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July 2014 Archives

ABA's 'Missouri Project' Quantifies Overworked Public Defender Stereotype

Public defenders are overworked. This is not news. This is how it's been since Gideon v. Wainright. It's part-and-parcel of the gig: Represent those whom society doesn't really care about and do it with fewer resources than your adversary in the D.A.'s office. It's a huge reason why being a public defender is such an admirable career path -- you're constantly making chicken salad out of chicken excrement.

But what we don't know is: Just how badly are public defenders overworked? And how much does it affect their indigent clientele?

The answer, as you might expect, is "a lot." And a new joint study by the American Bar Association, accounting firm RubinBrown, and the Missouri Public Defender System finally puts some numbers behind the truism.

Want to spend more time practicing, and less time advertising? Leave the marketing to the experts.

4 Factors Lawyers Should Look for When Choosing a Client

Earlier this week, we told you what clients look for in an attorney. Now, when all those clients come rushing to your door, how do you decide whom to represent? It's better to assess what you want in a client sooner, rather than later, because once the relationship begins, it can be difficult to escape.

Here are four things that you should look for when the client walks in the door for that initial consultation:

FindLaw Survey: 4 Factors Clients Look for When Hiring a Lawyer

When consumers need an attorney, what do they do? How do they find you? What do they want to know?

The FindLaw 2014 U.S. Consumer Legal Needs Survey asked legal consumers how they went about hiring an attorney and why. As it turns out, most people are looking for transactional help (with things like wills and estates or real estate documents), not litigation. And most began their search simply by contacting a legal professional. Overwhelmingly, these people chose to hire an attorney, and in fact, the vast majority hired the first attorney they contacted.

Naturally, you want to be that first attorney. You can make that happen by knowing what qualities potential clients are looking for in an attorney. As luck would have it, the survey has information about that, too.

Want to spend more time practicing, and less time advertising? Leave the marketing to the experts.

3 Reasons to Take Business Risks in Your Legal Practice

During times of relative stability, it's so tempting to grow complacent. Sure, there are those professional risks you've fantasized about taking to boost your practice. But the dreaded string of "what ifs" soon follows and puts those fledgling temptations to rest.

But here's the thing: Those "what ifs" are crippling and can actually hurt the longevity of your business. Risks are not only necessary to thrive, they're crucial to survive.

Here are three reasons why you should take calculated risks in your legal practice:

Want to spend more time practicing, and less time advertising? Leave the marketing to the experts.

Holler: Our Favorite Posts From the Blawgosphere (Week of July 20)

Oh, beckoning weekend: what adventures do you have in store? Motorcycles? Prison? Binge watching mediocre television on Netflix? We can't wait!

But, if you're looking for something to keep you occupied for the last couple of hours before your weekend begins, we've got a list for you: understanding Millenials, asset forfeiture reform, and not making lazy assumptions about judges' leanings based on presidential party affiliations.

As always, if you have a suggestion for next week's roundup, tweet me @PeacockEsq.

Ironic: Firm Handles FLSA Cases, Doesn't Pay Paralegals Overtime

The Fair Labor Standards Act's (FLSA) exemption for "learned" individuals -- it's a grey line sometimes. But other times, it's really, really not.

FLSA puts us lawyerly folk into the "exempt" category due to our advanced degrees. The same goes for engineers, doctors, and other individuals putting their graduate degrees to work. But what about paralegals -- they're almost lawyers. True, but no matter how valuable your paralegal is, Labor Department regulations clearly state that paralegals and legal assistants are not exempt from overtime rules, except in a few rare cases.

Pasricha & Patel handles FLSA cases. They're also now defending themselves in a FLSA case, against current and former paralegals who were allegedly not paid overtime when they worked at the firm, reports the ABA Journal.

This is Not OK: Prosecutors Reading Inmates' Emails to Lawyers

If a prisoner talks to his lawyer in person, at the prison, the prosecutor typically can't eavesdrop.

If he writes his lawyer a letter, the same protections apply.

If they talk on the phone, again, the prosecutor is supposed to back off.

But if the prisoner sends an email to his attorney, the federal prosecutors in Brooklyn are going to read it, and possibly use it against him.

The end of summer is near, and the fall semester of law school is approaching. As your summer associate season comes to a close, there's one big question looming: will you extend the summer associates offers?

These days, having a summer associate job doesn't guarantee an offer, so summer associates may have lower expectations. That said, rather than taking advantage of cheap summer labor, you should really put some thought into whether you should extend offers to any of your summer associates.

Here are some things to consider.

Holler: Our Favorite Posts From the Blawgosphere (Week of July 13)

Sorry folks: no porn or leather this week. Instead, our weekly shout-out to the best law-related things on the Internet is a bit more tame, and some might say pragmatic. 

It's office attire. And a guy kicked out of court for his attire, which mocked the judge's ongoing ethics scandal. Plus, law graduates that can't afford attire. And more!

As always, if you have a suggestion for next week's roundup, tweet me @PeacockEsq.

NOLA Lawyer Charged With Cyberstalking in Noise Ordinance Dispute

This is a wee bit ridiculous.

New Orleans Attorney Stuart Smith, a notable environmental lawyer, apparently hates noise, fun, and cabaret shows. Robert Watters owns Rick's Cabaret and opposes strict noise ordinances in the French Quarter. On its own, this dispute is unremarkable.

Except Smith allegedly sent a text message to Watters and is now being charged with cyberstalking.

We've been talking about firm culture a bit, but haven't really defined the term. Think of it as your law firm's personality. While you've probably heard the concept of "lifestyle firm" when it comes the occasional BigLaw or MidLaw firm, you're probably wondering what that has to do with small law firms. Well, we're here to tell you that it is definitely important to small law firms.

Let's look at some ways law firm culture will play a larger role in your firm's business.

DUI Law Firm (Allegedly) Appropriates Beer Label Design for Ads

One of the more creative ideas I've had for advertising a law firm was to put a DUI law firm's phone number on bottle openers and either leave them on the counter at a liquor store or toss 'em into cases of beer at nearby stores. I never tried this -- it probably violates some ethical rule that I was too lazy to look up, but it seemed like a good idea in theory.

It's also a good idea, in theory for a law firm to mock a brewery's logo for advertising purposes: in this case, Sessions Law imitating Session Brewery. The best part is, the logo was not only used online, but it was also used on brown paper bag covers for beer cans, reports the ABA Journal. The brewery, unsurprisingly, is suing for trademark infringement.

We've talked a lot on this blog about how to give feedback to employees, but as we said on Friday, communication is a two-way street. Just as we have feedback for our employees, they may have some feedback of their own for us, or the firm as a whole. Hearing out your employees will lead to a happier firm workforce because your associates and staff will feel that their opinions are valued. Not only that, but they may have some good ideas too.

Here are four tips for how to accept feedback from your employees.

Holler: Our Favorite Posts From the Blawgosphere (Week of July 6)

Porn. Dominatrices. Online privacy. Judges dropping F-bombs. And one badass Army Captain blogging about her experience with the JAG Corps.

Welcome to "Holler," a weekly piece where we'll give shout-outs to the best things we've seen that week in the legal blawgosphere. If any of those topics interest you, read on. And if you have a suggestion for next week's roundup, tweet me @PeacockEsq.

You may be sick of hearing Pharrell Williams' "Happy" by now, but you'd be lying if you said it didn't put a smile on your face, and a swing in your step -- at least when it first hit the radio waves. And, maybe it resonated with so many people because well, people like to be happy.

Even lawyers.

Earlier this week we read an article in Inc. about company culture hacks for a happier workplace. We were inspired, and decided to give their hacks a law firm twist -- especially considering lawyers seem to struggle with this "happy" thing just a bit. Here are five easy things you can do to make your law firm a happier place.

No IRS, Law Firms Shouldn't Have to Use Accrual Accounting

Relax folks: unless you are really successful, this proposed tax "reform" won't affect you.

Section 3301 of the Tax Reform Act of 2014 [PDF], as it is currently drafted, applies to personal services businesses with ten million dollars or more in annual gross receipts -- a figure most solos and small firms can only dream of. But if you're an attorney to the stars, or a small firm that does big business, or if inflation gets really bad, a mandated switch to accrual accounting, instead of cash accounting, will be a major pain in your behind.

Besides, even if you're solo now, who's to say that you won't team up, or make it big, at some point in the next few years?

Google Ventures, a leader in technological innovation, has adopted a rather simple way of keeping track of time during meetings -- the Magic Clock. Not really "magic," the term is borrowed from grade schools. Jake Knapp, a design partner at Google Ventures, saw it in his son's first grade classroom, and said, "I figured what worked for small children would probably work well for CEOs, too," reports Entrepreneur.

So that got us thinking, what else can we borrow from preschool and first grade methodology to make law firms run more efficiently? After all, we're just more articulate versions of our preschool selves, right? The key thing about preschool and first grade is that students' time is very structured. By adding more structure to your time, you may use the little time you have more efficiently.

Judge Kopf Puts Foot in Mouth Again; Should Judges Blog?

My favorite judge in America, outside of the Supreme Court, just made headlines again. And again, it's for his manner of online speech, rather than the content.

Last time, it was tips for ladies dressing for court, especially when appearing in front of "dirty old male" judges. This time, it's Kopf telling the U.S. Supreme Court to "stfu" (shut the [expletive] up). Both times, good points were masked by hyperbole and coarse language.

Again, it's begging the question: Is it time for Judge Kopf to re-retire his keyboard? And with the demands of avoiding the appearance of impropriety, respect for the office, and political correctness, should judges blog, or tweet, or even go on social media at all?

We recently read an interesting article about office oversharing, and were slightly amused by the fact that many of the examples cited in the piece involved attorneys, or people who worked in law offices. In a survey of 514 corporate and professional employees, three in five stated that they work with someone who overshares at least once a week, according to the Wall Street Journal.

So that got us thinking, as someone running, or working at, a small law firm, what should an attorney do to stop office oversharing? Read on to find out.

Take a Look At All Our Free Mini Guides -- For Lawyers And Clients

Providing free and helpful information is kind of our thing -- blogs, cases, codes, and practice guides for lawyers, Learn About the Law and blogs for consumers, etc. But you don't always want to read online articles, or print out blog posts. And sometimes, you want a more comprehensive approach to a topic than 400 words of snark-filled brilliance. (Dusts off shoulders.)

That's why we have Mini Guides. Each of these free little e-books contains an in-depth discussion on a single topic. For lawyers, we talk about social media use, malpractice insurance, negotiating liens, etc. We also cover consumer topics for your clients, the list of which would fill my word count, and might lull you in to a deep sleep.

Here's the rundown:

As lawyers, we can receive up to 100 emails per day -- and that's on a slow day. Keeping track of so much email, and maintaining a clutter-free inbox can be a big job in itself -- before you actually even get to the content of the email messages.

How many of you have received an email that you weren't quite sure how to interpret? You're not alone. Without the benefit of the messenger's tone of voice, or expression, we end up projecting a tone on to the email message based on what we see on the computer screen.