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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 professionaljudgment of a lawyer in the course of providing professional services to a client.
Nonlawyer owners will be allowed to control or direct businessaffairs 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.
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.
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.