Some of the greatest decisions of your career may be ones that you don’t even remember. They involve clients who you decided not to represent that went on to make another lawyer’s life miserable for a while. Client selection is an important aspect of law firm management. For many lawyers, this involves a one-to-one consultation with prospective clients.

My column in the Oklahoma Bar Journal Client Selection: How to Red Flag High-Risk Clients (Including Relatives) covers some types of potential clients that most likely aren’t going to be great clients.

I also discuss the idea that lawyers shouldn’t represent their relatives. For some lawyers, that is “black letter law,” never to be done. Others think that approach is overly cautious. My personal opinion is you should never represent family members in contested family law matters. You don’t want to be one of the cast of characters in the recounting of “How I got ripped off in my divorce” that happens at family gatherings. On the other hand, if you know there’s a huge search and seizure issue with your nephew’s arrest and know exactly how to respond, are you really going to tell him and his family to find a lawyer on their own?

We recently did a Digital Edge podcast Overcoming Trust Account Management Challenges.

Our guest was Paul Garibian, a fintech expert, entrepreneur, and current CEO of Nota. Nota provides financial services to lawyers including trust accounts with no services charges. We discussed common mistakes lawyers make with their trust accounts, the serious consequences of mismanaging these accounts, and the best practices lawyers need to know. There is a transcript of the podcast also available at the link for those who would rather read than listen. The basics of proper trust account management are not that onerous (I know others may disagree) as long as you do record keeping timely. A small amount of time each week keeps a lawyer out of trust account trouble.

Both Julie Bays and I of the OBA Management Assistance Program are available to discuss trust account questions with Oklahoma Bar Association members.

Lawyers often deal with the challenges that occur when people die without making a last will and testament. One result is sometimes intestacy laws distribute property differently than the deceased might have wanted. Additional expenses and legal fees are almost always a result.

Similar challenges and expenses can occur when a lawyer dies or becomes disabled without leaving instructions as to how matters should be handled in their absence, whether permanent or temporary. The burden of deciding what to do then falls on the spouse or other heirs, even though sometimes local lawyers may pitch in to help. But even if another lawyer agrees to help wind up a practice, do your heirs understand the client files must be first reviewed as that lawyer may be opposing counsel or have other conflicts related to some of the files? Those files should not be given to the assisting lawyer and another lawyer will have to help with those, even if only transferring them to your former clients.

While the following resource is only available to Oklahoma Bar Association members, many state bar associations provide similar resources. Contact your state bar’s practice management advisor or other bar association staff to see if a similar resource is available in your jurisdiction

Planning Ahead Guide: Attorney Transition Planning in The Event of Death or Incapacity is a guide the OBA provides to Oklahoma Bar Association members. It is detailed and comprehensive, containing forms to use in planning and execution. The Planning Guide is available for free download. Log into My OKBar and select Attorney Transition Planning Guide from the list of links at the right. Your heirs may not know who an appropriate lawyer would be to be the Assisting Attorney to aid them. It will go much smoother if you have secured the Assisting Attorney’s agreement to help them in advance. Even if you haven’t finished everything the Planning Guide suggests, just accomplishing those steps will provide your heirs much peace of mind and help them get started.

And if you are a lawyer who keeps the originals of clients’ wills and estate plans, you will definitely want to review the section beginning on page 69 “Why Did We Ever Want to Keep Original Wills?”

Email is a part of our lives, like it or not. It is great when you need to deliver documents to another state without paying for a courier. But between all the spam, the phishing attempts to attack your computers and an appreciation that most emails contain a request for you to do something when you are already busy, email can be a source of daily frustration.

40 One-Sentence Email Tips is a quick read with some great tips, particularly the first two. And allow me to confer VIP status on number 8: “A good email with a bad subject line isn’t a good email.” This article is rated PG-13 for mild language.

There are a few of these that I question, especially for our profession, like the one suggesting if you want a question answered, end with the question. Given how busy people are and how often we get interrupted, I’d suggest opening and closing with your most important question.

One of the best tips the author shared was to unsubscribe from electronic mailing lists that you never (or rarely) read. If you just can’t bring yourself to do that, consider creating a folder for those emails and creating a rule where all messages are routed into the folder. At least they won’t clutter your inbox and when you do decide to delete them, they are all in a handy folder.

Way back when I practiced law, few one- and two- lawyer offices prepared a budget in advance for the year. Their budget, and in many cases their “partnership” distribution formula, was the tried-and-true formula “you eat what you kill.” Had we questioned the lawyers about that omission, many would have responded that budgets weren’t important because that wasn’t real money. Revenue received was real money and they generally understood their monthly overhead requirements. Yet these same lawyers would have advised their business clients that running their business without a budget was a terrible idea.

Why should a solo or small firm prepare a budget? appears in the annual finance issue of Law Practice Magazine. It is written by OBA Practice Management Advisor Julie Bays and me. This is such an important subject, especially for lawyers starting a new small law firm. The article covers the basics and is targeted toward lawyers with little background in accounting.

A budget is a plan. Sometimes things don’t go according to your plan as we all learned in 2020. But attempting to reach one of your primary business goals, financial security, deserves advance planning and this feature should help small firm lawyers who have never prepared a law firm budget head in the right direction.

Our smart phones are so powerful and there are so many apps available for them, it is hard to keep up with everything that is possible.

For iPhone users in the legal profession, Jeff Richardson’s iPhoneJD site has been a resource for many years. If you are interested in a new app, you can go to iPhone JD’s “Index to prior posts” and you will likely find a review of the app. In fact, it is likely Jeff has reviewed prior versions of the app as well. One of the other popular features is his regular news roundup In The News. Now there is a new In The News podcast, brought to you by Jeff Richardson of iPhone JD. His teammate on the podcast is Brett Burney. Many are familiar with Brett and his Apps in Law podcast.

The podcast from these two app experts is slated to cover “the news you need to know from the past week covering iPhones, iPads, and related mobile technology.” It is definitely a fun podcast. Here is the Apple podcasts link:

The most recent podcast covers how apps helped New Orleans resident Jeff Richardson. The story is fascinating and demonstrates real value delivered by apps and a novel way he used an iPhone Shortcut to facilitate communications when cell service was almost nonexistent.

Years ago, there was a lot of discussion in the legal community about metadata, the hidden data contained in documents that had the potential to reveal more about the document than most lawyers would like. It was a potential problem when using forms from a past client’s matter as a form for a new document in a new client’s matter.

Most law firms adopted the practice of using “cleaned” documents and templates for their forms rather than reusing a prior client’s work. Today I am sharing a great article from Law Technology Today on how that cleaning process works: Clean Up Your Docs with Microsoft’s Document Inspector. If you didn’t recall how to remove the metadata from a document, there is a fair chance that others you work with didn’t either, so this may be a good link to share with others in your office.

Just this summer I was reminded of how easily it is for metadata to mislead. One of my programs for the current OBA Summer Series was a presentation on client portals. As I prepared to send my PowerPoint to the OBA CLE Department, I noticed that the author’s name was an ABA staff person who certainly didn’t prepare my PowerPoint. She did, however, prepare the PowerPoint template for ABA TECHSHOW 2021 where I gave an earlier version of this presentation. I changed the author’s name to my name, but it wouldn’t have been a problem had I not noticed. A lawyer who had billed a client for preparing that PowerPoint would have probably been asked about the other author, unfamiliar to the client, had something similar happened. The same could happen with a Word document.

Microsoft’s Document Inspector is a tool lawyers need to understand and use as needed. But there are some tips to using it correctly, such as the two things you must do before using Document Inspector, which are contained in this great article.


This is a blast from the past, well, from 2015. Who is your Document Czar? If you work in a business where creating and managing documents is a major operational function, you do have in-house expertise. You must. So who is your top document expert? Who advises the shareholders on document creation and retention policies? Who assists with designing the various templates your firm uses to create certain kinds of documents? Who do you reach out to when an important document is fractured by mysterious formatting issues?

Microsoft Word is extremely powerful and can be used for all sort of automation and other powerful operations. But someone has to take the lead on this. From the July/August 2015 issue of Law Practice Magazine, here is my piece on Your Document Czar. Hiring someone to do this may be more challenging than you think. So the best plan may be in invest the resources to encourage one or more of your current employees to expand their skills. But you have to give them the time and resources to do that. Documents are a big part of what we do. It is time to think more about doing it better.

Do you practice People Law? There has long been a perceived difference between large law firm practice and small law firm practice. But, in my view, the major difference is not the size of the law firm, but the type of clients primarily served.

Those who study the data of law practice have noted that the practice of People Law, helping individuals with their personal legal matters, is now so different from business and corporate law that it is becoming a completely different legal business. This impacts everything from marketing to operations to the material you share with clients.

One of the leading experts studying law practice is Bill Henderson, Professor of Law at Indiana University Maurer School of Law where he holds the Stephen F. Burns Chair on the Legal Profession. I strongly recommend his Legal Evolution blog. The blog posts tagged “People law” are located here: I suggest you begin with The Decline of the PeopleLaw Sector for some statistical analysis of the spending on the consumer side versus the corporate side for legal services. There are some concerning trends.

A business and corporate law-based practice means satisfying client representatives who are lawyers working in general counsel’s offices or corporate officers. Hopefully, those clients result in a relationship of many years with new matters and projects. The clients are sophisticated and there is a trend toward more routine legal work being handled in-house, leaving the litigation and other challenging work for outside counsel. Attending the right industry events and showcasing the firm’s deep subject matter expertise is critical.

People law, on the other hand, often involves individual clients who had no idea they would have this legal problem. Being sued, fired, arrested or foreclosed on isn’t planned. The client may have no idea what to do and may receive bad information and poor advice from well-meaning friends and relatives. These clients need information, guidance and often a fair amount of emotional support. Much of the legal work is somewhat routine and subject to standardization. But it is critical that the client receive individualized advice meaningful to them. Handouts for the client to take home to review after a meeting with the lawyer has been a traditional part of doing this practice well. But in a society where fewer clients will read a 10-page handout all the way to the end, some People Lawyers will consider providing videos exclusively available for the firm’s clients to watch.

Automation, particularly automated document assembly, can be very beneficial in making a People Law practice run efficiently. These clients value face-to-face time with the lawyer, including video conferences, with the lawyer to discuss their situation and reduce their anxiety. Knowing that one drafting project took 2.1 hours while another took 1.6 hours is meaningless to them except for its impact on their bill. A clear path to success for People Lawyers is to automate as much document creation as possible and bill those projects on a flat fee basis. Automating administrative nonbillable matters is also important. Potential people law clients often are very concerned about the cost of legal services. So, to the extent a lawyer can provide them a fixed fee or a list of tasks that might be needed and the cost for each, there is an advantage over law firms “selling” the traditional hours times dollars method, where the final cost is not known.

But the primary distinction for People Law is the business model. Individuals come in with a legal problem, the lawyer solves the problem and the client moves on, hopefully with a good experience that means they will recommend others to the law firm. That means that the successful People Lawyer must have a constant stream of new clients coming in. Traditionally these lawyers have had a network of those who refer them legal work. Those are great networks to maintain and nurture. But increasingly, people are individually shopping for lawyers online, just like they shop for many other goods and services. Counting on referral sources remaining constant into the future likely reflects more hope than reality. Today almost every People Lawyer needs to market online. But paying a large amount to an online marketing firm is not realistic, or even advisable, for many. Some lawyers will need to learn the basics of doing this and may experiment with several approaches. One interesting aspect I have noted is many law firms target their entire online marketing outreach toward getting prospects to call their office telephone, apparently unaware of how many individuals are shopping online at odd hours or precisely because they do not want to talk with someone on the phone just to schedule an appointment.

The combination of more automation and more online client acquisition leads to the next predicted trend in People Law—the rise of one-to-many legal service delivery models as opposed to the traditional one-to-one consultation and legal services delivery. The more automation the law firm has adopted, the greater the ability to scale up a practice to serve more clients without adding staff or lawyers working more nights and weekends. There will be winners and losers resulting from this predicted trend.

As a part of the OBA Summer CLE series, I have done a one-hour on-demand CLE program, The Changing Dynamics of a “People Law” Practice. Oklahoma lawyers can register for the seminar here. The program is priced at $40. Those who are not members of the Oklahoma Bar Association or taken CLE from us previously can easily set up an account to do so by emailing our CLE Registrar Renee Montgomery at Setting up an account carries no financial obligation.

Known nationwide for her technology and legal management expertise, Natalie Kelly has recently brought her skills to the Southern Poverty Law Center to help them modernize their legal department operations. Sharon Nelson and Jim Calloway talk with Natalie about her new role and the work done by the center to advance civil rights and racial justice. Natalie discusses the technology used to help the center refresh its operations, highlights her focus on promoting collaboration, and gives an overview of how the center’s practice areas work to advance human rights. Check out our Digital Edge podcast The Southern Poverty Law Center: A View From the Inside.

Natalie has been a great source of wisdom and encouragement for my colleagues who are bar association Practice Management Advisors (PMAs) for a long time. Her wise counsel will be missed. But she is obviously engaged in important work.