Strategist - The FindLaw Law Firm Business Blog

January 2014 Archives

5 Free Practice Guides for Personal Injury Attorneys

Hey there reader,

You know all about our blogs. They're fun, informative, and handy. We attempt to inform about practice tips for small firm practitioners, new attorneys, and in-house counsel. We also lust mightily over gadgets and pontificate on the latest from SCOTUS and the rest of the courts.

But FindLaw is more than just blogs. We also have a pretty great (and free!) practice guides section. FindLaw's Anne C. O'Donnell joined us after years of practicing personal injury. We'd be remiss not to pass along her wisdom.

We recently saw a post on Above the Law about a caption contest for a photo of a lawyer taking a courtroom selfie, and it got us laughing wondering. What the hell was this guy thinking? We could just see the Instagram post now "Getting ready for oral arguments #CourtRoomDrama."

You can't help feeling sorry for the guy, he's probably a newbie attorney that was excited to be in court -- he wanted to share that moment with mom and dad, or brag on Facebook. The problem is, like this poor guy, you never know when the webcams are on and you need to be aware of your surroundings.

That's why we think lawyers and selfies just don't mix and here are five reasons why.

Don't Be a Partner in Shelter Tax Crime

This tax season, don't be a partner in shelter tax crime like the attorneys at Nix, Patterson & Roach in Texas.

In NPR Investments v. United States, the Fifth Circuit frowned upon the law firm partners' investment scheme to generate $65 million in artificial losses, so they could ultimately create a tax shelter for their huge litigation fees.

So what happened in this case?

3 Ways to Have Better Staff Meetings

What's your typical meeting like?

Partner walks in, sits at the head of the table, and runs the circus. Associates sit quietly at the end of the table, trying to remain attentive, but they have memos due by 3:00 p.m. to the same partner that is talking about last Sunday's golf game.

Meanwhile, Jimmy is teleconferencing in from home, where he's caring for a sick puppy. Unfortunately, he didn't mute his phone and we all have to hear the dog vomiting and whimpering.

Stop wasting billable time. Fix your meetings.

Judge DQ'd for Ex Parte Facebook 'Friending' of Litigant

Weren't we just discussing judges' use of social media?

Oh, but wait, that was on Twitter, a slightly more informal medium than Facebook. A tweet or follow on Twitter isn't anywhere near the same as a Facebook friendship -- especially when the friend request was sent by the judge, to a family court litigant, during the proceedings.

Ex parte? Duh. Just duh. And then the friendly judge, Linda D. Schoonover (she blogged too!), refused to disqualify herself.

3 Ways to Punch the 'Mondays' in the Face

"Sounds like somebody has a case of the Mondays!" Egad. Just the phrase brings to mind that woman's face, and makes me want to react violently.

I suspect I'm not alone, either.

That doesn't make her point less true, however. Mondays are a productivity nightmare. How can you pummel the sluggishness, reticence, and annoyance of the initial hours of the work week?

Reader Asks: Is It Ethical For Judges to Tweet?

One of our most loyal readers tweeted us with an interesting question: is it considered ethical behavior for judges to tweet?

It may seem like a strange question -- after all, Twitter is a communication medium, like email, blogging, and the like. Then again, we've seen at least one judge lose his job over forwarding naughty emails. Twitter could simply be a quicker way to shoot yourself in the foot.

Plus, it's easy to see the many ways Tweeting could get a judge in trouble. Inappropriate tweets, tweets that could be interpreted as evidence of bias, or tweeting back-and-forth with lawyers that appear in court or parties to a case are just a couple of hypotheticals that come to mind.

Not to worry though -- the ABA addressed the issue just last year [PDF].

This Lawyer Just Failed Blogging and Social Media Basics

When a lawyer launches a website, he or she obviously needs content. Search engines scan your page for content, and those with fresh, relevant, and insightful offerings get a bump in the search result rankings.

Where does that content come from? If you're smart, you'll handle it yourself, or have a trusted member of your staff write it. But no matter what, never plagiarize. Not only does Google penalize duplicate content, but the original author will find out. It is a small Internet -- even though it seems otherwise.

And if you, or your staff member, do plagiarize, when you are caught, don't write 2,539 words of physical and legal threats to those who publicize your follies. Own up, move on.

Legal Blogging: Volokh Now Consumed By a Corporate Mothership

This came out of nowhere.

Yesterday morning, one of our favorite legal voices suddenly shifted domains. The Volokh Conspiracy went mainstream media and was consumed by a corporate giant -- Amazon founder Jeff Bezos's Washington Post. Will the libertarians suddenly become liberal? Will we be able to continue to read their rants without forking over cash money?

Relax everybody. It seems, other than a domain name redirect, we predict it'll be business as usual.

Two Family Law Ads: One Brilliant, One Miserable Failure

There is nothing rarer than a good lawyer advertisement. We see terrible law ads all the time, but when was the last time you saw an advertisement for legal services and thought, "Man. I wish I had thought of that."

One of these advertisements for family law services may inspire that sort of reaction. The other? It may make you wince in pain.

3 Ethical Considerations When Dealing With Obnoxious Clients

While attorneys have to put up with plenty from opposing counsel, judges, and witnesses, clients can often be the toughest to handle, with some becoming downright obnoxious. But all lawyers owe their clients certain ethical duties, which can make a cantankerous client worse than those telemarketing calls that just won't stop.

You can still be an good lawyer and not a doormat, but you need to keep in mind these three ethical issues:

On Wednesday, we tried to convince you of the importance of adding an email newsletter to your overall marketing strategy. Now that you've jumped on the bandwagon (right?), we'll tell you how to create simple, effective law firm newsletters. All you need to do is follow these tips.

1. Select a Template

If you choose a service like MailChimp for your newsletter service, you have the ability to select a pre-existing template, or even create your own. Even if you opt for something simple, there are elements of branding that you should consider. Definitely include your logo, or firm name, in some sort of heading at the tops of the newsletter, and choose colors for fonts and headings that coincide with the colors used on your business card, and/or website.

Security Alert: Bogus Court Emails Carrying Nasty Viruses

You don't have a previously unannounced hearing, it seems.

The Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts (AOUSC) just posted a security alert about an ongoing email spam scam (say that three times fast), alerting lawyers about an impeding court hearing. The attachments, of course, contain nasty malware. And the emails aren't just coming from faux federal courts -- some state courts are affected as well.

Plus, it gets worse. Some of the fake email messages appear to be coming from BigLaw email addresses.

Twitter Tip: Keep Separate Accounts for Work and Play

An angry rage tweet by a BigLaw partner, dispatched in response to a popular law blog's sarcasm, made blog headlines, embarrassing both himself and his firm.

A P.R. professional made an insensitive and racist joke about AIDS and Africa. She actually trended globally on Twitter, while her flight was in-air, and was fired when she landed.

How do you avoid a similar snafu?

We, at FindLaw, take Lawyer Marketing seriously (sorry for the shameless self-promotion sort of). And while we've covered many areas of lawyer marketing from law firm website design, blogging to SEO, we have only one post devoted to newsletters -- and it's specific to holiday newsletters. So, we thought it was time to give newsletters the attention they deserve.

Writing and sending newsletters to clients -- existing and prospective -- should be a part of your overall marketing strategy. If you're not sending newsletters, or not convinced you should, read on ...

Courtroom Etiquette 101: Speaking to Judges

Nothing is more upsetting to many practiced litigators -- or judges -- than hearing someone address the bench with "Judge."

The person in the black robe and gavel-ready is probably by all means a "Judge," but anyone who doesn't want to be considered a rank amateur should remember the following:

We said it once, we'll say it again: new year, new taxes. We've done a pretty good job of discussing your tax obligations by giving you small law firm tax preparation tips -- but what about your clients? They need tax tips too.

Since many of the clients you advise may be small business owners as well, many of the same considerations apply. So while you're getting your to do list in order, why not get one ready for your clients -- might we suggest a tax preparation newsletter? Never. Not. Marketing.

Human Trafficking Awareness Day: How Can Lawyers Help?

Tomorrow, January 11th, is National Human Trafficking Awareness Day. And part of awareness is understanding exactly what human trafficking is, and what you, as a lawyer, can do to help.

Much attention has been paid to the issue lately, both in terms of campaigns for increased criminal sanctions, and awareness campaigns by advocacy groups. But if you want to help combat the sex slavery, forced labor, indentured servitude, and other injustices of human trafficking, you must look beyond the bounds of the courtroom.

Stronger criminal sanctions are a start, but we can do more. Here is some information that can help.

Social Media Overload? These 4 Tools Can Help

Facebook. Twitter. Instagram. Pinterest. LinkedIn. Google+.

There are more, but those are the big six social networks that you should be aware of in 2014. But you don't have time for that, do you? You're a lawyer, not a tween with a smartphone. Between practicing law, abusing and interrogating associates, and dropping knowledge in blog posts, you don't have time to spend all day on Fapintwistagramin+.

Fair enough. These tools should help.

5 Grammar Mistakes Lawyers Make

At FindLaw, thankfully, we have editors. Without these editors, my five or six posts per day would be plagued with improperly capitalized Courts [sic], extraneous apostrophe's [sic], and shifting tenses left over from rapid revisions.

(Editor's Note: Well, we try.)

You don't have an editor. For important court documents, you may have a paralegal or associate around to review your briefs, but for quick emails, blog posts (always have someone review your posts), and other urgent matters, it's easy to skip the proofreading and leave the mistakes intact.

What's the solution? Don't make the mistakes in the first place. Here are five rules to review:

Guy Court Attire 101: Neckties or Bow Ties?

Courtroom attire is, like any field of fashion, evolving. And depending on the hipness of your locale, you may be able to ride the bleeding edge of fashion while in court.

And while bow ties are currently riding a Wes Anderson-sized wave of nostalgia-based popularity, here is our definitive guide to this court fashion question:

Neckties or bow ties?

New year, new taxes. Taxes aren't due until April, but if you're smart, you'll get an early start on getting documents together for your CPA. A few weeks back we gave you tax-preparation tips for small firms; today, we'll discuss one of the more confusing deductions for business owners -- the home office deduction.

The home office deduction has been confusing -- until now. For the 2013 tax year, the IRS has simplified the method for determining the home office deduction. While the method for deciding whether you qualify remains the same, the calculation is now easier.

Here's how to figure out whether you qualify, and if you do, how to calculate your home office deduction.

Lawyer Files Lawsuit Without Contacting, Signing Client First

It goes without saying that in order to represent a party in court, she has to know about it, right?

Sure, it's not a hard-and-fast rule. After all, members of a certified class aren't universally notified before a suit is filed. But even then, the named plaintiffs (or class representatives) are aware of the lawsuit and have consented to representation. And the class members are given a chance to opt-out.

In one of the oddest cases we've ever heard of, a Utah attorney filed a class action lawsuit, without ever bothering to meet, contact, or obtain the consent of his so-called clients, Amy N. Fowler and Pidge Winburn. The suit, which argued that the ongoing efforts to block gay marriage were resulting in emotional distress, was filed against the State of Utah and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints late last month. The named plaintiffs, one of whom is an attorney, were previously featured in a front-page story on gay marriage and did not know of the lawsuit's existence before being contacted by a reporter, reports the Deseret News.

3 Questions You Should Ask Your Associates

Hogwash! Ask your associates questions? Surely, you must be joking. What would you ever want to ask an associate, besides, "Is my coffee ready yet?" or "You call this research?" Associates are to be seen, and not heard!

If you think like that, quite frankly, you are a miserable failure as a leader. Sure, associates know far less than you, the almighty real-life Denny Crane, but if you've hired the right associate, that person can act as a sounding board, an alternative point of view, and hopefully, a revenue stream in training. And so long as we're encouraging associates to speak up and ask questions, we'll encourage you to do the same.

Conversations. Feedback. Professional development. It all helps you make sure that you get the most out of your associates.

Our Favorite Blogging Judge Just Hung Up His Keyboard

It's a sad day for the legal blogosphere. U.S. District Court Judge Richard G. Kopf, who delighted us with his frank response to the government shutdown ("tell Congress to go to hell,") and his take on a New York judge's removal from the widely-watched "Stop and Frisk" litigation (he stated that the Second Circuit "acted like an angry and petulant toddler,") is retiring from blogging, according to a post on his Hercules and the Umpire blog.

His more than 400 posts will remain online, though he plans to close the comments section after a week or so. Interestingly enough, the decision to cease blogging came after The Wall Street Journal mentioned the blog in a piece about judges speaking out through blogs, books, and media appearances. Judge Kopf noted the attention before stating that the decision was not due to ethics concerns, but instead was simply because he was out of things to write about.