Best Practices – eService, Workflow, Trust Accounting and Beyond

From office system best practices to eService and advanced trust accounting – CLE offerings covered a wide array of topics this year. If you missed a program, don’t despair. Video and audio recordings are available to download from my online store.  Here are the details:

Best Practices for Client Intake, Engagement & Workflow
OSB Program No.: 6724*9 (1.0 PS/general MCLE credits)

Recognizing the objectives and ethical traps of client intake, implementing the 7 key elements of intake forms, automating intake with ease, documenting representation, modernizing the engagement process using forms, brochures, automation, and eSignatures, using technology and staffing to improve workflow, and more.

Best Practices for Docketing, Conflicts, Disengagement & File Retention
OSB Program No.: 6724*10 (1.0 PS/general MCLE credits)

Represent clients effectively and ethically by applying best practice recommendations for docketing, conflicts, disengagement, and file retention. Includes docketing tips for eCourt practitioners, streamlining conflict checking, limiting liability exposure through proper disengagement, simplifying disengagement, and creating file retention policies, procedures, and checklists.

Oregon eService
OSB Program No.: 6724*11 (1.25 PS/general MCLE credits)

For experts and novices alike – an opportunity to polish eService/eCourt skills and apply tips straight from the courthouse – or understand eService from the ground up. Includes how to eServe in four easy steps, six compelling reasons to use eService, identifying eService exceptions, responding to service contact issues, pursuing sanctions under UTCR 1.090(2), eService vs. service by email, courthouse dos and don’ts, and proper Certificates of Service.

Trust Accounting Fundamentals
OSB Program No.: 6724*12 (1.5 ethics MCLE credits)

From managing bank charges and avoiding impermissible cushions to reporting overdrafts and addressing client fee disputes – this program will provide a fundamental understanding of how to operate your lawyer trust account.

Advanced Trust Accounting
OSB Program No.: 6724*13 – 1.25 ethics MCLE credits

Delve deeper into the more advanced issues of trust accounting, including how to safely manage wire and EFT transfers, using layaway payment plans, collecting “first and last month’s rent,” managing evergreen retainers and hybrid fee agreements, receiving third party payments, bartering legal services, passing on credit card transaction fees, what to do with unclaimed funds, responding to garnishments and liens, how to disburse settlement proceeds if your client is missing, and more.

Your on demand CLE purchase includes

  • MP4 download (combined audio and video file)
  • M4a download (audio only)
  • Written program materials, including presentation slides and resources
  • Answers to polling questions asked during the live CLE
  • MCLE Form 6 for self-reporting of MCLE credits

Instant digital delivery with options to save to the cloud or your mobile device

Links to digital files are delivered instantly at checkout with your purchase confirmation email.  Download, stream, save to your Dropbox account, or send files to your mobile device or desktop computer.

Free eBook!

If you visit my online store, be sure to download your free copy of Tips for Improving Client Relationships.

Secure payment processing

All transactions are handled by Selz and protected with industry standard security, including encryption and SSL secure. The Selz platform is also PCI compliant. Visa, MasterCard, American Express, and Discover accepted.

All Rights Reserved 2018 Beverly Michaelis

Commit to Your Goals to Achieve Marketing Results

Have you set goals for your law practice?

 

From a big picture perspective, all three choices are valid.  What they lack is a reasonable chance of success.

You can greatly improve the odds of achieving your goals by taking these three simple steps:

  • Create measurable goals
  • Write your goals down!
  • Be accountable

Have I written about this before? Yes, indeed.  But a reminder never hurts!

Create Measurable Goals

If your goals and objectives aren’t measurable, how will you know if you succeeded? It’s easy to say “I want to grow my client base,” because this statement can mean so many different things: you want to increase revenue, open more client files, or start taking on clients in a new area of law.  Perhaps keeping your goals fuzzy is a way of feeding a tendency to procrastinate or avoid identifiable failure ….

If you want to grow your client base, start by articulating what this means to you.

Let’s say your goal is to increase new client retention by 10%.  Start by assessing your success in converting clients (new clients interviewed vs. new clients who retain you as their lawyer).  If your conversion rate is less than 75%, it is time for introspection and some retooling.  What issues are you facing?

  • Do you need to bolster your confidence? Finding support through peer groups or counseling may make a big difference.
  • Perhaps you need to learn more about a specific area of law so clients are assured of your knowledge. Contact the Oregon State Bar and Professional Liability Fund. Access OSB BarBooks, download PLF Forms, attend CLEs, join Bar Sections, and read pertinent publications.
  • Maybe you can benefit from polishing your client interviewing skills or learning more about client needs?  Find a mentor, reach out to colleagues, search this blog for posts on client relations and marketing – there are a ton of resources available in this area if you ask.  It may be as simple as observing your mentor or asking her to sit in on your client interviews (screen for conflicts; get client permission).

Identify the challenges – there may be several – then dial down.  Create a series of measurable steps to help you achieve your goal of increasing client retention by 10%. Be concrete and set time limitations.  Here are examples from a prior post.

Continue developing additional specific, measurable steps you can take to improve client retention.

Write Your Goals Down!

If you don’t mind a success rate hovering around 43%, then talking or thinking about your goals is a good way to go. If you prefer to do better than that, write your goals down.

Putting pen to paper (or fingers to a keyboard) is an inescapable part of making your goals more real, concrete, and achievable.  You can improve your chances even more by keeping your goals visible: a sheet kept on your desk, a series of post-its on a bathroom mirror, or saving a screen grab to your desktop or mobile device.

The act of writing is, in itself, a process of mental transformation.  If you don’t believe me, just Google “why is writing down goals important?” and scan through the myriad of results.  Here is the best explanation, IMHO.  By the way, science backs this up. Writing down your goals and sharing them with a friend will increase your rate of success from 43% to 62%.

Be Accountable!

Being accountable to others is success on steroids!  The Dominican University of California conducted a study on strategies for achieving goals.  By including the additional step of sending a weekly progress report to a friend, 76% of study participants accomplished their goals, or were at least half-way there, in a four-week period.  Wow!

So if I write a text or send an email to a friend,

“Hi Sheila, I’m setting goals for my law practice this year.  One of my objectives is to read the OSB Family Law BarBook cover-to-cover by June 1.  I need you to hold me accountable for getting this done.  Can I send you weekly progress reports?”

and my friend holds me to my promise of sending weekly progress reports, there is a 76% likelihood I will follow through? I’m on board!  Naturally you can buddy-up on this idea:  find a colleague with whom you can exchange goals and weekly progress reports. You will both benefit by holding the other accountable.

Getting Started

Get underway with the process of goal setting, marketing plans, and business development by accessing the great resources available on the PLF website.  Choose Practice Management, then Forms. Under “filter by category,” select “Marketing.”

You can make this happen. Commitment and follow through make all the difference.

All Rights Reserved – Beverly Michaelis – 2018.

 

 

 

 

Nonlawyer Ownership of Law Firms

A financial planner, a CPA, and a lawyer walk into a bar … to form a law firm. A joke, right? Two years from now, some version of this could be happening for real in California.

A state task force headed by a former law professor is expected to produce proposals in 2019. Presently, Rule of Professional Conduct 5.4 prohibits nonlawyers from acting as partners, corporate officers, or directors of a law firm. The same rule strictly regulates fee sharing and forbids nonlawyers from directing or controlling a lawyer’s professional judgment.

Why consider nonlawyer ownership?

Some view nonlawyer ownership as a means of boosting productivity, reducing costs, and improving access to justice. Others herald the benefits of outside investment and potential for greater innovation in the corporate legal market.

What we can expect from California

Your opinion may differ, but I believe the State Bar of California is ready to make this change. The purpose of the Task Force is to work out the issues.  I predict:

  • California will be the first state to allow nonlawyer ownership of a law firm.
  • Nonlawyer owners will be prohibited from controlling or directing the professional judgment of a lawyer in the course of providing professional services to a client.
  • Nonlawyer owners will be allowed to control or direct business affairs of the firm.
  • Fee sharing will be authorized, provided: (a) clients give informed consent in writing; and (b) the sharing of legal fees does not affect the lawyer’s professional judgment.
  • Receiving referral fees from nonlawyers will be permissible.
  • Disclaimers or disclosures may be required in firm advertising, marketing, engagement agreements, websites, etc.
  • Lawyers will be permitted to reveal confidential client information to nonlawyer owners and their staff in order to carry out representation.
  • Conflict of interest rules will expand to include nonlawyers as “members” of the firm – a conflict for one is a conflict for all.

Operational concerns

Anyone pondering formation of a future lawyer/nonlawyer union should think long and hard about all the issues involved in business formation. A business plan, mission statement, and written ownership agreement will be an absolute must. Thorough insurance coverage, including professional liability, will be a necessity.  Prepare to integrate office systems, record retention, and nonlawyer staff. This includes training!  If nonlawyer partners are beholden to regulatory agencies, know the ins and outs for your sake, but don’t fall into the trap of advising nonlawyer owners. Lastly, have a plan for departure. When a law partner leaves you high and dry, the repercussions aren’t pretty. But at least you can temporarily cover your partner’s legal cases. This isn’t likely to be true with a nonlawyer partner who has an area of expertise (and perhaps licensure) that you lack.

All Rights Reserved – Beverly Michaelis – 2018

Starting Your Own For Profit Referral Service

Have you ever thought about starting your own for-profit lawyer referral service? Using staff to screen incoming calls and match potential clients to lawyers?

OSB Formal Ethics Op No 2005-168, revised June 2018, contemplates exactly this scenario. While permitted, there are restrictions. Read on.

Can I own a for-profit lawyer referral service?

Yes! However: lawyers are not permitted to use other businesses (such as a lawyer referral service) for in-person solicitation of legal work. Nor may lawyers misrepresent the nature of services provided. OSB Formal Ethics Op No 2005-10; OSB Formal Ethics Op No 2005-106 (rev 2016); OSB Formal Ethics Op No 2005-108 (rev 2015).

Can I manage a for-profit lawyer referral service?

Yes! General management and administration of a lawyer referral service is ethical. This includes duties such as hiring staff or supervising operations.

May I operate my for-profit lawyer referral service at the same premises as my law practice?

Yes! Since lawyers are allowed to office share with non-lawyers, there is no ethical barrier to operating a referral service at the same physical location as your law practice.

What ethical issues might arise in operating a for-profit lawyer referral service?

Lawyer-owners should avoid participating in the actual screening of incoming inquiries (potential clients). This eliminates two risks.

  • Receiving confidential information which could create a conflict of interest
  • Creating a lawyer-client relationship

Lawyer-owned and operated referral services must be separate independent incorporated entities – not merely DBAs (assumed business names) registered to the lawyer. See In re Fellows, 9 DB Rptr 197, 199-200 (1995).

Do not give legal advice through your lawyer referral service! As OSB Formal Ethics Op No 2005-168 explains, “a referral service is not licensed to practice law and a lawyer may not assist a nonlawyer in the unlawful practice of law.”

In my opinion

If you decide to operate a lawyer referral service, consider taking these extra steps to minimize your liability.

  • Create your referral service with the same formality as you would an independent business for one of your clients. This isn’t the time for shortcuts. Have a business plan, mission statement, marketing plan, budget, financial projections, etc. If this is a co-venture among you and your lawyer friends, have a written “partnership” agreement or equivalent!
  • Keep independent records and books.
  • Set up the service in a separate physical location. Is it ethically necessary? No, but it’s smart. Keeping the businesses physically separate minimizes confusion and increases the appearance of neutrality. (The service isn’t there to feed clients to you – it exists to refer clients to others.)
  • Consider hiring separate staff for the referral service. This will offer further protection against potential conflict of interest arguments. If neither you nor your legal staff are involved in screening, you can’t possibly receive confidential information. Besides, your staff may not have the time to handle the additional workload. Referral services are busy. Do you want your paralegal or legal secretary to answer referral calls or get your work done? They may not be able to do both.
  • Train referral staff on unlawful practice of law issues and other concerns related to the service. For example, what should they do if a client comes to your referral business in person and wants to talk to a lawyer now!
  • Use disclaimers in your advertising, on your website, in online forms, or as part of a recorded greeting heard by all callers. See this language posted on the Oregon State Bar Lawyer Referral Service (OSB LRS) web page.
  • While the assertion of negligent referral is a rare thing, the right client in the right circumstance may make a claim. Be prepared and inquire into proper business insurance coverage. Don’t assume your professional liability extends to your independently owned and operated lawyer referral service.

All Rights Reserved 2018 Beverly Michaelis

 

 

An Oldie and a Goodie: Empowering Law Practice Management Tips

Whilst strolling through the Internet one day, I came across this post by Peggy Gruenke at Attorney at Work. Twenty simple ideas that are timeless and critically important if you want your law firm to succeed. Here are a few of my financial-themed favorites with thoughts of my own.

Peggy’s five financial tips – greatly condensed

  • Write a business plan
  • Create a budget
  • Know your overhead costs
  • State your fee with authority
  • Bill early, often, and strategically

Money and goals

As the business owner, your goal is to see the big picture.  Who are you? Why are you unique? Who are you best equipped to serve? This is the purpose of a business plan, according to Peggy Gruenke.

My input? Don’t be intimated! Your business plan does not have to be a magnum opus. You can get it done in a few pages. Creating a business plan will give you:

  • Clarity about what you want to do
  • Control over your own fate
  • A strategy for staying organized and on track
  • Accountability
  • A way to measure and monitor your progress
  • A path to help you move forward

Want help? See my business plan checklist – originally designed for law students, but easily conformed to active law practices.

Budgeting and costs

Budgeting can be as simple as a basic spreadsheet. Track what comes in and what goes out. Don’t bother with incorporating prior years (unless you have a driving reason to do so). Just start now. Toward year-end use your 2018 data to create projections for 2019.

As Peggy says, “You should know (by heart) how much money you need to make to keep the doors open.”

To get started, revisit this article by yours truly, Dee Crocker and Sheila Blackford.  As motivation, consider this excerpt:

Every law office should have a budget. Without one, it’s easy to overspend and hard to plan for future purchases. Knowing your overhead costs will help you decide how much revenue you need to make and how much you need to charge to bring in that amount. Failure to budget can cause financial problems. Lawyers with financial problems may take on new clients who have money in hand, leaving the work for existing clients unfinished. This can lead to disciplinary complaints from clients whose work is not completed.

I guarantee that your monthly “budget to actual” report, which compares actual spending against budget projections, will become your new best friend.

Stating your fee with authority

When a prospective client tells you that Lawyer Smith is willing to do the same work for $2,000 less, tell the person kindly that he can then retain Lawyer Smith. When you reduce your fee, you will have lost the trust of your prospective client. Odds are, in time, that client will leave Lawyer Smith and retain you to handle the mess that Lawyer Smith made.

Set a fee and stick to it! I know this can be hard, especially if you’re new to solo practice. Know in advance what you propose to charge, don’t make it up on the fly. Be matter-of-fact, business-like, and deliver the number without hesitation. You’re always free to make adjustments with the next case, but don’t waiver with the client sitting in front of you. For help in getting started, see this post.

Bill early and often

When you are ready to bill, issue invoices as soon after the event as possible: “As each day passes after an event, the perception of your value is diminished. If you send out the bill even two weeks afterward, the client won’t perceive the value to be as high.” (Peggy’s words of wisdom.)

There is no reason you can’t deliver your final bill with transactional documents. Take advantage of the arc of client gratitude while it is still in your favor!

Looking for more billing tips? Check out this resource.

All Rights Reserved 2018 Beverly Michaelis