Strategist - The FindLaw Law Firm Business Blog

May 2015 Archives

LinkedIn endorsements aren't the hardest kinds of endorsements to get. Your mother, your neighbor, even total strangers can endorse you for all sorts of skills, from complex civil litigation to organizing company softball teams.

While colleagues can provide detailed recommendations, also featured prominently on your LinkedIn profile, endorsements are a simple thumbs up -- a sign that someone stands behind your skills. But, do they matter?

The Importance of a Good Night's Sleep to Your Practice

"I need to finish this brief by tomorrow. I can get by on a few hours of sleep." Except not really. Getting a good night's sleep can affect your performance as a lawyer -- and your practice.

It's easy for us to rationalize sleep as something that's optional, but in reality, it's incredibly important. For the sake of your job, don't skimp on sleep!

Feeling swamped with extra work, but not enough to justify hiring full time assistance? Part-time employees can be a great way to spread out your workload, whether you're hiring contract attorneys, interns, or support staff.

Part-time employees, like any new hire, require that you pay close attention to the rules and regulations governing part-time work and law practices. Here's seven tips that will help you take advantage of part-time work without the legal pitfalls:

What to Do When Opposing Counsel Won't Play Nice

We've written before about how lawyers do (or at least, should) extend each other professional courtesies. These small actions, like not objecting to reasonable discovery requests or scheduling depositions at convenient times and places, amount to treating opposing counsel with respect.

Some lawyers, though, think that any amount of cordiality amounts to surrender. They've got to the establish themselves as the Alpha Dog, or whatever metaphor their self-help books use. How do you deal with these crazy people?

5 Tips for Using Microsoft Outlook More Effectively

Love it or hate it, Microsoft Outlook is here for the long haul. Like cockroaches, Twinkies, and the leather jacket, it was here before we got here and it will keep going long after we're gone.

Rather than rage, rage against the Outlook, embrace it. Sure, it's part of a somewhat clunky suite of giant enterprise-level software, but you can bend it to your productivity will -- with the right tools, of course.

Keeping abreast of legal developments, picking up some management skills, learning about new legal tech or marketing strategies -- these are just some of the benefits of making sure you have continuous professional development. After all, in an industry that evolves every time a new case is decided, lawyers can't stay idle. Attorneys have an obligation to keep up their professional development.

But what are you to do if you're a solo practitioner or your firm doesn't offer a formal (or just good) professional development program? Fret not. There's plenty of P.D. opportunities out there for you. Here's five places to find them:

There's a reason LinkedIn urges you to upload a photo. For better or worse, how we look deeply affects others' perceptions of our strength, intelligence and trustworthiness, according to a round up of the relevant neuroscience done by Entrepreneur Magazine.

Happy faces -- think smiling, bright eyes -- make you seem more trustworthy. People respond better to faces they perceive as healthy over ones they see as smart. Those sort of impressions matter, especially when you're looking for a leg up in a job hunt.

So, are you ready for your close up? Here's five tips to help you repeat the benefits of a well-done LinkedIn photo:

People tend to think marketing is simple: a jingle, a camcorder and voila -- you're a veritable Don Draper, ready to sell yourself to the world. If only it was so easy. In fact, marketing, like law, requires a bit of expertise.

Just as you wouldn't cut your own hair or do your own dental work, most lawyers could probably benefit from hiring a marketer. But when is the right time?

Female Lawyers Work Harder Than Men for Less Pay: Study

Good news, women who get paid a fraction of what men get paid! You're also working harder for that fraction of pay! That's what the women's equality movement was all about, right?

A survey of four Harvard Law School alumni classes -- one from each decade since the 1970s -- revealed that women from the class of 1975 worked about six more hours per week than men, and women from the class of 2000 worked almost eight more hours per week.

These days, pretty much any lawyer with a laptop, a cell phone, and a bar membership can start her own solo practice. There's no need for the wood-paneled offices or stacks of legal reporters. Solo practice can offer you more control and greater flexibility in your work, but it also requires that you take on the role of manager, accountant, marketer and more -- in addition to your legal responsibilities.

Lawyers thinking about opening their own practice should carefully consider their options beforehand. Here's three questions to ask before you go solo:

Spring is here and with it come new beginnings. Baby birds are chirping, tulips are sprouting, and -- marketing plans are getting reevaluated? Yep, the season of regrowth and regeneration is a great time to turn a sharp eye on your legal marketing strategy.

But, what exactly do you need to look at when reevaluating your marketing strategy? Here's three questions that can help you determine what you're doing right and what you could do better.

If you're an expert in your field, or if you're representing a noteworthy client, you should expect to get contacted by the press at some point. A reporter may want background information on tenant's rights or healthcare law, or ask for your comments on an important ruling.

Great! Getting your name out in the media as a legal expert is exactly the kind of publicity lawyers should court. If your clients are involved in high-profile litigation, speaking to the press can help you get their side of the story across.

Make sure, though, that when you speak to the press, you do it right, focusing on getting your points across clearly and avoiding any ethical entanglements. Here's some tips:

Is It Ever a Good Idea to Provide Free Legal Work?

Clients gripe all the time about how expensive lawyers are, and the rise of Google means that everyone's a lawyer, which only makes matters worse ("why am I paying you $300 an hour when I can look up the statutes myself?").

There are, of course, times when lawyers can and should provide legal work for free -- and times when they shouldn't.

How to Set a Stress-Free Mood in Your Office for Clients

Clients who come into a law office generally aren't in the best of moods. Either they've just been sued -- in which case, they're stressed out -- or they're contemplating suing someone, which means something stressful has just happened to them.

This means that to best support your clients, your office should set a somber, relaxing tone that's free of the stress that you might normally find in an office. Here are some tips on how you can set the mood.

You've earned that vacation -- or stubborn head cold -- so let the world know about it. Or at least let them know that you won't be around to check your messages.

When you're out of the office for an extended period, make sure you've turned on your out-of-office auto-reply. You should also switch your office voicemail message if no one else will be handling your calls, but much more common is the use of an automated email message.

Since everyone who emails will be getting it, make sure you do it right. To that end, here are a few tips, and warnings, for crafting your out of office message:

Many lawyers underestimate the importance of keeping in touch with clients off the clock. Being proactive in client communications and contact may be the key to client satisfaction -- and retention. Making your clients feel like a priority is one of the best ways to keep them around, and an off the clock visit, lunch, or call is a great way to accomplish that.

Your existing clients will be the source of most of your business, so check in, off the clock, regularly to make sure that your clients know they are valued and feel satisfied.

How Much Should You Give to Judicial Election Campaigns?

The Supreme Court's decision in Williams-Yulee v. Florida Bar upheld restrictions on judicial campaigns, and while it didn't address the propriety of electing judges, Chief Justice Roberts did acknowledge that the practice of judges asking lawyers around town for donations can make things pretty awkward.

Judicial elections have long represented a gray zone for ethics; normally, lawyers aren't allowed to give judges anything of value, but during election season, everything is A-OK. But is there a line that you shouldn't cross? How much is too much when it comes to donating to a judge's election campaign?

When does a tweet of 140 characters or less require a disclaimer? More often than you might think. While a solid social media policy is a good way to avoid online complications and potential ethics breaches, if you're a lawyer who tweets, a cautious disclaimer every now and then can save you headaches later.

Whether it's notifying your readers that they're not getting legal advice, distancing your views from that of your firm, or ending each tweet with #imnotyourlawyer, Twitter disclaimers can give you an added layer of protection.

Staying late, working weekends, worrying over your performance -- all of this can quickly lead to burnout. For lawyers, burnout is so common that there are whole industries devoted to helping us quit the profession.

But how can you be sure you're actually burning out like a cheap light bulb and not just going through a bad patch? Here are five signs you may be at the end of your rope:

5 Awesome Mom Lawyers

You did get your mother a gift for Mother's Day, right? Well, you've got limited time: It's Sunday, and if you wait too long, the florists will be out of flowers and you'll have to buy a Whitman's Sampler from CVS.

To inspire you into appreciating your mother, let's take a look at five awesome mothers who also happened to be lawyers (or is that lawyers who happened to be mothers?).

Competition for clients is fierce. Whether you're a solo practitioner or an attorney at a large firm, client retention matters. After all, you didn't put all that work into marketing, networking and outreach to see your clients poached by competitors.

The best clients are your existing clients, so hold onto them tight. Here's three tips to help you keep clients from being poached by the competition:

Tips for Marketing Your Firm to In-House Counsel

FindLaw has a blog for in-house counsel and a blog for solos and small firms. But what would happen if they collided, like a comic book crossover? That's what this particular article is about: Marketing yourself to in-house counsel.

Mind blown yet? If you specialize in a particular field of niche litigation, you may want to consider marketing to in-house lawyers and general counsels, who always need help when it comes to the esoteric stuff. Here are some tips.

You might not give a lot of thought to how you sign off on your emails, but your "Sincerely," or "peace" can have a big impact on how you are perceived.

There are plenty of lists out there giving you examples of how to close an email. Forbes alone offers 146 ways, split amongst two lists. We think you're smart enough that you don't need to see every iteration of "Best regards" -- please don't use "Rgds" though. Instead, here are some general tips that should govern your email sign off, whatever phrase you use to end it.

Ninety years ago today, John T. Scopes, a substitute teacher in Datyon, Tennessee, was arrested for teaching the theory of evolution, in violation of a recently passed state law. His case, the Scopes "Monkey" Trial, was the first "trial of the century." It pitted two great lawyers against each other -- William Jennings Bryan, a frequent presidential candidate and senator known for his religious conviction, verses Clarence Darrow, an openly agnostic and widely celebrated defense attorney.

The high profile of the lawyers and the controversial nature of the law turned the trail into a media circus. Which is exactly what was wanted. The trial was organized as a test case by the recently formed ACLU. Scopes lost, but through the suit, the ACLU was able to capture the attention of the public and shape a debate which continues to this day.

There aren't many lawyers who went into law because a career in theoretical mathematics would have been just too easy. In fact, many of us can probably get away with counting on our fingers much of the time -- except when it comes complex patent litigation. Or to client funds. Lawyers' ethical responsibility to maintain a client's funds in trust is one of the most common reasons lawyers face disciplinary action.

As a rule of thumb, you should strive to manage your client funds so that, should you die tonight, everything would remain in order. Of course, we don't always live up to that ideal. So, if you find an accounting mistake in an trust account, what sort of ethical issues might arise and what must you do about it?

How Lawyers Can Avoid The Dark Side

For Star Wars Day (May the Fourth -- get it?), we're focusing on The Dark Side of the Force and how lawyers shouldn't be tempted by it. Sure, it comes with cooler costumes and Force Lightning, but at the end of the day, it's the good side that always wins. Or it should, anyway.

You might not think that in the moment, though. A young Anakin Skywalker thought that the Dark Side was a super-good deal, and look where it led him? Here are some Tales from the Dark Side (of the Force), just for lawyers.

There's plenty of bad advertising out there. Sometimes, though, bad spills over and becomes an outright disaster. The annals of advertising are full of campaigns gone wrong. Very, very wrong.

In the spirit of learning from others' mistakes, here's three major disasters -- and what you can do to avoid them in your own marketing: