Strategist - The FindLaw Law Firm Business Blog

June 2017 Archives

Pros and Cons of Being a Trial Lawyer

Pointing out the pros and cons of being a trial lawyer is like pointing out the best and worst flavors at Baskin Robbins.

There are so many choices and everybody has a favorite. Maybe you like peanut butter chocolate, but the next guy is allergic to it.

So it is with the best and worst parts about being a trial lawyer because there are many kinds of trials. I'm gonna go with rocky road.

Teaching a Class to Grow Your Business

'All I Really Need to Know I Learned Teaching a Law Class.'

That's the title of a new book about the benefits of teaching a law class. It's a piece of fiction (because the book doesn't exit), but I could write it because I have actually been there and done that. For now, may I offer a few pointers?

Like Robert Fulghum said in his famous "All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten," there are fundamental lessons for success in life. In teaching a law class to grow your business, there are some basic do's and don'ts.

The Real Cost of Lateral Hires for Law Firms

Not every lateral hire will turn out to be a Jeffrey Wertkin.

Akin Gump hired Wertkin away from the U.S. Justice Department because of his trial experience and knowledge about whistleblower cases. He was supposed to be a partner that would boost firm business, especially in the health care industry.

It turned out to be more than a Wertkin process when a year later he was arrested for trying to sell confidential court records for $310,000. It cost him and the firm much more, a calculation that law firms are assessing more than ever in lateral hiring.

ABA Starts Legal Network to Aid Homeless Youth

According to reports, there are more children living on the streets of America than there are prisoners living in its prisons.

Yet those 2.5 million homeless children, unlike criminal defendants, have no right to counsel for their legal predicaments. Unlike the inmates, who don't worry about having a bed or food every day, the homeless have no guarantee they will survive to the next day.

There is something tragically wrong with this picture, and the American Bar Association is doing something about it.

Court Deals With Hidden Biases in Jurors

It's one thing to release a juror who has an admitted bias, but what to do about a juror with a subconscious bias?

We're not talking about the jurors who are actually biased. Let's face it, most prospective jurors will let you know when they cannot be fair.

We're talking about jurors who don't realize they harbor a prejudice. It is a troubling problem for the courts, but at least two federal courts in Washington are trying to deal with it with a new video.

Experienced litigators know that federal civil lawsuits are all about procedure. Taking the wrong tack before trial can sink your ship before it even leaves the shore. Even if your client has the most compelling claim for compensation, a jury may never hear it if you don't get the discovery, removal and remand, and motions and pleadings right. If you're seeking a federal appeal, you need to know what judges and circuits are looking for in terms of issues to review.

It's clear that federal litigators need to stay on top of the latest pretrial practice strategies. So where do you go for this inside info?

Stealing the Courtroom Show: Should You Sign Up for Theater Classes?

Melvin Belli, the legendary 'King of Torts' and sometimes Hollywood actor, was known for his courtroom theatrics.

Belli appeared in television and movies during his storied career, and took some of his acting skills into the courtroom. Representing a woman in a personal injury case, he literally dropped her prosthetic leg in a juror's lap for dramatic effect.

"Ladies and gentleman of the jury, this is what my pretty young client will wear for the rest of her life," he said. "Take it!"

No one is saying you need to drop a limb in the courtroom, but you might consider breaking a leg. Acting could win your case.

Should You Sue 'Judgment Proof' Defendants?

As with so many legal questions, the answer to whether to sue a judgment proof defendant is this: it depends.

That's because, in part, there are lawyers on both sides of the issue. So if you are an attorney, you can blame your profession for being part of the problem.

In any case, the question is serious enough to answer before waiting for a judge or jury to decide if it was worth it to sue a judgment proof defendant.

Expand Your Immigration Practice, Learn Deportation Defense

One man's crisis is another man's opportunity.

It's a harsh saying, but better than "one man's trash is another man's treasure" when it comes to immigration practice. At a time when America no longer raises a lamp to the wretched refuse, immigration lawyers have a greater opportunity to change lives.

The American Immigration Lawyers Association has launched an initiative to combat the Trump administration's policies against immigrants. It is an opportunity for attorneys to engage and learn deportation defense.

Are Traditional Law Firms Going Extinct?

After seven years at one firm, an attorney realized it was time to move on.

The reason: the firm's chief rainmaker was no longer bringing in business -- because he died. Soon after, the law firm expired as well.

It's a snapshot of the law business that every lawyer has seen one way or another. It also illustrates how the traditional law firm may be going the way of the dinosaur.

The Rooney Rule: Are Law Firms Punting on Diversity?

You don't have to be a football fanatic to know what it means to punt.

If you know what the Rooney Rule is in football, however, you might know more about hiring in football than in the law. In a nutshell, the rule is the practice of considering minorities for coaching positions in the National Football League.

Now put that rule to work at BigLaw and you're in the game. That's the idea anyway at thirty law firms that say they will consider at least two women or attorneys of color when hiring or promoting.

Providing pro bono legal services isn't always the easiest sell for attorneys. After all, you didn't sink that much time and money into law school just to give your time and expertise away for free, did you? And times are tight in the legal industry -- you're probably thinking that every pro bono client is a missed opportunity for some much-needed income.

But times are tight for everyone, not just lawyers, and an attorney's commitment is to provide legal service for those who need it, not just those who can afford it. The challenge is how to make doing good work in the community work well for your legal practice.

Xbox 360 Case Kills 'Death Knell' Strategy

If you were playing 'Call of Duty,' what would be the point of pausing the game right before taking a lethal hit?

If your strategy was to come back later to try some new move, you were still going to die. The game won't let you avoid an inevitable death.

That's kind of how things played out in the U.S. Supreme Court in Microsoft v. Baker. Here's what happened to the plaintiffs, who claimed their Xbox 360 consoles scratched their game discs.

Classic, Plain-Language Writing Tips

The plain language movement in legal writing started in the 1970s, about the time Plymouth rolled out the hemi-powered Barracuda.

And you know what they say about old cars? Some say they don't make them like they used to. Others say they are just old.

In any case, there is something to be said about classic cars and basic writing. When practicing law, it's crucial to continually refine the readability of your legal writing.

Justice Gap Widens: Low-Income Americans Face Battle for Legal Help

At the end of each day, Elinor's disabled daughter had to crawl four flights of stairs to their apartment.

It took more than an hour to get in and out of her building to attend school. She spent 30 minutes sliding down the steps just to reach the wheelchair stashed under the stairwell.

But by the grace of legal aid, Elinor was able to fight for a ground floor apartment without losing her $700 rent-control rate. That kind of help may not last, however, given the current political climate concerning legal aid.

When to Request Judicial Recusal?

If your judge wants to hold you in contempt, you might want to request judicial recusal.

But if you haven't made the request before such an ominous turn of events, you have probably waited too long. Trying to toss a judge off your case as a last ditch maneuver can be like tossing a grenade: if you don't throw it far enough ... well, yeah.

Judges generally have discretion whether to recuse themselves from cases. So unless you can show they have an unfair bias early on, you are usually going to get what's coming to you.

Advising Clients on the Do's and Don'ts of Keeping an Injury Diary

It's an adage that some clients seem to know instinctively: put everything in writing.

But before your personal injury client writes too much, sit down and discuss some of the do's and don'ts of keeping a diary.

It's the kind of thing that could make or break your case because you never know who's going to read it. Here's a checklist:

Competition for Pricing Legal Fees Heats Up

Is it getting hot in here, or is it just the competition for pricing legal fees heating up?

If you have started to sweat over the pressure to cut fees, you are not alone. Ninety-five percent of the lawyers in a new survey said they expect more price competition, and fully three fourths expect more non-hourly billing and alternative fee structures.

The competition -- from legal service providers, technology firms, and others -- is rising. Nearly 400 law firms in the national survey say it reflects a permanent change in the law business.

Profitable Niche Markets for Lawyers

Willie Sutton, Jr., the quotable bank robber, explained his professional motivation the best.

Asked by a reporter why he robbed banks, Sutton replied: "I rob banks because that's where the money is."

Not saying that lawyers are like robbers, but when it comes to finding a niche, they go where the money is. Here are some profitable niche markets for lawyers:

How to Determine Your Value, and Price Accordingly

It takes a conscience -- not a calculator -- to figure out the right hourly fee to charge clients.

Years ago, I learned this lesson in a divorce case. I charged the going hourly rate for my services, although the opportunity was there to work on a contingent fee. I could have made millions, but my conscience wouldn't let me.

Model Rules of Professional Conduct Rule 1.5, which prohibits contingent fees in divorces, also had something to do with it. Perhaps that is the best place to start when calculating the right attorney fee.

Which States Have the Most DUI Arrests, Fatalities?

No place is safe with drunk drivers on the road, but statistics show that some places are more dangerous than others.

According to a study by CarInsuranceComparison.com, the world's best place to compare car insurance, nearly 29 million admitted to driving under the influence in the United States in 2013. Every day another 27 people die in drunk-driving crashes nationally.

The report ranked states by percentage of fatalities per 1 million people, DUI arrests, and other factors, and the results are surprising. Here are the three most dangerous states for drunk driving and related laws:

When Should a Solo Lawyer Outsource Work?

If you are thinking about whether to outsource legal work, it's about time.

A solo practitioner cannot do it all alone, despite what My Cousin Vinny said. You need at least two "yutes."

In other words, it's never too late to get a little help in the practice of law. Outsourcing is one of the best ways to do it. Here are some pointers:

Do Law Firms Need On-Site Therapists for Lawyers' Mental Health?

'When did you first start fantasizing about becoming a wealthy BigLaw partner?' the therapist asks.

Alright, it's a fantasy but is it a malady? According to reports, it is at least part of a serious problem at large law firms today.

Some of those law firms are offering on-site psychologists and training staff to deal with mental-health issues, the Wall Street Journal reported. The newspaper says it reflects a trend in the profession that it's OK to see a therapist.

Immigrants Facing Deportation Offered Free Legal Help in San Francisco

Miguel, being held in a detention center because of a criminal conviction, was stumbling through a deportation hearing.

He didn't speak English well, he didn't have a lawyer, and the prosecutor wanted him deported immediately. The judge was threatening, too, because Miguel had not completed some paperwork.

"What can I do?" said Miguel, a legal resident who lived in the San Francisco Bay Area for almost a decade. "I don't know how to read. I don't know how to write. I couldn't fill it out."

The case is typical and repeated virtually every day throughout the United States, where nearly 40 percent of the immigrants facing deportation do not have legal assistance because they cannot afford it. They basically have no access to justice, except in a few cities that have set up special programs for them.

If you're a solo practitioner or small firm that specializes in estate planning, you may have already sensed it intuitively, but a new report from FindLaw's Lawyer Marketing can back up your intuition with numbers: estate planning consumers can be more elusive and selective, and harder to motivate into action than other legal consumers.

And because your average estate planning consumer doesn't choose their legal services like other legal consumers, getting them to hire you may take some different marketing strategies, especially when it comes to technology and social media interaction. Here's a quick look at estate planning consumers and how to bring estate planning clients into the fold.

Are Uber-Like Law Practices Coming or Going?

A few years ago, it seemed like Uber was a business model for success. Today, not so much.

But the idea of the Uber-like law practice still persists. Like, wouldn't it be great if you could pick up a new client as easy as picking up a passenger who just ordered your services on a cell phone?

On-demand lawyers may thrive in the future, but not yet. As many have learned, it's not that easy to create a new way to deliver legal services.

Social Media-Related Litigation Surges, Lawyers Report

Most lawyers say that lawsuits involving social media and mobile devices are increasing, according to a new survey.

Based on 200 telephone interviews with lawyers from the largest law firms and companies in the United States, the Robert Half survey also said that 27 percent of the respondents reported more cases with personal media devices that employees use at work.

"Electronic evidence retrieved during discovery, including emails, tweets, text messages and photos, as well as GPS and web browsing history, is often enough to make or break a case," said Charles Volkert, senior district president of Robert Half Legal.

Sleep-Deprived Lawyers Get Ready: Law Firm Adds Napping Pods

Lawyers, please don't confuse napping with nodding off.

Nodding off happens when you've been working long hours and you just can't keep your eyes open -- like weary associates grinding through discovery. Napping happens when you take a break to revive yourself in a napping pod -- like the progressive attorneys at White & Case.

They are not the first attorneys to take naps on the job, but they are leading the way in a profession that burned the midnight oil long before the light bulb came along. Now in the latest age of innovation, sleep-deprived lawyers are discovering that napping is way better than nodding off.