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  • WisBar News
    October
    30
    2020

    9 Tips from the (Virtual) Wisconsin Solo & Small Firm Conference


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    WSSFC

    Networking and social events were still part of the 2020 (Virtual) Wisconsin Solo and Small Firm Conference. Oct. 28-30. Participants kicked off the event with a Halloween style Happy Hour.

    Oct. 30, 2020 – As expected, law practice amidst COVID-19 is a primary theme at the State Bar of Wisconsin Solo & Small Firm Conference (Oct. 28-30). Most of 2020, firms have navigated uncertainty and major change. And they are still working through it.

    “We’ve had to deal with a lot of things, and we’ve had to deal with it very quickly,” said David Krekeler, a panelist on “Lessons Learned from COVID-19,” delivered yesterday, day two of the three-day Wisconsin Solo and Small Firm Conf​erence (WSSFC).

    A pandemic didn’t stop hundreds of solo and small firm lawyers, as well as a host of exhibitors, from attending the first-ever virtual event through an online platform.

    “Overall, if I had to give us a scorecard, I would rate us with an A,” said Krekeler, speaking about Wisconsin solo and small firm lawyers in general. “I see lawyers all around me doing really good things.” One of the reasons: they are embracing change.

    Tip No. 1: Embrace Change. “If we maintain our practice and embrace the change we are facing, I think there’s actually new opportunities for us,” said Krekeler, a bankruptcy attorney at Krekeler Strother S.C., based in Madison.

    For law firms, COVID-19 was a change agent, Krekeler said, albeit an ongoing one. “Most people do not like change, but I would suggest to you that the best way through this and any other crisis in the future, would be to embrace change.”

    WSSFC

    David Krekeler, a bankruptcy attorney, was a panelist on "Lessons Learned From Covid-19," an exploration on how solo and small firms have navigated the last eight months and what's ahead.

    Law firms have certainly dealt with change before. Substantive changes in the law, economic downturn, and other events have forced law firms to do things differently.

    “But this pandemic is different from other economic upheavals we have seen in the past,” Krekeler said. “We have no experience with this and we don’t know how long it’s going to go. That’s why our mental attitude about change is very important here.”

    Tip No. 2: Embrace the Cloud. And not just because of the pandemic. What happens when there’s a flood, a fire, or other disaster that puts law firm operations at risk?

    The pandemic has highlighted the importance of moving operations to cloud-based systems, which allow lawyers and staff to access files and networks from anywhere, says Jeff Krause, a lawyer and technology consultant at Affinity Consulting Group.

    “For example, if you had made the transition to Office 365, it was a pretty easy transition to give your folks access to those things they use every day in the office,” said Krause, a WSSFC veteran, referring to organizational transition to a remote workforce. “You were ahead of the curve compared to firms that had everything installed locally.”

    WSSFC

    The "lobby" at the 2020 Wisconsin Solo and Small Firm Conference, Oct. 28-30.

    “The cloud is here to stay,” said Krause, also a panelist on “Lessons Learned from COVID-19.” “A lot of us were slow to adopt it, but if you weren’t already there, this pandemic should have given you a lot of inspiration to adopt it as soon as possible.”

    Tip No. 3: Remote Work Can Work. Work-life balance and flexibility is a selling point for firms looking to attract talented lawyers. The pandemic has forced firms to adopt remote work policies that could open new avenues for flexibility in the future.

    “Post-pandemic, we may have more flexible law offices, with some people working from home,” said Lori Dorn, director administration for Stafford Rosenbaum LLP and past-president of the Wisconsin Association of Legal Administrators. The pandemic, she said, “will have long-term effects on what the office space business model looks like.”

    Distinguished Service

    David Carlson is the 2020 recipient of the John Lederer Distinguished Service Award from the State Bar of Wisconsin Solo, Small Firm, & General Practice Section. Carlson received the award at the State Bar of Wisconsin's Virtual Solo & Small Firm Conference. See 40 Years of Mentoring: David Carlson Receives Distinguished Service Award for Nurturing New Lawyers – WisBar News (Oct. 29, 2020).

    That’s not to say it will be easy. “We need to keep in mind that creating an environment that allows for participation and teamwork now is very difficult,” said Dorn, a panelist on “Lessons Learned from COVID-19.” “People resist change. They tend to adopt change reluctantly. But literally, overnight, we had to figure out how to work from home.”

    Dorn says firms learned that in many instances, working from home was better than what anybody anticipated it would be. “Attorneys and staff were successfully able serve clients efficiently and productively by shifting priorities and expectations.”

    Not all attorneys will want to work from home, and face-to-face interaction is an important aspect of law practice, but Dorn says the pandemic triggered new ways of thinking about flexible work-life models, even after the pandemic is behind us.

    Tip. No. 4: Set Expectations for Remote Workers. Amidst the pandemic, many firms and other businesses now have remote workers, by choice or necessity.

    “Many firms and other businesses had to rush to do this, and​ now were are just figuring it out,” said Dan Truehl, director of training at Lift Consulting. Truehl led a discussion on “Managing a Remote Workforce” at the WSSFC.

    It’s now harder for managers to keep tabs ​on employees. Dealing with that requires owners and managers to set clear expectations, Truehl says. “You set expectations, you convey those to your employees, and then you are able to check on those.”

    WSSFC

    The "expo center" at the 2020 Wisconsin Solo and Small Firm Conference, Oct. 28-30.

    But what about productivity? Employees can check the box on completed tasks, but are those the tasks most important to complete? Managers should be focusing on the top 20 percent mission critical tasks to help “plug the right holes in the boat.”

    Tip No. 5: Master Your Meetings. You’ve been there. You sit for a meeting and no one is following the agenda or worse yet, there is no agenda. It’s all seems like a waste of time. Take control, says Stacy Devlin of Affinity Consulting Group.

    “One of the key issues is not having an agenda that is followed,” said Devlin, who noted that meeting managers should provide rules of engagement to set expectations for meeting participants, including what happens if the meeting gets off track.

    Let’s say Peter’s five-year-old son caught an 18-inch smallmouth bass this past weekend. At the Monday meeting, Peter starts sharing photos and videos of the ordeal. The agenda does not include time to rehash the weekend’s events and Peter knows it.

    “You definitely need someone who is running the meeting to feel empowered to bring people back on track,” Devlin said. “For those who are attending the meeting, if they understand that [a redirect] is going to happen, they tend to welcome it.”

    Devlin and panelists Jeff Krause, Deanne Koll, and Michael Yang conducted an actual (mock) meeting in the session on “Master Your Meetings” to highlight what efficient meetings look like, and how accountability and measuring success are built in.

    WSSFC

    Stuart Teicher of the CLE Performer delivers a presentation on legal writing.

    Tip No. 6: Video Marketing. Just Do It. According to a 2020 video marketing report from Wyzowl, 96 percent of people have watched an explainer video to learn more about a product or service and 84 percent say watching a brand’s video convinced them to buy a product or service.

    In other words, video marketing is huge these days. More lawyers are starting to understand, and posting videos on LinkedIn and other social media platforms to answer common client questions or provide updates on legal developments in their area. But many lawyers aren’t doing that. With today’s technology, it’s time to get in the game.

    “Do it,” said Erin Ogden, a panelist on “The Power of Video: Create DIY Videos to Educate Clients and Market Your Firm,” along with law firm technology guru Nerino Petro and State Bar Media Production Coordinator Phillip Hinkle. “Just come up with something and try it,” Ogden said. “Nobody is expecting perfection.”

    The bottom line, says Petro: “YouTube is the second largest search engine in the world. Give it a try. You need don’t expensive equipment to do it.”

    Tip No. 7: Survive and Negotiate. If your firm is experiencing any financial difficulties, pay only the absolutely necessary expenses, says David Krekeler. The first prong of financial preservation is to survive.

    “Survival means liquidity,” Krekeler said. “We have to hang on to cash, so pay only for things that are absolutely necessary.” Also, find opportunities to cut expenses.

    For instance, if you lease office space, now is a great time to approach your landlord about some concessions or renegotiating the lease.

    “Commercial space is opening up left and right,” Krekeler said. “The law of supply and demand says the landlord will want to negotiate with you rather than have you leave.”

    Tip No. 8: Delegate, Delegate, Delegate. Do you continue to do work, such as administrative tasks, that others could handle? If so, it’s time to delegate. “It might be easier for you to do it today, but is it easier for you do it today, tomorrow, next week, next month, next year?” asked Sarah Ruffi, a panelist on “Effective Delegation.”

    “Chances are, the answer becomes clear when you consider the long-term effects of your decision that ‘it’s easier for me to do it today.’” Importantly, Ruffi notes, effective delegation will allow you to keep your law firm running successfully when you’re gone.

    WSSFC

    Always time for fun: Attendees participated in a halloween costume contest Thursday evening.

    Imagine that. You could take a vacation knowing the firm will keep operations running smoothly in your brief absence. “When it can run without you, you have a business,” Ruffi said. “If your office requires your presence, you have a high-priced job.”

    In the session, Ruffi and business coach Chris Carmen discussed when it makes sense to delegate, and the effective process for ensuring delegation goes as planned.

    For instance, Ruffi uses a standard form for delegated projects to set clear expectations. “Figure out who is the best person for the project, then take the time to explain all of the steps of the project,” said Ruffi, a solo practitioner in Wausau.

    Tip No. 9: Technology Can Make Life Easier. A WSSFC favorite every year, Krause, Petro, and fellow law tech gurus Bryan Sims and Christopher Shattuck, practice management advisor for the State Bar of Wisconsin (Practice 411™), rattled off “More than 50 Tips” that can help lawyers be more efficient through software applications.

    From practice management software to legal research tools, from automation to workflow collaboration, email encryption, Outlook tips, and virtual private networks – the panel left no stone unturned in a lively discussion all designed to help lawyers at work.

    If You Missed It

    All WSSFC breakout sessions were recorded and will be replayed via webcast in the near future. Check out the WSSFC schedule, and check the WisBar Marketplace to register soon.

    Those who registered for WSSFC can access all replays as part of the registration package, in case you missed a session. Members who did not register for the event will be able to access WSSFC sessions at a specified registration price.

    Thanks to all who made this year’s virtual WSSFC a success, including the presenters, attendees, exhibitors, and this year’s WSSFC Planning Committee (see below). See you next year!

    PRESENTERS

    Brian C. Anderson
    Wisconsin Lawyers Mutual Insurance Co.

    Matthew M. Beier
    Wisconsin Lawyers Mutual Insurance Co.

    Sara B. Andrew
    Andrew Law Offices, SC

    Kathleen A. Brost
    Legacy Private Trust Co.

    Joseph W. Boucher
    Neider & Boucher, S.C.

    Chris Carman
    ActionCOACH Business Coaching

    Stacy Devlin
    Director of Client Success, Affinity Consulting

    Dean R. Dietrich
    Dietrich VanderWaal, S.C.

    Lori Dorn
    Stafford Rosenbaum

    Terry L. Dunst
    Bakke Norman, S.C.

    Jonathan P. Groth
    Groth Law Firm, S.C.

    Brent Hoeft
    FirmLock Consulting, LLC

    Alison E. Helland
    Boardman & Clark, LLP

    Philip Hinkle
    State Bar of Wisconsin

    Brent Hoeft
    FirmLock Consulting, LLC

    Aviva Meridian Kaiser
    State Bar of Wisconsin

    Jeffrey S. Krause
    Affinity Consulting

    Carol Krigbaum
    Krigbaum Law, LLC

    Johanna R. Kirk
    Kirk Law Office LLC

    J. David Krekeler
    Krekeler Strother, S.C.

    Julie Krolczyk
    Reveal Your Power

    Deanne M. Koll
    Bakke Norman, S.C.

    Stephanie L. Melnick
    Melnick & Melnick

    Sharon D. Nelson
    Sensei Enterprises, Inc.

    Kathy Nusslock
    Davis & Kuelthau, S.C.

    Erin R. Ogden
    Ogden, Glazer + Schafer

    Timothy J. Pierce
    State Bar of Wisconsin

    Alexander Pendleton
    Pendleton Legal, S.C.

    Nerino J. Petro, Jr.
    The Erickson Group

    Sarah Redfield
    Professor Emerita, University of New Hampshire School of Law

    Karen Renee
    President, eCourt Reporters

    Sarah L. Ruffi
    Ruffi Law Offices, S.C.

    Troy R. Schneider
    Twohig Rietbrock Schneider & Halbach, S.C

    Christopher C. Shattuck
    State Bar of Wisconsin

    Kimberly A. Shaul
    General Counsel and Board Secretary, National Guardian Life Insurance Co.

    John W. Simek
    Sensei Enterprises, Inc.

    Bryan M. Sims
    Sims Law Firm, Ltd.

    Mary Spranger
    State Bar of Wisconsin

    Stuart I. Teicher, Esq.
    The CLE Performer

    Liz Tobolt

    Dan Truehl
    Lift Consulting LLC

    Alexander L. Ullenberg
    Ullenberg Law Offices, S.C.

    Michael Seung-Hyock Yang
    MY Law Office LLC

    Barbara J. Zabawa
    Center for Health and Wellness Law, LLC

    EXHIBITORS

    Platinum

    FindLaw

    Habush Habush & Rottier S.C.

    Thomson Reuters

    Wisconsin Lawyers Mutual Insurance Co.

    Gold

    Bultman Financial

    LawPay

    Minnesota Lawyers Mutual Insurance

    Nomos Marketing

    TrustPoint Investments

    Vivial

    West Bend Mutual Insurance

    WisPact

    Silver

    ABA Retirement Funds

    LawClerk

    Professional Insurance Programs

    SmokeBall

    Tabs3

    The Computer Center

    TRP Design Group

    Wisconsin Association for Legal Administrations

    PLANNING COMMITTEE

    Executive Committee

    Nancy L. Trueblood
    Conference Chair
    Trueblood Law Firm LLC
    Wauwatosa

    Kate Knowlton
    Chair-Elect
    Knowlton Law Group LLC
    Wauwatosa

    Nerino J. Petro, Jr.
    Past Chair
    The Erickson Group
    Belvidere, IL

    Timothy Clark
    PINNACLE Seminars Division Manager
    State Bar of Wisconsin
    Madison

    Barbara Moddes
    PINNACLE Program Planner
    State Bar of Wisconsin
    Madison

    Plenary Committee

    Kathleen A. Brost
    Legacy Private Trust Co.
    Neenah

    Johanna R. Kirk
    Kirk Law Office LLC
    Superior

    Jeffrey S. Krause
    Affinity Consulting Group
    Waterford

    Sarah L. Ruffi
    Ruffi Law Offices, S.C.
    Wausau

    Christopher Shattuck
    LOMAP Advisor
    State Bar of Wisconsin
    Madison

    Nancy L. Trueblood
    Trueblood Law Firm LLC
    Wauwatosa

    Substantive Track

    Sara M. Drescher
    Forest County Potawatomi Community
    Milwaukee

    Kate Knowlton
    Knowlton Law Group LLC
    Wauwatosa

    Practice Management Track

    Jeffrey S. Krause
    Affinity Consulting Group
    Waterford

    Sarah L. Ruffi
    Ruffi Law Offices, S.C.
    Wausau

    Technology Track

    Brent J. Hoeft
    FirmLock Consulting LLC
    Madison

    Nerino J. Petro, Jr.
    The Erickson Group
    Belvidere, IL

    Quality of Life/Ethics Track

    Paul F. Angel
    Angel & Angel, S.C.
    Dodgeville

    J. David Krekeler
    Krekeler Strother, S.C.
    Madison

    Program Planners

    Erin Everett
    Marketing and Publicity

    Barbara Moddes
    Committee and Content

     

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