Strategist - The FindLaw Law Firm Business Blog

October 2016 Archives

Word of mouth referrals remain essential to building a successful practice. But when potential clients are looking for a lawyer these days, they're doing more than just asking their family and friends.

They're turning to the internet -- and increasingly to social media. Today's clients aren't just googling "personal injury attorneys," they're looking to learn about you on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter as well. Here are some ideas to help you reach them, turning that virtual browsing into actual business.

Think everyone else is billing more hours than you? You're probably wrong, according to a new report by Clio, the case and practice management software company. Clio's "2016 Legal Trend Report" provides an overview of the legal industry, based on data from its users. It's the sort of analysis that's common for BigLaw firms, but it's one of the first times we've seen it done for solo, small, and medium-sized practices.

The report full of plenty of insights, but perhaps the most notable is this: lawyers don't work as many billable hours as they typically report, they don't charge for all the billable hours they work, and they get paid for even fewer of them.

If you want to increase your law firm's revenue, think twice before raising your rates. That's the take away from a new report by Thomson Reuters Peer Monitor, which surveyed data among firms and found that those who raised their rates the slowest tended to have higher demand and revenue.

The report's results go against conventional practice, which typically sees firms raising billing rates in order to grow revenue -- a practice that could need some rethinking, in light of the study's findings.

Talk about a niche practice: A Chicago lawyer has filed almost a thousand qui tam cases in Cook County, Illinois courts over the past 15 years, bringing in millions of dollars in settlements. Stephen Diamond and his firm, Bloomberg's Michael Bologna reports, obtained almost $30 million across 911 qui tam actions, $11.6 million of which he's kept for himself.

Diamond became the "king of qui tam" by suing internet retailers for failing to pay proper taxes. But now that his secret's out, Bloomberg writes, Diamond "could be coming to the end of his false claims gravy train."

Are you interest in LGBTQ rights and the legal industry? Planning on being in or around New York City on November 7th? Then here's something you might want to check out.

Thomson Reuters Legal Executive Institute is hosting an election-eve event on LGBTQ rights and the law in New York, entitled OutLaw: Critical Dialogues on LGBTQ Representation and Corporate Leadership. (Disclosure: Thomson Reuters is FindLaw's parent company.) The day-long event will feature leaders from the legal and corporate worlds and "earnest dialogue around galvanizing business leaders toward more inclusive enterprise cultures and leadership opportunities."

The Supreme Court's ban on victim impact testimony that recommends specific sentencing outcomes (like the death penalty) is still in effect despite the opinion being partially overruled, the Court announced in a per curiam decision last week.

The brief ruling involves the interplay of Booth v. Maryland, the 1987 case in which the Court ruled that the Eighth Amendment prohibits victim's family members' opinions about the crime, and Payne v. Tennessee, decided just four years later, which allowed testimony about the emotional impact of crimes. Consider the opinion a bit of a revival for Booth, or at least a reminder that the Court's earlier limitations on victim impact statements haven't been fully abandoned.

Talk about a costly mistake: Mark Halpern, a Pennsylvania lawyer, has been found liable for $1.75 million in punitive damages for filing an allegedly meritless lawsuit in a dispute over a family trust. Halpern's client was hit with $300,000 in punitive damages.

The dispute that led to the nearly $2 million award against Halpern started about ten years ago, according to the Legal Intelligencer's Max Mitchell. In 2006, Lynne Boghossian had a dispute with her aunt, Hilda Kilijian, which lead Kilijian to split their joint stocks and set up an irrevocable trust with Lesley Brown as a co-trustee. Lesley Brown is Boghossian's sister and the ex-wife of John Brown Jr., a former Cozen O'Connor lawyer.

Answering phone calls, balancing the books, organizing your files -- these are the sort of chores that can keep you from doing your actual job: lawyering. Administrative tasks can easily eat up a significant portion of your time, taking up a third or more of many a lawyer's day.

Indeed, administrative duties are such a burden on small firms and solo practices that lawyers rank "spending too much time on administrative tasks and not enough practicing law" as the third most significant challenge they face, according to a survey released by Thomson Reuters this summer. Thankfully, there are ways to cut down on that burden, freeing you up to do more important (and profitable) work.

The internet has always been a place to experiment with identity, and maybe to fudge the truth a bit. Think of the Facebook teens claiming to be experts on international politics, for example, or the divorcee looking for love on a dating website, with pictures that are a decade or so old.

That desire to embellish can sneak in to lawyer websites, too, and suddenly you're no longer a solo practitioner, you're "Lawyer and Associates;" you don't just have a family law practice, you're a leading expert in divorce. But this kind of puffery could be an ethics violation.

It's that time of the year again: the time to see how your salary measures up against everyone else's and how you might do in the year ahead. Robert Half Legal, the legal staffing agency, has released its 2017 Salary Guide, a survey of legal professional salaries across a wide range of careers, practice areas, and years of experience.

So far, 2017 is looking like a decent year to be a lawyer, as most attorneys can expect a fair increase over last year's salary, particularly attorneys with four or more years of experience. Here are the highlights.

When we think of Nobel Prize winners, we tend to think of astrophysicists and chemists, poets and peacemakers, but rarely legal professionals. There is, after all, no Nobel Prize for law.

But the legal industry got some special recognition from the Nobel committee yesterday, as the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences awarded the Nobel Prize for Economic Sciences to Oliver Hart and Bengt Holmstrom "for their contributions to contract theory." That's right, better contracts won the Nobel Prize.

Where do you go when you have a question about the law or practice? To FindLaw's legal professional blogs, of course! But aside from blogs, some of the best advice you can get will often come from your colleagues -- the expert down the hall, if you will.

It's those conversations that are the inspiration for a new podcast, "Thomson Reuters: Down the Hall With Practical Law." (Disclosure: Thomson Reuters is FindLaw's parent company.) "Down the Hall" tries to recreate that informal expertise sharing -- except you don't need a hall or your own experts. Just a few minutes and a pair of headphones will do.

Education, skills, experience: these are the bedrock of a good potential hire. But you don’t want to stop there. Finding the best candidate when your firm is hiring means searching for someone who has more than just the basics, someone with the qualities that will make for a stellar hire.

Enter the “six Q’s.” A recent Washington Post article detailed the six characteristics, or “quotients” the best job seekers have — everything from IQ to IMQ, or the ability to adapt successfully to new situations. So here are the Q’s to choose when adding to your law firm crews.

Two years ago, the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority discovered that one of its arbitrators was not what he claimed. James Frank had claimed to be a lawyer and member of several state bars. That, however, was not true. But the deception didn't come to light until after Frank had overseen nearly 40 securities arbitration cases over a period of 15 years, involving major brokers and billions of dollars -- all the while maintaining that he was an attorney.

Now those who lost before Frank are seeking to have their arbitration decisions vacated. That puts the winners in the tough spot of defending an arbitration chaired by a fake lawyer, as Citigroup Global Markets discovered this week.

Judges have long complained about lawyers' writing. It's too verbose, too digressive, too freaking long. Lawyers, in turn, bristle at courts' word restrictions, bans on space-saving measures like footnotes, and other frustrating constrictions. It's a battle as old as time -- or at least as old as modern litigation.

Now some courts are limiting attorney briefs even more than before. In December, federal appellate courts will reduce the maximum brief length by 1,000 words. It's a pruning that some judges don't think goes far enough, even as it causes anger among attorneys.

Lars Aanning has a warning: When it comes to medical malpractice claims, don't expect doctors to testify honestly against each other. "In essence, no supporting testimony from a defendant physician's colleagues can ever be deemed trustworthy, truthful or true -- because those colleagues have essentially sworn an oath of loyalty to each other," he writes.

Aanning should know, as he's done it himself. A surgeon in South Dakota, he says that he lied on the stand in a medical malpractice trial almost two decades ago and that doctors feel intense pressure to protect their colleagues from lawsuits, even if it means breaking their professional oaths.

Impatient Millennials can't wait for anything -- and they're certainly not going to wait to get through a six pack of Zima before heading out to a college party. Hence "butt chugging," the concerning practice of consuming alcohol or other drugs rectally, where they can be quickly absorbed into the blood stream.

The days of drinking with your mouth are over, Gramps. Today, sadly, butt chugging is a thing that lawyers need to know about.