Strategist - The FindLaw Law Firm Business Blog

October 2015 Archives

The killing of Osama bin Laden has been hailed as a high point in the Obama administration, a proof that the world's largest military is capable of tracking down its greatest enemy. But the SEAL Team 6 raid wasn't just a testament to American intelligence or military strength, but to the work of lawyers tasked with crafting novel legal arguments to justify it.

After all, killing without a trial, sending military forces into a friendly country without their consent, and disposing of a corpse at sea aren't exactly common precedents in international law. Now, a new piece by The New York Times highlights the role four administration attorneys had in laying the groundwork for that raid, using "sparse precedents" to justify the administration's actions.

Where to List Your Law Firm Online

Ah, the Yellow Pages. Even millennials might remember this vaguely comforting tome of a book. Did you know that the Yellow Pages continues to live on in the world of online directories?

Although it sounds crazy, law firms might want to consider updating their listings in the Yellow Pages online directory. Even though people tend to default to Google or Bing these days, online business directories are relevant to the health of your firm.

Sure, fire fighters have to rush into burning buildings. Doctors occasionally, accidentally, kill their patients. High school students in Sunnydale must spend their nights fighting off the undead. Those are scary jobs.

But lawyering? That's scary, too. There's plenty to be afraid of when you practice, whether it's your murdering clients, your deadly billable hour requirements, or the nightmare of an ill-timed CLE audit.

Preventing Workplace Harassment: It Takes Many

Last week a panel of experts outlined a multi-pronged attack on what is the latest of a changing national attitude regarding workplace harassment before the EEOC's Select Task Force. It was the second such public meeting of the STF which was announced back in March of 2015.

The EEOC co-chair Chai R. Feldblum expressed the general consensus of the meeting that prophylaxis is better than treatment.

If you step outside this weekend, you're bound to spot a ghost, vampire, skeleton or two. It's the season for the undead. But don't let your guard down throughout the rest of the year. The zombie apocalypse is inevitable and it could come at any time.

When the undead rise, who will protect your legal rights? Or theirs?

FindLaw Ranks as Top Directory for Personal Injury Lawyers

What's the top online directory for personal injury lawyers? In terms of Google's traffic rankings, FindLaw comes out on top. That's according to the findings of Dan Weeks at Lawyer Marketing Score, who gathered the Google traffic from five major cities.

Although we weren't  surprised to find that we came out on top in this study, we were surprised by a few other pieces of information that were reported. Also, this is a good chance to reflect on the (terrifying) power and Google's algorithms.

If you make a mistake in court filings, you can always ask for leave to correct it. It's embarrassing, sure, but it's common enough. What you shouldn't do, of course, is use the court's leave to correct as a way to sneak in 37 pages of new arguments. You especially shouldn't pretend that those pages are just a table of contents and expect that no one will notice.

But that's exactly what happened to one Indiana lawyer, who submitted appellate briefs that were, in the court's opinion, "an abject failure." The court's response? Call her out, of course, in a scathing benchslap that thanks the attorney's opponents for putting up with her and that considers requiring her to take a CLE on appellate practice before submitting any more briefs.

You just finished a new client's estate plan and were blown away by how much wealth she's amassed from her dog washing on demand app startup -- and she's looking for investors in her next project. Or maybe a prospective client comes to you for help incorporating a new business. He's got a great business plan, a lot of experience, but not enough cash to cover legal fees.

Should you invest in that Uber for pet grooming? Can you help out your incorporation client by exchanging legal services for an ownership stake?

Code the Deal, UCLA: Legal Hackathons Innovate With Tech

Today is the start of the Code the Deal Hackathon hosted by the UCLA School of Law. Code the Deal LA is the second such event produced by Legal Hackers, which brings together lawyers, developers, professionals, and geeks all around.

Law and geeks. Doesn't that sound like fun? It's a matter of personal taste.

The legal market, struggling with slow growth, is more competitive than ever. Yet many firms have been slow to respond to the changing market, forging ahead with outdated practices.

If you want to stay competitive, now's the time for innovation. Here are three ways to go about it.

3 Social Media and Electronic Research Tips for Lawyers

These days, technology pervades almost every aspect of a law practice. A new trend involves using technology to help research judges and juries.

For example, online material (both social media and databases) will give lawyers a better sense of the environment in which they might present their case to the court. Electronic material makes the judge's habits and pet-peeves open knowledge for litigators. If there are too many red flags, a lawyer might even strike a judge from a case. How about that?

The Tenth Circuit court of South Carolina just became one of the best courts in the nation. No, it's not because of its historic court houses, important decisions, or swift handling of justice. It's the dogs.

The state court's Solicitor's Office announced last week that it will join a growing list of courthouses that have added a canine to the court staff. The dog's main task will be comforting crime victims, but we'd like to think that a stressed lawyer could give Fido a pet or two as well. This is some legal innovation we can get behind.

5 Steps to Take Before Selling Your Solo Practice

If you've had a good run with your solo law practice and you've decided the time has come to leave, you have a number of choices.

One: Close out your files, don't take on new clients, and hang a sign that declares "Out of Business." Two: You could sell your business to another competent attorney who will carry on the practice.

Interested in jumping into mass medical malpractice suits or maybe a giant product liability claim? Get your lender on the line, because it may cost you millions in funding, often at absurd rates. At least according to a new lawsuit by an ex-AkinMears employee who alleges he raised almost $90 million in litigation funding for the firm -- in just four months.

Those numbers aren't just for the billion dollar BigLaw firms either. AkinMears is a modestly-sized firm of 6 to 10 attorneys, though it was involved in massive cases, including several pelvic mesh mass torts involving more than 80,000 cases.

Is it time to move beyond the traditional law firm partnership model? The current default law firm structure leaves both clients and attorneys wanting. Clients feel overcharged and attorneys feel overworked. Some experts have blamed the "outdated partnership model" which fails "virtually all of its stakeholders."

Few firms have renounced partnerships altogether. But many are beginning to experiment with alternative partnership formulations -- particularly, two-tier partnerships with both equity and non-equity partners.

Seasonal Marketing and the Power of Pumpkin Spice

Businesses and retailers have been using seasonal sales tactics for years. One of the most recent and cult-like is Starbucks Pumpkin Spice Latte first introduced in 2003. Before the craze became a pop culture phenomenon, pumpkin spice was primarily a thing reserved for pies. But demand kept on dictating supply. Today, you can purchase pumpkin spice condoms.

Pumpkin spice has become such a phenomenon, it carries with it SEO goodwill. By this time, Pumpkin spice has joined eggnog and turkey. You can't buy that kind of publicity.

Cybersecurity 101: Best Practices Your Firm Should Implement

Law firms have a lot on their plates to worry about. The most obvious concern is how to stay in business. For example, we recently pointed out the importance of improving intake procedures.

Although it may be easy to dismiss the threat of cybersecurity, don't. The security of the information handled by your firm really should be a top priority. These best practices can help your firm avoid potential security disasters.

A good paralegal can be invaluable to your practice, managing your schedule, fixing your typos, and making sure your documents actually get to court. Paralegals are the unsung heroes of many small practices and are often the first support staff small firms bring on.

With a bit of training and investment, a good paralegal can become a great paralegal. Professional development can expand the range of your paralegal's skills, allowing them to stay up to date on legal developments and develop new skills that aid the practice.

When it comes for planning for your practice's growth, your business development plan and your marketing plan shouldn't be the same. Sure there's some overlap. In the way that all bugs are insects but not all insects are bugs, all lawyer marketing is part of business development, but the two require distinct approaches.

Here's how law firm business development and legal marketing differ and why your firm needs a unique approach to each.

3 Ways Law Firms Lose Clients at Intake

If you're looking to expand your client base with a splashy new online web campaign, might we suggest that instead of finding new clients to dissatisfy, how about keeping your old ones?

A new white paper from FindLaw, "Failing At The Finish Line," suggests that many firms have no real problem attracting prospective clients; but they drop the ball right at the point of intake. In fact, the problems are so obvious that they're laughable. And yet, for some reason, firms keep screwing up the intake process as if they're doing it on purpose.

You run a tight ship. Your law office is organized, efficient, and effective. To make sure that employees feel that they're treated fairly, you've instituted basic policies instead of arbitrary, ad-hoc procedures. You're doing things right.

Except, of course, when your policies are terrible. Oftentimes, well-intentioned but poorly thought-out office policies can leave your staff fuming. Here are five guaranteed to drive most law firm staff insane.

Tips for Hiring a Private Investigator for Your Law Firm

Private investigators should be part of any practicing attorney's arsenal. Back before the Internet was the mainstay of every self-proclaimed desk detective out there, there were only limited ways to snoop into other people's business. You could either do it yourself, or you had to hire a private investigator.

Private investigators serve as your personal spies. Before a case is litigated, its almost a given that the parties will try to hash out a deal first. A good PI will flush out hidden assets, find witnesses, photograph accident scenes, and trace names. Information is the key to winning any battle. Perhaps this is why an entire chapter of the Art of War is dedicated to spies.

Whether you're hanging your own shingle straight out of law school or branching off on your own after years of practice, you'll want to make malpractice prevention a central part of your business plan. After all, legal ethics aren't something you want to pick up through trial and error and if you're starting your own practice, it can be easy to miss some of the malpractice safeguards larger firms have built in.

Thankfully, with a little planning, you can avoid some of the most common malpractice pitfalls facing new attorneys and solo practices.

4 Very Simple Ways to Boost Your Firm's Bottom Line

Every lawyer likes to cut costs and save time. Inefficiencies throughout the office harm productivity and eat into your bottom line.

Here are four tips that can have a positive impact on your efficiency -- and your wallet.

As a lawyer, you're a leader, whether you work in a solo practice, as a first year associate, or partner in a large firm. It's your job to take the lead with clients, support staff, and even the court.

But leadership doesn't always come naturally, even for the most brilliant lawyers. It's a skill that must be practiced, developed. Here are seven ways to switch from being just a good lawyer to becoming a great leader:

Need some new toys, architectural models, or maybe an undetectable gun? No need to take a trip to the store. For a few hundred dollars, you can pick up a consumer-grade 3-D printer and start printing out everything from Japanese flutes to Adidas sneakers.

For lawyers, 3D printers could also be pumping out new clients and extra billable hours, as consumer 3D printing leads to increased intellectual property disputes.

Salary Differences and Considerations: BigLaw vs Small Law

If you look into lawyer salaries, there's one number that appears consistently: $160,000. This is the number often cited as the starting salary of first year associates at BigLaw firms such as Latham Watkins, DLA Piper, and Jones Day.

This $160,000 figure has remained largely unchanged for years and is expected to basically carry over into 2016. It's easy for many attorneys to be dazzled by this number and to make their primary mission to get into one of the BigLaw firms without taking into full account some of the trade-offs.

7 Words Lawyers Misuse

If an act, say a conspiracy to misuse a word, is incomplete, it's inchoate. Is a completed act choate? Not if you're Antonin Scalia. The Supreme Court Justice hates the word so much that he's interrupted oral arguments (not rare) to chastise a lawyer (rarer) for using the phrase.

But when it comes to commonly misused phrases, Scalia might want to save his rage for more prolific offenders. (Plus, plenty of legal dictionaries allow choate, so Nino might be a little picky here.) Whether it's Latin abbreviations or simple adjectives, there are plenty of words lawyers repeatedly misuse. Here's our collection of common crimes against language.

Lawyer marketing ain't what it once was. You can't get away with just a listing in the Yellow Pages, an ad in the local paper, and word of mouth anymore. High speed Internet, mobile devices, and those dang Millennials have radically changed how people consume information today.

Here's how the media consumption landscape has changed -- and how you can adapt your marketing to it.

5 Reasons to Open a Second Office for Your Law Practice

Many lawyers wonder about opening second offices, sometimes known as "branch offices" or "satellite offices."

There are many factors to weigh before opening the doors to your second location, including whether business can justify the cost, and whether or not a second office would compromise the quality of the representation given to your current client base. Here are some of the most common reasons attorneys open secondary offices:

Many of us are perfectly happy to practice in a limited geographic area. But, given the increasingly interconnected nature of today's world (the Internet, cheap airfare, free trade), it's not uncommon for attorneys to be faced with cross-border issues. We're not talking state lines here. This is international.

Cross-border disputes can soon be followed by cross-border discovery. And despite the "flattening" of the world, there are major differences between American-style discovery and international systems, particularly when it comes to data protection and privacy. Thankfully, plenty of international adventurers, or just lawyers, have gone before you and left some tips behind to help guide your way.

Sometimes you aim for greatness and fail. Sometimes that failure itself can be a form of triumph, as in the lawyer commercial which begins "Are you thinking of choosing a lawyer based on his dogs?"

Attorney commercials aren't typically Oscar-worthy. Bad lawyer advertising has essentially become its own artistic genre. (We're pretty sure it's a major at Wesleyan.) But some bad lawyer ads are so bad they're brilliant. Here are seven that reach almost sublime-levels of terrible.

There's a 70 Percent Chance You're Incompetent, Survey Suggests

In the opinion of Sam Glover, founder of Lawyerist, there's a 70 percent chance that you're incompetent and unfit to represent your clients. That's a pretty bold statement.

According to a recent 2015 ABA survey of legal technology, only 35% of lawyers actually employ email encryption -- a number that has remained constant for fours years. This is true even taking into account increased awareness of the need for heightened diligence in security amongst business professionals.

When it comes to litigation, parties have got to pay their own way. It's just the way we do things here -- it's called the American Rule for a reason. But all rules come with exceptions. The American Rule can be broken and attorney's fees awarded, in order to protect the public interest, to punish parties who refuse to settle, or simply to increase a law's effectiveness.

Take the Patent Act. The Act's fee-shifting provisions allow an award of attorney's fees to the prevailing party in exceptional cases. Thanks to a Supreme Court ruling last year, "exceptional" has become a bit more common.