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April 2015 Archives

3 Niche Audiences of Clients to Pursue

You've taken our advice and expanded your practice to niche areas, but what are the corners of these practice areas? You can take your niche practice the next level by becoming specialized in a highly esoteric type of action inside a highly esoteric field of law.

Sounds like a Russian nesting doll, but it could be just the thing you need to set yourself apart from all the personal injury lawyers and DUI defense firms. Here are some ideas for niche audiences you can pursue.

After wills, trusts might be one of the most commonly used estate planning tools. You can set up a trust for your children, for charity -- and for your gun? Gun trusts are growing and increasingly common way to pass firearms between generations. (Of course, gun trusts aren't for the gun in the way charitable trusts are for charity -- the firearms, or money meant to purchase firearms, make up the trust res or corpus.)

Like with many things gun-related, gun trusts can be polarizing topics for practitioners. Some criticize them as loopholes, allowing people to skirt around gun laws. To others, they're valuable planning tools, allowing firearms, sometimes valuable heirlooms, to be passed from generation to generation.

If you've turned on a TV lately, you may have seen the new advertising campaign for Apartments.com. In the ads, comedian Jeff Goldblum plays a Steve Jobs-like, Silicon Valley guru.

In the first ad of the campaign, he stands in a black, futuristic void and spouts off meaningless buzzwords about paradigm shifting and thought leading. It's meant to be both a parody -- mocking the cult of Steve and the inanity of techno-futurism -- and legitimate praise for the website.

The ads are pretty funny, but they aren't the most informative; there's little beyond the viewer's curiosity that will drive them to Apartments.com instead of a competing listing site. They've got the faith of the company behind them, though, and are being backed by a $100 million campaign. Is there something for lawyers to emulate here? Can your marketing strategy be funny and effective?

5 Law Office Management Tips From Jon Snow

This article contains spoilers aplenty. If you're not up to date on the TV version of "Game of Thrones" as of April 29, 2015, go watch that before you get any advice.

Jon Snow may know nothing when it comes to ... well, most things, apparently, but it turns out he's a pretty good manager. (Barely) voted the 98th Lord Commander of the Night's Watch, Jon has the unenviable task of keeping White Walkers, Wildlings, and Stannis Baratheon's ego at bay.

Believe it or not, there's a lesson for lawyers to be learned from all this -- and it's not that winter is coming. What can you learn from Jon Snow?

You want your office to be tailored to your work style and needs. But don't forget that your office is also a calling card -- it lets people who walk in know a bit about you and who you are.

You don't have to be a skilled designer in order to make sure the impression your office gives is a good one -- that your work space represents the skilled, put-together professional you are. Here's five easy ways to make your office, and you, look more professional:

Lawyers are still relatively new to marketing. While Sears and Coca-Cola have been reaching out to the public since the pioneer days, attorneys have had just a few decades to refine their marketing craft. Yet, even in such a short time, several marketing myths have developed.

Like all myths, they seek to explain something hard to understand. But don't get lost looking for El Dorado, or whatever certain riches marketing myths promise. To help you out, here's five common legal marketing myths that can take your marketing plan off track:

3 Mistakes Lawyers Make: Hiring a Legal Secretary

The legal secretary is the backbone of any law office, handling a lot of the logistical functions like taking calls, mailing, and scheduling. Because the legal secretary's work is the foundation for the business side of the law firm, hiring a bad secretary affects everyone in the office.

When you're hiring a new legal secretary, avoid these three mistakes lawyers make so that your new legal secretary is, in a word, awesome.

In terms of First World Problems, complaining about having too much work is almost as bad as worrying that you have too much money. But, as any lawyer knows, work is work and having too much of it can detrimentally impact your cases and practice, not to mention your personal life.

Whether you were overzealous in taking on new clients or had a supposedly straightforward matter snowball out of control, here's some ideas on how to cope with too much work.

Many lawyers get new clients from traditional word of mouth, supplemented by business cards, websites, online marketing, and maybe some T.V. or radio commercials. Lawyers more committed to marketing may take their strategy a step further, setting up billboards or even a booth at the county fair. After all, standing out in lawyer marketing means differentiating yourself from the competition, both in what you say and where you say it.

Lawyers who really want to put their marketing skills to the test shouldn't be afraid to try new, but effective advertising methods. Here are five underappreciated but valuable advertising venues you should consider:

Should You Ask if Your Client Did It?

On a recent episode of "How to Get Away with Murder," Professor Keating posits a question to her murder class: Should you ask the client if he committed the crime? Keating suggests that a defense attorney has to "lie" to the jury about a client's innocence, but that's not really the case.

The lawyer shouldn't be making a moral judgment; after all, some proportion of clients are bound to have actually done the thing they're accused of, so that goes with the territory. (You didn't think you'd be representing only innocent people, did you?)

But is there any utility to asking if your client "did it"?

How Casual Does Your Office Need to Be?

Gone are the "Mad Men"-esque days where everyone wore suits to the office. While many offices still have "dress down" or "casual" Fridays, reportedly invented by Dockers in 1992 (though possibly going back to Hewlett Packard in the 1950s, claims Business Insider), lots of offices have done away with suits and ties altogether.

The modern office is as casual, or as formal, as it has to be, and what it has to be is determined by its geography, its clientele, and its size. Where does your firm fit in?

For a solo attorney or small firm, a shared office space can provide the benefits of a larger practice, without the cost of setting up shop all on your own. A nice conference room and some shared staff can really beat working off a laptop in your kitchen.

But off course, with any benefit, there are also risks. Office sharing can also impose unique liability risks for attorneys, something any office sharer should be aware of before their shared office becomes a shared liability.

5 Last-Minute Gifts for Administrative Professional's Day

Uh oh. You forgot that tomorrow was Administrative Professional's Day (again)? You've probably missed out on the chance to get your admin something meaningful, like that Napa Valley wine gift basket, or that spa day.

Don't worry, though: There's still time to get a good gift that doesn't say, "I forgot and bought this at Walgreen's on the way to work," like a Whitman's Sampler. Here are some last-minute gift ideas to save your bacon.

Ill. Lawyer Suspended for Six Months for Insulting Colleagues

Litigation can make us mad, it's true. But the key is not to let your anger take over. That, as Yoda knows all too well, leads to the Dark Side.

David Novoselsky, a lawyer from Illinois, apparently didn't watch any of the "Star Wars" films, because he issued a litany of offensive comments -- in court -- aimed at opposing counsel and the opposing party. That earned him a proposed six-month suspension from the Review Board of the Illinois Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission.

It's Friday! You've worked all day and most of the nights for the past few weeks. You've come into the office on Saturday and worked through to Sunday morning. It's time for a break. Your sanity, or your marriage, may depend on it.

So what do you do when your much needed respite is interrupted by clients? Model Professional Conduct Rule 1.4 requires that attorneys provide prompt and reasonable communication with clients, but there's plenty of room for interpretation what constitutes a prompt or reasonable response. How can you get around responding to a client for the weekend?

Most lawyers have had clients who complained when they were billed for a phone call, or who were shocked when their call wasn't answered at 11pm on a Saturday. Yes, some clients are clueless, but that's not just their fault.

We often underestimate how little our clients understand of the legal profession. Recognizing that clients don't know many of the things we take for granted is the first step to avoiding unhappy, or even just annoying, clients in the future. So, here are three things we think are obvious that our clients may not:

Handling a Client With a JD from Google School of Law

It's supremely frustrating when potential clients (or worse, current clients) think they know more about the law than you do. Usually it's because a friend of a friend (not a lawyer) gave them legal advice, and hey, why aren't you doing this thing for me?

You don't want to condescend, obviously. But you do want to make clear that your client isn't going to gain your years of knowledge and experience through a quick Internet search. How do you convince your client that you can't get a degree from the Google School of Law?

How Do You Determine a Marketing Budget for Your Law Firm?

So you know that you need some marketing, right? Web sites, business cards, maybe a TV commercial or a radio jingle. That much is clear. What isn't so clear is how much you should spend on marketing. You want to spend enough that you get a quality product, but you're a lawyer, not an ad agency.

It can be tough to figure out what the sweet spot is so that you don't overspend on marketing. So how do you come up with a marketing budget?

If you're looking to hire a new employee, be aware that salary is just the start of the costs. There are plenty of associated, non-wage costs to bringing someone new to your firm. From taxes and insurance, to simply finding a new location to put someone, the costs of hiring a new employee can vary wildly.

If you're not anticipating them, these costs can be unexpected. But they're certainly not indeterminable and should be included in any plans to hire. Here are some factors to take into account when looking at the real cost of a new employee.

Here's some schadenfreude for tax day: Former IRS ethics lawyer Takisha Brown has been disbarred by the D.C. Court of Appeals (not the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals) for ethics violations and misappropriating client funds.

Brown withdrew money from a settlement payment meant to go towards a client's medical bills following an automobile accident. Of course, it wasn't just the crime, it was the cover up that landed Brown in hot water.

TR Products Win in National Law Journal Survey

Big Orange is the winner! Earlier this month, The National Law Journal published its fourth annual readers' best of rankings. Westlaw, one of our sister companies under the Thomson Reuters umbrella, took home the top "Legal Research Provider" designation, while FindLaw earned honors for "social media consultancy for law firms."

That's not all, though: Several products in the TR family also won awards.

Cease-and-desists letters, demands for personal injury payments, claims of defamation, slander and libel -- these are the bread and butter of the demand letter. And boy are they demanding, always full of requests that must be met "immediately" and clients who will defend their rights "vigorously."

How you respond to a demand letter can help shape the tone and path of your following interactions, so make sure you do it well. To help, avoid these three common mistakes lawyers make when responding:

No one likes clients who lie -- at least, not one the ones who lie to their lawyer. When clients lie or fail to disclose necessary information, they make it hard for lawyers to do their job.

When a client's lie is discovered, it can raise messy ethical, profession and practical issues for the lawyer. Here's what to do, and what not to do, when your client's pants catch on fire.

Kids these days -- try as you might, there's no escaping them. In the U.S., there's more than 70 million Millenials, people born from the early eighties through to the new millennium. They're the largest generation outside of baby boomers and becoming a major part of the workforce, including your workforce.

The generation gap can lead to difficulties, particularly in interviews, where you have to get to know a candidate in a short amount of time. That means your tried and true methods might need to be updated when interviewing these youngsters. But don't worry, you don't have to ask them what their favorite emoji is just yet.

When interviewing Millennials, here are three areas to focus on:

Yes, You Can Practice Law and Still Have a Soul

In addition to being on TV for most of the 1990s, and providing a platform for a post-"Bill and Ted" but pre-"Matrix" Keanu Reeves, "The Devil's Advocate" confirmed for the world that lawyers are evil. Al Pacino's character was literally the devil. How else could he be a defense attorney?

In practice, we do sometimes joke about "selling our souls" to BigLaw, but can you practice law and still have a soul?

5 Things to Know About Answering Questions Online

Many attorneys frequent Internet message boards (like FindLaw Answers) to answer legal questions from anonymous strangers. It can actually be useful to drum up business, provided you post using your real name and contact information.

Even though it's the Internet, which is the untamed frontier of communications, there are still rules lawyers need to follow. Here are just some of the things you need to keep in mind when answering questions online.

Hiring support staff is always a risky endeavor, something which requires you to place faith in absolute strangers and hope they can deliver. When hiring an admin, the risks can be even greater, as a firm administrator is often the most senior non-lawyer employee.

That's why firms should tread carefully and search rigorously. Do things the wrong way and you'll be left with a headache. So don't learn from your mistakes, avoid them in the first place. Here's three pitfalls to steer clear off in your admin search:

What to Cover in a Consult (and What Can Wait)

The consult -- whether it's free or costs some kind of money -- is like a first date. Not much substantive happens; you and your potential new client are getting to know each other, to see if you really like each other and want to take this to the next (billable) level.

By and large, the consult is going to be free of substantive legal talk, except for the outline of the case. Here's what you can cover in a consult, and what you can save for later.

Do You Still Need to Research on Paper?

Back in law school, we did a cursory class or two -- by which I mean, we spent a day or two of class -- on using paper research materials. You know the ones: federal reporters, state reporters, and those West key reporter things.

These days, all those books are relegated to propping up the short leg of your desk or appearing as props on lawyer TV shows (why would someone have a single copy of the U.S. reports on his desk? Was that his favorite year?). Even with the march of technology, are there still times when you need to research on paper?

LinkedIn endorsements are pretty easy to come by. People you've never met will rush to endorse your skills in the hope that you will do the same. On the professional's Facebook, an endorsement is the equivalent of a like or share -- easily gained and not of much weight.

Except, of course, if you're a lawyer. In which case, accepting unearned endorsements on LinkedIn may land you in ethical trouble.

Top 5 Ethical Issues With Attorney Advertising

Complying with attorney advertising rules is more than just a couple questions on the MPRE and a headache for the rest of your life. It's an ethical obligation just like any of those other rules that our profession is governed by.

Whether it's a website, blog, billboard, or a tweet, attorneys need to know their jurisdiction's rules about attorney advertising and take care not to fall into one of these common ethical traps.

Mental Health Courts: A Continuing Trend

As if regular courts weren't enough, South Carolina has voted to expand the state's mental health courts, reported the South Carolina newspaper The State.

Since their inception in the late 1990s, various states have implemented mental health courts, with great success. They take the position that criminal violations based on mental illness should be treated as a mental health problem, not a penal one. Will this trend continue?

We've all had difficult clients, be they the kind who refuse to pay up or who, after an hour on Wikipedia, decide they know the law better than you. But what if we could get rid of them altogether?

You can avoid bad clients, by refusing to take them on in the first place. If you see one of these five terrible client types, stay away! No matter how much you bill, they won't be worth it.

Lawyer-to-Lawyer Marketing: Are Direct Mailers Worth It?

Among the most important ways that attorneys get new clients is through referrals from other attorneys. Having a solid base of referrals ensures a fairly steady stream of business, and it doesn't hurt to know other lawyers, either.

Of course, the operative question is, "How do I get in touch with attorneys?" There are a lot of ways, but today, we'll discuss direct mailers. Are direct mailers worth it?

Phone interviews are about as fun as flu shots. And like shots, they're painful, sometimes nauseating, but a necessary part of life. Deprived of the many cues afforded by a face to face meeting -- the types of visual aids that let us know when the other side is done speaking or if they are even still listening -- phone interviews can be stilted and awkward for both the interviewer and interviewee.

However, there's a reason we do them. The phone interview can be a great, quick way to connect with candidates who are far away, or to screen candidates before bringing them in to meet face-to-face. So don't dread them, make them better. Here are three simple tips to help you conduct improved phone interviews.