Welcome

Thank you for visiting the Family Law Lawyer Tech & Practice blog. My name is John Harding. I am a family law lawyer practicing in Northern California. Long ago I realized that I could practice law more effectively and more efficiently (i.e., better and easier) by availing myself of the technological tools that are out there. I also learned that a successful law practice requires successful marketing. Hardware and software working together make me a better lawyer, and make my life easier. Marketing helps to bring in the business necessary for professional survival. By this blog I hope to share the tips, tricks, and technology that I have learned about so that others may benefit!

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Accepting Credit Cards In Your Practice

You perform a service for which you are entitled to be compensated. In fact, you need to get paid if you are going to stay in business. Nothing complicated about it. Still, it surprises me how willing clients are to stop paying their bills, and yet they continue to expect uninterrupted legal services. In other instances, you as the lawyer may find yourself in a case that has so much momentum going that thousands of dollars of work can been done before you even know it. Then you send out your bill, and the client cannot or will not pay it. One of the components of successfully operating your law practice as a business is to make it easier for your clients to pay you. Accepting credit cards payments is a great option in this regard.

For the uninitiated here is a primer on credit cards. If you want your clients to be able to pay you with credit cards, you must first identify a credit card servicing company, and then open a "merchant account" with that company. The merchant account is the vehicle by which you enter your client's credit card number. Your merchant account company then processes the transaction, secures the approval for the charge, and deposits the money into the bank account that you have designated.

Your merchant account company makes its money by charging you a "merchant fee" on each transaction. The fee is usually a percentage of the value of the entire transaction, for example, 1%, 2%, 3%. Some vendors also charge a monthly fee.Technology has streamlined the task of processing credit card payments. Combined with competition in the marketplace, merchants fees have come way down.

The bookkeeping burden at your law office end is also becoming more efficient. Many credit card merchants have software that integrates with your bookkeeping or practice management software, to post the transactions right into your books. We utilize Quickbooks Pro for our bookkeeping. Intuit, the publisher of Quickbooks, is also our merchant account provider. We bought a $50 credit card reader from Intuit. When we process credit card transactions we simply plug the reader into the USB port on the computer that hosts our Quickbooks, and we swipe the card. The software communicates online with Intuit's servers, processes the transaction, approves it, posts the fee we receive to our designated Quickbooks account, posts the appropriate merchant fee for the transaction, electronically credits/deposits the money into our bank account, and Bam!, we are paid and done.

Some lawyers are reticent to accept credit card payments because of the merchant fees. I find this hesitation intriguing. As lawyers we readily pay referral fees (sometimes 20% of the fees earned in the case of referral services). Yet some won't pay 1% to get paid themselves. 1% of $1000 is $10. I would sure rather have $990 instead of $0!

If collections are an issue in your practice, and you are not accepting credit cards, you are costing yourself money. Make it easier for your practice to make money. Consider credit cards. Go to your favorite internet search engine, type in "credit card merchant account," and behold the wealth of options available to you!

One caveat: Some states are still in the process of developing rules of professional responsibility regarding credit card payments. Make sure you check the appropriate rules and authorities for your home state.

Please be sure to visit www.hardinglaw.com, the website for the law firm of Harding & Associates, for more information on California family law.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

You Need To Be A Socialist!

Family law lawyers must market their practices. Marketing, in turn, takes many forms. Chuck Newton writes a nifty blog called Chuck Newton Rides The Third Wave. He recently posted his thoughts regrading social networking. It is worth a read. Here is what Chuck writes:

Hold on Tea Party people! I am just pulling your chain. In explaining, however, do not expect me to show you my birth certificate.

Socialism, in the broadest sense of the word, is a theory or system of socialDialog organization. At its root is the term social, which is the act of involvement in many social activities, a devotion to friendly companionship, and pertaining to human society.

It is, in short, about forming connections and bonds with others for the good or comfort of everybody. It is all about social interaction.

TV, radio, newspaper and yellow page advertising is easy, if not expensive, and in the old days it substituted for social interaction. Most lawyers resisted it (read, fought to kill it), but a number of attorneys used it successfully. Media of this type, however, represents really more of a monologue.

Targeted direct mail is a little more flexible in that it invites communication, but it too is really more of a monologue.

Many attorneys gravitated to these forms of media, and some are stuck on them now because, despite the costs, they represent easy marketing. In the words of Ron Popeil, the promoter of the Showtime Rotisserie, they can "set it, and forget it". They can place the ad in the phone book once a year, or set the TV or radio spots in rotation, or turn the direct mail over to list buyers and mail shops, and they do not have to interact with anybody.

Traditional media does not work much like this any more. To be a successful lawyer, you need to have social skills. This might not suit many harden trial lawyers well because, let us face facts, we are all just jerks in a time when people are looking for sincerity and empathy. You need to develop relationships, online and in person.

Social media is a great set of tools to do this. But, we as lawyers should not forget real interaction. I contend that one helps the other. I am connected online to a good number of people I have met in person, and I have had the wonderful opportunity to meet with a lot of people I have met online both professionally and personally.

The new technologies and local engaged groups of people are great from a cost standpoint and the easy with which we can build at least moderately engaging relationships. Most lawyers are horrible at this practice because it takes a degree of commitment to get involved and stay involved. It is not enough to have a Facebook, Myspace, or Linkedin account, establish a blog, join a listserv or have a membership in a particular group. You just cannot "set it and forget it". All of these things cannot just sit out there and be dormant.

That is the problem with static websites. They serve their purpose in that sometimes people are just looking for a pretty stock photo or two and some very basic information. You need to have a website, or have that information integrated into your blog. However, in this day and age you need to be actively engaged with the greater community. Instead of websites and traditional media that represents one voice to many, you need to be actively engaged in dialogs or many voices to many voices.

In politics they call it "grass-roots". Some call it "glad-handing". Regardless of the term, it represents the democratization of knowledge and information that transforms everyone involved from content consumers into content producers.

Lawyers are bad at this grass-root and glad-handing concept for a couple of reasons that are not just related to lawyers. First, despite their busy bee nature, that are typically horrible at active and honest interaction or in maintaining active relationships outside of their family and close circle of friends. They try to place everything else in the "set it, and forget it" mode.

Second, and I think it is related to the first point and to traditional media under which they grew up, they come across as blatant opportunist. Nobody likes that. To many people, including attorneys, tend to communicate to others instead of with people. Those that are motivated at trying to sell legal services act too much like the multi-level marketing people on Twitter. They are always selling. Always preaching. In your face. The problem is that is not social dialog. It is the act of being a carnival barker. This works to a limited extent, but it does not produce ready made clients easily.

In the end, you, as a lawyer, need to just be yourself and be helpful both personally and information wise. You can let people know what you do by talking about your passions. If this is your practice area then discuss it when asked, online and in person. You need to be involved socially for the reason that you want to be involved socially on the issue and topics of which you care. In the end, people can figure out for themselves who is best to represent then or to whom they need to refer a matter. What people want is someone that knows their stuff, who is engaged, and cares about socializing with them, speaking with them, and not barking at them.

A perfect example of the lack of social graces was the recent senate race in Massachusetts. The election might have sent any number of messages. I will let each of you figure out what it means for you politically. But, what it meant socially was that Martha Coakley blasted messages at people, did not engage and interact with her constituents, and went on vacation. In short, she set it and forgot it. Scott Brown, on the other hand, not only actively engaged in social media, the way it is intended to be used to build a community and relationships, he traveled the state aggressively and talk to people, entered into a conversation with people, and did not take them for granted. And, when the time came he was richly rewarded. He did not demand the vote of the people. He demonstrated for people why he should be elected. Coakley did not. In fact, she did the opposite and lost an traditionally winnable race.

The practice of law mirrors politics in so many ways. And, what it teaches us is that in this day and age, even those that fume over socialism and socialist, are more richly rewarded when they engage people socially in person and with the active and sincere use of social media. It is the way to build and maintain a law practice.

Please click here to read Chuck's original article.

Please be sure to visit www.hardinglaw.com, the website for the law firm of Harding & Associates, for more information on California family law.