In this month's Addendum...
- Solo & Starting : Taking care of your business
- Tech Talk: Five tips for tech in your firm
- Human Resources: Hiring law firm staff
- Clients: Dealing with small businesses
- Marketing: Are you missing out on a large market segment?
- 5 Sites: Tips on improving your communciations
- CBA PracticeLink: What's new in PracticeLink
Robert Patzelt, Q.C.
Addendum is published by National magazine, the official magazine of the Canadian Bar Association. The views expressed in the articles contained herein are solely the views of the authors, and do not necessarily represent the views of the Canadian Bar Association.
© Copyright 2007 Canadian Bar Association.
Going solo: Taking care of business
Whether you're starting a new firm or reviewing your existing practice, taking care of the business aspects of your practice can be challenging. Here are five tips for any sole pracitioner.
1. Be flexible
The first and probably the most important thing you need to have with you at all times is flexibility. No matter what arrangements you are making, from leasing office space to partnership arrangements, make sure that you can remain flexible, so that as things continue to change in the world and in your life, you can move on to something better or adapt what you have to fit your new circumstances.
2. Keep overhead costs low
You will find that it’s not difficult to generate business; many people have legal problems with which they would welcome your assistance. But how many of these people can afford to pay you? In order to be able to take on cases based on professional considerations rather than just financial ones, you need to keep your costs of doing business as low as possible: use regular mail or e-mail instead of couriers, or choose to practice from home instead of renting office space. Preferring technology over staff for the day-to-day running of the practice will also keep down your overhead costs.
3. Promote growth
Everything you do should be aimed at promoting growth in the business. To promote growth, you will need to have an idea of where you want the practice to go. If you are just waiting to see what will come in the door, after a while you will need to become selective in the cases you accept. You will know what is valuable work to you, whether in terms of income generation, goodwill generation or personal satisfaction, and you will reject what you know will drive you crazy, be uncollectable, or diminish your reputation. Ask yourself about anything you do, "Will this promote the growth of the practice?"
4. Don’t get isolated
Before you open up, prepare a list of sources that can help on difficult matters. Develop or join a support group of lawyers whose situations are similar to your own. Agree to meet on a regular basis and talk honestly about what has been going on in your practice. Keeping in touch with other people will keep your difficulties in perspective, get you help when you need it, and keep your spirits up.
If you're in a small firm, arrange with another lawyer to take on a "buddy" role in the event of an absence. This entails a willingness to deal with client telephone calls, correspondence, and e-mail, to handle any emergency matters that may come up during your absence.
“Your clients are served more effectively when you realize this is a business.”
5. This is a business
Having become qualified as a lawyer, you know that you have an excellent intellect. You now have to apply it in a different field altogether – that of running a business.It’s critical to apply good business principles to the business if you do decide to open up.
Many lawyers have a tremendous knowledge of the law, but can fall down when it comes to managing finances. At all times, you must be aware of what is going on with the financial side of the practice.
Your office systems relating to your legal files are the other major factor in having the practice run on sound business lines. Make complete documentation of every action, telephone call, and meeting. Summaries of all relevant information at the front of the file will help to keep your work in good order. Don’t rely on memory.
Your clients are served more effectively when you realize this is a business.
Patricia Rogerson is a former sole practitioner. This article reprinted from 30 Best Practices: Strategies for Law Firm Management.
Five tips for using technology in your practice
By Jared Adams, Editor, Addendum
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Those who attended the 2007 Canadian Legal Conference and Expo in Calgary this August had the opportunity to listen to a first-rate panel of speakers – Mr. Justice Garrett A. Handrigan, Dan Pinnington, David J. Bilinsky, and Simon Chester – discuss “Top Tech Tips for Judges and Lawyers.” Pinnington, Bilinsky, and Chester are also part of National magazine’s technology roundtable.
Here are five tips presented as part of the session:
- Beware of metadata. Programs like Word or WordPerfect can include hidden data, like changes to document text, that’s invisible on the surface. Be careful when exchanging files with opposing counsel. The experts recommend using PDF files instead. Payne Consulting offers the Metadata Assistant that removes metadata from Word/Excel/PowerPoint (97 and higher) files. It integrates with Outlook 2000 and higher, GroupWise and Lotus Notes, as well as with many document management systems. Payne’s Metadata Assistant also cleans and converts files into PDF format for additional protection.
If you’re using Microsoft Office 2003, Microsoft offers a free metadata removal tool, available from http://tinyurl.com/4mnrw.
- Dictate digitally. Digital dication devices are smaller than traditional devices but eliminate the necessity of physically giving someone a tape. They have much greater capacity than tape dictaphones, and you can work on several items at the same time. Like a computer, it will "save" your dictation in separate folders, so you can come back and pick up where you left off or edit and re-record later. You can then e-mail it to your assistant to transcribe; save it for later, in case you want to edit; and you can keep a designated file for audio dictations to discourage any overlap of work.
- Meet virtually. While there's something to be said for a face-to-face meeting, you can get just as much or more done at a virtual meeting, especially if you use some of the new tools that let you collaborate across the web. Virtual meetings have several benefits: you can hold them on an ad hoc basis without leaving your desk, and you don’t incur the time and expense of traveling to an in-person meeting.
Try GoToMeeting, which allows you to show the contents of your computer screen to as many as 20 other people as fast as you can send them an e-mail link. WebEx and the new Acrobat Connect are other widely used virtual meeting products. Pricing for the basic versions of these products is extremely reasonable at around $50 per month. Most of these products share common features, including instant messaging and free teleconferencing through a central number that meeting attendees can use (they do pay long-distance charges). Many let you share work with both PC and Mac users, and some will transmit video as well.
- Brief electronically. Why go off to court with boxes and boxes of documents? Prepare and file an electronic brief. An e-brief is a collection of some or all the information on a matter (submissions, cases, statutes, regulations, evidence, expert reports and so on) in digital form in a single computer file. It can go on a CD or DVD for easy portability. Having these documents all in one place lets you instantly navigate from one to another with hyperlinks, either from a table of contents or from any other place within the file. The table of contents and table of authorities (with citations) are hyperlinked to designated pages and footnotes with pop-up windows and the functionality of a standard web browser allow counsel and the court to access the brief from any computer, including laptops.
- Investigate forensically. There are experts who can recover ‘deleted’ data and search for evidence on hard drives that may indicate that e-mails and other data originated from a certain computer or e-mail address or which may have been sent or received on a certain date. Or they can determine if any evidence may have been altered, shared, etc. Finding evidence that an e-mail has been on a party's computer but had been intentionally deleted can go a long way towards establishing that someone may know a great deal more than they are otherwise admitting. A forensics expert can help find evidence that was intentionally deleted. Consider if you may have a case where a forensic expert may be of assistance and who can help find that “smoking electron.”
The full paper presented by the panel, "60 Tips for Using Tech in Court," is available as part of the 2007 Canadian Legal Conference CD-ROM. To order, visit the CBA Publications page.
Jared Adams is the editor of Addendum.
Good, experienced help is often hard to find, especially in the legal community. You’ll have to invest a lot of time and effort in order to hire the best possible candidate for your position.
Determining your staffing needs
First of all, you’ll need to determine the duties of the position. You may want to create a job description and provide a copy to each candidate you interview.
Some things you must consider are:
- Will this person be expected to handle multiple duties?
- Should I hire one person who is able to handle two or more jobs?
- What skill or experience level is needed to complete the job efficiently and effectively?
- What am I willing to pay this person?
You may want to call around town to ask other sole practitioners and small law firms what their pay ranges are in order to get a general idea of what you can expect to offer your candidate – or what you may need to offer to lure an experienced secretary or paralegal to your practice.
Sole practitioners and small firms may often find that they need to pay a higher monthly salary for a number of reasons: the employee is expected to handle multiple duties and wear many hats, and large firms, which are competing for talent, may offer more benefits. The solo practitioner or small firm needs to pay a more attractive salary in order to attract qualified, experienced employees.
Be sure your salary level will attract the skill and experience level that your practice requires. If you’re a lawyer without much experience, you should consider hiring an experienced legal secretary or legal assistant. His or her experience with the important day-to-day, practical matters, such as filing documents and dealing with the court systems, will prove to be valuable to your practice and may help you avoid malpractice.
Some solo practitioners and small law firms will often offer parking or health-club memberships to attract qualified, experienced employees.
Placing an ad in your daily paper is a good way to spread the word that you are looking for someone. The size of your advertisement (display ad versus line ad) doesn’t matter; however, provide enough specifics about the job and the qualifications you’re looking for. If your schedule allows, it’s a good idea to include your phone number so that applicants can call and ask questions. You can use this opportunity to pre-screen applicants and schedule appointments with the promising candidates. Sometimes you may even weed out some candidates who are looking for a salary that you can’t afford to offer.
Don't forget word-of-mouth recruiting. Contact the local community colleges or universities, especially for part-time positions and internships. Many schools offer career placement services for inexperienced as well as experienced persons. Often, employed legal secretaries and legal assistants return to school, and may see your ad and apply for your position or let their friends know about your opening.
Reviewing the résumé
If you have a professional fees budget, you may wish to employ a recruiting firm to assist you in your search. Fees vary from agency to agency, so it is wise to shop around for a reputable employment agency. You won’t usually need to engage the services of an employment agency to recruit for lower, entry-level positions.
Whenever you review a written application or résumé, always look for neatness, conciseness and completeness of the document. A résumé, along with an application questionnaire, can give you a hint of the applicant's attention to detail. If a person does not completely fill out an application (e.g., the applicant leaves out information when it is requested or provides minimal information), you may gain some insight to the applicant's attention to detail and diligence to complete a task.
Always look for accuracy of dates of employment. An applicant may deliberately exclude information, especially if he or she was fired for misconduct. Look for gaps in employment. Ask the applicant directly about employment for that period of time. Some applicants have very good reasons for a gap in their work history, such as maternity leave or caring for an ill or ailing family member.
Conducting the interview
When conducting an interview, you should be aware of what questions should or should not be asked. Check the relevant employment laws and human rights legislation to be certain.
Always greet each applicant cordially and conduct your interview as scheduled in a quiet atmosphere. Slowly ease the applicant into answering questions about employment history. The more your applicant is comfortable with you, the more he or she will share with you about his or her background.
During the interview, ask the applicants what their current salary is and what they would like to earn if accepting an employment offer from your firm. This may determine whether you may want to even consider the applicant any further.
It is a good idea to conduct your own test for all clerical positions. Although testing provides an insight into a person's ability, employment verification always provides the best avenue for determination of a person's ability and probability of success for your position. Also, be aware that certain tests are considered illegal and discriminatory.
“Before making the employment offer to your top candidate, you should consider whether the person's personality and flexibility will fit in with your current office staff and daily operations.”
In the past, when the typewriter was the fastest means of getting the job done, many employers used to test for typing speed. This type of testing is outdated, as many people can type at greater speeds on a computer keyboard. Secretaries should be familiar with the software you use on a daily basis. Be sure the applicant is highly computer literate. You probably cannot afford the time it may take for them to upgrade their skills.
The best way to ascertain a person's speed and productivity is to call former employers.
Reference checking is always a must. Invest time in getting as much information as you can from the prospective candidate's former employers.
It’s always a good idea to have the prospective candidate sign a release form so that you may call all references listed on the application form. Be sure to call each employment reference and ask questions such as:
- Was this person's work performance satisfactory?
- Can you tell me if he/she was prompt and reliable in terms of his/her attendance?
- What would you say are his/her strong points and areas to improve?
- Can this person maintain confidentiality?
- Is he/she eligible for rehire?
You will find that many employers are willing to assist you as long as you will maintain confidentiality and that you are serious about filling a position. However, you will find that some employers will only provide you with "dates of employment and position" verification. If you contact employers who are unwilling to provide qualitative information, ask the applicant to provide names of supervisors (other than the personnel department) who can provide information regarding his or her character and work performance.
Salary and employment offer
Before making the employment offer to your top candidate, you should consider whether the person's personality and flexibility will fit in with your current office staff and daily operations.
Because of the size of your staff, each person's contribution is especially critical. Does it appear that this person can get along with the rest of your staff? Is his or her schedule flexible to accommodate emergencies or special needs?
After your interview process and reference checking are completed, you probably have a good idea who is your top candidate. Before writing off all the other candidates, be sure to contact your top candidate and make a formal offer. In the event the top candidate declines your offer (for whatever reason), you should be ready to counter-offer (if your budget allows) especially if he or she receives a number of other employment offers. If your preferred candidate still declines your offer, you have the opportunity to consider the other candidates without them knowing that they were not your first choice. If necessary, you could start your interview process over again.
If your budget allows, you may want to call a temporary service agency to fill your position immediately. Many agencies will allow you to hire their temporary employee after about six to eight weeks on the agency's payroll. An advantage is that you are able to evaluate the person's work performance and determine whether the person fits in with the rest of your staff and daily operations. Also, you don't have to deal with the interviewing process or personnel matters. If the person is not performing well, all you do is contact the agency and let them handle any disciplinary action. You don't have to provide the person any benefits until he or she is on your payroll. It’s a good idea to shop around for the best hourly rates from different temporary service agencies.
If you have the patience and knowledge to train someone, you may want to consider hiring an individual with an administrative assistant or executive secretarial background. There are many people who would like to enter the legal field, but often positions require legal experience. If you practice in the real estate area, you may even consider someone who has practiced in the real estate area, someone who has banking or savings and loan experience (especially in mortgage loan processing or servicing), or someone who has real estate office experience.
Adapted from "Flying Solo: A CBA Guide to Solo Law Practice in Canada," published by the Canadian Bar Association.
Servicing small-business clients
One of the first rules of servicing small-business clients is this: when entrepreneurs need to reach their lawyer, they need them now!
So it’s not surprising that small businesses need their lawyers to be accessible immediately, by telephone, e-mail or fax. “Ninety percent of ‘small business’ companies, as we define the term, employ fewer than 20 people,” says Stéphane Robichaud, the former Atlantic Canada vice-president of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB).
“These are not companies with a large internal structure,” says Robichaud. “Everyone in the business wears three or four hats and has multiple responsibilities. Situations that require a lawyer come up quickly and need to be handled right away.”
Part of the reason for this ongoing urgency is the entrepreneur’s psychological makeup. They share an “I can do this myself attitude” that delegates tasks only when absolutely necessary. Moreover, small businesses depend for their success on keeping costs in check, so their owners only call in the lawyers when the need is great.
Client service, therefore, is often the prime factor in play when small business owners choose their lawyers. “If the entrepreneur finds that he or she can’t contact the lawyer in a fairly short time, it’s likely the company will search out a law firm that can meet their time frame,” says Robichaud.
Lawyers who serve small business need to be proactive and understand their clients’ world. “You’ve got to think hard about how you interact with entrepreneurs,” Robichaud advises. “Entrepreneurs don’t really want to take three hours away from their company to attend a seminar at your law firm, unless the topic is absolutely relevant to what’s going on at their business at that particular stage of its development.”
How should you send information a small-business client? “The in-box on the desk of an entrepreneur is always two to three feet high,” Robichaud says, only half-joking. “They tend to clean out their e-mail in-box much more frequently.” But avoid sending large files: many small business e-mail systems have low bandwith and little storage space. “The lawyer could inadvertently hijack the company’s e-mail system.”
Accordingly, limit your missives to one page, given the lightning pace at which entrepreneurs speed through their working day. And monitor your phone frequently — where possible, answer the line yourself.
Bev Cline is a freelance writer and regular contributor to National.
Marketing your firm to women: Don't just paint it pink
By Cristi Cooke and Robert Patzelt, Q.C.
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A new market – one that trendspotting guru Tom Peters calls “economic opportunity No. 1” – has emerged. In order to engage this market to your competitive advantage, you’ll need to know what this market wants – and how to deliver it. Yet few lawyers are aware of this untapped goldmine sitting right under their noses, let alone understand how to tap into it.
Law firms are justifiably concerned with attracting and retaining women within their law firms, but this untapped market springs from the rapid growth of women clients outside the firm, and the fact that most law firms and lawyers have little idea what this market wants, or how to build strong business relationships with its members.
There are two factors that cause “economic opportunity No. 1” to remain underserved and undersold. Because this market is delineated by gender, political correctness and notions about gender issues can potentially obscure the opportunity to see this market for what it is – a huge business opportunity. And because this market has typically taken a back seat in the industry, it’s still perceived as a niche market. That perception couldn’t be more wrong.
According to CIBC World Markets, the number of women-run businesses in Canada is rising 60 per cent faster than those run by men. Women graduating from Canadian law schools outnumber men, and women make up about 50 per cent of in-house corporate counsel. Many former associates and partners of law firms are women who have left the firm and are now some of their biggest clients and potential sources of referrals. Yet, in seminars put on by Majority Marketing, when lawyers are asked to raise their hand if they know “what women clients want,” lawyers, both men and women, respond with nervous laughter, or joking comments. Very few, if any, male or female lawyers raise their hands at all, let alone understand why the question is crucial to their business success.
Robert Patzelt, a past president of the Canadian Corporate Counsel Association, has experienced how client service can help lawyers appeal to a broader client base.
Cristi Cooke of Majority Marketing has interviewed some of the most powerful female general counsel and successful women entrepreneurs in Canada about what they want from lawyers and law firms.
Here’s what our combined research and experience tells us:
- Don’t simply paint it pink. Women don’t always want women-only spa days or fashion shows. On the other hand, they may not necessarily want to go to another 18-hole golf tournament or go for drinks after work, which often interferes with other commitments. In fact, the CIBC survey confirms this. Women, like everyone else, want good value for the services they purchase. Eighty-nine per cent of women entrepreneurs say they don’t want to be treated differently, but 41 per cent say they are taken less seriously than men. Just as one size doesn’t fit all when marketing to small firms and large corporations, the same applies with respect to marketing to women and men.
- Understand how to communicate and build relationships with women. Linguist Deborah Tannen, Ph.D, in her book You Just Don’t Understand, suggests that men are report-talkers and women are rapport-talkers. Men tend to use language more often to talk about data, facts, and information to prove and demonstrate expertise, whereas women tend to use language more often to build or maintain relationships, using this as a foundation for solving business needs. Are you building the relationship? Are you staying in touch, and thus keeping you and your firm on her radar screen? Do you care about her and her issues? For women, quality is key, and that includes the quality of the relationship built on trust and loyalty.
- Recognize that details, as well as the broader picture, hold more weight in her decision on whether to work with you. When interviewed, female clients often remarked that they have more questions for their lawyer, but either didn’t feel invited to ask, or asked and saw their question go unanswered. Women tend to be more thorough researchers, placing more emphasis on gathering information, evaluating options, and making a thorough decision. Help her make the right choice. In some cases, a small initial project or purchase allows her to confirm she has made the right decision before committing, both personally and financially, to a much larger investment. This is a great example of how slow and steady really does win the race. Be patient. Once you have earned her loyalty, you’ll reap the benefits of a long and fruitful relationship. A great way to make an introduction is through education: business planning, training, and access to financing and networking provide an excellent opportunity for you to show how you fit into the broader picture of helping her succeed.
Sweat the small stuff. Attention to detail is important – like being on time, sending a follow-up note, and being genuine and honest. Being legally and technically excellent is not enough. Help her succeed, and she will, in turn, help you succeed.
- Acknowledge and adjust to her time pressures. Seventy per cent of women who run businesses are married, and nearly a third of them have children under the age of 12. According to Statistics Canada, married women who work full-time still shoulder the majority of household and childcare duties. They are also the so-called “sandwich generation” who are caring for aging parents. Again, this provides a real opportunity to reach out.
Anything that helps in this area will be considered valuable in building the relationship. She may not have time to go for drinks after work, but those “cheap seats” tickets could be given to her to take the kids and friends to a ball game. You don’t need to attend with her. Catch up in other ways that suit her time-pressured schedule (try breakfast meetings and lunch meetings). Also, support her causes. Provide your corporate gifts for silent auctions, lend out your rooms for meetings or hosting events, or provide one of your leading talents as a guest speaker. Innovative ways like these to address her needs means you’re solving her time pressures.
Although we recognize that not all women are the same, we also know there are patterns that, if understood and delivered on, will help you tap this economic opportunity. Start building your competitive advantage by understanding that what women want is not a gender issue that you must attend to – it’s a business opportunity that will help you succeed.
Robert Patzelt, Q.C., is vice-president of risk management and general counsel of Scotia Investments Ltd. and a past president of the Canadian Corporate Counsel Association. Robert can be reached at email@example.com. Cristi Cooke is president of Majority Marketing, a consulting firm that shows law firms how to market to, and build business with, female clients. Cristi can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, or by visiting www.majoritymarketing.com
© 2007 Cristi Cooke, Robert Patzelt. All rights reserved.
Effective client communication
By Jared Adams, Editor, Addendum Tag and save to del.icio.us
As a solo or small-firm practitioner, chances are that you’re in contact with your clients more frequently than a lawyer in a large firm would be. Communicating with your clients clearly and in a fashion they can understand isn’t just good client relations, it’s also good protection for you and your firm – just look at the leading cause of complaints from clients involved in real estate transactions, for example. Moreover, effectively communicating with your clients is key to retaining them. Aside from writing in plain English, there are a number of other ways to ensure you’re getting your message across to your clients. In this month’s 5 Sites, we look at tips towards making sure your messages are clear and comprehensible.
- Effective Lawyer Client Communication: An International Project to Move from Research to Reform
The goal of the Georgia State University College of Law’s project is to “improve lawyer-client communication by combining what has been learned so far within legal education with empirical social science research.” A group of international experts got together and looked at ways lawyers could better communicate with their clients based on feedback the clients provided. The site also features a number of articles and PowerPoint presentations from other industries and bar association across the globe. A worthwhile resource if you’re looking for new techniques to improve your communication with clients.
- Clients via Larry Bodine Marketing Blog
Law marketing guru Larry Bodine’s blog is a must-visit resource for any lawyer that’s ever had questions about marketing themselves or their firms. He’s also got some great advice on how to communicate with clients, because, after all, that’s what marketing is all about. From what you need to do to keep existing clients (hint: if you’re more a voice on the phone than a person who meets face-to-to-face, you could be in trouble) to simply listening to what your clients need and expect, there’s a wealth of helpful tips on client communication.
- Lawyer-client communication and relationships via practicePRO
From practicePRO, the Lawyers’ Professional Indemnity Company’s risk management initiative, comes this trove of articles on communicating with your clients and maintaining your relationships. Written by experts in law practice management, these articles blend the importance of communication in protecting yourself with useful tips on retaining clients.
- Plain Legal Language Resources via the Plain Language Association International.
Admittedly, there’s a time and place for legal language and boilerplate – but written communications to your clients is not that place. Brush up on your use of plain language with clients, and discover other helpful tips on effective writing, keeping your clients informed, good listening skills, and much more.
- Quick Tips on Client Service via CBA PracticeLink.
From the CBA’s own law practice management site, CBA PracticeLink, comes this collection of quick tips on dealing with your clients. Want a quick suggestion on how you can improve your communication and relations with your clients? Start here.
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CBA PracticeLink: Marketing at trade shows, fitness benefits, quick tips and more
There's no better way to establish effective prospect relationships than by establishing a presence for your firm at industry trade shows and association meetings. By properly researching and targeting your attendance, you can meet more prospects in one day than you might otherwise meet in months.
Also new on CBA PracticeLink…
Articles and tips:
Plus, don’t forget to check out our section devoted to starting out and going solo. For all this and much more, visit http://www.cba.org/practicelink.