Hi Mark, when did you join the Law Practice Division?
I joined back when it was the Economics Practice Section in 1982.
Do you currently serve on any Law Practice Division committees or in any leadership roles?
I am a past chair of the Division, so I’m on the honorary council in that position. I’m also the delegate for the Division, one of the two delegates for the Division to the House of Delegates. In that capacity I also sit on the Executive Committee and I’m a member of the Education Board.
Tell me a little bit about your background and just your day job in general outside of the Law Practice Division.
I have my own law firm here in Oklahoma City, Robertson & Williams. We have currently nine lawyers. Most of the lawyers do oil and gas acquisition entitlement, which I guess is not unusual here in Oklahoma. Most of what I do is I represent businesses and families. I do a lot of organization, merger, acquisition, private placement work, and lot of planning, both business transition planning and estate planning for business clients and such.
Why did you originally join Law Practice Division, or the Economics Practice Section, as it was called at that time?
I had just become the managing partner of another firm here in Oklahoma City. I was attending an annual meeting of the American Bar Association and saw a bunch of programs that the Division was putting on for management issues and I was clueless as to what to do. The founding partner of the firm had semi-retired. The next managing partner in the firm didn’t want to do it, and so I kind of got stuck with it and without a lot of training. So I went to these programs. I thought, gosh, this is great stuff, and I figured if I joined the section at the time, with the discount on the books that I would get from joining the section, I could buy a whole bunch of books and read up and figure out what I’m supposed to do as a managing partner. Which is exactly what I did. We grew the firm from 25 to 45 lawyers. Went from ‘82 until ‘88 when I left and started my own firm.
Can you point to one or two things that you found particularly valuable being a member of the Law Practice Division as you grew the firm over that period of time?
Yes, the resources of the Division had to offer really are just invaluable both for a practicing lawyer as well as a managing lawyer. I learned a lot about technology, a lot about management issues, and putting together a strategic plan. All that came out of the Division, and going to programs that the Division had as well as just networking with the folks who are active, and learning from them.
You know, it’s pretty nice when you can pick up the phone and talk to the person who wrote the book…
Because you see them four times a year, you can get answers and help that just is invaluable.
What’s one of your favorite memories of being part of the Law Practice Division?
Well, it’s more than just a single memory; it’s the people I’ve met. When I first started as a young sprout, there were a lot of really neat folks that were in leadership positions in the Division. Folks that wrote the book on things, that were great mentors in helping me be a better lawyer and a better manager of lawyers. I guess, really one of the neatest things was just getting to know and meet people like Dick Reed who pioneered in the Division the alternative fee books. Lowell Rothschild who was one of the pioneers, and Roberta Cooper Ramos who later became the first woman president of the American Bar Association.
It was just really neat being able to meet and listen and learn from those folks.
What do you think is going to be the biggest shift in practice management over the next five to ten years?
I think that the ever-increasing role of technology in the practice of law is just going to get bigger and bigger and more and more important for delivery of legal services.
As consumers demand more and more services and are looking at other sources of legal advice, like LegalZoom, the rest of us lawyers are going to have to figure out how to utilize that technology and provide advice (not just drafting a document), but advice on what should be in the document and why it should be in there. Lawyers are going to have to do that and do it efficiently, at a cost that consumers can afford.
Is there one in particular practice management technology that you find is indispensable in terms of the way you do business as a lawyer on a daily basis?
I can tell you that one of the things everybody’s talked about for 15-20 years, but nobody does really effectively… and that is document assembly.
Being able to utilize the current tools and document assembly methods to generate documents is still something that lawyers don’t do very well, or very often. And I can tell you that in my practice we have some very simple little systems that utilize document assembly to generate documents for clients at very, very reasonable prices that we can still make a good profit on.
For example, we have a system that we’ve used for years called the Corporate Representation Services and we provide annual meeting minutes for our small business corporations, as well as act as a service agent for them. We charge very little for it and 90% of the work is done through document assembly systems that we have where we can generate annual minutes and a corporate summary sheet and a little audit questionnaire, legal audit questionnaire for a very reasonable price. Lawyers just need to look at those kinds of systems and start automating them, because you can make a good profit on it, and still provide a valuable service to clients at a good price, whereas if you had to do it by hand, you couldn’t afford to do it.
In your experience what is the biggest difference between what you thought practicing law would be like versus what it actually is?
Oh, gosh. Unlike a lot of folks that are lawyers, I didn’t initially grow up thinking I wanted to be a lawyer. I wanted to be in the Navy, actually But in going through college, I just found fascinating the constitutional law issues that we did in history and in political science. That just really kind of stirred me as to what a lawyer might be doing. And so I thought, well, I’m a political science major. You can’t get a job with that, so let’s go to law school and then see what makes sense.
I was really fortunate in that I did fairly well in law school, got a summer clerkship job after my freshman year. Then after my first year, actually went to work in a law firm; and it was an eye-opening experience. Helping clients solve problems.
The firm I went to work with, I ended up ultimately becoming a lawyer there. The firm primarily did very high-end litigation in the securities area. I just found the business aspects of the type of law we were doing just really very interesting. So I decided to change firms and do more of putting deals together rather than ripping them apart in litigation, which really changed what I wanted to do. So it was just a great learning experience starting in litigation but moving over onto the transactional side, and understanding what can go wrong having seen it on the litigation side, by working and putting deals together on the transactional side. If I had to do it over again, the only thing I would have changed is I would have gotten a joint JD-MBA degree to understand business-side of things better.
Looking back what’s your proudest moment as a lawyer?
I would say, generally, the most satisfying thing to me about being a lawyer is being able to help folks in their business transactions. It doesn’t sound very romantic or exciting; but when you help a client start and grow, and then ultimately sell a business and put a bucket load of money in their pocket for being successful, that is really a good feeling. That when a client looks to you as a trusted advisor, and not just as a lawyer, it’s a good feeling. And we try and do that with our clients.
Jason Marsh is a digital marketer, and founder of Orlando-based internet marketing agency MARSH8. He frequently writes and speaks on how law firms can implement better online marketing strategies to acquire new clients. Jason is the Chair of the ABA, Law Practice Division, Legal Marketing Interest Group and Editor of Member Spotlight in Law Practice Today.