Strategist - The FindLaw Law Firm Business Blog

April 2017 Archives

Virtual Law Firms Are Seeking BigLaw Partners

Virtual law practice is nothing new to solo practitioners; they have been doing it successfully for decades.

With varied success, virtual practitioners cracked the ranks of mid-sized firms less than a decade ago. But now that some wrinkles have been ironed out, virtual law firms are luring BigLaw attorneys with the carrot of working from home.

According to American Lawyer, virtual firms like Culhane Meadows and FisherBroyles -- with 180 partners -- are breaking the mold of traditional law firms. And now they want the heavy hitters.

"Here, I can really work on matters pretty much at any level I choose to without it becoming cost prohibitive," said Jamal Edwards, who used to work at the 300-lawyer firm of Honigman Miller in Detroit.

Shortcut to Persuasive Writing: Follow Hemingway

There is a shortcut to persuasive writing, and it's been around for 100 years.

It's like we got lost along the way, retreading the same old path of legal writing. Heretofore's and therefore's later, many lawyers still don't get it. Perhaps we are too proud to admit that we need editing.

We should take a page from Ernest Hemingway, one of the most influential writers of the past century. He was not a lawyer -- which may be one of the reasons he was a great writer -- but he was a master of concise and simple prose, which is the key.

Fitbit Tracker to the Witness Stand

First it was Alexa and now it is Fitbit -- these smart devices are going to court to catch alleged killers.

Alexa, the voice of Amazon's digital assistant, made the news last year when prosecutors subpoenaed her data to find out if she "overheard" an accused murderer. Fitbit, the fitness tracker, is at the center of a new murder case because she may reveal the victim's last movements.

Richard Dabate, the accused, said that a masked intruder shot his wife Connie Dabate. Her Fitbit, however, tells a different story.

"The Fitbit could be the star witness in all of this," reported CNN.

Is It Time to Grow Your Marijuana Practice?

Is it too cheesy to say that the pot practice is growing like a weed?

Hey, it is what it is. Marijuana actually does grow like a weed and some lawyers are riding high on its popularity.

According to a CBS poll, support for legalized marijuana is growing. More than 60 percent of Americans think it should be legal for recreational use and 88 percent favor it for medical use.

While representing marijuana "drug dealers" may have been a stigma a decade ago, more civil attorneys have emerged from the shadows and are competing for marijuana business clients. Legal developments have helped.

More Lawyers Use Social Media, but Don't Know How It Helps

Almost all lawyers use social media but few know how it helps their practice, according to a new survey.

Attorney at Work, reporting results of its third annual social media marketing survey, said that 96 percent of the respondents regularly use social media. But barely seven percent believe social media is directly responsible for bringing in new clients.

And while more lawyers are using sites like LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter, they don't really know whether social media marketing is more reality or hype.

The disconnect seems to be that most attorneys don't know how to use social media to get new business. Here are some ideas:

Pros and Cons of Being a General Practitioner

People used to ask me, "What kind of a lawyer are you?"

"A good one," I liked to reply. It usually brought a smile, and always brought a follow-up question: "No, like, what kind of law do you practice?"

In the law practice world, clients seem to expect that lawyers have a specialty. It almost goes without saying, but here goes anyway: there are pros and cons to being a general practitioner.

Pro Tip for Oral Argument: Stop Talking

It is a maxim in trial practice that when you are winning, stop talking.

This does not mean you walk up to the podium with nothing to say. It means that you need to know when you have said enough. Quit while you're ahead.

Oddly, it seems to be a difficult lesson for many lawyers to learn. More than one judge has cringed when an attorney begins with this statement:

"Your honor, I'll be brief."

Hurdles Self-Employed Lawyers Face When Seeking a Firm Job

For you self-employed attorneys, going to work at a law firm is more than a job change. It is a life change.

Whatever your reason for having been self-employed, you have had the primary benefit of being your own boss. Law firm lawyer, not so much.

Of course, there are pluses and minuses on both sides of this employment issue. But this blog is mostly about how to deal with the minuses -- plus a few pointers and some cool music links:

Strategic Lawyering and the Benefits of Long-Term Planning

Charles H. Houston, a lesser-known luminary in the civil rights movement, may have been the best legal strategist in American history.

Long before the U.S. Supreme Court completed its 180-degree turn-around on equal rights, Houston was planning the demise of Jim Crow. Thurgood Marshall won Brown v. Board of Education, but he credited Houston for winning cases decades earlier that led to the end of segregation.

"We wouldn't have been anyplace if Charlie hadn't laid the groundwork for it," Marshall said.

Houston remains a monument to the value of long-term planning in the law, although some say the strategic lawyer is a dying breed. Here are some ideas about the benefits of strategic lawyering today:

Forget unlimited vacation days, free car services, firm-sponsored memberships at the local Equinox. If you want your associates to stay around longer, you'll want to give them a raise.

That's the lesson from BigLaw, at least. Many of the nation's top law firms bumped first-year associate salaries up $20K last year, from $160K to $180K. That's kept young lawyers from leaving firms for comfier, but not as lucrative, in-house gigs, according to Law360. But there is a downside to that retention. The extra cash has to come from somewhere, and here it's coming out of partners' pockets.

The legal profession has a drinking problem. More than one in five attorneys is a problem drinker, according to a study by the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation, and rates of alcoholism are much higher in attorneys than in the general public.

But attorneys aren't the only legal professionals with drinking problems, as recent news regarding a federal judge in Louisiana reminds us. U.S. District Judge Patricia Minaldi was removed from the bench and, recently disclosed documents show, ordered to treatment for alcoholism.

Wielding a Judicial 'Wild Card'

Rolling Stone called Judge Jed S. Rakoff a "legal hero of our time," but the judge doesn't come across as a rock 'n roller.

With a resume that includes triumphs at Oxford, Harvard, Wall Street, and the United States District Court, Rakoff wears well the garlands of his labors. He spends his time now as an adjunct professor at Columbia Law School, contributor to the New York Times and occasional guest jurist for the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.

So why does Rakoff think that judges should have a "wild card?" Did he save something from 1969, when he graduated from Harvard Law School and the Beatles cut their last album?

In a recent interview about injustices in the legal system, Rakoff said judges should have a "wild card" to dismiss cases sua sponte when they see injustice. "I think that's a great idea," he said. "Now there would be abuses, obviously."

Millennials, those 18-to-34-year-olds born after Generation X, are now the largest generation in America. They make up about a quarter of the U.S. population and more than a third of the current workforce. And as Millennials come into their own, they're becoming an increasingly important part of the legal consumer market.

But Millennials aren't your traditional legal consumers, according to a new study by FindLaw's Lawyer Marketing, and they need a marketing approach tailored just to them.

Choosing Your Market, Not the Low-Hanging Fruit on Your Client List

If you're like me, you go to the produce section with a list.

That's because usually my wife tells me what I want: avocados, tomatoes, lettuce, apples, and bananas. It's all good because at least I know I'm getting the right stuff.

But once in a while, I wander through the produce section with that rare air of knowing I can buy anything I want. Today I'm getting peanuts -- in the shell, roasted and salted!

So that's what marketing for your law firm will be like in the future. You will get to choose your practice area, and not just take the low-hanging fruit on your client list.

There are plenty of pronunciations practitioners can disagree on -- voir dire, for example, stare decisis, or even choate. Then there's antecedent, usually said with the emphasis on cede, as in 'ant-a-SEED-ent.' But not by Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan.

Justice Kagan pronounced the word 'an-TESS-a-dent,' like precedent, during oral arguments in 2015, according to Regent University law professor James J. Duane, raising the question of how attorneys should respond to a judge's unusual pronunciation. Do you play along, adopting their emphasis or inflection, use the contrary pronunciation, or correct them outright?

What's your preferred way of communicating with clients? An in-person meeting? On the phone? Over email? Through a client portal? My guess is, not the last one. But maybe it should be.

Client portals can provide a safer, easier way to keep in touch with clients, avoiding some of the dangers of email. Here's what you should know about them.

Landing Clients From BigLaw Firms

Everybody knows that David slew Goliath, so how could that story be an analogy for solo attorneys and big firm lawyers working together?

It's not gonna happen, unless you change the story like this: David knocked down Goliath, and then they respectfully formed a partnership; or David only challenged Goliath, and then they agreed to give each other referrals.

So don't read too much in this story, "How a David Can Partner with Goliath." There are some lessons solo practitioners can learn from the classic tale, however.

Let Out a Battle Cry: How to Motivate Your Law Firm Team

Before a game, basketball players huddle up, touch fists, and let out a battle cry.

Football, baseball, volleyball, soccer, and virtually all team players do the same. It is a ritual, perhaps born in a time when tribes assembled before going out to hunt or battle.

So what's that got to do with managing a law firm? Well, maybe it's time to huddle up and motivate your team. It has to start on the inside because it's a war out there.

Nearly one out of five Americans experiences mental illness at some point in their life, making it likely that, sooner or later, you'll encounter a client with a mental illness or impairment, whether it's a major impairment like dementia, or something more minor, such as moderate depression.

These relationships can be fraught with strategic, legal, and ethical concerns. To help you prepare for these tricky situations, here are five tips, from the FindLaw archives.

Is Your Firm Giving Millennials the Customer Service They Expect?

Have you ever seen grown-ups talking baby-talk to little children?

It's understandable why they do it, but it can get a little weird at times. People assume babies understand the gibberish, but actually it makes no more sense to the babies than to the adults.

That's kind of the problem with businesses trying to woo Millennials, as they vie to tap the buying power of a generation that now outnumbers Baby Boomers. They represent the biggest market in America, and law firms have noticed.

But it takes more than a Facebook page to communicate effectively with Millennials. Here's a primer on customer service for millennials:

If you're a busy lawyer, particularly if you're a busy solo practitioner, stepping away from work can seem virtually impossible. There is simply too much to do and too few people to do it. So you keep working, day in and day out, for years.

Stop. Take a break. Take a vacation. You don't only deserve to escape and relax for a bit, you need to, for the health of your practice.

Neither Barack Obama nor Donald Trump gets much sleep. Obama stayed up late into the night, working on speeches and reading briefing papers, before turning down for just about five hours. Our current president has him beat, sleeping just four hours every night, leaving plenty of time for early morning tweeting. And they're not alone. Plenty of highly successful people get by on just a few hours of sleep a night, from Martha Stewart to tech CEOs.

But they're not you. In fact, they may be mutants. (Really.) For most of us, a long, restful sleep is essential, and it could be the key not just to good health but to successful lawyering. Here's why.

How to Leave Your Law Firm Amicably

Leaving your law firm amicably is sort of like an amicable divorce. Sure, it happens. Not always, but sometimes.

The key to a good split is having the same goals -- to avoid unpleasantness and maintain profitability. Here are some tips on how to part ways without rancor.

Want to be a lawyer and work from home? We don't blame you. The commute is shorter, the dress code is looser, and your family (or at least your pets) are right by. Luckily for you, working as a lawyer from a home office is fairly common, and becoming commoner. Even the biggest firms are letting attorneys work from home some of the time these days.

So, if you want to locate your law practice down the hall from your living room, you can. Here are some tips to help you out, taken from the FindLaw archives.

Customer Service Tips for Your Law Practice

Sometimes lawyers forget that we are in the customer service business.

That's right, we are are in the same industry as the waiter, maitre d', and valet. Smiles for miles. The customer is always right. Tips are appreciated.

I'll never forget the client who gave me that first tip -- a $50 bill. Then there was the collectible artwork; the expensive watch; the silver bars -- all tips from appreciative clients.

We're not talking about making a living off of tips, here. We're talking about making a living off of good customer service. Here are some tips:

Growth Strategy Tips for Solo Practitioners

Unlike weeds that seem to grow in any condition, solo law practices need a little more care.

After all, lawyers are not a naturally occurring part of the eco system. Sunshine, water, and a little soil probably have nothing to do with their success. 

In urban life, it takes at least a plan, implementation, and perhaps a little luck to grow a solo practice. Here are some tips for your growth strategy:

When it comes to line spacing, Judge Victor Marrero does not play around. The SDNY judge fined the boutique litigation firm of Susman Godfrey $1,048.09 last week for breaking with his court's line space rule.

The firm's crime? Using 24-point spacing, instead of the court's required double spacing.

Assessing Clients for Diminished Capacity

If psychologists go into the field because they have psychological problems, then do lawyers go into the law because they have legal problems?

The first half of the question may be true -- Freud was a self-diagnosed neurotic -- but the second half of the question hardly makes sense. Lawyers as professionals are clearly distinct from the problems they typically handle for their clients.

However, there is a crossover in psychology and the law that can create problems for attorneys: assessing diminished capacity. Here are some tips about dealing with this problem area:

The law is one of the whitest professions around, but if you want to be 'friended' by Facebook (legally speaking), you may have to improve your diversity game.

The social media giant is only hiring outside law firms where women and ethnic minorities make up at least a third of the team. The move is just one way big corporate clients are trying to reshape the firms they work with, whether through demanding a less homogenous workforce or urging firms to adopt new technologies.

A Win for Animal Advocates: Governor Pardons Dog From Euthanasia

Dakota is a lucky dog.

She apparently is the first dog in the United States to be granted a pardon by a sitting governor. Gov. Paul LePage of Maine spared the Husky, who had been sentenced to die for killing another dog.

Dakota had escaped from her owner, killed a small dog, and was picked up by animal control. A local district attorney brought the matter to court, and a judge ordered she be euthanized. The local Humane Society notified the governor, who stepped in.

"I have reviewed the facts of this case and I believe the dog ought to be provided a full and free pardon," LePage said in a statement.

The millennium used to be considered a bad thing. Millenarians in 899, 1199, and 1299 thought the ticking of the clock would soon bring a Final Judgment and the beginning of the Apocalypse. In 1999, we all worried that the New Year, and the Y2K bug, would send airplanes falling from the sky.

Now, of course, when we think about the millennium, we think much less about gloom and doom and much more about Millennials, the largest living generation in the United States right now. And instead of marking the end of the world, these kids can be the future of your firm. If you know how to reach them.

Pros and Cons of Being a Family Lawyer

What are the pros and cons of being a family lawyer?

First, you will really get to know your relatives. That's because they will talk to you about delicate family issues more than your immediate family -- like who's having an affair, who's the crazy uncle, where the dead bodies are, etc.

So yeah, that's both a pro and a con. After that, they kind of line up like this: