Factors in Setting Law Firm Goals and Objectives

Factors in setting law firm goals and objectives are different from objectives and goals for any commercial or industrial enterprise. This is so because of the difference in the nature of the services rendered by the two. There are certain characteristics of law firms, other than the well-known differences between industrial enterprises and professional organizations, which can be set and defined to come up with a model for the organization. Basically, the process of planning and setting goals involves building a model to serve as the development guide for the firm and determination of the way to achieve the goals and the time it will take. There are a number of characteristics of a model which are the factors that affect setting of goals and objectives in a law firm. Throughout this article, the various factors that affect the setting up of goals and objectives in a law firm will be discussed.

Size

According to many lawyers, size is the status in the legal community, prestigious clients, the ability to handle more interesting as well as complex legal work and stability. In most case, these are accompanied by other characteristics like minimal opportunity for significant participation in management, impersonal atmosphere; need to follow the policies and procedures that are already in place and little direct contact with clients which are not attractive to some lawyers. Generally, lawyers in larger firms earn more as compared to those in smaller firms. This is because the large firms attract the large corporate clientele who pay higher rates. As a result, if the model objective is to be a considerably larger firm than the current firm size, a top notch litigation department should be emphasized.

Ownership

Ownership is one of the factors in setting law firm goals and objectives that should be considered keenly. Maintaining high partners to associates ratio in a law firm is a key factor in increasing the income of the partners. The associates actually are the ones that make profits for the partners and that is why the ratio of partners to associates in large firms is always between a third and two thirds of the lawyers. This ratio is mainly affected by: the turnover of associates, the general growth of the firm and the time required to become a partner. For instance in a firm where the rate of turnover of associates is high, the average time needed for an associate to become a partners is six months, there will be a phenomenal growth rate in order to maintain a low partners to associates ratio.

Type of law and client

The type of client and the type of law are two closely related factors that have to be looked at when setting the goals and objectives of a law firm. The large firms normally serve the professionals, the affluent and the corporate clients. These firms increase expertise in legal areas corresponding to their clients’ needs. On top of the regular law areas which include: tax, general corporate, real estate, probate and litigation, some firms are developing distinct specialties either by industry or by function. Some areas of specialization are: labour law, banking natural resources and health care.

Each of the factors in setting law firm goals and objectives explained above should be considered carefully by the law firms during their planning. Planning should be based on the current strengths and weaknesses of a firm. Other external factors like competition and the local economy should also be considered.

The Case of a Boutique Law Firm Vs A Conventional Law Firm

The legal scene for some time has been changing with increase in specialized cases. These deal with areas like immigration and environmental laws. The economic conditions have also not been very supporting of the bigger firms as they are finding it hard to manage huge administrative overheads. Out of these times has emerged the phenomenon of a boutique law firm. These have usually been formed by practicing lawyers who left bigger firms and started their own practices which focus on niche areas.

Characteristics of a Boutique law firm:

1. It is usually smaller than a general practice law firms. At times it could just consist of one or two lawyers who have come together due to a shared passion for a particular area of law.

2. Most of these have been formed by attorneys who left bigger law firms to start their own practices. A good example is Chicago Law Partners which was started by five attorneys from Chicago law firm of Neal, Gerber and Eisenberg.

3. It focuses on a niche or a few niche areas rather than all aspects of law and order. For example, Chicago Law Partners takes up cases only for not-for-profit organizations.

4. They market themselves as “specialists” in their chosen area like immigration laws or maritime laws.

5. The fees charged by these firms are usually higher than the conventional general practice law firms.

Pros compared to a conventional law firm:

• A firm that handles all kind of cases may not have the depth and knowledge required for specialized cases say a divorce which involves child custody.

• If you find a boutique law firm which is passionate about your cause, you may be able to get their services at lower cost. And the dedication that stems from their passion for the cause is an added bonus.

• A boutique law firm because of its knowledge and involvement may be able to assist with investigating the case besides fighting it on your behalf.

• The staff at a boutique firm tends to provide more than just legal advice. Due to their vast experience, they can also provide personal and professional advice to deal with the issues you may be facing during your legal battle.

Cons compared to a conventional law firm:

• First is the cost of hiring such a firm which will be higher than that of hiring a conventional firm. This may reduce over time given their lower overheads but that is still to be seen.

• They may not have enough staff which could be deterrent at times for the case in hand.

As a concept it looks to be a better option than a conventional set-up especially for handle highly complex and specific cases. But, are firms ready to focus on just one area, is yet to be proven in the long run. Also needs to be proven is the implication that they are more than just small law firms attired in a new garb.

Common Qualities of the Best Law Firms

In my 12 years of practice, I have been employed with a wide variety of law firms. When I decided to open my own practice, I started thinking about the qualities that make up the best law firms. In determining the best law firms do you include things such as employee benefits, firm culture and employee turnover rates? Or do you focus on the qualities that affect a law firm’s most precious commodity – the client? My take on this is that the best law firms employ quality attorneys and staff with the highest of ethical standards and the desire to fight within their ethical bounds for their clients.

One key factor in having a successful law practice is an effective leader. A good leader will have a vision for the firm’s direction, a commitment to serving its clients, and a desire to find like-minded people that believe not only in the clients, but the brand of the firm. I have found in my practice that effective leaders can quickly change with success and growth. They often lose touch with the very people that helped them grow into a successful powerhouse. It is easy to go from a scenario of weekly partner/associate lunches to rarely, if ever, seeing a partner in the office. Effective leaders at the best law firm have a good understanding of the legal work coming out of the office, the overall satisfaction of its clients, and an awareness of the employees’ overall job satisfaction. With success and growth, it is easy to lose touch with these important factors, but good leaders will remain cognizant of these factors, even with exponential growth of the firm.

The best law firms also have compassion for their clients. When attorneys at these firms meet with clients, it’s never about sharing the attorney’s successes. Rather, it’s listening to your clients concerns, determining their overall goal through representation by the firm, and showing empathy towards their situation. Many attorneys look at their clients and see dollar signs. They look at the opportunity to bill or the total fee they will earn on a contingency for a huge settlement. These attorneys fail to recall one of the most basic ethical consideration of attorneys, acting in the best interest of the client. Because at the end of the day, all the billable hours in the world won’t make a practice successful If you don’t satisfy and take good care of your clients. Firms with this mindset often have high turnover rates because they make billing THE priority. They burn their attorneys out and bring in brand new attorneys and start the process fresh with them. This can easily lead to dissatisfaction by clients. They may not know from one month to the next which attorney is representing them.

Another key quality of the best law firms is a narrow focus on a particular area of law. The days of general practitioners is (or should be) gone. Laws are complex and can change in an instant depending on legislation or new case law handed down by appellate courts. The best law firms have focus on one area of law and become very good at it. They are aware of recent changes as well as developing changes in their area of practice. With such a narrow focus, they can change strategy in an instant and become the authority to their clients by showing their knowledge in a particular area of law. Beware of the lawyer who claims to practice in all areas of civil litigation. While it is possible, consider that opposing counsel may have a more narrow focus. They may have that golden nugget of information that can make the case a winner for them and a loser for your client.

There are a number of other factors to consider when trying to determine the best. That may be the discussion for a future article. But those discussed here are, in this author’s opinion, the most important factors to consider when trying to figure out what makes a firm one of the best.

Medical Records Retrieval for Law Firms

• MODERN MEDICAL RECORDS RETRIEVAL SERVICE – AUTOMATION, COMPLIANCE, SAVINGS

The modern Medical Records Retrieval (MRR) service is a combination of modern web-based technology and a rules-compliant outsource solution. Historically lawyers and their staff would have to set aside a portion of their time, often a lot of time, to capture necessary information for cases that involved medical records. It’s not that the process is complex. Quite the contrary, every attorney, paralegal, and litigation-support person knows exactly what needs to be done.

It may appear simple, but it is a very manually intensive process. Someone at the firm must acknowledge the need for the records. Necessary forms must be completed to ensure compliance with a myriad of laws (including HIPAA), which the firm and often the patient (who may or may not be the firm’s client) would need to initiate a request. Then, the firm must track the progress of the request, and eventually receive, review, and organize the results, or note that there were no medical records available related to the matter.

To support the business of running a law practice, sophisticated and affordable software tools include new client/business intake, workflow automation, and conflicts management. Vendors who provide early case assessment tools and e-discovery-based technology-assisted review have begun to offer solutions for small firm and solo practitioners. In this article, we will show you how you can improve productivity, lower costs, and better manage billing for MRR expenses.

How Medical Records Retrieval Services Work

Here’s how a typical MRR service works for a small firm/solo practice. One of the firm’s employees logs into a secure, encrypted website. He or she then submits an order outlining the patient’s information, the records being requested, and any other data necessary to complete the request. What happens next is truly a game-changing activity. Instead of the firm’s billable resources chasing record requests from hospitals, doctors, and other healthcare providers, they go back to doing other, productive work, while the MRR process self-executes, and eventually provides you with the requested information and documents or informs you that there were no responsive documents.

Questions Regarding MRR Services

The availability of MRR services presents all attorneys, but especially solo and small firms, with the following important questions:

• How do you start with an MRR service?

• How are the record requests processed?

• Is this process HIPAA-compliant?

• When and how am I alerted to the status of my requests?

• How do I distribute the costs/fees associated with outsourcing medical records retrieval?

Choosing Your MRR Provider

To reduce the risk of choosing the wrong MRR service, consider the following best practices:

1) Ensure that the MRR service can prove secure access to its website (and your records) via a login and password.

2) Understand the MRR service’s processes to ensure protection of privacy.

3) Understand its service level agreements, which explain their process and anticipated turnaround time.

4) Verify that the MRR service has experience with expediting record requests by requesting a list of reference clients.

5) Review the process by which you and/or your staff are notified of updates, including record availability or notice of “no record found.”

6) Ask for the MRR service’s price schedule, preferably in a format that will permit you to do an apples-to-apples comparison of the fees of other MRR services.

When possible, a dedicated MRR service is a better choice than a firm that offers a multitude of legal practice services of which records retrieval is only a small subset of their overall business.

Getting Started with the MRR Provider

Upon choosing your MRR provider, the steps to starting to work with the provider are straightforward and similar to those when signing up with any on-line type of service:

• The firm identifies the approved personnel who are authorized to access the secure system.

• A unique user ID is created for the firm at this time, with a strong password required for all future access.

• Often, this is also the time that billing information is provided, and thus a financial account with the firm and MRR is created for future invoicing.

• Each authorized person completes a new user profile and sign-on request. The user must provide email and phone contact information.

• It is the responsibility of the law firm to notify the MRR as soon as possible in the event that an existing authorized user should be removed from the access control. The MRR should remedy and respond as soon as the user access has been removed.

• While the use of the MRR site should be quite easy for most users with minimal training, additional site support generally is available from the MRR’s services personnel via phone or email request.

Safeguarding Privacy

No matter how beneficial the technology, the firm must ensure compliance of federal and state HIPAA guidelines and any ethical rules about maintaining client confidences. Therefore, they must ensure that the MRR service collects, hosts, and provides access to client(s) records while maintaining compliance with privacy guidelines. Note: This should be part of your due diligence when selecting a provider.

The MRR Service should comply with Federal and state privacy laws. MRR services should keep up to date with changing rules of privacy such as the HITECH Act.

MRR agreements should expressly state that no personally identifiable health information (PHI) can ever be used for non-business related activities such as marketing and/or sales lead generation.

Record Processing

Once you have chosen an MRR service and set up your account, obtaining medical records is relatively straight-forward:

• After you enter a request into the system, the MRR service creates an MRR record request connected to the unique ID of the requester (the specific user at your firm), and confirms receipt of the request via an email.

• A reviewer is assigned to assess the necessary actions to fulfill the request, and will notify the user of any questions regarding the record request. In some states, including California, an electronic request can be executed from the MRR service to the healthcare provider, eliminating the need for paper-based transaction.

• The provider then tracks the request, and conducts any follow-up communication by any means available, including email, telephone or in-person visits if necessary, to acquire clear copies of records requested.

• If the record is available and legible, it is scanned into the secure web-based system for access by the user. Otherwise, a “no record found” is annotated to the request, and communicated back to the user.

Communication Is Key

Nothing can be more frustrating to case management than waiting for needed information from a third party. The MRR service must not only forward the record request to the healthcare provider, but also must provide the firm an ongoing and timely response regarding status. Each record must be tracked in real-time with detailed notes from the MRR agents. The MRR service should send alerts if additional information is required, provide replies via email, and deliver the link to download and/or view completed requests as soon as the records become available. Again, during the selection process, you should ascertain the provider’s practices regarding communications, and include them in the contract.

Speed Is Critical Too

Obtaining the medical records timely is critical, whether to respond to discovery, to make or oppose a motion for summary judgment, to get an expert up to speed, or to settle a case. A reliable MRR service will offer a quick turnaround. They have the experience working with medical locations to obtain records faster than a law firm’s in-house staff. After all, a law firm staff member may encounter (or, in truth, may feel like they have gotten stuck with) the occasional medical record search, but the MRR service is a specialist in the process of collecting information, including “no records found.” So, the MRR service’s very job is obtaining medical records, and therefore will have the process down to a set of specific steps, and can support their clients via a web interface.

Relationships With Healthcare Providers

Sometimes hospitals, physicians’ offices, and other healthcare providers may treat the occasional request by an attorney for medical records as an inconvenience, not respond as quickly or perhaps as completely as the attorney or client would like. A smart MRR service will develop long-term relationships with healthcare providers and their staff to get the data needed promptly and efficiently. This will improve the quality of the document production, reduce its cost, and speed the process up.

Database Strength

Medical records often can be in a different location or city than the healthcare provider. For example, billing records for hospitals are usually in an offsite facility, sometimes in another state. With the advent of electronic records, more healthcare providers are centralizing their records offsite with the umbrella company of their medical group/hospital. Without the information on how and where to request records, in-house staff can waste valuable time sending requests to the wrong locations or having to spend the time to find out where to send the requests. A strong database on where and how to request records from healthcare providers therefore is key to save time, ensure complete result, and save money. MRR services have the incentive and the resources to develop such a database. Law firms, especially solos and small firms, do not.

In addition the importance on the database in requesting medical records, it is equally important on the production side. Virtually all medical records are produced in digital format. Records are typically available in PDF or TIFF file format, making them searchable by many document management systems – including on premise, cloud-based, web-based or hybrid systems. They are usually made available for download and/or viewing from virtually anywhere on any device that supports a secure micro-browser. The MRR service maintains the medical records for ongoing access by the user and any authorized personnel.

MRR Costs and other Considerations

The MRR service will charge you for their services. However, because the firm’s resources are freed up to work on activities that generate revenue for the firm, the costs of using an MRR service will be offset at least in part, and perhaps in full. In addition, depending on your fee arrangement with your client, the invoices from the MRR service may be directly billable back to the client or at least accounted for as a recoverable cost. (Many MRR services charge no monthly fees for having an account, and thus the firm only incur fees on a usage basis, which can then be charged to the cases for which they are required.)

Summary

While many firms may continue the “do-it-yourself” approach, solos and small firms should consider using an MRR service. In addition to the higher costs of installing and maintaining one’s own record management system, the soft costs and resource consumption make this a less favorable alternative. A qualified, experienced MRR service offers a cost effective, robust platform for processing, monitoring, and tracking medical records requests. Record management and processing is HIPAA-compliant, always available, and secure-which in-house processes may not be, with the attendant risks. Use of an MRR service does not require capital expense to leverage digitally filed and maintained medical records. Firm resources can be repurposed from tracking record requests to meaningful and fee-generating activities. Client satisfaction may improve as matters are able to be processed more efficiently, and firm business may increase. The results of using an MRR service are measureable and immediate. It’s literally a one-click quantum leap from manual, resource-heavy processes to a modern, digital, secure web based management for your practice.

Law Firm Branding – The Danger Of Illusory Brands

Over the last ten years, we have witnessed advances in law practice technology, the expanding roles of paralegals, and the outsourcing of legal work. Yet despite all of these cost-cutting and time-saving advantages, many law firms, especially the large ones, remain struggling for their very survival.

Only a decade ago, law firms were enjoying remarkable levels of growth and prosperity. Firm coffers were full and firms were spending significant sums of money on promoting themselves in order to enter new markets and acquire premium business. Some firms even began experimenting with branding. In those days, branding was mostly viewed as just another form of advertising and promotion. In truth, firm leadership rarely understood the branding process or what the concept of branding was actually intended to accomplish. But it didn’t really matter, revenue was climbing and profitability remained strong. But what so many of these firms didn’t expect was that, in just a few years, our economy would be shaken by a deep and fierce recession, one which would shake the financial foundations of even the most profitable of firms.

For law firms, the recession that began in 2007 had, by 2010, penetrated the most sacred of realms- the proverbial benchmark of a firms standing and achievement- profits-per-partner. For many firms, especially mega-firms, the decline in law partner profits were reaching record lows and it wasn’t long until the legal landscape was littered with failed firms both large and small.

In trying to deflect further losses, firms began to lay off associates and staff in record number. But the problems went much deeper. There simply were too many lawyers and not enough premium work to go around. It was a clear case of overcapacity, and it was also clear it was not going to improve anytime soon.

More than twelve of the nation’s major law firms, with more than 1,000 partners between them, had completely failed in a span of about seven years. Against this background, law schools were still churning out thousands of eager law graduates every year. Highly trained young men and women who were starved for the chance to enter a profession that once held the promise of wealth, status and stability.

As partner profits dwindled, partner infighting grew rampant. Partner would compete against partner for the same piece of business. The collegial “team-driven” identity and “progressive culture” that firms spent millions of dollars promoting as their firm’s unique brand and culture had vanished as quickly as it was created. While financial times were tough, in truth many of the big firms had the resources to survive the downturn. Instead, partners with big books of business were choosing to take what they could and joined other firms- demoralizing those left behind.

To understand why this was happening, we must first remove ourselves from the specific context and internal politics of any one firm and consider the larger picture. The failure and decline of firms was not only a crisis of economics and overcapacity, it was also a crisis of character, identity, values and leadership. Sadly, the brand identity many of these firms pronounced as their own did not match up against the reality of who they actually were. In other words, for many firms, the brand identity they created was illusory- and illusory brands ultimately fracture in times of financial stress.

Ultimately, the branding process must also be a transformative process in search of the firms highest and most cherished values. It is, and must be, a process of reinvention at every level of the firm- especially its leadership. The transformative process is fundamental to building a true and enduring brand. Without it, firms run the risk of communicating an identity that does not represent them, and this is the danger, especially when the firm is tested against the stress of difficult times.

How this miscommunication of identity was allowed to happen varied widely from firm to firm. But generally speaking, while firm leadership was initially supportive of the branding process, in most cases these same partners were rarely willing to risk exposing the firm’s real problems in fear that it would expose their own.

While decline of law firm revenue was clearly attributable to both a bad economy and an oversupply of lawyers, from an internal perspective the firm’s inability to come together and develop effective measures to withstand these pressures could usually be traced directly back to the lack of partner leadership. A firm that proclaims to be something it is not- is inevitably doomed to failure. Say nothing of the psychic damage it causes at the collective level of the firm. It is no different then the psychological dynamics of the person who pretends to be someone he is not- ultimately it leads to confusion, frustration and eventually self-betrayal.

It’s easy to indulge in self-praise when economic times are good. Some partners might even attribute their success to all that clever branding they put into place years before. But, when the threat of financial crisis enters the picture, the same firm can quickly devolve into self-predatory behavior- a vicious cycle of fear and greed that inevitably turns into an “eat-or-be-eaten” culture- which for most firms marks the beginning of the end.

For any firm playing out its last inning, it is simply too late to rally the troops or reach for those so-called cherished values that were supposedly driving the firm’s success. In truth, when times got bad, these values were nowhere to be found, except on the firms website, magazine ads and brochures.

The point is that when a firm is actually driven by its cherished beliefs and core values, the firm will begin to live by them, especially in times of adversity. The firm will pull together and rally behind its leadership, and with clarity of purpose, each person will do what needs to be done to weather the storm. But when there exists a fundamental contradiction between what a firm says they are, and how they actually conduct themselves both internally and to the world- the vendors with whom they do business and the clients they represent- the firm will never reach its full potential. It will remain dysfunctional and it will risk joining that growing list of failed firms.

The financial collapse and deterioration of so many law firms in the past few years is a compelling testament to the importance of insisting on truth and integrity in the branding process.

In 2014, it is clear that business-as-usual in our profession is no longer a sustainable proposition. For this reason I am convinced that firms driven by fear and greed are firms destined to eventually self-destruct. That is because, no matter how much these firms try to brand, they will never be able to brand truthfully, and therefore they will never be able to compete against more progressive and enlightened firms- those that do not worship wealth and power, but rather cherish personal and professional fulfillment.

There is a choice for those who believe their firm is worth saving- reinvent yourself to reflect values that are truly worthy of cherishing, or risk devolving into something less than what you aspire to be and risk your firm’s heart and soul in the process.