Engagement Letters Are Your Friend

Today, I’d like to share a recent post from our friends at NW Sidebar about the importance of engagement letters.

In Cox v. Alliant Insurance Services, Inc., 2017 WL 4640452 (E.D. Wash. Sept. 19, 2017) (unpublished), the plaintiffs sought to disqualify the opposing law firm based on a conflict of interest. One of the plaintiffs argued that he was a former client of the firm on a substantially related matter, necessitating the law firm’s withdrawal.

The plaintiff’s contact with the firm was as a representative for a corporation.  In concluding that no attorney-client relationship existed between the plaintiff and the law firm, the court relied on two key points:

  • The law firm and corporation executed a written engagement agreement that identified the corporation (and not the individual) as the client in the matter.
  • The plaintiff failed to introduce contradictory evidence, i.e., he could not point to any communication or action by the firm which expanded the attorney-client relationship to include him individually as a client.

Read the full post here.

Lessons Learned

As we discussed in the CLE, Limiting Exposure to Conflicts, identifying your client and clarifying the client’s status (prospect, current client, or former client) is paramount to conflict screening and limiting your potential liability. The single best tool at your disposal? Written engagement, disengagement, and nonengagement letters – all of which are available at the Professional Liability Fund website.

But the law firm in Cox didn’t stop at the engagement letter. Firm members were also consistent in their actions toward the corporate representative. There was no evidence of emails, correspondence, or other communication supporting that the corporate representative was an individual client of the firm.

The moral of the story? A solid engagement letter is a small investment to make in the realm of thwarting conflicts and liability. Even better: maintaining consistency in your corporate communications.

All Rights Reserved 2018 – Beverly Michaelis

 

 

Tackling Lawyer Debt

Money is a significant stressor in many people’s lives. Student loan and credit card debt can feel overwhelming, even paralyzing. Here are some resources that can help.

Student loan debt

In a recent guest post on Legal Ease, Andrew Josuweit of Student Loan Hero shared three solutions to ease the burden of student loan debt:

Start the process of tackling student loan debt by checking out the resources published by the Oregon New Lawyer Division. All three Oregon law schools offer a Loan Repayment Assistance Program (LRAP) for their recent graduates. If you attended law school out-of-state, check with your law school to see if they offer their own LRAP. You may also be eligible for the Oregon State Bar’s LRAP program.

For an overview of this topic, check out Navigating Student Loan Repayment Options, a free CLE available on the Professional Liability Fund website.

Credit card debt

If you are struggling to chip away at your credit card debt, consider whether a balance transfer is right for you. In theory, a balance transfer credit card allows you swap out your high-rate card for a cheaper card, paying off your original balance. Nerdwallet recently published a list of the best balance transfer cards for 2018. Terms vary widely, so do your homework. But all in all, the Nerdwallet list seems to include some good deals:

  • Discover – No annual fee, 0% interest on purchases for 6 months and 0% on balance transfers for 18 months, rewards rate 1.00%
  • Citi Diamond – No annual fee, 0% on purchases for 12 months and 0% on balance transfers for 21 months
  • Chase Freedom – No annual fee, 0% on purchases and balance transfers for 15 months, rewards rate 1.00%

For the pros and cons of pursuing a zero percent balance transfer, see this post.

Know your spending habits

Establish a system to track personal income and expenses. Free budget templates are available from Office 365, Mint, or these sourcesQuicken Deluxe is another good solution: cheap, easy to use, and a great value.

Speaking of budgets, have one. Each month, compare your actual income and expenses to the amounts you projected. If you see yourself going astray, make a mid-year course correction.

Be ready to make tough decisions and a few sacrifices to cut back on spending.

Managing the stress

Money management isn’t easy, and being in debt is stressful. But you are not alone. If you don’t know where to start, reach out to the attorney counselors at the Oregon Attorney Assistance Program (OAAP). They are supportive and can point you in the right direction. Help is free and confidential: 503-226-1057 or toll-free in Oregon 800-321-6227.

For an uplifting account of how one lawyer survived law school debt, read this article from the September 2017 issue of InSight, the OAAP publication.

All Rights Reserved 2018 Beverly Michaelis

Billing Practices and Lawyer Compensation

The new OSB 2017 Economic Survey is available for download. In it, you’ll find a plethora of information about Oregon lawyers, including employment characteristics, compensation, billing practices, career satisfaction, and future plans.  Here are a few highlights:

Employment Characteristics

  • 28.3% of survey respondents reported being a member of at least one other state bar.
  • 86.1% reported working as an Oregon lawyer; 13.9% were not.
  • Lawyers who chose to work part-time did so to maintain work/family balance, pursue other career interests, or because they were semi-retired.
  • Slightly more than 60% of working Oregon lawyers reported being in private practice, with just under 20% in government positions.
  • The most dominant areas of private practice are business/corporate (transactional and litigation), civil litigation (plaintiff and defense), tax/estate planning, family law, and real estate/land use/environmental.
  • The most common practice size was a 1 lawyer office, followed by 3-6 lawyer offices, and 7-20 lawyer offices.

Compensation

  • The statewide mean compensation was $143,277.
  • The amount of compensation was highest in the Portland metro area and lowest on the Oregon coast.
  • The highest paying area of practice was real estate/land use/environmental.
  • Statewide, female lawyers reported earning less than male lawyers.
  • Peak earning years were 50-59, with compensation generally decreasing after age 60.

Billing Practices

  • Statewide, the mean hourly rate was $286, ranging from $226 to $324 regionally. (The highest reported hourly rate was $850 in Portland.)
  • By area of practice, the highest hourly rate was for business/corporate – litigation, with a mean of $333.  Other top billing areas were: real estate/land use/environmental, civil litigation – defendant (excluding insurance defense), and business/corporate – transactional.

Career Satisfaction

  • On a scale of 1-5, with 1 being very dissatisfied and 5 being very satisfied, lawyers statewide had a mean career satisfaction rate of 3.98. In general, the more years in practice, the greater a lawyer’s satisfaction with his/her career.
  • By location, employment, and area of practice, the most satisfied lawyers were:
    • In the Upper Willamette Valley
    • Working as judges or hearing officers
    • Practicing in civil litigation defense, real estate/land use/environmental, or criminal law (private bar).

Future Plans

  • 19.2% of lawyers statewide reported they were planning or contemplating retirement.
  • 6.7% were planning to leave the profession, but not retire.
  • Another 10.3% were planning to reduce their practices.

All Rights Reserved 2018 Beverly Michaelis

 

Last Chance to Register for 7 Steps to Building Better Client Relationships

Last Call to Register for “7 Steps to Building Better Client Relationships”

Join me for a CLE on Wednesday, December 6, 2017 about how to cultivate your network, balance client expectations, proactively control social media content, meet client needs, and become more client-centric by exploring the 7 steps to building better client relationships:

  • Capturing better clients
  • Polishing communication skills
  • Advancing client service through technology and staff
  • Managing social media
  • Improving client satisfaction
  • Strengthening client retention
  • Renewing relationships

Topics include how to CYA the right way, how to say “no” gracefully, dos and don’ts when responding to negative online reviews, how to thank clients as part of your everyday, the simple six-step process to stay in touch, and why you should modernize fee arrangements and billing.

Date/Time/Location

Wednesday, December 6, 2017 from 10:00 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. Pacific Time. This is a live, online webinar.

Who Should Attend?

Lawyers, office administrators, or staff – anyone interested in building better client relationships.

Group Discounts

Discounts available to firms who wish to register 5 or more attendees. Contact organizer to arrange a discount code before registering: beverly@oregonlawpracticemanagement.org.

Does the Program Include Written Materials?

Yes. Written materials are distributed electronically with your registration confirmation.

Ask Questions/Live Polling

Questions are welcome during the live event. Attendees are also encouraged to participate in live, anonymous polling.

Registration Fee

$25 – Visit the Upcoming CLE page, click here, or choose the Register button below. Secure payment processing powered by Eventbrite. Visa, MasterCard, Discover, and American Express accepted. Program materials included in the registration price.

Eventbrite - 7 Steps to Building Better Client Relationships

MCLE Credits
1.50 practical skills pending.

Can’t Attend?

Video and audio recordings of 7 Steps to Building Better Client Relationships will be available to download along with the program materials following the December 6 CLE. Price: $25. Contact me or visit my online CLE store after December 6.

All Rights Reserved [2017] Beverly Michaelis