Strategist - The FindLaw Law Firm Business Blog

April 2013 Archives

Negotiating a Lien Claim? Download Our Free Mini Guide

Winning a personal injury claim is a fun part of practice. Gathering evidence, taking depositions, making arguments: those are the aspects of your job that you enjoy.

But your work isn’t finished when you win on the merits. Your client still has to deal with lien claims. Some attorneys may be satisfied with disbursing settlement funds to a client and instructing the client to pay the liens and debts from his personal injury case. That’s often not the best idea because attorneys have ethical and fiduciary obligations to repay a lien claimant.

Is the Greatest Untapped Market for Clients the DIYers?

A few years back, when I was a wee intern for a family law firm in Sacramento, we noticed a growing body of potential clients: the in pro pers. As the economy worsened, the numbers of self-represented parties in family law cases increased. People couldn’t afford the high price of a decent attorney so they went to the Family Law Facilitator’s office or an online document mill to process their own uncontested divorces. That almost certainly meant less business for lawyers.

It’s not a great situation for us. It’s even worse for the clients, however. How many of them unknowingly gave up valuable property or retirement accounts because they simply didn’t know about community property and QDROs? It’s a lose-lose situation. We don’t get hired and clients don’t get proper legal advice.

A possible, if provocative fix here: lower your prices.

Can Attorneys Solicit Clients by Text Message?

Texting may not be the most efficient way to pick up new clients, but it's not explicitly barred under Ohio's legal ethics rules, the ABA Journal reports.

Earlier this month, the Ohio Supreme Court's ethics board announced in a ruling that lawyers may solicit clients by text message as long as they follow the applicable federal and state telemarketing laws, according to the ABA/BNA Lawyers' Manual on Professional Conduct.

Trying a New Business Model? Ask for an Advisory Opinion

Thanks to television advertising, many of us have fond memories of our hometown personal injury attorneys’ commercials. In South Louisiana, where I grew up, there were two attorneys whose slogans dominated the air waves: Morris Bart (“I’m Morris Bart, and I’m on your side”) and E. Eric Guirard (“Get the E guarantee!”).

Bart is still going strong. Guirard was disbarred in 2009.

There are plenty of sketchy things that warrant disbarment — charging excessive fees, witness-tampering, etc — but Guirard’s sins were comparably tame. He was disbarred because his business model violated the rules of professional responsibility.

4 Counter-Intuitive Ways to Increase Productivity

For lawyers in firms of all shapes, sizes, and practice areas, you are measured by the bottom line — oftencounted in billable hours. We’re trying really hard to avoid the clich√© about time and money, but it’s especially true when your merit is measured by time billed.

“Cash Rules Everything Around Me.” The words are as true today as they were back in 1993. So how do you maximize your productivity, and thereby maximize your firm’s revenue?

Illinois State Bar: Solos More Likely to be Unethical, Sanctioned

The Illinois State Bar Association has released two reports recently that reflect negatively on solo or small firm attorneys. One report (loosely) ties student loan debt and small firm economics to unethical conduct. The other shows that the vast majority of disciplined attorneys are solo or small firm practitioners.

Are the reports reflective of a problem - or is the bar way off base?

Last month, the ISBA released a questionable report on the impact of student loan debt on the legal profession. The report posited that the heavy student loan burden would discourage public interest jobs. It also noted that anecdotal evidence indicated an increase in ethics violations among lawyers with heavy debt loads. And since more recent grads and unemployed attorneys are hanging shingles, solo firms present an increasing risk of unethical conduct.

Perk Up, Buttercup! 5 Incentives for Your Staff

What is the best law firm perk of all time?

Plenty of firms provide meals and coffee, but Washington D.C.’s Finnegan, Henderson, Farabow, Garrett & Dunner thinks much bigger than caffeine and carbs. It offers tuition reimbursement to cover 100 percent of staffers’ law school tuition, The Washington Post reports.

Marissa Mayer Defends No-Telecommuting Call: Should Firms Follow?

Blame it on a fascination with leaning in before Lean In became a thing, but we find female executives pretty fascinating. In a male-dominated corporate world that doesn't seem to grasp the concept of a work-life balance, we (sometimes falsely) believe that the women in charge will create more family-friendly workplaces.

Then, a prominent exec like Marissa Mayer takes reins at Yahoo! and rescinds work from home privileges.

Earlier this year, we described that move as the "WORST. IDEA. EVER." But, after listening to Mayer's latest defense of the strategy, we can concede that there may not be a one-size-fits-all solution to work from home policies.

DA Gets 45 Day Jail Sentence, Suspension; Should She Resign?

Yes, lawyers drink. It's a truism for a reason. Drinking is highly correlated with drunk driving. It should be no surprise then, that occasionally, a lawyer, or more specifically, a prosecutor, will be charged with driving under the influence. The only real question is, can that person, in good conscience, continue to prosecute DUI offenders while facing DUI charges?

It sounds like a ridiculous question. Do as we say, not as we do, right? Yet, the District Attorney for Travis County, Texas, Rosemary Lehmberg is facing those questions now, after she pled guilty unconditionally, waived her right to an appeal, and prepares for a relatively lengthy jail sentence.

Before You Blog, Check Your State's Attorney Advertising Rules

Whether lawyers blog as a marketing tactic or for personal satisfaction, law blogging is pretty popular.

But blogging can cause problems for an attorney who doesn’t carefully adhere to his state’s professional conduct guidelines on his blog.

Overzealous Advocacy, Private Sting Gets IN Lawyer Suspended

David Schalk went where few lawyers have gone before - to a marijuana dealer. He did so, not to get high, but to discredit the informant that was set to testify against his client in a methamphetamine case, reports the ABA Journal. And when he was fighting his resulting conviction for attempted possession of marijuana in the Indiana Court of Appeals, he argued that not only did he never possess (nor intend to possess) the marijuana, but he acted exactly as police officers and prosecutors do when performing sting operations.

The Indiana Court of Appeals didn't buy his argument when it affirmed his conviction in 2011. Neither did the Indiana Supreme Court, which suspended his license to practice law for nine months, reports the Associated Press.

DUI Defenders Pick Your Poison: Probable Cause or Plea Bargain

In September, the Supreme Court agreed to address whether a law enforcement officer may obtain a nonconsensual and warrantless blood sample from a drunk driver under the exigent circumstances exception to the Fourth Amendment warrant requirement based upon the natural dissipation of alcohol in the bloodstream.

We say address, rather than decide, because the split opinions the Court issued today don’t quite make for a clear-cut decision that will help DUI defense attorneys.

Power Play: What Do You Do When the Air Stops Working?

Have you identified the closest WiFi-accessible coffee shop to your office? Do you have a backup location where you can meet with clients? You might want to think of one.

As spring sets in for part of the country -- many condolences to those of you shivering through snow storms in April -- businesses are preparing to send their power bills surging by turning up the air conditioning. But, as the mercury rises, what happens when your air conditioner stops working?

How to Kick a Client Out of Your Office

Once you get a client through the door, how do you kick him out?

Time, after all, is money. The longer a chatty client sits in your office shooting the breeze, the less time you can spend actually working and making money. Or getting new clients.

You're seen Jerry Maguire, right?

6 Fashion Crimes Committed In Court

Is there a better place for people watching than a criminal court in California? Most of the nation would agree that us Californians are a wee bit odd. Head to the nearest criminal court and that oddity is multiplied exponentially.

No where is this more evident than wardrobe choices. You are in court. You’re facing time. What do you choose to wear? Even worse, you are the attorney, you are representing someone who is facing time, and you choose to wear that? Go home, watch some Boston Legal, and learn something.

From lawyers to laypeople, here are some of the most amazingly bad or inappropriate wardrobe choices for court:

Can You Trust a College Student to Work in Your Law Firm?

Many lawyers hire high school or college students as office workers. They make coffee, answer phones, run errands, and file. It’s cheap labor and a chance for the attorney to teach the student about the day-to-day responsibilities of the legal profession.

Everyone wins. Except, perhaps, for the clients.

In case you haven’t noticed, youngins these days post everything online. Even the little hooligans who are committing crimes are bragging about their exploits — with photos! — on Facebook and Twitter. That constant need for attention does not bode well for client confidentiality.

Solo No More: Considerations for Selecting a Practice Partner

I like people. Working as a solo has little to no appeal to me, as it means I'm locked in an office all day with little to no human contact, other than the occasional client meeting or angry opposing counsel. Plus, there are a lot of things I am not good at - such as staying organized and finding time for real-world networking.

On the other hand, I am pretty damn great at anything tech-related, online marketing, and explaining things to clients in plain English. I also have clients banging down the door, begging for representation, and I could use someone to handle the overflow.

(Okay, that last part was made up.)

Reason 562 to Train Employees: You're Liable for Staff Screw-Ups

Lawyers -- especially plaintiffs' attorneys -- love respondeat superior. Superiors tend to have deeper pockets than employees; an injured person is more likely to recover from the boss than the underling.

Employers, on the other hand, dread the day they will be held accountable for their employees' tortious mistakes.

Not that lawyers aren't sympathetic. Lawyers aren't just responsible for staffers' torts, but for their run-of-the-mill screw-ups, too. As Attorney at Work noted earlier this week, a non-lawyer "staff member's error or omission can lead to a malpractice claim or disciplinary complaint just as readily as a lawyer's."

Disorder in the Court: 5 Things You Never Do in Front of a Judge

When it comes to questions about life in general, teen comedies hold all the answers. "Breakfast Club," "Clueless," "Ten Things I Hate About You," 'Mean Girls." The teen comedy cannon is the oracle of the modern world.

For trial advocacy tips, however, we turn to an award-winning classic, "My Cousin Vinny," a movie that teaches lawyers that we can lie to judges, shun every rule of courtroom decorum, and still win a case.

Or, if you don't want to rely on a Hollywood ending to save you from a contempt charge, Vincent Gambini can teach you a thing or two about how not to behave in court. Here are five things you never do in front of a judge, courtesy of 'My Cousin Vinny'.

Kamala Harris Is a Hottie. Should Her Peers Mention That?

Last week, President Obama mentioned during a fundraiser that California Attorney General Kamala Harris is "by far, the best-looking attorney general in the country."

Well, duh. Anyone who has eyes can see that Harris is stunning. But Obama caught flack for stating the obvious, and later called Harris to apologize for his comment, Politico reports.

Why is this a topic that people are actually discussing? And what can lawyers learn from this situation?

Three Real-World Ways to Market Your Legal Practice

Us youngins sometimes forget that there is this world, this off-line world, in which many people exist, especially once we've begun a career that requires us to be online every day. We buy everything online (except suits), we keep in touch with friends and family online, and we do all of our research and writing online.

Yet, not everyone lives their entire life online. We've preached the merits of a strong online presence, including social media accounts and law blogs, but if you were in need of a lawyer, would you go with a random face on the Internet or someone recommended by a friend? A name on Twitter or a person you heard speak about current issues?

For this time, and this time only, we're going to say this: get off the computer, go back into the world, and use these ideas to get more clients:

5 Ways to Expand Your Client Base

It happens to everyone. A prospective client calls your office and peppers you with questions. She lives 50 miles away.

Where some people see ten minutes of lost time, others see an opportunity. Instead of huffing and puffing on the phone, why not look at the ways that this call can help you grow your practice? Here are five ideas to help you convert those random calls into new clients.

Fmr. Chief District Judge Cebull Retires, Email Scandal Over?

More than a year after the Ninth Circuit initiated a judicial misconduct review at his own request, former Chief District Judge Richard Cebull stepped down from the bench, ending his brief foray into senior status.

For those who missed last year’s scandal, Judge Cebull asked the Ninth Circuit to review whether his forwarding of a racist anti-Obama email amounted to judicial misconduct. According to the Courthouse New Service, the email, which was forwarded from his official work email address during court hours, stated:

5 Things to Do Before You Leave the Office

For some lawyers, the work day never ends.

Twenty years ago, lawyers left their phones and computers at work. Thanks to increased mobility, lawyers now send email from their phones, read briefs and cases on tablets, and are rarely seen without a laptop. Unfortunately, the never-stop-working work ethic means that more attorneys are burning out.

So how do you stop the vicious cycle? Try actively disconnecting from the office at the end of the day.

Being an Associate Stinks. So Become a Partner.

Last week, Forbes reported that associate attorney is the “unhappiest job in America.” Quelle surprise!

According to the article, the happiest little worker bees in America are real estate agents. It seems that real estate agents are “more than satisfied with the control they have over the work they do on a daily basis.”

When was the last time you heard an associate describe her job that way?

Small Firms Can Learn from DLA Piper 'Churn That Bill, Baby' Mess

Perhaps you've heard about DLA Piper's "churn that bill, baby" debacle.

Last week, the New York Times' Dealbook reported that internal correspondence from DLA Piper -- disclosed in a fee dispute between the firm and Adam H. Victor -- included casual quips about the firm's overbilling practices. DLA Piper attorneys joked in the emails, "I hear we are already 200k over our estimate -- that's Team DLA Piper!" and noted that the firm had "random people working full time on random research projects in standard 'churn that bill, baby!' mode."