Tuesday, February 27, 2007
But what do the words "virtual lawyer" mean? Since I adopted the name, I felt obligated to look up the definition. I was happy to see that when I googled the definition, this blog came to the top of the list (how often does that happen!). The other references on the first couple of pages used the term, but did not try to define it. Therefore, I feel comfortable defining it on my own.
First, I looked up the definition of "virtual". There were several definitions, but the one I liked best was from The Free Dictionary: "Computer Science. Created, simulated, or carried on by means of a computer or computer network." There are several other definitions like the one from Geekgirls.com that suggested the word meant "not real," but I don't buy that. Don't tell me the Internet is not real.
I am comfortable with the definition of "lawyer" offered by Princeton as "a professional authorized to practice law." So then the question becomes what does it mean to be a "virtual lawyer?"
I decided that I should look at definitions of other "virtual" things. Here is what I came up with:
Virtual call center is "a call center in which the organization's representatives are geographically dispersed, rather than being situated at work stations in a building operated by the organization. Virtual call center employees may be situated in groups in a number of smaller centers, but most often they work from their own homes."
Virtual reality is" an artificial environment created with computer hardware and software and presented to the user in such a way that it appears and feels like a real environment."
Virtual machine is "a number of discrete identical execution environments on a single computer, each of which runs an operating system. This can allow applications written for one OS to be executed on a machine which runs a different OS, or provide execution "sandboxes" which provide a greater level of isolation between processes than is achieved when running multiple processes on the same instance of an OS."
Based on the first two definitions (I threw out the last one), I came up with the following:
A "virtual lawyer" is a professional authorized to practice law, who works with people all geographically dispersed, and whose law practice is carried on by means of a computer or computer network in such a way that it appears and feels like a physical law office, yet provides greater responsiveness, higher efficiency and better quality work product.
This is just my first attempt at defining the term "virtual lawyer" and the definition is likely to change or evolve over time.
What do you think? How would you define "Virtual Lawyer?"
Monday, February 26, 2007
First, you have to organize. What information is critical vs. interesting? Which are news sources vs. reference sources? Which form of communication is most efficient? How can I find the information I need quickly?
Second, you have to find the best tools. By "best", I mean which tools are best for the way you work. If someone wants to get my attention, email is still my first priority. I do everything I can to filter out nonessential email (by using the Rules and Alerts feature in Outlook) into separate mail boxes. That way only clients and personal contacts appear in my Inbox.
Third, you have to customize your news sources. I like the notion of having a personalized newspaper by selecting my favorite news feeds and favorite blogs. The only problem is that I need a personalized editor (the old fashioned newspaper kind) to avoid all the less interesting information that inevitably gets mixed in.
Fourth, you have to be inventive. There is just too much information and too many different tools. You have to continually think of new ways to use existing (meaning "free") tools that will make your life easier.
I was intrigued by Erik Heel's suggestion to use the "shared items" feature in Google Reader, which makes it easy to tag news items and share them with your friends (or your blog readers). So, I tried it. You will notice in the lower right hand column of this blog a section called "News" where I quickly tagged a few articles I thought were interesting. It's a nice alternative. Rather than post a news feeds with random articles, I simply tag the articles I want to share as I browse through my morning newspaper.
The new Google Reader made me realize that RSS feeds are essential to the distribution of blogs. No one has time to check a blog site every day. I would expect in the near future, if a blog doesn't make its content available by an RSS feed, no one will read it. Even traditionals news websites need to make available by feeds. The days of "surfing the web" may be numbered.
Today, there are more and more ways to filter out information on the Net. One example is Dave Taylor, who uses Newsgator to do sophisticated keyword searches to track the buzz about the book he authored. The blog and the newsreader may be fast converting users from actively going out and searching the web to passively specifying what information and waiting for it to be brought back from the web.
For my law practice, what I would like to do is to create a customized news readers for each different legal subject matter. For example, a customized newsreader for finding new articles on LLC formation or software licensing. I can imagine the newsreaders of the future would allow me to specify key words, author ratings, content ratings, and various style settings with smart logic that over time more and more reflect my preferences.
How do you keep track of all that information? What kind of customized news sources can you envision?
Sunday, February 25, 2007
When I first started practicing law, I had this image that business development meant putting on my sales and marketing hat, heading out to some networking event, and then rounding up a bunch of great new clients (all wearing suits and ties with $100 bills spilling out their pockets). I quickly learned that it seldom, if ever, works like that. In fact, when I try "selling" my services to new clients, it usually doesn't work at all. So, how do you get new clients? Where do you find them?
Start by assessing whom your best clients are. As recommended by Jim Hassett in his new book Legal Business Development, you must first build stronger relationships with your existing clients, before trying to generate new clients. Think about which clients value your legal services the most and which clients you enjoy working with you the most. Then, invite your best clients to go to an "appreciation" lunch and ask them why they like your services. Were you right?
Also, think about which clients don't value your services very much and which clients fail to understand what you really do. Think about those clients that are difficult to collect fees from or who are trying to get more than they are paying for. Every once in a while, I get a client that has read Rich Dad, Poor Dad and believes that "money is power." Those are the clients that I have come to realize detract the most from my business. The more I weed out the bad clients, the more I begin to attract the best clients.
Clients will not hire you unless they develop some kind of relationship with you. It may be a real relationship or it may be that they just identify with who you are. In Seth Godin's book All Marketer's Are Liars , which ironically is a book about telling the truth, he says that you have to be authentic. For me, being authentic means acknowledging that I primarily represent entrepreneurs and investors of early-stage ventures, not Fortune 500 companies, and I have the practical experience of having actually owned and managed a software development business. Clients respect it when you give them a clear picture of who you are and what you do rather than pretending to be something bigger.
Developing relationships with other people requires more than just telling the truth. As business development coach, Stewart Hirsch, says "it's not just about you." Whether it is a potential client or a referral contact, you need to focus on how you can help the other person. That way you can start building the relationship. Think about how you and your whole business model can facilitate and improve client relationships.
As my long time (9 days) readers know, I have been considering various pricing models. The so-called "alternative billing" models seem to be generating a lot of buzz lately (e.g., Gruntled Employees, LawBiz, The HR Lawyer's Blog), but I'm still wary of going to anything radical like an all "fixed-fee" model. The process of billing on a "fixed fee" basis all the time means sending an invoice to the client every time a new issue comes up or a new document needs to be drafted. The problem is that very quickly the "fixed-fee" creates a disincentive for building a strong relationship with the client. Fundamentally, high-value relationships are based on trust. If the lawyer doesn't trust the client, or the client doesn't trust the lawyer, the value of that relationship will be very low and the client will likely move on to the next lawyer that comes along.
So, my advice is take a client or prospective client to lunch. Ask them what they value most in their law firm, and find out how you can be of greater service to them (whether as a lawyer or as a friend).
What makes your best clients the "best"? How do you go about attracting new ones?
Saturday, February 24, 2007
I appreciate those of you who already gave me comments in person or sent emails about my blog. I am very interested in your feedback, but I'd prefer that you post your comments on this blog site. That's the best way to express appreciation to a blogger. That's how the blogging world works. (Of course, if you want your comments to remain private, in person or email communication is best.)
Already, I had a friend stop me on the street and say. "Hey, I like the blog you wrote yesterday!" Also, a lawyer sent me email on Wednesday (after only 5 days of blogging) saying that I sounded like a “voice crying in the wilderness.” I assume that is because there are so few comments posted. I asked both of them to post a comment, but it hasn't happened yet.
If you want to encourage my writing, and have a minute, just post a thoughtful comment. Initially, just a note that says "congratulations on keeping your NY's resolution" or "Great topic, I look forward to reading it" would be fine. This tells other readers that people are already reading the blog even though it just started. Later on, or if there is a serious discussion, comments should respond more directly to the content.
Blogging etiquette is very subjective and still evolving. Each blog has a different atmosphere. It is like walking into someone's house for a party. Some are very formal, some are wild. When you join a party you have to take a look around and ask. Am I wearing the right clothes? Do I need to bring something? What can should I talk about? Blogs are the same way.
At this point, the party is just starting, but if you like the content and want to hear more, post a comment!
Friday, February 23, 2007
Now that I am officially in the blogging world or "blogosphere" as it is more popularly known, I feel compelled to find out who are the leaders of this universe of knowledge. I started by doing a search on Technorati, which Mark Doerschlag of Mark's Guide kindly pointed out was one of the key directory for blogs. Technorati tracks the links made when bloggers comment on one another's website. The more bloggers who link to your site and the more links they use, the higher your blog is ranked. After the first week, The Virtual Lawyer has 3 links from 2 blogs and is currently ranked 1,693,770 out of 69.2 million blogs tracked by Technorati (not bad top 3% in just 8 days!). I guess that means there are at least 67 million lower ranked blogs that I don't have bother reading.
So, of the roughly 1.7 million active blogs (or more if they are not tracked by Technorati), which ones relate to lawyers and how do I find the really good ones? Having no clue, I started by doing a Google search for "best law blogs" and a search for "best law blawgs" came up with a number of great blog review sites. Here are the ones that I found most useful:
Robert Ambrogi's LawSites: Votes are in: Your top law blogs
The 2006 Weblog Awards: Best Law Blog
Blawg Review: Blawg Review Awards 2006
Blawg Review: BlawgWorld 2006 Review
After looking through some of these reviews, I concluded that the "best" sites were the ones with the legal subject matter I was most interested in. I found the quality and consistency within a blog column varies a lot and that the subject matter can vary alot. The blogs that appeal to me the most are the ones that reflect the author's true personality. I also like blogs that are highly focused, but have a blogger who is broad minded and minimizes (if not totally avoids) any selling of his or her services.
I learned two more things: (1) there are a number of national luminaries that are universally recognized and applauded as legal bloggers because their names and posts appear the most frequently, and (2) the best way for me to narrow down the list was to find bloggers with similar interests that post a list of their favorite blogs and then cross-reference those favorites with the ones that are "universally recognized" under item (1) above.
Which law blogs do you like the best and why?
Several people have said that they really enjoyed reading my new blog, but they think that I am putting too much pressure on myself by having to write everyday. First of all, I did not say that I would write everyday. Nor did I say I wouldn't. I merely expressed a desire to write everyday.
On February 16th, I wrote:
"Back to my New Year's resolution.... The promise that I made is that every day I would write about one new thing that would help build a law practice. I plan to focus on five separate areas: legal services (product quality and packaging), business development (marketing and sales), office management (technology, systems, knowledge management), recruiting (virtual and real team building), and finance (billing rates, pricing models, cash flow)."
The New Years resolution that I made was a "promise" to myself to try writing every day. For the record, it was not a promise to write everyday forever. This is a new experience. It may last a few weeks or it could last for years. I promise to write when I have something interesting to say about the five areas of interest I outlined for The Virtual Lawyer. The good news is that I have been writing for 7 days in a row and I really enjoy it. It helps to clarify my thinking and has already helped to move my business forward.
P.S. No, this is not my post for today. I'll post something more interesting later...
Thursday, February 22, 2007
I believe the legal industry is going through a major period of transition, one that we have not seen in the history of the profession. I think the transition is being forced by the advent of new technologies, improved methods of communication, and globalization. The question is where is the legal industry going? What does it mean for solos and small firms?
Big firms are getting bigger. For each of the last two years, the largest 250 law firms in the U.S. grew by 4 percent or more. The smallest firm on The NLJ 250 had only 172 lawyers. I don't know the statistics, but when I graduated law school in 1986, I would guess that a 172-lawyer firm would have been in the top 25, or top 50 at least. The legal profession in the United States has been around for about 200 years. So, why is it that in the last 20 years, firms are now growing so big? Does it mean we all need to part of a mega firm to practice law?
When most clients go looking for a law firm, do they think "we really need a firm that has at least 1500 lawyers to be able to handle our legal needs?" Do they think 1500 lawyers work more efficiently under one roof? Law firms are getting bigger because they can, and because other firms are getting bigger.
Big firms are being structured more like traditional businesses with new management such as CEOs, COOs, CMOs and other C-level executives. More management means more overhead. Also, big firms are beginning to realize that knowledge management will drive law firms of the future and have started to invest more money in technology and training. These developments increase overhead, which means firms must continue to grow in order to maintain efficiency and profitability.
At the same time that big firms are growing, computers and the Internet are enabling solos and small firms to reduce costs and improve the quality of their practice and quality of their lifestyle. How can this be true that technology increases costs for big firms and decreases costs for solos and small firms? Because the latter don't invest in management, IT systems, training, and consulting. They rely on the consumer marketplace.
What this means is that the legal industry is undergoing a massive transition, which may take years to settle out. My prediction is that the number mid-sized firms will shrink. There will be big firms and small firms, but few in the middle.
What do you think will happen? How big should your firm be?
Wednesday, February 21, 2007
I am familiar with Wikipedia, but I don't know how to set up my own wikipedia page (and I'm not sure I want to collaborate with the whole world, just yet). Wikipedia has some information about contract law (e.g., Integration Clause), but I don't who is writing this stuff or for what jurisdiction.
Also, I have seen software demos and presentations conducted over the web using online services such as www.GoToMeeting.com and www.webex.com, but I don't use these services often enough to want to pay for them. I am more of the occasional user of document sharing tools. Once in a while I may want to share a document with another lawyer or review a contract with a client while talking over the phone.
One document sharing tool that I liked was "Conferral" because it was integrated with Microsoft Word and made it easy to share a document that was open on your desktop. Conferral has a number of features that allowed you to control what information was shared and when it was being shared. However, it made me nervous to be sharing my desktop over the Internet.
Today, I tried a new product called "Google Docs" that allows you to quickly share and edit documents over the web (for free!). You can limit the document sharing only to those people you select by sending email invitations or you can share the document with the whole world.
I just uploaded a document that I have been working on (it is still a work in progress and I disclaim that any of the information is accurate). The document is a Choice of Entity chart intended to help lawyers guide their clients through the various factors affecting the choice of entity for a new business. I posted the document to the web using the new Google Docs tool. You can find the Choice of Entity Chart at http://docs.google.com/View?docid=dhntjthf_4g5t663.
I would like to hear your comments on the Choice of Entity chart. Is it useful? How can it be improved? What do you think of the Google Docs sharing tool? What do you use for sharing documents over the web?
Tuesday, February 20, 2007
Why do legal publishers still call me by phone, trying to get me to “review” their latest book for a free 30-day trial? Is it because they know once they send it to me, I will forget to return it within the 30-day deadline?
Frankly, I don’t want any more books on paper. What I want is an online resource that is cheap, easily downloaded, and up to date. I want content that changes so frequently that it is not worth my time to download copies. I want to be able to search legal sources quickly to find answers before I forget my question. I want to be able to easily locate sample documents drafted (and used) by experienced attorneys actually practicng in my jurisdiction.
I also want to know what other lawyers use as primary tools in their specific areas of practice. I want checklists and document assembly systems. I want to do less typing and editing and more creative thinking and problem-solving. Why is it that these tools and information don’t exist in one nice easy to find resource accessible by a web browser?
I think the problem is with the centralized publishing model. Legal publishers don’t actually use most of the materials they sell. If they did, they would realize their materials are pretty poor (however, there are a few exceptions like Massachusetts Corporate Forms by Bohnen and Coggins). Yet, the best lawyers usually don’t share their “tools” with other lawyers, except on a limited basis as a “courtesy” or in the course of delivering the final work product to opposing counsel.
Too many lawyers think that sharing information means they are giving away their expertise. Well, I think the opposite. We all can benefit by sharing knowledge. If one lawyer shares information, that will encourage other lawyers to do so as well. One notable example is John Hession of McDermott Will & Emery (formerly with Testa Hurwitz and Thibeault). He and his firms have consistently shared and updated their venture capital financing documents with the MCLE. I'm not expecting lawyers to provide free legal advice, just to share with other lawyers the tools that they use in their practice.
Here is my challenge… if there is any document or information that you would like me to share with other lawyers, send me an email. I will post it on a site made available only to lawyers. The challenge for you is to either (1) provide thoughtful and critical feedback that helps to improve my document or (2) you offer to send me a document of yours that I am interested in seeing.
If you are interested in this challenge, send email to email@example.com.
Monday, February 19, 2007
So how should lawyers charge for their time? Lawyers are are split as to whether to charge for a fixed fee vs. hourly.
Tom Kane, a marketing consultant and former practicing attorney, suggests that small firms can gain an advantage over large firms by "looking seriously at alternatives to billing by the hour".
Chris Marston, founder of Exemplar Law Partners, LLC, a firm that claims to be the "first corporate law firm in the nation to exclusively adopt a fixed price model", believes that fixed pricing must be based on "value to the client".
Jeffrey Lalloway, a divorce lawyer in California, advises "not to hire a lawyer that is not willing to work on a fixed fee basis."
Joseph Grasmik, a business immigration lawyer in New York, publishes "typical fees" on his website with detailed FAQs, but then invites potential clients to request an estimate for a specific matter. Mr. Gasmik also publishes a "do-it-yourself" engagement letter that clients are supposed to fill out and sign based on quoted fees.
My approach is not to be strictly limited to either fixed fee or hourly rates. For some matters, like incorporation, a fixed fee is appropriate because the nature of the work is known and can be estimated based on prior experience. For other matters, the time or work is not known and may be disproportionate to what the matter is worth objectively (because the client wants to pursue it for non-monetary reasons). What is important is to set expectations reasonably and to put the client in control of deciding what services they wish to buy.
In yesterday's blog, I wrote that Knowledge Management will drive law firms of the future. If law firms develop high quality knowledge systems, how will that affect pricing? Will that make fixed fee billing more likely to be offered?
How do you think lawyers should charge for services?
Sunday, February 18, 2007
Ok, but what is KM? Here are some definitions:
According to Wikipedia, "There is a broad range of thought on Knowledge Management with no unanimous definition current or likely." Wikipedia itself defines Knowledge Management as a "range of practices used by organizations to identify, create, represent, and distribute knowledge for reuse, awareness, and learning across the organisations." The fact that wikipedia spells the word "organization" differently than I do does not give me much comfort in their definition.
The definition of Knowledge Management that I prefer is "Capturing, organizing, and storing knowledge and experiences of individual workers and groups within an organization and making this information available to others in the organization." (Ironically, I found this definition on Google from a link that is no longer working.) It is the collaborative element of this definition that I find compelling. Lawyers sharing information will make all of us better lawyers and more efficient. KM will facilitate the process.
More practically, I think that KM encompases all of the systems, tools, and infrastructure needed to practice law effectively. In an upcoming blog, I will attempt to break down the concept of Knowledge Management into practical terms and identify how law firms can start to lay the ground work now for developing the systems, tools, and infrastructure that I (and most lawyers) will need to access in the future.
What do you think will drive law firms in the future? Will it be KM or something else?
Saturday, February 17, 2007
The short answer is: "I don't know, but I need to start somewhere." The Internet presence of lawyers will evolve over time. How lawyers can create (or recreate) their business image online will be a subject for future blogs. What I know today is that creating an Internet presence online is critical. Just the way people shop for music, books, and electronics online today, they will shop for legal services in the future. Now is the time to experiment with creating a "virtual" presence before everyone else figures it out.
To start building an Internet presence, I submitted my profile to LinkedIn. Many people have invited me to join and I cautiously started to "accept" their invitations. There are many different networking tools and social networking sites, but here is why I selected LinkedIn:
First, I believe that professionals and other service providers, like product businesses need to have a strong presence on the Internet. Whether you think of it as being listed in the "Yellow Pages" (before the Internet), or whether you think of it as joining the Chamber of Commerce, professionals need ways to market their services and generate new business contacts. For business professionals, LinkedIn is one of the leading websites for this purpose.
Third, a longtime friend, Erik Heels started using LinkedIn as a networking tool and invited me to join his network. Erik is an extremely thoughtful and talented intellectual property lawyer, who is an innovator in his own right within the legal profession. I took great comfort in knowing that Erik was using it despite the privacy concerns. Also, I thought that if Erik was using LinkedIn as a networking tool for lawyers, then I should consider using it as well.
Fourth, I am using LinkedIn as a way to maintain contact with colleagues and friends and to develop professional business relationships. Today, people frequently change email addresses, move away, or change jobs without sending new contact information. Also, I find it rather time consuming to maintain contact information for everyone I know and I often wonder where people currently work. LinkedIn makes it much easier to keep in touch.
Fifth, LinkedIn is a referral-only network with "gated access". The only way users can be connected is if someone they know forwards a contact request to them and the other user accepts the invitation to make a connection. It's okay if people prefer not to make a connection; I just hope they keep me informed of their change of addresses/professional status.
Sixth, the features and connections made using LinkedIn are quite powerful. You can easily find people, share connections, and identify who may help you to make an important introduction. LinkedIn also provides the user with numerous configuration settings that control what information the user shares with the public.
What I like the most about LinkedIn is knowing that regardless of how my business or career changes, I know that people will always be able to find me and it makes it much easier for me to find them. Since joining, I have reconnected with many colleagues that I worked with at previous employers, who now work in other parts of the country.
If you would like to connect with me on LinkedIn, send me an invitation via my profile at <http://www.linkedin.com/in/rogerglovsky>.
What do you think of LinkedIn as a networking tool for lawyers?
Friday, February 16, 2007
The Plan is to use the blog as a motivator for building a law practice. Not just one that makes money, but one that looks forward, leverages technology, and anticipates new trends. If you will, the law firm of the future. That said, I am currently only a solo practitioner. What I know is that I want to grow my business. I don't know whether that means recruiting partners, hiring paralegals or associates, or adding other staff. I don't know whether that means growing the business physically, virtually or a combination of both.
So, how will a blog help grow a law practice? The idea is to write about one thing at the start of each work day that is critical to building the business. I have a vision for building a law practice. One that provides great quality, leverages technology, and emphasizes customer service.
I imagine that this is how IBM started. The founder of IBM, Tom Watson Sr, as quoted in The E-Myth Revisited, described how IBM built its success:
"IBM is what it is today for three special reasons. The first reason is that, at the very beginning, I had a very clear picture of what the company would look like when it was finally done. You might say I had a model in my mind of what it would look like when the dream - my vision - was in place.
"The second reason was that once I had that picture, I then asked myself how a company which looked like that would have to act. I then created a picture of how IBM would act when it was finally done.
"The third reason IBM has been so successful was that once I had a picture of how IBM would look like when the dream was in place and how such a company would have to act, I then realized that, unless we began to act that way from the very beginning, we would never get there.
"In other words, I realized that for IBM to become a great company it would have to act like a great company long before it ever became one.
"From the very outset, IBM was fashioned after the template of my vision. And each and every day we attempted to model the company after that template. At the end of each day, we asked ourselves how well we did, and discovered the disparity between where we were and where we had committed ourselves to be, and, at the start of the following day, set out to make up for the difference.
"Every day at IBM was a day devoted to business development, not doing business. We didn’t do business at IBM, we built one."
Back to my New Year's resolution.... The promise that I made is that every day I would write about one new thing that would help build a law practice. I plan to focus on five separate areas: legal services (product quality and packaging), business development (marketing and sales), office management (technology, systems, knowledge management), recruiting (virtual and real team building), and finance (billing rates, pricing models, cash flow).
My hope is that by writing this blog everyday I will move my business forward and inspire others to do the same. I also want to encourage others to share their thoughts on growing a law practice, either by posting comments on this blog or by sending email to me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.