The September/October 2019 Issue of Law Practice Magazine is out and one of the features is Scoping Out Limited Scope Representation. For the Future Proofing Your Practice column by Dan Pinnington and Reid Trautz, they interviewed me about recent changes in limited scope practice rules in Oklahoma. We also cover developing a business plan and some best practices for limited scope services delivery. Some are more familiar with this being labeled unbundled legal services.

In my opinion, this is a critical area for lawyers to understand if their practice serves the “people law” market. More consumers have limited funds for representation but would still rather use a local lawyer than an out-of-state do-it-yourself web service if given the opportunity. Certainly, this improves access to justice for many, but we should also make clear this is a business model for law firms as well. So I’d advise most solo and law firm lawyers to scope out limited scope representation, even if they do not believe that is a good business model for them today.

As always, Law Practice Magazine has great content in every issue and every lawyer in private practice should be interested in content related to law firm finances.

Access to Justice and Productivity Gains for All Lawyers is my latest column in the Oklahoma Bar Journal. Increasing productivity is important for lawyers in every practice setting, so don’t let this title mislead you. The column is as much for the corporate lawyer as the access to justice warrior. I noted the observations of Professor William Henderson, Stephen F. Burns Chair on the Legal Profession at Indiana University Maurer School of Law, that law practice has “divided into two segments, one serving individuals (people law) and the other serving businesses (organizational clients), with these two segments having very different economic drivers and evolving in very different ways.” I believe this is true.

But whether you practice people law or business law, I think you will find the eight areas for productivity improvement I note of interest. Most lawyers and law firms have addressed some, but not all, of these. Which one should be next on your list?

I previously blogged about the great content of the Access to Justice theme issue of the August 2019 Oklahoma Bar Journal, but this column, also in that issue, was not included in that list of feature stories.

The Human Lawyer is an interesting label. It is interesting because those of us focused on legal technology have now seen dozens of news articles, columns and blog posts about whether robot lawyers or Artificial Intelligence tools are coming for our jobs. Colin S. Levy’s insightful blog post is not about that subject.

I try to avoid the temptation to do a blog post about a blog post. But we all should understand that the humans working as legal professionals today are definitely under stress and that impacts, among many other things, the business and profession of law. Among the many insightful observations that Professor Richard Susskind has made is that our clients prefer, and are better served by, a fence at the top of a cliff rather than an ambulance at the bottom. I recently listened to another discussion about stress and mental health challenges in the legal profession and thought that this also applies to our profession. While we certainly need the ambulances, and more of them, it is much harder to figure out how to construct the fences. I note the oft-repeated observation that law students begin law school with a very similar psychological profile to the rest of the population and graduate with many of the negative psychological challenges of our profession. This is not to throw all of our problems at the feet of the law schools, but those institutions must be involved along with the rest of us in building the fences.

Some lawyer stress is inevitable. If you have no stress defending a client on charges where the state is seeking the death penalty or while handling a complex multi-million dollar transaction, you wouldn’t be human. But we all understand there’s more to the problem than just this. We have to make important and impactful decisions when the law or ethics rules are unclear. But there’s more to the problem than that as well. Even as I blog about about this blog post, I am determined to avoid spoilers. But I do have two goals. I want you to take the time this week to read Colin S. Levy’s The Human Lawyer and I want you to share it with at least one other legal professional. It’s not an easy or short read, but for some (likely many) it may be very impactful.

 

I’ve been in a lot of lawyer’s offices and have seen a lot of messy desks.

I’m not very judgmental about them because I understand there’s often a method behind some of the madness and I’m also a fellow traveler/sufferer/practitioner.

Now don’t get me wrong. Almost all my office processes are paperless and have been for a long time. But paperless means what it says; otherwise we would call it paper-free.

But back to the lawyer with files piled on his or her desk. The method to that madness is often that the lawyer has deadlines or active projects on each of those client files. They wouldn’t necessarily admit it, but they keep those files on their desk both for convenience to quickly get to the file and as a reminder that the work needs to be done. There is a fear of putting it out of sight and missing the deadline. While it may be somewhat stress-inducing, the file sitting on your desk when there is brief due in four days can be motivating. A fellow traveler knows.

When there are others in the office also working on that file, it is an inconvenience to them when it is absent from its proper place in the file drawer. Of course, if they have worked with you long enough, they may stop at your desk first before they even check the file drawer.

There are, of course, better ways to do this. One should work from organized “to do” lists rather than files. And almost every lawyer today should use practice management software tools to have digital client files rather than paper client files. The physical files, if they exist, should stay in the filing cabinet as a backup or for when the lawyer needs to take them to court appearances.

But today I’m talking about messy desks. Many lawyers take great comfort in research that suggests a messy desk could be a sign of being a genius. But there are many other studies that suggest a messy desk is psychologically stressful and, as anyone who has spent several minutes digging through their desk trying to find something knows, a messy desk can negatively impact productivity. I’ll also note that credenzas may be one of the single worst inventions for good office organization.

For lawyers, there’s another important downside to having a messy desk because some clients may be hesitant to hire a lawyer who appears disorganized. For some it may be a sign that they actually are disorganized. If a very organized client does not retain your firm, it is a double loss because we all know that it’s much more positive to represent organized clients than disorganized clients. There are many ways to improve disorganization, including obtaining professional help or listening to helpful podcasts.

My personal messy desk challenge is a little different since I do not represent clients and have no client files. I frequently have law-related magazines open to articles when I was interrupted before I finished reading. I sometimes have paperwork that I will need for a meeting in a day or two and then need not retain afterwards. When I’m working on a project sometimes there are paper components that can and should be on my desk until the project is finished. I still frequently take notes by hand and so I may have a legal pad or two on my desk with nonessential notes. (I am good about digitally filing essential notes.)

Matters related to client files need to be filed in the client file and that is a high priority for lawyers.

But I often have items on my desk that are there because they may be useful in the future and yet do not fit into my filing system.

So let’s talk about things that appear to be worthy of saving and don’t have a place to be saved. One of the most important tools that a lawyer can have is a scanner within arm’s reach. For about 20 years now I’ve always had a Fujitsu ScanSnap within arm’s reach. My current model is the ScanSnap iX 1500. If something is worthy of being retained for future use, it is worthy of being scanned and that includes hand-written notes. So, if you don’t have a place for something in your filing system, the wisdom I’m sharing today is to create a place.

Before you clean up your messy desk for the 100th time or have your assistant help you do so, take inventory of what’s there and why. If there are papers for a civic or professional organization you’re involved with, then create a folder on your network for those papers (or a physical file folder if that is required.). But don’t create too many folders as they will become a barrier to scanning and filing documents. In fact, I’ll give you an out. Create a folder called My Desk August 2019 or MyDesk 8.2019. That’s certainly not the optimal solution for many and professional organizers might laugh at the suggestion. But if you’re scanning documents to text searchable PDFs you can probably search for them and locate them on your network or computer. And dating those folder names can be useful when you’re certain you had it on your desk “just a few weeks ago.”

Whatever your personal “messy desk” improvement is, it should be something that will work for you. But it is pretty unlikely clients or potential clients who are visiting your office will look at a terribly disorganized desk and think “Wow, my lawyer has got to be a genius. I’m certain he’s got everything in my case under control.”

The Access to Justice theme issue of the Oklahoma Bar Journal is out. If you are interested in Access to Justice, you will find some interesting reading here. Most features are of interest to everyone in the legal community and a few are Oklahoma specific.

Do you know of the work of your Access to Justice Commission? Almost every state has one. When the Oklahoma Access to Justice Commission was formed, Oklahoma had been ranked 50th among the states in the Justice Index prepared by the National Center for Access to Justice. In The Work of the Oklahoma Access to Justice Commission, by M. David Riggs, the first Chair of the Commission, outlined the Commission’s projects and the resulting improvement in our state’s rankings.

Using Online Dispute Resolution to Expand Access to Justice – The Online Multidoor Courthouse is an excellent treatment of a subject that is not familiar to many lawyers. The author Colin Rule is vice president for Online Dispute Resolution at Tyler Technologies. He has worked in the dispute resolution field for more than 25 years as a mediator, trainer and consultant. He previously was director of Online Dispute Resolution for eBay and PayPal. Did you know that British Columbia’s ODR system handled almost 14,000 small claims cases in its first seven months of operation, freeing up court resources for other tasks?

You will not find a more powerful example of how a relatively few lawyers and judges can make an impact on people’s lives than The Oklahoma County Courthouse Access Clinic. Sara Murphy Bondurant, volunteer director of the clinic, outlines the assistance provided in minor and adult guardianships and probates. At one point Oklahoma had more grandparents raising grandchildren than any other state, many without any financial assistance. As the school year begins, we should appreciate that because of this project, many school children will not be forced to miss extracurricular activities because no one is legally authorized and available to execute a permission slip.

My contribution to this issue included Tips on Delivering Limited Scope Legal Services. With our court rule change now providing clear guidance, this is an area where lawyers can better assist pro se litigants.  As a law practice management advisor, I am convinced that for solo and small firm lawyers, particularly in rural areas, this will be a growing area of service delivery. These services may not be the highest profit center in a law practice, but they also allow the lawyer to introduce himself or herself to clients who may return for other services later. While some legal matters drag on for a long time, these files will generally be short term. And the automation tools we see emerging will often apply well in these matters. My department, the OBA Management Assistance Program provides an Oklahoma Limited Scope Legal Services Resources page with downloadable sample forms and other resources.  (As always, lawyers should do their own research before relying on any sample form.)

The Crushing Reality of Why We Need Plain Language Pro Se Court Forms was authored by Elizabeth Govig, a recent University of Tulsa College of Law graduate who just completed taking the Oklahoma Bar Examination. During her time in law school she was involved with the Community Advocacy Clinic where she focused on addressing civil access to justice issues and conducted significant research on this subject. Many courts are examining whether the traditional verbiage required in many legal documents filed in court could be simplified and improved.

A Quick Guide to Oklahoma’s Certified Courtroom Interpreters Program was written by Debra Charles, who is General Counsel for the Administrative Office of the Courts and also directs the Supreme Court’s Language Access/Certified Courtroom Interpreter Program. I recall uncomfortable moments when I was in private practice and had to rely on an untrained interpreter in an interview. It often seemed like the individual said a lot more than I heard from the interpreter. This feature also provides valuable tips for attorneys working with interpreters. Oklahoma’s certified interpreters are also available for lawyers to hire as freelancers for work outside of the courtroom.

Addressing the Court Reporter Crisis in Oklahoma is a story that some may want to share with a friend or relative in Oklahoma looking for a new career. Written by Debra Charles and Shelley Phillips, a court reporter for the Payne County District Court for more than 30 years, notes the large number of court reporters nearing retirement age as one factor causing the crisis, along with neighboring states offering higher pay. But the good news is more training locations are now available in Oklahoma and recent legislation has increased the compensation for Oklahoma’s official district court reporters this year.

A lot has been written and discussed about access to justice challenges nationwide.  As the broad range of topics in this bar journal issue demonstrates, there are a wide variety of challenges and a number of different areas where improvements are being made and should be made.

I’m Jim Calloway and, among the many things I have done,  I’ve been a blogger covering legal technology, law office management, legal ethics and similar subjects since January 2005.

Several challenges forced me to take a blogging hiatus last year. But, as the saying goes, every challenge brings with it an opportunity. I am very pleased to announce that Jim Calloway’s Law Practice Tips Blog is being relaunched this month as a part of the LexBlog network. I’ve got some big plans for some new content. But since I haven’t been blogging regularly for a few months, I’ll hold off on making big promises. Here are some important things for you to know:

1) If you previously subscribed to my blog via email or RSS, you will need to resubscribe here. I’m not inclined to automatically import previous subscribers because they haven’t heard from me in months.

2) We have imported the content from the old Typepad blog into this one, but content more than three years may still have some bad links. Both the ABA and the OBA website changed since those posts, killing many older links. I’m working on either repairing or deleting the older content. The old blog will be deleted near the end of the year.

3) Because I am, in effect, walking away from many subscribers, I need some help from my readers. If you have read my blog posts before or seen my legal tech presentations either in Oklahoma, at ABA TECHSHOW or in your area, I’d appreciate you sharing a link to this post or just to my blog with someone you know or through your social networks. Whether they visit my blog periodically or subscribe (which the LexBlog platform makes very simple), it’s more motivating to write blog posts when you know they will be read. So, a little help please.

There’s more ahead. So stay tuned.

Building a Cutting Edge Virtual Law Firm is the subject of our July 2019 Digital Edge Podcast. (Our 138th podcast!) Our guest is Brooke Moore, the founder of MyVirtual.Lawyer, an online law firm model providing flat fee and subscription based limited scope services. She also co-founded MyVirtual.Lawyer for Attorneys which provides automation and consulting assistance for lawyer. Brooke’s mission is to make legal help available and affordable for everyone and to offer a flexible, sustainable law firm model that helps forward thinking lawyers succeed. Brooke is a member of the ABA TECHSHOW 2020 Planning Board.

I’ve co-presented with Brooke on limited scope representation previously. She is a pleasure to learn from and I hope you enjoy the podcast. But not all virtual firms are the same. Many provide limited scope services and provide affordable legal services to consumers. But the virtual law practice idea could also appeal to corporate clients who are happy with videoconferenced consultations with their lawyer combined with some personal meetings. Many larger firm lawyers are questioning the amount of overhead they have and its impact on their rates.

A virtual law firm might also appeal to a lawyer who only wants to practice part-time, perhaps because of family care-giving responsibilities.  I have mentioned to other lawyers who are thinking about retirement that this might be a way to practice law in a way consistent with retirement that also provided some income. One thing for certain is that the solo lawyer contemplating a virtual law firm will need to be a tech-savvy lawyer.

I hope you enjoy our podcast.

Most of my blog posts are not Oklahoma-specfic, but this one does mention some OBA resources. It also contain links to much useful free content for anyone opening a new law practice anywhere.

Each year we have a free program for lawyers who are opening a new law practice. The next programs are scheduled September 16, 2019 in Tulsa at the Tulsa County Bar Association and September 18 in Oklahoma City at the Oklahoma Bar Center. We will be sharing registration information with our bar members soon. We also have an Opening Your Law Practice page with links and some downloadable articles for anyone that many will find useful. Your attention is particularly directed to the two papers at the top-listed links.

I did a “takeaways” column after one of these programs called Ten Tips From the OBA Opening Your Law Practice Program. I  wanted to share this because it contains some great tips mixed in with OBA member resources. So if you know someone who is about to embark on setting up a law practice, whether they are a 3L or a partner who is leaving their firm, share the link to this blog post with them and also suggest they might subscribe to get my future blog posts via email or RSS feed. If you are interested in the topics covered at the upcoming Opening Your Law Practice program, here’s the schedule of what we think is important to know. We have updated a lot for this program.

Another major new resource for Oklahoma lawyers is Oklahoma Bar Intellidrafts. One of the challenges for new lawyers is locating forms and other guides for document drafting. The lawyer will add their own touches and customizations to legal forms, but it is much easier not to begin drafting with a blank Word document. For many years, the Oklahoma Bar Association, like many bar associations, sold an OBA form book. But to better serve our members, we have now released Oklahoma Bar Intellidrafts, legal form templates powered by automated document assembly tools. We have even included an automated Oklahoma child support computation form. This service includes my two biggest requirements: 1) The output is in a Word document so the lawyer can easily make any customizations and edits that they wish, and 2) the lawyer can save the data so if there are subsequent documents on a client matter you can only enter new data and you don’t have to re-enter the previously-entered information. This will be very useful on multistage pleading matters like probate proceedings. Lawyers saving time with document drafting should result in lower fees for their clients. Read my column on Oklahoma Bar Intellidrafts from the Oklahoma Bar Journal and, if you are an Oklahoma Bar member you can subscribe to the service at the Oklahoma Bar Intellidrafts site. If you cancel your subscription within the first 30 days, your credit card will not be charged, so yes, there is a free trial.

This week I am taking a look back at a few things I should have blogged about in 2018, but didn’t. More details on the reasons why later.

One of the challenges in building or maintaining a law practice is the need to continually develop new clients and/or engagements. Direct face-to-face solicitation of individual clients is still a prohibited activity for most lawyers. Law firm marketing is now often handled in part by a professional at larger law firms, but associates soon learn that they had better develop their own book of business if they want to make partner. And for the medium-sized to small law firms, this often gets added to the list of tasks of a lawyer who already has too much on his or her plate. It is still an amazing and silly thing to me that some jurisdictions expressly prohibit granting MCLE credit for presentations on marketing and client development. One of the greatest challenges to any business, but especially a professional services firm, is presenting themselves to the public. So if there are concerns about how advertising and marketing is done appropriately and professionally, one would think good training in that area would be essential.

But one thing lawyers have told me consistently over the years and one thing I share in my client development presentations is that your very best clients—those who trust you, are easy to work with and pay their bills on time—are those who come to your firm via referrals. If someone they know and trust shares your name and says you can be trusted, that is a huge positive first step in building a great attorney-client relationship. Building a professional network is its own challenge and so I wrote a column on Building and Maintaining Your Professional Network. Having a network of people who know you and take an interest in referring clients to you is a valuable resource. But developing one is not easy. i hear stories from lawyers all the time of attending “networking” events and finding themselves only talking to a few people in attendance that they already knew. There are different ways of networking and you have to find one that meets your needs.

I reached out to Mike Whelan, author and host of the Lawyer Forward conferences, after seeing some of his Twitter discussions about building your tribe and he shared some valuable insights, including the fact that your tribe likely cannot be as large as you might think it should be. I also covered what to do if a formerly good referral source “drys up” and how to avoid that happening. Spoiler Alert: “Nothing” is not the correct answer. I hope you enjoy Building and Maintaining Your Professional Network.

This week I am taking a look back at a few things I should have blogged about in 2018, but didn’t. More details on the reasons why later.

One of our best Digital Edge podcasts of 2018 was The Cloudy Ethics of Cloud Computing with Lucian I. Pera. Lucian is a partner with Adams and Reese, LLP and writes the Ethics column for ABA’s Law Practice Magazine. He was named the youngest member of the ABA Ethics 2000 Commission, was ABA Treasurer for 2011-2014 and served on the ABA Board of Governors. We have co-presented on the intersection of legal ethics and technology together before and he is a most engaging and knowledgeable presenter.

My most frequent discussion topic with lawyers is cloud computing and their top two concerns are security and the legal ethics implications. If you have an interest or concern in that area, you will enjoy this podcast.

And if you do not like listening to podcasts (Sharon and I will try not to take offense), there is a transcript of the podcast at the podcast link.

This week I am taking a look back at a few things I should have blogged about in 2018, but didn’t. More details on the reasons why later.