Archive for the ‘Practice & Procedure’ Category

Interested in Amicus Attorney? Now’s the Time To Buy

First time buyers of Amicus Attorney will receive 15% off their purchase (up to 10 licenses) of any Amicus product, including the front and back office product Amicus Small Firm, now through June 29th. For more information, see the order form here.

It’s interesting – the more I work on these articles and e-books about practice management for solos, the more my own practice is becoming hectic and diverse, and the more I’m seriously considering trying this CMS thing again. (I tried Time Matters originally, but it was way too much program for my needs.)  I’ve uploaded the Amicus demo, and am giving it a trial run. Either way, I’ll post a review here on Inspired Solo.

If you would like to write a product review of any CMS program you use, or are familiar with, or any other product you think solos would be interested in learning more about, please let me know either in contents or via email (sheryl at schelinlaw dot com), and I’ll hook you up as a guest reviewer!

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Habla Espanol? You Should

ed. note – OK, I know I saw this topic somewhere in the blawgosphere lately, but I’ll be darned if I can find it now. If you were the smart person who blogged about lawyers learning Spanish, please let me know so I can credit you properly! Found it! Evan Schaeffer wrote about it right here

If you don’t speak Spanish, consider learning it. Not only is it valuable intrinsically (learning a new language keeps the brain cells humming at optimal frequency, plus – learning anything new is good, people!) it may someday soon save your practice. According to some sources, almost 13% of the US population speaks Spanish as their first language, and that number is only getting bigger. What are the odds that, one of these days, your clients will include immigrants who don’t speak English – or don’t speak it well enough to assist in their case?

Consider pro bono programs, if you don’t think you’ll have a communication problem with your paying clients. If you participate in such programs at all (and more and more bars are strongly encouraging their members to do just that), you will undoubtedly run up against a language barrier one of these days.

Still not convinced? Then how about those of you (like me) in states that require attorneys to assist in indigent defense? Think you might get called down to the local detention center one of these days to meet your new client who speaks Spanish – and only a little English, not enough to tell you his or her version of the facts?

If I haven’t convinced you yet, then think of it as a marketing tactic. The percentage of Spanish-speaking immigrants in this country is growing – there’s no doubt about that. That’s a huge market that’s being underserved by the legal profession. What would be the ramifications to your practice as an Inspired Solo to be able to say, proudly “Se Habla Espanol” in your radio ads and on your website? Or even have a Spanish version of your website’s materials?

Well, I convinced myself, so I signed up to get the materials from the Missouri Bar’s upcoming teleseminar, Spanish for the Legal Professional. Tip of the hat to Evan Schaeffer for the referral and suggestion!

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Productivity Problems? Get Honest With Yourself

I recently received an email from an attorney who expressed great frustration with her inability to become as productive as she’d like. Her email was a lengthy explanation of her situation and contained a fairly complete analysis of the different factors impeding her progress in this area. Her main culprit, she said, was her email inbox. She complained bitterly about how long it took to go through this mail and respond to the few threads she thought merited a response. She just couldn’t understand why it was the way it was – or what she had to do to fix it. Her problem, in a nutshell, she described as a “lack of information.”

I feel so strongly for this woman! This is a universal problem for solos of all stripes. And it’s an emotional one – we feel robbed of our time and energy when we realize we’re spending all of both on items that don’t fulfill us or move our dreams forward.  Certainly, in a time when people are declaring “email bankruptcy,” we can all appreciate her antipathy towards her inbox – heck, most of us probably share it!

But as much as I feel for anyone in this situation, I also know there’s a problem in the way this woman sees the problem. How do I know this? Because I see her emails – they’re more properly described as letters, I think – frequently over 15 paragraphs long, incredibly well written, amazingly helpful to the person who initiated the thread to which the woman’s responding. There’s a ton of value in her emails!

So what’s the problem? It’s not the kind of value she wants to create. The problem, in short, is one of self-honesty: she sees her problem as other-imposed. I see it as self-directed. She doesn’t have to respond with missives. She doesn’t have to respond at all. She chooses to, because it gives her something in return. Now, realize, please – there is absolutely no value judgment here. The choices themselves are neutral in value – the value is in how well the choice matches up with your intentions.

If I choose to lose weight, but I keep eating cake and ice cream, there’s no match-up here. This is a problem.  If I choose instead to eat properly but never exercise, there’s a slightly better match-up but it’s not optimal. When I choose to make all my actions support that goal of losing weight, I’ve reached the optimal state of productivity.

The problem? None of us are ever going to reach that optimal state 24/7/365. We’re all going to stumble a bit. Frankly, I think the occasional stumble is important – it makes life interesting, more valuable, and more “educational”! (I know I learn the most from my failures, not my successes.) We each have to choose where, on that spectrum, we want to fall. What suits me may not suit you. And vice versa. And that’s the way it should be.

So bottom line: you have to get honest with yourself about (A) your intentions, (B) your actions, and (C) how well (B) supports (A), if you want to achieve real productivity.  How to do this – the tricks and tips – can and do fill endless volumes. I’m not sure the mechanics are as important, though, as truly understanding that one simple equation: how well does B support A?  Only a thoroughly honest answer is going to help you there.

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Foonberg’s Rule

Is He – or She – Really a Lawyer?

You’ve got a new way to find out now, at

Stemming from a discussion on the Solosez listserv regarding content of posts and nondisclosure of lawyer status (which is against the rules of that list), this site was created as a portal to check the credentials of someone who claims to be a lawyer.

I’ll let the site owner know that the South Carolina site is located at the bar association’s Member Directory site, here.


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“Why Can’t I Meet My Goals?”

We talked a bit earlier about wild goals, but here, I want to discuss the goals that drive your business. You do have a set of those, right? (I smell another post coming! Well, that might be the dog, actually … still.)

I don’t know about you, but often I find myself struggling when it comes time to actually implementing the programs and procedures that will get me to the successful side of my goals.  I can set the goals, define them, quantify success for them, and figure out exactly what I need to do to get there. But for some reason, when it comes time to actually do something to meet them, I start to falter. Or I might start strong but then waver and suddenly, I wake one day, and realize I haven’t done anything lately to meet that goal. Not a nice feeling, that.

Here are some tips and tricks I’ve picked up along the way to help you troubleshoot your goals projects – see if anything here jumpstarts you again on the road to success:

  1. Strong, clear reasons. You need to know why you’re doing what you’re doing. “To make more money” won’t cut it. Try, “if I don’t do this, I will starve.” Now that’s a reason I could get behind! And don’t stop at one or two. Write down as many as you can possibly think of. This part’s crucial: write it down.
  2. Don’t miss a step. When you’re looking at a goal that’s a project – more than one step – in the GTD terminology, you want to make sure you understand fully each and every step. Write them down in a planner or journal so you can have a step-by-step guide to refer to regularly. When we’re stuck, sometimes it’s a question of having missed a preliminary step, or glossing over it. In those instances, it pays to go back to an earlier step and give yourself a “do-over.”
  3. Forgive yourself, frequently and with abandon. It’s so easy to get caught up in the “musts” of goals. “I must change. I must exercise daily. I must sign these clients.” That’s good for motivation but what happens when you don’t succeed, or when it takes longer than you thought it would? Frequently, it results in self-blame, which produces guilt and embarrassment, two of the most useless emotions ever. Seriously – what do they produce? Nothing. They don’t motivate – not really. They don’t teach us anything. Useless. So when you find yourself getting angry with yourself, take a breather and forgive yourself – actively. Repeat as often as necessary. Say it aloud if it helps. Just shove that guilt away and don’t accept it.
  4. Keep a written record. Sometimes with goals we’re not really honest with ourselves about our efforts. Writing down every single thing you did to support that goal (and every single thing you did that didn’t support the goal!) is a great way to gain some clarity.
  5. Think of decisions, not willpower. If we’re talking about behavioral changes – say, to become more assertive in negotiations – we may think of it in terms of willpower. “I lack the willpower to drop my doormat ways and become assertive.” In reality, what drives personal growth and change isn’t willpower at all – it’s decisions. Daily decisions that, when added together, begin to accumulate into a new habit. Stop thinking about motivation and willpower. Start seeing every opportunity to exercise your new habit as just that – an opportunity to make the right decision. And treat every decision with importance.
  6. Reevaluate your desire. It happens – we sometimes lose our passion for a particular goal. Or, perhaps, we didn’t identify it correctly in the first place. Don’t be afraid to reevaluate your passion for your goal if you’re having a really hard time staying on track. Maybe it’s not the goal for you at all. Maybe it’s “close but no cigar” – in which case, spending some time thinking about what you’re really in search of will assist you in identifying the real issue.

I hope these tips help you meet your goals. Please share your own ideas in the comments section! How do you stay on track with difficult goals?

Billable Hour, Schmillable Hour: Why Giving It Up Entirely Is the Only Rational Course of Action

From Allison Shields’ excellent blog Legal Ease, we learned back in February that:

84.2 percent of attorneys that participated in an informal study conducted by the ABA Journal in November 2006 would be willing to earn less money in exchange for lower billable hour requirements. The findings were reported in a recent article in the ABA Journal e-Report (and also in the February edition of the ABA Journal).

Is this a surprise to any inspired solo? Not really. Many of us in fact first became solos due to some combination of factors which included the sheer madness of a life dictated by most large firms’ billable hour requirements. To those caught up in the quagmire, though, it might seem like you’re the only one who feels the way you do. In this sense, the ABA’s informal study serves a valuable purpose in communicating this simple fact: you, who inwardly rebel at the tyranny of the billable hour, yet feel enslaved by its rewards? You’re most definitely not alone.

OK, we have that settled. Now, take the next step, will you? Sure, recognizing that there is a problem is half the battle – but only half. What are you going to do about it?

Sure, you have options. You can convince your senior partners to lower the requirements. What’s going to happen, assuming lightning strikes and the planets align and you find a magic wand all at the same time? Even if a large law firm is convinced to give lower requirements a try, they will inevitably be pressured to raise them again at the next yearly review. The competition is just too fierce.

This is why I believe that the only rational course of action is to abandon the model altogether and go to value billing, flat rates, or any other billing method besides billable hours, and make the metric that counts something really soft and subjective – client satisfaction, measured by periodic mid-representation and lengthier exit questionnaires. (And if you’re truly tuned into your clients, you won’t have a problem.)

And if that’s about as likely in your firm as the earth opening up and swallowing you whole, then maybe you’d like life as an inspired solo, where you can create your own practice any way you can possibly imagine. If it makes sense for you and your clients, it’s a valid model.

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Get More Done By Starting Your Day With MIT

No, I don’t want you to go to genius school in Massachusetts. MIT stands for “Most Important Task” and Leo from zen habits is here to tell you why you should use this concept in planning your day. I’d define it briefly as “the one thing, related to your goals, that you’re willing to commit to getting done today, come hell or high water.” You can even, as Leo does, pick three MITs. Whatever you can realistically commit to getting done inside one day.

Now, I’d add a word of caution here: This is a great concept but it could easily backfire, and I see two main ways that could happen:

  1. Making the accomplishment of your MIT more important than accomplishing your goal. Don’t forget the reason behind the MIT. There’s no denying that checking off those “to-dos” produces a massively good feeling. But when your next actions simply become one more box to check off, you lose the passion essential for accomplishing your goals.

  2. Picking the wrong, or too many, tasks. Choose wisely, as the old knight said in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (and yes, I am a little appalled I knew that). Make sure you are focusing on the next action in the roadmap to your goal, and that you really have the time, resources, and energy to get that task accomplished today. Why? A little thing called integrity: put simply, it’s crucial. You have to believe yourself when you say you’ll do something. Integrity isn’t just keeping our promises to others – it’s also keeping our promises to ourselves.

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