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October 12, 2004

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Find a good traverse city attorney by doing your homework, asking questions and talking to several traverse city lawyers before deciding which one works for you. Michigan has some great attorneys if you chose a law firm carefully.

Not sure if you can measure a good attorney by where they live. Some of the best lawyers are not lawyers from big law firms in big cities.

Great article on client relations ...
See article here
In a profession that relies so heavily on words, it’s intriguing that lack of communication is one of the things clients complained about most. Complaints about speaking “legalese,” misunderstandings over expectations, and not having calls returned in a timely manner highlight just a few of clients’ complaints and indicate their desire for their lawyers to be better communicators.

Carolyn Elephant reports a new article from Law Practice Today and states:

This month's issue of Law Practice Management (Jan/Feb 2005) contain's Robert Denney's annual Trends Report: What's Hot and What's Not in the Legal Profession. Topping the list of hot practice areas are employment law, IP and contingency litigation (though not for personal injury, which is cool due to tort reform legislation). Also hot, but less so are white-collar crime, litigation (especially IP), real estate, corporate, family law, private equity and immigration (for high volume but routine work), health law, education law and energy at certain large firms (based on how busy I've been lately with energy per diem work, I can confirm that the field is hot now). Apparently family law makes the list not because of a proliferation of issues but rather, because of new trends towards providing service. The article cites a firm that set up a family law center which offers one stop shopping for attorneys, accountants, counselors and other professionals who provide service in family law situations.

As for less popular areas, bankruptcy is falling out of favor with the economy improving (though seems like most recent bankruptcies have involved scandal plagued companies like Enron or energy companies like PG&E or Mirant).

As for trends in practice, litigation boutiques are viewed as a growing trend, litigation budgets and outsourcing of general counsel responsibilities to law firms. All of these developments can benefit small firm lawyers.

So think about adding a specialty in one of these trendy areas and take advantage of the growth while it's good.

See the article:

By Robert Pack

For the past 50 years the billable hour has been the industry standard for accounting purposes within the legal profession. Prior to the 1950s the profession managed to function by relying on other arrangements such as fee schedules set by bar associations, fixed fees, contingencies, services rendered, and value of a lawyer’s work to the client. Then the emphasis shifted to the billable hour, prodded in large part by fears that fee schedules that covered large geographic regions violated antitrust laws. Moreover, lawyers wanted a level of certainty at the beginning of an engagement as to how the final bill would be determined.

Read more ...

"Hard work on behalf of your clients, and integrity and honor in your dealings with everyone are the minimum one can expect of any professional. After all, a client comes to a lawyer (or any professional) in time of need and in a matter about which the client has no expertise. The client is nervous and most likely emotionally distraught - circumstances which would normally render even the most mature and decisive person susceptible to exploitation. It is in precisely those circumstances when a professional must conduct him- or herself with the utmost honor and integrity, recognizing that the person before him or her is entrusting a matter of crucial importance to the professional."

Here is a great post about innovation in the practice of law. And an excerpt ...

[Matt Homann] "The single greatest competitive advantage small firm lawyers have over their big firm counterparts is the ability to quickly adopt and implement innovative practice methods. Though many small firm lawyers have fallen into the billing-by-the-hour business model practiced by most large firms, I would suggest that a significant amount of the alternative pricing of -- and value billing for -- legal services comes from the small firm lawyers in this country. In my firm, for example, we have completely abandoned the billable hour and have moved to a service-pricing model that gives our business and transactional clients a range of services (including “free” telephone calls) for a monthly fee or a flat per-project cost. In doing so, we’ve managed to make our clients happier, increased our margins, and decreased the time we spend in the office. My greatest fear is that AmLaw 200 firms will adopt and embrace a similar business model."

Here is a link to a great article written by Dustin Cole for both clients and lawyers.

An excerpt: ...

Therefore it's important that clients be provided with very specific information on how they and the attorney will work together at the very beginning of the relationship, before they form their own expectations. Rather than simply giving them an agreement to sign – or worse, to take home and sign (they'll never read it all) – they should be walked through a detailed and structured process. This includes:

1) A verbal guided tour through the agreement.
a) What will and will not be included in the representation.
b) Terms of the retainer agreement.
2) A financial discussion.
a) What fees will be charged for what type of work.
b) Details on how fees are charged.
i) Hourly and partial-hour rates.
ii) How phone calls are charged.
iii) How e-mails are charged.
iv) Types of charges which may appear without client involvement:
Research, depositions, strategy meetings, meetings with other lawyers,
travel if necessary, copying and materials, other costs, direct and indirect.
c) How the retainer works.
d) How billings will be handled.
i) How soon after being recorded will hours be billed.
ii) Who to call for questions on their bill.
e) What happens when payment is past due.
i) 10 days - first reminder call.
ii) 20 days - second reminder call.
iii) 30 days - work is suspended or motion to withdraw is sent.
3) How communications are best facilitated.
a) Best times to call to speak with the attorney.
b) Hours the attorney will normally not be available to speak with them.
c) How and when calls will be returned.
d) Who can help if the attorney is not available.
e) What times of day and week office meetings are normally scheduled.
f) What kinds of materials they'll be copied on.
i) How they'll be informed of what to do with them: For their file, for their response or action.
g) What to do when the call is an emergency.
h) Times when it is important to call the attorney.

more....

Here is a great quote from Steve Sanders, UofM law blogger from his blog "Reason & Liberty"
..........
Reason - meaning accurate perception and logical argument, based on fact rather than prejudice or superstition - is critical to the survival of liberty. Reason is the essence of law; it depends on an enlightened citizenry and a free press ... Civil liberties, human autonomy, and the countermajoritarian principles of our Constitution are in peril when fundamental rights are subject to the whims of popular opinion, and when dogma supplants free thought and debate.
.......

Here is another great legal marketing article about defining expectations between counsel and client written by Monica Bay Rainmaking 2004: Real Lawyers Don't Sell?
One section of the article I found to be very instructive is:

____________________

"Well-meaning firms can derail marketing programs by failing to set clear objectives and realistic deadlines, and communicating those objectives forcefully to its lawyers, she says. "Lack of buy-in from the lawyers who are crucial to the program's success can frustrate a marketer's initial expectations."

"The jobs, and the requisite skills and experience needed to perform them, are often ill-defined and unfocused," says another Am Law 100 marketing director. "Expectations on both sides often don't match up, thereby generating anxiety and frustration." He cites three typical flashpoints:

1. "Unrealistic expectations on the part of the lawyers, particularly with regard to turnaround."

2. "Unskilled and/or inexperienced marketers who are asked to perform tasks beyond their capabilities."

3. "Qualified marketers asked to perform mundane, time-consuming tasks of dubious value which makes it difficult to do the valuable work."
___________________

Many service businesses define expectations, budgets and benchmarks with a proposal documents. It makes me wonder why such documents are used in the legal business?

There is one site which I have found out there in the wide wide internet world which has been consistently devoted to turning the eye of the legal world back onto itself. OverLawyered.com

Their web site says it all ... "Overlawyered.com explores an American legal system that too often turns litigation into a weapon against guilty and innocent alike, erodes individual responsibility, rewards sharp practice, enriches its participants at the public's expense, and resists even modest efforts at reform and accountability."

Check out these links:

Discussion on Fee Issues

Contingency Fee Reform

If we are to change the practice of law, we must first engage in robust honest discourse about our own shortcomings as a 'profession.' The internet will be a powerful tool which will eventually help transform the law into something better, something more accountable and something more comprehensible to the average person.

I am providing some great resources for those of you who really care about innovative approaches to the practice of law, and especially the billable hour practice. The lesson here is that there are a variety of ways to structure your law practice and business model. The lack of innovation in the legal market is a function of the closed society in which we live, not the invalidity of good ideas for change.

the [nonbillable hour], revolutionizing the practice of law one idea at a time.

Here are a couple of links concerning the disclosure of lawyer information which any potential client should find interesting:

My Shingle Blog Post By Carolyn Elefant

Web Site To Include More Info On Lawyers

They're Indisposed to Disclose Lawyer Discipline

Most lawyers fight against disclosure of disciplinary action by the bar. So why don't you ask the lawyer you are considering whether or not he/she has ever been disciplined by any bar association before you sign the retention agreement? A ‘yes’ answer and the explanation surrounding the discipline should be part of any client’s decision making process.

The Ego Dilemma : Like many professionals, attorneys too often spend time serving their egos, instead of their client's interests. Sometimes, lawyers become focused on protecting or extending their ego with a client, an adversary or the court. There are lawyers who are willing to put their reputation on the line for every client's case. In contrast, their are lawyers who simply see each case as an opportunity to extend their own reputation, whether it services the client's interest or not.

Perhaps the most difficult thing to do in the practice of law is to make day-to-day strategic decisions on each case driven by rational thought, rather than lawyer ego. A good lawyer knows when his/her ego is affecting their judgment, judgment which is supposed to be wielded exclusively for the benefit of the client. Remember, it is this judgment which is costing the client $200/hour. A great lawyer can separate his or her ego from each strategic decision, in favor of doing whatever the situation and the client's goals demand.

A Common Complaint: There are many attorneys who do little more than service their own egos, and they do so with the client's money. There are many good lawyers in fancy buildings, dressed in the finest suits. There are also many lawyers for whom these items are merely a disguise from either ineptitude or self-serving hourly business practices. Knowing which lawyer to hire can sometimes come down to luck if you don’t perform due diligence before you sign a retainer or fee agreement.

People who propose tort reform often say they just feel there is something wrong with allowing our justice system to run on the same principles as capitalism as say, an automotive vendor, insurance salesman or store owner. Doesn't the legal profession require something more than profit motive?

When the practice of law is measured by the number of hours billed times an hourly rate, it is easy for the less tangible expectations to get lost. In many firms, 'hourly billing' becomes a standard in itself. The presumption is that only clients who think they received value come back for more legal services. But most people need a lawyer once in their life. They don't have the luxury of taking their next legal case elsewhere. The stakes on a clients one and only case are usually very high. You only get one chance to win your case. There are usually no 'do overs.' The wrong choice can be costly, especially by the hour!

In the sense that 'value is paid for value,' market forces are not inherently inconsistent with legal practice. Few attorneys think much about how legal value is measured. Market forces have less impact on law firms than a product manufacturer or store owners. Buying an hour of legal services is different than buying an hour of lawn maintenance. I can see that my lawn looks good after it is mowed. How does a client know if they received value?

$150/hour buys different services depending what attorney you hire. Measurement of results can be difficult. The answer to the 'value' question is whether and how value was defined by the lawyer, the law firm and the client upon retention.

The business philosophy of your lawyer is an important consideration which is often overlooked. Is your firm willing to be measured by obtaining certain goals and executing certain strategies? How is 'winning' your case defined? Set expectations early and often. After all, you are paying for services rendered. You not only have legal rights, You have rights as a service customer as well.

Legal Trade Secret: Good representation is a road map which can be defined, articulated and executed. Good lawyers know what they must achieve for you to win and how they are going to hit the targets which your case demands. Really good lawyers know the record in your case better than you or anyone else in the case. Understanding the record is nothing more than hard work and lots of ready and analyzing.

I have worked for several law firms over my 14 year career, including some of the largest in the country. I have also worked at small law firms and run my own law firm. Make sure you pick a law firm that has attorneys who talk about doing what is right for you, the client. There is more to the practice of law than billing by the hour, flat fees and contingency fees. Lawyers should define and deliver results, and be willing to talk about legal budgets, expectations and exit strategies. Do they handle personal injury cases, negligence cases, litigation, real estate, family law, divorce, criminal law, automobile / car accidents, probate, wills, trusts? What is the business model which the lawyer adheres to? What is the firms financial situation? Attorneys might not want to answer these questions, but you should ask them and find one who will be straight forward with his / her responses.

/ss/ A Long Time Traverse City Michigan Resident

Don't forget that you can learn a lot by interviewing several attorneys before you choose an law firm or a lawyer in that firm. Make sure they appear to have a stable income base, nice offices and plenty of resources to get the job done right. Your legal problem will either be resolved or become worse. Make sure you choose the right lawyer.

The difficulty with finding a lawyer in someplace like Traverse City MI is that there are so many attorneys who are general practitioners. You never know if the attorney really can handle your case as well as someone who specializes in that area of law. Plus, Traverse City is filled with attorneys who are part-time lawyers. How do you know which law firm or lawyer if right for the job? I have been a Michigan resident for many years in the Traverse area but really do not know any lawyers. Help!

You need to ask your prospective attorney enough questions so that you feel comfortable with your decision to retain him or her. Here are some examples:

1. What are your areas of specialization? How many of these cases have you handled before? What were the outcomes? How often do you go to trial?

2. What are my options to resolve this matter short of litigation? Is alternative dispute resolution an option?

3. What are the phases of handling this matter and how much might I expect each phase will likely cost? How much will my case cost? Can you take my case on a contingent fee basis?

4. What are the legal principles which will impact this matter and how might they apply to my situation?

5. Will you be the only attorney who works on the case? If not, who else will work on it?

6. How long might it take for this matter to be resolved?

7. How will you keep me informed about the progress of my case? If I contact your office with questions, how long will you take to return my call?

8. If I am not happy with a settlement offer, and you want to settle, will you go to court anyway?

9. Have you ever been disciplined by an ethics committee, or been suspended from the practice of law? If so, why?

10. What kind of technology do you use to help me win my case? Voicemail? Computers? Scanning? Case management software? Internet? Email?

Pay attention not only to the answer but to how the attorney answers the questions. An attorney who does not like to be bothered with questions from the client is probably an attorney who will likely keep you in the dark during the handling of your case. You will also be able to gauge the attorney's personality. You should feel very comfortable with your counsel. You may be spending a lot of time together as the case progresses. Never be afraid to leave a lawyers office without signing a retainer agreement. Never be shy about interviewing several lawyers before you make you decision.

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