Strategist - The FindLaw Law Firm Business Blog

February 2017 Archives

Kellyanne Conway, one of President Trump's closest advisors, is facing an ethics complaint from 15 law professors. Conway is, of course, an attorney herself. After all, who could so deftly pull out a phrase like "alternative facts" and not blink an eye, if not a lawyer? She graduated from George Washington University Law School and joined the D.C. Bar in 1995. The complaint accuses Conway of violating her professional responsibilities by making allegedly dishonest and inaccurate statements.

So, do the professors have a case, or is this mere political grandstanding?

The Challenge of Lawyers Seeking Accommodations for Disabilities

Working from a wheelchair, trial lawyer Carol Steinberg strained to hear the judge as she met in a sidebar with opposing counsel. She could not see the judge because of the elevated bench, and instead sat face-to-face with a wooden panel.

"As I stared at that wood in front of me, with the angry voice of my opponent and the obliging voice of the young judge above, I had one recurring thought: Maybe it's time to do something else," she recalled. "I felt I had no business trying a case in a wheelchair."

Steingberg recently chronicled her challenges as a disabled lawyer in an opinion piece for the New York Times. She has tried 50 cases, despite the obstacles from multiple sclerosis over the past 12 years. Like many disabled attorneys, it has been a battle of accommodation if not discrimination.

Make Your Law Firm a Great Place to Work

If you can't wait to get to the office, you probably work at a great law firm.

If you feel like your co-workers are trusted friends, you probably work at a great law firm.

If you don't care about how much money you're making, you probably work at a great law firm.

Whether you are an employee or an employer, there are some sure signs that you work at a great law firm. Making the firm great depends more on the people than the practice area or any other common denominator in the workplace. It's not about firm development; it's about people development.

Here are some tips:

You have to have an independent streak to start your own solo practice. But that doesn't mean you have to be totally alone in the venture. More and more lawyers are taking advantage of legal incubators, programs that provide training, guidance, and even office space for lawyers bootstrapping their own practice. In exchange, participants must often commit to public interest work, or "low bono" practice.

So, if you're considering starting your own firm, should you look in to an incubation program first?

How to Protect Your Law Firm's Reputation

"He who steals my purse, steals trash," William Shakespeare wrote, explaining that money doesn't last. "But he who filches my good name robs me of that which not enriches him and makes me poor indeed."

The great writer bled wisdom on the pages of literary history, leaving such truisms that adorn centuries of libraries and the freshest web pages today. Of course, he also wrote that the first thing to do in a new order is to kill all the lawyers, so whatever.

The point is, protecting your law firm's reputation is worth at least a quick read. Here's a to-do list:

What Does Your Vehicle Say About Your Law Practice?

Most clients won't see your car until after they have hired you. So unless you are practicing law out of your car, your choice of vehicle probably does not really matter to clients at first. We're lawyers, not realtors.

However, because we are lawyers, we also think about contingencies. What if the client sees you when you drive up to the courthouse? What if you are chasing an ambulance and you arrive at the accident scene ...

Seriously, clients are people, too, and they may judge you at some point by the vehicle you drive. So what does your vehicle say about your law practice? Here are some things to consider:

House Republicans are considering a new bill that could drastically curtail class action litigation. The proposed law, the Fairness in Class Action Litigation Act of 2017, was introduced earlier this month by Congressman Bob Goodlatte of Virginia, the current chair of the House Judiciary Committee.

The bill would enact several major changes to the way class actions are currently litigated, including by limiting attorney's fees and narrowing the types of plaintiffs that can be grouped in a class. Needless to say, it's not winning much support from the plaintiffs bar.

5 Lessons From Failed Law Firms

They say if we don't learn from the mistakes of the past, we are doomed to repeat them.

So let's look at some of the biggest law firm fails to see what we can learn. Why did they fail? The simple answer would be: they weren't making enough money. But that's like saying the car stopped because it ran out of gas. Let's get into the specifics of why these firms failed, and what we can learn.

A woman accused of shoplifting spends a week in jail because she can't post a $2,000 bond. A man is sent to Riker's Island for three weeks because he can't afford $1,500 in bail. His alleged crime? Possessing a soda straw, which police officers said was illegal drug paraphernalia. Both have been identified as victims of the "bail trap." That's the system through which prosecutors use requests for high bail -- a few thousand for a misdemeanor here, a million for a homicide there -- to pressure defendants into taking a plea agreement.

But one judge in Texas is issuing her own protest against the tactic. When prosecutors asked Bell County Justice of the Peace Claudia Brown to set a $1 million bond, the judge changed the amount to $4 billion. Yes, billion with a B.

When it comes to housing and development, there is plenty of uncertainty right now. Will mortgage rates continue to rise? What will happen to affordable housing tax credits? What's in store now that Dr. Ben Carson could be taking his neurosurgery skills to the Department of Housing and Urban Development?

We don't have a crystal ball, but we do have one of the best ways to keep up with the latest housing and development news: Thomson Reuters' Housing and Development Reporter, a comprehensive newsletter published 24 times a year, covering the latest developments in housing and development.

The Great Supreme Court Debate: Apostrophe After 'S'?

As the composition of the U.S. Supreme Court changes, a serious question remains to be decided: Is there a possessive apostrophe after words ending in "s"?

It hardly seems worth considering except that the Court actually considered the question in a decision a decade ago. In Kansas v. Marsh, 548 U.S. 163 (2006), the justices split on whether the apostrophe should come after words ending in "s" or should another "s" be added after the apostrophe.

How to Put Your Creative Genius to Work in Your Law Practice

Everybody knows that Thomas Edison said, "Genius is one percent perspiration, ninety-nine percent inspiration." And everybody knows, or at least with a quick Google search can find out, that Dr. Alexander Fleming discovered the first antibiotic in a dish of bacteria.

But does anybody know that James H. Solomon created a key to legal methodology, a human algorithm that can predict legal outcomes? Of course not, because I just made that up.

Here's the point: lawyers can be creative and it doesn't have to be fiction. Sometimes it comes through trial and error. Sometimes it just appears in the trenches.

In any case, creativity is a process that attorneys can learn. It's like improving your memory, but more fun. Here are some pointers from Jay Harrington with Attorney at Work:

Litigation Boutiques Continue Spinning Out of BigLaw

When a piece of an iceberg breaks off, it's doesn't mean sea levels will rise around the world. But if a polar cap starts to fracture, scientists will certainly take measurements.

Sedgwick LLP, which has lost 40 lawyers in the past two weeks, is somewhere in between. It started with two groups of partners splitting off and then another 25 attorneys breaking away.

It marks the most recent -- and maybe the biggest -- fracture at the firm, which lost more than 10 percent of its lawyers each year in recent years. With 343 attorneys in 2014, the firm now says it has 250 lawyers worldwide. Many of the departing lawyers are following an established trend for former BigLaw lawyers: starting litigation boutique firms.

A bill in the Oklahoma legislature seeks to make it more difficult for some married Oklahomans to get divorced. House Bill 1277, introduced by Representative Travis Dunlap, would get rid of incompatibility as a reason for divorce in many circumstances.

If passed, no fault divorces could be a thing of the past in Sooner State, with quick separations turned into week-long trials.

When you think of airport lawyers, if you ever think of airport lawyers, you might imagine some government attorneys with the FAA, or maybe a highly specialized land use attorney. But, given the hubbub caused by President Trump's recent travel ban, airport lawyers have taken on a whole new meaning -- and prominence. They're the attorneys who ran to the nation's airports the weekend after the president signed an executive order limiting immigration and travel from seven majority-Muslim nations. The ones who filed habeas petitions, coordinated with family members, spoke to the media.

Now, a new website created by attorneys and software developers has been launched to connect travelers impacted by the executive order directly with pro bono attorneys looking to help. Its name, of course, is AirportLawyer.org.

What's the Most Lucrative Practice Area for a New Solo Lawyer?

The most lucrative practice is not the one that makes the most dollars, grasshopper. It is rather the practice that makes the most sense.

OK, so that's not a real Chinese proverb. But David Carradine wasn't a real Kung Fu master either. The point is, legal career consultants agree that if you want to make money and be happy, choose a practice area that you like.

After all, money doesn't buy happiness, right? It just buys the things that make you happy.

Enough with the pseudo philosophy already, here are some booming practice areas for new lawyers:

Consider the Disabled in Your Practice Plans

When the Countess Carolina Fantoni da Fivizzano went blind, her admirer Pellegrino Turri invented a typing machine so that she could write letters. And thus began a story of innovation and romance that has left its mark for more than 200 years.

Lawyers can take a page from this history. The typewriter was born of a blind woman's necessity, but it became a tool for writers of every kind. By looking for ways to serve the disabled, attorneys may discover new ways to serve all their clients. It is not about disability; it is about accessibility.

If you're planning on cutting back your marketing budget in the year ahead, well, you're almost entirely alone. Nearly one out of every two lawyers is expecting to spend somewhat or significantly more on their marketing efforts in the year ahead, according to a recent survey by Robert Half Legal, the legal staffing company. Almost all others will be keeping their marketing spend the same.

So if you don't have your intentionally ridiculous T.V. ad in production yet, start planning. The market is about to get a bit more competitive.

Tips for Hiring a Law Student for Your Firm

"I am not the source of knowledge. I am a guide to it."

That's how I introduced myself to students when I taught law school. I was explaining my teaching philosophy:

"In this laboratory of learning, we discover more when we participate together because collectively we know much more than any one person."

This philosophy was especially true when I taught students in the school's externship program, monitoring their progress as they worked in the legal community. Allow me to offer a few tips about hiring law students from that perspective.

Are Solo Lawyers Entrepreneurs?

There is a debate raging among lawyers about whether solo practitioners are entrepreneurs. But come on now, in the immortal words of Rodney King, "Can we all just get along?"

As Black History Month reminds us of the more divisive issues of our times, are we really debating the entrepreneurial nuances of law practice? With apologies to Allen Iverson, we're talking about practice! We're talking about practice! We're talking about practice!

Somewhere between the sublime and the ridiculous -- which is the internet -- legal minds are dissing each other about the difference between a lawyer who hangs out his shingle and a person who bakes cupcakes. Here, mercifully, is a summary:

'The hardest thing in the world to understand is the income tax,' Albert Einstein once said. We'd say, though, that any lawyer who can figure out the Rule Against Perpetuities or the proper use of Latin legalisms can probably handle tax season.

That doesn't mean you won't need help though. We're no accountants, but we do have a few tips to aid solo practitioners and small firm lawyers during these trying times. Here's some of our best, from the FindLaw archives.

Neil Gorsuch could be our next Supreme Court justice. Gorsuch, who was nominated to the Supreme Court by President Trump last week, currently sits on the Tenth Circuit, where he's been for the past ten years. But before Gorsuch became a federal judge, he spent almost ten years in private practice, as an associate and then partner at Kellogg Huber.

What was Gorsuch like as an attorney? Skilled, practical, reliable, according to his colleagues, who Bloomberg's BigLaw Business recently spoke to. Here are some of the highlights.

Intentionally Terrible Attorney Advertising Is Definitely Now a Thing

Now that the Super Bowl commercials are over, it's time to sit back and enjoy something almost as funny at one-tenth the production quality -- bad lawyer commercials!

Lawyer advertising is serious enough that the Professional Rules of Conduct address it in several places, including Rules 7.2 and 7.3. They basically tell lawyers what they can and cannot do to solicit business.

But there is no substantive, MCLE-like value to this piece on bad lawyer advertising. This is simply a diversion -- a commercial break in your work day -- and an opportunity for you to say yourself: "At least I'm not as bad as that guy."

There are so many bad lawyer ads, however, that it would take longer than Lady Gaga's Super Bowl performance to watch them all. To save you time, because that's what we bloggers do, here are just a few:

Consider the traditional law firm service model officially disrupted. According to a new study, a sizable majority of companies are now using some sort of "alternative legal service provider," moving away from the classic model where a firm guides every aspect of a legal matter.

In today's legal market, "consumers of legal services find themselves beneficiaries of a new and growing number of nontraditional service providers that are changing the way legal work is getting done." And it's not just companies that are getting nontraditional legal services from a variety of providers. Firms, too, have begun integrating alternative legal services into their practices, the report finds, both as consumers and providers of the services.

Referrals can be an important source of business for your law firm, as other lawyers recommend your firm for clients they cannot take or cases they won't handle. John can't take a personal injury case because he has no time? He may hand it over to Sally. Sally does do divorce but has a client who needs family law services? She may send him to Jim. You get the idea.

But referrals don't happen out of the blue. They're based on relationships, reputations, and connections that need to be built and fostered. Here are some tips on how to get started, from the FindLaw archives.

Tips to Starting a Family Law Practice

So you actually want to start a family law practice? And you did not come to this decision because a friend or family member asked you to help with a divorce? You actually want to spend your life in the most emotional battle zone in law?

Just checking, because, if you didn't know it, there are good reasons why many lawyers run from practicing family law. It can be emotionally draining, financially challenging, and even dangerous to your health. Once you can accept that, it's not that hard to start a family law practice.

Here are some tips, but first a story to double-check your commitment:

If you're a solo practitioner, you might envy your colleagues who work with, well, colleagues. After all, working in a firm can mean more resources, more support staff, a larger reputation.

But not everyone finds firm life fulfilling. Take Fabian Lima. Lima left his solo practice for a small law firm in 2013, after seven years on his own. He missed his life as a solo practitioner though, so in 2015 he went back, creating his own one-man firm. So far, it's been a success.

When President Trump issued his executive order barring visitors, immigrants, and refugees from seven majority-Muslim countries, hundreds of lawyers rushed to major airports, where they set up camp and begin filing lawsuits and habeas petitions on behalf of those detained.

Maybe you were one of them. Maybe you want to be one of them. If so, here are a few resources to help you out.

Court OK's Class Action Over PACER Fees

Maybe sometime in e-history, a government worker thought the cost to access a court document electronically should be roughly the same as the cost to print a page.

At least for Public Access to Court Electronic Records: PACER charged 7 cents a page in 1998. The fee increased incrementally thereafter, and today it is 10 cents a page.

It's about the same you pay to copy a page at the courthouse copy machine, which is stocked with paper by the court. Except for one incongruence: PACER users pay for their own paper when they download and print documents.

Maybe this observation doesn't exactly explain the problem with PACER, but there is a real problem with its fee schedule. A federal judge has certified a class action against the federal government for allegedly overcharging users for access. It's the fourth case in a recent spate of claims against PACER fees.