Time Off and Avoiding Burnout

Feeling weary, fatigued, overwhelmed, or stressed?  Working continually without rest or relaxation leads to burnout.  And it takes more than the occasional three-day weekend for your mind and body to recuperate.

This is my annual reminder to get serious. Build vacation plans into your work schedule now – no excuses!  It will take a bit of effort and planning, but your body and mind will thank you.

I Can’t Afford It

2013-07-26 08.04.33“If I’m not at the office, I can’t bill.  If I can’t bill, I won’t get paid.”  True enough, but there is a solution:  budget for your vacation.  A bit of research and number crunching is in order here. First, calculate your vacation expenses. This should be relatively easy.  Next, quantify the lost revenue you need to replace during your time out of the office.  Now that you know how much you need, begin setting aside funds every week to meet your financial goal.  If necessary, find little ways to cut back that can really add up: like bringing your lunch to work, deferring your daily Starbucks fix, using public transportation, or telecommuting.  Saving weekly will keep you on track and help manage expectations. If you’re just getting started, then your plans this year may be more modest.  Next year, you can begin saving for your summer vacation in January.

I’m Too Busy

2013-12-23 20.09.48Work will never go away, but I guarantee that if you look ahead in your calendar you will find a block of time with no commitments.  Even if you haven’t made plans yet, block the time out now before your calendar fills up.  If you have a habit of backsliding, enlist your family as enforcers.  This time should be sacred.  If you need an extra incentive, consider non-refundable travel reservations.

Preparation is Key

If you’re a member of a firm, going on vacation is a matter of meeting with other lawyers who will be covering cases during your absence.

If you are a sole practitioner, use the buddy system.  Find a colleague who is experienced in your practice area and willing to cover for you.

This arrangement is usually reciprocal and is helpful if you have an unexpected absence from the office due to injury or a medical condition.

Get a game plan in place:

  • 2013-07-24 17.03.57Notify clients, opposing counsel, judges, or other appropriate parties that you will be out of the office;
  • Prep your files.  They should be well-organized and current, with status memos so your buddy can easily step in if needed;
  • Create a “Countdown Schedule.”  Identify what needs to be done when and whether certain tasks can wait until your return;
  • Allow for wind down.  As your vacation approaches, leave time in your schedule to finish up last minute work.  Reduce or refer out new matters;
  • Train staff.  Do they have a clear understanding of office procedures?  How will they screen client calls during your absence?  Give them parameters for contacting you or your buddy in the event of an emergency.
  • Resist constantly checking voice mail, e-mail, or text messages.  Technology is a God-send, but part of rejuvenation is taking a break from our instant Internet society. Checking in is okay, but stick to a schedule to avoid obsessing over what is going on back at the office.  Remember – you have an emergency plan in place.  If something happens, staff or your buddy will get a hold of you.
  • Avoid post-vacation overload.  Just as you blocked out dates to go on vacation, allow yourself time to get back up-to-speed.  Otherwise, you’re right back where you started.

Give yourself and your family a well-deserved break.  With a bit of organization, you can budget for (and enjoy) your time off.

All Rights Reserved 2017 Beverly Michaelis

Do Good Friends Make Good Partners?

The following is an update of “Thinking about Partnership?”

A potential partnership between lawyers sparks many issues – capitalization; entity formation; allocation of profits, losses, income, and expenses; restrictions on partnership authority; division of management duties; decision-making; withdrawal; and more.

But the most important consideration is often ignored: basic compatibility.

Do good friends make good partners?

Not necessarily. The interests or characteristics that draw two or more people together as friends do not always translate well to the business world.  This includes the practice of law.

Sometimes money gets in the way.  Or you could be polar opposites when it comes to work ethic or work style.

Perhaps you and your potential partner are “two peas in a pod,” sharing the same dislikes. While that may sound like a basis for bonding, it can also be a deadly combination.  The example that comes to mind is accounting.  Billing, recordkeeping, accounting, and reconciling can be outsourced, but should still be supervised.  As partners, the buck stops with you.  If neither of you has an interest in tending to law firm finances, you may quickly find yourself out of business.

How to size up a potential partner

For two lawyers considering a partnership, compatibility can be gauged best by joining forces as solos in an office share.  Each lawyer maintains his or her own practice, following the usual recommendations for an office sharing situation.  See the Professional Liability Fund (PLF) form/practice aid, “Office Sharing Guidelines” available on the PLF Website.  

In an office share you can assess your potential partner’s work ethic, work style, and work habits first hand.  You will also learn how your potential partner approaches division of responsibility and money when the time comes to allocate and pay office share expenses.  You have the option of collaborating on individual cases while maintaining your independence.  This will give you intimate knowledge of your potential partner’s capabilities as a lawyer.

If the office sharing arrangement is successful, and you can come to terms on partnership formation issues, you are likely to have a successful union.  If the office sharing arrangement is not successful, you can accept the experience as a “lesson learned” and terminate the office share without the mess of a formal partnership dissolution.

For those who are convinced they have a winning partnership

Occasionally I meet two lawyers who are absolutely convinced they will form the perfect partnership.  They forge ahead, without the benefit of an office share experience, and later regret their decision.

I don’t wish to dampen anyone’s enthusiasm, and sometimes folks are absolutely right in their assessment.  If you’ve known each other for years, and “just know” it will work please do this simple exercise first:

Schedule a time to get together with your potential partner.  Bring two legal pads and two pens.  Allow ten or fifteen minutes for each person to make a list of the goals he or she has for the partnership.  Each person should be able to answer: what do I hope to get out of this?  How will partnering up be a significant improvement over my current working situation?  Exchange lists.  What you learn may surprise you.

Obviously you can approach this exercise any way you like, but here are my suggested ground rules:

  1. Keep the process as spontaneous as possible. If the exercise is your idea, resist the temptation to work on your list in advance.
  2. Write down the first thoughts that come to mind.  Don’t edit yourself to please your potential partner or you defeat the whole purpose of the exercise.
  3. Keep it succinct.  The next ground rule should help with that.
  4. Stick to the time limit. If one or both of you can’t put your goals down in writing in ten or fifteen minutes, that alone should make you pause.
  5. Be open to whatever the other person has to say.

Why bother?

As a wise man named Lee Rosen once pointed out, “lawyers can be nasty.”  We are, after all, human beings.  If we don’t get along, odds are we will take it out on each other. Finding someone compatible to partner with is incredibly important.  The experience should be positive, rewarding, and gratifying.  Life is too short for anything less.

All Rights Reserved [2017] Beverly Michaelis

 

 

Choice of Entity for New Lawyers

coffee-cup-and-docs-bought-at-ssChoosing a legal structure and entity type for your law firm seems like an easy decision. But is it? Consider the following scenarios:

New lawyer establishes law practice with the goal of becoming an associate

If this is you, being a straight-up sole proprietor may be the best choice, assuming you have no employees.

A sole proprietorship is the simplest and most common structure chosen to start a business:

  • No formal action is required to start your business
  • It’s inexpensive
  • No papers to file
  • Nothing to dissolve
  • Simple tax preparation

When you’re ready to make the move from running your own practice to becoming an associate, the transition couldn’t be any easier.

On the downside, sole proprietorship means you have unlimited contractual liability and potentially higher taxes.

But how significant is the liability exposure?

Lenders, property managers, and others with whom you do business will typically require a personal guarantee for loans, leases, or other business transactions.  A personal guarantee means YOU are on the hook, even if you form a professional corporation or single-member limited liability company. As a result, contractual liability protection doesn’t count for much in evaluating whether to form an entity.

The real choice between sole proprietorship and forming a PC or single-member LLC comes down to taxes and the trade-off between potentially saving money (with entity formation) and simplicity (going with the sole proprietorship model).  Talk to a CPA so you can make an informed decision.

What if I’m planning to practice business law or intellectual property?

Why would your area of practice make a difference?  And didn’t we just say entity choice is driven by risk aversion – wreaking whatever benefit you can from contractual liability protection – and saving money – courtesy of a lower tax burden?  So what difference could practicing business and IP law possibly make?

If your goal is to help clients form entities and protect intellectual property, it could look a little odd that you haven’t followed the usual formalities in establishing your own business.

Fair or not, client perception counts.  So does marketing.  And part of marketing is how you brand your law firm.  Appending a PC or LLC designation to your business name may actually be an important part of how you choose to present yourself to potential clients.

If you plan to have employees …

This is an entirely different ballgame.  Without a doubt, form an entity. If you are a solo, choose a PC or single-member limited liability company (LLC).

Both entity types offer liability protection for non-professional torts committed by your employees.  The contractual liability protection discussed above will also kick in.  Talk to a CPA, but the likelihood is that forming an entity will also result in a noticeable tax savings.

If you plan to practice with others …

This is another occasion when forming an entity is a no brainer.  Do it for the avoidance of liability discussed in the preceding paragraph and for the limitation on vicarious liability.  The ideal structure may be to form a sole owner PC or single-member LLC that belongs to the firm’s entity. This may allow you, as the individual lawyer, to completely escape personal vicarious liability.

Multi-tier entities are complex, administratively messy, and no longer have the tax benefits they once enjoyed.  BUT avoiding vicarious liability is a big plus.  To learn more about this strategy, read Choice of Entity for a Legal Practice and Lawyers as PCs, LLCs, & LLPs in Oregon, referenced below.

Being fully informed in the premises

This post skates over some pretty significant content that deserves more in-depth thought.  Do your homework.  Recommended reading includes:

  • Sole Proprietorship as a business structure choice, courtesy of the Small Business Administration.  While you’re on the SBA site, poke around.  There is a ton of great content here.  And don’t forget about the help and resources available from the Small Business Development Center.
  • Law Firm Choice of Entity, from the ABA Young Lawyers Division.
  • Choice of Entity for a Legal Practice in Oregon, available on the PLF website. Select Practice Management > Forms > Entity Formation for Lawyers.
  • Lawyers as PCs, LLCs, & LLPs in Oregon, available on the PLF website.  Select Practice Management > Forms > Entity Formation for Lawyers.
  • Tax Considerations for Choice of Business Entity, Chapter 3 of the OSB CLE Seminar Handbook Broadbrush Taxation: Tax Law for the Nonspecialist (2015). Available in BarBooks behind the member login on the OSB website.

Most importantly

Talk with a CPA.  I can’t say this enough.  This is one of the best investments you can make in getting your practice up and running.  A CPA can help you determine whether forming an entity will result in tax savings.  He or she can also help you select an entity type – which is highly driven by tax considerations.

You’ll also learn about property tax, business income tax, business licensing, and other obligations you may not be familiar with – all of which are determined by where your business is located.

All Rights Reserved 2017 Beverly Michaelis

To Boldly Go Solo

How do you know if solo practice is right for you?  Do you have what it takes to organize, manage, and assume all the risks of running a law practice?

solo-with-laptop-cropped

As Bill Nye would say, please consider the following:

Independence

Solos get to call all the shots: client selection, case selection, setting fees, choosing a practice location – every decision that goes into running a practice.  The responsibility rests on your shoulders.  Do you find that appealing, daunting but doable, or overwhelming?  If you answer is appealing or daunting but doable, please proceed.

Are You a Decider?

Some people are decisive, others are not.  If you agonize over choices and normally poll multiple friends and family members before making a decision, solo practice will be difficult.

Solos need to make business and practice decisions every day.  Some of these decisions must be made under pressure with little time to reflect. The reward, of course, is that you get to decide.  You have the freedom and independence to use your creativity, knowledge, and skills to solve problems.

Are You a Self-Starter?

Solo practitioners must be self-regulating. Can you get the work out without someone supervising?  Give regular attention to administrative tasks like billing and bookkeeping? It will be up to you to meet deadlines, organize your time, and follow through on details. If you are a good planner and organizer, your solo practice will be successful.

Are You a Marketer?

All lawyers in private practice are expected to develop business, but in a solo practice the pressure is greater.  You’re it.  Can you create your own networking opportunities and business contacts?   Devote time to blogging or updating your website?  Post to social media?  Speak at CLEs?  Write articles for bar publications?  Build business referral relationships?

Financially Speaking

What resources are available to you?  What financial demands and commitments do you have?  Is it possible (or desirable) to apply for a micro loan, regular loan, or line of credit?  Are you up for crowdfunding?  Start by reviewing your expenses, then prepare a start-up and monthly budget.  Read about other business/financial essentials here.

Drive, Stamina, and Work-Life Balance

Can you practice law, run a business, and keep it all in balance with your personal life? Are you strongly motivated?  Healthy?  Is your family supportive of your efforts?  These are all good markers.  Nonetheless, make a plan to care for yourself and manage stress.  If you are looking for ideas or resources, contact the attorney counselors at the Oregon Attorney Assistance Program.  Services are confidential and free to Oregon attorneys.

Final Thoughts

Solo practice requires a lot of time and work, but it also has benefits: no one looking over your shoulder, no pressure to take a particular client, freedom to work in the areas of law that you prefer, and complete flexibility in deciding when, where, and how to work.  Is it a match for you?

All Rights Reserved Beverly Michaelis 2017

Market Research for the Legal Industry

Last week’s guest post examined profitability of lawyer marketing ventures by using a cost-per-case analysis:

Total dollars spent
÷
New clients signed on because of the marketing effort

Another piece of the puzzle is understanding what market research tells us about our potential clientele. But where can we find this information?  Data about demographics, employment, supply, and demand can hard to find – especially in one convenient location.  But thanks to the hard work of Annette Shelton-Tiderman we have a resource!

In her post, Problem Solvers: Offices of Oregon Lawyers, Annette reports on the following topics:

  • Offices of Lawyers Reflect Oregon’s Diverse Population and Geography
  • Supply and Demand: Employment Reflects Changes in the Economy
  • Marshalling Problem-Solving Resources
  • Projected Demand Shows Change and Overall Growth

She includes interesting infographics on the statewide marketplace for legal services, employment growth rates, employment projections, and breakdowns on areas of practice.  Because the report relies in part on the bar’s 2012 Economic Survey, the data is a bit aged, but still helpful.

I first shared this resource three years ago.  Unfortunately, it was relocated on the Employment Department website.  It took some time to dig back up again, thus the repost.  If you’re looking for other ideas on market and economic analysis, read on.

More Resources for Market and Economic Analysis

Lawyer billing practices

Lawyer Demographics – County, Population, Age Group, and Trends

  • OSB 2012 Economic Survey – the main survey includes data on the future plans of survey participants (leaving the practice of law or retiring).  The Addendum has additional demographic data.
  • Learning the Ropes 2016 Program Materials from the Professional Liability Fund.  Locate page 264, “PLF Covered Lawyers — by County, Population and Age Group.”  From the PLF home page, Select CLE > Past CLE and find “Learning the Ropes 2016” in the alphabetical list of Programs.  Click the program link.  On the description page, locate QUICK LINKS (top right of screen).  Select the PROGRAM MATERIALS link.
  • Are you a member of the OSB Lawyer Referral Service (LRS)?  They gather data on supply and demand for all their programs.

Market Research Databases

Economic Forecasting

Occupational data and job listings (including Lawyers)

  • The State of Oregon provides data and occupation profiles on all occupations, including lawyers and legal staff, at this link.   You can also display statewide job listings. Alternatively, start at this location, then select the “Wage Data Tool” in second column under Workforce.  To give you a better idea of how this tool works, here is a snapshot from a recent search:

wage20tool

As you can see, it is possible to print a full report, custom report, or summary.  If you want to find career pathways, wage range data, or occupations with similar skills just be sure the appropriate boxes are checked.

Postscript

The Oregon Employment Department’s Web site is a helpful resource for businesses researching economic data, business indicators, and other information. There are 13 workforce analysts spread across the state who are responsible for assisting businesses with needed labor market information. This can include the demographics of a neighborhood – very helpful when a business is looking to relocate or expand. The Employment Department also tracks education levels, income, population data, and maintains a database for occupational and wage-related information that is easily accessed via its website. Services provided by workforce analysts are paid for by business taxes.  There is no additional cost to access their expertise.

All Rights Reserved Beverly Michaelis 2017