Keep overhead low. For every dollar you earn, if you can reduce your overhead by one dollar, thereʼs your salary.
Distinguish between a want and a need.Malpractice insurance coverage and a back-up server should be categorized as needs. Likewise, a disaster plan binder and electronic folder that detail who does what, when, how and where in emergencies.
An organized recordkeeping system is a must.Calendar small business tax deadlines. Compliance with tax obligations is a requirement for attorneys to maintain “good standing.”
In the midst of mounting pressure from state bar associations over ethics concerns, Avvo announced the end of its fixed-fee legal services offering, Avvo Legal Services, in July. Avvo Legal Services charged potential clients $39.95 to speak with a lawyer participating in the program. Avvo facilitated the connection through its website depositing the $39.95 in the lawyer’s account and then debited $10 from the lawyer’s account for a “marketing fee.” Similar fixed-fee offerings for document review, business formation, and family law services were also in development or deployment. Avvo clearly hoped that the transaction structure and label on its fee would make clear that the arrangement was not fee-splitting but multiple states were unconvinced.
In June, 2017, three New Jersey Supreme Court committees issued a Joint Opinion stating that the legal service program operated by Avvo “is an impermissible lawyer referral service, in violation of Rules of Professional Conduct 7.2(c) and 7.3(d), and comprises improper fee sharing with a nonlawyer in violation of Rule of Professional Conduct 5.4(a).”(ACPE Opinion 732, CAA Opinion 44, and UPL Opinion 54)The New Jersey Supreme Court opted not to review the issue in June, 2018.
Shortly after New Jersey’s opinion, the New York State Bar Association Committee on Professional Ethics released its own opinion (Opinion 1132, 8/8/17) that payment of the “marketing fee” to Avvo Legal Services was an improper payment for a recommendation. New York examined the Avvo rating system, guarantees, and refund policy for dissatisfied clients deciding that such steps clearly conveyed to the public a recommendation of a lawyer.
New York also noted in passing that other issues might also be created by the Avvo arrangement including confidentiality problems arising when evaluating issuance of a refund and the ability of a lawyer to offer competent legal services under the restrictions imposed by the service but ultimately noted that a decision on those issues was unnecessary given the larger context of the service being improper as a whole. Most interestingly, New York noted that Avvo might be meeting a legitimate public need unmet by traditional marketing but argued, “…it is not this Committee’s job to decide policy issues regarding access to justice, affordability of legal fees, or lawyer quality. Our job is to interpret the New York Rules of Professional Conduct.”
Potential Opening for Avvo
In their rulings, New Jersey and New York had joined several other states including South Carolina, Virginia, Indiana, Ohio, and Pennsylvania in finding the service improper under the Rules. The news was not all bad for Avvo, however. The North Carolina State Bar opined in Proposed 2018 Formal Ethics Opinion 1 (April 19, 2018) that participation in Avvo and similar services could be permissible under certain circumstances. (That draft was apparently sent back for further study.) More significantly, The Illinois Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission, the body overseeing attorney discipline, issued a 124-page report recommending loosening of professional conduct rules to allow lawyers to engage for-profit referral services like Avvo.
The report argues, “Prohibiting lawyers from participating in or sharing fees with for-profit services that refer clients to or match clients with participating lawyers is not a viable approach because the prohibition would perpetuate the lack of access to the legal marketplace.” The Illinois Disciplinary Administrator, Jerome Larkin, solicited public comment on the report, which he wrote, through August 31, 2018. Chief Legal Officer for Avvo Legal Services, Josh King, has made a similar argument saying, “…When the Rules get rigidly applied like this, it has two really bad effects. One is really good lawyers pull back. And the second impact it has is it makes it harder for consumers to get access to legal services.”
Acquisition by Internet Brands
Ultimately, the decision to sunset the Avvo Legal Services product may be more business-driven than reactionary to state bar pressures. Avvo was acquired by Internet Brands back in January, 2018. That folded Avvo into a company with existing properties like Lawyers.com, Nolo, and Martindale-Hubbell. Initially, analysts predicted the acquisition would be a positive step for legal consumers.
Following the acquisition, Avvo’s founder and CEO, noted, “Medical is way ahead in this area – in how hospitals interact and maintain relationships with consumers in new ways. ‘There’s a brand that I trust associated with this medical need, and I go to that website, I interact with a nurse on call 24/7, and if I need more they can set that up.’ This is an example where the consumer bypasses the search environment because they have a relationship. The medical profession is working hard to keep that relationship going. Legal isn’t doing any of that. But that’s another reason this deal is attractive: tapping in to the innovation [Internet Brands] has had in other verticals. Being able to get on the phone and talk to people who’ve solved these issues in, say, medical, is super attractive.”
Months later, most of the Avvo leadership including its former CEO, CFO, CPO, CTO, and chief legal officer had made plans to leave and Avvo Legal Services was given a sunset date. The apparent need Avvo filled has not evaporated, however, and the ABA and several states such as Illinois may be looking for ways to enable and govern such services in a way that provides safety for both participating lawyers and prospective clients.
Posted By Administration,
Tuesday, May 22, 2018
Updated: Wednesday, May 16, 2018
Video communication is an inexpensive yet powerful tool that can help establish and maintain client relationships. The vastly improved quality, ease of use and low cost has propelled this technology to the forefront of many small businesses, including law firms.
Video calls and communication includes scheduled conference calls, but also routine calls – can now take place on the telephone.
Social scientists have been telling us for years that face-to-face communication where both sound and visual queues are used is the most beneficial form of communication – better than phone calls and far better than email or written correspondence. Video calls allow us to gauge the other person’s response to our message and spoken word. We can see facial expressions, gestures, head movements, body positioning, and shifting. We can see whether other participants are participating or distracted. We look for visual cues such as head nods and eye contact to see if our message is getting through, being rejected or being ignored.
Video technology is not complicated. Over 80 percent of American adults now own a smartphone equipped with a video camera. Many already use the video camera to communicate with friends and family, so why not their lawyer? Most laptop computers have built-in cameras, and HD-quality video cameras for office use cost between $50 and $100 and are easy to install.
There are also some easy to use products on the market for video calls and conferencing:
Zoom.us is my favorite. There is a free edition that allows the user to meet for an unlimited number of minutes with one other person (such as a lawyer/client). If the user wants to meet with a group, then there is a 40 minutes time limit and a limit of 100 users. But, there are also other inexpensive versions of the product – the business version is only $20 per month and the user can place unlimited video calls with up to 50 participants.
Introduce each client to your video communication efforts during the initial consultation. Let them know the benefits and that they can easily communicate with you using their smartphone, tablet, laptop, or desktop computer. Consider adding a brief provision to your representation agreement, highlighting the understanding with each client to try to use this technology rather than the telephone or in-person meetings. Make a note in each client’s contact information which tools they have to communicate via video.
It may seem a bit strange at first not to pick up the telephone, but soon your clients will be thanking you, and you’ll be thankful you read this tip!
Thanks to the author of this article, Reid Trautz. Reid is the Director of the Practice and Professionalism Center of the American Immigration Lawyers Association and a blogger on the issues of business process improvement, technology, legal ethics, and effective practice management. Reid is co-author of the ABA’s “The Busy Lawyer’s Guide to Success: Essential Tips to Power Your Practice” and a past ABA TECHSHOW chair.
TECHNOLOGY TIP from the KBA Law Practice Management Attorney:
Everything is going digital these days—even our evidence. But many of us are reluctant to take our evidence in this direction because there are so many unknowns and potential complications: What if the wi-fi in the courthouse crashes like it does every other day? Do I need special software for presenting this evidence? Should I upgrade my laptop before the trial? Here are a few technology tips for presenting electronic evidence in trial:
Do Not Rely on the Courthouse Wireless Network. For your trial, you want to have your own initial wireless network that is separate from the courthouse network. Also, have a non-wireless option just in case your wireless options start to go down. Test and test and test and re-test. You will be glad you did.
Use the Exhibit Number in the File Name. Regardless of what type of document you are using, having your documents identified by exhibit number reminds you to make the appropriate record about which exhibit you are showing. The trial software you are using may influence how you name files, but the exhibit number needs to be there. Otherwise, it is too easy to say “this photo” or “the contract,” especially if the exhibits are pre-admitted.
Use good equipment. If you have an IT department, don’t let them hand off the slowest and oldest computer to you before trial. If you are solo, consider upgrading your equipment before the trial. If you do, consider upgrading trial software and learning the idiosyncrasies of the system well before the trial begins so you are comfortable with the system and software at the start of the proceedings.
Learn the software. Especially if you are planning to do your own presentation, but even if you are not. Understanding what the trial presentation software can do for your case is the least you can do for your client. Split screens, effective zooming and highlighting, and some forethought can turn a ho-hum exhibit into a dynamic and powerful one.
Check system compatibility ahead of time.Many of our state courtrooms are still not wired at all. Some are downright ancient. Be sure you do not need a three-prong converter to plug into the court’s two-prong outlets. They still exist! In older wired courtrooms, many systems are still VGA while newer systems (and computers) are HDMI. You need to have compatible plugs and computers. Make sure your computer’s resolution, and that of the projector or monitors you plan to use, are compatible. These stumbling blocks (and others) are easily overcome, but how many trips to Best Buy do you have time to make as you prepare for voir dire?
Like this Tech Tip? Look for another Tech Tip or Practice Pointer from the Law Practice Management Attorney in next week’s Weekly. What topics would you like for me to cover in the Tech Tips and Practice Pointers? Let me know by emailing me at email@example.com.
Today’s Tech Tip was quoted and adapted from the ALPS 411 Blog titled “A Blog for the Legal Community, Businesses, and Entrepreneurs in an article titled Presenting Electronically in Trial written by Susan Bonar Mayer. Susan is President and CEO of Litigation Abstract, Inc., headquartered in Missoula, Montana, with a sales and service office in Seattle, Washington.