More Lawyer Videos, From Beverly Hills IP Solo Michael Cohen
As my regular readers know, I'm a major fan of videos - and I've been tracking solos' use of videos for marketing in posts here and here. And I see today that my Third Wave colleague Chuck Newton has posted on the topic as well.
More and more solos are using videos to convey their message. Recently, I discovered this video series by Beverly Hills IP attorney, Michael Cohen. Cohen's videos are more polished than the usual YouTube fare; they're posted here at Video Jug.
If you're using video drop me a line - I'd be happy to link to it here at MyShingle.com
Book Trailer for Solo By Choice: Proof of Concept and Work in Progress
Here's a video trailer that I created for my upcoming book,
This Solo Has No Problem With Avvo
For a few days now, the blogosphere has been abuzz with news of the dismissal of a class action lawsuit against lawyer directory and rating service, Avvo and the subsequent Wall Street Journal's endorsement of Avvo. These events evoked an impassioned post by respected solo-centric blogger Susan Cartier Liebel, who argues that Avvo's rating system harms solos, does not help consumers and unfairly generates investor profits off the backs of lawyers who never asked for a ratings system. As such, Cartier Liebel urges lawyers not to participate in Avvo's system. Since then, commenters to Scott Greenfield's Avvo posthave launched a debate over Avvo's benefit to consumers and its impact on solos. Though I'm a little late to this party (having been away and off the grid for two days), I wanted to chime in to make clear that not all of us solos oppose Avvo, nor should we. Here's why.
First, the numerical ranking component of Avvo that accounts for most of the site's controversy, quite honestly, has the least significance. Generally speaking, numerical rankings have less meaning where there's other information available on which to base a decision. For example, consider decision making process for selecting a hotel online, at aggregator sites like Hotels.com or Travelocity. First, I'll narrow my choices based solely on location, price and amenities offered without any regard to ratings. Then, for those hotels that meet my initial criteria, I'll review visitors' comments, discounting those with different preferences from mine. Thus, even if a commenter criticizes a hotel room as overly shabby, I'd still choose it over the competition if it's right on the beach, because I value convenience more than decor. And even if the hotel received a numerical ranking of 1 out of 5, I'd assume that the ranking reflected the poor decor (which doesn't matter to me), so the low score wouldn't deter me. By contrast, the 1 out of 5 rating might drive a neat freak to another hotel - not because of the number itself, but the information behind it.
I don't think that my decision making methodology is particularly unique. Just as I choose my hotel room, when consumers choose a lawyer through a site like Avvo, most will look at the ratings number only after they've screened prospects to identify a lawyer with the appropriate specialty and and location. Thereafter, they'll look at comments and perhaps after that, they'll consider the numerical ranking. Moreover, as Avvo itself says here, the numerical ranking is merely one piece of information that may feed into a client's calculus in choosing a lawyer. But for most people, a ranking is not at all dispositive, and indeed, as I've already shown, in many cases, it's not even relevant. I'm willing to trust prospective clients to give ratings the weight that they do, or more accurately, don't deserve. Also, while some solos may fear the odd case a disgruntled clients could post negative information and lower a lawyer's score, the truth is, that clients can already do plenty of damage to a lawyer's reputation, in a far less controlled environment.
Where I see the value of Avvo to solos isn't so much in rankings (which again, most consumers disregard) but in serving as an aggregator of information about lawyers. Avvo lets lawyers upload links to their websites and articles they've authored and include favorable endorsements from colleagues and clients, without any charge. It's this information, far more than the ratings, that provides consumers with a tool to make decisions. (Incidentally, I'd object if Avvo forced lawyers to pay to enhance their profiles or upload additional information without allowing them to opt out of a listing entirely).
And because Avvo gives lawyers control over their entries, at no charge, it equalizes the playing field for solos. Right now, individual consumers who want to find lawyers (and who don't know anyone who can make a personal referral) have limited resources: Yellow Pages, search engine or online directories. For individual solos, Yellow Pages are prohibitively expensive, not to mention, increasingly less effective as more consumers turn to the Internet to find service providers. And search engines won't help solos "get found" unless they invest in costly SEO (search engine optimization) or develop a pervasive Internet presence through blogging - which quite simply, isn't for everyone. A robust online directory that doesn't charge solos an admission price provides a way for clients to find solos and small firms with the expertise they need who don't have Internet presence and can't afford the Yellow Pages. Seems to me that's a win-win for consumers and solos.
Finally, I don't understand the objection to Avvo's profit motive, particularly from solos, who are, after all, the most entrepreneurial of lawyers. As I see it, Avvo is stepping in and filling a need for an easily searchable and aggregated source of information about lawyers, a need that our bar associations could have satisfied, but didn't. How many bar associations publish as much as an online list of lawyers organized by specialty and links to their websites? Perhaps a handful at best, and those are local bar associations that charge a fee for the service. How many bar associations keep lawyers' articles and resumes on file, for distribution to prospective clients calling for referrals? Zero. The only reason that Avvo's business model has any viability at all is because our bar associations, who by all rights, had first dibs on the kind of information that could be used to establish a lawyer directory, didn't do it themselves. More power to Avvo for filling a gap, just like more power to those solos who identify niche markets and develop innovative services to satisfy them.
I don't much care whether Avvo succeeds or not; Avvo isn't the first venture to list and rank lawyers, nor will it be the last. But if Avvo fails, it should fail because consumers don't get value from the service, and not because lawyers don't like it.
Google Yourself...For Fun and Necessity
AP is reporting here on a recent study by Pew Internet and American Life Project that found that 47 percent of US adult internet users have searched for information about themselves through Google or some other search engine. That's double the percentage of users who did so in 2002. Mary Madden, a Pew research specialist quoted in the article expressed some surprise that more users don't engage in "self-searching," particularly with the increase in content that's posted about us on the Internet.
For lawyers practicing in an Internet age, self-searching isn't just an act of fun or vanity, but one of absolute business necessity. In this electronic era, we must assume that existing and prospective clients and colleagues will search for us on Google, so we need to stay ahead by always keeping on top of what's out there.
One More Day to Register for Business Building Accountability Club
If you're still interested in registering for the upcoming Business Building Accountabilty Club, scheduled for December 5, there's still time...up until midnight tonight. To view more details on the event and/or to register (there's no cost), visit this link. And for those who have already registered, watch for the agenda and course materials in your email tomorrow.
UPDATE - CONF. CALL # NOW AVAILABLE: - Come Celebrate With Me...Join My Business Building Accountability Club
As 2007 draws to a close, I'm anticipating my 5th Anniversary of blogging at MyShingle and the long awaited release of my book, Solo by Choice: How to Be the Lawyer You Always Wanted to Be. Yet, while I'm in the mood to celebrate, at the same time, I find that I still have a list of marketing initiatives and law-firm related projects a mile long. I'd like to finish many of these tasks to lay the foundation for making 2008 great. So to get myself on track and to celebrate my impending milestones, I'm forming a Business Building Accountability Club.
Are you trying to get a blog up and running? Interested in putting video up on your website? Finish up an article? Can't get your nerve up to make those cold calls? Have a marketing idea that you're not sure how to implement. I've got those items plus dozens more on my list! So why don't we work together to keep ourselves on track to finish up what we need to before the year ends? I'll admit that I have another ulterior motive in starting up this group: it's allowed me to cross one item off my list - figuring out how to use registration software and set up a teleconference.
So...if you're interested in joining my group, follow this link to the event registration. The kick off call is scheduled for December 5, 2007 and there's NO CHARGE! I hope you can join the call. [NOTE: For those who signed up anytime before today, Nov. 27 at 2:45 pm, you can revisit the link to obtain the call in phone number. I will also be emailing the call in number along with the agenda].
What Does A Sample Invoice Look Like?
I realize that these days, alternative billing is all the rage - and I too am a proponent of alternatives to the billable hour. Still, there are times when you have to resort to the billable hour, either at the insistence of a client, or under some of the guidelines for submitting a fee petition to the court.
So if you're billing by the hour, what should your invoice look like? When I started my own practice, I had the benefit of knowing what a sample invoice looked like, having reviewed many of the outgoing bills at my former firm. Since then, I've seen many other invoices: as a contract attorney for a federal agency (a part time position that I held in the early years of my practice), my responsibilities included evauating and ruling on fee petitions submitted by lawyers on behalf of clients who prevailed in litigation against the agency. And I've come across other fee petitions in researching caselaw for fee petitions that I've submitted on behalf of my own clients (which favorable results, I'm happy to report).
So while invoices are second nature to me, I realized that some lawyers, either those starting a practice from government, or those straight out of law school may not know what an invoice looks like. And because I believe that the best examples are those straight from real life, rather than create a "pretend invoice," I'm presenting a copy of this Fee Petition, one of several submitted by the attorney representing the defendant in Capitol Records v. Foster, who was sued for allegedly downloading copyrighted materials. Ultimately, in this decision, the court granted $68,685.23 of the $105,680.7 total amount sought. While recovering only sixty percent of a bill doesn't seem like much of a victory, chances are that the individual defendant in this matter could not have afforded more than a fraction of that bill. Plus, the court noted in its decision that once it had decided preliminarily to grant attorneys' fees, the defendants' activity stepped up considerably, thereby suggesting that some of the work may have been performed to run up the bill since the record company would be paying.
As a general matter, the attorney's invoice offers the level of detail necessary to convey to the client - and a reviewing court (if your bills are ever disputed) the amount of work done. That aside, the invoice has some problems as well. Personally, I would not include the same level of detail regarding my conversations with my client, if only to preserve attorney-client confidentiality. And for a bill of that magnitude, I wouldn't charge for the cost of Westlaw or a six minute phone call.
The court's decision is useful as well, because it offers insight into how clients might scrutinize the bill. For example, the court refused to reimburse the attorney for duplicative items, such as the unnecessary presence of two attorneys at a settlement conference. More importantly, the court did not award fees for supplemental filings to correct pleadings that should have been filed correctly from the outset. Think about it: if a judge reviewing a bill does not believe it appropriate to compensate for mistakes or duplicative effort, how will your client feel?
I'll try to locate and periodically post other fee requests. If you're interested in finding this information yourself, you can do some research on attorney fee awards either on Google or with your preferred research service, and then plug the docket number (assuming it's a federal case) into PACER to pull the fee request. [BTW, if you don't have a PACER account, you ought to; it's free with an .8 cents a page download charge - and there's no better place to find sample complaints, briefs and other pleadings than PACER].
Score By Using SCORE For Your Practice
This week, Duct Tape Marketing features a post about SCORE, a non-profit association dedicated to entrepreneur formation, growth and education. Among its many services, SCORE can match you up with a counselor who can help with your business plan or advise on other issues related to getting a business off the ground.
What most lawyers don't realize, however, is that they too can use SCORE as a resource for their practices. Two years ago, I posted on how solos can use SCORE, after receiving a tip from a reader who'd had a successful experience using the group. Though SCORE may not suit your specific needs, since it's a free service, you have nothing to lose by trying it out. And don't forget other resources, such as law practice management advisors (if your bar has one) who can also provide advice on starting a firm at no cost. After all, you've been paying bar dues long enough; might as well get your money's worth by using an LPM Advisor's services.
Don't Forget Conventional Media When Plugging Your Blog or Your Products
Michael Melcher, author of the The Creative Lawyer reminds us here of the huge impact that a mention in a
good old fashioned media source can have on blog traffic or book sales. Melcher reports that after his letter to the editor appeared in the New York Times, traffic to his blog increased substantially and his book sales jumped, placing him briefly at the atop the list of best selling law related books.
Incidentally, I've read through much of the Creative Lawyer so that I could review it here. But reading the book doesn't do the book justice; you've also got to do the exercises and complete the checklists to derive the full value, I think. I'm still working my way through some of those which has delayed my review. However, even now, I can say that Creative Lawyer will force you to rethink your practice and lead you to ideas to change it to achieve more satisfaction. With just eight weeks left until the end of 2007, you'd do well to purchase this book now and lay the foundation for making 2008 a more creative and personally satisfying year for your practice.
Billing Alternatives For Solos
Here's an article from the ABA Journal entitled Billing by the Slice, which offers some alternative billing ideas by and for solos. With "billing by the slice," lawyers bill for a case in stages - a practice used by Ted Waggoner of Rochester Indiana. From the article, Waggoner describes that:
he might tell a client that for a certain fee he will make calls and write letters to settle a case. If the case doesn’t settle, he will conduct discovery for another set fee. If the case still doesn’t settle after discovery and the client wishes to continue and file the lawsuit, a third specific fee will be due.
On the other hand, a new lawyer, Harsharn Makkar admits that she sometimes lowballs prices to bring cases in the door. But she derives value from these cases because "she learns about an area of law that will make her more efficient the next time she handles a similar issue."
Both Waggoner and Makkar say that what's most important to clients is knowing prices up front. When clients know how much it will cost, they're less likely to argue about the bill down the line.
And clients are less likely to argue about their bill if it’s what they expected, he notes.
That's what makes flat fees or alternative billing options preferable to open ended cases where lawyers charge by the hour. And solo and small firm lawyers aren't the only ones who fall prey to clients who can't pay. Consider this lawsuit filed by Fulbright & Jaworski against its high profile client, Bernard Kerik. The firm ran up a bill of over $200,000 - fees which Kerik claims were unexpected and which he'd have avoided with a lower cost attorney had he known.
Many litigation attorneys complain that they can't set budgets for their cases because they have no control over opposing counsel. While I agree that it's difficult to account for every variable in litigation, that doens't mean that lawyers can't at least attempt to ballpark an estimate - or give a "not to exceed cap" (subject to change for legitimately unanticipated events). But setting those kinds of budgets takes work. For a look at some of the factors that go into setting a fee estimate in a litigation case, consider this resource, John Tothman's Devils Advocate Managing Legal Fees Guide. Tothman's resources are not frequently cited by most value billing proponents, perhaps because he advocates for clients seeking to trim bloated legal bills rather than lawyers looking for creative ways to increase revenues. But Tothman does endorse alternative billing strategies and he's clear that cheaper is not always better. Also, for additional intelligent discussion of alternative billing, check out Allison Shields' collection of posts at her Legal Ease Blog.