Help in Law Practice Management for Solo Lawyers

Laww Practice Management for Solo LawyersThe statistics on net income for solos firms is scarce, but is getting better. Last year CLIO released their 2016 Legal Trends Report  based on data generated by its thousands of users. Here is on one their conclusions:

“Out of an eight-hour workday, the average firm collects payment on only 1.5 hours of billable time. These unit economics would be devastating to almost any industry, and they help explain why, despite charging an average of $232 per billable hour, the average small-to-mid-sized firm struggles to make ends meet.”

The Solo and Small Law Firm Compensation Report from Above the Law also reports that a quarter of solo practitioners make less than $50,000.00 a year.

There are many possible causes for the low income reported by solo practitioners. [For a different explanation see blog post by Carolyn Elefant ] .

My own theory is that many solo and small law firm lawyers don’t understand the difference between “doing law” and “running a law firm as a business.” Or as Mark Cohen puts it, there is a difference between “law practice” and “legal delivery.”  There is a deficit of knowledge of how to create a sustainable law firm business model with a differentiated competitive advantage in the marketplace.

Help is on the Way

Help for solos and small law firm’s is on the way of consultancies that are responding to this need providing affordable law practice management advice to solos and small law firm that can turn around a failing practice.

Here is a short list of resources that I recommend:

Individual Consultants

Jared D. Correia, Esq., who runs Red Cave Consulting out of the Boston area has developed a unique approach to providing subscription-based consulting for solo practitioners. Jared A is a former practicing attorney and has been advising lawyers and law firms for over a decade.  He is a regular presenter at local, regional and national events, including ABA TECHSHOW,  and regularly contributes to legal publications, including his column, ‘Managing,’ for Attorney at Work, and his ‘Law Practice Confidential’ advice column for Lawyerist.  Jared is the author of the American Bar Association publication ‘Twitter in One Hour for Lawyers’.  He is the host of the Legal Toolkit podcast on Legal Talk Network.  Jared also teaches for Concord Law SchoolSuffolk University Law School and Solo Practice University.

Solo Practice University picks where your legal education left off. For an initial fee of $265.00 plus $65.00 you get access to all courses within the Solo Practice University curriculum, Notable is the extensive curriculum in law practice management and technology for solo and small law firm practitioners. Want to learn more about virtual law practice? Consider taking Stephanie Kimbro’s course on Virtual Law Practice at SPU.

Another interesting resource I recently discovered is: Start Here HQ , based in Portland, Oregon. This advisory service comprises lawyers who practiced so they know firsthand the challenges lawyers face as a profession. The company’s goal is to help lawyers build scalable and sustainable practices and offers 1:1 coaching for individual attorneys. You can schedule a free introductory call at startherehq.com/schedule-a-call.

Another resource I have used are the marketing services of Chelsey Lambert from LawTechReview. Chelsey has developed a curriculum of courseware in law practice management and technology that provides unique insights on how to organize and implement your marketing program.  Chelsey has worked with solos and small law firms for over a decade and served as a coach, consultant and trainer at the Chicago Bar Association as a Practice Management Advisor.  Her programs and written resources have been shared at bar associations, and law schools across the country.

Law Practice Management Resources from Bar Associations

Don’t overlook bar association resources. Most notable are the products and services of the American Bar Association’s Law Practice Management Division. On demand CLE’s in law practice management can bring you up the learning curve quickly. See also Law Technology Videos.

Many state bar associations have law practice management advisors that provide free advisory services to members and offer educational programs in law practice management and technology. Here is a convenient list of law practice management advisors at state bar associations. See this list also from the ABA.

The Florida Bar’s Practice Resource Institute – has a new venture to train lawyers in law practice management and technology skills. See How to Start a Law Firm courseware. Also check out: Michigan Bar’s Practice Management Resource Center and the New York State Bar Association’s Programs in Law Practice Management.

Law Practice Management Vendor Resources

Vendors of law practice management software offer first-rate free educational resources. See for example:
Clio’s Resource Library
RocketMatter’s Productivity Blog
Free Webinars from MyCase
LEAP Legal Software: Start Your Own Law Firm Guide
DirectLaw’s Digital Lawyering Institute

The path to success for solos and small law firms is paved with learning about new technologies, new business models, new marketing methods, and new ways of delivering legal services. As professionals, lawyers are tasked with re-inventing themselves every decade. Continuous learning makes us “professionals.” Keep learning or die!

Virtual Law Practice: Success FActors

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What is a Virtual Law Practice?

Virtual Law PracticeA virtual law practice is a law firm that provides a web-based environment where the client can communicate with their attorney and access legal services securely online. Some services may be provided by the attorney, such as legal advice. Other legal services, such as web-enabled document automation, combine a digital application with the skills of the lawyer.

An attorney with a traditional law office may operate a virtual law practice as an extension of their office-based physical practice, or a virtual law practice may be online without physical constraints. In both cases, the attorney may use some virtual lawyering technologies and more traditional skills.

Whatever the configuration of the particular law practice, to offer legal services, communicate, and collaborate with clients over the Internet, the law firm must have a “secure client portal.”  Incorporation a client portal into a law firm’s website is the core requirement of a “virtual law practice”.

Resource: PodCast from Florida Bar: What it Really Means to be a Virtual Lawyer.

See ABA Journal Article, March, 2017: Granat, Really Virtual: Putting a practice online means access, efficiency, and upkeep.

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The “Client Portal” concept

A virtual law practice has been referred to in these ways: virtual law office or VLO, virtual law firm, eLawyering or online law practice.  Law firm web sites which  just a description of a law firm’s practice, biographical information and the partners and employees of the firm, and some legal information, but no access to a secure “client portal.” would not be a virtual law practice.  

A “client portal” enables access only with a unique username and password that the client uses to enter his or her own secure web space within the attorney’s Web site.  A client portal is unique to virtual law practice and is the key to differentiating it from other web-based or cloud-based services.

Within the “client portal” the client can communicate and collaborate with their attorney securely with industrial–strength encryption for every communication.  The attorneys and their clients can securely discuss matters on-line, download and upload documents for review, pay bills online, schedule appointments and meetings online, review case documents online and handle other business transactions related to the delivery of legal services in a secure digital environment.  In addition, legal applications can be offered, such as web-enabled document automation, which increase the law firm’s productivity and enhance the user experience. Inside the secure client portal, web-based legal applications can be offered which substitute in part for the work of the lawyer resulting in an increase in productivity for the law firm. A “client portal” application is essential to an ethically compliant virtual law practice.

To experiment with the Client Portal concept sign up for DirectLaw’s trial program. No credit card required.

What a “Virtual Law Practice” is Not

The literature about “virtual law practice” often quotes some lawyers as referencing themselves as “virtual lawyers” because they have no physical office, meet clients within their client’s office or at the local Starbucks, and do their legal work by email, cell phone and tablet computer. But since these lawyers don’t deliver online legal services securely, one would not consider them to be true “virtual lawyers”.

This is a difference between virtual law practice and just being a “mobile” lawyer. We would characterize the mobile lawyer as just being “untethered” – a lawyer who is mobile and free from a specific office location.  A “virtual lawyer” is also an “untethered” lawyer, but he/she is also much more than that when integrating a client portal into their virtual practice model. Making this distinction is important because when the lawyer is evaluating his or her compliance with the rules of professional conduct ethics issues arise from the direct delivery of legal services to clients online. For example, if the lawyer is delivering legal services to clients online, there may be an online form of limited scope engagement agreement that must be properly executed securely online.

The establishment of the lawyer/client relationship online through a secure client portal and use of a click wrap agreement requires compliance with rules that a virtual practitioner must know that go beyond the traditional establishment of the lawyer/client relationship. Many lawyers now use legal applications hosted in the cloud. Using cloud-based applications does not define “virtual law practice.” Using a time-keeping and billing application originally hosted in a local sever within the law office and now hosted in the cloud does not make one a “virtual lawyer.”

A “virtual lawyer” delivers legal services online. The secure and encrypted online connection where clients interact with their lawyers and complete tasks related to the solution of their legal problems defines “virtual law practice.”

Online Legal Services is the Future

Delivering legal services online is the future. It is the path towards streamlining a law practice, increasing productivity, and lowering costs to serve clients more effectively. As more web-based applications are created that substitute for the work of a lawyer, the client portal becomes the essential component in the lawyer’s toolbox for delivering legal services.

In the fullness of time, all clients will expect their lawyers to can work and interact with them securely online. A “Virtual Law Practice” will not be something only for “early adopters” – it will become an essential component of every law firm practice