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.

Long ago when I practiced consumer bankruptcy law, I used to think about the precise meaning of tools of the trade. Oklahoma opted out of the federal bankruptcy exemptions and we use the state statutory exemptions instead. One of the exemptions was “Implements of husbandry necessary to farm the homestead and tools, apparatus and books used in any trade or profession of such person or a dependent of such person” with a limit as to total value. Once I had to research how that applied to lawyers and concluded that law books were covered.

Today, of course, the physical law firm research library has given way to digital research tools. In 2018 I wrote a column called The Lawyer’s Tools of the Trade, which also linked back to a similar article I had written long before called Equipping the Law Office 2012. (I note boldly predicting in the 2012 piece that fax machines would be disappearing.)

Many of the tools mentioned are still my most-used tools today. So, as you read The Lawyer’s Tools of the Trade, give a thought to what your favorite tools are today and whether you may be using an older version that may be comfortable, but might not be the latest version. Perhaps it’s time to update to the current version..

 

The Big Ideas issue of the ABA Law Practice Magazine is one of my favorite publications of the year and the latest on (July/August 2019) is now online and free for you to read. This year the theme is automation. Heidi S. Alexander, Director of Massachusetts Law Office Management Assistance Program, provides practical advice on adding automation with simple tools you may already have or which are easy to obtain. Many of these tools can help you save time on administrative burdens and streamline non-billable internal processes. I hope you enjoy her feature story Easy Automation.

And after you have finished reading Heidi’s feature, you really will want check out the remainder of the Big Ideas issue. It is available both in web (HTML) format or in e-magazine format.

This issue covers much more than automation including emerging practice areas, coping with paralysis over cybersecurity concernssafely securing payments from clients and other areas of interest to the practicing lawyer.

Some lawyers were concerned when the Model Rules of Professional Conduct were changed to include a comment that competence as a lawyer included an appreciation of “the benefits and risks associated with relevant technology.” Family disputeNow 31 states have adopted some version of this language in comment 8 to Rule 1.1, according to legal technology journalist Robert Ambrogi who maintains regularly updated information about the comment adoption on his blog. Many of the legal technology community thought this comment was so obvious in today’s times that it was difficult to understand those who object to the comment. Reading an article in The New York Times this summer titled Thermostats, Locks and Lights: Digital Tools of Domestic Abuse made me think about how the lawyer who works in the family law arena faces a vastly different set of technology concerns (and competencies) about client safety and privacy compared to just a few years ago when few were familiar with the Internet of Things. But there’s more to this than just telling a client to change their WiFi password. So I wrote Technology Competence for the Family Lawyer as both a thought exercise and a guide for family lawyers. The question I attempted to answer is broad: What do you need to tell today’s family law client about what that should be done to digitally protect oneself in the event of a separation or divorce, especially when the client may not have set up or be very familiar with the technology they are using? I’m sure I missed something but am pleased with the result. And while asking for social media shares sometimes comes across as self-promoting, I believe that there are many family lawyers that would like to read this column. So feel free to share or ask us about reprint rights.

You may not have heard of something called the Data-Driven Ethics Initiative. The organizers say it is an initiative to gather and use data to completely overhaul and improve the Rules of Professional Conduct to better benefit the public. Skeptics say it is an effort primarily funded by online legal tech companies with goals that are more tied to their business development plans than reform. The organizers say on their website that they have law school deans onboard (note the plural.)

As you can surmise, like every trained lawyer, I am a bit of a professional skeptic and that is particularly true where legal ethics rules are concerned.

So it seemed like a good idea to invite one of the two named organizers, Erin Gerstenzang, to be a guest on our Digital Edge Podcast episode, The Data-Driven Ethics Initiative. I just met Erin for the first time at ABA TECHSHOW 2018 and was so impressed by one of her presentations that I included some of her talk in my column A Brief Recap of ABA TECHSHOW 2018 in the Oklahoma Bar Journal. During the podcast Erin discussed her view of the challenges that good lawyers face today with legal ethics rules and how rule changes might better serve the public. I encourage you to listen to the podcast.

I’ll give Erin’s co-organizer (?) Megan Zavieh (who I also met for the first time at ABA TECHSHOW 2018) some equal time by pointing to her recent article on the Initiative Sweeping Change Is Needed to the Model Rules (and It Is Not Scary).

The Initiative’s rather austere website states: “We will kick off this initiative the week of May 22, 2018, from Las Vegas where we will be attending Avvo’s Lawyernomics conference. We will publish the most current draft – our MVP- on October 4, 2018, from New Orleans, when many of us will be attending the Clio Conference.” That’s 135 days to gather data and produce a draft, including weekends and holidays. So I guess most of us will be waiting until then. Personally I will attempt to keep an open mind because I do appreciate how the technology-fueled changes of today can make it challenging to apply the rules to emerging technology.

But I’d certainly encourage everyone involved with the Initiative to lobby for transparency. Who is providing funding? It’s not really believable that an all-volunteer team, especially if many of the members are busy attorneys, can produce such significant results during such a short span over the summer, even if they work all the weekends. But maybe I misinterpret this MVP label. If it is a roadmap of what needs to be examined, then it certainly could be a valuable conversation starter. We shall see.

Right before our Oklahoma Bar Association Solo & Small Firm Conference kicks off, the OBA announces six new practice management member benefits. OBA logo.gif

(June 6, 2018) Six new member benefits to help Oklahoma lawyers better manage their practices have been announced by the Oklahoma Bar Association. Members who sign up for new subscriptions will receive discounts to Clio, CosmoLex, MyCase, PracticePanther, Rocket Matter or Zola Suite, all cloud-based practice management services for law firms.

“Supporting Oklahoma lawyers as they incorporate modern technology tools into their law practices is an important goal of the OBA. Better efficiency and security tools benefit both lawyers and their clients,” said OBA President Kimberly Hays of Tulsa. “Different solutions focus on different aspects of law practice, which is why the OBA provides free consulting for Oklahoma lawyers who are shopping for a practice management tool.”

Practice management solutions organize digital copies of all client documents, lawyer’s notes, calendar information, pending tasks and all other client information using easy-to-access dashboards. Lawyers can review documents, record time, assign tasks to others in the firm and do many other functions, all within these applications. These tools also provide online client portals for the secure sharing of information with clients.

“There are many available and affordable tools to assist lawyers. While there is a learning curve, the time savings in day-to-day operations becomes apparent rather quickly,” said OBA Practice Management Advisor Darla Jackson.

As part of the vetting process, each vendor demonstrated their product and provided access to complimentary accounts to allow a hands-on preview experience. Additionally, each product was reviewed by OBA Member Services Committee members.

Jim Calloway, OBA Management Assistance Program Director, said, “These cloud-based services were designed to protect confidential client information and to provide both better security for client data and better remote access than many other methods.”

OBA members can find brief descriptions of the practice management solutions, their features and access codes for discounts by logging in to MyOKBar and accessing Practice Management Software Benefits at the bottom of their Profile page.

The 18,000-member Oklahoma Bar Association, headquartered in Oklahoma City, was created by the Oklahoma Supreme Court to advance the administration of justice and to foster and maintain learning, integrity, competence, public service and high standards of conduct among Oklahoma’s legal community.

TECHSHOW logo ABA TECHSHOW was held March 8 – 10, 2018. So the column, A Brief Recap of ABA TECHSHOW 2018, by me and OBA PMA Darla Jackson is not exactly “hot news.” Such is the result of print publication deadlines sometimes. But only a few of the previous TECHSHOW 2018 reviews mentioned the interesting relationship between TECHSHOW exhibitor Logikcull and the Ramones or provided you with the Electronic Discovery Reference Model chart. And I know this is the only recap which quoted Tom Mighell on “non-records.”  So hopefully this recap was worth the wait. While I am tempted to describe this column more, it is probably best if I pause and just let you read our column. The next ABA TECHSHOW is scheduled for February 27 – March 2, 2019 is Chicago. Mark your calendar now.

It has been Collaboration Week for lawyers. It’s not like the ABA or Congress designated it as such, but that still seems to be the case. The “week” actually started last Friday when Attorney At Work published Tech Tips: Collaborating Well With Others. The post noted:

For this edition of Friday Tech Tips, we asked the practice management technology experts: “What’s your best tech tip for collaborating well with others?” Here’s good advice from Jim Calloway, Andrea Cannavina, Jared Correia, Darla Jackson, Dennis Kennedy and Tom Mighell, Catherine Sanders Reach, Deborah Savadra and John Simek.

CollaborateThere is some good content in that post. And wisdom from two Oklahomans. 😊 What more could you want? But wait, there is more! This week our Digital Edge podcast was released. The topic is The Case for Collaboration and our guests were Dennis Kennedy and Tom Mighell. They co-authored The Lawyer’s Guide to Collaboration Tools and Technologies: Smart Ways to Work Together, Second Edition, which was recently released by the ABA. Since Dennis and Tom also have their own long-running podcast, the Kennedy-Mighell Report, no one will be surprised that our end result was a fun and easy-to-listen to podcast. Today’s collaboration tools provide new opportunities for lawyers–if they take the time to learn about them.

Keeping the customer satisfied should be an important of every business today. This includes law firms, even though we refer Satisfied Customerto our customers as clients.

My column in the Oklahoma Bar Journal, Keeping the Customer Satisfied, outlines some ideas to do just that. One of the first rules is to not do things that aggravate the customer, like having them waste time in the the law firm’s waiting area for a long time after their scheduled appointment.

With some clients the challenge is helping them understand clearly the challenges they faced and benefits they received. As I noted in the column: 

“With medical services, a sick patient can become well or a broken bone will heal. With legal services, successful delivery of the services is often couched in terms that were previously not familiar to the client like decrees, court orders, injunctions, closings and the like.”

Take this opportunity to read these ideas and then think about what you can do to improve client satisfaction.

As an additional bonus today, here is some appropriate music for your inspiration as you consider how to make your current clients “clients for life.”