Hit with Mandatory Retirement, Bankruptcy Lawyer Bills $950/Hour On His Own

William Lobel, law firm marketingFrom the Orange County Register:

William Lobel is a bankruptcy attorney whose well-heeled clients are facing one of life's more difficult realities. They owe more than they can possibly repay and their creditors have run out of patience.

Lobel has learned over 40 years of representing debtors in bankruptcy court. Despite the experience, the connections, the seven-year stretch on the list of Southern California Super Lawyers by Los Angeles Magazine, Lobel, 67, was hit by mandatory retirement from Irell & Manella LLP in Newport Beach in 2008.

So he corralled the ocean-side corner of the top floor of that law firm's offices for his new venture, The Lobel Firm and continued doing what he had done since the 1970s. Lobel clients have assets and debts in the eight and nine figures. He claims his $950 hourly rate is the highest in Orange County. Competitors tend to agree.

For similar stories about lawyers leaving big law firms to start their own firms, read:




Lobel says the high fee helps command the attention of his clients who are used to getting their own way, but those who know him say that it also supports his love of limo rides and cruises and fishing in Cabo San Lucas.

His clients are all over the country and have included some Orange County high-profile real estate developers and entrepreneurs: luxury auto dealer Jim Slemons, Bramalea Builders, surf wear brand Maui and Sons, motor sports promoter and convicted murderer Michael Goodwin. He kept Carl's Jr. founder Carl Karcher and homebuilder John Lusk out of bankruptcy.

"Bankruptcy has become so mainstream in the past two (economic) downturns and so commonplace that the stigma is different now."

"He's been doing it for so dang long. I tell people, if you can get a concentrated hour of Bill's time, it's worth three of his associates'. He's not going to figure out what to do on your dime," said Ron Rus, of the Irvine law firm, Rus Miliband & Smith.

"I interviewed clients before I left Irell and asked them what they like least about doing business with us," Lobel says. "There were two consistent themes: They hated quarter-hour billing and all the extra costs, 50 cents a page for faxing a document, parking."

So Lobel instituted tenth-of-an-hour billing. If a client just has a quick question that takes a minute, he doesn't get charged for 15 minutes, so over the course of a typical bankruptcy the fees are lower. And The Lobel Firm doesn't bill for various costs.

Recession Boosts Employment Law Practice

Steve Moore, law firm marketing, marketing directorThe labor and employment practice at many law firms has risen as a result of the recent recession, according to a national overview from the Legal 500. “Employee benefits litigation has continued to grow apace, as increasing recognition of the opportunities for lucrative settlements has combined with the economic turbulence of the past two years,” the overview reports.

"Labor lawyers are in demand," the Legal 500 overview states. "Recently there has been a sharp rise in the number of reductions in force and restructurings, with companies requiring advice on how to target potential layoffs in order to avoid claims of adverse impact on any single group of employees. The need for counseling on wage and hour, whistleblower and equal employment opportunity issues shows no sign of slowing down."

“Many employees who have been separated from employment, either from a layoff or an outright termination, find themselves in a situation where they cannot become reemployed,” said Steve Moore, a partner in the labor and employment practice of Ogletree Deakins. “As a result, some have challenged their employers’ reasons for terminating them and alleged a variety of different claims including discrimination, retaliation, and wrongful discharge. This has led to more litigation work for our office in Denver.”

Specific areas seeking more legal activity include:

  • Employee benefits litigation
  • Employment discrimination based on age, race or retaliation
  • Enforceability of non-compete agreements
  • Misclassifying employees as independent contractors

Please go here to read more about the story on the LawMarketing Portal.

Guerrilla Marketing with Snowbranding

Guerrilla marketing, law firm marketing, marketing directorA German startup coupon company called Loupus carried out a fun guerrilla marketing campaign in the gloomy days of winter, by putting their French bulldog brand on  2,000 snow-covered cars in Leipzig, Germany. Gotta love their slogan too: "Coupons mit Biss" or for you non-Deutsch speakers, "Coupons with Bite." 

The snowbranding campaign cost less than 50 Euros and was completed in 24 hours.  It created a lot of buzz (or should I say barking?) I'm waiting for the first US law firm in the northern climes to spray their logo on snowdrifts on a wintry night.


Client Team Management with Interaction Software

The most effective way to generate new files and revenue is through cross-selling, and the most efficient way to sell more services to clients is to create client teams. BTI Consulting lists client teams as one of a law firm's "Power Marketing Practices." However client teams produces data, relationships, lawyer activities, revenue goals and management work that overwhelms the team leader.

Interaction, the company known for its client relationship management software, is riding to the rescue with its new Strategic Account Management (SAM) program. According to product manager Jason Maeder the SAM program:

  • Connects to all the information from Interaction's CRM system.
  • Collects all contact information, activities, tasks and goals into a set of charts.
  • Creates a client team workplace, so that team members and log in and see announcements, opportunities, activities and appointments.

Interaction Client Team home page

The team leader decides who's on the team, and a chart displays all the members, their titles and contact information. The leader can see the year-to-date revenue, set new revenue goals and relationship goals. Scored on a scale of -1 (no communication) to 5 (strong relationship), a relationship rating can be strengthen by visits, meetings and number of communications.

"A leader can check what individuals are doing without calling a meeting," Maeder said. Individual lawyers have their own home page including tasks, relationship goals and opportunities.

Accountability is the key element.  SAM sends out email notices and reminders to lawyers who have been inactive. "It's a method to grow client satisfaction and share of wallet, tying an action plan to it and laying out steps to achieve the goal."



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Poken Your Way to Easier Networking

poken, networking, law firm marketing, marketing directorWhen two Pokens touch, digital identification information is exchanged, including a photo, name, address, telephone number, email address and links to various social networks, including MyLegal.com, LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook, according to MyLegal.com CEO Lisa DiMonte.

You'll be able to use pokens at MyLegal.com's one-day conference on Thursday, October 21, 2010 at Georgetown University Hotel and Conference Center. The presenters of the conference, The Case for Social Media: Managing Your Online Presence to Build Your Law Practice, are lawyers, who also happen to be recognized social media experts. They will be sharing their advice and experience on how to use social media to build your law practice. 

Yours truly is the luncheon speaker, and I'll be talking about using LinkedIn for business development.

One of the main reasons people attend conferences is for the networking opportunities. Meeting someone in person and establishing a personal, face-to-face connection is the foundation of any worthwhile and meaningful relationship. So what does everyone do? Exchange business cards. Then what happens? You get back from the conference with the pile of cards (assuming you haven’t lost any along the way) and you are immediately brought “back to life” and the unenviable task of digging out of your email and handling the problems of the day.

The unique Poken ID is connected to a social business card that every attendee creates on the Poken website. Each Poken holder can enter contact information and links to his/her social networks. All contacts that you’ve made at the conference can be uploaded to your computer as an Outlook Contact when the event is over, and they will appear on your “social time line,” which is a complete record of everyone you meet at the conference.

Please go here to read Lisa's article on the LawMarketing Portal.


Portfolio billing: A valuable option for solos, small firms

Patrick LambFrom and article by Correy E. Stephenson, Esq., Associate Editor of Lawyers Weekly: "Solos and small firms looking for ways to attract new customers and stabilize their income should consider an increasingly popular option: portfolio billing.

"Portfolio billing is an arrangement where a law firm takes on all the legal work – or a specific subset of legal work, like all employment litigation, for example – for a client at a flat fee, explained Larry Bodine, a business development advisor at Chicago-based Larry Bodine Marketing and owner of the site www.LawMarketing.com.

"The arrangement offers benefits for clients – pre-determined legal costs – as well as law firms – predictable income.

"The trend began with larger firms, like Shook, Hardy & Bacon, which agreed to handle all of Tyco, Inc.’s product liability litigation, and Orrick Herrington & Sutcliffe, which represents Levi Strauss & Co. in all non-intellectual property issues.

"But this form of alternative billing is also a viable option for smaller firms and even sole practitioners.The following are some of the issues to consider when crafting a portfolio billing agreement:

  • Define the scope.
  • Consider resources.
  • Historical costs.
  • Time period.
  • Trust and communication.

Patrick Lamb, a partner at the nine-member Valorem Law Firm in Chicago, agreed.

Lamb and his partners started Valorem in January 2008 with an alternative billing philosophy, and he estimated that roughly 30 percent of the firm’s work is done as part of a portfolio billing agreement.

“Portfolio billing is a great thing for small firms and solos,” he said. “It smooths out bumps and provides predictable revenue flow, so you can meet payroll, pay rent, etc. And it allows you to offer value to clients.”

For the full article, please go here.


Top 10 Website SEO Mistakes Law Firms Make

If your firm website is not on the first page of Google search results, it could simply be a lack of special HTML tags, inconsistent page content, broken links and lack of a Google site map.

"The web pages of most law firms fail to take advantage of any search engine optimization techniques, and, as a result, their web pages will not rank highly in the search engine results for the legal practice areas that the firm is promoting on these same pages. Additionally, search engines often fail to fully index law firm websites because of their design issues or architectural issues," Jeff says in an article on the LawMarketing Portal.

Here are the top 10 website SEO mistakes that law firms make:

  1. No Search Engine Metatags, or Metatags of Very Low Value.
  2. Inconsistent and Confusing Page Content.
  3. Broken Links.
  4. No Google Site Map.
  5. Not Submitting Website to Google and Other Search Engines.
  6. Spam Metatags.
  7. Placing Too Much Page Content in Images.
  8. Flash Generally.
  9. Overemphasis on Keyword Metatags.
  10. Not Understanding the Importance of Search Engine Optimization.

2015 UPDATE: Since this post was originally written the SEO landscape has changed substantially. For the latest on law firm SEO best practices, I recommend following LawLytics. For example, meta keyword tags are no longer needed at all. I use LawLytics for my main website. They are great about giving you straight information and advice, and make sure that their attorneys stay current with best practices.


CMO Positions Going Unfilled

Stephen Nelson, law firm marketingThere are at least 25 CMO positions that remain vacant at major law firms around the country, according to an informal count by Stephen Nelson, Managing Principal of the McCormick Group executive search consultants in Arlington, VA.

Some of them are at firms covered by the LawMarketing Newsletter, which has reported on the new jobs taken elsewhere by CMOs formerly at Thompson Hine, Morrison & Foerster, Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher and Pillsbury Winthrop.  The word is that many law firms are not refilling the top level positions.

Why? "Business development has been very hard to implement at many firms," Nelson said.  It's a known fact that 25% of lawyers can't be rehabilitated to do business development - see Personality: Why 25% of Lawyers Can't Sell

"The sentiment at some firms is that they can handle business development themselves," Nelson said. "And they can save on a big salary temporarily."  In a major city like Boston, DC or Los Angeles, a CMO Salary can run from $300,000 to $450,000.  In New York, the salary can be $500,000 or higher.

Nelson noted that in 2009, other departments like Human Resource also got hit very hard at law firms that downsized.  See 2009 was the Worst Year Ever for Law Firm Layoffs, when 12,196 people laid off by major firms.

Nelson believes that CMO hiring will revive this year.  "Firms have gone such a long time with a lean business development staff.  If a partner's pet project is not getting done, or the firm can't get an RFP out in time, then everything changes."  Nelson is one of the few recruiters to helps law firms find partners as well as CMOs.

25 Great Examples of Guerrilla Marketing

From the E.Junkie.Info blog:

Guerrilla Marketing is the most innovative form of marketing a business, it requires imagination, humor, wit and is executed in the most unconventional way, in the oddest of places. Creativity is the essence of guerrilla marketing.

Some people call it stunt marketing, while some refer to it as stealth marketing. The idea is to target customer in the most unexpected places, with the aim of generating curiosity and in the process, leaving a lasting impression. It creates brand awareness through interactive campaigns, sometimes combined with a surprise element.

Although Guerrilla Marketing is considered apt for small business owners, since it results in maximum awareness with minimum resources. But big companies like Coke or McDonald engage in this form of marketing too, because they realize that this style of marketing creates more buzz than any conventional form of marketing ever could. Also when it comes to issuing a message with public interest, guerrilla marketing has proven to be quiet effective.

Below are 25 innovative and laudable examples of guerrilla marketing:






Four Steps to Building Great Client Relationships

Dustin Cole, law firm marketing, marketing directorMany attorneys believe their next client relationship will be “the luck of the draw,” so to speak. To some extent that’s true. But it’s absolutely possible to build a practice that is virtually free of problem clients and has strong cash flow – if you’re willing to refine or redesign your client intake and communications processes, according to Dustin Cole of Longwood, FL, who teach lawyers business skills.

In an article on the LawMarketing Portal, he says Step #1 is Choose Your Clients Carefully, and reject the "F" clients, who cost you time and aggravation, and actually hold a lawyer back from building a practice.  Charging $200 for an initial consultation will filter out the shoppers looking for free advice.

Step #2 is: Define the Working Relationship and Set Client Expectations, and walking through the engagement letter, billing, payment, and how to facilitate communications best.

Step #3 is "Communicate, Communicate, Communicate," by realizing that every conversation either increases or decreases trust.  Return clients calls promptly and send invoices out regularly.

Step #4 is Live by Your Own Standards. Many an “A” client slips to “D” or “E” or even “F” because of lack of enforcement of the standards that were explained to them. When clients fails to pay bills and the attorney continues to work, the clients learn they don’t have to pay. When the attorney takes a week to return the client’s call, the client comes to believe his or her problem isn’t important to the attorney. When clients receive unidentified papers in the mail, they get worried and fearful.

Fur the full article visit http://bit.ly/90ZT0d.


The State of Employment in the Law Plus Tips for Job-Seekers

Kate Neville, law firm marketing, marketing directorIn the harshest job market I've seen in my lifetime, career consultant Kate Neville says there are jobs to be found in employment law, healthcare, technology transactions and corporate compliance.

In an article on the LawMarketing Portal she also offers key tips for attorneys to getting a job in the private sector, federal government, and outside of law practice.

Emphasizing the importance of business development skills in getting a job, she notes:

  • Attorneys at all levels were laid off from law firms across the country, from first year associates to equity partners whose firm management decided that they were not bringing in their share of business.
  • The business model of large law firms has changed, so that — in contrast to prior downturns in the legal market — many predict that the legal jobs eliminated in the last two years are not coming back.
  • Clients have begun to object to legal fees increasing faster than other expenses. Law firm management has been motivated to maintain or increase their profits per partner , so hiring of attorneys who do not have business to bring with them remains down across firms.

Recently, other areas within the law have begun to pick up, and private employers—both firms and in-house — are in fact hiring lawyers to fill these needs. She identifies the several areas that recruiters say are in in demand and offers tips to help attorneys looking for a job maximize their chances of landing one.  See http://bit.ly/93QWkY for the full article.

"If you are really fast and really pleasant, you don't really have to be all that smart"

Richard Russeth, Law Firm MarketingI love this line from Richard Russeth's blog The Last Generalist. As the General Counsel for Leprino Foods in Denver, CO, he offers 7 mistakes to avoid with your in-house client:

1) Email Signature Line I cannot tell you how many times I think to myself: “I should give Bill a call.” And I search for Bill on my email account, get a bunch of hits, open one at random and... nothing. No address. No phone(s). No website. Nothing. It is such a simple thing. Or, worse yet, I get an email from someone, open it, and decide I should call them and...nothing. So I have to look up the firm, look up the lawyer and then call. Sure, I should probably have everyone’s number immediately available on my cell or my office phone - but really, wouldn’t you like to make it just as easy as possible for me to call you?
2) Call Me Back We all like email. We can pose and respond to questions in “email time.” Which is to say, in our own good time. But guess what, when your client actually phones you, its safe to say she’s not operating on Internet Time. She’s operating on “I’ve Got A Problem, Pick Up Your Damn Phone” Time. Or it may be one of those issues that takes too long to write about or is too nebulous or whatever. In any case, if your client leaves you a message, call him back ASAP. Around my office we have a two hour rule. Any email and any phone call must get returned within two hours - unless its clear from the email or the voice mail that the two hour rule need not apply.
3) Keep Your Promises I met with the senior partner of BIG, LABOR & FIRM, a very large and famous US law firm that focuses almost exclusively on employment law issues to see what they could do for me on a very specific topic that was of some importance to me, and for which they claimed not a little experience. “We’ll be back to you next week with a proposal laying out the work to be done, a time line and a budget estimate,” said well-dressed partner. Shook hands. Exchanged pleasantries. He left. That was a month ago. Suffice to say that even if I ever actually get the proposal, its unlikely that BIG, LABOR & FIRM will ever get a billable hour from my company.
4) Bill, Bills and Disagreements Two different scenarios for your consideration. Scenario A: I get a bill from the firm of INCREDIBLY, EXPENSIVE & SMART. Its a very large bill. Really large. Seven figures big. I find what I consider to be an error, an inappropriate charge or too many lawyers or something. Maybe five figures. I call you. The senior partner. We talk. You get all defensive. Really defensive. And we finish our call without resolution. I get an email a week later offering to split the difference. Now Scenario B. I buy a pair of really, really expensive shoes at Nordstrom. After wearing them for three weeks, I take them back because they hurt my feet. They give me my money back and don’t even ask why I’m returning the shoes. But they do so because they want me to buy another pair of shoes later that I probably won’t return. And to do that again and again and again. You see, they want to sell me all the shoes I will ever buy and take back the very occasional one I don’t like.
If Nordstrom was a law firm, I’d give them my business. All of it.
5) Smart, Fast and Pleasant I once asked a NY lawyer, to whom I gave much business, what the secret to his success was: “Well,” he said. “I find that if you’re smart and know a lot about the law, give your client’s really fast turnaround on their issues, and are pleasant to work with, you get and keep lots of clients.” He paused for a moment and then said with a twinkle in his eye: “And if you are really fast and really pleasant, you don’t really have to be all that smart.”
6) We’re Your Customers, Not Your Clients You are not doing us a favor by being our legal counsel. You might think you are, but then I probably wouldn’t hire you in the first place or ever use you again, as the case may be. Oh, sure, for all your professional responsibility analysis and conflict analysis and for referring to us in court, please say: “my client.” But you should think, “my customer.” Because that’s what we are. You might be smarter than us in many ways, but we were smart enough to hire you. And we’ll be smart enough to fire you, if it comes to that.
7) Don’t Be Busy The best outside counsel I ever had always made me feel like I was his only client. Clearly, since he was a partner in a major NY firm, that was not the case. But I felt like I was and that was pretty great. He understood items 1 – 6 of this blog post. I guarantee that nothing grates worse for a client than “I am totally swamped right now, I could get to this in a couple of days – would that be OK?” No, its not. Trust me, there’s a firm down the street or across the country (doesn’t much matter anymore where the firm is, does it?) that will do it for me TODAY.

Clients Can Find 250+ Firms with Advisors2Go iPhone App

Advisors2GoClients can now find locations, street maps and profiles of 250+ law and accounting firms in 105 countries using a new free business iPhone app called Advisors2Go.

"Unlike many other iPhone apps, the majority of Advisors2Go's functionality works without a web connection and it takes advantage of the iPhone's intuitive interface, built-in GPS and Google Maps, and integration with email, web, contacts and phone," said Giles Brake, Marketing & Business Development Manager, MSI Global Alliance. 

Advisors to go New YorkLondon-based MSI is one of the world’s largest associations of independent professional services firms. It was formed in 1990 as an alternative to the large professional firms, and in response to the growing need for cross-border co-operation between professional services firms.

“Nothing is more frustrating for a growing, entrepreneurial business than having to deal with one of the large law or accounting firms that may have international offices, but isn’t structured in a way that can deliver the expected levels of service or offer competitive rates, says MSI’s Chief Executive James Mendelssohn.

"Our lawyer and accountant members have the ability to view the profiles of all 250 member firms and around 800 partners, to quickly fire off an email, call the person directly, add the person's details to their address book, and share the contact with a friend, all from within the app. They can also zoom in to the street locations of all firms using the app's built-in Google maps," Brake said.

The app can be viewed and downloaded from iTunes: http://bit.ly/ajNaZh

“Advisors2Go allows us to engage lawyers and accountants deeper within our member firms, and will help us stimulate greater communications and referrals. We plan to offer Advisors2Go to users of BlackBerry and Android Smartphones, and will add new content and functionality to our app in the near future," Mendelssohn said.


Hot Areas of Law Practice Revealed in New Survey of In-House Lawyers

How Area of Law Practice, law firm marketing, marketing directorAccording to a new survey by Inside Counsel magazine, the following practice areas increased in volume the most—or experienced little or no change -- during 2009:


1. Corporate Governance

2. Labor and Employment

“A lot of things from the new administration are just hitting now. We’re going to see that continue.” – Ron Peppe, vice president, legal and human resources, Canam USA

3. Litigation

4. Regulatory

5. Intellectual Property

 “IP has become more important to everybody, whether it’s GM and whether [its employees] are authorized to use the word Chevy … or my company protecting creative rights for fashion.” – Lorraine Koc, vice president and general counsel, Deb Shops


1. Antitrust

2. Environmental

3. Securities & Finance

“While the economy appears to be on its way back, it’s not as if we’re back to the bullish days of years ago. Financing is difficult.” – Karl Racine, managing partner, Venable

4. Mergers & Acquisitions

“Everyone is waiting for the dust to settle and see where the businesses will end up at the end [of the recession].” – Elizabeth Large, vice president and interim general counsel, Knowledge Learning Corp.

5. International

Inside Counsel surveyed more than 550 senior legal executives on the current state of their legal departments, as well as the evolution of their relationship with outside counsel.

For a full report on the survey, visit the LawMarketing Portal.