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Column 42, August 1998
Copyright 1998 Robert J. Ambrogi
Untangling The Web Of Law Practice Management
By Robert J. Ambrogi
Setting goals. Making rain. Appeasing clients. Taming technology. Supervising staff. Keeping books. Collecting accounts.
And you thought you would be practicing law!
For help in handling the managerial tasks that can deluge a law practice, turn to the Web. Bar associations, management consultants and others are there to help.
This article surveys sites related to law practice management. It excludes those that focus on marketing or technology.
The Law Practice Management Section, American Bar Association, http://www.abanet.org/lpm, may well have the most comprehensive site on the Web devoted to law office management. The LPM section is the ABA's largest publisher of books, sponsor of its annual Techshow, and home to Law Practice Management magazine and a half-dozen newsletters. The site combines these into something that is part library, part storefront. Shop its shelves of books; purchase CD-ROMs; browse its free articles on marketing, management and technology; view presentations from Techshow; or visit special sections on legal writing and rainmaking for women lawyers.
The ABA's General Practice, Solo and Small Firm Section, http://www.abanet.org/genpractice, provides lots to read for managers of smaller firms. The section recently combined three magazines -- The Complete Lawyer, Technology and Practice Guide and Best of ABA Sections -- into one, GP Solo & Small Firm Lawyer, and offers the full text online. Also here are selected articles from the section newsletter, Solo.
The online headquarters of the Association of Legal Administrators, http://www.alanet.org, an international organization of law firm managers, is divided between public and members-only areas. The latter contain many of the most practical features, including industry news, document-delivery and reference services, and a database of peer consultants. Discussion groups cover management, technology and human resources. For non-members, the site's best features are its Job Bank -- a listing of positions wanted or available -- and its Management Gateway -- a collection of links to legal-management resources.
The Toronto Law Office Management Association, http://www.tloma.on.ca, is an organization of legal managers in southern Ontario. Besides membership information and a calendar, its site includes its monthly newsletter, results of member surveys, and employment classifieds.
The one reason lawyers outside Washington might want to visit the site of the state bar's Law Practice Management and Technology Section, http://www.wsba.org/sections/lpm-home.html, is its recent addition of audio seminars, which you can listen to using RealAudio. They cover general interest topics such as "The Seven Most Common Law Office Management Mistakes" and "The Nitty Gritty Considerations of Telecommuting for Law Firms." The selection so far is small but growing.
The Law Office Hornbook, http://www.hornbook.com/index.htm, is the online version of a quarterly periodical on malpractice avoidance, firm management and professional liability, sponsored by the bars of Virginia, Hawaii, New Mexico and Arizona. Online articles are expanded versions of those from the hard-copy edition. Only two quarterly issues are online, each with three articles on topics such as client-file retention and fee arbitration.
Law Journal EXTRA! Law Firm Management, http://www.ljx.com/lawfirmmanagement, is a practical collection of news and feature articles from the National Law Journal and other publications, with added features such as an advice column on law firm management. The page provides links to related sections of LJX and provides information on subscribing to its free electronic newsletter, Tech and Management Express.
Small Firm Manager, http://www.counselconnect.com/smallfirms, is one of the first products from the union of the two major Web services for lawyers, LJX and Counsel Connect, under the American Lawyer Media umbrella. An online newsletter, it features articles, expert advice, discussion groups, referral notices, seminars and links to other resources. Although parts are free, the bulk of it requires a $120 annual subscription, which also buys a year's access to Counsel Connect and enrollment in two CC seminars.
ALM's online catalog, http://www.lawcatalog.com, offers a variety of books, newsletters, audiotapes and other materials on law office management. You can browse or search titles and purchase them online. From the front page, follow the link to "Practice Areas" and then search "Law Office Management."
The Institute of Management and Administration, http://www.ioma.com/industry/law/index.shtml, is a BNA-owned publisher of newsletters on a range of management topics for a variety of industries. Its law page includes selected articles from four newsletters: Law Office Management and Administration Report, Partner's Report for Law Firm Owners, Compensation and Benefits for Law Offices and Controlling Law Firm Costs. From the law page, visitors can jump to discussion groups on various management topics.
Law Practice Management & Technology, http://law.miningco.com/msub5.htm, is part of The Mining Co., a unique series of topical Internet directories, each maintained by an independent "guide." This page is described as a compilation of links to management and technology sites, but focuses mostly on technology and offers almost nothing on management.
The Law Engine!, a legal search index, sponsors the Law Office Management Bookstore, http://www.fastsearch.com/law/flawof.htm. Links to the Web booksellers Amazon.com and Books.com enable visitors to order the books online.
Whether you are a purchaser or a provider of legal services, controlling legal costs is an essential management function. The Litigation Cost Control Resource Center, http://www.tiac.net/users/svoltz/index.htm, offers short articles from a Massachusetts firm on litigation management, alternative billing and billing fraud. Articles are targeted at consumers, but include useful tips for practitioners and samples of billing arrangements for business litigation.
Kim's Law Firm Management and Technology Corner, http://www.tkvnaples.com/Kim's%20Technology%20Corner2.htm, is a handful of articles on management and technology by Florida lawyer Kim Patrick Kobza, including reports on the 1998 ABA Techshow and a recent RealNetworks convention.
When it comes to law-firm management, Jay G. Foonberg is the man. Thousands of lawyers preparing to hang out a shingle have studied his book, How To Start And Build A Law Practice. Many others have heard him lecture on management and marketing. It is disappointing, then, that Foonberg's site, http://www.foonberglaw.com, is nothing more than a hypertext resume, with no practical articles or information.
Altman Weil, http://www.altmanweil.com, is one of the oldest and best-known consulting firms for the legal profession, and its Web site has probably the largest library of articles on the topic. They cover law department and law firm management, outsourcing, alternative billing, technology, marketing, strategic planning, economic and financial management, human resources and organizational psychology.
A few years back, TQM -- Total Quality Management -- was all the rage in management advice. TQM For Law Firms, http://www.dbainc.com/dba2/library/index.html, is part of a larger library of TQM articles from David Butler Associates. The articles, all well written by legal consultant and former journalist Nancy Blodgett, have the ring of a Stephen Covey self-help book -- his name, in fact, is frequently invoked -- but are backed up by real stories from actual firms.
As a brochure, LawBiz, http://www.lawbiz.com, from the consulting firm Edward Poll & Associates, is well designed, but as a reference, it has little to offer. Poll has written three books, produces a series of audiotapes on legal management, and contributes frequently to a variety of legal periodicals. So it is disappointing that his entire site offers only one free article each month.
The Law Practice Management Page, http://seamless.com/jpw/manage.html, from the consulting firm John P. Weil & Company, offers a mixed bag of 22 articles on practice management, firm governance and compensation. Overall, the articles are well written and informative.
The Hunter Group, http://www.thehost.com/Hunter, offers a law-firm self-assessment questionnaire and a collection of articles from the motivational school of management advice.
A specialist in risk management, Thomas Berman & Associates, http://www.bermanlawrsk.com, offers an outline of its Survey of Law Firm Risk.
If you enjoy sloganeering, visit GAP Enterprises, http://www.gapent.com, a firm of management "solutionists" who provide "solutioning" and "cybersolutioning" to professionals and businesses. Ironically, the one item of interest at this poorly designed site is an article analyzing the redesign of a law firm's Web site.
You might think Italo Consulting, http://www.mindspring.com/~italco, a bit odd right up front, when it asks anyone who reads its articles to send a check for $39 "on the honor system." And then there are the audio clips that cannot be played because the plug-in they require is defunct. You might even be put off by its promise of "a trove of invaluable advice that has helped numerous attorneys and law firms increase their profits by many thousands of dollars." Well, not exactly a trove, but there are nuggets to be found in the site's 24 articles on law office management.
The Lawcost Management Group, http://www.lawcost.com, focuses on in-house counsel and other purchasers of legal services. Not much here, save for a few useful articles on managing legal costs, ethics and legal fees, and the role of paralegals.
The basic site of the New Jersey firm Joel A. Rose & Associates, http://www.joelarose.com, offers a small selection of articles on strategic planning, valuing a law practice, firm retreats, law-firm mergers, and increasing profitability.
Robert J. Ambrogi (firstname.lastname@example.org), a lawyer in Rockport, Mass., is editor of the Internet newsletter legal.online, http://www.legalonline.com. Past installments of this column are archived at: http://www.legaline.com.