|Managing Your Practice|
Busy lawyers are always looking for ways to make their offices run more smoothly. But with the press of everyday demands, exploring available resources or the latest technology is often put on the back burner. With so little time, how can you improve efficiency and productivity? Here are some leads to get you started:
Electronic case filing and adobe acrobat
As courts move closer to a paperless system, more practitioners and staff will need to learn the ins and outs of Adobe Acrobat, the program that creates the PDF files used in electronic filing. Adobe’s Portable Document Format (PDF) is a universal file format that preserves all the fonts, formatting, graphics and color of any source document, regardless of the application and platform used to create it. Classes on Adobe Acrobat are readily available through private providers as well as local universities and community colleges. In addition, Adobe provides extensive help online, including a searchable knowledge base, online lessons, books, videos, downloadable files, user forums and more. Visit www.adobe.com. Other useful sites include www.planetpdf.com and www.pdfzone.com.
Oregon business law documents online
In May 2002 two local attorneys launched www.claytablet.com, a website geared to business practitioners offering more than 150 business law templates. Each template has its own drafting guide, history of substantive revisions and a message board so Oregon attorneys can communicate with each other. Subscriptions are based on size of firm and billed on a flat monthly rate. Visit the site for more information.
Free child support calculators available online
Child support calculators based on the Oregon Child Support Guidelines are available online at www.dcs.state.or.us/calculator. Choose from the regular custody calculator, the split custody calculator or shared custody calculator to calculate support payments. Complete descriptions of each are available on the site, along with links to the guidelines and applicable Oregon Administrative Rules.
Pulling out your hair trying to keep on top of changes
Lower your blood pressure with a subscription to Law Office Computing. At $5 or less per month, you’ll get all the latest software reviews, practical hardware advice, word processing tips and valuable insight on new technology. Subscribers have full access online to archived issues of the magazine, including more than 300 product reviews and tips. Subscriptions are $49.99 per year if paying by credit card; $59.99 if you prefer to be billed. Contact James Publishing at (714) 755-5450, or visit www.lawofficecomputing.com.
Need staff? Try a cyber secretary!
Cyber Secretaries is an Internet-based service available around the world from any telephone 24/7. Dictation is transcribed, proofread and sent back via e-mail to your computer. If you need transcription services, Cyber Secretaries may be a more flexible and less costly solution than hiring a secretarial service. For a free automated trial, call (800) YOU DICTATE (968-3428), or visit the Cyber Secretaries web site at www.youdictate .com.
Want to better educate clients about costs?
Develop a 'price sheet.' Pull together the information on fixed costs (filing fees, service charges, recording fees, etc.) as well as worst-case estimates on open-ended expenses such as depositions and medical reports. Use the price sheet as a tool to educate and prepare the client, as well as to set a retainer.
How much time do you spend searching for lost documents
According to Inc. Magazine, the average executive spends one month every year looking for lost, mislaid or misfiled information. The average lawyer is often in the same boat. If you need help with office systems, the PLF offers free and confidential practice management assistance. Call (503) 639-6911 or inside Oregon call toll-free (800) 452-1639.
Improve client relations for less than $10
An effective support staff is vital to every law office. Every individual in a firm should be a member of the team, dedicated to serving the needs of the client. The Law Firm Guide to Client Relations for Support Staff by Hollis Hatfield Weishar will allow you to identify the intangibles by which clients judge your firm, and show you how you can meet and exceed your client’s expectations for quality service. The guide is available from the ABA;.download it as a PDF file, or order it online at www.abanet.org/lpm/ catalog. One copy costs $9.95; additional copies are available at a discount.
Everything you always wanted to know about your local
Have you visited www.ojd.state.or.us lately? The Oregon Judicial Department website offers much more than appellate opinions, it is a portal to circuit courts statewide. Nearly all judicial districts in Oregon are now on the web. Find information about hours of operation, filing fees, court calendars and court rules or download forms and attorney reference manuals for counties that publish them.
A must-buy from the Oregon State Bar
The Fee Agreement Compendium is a comprehensive collection of sample fee agreements published by the Oregon State Bar. The publication also discusses how to bill client costs, the Truth-in-Lending Act as it relates to retainer agreements, ethical issues arising in fee agreements, fee arbitration and IOLTA in relation to fee agreements. The 2001 edition includes forms on disk and is available for $65 from the Oregon State Bar. Visit www.osbar.org or call the Order Desk at (503) 620-0222, ext. 413, or (800) 452-8260, ext. 413.
Advice on legal issues and tax questions just a free
phone call away
The Oregon State Bar’s Lawyer to Lawyer program connects Oregon attorneys working in unfamiliar practice areas with experienced attorneys willing to offer informal advice at no charge. Any Oregon attorney can call Lawyer to Lawyer and receive the names and telephone numbers of three resource lawyers. Help is available in more than 100 specialties. Call (503) 620-0222, ext. 408 or toll-free in Oregon, (800) 452-8260, ext. 408.
If you have a tax or accounting question, use the OSB’s Lawyer to CPA program. Simply call the Oregon Society of CPA’s Peer Consulting Service at (503) 641-7200 or (800) 255-1470 for a referral. Identify yourself as a member of the Oregon State Bar and specify the practice area your question involves. The Lawyer to CPA program was established in 1995 as a free, two-way referral service allowing lawyers to get answers to tax and accounting questions and CPAs to get answers to legal questions.
The only collection of research links you will ever
The Oregon Judicial Department wins again for the best collection of Internet legal resources in the state. At www.ojd.state.or.us/library, find the expected — Oregon Appellate Court Records, ORCP, ORAP, Oregon Rules of Evidence, Oregon Administrative Rules, OSB Ethics Opinions, links to state agencies — and perhaps the unexpected:
Meta-Index for U.S. Legal Research — A service of Georgia State University Law School providing a search interface to reputable sites offering court opinions, statutes, legislation, regulations and more. Easy-to-use tools guide researchers through varying search processes at the different sites, or go directly to reputable sites such as Findlaw, Cornell, Villanova, Emory, etc.
LexisOne — FREE access to Lexis for searching selected federal and state cases covering the past five years as well as a complete collection of U.S. Supreme Court cases. Retrieve full text by citation or Lexis keyword queries. Requires registration to log-on.
Court Rules, Forms and Dockets — Described by the Oregon Judicial Department as the best site on the web to search for federal and state court rules, forms and dockets. Links to more than 700 credible sources. Easy to use, fast and very current.
State and Local Government Information on the Web — Piper Resources provides one of the best resources for reputable state sites, along with links to multi-state sites, national associations, etc. Easy to use and up-to-date.
Law Journals on the Web — University of Southern California Law School’s listing of journals found on the web. Helpful coding to indicate which journals offer full text, abstracts, table of contents, etc. Extensive category links for law reviews: general, subject specific, foreign, commercial, ABA journals/newsletters or computer/technology.
For all of this and more, go to www.ojd.state.or.us/library and click on Internet Legal Resources.
Pair up with a mentor!
Mentors can be instrumental in helping new lawyers meet the challenges they face when entering the practice of law. The New Lawyers Division of the Oregon State Bar and the Multnomah Bar Association both offer mentoring programs. For more information about the OSB’s mentoring program, call Peggy Miller at 503-620-0222 or (800) 452-8260, ext. 384. For more information about the Multnomah Bar’s program, call (503) 222-3275.
Understanding how clients pay bills
If you’re working with a corporate client, you are an accounts payable to that corporation. Learn their accounts payable process and customize your billing accordingly. Give your client the detail and breakdown needed to pay your bill. Mail your bills at a time during the monthly or quarterly cycle when you know the payment turnaround will be short. Specify a due date on your bill. Offer a discount for early payment (specify the discount amount and how quickly the client needs to pay to take advantage of it). Apply these same principles to your non-corporate clients. If the client is paid twice a month, you might enter into an agreement with the client to bill them just before they receive their paycheck. At a minimum, get monthly bills out to non-corporate clients by the 25th if you expect to be paid around the 1st. If the bill isn’t in their hands beforehand, you probably won’t get paid until the next paycheck rolls around.
Forms, publications, CLE materials and more at www.osbplf.org
The PLF has 150 forms, 4 books, 3 archived years of the In Brief, and a library of CLE audio and videotapes available online. New in 2002: a News and Information page, the Primary Claims Made Plan, Excess Plan and related documents, including Excess Application Forms for New Firms. Browse around at www.osbplf.org, or use our powerful search engine to find helpful checklists, articles, books, CLE materials and more.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
The author is a lawyer and practice management adviser with the Professional Liability Fund. For free office system consultations and assistance, contact Beverly Michaelis, Carol Wilson or Dee Crocker at (503) 639-6911 or toll-free from in Oregon at (800) 452-1639.
© 2002 Beverly Michaelis