Hi Matthew, where are you currently practicing?
I have my own solo practice in New Orleans, Louisiana, The Moeller Firm LLC, specializing in commercial litigation, construction litigation, admiralty and maritime law, as well personal injury defense and real estate litigation. I’ve had the firm for almost exactly two years now. It’s been a great endeavor as well as a very rewarding experience and something that I look forward to building in the years to come.
Were you with another firm prior to going out on your own?
I originally started with a firm here in New Orleans. I worked there for about four and a half years doing primarily toxic tort and insurance defense work. I then went to work for another firm that was developing a commercial litigation practice, particularly in the areas of marine construction and vessel construction cases. They had a big vessel construction case that they needed a defense attorney to work on. When I got there, I was able to work on that case, and get similar experience I didn’t have before. That helped to expand my area of expertise, which then allowed me the opportunity to set up my own firm about two years later.
Was that the launching point for getting into commercial and construction litigation?
Yes, I handled some smaller contract disputes when I was primarily an insurance defense practitioner. But the launching pad for me, and the platform that allowed me to expand my experience and become more of a commercial litigator, happened in between the firm where I originally started at and where I am today.
When did you join The Law Practice Division?
I joined The Law Practice Division soon after I set up my own firm because I was interested in learning about practice management and ways to be efficient. Specifically as it relates to technology, ways to run a paperless practice, do things quickly, efficiently and more cost-effectively.not only for myself, but for my clients as well.
Has the Law Practice Division exposed you to anything specific that has helped your practice?
Sure. A program like NetDocuments, for example, allows new firms, such as mine, to not have to set up a server or necessarily have a bunch of file cabinets in the office. It’s a win-win. The ability to edit and generate documents quickly in a paperless manner; but also in terms of square footage that you’re saving in your office, not having to house a lot of extra equipment and furniture. It’s beneficial for both the practitioner and the client when you set up an environment that really promotes efficiency.
Have you traveled to any of the different Law Practice meetings that happen throughout the year?
I haven’t traveled to any Law Practice meetings yet, although I do have some on my calendar that I’m thinking about attending in the future. I did, however, attend the ABA TechShow in 2014 and found that to be a very rewarding experience. A lot of the things that were on display at TechShow are many of the ideas that the Law Practice Division strives to teach.
What was one of the highlights of TechShow for you?
The thing that jumped out was the number of things that you can do in Microsoft Word from an automation standpoint, in terms of form creation. That really was astounding to me. I’ve been using Microsoft Word forever and there were a dozen or more things that you could do that I didn’t even know the program was capable of. And while I’ve been slow to implement some things, that certainly is an aspect of the practice that I’d like to see become more prevalent. The idea of more automation on forms for pleadings, engagement letters, settlement agreements that can then be tailored very quickly to fit a certain scenario or case.
Generally speaking, where do you get most of the content that you’re learning from?
I have consultants that I work with locally here in New Orleans, and others from different parts of the country, whether helping me get computer programs to work more effectively or getting a lunch with people occasionally to bounce ideas around with. The main thing that I’ve gleaned from is The Law Practice magazine, which I read religiously. It’s a great publication. The main thing I get from talking to people and reading a lot of the publications on practice management, is that there is an ever-growing and endless potential for not only solos, but small firms, to be able to do things on a more level playing field with bigger firms because of the advances in technology.
How many hours a week would do you dedicate towards learning and exposing yourself to new practice management ideas?
Probably just a handful of hours. I get a couple publications a month on these subjects and will sit down maybe a night a week or so and thumb through. The other part is just talking to people. I’ll try to stay in touch with my consultants when I have questions. I try to talk to people that that are well versed on technology about new developments. So I don’t spend a ton of time. It’s more about focusing on the information that stands out and can be helpful to you, rather than spending a lot of time reading a broad range of information that you may never implement.
What do you think is going to be the biggest shift in practice management over the next five years?
Without a doubt, it’s going to be people shifting to a paperless practice. I recall as far back as coming right out of law school, there were clients that were going paperless and there was a lot of trepidation in the legal community about clients going paperless, and how that would ultimately force firms to go paperless. I don’t know whether firms will ever be forced to go paperless per se. But in 10 years, the number of firms that are paperless and the number of firms doing business in the cloud will increase exponentially.
When you say “paperless”, what does that mean for you in a practical sense as far as your day-to-day workflow?
It doesn’t mean that I never print out anything. In fact, there’s always a time and a place particularly in the proofreading stage because it can be more challenging to proofread large amounts of material on a computer. There’s certainly times and places where some things probably should be printed out, looked at, possibly reviewed. But then it’s generally discarded. For me, paperless really means not having a bunch of file cabinets in the office. Also not having to get up, whether it’s you or a paralegal, and going to a file cabinet and pulling a hard file and then coming back down at the desk and opening it up and thumbing through it. It just means that your central document management is basically on a computer or in the cloud and that you’re not relying on file cabinets to retrieve the vast majority of documents that you need.
What tools do you use to enable you to be paperless?
Primarily we use NetDocuments and Adobe Acrobat. Similar to Microsoft Word there are many things that can be done in terms of combining documents from emails, combining attachments, even downloading files from something like Google Drive and then combining it via .pdf then being able to save it directly in NetDocuments. Acrobat is another program that has countless features that people are unaware of, and the ability to generate, edit, separate and combine .pdf’s via Acrobat is critical to running a high-efficiency, paperless practice.
What is your biggest practice management challenge or the thing you’re working on next?
By far, my biggest challenge is managing the amount of email in Outlook that I get on a daily basis. And while NetDocuments certainly has the profilers, which allow you to file emails from Outlook directly into NetDocs, one of the big challenges is not having that on your mobile device. When you’re on the move trying to manage email and don’t have the ability to file it into NetDocs while you’re on your iPhone, then you have to wait until the next time you sit down at your computer, which, if you’re on the move a lot, can be a few days or so. Navigating and managing email is my biggest challenge, and the thing that I would like to see more improvement on in the future.
Do you currently use a practice management tool?
I use CosmoLex for time and billing. I don’t use a practice management tool per se. I like to use the Tasks option in Outlook. That’s a good feature, particularly when you can take emails and drop and drag them onto a specific task so that when you look at the task, you have the email right there. You can see exactly what the email is related to and what you’re supposed to do. For me, Outlook is as good a practice management system as I currently need. Then I use NetDocuments for document management and Adobe Acrobat Professional. Those programs make up the foundation of what I do from a practice management standpoint.
Are you a Mac or a PC?
I’m a PC user, although it seems like most the people I come across these days are Mac users.
What practice management technology would you recommend to other lawyers?
For me it’s NetDocuments. There’s no way I could have the practice I do, have the workflow I do, and be able to manage emails to the point that I can. I have tried some other practice management systems before, particularly document management systems, and there’s nothing to close to NetDocuments.
How did you discover NetDocuments?
A friend who has his own firm in New Orleans. He I used to consult quite a bit. When I first started and he was using that system, I got familiar with it. Then when I went to ABA Techshow, I was ready to make a change and it was basically down to either NetDocuments or Worldox and for me NetDocuments was a little bit simpler and had a bit better cloud version.
What is the biggest difference between what you thought practicing law would be like versus what it actually is?
I’m on my own now, and it’s very important to establish sound procedures, sound workflow, and sound processes. And that’s not something you really expect to think a lot about coming out of a law school. When you come out of a law school, the focus is on learning as much as you can, doing a great job, trying to interact with clients when you get those opportunities. But now that I’m about a decade in there’s a lot of importance on workflow, how the work is delegated, how it is completed, the processes that are in place to make sure that the workflow is sound. Those are the kind of things that are very important to me now, which I didn’t think about coming out of a law school.
Any particular advice you would offer new law school graduates?
Yes, particularly based on what I’ve seen since I’ve been on my own. I would certainly say to become as adept as you can about the technological advances occurring in the practice of law. The practice of law, because of the changes in technology, is going to look totally different in 20 years than it does today. The people that are proficient in those technologies and are comfortable learning to do things that are more technologically advanced and efficient are going to have an advantage over those that are not.
What is most unique or unusual case that you have worked on?
Some real estate and condominium litigation prior to starting my own firm, that was certainly a new endeavor to me. Getting into the nuts and bolts of how a condominium regime is created and how disputes can arise among neighbors, owners, and tenants via a condominium regime was something that was interesting to me and somewhat unusual because things that we think are maybe not important or are fairly normal quickly became issues that were highly contested and disputed in these condominium disputes. There were allegations about the appearance of certain people that might have been running the place on a short-term basis, or loud music, or leaving a milk carton out in the hallway. Things like that. You never think of that as significant, but then you realize that some people live there full time and others don’t and there’s a condominium regime in place and the regime has rules and the condo documents clearly speak to those rules, so it can become contested very quickly.
What’s would you like everyone know about you as a person?
First and foremost, I’m a team player. I try to be open-minded particularly when it comes to helping my clients solve their problems. My primary objective as an attorney is to help my clients solve their problems as professionally and efficiently as possible, while also always delivering the best possible legal service.
What is your greatest achievement as an attorney?
Being out on my own after a decade is something that I’m proud of. I am proud that I was able to develop a client base and develop enough clients that had the confidence in me that when they knew that I was going to do this, they were supportive and they had the confidence that I would still be able to deliver the same level of service that I had in the past. The fact that I’m two years into this endeavor and it’s growing. It’s been a very rewarding and great experience so far. That is what I’m most proud of.
How did you develop your client base?
Through a broad range of activities that includes everything from active participation in bar, professional and trade organizations to referrals from industry colleagues, friends and family. . I think internet marketing as well as the use of numerous social media vehiclesare going to become very important for attorneys and something that I’m going to look to do more of in the future. The bottom line in client development is you have to get out there.
Describe your ideal client?
My ideal client is a business that is highly regarded in its industry, open minded and likes to solve problems in a creative, efficient and professional manner. The ideal client also embraces the attorney taking a holistic approach to legal services and desires an attorney that provides value by helping the client solve its legal problems in a fashion that fosters client profitability and growth.
Can you see yourself growing the practice to a point where you’re adding an associate or another partner?
Yes. In fact, I’m about to move into some new office space at the beginning of September; and one of the primary reasons for moving is having a space that’s more cost-effective in terms of growth. Whether that person is a part-time or a full-time attorney, a part-time or full-time paralegal, it remains to be seen. But I would expect to add 1-2 people over the next two years.
What is your most lawyer-like characteristic?
From a litigation standpoint, I enjoy competition. That’s the most lawyer-like quality that I have. That’s probably not as relevant in some of the transactional work I do, but certainly as it relates to litigation.
What is your most unlawyer-like characteristic?
There can be a generalization about lawyers that they like to initiate conflict and seek conflict. I don’t seek conflict. When a client comes to me and has a problem, if seeking conflict is what we need to do to solve the problem then I’m certainly more than happy to do that. But I’m never going to ignite conflict for the purpose of igniting conflict. I’m always looking to resolve any issue as quickly and favorably as possible. Now, that’s not always possible, which is why some cases have to be tried. But I’m not necessarily a person that seeksconflict.
Do you have a favorite quote?
Yogi Berra: “When you come to a fork in the road, take it.”
Jason Marsh is the 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.