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Author Archives: Ed Poll, Special To Lawyers Weekly

Coach’s Corner: Finder, grinder or minder – what type of lawyer are you?

For law firms to be successful they must be more than a collection of single practitioners. Success in the law, like success at sports, is a team effort - if the team isn't firing on all cylinders, it gets away from what made it successful and people no longer play their true roles. No law firm can be profitable and growing without a range of skills and abilities. Not every player on a sports team is expected to be a star, and not every lawyer in a law firm should be expected to play similar roles in the life of the firm.

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Coach’s Corner: The power to regulate is the (potential) power to destroy

Many lawyers and law firm marketers have sounded alarms that the American Bar Association's Commission on Ethics 20/20 is examining legal ethics issues arising from lawyers' use of Internet-based client development tools. Those tools encompass a wide range of now common marketing tactics: online social networking (Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter), blogging, discussion forums (listservs) and websites.

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Coach’s Corner: Here comes the judge – online

During the past decade the Internet has created ethics dilemmas that lawyers and bar associations could never have imagined before. Thanks to websites, blogs and social networks, lawyers have a virtually unlimited presence. They are often governed in their online conduct by the rules of jurisdictions where they have never set foot, though one would normally conclude that receiving an e-mail from anyone anywhere in the world does not create a lawyer/client relationship.

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Coach’s Corner: The lawyer as consultant – Should you charge?

Most law firms, whether large or small, begin a new client engagement with a consulting process: a stated period of time, such as an hour, that potential clients spend with an attorney to discuss their matter and explore whether to establish a client relationship. This consulting process is essentially a business-development effort, targeted to converting prospects into clients. It is marketing in its purest and most immediate sense - at the end of the hour, the lawyer either does or does not have a new client.

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Coach’s Corner: Public virtue versus private violation

Many of the largest law firms strive to be paragons of public virtue in their programs intended to foster social responsibility. Pro bono service is the most obvious example. Nearly 15 years ago the American Bar Association and the Pro Bono Institute launched the "Law Firm Pro Bono Challenge" for larger firms with more than 50 lawyers to make an institutional, rather than an individual lawyer, pro bono commitment.

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Coach’s Corner: Billable hour: Going, going … still here

In a recent article, I asked whether the billable hour method of billing clients is dead or on life support. It turns out that there is a third option: Hibernation. A recent survey reported that almost 73 percent of 2009 outside counsel fees were based on arrangements other than the standard hourly rate, up from 66 percent the year before. It is clear that law firms are scrambling with deals to retain clients. But is it also an inescapable conclusion from the survey that law firms are moving away from the standard hourly rate?

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Coach’s Corner: You must define when payment is delinquent

If a lawyer fails to specify a "pay by" date for a client, at what point, if any, can the client legally be considered delinquent for failing to pay? This question is essential to "The Business of Law®." Every engagement should begin with an enforceable written agreement on services to be provided and fee to be charged. ABA Model Rule of Professional Conduct 1.5 states that "the basis or rate of the fee and expenses for which the client will be responsible shall be communicated to the client, preferably in writing, before or within a reasonable time after commencing the representation."

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Coach’s Corner: What does it take to go national?

In 1960, fewer than 40 law firms in this country had 50 or more lawyers. In the latest listing of the 250 largest U.S. firms - even after two years of declines in total employment - No. 250 on the list still employed 160 attorneys. Many of these firms began to practice in a single city or small region before their growth took them to a national level. Often such law firms followed their corporate clients, which for decades have lived by the philosophy that bigger was better.

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Coach’s Corner: Politicians, lawyers and ‘protecting the public’

Lawyers nationwide increasingly face state and federal government actions to implement a whole new regulatory structure aimed at what is in fact a growing problem: companies that charge consumers an upfront fee to modify the terms of a mortgage or deed of trust they can no longer afford, then either fail to deliver results or actually abscond with the fee itself. In an early effort, New York banned upfront mortgage-modification fees but explicitly exempted retainers to lawyers. Later, reports that mortgage companies were using relationships with lawyers to get around the fee ban led to passage of another law, this time banning retainer and escrow collections by lawyers unless the fee is collected as part of ongoing, regular legal counsel.

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