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August 2000

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Web Watch

Cyberspace Help For Managing Your Firm

From supervising your staff, to rainmaking, you're likely to find online answers to law practice management challenges.

By Robert J. Ambrogi

Cyberspace Help For Managing Your FirmSETTING GOALS. Making rain. Appeasing clients. Taming technology. Supervising staff. Keeping books. Collecting accounts.

And you thought you would be practicing law!

For help in handling the managerial tasks that can deluge a law practice, turn to the Web. Bar associations, management consultants and others are there to help.

Bar Associations

What may well be the most comprehensive site on the Web devoted to law office management is ABA Law Practice Today sponsored by the ABA Law Practice Management section. The LPM section is the ABA's largest publisher of books; sponsor of its annual TECHSHOW; and home to Law Practice Management magazine and Law Practice Quarterly newsletter.

The site combines these into something that is part library, part storefront. Shop its shelves of book titles or purchase TECHSHOW course materials. Or browse its stacks of free resources, including full-text articles from its magazine and newsletter on marketing, management, technology and more; presentations and outlines from Techshow; and special-focus sections on legal writing and rainmaking for women lawyers.

From the site, you can sign up for the section's free, monthly e-mail newsletter,

Managers of smaller firms will find plenty to read at the Web site of the ABA's General Practice, Solo and Small Firm section. Much of the content comes from the pages of the section's magazine, GP Solo. Four issues each year focus on substantive legal topics and how best to manage a law practice; two issues are devoted to technology for solo and small-firm lawyers; and two compile the best articles for solo and small-firm lawyers from other ABA publications. Also at the site are selected articles from the section newsletter, Solo.

The Web site of the Association of Legal Administrators is the online headquarters of this international organization of law firm managers. Like many association sites, it is divided between public areas and those for members only. The member areas contain many of the most practical features, including current industry news, document-delivery and reference services, and a database of ALA members available for peer consulting in particular areas of expertise.

Also for members are discussion groups devoted to general management, technology and human resources. For non-members, the greatest appeal of the site may be in its Job Bank and Management Gateway. The former is a listing of positions wanted or available in legal management. The latter is a useful collection of links to legal and management resources on the Web.

From the bars of Virginia, Hawaii, New Mexico and Arizona comes The Law Office Hornbook the online version of a quarterly periodical they sponsor that focuses on malpractice avoidance, firm management and professional liability.

Articles at the site are described as being expanded versions of those from the hard-copy edition. Issues available online date from 1996. Each issue includes three to four articles -- some in-depth, others simple updates -- on topics such as client-file retention, fee arbitration, trust accounts and attorneys' liens. A site that is simple but informative.

Not quite a bar association, LawNet Inc. is an organization of technology users in the legal industry, made up largely of MIS directors, controllers,administrators and attorneys with an interest in technology. It publishes a quarterly newsletter as well as various white papers on topics such as litigation support and MIS hiring and retention. It also hosts special-interest groups that focus on particular vendors.

Its Web site offers information on all of these activities, but little substantive content, meaning that there is no reason to visit here other than for those interested in learning about LawNet.

Private Sites

In 1996, Larry Bodine, director of communications at Chicago's Sidley & Austin and one-time editor-in-chief of the ABA Journal, created an e-mail discussion list for lawyers, law-firm marketing directors and outside marketing consultants to compare notes and share information. That list now has more than 1,200 subscribers and has spawned a Web site spin off, also hosted by Bodine, The Law Marketing Portal.

It is a resource rich with information on legal marketing. Still home to the LawMarketing discussion list, the site also features a wide-ranging library with articles by marketing experts from throughout the U.S.A. job bank lists openings for marketing professionals, while a resource directory collects member recommendations for the best forms, consultants, photographers, restaurants, meeting places and just about anything else.

A special "best of" feature extracts threads from the discussion list that focus on specific interests and concerns.

Another site that spun off from something else is Lawyer's Guide to Spreadsheets created as a companion to the book of the same name, written by John Treddenick, a partner in Colorado's Holland & Hart (and member of the LTN Editorial Advisory Board).

Treddenick lacks not for credentials: he wrote two books on using computers in litigation for the American Bar Association; is his firm's CIO; is former editor of the ABA's Law Practice Management magazine, and is now editor of its Webzine, Law Practice Today.

He created the site primarily as a place to post the spreadsheet files and illustrations used in his book, but also to encourage others to post their own spreadsheets and to discuss their use in legal practice.

The site includes spreadsheets for calculating post-judgment interest, present and future values, sale taxes, property taxes and stock options.

Treddenick also provides a PowerPoint presentation and other seminar materials relating to the use of spreadsheets. Unfortunately, the collaborative aspect of the site is lacking: a discussion forum has only a few posts and there appear to be no spreadsheets contributed by others.

Before there was the Marketing Portal, there was a Web site which was a useful and fairly extensive collection of links to information and resources on the Web related to legal marketing. Along came FindLaw, which acquired the site, added some links of its own along with a new design, and thus was born, FindLaw Lawyer Marketing.

The site provides links -- many of them annotated -- to books, articles, video- and audiotapes, Web sites, organizations and software. It also provides directories of marketing consultants and lecturers nationwide and information on CLE programs on marketing.

Overall, it is one of the most comprehensive indexes for legal marketing on the Web.

Originator of that site was one Michael L. Goldblatt, a practicing attorney and legal marketing consultant. With FindLaw having taken over the care and feeding of his site, Goldblatt moved on to something at least a little different, an alliance with Blumberg Excelsior titled Client Pamphlets.

Blumberg, a company that sells legal forms and software, recently added this line of client pamphlets, all written by Goldblatt, for lawyers who want to expand their marketing but avoid the cost of creating a pamphlet of their own.

The twist here is that Blumberg offers, in addition to print pamphlets, pamphlets designed for lawyers to use on their Web sites. The 15 pamphlets address consumer and business topics such as buying a home, pursuing a personal injury claim, writing a will, and collecting business debts.

Lawyers can purchase print versions through the Web site, and lawyers with Web sites can opt to purchase the pamphlets in HTML format. The annual license fee for this is $99 for the first pamphlet and $69 for each additional pamphlet.

When it comes to law-office management, there is no shortage of consultants, and when it comes to the Web, there is no lack of consultants' sites.

There is neither space nor reason to list them all here, and few of them, frankly, offer much reason to visit. Some are better than others, and of the better consultants' sites, one of the best comes from Altman Weil. What makes it site stand out is a large and useful library of articles on management and related topics.

They cover law department and law firm management, outsourcing, alternative billing, technology, marketing, strategic planning, economic and financial management, human resources and organizational psychology. Of course, the site also has information about the company's services and publications and a "store" where you can purchase surveys, newsletters and other products.

With help from these sites, you will soon be back to practicing law.

Robert J. Ambrogi is director of the American Lawyer Media News Service.

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