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LOMAS program going strong at 30

Managing Editor Regular News

LOMAS exists to help Florida attorneys with all aspects of law practice management

The Florida Bar’s Law Office Management Assistance Service is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year. The LOMAS program provides a wide range of law practice management information, services, and products to Bar members.

“Many lawyers lack the business management skills necessary to manage their law offices properly or market their law practices effectively,” said Jerry Sullenberger, a LOMAS practice management advisor.

Judith Equels, director of LOMAS, said the majority of law schools still do not teach practice management skills and best practices, such as trust accounting compliance, calendar control, human resources management, risk and conflict avoidance, client relations, and technology management.

“Mastering these important business and workflow functions helps lawyers avoid complaints and malpractice claims,” Equels said.

LOMAS exists to help Florida attorneys with all aspects of law practice management.

Of the 30-plus state, local, and provincial bars that now have practice management programs, LOMAS is considered the granddaddy of the concept since the 1980 roll-out by The Florida Bar of a program offering law office management assistance.

In addition to on-site consultations, and presenting dozens of seminars each year, LOMAS responds to thousands of telephone calls and e-mails from Bar members annually on topics such as establishing and maintaining a conflict-of-interest system; maintaining a trust account; effective client communication techniques; effective docket control and calendaring procedures; as well as basic information on how to establish and operate a solo practice, including technology advice.

Norman Vaughan-Birch, the Board of Governor’s liaison to the LOMAS Advisory Board, thinks more lawyers should take advantage of the low-cost resources LOMAS provides — especially young lawyers striking out on their own in this down economy.

“It’s how you balance your budget; it’s how you create trust accounts, some of the things that are pitfalls for young lawyers,” Vaughan-Birch said. “LOMAS has all kinds of programs for sole practitioners.”

And LOMAS is not just for solos. Vaughan-Birch, the managing partner of the 18-lawyer Kirk Pinkerton firm in Sarasota, brought LOMAS in a year ago to give his office the once-over. Vaughan-Birch wanted to know if the firm was adequately staffed, if their administrative procedures were adequate, their technology up to date, and if there were more efficient or smarter ways to conduct business.

“It’s like an annual physical: They poke you everywhere,” said Vaughan-Birch, adding the cost was “relatively inexpensive, certainly compared to any of the large consulting firms that would come in and basically tell you the same things.”

Equels said LOMAS doesn’t soft-pedal the issues and challenges identified during a private on-site consultation.

“We conduct an in-depth review of the strengths and weaknesses of your practice, focusing on recommendations that help lawyers manage risk, cut costs, and improve profitability,” Equels said. “Our goal is to provide lawyers with the law practice management knowledge and tools to implement policies, processes, and procedures that will make the office run more efficiently and effectively.”

Equels said often the lawyers are already aware of the issues, but need assistance in identifying and implementing solutions. She said each consultation is tailored to address specific issues within the practice and that, in every case, the managing attorneys set the parameters of the consultations.

Vaughan-Birch said having LOMAS check out your operations is “absolutely one of the best investments you can make.”

In the Beginning
The late Sam Smith, former president of the Bar, in a speech to the Board of Governors in 1978, said that the Bar should offer “an ounce of prevention that potentially prevents this costly pound of cure,” according to retired Judge Walter S. Crumbley, a past chair of the LOMAS Advisory Board.

“His comment came during consideration of the 1978 budget when the Bar was considering a request for additional prosecutors for the disciplinary arm of The Florida Bar,” Crumbley said.

“Out of this comment and later committee work came the idea to create a membership fees-supported service dedicated to educating the membership on how to run a practice in an economical and professional manner that, hopefully, would slow down the number of grievance cases filed with the Bar’s Lawyer Regulation Department.”

Tampa’s David Shear, president of the Bar in 1979, once said the creation of LOMAS was one of the proudest moments of his administration.

“I had a vision that this program would really benefit lawyers, their practices, and the system,” Shear said.

LOMAS began operations in 1980 with a focus on conducting educational programs and on-site law office consultations.

LOMAS now promotes effective management techniques for both lawyers and support staff in a manner flexible enough to respond to the immediate demands of today’s ever-changing law office environment.

LOMAS’ goals all involve the principal objective of assisting attorneys in improving the management of their practices, including:

• To investigate, accumulate, and evaluate practice management information and technologies.

• To publish and distribute information and techniques relating to practice management.

• To increase awareness of professional liability and risk management procedures.

• To anticipate trends and problems in law office management and to advise the Bar’s leadership.

The Future
Equels joined the LOMAS staff in January 2000 after a 20-year career as a legal administrator with both large and small firms and as a private management consultant. With the retirement of longtime LOMAS Director J.R. Phelps in 2009, Equels was promoted to director. The program also is supported by practice management advisor Sullenberger, who has decades of experience in not only law firm administration but also technology systems management and training programs.

“As an administrator and then as a private consultant, I would frequently encourage attorneys and administrators to contact the LOMAS program for help with practice management, office management, marketing, budgeting, and personnel issues,” Equels said. “I was always surprised to discover how few Florida Bar members knew about this terrific member service. Today, we just keep working hard, as former PMAs have done in the past, to get the word out to members about what LOMAS has to offer.”

As LOMAS enters its fourth decade, its practice management advisors continue to operate by the original program concept of being “the ounce of prevention that prevents a costly pound of cure.”

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