Baylor Law School

Baylor Law School launches program to make legal aid more affordable

After two years of research, The American Bar Association Commission on the Future of Legal Services released a report earlier this month finding that most people living in poverty, and the majority of moderate-income individuals, do not receive the legal help they need. In response to these issues, Baylor Law School launched a new program called Legal Mapmaker.

Legal Mapmaker is a workshop at Baylor Law School designed to prepare lawyers to open their own law firms. It provides a model business strategy with two goals: to help lawyers succeed and help the public find affordable legal services by showing lawyers how to provide legal services efficiently, said Stephen Rispoli, assistant dean of student affairs and pro bono programs for the Baylor Law School.

The first Legal Mapmaker™ workshop was conducted at Baylor on Aug. 18 and 19. In the future, the Law School plans to expand the workshop to a three-day program.

The ABA reported that more than 100 million Americans do not have access to legal assistance.

“We thought that if we can start with young lawyers who are coming out of law school and are going to start their own firm – if we can help them be efficient, ethical, and economical – then they will be able to serve that 100 million that cannot currently get legal assistance,” Rispoli said.

Rispoli spearheaded this program with Baylor Law School professor Jim Wren in hopes that Legal Mapmaker would help solve the access-to-justice gap nationwide.

“We want to use this as a model program that we anticipate running beyond Baylor and beyond Texas to help attorneys nationwide better serve the public,” Wren said.

The report also pointed out that people who have legal issues that require a court appearance but cannot afford legal representation must represent themselves, which ends up slowing down the court’s progress on all cases.

“If we can help unclog the court system by getting everyone lawyers, then we’ve done a great thing,” Rispoli said.

Rispoli said that although the need for lawyers right now is great, the access-to-justice gap is not a new problem. Rispoli believes combating the access to justice gap is more plausible than ever thanks to technology.

Rispoli cited a Lone Star Legal Aid statistic that said 5.7 million Americans in Texas qualify for legal assistance from the state, but government-funded legal aid is only able to help around 100,000 Texas families, which they estimate is approximately 20 percent of people in Texas who need legal help but can’t afford it.

“We are encouraging these young lawyers to combat this problem by taking a pro bono case,” Rispoli said. “A lot of people think pro bono means ‘for free.’ Pro bono actually means ‘for the good.’ We want lawyers to take pro bono cases because it’s the right thing to do, because that’s what we’re called to do as lawyers.”

There was a $250 registration fee for the Legal Mapmaker workshop, but participants had the opportunity to get the fee waived if they pledged to take one pro bono case their first year working. More than 30 people participated in the first workshop, and only one person chose to pay the fee.

“Fixing the access-to-justice gap will not happen overnight,” Rispoli said. “It’s not one person making a huge impact, it’s every lawyer getting together and taking care of their responsibility as a lawyer to help people. We believe getting lawyers to go out there and be pro bono ambassadors will greatly diminish the access-to-justice gap.”

Wren mentioned that although Legal Mapmaker is a Baylor program, they have plans to hold workshops at other universities, starting with Texas A&M in August 2017.

“There is an access-to-justice problem nationwide,” Wren said. “Legal Mapmaker is a Baylor program, but we have made it clear we are not tied to keeping it right here. We want to help as many people as we can, so conducting this Baylor-sponsored program at other universities will be the most beneficial to the nation.”

Wren said he anticipates holding the program at universities outside of Baylor every other year.

Read more from the Baylor Lariat.

Follow up with Sincerity: Invitation, Introduction, Information

So, you’ve made business development a priority.  Now you need to follow up with sincerity. You’re getting out of the office and meeting people. You’re networking. You’re talking to people. Maybe you’ve even exchanged some business cards. You are now back at your office and you’re stumped. What do I do next? I want to follow up, but what do I say that will sound sincere and genuine and take the relationship to the next level. This is one of the hardest parts of building relationships – the next connection. So, keep it simple with these 3 simple rules. It must contain one of the 3 – Invitation, Introduction or Information. If it does not contain one of these elements, it will be uncomfortable for both parties and you will know it.

Invitation:

I’m attending a Chamber mixer next Thursday; I think there will be a good mix of people for you to meet, would you like to join me?

Introduction:

I would like to introduce you to my accountant, I think he has worked with the company you are talking about.

Information:

I am attaching an article I read this morning and thought you might find it interesting.

Do you really know what clients value when buying legal services?

When asked “do you really know what clients value when buying legal services?” most lawyers say clients hire them for their expertise. ‘I’m a good lawyer, isn’t that enough?’

Lawyers are crazy smart. The work of a lawyer is intellectually rigorous.  You must be able to demonstrate intelligence, ability to absorb, assimilate and analyze complex material very quickly. Logical reasoning, attention to detail, persuasiveness, sound judgment and strong writing abilities are all strong fundamental tools needed to represent your client successfully.  You are the expert and as such should have all the answers.  Which means you must have to do all the talking.  Not so.

Clients consistently place a higher value on how well you listen to them.  They want to LIKE you.

If the very sound of liking your client or your client wanting to like you makes you squeamish, you are not alone.  Those touchy feely words do not belong in the legal profession and not only that, I don’t like to do that.

And yet, that may very well be the differentiator between you and your competitor when a potential client makes the decision to hire legal counsel.  They want you to know their industry, they want you to anticipate industry challenges before they become legal issues, they want you to respond promptly, they want you to communicate regularly, and they want you to answer the phone.  They want to feel like they are the only client you have.

So, how do you make the conversion? Ask questions and listen actively. Become interested not interesting.

Most clients assume you are a good lawyer but they place a higher value on how well you listen.

Senior Attorneys Take on Pro Bono

As senior attorneys transition from billable work and wish to remain engaged and relevant in challenging and valuable projects, pro bono is the perfect fit.

“Few endeavors are better suited to the unique skills of senior lawyers than pro bono legal work on behalf of persons of limited economic means. Across the nation, lawyers whose careers have ranged from solo to large firm practice, from corporate to government work, and from the judiciary to the academic world are contributing their talents to the provision of legal services to low income and older persons in their communities,” ABA Standing Committee on Pro Bono & Public Service.

Firms recognize the value of senior lawyers who take on pro bono cases as a way to harness that talent by remaining active in the firm. The opportunity for these senior lawyers to engage young, newly licensed lawyers as well as helping an indigent client becomes a very attractive formula for retention and meeting their commitment as a responsible community partner. Many firms will support their programs by continuing to provide office space, support staff and other ancillary expenses.

“As the retirement age lowers in the legal profession and elsewhere at the same time that life expectancy is increasing, the number of retired lawyers is growing rapidly. Some wish to enjoy their retirement years away from the law, travelling or playing golf or tennis. Others may pursue a second and very different career or concentrate upon hobbies that they never had enough time to pursue. But many retired lawyers are not only able but eager to devote the skills and experience they gained as lawyers to addressing our society’s many pressing legal needs,” New York City Bar Association.

Resources:

American Bar Association

Pro Bono Institute

How Has The Law Firm Business Model Changed?

Law firm business model changed in the early days of marketing. Most young lawyers relied on the Firm to have the client relationship, they would push the work down to associates, develop their technical skills,  gain legal competence and excel.  Then, of course, if all things went according to plan, you would wait the prescribed amount of time, and were invited into the partnership.  The client was paying the majority of the cost to train these young lawyers and of course they would complain about the amount of the bill and about how many timekeepers were listed on the bill, but feathers could be smoothed down and life went on.

The law firm model is clearly different today.  Economics has played a large part in clients/legal departments taking a larger role in determining how their cases are being handled and demanding more value for their legal services. They are no longer willing to pay for 3-6 timekeepers working on their matter with little or no strategic planning.   The Association of Corporate Counsel has clearly identified their expectations in fees with outside counsel in their ACC Value Challenge.

The ACC Value Challenge is an initiative to reconnect the value and the cost of legal services. Believing that solutions must come from dialogue and a mutual willingness to change, the ACC Value Challenge is based on the concept that law departments can use management practices that enhance the value of legal service spending; and that law firms can reduce their costs to corporate clients and still maintain strong profitability. The ACC Value Challenge promotes the adoption of management practices that allow all participants to achieve their key objectives.”

Firms who are willing to “listen” and respond to this challenge will get the work.  Those that don’t will be left behind.

The competition for legal work is strong and just being a good lawyer is simply not enough to be successful in your practice.  You must have clients.  For some, this sounds like an impossible task.  It’s not.  Business development is a process, step by step.