New adviser to help members managing their practices

Issue September 2004

Joining a growing number of state bar associations that provide business and practice consulting assistance to their members, the MBA is preparing to begin offering the services of a full-time law practice management adviser.

This new addition to the MBA staff will focus primarily on the needs of solo and small-firm practitioners in order to assist them in the delivery of legal services using professional, efficient, effective, economical and innovative law management practices. This new position is a major initiative of incoming MBA President Kathleen M. O'Donnell, as she focuses greater attention this year on the needs of solo and small-firm practitioners across the state.

"I hope this person will provide training to people to actually help them set up their businesses, to answer questions about keeping their clients accounts and generally to teach them things they didn't learn in law school about running a business," O'Donnell said.

The law practice management adviser will, among several key duties, develop an extensive information database on law office management technology issues and products in order to answer members' requests for information and to write occasional articles for Lawyers Journal and other MBA publications. The adviser also will conduct seminars throughout the year addressing such issues as administrative and substantive law systems; client relations; financial management; marketing; technology; risk management; and trust accounting.

The adviser also will work the Board of Bar Overseers to explore the feasibility of developing a diversionary program in lieu of disciplinary action for business-related problems that now come before the BBO.

He or she is expected to work closely with Law Practice Management section council, and will develop a roster of providers for law office management services such as auditors, IT software and hardware.

First Assistant Bar Counsel Constance Vecchione called the position a great idea, saying she is hopeful the person in the position will provide advice on systems necessary for a successful law practice. These run the gamut from conflict checks to making sure trust accounts comply with the new trust accounting rules.

"All of these things contribute to lawyers being unable to spend time working on substance of a case," Vecchione said. "It helps inordinately to have appropriate systems in place and have information you need right in front of you."

As the mechanisms for running a successful law practice aren't taught in law school and aren't necessarily intuitive, Vecchione said professional advice will be helpful to most lawyers, from new practitioners to those setting up new practices to individuals with an ongoing practice.

"This should be a great service and we are pleased to see the bar taking an initiative on it," she said.

Among the state bars that currently have a practice management advisor on staff are Alabama, Arizona, Colorado, the District of Columbia, Florida, Georgia, Maryland, Michigan, Missouri, New Hampshire, New York, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Texas, Virginia and Washington. In addition, several bar associations in Canada offer a similar program, and a growing number of private consultants offer similar services to members of the bar.