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July 2015 Archives

We're in the middle of a crowdfunding golden age. Individuals have raised thousands of dollars to make potato salad ($55,000), create inflatable Lionel Richie sculptures ($12,500), and conduct a squirrel census ($9,000). When it comes to fundraising, it seems like people are just giving money away.

Should lawyers and litigants looking to finance a suit hop on the crowdfunding train? What about working with litigation investment companies? The answer, of course, is maybe. While crowdfunding has been used successfully, litigation investment poses significant ethical risks for lawyers.

You're more of a Perry Mason style lawyer than a Johnnie Cochrane, more Clarence Thomas than Antonin Scalia. You save the speechifying for the court room, leave the impassioned arguments in your briefs.

But, when it comes to dealing with reporters, you might be doing yourself and your clients a disservice by staying mum -- or worse, by speaking poorly. Don't miss an opportunity to represent your clients (and yourself) in the court of public opinion as well as you do in a court of law. Here are three mistakes attorneys often make when dealing with reporters and how you can avoid them:

Money isn't the only reason attorneys show up for work, but it's at least one of the main motivators. You may have joined the legal profession out of a sense of justice, but few lawyers' Atticus Finch dreams alone can pull them through another day of motion practice. That's the job of cash.

Compensation matters. But how you compensate your firm, or how your firm compensates you, can vary greatly from practice to practice. A good firm compensation scheme keeps lawyers satisfied and supports firm objectives. A messy compensation scheme causes division which can threaten the productivity of the firm. So, how do you get the first while avoiding the later?

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?

There's zealous advocacy on behalf of a client and then there's harnessing the power of the Internet to influence a legal proceeding. The first? Fine. The second -- well, it could get you in trouble, as the case of Joyce McCool makes clear. McCool, a Louisiana lawyer, has been disbarred after using social media in an attempt to influence a case. Not fined or suspended -- disbarred.

McCool lost her license to practice after she took to Twitter and a Change.org petition in order to influence the outcome of a friend's custody battle. The lawyer's Internet activism was a bit too much for the Louisiana Supreme Court, who chose disbarment over the disciplinary board's recommended year suspension.

We've said it before and we'll say it again: lawyers are writers. Whether it's a motion to suppress, an email to a client or draft legislation, the legal craft is often a written craft. Sure, your Brief in Support of Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment might not be a literary masterpiece, but it's at least a testament of your skill with the written word.

So why not put that skill to better use? Non-legal writing, whether it's the general public, other practitioners or potential clients, can help lawyers build a name, establish themselves as experts, and increase their credibility. Heck, you might actually enjoy it.

We're barely halfway through 2015 and it already looks like this will be the year of the law firm merger. Firms are merging at a record rate, with 48 mergers thus far, according to the consultancy group Altman Weil. That's the highest rate since the company began recording mergers.

That number is expected to grow even more in the second half of the year, when long-term deal making comes to fruition. Much of the growth is driven by larger firms gobbling up smaller competitors. But of course, not everyone is happy going from boutique to behemoth.

Clients often want to be heard: by their lawyers, by the courts, by the public. Some take to the media to get their side of a story aired. Letting clients speak directly with the media, however, can have severe risks, especially when a client is unpredictable, unprepared, or unsympathetic.

Perhaps you've heard the story about the recent shooting death of Kate Steinle. Ms. Steinle was allegedly shot at random by Francisco Sanchez, though that "allegedly" is getting much weaker after Sanchez gave a jailhouse interview confessing to the crime and asking to be put to death. Those statements aren't going to make his lawyer's job any easier, highlighting the risks involved with client-media contact.

The door between public service and private industry is a revolving one. Examples abound of regulators who join the industries they once supervised and ex-politicians who made millions as corporate lobbyists. Lawyers are no special case. Plenty of attorneys leave practice for public service, only to return after a few years.

Eric Holder is the latest through the revolving door. After six years as Attorney General, Holder announced recently that he will be returning to his old firm, Covington and Burling. What can lawyers learn from this transition -- and should they seek to emulate it?

Nearly one in five American adults suffer from a mental illness at some point, with almost ten million adults experiencing serious mental illnesses that interfere with daily life. This means that, sooner or later, most lawyers will encounter a client with some sort of mental illness or impairment.

Working with a client with mental illness can raise serious ethical questions about your representation, your client's competency, and the form of your relationship. Here are some issues to consider in the event that you find yourself representing a client with a mental illness.

How do you set yourself and your firm apart from others? Your skill and expertise, yes. Your reputation as a trusted adviser, of course. But how is a potential client supposed to pick you out from all the other skilled, trusted attorneys?

Your brand. We know, you aren't selling cereal, electronics, or home goods. But a brand is much more than just packaging logos and commercial jingles. A full brand strategy is an essential marketing tool, especially for law firms, as shown in FindLaw's newest white paper, "Marginalizing Your Most Valuable Asset: What Attorneys Don't Understand About Brands."

It's time for Discovery's Shark Week again, the annual celebration of all things cold-blooded, sharp toothed, and, well, sharky. FindLaw is jumping on the bandwagon, celebrating the shark in all lawyers.

Even though Shark Week is in its 28th year, lawyers have been called sharks even longer -- for several centuries, in fact. Here's a brief history of the lawyer as shark:

As the legal market begins to pick up, not all practice areas are growing equally. The growth in a few areas is far outpacing the rest. How can you tell which practice areas are booming these days? Look at who's hiring.

What's booming according to legal staffing companies? Several distinct practice areas have seen increased hiring and growth, reports Lawyer and Statesman magazine. These areas are expected to see continued growth over the next few years as well -- great news for a firm looking to expand.

When advising a corporate client, lawyers may be tempted to limit their inquiry into the legality of a particular business practice or matter. Instead, they should also consider the ethical implications of their advice.

There are codified ethics guidelines, laws and regulations, all of which attempt to establish minimal levels of good behavior. But there are also individual ethics, a personal commitment to what is right, not just what is legally required.

Personal ethics may foreclose classic "gray area" arguments and may require a lawyer to counsel clients against suspect behavior. When it comes to advising business clients, legality is an attorney's main concern. But it should not be the only one.