Archive for the ‘Legal Profession’ Category

Technology and client relationships

January 13th, 2011 by Jim Cotterman

This links to an interesting analogy that begins with the debate on the iPhone and does one stay with AT&T or migrate to Verizon.  It then shifts to a very pertinent lesson about client relationships – A lawyer is like an iPhone.  The first part is a debate that will evolve as more details of Verizon’s offering unfold and the strengths/weaknesses of the two systems and their underlying infrastructure are explored in greater detail.  The second part on client relationships is instructive.  Linking the two is illustrative of the concern — Is the service provider really listening?

Timekeeping is still important

January 4th, 2011 by Jim Cotterman

Some have suggested that good timekeeping habits are well established in a profession, 1) schooled for nearly four decades in the basics of fiscal hygiene, 2) and well assisted by sophisticated and mobile technology.  Yet in this announcement we are reminded again, that constantly working on the fundamentals is as important in law as it is in sports.

AFA voided after successful conclusion of matter

November 29th, 2010 by Jim Cotterman

Is Your Alternative Fee Agreement Against The Law?

This is a situation that illustrates the care required when firms venture into new fee areas.  It also suggests the importance of knowing your client before agreeing to representation.

Making equity post recession

November 21st, 2010 by Jim Cotterman

Making equity partner is like chasing a rising balloon.  Just when you think you have it in your grasp, it rises out of reach yet again. 

The last decade was largely about limiting entry to equity and growing the non-equity ranks (which by the way has its own set of perils).  And the recession put many highly skilled lawyers (technically and as advisors) at risk because they did not control enough business, or profitable business, or the right business in terms of strategic focus. 

The rising balloon issue is probably one of the most troublesome issues for non-equities.  They just don’t know what its going to take to make it into the equity ranks.  And many think they are performing better then some of the lesser performers already in those  ranks.  That suggests it’s harder to get in than to stay in (sort of like you need to defeat the champ to claim the title — ties allow the champ to retain the title).  Some of that is true, yet some is also explainable by periodic underperformance of an equity partner due to an extreme external factor or in the case of a retiring partner winding down.

The primary distinguishing characteristic of equity partnership is having a client following that aligns with the firm’s desired client segment in a quantity sufficient to at least sustain ones own production.  It’s even better to have good prospects of building that client following to sustain the firm’s leverage model.  Next is a willingness and ability to incur income and capital risk, including possible claims from personal guarantees on loans and office leases.  And finally the drive to become a marquee player in the market.  This last characteristic is what really makes the first one possible.

Given that some associates have self-selected out of equity consideration because of the time required to reach marquee level, it is not hard to understand how much more difficult it is if you approach this as a part-time practitioner.  Some mitigation can be achieved through effectiveness and efficiency, but generally the investment of time and effort is simply a prerequisite.  There are a few exceptions, but those involve unique situations that should not be counted on as a means to the end.

I believe the same could be said for earning potential.  Compensation closely tracks the volume of legal fees and profitability of your book of business.  Grow one and you grow the other.  There is movement to reward for other factors and those other factors are extremely important.  AFAs and Legal Project Management will alter this dynamic somewhat.  Leading diverse teams efficiently will take on greater significance.  And those diverse teams may include outsourced resources.  But the underlying driver of compensation is still a large, profitable client following.

Can someone become or sustain equity partnership as a part/flex time partner?  Yes, but it takes a significant commitment - by the individual, the firm and the clients - to flexibility, cooperation and collaboration to make it work.  Technology is a great facilitator of this,  and it is likely to do so even more in the future.  So anyone considering this path better be technology proficient and receptive to rapid change.

Post-retirement engagement

October 27th, 2010 by Jim Cotterman

CPAs are well organized at outreach to former colleagues.  Their alumni programs are extensive and maintain relationships about as well as any university or professional school.  Law firms would benefit from such activities, particularly with retirees.  Following are four activities that are easy to implement:

1. Consider regular communications that update alumni about professional topics, events at the firm and the like.

2. Including alumni in firm activities where they have an opportunity to associate with former colleagues and clients.

3. Firm support for charitable and community events that alumni are leading.

4. Participation in continuing education sponsored by the firm.

Retirees may want to stop working, but many still want to continue associations and relationships.

Discussing Law School Change

September 10th, 2009 by Jim Cotterman

Paul Lippe, Founder of Legal OnRamp, wrote an interesting commentary, Welcome to the Future: Time for Law School 4.0.  In it he advocated a change in direction for the nation’s law schools including an accelerated curriculum, more practice orientation in teaching, better use of technology, a more empirical approach to practice, a move back to mission-centered management and a long term commitment to skills development.  Worth considering as law schools consider how best to respond to a changing legal and education marketplace.