Did you miss the Law Society of Ontario’s solo and small firm conference this year?
We’ve attended this conference every year for the last four years and each year we are impressed with the topics and programs. This conference is always appropriately geared toward issues that solo and small firms face and provides great networking opportunities throughout the day. As freelance lawyers, we are all technically “sole practitioners” (although we are not really sole practitioners, see our blog post on why that is, here) and face the same issues solos/small firms face, so it is a great program for freelance lawyers as well.
This blog post will provide some of the highlights of this year’s conference, in case you missed it!
The title for the conference was: Solo and Small Firm Conference 2018: The 21st Century Lawyer. The chairs were, once again, Kathleen Erin Cullin and Allan Oziel, this year joined by Barbara Hicks.
The opening plenary was by Jack Newton of Clio and was called Using Data to Deliver a Better Client Experience. Jack provided quantitative data (U.S. based) to show how consumers find their lawyers and how lawyers are failing (or succeeding) in delivering legal services (are we capturing all of our time? Are we being efficient? Are we using technology to cut down on inefficiencies?) Our only feedback on this session is that it was too similar to last year’s opening plenary.
After that, we attended a session by Noel Semple called Enhancing Profitability while Increasing Access to Justice. While this topic seems like a bit of an oxymoron, Noel spoke about finding the “Sweet Spot” for personal plight lawyers (lawyers who deal with family law, criminal, and estates, etc. where personal problems and emotions are involved rather than corporate issues) between providing quality and professional services, making a profit, and offering accessible legal services. One possibility was to provide unbundled legal services or working on a limited scope retainer. Another tactic was to learn to delegate or outsource legal work. We wholeheartedly agree with this, outsourcing certain tasks (legal research, drafting, court appearances, blog post drafting) to freelance lawyers (who often charge out at a lower rate) means you can pass those savings on to your client and free up your time.
Megan Cornell, the Founder and CEO of Momentum Law next spoke on using technology to scale your firm or practice at the session Scaling Your Practice: Make More Money with Better Technology and Processes. I wish I had taken more notes during this session as it appears her presentation and slide deck are not in the provided material (unless it has now been recently added?) Megan spoke about doing more with less and getting rid of inefficiencies in your office. For example, she spoke about the “Two Scoop Solution” that her law firm embraces. This came from their use of a coffee machine that required 8 scoops of ground coffee for the perfect pot of coffee. The problem was it took a long time to scoop out 8 scoops. So, they found a larger scoop and figured out two of the larger scoops equalled 8 of the smaller scoop, reducing their time spent on making coffee in the morning. Anything that reduces redundancy and helps with efficiencies improves the overall practice of law and makes for a better client (and lawyer) experience. Megan spoke about some of the technology she uses to automate her practice as much as possible (including Clio, Office 365, Lexicata, Athennian, Closing Folders, LawPay, Typeform, etc.)
We learned how to “cherry-pick” our clients in a session by Marni MacLeod, the Vice President of Skunkworks Creative Group Inc. Marni suggested using “client personas” to target the right audience. What is a “client persona”? It is basically a composite sketch that includes realistic characteristics for a segment of your clients or a new client group you want to attract. Who is your ideal client? A starting point is to look at the clients you already have and look for patterns you can identify, for example clients with a specific legal problem, clients who came from the same referral source, etc. Marni then took us through an exercise to help us start our client personas, so we could target our marketing correctly.
Finally, we attended a session by Brooke MacKenzie of MacKenzie Barristers Professional Corporation, who spoke about 10 Ethical Issues to Watch Out for in Practice. These included the new rules on marketing and marketing restrictions, joint retainer issues, referral fees, conflicts etc.
There were several other sessions happening concurrently that included sessions on the new tax rules; a guide to working with expert witnesses; building a practice that fits your life; disability and accommodation issues in your practice; running your practice as a business; etc. (We unfortunately missed the closing plenary on “Becoming a Blockchain Lawyer” as we had to sneak out early to prep for The Advocates’ Society End of Term dinner.)
Another bonus for conference attendees were unique workshops that were available to those who signed up in advance. The topics for these workshops were: Building Your Professional and Personal Brand on LinkedIn, Using Storytelling Techniques to be more Memorable, Effective Negotiation Principles and Strategies, and Growing your Practice through Equity and Inclusion.
Networking opportunities happened throughout the day (and the night before at the Treasurer’s Dinner at Osgoode Hall), which is always a great way for solos and small firm lawyers to make connections with other lawyers in their areas of practice or to find referral sources. These breaks also gave us a chance to visit the exhibitors’ booths and learn about new technology and services geared toward solo and small firms. Or you could wander over to the “ingenious bar” where you could speak to representatives from various LSO associations: Homewood Health, LawPro, Law Society Referral Service, Practice Management Helpline, Spot Audit, the Action Group on Access to Justice, etc.
We look forward to attending next year’s Solo Small Firm Conference and hope to see you there!