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Ensuring a Client is a Good Fit

Ensuring that a client is going to be a good fit for you is important.  You should not accept every opportunity that comes your way, even if you are first starting out.  One of the most important questions is whether the client is going to pay your bills.  Many more people want legal services than are willing or able to pay for them.  There are a variety of ways to try to gauge whether a potential client is a potential paying client – one item is to ask for a reasonable but substantial retainer up front, and see how the client responds.  If you get pushback on a retainer that represents only ten hours of your time, you might interpret that as a red flag.

You also want to avoid situations where a client is likely or certain to be unhappy with your work.  This can arise when a client has unrealistic expectations about what you can accomplish or what the engagement is going to cost.  I recently declined an engagement where there was only $15,000 at issue. I felt that it was very likely that I was going to have to charge at least the amount or more, and after several conversations, I did not think that the potential client recognized that reality, and that she was going to be unhappy with the outcome of the engagement.  Even if she paid the bill (and I thought it was likely that she would not), you don’t want an unhappy client or former client

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Beware of Cheap Toner

Toner is crazy expensive.  And beware of cheap toner!  I bought second-rate toner on Amazon, for a quarter of the price of OEM toner.  Sure enough, my printer wouldn’t recognize that the replacement toner cartridge was full.  Also, it leaked yellow toner everywhere.  I wound up buying the expensive name-brand toner.

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Automatic Time Capture Software

There is a type of software that runs in the background and captures data on the time you spend in each application, generally specifying time spent in each document, on each webpage, etc.  There are many, many such programs, with a host of different functionalities.  Some integrate with LPM software as a way to bill time.  I have found that using this software also helps me identify times or days when I am overdoing the multi-tasking – jumping around from one thing to another every couple of minutes.

I have not found any automatic time capture software that I have felt was a good fit for my practice in terms of value (they tend to be subscription-based), but I remain hopeful.

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Calendaring with Deadlines.com

Deadlines.com is a web-based litigation calendaring program. You put in the dates of events (e.g., service of the complaint), and it will return the dates of triggered deadlines (e.g., date to respond to the complaint).  You can then sync (or upload for Mac) the dates into your calendar program. It’s only $20 per case per month, a cost that can be passed through to your litigation clients.

Deadlines.com is a product of Aderant, a big legal software company serving firms big and small. This means they have an army of moles getting the latest updates to procedural rules that affect calendaring, including (in many jurisdictions) local rules. While ultimately it is every lawyer’s responsibility to calculate their own deadlines, it seems to me that Deadlines/Aderant is going to do a better job than me (or you) most of the time. There are likely other companies offering similar products.

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Law Practice Management Software

Law practice management [LPM] software is often cloud based which can be a good fit for a mobile office.  Most tend to offer a variety of functions that integrate with each other, including contact management, calendar, task lists, matter/engagement management, time sheets, time capture, billing/invoicing, and more.

You can associate (upload) key documents and communications (emails) with matters, a good way to keep things organized and accessible. Major providers include Clio and RocketMatter.  Lexis and many other companies also offer LPM products.

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Sharing Resources

Getting a sublet to rent an office in a suite of lawyers and/or other professionals is an attractive option.  Such an arrangement can come quite bare-bones, or with a full range of amenities. Such arrangements commonly include a shared reception area, kitchen area and copier. Many also include a shared receptionist, and a conference room – these are nice items but can have a significant impact on the cost of the space.  Some sublets will include other resources such as Internet, treatises or other legal materials.  Sharing space may also create the potential for shared secretarial, bookkeeping, or legal assistant/paralegal time.

Not to be overlooked is the benefit of working with other colleagues around, creating the potential for socializing, using each other as sounding boards, and other interactions.   Sitting in an office by yourself waiting for the phone to ring has the potential to be depressing.

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Downtown Convenience

Downtown locations (San Francisco or other cities) offer walking-distance access to a host of services. From my building at Bush and Montgomery, I can walk in just a few minutes to a branch of any bank, to UPS, USPS, or Fedex/Kinkos, to Staples, shoe repair, dry cleaners, restaurants, bars, gyms, transit, etc. This is not a small thing in terms of saving time and quality of life.

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Choosing Health Insurance

Kaiser Permanente offers a wide range of individual health plans, depending upon your needs. I am a relatively low consumer of health services, so I chose a high-deductible, high-copay plan that has relatively low premiums. I pay around $250/month, which includes dental. I also chose the Health Savings Account option, so I can save and use pre-tax dollars to spend when I do need health care.

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LPL for Solos/ Small Firm Practitioners from AHERN

Ahern Insurance (a partner of BASF) offers LPL to solos/smalls for reasonable rates, but it’s still thousands per year.

LPL insurance is more or less important depending upon whether you have assets that you want to protect.  LPL protects you, and it can also be seen as a way that you are protecting your clients in the event you make a mistake that harms a client, they may have recourse against your carrier. You may want to reconsider your level of LPL coverage when you get larger clients in the door.

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General Commercial Liability (GCL)

General Commercial Liability insurance (GCL) is cheap for lawyers, and will be required by many or most leases or subleases, anyway. I think a million dollars or more of coverage can be purchased for something like $500 per year. If you are ever going to have clients or anyone else come to your office, it’s a good idea to have GCL. Every major insurer will offer GCL.