Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Solo And Small Firm – Representing Clients With Adverse Interests

By James A. Schmidt

If the ambitious plans of the Solo/Small Firms Section have been accomplished, by now you should be sitting back in your chaise lounge chair, with the only care in your world being trying to remember whether you ordered a Mai-Tai or Pina Colada. We hope.

This year the section carried out its ambitious plan to help its members become more efficient through using the vast resource of non-lawyers at their fingertips. The theory is that we, solo and small firm lawyers, need to use our external resources more than any other stripe of lawyer, in order to maintain a competitive edge against larger, more sophisticated organizations. And we figured that non-lawyers, in their many versions, would be a great resource to start with.

Over the course of our four lunch meetings, we heard from an auditor, a certified fraud examiner, a panel of three valuation experts (each with their own specialty), and a panel of three business coaches. We almost made it through the year with only non-lawyer speakers, but in full disclosure, this last panel included two lawyers. But one of them is a full-time business consultant, and the other wore his coaching hat for the afternoon.

Let us recognize and give thanks to this year’s brave speakers. First, Patrick Dougherty, an MBA, CPA, and auditor with The Florida Bar, gave us a terrific presentation on law firm accounting. We co-produced this program with the Real Property, Probate and Trust Law and Marital & Family Law Sections. (Thank you for all of your cooperation and support!) Secondly, Laura Krueger-Brock, CPA, CFE, and shareholder with CBIZ Mayor Hoffman Mann, spoke to our group about the scope of services that fraud examiners get into. This interesting discussion included several examples of family and business law cases where she was engaged to assist attorneys in sleuthing out the facts.

Our panel of valuation experts gave us a valuable hour of their services, each sharing with us a slice of how they approach the tricky question of making the valuations that so often we rely on in our litigation and transactions. Matthew Griffith, MAI and principal with Whitewater Realty Advisors, gave us his perspective on the real estate market and his business of valuing commercial real estate. Joni Herndon, a state-certified residential real estate appraiser, shared her thoughts on the residential market. And Tammy Blackburn gave us a primer on how she values personal property (inventory, equipment, etc.).

And our last lunch, themed on attorney entrepreneurship, was led by Sherida Ferguson, a certified financial planner and owner of SL Ferguson Wealth Management Services, who discussed financing basics. Bill Yanger, attorney and self-taught online marketer, shared his secrets on law firm marketing. With persuasion, Yanger explained the importance of having an online presence and the law firm’s webpage. He cited how his own efforts have led him to develop a practice that includes many clients outside of Florida and the United States who have matters pending in our local courts. Michael Marget, attorney turned business consultant and owner of 4 Law Firm Services, explained the benefits of outsourcing resource-draining tasks such as managing your own accounting and IT needs.

In all, it was a productive and educational year. We hope this effort has helped you learn something that benefited you in your practice and perhaps achieved that goal of giving you the edge you need. If so, then even if you are not reading this from your lounge chair, with only trifles for concerns, you must be on your way.