The Business of Law

Elva Harding

Elva Harding

Many of us became lawyers because we weren’t inclined to go into “business.” But the truth is, whether you are an associate, solo or leading a full-service firm, you are running a business. The business of law has its own set of challenges, from structure to valuation to business development. In this edition of the Contra Costa Lawyer, we look at some of those challenges particular to law practices.

Access to Justice

An issue that should be of top concern for all attorneys is the court funding crisis and its effect on access to justice. Courts are not so unlike other businesses in that they are not immune to management and financing concerns. Year after year, California courts are asked to do more with fewer resources and this is affecting how attorneys advise clients, how we interact with the court and who gets access to justice.

We are fortunate in Contra Costa that we have the benefit of two particularly knowledgeable leaders to navigate the budget situation and advocate on our behalf. Presiding Judge Barry Goode was appointed by the Chief Justice to the Trial Court Budget Working Group, where he learned much about California court funding. And this year, Stephen Nash, who previously served as Director of Finance at the Administrative Office of the Courts, joined the Contra Costa Superior Court and has provided sophisticated strategy relative to the courts’ budgeting process.

Judge Goode’s article on the court funding crisis explains the financial situation our court finds itself in after many years of funding cuts. The CCCBA’s Access to Justice Committee has been working with Judge Goode to reach out to local legislators and attend hearings in Sacramento. This is important advocacy work that the CCCBA is undertaking for its members and the public, but as Judge Goode explains, it is important that all voices are heard. I urge you to reach out to your local legislator to discuss the financing crisis and explain to him or her how it is affecting your clients’ access to justice.

Building Your Business

CCCBA is also a resource for growing your practice, and we have a number of articles to help you make the most of your business.

In “Law Practice Management and Organizational Theory,” UC Hastings Professor Morris Ratner introduces us to various structures for developing effective management approaches and practices designed to help firms recognize and achieve their business goals.

One of the most frequent questions I hear from attorneys who are transitioning out of practice is how to value their practices. Michael Eggers, CPA, with American Business Appraisers, LLP, provides a primer on structuring the sale of a law practice in “Succession Planning: How to Determine and Realize the Value of Your Law Practice.”

There is no getting around the fact that effective business development is an essential element in building a successful firm. Much attention has been given to social media as a means of attracting business, but two articles explain why old-fashioned face to face networking is so important, and what to do when social media turns on you.

Business development coach Martha Sullivan explains some of the science behind face to face marketing and why it must be part of every attorney’s business strategy in “True Social Networking: Face to Face Meetings.” Attorney and internet marketing executive Ken Matejka’s article on “Reputation Management for Your Law Firm” explains what to do, and not do, when social media works against you.

Geoffrey Steele, partner at Steele George Schofield & Ramos, LLP, a firm known for the many pro bono cases it handles, makes the argument in “The Profit in Pro Bono” for including pro bono work in your business model, not simply because it fulfills a social duty, but because it can ultimately lead to profits and grow your business.

Have you ever wondered if your website is truly pulling its weight as part of your marketing program? In our spotlight article, Ken Matejka explains how to evaluate your website’s performance through Google Analytics in “What is Your Google Analytics Data Telling You About Your Website Visitors?

In case you haven’t heard, changes are coming to our MCLE requirements. Associate Executive Director Theresa Hurley has been following these changes and implementing them in MCLE programming at the CCCBA. In her article “Upcoming MCLE Changes and How They Affect You,” Theresa outlines the changes that are coming as of July 1, 2014, and give us a peek at other changes that may be coming down the line.

Don’t miss the article by the Contra Costa County Historical Society. The Historical Society is a valuable resource for Contra Costa lawyers. It is the repository for a variety of historic records previously held by the Superior Court. In this story, learn about the documents held by the Historical Society. As a sample, you will find a transcription of an interesting radio talk given by Justice A. F. Bray in 1938 outlining an early real estate scandal in the mid-19th century Contra Costa.

Finally, for those of you who are interested in learning more about law practice management, please join me at the CCCBA’s annual law practice management MCLE series. It runs every third Tuesday (except in August), through October 2014, at JFK University. On June 17, 2014, we will discuss “Four Steps to Ethical and Empathic Client Relationships and Communications.” Details and the full schedule are available here.

Elva D. Harding is a real estate and business attorney and founder of Harding Legal, dedicated to providing efficient and effective legal service to individuals and small, mid-sized and family-owned businesses. Elva serves on the CCCBA’s Executive Committee, Access to Justice Committee and is co-chair of the Law Practice Management Series task force. Contact Elva Harding at (925) 215-4577 |

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