Legal product reviews and business guidance from industry experts.
Lawyerist Media Launches Redesigned Website to Better Help Small Firm Lawyers
Lawyerist Launches Redesigned Website
There’s a new look for Lawyerist. On July 6th, Lawyerist Media launched a completely redesigned version of its popular website, lawyerist.com. In addition to its new look, lawyerist.com offers expanded resources to shepherd lawyers along their healthy firm journey. It also includes new comprehensive guides that pinpoint significant areas of business development, regardless of where firms are on the journey.
Lawyerist has guided hundreds of small law firms toward a healthier business through free content, resources, and in-depth products and services reviews. With its newly designed and relaunched website, Lawyerist Media continues to position lawyerist.com as the to-go resource for solo and small firm lawyers.
“We’re tired of seeing law firm owners suffer because of the broken, traditional law firm model. Our team is on a mission to help lawyers build something different—a business that is client-centered, designed around healthy teams using efficient systems, and is ultimately more profitable. We know lawyers can have what they set out to create—a firm that allows them to spend time with their families, impact their communities, and build for their future.”
The new “Healthy Law Firm” hub lays a clear path for lawyers working toward healthier law firms.
Walk through each step of Lawyerist’s healthy business model, including:
Teaching Law Firm Owners How to Build and Grow Their Business
For years, lawyers have visited Lawyerist Media’s site to learn practical advice to build and grow their business. Lawyerist’s new Complete Guide series will make it even easier for lawyers to find the information they need to begin their healthy firm journey.
Each guide provides an overview of essential business concepts and easy-to-understand guidance to apply to their business. Everett explains, “We know law school doesn’t teach lawyers how to run a business. These guides will help lawyers understand key business concepts and how they apply to their business.”
Nine new guides have launched, with plans for more to follow in the future.
Lawyers can also turn to Lawyerist Media to find the latest industry, community, and company news in the relaunched News Articles section. And, those who miss the Lawyerist blog will be happy to see it make its comeback.
Lawyerist Media Connects Law Firm Owners With Tools Needed to Run Their Business
Lawyers ready to build and grow a business know they can’t do it alone. Business owners rely on the right tools and services to help them effectively run their firms. Unfortunately, researching and choosing the right solutions can feel like a second job. So, Lawyerist does the work for you.
Lawyerist Media will continue to ease that burden and make the process easier for law firm owners with an updated Product Reviews section. In this area, firm owners can learn what to look for when choosing products, discover the features that could help them most, and select the best tools for how the lawyer wants to work.
Software and service providers are now broken down into three easy-to-understand categories:
The Product and Services Reviews section of the website then takes a deeper look at each of the top providers, with detailed service descriptions, editorial reviews, and demo videos. lawyeristbackup.kinsta.cloud is the perfect place for lawyers to start when they are ready to purchase new software and engage a new service provider for their firm.
Reinvention is part of being a solo lawyer. Some solos decide to become publishers or journalists or law clerks, leaving the practice of law behind. But sometimes it is a new practice area that defines a lawyer’s reinvention. With so many options in established practice areas and new ones being created through changes in law and through innovation, there are limitless possibilities for redefining your practice.
Lawyers adopt new practice areas for all kinds of reasons. Some practice areas are legislated away so that when a law is changed, a practice area might be wiped out entirely. A new practice area is sometimes required for survival. Sometimes a lawyer is just bored with what they are doing and wants a new area of focus, or their interest is piqued when they come into contact with a new area. And sometimes, laws change and create entirely new practice areas, and lawyers want to get onboard, such as the rapid growth of marijuana law.
Lawyers add many skills to their repertoire over the course of law practice, and sometimes a new practice area comes from learning a new skill. For example, a transactional lawyer who oversees a single real estate transaction that goes bad might then decide that he wants to branch out into real estate litigation.
A new area might be chosen because it is not only new to the lawyer but new to everyone. This has been true of marijuana law as the drug has slowly become legalized in several states; a couple of decades ago, seat belt laws were a significant change (and source of traffic tickets). Think about the new practice area that is being created with the advent of self-driving cars: out with DUI and in with AI failure. When the law evolves, so too must its practitioners.
Once you choose to add a new area of law to your practice, how do you go about achieving a level of competence in the new field? After all, you do not want to violate the duty to provide competent representation on your first case in the new practice area. Thankfully, there are resources available even when the area of law is brand new.
Read the law. If your new practice area relates to a discrete law, your first stop should be the legislation itself. The underlying legislative history and any regulations flowing from the law also need to be read and thoroughly digested. When you are dealing with a new law, this will be a relatively manageable universe of material. If you are evolving into an existing field, the actual law might be more voluminous and the legislative history less relevant.
Read the cases. Like legislation, the key cases in a practice area are critical reading. The volume of key cases will vary based on practice area, but if you use resources like practice guides, you can likely narrow down the most important cases to get a better handle on the authorities governing your new field. You do not want to get caught not knowing a major case in your new practice area.
Other resources.Unless you are transitioning into a brand new area of law that no one has begun teaching or presenting about, the chances are good that there will be resources available for learning the basics and the details of a new practice area.
Online articles. Look for sources of information such as blogs and articles. Keep the source in mind as you use the information, but since blogging is a simple and effective way to share first-hand information and research, it might be very useful so long as it appears reliable.
Find online CLE presentations on your new area. Large CLE providers have hundreds of programs available online and one may be what you need. Individual lawyers practicing in the field may also offer CLE programs on their websites, often for free.
Search for Slideshare materials from talks on your topic. Presenters from programs can post their slide decks through Slideshare, and often the slides alone are enough to educate you.
Print publications. Books and other publications can give you the background you need in more established areas of the law. Law libraries will typically carry practice guides, and a thorough reading of a practice guide can educate you to a great extent.
Mentors. Reach out to people working in the field. Take someone to lunch, pick their brain, and learn about your new area. Go to an in-person conference and meet people practicing in the area; listen to the speakers, introduce yourself to practitioners, and absorb the information while seeking out a mentor.
Reinventing your practice, to some extent, is bound to be a part of your firm’s story. Embrace the evolution of practice, and redefine your work with competence.
Originally published 2017-06-20. Republished 2020-01-09.
Year-End Law Practice Checklist
With the end of one year and the beginning of the next, it’s a great time to take action to keep your practice running smoothly and keep yourself in check from an ethics standpoint.
Here are some tasks that should be hitting your to-do list this week.
Review Your Archives
Take a look at what you’ve put in cold storage, both in hard copy and electronically. Hopefully, you have a document destruction policy in place. You will want to follow that policy in going through your old files and tossing what has expired.
As you go through your archives, you will find files you will be able to throw out soon. Make a note of those files and calendar them. Don’t wait until your next scheduled cull through the tombs to delete them.
Clear Out Your Current Files
Once there is room in your archives, go through your current files. You probably are sitting on some open files that are not open anymore.
Archive according to procedures. When you have current client files ready to go to the archives, be sure to put them away in compliance with file closing procedures. (If you don’t have those in place, it’s a very good time to draft them, including sending a closing letter, reconciling your trust account, and refunding any unearned fees.)
Archive current operating files. Operating and administrative files can grow bloated and create a mess in your filing cabinet. Close out current year files and start fresh ones for next year. Put this year’s files in your archives.
If you do not have space, consider scanning files and then destroying the originals. Even if you think the records are available elsewhere (such as bank statements from the institution), keep the statements on hand if you can. While many records are available from the original source, the time and effort required getting them can be costly. In terms of ethics inquiries, the faster you can respond with copies of those records, the better.
Just before the year closes is also an excellent time to take stock of where you stand with Uncle Sam. If you are a solo or small firm, check on whether you have gotten your quarterly payments in, and if not, rectify it. There is no point in getting hit with an underpayment penalty.
On the personal side, check in on your retirement contributions and college savings accounts. It’s a good time to make sure you have made your yearly contributions (or have a plan in place to make them by April 15) and to check your investment allocations.
Get Your Credit Reports
This is also a good time to pull your credit reports. You can get them free at Annual Credit Report or Credit Karma. What does this have to do with legal ethics?
Among the issues you may find on your credit report are accounts or judgments that could come back to haunt you before ethics regulators. You may also find problems that could impact your ability to borrow to expand your firm, take on a large contingency case, or meet other goals you have set for your practice.
Assess Your Vendor Relationships
Check on the vendors you have been using this year and see if they remain your best choice. Can you get a better deal on your Internet, timekeeping software, cell phone, office space, or any other service you use?
Check on discounts available through your state bar or any organization of which you are a member.
The fresh new year is when you can put in place new streamlined practices and procedures. Revisit (or draft for the first time) your client intake form, file opening procedures, calendar system, billing processes, file maintenance practices, file closing procedures, monthly trust account reconciliation process, timekeeping practices, and any other office procedures used in your practice.
Routinize Career Management
Whether you are a BigLaw associate or a solo practitioner, there are things you can be doing in your practice to keep yourself on the straight and narrow and up your odds of career success. Everyone’s list will look different, but it may include such items as attend monthly networking functions, review subject matter periodicals when they come in, write a publication quarterly, blog weekly, or whatever other tasks will boost your career and keep you focused on your practice.
In addition to being good for marketing, networking can be a buffer for ethics problems, because a lot of problems can be avoided if you have a network to fall back. So be sure to include some network development on your list.
Continuing Legal Education
Take stock of your CLE requirements, deadlines, and how close you are to meeting your requirements. If the office is slow, take advantage and pick up some courses where you can. Organizations you belong to may offer free webinars, as do some mainstream vendors. If you are not in a hurry at deadline time, you can pick up a lot of free CLE credits.
The new year is a great time to set yourself up for success and refresh your practice. Take the time to put in place the tools for a great and prosperous year.
Originally published 2016-12-30. Republished 2019-12-31.
Strategic Planning for Law-Firm Success and Growth
“Practice Management: Plan to Grow,” by Ed Finkel, was originally published in the March 2015 edition of the Illinois Bar Journal.
While nothing is guaranteed in life or law, attorneys and firm management consultants say law firm strategic planning—that is, taking a step back and looking at the big picture—is essential to know where you’ve been, where you’re going, and how you will keep growing whether you’re a solo practitioner or at a large firm. Your law firm strategic planning process is the best way to achieve success in the long run, even if it seems like you’ve been doing just fine dealing with the day-to-day.
“The world is complicated. It doesn’t stay the same forever,” says Craig Caldwell, department chair in marketing and management at Butler University and a speaker on law firm strategic planning at the Solo & Small Firm Institute program in Peoria. “Firms can get blindsided by getting too down into the weeds of their business. It’s necessary at times, for the livelihood and success of the firm, to pop your head up, see what’s going on in the marketplace, and see whether your firm needs to make some changes.”
Lack of strategic planning might not negatively impact a law firm as quickly as another type of business—say, a technology firm—because of the highly regulated legal environment, which provides a buffer of sorts from economic and other changes, Caldwell says. “But if there are aspirations for growth or skill sets within the law firm that simply aren’t as in demand as they used to be, you’re going to find yourself in a scenario where strategic planning is going to be critical,” he says.
One current scenario that’s affecting consumer-oriented firms, in particular, is the trend toward websites that help people handle some of their own legal matters, Caldwell says. “They have a choice to make—do we find other ways to get those dollars that we’ve lost to law.com, or do we join that site?” he says. “If we decide the Internet’s the thing, let’s chase that business.”
The most common law firm strategic planning issue facing firms in recent years has been how to respond to the economic shift in the legal market since the Great Recession, with fewer clients and a tighter bottom line, says John Olmstead, principal at St. Louis-based consultancy Olmstead & Associates.
“The process doesn’t change. The need for law firm strategic planning doesn’t change,” John says. “Sometimes what changes is the fundamentals and what’s going on, and what firms need to develop strategies to deal with. In recent years, most of the challenges firms are having are the same, everything from pressure on the economics, to resistance from clients to fee increases.”
Don’t React. Have a Plan.
It’s easy for firms to lose sight of the big picture as they’re working through day-to-day matters, says Terrence Truax, managing partner at Jenner & Block in Chicago.
“You have your nose to the stone, you’re working flat out as hard as you can, and it’s difficult to step back and ask those important questions: What is my priority? Where do I want to be in 24, 36 months?” he says.
“That doesn’t mean you don’t react to the moment,” Truax adds. “Every day is filled with new opportunities and new curveballs.”
For smaller firms and solos, there’s always a temptation to do nothing but react to the moment, says Bill Wilson, principal at The Law Offices of Wilson & Wilson and The Center for Estate Planning and Elder Law, based in west suburban LaGrange.
“But then you’re just going to work each day and letting your environment dictate to you how you’re going to manage and work your law firm,” Wilson says. A strategic plan provides “a guidebook where you’re intentionally doing things to get you to a certain point, instead of having clients or other external forces dictate to you where you’re going,” he says.
Firm Size Matters for Law Firm Strategic Planning
Olmstead figures that probably three-quarters of large firms have strategic plans, while mid-sized firms in the 50-attorney range are closer to 50-50, with the likelihood shrinking to 15 percent or less of firms with 10 attorneys and fewer. “Different approaches to strategic planning [for different-sized firms] would be appropriate,” he says. “The challenges and issues are different.”
Big Firms Hire Big Help
In larger firms, top partners typically sit down, figure out where their practice has been growing and where it’s become stagnant, and decide whether and how to recast lines of business that fall into the latter category, Caldwell says. His talks aren’t tailored to large firms because “they have a lot of their own educational systems—they hire some hotshots and bring them in and pay them a lot of money to walk them through the strategy,” he says.
Jenner has its practice broadly divided between litigation and business transactions groups, with several disciplines in each, and at the beginning of each year, each group develops its own strategic plan. Those are then “vetted and cross-examined, and people are being encouraged and challenged in a positive way,” Truax says.
“We ask all the basic questions any business enterprise would be asking. What do we look like today? What are our strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats? Where do we want to be in 12 months, and in five years?”
The plans are revisited throughout the year iteratively, Truax says, which “requires focus and discipline, making sure everybody stays on message. They’re refined throughout the year; we ask people to pull together their plans and test them.”
Breaking Out of Crisis Mode at Small Firms
In smaller firms, there are fewer people involved and fewer decisions to make but also less time, Caldwell says. “People don’t engage with the same discipline because they’re doing work,” he says. “They’re fighting fires, meeting deadlines, getting things filed in court.” Plus, he adds, “They don’t have the resources to hire an expert to do it for them.”
Small firm attorneys need to pick out a time and day, on a regular interval, to pop their heads out and look around, Caldwell says. “It requires the discipline to say, Friday afternoon, from noon to 5, we’re going to sit down, and not be billable, and work through some stuff about what we’re going to be when we grow up,” he says. “Three to five years from now, what are we going to be doing?”
Wilson finds it very important to “disconnect” when he creates his strategic plans, “meaning I get off premises,” he says. “I need to do that where the phone isn’t ringing, or I’m tempted to look at my e-mails.
“I go off-site and hibernate. Then I come back and talk to the people I need to talk to, my bookkeeper, marketing person, other attorneys, to figure out how are we going to get there, and what do we need to do? I start soliciting some advice. I have my own ideas, but they’re more down in the trenches and know a lot of things I don’t know, or forgot, or need to keep in mind.”
Firms should not confuse strategic planning with crisis management, Olmstead says. The latter is more urgent. “In some of the smaller firms, especially, I’ve run across somewhere I’ve advised them, ‘You guys have so many tactical issues going on in the swamp; you’re trying to survive day to day. Until you do some things as far as operations in the short term, maybe you shouldn’t think about strategic planning,'” he says. “It’s hard to think long term when you can’t think through the current day.”
For example, Olmstead has worked with firms who have legal accounting software but need to hire a consultant to pull reports for them. “If they’re not using technology right, and they can’t even pull any basic reports to know how they’re performing financially, they can’t pull together reports as far as what they’re paying their people, if they don’t have a website or some of those basic things – and you’d be surprised how many don’t. If they’ve got 14 or 15 attorneys and don’t have an office manager in place,” they should take care of that first, he says.
The Challenge Intensifies For Solos
Sole practitioners face particular challenges, Olmstead says, because figuring out what they are trying to do and where they want to take their practice – and what steps they need to take to get there – ideally should not be a solo activity. “It’s hard to do a long-range strategic plan by yourself,” he says. “It’s not something you do in one sitting, and you need somebody looking over your shoulder, whether that somebody might be your spouse or your staff person.”
Olmstead worked with a solo practitioner in Iowa who did not realize he was only paying his associate of 10 years a $60,000 salary – or that he himself had only cleared $20,000 the previous year. “He sent me his numbers, and I’m looking at the financials, and they’re terrible,” he says. “When I say I ought to be seeing $300,000 in fee revenue per year, that’s an achievable number, and I’ve got some who are barely doing $100,000. I told one guy, ‘I hate to say this, but your effective rate is $45 per hour.’ It involves internal analysis and benchmarking.”
Implementing and Measuring Strategic Planning Results
Because attorneys tend to enjoy discussion and debate, the process of putting together a law firm strategic plan can seem natural and appealing, Olmstead says. “The bigger challenge is getting them to implement anything. [The plans] go into books, they go on shelves, and very little happens as a result,” he says.
A plan that isn’t implemented is only a list of suggestions. Here’s how to increase the odds that strategic planning will lead to real progress.
Don’t Bite Off too Much
It’s important to keep things manageable, Caldwell says. He cautions smaller firms not to take on more than one or two significant strategic initiatives at one time. “To take on more is simply not tenable because there are not enough horses,” he says.
That goes for the law firm strategic planning document, too, Olmstead adds. “Most of the [plans] I’ve done for 15 and 25 attorney firms and under, particularly even smaller ones, will typically be 10 pages or less,” he says. “To me, if you can keep them briefer and to the point, as opposed to carrying on and making these things too elaborate, they’ve got a much better chance of implementation.”
Define Goals Clearly
“If you’re going to get into family law going forward, you have to have some ideas about what success is going to look like before you launch it,” Caldwell says. “If you’re wanting to grow your corporate law practice, maybe it’s the snagging of three to five major accounts, something that will let you know you’re getting a little bit closer to what the plan had set out for you.”
Make Results Accountable
Be sure to assign responsibility for specific planks of the law firm strategic plan, Caldwell says. “To the extent you can reduce implementation down to metrics that let you know how much progress you’re making, that’s critical,” he says. “And then also, it’s important to get back to people in the organization with feedback about how things are going.”
Olmstead agrees. “I want to know: When are we going to do it, and whose name am I putting in the box, and when is this task going to start,” he says. “It needs to get down to the nitty-gritty, hold people accountable for some of the action items you’re going to get done. Otherwise, it’s just one of those non-billable activities.”
While a larger firm might take six months from the kickoff meeting to the presentation at the end, smaller businesses can get the law firm strategic plan finished in a month—and that’s probably wise given that they don’t have the professional administrators and other support staff in place to help out, Olmstead says.
“They may only have one shot at doing it,” he says. “They’re not going to have the patience for a time commitment over a period of months. It might have to happen in a retreat setting. You do the pre-work, financial review and analysis, beforehand. And then we lock ourselves up for a day or two in a retreat-type setting and basically work through the whole process.”
To measure law firm strategic planning success financially and otherwise, Jenner uses a range of metrics and compares performance throughout the year against the strategic plan, monthly, biannually, and annually, Truax says. “That will guide us as to whether we’re moving forward with respect to that strategic objective,” he says. “There may be all kinds of reasons why your performance deviates from the plan, but we measure that on an ongoing basis.”
What sort of metrics? Wilson’s strategic plans go out five years and attempt to project for each year the gross revenue, net income before taxes, the number of people he will employ, and numbers of matters he expects to handle. He measures his marketing success in terms of numbers of articles published, newsletters contributed to, seminars delivered, and new contacts and referral sources. “From that, we would also try to back in the number of new clients we would get each year,” he says. “These obviously are all projected goals.”
Wilson considers his plans living documents that he revisits continuously to see how well the law firm’s strategic planning efforts are matching the vision laid out. “If my plan is to increase estate administration and asset planning, and I see we’re putting too much time into real estate, I’m not adhering to my plan,” he says. “The reason it’s important is that it’s a guide for a firm to keep on topic and on goals, so we can always look back and bring it up at a monthly meeting.”