Tag Archives: clients

Beefalos, Tigons, and the Hybrid Lawyer

Ever heard of the Beefalo? Tigon? Coydog? Pumapard (yes, that’s a real animal).

Since the mind-1800s, men have played god by creating hybrid animal crosses, such as the aforementioned: Beefalo (bison and domestic cattle), Tigon (tiger and lion), Coydog (coyote and a dog) and Pumapard (Puma and leopard).

It turns out that certain animal pairs are better together than alone. For example, in1847, the first zubron was born—a hybrid of domestic cattle and wisent (type of bison). Zubron are known to survive in harsh weather conditions and are amazingly strong. This is one of the reasons why they have been discussed as a more durable and efficient replacement for cattle.

Next, the “curly-hair-dog” or Mangalitsa is a highly specialized Hungarian breed created in 1833. This wooly pig that resembles a boar certainly won’t win any beauty pageants, but it does produce tasty, high-quality meat.

Some hybrid experiments were not as successful. The Zeedonk (Zebra and donkey), for example, Zorse (zebra and horse), Zebrule (zebra and mule), and Zony (zebra and pony) will likely never replace the real things. Zebroids, which look like horses with zebraesque stripes, in particular, are difficult to handle.

But different types of animals aren’t just genetic crosses. Sometimes they’re also socially compatible.

The Dallas Zoo recently added a Labrador retriever puppy into the cheetah cub den. Zoologists believe the pup will have a calming influence over the cats as they grow up in captivity.

Humans, too, experience beneficial hybridization. Certain combinations of seemingly unrelated skills can create the ideal career option.

Take, for instance, the lawyer-CPA.

“I think an accounting background gives somebody the opportunity to take a more global approach to the representation of a business,” says Stephen Kantor, who is both a CPA and a partner at the law firm Samuels Yoelin Kantor Seymour & Spinrad LLP.

He explains, “I stick to the law, although a lot of what I do involves accounting.” From the perspective of an attorney, Kantor is confident that a CPA designation provides additional insight into the industry of law.

And, with new tax legislation up for debate in Congress, it’s time lawyers brush up on their tax code.

The Ways and Means Committee plans to pass legislation that will rewarite the tax code this fall. The implications are significant for big business, especially those large corporations sheltered under a non-profit designation, reports Bloomberg Businessweek.

Sports leagues are specifically under fire. And, with football season just beginning, lawmakers have leaguers justifiably concerned.

Your firm’s biggest clients may have much at stake. So, if you’re not yet involved, it’s time to contact a group called the Business Coalition for Fair Competition, which has petitiond Congress for a more leveled playing field between companies paying income taxes and their competitors hiding as nonprofits.

The organization’s president, John Palatiello, said to Bloomberg, “There’s no question that there are significant revenue implications to this debate,” Palatiello said. Revenue that your lawyer-CPA hybrid should add up and mark down in your firm’s playbook and account book.

Hybridization has reached attorneys.

So, find for your firm a lawyer with a ledger. If you can’t, create one. Send your lawyers back to school and you may be the first to develop the ever-allusive Cabbit (a mythical cat-rabbit), which—let’s face it—has enough cuteness to reap huge rewards.

-WB

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Why Law Firms Should Think Small (Business, That Is…)

In some surprising statistics reported by Forbes and the information aggregator Docstoc, it turns out that over 50 percent of the working population, around 120 million individuals, work in a small business.

According to the Small Business Administration (SBA), a small business is an enterprise with less than 500 employees. And yet, small businesses are responsible for more than their fair share of job creation. Small businesses have generated over 65 percent of the net new jobs since 1995.

Just over half of the individuals who work for a small business work from home, and of freelance businesses, the fastest growing sectors are auto repair shops, beauty salons, and dry cleaners.

Finally, a vast majority (80 percent) of non-employer businesses for 2011, which accounts for 18 million businesses, reported less than $50,000 in receipts.

As a law firm, what do these statistics tell you?

Well, first, that small businesses are an untapped market for legal services.

Small businesses, in addition to facing financial risk, face legal risk. In 2013, 38 percent of small businesses in the UK experienced “significant” legal problems that resulted in a negative financial impact on the business at an average cost of 6,700 GBP (via Riverview Law news).

The same survey statistics report that only 13 percent of small business agrees that law firms provide a cost effective means to resolving legal problems.

Not only are small businesses in need to legal services, they also don’t go out of their way to seek them out. Your list of potential clients just grew exponentially.

Second, these statistics tell your law firm that its small-business clients are going to want the best deal possible for their legal services; otherwise, they may resist legal representation.

Instead, small businesses resort to untraditional means of dispute resolution. But, in the end, handling technical and complicated legal issues in-house brings its own set of risks.

What’s the win-win solution? Negotiation. It works for buying a house, a car, or a flea-market gift. So why do law firms turn their nose up when clients negotiate legal fees?

Part of the answer to this question is tradition. Law firms tend to traditional. They don’t like change, especially when it means to money out of your pocket. Nevertheless, times are tough and lawyers a dime a dozen. Innovative billing methods may sink or save your firm.

Because small businesses need to feel like their interests are being met and their concerns heard, allow them to negotiate contract terms and fees. Provide exceptions, not a rule to billing options.

It may be that a flat fee for your small-business clients ends up as the most efficient billing method anyway. Small businesses are often in need of standard services that law firms can provide with minimal effort—sending a stock cease and desist letter, writing a disclaimer, or drafting a standard motion.

Keep in mind that time is money for small businesses, too. It’s likely they will not be hounding your office with questions and requests the same way your larger clients can. When you are CEO, CFO, salesman, and cashier rolled up in one, you’re not pestering your lawyer for status updates.

Finally, your law firm may be a small business, itself. If this is the case, it’s time to consider innovative business practices. The majority of small businesses are home-based. Why? It saves on rent and allows for flexible, more efficient hours.

Law firms can benefit from at-home servicing. With work-from-home policies, your attorneys can maintain a healthy work-life balance and your firm can save on the cost of large (and largely vacant) office space.

There are myriad reasons to work with small businesses, and to take a page from their business plan. Policies and structure is an important part of profitmaking. But, so is customization.

This year, go out of your way to seek out small-business clients to incrementally boost your bottom line. And, don’t be afraid to emulate their non-traditional style of management.

They say think big—but thinking small can be good, too.

-WB

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How To Handle Needy Clients (& Still Get Work Done!)

Whether you’re practicing in large corporate firm or small mom-and-pop shop, as an attorney, you’ll keep facing the same issue: lengthy client consultation.

It may be in-person or over the phone, but lengthy client conversations happen, and they cost your firm money. Unfortunately, you can’t always bill these consultations as a client call.

In fact, keeping up with the issues your clients face is part of the job. It’s important to address client concerns, lay out case timetables, and explain the legal process. However, clients often can’t tell the difference between a legal issue and one, well, for a different type of professional—the psychiatrist.

“Clients want to talk about things that have nothing to do with the legal work I have to do. They ask the same questions that you can’t answer: ‘When will this be over?’ or, ‘Do you think (this) will happen?’ You’re tired of telling the client, ‘I don’t know, but just be patient.’ The client calls and says he “read” this, or “heard” this,’ or worse, ‘My friend had a case like this and…’” recalls Brian Tannebaum in his Above The Law article, “Strengthening the Attorney/Client Relationship.”

The problem is, law is personal.

For the small-business owner faced with the risk of losing his legacy, successfully passing on a business to his children that he built for decades from the ground up is no small issue at all. The woman filing for divorce or fighting for custody of children is understandably emotional. Imprisonment or freedom is, for many, a choice between life or death.

Everyday occurrences for attorneys are special occasions—and mostly stressful ones—for clients. Nevertheless, attorneys can’t play therapist to every needy client.

So how can you avoid unnecessarily long client consultations? Try empowering your assistant.

Train your assistant to handle those difficult client calls. For example, a legal assistant should understand the legal process and be aware of specific case updates or news to answer most client questions. He or she can certainly learn to disarm angry clients or soothe anxious ones.

Make sure it doesn’t seem like you are dismissing your clients. For example, don’t use phrases like “let me hand you to my assistant.” Instead, say things like “Mary handles your invoices,” or “John is really the person you should speak to…”

Get in the habit of handing off certain business or client calls to your assistant, that way your clients are comfortable hear his or her voice.

More than that, make sure your clients are aware of your assistant’s extensive expertise. Assistants come in all shapes and sizes. Because of the technical and complicated nature of law, legal assistants stand apart in specialization and certification.

Not to mention the billable hour of your assistant is less cumbersome than senior partner time.

When you have particularly needy clients, don’t shirk their calls. Due diligence involves, sometimes, a bit of handholding. Give your assistant a quick brief about the specific needs of your client, and have them handle status update phone calls or emails. Your assistant should always keep a tone of confidence and authority.

The idea is to empower your assistant, not enfeeble your clients.

Assistants shouldn’t, obviously, handle all communication. But, to keep up with the demands of your practice, there’s nothing wrong with managing the time of your clients and your staff more efficiently.

With this in mind, make sure you hire an experienced and knowledgeable legal assistant. With so many lawyers and legal professionals out of work, there’s labor-lost when it comes to hiring the right man or woman for the job. Consider looking for a person with a psychology background, as that’s the role they frequently play.

Start by writing a job description for the ideal candidate. Then, include adequate training that should include, for example, client interaction guidelines.

Boost the attorney-client relationship at your firm by not actually handling the relationship, yourself.

-WB

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How To Manage Your Law Firm’s Reputation Like A Fine Wine

The Judgment of Paris sounds like a dramatic WWII movie.

But, the only battle in the Judgment of Paris was between bottles of wine. It was, of course, neck to neck.

On May 24, 1976, a British wine merchant Steven Spurrier organized a wine competition in Paris. French judges, in addition to carrying the weight of the world’s best wine producers on their shoulders, carried out two blind tasting comparisons.

After high-quality Chardonnays and then red wines (Bordeaux from France and Cabernet Sauvignon from California). To the surprise of all, a California wine rated best in each category.

Soon the names of American regions Napa and Sonoma, including their wines, were on the tip of everybody’s tongues. Prices for California wines skyrocked and bottles shot off the shelves.

One win can mean everything for your reputation.

Reputation can make or break the bank for law firms. Establishing your business as high-quality, hardworking, and consistent is difficult. New firms lack in legitimacy and experience while incumbent firms find it difficult to change their longstanding reputation.

“Reputations have a strong geographic component,” says Ed Wesemann for Edge International Review.

“A business that is a household name with a strong reputation may never have been heard of in any other.”

Vinyards, like American wines vs. French ones, are also handicapped by their location.

For example, in an old potato field off the highway in New Jersey, Lou Caracciolo planted his first grapes. He was ready to bring the Judgment of Paris to the east coast of New England. He even crafted his cellar in an authentic European style.

Unfortunately, Lou Caracciolo is not a first mover in the market. And, New Jersey has already seen vinyards dating back to prohibition. New Jersey style wine is fruity to a fault. Overly sweet, New Jersey wine is low-cost and low-brow.

Next door, Lou Caracciolo is trying to fight this reputation.

He wants to sell dry, French-tasting wines in an area off the map for those in the market for high-quality, refined, and expensive wine products.

This is an economic phenomenon called a collection action problem, explains NPR Planet Money. Sometimes your rivals make your reputation.

So how does Lou and law firms get out of this reputation glut?

Choose a new marketing scheme. Lou Caracciolo markets his wine as “outter coastal plain.” That is, after all, also south Jersey. Next, he officially certified this region as an officiall wine-cultivating area (“viticultural area”), according to U.S. rules and regulations.

Next, create a public voice.

For Lou Caracciolo, it is important that the public taste his wine to understand its depth and quality. He started a campaign to build reputation and prestige off sales pitches and in-person sales operations.

Law firms should consider writing an official Public Relations (PR) policy and hiring a PR rep. With law firm websites, media coverage of cases, and social media abreast, it’s important that the public view your law firm according to the principles and standards it espouses.

As a start-up law firm building its reputation, don’t be afraid to offer contingency fees for new clients. For particularly high-profile cases, a win may not lead to high rents, but it will likely yield a higher reputation to attract prospective clients.

For incumbent firms, manage your new reputation or reframe your old one through meticulous public profiling. Don’t let rumors of embezzlement, severe layoffs, office closings, or lawsuits against the firm spin out of control.

Manage the external communication, internal communication, and media statements that reach the ears of your clients and society at large. Meticulously plan your internal policies to increase productivity. And, refuse to permit rivals—their poor standards or reputation—to determine your future.

Of course, in a blind test, quality matters more than reputation. Nevertheless, since only justice (not potential clients) is blind: beware of sour grapes.

-WB


Listen to the full story of Lou Caracciolo and his wine on NPR’s podcast Planet Money.

Employee lawsuits are the worst kind of publicity for law firms. When tough conversations are poorly managed, problems fester, productivity plummets, and your risk for an employee lawsuit increases.

Introducing, Handling Difficult Conversations: Communication Strategies for the Workplace– your practical, hands-on guide to managing the most challenging employee and management conversations that may just save your reputation.

This information-packed, 108-page guide provides practical and realistic solutions for tackling the hardest elements of workplace interactions, including:

  • Job Performance
  • Disciplinary Action
  • Termination of Employment
  • Employee Complaints about the Workplace
  • Disabilities (Related to Job Accommodations)
  • Personal Presentation/Hygiene

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Client Services: How To Kill Your Competitors With Kindness

During a commencement ceremony, which celebrated the talent and achievement of Princeton University’s 2010 graduating class, all eyes were on Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos. The invited speaker had just minutes to impart generations of wisdom and business savvy responsible for bestowing riches upon riches to his grandfather and millions of dollars upon himself.

“What made this family of entrepreneurs so successful?” wondered the clever young minds of the current graduating class. And, Bezos would tell them what his grandfather had told him years ago.

“It’s harder to be kind than clever,” he said.

Now, kindness—in the business world—is often overlooked. More frequently leaders are associated with traits such as shrewdness, higher education, or preparedness.

Bezo’s point—rather, his grandfather’s—was that it’s possible for any individual to obtain or develop a keen intellect. However, learning to be kind, and leveraging that kindness to a business advantage, is key to success and harder to master.

Take, for example, the following anecdotal story as referred to by Bill Taylor in his article for the Harvard Business Review Blog.

“The story, as told in AdWeek, goes like this: Brandon Cook, from Wilton, New Hampshire, was visiting his grandmother in the hospital. Terribly ill with cancer, she complained to her grandson that she desperately wanted a bowl of soup, and that the hospital’s soup was inedible (she used saltier language). If only she could get a bowl of her favorite clam chowder from Panera Bread! Trouble was, Panera only sells clam chowder on Friday. So Brandon called the nearby Panera and talked to store manager Suzanne Fortier. Not only did Sue make clam chowder specially for Brandon’s grandmother, she included a box of cookies as a gift from the staff.”

“It was a small act of kindness that would not normally make headlines. Except that Brandon told the story on his Facebook page, and Brandon’s mother, Gail Cook, retold the story on Panera’s fan page. The rest, as they say, is social-media history. Gail’s post generated 500,000 (and counting) “likes” and more than 22,000 comments on Panera’s Facebook page. Panera, meanwhile, got something that no amount of traditional advertising can buy—a genuine sense of affiliation and appreciation from customers around the world.”

Marketing experts will agree that the above story emphasizes the importance of customer service to a company’s survival and bourgeoning reputation.

But law firms don’t have “customer service,” per se. They have client services. And, how exactly does the above tale reach the customers of legal services?

Unlike Panera, law firms don’t bank on repeat customers for business. Jordan Furlong for Slaw explains, “Many clients [of law firms] are one-offs—most people don’t need to immigrate twice or get multiple divorces—so the lawyer has little motivation to encourage repeat business.”

In addition, lawyers by nature are much more interested in the product and process—finding a creative solution to a case or winning in court—than the person behind it. Once out in the real world, attorneys are eager to make a name for themselves, create legal precedent, or earn partnership.

And, partnership is rarely the product of previous client satisfaction. Rather, it’s a product of attracting additional business from new clients.

All of these reasons (and more) explain why law firm managers deprioritize customer service. Certainly—even when aware of its importance—law firm managers generally do not have a client services strategic plan or policy.

In the end, it’s easier to ask first what benefits the firm, as opposed to what most benefits the client. But, pure kindness pays in unforeseen ways. So, in the spirit of Panera—take steps to earn your bread and butter with kindness through the following changes:

  1. Don’t charge clients for their monthly status report phone calls. Welcome lengthy discussions and questions about the case. Put your customer at ease by easing off the billable-hour clock. Furthermore, lengthy meeting minutes are often discounted off invoices during billing anyway.
  2. Furlong suggests, for valued clients, install a 24/7 “hot line” (phone or email) at which a responsible and competent firm professional can be reached for and will respond to urgent issues—the law firm equivalent of “roadside assistance.” After-hours inquiries could be fielded by part-time lawyers or those employed with an offshore legal services provider affiliated with the firm.
  3. Write a formal client services policy for employees. The policy should explain firm expectations for high-quality service, including a detail description for how to interact with clients. Include an “emergency procedure” for especially disgruntled customers.
  4. Furlong also suggests creating a referral incentive program for clients. Provide a discount for future services, which encourages repeat business, each time a client refers another person to your firm.
  5. In addition, create a referral incentive program for employees. Provide a percentage of winnings to any employee or associate (not just partners) who referred friends or family as a client. Not only will this garner more business, it will also bolster the relationships between and feelings of trust among members of the firm.

This year, learn what the most success CEOs, businessmen, and mothers already know. Kill (and bill) with kindness.

-WB

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Culture In Law: How To Properly Pair Wine & Create A Client-Focused Firm

Copyright: The New Yorker
http://www.newyorker.com/humor

Law is just one more service industry business. Except, lawyers like to think—unlike food services, for example—specialized knowledge and expertize put them above the old adage, “the customer’s always right.”

Clients don’t know best, only their counsel does.

But what would happen if a law firms put client needs at the center of their business development decisions? It turns out, such a law firm would generate more business and more profits—not a bad business plan at all.

Clients who see their primary law firm as best in client service spend twice as much on these legal services, according to a BTI Survey of Client Service Performance and Client Needs.

And, due to increased morale, productivity, and word-of-mouth referrals, these client-focused firms also rake in 30 percent more in profits than their traditional counterparts, according to the same survey.

Law administrators might argue that their firm does—in fact—put clients first!

However, much more is at stake in order to create a true, client-focused culture than just the aim to please.

First, good service has little to do with the good practice of law.

Take, for example, our model restaurant, Chez Esquire. The waiter might bring you exactly what you ordered. What’s more, the meal may even exceed your expectations. Nevertheless, the high quality of the food does not play into the high quality of the service.

Think about what’s involved with superior service: attentiveness, predictability of needs, friendly attitude, and helpfulness.

A waiter must be attentive, filling water glasses or refilling coffee before anybody thinks to ask. In the same way, a lawyer must share information readily, not simply when its demanded.

Frequent updates on a client’s case or weekly case status reports make for exceptional customer service.

Predictability of needs can also help a firm stand out in a crowd.

Anticipating what kind of savings or IRA account, maybe even real-estate venture, that a wealthy client would want (before he knows he wants it) will increase client satisfaction. It will also increase the amount of business you transact (your firm has, for instance, a wealth management department to manage the task).

Next, don’t underestimate the value of a smile. Clients, like restaurant patrons, know when service is being delivered sincerely, and when somebody’s secretly spit in their food.

So, deliver news in person or over the phone with polite candor and consideration.

Finally, helpfulness does not correspond an attorney’s knowledge of the law. It’s an attorney’s ability to know options within the law, and to present a client with multiple scenarios.

Helpfulness also includes an attorney’s understanding of a client’s business. With this knowledge, an attorney should tailor decisions after the specific needs of a client’s company, whether that be in alternative billing practices or pre-trial negotiations.

Like a nicely paired wine, there are levels of affordability. A sommelier can certainly recommend the best, richest bottle in the lot to a man who can barely afford to taste it. But, by suggesting more than one, the wine expert has the power to transform an awkward, overpriced first date into a successful, lasting relationship.

To ensure that your service surpasses expectations, law firms should create a Client Service Improvement Team who guarantees:

  1. Information about clients and cases are shared internally to create customized services
  2. Clients have easy access to information about their own case
  3. Clients are contacted more frequently
  4. Lawyers are trained to be helpful firm ambassadors
  5. Clients are surveyed about how service could be improved
  6. Based on surveys, law firms put clients’ needs first in business practice

Integrate your clients’ voice into your firm business plan and the profits will speak for themselves, loud and clear.

-WB

Reference: Stock, Adam L. “Breaking down barriers: Becoming more client focused.” Allen Matkins. Novemebr 24, 2011. [LINK: http://www.slideshare.net/allenmatkins/breaking-down-barriers-creating-a-clientfocused-law-firm-culture]

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How To Attract More Small-Business Clients

Small businesses—particularly in a recession—encounter a variety of financial and operational risks. As an attorney representing many small businesses, you can help current clients mitigate these risks, and ameliorate your working relationship with them at the same time.

With a few, simple changes, your firm can also attract new small-business clients. Here’s how.

First, understand the risks small businesses face.

For example, a 2010 study conducted by the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners revealed that small businesses are victimized at higher rates than large businesses (via the Orlando Sentinel).

The study found that 30 percent of business fraud occurred in companies with 100 or less employees, and more than half occurred in businesses with fewer than 1,000 employees (via the Orlando Sentinel).

Small businesses are usually in denial about the extent of employee extortion or embezzlement, and these companies often can’t afford the measures to prevent it.

In addition to employee fraud, small businesses also face an increased risk of lack of liquidity, property theft, and costly litigation.

Small companies wait until the final hour to inform their lawyers of possible trouble—in part, to save on attorneys’ fees, and in part because they believe issues can be handled in-house.

However, if informed earlier, firms are more likely to be able to successfully control the damage done to a small-business client at risk.

So, to encourage full and early disclosure on the part of its clients, firms should circulate a monthly newsletter that includes pertinent data and economic developments within relevant industries, as well as basic advice regarding the use of technology, security measures, and federal requirements.

Small businesses—inundated with work during hard economic times—sometimes need a friendly reminder about legal basics, such as the restrictions on asking certain questions during the hiring process, employee contracts, or social media pitfalls.

With so many new federal laws and changing state regulations, lawyers, themselves, will benefit from conducting research for such a newsletter. With minimal effort, a firm can both educate its associates and also aid its small-business clients in preventing costly litigation.

Initially, offer the newsletter as a free entry on your firm’s blog site. Then, once your newsletter has received adequate blogosphere attention, provide a more in-depth version exclusively to your clients.

The public version will attract new clients who appreciate your firm’s expertise and thoroughness.

The appeal of receiving a more detailed version will provide additional incentive for small businesses to sign with your firm.

Finally, your current clients will see this newsletter as a value-add and a gesture of good faith on the part of your firm—essential for when it comes down to renewing that attorney-client agreement.

In the end, the more forthcoming you are as a firm, the more likely you will be able to attract and retain clients.

-WB

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