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Cookie-Cutter Law Practice: Recipe for Success or Excess?

If a cookie-cutter law practice sounds tempting to you, maybe you should consider another line of work -- like baking.

"Cookie cutter" lawyering is not supposed to sound alluring; it's generally used in a pejorative way. It suggests a high-fructose, low benefit, no-brainer business model.

Ah, but easy money smells so good. After all, why reinvent the wheel when it turns a profit so well?

Here are some reasons that cookie cutter law practice is really a recipe for excess:

You May Get Burned

Sure, many lawyers have made fortunes rolling out basically the same lawsuit over and over. But it can become abusive, like many complaints based on the Americans with Disability Act.

"Abusive lawsuits under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) have spread across the country like an infectious disease plaguing small and micro businesses," wrote Ken Barnes, executive director of Californians against Lawsuit Abuse.

Barnes applauded the ADA, but condemned the cookie-cutter lawsuits. He said they follow a standard formula: sue every business in town for a minor non-compliance and force a settlement.

He said California attorneys have set the standard, with more than 40% of the ADA cases filed nationwide. He called out one firm, the Moore Law Firm, for filing more than 700 suits before getting sued for fraud.

You would think people would learn from the experience of others. Minnesota lawyer Paul Hansmeier, who started with disability cases before turning to porn copyrights, has to take the cake for his failed business model.

You May Get Burned Out

The cookie-cutter problem is spreading in the form of ADA suits now, but formulaic lawsuits have been around since the invention of sliced bread. Even reputable law firms fall into the practice.

Surveys show that lawyers get bored doing the same work over and over, and that leads to a host of problems: burned out attorneys, sloppy work, and ethical mistakes.

"Some laid the blame on overspecialization, with attorneys assigned small portions of the same type of cases, over and over again, 'grunt work' that left them feeling under-utilized and under-engaged," authors Jean Stefancic and Richard Delgado wrote in their book, "How Lawyers Lose Their Way: A Profession Fails Its Creative Minds."

"Others called it cookie-cutter work," they said, citing one respondent who complained, "I felt I was getting stagnant."

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