According to tradition, the Spanish philosopher Seneca, who once tutored and advised Nero, is credited with the saying that “Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.”
I wrote Start and Grow Your Limited Scope Practice because I sensed the time was right. After years of teaching lawyers how to deliver “unbundled” or “limited scope” legal assistance properly, I wanted to reach the younger lawyers who may be looking for new ways to use their degrees and training to help people.
Because the Great Recession swelled the ranks of people struggling financially–typically coincident with a sudden need for legal assistance–the demand was far outstripping the supply of lawyers who had creative solutions for the financial aspect of the lawyer-client relationship. About the same time, there was a renewed push for “unbundling” legal services, a concept that was decades old, and more accepting attitudes among bench and ethics committees. More than ever, the need for legal assistance to everyday people with everyday problems was exceeding the supply of affordable legal services. Few average Americans need $1,000/hour lawyers and few $1,000/hour lawyers seem to need average Americans as clients.
So recently, when I listened to Dean Royal Furgeson and Associate Dean Ellen Pryor of the new UNT College of Law in Dallas, Texas, I was really excited to hear their vision for a new approach to legal education for a new class of lawyers who will be trained differently and exposed to many aspects of the legal profession that traditional law schools ignore. At a time when many ask, “why another law school,” Furgeson and Pryor have an answer ready: to fill a gap in the law school education system that the others have ignored: preparing graduates to meet the under-served legal needs of our society in creative ways with both a modernized approach to teaching and fewer obstacles to entry for people who want to serve others.
While the UNT College of Law may not give the “Top 50″ law schools a reason to worry about their rankings anytime soon, I have no doubt that those who graduate from its programs will find plenty of opportunity to apply their knowledge and determination to innovatively address the everyday legal challenges that most Americans face in their lives. Maybe, opportunity is about to encounter prepared graduates and the middle-income families with typical legal needs will then feel a bit more lucky.
You have no doubt seen signs like the one above, either inside a pet supply store or at a shopping center. The message is simple, yet effective. Though veterinarians do not have to adhere (to my knowledge) to advertising restrictions such as those imposed on lawyers in most states, there is no state in the U.S. that would disallow a similar announcement that “low cost legal assistance” or a “flat fee lawyer” will be at a particular place at a specific time.
You do not have to use terms like “unbundled” or “limited scope services” to meet communication rules. Keep it simple and not misleading and you will be both effective and ethical.
The ABA Model Rules require that communications relating to a lawyer’s services:
- are not false or misleading (by statements made or omitted) (Rule 7.1)
- include the lawyer’s name (Rule 7.2)
- are not communicated through inappropriate solicitation efforts (Rule 7.3)
You may recall my post last year about lawyers who set up temporary space in a Florida shopping mall to be near their target clients. So far this year, there appear to be more shoppers out. Even if you need to obtain an advertising review (such as in Texas), you should still have time to get the word out for the after-Christmas action.
It isn’t as antithetical as one might think: lawyers are generally very creative and many are employed in ways where they frequently provide practical guidance to entrepreneurs and other business people. My previous post was about recent research indicating that some of the obstacles to an uptake in LSR services are self-imposed. That “bad” side of conservatism for which the legal profession is too easily lampooned. (Remember the jokes about how lawyers took so long to embrace technology?)
In that context, it is quite refreshing to see experienced, successful private law firms branching out into creative, entrepreneurial lines of legal services intended to meet the needs of the HUGE under-served pool of prospective clients out there. One example of that is Negotiated Divorce. Dig into their website and you will see an approach that blends online access, self-help features and related services for those who need more.
Lawyers are quintessential problem- solvers. You’d think more of them would take on the challenge of solving our legal service delivery problems the way Negotiated Divorce has begun to do.
After a blog post by Richard Zorza commented on Dr. Julie MacFarlane’s research, I read her full post. Dr. MacFarlane summarizes her research into the lack of lawyers offering “unbundled” services (or what we call here “Limited Scope Representation,” based on the terminology in ABA Model Rule 1.2(c)).
Nutshell: demand for these limited services far outstrips the supply of lawyers who offer them. Surprise: many who sought LSR services did so not because of money, but out of frustration with prior representation or lack of trust in an open budget form of assistance. (See Part 2 of MarFarlane’s research report at page 38.)
Nutshell 2: the self-imposed and vigorously-defended traditional culture of legal practice is the obstacle, not rules, liability risk, lack of prospective clients or judicial obstruction.
So my question to those of you who have not already tried this form of lawyering is: What is stopping YOU?
By now there are ample reports, articles, blog posts, bar journal editorials, court rulings, CLE courses and other materials that show how and when LSR services can be appropriately offered. My book alone covers most of those topics (and for less than $10!), but there are others available as well.
Do you have an answer? Is it an honest obstacle, or a self-imposed limitation? Think about it and then ask yourself again: what’s holding me back?
Your mother or father probably drilled it into your brain. Your spouse or roommate probably reminded you (one way or another) why it is a good practice. But do you do it in cyberspace?
I am talking about cleaning up after your cyberself. How’s that MySpace page doing? Your first Facebook page? Got any old social media accounts out there or old websites and blogs? You might find Lauren Goode’s blog post from last month’s “All Things D” very useful.
In A Handy Guide to Deleting Digital Accounts, Goode give specific instructions on deleting unwanted accounts in Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Yahoo, AOL and Google+. Another option is a tool like Delete Your Account, where you type in the service you from which you want to delete an account, and it presents the instructions for that account. (E.g., search for “MySpace” and you get instructions for deleting accounts from MySpace.) (If you don’t remember where you left your digital self, try Bing, Google or seeing a neurologist…)
Make sure you aren’t confusing your own prospective clients with old, out-dated and inaccurate digital accounts. If you don’t check those profiles at least every month, you should consider deleting them. You never know how long an unflattering comment might be there, harming your reputation because you were nonresponsive.
One of the biggest opportunities when exploring LSR services with a prospective client is also one of the most important risk management tasks: making sure the lawyer and client agree on the exact scope of services the lawyer will provide.
Examples of ways to document this are available in my book and other places, so I won’t cover that now. My point today focuses on the agreement between lawyer and client.
In their rush to obtain legal assistance, clients often practice “selective disclosure” and suffer from “selective listening.” Likewise, lawyers who haven’t practiced very long in a subject area may be overly eager and skimp on fundamental interview techniques.
Just like “tie goes to the runner” in baseball, disputed terms will be construed from the client’s perspective without a clear writing to remove doubt. Because LSR is relatively new to many, the agreement needs to cover as many tasks the lawyer won’t do for the quoted fee as what the lawyer will. The list of tasks that the client must handle or get elsewhere is both a chance to “up sell” as well as a checklist for the client who may not understand the breadth of the matter for which you have undertaken a small part.
Make sure your agreement makes the most of the “opportunity” by adding your fee menu to the back, for example. But ensure you have clearly delineated respective roles so there is no reasonable dispute over what the LSR fee has purchased.
In an article in the October 2013 issue of the ABA Journal, “Going Old School,” one lawyer is profiled for her success using the “old fashioned” printed Yellow Pages.
In today’s era of social media mania, it is easy to overlook the tried and true. One benefit of a YP print ad is that you can get more information out that doesn’t fit into a tweet or audio spot.
Coupled with appropriate online information, a print ad component may make sense for your LSR practice. Be careful about publishing menu pricing,however, unless you have expiration dates on the numbers.
And always know and follow the advertising rules in your state.
As commercial businesses develop their digital strategies, more of them have created staff positions such as “Chief Engagement Officer” or the like.
Keeping good clients is much easier than getting new ones, but something lawyers are not very good at doing. Unless the clients keep the lawyer engaged, too many lawyers sit back and wait for new work.
You can take control of that situation through active engagement of your present and former clients. Find out why they came to you, what they liked, why they haven’t asked you to do more. In short, LEARN from them then adapt.
What if the obstacle was lack of awareness of what you could offer? What if your best quality in their minds wasn’t something you planned to promote?
Find ways to engage wit your current clients so you can see opportunities to attract new clients.
In her opinion piece in August’s Inside Counsel, Janice Block asserts that today’s law school students need practical skills including Problem Solving, Project Management, Packaging Information and Financial Literacy, among others. She is dead on!
My book, Start and Grow Your Limited Scope Practice: How to Make Money Serving the “Do It Yourself” Client, was written precisely because law schools do NOT teach enough pragmatics. Basic details about how to manage time, the importance of market research before opening a new practice, and finding ways to be more efficient with your efforts are sorely needed in any practical component of a legal education.
Hopefully, law schools will take Ms. Block’s and others’ similar comments to heart as they try to remain competitive in the legal education industry.
To help law students who are returning to school for the fall term, I have temporarily reduced the price to $8.99 for the Kindle edition* on Amazon.com (and the equivalent price in most other currencies).
To take advantage of this special, temporary price reduction, click on this link and complete your transaction on Amazon by 11:59 p.m., CDT, August 31, 2013. Remember: you do not need a Kindle to read the book; free Kindle reader software is available for most computers and mobile devices (see details at right).
Quantity discounts are also available, particularly for law students and other groups reviewing Limited Scope Representation and “Unbundling” as part of their studies. For more information, contact me through this blog or via LinkedIn.
*PDF edition price is still $9.99, though quantity discounts and redistribution rights are also available to qualified groups.