Strategist: March 2013 Archives
Strategist - The FindLaw Law Firm Business Blog

March 2013 Archives

If you've handled your firm's advertising campaign, you are probably well aware of your state bar's restrictions on advertising. Though each state has its own rules, there are some general propositions that apply nearly everywhere, such as prohibitions on solicitation, required disclaimers ("The information provided herein is not to be relied upon..."), and restrictions on the use of the term "specialist."

While the state bar might be your biggest fear, they aren't the sole source of advertising regulations. The Federal Trade Commission also has a number of rules that must be followed. Lawyers should be particularly aware of their guidelines for testimonials, endorsements, and social media advertising.

How to Leverage Media Coverage to Attract New Clients: 3 Steps

Have you won an award? Were you quoted in the newspaper? Are you going to be the "legal expert" on the tomorrow's morning program?

It's great to be recognized as a leader within the legal community, but there are extra steps involved in using that attention to attract new clients.

I'll be the first to admit - I'm a bit late to the Google+ bandwagon. I signed up six months after everyone else. When I got there a couple years ago, it was a post-hype empty room. And though Google claims to now have over four hundred million users, at least a quarter of which are active each month, GigaOm points out that the number is likely a bit inflated.

The same goes for Twitter. One hundred and forty characters is cool for scanning the mutterings of celebs, reading headlines from local papers, and being confused by surprisingly insightful spam bots. But are clients going to choose you solely based on clever tweets? Probably not.

How to Avoid the Most Embarrassing Webmail Gaffe Ever

As you may have gathered from prior posts on this blog, there are lots of ways that your email can ruin your life. Or at least your reputation.

In the past, we've discussed how spell check won't always make you look smarter, and the fact that giving your clients (or opposing counsel) pet names in your phone is simply a terrible idea. To illustrate these points, I've offered true stories from professionals who have made these mistakes and lived to tell the tales.

Today, I'm tattling on myself -- and attempting to save you from yourself -- with a cautionary tale of what not to do with an Outlook appointment invite.

Tired of the Rat Race? Tips to Sell Your Practice

After years of the small law life, you decide that you would rather fill your days with bocce ball than 12(b)(6). Don't just turn off the lights and take down your shingle; consider whether you could actually make a tidy little profit by selling your practice.

It's like Rod Blagojevich with Obama's vacated Senate seat, but without the indictment-worthy conflicts: You've got this thing (your practice) and it's ... golden. Don't just give it up for nothing. In most states, you can sell your practice to another qualified attorney.

But before you rush into anything, the American Bar Association has a few tips for selling your practice.

Want to Make Your Firm More Productive? Add Nap Time

Why do we leave nap time behind as we grow up?

In preschool, conventional wisdom says that kids need a nap because they become whiny and cranky without one. Does anyone believe that adults are different? Take a look around your office at 1 or 2 or 3 p.m. Hang out by the coffee machine for 5 minutes to watch your fellow office zombies attempt to caffeinate their way through the afternoon. Then try telling yourself that adults who wake up early and stay up late don’t need a nap.

Or — since we all know that you want to justify napping in the office — we could just turn to the science for support.

Can You Afford to Hire Staff for Your Law Firm?

Solo practice can be a lonely existence. When you first hang a shingle, you’re probably the only person in your office, (if you have an office at all).

When business picks up, you may find yourself overwhelmed. Suddenly, delegating tasks seems like a good idea.

Previously, we discussed factors to consider when weighing the benefits of hiring a full-time or contract paralegal: specifically, the amount and type of work, and your long-term plans. But there’s also the financial factor.

Revenue and cases ebb and flow. Last year, the coffers were full and you had to hire contract counsel to help with all of the extra work. This year, you find yourself spending more time doing marketing and administration than actual cases.

How do you get the clients, and revenue, back in the door? Better yet, how do you do so cheaply, especially considering that little cash-flow issue? Here are five suggestions:

There are certain parts of your job, as a small-firm owner, that you love. Helping desperate clients. Beating annoying opposing counsel. Taking vacations when they are convenient for you.

Conversely, there are parts of the job that aren’t as great, such as paying taxes, fighting clients over the bill, and handing the day-to-day administrative minutiae.

What about firing a useless associate? If you’re the type that would enjoy shooting Bambi (not her full-grown mother, but Bambi, the actual baby deer), firing an uptight, under-productive twenty-something might be the highlight of your week. For the rest of us, however, it is less sport and more dreadful necessity.

Did we convince you to hang out a shingle? Before you design your letterhead, consider the flip side: 10 reasons not to start your own firm.

10. Billing

"We didn't win - I'm not paying." Not only do you have to handle accounts, billing, and track incoming and outgoing funds, but when clients try to stiff you, you have to collect debts without compromising the case.

9. Administrative minutiae

"A hundred hours this week and you're barely breaking even?" Yep. That's exactly what it'll be like for a while. You have to handle accounting, reception, scheduling, and everything else that support staff usually would - at least until you hire support staff.

Debating the merits of hanging a shingle? Here are 10 reasons to start your own firm.

10. Be your own boss

"You know, Jim - should you really make a rising BAC argument on that DUI case?" Damn right, you should. Use the strategy that you deem best, as opposed to the risk-averse strategy of your boss. Everything, from billing to office furniture to case strategy is in your hands.

9. Take cases that matter to you

"I feel bad for that client, but we won't make money off of him." While you won't want to take too many of these types of cases to start, once in a while, you can take a case that might not be the biggest earner, but satisfies your desire to help others.

4 Tips for Becoming a Local Legal Expert

One way to grow your practice is to establish yourself as a legal expert within your community. If you become the person that local news stations and newspapers interview for the "legal perspective" on a hot topic, then their audience will likely begin to think of you as an expert as well.

And when that audience needs legal advice? You'll probably get a few phone calls.

Granted, becoming a local media guru is easier said than done. Luckily, FindLaw's Andrew Chow -- a former producer for both NBC's 'Today' and local morning news programs -- has some great insider tips.

How to Improve Your Social Media Profile with 2 Quick Changes

Is there a problem that your social media contacts can’t solve? I have yet to find one.

My new-parent-friends are constantly pitching baby questions into the social ether and getting rapid responses about formula and diapers. Every time I want to find new books to read, I ask my Facebook friends for recommendations.

Crowd-sourcing makes life easier. Especially when looking for an attorney. So if your social media profiles don’t indicate where you live and that you’re an attorney, you need to change that. Now.

If your taxes haven't been processed yet, you are either (a) slacking or (b) using H&R Block (zing!). If you haven't yet filed, this discussion of possible deductions could save you money or prevent an audit. If your tax season is over and done with, this will help with tracking deductions for next year.

Despite our sound advice, you took the herpes case from hell. The abrasive client has been banging down your door, calling you at three in the morning, and micro-managing the case. To make matters worse, he hasn't refreshed the retainer in months. At this point, you feel like the best option is to negotiate a quick exit strategy.

The first question you need to ask should be obvious: can you? If you are on the eve of trial, or if your withdraw would prejudice your caustic client, the court might now allow you to drop the case. You might be stuck representing him, which is why client selection is so important in the first place. Even if you don't drop the case, it might be time to reassert yourself and take control -- the outcome of the case and a potential malpractice suit may depend on it.

Are March Madness Pools Legal at Law Firms?

As the one-time head of a law firm’s “fun committee,” I understand the importance of injecting a little frivolity into an otherwise bland work week. I also understand the importance of confirming that your light-hearted fun complies with the law.

(Maybe I know someone who once accidentally ran an unsanctioned bingo operation out of a law firm.)

There are obviously-illegal pursuits — like hookers and drugs — which law firms strictly avoid. At least, firms should strictly avoid them. But even seemingly-harmless activities like March Madness pools can raise a few regulatory eyebrows.

Your Paralegal or Legal Assistant: What's in a Name?

Years ago, when I worked for Westlaw, I made the mistake of referring to one of my colleagues as a "salesperson" in an email to a client. After dealing with the client's problem, I received a phone call.

"So I noticed that you referred to me as a salesperson, but I'm not a salesperson. I'm an inside account manager." That's when I realized that people take their titles pretty seriously.

Don't believe me? Run a search for "paralegal or legal assistant." You can really ruffle some feathers when you confuse the two.

Real Life Firm Startup: Gregory Mouton Takes Control of His Future

Some law students dream of a gig that involves litigating from day one; that usually means working for the government.

Government experience -- whether working for a city, state, or the feds -- is certainly valuable, but it's often a stepping stone in a legal career. At least, it was for Gregory Mouton, Jr.

See that line outside the door? They aren’t waiting to buy tickets to a Ghostface Killah concert, nor are they waiting for the new iPhone. Those are clients. (Okay, the line is imaginary - but your business is booming). At a certain point, you’ll have to give in and hire support staff. However, it’s not as simple as putting up a job ad — there are a number of bureaucratic tasks that must first be completed.

Today’s topic is taxes. Note that there are also other steps you’ll have to take, like verifying a worker’s eligibility (form I-9), obtaining worker’s compensation insurance, setting up an accounting and payroll system, and dealing with your own state’s regulations for employers. However, for the tax man, and specifically the IRS, these are the steps you’ll have to take:

Eight point three million dollars. That's a heck of a compensatory award for a single plaintiff, and Friday's massive verdict was the first of many expected in DePuy Hip Replacement lawsuits (an estimated 10,000 people have lawsuits pending, according to Walkup Melodia Kelly & Schoenberger, the firm that represented this plaintiff.) That is a lot of suits, and a lot of lawyers.

From The Hip

What was the problem with the hip? According to the hip-maker's recall website, some patients needed "revision surgery" after having Johnson and Johnson's metal-on-metal hip implanted. That may be putting it mildly. According to Bloomberg, the failure rate may be as high as 21 percent after four years to 49 percent after six.

Do Lawyers Need to Lean In?

It's hard to read ... well, anything this week without coming across a mention on Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg's new mission: Lean In.

Lean In is a multi-faceted approach to helping women develop as leaders and assert themselves. If you're interested in leaning, Sandberg has plenty of options for you: a book, a website, and a social networking opportunity. (Would you expect anything less from a Facebook exec?)

Derek Matthew Beaulieu is either incredibly dedicated to the service of Massachusetts' parents and children in juvenile court, or, he's an over-biller who misrepresented the amount of work he did for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. The ABA Journal reports that it was the latter, as the state's bar association just suspended his license for the four years it will take to pay restitution for the overbilling.

In 2008, Beaulieu billed the Committee for Public Counsel Services (CPCS) for 1800 hours, the Connecticut Commission on Child Protection (CCP) for 1,143.5 hours, and the Trial Court of Massachusetts (TRC) for 699 hours. In total, that's 3,642.5 hours. In 2009, the total was 3,826.25 hours.

Starting a Law Firm: You Down With LLP? Yeah, You Know Me.

If you've finally decided to take the plunge into starting your own firm, you may find yourself contemplating legal alphabet soup for the first time.

LLP. LP. LLC. PS. You've seen the letters on other attorneys' shingles, but which combo is right for you?

When thinking about which type of business structure is best for your firm, you should first decide whether you're going into business by yourself or with a partner.

Should You Pay Contract Attorneys Overtime?

When your small firm is on its way to the big time, you might find yourself in need of an extra pair of hands or eyes. One way to get the short-term help you need is to hire a contract attorney.

But how should you pay a contract attorney? As an exempt employee or a non-exempt employee?

An employment lawsuit filed this week in New York suggests that it could be complicated.

Hiring an Associate? Post the Job on LinkedIn

Is every job hunter on LinkedIn these days?

The professional network may not have the same level of global participation as Facebook, but it's the most popular among recruiters. According to CNET, 93 percent of recruiters turn to LinkedIn to find qualified candidates for openings. And 93 percent can't be wrong.

Right?

Ah, taxes. They’re like one of those LSAT logic games. If you bought A in year 2 then you can deduct G in year 3. Some people (okay, most people) find this to be a pain in the rear, but for those practiced in the game, they can get away with paying far less in taxes than the novice filer.

For some of you, dealing with taxes is a new thing. You’ve only been open for a short while. These should help. For those of you who have been at this for years, hopefully we’ll at least shed some light on a new or missed deduction.

Yesterday, we brought you five ways to make the opposing attorney hate your guts. Whether you decide to use them for good (self-corrective measures) or for evil (returning the favor to the counsel from hell), today, we bring you five more.