Last month, as in previous years, the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys (NAELA) held its annual “UnProgram” in Dallas. It’s one of my favorite NAELA events. Elder law practitioners and special needs / disability law attorneys from around the country met in small groups (of 5 to 15 or so) to brainstorm, network, exchange ideas/forms, and discuss substantive legal issues, winning office management techniques and successful practice development ideas. The “UnProgram” is unique because there really is no “program” and no prepared presentations. Rather, the participants determine the UnProgram schedule, suggest session topics and facilitate discussions. It’s like no other educational event I’ve participated in.

Each year, one of the most popular sessions held at the UnProgram is called “20 Tips.” In the “20 Tips” session, the group facilitator elicits at least one tip, or new and useful  idea, from each conference attendee that he or she discovered at the UnProgram which the attendee intends to implement in his/her law practice. The aim of the session is to provide participants with about 20 new ideas they never considered before. The popular “20 Tips” session was repeated twice at this year’s UnProgram. Below I’ve listed the best “20 Tips” (plus several bonus tips) provided by the UnProgram attendees this year. I hope the ideas are helpful to readers.

  1. Send a “welcome to the firm” confirmation letter to each new appointment. Detail how to get to the office, what the initial charge will be, why the questionnaire needs to be filled out, and explain that parents will talk to the lawyer without children there, that a picture will be taken for the firm’s file, that a copy of the client’s drivers license will be made for future notarization purposes, etc.
  2. Accept credit cards. Use the Square (www.squareup.com) for a no-monthly-fee, 2.75% flat rate solution for occasional uses. Also, the Square offers a really cool add-on device to make it work through your iPhone or Android phone.
  3. Use multiple monitors — but make sure you set them up for all staff members, too.
  4. Try this business model: no associate attorneys, just a couple partners and a collection of really smart and capable legal assistants (attendee suggesting this is one of two partners with 7 non-lawyer employees)
  5. Administer personality tests (some kind of simplified Myers-Briggs test like Keirsey [http://www.keirsey.com/], True Colors [http://truecolorstest.com/], etc.) to all employees. Discuss as a group and figure out how to best communicate with one another. Try doing all this at an out-of-office retreat, coupled with team-building exercises and fun (like Paintball!).
  6. Get a business coach — like The Lawyers Coach (http://www.thelawyercoach.com/) — with a background in law, marketing, sales, management. Phone conversations about three times per month. Someone to bounce ideas off, report to, keep things moving forward
  7. Provide $100 gift certificates for dinner at local restaurants for referral sources.
  8. Teach in your local community-college (or equivalent) paralegal program. It’s good exposure, it gets referrals from the students themselves when they have problems relating to their elderly parents AND when their bosses need elder law referrals, and it gives you first shot at the best new paralegals before they are in the job market.
  9. LastPass (https://lastpass.com/) or 1Password (https://agilebits.com/onepassword) for strong password management and protection.
  10. Put a scanner on every desk. It saves time and makes it easy to do the scanning while documents move through the office. Group favorite scanner for this purpose: the Fujitsu ScanSnap S1500 (http://www.amazon.com/Fujitsu-ScanSnap-Instant-Sheet-Fed-Scanner/dp/tags-on-product/B001V9LQH0) costs about $400, comes with a full version of Adobe Acrobat, and automatically scans both sides of the paper, discards blank pages, rotates the pages and has an ADF. For cleaning out closed files, consider a professional scanning company — it is not as expensive as you think.
  11. Take pictures of your clients. When a client dies, send your picture to the surviving spouse or family members with a handwritten note about how you enjoyed working with the client.
  12. For solos: set up reciprocal powers of attorney with another solo so that you both have someone to run/close up your practices in the event of disability or death.
  13. Find alternatives to regular mail for most clients. Get their e-mail addresses and ask if it’s OK to send copies, notices, etc., to that address. Saves money on folding, mailing, stamping.
  14. Accept appointment as a trustee. It improves your drafting and your advice regarding trust administration — plus it is a fun, reliable income source.
  15. Give clients the VisPro (http://www.info4vets.com/) software disk directly, and let them fill in the VA information themselves (if you do VA work).
  16. Use VOIP phone system. Person providing this tip took one unit home, plugged it in (following simple instructions) and now has a phone at home that acts like an extension in her office so she can buzz her secretary, take calls as if she was sitting in the office. Avid (http://avid-telecom.com/about.html)
  17. Give a monthly bonus to every employee based on number of new cases opened (e.g.: if 30 cases are opened, everyone gets a $500 bonus — at 35 cases, $750 bonus). New cases picked up dramatically.
  18. Hire a personal money manager to come to the office once a month (or so) and pay bills, balance checkbooks in cases where you act as trustee, conservator, or other fiduciary.
  19. Use a cover letter with Medicaid or estate planning documents telling clients to sign and record deeds, etc.
  20. Skype business package (http://www.skype.com/intl/en-us/business/) costs about $4/month/employee. Each user gets a different login name from their regular Skype account. This makes it easy to teleconference with the office for people who take long vacations or work from home or another city.
  21. Friday list: make a checklist of things that have to get done every Friday before everyone can go home (backup started, desks cleared off, valuables put in safe, file indexing begun, etc.). Improves compliance.
  22. Ask employees to come to work a half hour early every workday, but allow them to leave Fridays at 3:00. Office phones are turned off on Friday afternoons. Clients are told the office is closed Friday afternoon.
  23. Take Fridays off to do work. Employees choose whether to work 4 10-hour days or to work 5 8-hour days, but no phones, no appointments on Friday.
  24. When completed with a Medicaid planning file, send a plant to the family. Really builds client appreciation/loyalty, and at a modest cost.
  25. Send flowers when a client dies. Make a monthly donation to your local Agency on Aging, and list deceased clients of that month as honorees.
  26. Make an arrangement with your local style magazine or newspaper (including throwaway) to contribute a regular article on legal topics. Buy a small ad, make sure no other lawyers are included in the same deal.
  27. Write a book, self-publish it and distribute on your website.
  28. Pick one day a week to work late. Schedule clients into the evening hours on that date if they need after-5 appointments. (This tip was not unanimously approved.)
  29. For holiday gifts, secure poinsettias or other flowers from a local charity Invite colleagues and referral sources to an office open house to drink a glass of wine, chat, and pick up a poinsettia. Each plant can have a little plug for the charity, too.
  30. $1 coffee mugs w/office logo — give the client a cup of coffee and insist they take the mug with them. Also travel mugs. Also water bottles.
  31. Flash drives — get a personalized flash drive with firm logo to put advance directives and other estate documents on.
  32. Specifically exclude the power to consent to (or bind the principal to) arbitration clauses in Powers of Attorneys (POAs).
  33. In POAs, include a power in the agent to remove the principal’s driving privileges if he/she becomes an unsafe driver. Although the provision is probably unenforceable, it helps focus clients on a big problem and concern.
  34. Spring and fall season seminars for case managers, discharge planners, financial planners, nurses, etc. Offer CE credits if possible. Charge a small amount (some say free, others say don’t not charge).
  35. Do professional presentations at the offices of others. Let them do the promotion work and bring the audience. They benefit, you benefit.