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Illinois Bar Journal


Twenty years ago, law firm document management revolved around meticulously organized manila files, metal drawers, and bankers boxes, with instructions not to fold, spindle, or mutilate them as they were being physically transported to another attorney or a courtroom.

While those physical manifestations still remain to varying degrees in law offices, document management today is more likely to focus on electronic files that need to be created and managed on a server or in the cloud, with instructions to ensure they're adequately encrypted before being electronically transported to one of the aforementioned destinations.

Paul Unger, a partner with Affinity Consulting Group who works with attorneys and law firms, recommends that legal offices use a top-shelf, sophisticated electronic document management system to handle the creation and storage of most types of documents.

"If we're talking about transactional attorneys - or even if it's litigation, but it's your own work product, your own correspondence and responses - anything we would draft ourselves, pleadings, motions, I would recommend in today's age that a firm have a document management system," he says. Unger recommends four primary choices: Worldox, NetDocuments, iManage (formerly Interwoven Worksite), and Open Text (formerly Hummingbird). Find out more in the May IBJ.


"If you think that most malpractice claims come from administrative errors like the failure to file documents, think again," writes Karen Erger in the April Illinois Bar Journal.

"[Consistently, the ABA's quadrennial study of malpractice claims has] found that substantive errors are the largest category of errors alleged in legal malpractice claims, Erger writes in her IBJ Loss Prevention column, sponsored by the ISBA Mutual Insurance Company. "In the 2016 study, for the first time since the 1999 study, substantive errors account for more than half of alleged errors. And the single most common error is a substantive error, namely 'Failure to Know/Properly Apply the Law,' which accounts for 15.38 percent of claims in the 2016 study. This validates the risk management maxim that dabbling in unfamiliar areas of practice is risky business, and underscores the importance of concentrating your practice on a few areas of law so that you can stay competent and capable in those areas," she writes.

In fact, administrative errors have fallen "from 30.13 percent of claims in the 2011 study to 23.15 percent in the 2016 study," Erger writes. "The study's authors suggest that '[b]etter computer calendaring systems, e-filing, electronic record keeping, and multiple modes of communication with clients appear to have assisted attorneys in managing their law practice.'"


"This past January, many newspapers carried stories of lawyers at airports, including O'Hare, offering assistance to immigrants and their families in light of the January 17 Presidential Executive Order on immigration," ISBA General Counsel Charles Northrup writes in the April Illinois Bar Journal. "The stories were often accompanied by photos of lawyers holding up hand-written signs saying things like 'Need a Lawyer?' or 'Lawyers Here to Help.'"

As Northrup puts it, he is "burdened to view the world through the lens of legal ethics," and his first thought was, "Isn't this improper in-person solicitation?"

Northrup explains that Illinois Rule of Professional Conduct 7.3, which governs in-person solicitation of clients, provides in subsection (a) that "a lawyer shall not by in-person, live telephone or real-time electronic contact solicit professional employment when a significant motive for the lawyer's doing so is the lawyer's pecuniary gain…."

When it comes to optimizing your practice, do you trust your gut? Don't. If you aren't using data to measure what works and what doesn't, you can't be sure you're winning, says Jeffrey S. Krause, a partner at law-office management consulting firm Affinity.

The movie Moneyball features a scene during which a group of scouts for the Oakland Athletics sit around a table babbling about which players they think have the most potential for their team, citing characteristics like "he's got a strong jaw" and "he's got an ugly girlfriend, which means he lacks confidence."

The team's general manager, Billy Beane (played by Brad Pitt), admonishes the grizzled assemblage about the inherent imprecision of their old-school metrics and turns instead to a young whiz-kid well versed in computers, who can tell him statistics like which players get on base the most, and thus score the most runs and help the team win. The team ends up riding a late-season 20-game winning streak to a playoff berth, despite having a lost three star players during the offseason.

Krause believes that attorneys can make similar use of metrics to score the most clients and overall work and help their firms win. "When you're looking at a baseball player, saying that somebody has potential, well have they realized that potential?" Krause says. "He seems to have speed; well, if that speed isn't translating into an extra base here or there, what good is that speed?

On January 25, 2017, Illinois State Representatives Will Guzzardi, Steven Andersson, and Tom Demmer introduced HB 689. The bill, which has bipartisan support and 14 other co-sponsors, would amend various asset-forfeiture statutes to increase fairness to property owners, increase transparency in the forfeiture process, and remove financial incentives that encourage police and prosecutors to seize citizens' property.

Civil forfeiture is heavily used under current Illinois law. Unlike criminal asset forfeiture, civil forfeiture does not require a criminal conviction before an individual's property can be taken by the government. In some situations, property owners may not be aware that a forfeiture proceeding is taking place because the case is brought in rem. HB 689 would change that.

The bill's changes are in line with recommendations by two strange ideological bedfellows, the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois and the Illinois Policy Institute. The two organizations recently produced an article examining asset forfeiture in Illinois and proposing reforms for the existing system (read it at http://www.aclu-il.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/11/civil-asset-forfeiture.pdf).

Find out more about the bill in the March Illinois Bar Journal.

Beginning next year, lawyers who don't carry malpractice insurance will have to complete a four-hour assessment of their ethical knowledge and management practices.

Each year, the ARDC requires Illinois attorneys to report whether they or their firms carry malpractice insurance. That information is made public via the ARDC's website, although a prospective client may not know the website exists, let alone that it provides such information. On January 25, 2017, the Illinois Supreme Court amended Rule 756(e) by implementing "proactive management based regulation" (PMBR). The new rule will require attorneys who do not carry malpractice insurance to complete a four-hour interactive, online assessment of the operations of their firm. The assessment is based on both ethical rules and best business practices. It will be conducted every two years, beginning in 2018. (For more about PMBR, see the June 2016 Illinois Bar Journal cover story.)

According to James Grogan, the ARDC's Deputy Administrator and Chief Counsel, 41 percent of solo practitioners in Illinois do not carry malpractice insurance. There are roughly 13,500 solo attorneys in the state, which means some 5,500 practice uninsured. What's more, nine percent of small firms do not maintain malpractice insurance policies.

For about a dozen years after Kerry Lavelle founded his namesake law firm a quarter-century ago, he was based in the loop and took what cases he could find, enjoying steady success that enabled him to grow the firm to five lawyers, which he took pride in at the time.

About 13 years ago, he moved the firm to northwest suburban Palatine and undertook a change in direction aside from geography. "I took a very different approach: I built a business plan, and with the right discipline, we really grew the firm, and we now have 24 attorneys," says Lavelle, who will speak in Moline March 31 at the ISBA Solo and Small Firm Practice Institute on "Build It and the Profit Will Come: Simple Steps to Building Your Business Plan."

Lavelle didn't just throw himself into this exercise blindly. "I read a lot of business books, and I realized there's more to a business plan than just the pro forma financials," he says. "A business plan is a model to really touch on all the necessary elements of the business going forward. And if you stick to those goals and those truisms, you will be successful."

A business plan can help lawyers flesh out their ideas, and in some ways the journey is more enlightening than the destination, says Debbie Foster, partner at Affinity Consulting Group, who helps law firm clients put business plans together.

Consumers go online to rate restaurants, hotels, retail businesses, and home services. Specialized sites have sprung up to rate teachers, professors, doctors, and other professionals. So why should lawyers be an exception?

In fact they're not, and for that reason they need to promote - and defend - their reputation online much as they do in physical space, although the specific concerns and methods may differ. To begin with, attorneys need to claim and populate their page on the legal website Avvo, while promoting themselves elsewhere on other social media, says Stephen Fairley, CEO of The Rainmaker Institute.

"It's better to play offense than defense," he says. "It is not a matter of if you will get a negative review, it is a matter of when. Eventually, someone is not going to like what you did. It's better to take a proactive approach. We are in the consumer review economy. You can't get away from it. It is what it is. Let's deal with it." Find out how to respond to negative reviews in the February Illinois Bar Journal.

Want to get paid faster? First, always walk your client through the initial bill. Second, don't omit details or use shorthand abbreviations on your bills. Third, never delay sending your bill -- especially after a favorable outcome. Fourth, make it as easy as possible for your client to pay you (e.g., via credit card). Finally, the only thing better than being paid immediately after sending a bill is being paid in advance via a security retainer or an advance payment retainer. Find out more from the Clio blog and the September Illinois Bar Journal.

Recent amendments to the Illinois Marriage and Dissolution of Marriage Act create a formula for calculating spousal maintenance that factors in the spouses' incomes and the length of their marriage. The amendments also affect child support because an increase in maintenance now corresponds to an -- often dramatic -- child-support decrease.

The new maintenance formula is triggered only if a judge first determines that maintenance is appropriate, and only if the combined gross income of the parties is less than $250,000 and no multiple family situation exists.

But though the formula was supposed to make outcomes more consistent, the statutory language creates its own puzzles. Questions about how to calculate gross income, the implications of deviating from the guidelines, and other factors are probably headed for the reviewing courts. Find out more in the September Illinois Bar Journal.