This type of balancing act is more the rural lawyer's speed

Here’s the rub, if you are going to build a solo practice you’ve got to network to get clients, but when you get clients you’ve less time to network, but when you network less, you get fewer clients, which gives you more time to network, which gets you clients which … a cycle that can repeat ad infinitum while your accounts receivable develops more humps and bumps than a roller coaster. The cure – as suggested by many a wiser author than I – is to always schedule time to network into your daily routine regardless of client load; constant contact for constant clients. The problem is that it is way to easy for constant contact to simply become a rut – a once a month lunch with the local bar association, a few “how ya doing” weekly e-mails to your lawyer buddies, the bi-weekly chamber of commerce get-together, and a bit of on-line social networking.

The question is: is this really a good way to spend your time – are you really maximizing your return on your investment? Sure an e-mail to Bob the contractor (the guy that referred the last 3 real estate closings to you) puts your name in front of him for the 20 seconds it takes for him to delete it, but did it really buy you anything in terms of network building? And lunch with Delores the banker (a statuesque nordic blond that has never referred a client to anyone) may be an hour of divine and picturesque conversation but other than briefly making you the envy of guy-kind did investing that capital really do anything for your bottom line?

Given that you have limited time to invest, the business of relationship building comes down to a balancing act between the frequency of the contacts, the type of contacts, and the quality of the relationship you want to build. Now, the easy way to handle this is to cop out and simply grab minute amounts of face-time with your network at mass attendance events like bar association lunches or chamber of commerce breakfasts – develop a taste for scrambled eggs and baked chicken and you’re set for the business world’s version of speed dating. The hard way is to develop a tickler system that reminds you to take someone out to lunch on a regular basis and then to remember that “someone” needs to alternate between old friends and new contacts. (more…)

George Bernard Shaw said that his “main reason for adopting literature as a profession was that, as the author is never seen by his clients, he need not dress respectably” – I’ve been test driving a Virtual Law Office in the hopes that, like Mr. Shaw, I could, on occasion, dress a bit less respectably (or at the very least wander about the office barefoot) and  TotalAttorneys  has been good enough to allow me to abuse their product, picking nits, and ask odd questions since mid-June. I’ve come away very impressed.

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Well, I knew that one day I would lose a disk, but I really didn’t need it to happen today, I really didn’t need to lose the disk with my database on it, and I certainly did not expect a 2 month old disk to pack up and go south. The cool thing is that I was down for less than 90 minutes and half of that was spent running to the local big box computer store to get a new drive.

It took all of 3 mouse clicks and less than 45 minutes for CrashPlan to do a complete restore from my on-site backup. Had I not wanted instant gratification, I could have restored from my off-site personal cloud in little over 2 hours. Had I ever wondered about justifying the cost of having a highly redundant back up system, today put all my doubts to rest. Rather than spending countless hours rebuilding my contact list, document database, forms, etc. I went to lunch while my hardware and software did their thing.

Emmerson observed that “nature is a mutable cloud, which is always and never the same”. The same observation can be made about web-based practice management systems.  In her latest screencast, Nicole Black does an excellent job in reviewing the mutable world of web-based practice management systems. She does an excellent job of comparing and contrasting the features of the 3 major players in the web-based LPM world (Clio, LawRD & Rocket Matter) with on-screen demonstrations of each of the systems. If you are thinking of investing in a web-based LPM service, Ms. Black’s screencast is a must see.

While Ms. Black does provide some general words of warning about the ethical traps and general risks involved with using web-based systems (in fact, I applaud her insistance that one checks out the service’s data backup and recovery systems before investing), I would have liked more in-depth information on these subjects. (more…)

Many of my clients are located in rural areas of North Carolina. It would take them an hour to drive to “the big city” to meet with an attorney in person. However, these clients have access to the Internet and like any other segment of the population, they need access to legal services from time to time.

As a way to meet this public need, for the past three years I have used my web-based virtual law office (VLO) to provide online unbundled legal services to clients across the state of NC where I am licensed to practice law. Sometimes the work is transactional, such as drafting contracts, leases, setting up businesses or drafting estate planning documents. Other times I provide basic legal advice and guidance as my clients navigate the justice system as a pro se litigant in their small county courthouse. The public response to a web-based virtual law office as an alternative method of communicating with an attorney has been great. (more…)

In Comparing the Cost of SaaS LPM Tools to Conventional: The Metrics That Matter Carolyn Elefant presents a well considered argument that simply comparing the cost of software as a service practice management (SaaS LPM) tools to conventional desktop ones (as I do in: RocketMatter & Clio) isn’t accurate as it does not incorporate the intangible benefits inherent in the SaaS model such as the reduction in IT support costs, office space requirements, hours lost responding to client requests for updates, etc. I do have to agree with her assessment that one should make this type of externalities-based comparison when choosing a LPM system. However, I believe that for all its positives, the SaaS model has some serious flaws to overcome.

Current SaaS LPM offerings are immature technology that require reliable a high-speed Internet connection and offer no off-line capabilities. Whereas desktop systems tend to be mature software offerings from stable companies with long track records and most desktop systems offer some form of mobile access. Buying into one of the current SaaS solutions means risking mission-critical software on the belief that you will have Internet access 24/7/365 and that nothing will fail in the electronic chain that connects your computer to the SaaS provider’s servers. (more…)

How does one handle the occasional fax? The traditional model is to buy a standalone fax machine or a multi-function printer and either pay for a dedicated phone line or a line sharing device. The other option is eFax.

eFax services convert a fax into a digital file that can be received by eMail and vice versa. The typical eFax solution provides a dedicated fax phone number that will convert incoming faxes to email attachments that are automatically sent to your eMail address. Your outgoing faxes are sent as eMail attachments to the eFax service which sends them to physical fax numbers so your outgoing faxes are received just as if they had been sent by a standard fax machine.

Based on research done by FaxCompare, the “market standard” is for a service to provide a 30-day free trial, have no start up fee or hidden fees, and to offer 24/7 customer service and both send/receive capabilities. Expect to pay about $10 per month for 300 total pages (incoming & outgoing combined) with additional pages costing about $0.10 per page.

Here is a “SaaS” model that works for me. It is less expensive than owning dedicated hardware, is more efficient since it cuts down the number of steps needed to send a fax, should be more reliable, and is more secure (faxes go to specific eMail addresses rather than sit in the fax machine until someone picks them up). Plus it is the “greener” alternative. The best part is that FaxCompare has done most of the comparison shopping already and offers a set of apples-to-apples vendor reviews.

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