The Busy Lawyer’s Guide to Success

Essential Tips to Power Your Practice

Archive for the ‘Client Service’

Boosting Your Productivity in 2011

December 27, 2010 By: Reid Category: Client Service, Firm Management & Operations, Making (more) Money, Marketing and Client Development, Strategy & Planning

With the New Year just around the corner, soon many of us will resolve to improve our law practices in 2011. To help with those resolutions, the ABA Inside Practice newsletter has published Tips for Boosting Productivity at the Office from our book. The list has a dozen practical ways to improve productivity within a law firm.

Best of all, the ABA has specially-priced our book to give this holiday season or to buy for yourself and your staff to start 2011 with a bang!

Order The Busy Lawyer’s Guide to Success by January 31, 2011 and save 30% by using discount code PEP0EBLG during checkout in the ABA Web Store. Order before December 31 to receive free shipping too!

The top 10 things you can do to avoid a legal malpractice claim

November 30, 2010 By: Dan Category: Client Service, Ethics & Professionalism

In most areas of law practice, lawyer/client communication problems are the number one cause of claims, followed closely by deadline and time management issues. Together they typically account for more than half the malpractice claims LAWPRO sees. Failures to know or apply substantive law typically account for about 10% of claims. See The Biggest Claims Risks article for more detail about the most common malpractice errors.

So, while knowing substantive law is important, from a claims prevention point of view you get more for your risk management efforts by focusing on improving client communications and focusing on getting things done on time. With this in mind, here are my top tips for avoiding a malpractice claim:

  1. Start out on the right foot with a written retainer: The retainer letter or agreement is your terms of engagement. It should clearly identify who the client is and what you are retained to do.
  2. Get the money up front: At the time you are retained, get a retainer that is sufficient to cover all initial work that needs to be done on the matter. Replenish retainer funds before they are exhausted (set up your accounting system to monitor and remind you when the amount in trust is getting low). Stop working on the file if the retainer is not replenished – working on credit greatly increases the likelihood you will not get paid for your work. Of course, you can and should do pro bono work, but only when you choose to do it.
  3. Control client expectations at all times: Clearly and accurately communicate to your clients the available courses of action and possible outcomes; all the implications of any decisions; how long thingswill take; and the expected fees and disbursements.
  4. Document everything (almost): It is just not practical to document everything on everymatter, but you should document asmuch as you can in some contemporaneousmanner. Letters are fine, but e-mails, detailed time entries, andmarginal notes on documents can be equally effective. In particular, you want to record advice or instructions that involve significant issues or outcomes, and major client instructions or decisions. Documenting things is especially important when you are dealing with difficult or emotional clients.Memorialized communications help confirm what was said or done for the client in the event you ever need or want to look back to explain why or what work was done, to justify an account, or to defend yourself on a malpractice claim.
  5. Meet or beat deadlines: Set realistic deadlines when it comes to completing tasks and/or delivering things to clients. Underpromising and over-delivering (i.e. earlier than promised) on work for clients will make them very happy. Don’t leave things to the very last minute as unexpected events beyond your control (blackouts, snowstorms, taxi got lost on way to file documents) will prevent things from happening as required. Giving yourself an extra day or two by setting your deadline before the real deadline can be a lifesaver.
  6. Don’t do any of the things that most annoy clients: These are all the things that would equally annoy you. They include not returning calls or e-mails, long periods of inactivity, surprising a client with bad news or a large account.
  7. Don’t handle a matter with which you are uncomfortable: If you are unsure or hesitant about handling thematter for any reason (e.g. unfamiliar with the area of law, a potential conflict exists, matter for a relative or friend, demanding or difficult client), get appropriate help or refer it to another lawyer.
  8. Don’t wait until after the file is closed to ask how you did: Ask clients for feedback as thematter progresses, atmilestones or when interim accounts are rendered. Talk to major clients at least once a year, and do this off the clock!
  9. What goes around comes around: Your reputationwill precede you. Be civil all of the time, to your client, the counsel and client on the other side, judges and court staff.
  10. Send interim and final reporting letters: They should confirm what work was done, and the successes obtained for the client. For example: For example: Retainer terminated, futures steps, and so on.
  11. Don’t sue for fees: This almost guarantees a counter-claim alleging negligence.
  12. Document everything (almost): Read #4 again – it is the best way to avoid a claim.

Doing all these things will help you avoid the most common malpractice errors and ensure you have happy clients. And remember, happy clients don’t tend to sue their lawyers.

Cross posted on and Lawyer Success Tips

Being up front and blunt about setting and controlling client expectations

October 08, 2010 By: Dan Category: Client Service

My good friend Jim Calloway, practice management advisor for the Oklahoma State Bar Association, just added a fantastic post on his Law Practice Tips Blog.

Jim’s post, One Firm’s View of Client Expectations is about a South Carolina law firm that has decided to use its web site to make certain their potential clients have clear and realistic expectations about the firm before they even schedule an appointment. Check out the Client Expectations (Realistic or Unrealistic) section of their web page.

This page has statements I have never seen on a law firm’s website before: “We do not work on the weekends and do not provide emergency numbers for the weekends” and “Do not think we are perfect. We make mistakes.” Wow! Have you ever seen anything like this on a law firm website before? You should read the entire expectations page. There is a fair bit of general advice about family law and litigating domestic disputes. This page clearly sets out the rules of engagement for the client if they are to retain the firm to act for them.

In his post Jim says, and I wholeheartedly agree with him, that one of the most critical things lawyers need to do at the start of a matter is discussing client expectations and making sure that new clients have reasonable expectations. This is one of the best things you can do to lessen your exposure to a malpractice claim (there is probably nothing better for lessening your risk of a claim). A client with unrealistic expectations is probably not going to end up as a happy client, no matter how good the results. Lawyers want to achieve good results and also produce satisfied clients who will return for more legal work in the future and perhaps refer other potential clients to the lawyer.

It seems like this firm has made a strategic decision to say “If you are going to a high maintenance client, you’re probably not going to be happy with us and we’re probably not going to be happy with you.” Good on them. They will have happier clients, and they will be happier and less stressed lawyers.

Now, if you aren’t quite ready to put this kind of language on your website, at least put similar statements in your retainer or the initial letter to your client. For a precedent consider using some of the comments from these two documents, a retainer and billing information letter and a matter process and administrative information letter.

Thanks to Jim for bringing this firm’s client expectations page to our attention.

Cross posted on and the AvoidAClaim blog

Top Ten iPhone Apps for Busy Lawyers

February 11, 2010 By: Reid Category: Client Service, Firm Management & Operations, Marketing and Client Development, Technology

In a few weeks, I’ll be presenting the seminar 60 iPhone Apps in 60 Minutes at ABA TECHSHOW, but I thought I’d share a sneak peek at ten of the best apps for busy lawyers. Thanks to my co-presenter, Jeff Richardson, of iPhoneJD fame for his contributions to this post. These are among the top apps to keep iPhone lawyers productive and successful.

AppBoxPro.  Every iPhone owner needs one of these multi-function apps that includes a currency converter, date calculator, translator (text), tip calculator, international holiday calendar, unit converter, battery life meter, and more. AppBoxPro is the best I’ve found to date. This one $0.99 app thus replaces the need for many separate, single function $0.99 apps.

Bento. Bento is a $50 powerful but easy to use database for the Mac.  It doesn’t have all of the features of a professional database program like its big brother FileMaker Pro.  But if you use a Mac and you need to create a database to keep track of just about anything for yourself, Bento is a great fit.  It is designed to look like iTunes, and is just as easy to use.  The $4.99 Bento iPhone app can be used as a standalone product, but is most useful as a companion to the desktop app.  You can sync the app with your computer, and virtually all of the fields are carried over to the iPhone, including any fields that contain pictures. You can also create a new database from within the Bento app.  Indeed, if you don’t have a Mac running Bento, then this is the only way to use the app.  When you tap the “New Library” button you can create either a blank database or can start with a pre-designed template and then edit it.  Templates are included for the following: Projects, Contacts, To Do Items, Recipes, Diet Log, Events, Files, Inventory, Event Planning, Time Billing, Home Inventory, Expenses, Exercise Log, Vehicle Maintenance, Classes, Digital Media, Student List, Membership List, Products for Sale, Equipment, Issue Tracking, Items Sold, Customer, Donations, and Notes. Each one of those templates are excellent examples of the types of databases that it would be handy to keep on your iPhone.  The Bento app also, by default, includes a database called Address Book.  This database contains all of the contents of the Contacts on your iPhone and is always synced with the latest information.

Bump. Bump is a new way to exchange contact information instead of using business cards. Merely open the app and select the amount of personal information you want to divulge, then gently bump your iPhone against the other person’s iPhone and you will share information almost instantly. Yep, this is a high-tech business card exchange.

Documents to Go Premium
.  This app lets you edit, create, and view Microsoft Word, Excel and PowerPoint files.  (You can also view, but not edit, other file formats such as PDF, Apple iWork, and others.)  The editing features are sophisticated, but the app also does a much better job of viewing files than the iPhone does on its own.  And if you use Microsoft Exchange or Gmail for your e-mail, this is the only app that can directly access your e-mail attachments so that you can download an attachment to an e-mail, view or edit it, and then send it to someone.  This is an essential app for most every lawyer.

Dragon Dictation. Just as powerful as it’s big brother Dragon Dictate, this free, easy-to-use voice-recognition app is a quick alternative to typing e-mails, text messages, tweeting, or updating your status on Facebook. Damn accurate too.

DropBox. This is yet another file sharing service that provides on-line file storage, access, and sharing from multiple computers and mobile devices. It has a very clean interface and is easy to install and set up. Users receive 2 gigs of storage for free, with 50 gigs running $10 per month, a bit pricey given other available options. Still, I keep documents I am presently working on in my DropBox account, just in case I need a copy.

Google Mobile App. You can always do a Google search using the Safari web browser on the iPhone, but the marquee feature of the free Google Mobile app is the ability to just speak your search terms.  Start the app and hold up the iPhone to your face.  The app will use the proximity sensor to sense your face and play a beep so that you can say some search terms.  Give the app a second and look at the screen, and you will see search results.

.  This free app is essentially a national “White Pages” database at your fingertips, and a very good one at that. It can search for a phone number, requiring a last name and city; it will search for a person or business based on a street address and zip code; and it is a reverse phone directory too. It’s very handy for personal and professional use, and avoids many of the ads and sales pitches from websites promising similar services.

ScanR Business Center. There are other apps like ScanR (such as DocScanner and JotNot) and they cost less, but you’ll be happier paying the price for this one. ScanR allows you to create PDFs using your iPhone camera or using a picture on your camera roll. Just take a picture of the document you need, upload it to your ScanR account (free to set up), the document is next e-mailed to you as a PDF, but not a searchable PDF. If needed, quickly run the new PDF through OCR software and now you have an editable document. I’ve tested this from business cards to old magazine articles, and I have not been disappointed yet.

This app lets you make either free or very cheap calls on your iPhone using VOIP (voice over internet protocol).  While you can use this app at home, it is particularly useful when you are traveling internationally.  If you have Wi-Fi access, such as in a hotel, you can talk to any user on Skype for free, or even more useful, you can call any landline or cell phone in the U.S. for just a few pennies per minute, which is far less than you would pay with international roaming charges, not to mention far less than what most hotels charge to make international phone calls.
Bonus app because I couldn’t cull the list down to ten!

Things. This task management app is for iPhone users but also has a separate app for Mac computers. It does one thing very well and only one thing: it keeps track of your projects. It’s not cluttered with calendar, contact manager, and other functions, which allows this app to have a very clean interface. That makes it easy to use for just about anyone. When the app is opened I can clearly see what I need to complete today, what I have scheduled to do next, and what ideas I have recorded to complete in the future. When installed on both a Mac and an iPhone, information can be synced over the same wireless network.

Want more? Join us at ABA TECHSHOW in March!

Unbillable Hour Podcast Highlights Our 2010 Success Resolutions on Legal Talk Network

January 22, 2010 By: Reid and Dan Category: Announcements, Client Service, Ethics & Professionalism, Firm Management & Operations, Fraud prevention, Making (more) Money, Marketing and Client Development, Wellness and balance

We are big fans of the UnBillable Hour podcast on the Legal Talk Network so we were really pleased that podcast host Rodney Dowell, director of the Massachusetts Law Office Management Assistance Program, asked us to be his guests this month to expound on our Top Ten Tips for a Successful 2010 we blogged on New Year’s Day.

Take a listen to the podcast, that also features Judd Kessler of AbacusLaw, and take in our tips in a whole new way.

The Busy Lawyer’s Top Ten Tips for a Successful 2010

January 01, 2010 By: Reid and Dan Category: Client Service, Coping with E-mail, Ethics & Professionalism, Fraud prevention, Making (more) Money, Marketing and Client Development, Strategy & Planning, Technology, Wellness and balance

The start of a new year is always a time for reflection and renewal-out with the bad and in with the good. In our book, we highlight several resolutions every lawyer should make for a safe and profitable new year. We have updated those resolutions for 2010 to include several more tips specifically to shake off the blues of 2009 and make the coming year your most successful ever!

1. Lawyers are being targeted on bad check frauds in record numbers – be alert and don’t be duped: Fraudsters posing as clients on collection matters, business finance or mortgage loans are targeting lawyers. The ruse is simple: trick lawyers into running counterfeit certified checks or bank drafts through their trust accounts. The fraudster gets legitimate funds and the lawyer is left with a shortfall-often six figures! Take 20 minutes to learn more about these scams and what you need to know to prevent them from happening to you.

2. Spend time learning LinkedIn. Facebook and other social media tools. These social networks are fast emerging as sources of new business. Create a profile, search for connections/friends, and post regularly about your practice and your professional life. If you are familiar with these networks, spend time to learn their power in more detail, or expand to other networks, such a Martindale-Hubbell Connected (Beta) or LegalOnRamp. The December 2009 issue of LAWPRO Magazine is a good social media primer as it has articles on the different social networking tools, how to use them to market yourself, and the dangers you need to be aware of when using them.

3. Book a vacation now! Everyone needs some downtime. Grab your calendar and block off two weeks together or two one week blocks. (Health experts say a 2-week vacation is best.) Get your spouse, partner or significant other to block the same dates off in his or her calendar. Those dates are sacred – don’t book anything in them. If you don’t block them off now and keep them clear you will never get the holiday your mind and body needs.

4. Resolve to improve client service and don’t do any of the eleven things that annoy clients the most: How many can you name? Don’t read the next paragraph – close your eyes and see how many you can come up with.

OK, how did you do? Here’s our list:

* Not returning phone calls.
* Not replying to e-mails.
* Making clients wait in reception.
* Ignoring client/staff incivility.
* Dropping names to impress others.
* Not clarifying for the client.
* Not delivering on promises of performance.
* Not delivering on a promised outcome.
* Not communicating during long periods of inactivity.
* Failing to be prepared.
* Sending a very large bill without warning or explanation.

See an excerpt from our book for more on the 11 biggest client annoyances, and more importantly, what you can to do avoid them. Applying the tips featured in this excerpt will help you have happier clients, and even better, reduce the likelihood you will face discipline complaints and malpractice claims.

5. Recognize the growing need for bi-lingual legal services. Consider language classes at a community college or consider popular software just to start. The world is changing, those that greet the changes will be the most successful.

6. Connect with your peers: Join the ABA Law Practice Management Section or the ABA GPSolo Division to get the best information on developing or fine-tuning your law practice. Also, join your state bar Solo and Small Firm Section to increase your networking opportunities. If your state bar does not have one, start one!

7. Don’t just say you will start a marketing plan this year–do it! For yourself and for you firm. While marketing efforts are always welcome, shotgun efforts really are inefficient. We recommend the practical and realistic plan outlined in our book as a great place to start. To keep your marketing momentum, make appointments for yourself each week throughout the year–written on your calendar now–to implement all parts of your plan.

8. Evaluate your fee structure and retainer requirements. Are you asking clients to pay for value or results? Is your message “We’ll do your last will and testament, trust, power of attorney, and medical directive for X dollars, rather than “We can protect you, your family and estate from government intervention, taxes, and most family squabbles for X dollars? Turning the discussion from “price for paper” into a discussion of “price for value” is more effective in convincing clients to hire you. Analyze, revise, and practice incorporating this new approach into your discussions with clients.

9. What is the one thing you would like to change about yourself? We all have our personal shortcomings and foibles. Some of them are small, some of them are big. Pick one things that you would like to change or improve in your personal or professional life. Write it down on a piece of paper – and then write out the steps you need to take to make the changes you want to make. This is your path to make one significant change to improve yourself over the next twelve months.

10. Buy our book – The Busy Lawyer’s Guide to Success: Essential Tips to Power Your Practice. If you like the short tips format and content of the above tips, you will love our book. It contains more of the same – almost 75 collections of ten or so tips on client service, marketing, strategic planning, business process improvement, technology-all targeted to help busy lawyers be even more successful. We guarantee it will contain at least one tip that earns back your purchase price.

We wish you a happy and successful 2010!

Dan and Reid

Hilarious Video Hits Home for Lawyers Too

June 10, 2009 By: Reid Category: Client Service, Making (more) Money

Jim Calloway, Carl Falstrom, and I presented The Fine Art of Getting Paid at the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) Annual Conference in Las Vegas this past week. I really like this seminar because it is based on audience participation; each time we do this seminar, it is enlightening, liberating and informative because we all learn from each other. There were plenty of great tips and ideas, many of which focused on early and on-going communication with clients, and strategies for dealing with non-paying clients whose legal matter is not yet concluded.  Despite the excellent shared ideas, the highlight was this video that makes the point that bargain-hunters are always bargain-hunters, so don’t get caught up in their attempts to reduce the amount they want to pay for legal services.

The Busy Lawyer’s Guide to Success Excerpt Featured on ABA Books Blog and Twitter: Eleven Things That Annoy Clients the Most

April 20, 2009 By: Reid Category: Client Service, Ethics & Professionalism

A first for our book: The Busy Lawyer’s Guide to Success: Essential Tips to Power Your Practice has hit the Twittersphere as of this past Friday via ABABookBriefs and the ABA Book Briefs Blog. Web 2.0 is cool!

The post featured one of our favorite collection of tips, “Eleven Things That Annoy Clients the Most.” How many can you name? Don’t read the next paragraph – close your eyes and see how many you can come up with.

OK, how did you do? Here’s our list:

  • Not returning phone calls.
  • Not replying to e-mails.
  • Making clients wait in reception.
  • Ignoring client/staff incivility.
  • Dropping names to impress others.
  • Not clarifying for the client.
  • Not delivering on promises of performance.
  • Not delivering on a promised outcome.
  • Not communicating during long periods of inactivity.
  • Failing to be prepared.
  • Sending a very large bill without warning or explanation.

See the excerpt for more on the 11 biggest client annoyances, and more importantly, what you can to do avoid them. The excerpt will show you our editorial philosophy: short, practical, valuable nuggets of information without the fluff.

Applying the tips featured in this excerpt will help you have happier clients, and even better, reduce the likelihood you will face discipline complaints and malpractice claims.

The Death Of The Billable Hour And The ACC Value Challenge – Essential Reading For Lawyers And Clients Alike

April 15, 2009 By: Dan Category: Client Service, Firm Management & Operations, Making (more) Money

The death of the billable hour has been (allegedly) imminent for at about two decades now. But by most accounts, at least until recently, the billable hour has remained as healthy as Mark Twain was when he responded with his famous quote to the rather incorrect rumours of his passing. (He actually did this twice with two slight different quotes – read more here)

I included the at least until recently above because I am seeing evidence that things are finally changing, at least in the corporate and larger firm worlds (and no doubt it will trickle down to smaller firms and non-corporate clients). The current economic woes seem to be causing some clients to demand alternatives to the billable hour. As money is tighter these days, the drive behind this is nothing more than getting better value for the money spent on legal fees. Firms that want the work have little choice to respond to client demands, often with detailed answers to client RFPs that set out fees based on other than simple billable hours.

Question for the lawyers: Is your firm ready to make this change? (Stated a slightly different way: By matter type do you really know what it costs to handle the various types of matters your firm handles?)

Question for the clients: Do you understand the ways you can get more value for your legal spend?

Question for both: Have you talked to each other about this?

I suspect the answer to these questions for many law firms and their clients is no.

If you are a lawyer or a client and answered no to the above questions, you should visit the Association of Corporate Counsel’s Value Challenge website. The ACC has put together a truly amazing online resource to help clients and their lawyers understand what clients really need, want and are willing to pay for. While really aimed at corporate law departments and bigger firms – much of the content on this site is helpful and relevant to lawyers at firms of all sizes and their respective clients.

The premise for this resource is that many traditional law firm business models and cost management strategies (read reward more billable hours) are not aligned with what corporate clients really want and need: value-driven, high-quality legal services that deliver solution for a reasonable cost and develop lawyers as counselors (not just content-providers), advocates (not just process-doers) and professional partners.

The site includes some “Meet/Talk/Act” guidelines to help law departments and law firms open the dialogue on these issues. (And, I’m all for more lawyer/client communication as it can help alleviate the most common cause of legal malpractice claims – poor lawyer/client communication. See my LAWPRO Magazine article on the most common malpractice claims.)

To help you make changes there is a Toolkit that includes resources and tools on the following topics:
* Structuring Relationships
* Budgeting and Staffing
* Performance Management
* Teamwork & Communications
* Leveraging Knowledge

And the ACC also commissioned a major economic consulting firm to develop a computer-based model of basic law firm economics. This model allows in-house counsel and law firms to test assumptions and input data (for example, numbers of associates and partners, rates, overhead, etc.) and see how changes in these and other factors can affect a firm’s efficiency and profitability. Wow!

Kudos to the ACC wants for promoting a discussion on these issues between lawyers and their clients. If you want to succeed you need to make time to review and consider the content on the ACC Value Challenge site.