Thursday, February 01, 2007

I'm still here...

I'm feeling a bit guilty because I haven't posted in a while. Just soooo busy with my new law practice (No, silly, not on paying clients but on all the crap that goes with opening a law practice!).

So, nearly one month later I have earned $250.00 for preparing estate planning documents. No, I am not complaining. I do have a $1000 advanced fee in my IOLTA - I just haven't sent the client a bill yet justifying any disbursements.

I figured it would be slow-going for a while. Thank goodness I don't have to support anyone (DH does that) and I have some seed money saved up for my money pit ... er business expenses.

On the other hand, I have received a fair amount of calls, have some cases in the works that might come back and retain, and have three whole appointments set for next week. So, I really can't complain too much.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Happy New Year

Happy New Year to all!

Today is my third day as an "official solo attorney" - though I'm still a wannabee because I have no clients. Actually, that's fine for now because I'm still getting things together.

I have my office, desk, multifunction printer/copier/fax, phone (only one line), general premises liability coverage, and an unfurnished conference room.

Still need to get: signs (though I will hopefully get something in a couple of weeks), conference table, chairs, second line (courtesy of Packet8 VOIP - curious how that will be), malpractice insurance, and small table for my office. And, oh yeah, clients.

I do have one "networking meeting" set up with an insurance person, and have an open house I am attending next week with a financial planner. I have high hopes for referrals from the latter since she is in the same building complexes that I am in. And 1 of the 3 local yellow pages now has my advertisement in it. Real curious about how effective this will be since every online discussion group talks about how ineffective yellow page advertisements are. My former employer seemed to get a lot of clients from it, however. A quick word to the wise - if you run your name in the white pages, make sure you list it under your last name - my listing is under "L" for "Law Office of ...." Just about worthless, if you ask me. Not sure whether to complain, or just blame myself for not anticipating this.

I am also working my way through "Get Clients Now!" by C.J. Hayden. It is a marketing book aimed at service professionals, though not necessarily attorneys. It advocates steady steps and reachable goals you set up for yourself, which seems more trustworthy than "miracle solutions" often promised by other books.

In the meantime, my time seems completely filled with endless tasks: call electricians, call sign persons, call furniture salespersons, go to office supply store, contact professional negligence insurers (one, Mainstreet Financial, seems markedly lower than the others - any experiences with them?), revise questionnaires and forms. I want to read up on substantive areas of practice, but seem to have little time for that! At the end of the day, I keep a journal of things I have done just to prove to myself I got something accomplished!

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Building the Bankruptcy Book library

Okay, I still have sign issues, but I won't linger on it for this post...

Instead, I'm psyched to say that National Consumer Law Center has come out with their up-to-date "Consumer Bankruptcy Practice," 2-volume set for 2006. I've posted queries on a couple of different listserves for a good book on bankruptcy practice, and, without exception, this has been the number one recommended book. The only problem is that NCLC only had their 2004 book with 2005 supplement available. And I HATE law books where the supplement is bigger than the original text itself. So I waited to buy. So, now the updated book is out, and I have it ordered. Woo-Hoo!

I also ordered and received the "Consumer Bankruptcy and Chapter 13" and "Bankruptcy Issues" from Argyle publishing, which I received yesterday. Good, cheap, basic level books. My biggest complaint is that they don't include many examples (but the book does go through each petition and schedule that is filled out as part of a bankruptcy case, which is helpful), but at a price tag of $45.00, I figure you can't lose. Plus, its a 2006 release, so it includes BACPA materials.

Finally, I also had ordered "Consumer Bankruptcy Deskbook" from West-Thomson, which was a real disappointment. First of all, it was originally published in 2002, so it misses out on all of the BACPA changes. Second, the supplement is a mess. It is missing some pages, it contains different sections on the same page, so you can't just place the supplements with the original section, and the pagination is all messed up - on one side page is 128, on the other side is page 30. I called West, and the service rep said that there was no noted problems with the book and sent me a second supplement. Guess what. Same problems. I think no one has ordered this dog in years, so that is why there is no reported issues. Very disappointing, because if it was up-to-date, it would be a great resource given its depth of coverage. This definitely goes back as soon as I get the mailing label from West (and they better pay for postage!).

So, I guess 2 out of 3 isn't too bad.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Whats wid da signs? or a lesson in customer service

Yes - one month later I'm still dealing with signs. I've received two proposals from two sign companies that bite the big one. One was "Smith Law Office" in raised letters pasted directly on siding - in an ugly yellow color (against a muave-ish building). Another was a black sign with yellow letters with a "scale of justice" on one side. Both took two weeks to get back to me, and the latter sign is the EXACT duplicate of another sign in my town - down to the same color scheme. I told the first company that I didn't care for the design, and could they please get back to me with a design incorporating certain elements (I swear, I was nice!). I haven't heard word one (or email one) from them. I called again this morning, begging for a time to meet with the sign representative, and his assistant said he would get back to me this morning - but still haven't heard anything.

A third sign company has still not gotten back to me (after my calling them 3 times and promising earlier that he would get a proposal to me by last Friday), and a fourth sign company's owner has gone AWOL - with no "signs" of returning. I contacted a FIFTH company today, who did seem to listen to me (I even had pictures of signs that I liked) who said that he would go out to the building I'm subleasing in a day or so and get back to me with ideas soon (I've heard that one before). Normally I would be hopeful, but ....

And I naively thought that getting a sign would be the easy party of opening a practice. I am not looking for anything fancy - just "Smith Law Office" in raised letters on a burgundy background. No lights. No graphic. At this point, I'm all for the "KISS" style of signage ("Keep It Simple, Stupid").

Other than ranting - I think the lesson to take away from my experience is the importance of basic CUSTOMER SERVICE. Specifically -

1) Deliver a product or proposal when you say you will;

2) Listen to your customer, incorporate her ideas, and don't insist on producing a product without having a clue what she wants (she is the expert on what she wants - even if you are the professional);

3) Return phone calls in a reasonable fashion and in the time frame that you say you will; and lastly

4) Don't make people beg you to give you money and retain your services!

All of these points can and should be adopted by a legal office. Remember your own frustrations in receiving bad customer service (whether it be the phone company or a supplier) and don't repeat the same mistakes in your own practice!

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Super CLEs

Twenty-Seven days to opening day and counting ....

I feel remarkably unprepared. Still don't have my sign figured out (waiting for a local sign company to get back to me with a design - hopefully Monday or Tuesday!). No business cards. No malpractice insurance set up yet. No furniture ordered. No practice management or practice specific software. No website or email set up. No announcements ready to send off.

What I do have: phone number, yellow page ad, office to rent (starting 1/1/07) (which includes a desk & return), phone, laptop, multifunction laser printer, a domain name, and books up the ying yang.

In my defense, the place I was planning to order furniture said everything usually comes in within a week, and one of the malpractice insurers I spoke to said that it doesn't take very long to get the malpractice coverage going. I'm hoping that the business cards will be fairly quick, especially if I initially go through

I have been attending a fantastic "basic estate planning skills course" through the University of Washington (Go Dawgs!), which consists of seven 1/2 day sessions (spread out over 3 months) of (what else) basic estate planning topics (wills, trusts, life insurance, community property, probate, elder law, powers of attorney, basic level tax, special needs trusts, etc.) By the time I got my "new attorney" discount and discount for already having the deskbook estate planning and probate materials, the total of each class was under $50 per session. When all is said and done, I should have 21 credits of CLE (I had to miss one session because of foul weather on the mountain pass - but they were nice enough to provide me with tapes of the lectures I missed). Plus, I can justify going to Seattle - which is truly one of the most beautiful cities (when its not cloudy, rainy, or snowing!).

I love CLEs. When I actually bring in money, I plan to go to more - did you know that an advanced estate planning CLE (through ALI-ABA) is going to be offered in Maui in February? I doubt I'll have the money (or ability) for it at that point - but wow! Maybe in '08????

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Black Friday Shopping

Happy Thanksgiving All!

I took advantage of Black Friday, got out to Best Buy at 5 a.m. (nuts - nuts - nuts) and bought a nifty 22 inch flat-paneled monitor, 17 inch flat paneled monitor, and plug in hard drive. Wanted one of their $200 computers, but so did 1000 other of my fellow crazies. So I missed out on that one. (I've got a great tablet PC - I wanted the cheap computer for *future* bankruptcy clients to be able to do credit counseling online).

My plan is to use the 22" monitor for "presentations" as part of my free initial consultations (bankruptcy, probate, elder law, and estate planning) in an effort to better "inform" my clients about the process and options. Has anyone done something similar - prepared a powerpoint presentation for new clients? I tried to do this for my former boss, but she had me stop, with the concern that I was giving the clients "too much information" and they would just leave and do the legal work themselves. I can imagine it is a fine line, but I think it is a good idea to have clients well-informed about the process so they can make intelligent decisions, realistically know what to expect, and not come back later and say "but you never told me that." If I lose a few clients because they decide to do it themselves, am I really losing anything? Starting out, I'll certainly have more time than money, anyway.

The hard drive is obviously for back up - and the 17" monitor is for hooking up my laptop at my office so I don't have to squint at my small laptop screen.

I love business deductions!

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Signs, Signs, Everywhere are signs....

Time marches forward to my grand (or not so grand) opening of the Law Practice (dum-de-dum-dum - ominious music)....

My next decision to make is signage. The business I am subletting from has this big, illuminated sign (3 X 10') with their business name on it. I would like to get something about the same size for my side of the building. My question: should I get an illuminated sign, which will likely cost about $3500 or a laminated sign, with a cost of $500 (including install)? I like the lower price, especially in just starting out. But the building fronts a fairly busy street and the name recognition (if people even notice signs as they are driving by) might be an advantage. Obviously, during the day time, either sign would be equally noticeable. But at night, the illuminated sign would show up better. Also, would it look tacky to have the laminated sign next to the illuminated sign? Decisions, Decisions, Decisions!

Another question is what should be on the sign? Personally, I think the scales of justice is overdone, so I'm thinking of just putting words on the sign. Do I want:

Smith Law Firm

Smith Law Office

Jane Smith,
Attorney at Law

Law Office of
Jane Smith

(No, I'm not Jane Smith, but I have a similarly simple name - not ready to come out of the closet yet :) )

Any thoughts or comments greatly appreciated!