That's the title of my latest article published this month in GPSolo magazine, published by the GP Solo Division of the ABA. The theme of the issue is "Small" and covers relevant topics from an interesting perspective. Check it out for some small ideas with a big impact!
The Daily Mail reports that neck and back injuries are climbing with the boom in laptop sales. It seems that laptop users are using the computers--surprise--on their laps, causing them to look down at the screen, rather than level with their forehead. That positioning of the screen seems to be the culprit leading to these physical ailments.
I must admit to being one of those laptop laptop users, er, ah, using my notebook computer on my lap. It also can lead to stress as discussed in a recent post. If you are one of the millions of consumers who are switching to a portable computer as your primary computer, you may want to seriously consider adding a docking station so that you can work safely and pain-free for years to come.
Robert Half Legal, a staffing service for law firms, has recently released their 2006 Salary Guide. According to the latest numbers compiled by Robert Half Legal, salaries for legal staff increased 6 to 8% nationwide during 2005.Legal secretaries and paralegals at small to mid-size firms experienced the greatest salary growth, compared to their counterparts at large and small firms.Salaries for 2006 breakdown as follows:
Senior Secretaries$39-49k $42-53k$45-56$50-65k
(12+ years’ experience)
Midlevel Sec'y $36-46k$38-52k$41-52k$47-59k
(7-11 years’ exp.)
(3-6 years’ exp.)
Junior Legal Sec'y$27-35k$29-37k$33-39k$34-41k
(1-2 years’ exp.)
(4-6 years’ exp.)
(2-3 years’ exp.)
(0-2 years’ exp.)
Due to demand and other economic factors, some areas of the country the rates are substantially higher. The Half Survey includes differentials for certain metro areas. For example, firms in Washington,D.C. can expect to pay up to 126% of these national averages, according to the Half survey. A small firm in downtown DC would expect to pay a legal secretary with 5 years of experience approximately $50,000, whereas a suburban counterpart would pay up to 20% less than that.The suburban differential continues in Washington, despite large growth in the counties surrounding the District of Columbia. There is still a perceived “lifestyle” benefit working at smaller suburban firms—commutes are easier, parking is free, and working hours tend to be shorter.I expect that lifestyle differential to keep salaries lower in those suburban areas when compared to similar downtown firms.
I was most fortunate recently to share a dinner table in Philadelphia with former Milbank Tweed managing partner, Fran Musselman. Fran is a true giant in the law, especially for his pioneering in the area of law practice management. He is widely credited with first applying computer technology in law firms in the late 60s by having an IBM 3200 installed to help with client billing. He was also one of the original leaders of the ABA Law Practice Management Section.
But it is Fran's 50-year perspective on law practice management that caught my attention.
Not surprisingly, Fran believes clients come first. And second. And third, fourth, fifth, and sixth, to quote Fran. There is nothing more important in the success of a law firm than clients, and every effort must be made to satisfy the clients' needs. However, continued Fran, lawyers must not give in to every client request or desire; we must have the courage to stay true to our professionalism and not sidestep legalities just to retain a client.
Staff comes seventh on the list. And eighth, ninth, tenth, eleventh, twelfth, and thirteenth. Only clients are more vital. But a positive, well-trained and appreciated staff will help meet and exceed the needs of firm clients.
Next on Fran's list are the firm partners. Partners are vital to the success of the firm, and to each lawyer's individual success. Like clients and staff, your partners must be appreciated or you will lose a component of your success. Under-appreciated partners, not under-compensated ones, will tend to seek other pastures.
Next on Fran's list is self. You must take care of yourself, but be prepared to sacrifice some individualism for the common good of the firm. Such sacrifice will return dividends over time, just not immediately. Fran cites the example that he was in lockstep compensation--to the penny--with his partnership class for 35 years. Each partner knew that each other's contributions were not identical each year, but that over time--over a period of years--the work and compensation would balance out. Damn, that's refreshing. In an era when some lawyers choose to move firms every few years, it seems that Fran may be on to something.
Like fashion,TV shows, and martinis, maybe it's time for some of Fran's "old-fashioned" ideas to become new again. Happier and more satisfied clients, staff, and partners? Sounds like a great prescription for success. Thanks for the dinner and the lesson, Fran.
The initial client consultation is a risky time in the formation of an attorney-client relationship. There are ethical and financial risks, some of which are obvious, some of which are not. I'll be writing on these risks over the coming weeks to identify some of the less-obvious ones, and provide some suggested solutions. Today I want to focus on accepting documents during an initial client interview. It is best not to accept any original documents from the prospective client, until the client has retained your services.Accepting the documents-- which are personal property--puts you at risk if the prospective client later claims you agreed to the representation.Instead, immediately photocopy any original documents the client may have brought to the consultation and return those during the consult to the client. If the documents are too voluminous don't offer to copy and return them after the consultation--there are too many ways they could get lost or you get blamed for not returning them. Also consider modifying your client intake sheet to include a provision that the client gave you permission to photocopy any tendered original documents and an acknowledgment that they were, in fact, returned.
It's one thing to accept original documents from a bona fide client, but it's another to take a risk on a person who has not yet formalized their relationship with you.
Jim Calloway has a post today about the effect of the new (August 2004) overtime regulations on law firms which employ paralegals. His post includes a terrific article on the subject by Oklahoma attorney, Bill Wells, with specific references to prior FLSA decisions involving law firm paralegals. It is estimated that half of all law firms classify their paralegals as "exempt" employees; however, with the buzz caused by these new regulations, it appears that some firms may have to take a new look at how they classify and pay their paralegals. The National Federation of Paralegal Associations also has some helpful information on the exempt/non-exempt status of paralegals here.
I believe that lawyers are meant to be lawyers and not bankers, yet I talk to too many lawyers whose clients owe them significant sums of money. So why do we take on such financial risk in addition to the professional risks of representing a client? It's because many lawyers feel uncomfortable talking about money with clients. We often don't have a thorough discussion at the beginning of a legal matter, and we generally don't want to confront the client with the issue until the amount owing is already too high. I co-authored an article on this topic several years ago that was picked up by several professional journals. The concepts we discuss in the article still apply today. By focusing on the reasons why a client is not paying the fee, a lawyer can often create a solution to get paid. Proving once again that it pays to on top of your accounts receivable.