Practice Management

The Future Is Hazy—What Now?

By | Jul.09.12 | Business Development, Daily Dispatch, Law Practice Management

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 GibsonAuthor, 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 FurlongPartner 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 Homannfounder 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.

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4 Responses to “The Future Is Hazy—What Now?”

  1. Richard Granat
    13 July 2012 at 3:54 pm #

    Start thinking about what part of your practice is going to be converted into a software application and get ahead of the curve by doing it yourself or finding someone to build it for you.

    If part of your practice is going to become a software application, build skills that can’t be replaced by software. Don;t wait to be replaced by an app.

    Start thinking about mobile apps that connect with your clients and the way in which mobile connects with social, and the way social leads to relationship referrals — the same kind of person to person referrals that lawyers have always used to build their practice. A prospect can look in a lawyer’s directory for an attorney — but its not the same as a person to person referral.

    Start thinking about focusing in a specialty and becoming the best at that specialty. Then use the Internet to increase your reach over a wider geographical area. Become the “go to” person in that subject area.

    Extend your brand “online”. You need to able to deliver legal services online.

  2. Nancy Byerly Jones
    18 July 2012 at 8:56 pm #

    Hi Marilyn..Thanks for sharing these great reminders and pointers.
    I’d also add the need to revamp how you network….more importantly, make sure you are indeed networking on a regular (and well thought out!) basis. Networking is no longer about just going to lawyer events and sharing our business cards….It should be about attending a variety of events (especially lots more for a diversity of business people vs. just lawyers) and while there, our being far more focused on being excellent listeners and learning all you can about others vs. the old traditional way of our doing most the talking in our efforts to educate others about what WE do….Keeping our mouths shut is much easier said than done (for most of us any way!) ….but I feel the more we listen more and talk less, the more we’ll be able to really learn what our clients and prospective clients want, what they do, what they need, etc. (Please note all of this was typed w/a strong southern twang attached!) 🙂

  3. Craig Sharp
    10 August 2012 at 5:03 am #

    A simple philosophy – always try to think like the client as well as as a lawyer. If you were a client, what would you want, expect, pay for ?