Strategist - The FindLaw Law Firm Business Blog

December 2014 Archives

5 New Year's Resolutions for Lawyer Introverts

Being a lawyer really isn't a job for an introvert, but we find our niches. We don't like getting up and talking in front of an audience, but we like writing in quiet cubby-holes, doing our jobs without anyone around.

Yeah, that's not going to cut it for long. Lawyers are stereotypically loud, and brash, and they like to talk (except maybe most of them are introverts?). One of these days, you're going to need to hang out with (gasp) other people. Just like Dr. Leo Marvin counseled (before he went crazy), it's baby steps. So here are some New Year's resolutions for the lawyer introverts out there:

How to Say 'No' to Giving a Reference or Recommendation

We've talked about how to write good recommendations, but what happens in that awkward moment when you get a request for a recommendation from someone you really don't want to recommend? It's tough to tell a co-worker or staff member, "No, I won't recommend you or act as a reference," but on the other hand, what if you really don't think the person is qualified to do the job he or she is applying for?

This advice applies to co-workers in the unenviable position of asking for recommendations of references from other co-workers. So how do you break the news? And should you even decline a polite request like this?

Top 10 Legal Writing Blog Posts of 2014

People who watch lawyer shows think that lawyers bluster in a courtroom all day long, but we know what it's really about: Writing. Lots of writing.

Throughout 2014, FindLaw's Strategist and Greedy Associates blogs published many notable pieces about legal writing, and how to do it better. Here are the 10 legal writing posts that you liked the most:

Fla. Foreclosure Defense Lawyer Holds Contest for a Free House

Christmas miracle? Not quite. Mark Stopa is a defense-side foreclosure lawyer in Florida who wants to give away a house. The deadline to apply has already passed, but we wonder who the lucky winner will be.

Stopa announced November 3 that one lucky family would win a brand-new foreclosed house if they submitted a 200-word essay by December 23.

E-Readers, Tablets, Smartphones Are Ruining Your Sleep: Study

Having trouble sleeping at night? Here's the latest culprit: backlit digital screens.

According to a recent study conducted by researchers at Harvard Medical School, the blue light from backlit devices (that would be pretty much everything: smartphones, tablets, and most e-readers) can lead to reduced melatonin, which leads to less sleep, less quality sleep, and increased grogginess the following morning. Long-term reduced melatonin levels can be even more serious, as other studies have linked it to an increase in one's risk for certain types of cancer.

But, but, a cute girl is texting me! And a client is freaking out over email!

5 Law Firm Marketing Chores for a Slow Time of Year

That time between Christmas and New Year's can be pretty dead in the legal world. Some law firms are open, others aren't. Clients are busy worrying about their own holiday problems. Business is slow.

But you're coming into the office every day, right? For some reason? You could sit there and throw pencils at the ceiling, or you could take care of those marketing tasks that you've been afraid to do all year. Well, guess what: There's no excuse not to do them anymore.

Here are five marketing chores you can work on during this slow time of year:

Should Your Law Blog Have Comments?

Should your law blog allow for comments? Here are two better questions: Do you want engagement, and do you have time to moderate?

You've started a law blog. Good. You write regularly on topics of interest to your target audience. Even better. You write response pieces to other blogs' posts to further the conversation. Well done.

But do you have comments? Here are two considerations when questioning whether to open or close your comments section:

Should Lawyers Take Acting Classes?

Being a trial lawyer is truly a theatrical experience. It involves not only the technical elements of theater, like staging and voice, but also the truly "act-y" parts. What will you say, and when? How will you react to a question you already know the answer to? And most importantly, how do you impress a jury?

Add to that your own witnesses, or even your own client. They may need to step up their acting game as well. Should all of you take acting classes? Here are a few points to consider:

The Top 10 Strategist Blog Posts of 2014

The 10 most popular posts of 2014 on FindLaw's Strategist blog ran the gamut -- from things you could learn from Frank Underwood to a judge beating a public defender (not in a battle of wits; like, with his fists).

Did your favorite post make the cut? Read on to find out. (Note: My favorite post -- about lawyer typography -- came in at No. 12. But I got it in here anyway!)

DIY Law Firm Website? Here's Your Shopping List

It you build it, they will come. Maybe. If you build it right. And there's a lot that goes into building a law firm website "right": SEO, graphics, mobile-friendly layout, content, conversion optimization, and a whole lot more.

But don't jump off that building yet. Just like those with DIY motivation can learn to tile a bathroom floor, those who want to create their own websites can do so, and you don't even need to know code. But you will need some tools. And a whole lot of time and motivation.

Let's start with those tools:

New From FindLaw: A Free eBook on Law Firm Marketing

For many lawyers, marketing means handing out a few business cards, maybe setting up a website, and that's it -- if you build the firm, they will come. And once you've established a practice and a reputation, this might be enough to keep you afloat.

But it's rare to find a lawyer who doesn't want (or need) more clients. And with a smarter, better-informed marketing plan -- one that accounts for online and offline trends, and one that is customer service-focused -- you will get more clients. The key, though, is to work smarter -- to know marketing and to do it well.

For a great introduction to all of this, look no further than FindLaw's newest free eBook: Legal Marketing 101: A Guide for Small Law Firms.

Ill. Lawyers Suspended for Outsourcing Cases, Misleading Clients

Last week, the Illinois Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission suspended two lawyers for two years for a variety of issues in their dealings with low-income clients who were settling debts. They're all somewhat run-of-the-mill violations, except committed on a much larger scale.

What could attorneys Thomas Macey and Jeffrey Aleman have possibly done to get suspended for two years? Read on, and maybe you can learn what not to do with your new debt settlement firm.

Solo Practitioners: Do You Need a Paralegal?

Paralegals are the unsung heroes of the law office. They handle the logistical aspects of a case, like scheduling and docketing, as well as research and drafting.

If you're a solo practitioner, there's a fair chance it's just you, toiling away in quiet desperation, without a paralegal or a secretary. Do you need one? Here are some considerations.

Kan. Attorney Suspended for 'Emotional Blackmail' Over Facebook

Eric Michael Gamble, a lawyer in Kansas City, Kansas, made one big mistake. While representing a biological father who wished to contest the adoption of his daughter, he sent a Facebook message to the unrepresented 18-year-old biological mother urging her to reconsider. He also attached a form that he'd prepared to revoke her consent to the adoption, the Legal Profession Blog reports.

The message, which the Kansas Supreme Court called "emotional blackmail," also contained inaccurate legal advice and inaccurate factual assertions. However, Gamble self-reported his misconduct, carefully outlining all of the rules that he thought that he may have violated and expressed remorse for his conduct.

The adoption went though as planned. Gamble not only lost the case, but the court ran wild with his self-reported misconduct and imposed a six-month suspension, far more than a hearing panel's 60-day recommendation. Did he deserve that harsh of a sanction?

Swag for Specialties: Match Firm-Branded Giveaways to Practice Areas

Free pens are so 1995. Who writes things on paper anymore? And calendars? We have these things called smartphones -- they handle our appointments.

No, if you want to really impress clients with freebies, you'll need to be different. Step your game up. Take your law firm swag game up to 2015 levels, ya dig?

And what could be better than matching your firm-branded freebies with your practice area? We've got a few crazy ideas, and want yours as well.

5 Things Lawyers Can Do When the Internet Goes Down

The dreaded spinning circle on your browser tab. That sudden notification that you've been disconnected from your chat program. It can only mean one thing: The Internet is out. Few phrases spawn more fear into a member of the 21st century bourgeoisie than that (other candidates include "Your credit card's been declined" and "Target is closed").

As a solo or small firm, your law office runs on the Internet. Is there anything you can do during an Internet outage? As it turns out, there is. So if you're reading this on your phone (or if you've printed this out just in case), here are five things you can do when the Internet goes down:

5 Things Your Website Does That Will Make Clients Run

The Internet is full of annoying things: annoying people, annoying design tweaks, annoying error messages...

Not all of them are ill-intentioned, however. Some of them are actually meant to be helpful -- especially the design errors. But if you do any of these five things, odds are that I (or more importantly, your potential clients) will run in the other direction. Quickly.

5 Considerations When a Client Wants to Sue the Police

In the wake of the non-indictments in both the Michael Brown and Eric Garner cases, everyone's talking about the possibility of civil suits against the Ferguson, Missouri, and New York City police departments.

Those are by no means certain, though. If you have a client who's thinking about suing a police department, here are some things to keep in mind about police civil suits.

Blogging Lawyer Gets 3-Year Suspension: Did Lawsuit Play a Role?

Earlier this fall, we brought you the tale of a lawyer filing a copyright lawsuit to prevent a disciplinary board from including text from her blog in a disciplinary complaint. Needless to say, the lawsuit failed.

Joanne Denison is back, and this time, the Illinois Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission (IARDC) is recommending a three-year suspension ("and until further order of the court") because of the allegedly false statements she published on her blog about the Probate Court of Cook County, as well as local judges and lawyers.

Did her copyright lawsuit play any part in the lengthy sentence?

Should Lawyers Accept Holiday Gifts From Clients?

Even amid reports that it's the season of trampling people to get a cheap TV, it's still the season of giving. Sometimes, this involves giving from a client to a vendor, or, in your case, from a client to you.

Hold up there, buddy! Can you accept that gift from a client? What are the ethical rules surrounding accepting gifts from clients? And even if it's ethical, is it a good idea?

Are Office Christmas Parties for Clients a Good Idea?

It's an interesting question: Should you throw a Christmas party for your clients? Booze-filled egg nog, mistletoe, ugly Christmas sweaters, clients mingling with staff -- what could go wrong?

It's a chance to build relationships, to celebrate the season, and to connect with your clients on a less formal level than you ordinarily would. It also means booze and the celebration of one religious holiday to the exclusion of others.

Should you throw one? Let's talk this through, shall we?

Pay to Play: Your Firm's Facebook Page Will Soon Be Gagged

If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?

If a law firm publishes content on its Facebook page, but it appears in no one's News Feed, does it make an impact?

We've talked about Facebook going "pay to play" recently, but according to a blog post by the company last month, the change toward de-emphasizing promotional posts from pages (unless you pay for advertising) may be rapidly accelerated to the point of invisibility for those who refuse to fork over francs to Facebook and for those who are transparently spamming the feeds of folks who "liked" their law firm's page.

In short: If unpaid Facebook posts are part of your law firm's marketing strategy, then it may be time for you to "defriend" the social network.

5 Tips for More Effective Meetings

If you're having a productive day, being pulled out of your rhythm into a meeting can be a productivity killer. Many meetings consist of bored employees sitting around being bored by another employee talking at them. Many meetings are a waste of time because the person facilitating it doesn't know how to host an effective meeting.

So how do you do it? Here are five tips -- by no means the top five and certainly not the only five -- for having an effective meeting:

No Room for Non-Compete Provision in Law Employment Agreement

The appeal of a non-compete agreement to a small firm is obvious: you're going to spend a whole lot of time training some new attorney on the tricks and tools of the trade and you really don't want them walking out six months later with a third of your clients, then sharking off more of your future business.

Appealing, no doubt. But apparently, at least under Indiana's rules of professional conduct, non-competes are unethical. J. Frank Hanley II, a Social Security Disability attorney in Indianapolis, just learned that the hard way, after he was publicly reprimanded by the Indiana Supreme Court for including such a provision in an employment agreement with an associate. (H/T to the Legal Profession Blog).