This summer, the hottest ticket at state bar association annual meetings seems to be sessions focused on the future of the business of practicing law. And with just cause. There’s a lot going on out there to make us nervous. Increased competitiveness. Shaky economies. Too many lawyers. Transforming technologies. So when the State Bar of Texas asked Attorney at Work’s Merrilyn Astin Tarlton to deliver a keynote on the topic last month, she reached out to some top practice management experts for their thoughts.
What’s a lawyer to do?
Here’s the question: “What would you advise a lawyer to do in the face of all this change in the profession?”
And here are their answers:
- “I would develop a niche expertise that blended my background, interest and local needs, then drive it home both locally and via the Internet as broadly as possible. ‘Bug law’ doesn’t seem that sexy, but it might be lucrative if you are the only game in town.” — John C. Tredennick, Catalyst Repository Systems CEO; former AmLaw 200 firm partner and litigator
- “A client calls … rather than spend an hour talking on the phone, spend an hour writing out the six big ideas you would give that person regarding her question. Send your ideas to the client and to 10 others who raise the same question. If you’re not such a great writer, then give those suggestions on the phone, but record the conversation so you can edit it later for broader distribution. I’ll go out on a limb here and say the Internet has commoditized everything, even significant expertise. Why? Because now you can find what you could not find before—anything.” — Burkey Belser, President, Greenfield/Belser Ltd.
- “In my small town the best legal work is all based on referrals and relationships. Good lawyers here also offer helpful advice for free. The best seem to really want to help. Wait … same as everywhere!” — Ann Lee Gibson, Author, Competitive Intelligence: Improving Law Firm Strategy and Decision-Making, and “Law Firm Competitive Intelligence” blogger
- “To stay viable, solos and small firms must … adopt cost-effective technology that enables them to meet clients’ expectations and affordability, and deliver legal services in accordance with client demands.” — Donna Seyle, Author, Law Practice Strategy: Creating a New Business Model for Solos and Small Firms, and “Law Practice Strategy” blogger
- “Be informal general counsel to the client you love to serve. The bottom line is this: If you are going to practice law for the majority of your life, you might as well do it for people you enjoy and have fun doing it.” — Gerry Riskin, Founding Partner, Edge International, and “Amazing Firms, Amazing Practices” blogger
- “Use pricing as a selling tool. Most attorneys just settle on an hourly rate based on what they’ve ‘heard’ other attorneys charge. But, if you can come up with attractive pricing options and payment plans, that could be the differentiation point for a client choosing you, or not.” — Jared Correia, Senior Law Practice Advisor, Massachusetts Law Office Management Assistance Program
- “Each client has a cluster of needs, e.g., the middle-aged parents worried about: helping with college costs, planning for assisted living and Medicare for elderly parents, transitioning a family business to just one of the kids. Identify and address those clusters of needs.” — Sheila Blackford, Practice Management Advisor for the Oregon State Bar Professional Liability Fund, and Editor-in-Chief, Law Practice magazine
- “Outsource or virtualize every aspect of your law practice: secretarial service, practice management, billing and accounting, marketing, legal research, legal product, even legal analysis—except one. You must be genuinely, 100 percent involved in building and maintaining your personal relationships with your clients.” — Jordan Furlong, Partner with Edge International, Senior Consultant with Stem Legal Web Enterprises and “Law21” blogger
- “Pick your ideal clients and build your business around serving them way better than anyone else. And remember, the legal landscape is a lot like a big, hungry bear chasing down you and your competitors: You don’t have to outrun the bear, just your competition.” — Matthew Homann, founder of LexThink, a legal innovation consultancy, and “The [non]billable hour” blogger
- “Have good visibility on the Internet … including social media as well as a traditional website. … Focus on project management tools like checklists and other process documentation and improvement (as well as technology automation) to reduce the time spent on routine work to free up more time for high-value legal work.” — Jim Calloway, Director, Oklahoma Bar Association’s Management Assistance Program, and “Jim Calloway’s Law Practice Tips” blogger
What About You?
Tell us what actions you are taking in the face of change—and your advice for others—in an email to Merrilyn Astin Tarlton, or in the Comments box below.