Strategist - The FindLaw Law Firm Business Blog

August 2012 Archives

Surprise, surprise, lawyers are slow to embrace change as indicated in a "satisfaction survey" of attorney alternative fee arrangements.

More and more attorneys are turning to alternative fee arrangements, according to the survey of 194 large law firms and 141 law departments. However, only 26 percent of legal departments and 11 percent of law firms reported were "very satisfied" with the fee structures, reports the ABA Journal.

So are attorney alternative fee arrangements here to stay, or this just a bump in the road to the slow death of the billable hour?

Small Firm Mergers are on the Rise. Should You Join the Trend?

Law firm mergers have been rising over the last few years and small firms are doing a lot to push those numbers up.

The number of firm mergers has increased dramatically since 2010 when the recession showed signs of ending. In 2011 the vast majority of firms involved in mergers were small practices, according to the Martindale-Hubbell Blog.

Now mergers seem be leveling off although there are still plenty of them happening. So is it time for your practice to merge?

Attention New Attorneys: Target the Underserved Middle Class

Building a client base requires knowing who needs legal services and isn't getting them. One of those groups may be the middle class.

Large firms provide services for rich companies and wealthy individuals. Legal services organizations represent low-income communities. But the middle class don't often have a good option when it comes to finding legal services.

The problem is that it's not a specific practice but a large economic class. How do you attract that kind of client to your business?

Become a 'Boutique Law Firm' to Cash in on the Status Appeal

Many firms bill themselves as 'boutiques' regardless of their practice area or their size or even their location.

The title itself is something to turn heads. A boutique evokes a feeling of private service, close attention, and exceptional quality. When most clients are looking for relief from their legal headaches the idea of a boutique sounds soothing and reassuring.

Legal marketing is already a tricky game with all the ethics requirements on honestly and disclosure in advertising. So the rules on calling yourself a 'boutique' must be tricky, right?

Not even a little bit.

Want a Happy Client? Start Tracking Their Industry For Them

It's no secret that the key to success is finding a way to keep existing clients while continuing to gain more. The trick is figuring out how to do it.

Big firms are paying companies to track industry news tailored to their clients' legal needs. Companies such as Manzama collect news on developments, laws and regulations, litigation, and social media and provide it as tips to law firms that hire them. The firms in turn pass the news to their clients who appreciate the personalized attention, reports The Washington Post.

The problem: Manzama charges $28,000 to $90,000 for their services. The solution: Do it yourself. Don't worry, it's easy.

Become a Party Lawyer for a Top 10 Party School

Princeton Review just announced their top party schools for 2012. For enterprising lawyers, this list offers an opportunity to find a creative niche -- party school attorney.

One of the first pieces of advice any lawyer starting a solo practice will hear is to find a niche. It can be hard for a junior attorney to compete in established fields like estate planning or DUI law. But if you think outside the box, you can be successful in an area your competitors haven't thought of.

So what does a party school attorney practice?

An Older Attorney's Guide to Ethical Social Networking

Social networking has thoroughly invaded the practice of law. If you don't tweet, have a Facebook account, or know what Pinterest is, you may be losing leads to your competitors. But as older attorneys dip their toes into social networking, they must be especially aware of the many ethical pitfalls that come with being connected.

The emphasis on ethical social networking is especially salient now as the American Bar Association (ABA) has focused its attention on the use of technology. The group has proposed several rule changes regarding the ethical use of technology.

Here are some guidelines to attorneys' ethical social networking, as compiled by Law Technology News:

Colorado Shooting Victim's Family Hires Casey Anthony's Attorney

Jose Baez, the attorney who defended Casey Anthony, is now representing the family of a victim of the Colorado shooting.

Shirley Wygal's 32-year-old daughter, Rebecca Wingo, was killed by James Holmes in the July shooting. Now she's suing the Aurora, Colorado movie theater where it happened for their alleged responsibility in the murders.

But how did a Colorado personal injury plaintiff choose a Florida defense attorney to represent her?

The answer may be notoriety.

Class action mistakes are not unheard of, especially for rookie class counsel. There are different rules to play by, and the fate of an entire class of plaintiffs rides on your shoulders.

But even experienced class counsel make mistakes that sometimes result in harsh consequences, like sanctions, the denial of attorney's fees, or the rejection of a class settlement.

With those consequences in mind, check out these five rookie mistakes other class lawyers have made, so you don't end up following in their footsteps:

3 Ways to Handle a Hostile Witness

At some point in your career, you may come up against hostile witnesses.

A hostile witness is a witness that you call who ends up becoming "hostile" to your cause. If this is the case, a court may deem the witness hostile and you will have to update your strategy on how to handle the witness. Otherwise, your questioning could lead to unwanted answers that seriously damage your case.

Here are three strategies to handle a hostile witness, as reported by The Street.

Should Attorneys Defend Their Clients in News Comments?

Attorneys have many duties to their clients, including the duty to zealously advocate on their behalf. But does that expand to the duty to comment on news articles describing the case?

The duties of representation all have limits. That allows both for work-life balance and for lawyers to split their time and energy among multiple clients. But in some cases, that extra bit of work on behalf of a client takes little time and effort.

The question of how far attorneys should go to defend clients comes from a real example.

Clients often ask a lot of their lawyers, but there are some types of favors you should never do for a client.

Some lawyers have learned this the hard way, and have faced discipline as a result. While they may have had their client’s best intentions at heart, their actions violated Rules of Professional Conduct, not to mention common sense.

Whether you’re just starting out or you need a reminder about ethics, here are five favors for your client that you should do your best to avoid:

No one likes to go up against "Rambo lawyers" -- those who take zealous advocacy to the extreme and try to win at all costs. (Though to be clear, we're not talking about the real-life Army vet John Rambo, a lawyer in Joliet, Ill., who has rightfully claimed the website

Still, some aggressive lawyers refuse to repent for Rambo-style guerrilla attacks and are always out for first blood. How can an honorable attorney fight back, without going Rambo herself?

Here are five tactics that can help:

ABA Approves Ethics Rule Changes on Online Marketing

Online marketing isn't a new technique but the ABA has just caught up to the trend. That means it will be easier for lawyers to use these tools from now on.

New Model Rules approved on Monday cover common marketing techniques like online lead generation, online communications, and client information submissions via a website.

Using these methods was previously accepted and some lawyers did participate. The new rules give clearer guidelines about what behavior is acceptable and what might lead to an ethical dilemma.

3 Questions to Ask Before Hiring a Law Student

Summer will be over soon but that doesn't mean you have to lose law clerks when they go back to school for the semester.

Many law schools are now offering courses where students can work part-time and earn credit for doing so. Other students are interested in putting in hours outside of class time in exchange for modest payment.

Still, it can be hard to gauge when hiring a semester law clerk will pay off and when it will make problems. There are some important factors to consider before you put out an ad at a local law school.

Lawyers Have Lost $70M and Counting to Email Collection Scam

When it comes to email scams, lawyers are finding themselves in the plaintiff's seat but not as the representative. A widespread scam that targets lawyers and law firms is making them the victims in need of legal assistance.

So far, lawyers have lost as much as $70 million to these scammers since 2009.

The scams rely on sophisticated counterfeit checks and money orders. They draw lawyers in because they mimic the method many law firms rely on to bring in clients.

Winning a lawsuit is often just the beginning of the battle to get paid. Evasive losing parties can try to claim insolvency or even go into hiding, making it difficult for lawyers launch an asset investigation.

Difficult, but not impossible.

There are some strategies that can help attorneys and asset investigators uncover an opposing party's hidden bounty.

Here are five suggestions:

Is Alternative Dispute Resolution Certification Worth it?

Alternative dispute resolution is an increasingly popular method for resolving conflict and many organizations provide certification in certain aspects of the practice.

For an attorney looking to branch out into mediation, the variety of training programs available can be confusing. It's not clear what training programs are useful and what kind of certification is necessary to call yourself a mediator.

Keep in mind that not all of those courses are for lawyers since a law degree is not a prerequisite for mediation. With all the options available, it may be that the right course to take for mediation certification is actually: none.

What Not To Do When Counseling Divorce Clients

Divorce is a difficult time for clients but it's also a time when they really need a legal expert. Helping a client navigate the balance between law and emotion is complicated and a lot can go wrong.

There's some evidence that divorce is 'contagious' within social networks. While sad, this can also mean repeat business for a lawyer who makes a good impression. Figuring out a good marketing strategy that also improves client satisfaction can be a huge boost.

A lot of lawyers provide divorce services but not all of them do it well. We've rounded up our top tips on what to avoid in the quest for client satisfaction.