Our experience at Blogwalk Chicago over-shadowed the joint law firm retreat and, not surprisingly, we spent more time talking about LexThink! Chicago than anything else, but Matt and I did spend a fair amount of time on our law practices. More accurately, we talked about mine because Matt’s recently-announced move to California was not yet final and it left his plans in flux.
Let me give you the short version. In many key ways, especially state licensing issues, the current rules of professional responsibility and lawyer regulation stymie the logical progression of my practice. Most of the calls I’ve gotten lately about potential new legal clients have come from people in states where I am not licensed to practice and I refer those people to lawyers in the appropriate jurisdictions. Unfortunately, the current rules very much discourage any kind of referral or finder’s fee arrangement.
We discussed what I’ve called a “Second Pair of Eyes” package where I’d provide a consulting type of service to other lawyers who do not have the experience or expertise with the types of licenses, contracts and transactions I concentrate on. This notion is very attractive to me on many levels and my initial feeling was that it avoided many of the regulatory issues. I thought it worked for lawyers because I had no interest in claiming other work from their clients and, in most cases, I wouldn’t even need to meet with their clients. However, several lawyers have indicated to me that they see even more potential problems under the ethics rules with this approach than I face in the traditional practice, plus potentially more malpractice exposure. The conclusion: interesting possibility, but a lot more research required.
My preference is to focus my legal practice even more so than I do now, looking to focus on Open Source license issues, ASP or hosted services agreements, and Internet agreements. The ideal client base would then become the “consumer” or licensee side of IT transactions, and my practice would then become oriented to “consumer protection” for business entering into important IT agreements. I’d then create a range of service packages and flat-fee arrangements.
An alternative I’ve resisted, and Matt agrees with me, is going back to handling estate planning work, which I did for more than ten years. Although I’m still pretty good at that and could get back up to speed quickly, it’s clear that I need to make my marketing message tighter and simpler, not more confusing.
The last option we talked about is one that really appeals to me. It’s transforming my law practice into a “legal education” practice. In other words, my legal practice turns into the delivery of legal seminars, geared to corporate counsel, business executives, contract administrators and the like. The seminars would cover Open Source licensing issues, contract review and negotiation, and a few focused topics. The seminars would be delivered live for a fee and also turned into audio or video products. By concentrating on the education component and not actively seeking to do specific legal work for a seminar customer, I’d differentiate myself from the law firms providing seminars as thinly-disguised marketing efforts.
Ironically, we both came to the conclusion that the path that made the least sense was developing a traditional law practice, especially since my Internet presence guarantees an increasing number of inquiries from non-Missouri residents. Complicating the issue is the proposed Missouri advertising rules which, if passed, will gut any effective marketing efforts I would want to conduct.
The take-away:
1. The most logical and practical step for my law practice is an “of counsel” or other affiliation with a large national law firm that could put together a creative, part-time option. I’ll be exploring that.
2. The educational seminars approach makes so much sense and fits well within the other speaking and audio projects I’m doing and I’ll move forward on that.
3. I’ll explicitly refocus and narrow the range of my practice, with the emphasis on the notion of “IT consumer protection.”
4. In general, my Internet presence will increasingly emphasize the legal technology side of my business rather than my law practice. My legal marketing will be directed almost completely locally, other than for educational seminars.
5. After a discussion with Marty Schwimmer, my email newsletter – Practical Technology Contract Review News – will soon be making a return in a new format and with a new approach, with a “consumer protection for businesses” point of view. You can email if you want to get on the subscriber list.

The Big Picture Item
– After the conversations that Matt and I had on our respective practices, I can easily make the case for almost any lawyer to hire Matt and me to analyze his or her practice and put together an action plan with follow-up coaching. I’d like to get some feedback on the potential market for that.
My Probably-A-Little-Bit-Ahead-of-Its-Time Idea – Creating a wiki with my business plan and inviting people to review it and make changes and improvements to it.