20 Tips -- NAELA unProgram

In 2007, as in previous years, the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys held its annual unProgram in Dallas. The Outdoor World Embassy Suites was briefly overrun by elder law practitioners from around the country on the weekend of January 20. Participants met in small groups (of 6 to 16 or so) in individual suites to discuss substantive, office management and practice development ideas and problems. One of the interesting outgrowths of the unProgram has been the spontaneous appearance of the "20 Tips" oeuvre. Going around the room one at a time, the group facilitator elicits one tip from each person--with the aim that everyone will leave the session with about twenty ideas they probably never considered before and might implement in their own practices. The popular idea was repeated four times at the 2007 unProgram; the product of three of those sessions (mostly without comment--you judge whether you think each idea is good or not) is listed below:

1. Convert your computer monitors to portrait mode--the vertical configuration saves desktop space and is more like the orientation of a sheet of 8.5X11 paper

2. A Sony digital dictating unit facilitates telecommuting for office staff--files can be moved to the office network and then downloaded by a secretary/legal assistant working remotely for transcription and return to the office electronically

3. Use multiple e-mail addresses (e.g.: naela@yourURL.com, statebar@yourURL.com, ebay@yourURL.com, etc.) for ordering online, for listserver subscriptions, etc.--when spam starts arriving at one address you can simply shut it down and only affect a small sliver of your correspondence. Note that most providers will let you have a very large number--perhaps unlimited--of e-mail addresses, and you can set them up so that they all automatically forward to your main address

4. Eat a frog. As Mark Twain famously proposed, if you begin your day by eating a frog nothing that happens the rest of the day will seem very bad. In other words, tackle the most onerous, oppressive task on your desk immediately on arrival in the morning

5. Produce your office letterhead in electronic format as part of each letter. Save on stationery costs. Print letters on a nicer, slightly heavier bond paper, but don't pay engravers or printers for the letterhead itself. It also lets you have multiple versions (for different return addresses, or telephone numbers, for instance) and to change when staff changes without destroying old stock

6. Set up macros in your word processor for routing tasks (letter printing, starting a letter, etc.) and create tabs on your toolbar to run those items

7. Switch to a heavier grade of paper for nearly everything in the office--especially correspondence. Costs a little bit more, but conveys a sense of luxury in excess of the cost. Having everything in the nicer stock saves the hassle of switching paper, or remembering to direct printing from separate drawers

8. When looking at internet search results, right-click on the pages you are interested in and choose "Open in New Window" (or, if you have that option in your browser, "Open in New Tab"). That way you don't lose your search results as you navigate through the new website looking for the relevant material

9. Increase the default font size on your documents (from, say, 12 point to 13 point) to make them easier for clients to read. Click on Format | Font | Size, then set the result to be the default in all future documents by (in Word) clicking on "Default" or (in WordPerfect) selecting the "Settings" button and the drop-down choice "Set face and point size as default for all documents" choice

10. Prepare and send out a client information booklet on how to be a good client (e.g.--make appointments rather than drop in unannounced, best time to call is (you provide the choice), etc.)

11. Purchase expert software for preparation of documents--e.g.: Wealth Counsel, Wealth Transfer Planning, etc.

12. Purchase rights to modify and distribute a "Senior Resource Guide" from Meg Rudansky--customize the product with local information, then print and distribute in bulk to nursing homes, area agency on aging, newspapers, etc.

13. Triage--set one person to do all intake, and have him/her work through new referrals in priority order, and refer out those you don't actually want

14. Use Postini (www.postini.com) for spam filtering

15. Read "What Clients Love" by Harry Beckwith (http://www.amazon.com/What-Clients-Love-Growing-Business/dp/0446527556/flecurplctucarie if you want to let a commission payment go to Fleming & Curti, PLC). Pay attention to what clients experience as they come in the front door

16. Adjust your intake questionnaire to focus on who the people involved with the client are and how they are related. Help personalize your clients

17. Take a tour of every nursing home in your community. Just show up and ask if someone (preferably the administrator) could show you around. It helps with your credibility, creates a good referral resource (you will probably be the first lawyer most administrators have seen in their facility) and introduces you and your practice to an important portion of your community

18. Offer clients an "ethical will" (www.ethicalwill.com). The workbook helps clients to focus on their life experiences and how to pass on information. Hand out the workbooks as an added benefit for clients

19. Buy really good coffee for the office, and personalized mugs (you can get them for about $1 each customized with your office name and/or logo). When clients ask for a cup of coffee, and especially when they remark about how good it is, just send them home with the mug

20. epayops.com allows credit card payment with no fee (clients pay a service charge when they log in and use it)

21. Optimize your website. Expect a one-time charge in the range of $2500, but it will increase your traffic dramatically

22. Use Google adwords--paid links generate traffic to your website (www.adwords.google.com) 23. Offer seminars to other law firms. Provide written materials, lunch and MCLE credit. Teach, for instance, the personal injury bar (one firm at a time) how to get court approval when settling a case for a minor or incapacitated adult--or how easy it is to hire you to take care of it for them.

24. Give your staff titles (in lieu of bonuses, even). It's amazing how much more motivation one can get from a Senior Legal Assistant than from a lowly Legal Assistant.

25. Have a paralegal participate in the initial interview process--he or she is likely to collect more globally useful information (personal anecdotes, family relationships, etc.)

26. Network with GCMs (Geriatric Care Managers) in nearby communities. Put on a seminar with the GCM at local hospital or nursing home venue, then have the GCM do the intake interview on resulting referrals. Participate by telephone, except perhaps for one office visit. Extends your geographic reach and is both good delegation and good referral development

27. Refer Medicaid reapplications to GCMs for a percentage of the fee they collect

28. Put on seminars for social workers at some one else's expense. Have a local ALF or SNF provide lunch and venue

29. Throw a Client Appreciation Brunch. Rent the local country club and invite your best clients--they love it, and they become even more dedicated referral sources. Find a client with talent (harpist, pianist, whatever) and hire them for the entertainment. Expect to pay something like $2500 for 125 people

30. Need an associate? Connect with the local legal aid office for networking, offer seminars and/or study groups, and scope out the candidates

31. Do not take client phone calls. Instead, schedule telephone appointments ("I'm sorry, Robert isn't available right now. Would you be available for a 2:45 telephone appointment this afternoon? He'll call you then.")

32. Ask yourself this question when doing business planning: "If I wasn't afraid, what would I do?"

33. Hire an office manager. Don't think you can afford it? You can't afford NOT to do it

34. Do an electronic newsletter. Look at the Daily Plan-It at http://www.topofmind.org/dpi.shtml as one easy way to get out regular issues--for $25/month, you provide an e-mail list and they send out the newsletter (you can add up to 1/4 page of personalized material if you wish). Send it to referral sources

35. Market to the Human Resources divisions of local businesses. Offer a seminar on advance directives, followed by a clinic approach to get advance directives done for all who sign up in advance. The company may well pay for the cost of producing the powers of attorney, viewing it as a not-very-expensive but very tangible benefit

36. Meet with social workers and/or administrators of local nursing homes to develop relationships

37. Close your office on Fridays. If that is too much, consider closing all day Fridays in the summer, but at noon on Fridays the rest of the year

38. Don't assume your staff remembers their training on confidentiality issues

39. Don't forget that salespeople are trying to sell you something--and not necessarily looking out for your best interests

40. Get involved in politics. You are a public citizen

41. Schedule regular meetings with individual staff members to resolve the daily problems that keep piling up and resist resolution

42. Make the print on your business cards larger, so clients can read it. Use both sides of the card if necessary, or use double-size scored stock so that there is some blank space on the back

43. Double your fees 44. Buy a bread machine for the office. Everyone feels better when the smell of bread is in the air--including both clients and staff 45. Don't be afraid to take on litigation cases. They can be lucrative, there is a strong demand and they help keep your lawyer gears turning

46. Take pictures of your clients when they arrive for their first meeting

47. Put a bottle or two of alcohol (scotch, vodka, gin, or some such) on the conference room snack cart. Clients get a kick out of the offer of liquor, and they never take you up on it. Good (ahem) icebreaker

48. Hire a personal coach. For about $100/session you get invaluable help. Find a certified person, perhaps by the International Association of Coaching (http://www.certifiedcoach.org/) or the International Coach Federation (http://www.coachfederation.org/ICF/)

49. Produce an "Emergency Estate Planning Info" card for each client. Laminate a wallet-sized form with your contact information, the name of the client's health care and financial agents (and alternates) and location of original documents, for instance

50. Get a good-looking digital photo of a local landmark near your office, then use that image to make cards for sympathy, birthday, other occasions

51. Send the prospective client your client intake form in advance--and design it to get at information about their real life story, not just financial and familial things

52. Look into Snag-It (www.techsmith.com) for screen capture--it is an aid for legal and web research

53. Structure your call-back time--say 2:00 p.m. to 2:45 p.m. every day. Clients come to expect callbacks during that time slot, and it focuses you on one function at a time

54. Delete listserver e-mails rather than saving them--use separate e-mail addresses for listservers and forward them to gmail or other services that accumulate and thread the messages

55. Save Fridays as your emergency appointment day--so you can get some work done and also have one day when the unexpected interruptions can get dealt with

56. Get to know your staff better. Learn what motivates them, what they fear and love

57. Make a donation to a charity in the name of deceased clients (e.g.: the Area Agency on Aging)

58. Set aside some quiet time every day--no interruptions, no incoming calls

59. Spend extra energy on hiring and training the correct receptionist. Remember that s/he will be the first impression for clients

60. Add value for your estate and long-term care planning clients: learn insurance concepts well enough to review their policies. Clients tend to have the wrong auto insurance limits and should be looking at replacement value on their homeowners policy. If they bought life insurance 20 years ago, they might well have gotten a universal life policy based on unreasonably rosy projections--and now may be losing value each year they keep the policy. Connect with a good agent to pick up enough information to make general recommendations to clients about their insurance

61. Buy tins of nuts (kosher nuts are available) with your firm's logo on the tins--use them for referral or client rewards

62. Send cookies to the probate clerk's office (note that some participants indicated that in some jurisdictions you could be sanctioned for trying this)

63. Give free CEU programs for social workers (topics: advance directives, HIPAA, etc)

64. Hire a retired court clerk employee as the office runner--they know the system and the people

65. Train your receptionist to understand the whole business structure and your office goals--s/he needs the information to project the best image

66. When handling voice mail, listen to messages one at a time and as to each ask yourself: (1) can I forward it for reply by someone else? (2) can I handle it right now? or (3) if it will take more than five minutes, should I have a staff member call to set up an appointment for a return call
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