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November/December 2006


Business Development for Lawyers: Strategies for Getting and Keeping Clients

By Sally J. Schmidt
ALM Properties, Inc., ALM Publishing, a division of ALM Media, Inc., 2006
306 pages

Reviewed by Janet H. Moore

Although many lawyers think of “marketing” and “business development” as interchangeable, author Sally Schmidt explains how they differ—but also how they can compliment each other. Her new book, Business Development for Lawyers: Strategies for Getting and Keeping Clients, suggests many techniques that lawyers can use to cultivate more clients. For example, the book details how attorneys can best position themselves and their practice by showcasing their expertise and reinforcing their value.

The book also explains how to identify referral sources, make client pitches more successful, and ask clients for their business and “close” the sale. Even the most awkward networker will find some useful suggestions for turning social gatherings into business development opportunities.

Attorneys will appreciate her tips for building client loyalty and handling difficult clients—including freeloading prospective clients who call for complimentary advice but never actually retain a lawyer. Although some of the book’s concepts parallel those presented in other rainmaking books, Ms. Schmidt’s clear explanations and bullet-point suggestions make the book a user-friendly and informative guide.

The book also reinforces many crucial points that lawyer coaches and legal marketers regularly emphasize, like the importance of communicating with clients regularly, and tailoring how legal services are rendered to individual client’s needs. “Lawyers often fail to understand that, in many cases, how the service is provided is as important to the clients as the service itself,” explains Schmidt. (p. 118)

In places the author references interesting studies—like one Harvard Business School study about the characteristics of talented salespeople—without footnoting the source; it would have been nice to have this reference for future follow up. However, this does not seriously detract from the book and its positive, proactive business development advice.

Janet H. Moore, JD, provides executive coaching and consulting for lawyers through International Lawyer Coach, Inc. She is a member of the editorial board of The Houston Lawyer.


Tulia: Race, Cocaine, and Corruption
in a Small Texas Town

By Nate Blakeslee
Public Affairs, 2005, 408 pages

Reviewed by Jeffery A. Addicks

In the summer of 1999, the arrests for alleged distribution of powdered cocaine of over 40 people, mostly black and mostly poor, in and around the small west Texas town of Tulia, Texas was front page news in the local community newspaper. Four years later, these arrests and the subsequent convictions of these individuals would become the subject of the national media and legal watchdog groups from across the country. Nate Blakeslee’s story of a federally-funded, state-sanctioned undercover drug enforcement operation that was performed with the cooperation of local officials in Swisher County brings to mind the racial injustice practiced in southern towns in the 1960’s, and is a glaring example of how fragile our judicial system becomes when completely left unchecked.

The story of Tulia: Race, Cocaine, and Corruption in a Small Texas Town commences with a single overnight drug bust of 35 individuals living in and around Swisher County, Texas based on the undercover work of Texas lawman, Tom Coleman. Sentences as high as 99 years were given to some of the defendants despite uncorroborated and improperly obtained evidence. Coleman, the son of a decorated Texas Ranger, emerges not as the officer many believed him to be, but as an unreliable and unethical opportunist. Further perverting the system, Coleman’s despicable acts were used in court to secure convictions by an overzealous District Attorney that completely outmatched the under-funded, court appointed attorneys for the defendants. Only after 24 people were serving time in Texas prisons, did the arrests and subsequent convictions gain national attention; national attention that was due to the work of three citizens of Swisher County who started the organization, the Friends of Justice, to bring media attention to the drug busts in Tulia. Only then did those in elected positions begin to publicly question the practices of Coleman in securing the arrests. With the assistance of national law firms working on a pro bono basis to overturn the convictions, the Friends of Justice placed the scandal at the forefront of legislative debate in Austin where the Texas House and Senate scrutinized federally-funded multi-jurisdictional drug task forces (such as the one in which Tom Coleman was working in Swisher County) and changed the way the enforcement of drug laws are carried out in Texas.

While Blakeslee’s story is of criminal justice run amok in a tiny west Texas town, his book is a well reasoned reflection of society that is willing to cast a blind eye to injustice, particularly those less able to speak for and defend themselves. The hysteria of the drug war in America, as shown in Blakeslee’s story in Tulia, demonstrates how easily a judicial system may be trampled and the lives of innocent people ruined. While justice triumphs in the end with the reversal of certain convictions and pardons being issued to the Tulia defendants, the bittersweet victory shows what has gone wrong in certain segments of America’s war on drugs.

Tulia is the first book by Nate Blakeslee, a former editor of the Texas Observer. The book is neither a permanent indictment of America’s drug wars, nor an attempt to portray the events of Tulia as an entire community’s neglect of those that live on the other side of the tracks. Rather, Blakeslee has written a thought-provoking story of a perversion of justice through the efforts of mainly one individual that was able to corrupt the criminal justice system in Swisher County. His story is also a reminder that we are all responsible for ensuring that the criminal justice system works to protect the rights of all citizens. This book is a valuable read to those commencing their legal career, as well as those individuals who have spent many years as a part of the criminal justice system.

Under a tree on the property of the Swisher County Courthouse sits a six foot slab of polished granite with the inscription “Law, Order, Education, and Christian Principles have sustained this County for One Hundred Years.” Apparently, in the summer of 1999, certain individuals responsible for administering the criminal justice system in Swisher County walked past such monument without considering those principles.

Jeff Addicks is a shareholder with the law firm of Hays, McConn, Rice & Pickering. He has practiced general civil litigation for the past 17 years.


The Oregon Project

By Natasha Roit
Tapestry Press, Arlington, Texas

Reviewed By Fred A. Simpson

The author (b.1960) has an interesting background, being an accomplished California trial lawyer who was educated in the U.S. after relocating from the Soviet Union at the age of 14. This is her first novel, but there are reports that she is working on another.

The carefully-structured plot has several related components and characters, including members of the Chinese Mafia, a con man who sells phony real estate (“The Oregon Project”), a corrupt district attorney, and a bevy of good guys. And, yes, the book includes an appropriate amount of steamy sex.

With fewer than 200 pages, lots of white space, a large font with simple sentence structure, the book is hard to put down because it also moves right along. All these factors, including the interesting story line, make this an ideal travel companion which can be completed in the down time of a single business trip.

All this is good news for the busy reader. In other words, the text is a novel in Reader’s Digest form – but unabridged. Despite the brevity, however, the author does a remarkable job with her character development.

Fred A. Simpson is a partner in the Houston Litigation Section of Jackson Walker L.L.P. He is also an associate editor of The Houston Lawyer.

How To Build and Manage a Personal Injury Practice

By K. William Gibson
American Bar Association, 2006
134 pages

Reviewed by W. Perry Zivley, Jr.

K.William Gibson authors his second edition of this informative guide for the practice of personal injury law. Gibson has been in private practice in Portland, Oregon since 1980 and has exclusively handled personal injury cases since 1985. He served as chair of the ABA Law Practice Management Section from 2001-2002. Gibson is a frequent columnist for Law Practice magazine, has authored numerous articles on managing a law practice and is a frequent CLE lecturer.

How to Build and Manage a Personal Injury Practice is a thoughtful guide to building a successful law practice. It discusses the challenges a personal injury lawyer faces, particularly in the current tort reform environment. It offers advice not only to young lawyers interested in pursuing a personal injury practice, but also discusses solutions to office and case management pitfalls that would be beneficial to the experienced personal injury practitioner.

This book discusses the advantages and disadvantages of starting your practice as a solo practitioner or building your business with one or more partners. For those considering a partnership, there is an outline of the flashpoint issues that need to be discussed and resolved between potential partners. There is also a discussion of the challenges and reward’s one will face flying solo. It offers sensible suggestions concerning the need to forecast expenses and revenues, making financial arrangements to meet those needs and anticipating, and hopefully minimizing, problems that invariably arise in personal injury cases. The author highlights other important business decisions that need to be initially considered including securing office space, hiring and utilizing support staff, organizing the office and purchasing necessary business equipment.

How to Build and Manage a Personal Injury Practice discusses marketing tools to obtain and maintain a consistent flow of personal injury cases. It stresses the importance of establishing a network of friends, family members and referring lawyers that practice in other fields of law who will call on you when an opportunity to refer a personal injury case arises. The author offers insight into his personal experiences with traditional methods of marketing such as advertising in the Yellow Pages, television and newspaper advertising. He also discusses the use of firm brochures and newsletters to maintain contact with former clients and participation in bar and CLE activities to develop a reputation and visibility in the legal community. He comments on the use of satellite offices, Internet marketing and a variety of lawyer referral programs.

This book provides useful tips regarding efficient use of staff and establishing procedures and protocols to ensure that cases get moved through the pipeline. The author provides a summary of the various litigation case management software programs that will enhance efficiency and effectiveness of your staff and resources. He analyzes the need for appropriate allocation of resources on an individual case basis and outlines a litigation action plan to ensure that each case gets the appropriate time and attention it deserves. There is further discussion on effective methods to prepare for settlement negotiations or trial using modern technology and software.

How to Build and Manage a Personal Injury Practice is an excellent guide that I would recommend for anyone considering personal injury law or who practices personal injury law. It is a quick read that is concisely organized and avoids redundancy. As a bonus the author also provides an Appendix containing checklists and forms (ranging from marketing plans to sample letters to physicians and clients) that are commonly used in a personal injury practice. A CD is provided that contains the referenced forms in Word format that can be integrated into your existing form database.                                   

W. Perry Zivley, Jr., the principal of Zivley Law Firm, has been licensed to practice law since 1986 and handles civil litigation matters including personal injury litigation, commercial and business law litigation, probate litigation, and consumer and insurance law litigation.

Ending the Gauntlet: Removing Barriers to Women’s Success in the Law

By Lauren Stiller Rikleen
Thompson/Legalworks 2006, 409 pages

Reviewed by Janet H. Moore

The compensation and advancement structures at most law firms keep many women lawyers from achieving significant and sustainable professional success, posits Lauren Stiller Rikleen in her recent book Ending the Gauntlet: Removing Barriers to Women’s Success in the Law. Her detailed and thoroughly researched book provides a sobering reminder of just how far women attorneys still have to go to reach professional parity with their male colleagues.

Rikleen, a senior partner at Massachusetts-based Bowditch & Dewey LLP and a former president of the Boston Bar Association, has long researched the advancement of women in the legal profession. She draws on confidential interviews with lawyers and extensive secondary sources to tackle thorny issues including reduced-hour schedules, making partner and compensation.

The author explains many barriers to women’s success in the law. For example, she discusses the importance to lawyers’ careers of both being mentored and succeeding at client development—and examines why many women attorneys experience neither. Rikleen also discusses work/life balance and the pros and cons of part-time schedules; she notes that many managing partners view part-time schedules as “accommodations” (in other words, favors) for particular, superstar women attorneys rather than as retention strategies to reduce the costs of lawyer attrition.

Rikleen extensively quotes from confidential interviews conducted with both male and female partners, associates and in-house attorneys. At times the extensive interview quotes seem to be reiterating the same points. However, substantial research from secondary sources (including several ABA studies) and detailed footnotes counterbalance the quotes and further support the author’s points.

One of the most interesting and perhaps disheartening chapters describes a pervasive and serious disconnect between many managing partners and the lawyers they manage. Rikleen explains that many managing partners only manage part-time, and spend the rest of their time trying to keep their own law practices intact. As a result, many managing partners do not fully understand their attorneys’ concerns and issues. The author also believes that many departments within firms are poorly managed by partners who are appointed not for their managerial talent but for their rainmaking success.

Rikleen starts her book by suggesting that the legal profession might be at the “tipping point” for change, and concludes her book by calling for a culture change. “Culture is the place where strategic planning, workforce development and law firm economics meet. Firms cannot achieve a more diverse workforce and continue to attract top law students through a culture that demands a uniform billable-hour contribution from everyone.” ( p. 284) Noting that young Generation X and Y lawyers—both male and female—increasingly value quality of life, Rikleen encourages law firms to adapt their policies accordingly to retain top talent. 

Rikleen firmly believes that strong law firm leadership can change law firm culture in order to attract and retain top women lawyers. In fact, as she explains in the book’s Acknowledgements, her own law firm succeeded at doing just that.

Janet H. Moore, JD,provides executive coaching and consulting for lawyers through International Lawyer Coach, Inc. She is a member of the editorial board of The Houston Lawyer.