Strategist - The FindLaw Law Firm Business Blog

January 2015 Archives

5 Traits to Look For in a Great Legal Assistant

What should you look for in a paralegal or legal assistant? We don't mean "what should you put in the job application." That's easy: Writing skills, attention to detail, flexible schedule, and so on.

We're talking about personality traits that an ideal paralegal possesses, things that are essential to him or her. You can only find these types of qualities after an interview, or maybe only after a test run of a few days or weeks, but in the end, a paralegal with these qualities will make your firm run a whole lot smoother:

Lawyer's Suspension Shows the Ethical Perils of Co-Representation

The perils of co-representation! Representing two parties at the same time usually comes up in the divorce context, where the parties are (more or less) agreeable and really just want to save money by using just one lawyer.

That sounds great and all -- except when things go south, or when your state's professional rules strictly forbid it. The Legal Profession Blog shares this tale of a Maryland lawyer suspended indefinitely for representing a married couple in a personal injury suit.

What Can You Learn From Competitors' Law Firm Websites?

Business people know that one of the best ways to figure out what you're doing right or wrong is to spy on what the competition is doing. Back in Ye Olde Times, that might have involved sending a "secret shopper" in to report back what happened at another law firm's intake interview.

Today, though, it's as easy as visiting another firm's website -- and it can be other firms anywhere in your state, or even elsewhere in the country. It pays to take some time to see what the competition, or even your non-competition peers, are doing.

What can you learn from visiting other attorneys' websites?

Law Office Ergonomics: Monitors Can Be a Pain in the Neck

Big, roomy computer monitors are essential for comfortable lawyering. You spend a lot of your time at your desk, and a big monitor allows you to have multiple documents open side-by-side.

But monitors, like every other part of your desk, are governed by the iron-clad Law of Ergonomics. If your monitor is too close, or too high, or too low, you can end up with a sore neck, a sore back, or both.

Here's a quick cheat sheet for making sure you don't end up in traction at the end of the day:

What the Heck Is a 'Brand'? Here's What Lawyers Need to Know

We talk all the time on FindLaw's Strategist blog about branding and how it's important to you as a lawyer. Truthfully it is -- and you can, and should, use branding to differentiate yourself from other law firms.

Tossing around the word "brand" can be a little bit inside baseball, though. You all out there reading this in Internet Land are lawyers, not advertising executives. So just what is a brand, anyway?

Unsolicited Email Requests for Legal Help: What Should Lawyers Do?

It's happened to you before: You get an unsolicited email from someone you don't know, claiming that someone else did something to him and now he wants to sue. You're pretty sure this person got your email address from the state bar website, because you've never heard of this person before.

Opening up the email, and the inevitable attachments, you find a litany of charges and poorly constructed pleadings. What should you do now?

Proposed Bar Opinion: Your Blog May Be an 'Attorney Communication'

Well, this one hits close to home. At the end of last year, the State Bar of California proposed a formal ethics opinion on attorney blogging. We here at FindLaw's Strategist are all in favor of attorney blogs (well, when they're good, anyway), but the California opinion raises a few issues that blogging lawyers will want to consider.

Public comment on the proposed opinion is being solicited until March 23, 2015. So why does the State Bar want to harsh our mellow, man?

5 Ways Lawyers Can Improve Their Calendaring System

Believe it or not, something as simple as missing deadlines is among the Top 10 reasons for legal malpractice claims. Remembering when something is due seems like such a simple task, but it's so simple that practitioners -- especially solos and small firms, who may not have dedicated support staff to monitor calendars -- often overlook it.

If you don't have a calendaring system, it's time to get one. If you do have one, it's time to do an audit to make sure everything is going smoothly.

Can you improve your calendaring system? Here are a few suggestions that may work for you:

Want to Expand? 5 Hot Legal Practice Areas to Consider for 2015

Certain practice areas are like a leather jacket: They never go out of style. Personal injury, estate planning, and criminal defense will always be there. But is there something more you could be doing?

As it turns out, there is. Changing technology, government policies, and legal environments mean that there are more opportunities than ever to expand your practice into new areas. Here are just a few ideas to get you started:

5 Problems Unique to Work-From-Home Solos (With Solutions!)

Like Bruce Wayne, I have an alter ego. In my alternate life, I'm Batman a solo practitioner who works from home. Lots of solos have a separate office, but being that I'm part-time, all that office space wouldn't make sense. Other solos work from home because it's cheap and there's not much reason to rent office space.

Writing briefs in your pajamas is great, but logistical headaches flare up from time to time. Without the features of a fully equipped law office, solos who work from home have to fend for themselves when it comes to things like printing, mailing, and filing.

Here are some of the common problems we face, with some handy solutions:

Is Your Marketing Plan Working? 3 Ways to Tell

Every lawyer knows that marketing is important. But few spend the time to evaluate the success of their marketing campaigns. Most will try a few things and if they fit in the budget, and there are enough clients coming in the door, they will look no further.

Your integrated marketing strategy most likely contains multiple avenues of attack: billboards, newspaper ads, phone book ads, a website, TV and radio ads, in-person networking, sponsorship of community activities, and more. Some of those are likely working for you (online), while others likely aren't (the Yellow Pages).

How can you tell which marketing efforts are working and which are worth cutting?

Lessons From 5 Lawyers Who Made Fools of Themselves in 2014

Happy 2015. We have many thing to be thankful as the new year begins, not the least of which is this: We didn't make this list.

Last year, we talked about the biggest legal fools of 2013 on social media, and fortunately for our industry's sake, we're going to have to expand that a bit to all of the fools: criminals, pornographers, hooker-lovers, stabbers, and photoshoppers.

Here are five lawyers who really wish 2014 didn't happen:

Virtual Law Office 105: Processing Credit Card Payments

How complicated is getting paid by credit card?

In an ideal world, one would only need a credit card processor, such as the many ones we've talked about that handily operate via an attachment to your smartphone. If a food truck can take plastic, lawyers certainly should be able to do so too, right?

Except IOLTA accounts. Damn trust accounts. If you're taking payment in advance of services rendered, things get immensely complicated because most credit card processors take their cut out of what the consumer pays -- which creates an obvious ethics issue for unearned fees that are supposed to be sitting in your IOLTA account.

10 Words Misused by Lawyers (and What They Really Mean)

When someone is "livid," has he turned red with anger, white with anger, or purple with anger? As lawyers, words are our currency, and there are many other lawyers and judges out there who will know if you use a word to mean something that it doesn't mean.

The 10 words we've listed below aren't being used in a new, accepted way (like "decimate" being used to mean "decrease" instead of "decrease by 10 percent"); rather, they're words that are routinely used contrary to their definitions. Instead of a usage change, many of these words are what Henry Fowler would call a "slipshod extension" -- an expression of degree that's been taken beyond its original limit.

Check out this list of commonly misused words:

Virtual Law Office 104: Using Google Forms for Your Practice

Sick of transcribing paper intake forms into your computer after every consultation? Want a free, paperless, electronic option? Well Google Forms might be your new best friend.

The idea is simple: Create online forms, such as an intake form, that you can send to potential clients, embed in an email, or include on your website. Responses are added as they are received to a Google Spreadsheet, where you can manipulate the data or copy and paste it into other programs, such as your practice management suite or Outlook.

Nowhere is this a better fit than in online-only virtual law offices (VLOs): Your entire practice is online, so it's only right that your forms are as well.

Lawyers: What's the Best Way to Fire a Client?

The online legal researcher. The one whose non-lawyer friends know better. The one who wants updates daily. The one who wants to double-check your work. There are a lot of kinds of irritating clients out there, and while any one of these people might be tolerable, there may come a point where you just can't stand it anymore. You're going to have to quit representation.

How to do it? Well, there's the ethical way, which is heavily circumscribed. Then there's the tactful way, for which there are no state rules.

So what's the best way to go about firing a client?

Virtual Law Office 103: Cloud Practice Management Software

Is there a better fit for Cloud Practice Management platforms than a law practice in the cloud? That's what a virtual law office (VLO) is -- a law office run entirely online, and cloud practice management software gives you the flexibility needed to run your practice online from anywhere you choose.

There are other benefits too: The redundant backups of your data on your practice management platform's servers are also a significant benefit. And if your platform of choice offers a client portal, those are typically more secure means of communication with your client than email.

How Should Lawyers Be Using LinkedIn?

We conducted an informal survey here at FindLaw's Secret Volcano Headquarters, and for the life of us, we can't figure out what LinkedIn is supposed to be. Ten years after it launched, we know we're members of LinkedIn, but why are we there?

All of us get requests to add co-workers and friends of co-workers, and to even endorse people for skills that we may or may not know they have (you know you've done it). So what are lawyers supposed to be doing with LinkedIn, anyway? After puzzling over it for a bit, we came up with some ideas.

Virtual Law Office 102: Which Web-Conferencing Software Do You Need?

If you're not meeting your clients in person, then your options are limited: phone or videoconferencing.

The problem with videoconferencing is the competing standards. There's (deep breath): Skype, Facebook, FaceTime, Google Hangouts, WebEx, and more. Some are mobile-friendly, some are not. Some are great for Apple users, some are better for Windows users.

Your best bet is to be familiar with all the standards, just in case your client is a die-hard adherent to single platform. And if not, there is an up-and-coming cross-platform standard that is compatible with nearly everything.

3 Lessons From an Elder Law Attorney's Disbarment Over Client Funds

Remember that 2011 movie "Win Win," where probate attorney Paul Giamatti tells the court that he'll become an elderly man's caretaker, and in return he'll receive money for doing so from the man's estate? Then he sticks the guy in a home and pockets the cash.

Ah, how life imitates art. That sort of happened to a Maryland elder law attorney, except, unlike Paul Giamatti, he got disbarred. What are some of the obvious professional responsibility lessons to come from this? Here are three:

Virtual Law Office 101: Conflict Checks, Intake for Online Clients

So you've decided to make the leap into a virtual or online law practice. You've weighed the pros and cons and think you have a client base that is (a) tech-savvy, (b) in need of counsel, and (c) willing to hire you, rather than some online legal services provider.

Wonderful. Now you need to consider the finer points, beginning with how you'll manage to run conflict checks and handle intake for online-only clients. And with a client base that could stretch as far as the geographic borders of where you are licensed to practice, this is no small concern.

Lawyer's 'Admit to a DUI' Scholarship: Deterrent or Marketing Ploy?

Is this a noble attempt at deterring teens from driving drunk or a marketing ploy? We'll let you decide.

Christian Schwaner, a DUI defense attorney in Colorado Springs, Colorado, is offering a $1,000 scholarship to the winner of a contest for teens who admit to driving drunk. Applicants must also research the dangers of doing so and come up with a plan for avoiding such missteps in the future, reports The Denver Post.

Critics, however, are already lining up, with some saying that it might implicitly encourage drunk driving and others worrying about the ethics implications of the contest.