First, some random thoughts on the legal news of the week:
1) Who gives two ***** if gay folks get married? Or have the same rights as you and me? My goodness, if two people want to get married, God Bless them! And it is a civil rights issue; being told that you can’t have information on your partner’s hospital stay because of HIPAA is downright medieval. The pastor whose YouTube speech went viral after reading from anti-desegregation literature and turning it into an anti-gay marriage diatribe was probably the most brilliant argument in defense of gay marriage. Twenty years from now we’ll be saying: “Gay marriage? Meh, it’s really those damned ______ that we have to watch out for…” Hey, it’s America, **** yeah!!, every group gets a turn at being the downtrodden.
2) Don’t get me started on North Dakota’s draconian steps with regard to a woman’s right to choose what to do with her own body. Now see, it’s Holy Week and I probably can’t take communion.
3) This DLA Piper billing debacle? Makes me sick, and is a perfect segue into finishing my column from last week. I know I know, DLA came out and said, “Heh heh, we were just kidding. Those guys aren’t even around here anymore. Overbilling? Meh. Never happened, we promise.” What did you expect them to say?
I happen to know personally one of those mentioned in the story, and he was just as much a dim bulb back then, so it is no surprise that he wrote that stuff in an email. That he moved on to a partnership at another firm is no surprise either. I will say that he is infamous for leaving one of the funniest and most outrageous drunk emails voicemails on a colleague’s phone early one morning. And he probably can’t figure out who he is from this blind item in any event. But, I digress, back to overbilling…
* Wait, are we really going to have to debate the legal merits of this platinum coin thing? Really? Can’t Congress just not hold the country hostage so we don’t have to start messing around with crazy coins and the Fourteenth Amendment? Like, you don’t have to start doing bats**t crazy Carrie Mathison things if you don’t let terrorists take Nicholas Brody in the first place. [The Volokh Conspiracy]
* There was another school shooting today. It just makes you wonder if the terrible reign ushered in by Grand Theft Auto will ever end. At least, in this case, the teacher was armed to the teeth WITH WORDS to TALK DOWN the shooter. [Huffington Post]
* “Illegal” trades don’t mean the same thing to bankers as they do to everybody else. Well, that’s not true. Maybe the disconnect is more with the word “consequences.” [Dealbreaker]
* Yeah, I’m going to go on and say that I’m not going to believe anything coming out of the Trayvon Martin police report. Just like I wasn’t considering anything coming out of racist ass Mark Fuhrman. [Tampa Bay Times]
* There’s a lot to lose if Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act gets struck down. [Slate]
* I suppose it’s good that lawyers don’t have “I’m going to do a half-assed job here” fees. [Underdog]
Before I provide some advice on client relations that will be deemed “totally wrong” by some and “good advice” by me pretending to be anonymous, I wanted you all to know that I bought a wireless printer that allows me to send documents from my phone, wherever I am, to my printer at my office. Although I currently have no use for this feature in my law practice, and haven’t in 17 years, I hope this puts me in better stead with those of you that think I hate tech.
Now let’s talk about clients, for those of you that have some.
The core of running a practice is machines and toys clients. That you are able to do competent work for clients doesn’t matter if you are not versed in the retaining and retention of them. The retention of any client starts at the initial contact, not when they come to your coffee shop office with a check. For those of you who have practices where you never meet with clients, your initial contact with them (unless it’s them using your website as an ATM to buy documents) is even more important.
While you may be in a position where the client is only calling you, most clients are calling several lawyers. Regardless, you are now auditioning for the job. That audition begins at the very moment you first speak to the client, or the person calling for the client….
It has been a few days since our last detailed story about the largest law firm bankruptcy in history. So let’s check in on the Chapter 11 proceedings of Dewey & LeBoeuf, currently pending in bankruptcy court for the Southern District of New York.
There have been a few recent developments. For example, as we mentioned in Morning Docket, Dewey is being counseled in bankruptcy by some pretty pricey advisers.
* Say sayonara to the Buffett Rule. Senate Republicans were successful in blocking the 30% tax on millionaires proposed by Democrats. And thank God, because that trickle down thing is totally working for us right now. [Wall Street Journal]
* Rich lawyers keep getting richer because they keep increasing their fees. That being said, where the hell are the bonuses? Come on now, SullCrom, are you seriously going to make us all wait until June? That’s really not very nice. [Thomson Reuters News & Insight]
* Well, that was quick: one minute men abound in the George Zimmerman circus. Mark O’Mara filed a motion to get Judge Recksiedler off the case, and the media filed a motion to get access to sealed records. [CNN]
* A federal judge presiding over the John Edwards campaign finance trial dismissed 47 potential jurors. Dude gets around, because apparently he had slept with all of them. Nah, he wishes, though. [Bloomberg]
* As a law school, it sure is easy to claim that just under 100% of the class of 2010 was employed nine months after graduation, especially when you were the one employing them. [National Law Journal]
* Seems like the New York Times has finally caught on to the ADA troll trend. Lawyers are recruiting clients to file suits against noncompliant businesses, but at least the disabled reap the rewards. [New York Times]
* Prospective welfare recipients in Georgia have a few more months to blaze before they’ll have to pass a drug test to receive benefits. Smoke two joints before you prepare for all the incoming lawsuits. [Washington Post]
I’ve known some lawyers to proudly proclaim that in litigation, they leave no stone unturned. They boast that they will pursue every defense, review every document, and raise every argument. In doing so, presumably, they assure victory. They strive to win at any cost.
This approach makes sense when a well-funded client faces bet-the-company litigation. In that case, of course, a lawyer should pursue every possible path to victory, even if a particular path seems like a long shot. It may cost a lot to win, but even more to lose. In these cases, the economic interest of the attorney and the client are aligned. If the amount at stake warrants it, the lawyer can work the case to the max, and the client is happy to pay for it.
But smaller firms handling smaller matters know that many times, winning in litigation is relative to the amount at stake and the fees incurred. Every client is initially delighted to receive a favorable verdict at trial. But when the heat cools down, and only the bill remains, even the winning client may resent his lawyer when he reflects on the price he paid for his “victory”….
Over the last few years, the legal market has changed dramatically. We live in a buyer’s market in which the clients hold the upper hand and can demand financial concessions from their attorneys that go beyond lower hourly rates.
This good news for clients might sound like bad news for lawyers. If lawyers can’t charge as much, they likely won’t make as much. But although greater price competition might lower revenue for some firms, it surely presents an opportunity for others. Small law firms often compete with bigger firms on price, and increased client sensitivity to legal fees can be a marketing boon to firms that can undercut their competition (with the familiar caveat, of course, that the smaller firm must be able to provide the resources and quality required by the particular matter).
The changing market invites, if not demands, lawyers to offer concessions for clients. Happily, many of the concessions have relatively little impact on the firm’s bottom line, but can garner significant goodwill with clients. For example….
* Two weeks from today, the Supreme Court will be hearing oral arguments on the Obamacare case. Everyone thinks Justice Kennedy’s vote will swing the Court, but Chief Justice Roberts isn’t about to let him steal his sunshine. [New York Times]
* Gaming post-graduation employment statistics: the Columbia Law School and NYU Law edition. It looks like it might be time to fire up the Strauss/Anziska machine for the top tier of our nation’s law schools. [New York Post]
* But speaking of Alston & Bird, some Floridians are complaining about the firm’s bill. $475 an hour for four partners and associates? You really need to stop, because you’re getting the deal of the century. [The Ledger]
Ah, nothing brings around the lawyers of today like the talk of money. One of the most popular Google searches by law students and lawyers is “how to make money as a lawyer.” I rarely see searches for “how to cross examine the expert witness,” or “building a reputation, one case at a time.”
It’s all about the cash.
So here it is, here’s your red meat:
Charging “what everyone else charges” is for losers.
Good clients know you get what you pay for. Cheap, annoying, time-sucking, Bar-complaint-filing clients try to own someone for nothing. If you want the same clients everyone else has, charge the same legal fees. You can be Wal-Mart, or you can be Saks. More people shop at Wal-Mart, but people looking for quality shop at Saks, and they know the difference. They go in, they see something they want, and pay for it (without a payment plan). (And don’t tell me “credit cards are payment plans.” The seller gets the full amount, the buyer makes payments to the bank.) Saks doesn’t have “low prices,” and customers aren’t going there for low prices. They’re looking for quality. Price is secondary….
The evolution of relationships between the genders continues. Currently, in law firms, there is an interesting conundrum; balancing the desire for a gender-blind workplace where “the best lawyer gets the work and advances” and the reality of navigating the complicated maze created by the fact that, in general, men and women do possess differences in their work styles. These variations impact who they work with, how they work, how they build professional connections and how organizations ultimately leverage, reward and recognize the talents of all.
Henry Ford sat on his workbench and sighed. A year earlier, he had personally built 13,000 Model Ts with his own hands. Fashioning lugnuts and tie rods by hand, Ford was loath to ask for help. Sure, there were things about the car that he didn’t quite understand. This explains the lack of reliable navigation systems in the Model T. But Ford persevered because he knew that unless he did everything, he could not reliably call these cars his own.
“Unless my own personal toil is responsible for it, it may as well be called a Hyundai,” Ford remarked at the time.
The preceding may sound unfamiliar because it is categorically untrue. And also monumentally stupid. Henry Ford didn’t build all those cars by hand. He had help and plenty of it. Almost exactly one hundred years ago, Henry Ford opened up the most technologically advanced assembly line the world had ever seen. Built on the premise that work can be chopped up into digestible pieces and completed by many men better than one, the line ushered in an age of unparalleled productivity.
Today, an attorney refers business because he can’t do everything the client asks of him.
There are three reasons why this is way dumber than a made-up Henry Ford story…
Ed. note: The Asia Chronicles column is authored by Kinney Recruiting. Kinney has made more placements of U.S. associates, counsels and partners in Asia than any other recruiting firm in each of the past six years. You can reach them by email: [email protected].
Since late last year, things have been booming in Hong Kong / China in cap markets, especially Hong Kong IPOs. M&A deal flow has recently been getting a bit stronger as well. Although one can’t predict such things with any certainty, all signs are pointing to a banner entire 2014 for the top end US corporate and cap markets practices in Hong Kong / China. This is not really new news, as its been the feeling most in the market have had for a few months now and things continue to look good.
The head of our Asia practice, Evan Jowers, has been in Hong Kong for about 10 days a month (with trips every other month to both Shanghai and Bejing) for the past 7 months, and spending most of his time there meeting with senior US hiring partners at just about all the major US and UK firms there, as well as prospective candidates at all associate levels and partner levels, and when in the US, Evan works Asia hours and is regularly on the phone with such persons, as our the other members of our Asia team. Our Yuliya Vinokurova is in Hong Kong every other month and Robert is there about 5 times a year as well. While we have a solid Asia team of recruiters, Evan Jowers will spend at least some time with all of our candidates for Asia position. We have had long standing relationships, and good friendships in some cases, with hiring partners and other senior US partners in Asia for 8 years now.