Strategist - The FindLaw Law Firm Business Blog

September 2015 Archives

As a solo practitioner or attorney in a small firm, you're usually master of your practice area. Whether it's bird law, bud law, or simply business law, you've got it down. But you can't be a specialist in everything.

Sooner or later, you're going to come across an area of law that's unfamiliar to you. Sure, you could learn it all yourself, but often your time is better spent bringing on associate counsel who can handle those issues for you. Make sure that you do it right by following these best practices:

Good legal writing is concise, approachable, objective. In a profession where the written word is central to much of our work, lawyers with well-crafted writing are some of the most effective practitioners.

But sometimes we get carried away in the moment. We want our client to know that this motion for summary judgment is as important as the Gettysburg address, or at least a good Oscar speech; that a denial of our petition would really be an unchecked, Orwellian dictatorship. The problem is, that sort of hyperbole isn't just bad writing and isn't just unconvincing. It actually hurts your case.

It takes a lot more than just lawyers to make a law firm work. From secretaries who keep an office running to paralegals who make sure your filings actually get filed, successful lawyers require a whole team to keep them afloat. (You could, of course, answer your own phones and file your own filings -- but you can bill a lot more when you're spending that time lawyering.)

How much do those teams need to make?

If you're considering bringing more lawyers into your practice, hiring support staff, or just want to see how your riches measure up against your neighbors', we've got good news for you. Robert Half Legal, the staffing agency, has released its 2016 Salary Guide. The guide breaks down typical salary ranges for a wide variety of legal careers, from attorneys in midsize firms with 7 years experience to compliance managers fresh out of school.

Here are our highlights. So grab a ruler, because it's time to see how you measure up.

There's no need to pore through newspapers for the day's best news. You don't even have to scour the web or check your bookmarks. Newsletters -- that's right, newsletters -- save you time and effort by bringing a curated collection of the best, most relevant news right to your inbox.

There's no place better to get your newsletters than from the Internet's #1 site for free legal information. FindLaw has 41 different newsletters for legal professionals. There's a newsletter for your every need, from "Cool Jobs" -- no lame ones! -- to immigration case summaries, to developments in environmental law. Out of all those, here's a handful we think all legal professionals could use:

Conflicts of interest can be a major roadblock in your legal practice. Sure, they limit the amount of clients you can represent (a generally good idea), but they also can create major ethics headaches. Which is, of course, why you have screening procedures -- and screening software.

But not all conflicts screening programs are a fit for every firm. Whether you use legal management software or a simple spreadsheet depends on a host of factors, from the size of your practice to the types of clients you handle. With a little work, though, you can find the perfect Goldilocks software -- one that's not too complicated, not too cheap, but just right for your firm.

No one likes jury duty. And most prospective juries will do plenty to get out of it, from outright ignoring summonses (as in Houston's suburbs, where 70 percent of individuals called for jury duty don't show) or showing up dressed as Princess Leia (as Liz Lemon did to avoid service on '30 Rock'). There's a reason for the jury antipathy too: the legal system treats jurors terribly.

If jury trials are to be successful, we need to start thinking of what jurors actually need. That's the argument behind federal judge Mark Bennett's forthcoming piece in the Arizona State Law Journal. Courts and practitioners need to start thinking in terms of what jurors want. Is it time for a Juror Bill of Rights?

You can't do it all yourself. At some point, you've got to hand work off to someone else. Great! Proper delegation is an integral part of running an effective firm. After all, your associates, interns, and paralegals need something to do. And delegation can help save your clients money by passing work off to those with lower billing rates.

But delegating is useless when you don't really relinquish some control. Excessive micromanaging -- checking in constantly, making needless corrections, demanding that everything is done exactly as you would do it all the time -- wastes both your time and your staff's. Here are three tips to help avoid it.

The federal Judiciary Conference is looking to bring the Federal Rules of Evidence into the 21st century. The Ancient Documents Rule is on the chopping block and likely to get the axe.

At the same time, the Conference is looking to make the introduction of electronic documents even easier, adding them to the list of self-authenticating documents under Rule 902. If the changes are adopted, you would no longer need to bring a witness in to court in order to authenticate electronic documents.

It seems like incubators are finally moving into the legal world. Common in industries such as tech (AirBnB, Uber, and Hooli all came out of incubator programs), incubator programs provide funding, office space and training to small and new businesses.

Several law schools and bar associations are now bringing the incubator model to small firms and solo practices, helping independent-minded lawyers and recent grads start up their own shops.

For lawyers looking to build a reputation, make a name online, increase their standing as legal experts, or just express themselves, blogging is an essential tool. A good blog can improve your Internet search results, bring traffic to your firm website, and help increase your professional profile.

But how much blogging is too much blogging? Or too little? A recent blogging experiment by an SEO company showed that more isn't always better when it comes to blogging.

One of the easiest ways to set yourself apart from the crowd and to gain expertise in a field is to narrow your focus. But pick too narrow of a focus and you might find yourself struggling to stay busy. Have too general a practice and it may be difficult to stand out from other firms.

Are small firms and solo practitioners better off becoming a jack of all trades or mastering one narrow area of law? Should your firm seek to be a general practice, helping clients throughout their life, or bury itself into a niche area of law? The answer, of course, is "it depends."

When you think natural disaster response, you don't necessarily think of lawyers. Clean water, medical aid, and even evacuations might seem like more pressing concerns following a major hurricane, wildfire, or earthquake.

But in the aftermath of many natural disasters, lawyers can be an essential resource, helping victims access housing, insurance relief and disaster assistance quickly. Taking disaster preparedness to heart, San Francisco Bay Area bar associations and pro bono organizations have joined together to create a corps of attorneys ready to provide assistance should disaster strike.

Think your future is in weed law? Twenty-three states and D.C. have laws allowing for medical marijuana. Washington, Colorado, Oregon, and Alaska have legalized recreational weed, and California is expected to join them next year. All those growers, distributors, and vendors need lawyers and if the end of marijuana prohibition is approaching, enterprising lawyers will want to be on the ground floor.

There's one major complication. Marijuana remains illegal in the federal government's eyes. Lawyers who advise clients in the marijuana industry could theoretically face sanctions, even disbarment. As a recent interview with the managing partner of a BigLaw firm with a growing marijuana practice reminds us -- weed law is far from a sure thing.