Virtual Interview with Allison Shields!

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Part Three of our Fifteen part series to showcase our speakers that will be presenting at our upcoming “Get a Life” conference. Our speaker Bios can be found HERE! Enjoy!

Total PMA: What topic will you be speaking about at the Conference?

Allison Shields: I’ll be speaking about billing and fees, and some new ways to think about fee structure. Many lawyers complain that billing and collections are their biggest challenges, and I’ll be talking about how lawyers can think differently about their fees and how they discuss fees with their clients.

TPMA: Why do you think solo practitioners and small firms need to know about this information?

AS: Solos and small firm practitioners have an opportunity, particularly in this economy, to differentiate themselves from their competitors by being more flexible and easily able to adapt to their clients’ changing needs. Clients are looking more closely at their expenses, and traditional billing methods like hourly billing are often frustrating for clients who want to keep control of their budgets. Many attorneys don’t like to talk about fees because they’re uncomfortable talking about money with their clients, so they give fee conversations short shrift. But it’s imperative to establish an understanding with clients at the beginning of the engagement about what work will be performed, why, and how much it will cost. The key is to focus on the benefits the client will receive, not the features of your service, but many lawyers miss this critical point.

TPMA: How do you think a mid-size or large firm’s partners, or rainmaking attorneys can benefit from attendance at this event?

AS: Work-life balance has been a hot topic in the legal profession in the past several years. I’ve begun to hear talk that the economic downturn makes these issues less important. I couldn’t disagree more.

Law firms are being forced to look more critically at their expenses and their staffing needs. In some cases, that means re-evaluating their staff to determine which employees and attorneys are providing the most value to the firm and eliminating the least valuable. That may mean that the remaining staff and attorneys need to shoulder a larger workload or find more creative ways to get work done. Law firms will need to support their staff and provide ways to ensure that attorneys don’t burn out. Creating flexible work arrangements or learning creative ways in which lawyers can create balance in their lives so that they can serve their clients and their firms will be even more important. The best legal talent will always be in demand, but law firms may not be able to provide the big salaries and other ‘perks’ they could provide in the past. Providing legal talent with a better quality of life may be one way firms can keep their top tier lawyers.

Clients are becoming more and more demanding every day. That means law firms will need to find new ways to create and strengthen relationships with their clients, and to provide legal services in ever more efficient and effective ways.

The “Get a Life” ™ conference will provide law firm partners and rainmakers with tips and information about all of the above, and more.

TPMA: What made you decide to get involved and speak at the Get a Life Conference?

AS: Legal Ease Consulting, Inc. was founded to help lawyers and law firms create more productive, profitable and enjoyable law practices. I’m a firm believer that those who are the most successful are passionate and committed to what they do. Unfortunately, I’ve seen too many lawyers get discouraged and lose sight of the reasons they decided to enter the legal field. My goal has always been to provide lawyers with the tools they need to succeed, to provide excellent service to their clients, and to enjoy themselves doing it – all while being active participants in their life outside of the practice of law. The Get a Life ™ conference shares those goals. I’m honored to have been asked to participate in the program, particularly with the schedule of speakers that Total PMA has put together.

TPMA: Are you interested in sitting in on any of the other sessions during the Get a Life conference, any one in particular?

AS: I’m looking forward to the entire conference, and plan to attend as many of the sessions as possible.

TPMA: What is the most difficult part of managing your work schedule, and how do you handle those issues?

AS: One of the biggest challenges my clients face is managing their activities and schedules, and I work closely with clients on these issues. But that doesn’t mean I’m not confronted by similar challenges in my own practice. Although the internet has made all of our lives easier in many ways, it has also provided us with a multitude of distractions and opportunities which can seem overwhelming at times. Probably the most difficult part of managing my schedule is that there are so many things I’d like to do, but I recognize that I can’t get everything done at once, so I have to prioritize.

My best management tool is my calendar. If something isn’t on my calendar, chances are that it isn’t going to get done. I sit down weekly, monthly and quarterly to plan my calendar and to schedule specific tasks at definite times. I break large projects down into smaller tasks and schedule those on my calendar to ensure that the project keeps moving forward. Time blocking – carving out specific days and times to accomplish groups of tasks (such as blogging, planning, social networking, marketing, client follow up, etc.) is another essential tool.

TPMA: What are some of your hobbies or interests outside of work?

AS: I’m an avid reader, and could get lost in a library or bookstore for days. At any given time, I may be reading several books, from fiction to biography to business titles. Sometimes I have to restrict myself from going to the library or the bookstore because I know I can get sucked in for hours and get off schedule.

I also love to take photographs – particularly nature and architecture, and when I have time, I like to take my camera and see how my perspective of the world changes by looking through the lens. I have also developed an interest in wine, and enjoy visiting the vineyards here on Long Island – both for the wine and for the scenery. Now that Spring has arrived, I look forward to drives to Long Island’s East End, as well as the local parks and beaches.

TPMA: How do you balance your work schedule and personal interests?

AS: I make sure that when I’m planning my schedule, I leave time for personal interests, and I try to keep that time completely separate whenever possible. It’s important to ‘unplug’ sometimes. Sometimes that means adding extra time onto a business trip to see the sights or enjoy the area. Other times it means planning time with family and friends, quitting work at a specified time, or not working on weekends. I think flexibility is the key here, too. If I need to stop working early on a particular day because there’s a personal event I want to attend, I do it, making up for the “lost” work time somewhere else.

TPMA: Are there any really great technology tools, or websites you’re excited about at the moment? (Twitter, Lextweet, Clio, etc?)

AS: There are too many great tech tools out there to even count. I’ve started using Twitter in the past several months and have found that it’s a great information gathering and sharing resource. But it’s by no means the only tech tool that I use on a daily basis.

TPMA: Do you have any tips or tricks for an attorney just starting his/her practice in the down economy?

AS: Know your client base. The best thing you can do for your legal career is to provide exceptional value to clients. Learn all you can about them, their problems and opportunities, concerns, challenges and business.

Be flexible and think creatively. Question the ‘status quo’ and the ‘accepted’ ways of getting things done. Be innovative and experiment with new ways of delivering your services, communicating with clients and developing business. Use the internet as an inexpensive but effective way to differentiate yourself, communicate with clients, collaborate with others, share information and market yourself.

Keep learning. Stay on top of your substantive areas of practice, but expand your learning into other industries as well. Read about business, finance, marketing and client relations. Develop your expertise.

Share your knowledge. Put your learning to good use by sharing information with clients, writing articles, giving seminars, and distributing valuable information on the internet and offline.

You can also check out more from Allison at her site www.LawyerMeltdown.com

The Total Practice Management Association (Total PMA) is dedicated to the advancement of Solicitors, Legal Executives, Paralegals and other legal support staff in their struggle to build and manage a profitable practice without sacrificing their personal life.

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