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December 2017 Archives

Legal Writing Doesn't Have to Be Boring

Lawyers often look outside the law for examples of good writing, and there's a reason for that.

Few attorneys, if any, have gone on to Pulitzer or Nobel fame for writing. That includes Erle Stanley Gardner, Scott Turow, and John Grisham.

But occasionally you may discover a clear, persuasive and importantly -- not boring -- legal writer. Here are a couple to follow, and they're still working in the law.

Is It Time to Become a Tax Lawyer?

The president's new tax law promises to be a boon to business, as the trillion dollar tax cut benefits large corporations and wealthy investors.

Average Americans will see reductions, too, but another strata of society will actually make money on the new legislation. That's right, it will be a great time for tax lawyers.

According to analysts, the tax laws will create many opportunities for attorneys. They will be busy finding loopholes for the wealthy and debt relief for everybody else.

Do I Really Need Books for Legal Research?

If you haven't noticed, unless you are in a Third-World library without internet access, nobody really does legal research using books anymore.

So do lawyers really need those old law books? And what about those skills that came with learning how to research with books? Is there a place for old school lawyering?

"Wait, wait," you may be saying. This is all happening too fast. One question at a time, please.

The age old quote about success being partly inspiration but mostly perspiration rings as true today as it did when Thomas Edison strung those words together.

For lawyers, and especially trial lawyers, being over-prepared can bring peace of mind. But, if you perspire too much, you could fall victim to preparation over-saturation and end up like those poor folks suffering from Search Overload Syndrome. Below, you'll find a couple tips on why you might want to avoid going overboard with your preparation.

For solo practitioners, the holiday slowdown can often be a challenge. If you just don't have anything going on around the end of the year, just trying to get yourself into the office could be an exercise in futility. After all, you don't have to go to the office to show up for holiday networking events.

However, you don't necessarily have to show up to your office to get some important stuff done either. Below, you can find a few tasks that are especially well suited for the unfortunately un-billable holiday slowdown that will help you work smarter, rather than harder, for the rest of the year.

When Is It Time to Quit a Professional Organization?

Unless you really don't like lawyers, it's a good idea to hang out with them socially sometimes.

It's about camaraderie, networking, and professional associations. And for every business-minded attorney, it's also about referrals.

But if we're talking about the business side of professional organizations, here are some cost considerations when deciding when to hang out and when to get out:

Is Your Law Firm Culture Stifling Innovation?

James Goodwin, an attorney/author/columnist, is sort of a counter-culture guy.

He says that law firms should not use "firm culture" to stifle innovation. In a column on "The Culture Card," Goodwin says culture can be good or bad.

"In museums and art galleries, culture means intelligence, refinement, and beauty," he says. "In a lab, culture means a plate of mold."

Tax Bites: Is the Season of Giving Over?

Taxpayers are rushing to claim deductions before the new tax bill goes into effect, and few know what their final bill will be.

According to reports, the tax legislation will be approved before Christmas and bring an end to certain deductions in the New Year. It will cap the amount of state, local, and property taxes individuals can deduct from their federal tax bills at $10,000.

But the new law may also cut into charitable deductions at this time of the year, according to one law professor. That's right, people are getting Scrooged.

It is absolutely bound to happen during the holidays, a staff member, or even an associate, will just not show up. If there's critical work to be done, or a Christmas Eve court date, there's almost no time to be mad, you just have to keep calm and litigate on.

Fortunately, in nearly every city across the country there are companies that can provide last minute appearance attorneys, and that old list-serv you're still on might actually be able to get you someone last minute in a pinch too. It's expensive to get someone last minute, but, in this market especially, there's always young, hungry attorneys looking for work. But when it's not critical work that you're going to be forced to overpay a third party to get done, or suffer through yourself, can you really be that mad at your staff for peace-ing out on an actual holiday they plan on celebrating?

Beyond WFH: Practice Law on the Go, Anywhere

Shreya Biswas Ley sometimes practices law from home, but what makes her different is that her home is a boat.

Ley represents a different breed of lawyer, not the kind you find behind a mahogany desk in a traditional office. You might find her, instead, at a climbing gym where she holds network meetings.

"I like to stay active, so if people are game to try it out, why not?" she told Lawyerist.

You ever load up your calendar for the month of December because you just knew that those cases would settle and then you'd magically have free time? And then, when the cases didn't settle or go away, you were left wondering why you were so optimistic.

Well, the good news is that you still have time to clear your calendar, even if you can't actually move any of the dates getting in the way of you having a real holiday vacation. Below are five tips on how to just clear that calendar.

While lawyers can have a difference of opinion as to what constitutes a bad client, it's likely that there are a few common types of problem clients that can be screened out through careful conversation.

Basically, the best and only way to screen out the bad clients is to talk to them. Beyond having an intake clerk (staff member) fill out a traditional intake form that describes the potential client's case, actually having an in-person, sit down meeting with potential clients to not just talk about their case, but also how you operate, is critical. And though this takes time, it is time well spent as devoting hours to a client that makes you miserable just isn't worth it.

Below, you'll find a few best practices for determining whether your prospective client is a prospective nightmare.

How to Handle Clients With Substance Abuse Issues

A client was late to a DUI hearing, so I called him on the cell phone.

"I got you a good deal. Get down here now," I said. He showed up 20 minutes later, reeking of alcohol.

What do you do with somebody like that? Is it possible to defend an impaired client and protect society at the same time?

If you're like most lawyers, you know that your very presence in the life of a client is a gift in and of itself. As such, when the holidays roll around, an unbilled phone call just to check in is probably as much of a gift as you really need to give any client. Unless, of course, your taxman tells you that you have some money to burn.

But, if you've been visited by the ghosts of Christmas, and you're in the giving spirit or just looking for some deductions, since you're not as rich as Scrooge, below you can find some tips on how to decide which clients to give gifts.

Longshot Exit Strategy: Seek a BigLaw Buyout

The start-up strategy, often, is to build until you're bought.

It has made millionaires and billionaires out of tech company founders. Small firm lawyers, not so much.

That's because BigLaw typically doesn't buy budding practices, especially not solo attorneys' offices. But in an age of innovation, asks one popular practitioner, why not dream a little?

The lack of diversity in the legal profession is nothing new. Law firms, small to large, tend to all say they want a more diverse team, but few actually do anything about it other than talk. And while many firms claim that the quality candidates they receive just are not diverse, this is largely a product of where firms solicit those candidates.

As we approach the end of the year, law firms that pledged or committed to being more diverse should evaluate how they've done. It's okay if it didn't work out, but it's not okay if nothing changes. As the saying goes: Don't expect different results from the same actions.

Below you can find a few tips on how to actually make good on that pledge to create a more diverse and inclusive law firm.

3 Tips to Stay Focused When Working From Home

Turn off the television. Disconnect the phone. Unplug the refrigerator.

Well, you could lock the refrigerator but it probably doesn't have one. The point is, you have to get rid of the distractions when you are working from home.

It's not rocket science -- especially if you are a non-technical lawyer. But for some reason, we like really simple solutions to stay focused at the home office.

While fighting off the holiday-itis at work is hard enough, trying to take on a job search during that time can feel daunting. However, it is actually a great time to update your resume and actually apply to jobs for quite a few reasons that don't just apply to lawyers.

No, it's not very likely you'll get hired, or even interviewed or called before the end of the year (or at all in this market), unless you were applying for a position for an immediate opening. But, when the office you applied to is back in full swing in early January, your application will be in the pile to get reviewed. Fortunately there's so much going on during the holidays it can be a bit easier to be patient.

Technology can be rather confusing. For some small firm and solo practitioners, bringing on a tech savvy recent grad could be immensely helpful in figuring out what to do when it comes to cybersecurity and updating your firm's tech. While older attorneys can pass on their legal wisdom, younger tech natives can add value to the firm with their tech knowhow.

However, you better be careful. If you're hoping and dreaming that the recent grad you just hired is going to fix your law firm's tech, you may be surprised to learn that many Millennials may be more digitally naïve than digital native. Below you can read about how to evaluate whether a candidate is tech savvy, a tech savior, or just knows how to use Microsoft Office.

New Guidelines on When Judges Should Use Internet Research

Sometime after Al Gore invented the internet, judges started including internet sources in their decisions.

That was then. Now the American Bar Association has invented guidelines for how judges should use the internet for legal research.

And if you believe that Gore invented the internet or that the ABA can tell judges how to do their jobs, you may want to check out bridges for sale on Amazon. In the meantime, there are these new rules:

Crowdfund for a Worthy Legal Cause?

Lisa Walinske, an attorney, is not homeless. It just looks that way.

She's on a type of strike, living in a shack to raise money for a non-profit law firm to help homeless, poor and underprivileged people. But her 12-year-old son said she looks homeless.

"He's homeless," Walinske told a reporter while pointing to a bearded man in his 50s. "I'm trying to help him."

The best things in life are free. And, surprisingly, when it comes to internet marketing for law firms, this is very true. But, just because so much SEO is basically free if you can do it yourself, you surely shouldn't abuse those free sources of marketing to the point where Google suspends your law firm from the internet.

For many, it will come as a surprise that there is a large number of lawyers that are gaming these free internet marketing resources. One in particular, Google's business pages, is among the most often abused free SEO tools available, and one that can easily be turned off by Google if a business is discovered violating their rules. It's also one that small firms should not be ignoring because it works and can really level the playing field.

If you are unaware of what constitutes SEO abuse, or how to take advantage of the free SEO resources available, you can get a few tips below.

Law Firms Aided Weinstein's 'Sexual Enterprise,' Lawsuit Claims

It's not like we told you so, but we did say nondisclosure agreements make Weinsteins possible.

Now six women have sued Harvey Weinstein for civil racketeering and hiring lawyers "to prevent, hinder and avoid the prosecution, reporting, or disclosure of his sexual misconduct."

In the immortal words of Uncle Buck to a terrified teenager, "Is there a little similarity there?"

Judge David Hamilton of the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals has a rather simple and helpful tip for litigators filing administrative motions: Talk to your adversary before filing the motion.

As Judge Hamilton explains in a recent order granting a motion for two pending appeals to be consolidated along with an amended briefing schedule, the moving party could have saved time for both the court and the parties by simply making a call and advising the court of an adversary's non-opposition or consent/agreement to the motion.

Best States for Small Firm 401(k) Plans

Class standings. Law school rankings. Salary comparisons.

The list goes on in the competitive law business. But there's a new list: best retirement plans.

Unlike salary increases -- which law firms announce to attract top talent -- nobody really publishes retirement benefits by firm. But now, with help from Above the Law, there is the best small firm 401(k) plans by state.

What to Do for Immigrants and Clients in a Hostile Social Environment?

A murderer, a drug dealer, a drunk driver -- a few of my least popular clients.

They were not accused; they were already convicted. But clients like that are practically dead men walking into the courtroom because of a prejudice against innocence.

Lawyers have to fight for unpopular clients more than ever. That's because the legal world can be a hostile place -- especially for immigrants in America today. 

If you run a law practice, or are jointly responsible for running one, the end of year could signal the end of the fiscal year too. Sole proprietors have a matching tax and fiscal year end of December 31, by default. Law firms can simplify their own accounting by overlapping their fiscal and tax year calendars too.

Many lawyers and firms will choose to have the tax year and fiscal year overlap simply because the end of the year seems to be the slowest time for legal practices. Thus, it makes sense to make December the accounting month.

If you've recently started your own practice, or have been struggling with taxes ever since you did, below you'll find a brief crash course for your end of year accounting.

Just about every lawyer out there has had to give a client 'the talk.' You know the one where you explain to them that the civil courts aren't really about justice, but rather about moving money around. That, at the end of the day, justice not only comes at a price, but it is the price.

When it comes to revenge-hungry clients, it can often feel like no amount of reason can get through their "civil ignorance." Public vindication and emotions can often be a significant barrier to settlement. Unfortunately, when you're charging by the hour, you have a fiduciary duty to caution that revenge-driven client about their goals being inapposite to their financial or personal interests.

How to Respond When Your Opponent Calls You Stupid

'OMG, are you stupid?'

When your opponent says that in the midst of litigation, it means at least one of two things: either you are stupid or your opponent is stupid. It could also mean you are both stupid, but let's keep it simple.

In the case of Bradley P. Moss against Donald Trump, history will be the judge. For the rest of us, maybe we should keep our "stupid" thoughts to ourselves because it's never a good look to say everything that comes to mind.

Best Niche Practice Areas for Bilingual Lawyers

Language is a cultural thing, not a legal thing.

But they can intersect in law practice, and the work depends on the community where lawyers serve. Attorneys who speak that community's language typically have an advantage over those who do not.

It might be an immigrant neighborhood, or a client from a foreign culture. But bilingual lawyers find their niche in a demographic area more than in a practice area.