Relationships, Not Contacts

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. Continue reading

Not Dressing Respectably

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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Rural Technocracy

Humanity is acquiring all the right technology for all the wrong reasons. R. Buckminster Fuller

Technology is slowly making inroads out here in the hinterlands. GPS, GIS, and laptops are transforming how fields are managed, crops are planted, and even who (to be more accurate, that should read “what”) is steering the equipment. Combine this new technology with the farmer’s existing knowledge about the raw inputs and the result is more efficient farming as crops are planted at optimal spacings by equipment moving at optimal speeds and engines turning at optimal rates.

The interesting thing is that the requirements of the raw inputs are driving the technological improvements. It seems that the successful advances either reduce operator workload or provide better management of the raw materials. All the rest seems to lie on the shelf neatly polished under a light film of dust.

Technology is rapidly making inroads in the legal profession. From smart-phones to SaaS,  VoIP to VLOs, and e-fax & e-mail to social networking, there appears to be a high tech solution to each and every problem you can think of and some you’ve not even thought of yet. But I am left wondering if we, as a profession, are building the right machinery or if, in our headlong rush into the 23rd century we are building a highly polished, intricately complex, highly efficient machine best suited to gathering dust.

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The Mutable Cloud

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. Continue reading

A Pattern For Procedure

Checklists and procedures seem to go hand in hand. We all seem to have them, lists that outline the key points to cover at that first client interview, to perform when handling a real estate closing, to cover when closing a file, etc. The elements of standard procedure reduced to bullet points and checked off one by one as the task is performed. The problem with checklists is that they are really designed to be used by two people – one to read the list, the other to perform the action. Running a randomly ordered checklist solo is inefficient – sure you can cover all the points, but ask yourself: how many times did you lose your place, or have to back up a step or two just to be sure?

Now for the good news, there’s a way to improve checklist efficiency. Its the flow concept and comes from aviation. The idea is to accomplish a task through the use of specific patterns. A flow simply structures an important task so that every element is completed in the correct order and nothing is missed. Think of it as a Gantt chart you perform.

The basic concept is to:

  • arrange the flow so that items are performed in a natural, logical sequence so that step B builds from step A
    • memorize the “killer” steps – those things that have to be done even if everything else is forgotten
  • interact with the steps in the flow
    • touch the physical item a step refers to
    • verbalize each step as it is accomplished
  • follow up with a single run through of the checklist

A good flow acts as a type of mnemonic, allow a procedure to be accomplished smoothly, naturally and efficiently.