Articles of Interest 

Table of Contents

Collaborative Divorce: Collaborating with whom?
The Cobbler's Kid : The Planning Paradox in General Practice Law Firms
Client Surveys:  Antidote to Advertising
The Fallacy of Keeping Your Options Open: Why Practice Development Planning Is Less Risky Than Doing Nothing
Multidisciplinary Law Practice:  What It Will Mean To You
Polling the Jury of Your Career:How a Client Survey can Improve Your Practice
The Inefficient Farmer: An analogy on economic efficiency in practice development
Consulting & Coaching: How each benefits a Lawyer and Law Firm
Changing Horses: Things to Consider Midstream in a Legal Career.
Time Value of Knowledge:  Market Research and Getting More Out of the Practice of Law
Success: Barking up the Right Tree
Nuts & Bolts of Planning for Your Law Firm's Future
Nuts & Bolts Volume II


Collaborative Divorcesm
Collaborating with whom?

By Michael A. Loduha

I attended the two day, $500.00 dollar, multidisciplinary  Collaborative Divorcesm Training program March 8th and 9th in Milwaukee.     The purpose of these comments is to put Collaborative Divorcesm into context and to outline important coming issues that will impact all the lawyers in Wisconsin who provide family law services to their clients and communities.

The meaning of Collaborative Divorcesm as brought to Wisconsin practitioners by the Collaborative Family Law Council of Wisconsin, Inc.  (CFLCWI) and WisBar is best understood from the perspective of looking at the ‘market’ for marriage dissolution services as a whole.  Over the last 20 years there has been substantial erosion in the public mind of the benefits of a lawyer’s assistance with divorce.   The seminar presented some sobering numbers.  In 80% of the California, Arizona and Florida divorce actions one or both of the spouses have chosen not to have an attorney.   The clerk of court for my non-trend setting county, Manitowoc, reports a better picture: the number is only 40%.  Significantly, the evidence suggests that financial issues are not driving this deselecting of our helping profession in this important life transition, which remains a legal event.  Driving the movement away from lawyers are two converging factors.  First, the linkage in the mind of the public between the aggravation of divorce litigation and the lawyers who are its delivery persons.   The second factor is the public realization that there are divorce options that leave lawyers out of it.   Lawyers, often predisposed to confuse a mirror with a window, have generally stood by as the public turned its back.

Nature abhors a vacuum.  This is true about beneficial services relating to the dissolution of marriage.   Parties facing divorce need guidance and assistance and this need continues to be filled – just not by lawyers.   Which brings us to the phrase claimed as intellectual property by folks from California, Collaborative Divorcesm.   This phrase cleverly begs the question, ‘collaborate with whom?’    Lawyers tend to answer this question by looking in the mirror and seeing themselves.   Increasingly, this is not the case.    In the bundle of services and the benefits promised by Collaborative Divorcesm,   the lawyer is only part of a team playing by rules counterintuitive and confusing to most members of the legal profession but promising and attractive to those personally facing divorce.  The primary collaboration in Collaborative Divorcesm   is between the members of the ‘interdisciplinary team’ made up of attorneys (both of whom agree to withdraw and provide no further services if the Collaborative Divorcesm  process reaches impasse), a qualified psychological professional acting as a ‘divorce coach’ (one for each party), a qualified ‘financial counselor’ (serving the needs of the spouses jointly) and a qualified ‘child specialist’.  This is in addition to such substantive experts, qualified therapists, mediators or others whose services may smooth the path for either or both parties.

California dreamin’ you say?    The evidence suggests otherwise.    WisBar, has addressed the movement away from the importance of lawyers in divorce by lending its support to that movement.   The CFLCWI – a Wisconsin born and bred organization has thrown its weight  behind the idea of how to meet the needs of divorcing spouses advocated by the folks who servicemarked ‘Collaborative Divorcesm’..   Worse than voting with its feet, the public is voting with its wallet.   Research shows that it is the higher marital estate spouses who elect to dodge litigation.  Collaborative family practitioners report no fee collection and no malpractice problems.      Professional service dollars are moving away from lawyers even faster than the litigants and those who choose a path other than the litigation model are so satisfied they follow up with Christmas cards and checks rather than malpractice claims and complaints.  Finally, there is a factor that should really shake lawyers up.    While I didn’t count, I guess there were between 180 to 200 lawyers there Friday morning.  Nearly all of them were still there Saturday at 5:00 P.M.

The public is using a loud voice to tell us of a serious problem.   There are professional, honorable and effective alternatives to divorce litigation.  Collaborative Divorcesm  is at one end of the ‘professional services at divorce’ continuum, litigation at the other.   Between these opposite poles there is fertile ground for Wisconsin family law practitioners to develop ways to provide what we pledged when we entered this line of work.   Those options will become obvious when put aside the mirror, move to the window and carefully pay attention to what is going on in the real world.

This article was published in the Spring 2002 issue of Think Small!  The Official Newsletter of the Solo and Small Firm Practice Committee of the Wisconsin Bar.

 Copyright 2002   Michael A. Loduha

The Cobbler's Kid
The Planning Paradox in General Practice Law Firms
by Michael A. Loduha
President, Advocates Management, Inc.

A paradox is a seemingly self-contradictory, sometimes absurd, statement that expresses a possible truth. "The cobbler's kid never has shoes" was the statement used by a former partner of mine to express the paradox that as practitioners of the law we often take better care of our clients than we do of ourselves. We counsel clients starting and operating small business all the time, often giving advice and encouragement that we ourselves ignore. Few general practitioners would condone a client entering on a major career and financial commitment without some sort of business plan, yet nearly 3 out of 4 of us do not have a practice development plan for ourselves. Part of the resolution of this paradox is that those of us who have been in practice for several decades came of age professionally when times were substantially different. Prior to the advent of legal advertising and aggressive inter and intraprofessional competition 'planning' was embedded within the profession itself. For those who choose a general, community based practice, one started out working hard, being honest, engaging in community service. In time, recognition and rewards followed and a rewarding legal career was under way. This traditional 'practice development plan' effectively dealt with the secondary paradoxes: that we served a dual role as zealous advocate for our client and officer of the court and that we sold our services to clients who overwhelmingly judged us professionally by standards different than those by which we judged ourselves.

Nostalgia is an expensive luxury. Over 90% of the small firm general practitioners in two recently surveyed Midwestern states express serious reservations concerning their professional futures. What community based general practitioners need is a plan for the future that anticipates changes in their practice environment during the coming decade rather than the tradition of past decades, no matter how honorable. The analogies are everywhere. If you want to mentor young men, it will serve you better to learn a few computer games than to reminisce about playing marbles in your youth.

Practice development does not mean abandoning the values that a general practice added to its community, it means using these values to build a firm that more efficiently anticipates the needs and wants of its client constituency. The rewards are measured in greater personal and professional satisfaction along with economic security.

Planning starts with the common vision of the stakeholders. Every person whose future is intertwined with the success of the firm, attorney and non attorney alike, must share the vision. The vision encompasses essential personal values first. When a colleague's college age daughter, commenting on her mother's seemingly endless time commitment to her law practice, suggested that mom "get a life" she was using the patois of her generation to suggest that mom lacked the vision that balanced all important elements of life. This concept is at the root of the works of Steven Covey, author of The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People.

Even when shared by the stakeholders in the law firm, vision is always personal. The mission of the firm differs in that it is the expression of the firm's collective action, status and benefit values. Another paradox shows up at this level of planning. Lawyers, especially trial lawyers, rely on individual rather than collective attributes as components of success as they evaluate themselves. The ability to conduct effective cross-examination, for example, is an individual attribute. Each of us can name a lawyer who comes into a firm or committee meeting, gives his or her individual opinion or position and then, physically or mentally, leaves. We all know of a business with a brilliant leader that failed because of the lack of collective focus of the followers. The success of a law firm as an enterprise is based more on collective focus than on individual brilliance. Another paradox is that the concepts of vision and mission sound simple, almost "goody two shoes" obvious. But as general practitioners we know how hard it can be when the business partners we counsel do not share a common vision and what management problems are confronted when stakeholders in a business don't agree on the mission of the enterprise. The paradox is resolved when we realize that these concepts aren't so much simple as they are fundamental.

The final planning paradox is in the value we put on third party assistance. Professionally we recognize the value we provide, not only through our legal knowledge but through our experience and the fact that we act as neutral sounding boards and mediators for the small business clients we serve. We see real value in legal fees of several thousand dollars where the service we provided is in the organization of ideas, such as the consultations that precede the documents that execute an estate plan or business organization. Yet we fail to seek out the same third party benefits ourselves. We don't think less of our clients when they reach beyond themselves for the services we provide, but we hesitate to avail ourselves of the same benefits. It is a paradox that we each must resolve.

Community based general practice law firms are the foundation blocks of our legal system. One of the strengths of our American culture is that system, which maintains one of the levelest playing fields in the world. Our visions, our missions and our plans, necessary to make it so, are important. And important to more than just the members of our profession.
 
 

Copyright 1998 Advocates Management, Inc.


Client Surveys: Antidote to Advertising
By Attorney Michael A. Loduha, esq.

Generally, general practice lawyers look upon advertising as a necessary evil. Some see it as more necessary and some see it as more evil. More of us are doing it because we fear we can't do without it. Almost no one thinks it adds to the quality of the service we render or benefits either the client or non client population. But there is an effective antidote to advertising.

Advertising seems to be the lightening rod for dissatisfaction with changes in the way the profession interacts with the public. But advertising is not the disease, it is merely the symptom. The disease is in the mechanisms of competition that have been thrust upon us in the last decade. The antidote must deal with the symptom while not do harm to the organism. Cyanide is an effective antidote to a runny nose, but the side effects are often considered undesirable. Antidotes counteract the effect of poison, they do not make the poison go away.

In considering an antidote for advertising there are two things we must keep in mind.

Be it the cost of advertising, the revenue lost because you do nothing or the cost of the antidote, the cost is unavoidable. In this regard, public competition between legal service providers is the functional equivalent of a tax. The public, both those who have been clients and those who are potential clients are constantly receiving information about the legal system and how it impacts their lives and futures. This information comes not only from our colleagues advertising, but from news and entertainment media that subtly or not so subtly constantly suggests what role the law and lawyers play.

Research suggests that in the good old days (before Bates and Goldfarb) clients tended to establish long term relationships with legal service providers. Competition, especially as exists through the medium of advertising, tends to create ad hoc attorney-client relationships. But our research also shows that clients place the highest value, and report the greatest satisfaction, with the relationship attribute, not performance attributes in their lawyer.

The only really new clients you ever get are those who find you while looking for someone else.

Data gathered from client surveys tell us how these clients came to choose a particulars law firm from all their law firm options. Except for the small "other" category, they either had personal knowledge of the firm, personal knowledge by proxy (recommendation), personal knowledge by proxy once removed (reputation) or the personal knowledge surrogate created by advertising. The common link is that the client believed that he or she know something about the law firm and that belief was an important factor in the selection process.

So how is a client survey an antidote for advertising? It allows you to see your firm from your clients' point of view, and it allows you to understand, from the client's perspective, the process of choosing an attorney.

Copyright 1998 Advocates Management, Inc.


The Fallacy of Keeping Your Options Open:
Why Practice Development Planning Is Less Risky Than Doing Nothing

By Michael A. Loduha
President, Advocates Management, Inc.

To many lawyers the prospect of practice development planning is as inviting as changing horses on a moving merry-go-round. There is no guarantee that the new horse will provide a better ride and there are lots of ways things can go wrong. The analogy breaks down however when we realize that the merry-go-round is changing as we ride it throughout our careers. Ignoring the changes isn't a rewarding option, the only real control we have is how effectively and efficiently we adapt. That is what practice development planning is all about.

Practice development planning is the examination of what you will do professionally in the future, who you will do it for, who you will do it with and how you will do it. Practice development planning does not necessarily mean substantial change. It simply involves a collective "step back" to examine the place and function in the community you will serve in the future. Recent surveys show that about 90% of attorneys think that competition will increase over the next ten years. While it may be a bit simplistic to say so, whether or not you plan for your future, your competition is planning for you.

While practice development planning doesn't always involve change, it necessarily involves individuals. As lawyers we are supposed to be creatures of intellect. In reality, we're just better at keeping our non-intellectual side under wraps. Many firms have valuable stakeholders who could be described as "computer phobic". It is not that they don't have the intellectual capacity to master this technology, it is that an emotional component of their personality is involved. Practice development planning, to rise about "whistling past the graveyard" must take all of the stakeholder's human attributes into consideration.

When asked about their professional futures, many conservative practitioners, especially those in small general practice firms replay that they are "keeping their options open." While this assuages the discomfort of raking action in an environment of uncertainty, it contains within it potentially greater risks. The risks of doing nothing are best weighed in light of both the market and the competition. Even the most hidebound among us are changing slowly (although I just ran into a colleague with 60 years of practice under his belt who still uses a Sundstrand hand cranked adding machine to do tax returns and closing statements.) The risk is that we are changing at a slower rate than either our nonprofessional competition or client expectations are.

When we each look at our place in the future of our profession it becomes clear that it is not so important what we plan as it is that we plan. There will be uncertainties whether we plan or not. But one thing is certain, we have contributed much to our communities in the past and we have much to contribute in the future.

In future discussions we'll discuss the methodology of practice development planning. We'll cover techniques so that the process has a rational beginning, middle and, most important, an end. We'll discuss how to make it an ongoing process without making it endlessly confusing. And we'll discuss the techniques and tools available so that outcome of the process is enhanced success and satisfaction for all the stakeholders in the firm.

Copyright 1998 Advocates Management, Inc.


Polling the Jury of Your Career
How A Client Survey can Improve Your Practice
by Michael A. Loduha














Imagine the following: you are halfway through a six week jury trail. The judge comes out one morning and tells you that he is going to let you survey the jury. The survey will have to be in writing and the answers will be anonymous, but you can ask any questions you like about the case so far. Would you do it? Now further imagine that your senior partner, lead counsel, leans over and says to you, "Hell Son, I'm not going to waste my time on no mid-trial survey. I've been practicing over 20 years and I know what they're thinking better than they do." We all know what you would do: you would have him committed. While you can't change the facts or the evidence, you can change your presentation and emphasis. Knowledge of those who will decide your case is a powerful tool and it would be malpractice not to take the opportunity to learn what the jury is thinking.

Most lawyers, especially those who serve as general practitioners in small and medium sized firms, see the profession as becoming more competitive. They don't welcome adding to the onslaught of lawyer advertising, yet they realize that present and future clients see these ads. Most expect that their future business will come from those they have served in the past, either directly or by reference. Most acknowledge that 90% of their clients judge them by standards different than they apply to themselves. Yet few have yet taken the opportunity to survey the "jury of their career".

Another analogy that comes up in our lives as lawyers is the feedback loop necessary to be good teachers. Whether we're teaching the jury the strength of our case or a client the value of a contingent trust will in protecting her children, we look for feedback signals to assure ourselves that the message is getting through. The clients we teach will teach others about us. It is important that we understand them and the message that their satisfaction with us, or lack of it, imparts to others.

Large regional and corporate firms have been benefiting from client surveys for years. Now small and medium sized firms are beginning to use this tool of practice improvement as well. While there are many benefits, often the most important is a better understanding of those elements of the attorney-client relationship that your best clients find satisfying. Lawyers often think that all client satisfaction requires is good lawyering. It turns out that clients are more complicated and sophisticated than that. They often find value in the attorney-client relationship that the lawyer doesn't see until careful and thoughtful questions are asked. Once the elements of client satisfaction are understood, the firm can make sure that they are not concealed by the day to day rush to meet professional responsibility.

Another benefit of a client survey is its ability to focus the firm's attention on matters important to all. In this regard, the survey affects everyone like the old parlor trick that starts out with the line, "Quick, don't think of an elephant". Once client satisfaction becomes a subject of inquiry it is impossible to ignore. For a firm with junior partners or associates, it helps turn them into rainmakers without turning them into competitors. Finally, clients appreciate being asked. Client response to a survey is overwhelmingly positive. The act of asking for input from your clients is itself a benefit to your firm.

Getting started can be a hurdle in an "anyone can veto anything" management style firm. If some of the partners see the value of a client survey and others are skeptical, start small with a commitment to build on proven success and value. Include in your survey instrument an opportunity for respondents to comment on the survey itself. Have each and every comment typed on a list for review by the skeptics. This will end debate. For a firm that has never surveyed its clients before, a confidential mail survey is the best place to start. It is not only economically efficient but has the best overall utility of the various survey formats.

Practitioners know that doing your own legal work can be as painful as doing your own dental work. The same applies to the design and execution of a survey. Not only is getting professional assistance cost effective in terms of money and time, it is "results effective" as well. A survey instrument that misses the mark will not product the answers the firm needs or wants. Skills in advocacy, like the well-placed leading question, are developed to prove a point, not make a neutral inquiry. In doing the questionnaire you must plan on how the resulting data is to be analyzed. You don't want to go through the effort only to look at the returns, scratch your head and wonder, "What does all this mean?"

There are a few universal "do's and don'ts" in doing a client survey by mail. If you promise anonymity, mean it. Clients don't have a problem sending the questionnaires back to a survey professional if they don't have to identify themselves when they are asked questions about their relationship with your firm and its services. Don't violate the white space rule. You will have many more questions than it is reasonable to ask. The more the questionnaire looks like a tax return, the lower your response rate will be. Don't mail the questionnaire to clients with the bills to save postage and don't mail them between the second week in November and the first of the year. Don't get your help from someone who sells advertising or marketing. They are not likely to understand the dynamics of the attorney-client relationship from the attorney's perspective. Moreover, they see advertising as a solution to the problem while most firms want to maximize client satisfaction without it. You want someone whose sole goal is accurate, useful information.

Costs for a mail survey for a sole practitioner start around $750.00. Small firms can begin at about $650 per attorney plus design and analysis charges. As firms get larger, surveys get more complex in design and execution and cost per attorney go up somewhat. Like some types of cases, client surveys can fall into broad general categories but it is attention to detail and the specific goals of the firm that produces the maximum value.

The most rewarding part of doing client surveys is watching the excitement of discovering something new when lawyers see the attorney-client relationship through the clients' eyes. Insight is not only a powerful tool in practice development, it is personally rewarding as well.

Copyright 1998 Advocates Management, Inc.


The Inefficient Lawyer vs. The Inefficient Farmer
by Michael A. Loduha
President, Advocates Management, Inc.

Much discussion centers on economic efficiency in practice development. However economic efficiency, compared to other aspects of managing a law practice has not been a concept traditionally emphasized. Perhaps we can draw beneficial analogies drawn between inefficient lawyers and inefficient framers. Lawyers couldn't be more different from farmers. Maybe, but for the sake of discussion lets compare the two.

The inefficient farmer saves money by
not planting any particular crop, he just waits to see what will grow.
The inefficient lawyer saves money by
not positioning him/herself for any particular cases or clients,
just waits to see who will walk in the door.

The inefficient farmer saves money by
not analyzing the soil and fertilizer needs for specific or crops,
figuring crops are crops and fertilizer is fertilizer.
The inefficient lawyer saves money by
not analyzing the different needs of different cases and clients,
figuring quality legal services are quality legal services.

The inefficient framer saves money by
not using the means available to anticipate the prices at harvest
before deciding what to plant.
The inefficient lawyer saves money by
ditto.

While this dances close to the brink of analogy abuse, there are important similarities between law firms and farmers. We both, in our various manifestations, serve every element of society, we both have colleagues who are also competitors and we both find our life's work pushed in directions we can anticipate but not control. Those who love the law should plan their professional future with the same thoroughness and attention to detail as those love the land.

Copyright 1998 Advocates Management, Inc.


Multidisciplinary Law Practice,
What It Will Mean To You.

By Michael A. Loduha

On June 8th of this year, a special commission of the American Bar Association unanimously recommended that lawyers be allowed to partner, and share fees, with professionals from other disciplines.  This recommendation will come before the ABA’s policymaking body, The House of Delegates in the near future.  The recommendation has engendered some debate but the House of Delegates rarely votes against a unanimous commission recommendation.  While approval by the ABA does not automatically change any state disciplinary code, all of which now prohibit a lawyer from forming partnerships or sharing fees with non-lawyers, it is a strong indicator that these changes will be coming over the next several years.  What impact will the introduction of multidisciplinary practices have from a client’s perspective?

To really appreciate the impact of multidisciplinary practices, lawyers need to envision the legal services marketplace from out the profession.  From inside the profession, lawyers see issues relating to independent professional judgment and unique ethical responsibility to the client.  Many, if not most, lawyers will not welcome multidisciplinary practice and will not see it as an opportunity.

The perspective from outside the profession will be substantially different.  To understand how this change will impact your particular practice, consider the following:
 


Some things that you can do to prepare for competition with multidisciplinary practices:
 


The advent of multidisciplinary law practices is part of the evolution of the profession.  As with every evolutionary change, those who anticipate it will thrive and those who ignore it will wither.
 

*It is a mistake to equate the words ‘market’ or ‘market research’ as they pertain to a law practice with the word ‘consumer’ and thus limit the concept to non-business matters with only individual or personal impact.  To successfully compete in the future, a lawyer should define ‘market’ as that group of potential clients from which is or her work will come.  Thus, a firm limiting itself to mergers and acquisitions has a ‘market’ of those corporate decision makers who will decide which of the merger and acquisition law firms will represent his or her company in this regard, just as the market for personal injury or divorce lawyers consists of those individuals who may need such service in the future.

Copyright 1999 Advocates Management, Inc.



Consulting and Coaching
Where Each Fits in and How Each Benefits a Lawyer and Law Firm
By Attorney Michael A. Loduha, esq.

Consulting has been around for generations. After all, it is what lawyers do when they act as a 'counselor' in the law. As the art and science of personal productivity moves forward, coaching has become a 'hot' idea for those who help you and your organization change for the better. Anybody who's anybody has a coach these days. Some consultants are also coaches, some not.

A competent consultant and/or coach will never allow him or herself to become a distraction within your firm. They will not allow themselves to compete with firm management or administration. To the contrary, they bring to the table skills and abilities that make the firm's management and administration, as well as its practitioners more successful.

Let's look at the similarities, the differences and whether either can improve your professional life or the life of your firm.

There are two types of consultants... Practice and Tips Caveat A marketing consultant who thinks all lawyers are alike will produce marketing
programs that will not effectively distinguish your firm from your competitors.
A practice development consultant who has not had substantial experience in the
profession will develop practice development consistent with his or her
preconceived image of the profession. Remember that they are positioned
as teachers, not students.

CaveatA consultant or coach who doesn't first seek to understand your vision and
mission is likely to substitute his or hers for yours.

Copyright 1999 Advocates Management, Inc.


Changing Horses:
Things to Consider Midstream in a Legal Career.

By Michael A. Loduha, Esq.

Are these good days or bad days for the profession of the law and those who practice it? After a decade of practice and a decade on top of that doing market research, client research and assisting firms meet the challenges of the times, the answer to this question is an unequivocal "Yes" as to both.

Jack Trout, in his book The Power of Simplicity, says that it is important to find the 'right horse to ride'. By this he means the right organization and product or service to link your career to. The same is true for lawyers. Changing firms in mid career means one of two things, either you dismounted or got bucked off. Either way, this is a good time to apply Jack's admonition to your horse in the legal profession.

The legal profession, both in its substance and its form is changing rapidly. The voluntary associations of lawyers, called law firms, reflect these changes. If you are changing horses in the middle of your legal career you will either practice the same law as a member of a new firm, get into an new area of the profession or both. Your goal is to be happy with your new horse.

Equine analogies are less imperfect than they seem. When Lincoln used "Don't change horses in the middle of the stream" as a campaign slogan in his run for re-election during the Civil War the message of the analogy was clear. In times of trouble, don't take on the risk of something new, in his case Presidential leadership. For attorneys, the temptation is to eschew risk in times of change by hunkering down to past practice and tradition. However, change in an unpredictable world always involves risk. Tradition only reduces risk if the future will be like the past. If you believe the profession is changing, it is not a question of leaving tradition and the status quo behind, circumstances beyond your control are doing that for you, it is only a matter of what you choose and how you proceed.

Changing firms in changing times is a tricky bit of chaos to manage. The place to start in considering a prospective firm is its leadership. You can not presume that the senior members of an economically successful firm automatically possess the kind of leadership that will take you to the end of your career with success and satisfaction. Leadership in the legal professional is itself changing. It is evolving from institutional to individual. No longer will a 'firm' succeed because it has a tradition of success. The social and business institutions called 'law firms' are being recreated with the speed of the internet. 'Leadership' in the legal profession is increasingly a personal - not institutional - attribute and this trend will continue. In this regard, the primary attribute of leadership is vision. Your success in finding a happy law firm home is in matching your vision to that to the existing members of the firm.

Vision is that to which an individual aspires. Since groups don't aspire - only individuals - matching your professional vision to that of leaders of the firm you are considering is the most important predictor of a satisfying future relationship. Vision is not what you want. (That always comes down to prestige/respect, discretionary control of your time and money.) Vision is what is valuable in your life, it is what makes your career worthwhile. The trick in picking a 'value' horse is getting past the kind of stuff the Miss America contestants always tell the smiling guy holding the microphone. This applies both to you and the leaders of the firm you're considering. It's not that saying 'Miss America' stuff is wrong or false so much as its incomplete. The 'vision' of the law is both intellectual and socially positive, while the vision of the individuals is at least partially emotional and partially unrelated to the commonweal. The practice of law is now in free and open competition and compatible visions within the firm are more important than ever before.

Vision is always personal. You and another may have similar visions, but each is unique and each will evolve as the individual evolves. For example, if the emotional component of your vision is the excitement of competition in the courtroom, you won't fulfill that vision by the victories of your partners. 'Mission' is the action expression of vision. Finding a close match between your vision and the collective mission of the members of the firm you are to join is the most important element of a long term comfortable fit in the new saddle.

Lets consider some examples of how this vision - mission stuff shows up in the real world so you can apply it to your situation.

STAFFING

We're familiar with successful firms that has a staffing ratio of .33 to 1: three attorneys sharing one major domo. We are also familiar with a firm where the ratio is 23 to 1. In this firm there are two attorneys and 46 'production' staffers. As Butch said while Sundance looked on, "the only rule is, 'there ain't no rules'"

Consider staff ratios from two perspectives, that of the attorney and that of the client. How will staff, within the mission of the prospective firm, help you realize your vision? There is continuum in how law firms view staff. On one end of the continuum is the convenience of the attorneys and on the other end is the satisfaction of clients. Few firms are at one extreme or the other but most are skewed to one concept or the other. If your vision includes trying cases to verdict, you'll be happier in a firm where staff is seen as assistants to the lawyers. If your vision is getting home in time to play with the kids, a firm where the staff is seen as delivering benefit to clients, if not independent of the lawyers, at least in some sense parallel to them, will better suit you. In 'interviewing' the firm, talk to a few staff persons, preferably outside the presence of the attorneys. Are they there as servants to the attorneys or as more direct agents of client satisfaction and how does this enhance your vision?

MARKET RESEARCH

Introducing the concept of market research to most management committees produces the single greatest non sequitur in law practice development. When you ask a firm about their market research, most respond with their position on media advertising. If you believe that the law business will continue to change, and further believe that competition between legal service providers will continue to grow, the only question about market research is how best to do it. The only area of practice where lawyers are secure for the time being is in the Courtroom. Even litigation is becoming less a cult of personality, especially in areas such as insurance defense, but for now at least, leg biters compete on a different plane from the rest. For all but dedicated courtroom junkies, if members of the firm use phrases like 'client driven' they're either imitating Miss America candidates or they recognize that the practice is getting more competitive. In a competitive environment, market research is the information asset that gets one firm a lead against its competitors. This research is like driving with high beam headlights while your competitors are using low beams; it allows you to see a little further ahead and to safely drive a little faster. Look at the research they've done, with past, as well as, prospective clients. Is the firm taking itself where your vision and mission say you must go?

TECHNOLOGY

There are two ways to look upon technology in the law firm: doing old stuff faster and using the technology to recreate the way value and satisfaction are delivered to clients. Leadership and vision apply here as well. As to leadership, the question is 'Can the old man dance?' Can the senior partner 'dance' with the computer at his or her desk? Has the computer been used it to take personal productivity (as opposed to their secretary's) to a new level? Does he or she know it well enough to teach it to you? Like every other service business in America, the legal profession is being pressured to understand and focus on the core values it delivers to those who pay the bills. Technology should be used to enhance value, not just enhance profits. The value component will help make sure that the horse you choose will have the stamina to finish the race. To choose wisely in this regard, you don't need to understand the technology so much as to understand the people who are using it.

Staying put - but not stagnating

Even if you're not changing horses, you can still use these questions to check your mount.

    • What vision makes your professional life valuable?
    • What is your action plan to make the vision a reality?
    • How do your co-workers, especially those lower on the law firm food chain, contribute to your vision?
    • How do you gather and use information that predicts changes in your market?
    • And finally, how do you use technology to achieve vision as well as enhance productivity?
In a changing environment these questions are the compass that keeps us on the right path.

CONCLUSION

Finally, if you are one of those who got bucked off, because you weren't matched to the horse or because you weren't holding on tight, or because you let your attention lapse or because you weren't properly trained or because you have no talent for this kind of adventure, get back on. Look for the right horse, dust yourself off, come to peace with your vision and any sacrifices to your old self-image it entails and get back on.

Copyright 1999Advocates Management, Inc.



The Time Value of Knowledge:
Market Research and Getting More Out of the Practice of Law

                                        By Michael A. Loduha, Esq.

    Most folks understand the concept called the time value of money.   A thousand dollars today is worth more than a thousand dollars tomorrow and a lot more than a thousand dollars five years from now.   That same law of human nature applies to knowledge.   Knowledge today is worth more than that same knowledge tomorrow and a lot more than it will be worth in five years.  The more competitive the environment and the more relevant the knowledge to the competition, the greater the time value effect.

     The time value of knowledge has always been an operational rule within the legal profession.   Trial lawyers understand that advance knowledge as to a critical bit of evidence often leads to advantageous settlement or trial victory.   Real estate lawyers understand that a little advance knowledge of market trends yields negotiations that prove successful in the long run.  Every substantive field within the legal profession has its own examples and now lawyers are coming to realize that the benefits of a little advance knowledge applies to their professional careers as well.

     Just as a trial preparation or lease negotiations are competitive environments where advance knowledge is valuable, the practice of law is quickly becoming a competitive environment where advance knowledge of relevant information can spell the difference between success and mediocrity in the rewards of practice.    Traditionally lawyers have obtained market research (defined as information identifying where the legal business is today and where it is likely to be tomorrow) from two sources: their clients and other lawyers.    As the legal profession becomes more competitive, both sources are drying up.

    The increasing competition in the legal profession is manifesting itself in two aspects:

  • Clients are increasingly conscious of their ability to make legal service choices

  • and are doing so.
  • Lawyers are increasingly conscious that, even in a booming economy, 'good' legal  work is a finite commodity and are thus less  willing to share those things related   to obtaining it.  The specter of enhanced competition resulting from  multidisciplinary practices, when they arrive, makes the time value of market knowledge even more beneficial.


 Unlike superficial preference questions associated with consumer market research, market research for law firms deal with topics vital to an individual firm's future.  These topics include ...

  • Clients' and potential clients' perceived benefits received from legal services for specific categories of substantive practice.   (By analogy,  it helps you make sure you're pitching what they're catching.)
  • Competitive analysis from the perspective of potential clients.  (How potential clients see your firm and your competitors from the perspective by which they will choose a legal service provider in the future.)
  • Client satisfaction, for both your firm and that of your competitors.  (Satisfaction is experience judged by expectation.)
  • The integration of other demographic and market information with the firm's practice development plans.  (The 'cast a wide net' method of new client acquisition must give way to specific and efficient targeted presentations.)
    The legal profession has always been, to use economic terminology, a lagging phenomenon.  It follows - or responds to - the needs of society generally and clients in particular.  The pace of change is accelerating and with the acceleration both the risks and potential rewards.  The law firms that will thrive in the competitive future are the ones that understand the time value of knowledge and take steps to not only know and understand, but to know and understand first.

Copyright 1999Advocates Management, Inc.


Success
Barking up the Right Tree

By Attorney Michael A. Loduha, esq.

We all must exercise caution lest a casually tossed line become an aphorism or an epitaph.  Supreme Court Associate Justice Lewis Powell became dangerously close to being remembered for defining pornography when he noted that "I may not be able to define it, but I know it when I see it".     'Success' in the practice of law is another of those things that is hard to define but that hold out the promise that we will know it when we achieve it.

 Theory
 Success as an Individual within the Legal Profession

There are two formats for the definition of personal success: intellectual and emotional.  For a career in the law to be satisfying, both must be achieved.  In order to work toward achieving both, both must be understood.

Intellectual success is easier to understand but of lesser importance in personal satisfaction.

 Some markers of intellectually defined success...

It is defined by others.   For example, in junior high, it was 'good grades'. Due to our experience, we only knew grades defined success because significant adults, such as our parents, said so.

It is judged by others.   With academic grades as a standard, we all remember "the curve".  The curve was a way of analyzing our academic performance compared to our classmates.  'Good grades' is a relative term;  our success at achieving grades was good or not so good by comparison to others.

Others think they can get a chunk of ours.   After our school days are over, money and / or power becomes one of the markers of intellectually defined success.   The desire of others to acquire for themselves what we have achieved marks our success.

These intellectual markers are societal in nature and are external to us as individuals.

On the surface, the Law as a social institution is primarily intellectual.   That's why exercises such as 'deductive reasoning' and other exercises to develop the intellect eat up so many law school tuition dollars.   The point, before this discussion gets too theoretical, is that law is reason and intellect.   Therein lies the trap for those who think that success in the legal profession lies only in reason and the intellect.  Lawyers are people and as such, reason and intellect aren't all they are cracked up to be in defining 'success'.   This is because lawyers are individual human beings first and only then players on the intellectual stage of the legal system.  To deny this component of our professional life, or even to minimize it below its real importance, is the equivalent of ignoring that plume of blue smoke coming out of your tailpipe because your car is still moving forward.

I recall a discussion with a physician friend as to why the music of Mozart was so satisfying, especially to people who also found satisfaction in pursuits of the mind.  We concluded that Mozart's gift was the ability to express reason without words.  Success in our professional lives likewise has a component that goes beyond words.  That component is the emotional satisfaction of our professional success.

Some markers of emotionally defined success...

The feeling that the 'parts fit'.   In law practice this shows up in such ways as seeing your partners' strengths rather than their weaknesses or in seeing a path through the obstructions that lie in your professional future  rather than the obstructions themselves.

The desire to have those you care for share in the experience.  The most obvious sign of this marker are comments that you would or would not want your children to follow you into the profession.  Another would be the opinions of your significant others, who aren't themselves involved in the profession on a day to day basis of your professional life.  If your spouse remarks to his or her friends that "if it weren't for the damn clients, partners and judges your job would be okay" is a tip off as to the level of emotional success you bring home from the profession of the law.

  Your escape fantasies.    Even the most emotionally successful lawyers have bad days, experience professional disasters and must sometimes stand as uncomfortable witness to a client's or colleague's personal misfortune.   At these times we all retreat to our 'escape place' -- be it a woodworking shop, art gallery or shopping mall.   It is the frequency of these escape fantasies coupled with feelings of regret that tells us of the emotional success we experience in the legal profession.

These emotional markers are idiosyncratic in nature and are internal to us as individuals.

Each of us was a 'person' before we became lawyers and we will remain such after our law practice days are over.  We have chosen the world of reason and the intellect as the vineyard in which we will labor.  For those labors to be successful they must first generate success on a personal level.   Achieving personal success in the practice of a profession requires that we first define and understand what is important to us as individuals.   In law practice development, that is called 'vision'.

Each of us can have several components to our definition of professional success.  Some may primarily define success in financial or social status terms while others may define it in the perceived benefit our work provides to others.   Sometimes these components of success can be mutually exclusive, such as when clients need more services than they can afford.  It is not the conflict between components that degrades our professional success, but the failure to recognize and deal with the conflict.

 Success as a Group within the Legal Profession

Practicing law in a group does not eliminate nor lessens the primacy of emotional satisfaction in determining professional success.   It is not necessary that each and every stakeholder have the same personal vision of success.  However, the structure of the firm must recognize the necessity of a basic alignment between the visions of the various stakeholders.  It matters less what the stakeholders' visions are than the fact that they are aligned.

While your firm may have a 'vision statement' there is no such thing as 'collective vision'.  Vision is always unique to the individual.  Because the vision that defines emotional success is hierarchical ranking within each individual, different visions always have an element of mutual exclusion to them. Where the visions of the individual stakeholders vary one from the other, the structure and form of the law firm must consider and reconcile differences in stakeholder vision.   A principle function of practice development is the recognition of individual differences and their incorporation into the management of the firm.

 Practice

To use the planning process to achieve greater success in the practice of law, we must make sure that our day to day professional activities align with both our emotional and intellectual definitions of success.   Or, as my Dad used to say,  "Make sure you're not barking up the wrong tree".   If the cat you're after isn't up the tree you're at, then barking longer, louder or more aggressively will not help.   Likewise, enhancing your internal operations with new administrative programs will only more efficiently coordinate the useless barking.   Enhancing your visibility to the world outside your firm with new marketing programs will only focus the attention of others to the fact that you're barking up the wrong tree.

Before you can achieve greater success in the practice of law, you must understand what success means for to you.

  If you are already emotionally successful, it may just mean more money (or money's doppelganger, time).  That's easy.

  If your emotional success markers tell you that the issues are deeper than hours worked to maintain the desired checkbook balance, you, either individually or collectively as a firm, need to take a step back and examine your success as you define it intellectually and experience it emotionally.   Taking a step back is an important part of practice development for many if not most practitioners, even those to whom Bentley directs its Wall Street Journal ads.

 At AMI we're consultants and coaches to members of the legal profession, not counselors.  However, our experience tells us that enhancing success starts with the personal vision of the lawyers and the collective vision of the law firm.   No one can run more swiftly until they remove the shackles and clearly focus on the prize.

Copyright 1999Advocates Management, Inc.


The Nuts and Bolts of Planning for Your Law Firm's future

by Michael A. Loduha







The State Bar of Wisconsin recently held a two-day conference entitled Seize the Future.   The focus of the conference was the radical change overtaking the profession and impacting everyone in it.  The specific elements of the conference, important to every Wisconsin Practitioner, will be reported elsewhere.  Many practitioners are sailing along, saying to each other "We couldn't have hit an iceberg, the band is still playing".  They don't see any reason to get out of their deck chairs while others move to those smaller boats hanging off the side.  The attendees of the conference have heard the crunch and felt the shudder of the ship.   They don't like the increasingly obvious conclusions they've reached anymore than anyone else.  Liking it is not an option.  No practitioner and no practice area will be unaffected over the next few years.  It is inevitable that some will be left behind.

This discussion in intended to be something like the instruction sheets related to the words 'some assembly required'.   Knowing you have to assemble your future from the box of parts in front of you is one thing, actually making the pieces fit together is another.  The first thing to do is to gather the tools.   This means...

  •  Commit the time.   You'll never have more time than right now.  If you lag, you will work harder and harder for less and less.   The most valuable time will be that spent 'getting out of yourself' and seeing the legal profession through the eyes of those outside of it.  After all, they're the ones who pay the fees.
  •  Commit to change.    The forces of change are bigger and more powerful than the legal profession.   The question is not whether you will be impacted by the changes, but whether your attitude will obscure your insights into how best serve yourself and others within the changes.
  • Get a coach.    Just as in a productive attorney - client relationship, you are not going to turn over decisions about your future to someone else.  But your commitment to that someone and that someone's commitment to the process will get you over the rough spots.


There are five elements to the process of assembling your professional future.  These elements are:  Vision, Mission, Strategy, Tactics and Programs.  Just as following the sequence of instructions is important when assembling a corporeal hereditament for your child's Christmas morning, following a sequence is useful in assembling your firm's professional future.

Articulate your Vision
Vision is the aspirational declaration of values .    Stated vision without commitment is worse than hypocrisy, it will mean failure.   Everyone's vision must be spoken aloud.  Do not presume because someone has the cabin next to you on the ship that you are both on board for the same deep-seated reasons.   The future will compel choices, and your common vision will guide your collective choices.
 The first step in the process is understanding your personal vision, stating it clearly to those who share your future and carefully listening to and understanding their visions.  From this process you must develop the collective vision of the firm.

Choose your Mission
Mission is the action statement of your vision.    The statement of your mission is not a marketing tool.  It is a commitment to the action that will take you to your vision.   Your mission answers the question of what you are going to do, just as your vision answers why you are doing it.
If vision is the decision to travel, mission is the choice of a destination and a means to get there.   If vision is the declaration of what is already in your heart, mission is the declaration of choice of action.    Thus, even when the chosen mission is similar to the preexisting action commitments of the firm, the act of choosing is valuable.

Consider your Strategy
Strategy deals with your practice environment; that is, those things that you must deal with that you can't change or influence .  The need to adopt technology is a strategic necessity.

Select your Tactics
Tactics deal with your market;  that is, those things you control or at least can influence .  You can choose with whom to compete, how to present your firm's particular skill set to the public and the like.

Implement specific Programs
Programs are discrete little bundles of action.   They are the turns of the rudder or change of speed by which you guide your practice forward.  Everything that goes before is preparation for what programs to adopt and which to abandon.  The sooner you start and the further you look ahead, the more likely your program will be to change course rather than abandon ship.
Programs have a beginning, middle and end.  They can be measured.  Everyone should understand what they are for, how they work and what their specific role in the program might be.

 Learning itself is to a large extent a learned activity.   While we have clutched to stare decisis the financial planners have taken our estate planning business and accounts our small business work.   Just as we teach judges and juries what they must know to see and decide issues our way, we must teach ourselves to seize the future.

Copyright 1999Advocates Management, Inc.


Nuts and Bolts II
by Michael A. Loduha

The first Nuts and Bolts  article discussed taking your law practice into the future focusing on Practice Development from a personal perspective.  Planning from this perspective begins with vision (the expression of aspirations) and gives life to that vision with a declaration of mission (the expression of vision in action).  This method then evaluates strategic issues (things that can’t be influenced by the planner) and tactics (things that the planner can do something about.)  The final stage of this model relates to the programs that implement and measure the progress of his or her law practice toward personal and professional goals.

This discussion lays out an ‘external’ model for planning and development that must be simultaneously considered and applied.  Rather than see the law practice as serving the personal vision of the practitioner, it approaches the venture ‘externally’ considering assets, patterns and values.   If the first model puts primacy on where you want to go and then constructs the system to get you there, the second model considers what already exists and helps select the direction of most efficient progress.

In this second model, assets are the available resources.  For a solo practitioner, it would begin with his or her personal and professional attributes and abilities and expand to include information, financial backing, relationships and technology.
 

· In the nuts and bolts approach, the first step is an honest assessment and inventory of the assets with which you will build your future.

· Market related candor is an absolute necessity for the inventory to be useful.  I once did a comprehensive study of a firm’s client relations and discovered that one of the partner’s listening skills was a major problem.  After as careful a presentation as I could muster, backed with mounds of data, that partner declared – not that I had been mistaken in my research – but that the clients were just wrong.

· Identifying and listing assets is quite different from evaluating them.  If some judgmental ‘filter’ is imposed, you will substantially compromise creativity and limit options.  Remember – things are changing and will continue to change in ways that are hard to predict.  I once had a partner who couldn’t find the courthouse with a seeing eye dog, but his clients brought in more fruitcakes at Christmas than we could fit in the dumpster.  His relationship skills were a substantial asset.

· It is almost impossible to objectively discuss assets that are also personal attributes.  For example, tell your significant other that you want to discuss something they are wearing ‘objectively” and see where it gets you.  Since assets will be evaluated and used based on their value to your future market of potential clients, outside assistance is invaluable in this process.

· There are various ways to develop a firm asset inventory – at a retreat, the divide and conquer method, etc. – but each method results in a written assets inventory.

In addition to assets, there are patterns of completing tasks or processes by which the work gets done.  The legal service value you have created for your clients in the past and will create with greater efficiency in the future as a result of this planning process, results from the conversion of assets and resources into services of greater value to the client than to you.  One way to look at this, is to consider your time an asset and what you do with it to make it valuable to the client as a process.
· In the Nuts and Bolts approach, remember that patterns or processes are on a continuum.  At one end are the formal patterns.  (This is how we check for conflicts.)  The continuum goes through less formal routines and ends up in what is sometimes called the firm’s ‘culture’.  In a law firm, culture is just the institutionalized habits of work and interaction that are so ingrained that they are unconscious.
This step in the planning journey involves not so much ‘inventorying’ your various patterns and processes as recognizing what they are.  This is an important step in their improvement.

These patterns relate not only to administrative routine and substantive methods, but also to relationships, information sharing and general ways of working.

Where the assets of two different firms are similar, the pattern and process differences control how the respective firms turn their assets and resources into client value and satisfaction.

The final component of this model would be the values of the individual or firm.  Values are the standards by which decisions are made.  Values set priorities.  When the values of the firm are aligned with the collective vision of its members, practicing in the firm is satisfying, whether or not it is profitable.

In the nuts and bolts approach to planning, your future considers values in a hierarchy or priority ranking.  The firm’s common hierarchy of values defines how decisions will be made.  Dozens of times a day, every person in the firm makes prioritization decisions:  which clients are more important, what work done first or what activity fills the ten minutes before lunch.

· Clients pick up on values first, before assets or patterns.  Values are usually the fulcrum on which client satisfaction and attorney choice decisions pivot.

· You can’t mandate values, but they can be influenced.  Firm leadership
can be defined as the influence and direction of values over time.

The two models work together.  Marshalling assets and resources relates directly to the challenges presented by the firm’s strategic and tactical realities.   Programs are how the firm modified its processes in an orderly and predictable way.  The values that mature within the firm become the priorities that accomplish the firm’s mission and make the achievement of this vision realistically possible.

The vision, mission, strategy, tactics and programs process views the firm from the perspective of the individuals who compromise it and will renew a firm from the inside out.
The assets / patterns / values analysis sees the firm as a functioning whole. Both models must
be considered simultaneously as the firm prepares to satisfy itself and its clients in the rapidly changing future.

Copyright 1999Advocates Management, Inc.


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