Archive for May, 2006

Use your library

May 26, 2006

In this digital information age one of the best resources available to small firm is your Law Society, Court or local authority library: they all have access to online databases, report, journals and texts for no (or modest) fees and some will help you with your research.

Read Eight Reasons Solo Lawyers Should Use Law Libraries
and  the list of internet resources in Gumshoe Librarian 2006 and Bond University Law Library Resources

Getting rid of the billable hour

May 20, 2006

Every time I have given a client the choice of paying me by time or paying me a fixed fee thay have selected the fixed fee. So why do professionals persist with the billable hour?

In Burying the Billable Hour (pdf) Ron Baker explains "value pricing":the main message … is that the customer is the ultimate judge of the value that we, as professionals, provide. It is in that spirit we should charge the customer for the value they receive from our services. If we don'¬ít add value to the customer, we have no business being in business.

Sound too theoretical? Isn't it too hard? What if we get the pricing wrong?: we could get less money…the clients might pay too much. What are our services really worth to a client?

Here are some examples of other firms that have done it.

But has any firm gone all the way and got rid of the billable hour? Exemplar Law Practice says it is the first US law firm to exclusively adopt fixed price billing. (via Adam Smith Esq).

What about in Australia? I'm sure firms give fixed fee quotes all the time for specific projects. But not exclusively.

And some firms like Block Legal offer retainer packages.

Even if you don't drop the billable hour altogether, it is possible to think creatively and find a costs agreement that suits both you and your client. Give them the choice.

Time management: staying on top of things

May 16, 2006

One of the biggest risks any professional faces is procrastination: doing something other than the most important job. 

If you are self-managing  then the most important thing you do is stay focussed, deciding what you have to do and when: you have to make sure your day is balanced between fee earning work, administration, marketing and research. Add in some time for your family, eating and your health and the day has just disappeared!

So you need some tools to  help manage your time: anything from a calendar like Outlook through to personal management systems like Getting Things Done or a full-blown practice management and time recording system.

The important feature of any system is that it gives you the confidence that things that need to be done are being done and that nothing is being overlooked. Yes you may wake up in the middle of the night wondering about whether A or B has been done but when you check the next day you'll be reminded that you are waiting for a reply and that there is plenty of time before the next deadline or that yes you had thought of that issue before and  you have it covered.

Links: 43 Folders, Lifehacker 

Effective marketing for small firms

May 7, 2006

No matter the size of the firm, but especially in small firms, cash flow is critical.

You need to keep expenses down and make sure revenue is coming in. 

So you need cost-effective marketing: personal networking is important as is a good professional on-line presence.

The thing about a web site and weblogs is that they are available 24 hours a day without you needing to be present. 

Larry Bodine offers a concise  Ten-Step Checklist for Marketing Online. The key point is that it should be about the client not about you: make it relevant and practical to the users and they will come back and perhaps retain you.What would a client want to know?: where you went to school or what you have done lately in your area of expertise which is relevant to them?

Technology for small firms

May 5, 2006

Small firms can now afford technology that was only previously available to mega-firms.

But you need to have a strategy. And don't forget that the cost of installing and maintaining new software can be up to 4 times what it cost you to buy it.

So the ABA Law Practice Magazine feature on Pointers and predictions for solos and small firms is worth looking at.

Some key points:

  • A good rule of thumb is to budget an annual dollar value for new purchases that is one-third of the total technology cost. This includes such items as hardware, software (upgrades if needed), maintenance and support, subscription renewals, communications expenses and any third-party-provided service such as e-mail or anti-spam filtration.
  • have a hardheaded approach to how technology can reduce costs
  • Continuously analyze work flow to see where the bottlenecks lie.
  • tech knowledge and tech investment are mandatory and an intrinsic part of substantive and procedural law practice today.

Small but nimble

May 2, 2006

Can a small but focussed firm compete effectively against a mega-firm? Of course.

In "The Innovator's Dilemma" Strikes Again? Bruce McEwen discusses Clayton Christensen's book in the context of law firms: how a small firm with excellent customer service and good use of technology and non-traditional approaches can excel.

What sort of things are firms doing? Well, virtuality seems to be popular, ranging from the virtual law firm to virtual paralegals.And then there's the issue of billing (that's a topic for another time).