Strategist - FindLaw Law Firm Business Blog

Strategist - The FindLaw Law Firm Business Blog

Trying to cut down on overhead and save some office space? Need some extra help but not enough to bring on a full team of support staff? You might consider contracting with a virtual paralegal.

No, virtual paralegals aren't Siri with a Westlaw account or robots who know local rules. Rather, they are freelance legal assistants who offer legal support services via the power of the Internet. Making the most of a virtual paralegal requires clearly understanding your needs and being able to capitalize on their skills. Here are 5 tips for working successfully with a virtual paralegal:

Like it or not, the law is a customer service profession. Getting clients and keeping clients depends on your ability to please clients. As the old cliche goes, the best way to do that is to remember that "the customer is always right." Right?

No way, at least not when it comes to issues involving the law. Where the attorney-client relationship is concerned, the client is not always right. Here's why.

Courthouse shootings and violent crimes are rare, but they aren't unheard of. From X-rays to pat-downs, many courthouses have installed security procedures to protect against potential violence. Some courts have extended those procedures to lawyers as well, requiring attorneys to remove belts and pass through metal detectors in order to enter the courthouse.

That's a step too far, according to many lawyers. They've begun pushing back against the strict security procedures -- and they're having some success at it, too.

As litigious as Americans can be, the vast majority of cases settle before going to court. How vast is that majority? Less than two percent of federal civil cases go to trial, a fivefold decrease from 50 years ago.

It's understandable that clients, and lawyers, would want to avoid trial. Trials are expensive, time consuming, unpredictable. But sometimes, they're also your best option.

Many lawyers dream of landing a corporate client with deep pockets or a millionaire businesswoman with a litigious ex -- anyone willing to pay an exorbitant hourly rate and to pay it often. But while the wealthiest few have no problem finding representation, there are millions of potential clients who need lawyers but cannot afford them. These aren't just indigent clients either.

Adopting a sliding, income-based billing rate can help you reach clients who would otherwise go unrepresented, without giving away your services for free. Could it work for your firm?

Judges hold their cards close to their chests -- usually. For all the impartiality and decorum judges normally demonstrate, it's not unheard of for a judge to slip up, letting you know exactly what he feels toward your client: hatred.

It can be difficult to deal with a judge that is openly antagonistic towards you or your client -- but it's not impossible. Here are some tips for dealing with a judge who hates your client:

We've all wished that there were more hours in a day. Some lawyers, however, have gone ahead and added their own -- at least in their bills. It's not unheard of for lawyers to pad their hours so extensively that they are charging 26 hours of work -- in a single day.

But while bill padding might bring in an extra dollar or two in the short term, it's generally a bad idea to fleece your clients. Here's why lawyers shouldn't pad their hours:

Most discussions on work-life balance focus on giving lawyers sufficient time off, finding opportunities for lawyers to meet their children or glimpse a beach, while trying to still bill 80 hours a week.

But there's more to quality of life than just spare time and high pay. In fact, lawyers can improve their quality of life, and that of their firm, by focusing on factors other than hours and compensation altogether.

You've hung your shingle, now how much do you charge? For many lawyers, figuring out the best billing rate can actually be quite daunting. Do you simply adopt the market rate, charging basically the same as other lawyers in your area? Do you offer a slight discount to make yourself competitive, or do you base your rates on what you think your clientele is willing or able to pay? Or do you just pull a number out of a hat?

However you're setting your billing rates, you could probably be doing it better. Using this simple calculation can help you set an hourly rate that works best for you.

U.S. District Judge Richard Kopf is giving up on blogging -- again. Judge Kopf's "Hercules and the Umpire" blog had gained notoriety over the years for what some see as a breach of judicial decorum -- telling Congress to go to hell, for example, or commenting on female lawyers' bodies. Many, however, became fans of Judge Kopf, praising his candor and accessible writing style.

This is at least the second time Judge Kopf has "hung up his keyboard" and it might not be the last. What can lawyers learn from this federal judge's love/hate relationship with the blogosphere?