Law Practice Management Asked and Answered Blog

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Nov 21, 2006


I had a call today from a lawyer expressing the following frustration:

I have been practicing law for ten years and I feel that I am in a rut. I am working for a firm and the relationship is no longer working out for me. I don’t have enough time for my family. My kids are growing up fast and I don’t have enough time to enjoy them. I need to make a change. Where do I start?

I provided him with the following suggestions:

A balanced personal and professional life is becoming more important to everyone. Time is a precious commodity. You should:

  • Develop a personal life plan and career/practice business plan.
  • Develop skills in time and money management.
  • Define what is important to you and define your personal-professional life boundaries.
  • Enjoy life and get involved in activities other than the practice of law.
  • Take charge of your quality of life – it is your responsibility.
  • Obtain training in the business of law.
  • Become entrepreneurial – think like a business person.

    Begin by conducting an inventory of your personal and professional life. Start with your personal life. Identify your personal and family goals. Then move on to your professional and career goals. Develop both a career plan and a business plan for your practice. Some of the decisions that you will have to consider are:

  • Should you go with another firm or start your own practice?
  • Should you work for a large firm or small firm?
  • Should you go to work for a corporate law department or a governmental agency?
  • Do you need additional training or education? Should you get a LLM or a MBA?
  • Where do you want to work?
  • What type of work and working environment will make you passionate about your work?
  • For whom do you want to work? What type of law firm? What type of clients?
  • Do you want to be a partner in a law firm?
  • How much of a balance do you want to maintain between your career and home life?
  • How important is money? How much do you want or have to make?

    Once you have defined your personal and professional goals you can formulate your action plans as to how you will get there and incorporate them into to career/business plan.

    John W. Olmstead, Ph.D, CMC

  • Nov 21, 2006


    Tips On Getting Paid

    I  have seen more law firms and other business firms destroyed by poor cash flow than any other calamity. Cash flow is what keeps owners, partners and administrators awake at night. Many of our law firm clients have asked us for tips on getting paid. Here are some thoughts and suggestions.

    Mar 12, 2006


    Lawyer Career Change

    Question:

    I have been practicing law for ten years and I feel that I am in a rut. I am working for a firm and the relationship is no longer working out for me. I don’t have enough time for my family. My kids are growing up fast and I don’t have enough time to enjoy them. I need to make a change. Where do I start?

    Response:

    A balanced personal and professional life is becoming more important to everyone. Time is a precious commodity. You should:


  • Develop a personal life plan and career/practice business plan.
  • Develop skills in time and money management.
  • Define what is important to you and define your personal-professional life boundaries.
  • Enjoy life and get involved in activities other than the practice of law.
  • Take charge of your quality of life – it is your responsibility.
  • Obtain training in the business of law.
  • Become entrepreneurial – think like a business man.

    Begin by conducting an inventory of your personal and professional life. Start with your personal life. Identify your personal and family goals. Then move on to your professional and career goals. Develop both a career plan and a business plan for your practice. Some of the decisions that you will have to consider are:

  • Should you go with another firm or start your own practice?
  • Should you work for a large firm or small firm?
  • Should you go to work for a corporate law department or a governmental agency?
  • Do you need additional training or education? Should you get a LLM or a MBA?
  • Where do you want to work?
  • What type of work and working environment will make you passionate about your work?
  • For whom do you want to work? What type of law firm? What type of clients?
  • Do you want to be a partner in a law firm?
  • How much of a balance do you want to maintain between your career and home life?
  • How important is money? How much do you want or have to make?

    Once you have defined your personal and professional goals you can formulate your action plans as to how you will get there and incorporate them into to career/business plan.

    John W. Olmstead, Ph.D, CMC

  • Aug 02, 2004


    Law Firm Brainstorming and Focus Groups

    Question:

    We have a successful practice but need to do a lot of things differently to move to the next level. How can we generate some momentum and ideas?

    Response:

    Why not use a few brainstorming focus groups and do some brainstorming.

    We find that many firms either don’t engage their people or don’t know how to engage their people. Untapped ideas are in the heads of your attorneys and staff. Using brainstorming focus groups and brainstorming techniques can help the firm improve decision making and tap these ideas.

    Brainstorming focus groups are not just another firm or staff meeting.
    A focus group consists of  (1) people with similar characteristics, (2) that provides qualitative data, (3) in a focused discussion, (4) to help understand the topic of interest. 

        Size

        There groups are typically composed of five to ten people, but the size can range from as few as four to as many as twelve. The group must be small enough for everyone to have an opportunity to share insights and yet large enough to provide diversity of perceptions. When the group exceeds a dozen participants, there is a tendency for the group to fragment.

        Purpose

        Brainstorming focus groups aren’t decision making groups or committees. They are used to generate ideas. The actual decisions are made after all the brainstorming focus groups are completed, not in the individual groups. The brainstorming focus groups are used to gain understanding about a topic so decision makers can make more informed choices.

        The Brainstorming Process

        Brainstorming is a technique whereby individuals or groups generate large numbers of ideas or alternatives relating to a decision without evaluating their merits. Listing alternatives without evaluating them encourages group members to generate ideas rather than defend or eliminate existing ideas. Evaluation occurs after a large array of ideas has been generated. Principles for brainstorming include:

        Moderating the Discussion

        Consider using a moderator team: a moderator and a recorder. The moderator is primarily concerned with directing the discussion, keeping the conversation flowing, and taking a few notes. The recorder, on the other hand, takes comprehensive notes, operates the tape recorder, handles the environmental conditions and logistics (refreshments, lightening, seating, etc.), and responds to unexpected interruptions.

        Recording the Discussion

        A recorder should be appointed and all ideas obtained in the brainstorming focus group should be recorded by either tape recorder or written notes. Written notes are essential. Often ideas are initially listed on flip charts and later converted to written notes. The note taking should not interfere with the spontaneous nature of the session. Notes should be as complete as possible.

    John W. Olmstead, MBA, Ph.D, CMC

    Nov 10, 2003


    Most Important Marketing Activity in Law Firms

    What is the most important marketing activity neglected by law firms?

    Response:

    Maintaining an ongoing relationship with existing clients. It is much easier and cheaper to obtain additional business from existing clients than to recruit new clients. Yet, many law firms take their clients for granted. Whether your clients are individuals with single matters or institutional (business) clients, it is critical to demonstrate to maintain ongoing contact and effectively manage the relationship. Consider:

    John W. Olmstead, MBA, Ph.D, CMC

    Sep 02, 2003


    When Should a Firm Consider Coaching for Their Attorneys

    Question:

    When should a firm consider coaching for their attorneys?

    Response:

    The day to day stress of practicing law and serving clients leaves little time for focusing and investing in the future of the firm. When attorneys exhibit the following it may be time for a coach:    

    Training and skill development is not easy. Studies reveal that 90 percent of the people who attend seminars and training sessions see no improvement because they don't take the time to implement what they learn. Practices create habits and habits determine your future. Up to 90 percent of our normal behavior is based on habits. The key to skill learning is to get the new skill to become a habit. Once the new habit is well developed it becomes your new normal behavior. This requires practice. Unfortunately, attorneys do not have time to practice and experiment. 

    The coach's role is that of steward, facilitative leader and teacher. Law firms retain coaches to work with attorneys and staff, mostly on a personal level, to address problems involving lack of commitment, inertia, implementation, self-accountability and follow-up. Firms using coaching in many areas:     

    John W. Olmstead, MBA, Ph.D, CMC

    Aug 31, 2003


    Law Firm Training and Use of Technology

    Question:

    We recently implemented a new computer system and spent a lot of money on initial software training. However, our attorneys and staff must have forgotten everything they learned. It seems that they are only using a fraction of the software’s capabilities.

    Response:

    Training and skill development is not easy. Studies reveal that 90 percent of the people who attend seminars and training sessions see no improvement because they don’t take the time to implement what they learn. Practices create habits and habits determine your future. Up to 90 percent of our normal behavior is based on habits. The key to skill learning is to get the new skill to become a habit. Once the new habit is well developed it becomes your new normal behavior. This requires practice. Unfortunately, law firms do not give employees time to practice and experiment.

    Research on memory and retention shows that upon completion of a training session, there is a precipitous drop in retention during the first few hours after exposure to the new information. We forget more than 60 percent of the information in less than nine hours. After seven days only 10 percent of the material is retained. Most memory loss occurs very rapidly after learning new information. Your employees can improve their memories by:

  • Engaging in rehearsal/practice.
  • Scheduling distributed practice.
  • Minimizing interference.
  • Engaging in deep mental processing.
  • Emphasizing transfer.
  • Organizing information.

    Skills become automated through practice. The more we perform a set of actions, the more likely we are to link those actions into a complete, fluid movement that we do not have to think about. With enough practice, employees can become fluent in many different physical and mental skills.

    Provide your attorneys and staff with time to practice and experiment. Schedule lunch and learn programs. Provide ongoing training in small bite size chunks relevant to the needs of the firm in a just-in-time fashion.

    John W. Olmstead, MBA, Ph.D, CMC

  • May 11, 2003


    Are More Law Firms Engaging in Strategic Planning

    Question:

    Are more law firms engaging in strategic planning? Have the results been successful?

    Response:

    According to a recent survey conducted by the Legal Marketing Association (LMA), 59% of the responding law firms (ranging in size from the largest to 45 attorney firms) have formal written strategic plans. Smaller firms have a much lower experience. In our experiences with smaller law firms we are finding that fewer than 15% have formal written strategic plans. I consider success to be achievement of measurable results as evidenced by achievement of the goals and objectives outlined in the plan and actual implementation of action items. Lawyers and law firms seem to do better at planning than they do at implementation. Larger firms usually are more successful in implementation due to availability of management resources, leadership and functional governance. Smaller firms tend to have problems with implementation. In fact, we frequently recommend that a firm address other management issues prior to engaging in strategic planning. If a firm is having problems implementing day-to-day operational decisions the firm will not be effective in implementing strategic planning initiatives.

    John W. Olmstead, MBA, Ph.D, CMC

    May 11, 2003


    Deployment of Technology in Law Firms

    Question:

    How are law firms doing with deployment of technology? What are your thoughts?

    Response:

     Law firms are spending lots of money and making substantial investments in technology. However, many are simply automating old processes and ways of doing things that no longer make sense. Law firms needs to begin using technology to enable the firm to implement new processes and ways of serving clients. Obsolete practices and procedures should be discarded.

    John W. Olmstead, MBA, Ph.D, CMC

    May 10, 2003


    Changes That Will Have the Greatest Impact Upon the Legal Profession

    Question:

    What changes do you believe will have the greatest impact upon the legal profession?

    Response:

    The continued impact of the Internet and globalization of business. The Internet is making the world smaller, introducing new markets and competitors, and having a direct impact on what legal services are offered and how they are delivered. Legal services are, and will continue to be provided electronically over the internet. This will cause increased commoditization of some forms of legal services. This technological revolution fueled by the Internet has placed us in the midst of the biggest transformation of civilization since the caveman began bartering. Business is going to change more in the next ten years than in the last fifty. We have become a self-help nation and more self-help legal services are on the horizon. Within ten years the legal profession will be dramatically changed and reinvented. According to Tom Peters, a leading management consultant, only one in ten lawyers (in roles as we now know them) will left standing in ten years. During this period of transformational change it will be imperative that lawyers discard the status quo, embrace change, and define and take charge of their future. Failure to do so will result in the same fate as the medial profession.

    John W. Olmstead, MBA, Ph.D, CMC

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