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Practice Tips

first_img January 15, 2003 Regular News Four steps to building great client relationships Practice Tipscenter_img Dustin A. Cole President Attorneys Master ClassMany attorneys believe their next client relationship will be “the luck of the draw” so to speak. To some extent that’s true. But it’s absolutely possible to build a practice that is virtually free of problem clients and has strong cash flow — if you’re willing to refine or redesign your client intake and communications processes.There are four basic steps firms can take to dramatically increase the quality and consistency of their client relationships and help maintain good cash flow. Step One: Choose Your Clients CarefullyIf you have attorneys who believe that, on a slow week, the prospect of a little revenue from an “F” client is better than no revenue at all — they need to think again. “F” clients — the ones who their gut is already telling them will be trouble — usually end up costing them and the firm far more in time, overhead, stress, and aggravation than they will ever pay in fees. In fact, the unpaid fees are only part of the issue. Perhaps more important is the time they take, which attorneys could better use for client development or taking better care of “A” clients. “F” clients actually hold the attorney back from taking positive actions to build their practice, and create undue stress on both attorney and staff.So, when an obvious “F” client is encountered, the attorney should just say “no.” Better that they use their time for building their practice than to give it away to a client without scruples. And beware — not every “F” client is obvious. Attorneys should spend more time with every prospective client, asking questions and listening carefully to answers, attitudes, and implications, to identify potential “F” clients.Let’s make an important distinction between the pro bono client and the “F” client. Pro bono work is important, but the wise attorney chooses pro bono work up front rather than discovering halfway through a matter that they’re working for free. Step Two: Educate and Set Standards for the RelationshipIn fact, a good client selection process starts before the attorney ever meets with the prospective client. It starts with the initial call to the attorney’s office. The attorney’s assistant can ask some basic questions that disqualify some prospective clients from making an appointment at all. These might be questions like:• “What is the matter concerning?” (Is it even in the attorney’s practice area?)• “Have you worked with more than one other attorney on this matter?” (Odds are that, if the caller has consulted with more than one other attorney, either they or the matter spells trouble.)• “M. Jones has an initial consultation fee of $200. Will you be paying by credit card or check?” (Most of those who will balk at a nominal initial retainer will be “shoppers” looking for free advice, and not serious prospects.)• “Who referred you to our office?” (The assistant should have a list of the attorney’s referral sources, and make anyone referred by them a priority.) Step Three: Define the Working Relationship and Set Client ExpectationsAttorneys often jump directly into case details as soon as the client has agreed to work with them. They’re off and running, already immersing themselves in the familiar process of developing a case strategy. Unfortunately, they may well have left their client at the starting gate.“Client communications” is one of the most frequent causes of bar grievances, with good reason. Clients are seldom told what the structure and standards are in terms of communication.It’s vitally important to remember that the vast majority of clients have never used an attorney before, and therefore have no idea how the relationship will work. To them their matter is by far the most important item on the attorney’s agenda. Without such an understanding, they will form their own expectations about how the relationship should work. And invariably, it’s very different from the attorney’s modus operandi.Therefore it’s important that clients be provided with very specific information on how they and the attorney will work together at the very beginning of the relationship, before they form their own expectations. Rather than simply giving them an agreement to sign — or worse, to take home and sign (they’ll never read it all) — they should be walked through a detailed and structured process. This includes: 1) A verbal guided tour through the agreement.a) What will and will not be included in the representation.b) Terms of the retainer agreement. 2) A financial discussion.a) What fees will be charged for what type of work.b) Details on how fees are charged.i) Hourly and partial-hour rates.ii) How phone calls are charged.iii) How e-mails are charged.iv) Types of charges which may appear without client involvement: Research, depositions, strategy meetings, meetings with other lawyers, travel if necessary, copying and materials, other costs, direct and indirect.c) How the retainer works.d. How billings will be handled.i) How soon after being recorded will hours be billed.ii) Who to call for questions on their bill.e) What happens when payment is past due.i) 10 days — first reminder call.ii) 20 days — second reminder call.iii) 30 days — work is suspended or motion to withdraw is sent. 3) How communications are best facilitated.a) Best times to call to speak with the attorney.b) Hours the attorney will normally not be available to speak with them.c) How and when calls will be returned.d) Who can help if the attorney is not available.e) What times of day and week office meetings are normally scheduled.f) What kinds of materials they’ll be copied on.i) How they’ll be informed of what to do with them: For their file, for their response or action.g) What to do when the call is an emergency.h) Times when it is important to call the attorney.Of course, all of this should be provided in writing, and tucked into a good-looking folder where they can collect everything the attorney’s office sends them. The entire walkthrough can be accomplished in 15-30 minutes, and can be done by a paralegal or associate. This small amount of time upfront will reap considerable benefits:• It will set the “context” of the working relationship and reduce client stress during the process.• It will save the attorney and staff uncounted hours answering calls. It will reduce client frustration around having calls returned. It will encourage clients to speak to others in the office.• It will clarify their financial obligations and the consequences of not meeting them• It will provide written “standards” which can be referred to when they express concerns over the working relationship. Step Four: Live by Your Own StandardsIf the attorney sets standards for the client, they need to be prepared to live by them, or all of the foregoing was wasted time.Don’t take nonurgent phone calls during hours indicated as “not available” just because you have a moment. The client will decide you should always take them.Train staff to direct calls to the paralegal or associate for assistance. Return calls promptly as per the standard given the client. Have others return calls you can’t get to within the time standard. Copy the client with all promised materials, with instructions on what to do with it (read and file, read and respond, etc.)Bill within the standard set, follow up on overdue billings per the standard, and take actions as indicated in the standard.Many an “A” client slips to “D” or “E” or even “F” because of lack of understanding of the communications process and lack of standards enforcement. When they fail to pay bills and the attorney continues to work, they learn they don’t have to pay. When the attorney takes a week to return their call, they come to believe their problem isn’t important to the attorney. When they receive unidentified papers in the mail, they get worried and fearful.The cumulative result is a good client who starts to act like a poor one. All because no one educated them on the process and the working relationship, and no one in the attorney’s office is operating on a standard.Sound like a lot of work? Then think about the time an attorney spends working for free unintentionally, and the stress caused by an unhappy client — or worse, the grievance filed by one. Then, think about an office free of “F” clients and filled with less stressed and more satisfied clients (and staff).Take steps now to build and implement a more structured client intake and communications system, for the sake of your clients — and your sanity. Dustin Cole is president of Attorneys Master Class, a company which helps firms maximize revenues by enhancing attorney skills. Cole specializes in working with partners experiencing challenges or setbacks in their practices, and with practice groups to increase productivity. For more information go to or contact Cole at (407) 830-9810 or via e-mail at [email protected]last_img read more

News & Notes

first_img July 15, 2004 Regular News Patrick G. Emmanuel was recently honored by the Pensacola area Rotary Clubs as the winner of the 2004 Ethics in Business Award, which recognized Emmanuel’s years of ethical dealings with his clients, employees, business associates, and the community in general. Howard A. Spier of Miami has been elected to the board of directors of The Academy of Rail Labor Attorneys. Tod Aronovitz of Miami served as a moderator for the Federal Judicial Roundtable program held at The Florida Bar’s 2004 Annual Meeting in Boca Raton. A group of about 15 U.S. district court judges from across the state discussed courtroom procedures, advocacy, and the need for civility in litigated matters with the lawyer attendees. Scott P. Chitoff of Brinkley, McNerney, Morgan, Solomon & Tatum in Ft. Lauderdale has been elected to the board of directors of the Young Lawyers Division of the Broward County Bar. Michael G. Tanner of Holland & Knight in Jacksonville co-chaired the Advanced Trial Advocacy Program presented by the University of Florida College of Law and the Trial Lawyers Section of the Florida Bar on May 11-15 at the University of Florida campus. Brian A. Hart of Rafferty, Hart, Stolzenberg, Gelles & Tenenholtz, P.A., in Miami, spoke about U.S. real estate laws to a group of German investment advisors and business media representatives at a conference called “USA Real Estate” in Frankfurt, Germany. Christopher M. Fear of GrayRobinson in Lakeland was honored by Florida Rural Legal Services and the Lakeland Bar Association at a ceremony that applauded the efforts of pro bono attorneys in the 10th Judicial Circuit for their work to the Volunteer Involvement Project from 2001 through 2003. Edward J. Page of Carlton Fields in Tampa has been certified as a member of the Million Dollar Advocates Forum. Jason Hunter Korn of Cohen & Grigsby in Bonita Springs has been appointed to the board of directors of the Edison College Foundation. Patrick J. Lannon of White & Case in Miami has been named to the Probate Rules Committee of The Florida Bar and to the Executive Committee of the Estate Planning Council of Greater Miami. Michael D. Joblove of Miami presented, “Defining and Protecting Territorial Rights in Franchise Systems,” at the International Franchisee Association Legal Forum in Washington, D.C. News & Noteslast_img read more

Pellegrini focused on style

first_img City overran the Magpies with slick attacking play – in keeping with the club’s stated desire to play better football than in recent years – but Pellegrini does not expect that to necessarily intimidate opponents. Pellegrini said: “I don’t think they are going to fear us. “It is very important for us to play the way we played. “What happens with the other teams, if they fear us or not, I don’t think from one match we can have an important conclusion. “The important thing is that we start winning in our stadium. “The second important thing is we win the way I want this team to play. What happens in the future we will see.” While there are no concerns over City’s attack after Monday’s performance, there are worries in defence due to injury. Influential captain Vincent Kompany limped off after 71 minutes against Newcastle with a groin injury and is expected to be out for at least a month. Manchester City manager Manuel Pellegrini is not interested in whether opponents fear his side or not. The Chilean is concentrating on developing an attractive style that will win matches, and ultimately silverware, at the Etihad Stadium. He made a convincing start on Monday as City swept aside Newcastle 4-0 in their opening Barclays Premier League match. Press Association Fellow central defender Matija Nastasic only returned to training this week after an ankle injury and is doubtful for Sunday’s trip to promoted Cardiff. With Kolo Toure having left for Liverpool in the summer, Pellegrini’s options are otherwise limited. Midfielder Javi Garcia played out the closing minutes against Newcastle alongside Joleon Lescott in a makeshift back line. With Micah Richards also troubled by a hamstring injury, the only other fit centre-back is youngster Dedryck Boyata, whose City career has stalled in the past two years with loans to Bolton and FC Twente. If out for a month, Kompany would also miss next week’s clash against Hull and the trip to Stoke after the next international break. He could come back into contention for the derby against Manchester United on September 22. News of his condition will also be a concern to Belgium, who play an important World Cup qualifier in Scotland next month. Pellegrini said: “I would prefer the doctor to say the last word, how many weeks, but he is injured I think for at least one month. The doctor can give more information. “Today or tomorrow we will know exactly what happens with him.” Nastasic was injured in the Barclays Asia Trophy in Hong Kong in July and it was feared he could miss the first month of the season. But the Serbian has made a quicker than expected recovery and will ease Pellegrini’s worries should he prove his fitness. Pellegrini said: “Nastasic is working normally with the squad and we will see if he starts or not.” The situation with Kompany will heighten speculation Pellegrini may look to sign a new defender before the upcoming transfer deadline. City have been linked with Real Madrid’s Pepe and Atletico Madrid’s Martin Demichelis, formerly of Pellegrini’s old club Malaga, but Pellegrini would give no definitive clues. Speaking at a press conference to preview the game at Cardiff, the Chilean said: “It is not dependent on what happens with Vincent Kompany. “I told you last week that until the last day we will see what we can do, if we can improve our squad or not. “But we have a very good squad so we will see what happens in the next days until September 2.” The injuries have given Lescott a chance to re-establish himself after falling down the pecking order under Roberto Mancini last season. The England international is now in the final year of his contract at the Etihad Stadium and his long-term future is unclear. Pellegrini did not want to disclose information about whether new discussions had been opened. He said: “We are not talking about those things this week.” Despite the emphatic nature of Monday’s win, which has seen City installed as outright title favourites ahead of Chelsea by many bookmakers, Pellegrini is taking nothing for granted against unfancied Cardiff. He said: “It will be very difficult. “We know Cardiff are new in the Premier League this year but I think they are a very good team. “It is the first game they will play at home they will be a very difficult team.” last_img read more

NFL training camp 2019: AFC South preview

first_imgTeam on the riseJacksonville JaguarsCalling the Jaguars a team on the rise two seasons after they made the AFC championship feels wrong, but there is no denying it’s right. There”s no denying the NFL is a quarterback-driven league, and it appears Jacksonville finally has a quarterback. Nick Foles signed four-year, $88 million deal with the team this offseason and will replace much-maligned Blake Bortles. Simply having a QB who can protect the ball will go a long way for the team’s defense and for getting Leonard Fournette some room to run.Team on the declineHouston TexansThere are several ways the Texans are on the rise. They added a couple of offensive linemen early in the draft, which should help the team protect quarterback Deshaun Watson. The young QB has another year under his belt, and younger defenders like Justin Reid should be primed to improve this season.But the team is in the middle of a contract disagreement with Jadeveon Clowney that might lead to a holdout. The offensive linemen the team drafted are a ways away from being great, plus the team let shutdown cornerback Tyrann Mathieu go for virtually nothing and they’ll go through the 2019 season without a general manager after firing Brian Gaine after one year running the team.Oh yeah, and Bill O’Brien still has issues with simple clock and game management. That’s a team that could easily decline.Rookies to watchJosh Allen, LB, Jaguars: As if the Jaguars didn’t already have enough pass-rushing talent, the Raiders and Giants passed on Allen who might have been the best player in college football with Kentucky last year. He’s going to make an already scary front seven for the Jaguars even more terrifying. Kahale Warring, TE, Texans: A former water polo player who really came into his own at San Diego State last year, Warring gives Watson a tight end who can finally scare a defense with his pass-catching and could be an intriguing part of the offense for the next several years.Player spotlightDarius Leonard Leonard completely changed the feel of the Colts defense as a rookie in 2018. He finished the season with 163 tackles, four forced fumbles and two interceptions and turned Indianapolis’ defense from one to be laughed at into one to be cautious about. His performance in 2019 could go a long way toward continuing to make the team’s defense better — or letting it regress back to where it was before. If he is what he was last year, then the Colts should continue to get better. If he’s not, then Andrew Luck will be pressing again on offense.Key injuriesAndrew Luck, calf: The Colts quarterback, who’ll be 30 in September, was forced to miss all of the team’s offseason workouts because of a lingering calf injury, but the team doesn’t seem too concerned about his long-term outlook. However, the Colts weren’t concerned about his shoulder either when he missed all of 2017. This could be something of concern — or it might not be. It’s just another part of the long-running concerns about Luck’s health that always seem to plague his career. NFL training camp 2019: AFC North preview All that leads to speculation that this division is up for grabs, and while there may not be a 13-win team in it in 2019, there may not be a team worse than .500 when all is said and done.Here’s the outlook for the AFC South heading into training camp: Related Newscenter_img NFL training camp 2019: AFC East preview The Texans won AFC South last season, but this division might be as competitive as it has been in a long time in 2019.Andrew Luck is back to his old self, the Jaguars added a quarterback who can throw the ball and the Titans seemed to find an identity in the running game last year.last_img read more

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