What Should We Call This Type of Service?

Over the past decade or so, several terms have been offered to label the type of practice I describe in the book: “unbundling,” “limited scope representation,” and “limited advocacy” are just a few.  They may be interchangeable in most cases, but not everyone means the same thing when they use even the same labels.  The label “Limited Scope Representation” that I use comes straight from the Model Rules of Professional Responsibility that expressly permit such agreements.

When a lawyer and client agree to limit the scope of the lawyer’s services, they may or may not mean what another person calls “unbundling.”  But what they choose to call it does not matter.  It really only matters that the lawyer and client have a clear agreement on who will do what, by when and for what fee.

You will probably find that prospective clients do not use any of these labels.  They want a “cheap lawyer” or someone who provides “low cost legal services,” if you think in search engine terms.  Rather than focus on the name, think about how to communicate your low fees for specific, limited services in appropriate cases clearly.  You will get more inquiries that way.

Take a page from the burger business:  they sell a lot more “french fries” than they do “deep fried slices of white potato!”


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Immitation: the Sincerest Form of Flattery

If you have not read the book, Start and Grow Your Limited Scope Practice, (purchase details at right), you have missed out on the practical guidance and unique tips for getting your limited scope representation practice up and running.

You can get a sense of one part of the book, however, from today’s Wall Street Journal. In the Small Business Report section, Barbara Haislip has an article, “If You Want to Beat ‘Em, Learn From ‘Em First: Your future competitors have a lot to teach you.” In the article, Ms. Haislip observes:

Researching your rivals is a vital step for entrepreneurs entering a market…Yet too many small companies don’t do that homework.

Though her article focuses on steps a start-up should follow before entering a competitive marketplace, the concepts are equally valid–as I note in my book in more depth–for a new way of doing business in an established market. LSR practitioners can learn a LOT from other entrepreneurs in non-legal businesses in their target area and apply those lessons to improve the success of their LSR practice.

What are you waiting for? Other lawyers are starting to see the vast, untapped market of willing consumers who can pay some money for limited scope services and who are overlooked or even rejected by lawyers unable to restructure their office practice to take advantage of the opportunity these eager consumers present. Every day you wait is another day someone else has to get ahead of you. Flatter those other businesses by imitating what works for them and don’t be shy about letting them know how they helped you. You may find a rich source of referrals and peers with whom to network in the process.

So get your copy of my book today and learn how you can Start and Grow Your Limited Scope Practice. It may be the most profitable $10 you have ever invested!

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Limited Scope Pro Bono?

The Legal Services Corporation just released a full report from its Pro Bono Task Force.  The report, produced pro bono by DLA Piper, summarizes findings and recommendations of the PBTF.

One of those recommendations is to develop a “Pro Bono Toolkit” that local programs can use to help expand the ways lawyers volunteer to help those unable to afford legal assistance.  A noteworthy example of what that toolkit could include is found on page 12 of the report:

“Mechanisms for involving pro bono volunteers in providing limited assistance to pro se litigants, and otherwise empowering pro se parties.”

In other words, teach lawyers how to apply limited scope representation concepts on a volunteer basis. This makes perfect sense.  Legal aid attorneys have been delivering LSR for decades out of economic necessity.  With inadequate funding for the staff needed to fully represent the millions of low-income applicants for free legal aid, these innovative lawyers found ways to help some of those applicants handle their own legal matters.

If you have read my book, you know that I devote some ink to how to benefit from the extensive expertise that probably exists in your community legal aid office.  I won’t give it all away here, but you can quickly learn from the pros how to deliver limited scope representationand pay for it by volunteering at the same time.  Even better, when you handle pro bono cases through most legal aid organizations, they provide malpractice coverage for those cases at no charge to you in addition to the forms and mentoring to get you off and running.   That’s more than “win-win,” it is “win-win-win” because an eligible client gets legal assistance, the program gets a new volunteer and you get support as you learn a new way of delivering your valuable legal skills to people who cannot afford full-scope representation.

Oh, and did I mention that October 22-26 is National Celebrate Pro Bono Week in the U.S. and that November 5-10 is National Pro Bono Week in the U.K.?  Great timing, eh?

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Takin’ It To The Streets

Drive around any shopping area in a mid-sized suburb and you are likely to notice businesses that once shunned the strip or othe malls but have “gone retail.” Title companies, realtors, insurance agents and even financial advisors have all “gone retail” to one extent or another.

Whether to nab cheap space or to be near their customers, these businesses that do not traditionally rely on foot traffic or impulse purchases are now nestled between book stores, hair salons and coffee shops. Whatever the reason, they are now in the mix.

Now juxtapose this:  a news story by Kim Miller in the Palm Beach Post in December 2011 attracted international attention for the “Law Booth” at a Boynton Beach, Florida, mall founded by Melva Rozier, Richard Carey and Paul Burkhart. I applauded their creativity and innovative blend of “retail” and “professional services.” In a more recent story, Alice Hines at the Huffington Post provides a review after four months of operation. Business has been so good, the group is thinking about expanding. This quote caught my attention (emphasis mine):

“We thought that bankruptcy and foreclosure would be the main practice areas,” Rozier said. “But it’s much more of a cross-pollination, people who qualify for legal aid and people who can afford the regular market.”

Rozier, Carey and Burkhart have a website, but it is no “traditional” website. There are ways to pay online and submit documents electronically for review. After your payment clears, one of the lawyers will contact you.

So what do these two concepts–unconventional strip mall tenants and VERY novel lawyers-in-a-booth–have to do with each other? Simple: they show you the basic elements for “retail lawyering.” Take your practice to where the clients are, rather than making them find you.

I devoted a whole chapter in my book to how to develop this type of innovative business strategy in your own area. If you have not read it, order your copy today using the instructions on the right. Better yet, go to Amazon and download your copy right now to get started immediately.

You never know who in your area has already picked up my book and begun to strategize on how to take on the very market sector you have in mind!

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CA Readers: Buy Before Amazon Tacks on Tax

Amazon is set to begin charging sales tax on September 15 for goods sold to residents of California.  For eBooks like mine, the “residence” address is based on the billing address for your credit card.  If that is in CA, then you will pay!

Avoid the sales tax; buy your copy of Start and Grow Your Limited Scope Practice today.

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LSR Is About Innovation!

In an opinion piece that appeared September 7, 2012, on InsideCounsel.com, Juan Ramirez advocates adapting innovative technologies such as the Internet, video conferencing and even virtual reality programs such as “Second Life” to the needs of the ADR system.  “[I]t would be useful to view technology not as a mechanism for replacing lawyers, mediators and arbitrators,” he writes, “but as a way to adjust their roles.”

That captures one of the key points discussed in my book, Start and Grow Your Limited Scope Practice: How to Make Money Serving the “Do It Yourself” Client (UK, DE, FR):  there are novel ways to deliver legal services that are much in demand at prices that more people can afford.  We, as lawyers, need only think innovatively and creatively.

The book includes a number of ideas you will not find anywhere else, including those books that cost several times more than this one.  Specifically, one chapter, “A 7-Step Plan for Success,” walks the reader through the process of identifying the need and other aspects of the local market, then tailoring the marketing and delivery of services to them.

There are no limits to the creative ways that motivated lawyers can find to serve clients who need their services.  Traditions have their value, but when they hold us back and block our innovative thought processes, they get in the way.  While Ramirez’s idea of using virtual people to resolve disputes seems far-fetched, I have to ask, “why not?”  Some solutions we have not imagined will one day be common place in the legal services profession.  Will any of them be your idea?

LSR is one type of law practice that is exploding.  Will you be left behind or will you get into the marketplace at the forefront?

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Anyone Can Learn This!

In Start and Grow Your Limited Scope Practice: How to Make Money Serving the “Do It Yourself” Client, I go through the basic entry-level aspects of starting a brand new LSR practice or adding it to your existing law practice.  Also included are expert-level recommendations and tips you will not find anywhere else.  It is all jammed into this eBook for under $10 that you can download right now and start reading, even if you do not have a Kindle!  (More details on that at the right.)

Most law school grads have little training on how to actually make a living practicing law.  They hope someone will “give them a job” when they graduate so they can gradually build the confidence to possibly strike out on their own or with a few partners.  In the current economy, that is increasingly rare.  But don’t waste your legal education; get started on your own using the guidance in my book.  You are the primary audience I wrote it for!

If you have already read the book, I hope you will share your comments and experiences on this site.  My goal is to inspire and motivate all lawyers, law students and law professors to embrace this service delivery model and then innovate further to find new and better ways to address the vast unmet legal needs of the public.  One person called it, “legal services for the other 99%.” I don’t know about that, but I can vouch for the existence of at least a huge number of everyday people who want to pay and can pay something for limited legal assistance.

All you need to do is make it easy for them to do so (and you will find many ideas in the book).

What is stopping you?

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Saving Money on Software – Part 2: Case Management Software

In my first post under this topic, I discussed free and low-cost word processing software options.  This post will look into ways to manage your high volume of legal matters so you do not end up managed BY them.

Legal matter management software (a/k/a case management software and practice management software) is available at price points from little or nothing to amazingly expensive.  It depends on what you need as to whether any of the many available options is suitable for your present and future needs.  Your level of technology skills will also affect the product you select.

In my companion blawg, “Practical Compliance,” I posted a 4-part series on making the best software choice for a small firm, legal department or organization.  Rather than repeat that content here, you can use these links to read Part 1, Part 2, Part 3 and Part 4. In those posts, I described a strategy as follows:

1. Decide what you need and want, THEN shop.
2. Stay open to changing your requirements after you shop.
3. Let the actual users have a voice.
4. Keep the future open-ended.
5. Make a long-term decision.

Instead, this post will point out a few feature considerations you should review before you make an investment of time and or money on any choice.  (Full disclosure:  I have a consulting relationship with one vendor mentioned below, LucidIQ.)

The LSR practice needs a few features in case management software that are common to other types of law practice, but not usually at the same time:

  1. Ability to assemble batches of similar documents for multiple clients using information specific to each client with minimal data entry
  2. Ability to link tasks in sequence to help each client’s matter “self-manage” to a limited extent
  3. Ability to present key details about each client matter in easy-to-find format
  4. Accessible outside the office
  5. Able to give restricted access to clients to update their own matters with documents, data, notes, etc.
  6. Affordable monthly subscription options

Here are the reasons for each of those features:

1.  Batch Document Assembly.  The more clients you serve with each single effort, the more effectively you are using your limited resources (staff time, e.g., or your own).  When you can click a button and generate the standard form of a document for multiple clients, customized with their particular data, you are much more effective than when you have to open each client’s matter and create their documents separately.  Ideally, you will assemble the same basic document for a dozen or more clients at a time with similar legal matters this way.

2.  Linked-Action Workflow.  You can have “two dimensional,” passive tasks on a list or you can have tasks that are 3D and actually play an active role in keeping the matter moving along.  The first type requires more effort each time you use it; the second, after you configure the task, actually shaves time off your file maintenance work each time you use it, resulting in a return on your initial investment.  When you mark Task A “completed” in a routine matter, your CMS should know what comes next and move to that next step in the flow of work.  Even better, the CMS should be able to send an email to your clients when their matter gets to pre-determined stages to either alert them that they need to take a certain action or that you have completed that task or stage.  This helps you satisfy your ethical obligation to keep clients reasonably informed while increasing client satisfaction.

3.  Pragmatic UI.  If you have to dig in your matters to find the key details you look for frequently, you lose time.  Make sure you can configure the matter summary screen to at least present the most important details about the file on the top level to save you from searching, browsing, clicking…..

4.  Accessibility.  I cannot think of a good reason to buy a CMS (or rent one) that does not offer easy access from any Internet connection.  As you know from some ideas presented in the book, Start and Grow Your Limited Scope Practice: How to Make Money Serving the “Do It Yourself” Client, there are a number of service delivery models that involve getting out of the office.  If the product does not at least have a web client that works as well for your needs as the local version, move on to another option.  You want to be untethered so you can work anywhere there is a connection.

5.  Client DIY Input.  The fundamental concept beneath “unbundled” and “limited scope” legal services is that the client is doing more of the work than in traditional, full-scope representation.  Your CMS needs to accommodate that in a way that helps you be more efficient while preserving confidentiality and security.  Most CMS products allow configurable “roles” for users, but many still do not embrace or support the idea of direct client access to limited portions of the electronic matter file.  Bankruptcy software is a notable exception here; take a cue from their strategy to help high-volume, low-margin consumer bankruptcy attorneys succeed.  It is less work on you and your staff for a client to be able to upload a PDF of their document, for example, than even to email it to you.  Same for keying in personal data such as SSNs, dates, etc.

6.  Affordable, monthly payments.  Get going without a major, up-front investment in a product that may not work for or grow with you.  Make sure you spend your limited technology budget wisely.  While you may opt for an annual subscription that saves a little off the monthly fee, avoid multi-year subscriptions until you are sure this is the product you want to work with for a long time.  The key, as emphasized in the book, is to keep your on-going costs low, paying only for what you need when you need it, not for expensive tools with features that you may never grow into.

There may be other legal case management software vendors who offer all of these, but I know for certain that you can find them all in Case Manager Pro by LucidIQ.  Though CMP was designed for mass tort case complexity, it has a great screen design that I personally would prefer to use for a limited scope practice over any others I have seen.  Shop around, compare features, do the demos and ask for a trial login for each of your top 3-4 CMS vendors.

You should be able to quickly see how the software helps you cut or keep costs low when you set it up correctly.

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‘Failing Law Schools’

There is a good interview with law professor Brian Tamanaha, author of the new book, Failing Law Schools , over on the Inside Higher Ed website.  You can read the entire interview, but the part I want to highlight is his discussion of the changes needed in our law schools.

Mr. Tamanaha argues that the present state of law school education is not only unsustainable, but, due to the high costs of a legal education and low employment rate for law graduates, unethical. 

While Tamanaha has some suggestions for improvement, the ones to take up relate to restructuring the legal education syllabus for each student to ensure some “survival skills” are present and that the efforts law schools put into such restructuring are not penalized by the ABA accredidation system because they take resources out of the “intellectual” components. 

Students should at least be exposed to non-traditional delivery strategies for legal services because the traditional form of full-scope, hourly-billing law practice is shrinking rapidly and being replaced with alternative, outcomes-based, unbundled and other types of law practice.

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“Obomny Care” for Law?

Whether you agree or disagree with some or all of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (also known by a lot of names like Obama Care), the reality is that the medical services sector is adapting to it.  What can we learn from their efforts that will help a Limited Scope Representation practice?

One thing is how the medical profession is considering or already implementing changes in direct services to patients.  Facing a predicted shortage of primary care physicians until medical schools can catch up to the growth in the number of insured patients, hospitals, clinics and small physician practices are looking for new ways to meet the needs of patients in an effective, efficient and profitable manner.  (Sound familiar?)

There are going to be changes in the way insurance companies pay for and physicians practice medicine, and those are likely to occur whether or not the law’s provisions all remain intact.  Some physicians will change the interludes between procedures and follow-up office visits; others will delegate more patient interaction to their assistants.  All will look for more ways to operate with greater effectiveness at lower costs.

In my book, I explain the benefits of learning from other professions and businesses in your community.  I expect we will see some inspiring creativity in the medical field in coming years that will spark innovation in the legal services world among others.

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