Strategist - The FindLaw Law Firm Business Blog

April 2012 Archives

Tough times, like in our current economy, can call for tough measures, especially for small and solo law firms. Splitting costs with another small or solo firm can help you balance your budget -- but some cost-splitting agreements may get you in trouble.

As a reminder, here are three ways you can -- and can't -- split costs and fees, if you're thinking of joining forces with another law office:

John Edward's Lawyers Come Out Gambling at Trial

Those following the John Edwards saga already know the former democratic vice presidential nominee has a tough legal fight ahead. But John Edwards lawyer's opening statement might just be the strategy needed to keep the former senator from a conviction.

Alison Van Laningham, Edwards' attorney, took to the offensive immediately. But not in a way most would expect. Rather than expound on Edwards' innocence, she instead shifted the blame to Andrew Young (Edwards' former aide) and his wife Cheri.

It's a gamble for sure, but why is it also brilliant?

IRAC is a law student's best friend, but the acronym can also help when a lawyer wants to call a press conference.

In this case, we're not talking about delving into the Issue, Rules, Analysis, and Conclusion of your legal argument -- though reporters unfamiliar with the law may actually appreciate a simplified "mini-IRAC" explanation of what's going on.

As applied to attorney press conferences, IRAC stands for Identifying media organizations, Releasing details, Answering media questions, and Controlling your event. So when you have to call a press conference, here's how to do it:

Overscheduled Attorney's 5-Day Jail Sentence Stayed by Appeals Court

What would you do if you had one murder trial scheduled and then a second one suddenly came up? What if this first trial date was flexible, but the second one was practically set in stone?

Attorney Tim Pori of California was in this very situation last week when he went before Judge Carrie Panetta. But when he explained the conflict -- and why he wasn't prepared -- she found him in contempt. And then she sentenced him to five days in jail and to pay a $2,500 fine.

Luckily, an appellate court has stayed that sentence.

Top 5 Online Resources for New Solo Lawyers

If you've recently decided to hang up your shingle, you're mind is probably swimming with questions in how to start a law firm.

Don't worry. There's a whole world of information out there, on the world wide web.

Several years ago, the ABA's Law Practice Today newsletter ran a piece on 50 Web Resources for the Suddenly Solo Lawyer. They recently re-ran this piece with updated information. The article had some fabulous suggestions but we decided to add some of our own suggestions, as well.

Here's our pick of the top 5 resources:

Private Lawyers Hired by Cities Entitled to Immunity: SCOTUS

Surprise, surprise. The Supreme Court has reversed the Ninth Circuit yet again. But don't go rolling your eyes just yet. The Court's ruling in Filarsky v. Delia is good for attorneys everywhere.

The Court has chosen to grant qualified immunity to private attorneys who are temporarily retained by the government. So long as the alleged civil rights violations occurred while the attorney was carrying out the government's work, he will be personally immune from all section 1983 suits.

Should Undocumented Law Grad Be Admitted to FL Bar?

They were brought here as children, yet they have stayed as adults. They have successfully made it through law school and passed the bar, yet they can't practice law. They are the nation's undocumented law grads, and the latest of them is Jose Godinez-Samperio, 25, of Tampa, Fla.

Like many other associations across the U.S., the Florida Board of Bar Examiners doesn't know what to do with Godinez-Samperio. They've therefore asked the state's highest court to decide whether his immigration status should preclude his admission to the bar.

Should it?

Running late for court? You're not alone -- and as lawyers well know, chronic or unexcused tardiness can result in costly court sanctions.

In one recent case, a New York defense attorney was fined $500 for his "premeditated, blatant and willful" tardiness, after the judge repeatedly warned him to be on time, Reuters reports.

The attorney's excuse, which the judge did not accept, is among our top five lame, overused excuses for attorneys running late for court. Here's our list -- though you may want to come up with something more creative:

Zimmerman Prosecutor Angela Corey is One Tough Prosecutor, Politician

With the Trayvon Martin case finally rolling forward, the eyes of the public have turned towards the major players who'll be litigating the case. Angela Corey is the special prosecutor tasked with proving George Zimmerman's guilt. And she's no pushover.

Corey, 57, was the first to announce that the Florida State Attorney's Office would be pursuing second-degree murder charges against Zimmerman. Since then, she has been plunged into the national spotlight.

But who is Angela Corey?

Social Media Can Get Your Case the Attention it Needs

Social media has been known to cause problems. It can destroy a client's divorce or lead to a mistrial. But sometimes, attracting media attention is the best way to serve your client.

Social media campaigns have ended legislation; they've influenced death penalty cases; and they've led to renewed criminal investigations. They've even been known to shame businesses into doing the right thing.

So how do you use social media to stir up a public outcry? Here's where you start:

Defending George Zimmerman: Who is Mark O'Mara?

This week a lot of Americans are asking "Who is Mark O'Mara?" After George Zimmerman was charged with second degree murder Wednesday, he has retained a new attorney to help him through the legal maze that faces him in the months to come.

Who is George Zimmerman's attorney? Who would take up this arduous task of representing such an infamous defendant-- a defendant who has come under media scrutiny, has received death threats and may be one of the more hated men in America these days?

Introducing Mark O'Mara.

Florida attorneys Craig Sonner and Hal Uhrig cited ethics in withdrawing as George Zimmerman's legal counsel. But how they handled their withdrawal is coming under fire from some law professors, who say the lawyers may have violated Florida's ethics rules.

Sonner and Uhrig's press conference announcing they were stepping down from Zimmerman's defense was "professional suicide," Stephen Gillers of New York University School of Law told Reuters.

Law Firm Branding 101: How to Develop Your Niche

If you're starting a solo practice or you're already running your own practice, you already know the value of branding yourself. Remember, branding involves a multitude of things for your practice.

First you need to develop a niche. Once you determine what your practice area is, you can refine your brand and determine your clientele. Developing a niche will also help you grow your reputation as a respected attorney in your practice area.

Here are 5 tips on developing your niche:

Is George Zimmerman's New Website a Good Idea?

If there's one thing that all high-profile criminal cases have in common, it's that the facts are often played out in the media. No matter what the courts say or the juries do, the defendant's life will be forever altered by popular opinion.

George Zimmerman's new website is therefore no surprise. 

Until now, he has remained silent about the facts leading up to Trayvon Martin's shooting death. But with prosecutors getting closer to a decision, it was time that he spoke out and launched his own media campaign.

That being said, from a legal standpoint is his new website a good idea?

Legal malpractice insurance is required in some jurisdictions. Many other states make malpractice insurance for attorneys optional, but it's still recommended, even for the most experienced professionals.

Small firms and solo practitioners have many options when it comes to buying legal malpractice insurance. So how do you buy the insurance plan that's right for you?

Top 5 Reasons You Should Turn Away a Client

Should you ever turn away a client? What about a paying client?

These are questions you have undoubtedly asked yourself before. As attorneys, we're often told that it is our duty to represent even the most repugnant of people. We're told that everyone should be entitled to some form of legal representation.

This may be fundamentally true, but it's also a bit unrealistic. In the following five situations, it's often best for everyone if you decline the representation.

Yes, even if you're being offered money.

How to Know if You Should Offer A La Carte Legal Services

In a world of shrinking wallets, some attorneys have started offering a-la-carte legal services. Also known as limited scope representation, it can help clients get manageable legal fees.

The ABA's new book on the topic explains the concept of limited scope representation in an online guide. In its online guide, the Section of Litigation has laid out some basic guidelines on limited scope representation in litigation matters. 

The term "a-la-carte legal services" comes from clients ordering their legal services off a menu, instead of taking the full package of traditionally offered services.

But be warned: you should proceed with an a-la-carte plan with caution.

As the Los Angeles Dodgers move to finalize the team's record-setting $2 billion sale, a BigLaw firm seems to be preparing for a potential malpractice lawsuit by Dodgers owner Frank McCourt.

A partner at Bingham McCutchen drafted Frank and Jamie McCourt's post-nuptial agreement in 2004, when the couple sought a divorce, Reuters reports. The post-nup should have said the Dodgers were "inclusive" of Frank McCourt's separate property, but some documents used the word "exclusive" instead, according to Reuters.

A court battle ensued, and a judge invalidated the post-nup in 2010.

But Frank McCourt may still pursue a malpractice lawsuit against Bingham -- especially considering how much ex-wife Jamie stands to make in the divorce.

Unethical for Lawyers to Check Email at Coffee Shop?

Everyone's done it -- logged on to an email account or the cloud when at a coffee shop, airport or other public place. It's the beauty of living in a wireless era.

But the fact is that beauty may not be so absolute. When you log on in a crowded space, you're not only inviting the prying ears and eyes of nosy neighbors. You may also be inviting hackers to dig through your computer and any confidential data you've saved.

Which brings us to an important question -- is logging on to an unsecured public network a breach of your ethical responsibilities?