Soon, I will offer consulting services related to LSR. So let me hear from you, either by comments below or email: what questions do you still have about starting and growing your limited scope representation practice? Chances are, your questions are not unique and likely have already been answered somewhere.
Let me help you resolve any lingering doubts or questions that are holding you back.
Read the book, post your questions, then Start and Grow Your Limited Scope Practice!
According to the Amazon.com website, the book made it to #2 best seller in the Legal Services category and #6 under Law Office Education (both as of May 14, 2012). Thank you to everyone who has already purchased!
The Practising Law Institute has a reputation for providing timely, high-quality online CLEs. Sue Talia has a reputation for her no-nonsense nuts and bolts guidance in setting up a Limited Scope Practice. You can get both for the price of none in this webinar: Expanding Your Practice Using Limited Scope Representation 2012.
(Full disclosure: Ms. Talia does give a favorable comment about my book, Start and Grow Your Limited Scope Practice: How to Make Money Serving the “Do It Yourself” Client, which she previewed and helped edit. But I liked her 2009 webinar which was very similar and would have urged you to see the new one anyway.)
So go get some free CLE while you hear another perspective about the opportunities, risks and rewards of offering LSR to your law practice. And did I mention that it is FREE???
Filed under Ethics, Training
It is typically the solo and small firm lawyer who offers limited scope representation in an “unbundled” style. The LSR Practice can be as simple as a few extra tasks offered to a few clients on a limited scope basis amid the lawyer’s regular, full-scope practice.
But to get economy of scale in LSR, you need to deliver it often enough to recover your investment in standardized documents and processes. While you may have the substantive knowledge necessary to create the content for form documents and web pages, you may lack the technical skills to put it all together into document assembly systems or an easy-to-navigate website. Likewise, you may have the skills needed to translate legal documents into English from other language or vice versa, or to build email contact lists from scanned pages of addresses, but it would not be the best use of your time.
It is time for help. Think like a “big law” firm or corporation: if it can be done by someone at a lower pay grade or done faster and cheaper than you can do yourself, you should seriously consider outsourcing the task or project. Legal Process Outsourcing is a growing trend that is well established in corporate legal departments and law firms outside the United States but is starting to spread here, too. But you may not have the amount of recurring work (yet) to make your project attractive to a traditional LPO provider or your project may not even be a “legal process” that you want to offload.*
That is where open marketplaces such as Guru.com come in. Guru.com bills itself as “the largest marketplace for online talent.” The range of skills represented by the freelancers in such virtual staff marketplaces is enormous. From teenagers adept at formatting ebooks to web design experts who build websites to tax lawyers willing to take on complex cases, the list is much too large to list here.
My point today is this: do not think you have to do it all yourself or that you have to bring on permanent staff to start and grow your limited scope practice. You can be a team leader of a virtual team of “gurus” who work on a contract basis as often as you need them. Look at freelance marketplaces like Guru.com and read through their helpful advice on how to post a project and evaluate the freelancers who respond, then get going as you Start and Grow Your Limited Scope Practice!
* In a later post, I will address the ethical considerations and risks in using offshore staff to work with confidential client information, but if there is no confidential or privileged client information involved, there is no absolute bar to using staff from most places in the world.
The question comes up almost every time: “What services should I offer as ‘limited scope’?” My answer is invariably: “It depends.”
Start with what you know already. Can you break that down into advice-only and “assisted pro se” services? If someone contacted you with an ordinary version of the type of matters you already know how to handle, but only had 15% of the fee you would charge, what could you offer to do that was commensurate with that fee? Using your existing knowledge and skills is the fasted path to getting your limited scope practice out of the gate.
Next, what would you like to offer on a limited scope basis? If you want to create and build a limited scope practice in a practice area where you are not already proficient, you need to get those skills first. Read blawgs, talk to lawyers in that practice area, and master the applicable rules and law. Read case files at the courthouse for litigation matters, or documents in the public records for transactions. Most clerks offices do not charge to read public files and records, they only charge to print or certify copies.
An often-overlooked source of suggestions for the types of matters people already want on a limited scope basis is your local legal aid organization or pro bono program. They know how many people they turn away each month due to inadequate funding, staff and volunteers, and the types of cases those people had. Talk to the pro bono coordinator to see what cases they wish they could place with volunteers if there were more volunteers.
Even better, consider working on a volunteer basis in an “assisted pro se” clinic or similar program for a while. Legal aid organizations have been delivering unbundled and limited scope representation for decades. They know how to do it and may even have the forms and pleadings you could use if you agree to take a certain number of matters pro bono each year. Better than a win-win solution, this is win-win-win! The low-income client receives services, the pro bono organization gets a new volunteer and you get both the LSR skills and the satisfaction of helping a financially-challenged family.
When cost is no concern, you can buy great software that helps you get and stay organized, streamline your work processes, track your income and expenses and handle your billing and collections. In Start and Grow Your Limited Scope Practice, I devote considerable attention to ways to eliminate or significantly reduce expenses for the rest of us who really do want to keep the overhead low.
A good example is software for creating documents. You already know about and may use Microsoft Office or at least Microsoft Word. If you have not purchased Word, however, you could consider OpenOffice. OpenOffice was originally known as StarOffice, a product acquired by Sun Microsystems in 1999 and eventually released “into the wild” by Oracle after it acquired Sun. Now supported by the Apache Software Foundation, the OpenOffice suite is completely free, works on almost every type of computer operating system, and includes word processor, spreadsheet, presentation, drawing, and database applications. Each works very much as you would expect their full-price counterparts to function, so your existing office suite skills will transfer easily. And, as important as most any other feature, OpenOffice can open files from and its output can be opened by its blue-blooded cousins in case you need to exchange documents (though not all features will be available) because it uses the universal “open document format.”
As with the full-price office suites, there are applications available to extend and enhance the base functionality of the OpenOffice apps. For example, Oracle’s PDF Import Extension allows you to open an existing PDF document and edit it. With Toools, from ICSTools of Italy, you can generate invoices, build project plans and create reports. And Dmitri Popov’s Writer’s Tools adds a bunch of utilities that could be quite useful such as the timer (so you know how much time you really spent with that document open) and “Add to Notebook” to let you quickly add paragraphs, etc., to a database for later re-use. The OpenOffice.org website includes links to document and spreadsheet templates (think fax cover sheets, calendars, brochures, etc.) and an extensive set of help manuals.
Unless (and until) you need another productivity application that requires a full-priced word processor or office suite, a free alternative such as OpenOffice is both smart and easy to obtain.
One of the key ingredients of an efficient limited scope representation practice is “repeatable processes.” Wherever possible, you want to create something once and use it multiple times. That allows you to recoup the time you invest in the creation and then to profit from the work several times over.
But some have expressed concern that “canned” advice is risky and ill-advised. “Every client is different,” they argue. “Each has unique facts and issues to take into consideration.”
Well, maybe. Remember, we are not talking about mergers and acquisitions of multi-million dollar companies here. LSR is only suited for simple matters and well-contained portions of contested simple matters. You should also focus on a narrow area of the law so you hone your skills and processes as well as build your reputation for that type of service quickly.
Within the realm of likely fact patterns for, say, a certain type of residential or commercial eviction case, there are going to be recurring situations that commonly walk through your door. You can craft boilerplate solutions for simple, common situations and, as long as the bandage fits the wound, apply generic legal first aid in a limited scope legal practice.
Spend some time with the documents you have already used in the same narrow range of legal matters and look for common aspects of your solution and services. What can you carve out into a bundle that is at least 80% consistent across similar matters? How can you accommodate an easy way to address the remaining aspects of the most common fact patterns in those matters?
Make no mistake: you still have to conduct a proper intake and assess the matter to make sure it fits into your LSR target range (and thus qualifies for your reduced fee) and you still have to confirm that the remedy fits the problem. LSR is no less the practice of law than any other area.
But when you have 80+% of the work already done, you can see that minor personalization should not bog you down or eat into your expected profit across a number of similar matters. As the old retail adage goes, “you make it up in volume!”