Strategist - The FindLaw Law Firm Business Blog

October 2013 Archives

5 Reasons to Walk Away From the Practice of Law

We all have those moments of doubt. Did I choose the right path? Should I have gone to medical school or become a computer programming wizard? Why in the heck am I dealing with schizophrenic clients that try to bite my face during my visits to the prison?

For most of us, those doubts pass. Despite all of the crap that comes with being a lawyer, especially a small firm attorney or solo practitioner, there are those good moments, where you keep a client out of jail, or settle a case, or win custody, that make the job worth doing.

But if the highs aren't balancing out the lows anymore, it might be worth some introspection. Here are five reasons to consider changing course.

Oh, Hi ABA. Thanks for the Nonsensical, Tardy Groupon Opinion.

Remember when Groupon was a thing? The company was founded in 2008, and by April 2010, it was valued at $1.35 billion. It was called "the fastest growing company ever," in an article on which projected that the company would bring in $1 billion in revenue faster than any other company in history.

Fast-forward a few years, and after a much-hyped IPO, the company's founder was fired, earnings have been disappointing, and hundreds of copy-cat sites have sprung up, none more fearsome than LivingSocial, an Amazon-backed rival. While Groupon seemed to be a good deal for businesses struggling to gain an initial foothold, and consumers seeking deals, the novelty is gone.

This makes the timing of this ABA Ethics opinion on lawyers and coupon sites especially curious, with both declining relevance of daily-deal sites, and the plethora of state bar ethics opinions that have already addressed the issue (in an arguably clearer manner, to boot).

5 Questions to Ask Before You Start a Blog

Blogging is not easy -- those of us here who do it for a living can attest to this, all day and every day. But, the truth is, it can be both a powerful marketing and personal tool for your firm, should you decide to have one and maintain it the right way.

Making the decision to start up a blog for your firm shouldn't be a light one. Before you do, it's best to determine whether a blog actually suits both your and your firm's needs. With that said, here are five questions you should ask yourself before starting a blog.

Whether it was Marshall Field, or Harry Selfridge, both men are credited with coining the phrase "the customer is always right." Everyone these days has heard the phrase, but how many of us actually put it into practice?

For busy lawyers, it is easy to get sidetracked, and forget that ultimately, we are in a service industry -- we need to keep our customers happy. Here are some ways to brush up on your customer service skills and ensure that your clients keep coming back to you.

Legal Services for a Loveseat: Do You Barter?

Lawyers are people. We have needs too. Sometimes we need new furniture. Other times, we might need tax advice or a stiff drink. And clients, often, lack the liquidity required to pay for legal services, especially when a lawyer requires a retainer.

So, do you barter? Or, in the immortal words of Randy Moss, is it "straight cash, homey?"

4 Things to Remember for the Upcoming Holiday Season at Your Firm

With the upcoming holiday season just around the corner at your firm, there are some things you should keep in mind. Sure, Halloween hasn't even really passed yet, but we all know that once it does, the holidays will come barreling through at an unapologetic pace.

With that said, it's best to be prepared. Keep in mind the following for things, in preparation for the upcoming holiday season:

Retired Attorney Suspended For Refusing to Maintain Email Address

A luddite? Or a stubborn woman making a valid point?

The Supreme Court of South Carolina temporarily suspended an attorney from practice last week, and although that, in and of itself is not particularly unusual, one of the reasons for the suspension was: she refused to maintain an active email address.

Suddenly, our question of whether a lack of social media savvy may someday constitute malpractice doesn't seem so silly, does it?

New Small Biz Industries Growing. Maybe Your Client Base Can, Too

Despite the economy's growth at the pace of molasses these days, small businesses are still finding ways to thrive. In fact, there are many new industries that have grown at double-digit rates, according to Forbes.

As an associate at a small firm, the small business culture is certainly not foreign to you. While you may not represent huge corporations, small business owners will still likely turn to small and mid-sized firms for representation, so knowing which industry(ies) they will come from may help.

With that said, what are the top ten fastest growing small business industries?

At a small firm, maintaining and expanding your client base is absolutely necessary for growing your business. Maybe you don't have a large marketing budget for a fancy website, or maybe you're in small-town setting. Regardless of what situation you're in, you have the most valuable marketing tool of all -- you.

By getting more involved in your community, you can expand your network of contacts -- and potential clients. While all these options are free, they do take time and a little bit of effort. But, if you get involved in your community with honesty and sincerity, your integrity will be paid off in the form of new, lasting client relationships.

Here's how you can get involved in your community to build your client base.

Even though you shunned BigLaw and work in a smaller firm setting, doesn't mean that you have to give up on working for big name corporate clients. You can still work on challenging cases, and get experience with large companies in small firm.

Here are three reasons small firms are attractive legal options for large corporate clients.

Shutdown Averted, But Do Courts Need a Sequestration Showdown?

The shutdown is no more. Funding will be restored, federal workers will return to work, and courts won't have to try to balance their constitutional duties with the Anti-Deficiency Act's minimal staffing standards. This is all good news, yet the brilliant judge who suggested a showdown with Congress that would make them go "bats**t" is apparently depressed.

Why? Though he only posted a copy of T.S. Eliot's "The Hollow Men," as a means of expressing himself, our best guess is that it has something to do with sequestration funding, which was crippling the courts even before the government-wide shutdown. And post-shutdown, with sequestration funding still crushing the court's budget, is a showdown still called for?

October is the official month of many things, breast cancer awareness and cyber security awareness, and now we can add something else: National Women's Small Business Month.

While the ABA does not keep tabs on the number of women-owned law firms, American Express states that women-owned business in general are "[t]he only bright spot in recent years with respect to privately held company job growth has been among women-owned firms. They have added an estimated 175,000 jobs to the U.S. economy since 2007," reports Forbes.

To celebrate National Women's Small Business Month, we decided to do a round-up of all the best FindLaw articles related to starting your own firm, and dealing with issues that are unique (or skewed) to women.

Square Cash is Another Way to Get e-Paid; How Does it Stack Up?

I don't know about you, but I really, really hate paper checks. Clients "put them in the mail," though they rarely arrive on time (if at all). When they do, you have to make a trip to the bank, or try a wonky cell phone app, to deposit the check in your account. You've got better things to do, as do I.

We were excited when Google announced that they would allow users to attach cash to emails. Finally, a paperless payment solution that is as simple as attaching a file to an email -- something nearly every person has done over the last two decades or so. Alas, it was months before that little $ sign was rolled-out to my account, and to date, I still haven't received an electronic payment.

Revolutions take time, I guess. Maybe Square Cash will be the catalyst of that change.

'Go F Yourself and Die': Lawyers Really Shouldn't Rage Tweet

There's a running Twitter joke with our friends at @SCOTUSblog. Because their name is so similar to the nation's high court, many tweeters mistake them for the real thing, and express their great displeasure over court rulings in 140 characters or less. Instead of kindly clarifying the mistake, the mystery person behind the account typically tweets back snarky responses.

It's wonderful.

The latest, and most amusing, was a tweet about the Supreme Court's decision to address the E.P.A.'s regulation of greenhouse gas emissions, allegedly coming from a BigLaw partner. A few tweets later, SCOTUSblog's snark prevailed, the lawyer's temper flared, and now, his account is no more.

We've heard about flunking school (from other people), but flunking retirement? Well, that's exactly what South Dakota-based attorney James E. "Jim" McMahon did, according to the Argus Leader, stating, "I flunked. I just flunked retirement." The ABA Journal reports that he went back to work for his old firm, though he's not working as hard as he did before retirement.

If you're like us, you're probably thinking, "what the hell?" No, this is not about having enough money to retire, this is about actually sticking to it! FindLaw is a lovely place to work, but we can't wait to retire.

Here are five tips for those of you lucky enough to think about retiring soon that will help keep you in retirement, and not running back to the office.

New Favorite Judge Urges Courts to Make Congress go 'Bats--t'

Sequestration was bad enough. Court budgets were slashed to the bare minimum, setting the "wheels of justice" to permanent slow-motion. Fees for appointed attorneys were slashed and deferred, just to keep the budget from collapsing. Justice delayed, justice denied, and a bare-minimum court system barely struggling to meet speedy trial demands became the status quo.

Imagine how the courts feel now, with the shutdown ravaging the rank-and-file of the government in general, not to mention the courts, which have constitutionally-mandated duties, including a duty to handle criminal cases in a timely manner. The courts stretched their funds to last through Thursday, and perhaps Friday, but after that?

5 Ways to Treat Your Small Firm Employees Right

Small firm attorneys -- are you treating your employees right?

Being a lawyer is hard, but being a part of the staff at a law firm, no matter what the size, is just as difficult. The law is a niche industry -- think about what those who are working for you have to pick up on if it took years of experience, going to law school, and taking the bar exam (once, if not more) for you to get to where you are. They work hard, and this should be acknowledged and encouraged.

With that said, here are 5 things you should be doing for the employees at your firm:

Last week we discussed tips and considerations for hiring your first employee. Suppose you already cleared that hurdle and you have a team of administrative staff and paralegals. What if you're ready for the next hurdle -- adding attorneys to your team?

A good way to test the waters is by hiring a contractor. So, here are five reasons why you should consider hiring a contract attorney to grow your small practice.

You've been working as a solo-attorney for a while, but it may be time to actually take the leap and become an employer. Since you need to concentrate on your clients, and billing those hours, you should find someone to help you with administrative tasks like copying and filing and answering phones.

Maybe you want to take it a step further and have someone assist you with drafting letters and research. So now what?

Updates on Courts and the Shutdown -- One More Week? Deal Soon?

Ten days ago, we briefed you on the Federal Courts' plan for the impending shutdown. Thanks to reserve funds from court fees and no-year appropriations, the courts had a plan in place to last ten days, possibly longer if funds could be conserved.

The ten days are up, but the funding isn't. Still, the court system is running on fumes, and those with cases before the court in the next week would be well advised to keep an eye out for closings and reschedulings.

Judge Faces Ethics Probe After Selling Religious Books in Court

We now know that, as a judge, you can't be a comedian. But how about leading a religious ministry? Does it make a difference if that ministry is for-profit and judicial resources are used to promote the ministry's products?

Leon County Judge Judith Hawkins, a Florida judge making $140,000 annually, is also the founder of Gaza Road Ministries, an organization that, according to its website, seeks "timeless Bible truths for today's applications." Those truths are expounded in a series of products, available online, and for a short time, from Judge Hawkins at the courthouse.

Maintaining Your Firm's Social Media Presence: 5 Tips

Is your firm on social media? If not, you should look into integrating social media into your firm, stat. These days, social media presence is a crucial way to market your firm, maintain and retain your clientele, appear accessible, and is just important for the sake of keeping up-to-date with the times and appearing relevant.

With that said, hopefully your firm is already on social media. If so, here are 5 tips on how you should be maintaining your firm's presence:

How Attorneys Can Help Victims of Domestic Violence

It's National Domestic Violence Awareness Month, and many of you may be wondering how you can help, beyond writing large donation checks to your nearest shelter. The good news is, as a lawyer, you have a number of tools at your disposal to help make a difference for the one in four women and one in seven men in the United States who suffer serious physical violence at the hands of an intimate partner.

Here are a few tools and ideas to get started:

Sometimes attorneys are expected to be Jacks and Jills of all trades, but we all know what ends up happening -- we end up masters of none. So, after you've spent your career developing a niche area, one of your clients (or a potential new client) calls with a question about a different practice area.

What is in your best interest to do in this situation, ethically and financially?

Getting in the Right Mindset Before Court: 5 Tips

It's the morning of your first big hearing. They didn't prepare you for this in law school -- how could they? Nonetheless, you feel a crippling pain in your gut borne of nervousness and a near-certainty that you will botch something when you step in the courtroom.

We all have these moments of self-doubt. The key is finding a routine that helps you to move forward. Though every person's calming influences vary, here are a few things I do before the "big events" that help me to get into my ideal state of mind: calm on the outside, yet mentally pumped on the inside.

A recent article in The New York Times Magazine discussed a University of Minnesota study that researched the effect of clean, versus messy, working environments.

The study had two interesting findings: First, people who worked in organized, tidy environments were more likely to opt for healthier options. The second finding was more surprising; in spite of the broken windows theory, those who worked in messy environments came up with more creative solutions to problems.

So, where does your desk fall in the scale of clean to cluttered? And, based on this study, should you clean up your act, or mess it up? The answer depends on your goals.

Small Firm Email Etiquette: 5 Rules to Follow

Ah, email etiquette. As the professional bunch that we are, you wouldn't think that attorneys would need to know what etiquette to abide by when it comes to something as obvious as crafting an email, right?

Wrong. Because much like the limp handshake, the longer-than-one-page resume, or chewing with your mouth open, some small details can still make or break your image -- and email etiquette is definitely one of them

Here are 5 tips to keep in mind, when it comes to email etiquette at your firm:

What Effect Will Big Data (Tracking Case Outcomes) Have on You?

Remember the myth of a "permanent record" from elementary school?

What if that myth was a reality, it tracked your legal career, it was easily accessible to the public, and it cataloged every single case you ever handled? Scary thought, huh? It's more than a thought, though.

It's already here.

Shutdown: The Skinny for Federal Courts, Cases, and Counselors

Whether you blame the donkeys or the elephants, this is not where anyone wants to be. With Congress's failures comes a federal shutdown. Some employees will be furloughed. Others will work for free, and possibly be paid later. Some facilities will close. Others will stay open.

We don't care that much about that. What we do really care about is the courts. And for those of you practicing, working, or appearing in a federal court, this concerns you. According to a memo released last week, in the event of a shutdown, the courts have sufficient funding in reserves to stay open for ten days, followed by a period of operations set at the minimum required for Article III obligations.

If Your Firm is Offering Health Care: 3 Things to Know Under Obamacare

Is your small firm offering health care under Obamacare? While the new Obamacare mandates may not necessarily require your firm to offer health insurance (it's only required for those employers with 50 full-time employees or more), you may decide that you still want to.

However, if you decide to offer health care, it's best to know exactly what options you have. With that said, here are 3 things you should know about your decision to offer health care at your firm: