Practice Tips

Client Relations Tips

Office Management Tips

Technology and Website Tips 

Show Me the Money


Client Relations Tips

Saying No

Learn to say, "No."  Set boundaries and refuse to suffer an unreasonable client and avoid new business that could conflict with that upcoming vacation. It's your practice, after all!

Your Unknown Client

Read Bohn v. Cody, 119 Wn.2d 357, P.2d 71.  When does the client-lawyer relationship arise?

Red Flags

If a potential client has a number of complaints about their former lawyer or lawyers, be wary of handling the case. The chances of you being the next lawyer that the client complains about are very high. If a potential client comes to your office and refuses to pay a consultation fee, it could be a red flag.

Written Fee Agreements

Use written fee agreements at least with first-time clients. Include language that does not promise a particular outcome. Contact LOMAP for other related suggestions and examples at lomap@wsba.org. You can also check out the Law Office in a Box® which contains useful forms and documents.

Keep Your Client Informed

Copy your client with all incoming and outgoing correspondence, pleadings, or other matters.  This lets your client know that you are working on their case, as well as keeping them informed about his or her case.

Best Marketing Devices

Always carry business cards and have your "elevator speech" ready that describes how you serve your clients — not only that you are a lawyer. An elevator speech should include reasons why people would want you as your lawyer and not just your areas of practice or xpecializations. The speech should be no longer than 30 seconds and it should invite potential clients to continue the conversation.

Corporate Courtesy

If you represent corporate clients, visit them at their business location. Your client will appreciate your interest, and you will have a better understanding of your clients' business needs.

"Under-Promise" and "Over-Deliver"

Manage client expectations by giving yourself more than enough time to complete tasks. It is nice to be able to say a task is completed early!

Over-Communicate

Over-communicate with your clients. Describe communication guidelines at the outset of the matter. How to handle emergencies? Keep the client informed during the matter. Send a closing letter at the conclusion of the matter.

Voicemail Etiquette

By changing your voicemail greeting regularly, you save your clients some frustration. Add a personal touch to voicemail: Change your greeting daily — or at least weekly — to reflect your schedule so callers will know whether you will receive their message in ten minutes, ten hours, or ten days! Avoid suggesting that callers leave a detailed message. Why? Afterward, the client may believe he/she has a lawyer — you!

Communication Standards

Establish your office rules for using and responding to phone calls and e-mail messages. Distribute those policies to all of your current clients. Provide a copy to all new clients when you accept their cases or business. You may also incorporate them into your engagement letter.

This helps keep control of the how information is communicated and disseminated. Also, you manage the client's expectations. Some of the policies you might include are:

  • Concerns with confidentiality using email 
  • How quickly email and phone calls will be returned 
  • Email should not be used when an immediate response is needed 
  • Clients must use virus protection software if they are going to send attachments 
  • You may not want clients to send e-mails with attachments


Office Management Tips

Disposing of Client Files

See RCW 19.215 concerning the disposal of personal information when you dispose of client files.  The WSBA also has client file retention guidelines.

%#@& Happens

If you can think of a possible disaster, it can happen. Next, think about communication: a working telephone is a lawyer's best friend. Think about data: back up your data with a passion. Think about your office and equipment: your building may be off-limits, except for emergency workers. Always have access to your calendar and address book. Have a plan.

Be Colorful

Use a different color paper in your fax machine so that you can distinguish quickly between letters and faxes.  Use color in other areas of your practice to speed recognition.

Be Clever About Going Paperless

Scan the most repeatedly retrieved documents into a client folder called "Important Docs." This will save trips to the file room when the phone rings. Examples are police reports, transcripts, parenting plans, financial statements, condo CCRs, questionnaires, etc. There are also very good document management software programs on the market currently, which will catagorize and file your documents into easily accessible folders.

Use Protocols

All of your routine tasks should follow a consistent protocol as to method and time of day (if possible).  For example, take care of the mail in a consistent and orderly fashion. You must make choices about what to do with each day's mail:

  • Sort?
  • Open now or later?
  • Date stamp—front, back or front on Post-It Note®?
  • Copy for working file?
  • Copy for trial notebook?
  • Copy for colleague or client?
  • Extract information for a task list or calendar?
  • Scan to PDF?
  • File in staging file or client file?

If you mark on originals, make and mark copies right away and file the originals. Consider scanning certain types of mail that you will need to refer to frequently. Immediately put key dates and actions spurred by the mail into a calendar. The mail always has a "home" for quick retrieval from either an alphabetical staging file or the client's file.

Managing Work

When you get a new case/project/task, do something on it almost immediately, no matter how small — just do something. It can be something as simple as making a file folder and putting a note of to-dos in it.
Even if the deadline for the project is far off, it is helpful to do something on it and you can put the project away or stage it on a work table until you are ready to spend time on it.  By then you will be "completing" the project and not "starting" it.

Place several periodic reminders to work on it in your electronic tickler, such as Outlook or Amicus Attorney. This all helps to stay on top of projects and minimizes the constant feeling of being overwhelmed by projects whose deadlines are approaching.

Get Out of the Warehouse Business

Consult clients concerning the disposition of their files and encourage them to preserve the files on their own. Lawyers are advocates and advisors, not warehousemen or perpetual repositories for the files of their clients. A good lawyer need not retain clients by holding on to their files, and a poor one will soon learn that such tactics avail nothing but additional expense.
From New York State Bar Association, Opinion 460.

Contract Lawyer and Of Counsel

During your legal career, you may have the opportunity to affiliate as of counsel or to do contract legal work while waiting for a longer-term opportunity. Sometimes a lawyer prefers doing contract work and develops a reputation in a niche area that generates repeat projects and referrals.

An of counsel affiliation usually means there is a written agreement about compensation and other factors about the relationship. Such other factors are insurance, fringe benefits, expense reimbursement, access to staff, office space and perhaps expectations about developing new business. An of counsel relationship may be a steppingstone to an invitation to join the partnership or it may be an end in itself as a lawyer winds down a career — or something in between.

A contract lawyer may work for one or several firms or individuals simultaneously. The lawyer may or may not sign pleadings and often is paid according to the hours billed to files. Review ABA Opinion 88-356.
When considering either relationship, think about the answers to these questions:

  • Has the contracting firm had experience affiliating in this fashion?
  • Does the contracting firm or individual have malpractice insurance?  If so, does the policy cover a contract lawyer or of counsel?
  • Can you be added at no charge? If a charge is imposed, who pays it?
  • Will the policy cover work outside of the firm?
  • Does the contracting firm or the lawyer pay the deductible?
  • If you meet with a client of the contracting firm, on whose behalf are you meeting, yours or the firm's?
  • How are conflicts of interest handled? Is there a reporting mechanism and screen that can be used?
  • Is there a written agreement?

There are books about both types of arrangements with sample agreements and discussion of the respective issues. See the LOMAP Lending Library for titles.


Technology and Website Tips

Drink From a Fire Hose

For information junkies only: check out www.refdesk.com and www.lawyerexpress.com.

Internet Research Aid

SurfSaver allows you to save and organize entire web pages from your browser into a searchable filing cabinet. Whether you are collecting and organizing information on a legal topic, or need to archive a "snapshot" of a web page, SurfSaver is a quick and easy way to store web pages into a searchable archive. According to the developer, the utility is an ideal tool for researchers, packrats, and everyone else collecting information on the Internet. Read more at www.surfsaver.com

A Lawyer's Friend

Go to http://blogs.adobe.com/acrolaw/ for ideas for using Adobe PDF documents in a law office. Adobe Acrobat Professional is a "must" for any law office (redaction! Bates numbering!).

Best Practices for a Lawyer Website

Have a website? Go to www.elawyering.com for ABA guidelines.

ABA at Your Service

Not a member of the ABA? No problem. Go to http://www.abanet.org/tech/ltrc/fyidocs/ for excellent descriptions of relevant legal technology topics. Go to http://www.abanet.org/genpractice/magazine/past-issues.html for the helpful articles published in GP|Solo Magazine.

Malpractice Insurance Application Crosscheck

Check to be sure your website is not describing practice areas not also described on your malpractice insurance application. The insurance companies are checking for differences.

Passwords Forever

Set up a password to access your computer operating system, such as Windows, by choosing Control Panel > User Accounts > Choose your account and choose Create Password. To help ensure confidentiality, email attachments can require a password to open. In Word, go to Tools > Options > Security Tab and choose Password.

Finding the Changes

To compare two documents in Word 2010, go to the  Review tab and select Compare, located on the right side of the Review ribbom. Make sure to use the option with the "Legal Blackline."

Categories

Use the "categories" feature in Outlook's calendar to enable reports of dates by category such as matter, court, type of law, etc.


Show Me the Money

Getting Paid

For less complex matters, use flat fees and ask for payment in advance. People are used to credit cards, so have a merchant account to accept credit cards. Alternatively, you can choose to use services such as PayPal or Intuit as opposed to using a traditional credit card merchant account.

Billing Savvy

When giving your client a fee reduction, discount from your bill — not your time sheet. The client will never know that you reduced his or her bill unless you show the discount on the bill that is submitted to your client. Hopefully, this will eliminate your client's attempt to reduce your bill further. Bill at the highest curve of gratitude. This usually occurs immediately after the case is over, or when you have obtained a favorable result.