Practice Management

19
Sep
2016

Practice Management:

Welcome to the legal profession: Challenges facing new lawyers

William Weisenberg
Columbus, OH

The OSBA is listening to lawyers all across Ohio and using that feedback as we develop programs to address challenges they face. Most commonly, these voices are from solo and general practitioners who comprise approximately 85% of the lawyers in the state. They practice in arrangements of one to nine lawyers, which is a far cry from the “big law firm practitioners” perception of many in the public.  ​

What are we hearing from lawyers? 

They want to learn more about technology and practice management. Lawyers need to be technologically competent to comply with the Rules of Professional Conduct. See ORPC Rule 1.2.   
 

What is the OSBA doing to assist members? 

This year, we convened member-working groups from Dayton and Cleveland, and here are the ideas they came up with:   
 
  • Talking with members about how to work remotely.  Lawyers practice in multiple counties and need to be in touch with their office, if they have one, and be able to conduct business in multiple courts. Members want to know what is the best way to do this with the latest technology.   
 
The “virtual law office” as demonstrated by Chad Burton, a lawyer from Dayton who does not have an office in the traditional sense, but practices through technology with storage in the cloud.   
 
  • Practice and business management. How were attorneys  taught this in law school? Attorneys want to know how to be efficient and effective in setting up and running their law office “business.” 

How efficient are you in time management and billing?  Are you maximizing your income with good management skills or losing income?  Are you keeping good records?   
 
  • Are you current with the latest technology and are you budgeting to stay current?   
 
  • Have you explored “limited scope representation” or what some refer to as unbundling of services? This is most common in domestic relations practice where the lawyer may provide service with regard to a qualified domestic relations order, a pension matter, or division of property. 

This type of representation could even lead to full representation when the client fully understands the complexity of the issues and that there is more than one legal issue involved.   
 
The ABA Commission on the Future of Legal Services published an “Issue Paper Concerning Legal Checkups” on March 22, 2016, where they cited a report entitled “Accessing Justice in the Contemporary USA:  Findings from the Community Needs and Services’ Study.”  Professor Rebecca Sandefur, the author of the study, detailed the scope and nature of civil justice issues that people confront and found “that 46% of people are likely to address the problems themselves, 16% of people do nothing, and 16% get help from family or friends.  Only 15% sought formal help and only 16% even considered consulting a lawyer.”   
 
Think of those members of the public who start a business simply by downloading a form, but do not know any other requirements, including record keeping and tax issues, or people who download estate planning documents, including powers of attorney and advance directives.   
 
One pundit quipped some time ago that today people believe they can probate themselves, separate and divorce themselves, and incorporate themselves without thinking about the consequences of their actions or decisions. Is there not a place for a lawyer to assist the consumer, provide competent service and at the same time enhance business development?   
 
A good number of lawyers are struggling today, whether recent graduates or in practice for 10, 20, 25 years. Challenges present opportunities and bar associations can and must provide resources, practice tools and training to remain relevant and of value to its members. 

What our working groups recommended at these meetings sent a clear message, and it is worth noting that none of the subjects involve substantive law.