by Hal L. Pearman, Guest Writer
Originally published in MBA Lawyers Journal
Throughout 1999, Lawyers Journal followed four Massachusetts attorneys tackling the enormous task of retooling their practices by the dawn of the millennium. If successful, each would be well poised for exemplary performance and profitability. Our four-lawyer team decided to maintain its group even after the formal program concluded at year-end. This approach will enable them to follow through on their commitments to the program, which have involved sweeping changes in long-established operational patterns. The four believe their ad-hock board will help them stay on track and further fine-tune new systems and procedures. They now see in their futures a new beginning and offer us their overall evaluations of The Forum.
William D. Norman
Metaxas Norman and Pidgeon
For Attorney William D. Norman, the Atticus® program has caused a shift in his perspective on the practice of law. “Not only have I gotten a lot out of the course, I have enjoyed it,” he said. “What we learned through the program is a set of applications, a process. We fully expect that another year will be required to digest what we have learned and instill procedures into the daily operations of our practices. We intend to help each other through this process by continuing our teleconferences and group meetings.” Norman explained that the first priority is to infuse the new systems, procedures and policies into the practice’s key functional areas. “And it may take time to get them all up and running.”
“The program gives us direction and answers a lot of existing questions,” Norman continued. “Now we have a detailed written plan based on everything Atticus® has told us.” “I have a new sense of organization that I did not have before, especially with all of the systems, such as the time templates,” he said. “With that organization comes a sense of control control over whatever goes on in my practice.”
Richard N. Gottlieb
Attorney Richard N. Gottlieb of Boston pointed to the decision to keep the team in place as clear evidence of the value of that and other Atticus® tools. “I would say I benefited from it overall,” said Gottlieb. “The team idea is a really good one. The majority of the people involved in the Atticus® programs are small law firm attorneys or solos. One of the greatest problems for a solo is the sense of isolation associated with running such a law practice.”
“Through Atticus® I learned that most lawyers view themselves just as lawyers and not as businessmen. It is a difficult but important shift in perspective, which needs to be rekindled regularly if the law practice is to be successful. Lawyers who run their own law firms have to think more like businessmen than strictly as lawyers, or simply as technicians of the law.”
Another meaningful benefit of Gottlieb’s involvement in the program is the sense of support. “In some ways, growing a law firm is a little like raising children,” explained Gottlieb. “Parenting classes point out that if as parents you do your job correctly, then your children will be successful separating from you and living their own lives. I think the same applies to a law practice. If we are successful in building our practices as businesses, they will be self-supporting entities. The firm can continue to function in our absence.” Gottlieb reported that his practice has substantially increased revenue as a result of this change in mindset.
“The program is aggressive, even over a year,” said Gottlieb. “My law firm has changed dramatically. I took an incredible risk, from my point of view, when I followed Atticus®’ recommendations to add an associate and legal assistant.” “The results would have been impossible if I had continued by myself. I would have been running frantically from left to right and would not have accomplished one third of what I have been able to accomplish. Now I have three roles: technician, manager and entrepreneur. Building this type of practice requires a lot of time as an entrepreneur. But it’s like chopping down a tree, not with one big whack, but with constant whacks.”
“I think the program is great. It gets you focused and aligned in the direction you want to take your firm,” said Attorney Christopher Plunkett of Salem. “Atticus® helps me discover how to reach my goals through a program that covers point-to-point all along the way.” Although Plunkett continues to polish his practice’s mission statement, his general ideas have evolved over the past 12 months. “My original ideas continue to grow into better ideas which lead to improvements in the way I run my practice.”
“The Atticus® coaching technique would be beneficial for all attorneys,” he pointed out, adding that use of the coaching technique has led to greater efficiencies in his practice and a greater level of production for clients.
“Our team will continue to meet regularly in person along with phone calls just to keep our focus. Then our overall group will try to meet every 60 and 90 days. When we started the program, Atticus® said that in a year everything would be up and running, but there is a lot of work. The program is just that good.” Plunkett added that many of the ideas he learned in the program crossed his mind before becoming involved with the Orlando-based firm. “Atticus® gave me validation that I had been thinking correctly and provided me with the mechanisms and tools to put actions into place.”
Eileen Z. Sorrentino
Egan, Flanagan and Cohen, P.C.
“What Atticus® has done for me is revolutionize my practice,” exclaimed Eileen Z. Sorrentino of Springfield, which she quickly followed with, “and my practice income has gone way up.” “My source revenue is on a trend to 42 percent higher this year over last. My income, working revenue, is significantly higher than last year.”
Sorrentino credited Atticus®’ many program tools for her firm’s new efficiencies. “I have implemented the case status organizer, time template and a policy for delegation. We have produced job descriptions for everybody and put systems into place for routine matters. For example, if I have to do a guardianship, it’s now a matter of pulling up the instruction sheet. That way, I can delegate completing the forms to the secretary who simply follows the checklist.”
When her firm first embarked on the Atticus® program, Sorrentino set up a series of boxes for daily mail, one for regular mail, another for junk mail, etc., with one box reserved exclusively for urgent correspondence.
“We just got rid of the box marked ‘urgent,’ because we haven’t needed to use it once in the last six months,” she said.
Sorrentino has experienced substantial improvements not only in her professional life, but also in her personal life. “I don’t have to worry all the time,” she said. “Everything is written down. This leads to more stress-free time with my family and by myself. And the pace of my life is a little slower, which is just fine with me.” “Before, when a disaster would hit, I may have said that I hated the practice of law. Now I look at what happened and determine the best way to fix it. This program gave me a real sense of control over my own fate and gave me back the pride and joy I originally had in my work.”