

The Lawyer's Guide to Marketing on the Internet, 2nd edition, by Gregory H. Siskind, Deborah McMurray and Richard P. Klau. Greg Siskind redefined lawyers marketing via the internet through his firm's website - which has earned him coverage in the Wall Street Journal, USA Today and many other publications. In this book, Greg combines forces with Richard Klau and Deborah McMurray, two other equally visionary internet presences, to focus on the current issues facing lawyers who seek to leverage their presence on the web. ($79.95 US regular price, $69.95 for ABA members). Both books are available from the ABA - Law Practice Management Section's web page.