Interrogatories: Direction for Ethics Queries

This week’s Massachusetts Bar Association Lawyers E-Journal Law Practice Management Section Featured Practice Tip comes from LOMAP. In this week’s tip, we’re telling you how to get to answers for your ethics questions.

Read the Tip here.


Guest Post: A Primer on Group Employee Benefits for Small Firm Law Offices

Since we, fairly regularly, get questions from clients on the subject of employee benefits, I’d say it’s high time we called in someone with expertise to offer baseline information on the subject.  Enter David Ten Eyck.  David is an insurance veteran with over 25 years of experience in the review and placement of group health, life, dental and ancillary benefits.  He is the principal of Ocean Employee Benefits (formerly Ten Eyck Benefits Group) in Newburyport.  Ocean Employee Benefits strives to ensure that programs are compatible and consistent with the particular human resources and financial philosophies of the firms with which it works.  To learn more, visit the company website.  Below, David offers a broad overview of employee benefits options.

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Opening a law practice requires that much thought and effort be expended in a number of important areas.  Early on, the principal should look at commercial insurances and job-related compensation and benefits.  The addition of employee benefits to the total package of employee compensation began years ago, as a means for employers to attract and retain quality employees to their businesses.  Today, benefits have become extremely important to potential employees (and their families), when they consider employment with a particular law firm.  Benefits should also be important to principals of companies who wish to build a loyal, effective workforce.  Researching, analyzing and marketing employee benefits can be a complex endeavor, given that there are a wide range of things that can potentially be covered, including some instances where coverage is mandated. 

Medical, dental and life insurance are considered to be the most important benefits, according to the majority of employers and employees; and, these top three are followed by short and long-term disability, pensions, accident insurance, and then a range of voluntary programs.

Starting with a group census(name, DOB, family status, wages, waivers) of your full-time employees (30 or more hours/week), you, your independent broker or other intermediary, can work with you to target what types and levels of benefits you wish to offer.  Quotes can then be obtained from insurance carriers based on your budgetary goals.  Additional options may also be available to small employers, including a broader choice of carriers and health plan alternatives, including those accessible via industry or association groups.

Group Medical Insurance

Group medical insurance is probably the most important building block of an employee benefits plan, and is made up of a mix of benefits for, among other things: (i) doctor visits; (ii) hospital stays; (iii) prescription access; (iv) medical screenings; (v) surgical consults and surgeries; and, (vi) many other inpatient and outpatient medical services, depending upon the plan of coverage purchased.  In Massachusetts, residents (with minor exceptions) must be enrolled in a medical benefit program meeting minimum creditable levels of coverage.  Failure to have health insurance coverage would result in personal tax penalties from the state.

Insurance company claims payments can be made by indemnity or based on what is usual and customary for that service.  Enrolled subscribers are often responsible for copayments and/or deductibles for a range of services.  The major health insurance carriers for Massachusetts include both non-profit (Blue Cross-Blue Shield, Tufts, Harvard Pilgrim) and commercial carriers (Aetna, United Health Care).  Carriers offer networks of doctor and hospital providers, which can be closed (HMO) or open (PPO).  In-network providers agree to offer services to subscribers at agreed-upon financial terms.  It is important to know which doctors and hospitals are included in a carrier’s network before enrolling, because providers outside of a subscriber’s network often receive a reduced benefit payment from the carrier–meaning the subscriber would be responsible for a larger percentage of the payment for service.  Combination, or side-by-side, networks can be utilized where services are required in and out of HMOs.

Other things to consider when selecting a provider include: (i) copay amounts; (ii) deductibles; and, (iii) coinsurance.  It is important to note that there are a number of tax-advantaged arrangements available, where premiums can be paid with pre-tax dollars, including, for example, Section 125 plans.  Both the Insurance Partnership of Massachusetts and the Commonwealth Connector provide referrals to programs that can be cost-effective for small firm employers.

Dental Insurance

Dental insurance is an increasingly popular employee benefit.  Dental health is now seen as being closely related to the general physical health and well-being of the individual.  Dental benefits are typically broken down into the following elements: (i) preventative work, including routine cleanings and visits; (ii) minor restorative work, including fillings; (iii) major restorative work; and, (iv) orthodontia, including optional treatment.  Recent, typical dental plan enhancements offered include: (i) unused benefit roll-over from prior years; (ii) higher annual maximums; and, (iii) teeth bleaching.  Dental insurance programs are offered as: (i) employer-paid; (ii) voluntary employee-paid; or, (iii) they can be purchased on an individual basis.  Major dental insurance carriers include: Blue Cross-Blue Shield, Delta Dental and Altus.

Group Term Life and Accidental Death Insurance

Group term life insurance does not offer cash value built up over time, but is, rather, ‘pure insurance’, that pays out to beneficiaries upon the death of a covered employee.  Supplemental life and accident insurance can also be offered to spouses and children of employees as part of a voluntary program.  The face value of a policy represents the amount payable on death; and, within group plans that amount is usually set as a percentage of income, or as a set amount per class of employee.  Many features can be added to term life programs, including: (i) accidental death and dismemberment, (ii) accelerated payments; and, (iii) executive benefits.  Cash value life insurance, a product type growing in popularity, offers employees enrolled the chance to build up some value in addition to receiving the benefits of pure insurance.  Accidental death and dismemberment policies, often marketed as an addition to a group term life program, can provide important, additional coverage to an employee, and usually pay out at an amount equal to the death benefit, should the enrolled die as a result of an accident.  Special trip, corporate and other additional accident programs are also available.

Short and Long Term Disability Insurance

This is an important part of an employee’s benefit program, and can provide a family with some measure of financial security in the event of disability.  Often, a disability plan fills in a continuance of income, enabling the employee, or his or her family, to continue to pay critical bills, such as rent, mortgage and/or health insurance.

These group benefit plans are typically either short term or long term, though intermediate terms are also available.  For short term disability coverage, there is an elimination, or waiting, period, after the occurrence of a disabling event, before the benefit will accrue.  There are also, of course, benefit duration limits.  Most coverage is limited to 13 to 26 weeks of payouts.  Long term disability coverage is designed to take up where short term disability coverage leaves off.  These plans feature elimination periods, too, as well as durational restrictions–but, most plans will pay out until the beneficiary turns 65.  Underwriters are often cautious when it comes to issuing disability insurance, especially long term disability, due to concerns over malingering, extended claim periods, return to work requirements and rehabilitation periods, among other things.

Other Coverages

There are a number of coverages, beyond the chief options addressed above, that employers can offer their employees, including: long term care insurance; vision care; daycare; adult care; employee assistance programs; pre-paid legal insurance; and, pet insurance.

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It is a difficult thing for small business owners to balance the financial costs of providing benefits to employees against the positive effect that the offering of an appropriate benefits package will have for attracting and retaining good employees.  But, if that balance can be effectively achieved, and maintained, it will inure to the significant benefit of the firm, over time.

Communication Breakdown: The Two Things You Can Do on Twitter

This week’s Massachusetts Bar Association Lawyers E-JournalLaw Practice Management Section Featured Practice Tip comes from LOMAP. In this week’s tip, we’re relaying an effective double-barreled technique for engaging on Twitter.

Read the Tip here.

The Chrometa’s Running: Upgrades Aplenty for Time-Tracking App

I’ve chosen to broadcast my one really good idea for the month of September through Attorney at Work. Yup, there’s only one . . . and they have it.

This month, I cover some recent upgrades to Chrometa, the time keeping app invented by the buffalo wing prince of Sacramento.  Come for the information on Chrometa’s revised timesheets, and improved mobile access, stay for the Warren Zevon.

Read more here.

Liner Notes
You’ll all remember Neil Diamond; and, if you’re Massachusetts-local, you’ll know that they still play ‘Sweet Caroline’ during the seventh inning stretch at Fenway Park, even though the Red Sox suck now, and no one feels much like singing.  But, do you remember Andy Kim, the Quebec-born rock god (that just sounds stupid), who reached #1 with his gigantic hit, ‘Rock Me Gently‘?  Of course you don’t.  (He co-wrote ‘Sugar, Sugar’, too, in case you didn’t know.)  But, do you also not care to know that Neil Diamond and Andy Kim were separated at birth?  Here are the facts.  Facts.

Group Psychology: Focus Groups Can Help Attorneys to Launch Marketing Projects

This week’s Massachusetts Bar Association Lawyers E-JournalLaw Practice Management Section Featured Practice Tip comes from LOMAP. In this week’s tip, we’re focusing on a general business technique that is potentially useful for lawyers seeking to vet their marketing ideas.

Read the Tip here.

This post was inspired by David Rosen, a Boston estate planning attorney, who had, what I thought, was the brilliant idea to engage a focus group respecting his designing a marketing presentation.

Foundations for a New Practice; BBA + LOMAP Present CLE Series

It’s that time of the season again: the new association year begins for the bars; the denizens of LOMAP arise from a summer-long slumber/reverse hibernation; and, when everybody else decides, reluctantly, ‘well, yeah, I guess we have to start working again, too’ . . . worst time of the year, by far.  The death of summer is always super depressing.  I come close to not wanting to listen to Brad Paisleyanymore, but still wear sandals through November, as a form of silent protest— silent, that is, aside from my screaming pigs.
Fortunately, we got us some new programs to promote, in order to dull the pain some.  I know that pimping our programming is not entirely ‘original blog content’; but, hey, cut me some slack: Putting together a curriculum is some time-consuming work.  (Opi like this don’t just happen, you know.)  . . . A curriculum you say, sir?  Indeed, I did.  Check it . . .
This Fall, the Boston Bar Associationand LOMAP will present The ‘Foundations for a New Practice’ CLE Series.  The programming series will feature six breakout sessions focused on particular aspects of starting a law firm.  The free, introductory program will offer a collection of top tips, and features a fantastic panel consisting of practice founders, who will relay their best advice . . . so  you don’t have to reinvent the wheel.  (Did I mention it’s free?)  From there, paid sessions will cover marketing, technology, financial management, practice management and business planning.  Topics for these sessions have already been announced, and faculty will be posted shortly.  This group of 3-hour CLE sessions will combine to cover the major components for establishing a law firm.  Whether you’re thinking of starting a practice, or want to make the determination as to whether your prevailing practices are actually best practices, these sessions represent your entrepreneur’s bootcamp.
Making this program series even more attractive is the reasonable price point that has been established for the sessions.  BBA members can attend all 5 paid sessions for $25 each.  Law students can attend the whole shebang for a grand total of $35.  Even non-members are only on the hook for a $175 flat fee rate for everything.  You’d be hard-pressed to find a better value for 15 hours of targeted CLE.
If you’re still not convinced, attend the first session for free, and sign up for the rest only if you like what you hear.
To learn more about the sessions, visit the event page, where you can also register for the entire series.
If you are thinking of becoming a practice founder, or have recently become one, lay your foundation with us.
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Liner Notes
If you’re looking for your weapon of choice, when it comes to celebrities (and/or their body doubles) going bleep-house in music videos, I’d say Christopher Walken is the diamond standard, as modeled by Fatboy Slim.
Christopher Walken has basically made a career of being really, very creepy.  I mean, ‘The Deer Hunter’, the watch scene from ‘Pulp Fiction’, ‘Joe Dirt’ . . .  well, maybe not that last one.
But, Christopher Walken is not just a guy who scares the living hell out of Johnny Depp and assaults colonial troops with a fervor not seen since Mel Gibson’s attacks on the redcoats . . . he was able to parlay his skeevy, I-might-live-in-a-van vibe into some comedic roles, most gloriously on Saturday Night Live.  I cannot mention his best SNL appearance here; but, rest assured that if you knew what I was talking about, you would think it was awesome, too.  He was not-that-Bruce-Dickinsonwith the BOC in the ‘more cowbell’ sketch.  He’s ‘the Continental’.  He’s very forthcoming respecting census information.
Doesn’t this all make you want to buy a Walken Lamp? Now, don’t be stingy with your offer . . . you can use all that money you saved on the CLE series.

Doubling Down: More on Two-Factor Authentication

This week’s Massachusetts Bar Association Lawyers E-Journal Law Practice Management Section Featured Practice Tip comes from LOMAP. In this week’s tip, we’re talking about Dropbox’s adoption of two-factor authentication in the wake of its latest security blip.

Read the Tip here.

Hat Trick: FirmFuture Comes Around Again; Free Registration for LOMAP Blog Readers

The coming of Winter and the Fall of the year means one thing in New England: There’s another FirmFuture Conference in the offing.  . . . Well, at least, that’s what it’s meant for the last two years . . . before that, it probably had more to do with the homespun goodness of a James Taylor, or warm maple syrup, both of which are similarly delicious.  (Ah, simpler times!)  But, if you want to access some of the best advice respecting leveraging technology for your law firm, and marketing your practice, FirmFuture’s right in your wheelhouse, much like a Josh Beckett meatball.  (Piling on, I know.)
This year’s conference has nestled into a warmer spot upon the calendar; whereas the past two FirmFutures have taken place on December 1, the law gods have seen fit to bless us with a new date for this seminal event, which is now closer to the Summertime.  (Watch it snow now.)  This year’s FirmFuture will take place on Monday, October 1, 2012 from 8-2 at the Copley Marriott in Boston.  But, the probably more favorable weather is not the onlyreason you should be looking to attend the new year’s version of FirmFuture.  Presenters and topics include: Bob Ambrogi, on the effect of new technology on the practice; David White, on pimping your website; and, LOMAP’s own Rodney Dowell, on time management.  But, that’s not all: for the full slate of speakers and programs, check out the FirmFuture Conference agenda, here.  If you wish, then, to slake your legal technology and marketing jones, you should register for FirmFuture . . .
. . . Just don’t pay anything to go.  Readers of the LOMAP Blogcan attend FirmFuture for free by registering with the discount code: LOMAPGuest.  Well, sure, you probably could have guessed that that was the code; but, we’re not interested in playing games here — we’re just going to give it to you.  What you might not have been able to guess, though, is that the discount code is only good for the next two weeks.  So, if you want in for nothing, you’ve got until September 14 to register.  Hopefully, FirmFuture will be in your future.
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Liner Notes
‘Variations on Baker Street’
Baker Street in London is famous for many things, including serving as the address locator for a number of history’s most significant investigators, including Danger Mouse(not the DJ — though that’s, like, a grey area).  But, did you also know that ‘Baker Street’ is one of the best songs of all time?  Quite popular, but never entirely given its due, as a card-carrying member of the ‘best songs of all time’ club, ‘Baker Street’ was a colossal jam and an iconic ditty, written by Gerry Rafferty.
What’s that you say?  Who’s Gerry Rafferty?  You know this man: his band, Stealers Wheel, does that song ‘Stuck in the Middle with You’.  You know that song; I know you do.  Plus, he had more of his own hits, too.  I bet you know ‘Right Down the Line’.  But, ‘Baker Street’ is his most popular song, and one of the best songs ever, in my humbled opinion.
But, in addition to the original, there are a number of other excellent versions of this song, of which I want to make you aware.  Rafferty’s own extended version is very good.  Livingston Taylor, brother of James, has, in my opinion, the best cover.  The Foo Fighters rolled out a rock version, which was issued on a re-release of one of their early albums.  Jars of Clay offers what-must-be a religiously-inspired live cut.  (Dude’s killing the melodica, though.)  Waylon Jennings applies a country spin.  (You knew that was coming.)  And, even the London Symphony Orchestra has descended to the creation of its own reverse engineered opus.
Classic  Al.

One Form Can Keep Your Practice Working — Even If You Can’t

This week’s Massachusetts Bar Association Lawyers E-Journal Law Practice Management Section Featured Practice Tip comes from LOMAP. In this week’s tip, Scott writes about how one technology information form can save your practice.

Read the Tip here.

Not-So-Splendid Isolation: Solo Attorneys Can Cobble Together Collegial Environments

While there is much to be said respecting the benefits of the work-life of the solo practitioner, including the freedom that derives from being one’s own boss, and the peculiar enjoyment that an attorney may derive from managing the entirety of his or her own success, there is also an often unspoken, and significant, drawback — that being that solo attorneys often feel isolated, especially those who work from home, or in a true solo office.  Within the law firm environment, it’s far easier to access a collegial environment and to create groups of professional contacts, due in part, though not entirely, to social and work-related pressures, and the desire to advance one’s career beyond others’.  Those pressures — the push(ing) to get out, and to get going — can be significantly reduced in the solo practice.  You don’t, necessarily, have colleagues coercing you to attend mixers.  Your boss is not going to be riding you to market the firm.  You may have a career to advance; but, more likely, your primary focus is on running your business, and getting clients (and their money) through the door.   Of course, the desire to acquire clients and to get paid does not always and explicitly result in pressure felt toward more actively marketing the firm, whatever the disconnect.  Many solo attorneys find ways and means to motivate themselves; but, even for those who do, there are a number of benefits of associating (I’m not talking about formal associations, like partnerships, in this instance) with colleagues and ancillary professional contacts.
Being alone too often can be unhealthy, and counterproductive to your business.  Humans strive for companionship, ultimately, in almost all of their endeavors, and working is not all that much different from many of those other endeavors.  When you surround yourself with colleagues and professional contacts who can further your business interests, you’ll likely find some personal fulfillment, as well, along the way.
As a solo, then, the big question, in staving off isolation, becomes: How do you approximate the collegial environment and psychological imperative derived, by small firm/large firm lawyers, from their employment?  I think it starts with a categorizing of needs.  For most solo attorneys, the chief business requirement is money; and, the primary substantive legal requirement is to access resources relative to continuing professional development.  Let’s address each in turn, only in reverse.  Solo attorneys can generally not, especially if they have home offices, cross the hallway to talk with a colleague about a particularly thorny issue, or about new caselaw that has come down.  However, there are ways to approximate the collegial environment inherent in law firms, both for new solos (acquiring mentors) and veteran solos (acquiring/leveraging/expanding a collection of close colleagues).  Active bar association membership can be an important component to establishing these sorts of relationships.  If you have a home office, you can add as an adjunct a virtual office, where other attorneys also utilize space, to more easily get out and about, among your (literally, now) close peers.  Establishing an office share is another way to create for yourself a more traditional office environment, and one complete with collegiality (assuming, as in all cases, kindred personalities).  (Be careful of partnership by estoppal, however.)  And, given the omnipresence of modern communication technologies, you can start, build and maintain relationships with colleagues via any number of means, from the telephone to the webconference to social media.  The redefinition of ‘presence’means that access is no longer defined by physical proximity.  Of course, the mentoring/collegial relationships you establish (in-person or online) can certainly mature into referral relationships; and, this answers for part of the money question.  The other part of that side of the equation is that you have to bring in your own clients to maintain your practice, too — especially when you’re just starting out; yet, it’s very easy for a solo attorney, practicing in a single office, or at home, to just stay home, and not get out, to market.  But, you must force yourself to do so, especially if you’re shy, by nature.  Sharing office space, acquiring a virtual office, staying in touch with colleagues . . . these are all things that will help to put some pressure on you respecting ignition of your desire to market your practice (of course, checking your bank account may spur you in a similar fashion).  But, it’s also effective to add certain triggers of your own, that do not depend on others, for getting you actualized; for example: join or start a lawyers’ marketing group, with regularly scheduled meetings; read marketing blogs, and try to implement one new idea each quarter; schedule regularly recurring updates of your marketing materials (including your website, including your bio page), to keep them fresh; and/or, create a marketing calendar, where you capture all of your marketing functions and self-imposed deadlines (if you don’t want ‘just another thing to monitor’ color-code for marketing matter on your general calendar, and filter).  While it’s not easy without a pre-existing infrastructure, like the kind that would exist at even a small law firm, solos who approach the difficulty and conceive of intelligent ways to approach the problem, can manage effective ways to combat the isolation inherent in solo practice.
As alluded to above, in a number of places, one of the best ways for solo attorneys to combat isolation is to (and this is probably intuitive) engage their colleagues.  Better still if that engagement can take place in a constructive environment, in which the participants can learn something.  To that end, one place for solo attorneys to come together is through Lawyers Concerned for Lawyers and LOMAP’s ‘Solo Practitioners Group’.  The 6-session, 12-week free program series will focus on ‘Getting Things Done’.  For more information, visit this page.
And, for those attorneys who are considering starting a solo practice, LOMAP’s monthly start-up meetings offer a great venue for meeting similarly situated colleagues.  For more information on LOMAP’s start-up programs, see here.
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Liner Notes
Warren Zevon, one of the most underappreciated musicians in recent history, wrote and sang of the splendid isolation, which is meant only for the lonely, living all by themselves, in teepees.  But you know and I know, that things are far better together.  Right?
To celebratecompanionship, and to inspire you on your journey, let us run down some songs speaking to the virtues of ‘team’.
‘You Can All Join In’ by Traffic
‘Get Together’ by The Youngbloods
‘Join Me In L.A.’ by Warren Zevon
‘Happy Together’ by The Turtles
‘Together Forever’ by Rick Astley (not even a hidden sort of Rick Roll; and, yet you still clicked on it — interesting)

Together, Wherever We Go‘ by Jule Styne (from ‘Gypsy‘)

‘We’ll Be Together’ by Sting
‘Join Together’ by The Who
‘Come Together’ by Aerosmith
‘Just a Song’ by Dave Mason