Strategist - The FindLaw Law Firm Business Blog

March 2016 Archives

Lawyers like rules. They are, after all, our bread and butter. And good firms establish some basic rules that govern their operation: intake policies, conflict checks, accounting procedures, and the like. They're essential to making sure the firm runs efficiently -- and stays on the right side of its ethical requirements.

But too many rules and procedures are also stifling, driving away talent, slowing down the firm's ability to function, and limiting firm success. Here are some ideas on where and how you can strike a balance.

Look Before You Hire: The Costs of Bad Hires for Law Firms

Job seekers often complain about the job search process. The common complaint is that it's drawn out, overly complex and layered, or unnecessary. Although the need to vent is understandable, employees should also appreciate what employers are trying to do: save themselves some headache.

Today, the costs of hiring badly can get way up there. Think more than dollars and cents. Employers should heed the warning well and look before they hire.

Limited-scope representation is becoming more and more common, as clients seek out alternatives to traditional legal services. But dealing with an opposing party who only has limited representation can raise serious ethical issues regarding communication. What can an attorney say directly to someone with limited representation and what has to go through their lawyer?

Thankfully, the ABA addressed this conundrum in a recent ethics opinion -- and we've boiled it down to the basics. Here's your quick and easy cheat sheet for talking to someone with limited representation.

Switching Practice Areas in the Law: 3 Things to Keep in Mind

In a previous piece, we gave a few pointers for how to escape law as a career. That was meant for those who gave it their best but decided that the honeymoon of law was over.

If you still have some love left for the law, but you're otherwise feeling burnt out, you should consider looking for other practice areas. Fortunately, you're not the only one (nor will you be the last) who has considered a practice change. Take the following points into consideration.

Everyone's least favorite holiday, tax day, is fast approaching. If your fiscal year matches the calendar year and you (or better yet, your accountant) haven't gotten all your tax filings in order just yet, don't worry. You've still time to get everything together -- and to make sure you're getting all the tax deductions you're entitled to, while avoiding some common law firm tax pitfalls.

To help you out, here's FindLaw's top tax tips for your small firm or solo practice.

Proposed Legal Thesaurus Might Help You Draft the Perfect Contract

Contracts are critical instruments for keeping lawsuits at bay. Wouldn't it be nice to have a lawyer's thesaurus laying around during those times when we just can't think of another synonym to "person"?

Is the medical malpractice world about to experience some dramatic change? Yes, if congressional Republicans get their way.

Congress is currently considering a bill that would cap damages for pain and suffering and reduce attorneys' contingent fees. Let's take a look.

5 Tasks Your Firm Can Outsource to a Virtual Assistant

Here in Silicon Valley, fewer and fewer law firms rely on the physical presence of a receptionist or legal assistant to manage a front desk. And it’s not just here, it’s spreading everywhere.

Space is expensive and you’re most likely a solo lawyer just trying to get started in this world. So what are the major tasks you can outsource to your VA?

If you've got a question about managing your practice, if you're looking to explore a new area of law, or if you're just curious about the latest legal developments, well, you're in luck. There are literally thousands of resources available. (Look, you're reading one!) But with all the blogs, websites, and online resources available, it's still sometimes nice to have a real, solid book to line your shelves.

Here are some practice guides that could make a helpful addition to your legal library, all from our friends over at Thomson Reuters' Aspatore. (Disclosure: Aspatore is one of FindLaw's sister companies.)

Checkpoint Tackles ACA ALE Requirements for Tax Firms, Clients

As lawyers in the field know, a boutique tax firm has many of the same kinds of issues as their fellow professionals -- in the medical field. That's right, a firm that specializes in criminal law will, they fervently hope, never have to deal with criminal acts in their own house. But much like a doc with high blood pressure, a tax firm is often going to have to take its own advice. The new ACA ALE requirements are great examples.

As tax legal professionals also know, advising your clients on changes brought about by the ACA is crucial. As they might be slightly less aware, ACA changes are also crucial for their own business if they fall within the definition of an "applicable large employer" (ALE) under the Act. For 2016, boutique tax firms with more than 50 full time employees are going to have to advise clients wisely and then take their own medicine. Fortunately, a new special report from Thomson Reuters Checkpoint can help. (Disclaimer, Thomson Reuters is the parent company of FindLaw.)

Here's the startup dream: find an untapped need, (say, cheaper travel lodgings or easier cars on demand,) put together a new product to meet that need, "disrupt the paradigm," and get rich in the process. But, as the rise of Uber, Airbnb, and Spotify show, that fast growth can soon run headfirst into a legal brick wall, causing major problems down the line.

Despite these legal troubles, many startup founders think they can worry about the law way down the line. Here's why they're wrong, and how you can help save startups from themselves.

Tax Tips for Deducting Your Travel Expenses

Unless you file for an extension soon, your taxes for this year are coming up. If you're a typical individual, you hate doing your taxes even more than you hate unclogging your drain. You know it has to be done, but you keep putting it off till the last minute.

We suggest that your aversion to tackling your taxes might have something to do with not getting every last deduction you're entitled to under law. One of the biggest deductions that is overlooked are your travel deductions. Here are a few quick pointers to get you started in the right direction.

A law firm is more than a collection of lawyers. Often, the staff keeps things running, handling case logistics, managing scheduling, and even researching and drafting. That is to say, your paralegals and legal assistants matter. A lot.

Here are FindLaw’s seven best posts on how to get the best paralegals and legal assistants around and how to make the most of the support staff you already have.

Spring Cleaning Tips for Lawyers in the Digital Age

If you're like the grand majority of the rest of the populace, the very idea of spring cleaning is repugnant to you. You like a clean working environment, but thinking about cleaning places is a weight on your spirit.

Fortunately, spring cleaning is like many things: the hardest part is getting started. Once you begin, you'll find that you get a lot more done than you thought possible. To get you started, here's a list of tasks to accomplish this spring.

Justice Dept. Admonishes Courts for Fining the Poor

The U.S. Justice Department recently sent a letter to state and local courts warning them about constitutional concerns prompted by overly burdensome fees placed on poor and indigent defendants.

The correspondence took the form of a "dear colleague letter" and has been used to "push the boundaries of civil rights law," at least according to The New York Times.

Should You Go to Trial Paperless? Are You Kidding?

At FindLaw, we're consistently bemused by Internet lawyers' fascination with "going paperless". Many of us once believed that all law offices would be completely devoid of any paper, one day. Trees rejoice!

Now another slightly less ridiculous notion has reared its head: going to trial without a single sheet of paper in hand. It sounds wonderful, green and modern. But would we do it? Heck, no.

Mark May 16, 2016, on your calendar. That's the day that U.S. securities law will experience one of the biggest changes since the Securities Act of 1933. On May 16th, the S.E.C.'s "Regulation Crowdfunding" final rules go into effect, allowing everyday people to join investment bankers and venture capitalists to directly fund startup businesses.

It'll be a whole new world. Here's how attorneys can prepare.

Tips to Minimize Overhead When Starting a Solo Practice

For several years, there have been different brass rings to reach for within the legal profession. The most common recurring of these including being named partner and in-house counsel (or better yet, GC) -- though the orders tend to switch.

But for most lawyers, that isn't going to happen or it will be a while yet. One way you can make partner instantly is to create your own firm. You've dreamed about it, of course, but what to do with the expenses?

There are plenty of legal apps out there. Some are great, but many are a bit meh. I don't know too many attorneys who need an app to tell them how many days remain between now and their next court appearance. (Most of us know how to use a calendar.)

But lawyers do need apps. Indeed, a few good apps can make an attorney's life much easier. They just aren't often legal apps. Here are nine that we suggest trying out.

5 Top Social Media Tips for Busy Lawyers

These days, you can't get online for two minutes before you find that there's yet another social media app advertised to make your life easier. How does a lawyer stay on top of it all?

Take a look at some of our recent posts that cover social media. This overview is designed to answer your most pressing questions for using social media as a busy lawyer.

Lessons in Management From K and L Gates: No Dictatorships

That loud sucking sound you hear is the noise of 30 partners leaving the respected law firm of K and L Gates to find greener pastures. And to what does the firm owe this migratin of talent? Let's call it a difference in management style.

The ABA Journal reprinted the words first used by anonymous partners leaving the firm: the firm "is run like a dictatorship."

Coworking Space for Lawyers: A Viable Option?

Coworking space simply sounds nice, whether or not its a viable option. It brings a more communal working environment, possibly more perks of free food, a startup-like vibe, etc.

Now lawyers are thinking of getting in on this whole coworking thing. Well, we hate to be the bringers of bad news, but it looks like lawyers will have to sit this one out.

When we talk about heavily regulated industries, we are usually talking about things like toxic waste management, health care providers, or public utilities. But there's one highly regulated trade that often goes unrecognized: the beer, wine, and spirits industry. The mess of regulations, and regulatory bodies, that make up the industries is, well ... enough to make you drink.

But thankfully, the beer, wine, and spirit industry's regulatory system isn't completely unnavigable. If you can tell the difference between a Loire valley Cabernet Franc and Beaujolais, you can probably figure these out as well. Here are some tips.

If your firm is a TEFRA partnership -- and most partnerships are -- your tax game could be in for a change. Without much fanfare, new partnership audit rules were passed last December as appropriations riders.

And though they don't go into effect until 2018, lawyers should understand their implications today -- because if you're not prepared, you might be liable for past partners' unpaid taxes. So, here's what you need to know about TEFRA's new partnership audit rules.

Cyberwar Is Big 'Legal' Business ... and Too Expensive for Most Firms

Cyberwar and cybersecurity is getting to the point that it's even scaring credit card companies, financial institutions, and government agencies. In the past, the problem just wasn't expensive enough. Well, times they are a-changin'. Part of the problem, however, is that there's a bit of a supply and demand mismatch. There are not enough lawyers who are competent in cyber security exist to meet the sudden surge in demand.

That said, if you're wondering, "Should my small firm hire a cybersecurity specialist?" Our answer is: "Are you made of money?"

If there was one major trend in big law firms in 2015, it was mergers. BigLaw spent 2015 getting even bigger, largely by absorbing its competitors. Last year saw more than 91 large law firm mergers, according to Altman Weil. That's the most ever recorded.

And now, it seems, that trend is trickling down, as more moderately sized law offices have begun merging with increased frequency.

The future is now! Wait. Scratch that. When it comes to digital advertising, the future was yesterday. Legal marketing embraced the power of the World Wide Web years ago and digital legal advertising has been growing ever since.

But not all digital attorney advertising is made equal. Here are FindLaw's nine best tips for lawyers marketing themselves online.

Lawyer's Retirement Plan: What Retirement?

According to a survey of more than 200 lawyers, approximately 29 percent of lawyers responded that they would simply work more in order to make up financial holes in their retirement plans. In other words, their retirement plan was to not retire.

Based on the results of the survey, one could probably infer that lawyer's responses changed based on the direction of the stock market.

When you work with others, conflict is inevitable. That's true whether you're working with co-counsel, support staff, or just a difficult client.

How you address these disagreements can be the difference between a productive relationship and completely dysfunctional one. Even in the adversarial world of the legal system, there's plenty of truth behind the old saying "you can disagree without being disagreeable." Here's how.

Gone are the days when you could get away with a website and wall of text. Today, the Internet is dominated by the visual as much as the textual -- and savvy lawyers know that they need to take advantage video and images, especially when it comes to social media.

But what about GIFs? Those moving images have taken over the Internet and now, thanks to a Twitter update, are even easier to get into your social media stream. But are they appropriate for lawyers?

Tips for Lawyers: Advertising on LinkedIn

LinkedIn isn't just for networking. For attorneys, it's also a platform for marketing your business.

Lawyers should at least consider taking a glance at LinkedIn's advert options for small firms. Here are a few tips to get you started advertising on LinkedIn.

You don't need a special occasion to appreciate women in the law, though International Women's Day is just around the corner. And it's a great time to be a woman in the law, as more and more female lawyers are making their way towards the top of the profession, as equity partners, academics, and even Supreme Court justices.

In that spirit, here are FindLaw's seven best posts on how and why to celebrate -- and hire, support, or promote -- women attorneys.

What's the best attire for court? (Suit or pants suit.) Can you ever wear too much black? (Not really.) Bow tie or regular tie? (Regular tie, of course.)

These are important fashion questions, but they're certainly not what fashion lawyers wonder about. The few, lucky attorneys in the fashion industry are much more likely to be worrying about counterfeit goods than how best to accessorize. And with the rise of Internet shopping and ecommerce, the fight against counterfeits has taken on a new shape.

The days of the simple word-of-mouth referral are over. Legal consumers now start their search online, according to a survey by FindLaw's Legal Marketing. The Internet is the most common place consumers search for attorneys.

And part of managing your firm's presence online means having good, high-quality online reviews. Here are four ways to help you get them.

How Do You Become a Marijuana Lawyer?

You don't just become a pot lawyer any more than you would just become an equine lawyer. Such niche areas require experience -- the kind of experience that freshly minted law grads don't have. In fact, "pot law" only recently even became an existing area of law. Before, it was simply part of criminal law. And since the number of pot lawyers out there can be counted on one hand, you'll need some basis before venturing out on your own.

Put simply, if you just passed the bar, you'll have to slip a few years' business and contract experience under your belt before you can venture off and become a pot attorney.