Starting a Law Firm – Local Counsel Work

When considering starting your own law firm, one often overlooked source of business for your fledgling business is local counsel work.

When I began my career as an attorney at a medium sized firm, I had an idea of what I would be working on. For instance, areas such as corporate law, family law, criminal law, estate law, real estate law, are all examples of practices areas that I, like all lawyers, am familiar with because those courses are taught in probably every law school in the United States. So, if you join a law firm in the private practice arena, you will probably work as a lawyer in one or more of these areas.

For example, the typical way to practice law is to have a client ask you to help them with their legal problem. A person or entity will come to you and hire you to help them with their business, family, or personal legal dilemma. That is the most common way to work as a lawyer.

However, one surprise that many lawyers find when they start practicing out of law school is that other lawyers and firms often hire attorneys outside their firm to be their lawyer for a local hearing. This concept is called local counsel.

There are two standard forms of local counsel work:

(1) a firm in the jurisdiction you work in, but which is a long ways away (like in a different city) hires you; or

(2) a firm outside of your jurisdiction and typically in another state hires you.

In these two situations, attorneys and/or law firms will hire out a lawyer to handle hearings in the courthouse or county where the original firm has filed its case. Hiring and outside attorney enables the hiring law firm to have an attorney present in a court-house that is far-far away from the hiring firm’s office. It would be much too expensive to have a $300.00-an-hour attorney drive from a far away city to attend a minor foreclosure hearing. So, the law firm that originated the lawsuit will often hire an attorney at a lower dollar amount to handle a simple hearing.

Examples of legal areas in which local counsel work is needed are: foreclosures, bankruptcy, and debt collection. Often the hired attorney will appear at a minor hearing, such as a status conference, and file an attorney appearance with the court. The attorney will inform the court that he or she has been hired only for the purpose of the local counsel work. A judge will often understand that the law firm who hired the local attorney will handle the actual procedural filing. However, the local counsel attorney will handle the minor matter before him or her. One thing to keep in mind is that the hired lawyer still owes a duty to both the court and his client to be diligent and prepared when he or she accepts the case – no matter how minor it is.

Why is local counsel work important for starting your own firm? In the foremost, it is usually relatively simple and it is a very effective way to generate cash flow for your firm. Without cash flow, your law firm will die.

Another great thing about local counsel work is that it helps the courts function efficiently. If an attorney can show up at minor hearing and guide the legal process along, the court can worry more about other, more important, cases on its docket.

In sum, local counsel work is an often unknown and overlooked aspect of starting and building a law practice. Attorneys who have been practicing for any amount of time often know about local counsel work. However, a person coming out of law school likely has never heard of it. If a person decides to start their own firm out of law school, they will not want to miss this great source of revenue-generating work.

Furthermore, another reason to do local counsel work is that lawyers tend not to stiff other lawyers. In other words, when you are hired, you know you are going to get paid. That may sound simple, but when you are staring out and trying to survive, getting paid for the work you do is of the utmost importance. Heck, it may be the only important thing to know when you are starting your own firm.

When considering starting a law firm, and whether your niche area is family law, criminal law, corporate law, or some other area of law, you need to remember local counsel work and focus some of your firm marketing towards this area. It is not always the most lucrative work, but, if you can get it, it is steady, it generates immediate cash flow, and it get your new law firm humming.

Law Practice Optimization and Its Place in Today’s Law Firm

Law practice optimization (LPO) is the process of improving the services provided by the Legal Industry to their clients. In today’s modern world, always being connected to your office and your clients is no longer just a luxury it is an absolute requirement. As we all know, the internet has opened the doors for the Legal Industry and allowed Law Firms to market and advertise themselves to the World Wide Web, through business advertising campaigns, which reach tens of thousands and perhaps millions of prospective clients, by just the click of the mouse. It is the servicing of the clients and the ability of the Law Firm to conduct their business in the most efficient manner is where the LPO surfaces its necessity.

As clients awareness of LPO increases, they will in turn drive the Legal Industry to adopt LPO methodology. The Legal Industry can no longer hide behind antiquated methods that are still is use today when dealing with the voluminous amount of paperwork, telephone calls, research, as well as, all communication and document production that is involved when dealing with the resolution of a legal matter. Before LPO, the Law Firm has been able to past the cost of inefficiency directly to the client by way of standard hourly billing. Since LPO, the Law Firms are being held to a higher standard of expectations and efficiency, and with the use LPO, these efficiency savings are being passed down to the client with better service for less money.

The use of today’s modern technology is now being demanded by the client. Having the ability to receive mail electronically, receive SMS messages for reminders or court notifications, is now the standard that is expected in the industry. Older, much antiquated methods like regular mailings, are no longer being accepted by the client who expects more from their Law Firm.

The initialism “LPO” can refer to “legal practice optimization” synonymous with “law practice optimization,” which is a term adopted by an industry of consultants who carry out optimization projects on behalf of individual Law Firms. These consultants or Legal Practice Optimizers or Law Practice Optimizers, perform an in depth evaluation of the current practices of the Law Firm and then provide recommendations as to the lack of efficiency being used within the managerial sector of the Firm. Many times, the LPO consultant finds deficiencies pertaining to the lack of adaptation by the Firm to utilize current technology and software that is available in the current market place. In many instances, the LPO consultant will find the Law Firm has become complacent with respect to the managing of the Law Firm due to their ability to offset any extra costs of being inefficient, directly in their client billing.

Law Practice Optimization does not stop with streamlining the internal practices of the modern law firm. It also covers managing the online exposure and marketing of the firm when appropriate, through the creation of a custom web site for the firm, and in addition the application of the now well established practice of SEO or Search Engine Optimization. This is now a common area of focus for the practicing LPO consultant since legal firms are now relying on new client intake via the internet, a well functioning and effective presence online is now essential.

Top 4 Business Mistakes Law Firms Should Avoid

The business of law has its own set of rules and regulations. Nevertheless, as with any other businesses, it can suffer due to certain mistakes, industry inaccuracies, and errors made by law firm or its staff. Whether your law firm is large or small or whether you have a solo practice, these business mistakes can lost you dearly.

Given below are the four most common business mistakes that law firms should avoid

1. Not Focusing on Your Niche

This is particularly applicable to smaller law firms and solo practices. In an attempt to gain more clients and business, there is a temptation to spread yourself too thin and take on cases outside your area of expertise. Don’t give in to this temptation. Focus on your niche, as it allows you to deliver greater client satisfaction that will automatically enhance business and profitability. Once you are well established, you may expand the services your firm provides by hiring experts in other areas. Larger law firms that handle diverse cases should assign specific areas of work such as corporate law, environmental issues, and real estate to specific people. Having everyone look at everything is a sure recipe for disaster.

2. Not Marketing Effectively

Some law firms do not believe in marketing at all and want to rely completely on word of mouth and referrals. This is a mistake. At the other end of the spectrum are law firms that spend heavily on advertising and are puzzled by the lack of results. Marketing is an essential tool to promote your law business, but it needs to be used intelligently to offer maximum value. It is not necessary to have a full-page ad in a national newspaper. You may get better results with a small ad in a local magazine that has a greater chance of being read by your target clients. Your website can also serve as a cost-effective marketing tool.

3. Not Paying Attention to Receivables

Providing the best services to clients costs money, but when clients don’t honor their bills on time, most lawyers are reluctant to follow-up. Some clients may take advantage of you and delay payment even further. If this situation continues, you will be left low on cash, which will ultimately affect the quality of service. Remember that clients will not leave your firm because you ask them to pay what they owe, but they will surely leave if your level of service goes down.

4. Not Communicating with Clients

Not communicating is a common mistake that most lawyers commit without even being aware of it. The volume of work in a law firm is so large that you tend to be overwhelmed and may actually have no time to communicate with your client. Sounds unbelievable? But it is true. Communication with your clients is very important for business. You may be working very hard for their interests, but they need to know it. Giving regular updates to your clients by phone or email is essential. These are some of the most common business mistakes that law firms regularly make. Avoiding these mistakes will help keep your clients happy, and you will be able to retain them longer than you would otherwise.

The Golden Rules

  • Find your niche and become an expert in it
  • Market yourself well
  • Pay attention to cash flow
  • Stay in touch with your clients

Law Firms Don’t Need Marketing! We Sell Ourselves!

Law Firms are not traditionally viewed as businesses in the same way that other companies are. This derives largely from the fact that lawyers have long occupied a different position in our society than business-people. For good or worse, however, things have changed over the past few decades, and more than ever, law firms are now acting like other businesses.

Unfortunately, this also means that law firms now have to put more effort into certain aspects of business that they previously ignored. Marketing, in particular, is an area that law firms, now more than ever, are having to focus on. Competition for clients is tougher than ever, making it necessary to differentiate your legal practice from that of your competitors. How can one efficiently and smartly go about this?

To begin with, you need to come up with a consistent message. If you tell people 100 different things about your firm, then you run the risk that they don’t remember any of them. In addition, no one will ever think that you are an expert in any area. Part of coming up with a consistent message is focusing in on a particular area of practice. The lawyers at your firm may have experience in a number of different areas, but when it comes to marketing yourself, you need to target one area at a time. Pick your strongest area or the area you most want to grow, and build your message around that area. Once you get a lot of clients coming in because of your consistent marketing in that area, you can move on to another.

Use real testimonials. Obviously, if you’re just starting out, then this is tough, so don’t worry about it. However, if you have any experience at all, ask your prior clients if you can use them for a very short, written testimonial. Potential clients are heavily swayed by another person who was in their same situation telling them that you helped with that situation. This kind of marketing is way more persuasive than you telling them over and over how good you are at something.

Always imagine your perfect client. This tip is more of a general thought-process than anything else. Whenever you do any type of advertising or marketing for your law firm, you need to make sure that you’re always thinking about it from the perspective of your perfect client. It sounds simple, but what it really requires is going out and getting to know your perfect clients. Ask them what they’re looking for in a law firm or a lawyer, and ask them what their concerns are. If you’re able to do this, it is an extremely valuable part of your marketing.

I love marketing, but at first it was very daunting for me. I had no idea what to do, what to say, or where to market myself. Even now, I always question my techniques to see if I can improve them. Keep in mind that marketing takes a little time, so don’t give up right after you get started. At the same time, if something isn’t working after a few months, re-evaluate and try to figure what’s not working about it.