Help for the solos


Attorney Jeffrey Patterson of Rancho Mirage has 25 years of experience practicing law, while Teresa Biagini of San Jose was admitted to the California bar barely six months ago.

Both lawyers, however, have one thing in common. They recently picked up the telephone and called the State Bar's Law Office Management Assistance pro-gram (LOMA) for advice on operating their law offices.

Patterson, 49, who specializes in family law, says he called LOMA after becoming increasingly frustrated in his search for an accounts receivable billing program geared to a law practice.

Geared for lawyers

"I found several that were fine if you were selling widgets," said Patterson, "but I needed something that was specifically oriented to lawyers."

Patterson called LOMA (1-800/YES-LOMA) and was told about its "fax on demand" service. "Instantly I got a fax with five or six sets of software programs defined. It completely solved my problem and the whole thing took about 10 minutes," he said.

Biagini was admitted to the bar last December and hung out her shingle as a solo practitioner in March.

Launching a practice

As soon as she discovered LOMA, she began to request any and all information available which would help her launch her new general law practice.

She has a binder with all the information she's requested and it's filling up fast. "I ordered everything I could get," said Biagini, including an information sheet on starting a new practice, a needs-analysis of time-expense billing and discovering a marketing "niche" for a law firm.

A former legal secretary, Biagini, 37, said she knew that her success "would rise and fall according to how organized my office is. I wanted to start out on the right foot."

A real find

Biagini said LOMA has been a real find because "it's not always easy. I haven't yet built up a network of people, but the fact that I can call [LOMA] for information has made me feel more confident."

Peter Cromwell of San Francisco also has used LOMA to tide him over until he builds up a professional network. Cromwell passed the Georgia bar exam more than a year ago, spent some time in Hong Kong and is now in California as general counsel for a small international trade business.

Coming from another state and spending some time out of the country made him feel "not really connected," said Cromwell, "and it was nice to have a source to get accurate and free information."

Cromwell called LOMA when it became apparent that his small company was in dire need of a good accounting and billing program.

Financial management

LOMA faxed him articles on financial management in law offices, about 10 product reviews and provided information on additional resources.

It was a big time saver, said Cromwell, who selected one or two programs and made a few calls before he purchased some software.

LOMA's biggest attraction is its fax-on-demand service, according to Dan Bodner, program director of Professional Consulting Group of San Francisco, contracted by the bar to run LOMA.

He is especially enthusiastic about the "do-it-yourself" research concept of LOMA, but "the real strength of the program is the hotline," said Bodner. And the fax-on-demand aspect has made a big impression on some of its early users. "People can get information really fast."

Bodner said LOMA consists of three components: a telephone hotline, management audits and educational seminars.

He added that although LOMA is primarily geared to solo practitioners, "we have lots of technology consultants and we could help some of the larger firms. We could give them good, free advice."

Consultants or "experts" in various fields are hand-picked by LOMA's six-member staff.

More than 70 contributors have provided written information and "every piece is screened by an attorney and myself." Some pieces are rejected, some are edited and others may be forwarded to the bar's ethics officials for comment, said Bodner.

In LOMA's planning stages, personnel from the bar's Ethics Hotline shared experiences and stressed the concept that coming up with a complete answer to an attorney's questions wasn't always necessary.

"They told us that having a helpful attitude was important," said Bodner, because in many instances lawyers who call just "don't have anyone to talk to."