Strategist - The FindLaw Law Firm Business Blog

May 2016 Archives

There's some strange alchemy involved in setting the proper billing rate. You don't want to be so high that clients can't afford you, nor so low that you come off looking cheap. You could follow the market rate, but you also want to set yourself apart. What's an attorney to do?

Setting your rate is one of the most important calculations you can make. It can help determine what clients you get and how successful your firm is. To help you out, here are our top billing rate tips, from the FindLaw archives.

Thousands of lawyers leave the law every year. Corporate attorneys become yoga gurus. Prosecutors become public school teachers. Family lawyers become family counselors. And some attorneys change careers without giving up legal practice, moving from BigLaw to nonprofit work or from a government agency to their own solo practice.

But how do you know when the time is right for a career change? Here are four tell-tale signs.

3 Tips for Choosing the Best Practice Area for Solo Attorneys

It’s a question that has dogged young lawyers for generations: How do I choose my area of practice? Some people are lucky in the sense that they knew right from a tender age that they wanted to be a lawyer and knew exactly what area of law they wanted to practice.

But others usually have to wait a little longer and let the iniquities and practicalities of life form their answer. Now that you’re a licensed attorney, what are some of the hard choices you have to make?

The wealthiest clients can afford to pay hundreds of dollars an hour for representation. The poorest may be able to find a lawyer for free. It's those in the middle that can be the hardest to attract. For, while Internet marketing has made it easier to get your name out to middle class clients, the rise of the Internet has also made it easier for cost-conscious clients to shop around, or even to pursue alternative legal services instead of hiring a lawyer.

When it comes to attracting middle class clients, how can you stand out from the crowd? Flat rates may be the answer.

Legal practice is often a high-stress job. There's the trying work hours, the high-stakes outcomes, and the horrible opposing attorneys or trying clients. It's enough to cause an esquire or two to unleash a near-constant stream of unprintable profanities.

Cursing under his breath at court got one attorney publicly reprimanded recently. Meanwhile, a major microbrewery is encouraging its employees to drop more F bombs. Who's got the right approach?

Tips for Training Associates for Loyalty

Associate attorneys occupy a strange area in the law firm hierarchy. As far as clients are concerned, one lawyer is the same as the next: they charge too much. But there’s much more to the whole associate makeup than just that overly abridged characterization.

Part of the problem is that associates are considered by most within the legal industry as exchangeable commodities that will soon leave the firm anyway. This is an attitude that we hope to change. Ideally, the associate will be the next lawyer to take the reigns of the firm in the next decade or so. But in order to do that, it’s up to you to develop a sense of loyalty.

You? Make a mistake? No way. Never gonna happen. But for some other lawyers (we won't name names), mistakes are common place. And we're not just talking about a typo in a contract or court filing. There's a whole universe of mistakes attorneys make, from mishandling client funds (accidentally!) to misusing those fancy Latin phrases.

So, to help you that other guy out, here are some of the most common attorney screw ups and how to avoid them.

BigLaw Firm Goes Nuts Expanding Parental Leave

The Chicago law firm of Winston & Strawn must be eyeing the prize for most-loved BigLaw firm in the Windy City -- perhaps even the country. Expanding its already generous parental leave program, the firm has decided to up its number of paid weeks to twenty.

To sweeten the deal, the firm is also doing away with "primary" and "secondary" caregivers, thus incenting more men to actually use the numbers allotted to them. What is going on with BigLaw lately? It's gotten so ... likeable.

You're finally upgrading to a new P.C., or you're getting rid of those old external hard drives you found in the storage closet. Maybe you have a ton of dated USB drives you no longer need, now that you're cloud-based.

Whatever you do, don't just toss out, sell, or give away your old hard drives. First, make sure you wipe them of their data. Here's how.

Sure, lawyers have our in-speak. We talk about obscure rules, using even more obscure Latin phrases, mixed with an alphabet soup of government laws and regulations. But at least we don't talk about "crushing our quarterly goals" and "synergizing" efforts. Well, we don't often. Corporate jargon can slip in to legal practice every once in a while, whether it's from clients or colleagues.

If you've ever wondered where those awful phrases like "ping me" and "wheelhouse" came from, the National Geographic's Mark Strauss has done some sleuthing for you, putting together a condensed etymology of workplace clichés. Here are the highlights.

Lessons in Legal Fees: $41,000 Base + $30,000 Interest = Censure

Wyoming's highest court has publicly censured a lawyer working out of the state's capitol for charging a client $30,000 in interest fees on a bill that was originally just $41,000. So if you're considering charging your clients almost 50 percent in interest, we recommend against it. Top tip? Just don't.

One could say that Cheyenne lawyer Bruce Asay, the recipient of the court's censure, was merely covering himself, however. After all, one of his apparently office policy was to charge a rate of 1½ percent interest on all accounts receivable per month. The idea was to get those pesky clients paying -- instead, he got himself into ethical hot water.

You've heard about the cloud, but what is it exactly? Simply put, someone else's computer. Or rather, computer farm. The cloud allows you to store and access a virtually unlimited amount of information remotely, without having to build up any of the infrastructure on your own.

The cloud isn't just going to transform the way people work, it already has. But the cloud also poses major legal questions. For example, how should attorneys apportion risk when negotiating cloud contracts? What privacy rights are afforded to documents stored in the cloud? Does information uploaded to the cloud count as an export?

You can't do it all yourself. If you're running a small or solo firm, you're going to have to bring in some help sooner or later. But, even if you're a wiz at the law, you might struggle with staffing and management.

To help you out, here are our top tips on finding and retaining the best talent, from the FindLaw archives.

Where do real lawyers practice the law? It’s not exclusively in BigLaw high-rises, managing a team of dozens of associates. It’s not in corporate conference rooms or cocktail parties, schmoozing with high-paying clients. And it’s not just grinding away at clients’ legal issues, either.

Real lawyers do all of it — the managing, the marketing, the lawyering. And one place offers the opportunity to play all roles: small law. Here’s why practice in a small law is as real as it gets.

You've built your own firm and want to see it grow even further. Or perhaps you've found your grove, but need to advise business clients as they expand. You can try to figure things out on your own, or you can turn to the experts, thought leaders from some of today's most forward-looking businesses.

Luckily, much of that leadership can be found in one place: "What's Next: How to Take Your Business to the Next Level." This guide, published by Thomson Reuters' Aspatore, provides insider perspectives on how to advance a business, from leaders in their field. (Disclosure: Aspatore is one of FindLaw's sister companies.)

Tips for Writing a Legal Letter of Advice

How to write a legal letter of advice? It's an excellent question with a much hated answer: it depends.

The fact of the matter is that the individual demands of the situation dictate the length and style of legal correspondence just as much as convention. But we've cobble together a few tips to help solos and small firm attorneys get pointed in the right direction. Once you write a few, you'll find that many of these letters practically write themselves.

You want to be the best boss you can be. Not only do you give your support staff a good wage and decent perks, you remember their birthdays, you promote an open office environment, you try not to make unreasonable demands.

Well guess what? It doesn’t matter. According to a recent study, you can bring everyone flowers on their birthday or scream and shout at them instead and it won’t make much of a difference — at least in terms of employee retention.

Lawyers Are Skeptical of ABA's Law Firm Biz Restructuring Proposals

A bevy of solo attorneys recently responded to the American Bar Association's invite to comment on the proposal to allow non-lawyer investing in law firms. Forty-three individuals submitted their comments: only one thought it was a good idea.

Now that may sound like good new for those opposed, but a growing number of advocates claim that the changes simply mark the inevitable.

Law school is out, the sun is shining, and summer is around the corner. For many lawyers that means one thing: summer intern season.

And while the “internship economy” can be exploitive, and sometimes illegal, if it’s done right, a summer internship or clerkship can be a great experience for both lawyers and their clerks.

Economic Considerations for Law Firm Partners

If you’re a partner at a firm, you should take time to draw in a deep breath: you’re in a position that thousands of other lawyer might even kill for. Still, you’ve probably wondered what your future at your current firm holds, and maybe you’ve even considered moving laterally into another firm. But does the cost outweigh the benefit? Here are a few economic considerations for partners:

Maybe you've recently been inspired to slough off some extra weight. Or maybe you're ready to finally check out this "mindfulness" trend you've heard so much about. But you're a lawyer, which probably means you don't have the time to get yourself to a trainer or enroll in a meditation retreat.

Don't worry, you can still stay healthy in mind and body, while working a crazy schedule. Here's some of our best tips, from the FindLaw archives.

Law Firm 'Emotional Training': New Age Music, Yoga, Scented Candles?

Are you tired of your BigLaw boss's spittle flying across the room and hitting you in the face? Are getting tired of the tension at the office that's so thick you can practically cut it with a knife? Are you in desperate need of a break from the stresses of the large law firm experience?

Well, you're in luck -- that is, if you can get into Kirkland & Ellis. The well-known corporate BigLaw firm is test driving a kinder-and-gentler approach to on-the-job training for its lawyers. How will it go? We're all dying to find out.

Personal injury attorneys are showing a strong interest in Snapchat, the instant messaging app -- particularly in the app's filters. No, it's not because lawyers want to transform their face into a dog or use geofilters and location tags.

Rather, it's because the app, especially its "speed filter" feature, could be contributing to distracted driving and serious car accidents. And now plenty of lawyers are asking clients if Snapchat may have been involved in their accidents.

The technology startup world is known for being male-dominated. A survey by TechCrunch found that in 2014, only 18 percent of startups had a female founder, up from less than 10 percent in 2009. One law firm is trying to change that -- and not by filing a series of gender discrimination lawsuits, either.

Perkins Coie announced this week that it would discount its services 15 percent for startups that have a woman in a senior executive position. The Seattle-based firm's discount is part good deed, part marketing stunt. And it could possibly land them the next Google as a client. Should you follow suit?

Litigation against schools is nothing new. A dispute over school funding in Kansas, for example, has been going on for 27 years -- and it's currently threatening to upend the state's school system. The classic civil rights triumph, Brown v. Board of Ed., was, of course, about public education.

But for private schools, numbering over 30,000 and serving more than 5 million students, litigation has been rarer. And when it occurred, it was often the result of contract or employment disputes. That's no longer the case, however. The newest legal trend in private school litigation is student-led suits, as private school pupils lawyer up over disability, discrimination, and discipline disputes.

Do Solo Lawyers Need Malpractice Insurance?

If you're a solo attorney, the thought of malpractice insurance has no doubt crossed your mind. It's definitely not a bad idea. But before you purchase insurance from the first carrier that you find, you may want to keep your money in your pocket for just a moment and take into consideration a few things.

Growth is good. But how do you go about it? You could take in more clients, bring on higher-paying clients, or make more efficient use of the resources you already have.

To help you out, here are our top posts on growing your small or solo firm's profits, from the FindLaw archives.

Practicing the law requires patience, dedication, and experience. Hiring a lawyer? Not so much. For the average legal consumer, choosing an attorney is often a quick process. Clients often start searching for lawyers just hours after a legal incident occurs, and the first attorney they contact is often the one they hire.

And those quick-acting legal consumers can be a boon to attorneys who know how to attract them. Clients are eager to pull the trigger, and, luckily for you, a free FindLaw on-demand webcast can put you square in their crosshairs.

Can Lawyers Name Likely Defendants in Ads?

Solo attorneys all generally know the rules of thumb when it comes to attorney advertising and solicitation. Attorney ads are good; direct solicitations are not so good. Attorney ads have operated mostly this way since the 70s.

But how about ads that name specific defendants? Well, at least one high court is looking at this question. And whichever way it turns out, it could be a real game changer for attorneys across the country.

Last Thursday, the Supreme Court announced amendments to the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure, the procedural rules that govern criminal prosecutions in federal courts. The changes to rules governing arrest warrants, search and seizure, and computing time, have already made news in publications not usually attuned to the procedural aspects of the law. The Atlantic's "The Supreme Court Expands FBI Hacking Powers" is a representative response. But let's look beyond the headlines.

Here's just what's being changed and why each change matters.