Strategist - The FindLaw Law Firm Business Blog

September 2017 Archives

A dilemma that no junior associate hopes to encounter is seeing their boss make a mistake in the courtroom. However, whether or not it's your boss, a lead attorney, or co-counsel, how you interact with the attorney presenting your client's case while they're actually presenting it is critical.

Whether it's an incorrect citation, or using the wrong client's name, or completely missing a significant material fact, the one thing you know for sure is that telling them could go horribly if you do it the wrong way, and it'll be much worse if you're wrong. It's not only when you tell them, but how you tell them also matters.

Below, you'll find a few tips on how to point out mistakes without upsetting your boss or lead counsel.

When Do 'Summer Hours' End?

For many lawyers, 'summer hours' are nothing more than wishful thinking, or simply a frustrating way for the firm to cut costs. The very thought of closing the office an hour or two early, or scaling back support staff hours, even a couple days a week, over the summer, is fraught with complications (particularly when support staff babysit summer interns).

However, for those firms that pride themselves on having a good work-life balance for employees, having summer hours can often be as much of a perennial crowd pleaser for some as it is frustrating for others. Sadly, after the summer solstice, summer draws to a close (though the heat may still be around for a few more weeks, months, or forever depending on where you practice), it's time for summer hours to end as well.

Falsifying Billable Hours: Never Worth It

Is it a victimless crime for a lawyer to overstate a legal bill but never send the bill to the client?

Probably not, but the results were about the same for one Louisiana attorney. Kenneth Todd Wallace was suspended from law practice for 30 months because he falsified hours to his law firm.

It's a sad story for an attorney who had risen to the top, serving on the firm's board of directors, as a hiring partner and leader on important committees. It also shows that the pressure of billable hours is sometimes too much even for leading lawyers.

More and more law firms are adopting the holy grail of office floor plans, the open concept office. These floor plans eschew private working spaces for more collaborative spaces.

Maybe having client meetings in wall-less cubicles sounds less than ideal. But, for the small amount of time that lawyers actually spend meeting with clients compared to doing other work, conference and meeting rooms can provide the necessary client meeting spaces.

Surprisingly though, the trend is continuing to increase in law firms throughout the U.S. and the world. Whether or not it's time to remodel your office, you might be wondering if giving up the traditional law firm floor plan might be right for your firm.

Legal Support Staff Is on the Move

Remember calling tech support, and the help was speaking to you from another country? Well, get used to it for law office help, too.

Law firms are realizing that it is cheaper to move some operations to less expensive venues. Hogan Lovells, for example, is moving 78 business service jobs and 12 legal support jobs from its London offices to Johannesburg and Birmingham.

It is trending to move legal services and administrative work, such as accounts payable, payroll, time and billing systems, to fairer climates. That's right, Dorothy, you're not in Kansas anymore.

When Do Law Firm Mergers Mean Layoffs?

While it's hard to predict the weather, it's a good bet the sun will come up tomorrow for most people.

If you are in the middle of a storm, however, it can be hard to see a way out. From the outside looking in, it becomes clearer.

Likewise, if your law firm is going through a merger, you should probably take a look around outside. No one can predict precisely when a layoff will occur, but you may want to consider your options while the cloudy future passes over.

How to Deal With Crazy Law Partners

When explosive attorney Marc Kasowitz sent profanity-laden messages to a public relations professional, the law firm had to duck and cover. Ronald Rossi, a partner at the law firm handling President Trump's personal matters, explained the meltdown to reporters this way: "As crazy as this might seem, it's been very much business as usual."

"Crazy" too often is a given at busy law firms. But how should you deal with partners who are emotionally out of control?

Proofreading is important. Whether you're trying to catch problems with your argument or just fix an incorrect subject verb agreement, if you don't proofread, you might miss something important or just appear careless to the court and adversaries.

Ideally, it helps to have someone you trust proofread your work before you submit it to the court or to your boss. But if you're stuck proofreading yourself, the following tips can help you catch errors.

Should Your Law Firm Have a More Creative Office Space?

Should you have a more creative office space?

Well, duh, because the '90s want their furniture back. Unless you've got more retro-shtick than the Dude, his Dudeness, or Duder, it's time for an upgrade.

This is not an entirely subjective suggestion because Harvard also said so. If you want to inspire creativity at work, change your environment.

A couple years back, a lawyer couldn't throw a handful of rocks at a computer screen without hitting some article on the subject of mindfulness. If you managed to avoid the deluge of articles from the mindfulness invasion, maybe because you were too busy litigating to read anything unrelated, basically, it's a philosophy that promotes a healthy work-life balance.

Mindfulness in the legal profession quickly became rather trendy, particularly as our profession tends to have a high rate of alcoholism, depression, and suicide. Lawyers that are overwhelmed with the practice of law, or can't seem to keep their personal lives in order due to their career, can be greatly helped by practicing mindfulness.

However, recently, mindfulness does not seem to be as hot of a topic in legal circles, and has been seeing some pushback in other industries. So what gives? Is mindfulness out of mind now that it is out of sight?

How to Write a Funny Demand Letter

It's not every day that a lawyer writes a funny demand letter.

The very thought of it sounds like a bad joke -- as if lawyers had a sense of humor. But one Netflix attorney broke the mold recently, showing that even attorneys can be funny and effective in their jobs.

Bryce Coughlin, Netflix's senior counsel for content and brand IP, tested his comedic chops on a bar that was broadcasting a Netflix show without permission. It's not going to get him an Emmy, but it got the job done.

Especially in our current political climate, regardless of what side of the coin, aisle, or pantry, you identify, fighting for social causes that you believe in is exhausting. For attorneys, being professional while on the clock for your cause is not only necessary, but it comes at an exacting emotional cost.

Sadly, one fact that seems to remain too true, which was highlighted in a study on activist burnout in 2015, is that social justice and human rights activists, like lawyers, "are not intentional about tending to their own well being." Basically, while fighting for their causes, activists tend to ignore the necessary self-care to avoid burnout.

Women Lawyers Taking More Roles in Firm Leadership

Women lawyers are taking 25 percent of the governance roles in top law firms, nearly double the amount in the last decade.

That is the brightest spot in a new report on the promotion and retention of women in American law firms. Otherwise, the National Association of Women Lawyers' survey shows little change for female lawyers in the top jobs.

"While the number of women equity partners has increased from 16 percent in 2007, it remained largely unchanged in the last 10 years," the 2017 report says.

There are some clients that you just can't help. Try as you might, if helping a client jeopardizes your ability to practice law, you need to rethink what you're doing, and maybe call your local ethics hotline.

However, sometimes a client just needs a little bit of help, or might be seeking "unbundled" legal services. While these clients might have money that's as green as the next, if a client is asking for you to draft a pleading for them to file in their name, that's called ghostwriting, and it might not be okay in your jurisdiction.

Lawyers Can Accept Bitcoin Payments -- With Conditions

Lawyers may accept digital currencies in payment for legal services, according to a new ethics opinion.

The Nebraska ethics opinion is the first by a state ethics body, according to the ABA Journal. The Lawyers Advisory Committee issued the opinion in response to a growing use of the technology in the area, where bitcoin ATMs are already in use.

There are conditions, however, such as the requirement that lawyers immediately convert digital currencies into cash. It highlights an issue and suggests the need for at least a second opinion.

How to Tell Clients They're Being Stupid

It may come as no surprise that most Americans are ignorant about the law.

According to the University of Pennsylvania, most Americans don't have a clue about the Constitution. Barley one-third can remember the First Amendment right; only one in three can name a branch of government; and even fewer know all three branches.

So how do you deal with clients who are ignorant about the law? Or worse, how do you tell them they are being stupid?

Women Can Lead Trials With High Emotional Intelligence

People still talk about the legacy of Ellen Pao's high-profile sex discrimination case in the Silicon Valley -- even though she lost several years ago.

Lynne Hermle, who led a team of mostly women defense lawyers, won the case. But the value of the "Pao Effect" -- which exposed a male-dominated culture in tech companies -- gives Hermle and other women lawyers reasons to talk about it still.

"Not many women lead high-profile jury trials and all-female teams are very rare," she says. "Regrettably, this is still news."

Handling Parenting Challenges as a Full-Time Lawyer

Gennady G. Golovkin, who is a better boxer than $300-million-per-fight Floyd Mayweather, was facing the biggest challenge of his perfect-record career.

"GGG" was preparing to fight a younger, stronger fighter who was thirsty to take Golovokin's championship crown. But that was not Triple G's biggest challenge.

The biggest challenge was deciding whether he should interrupt his training for the big fight so he could be present when his wife gave birth. As it is in legal battles, sometimes you don't know if the tough calls are worth it until it's over. So how do you decide how to juggle parenting duties when your law office wants to monopolize your life?

So long as you're doing plaintiff work, being a civil rights attorney is about the most noble calling a private attorney can answer. But that's not to say that practicing in the area is not without its pitfalls.

Below, you'll find a short list of some of the pros and cons attendant to being a civil rights plaintiffs' lawyer.

Often times, when high profile or legally fascinating cases get some media attention, the lawyers not handling those cases will be left wondering: how did THAT lawyer get THAT case?

While a lawyer's personal reputation and personal network still has quite a bit to do with it, there's no magic bullet to attracting the cases and clients you want in the modern world we live (thanks internet!). But like winning the lottery, it's not going to happen unless you buy a ticket. Basically, to get cases you think are cool or interesting using online marketing, you need to be marketing to the types of cases you want to handle, and your marketing needs to be optimized for the clients that have those cases. Wishful thinking, and liking posts, will not suffice.

How to Ambush by Deposition

'Ambush by deposition' is not as bad as it sounds.

It means "to catch a witness by surprise," which is the Perry Mason paradigm. Nothing wrong with a little curve, right?

It's not right to harass a witness with argumentative, irrelevant questions, but that's not what we're talking about. We're talking about pouncing on a witness with exactly the right question.

How to Perform Well Under Pressure

Diamonds are made under pressure.

It's a naturally occurring process deep in the Earth. Companies do make fakes -- "cultured diamonds" -- but nature's recipe is the most valuable.

People are not much different when it comes to performing under pressure -- the process makes them better. And as anybody who has seen a good trial lawyer in action knows, you can't fake that.

Can you speak a language other than English? Can you do so well enough to attract speakers of that language as potential clients?

If so, it may just be a matter of expanding your marketing to reach that demographic. If not, you may want to consider setting up an account with a remote translation service and virtual receptionist, then marketing to certain demographics in your area. (Just always make sure your ads are ethical).

Is It Fair Game to Use Your Smartphone Against Opposing Counsel?

Basically, it was a high tech way of spying.

According to reports, the Red Sox baseball team was stealing hand signs by watching video replays of the game off the field and then texting the information live to a staffer's smart watch in the dugout. Cheating or gaming?

Not that we should ever think like that, but couldn't an attorney use similar technology to outplay opposing counsel in the courtroom?

Sometimes the law just doesn't fit a case the way that it should. And when those cases have compelling facts, it can often be worthwhile to pursue a novel litigation strategy or theory.

However, how you pursue that novel strategy or theory matters. A poorly pleaded novel theory could lead to sanctions under FRCP Rule 11, or the many state law equivalents. Generally, pursuant to (b)(2) of FRCP Rule 11, novel legal claims and contentions require more than just a good faith belief. They must be grounded in existing law and/or supported "by a nonfrivolous argument for extending, modifying, or reversing existing law, or for establishing new law."

Can Hurricane Lawsuits Be Based on Climate-Change Science?

If necessity is the mother of invention, could a hurricane be the mother of new litigation?

Apparently so. In the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey, attorneys have already filed lawsuits on behalf of homeowners and businesses that were deluged. They could open a floodgate of, well, you know the story.

According to reports, climate-change science may also lead to pioneering lawsuits.

While courts surely derive some sick and twisted pleasure by forcing attorneys on opposite sides to file joint pleadings, how you go about handling those logistics can have a big impact on your case.

Since the great word processor schism, Microsoft Word has emerged as the dominant program, trouncing Word Perfect in its widespread adoption by both lawyers and courts. However, one of the potentially fatal flaws of Word involves one of the best features: Track Changes. If you're not careful, your opposing counsel will be able to gain valuable insights based on your assumedly private edits.

Certified Ways to a Niche Market Fortune for Lawyers

During the Gold Rush, many miners went broke because it cost so much to prospect. That's also how many merchants got rich.

One egg cost $25 in today's dollars. Coffee, $100 per pound. A pair of boots, $2,500.

In the legal marketplace today, it's the niche practitioners who stand to profit as large law firms compete for the gold. Here are some "certified" ways to find fortune in a niche market.

If you only speak one language, or you just aren't comfortable speaking that second language you learned over a decade ago, you may not think it's possible to expand your practice to cater to non-English speaking clients. However, thanks to modern technology, even a monosyllabic and monolingual lawyer can easily and effectively communicate with clients who don't even speak their own language.

Unfortunately, there may not be one single app that solves the language barrier problem. But by using a combination of translation apps and live services, you may be able to cater to an entirely new pool of clients.

How to Be a Rainmaker Without Networking

Facebook gave us endless 'friends,' although most Facebook friends are fake.

So in the evolution of social media, has networking turned into "fake-friending"? Or has it always been that way -- "hello, I love you, won't you tell me your name?"

It is the networking game, and it's understood that the relationships are first about business. But if you want to do better than the necessary evil, stop networking and start giving people something more.

Top 5 Reasons to Bolt From Your Firm

You can find as many reasons as you want to leave your law firm: the boss is a jerk; advancement is unlikely; the hours are killing you, etc.

But you better think it through because in the law business, it is easy to go from the frying pan into the fire. That's because there are a lot of lousy bosses, under-valued workers and killer hours out there.

Here are the top five reasons to bolt the law firm, no matter what:

When Does Another Lawyer's Computer Bill Become Yours?

When you think about how much your law partner's new computer cost, you know instinctively that the bill is also your bill.

It's Partnership 101. But different rules apply with your "other partner." We're talking about when a spouse's computer bills become yours -- even if you are not in business together.

That's the problem that faced attorney Grant Brooks. It didn't turn out so well in Direct Capital Corporation v. Brooks.