Strategist - The FindLaw Law Firm Business Blog

February 2018 Archives

Judge Won't Dismiss Case Against County Law Director

Anderson County, Tennessee, is comprised mostly of four small cities and a dozen coal-mining communities. One, Heiskell, is little more than a post office.

But the county government boasts that it has evolved into "a world-leading technological powerhouse." That's the mayor talking, of course.

The thing is, as sometimes happens in small towns, politicians can overstate the case. That's what happened in a legal battle between two county directors, and it's not over.

One often overlooked, but widely used and awesome, provision of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure is the little subsection that allows incorporation or adoption by reference. Thanks to FRCP Rule 10, subsection (c), we lawyers don't have to pay someone to retype out whole contracts or other documentary evidence for use in complaints or other pleadings.

Incorporation by reference allows whole contracts to be made part of a pleading simply by attaching it to one pleading in the litigation, then basically just writing that you're "incorporating [said document] by reference." Doing so effectively means that everything in that document or exhibit is part of the pleading as if fully reproduced in the pleading.

How to Take Your Niche Law Practice to the Next Level

For the wordsmith in all of us, here's the difference between a "niche" and a "specialty" law practice:

Specialty: concentrate on and become an expert in a particular subject or skill. Niche: a comfortable or suitable position in life or employment.

With those definitions in mind, we're going to focus on taking your niche practice to the next level.

Attorney billing is often a controversial subject. And one of the biggest concerns when it comes to hourly billing is the rounding of those hours.

For the most part, lawyers are rarely known for rounding their hours down. After all, once a billing increment has started, there's no smaller increment, and there's no turning back. For lawyers that bill on the quarter hour, rather than the tenth of the hour, rounding up can enable an attorney to squeeze in more hours than there are in a full day, let alone a workday. And like anything that involves asking clients for money, there are pitfalls.

If Your Firm Solicits Google Reviews, You Might Get a Surprise

Do a Google review, get tickets to the zoo.

It was a law firm contest that almost worked. The Kentucky lawyers thought it would be a good way to generate positive Google reviews, and it did.

A lot of people bought in to the idea and the firm generated close to 100 reviews. But when the firm got called out by an online review vigilante, Google investigated the solicited reviews, and within a couple weeks, the reviews vanished.

How to Train your Paralegals to Improve Client Communication

At a time when digital assistants can talk, it's still a good idea to have a real-live person talk to clients.

Unfortunately, too many lawyers do not communicate enough with their clients. The "too much work, not enough time" excuse only goes so far -- especially with the State Bar.

Try this instead: Say "hello" to your paralegals and let them do the talking. Training them to communicate with clients could start here.

One of the most important rules when it comes to drafting a pleading, or any document that will (or could) get filed with the court, is not codified anywhere except in the minds of good legal writers: Keep it simple.

Using concise, plain language is the new normal when it comes to legal writing. And along with easy to read language, formatting your pleadings to be easier to review can payoff in dividends. Along those lines, one of the simplest, and best, ways to format almost any pleading just involves structuring a pleading into a logical outline format and numbering your paragraphs.

It is by no means unbelievable, especially for lawyers, that divorcing spouses will attempt to hide money and assets from each other. However, for an experienced divorce lawyer, finding hidden assets can often tilt the scales of justice in their client's favor and win them unending respect and referrals.

Divorce lawyers will claim to have seen most, if not all, of the usual tricks and will know how to discover hidden assets. But as cryptocurrencies continue to gain in popularity, market stability, and acceptance, finding money stashed away in cryptocurrencies will likely require family lawyers to learn a few new tricks.

Why You Shouldn't Hire Your Kids to Work at Your Law Firm

If President Trump goes down as the worst president in U.S. history, he could blame it on his kids.

While first-son Donald Trump Jr. and son-in-law Jared Kushner are galavanting around the globe, many political commenters view the president sinking in a political and legal quagmire. From Russia to China to India, the problems keep coming back to Washington, D.C.

What has all that got to do with the price of tea in China? This is a lesson for lawyers: don't hire your kids to work for you.

If the attorneys representing El Chapo, a.k.a. Joaquin Guzman, the infamous leader of the Sinaloa drug cartel, were overly concerned about getting paid, they may have wanted to think twice before accepting the representation. Getting paid has been an issue since the beginning of this representation.

According to recent reports, the alleged kingpin's lawyers haven't received any payments since the initial payment. That payment came from "friends" of Guzman. In order to get an additional payment, Guzman claimed that he needed to make a statement in open court to his "family." However, the court rejected this request due to the concern that Guzman would be sending a coded message via the statement.

How to Stand Out at Your Law Firm

Maybe it goes without saying that sticking out and standing out are entirely different things.

But this is a blog so we're going to say it anyway. Plus, the difference may be more subtle than you think when it comes to your law firm.

Sticking out is like a thumb waiting to get hammered. It's wearing blue and orange together. It's, well, not standing out.

In the business world, covering for a coworker's mistake is something that doesn't get done unless there's a motivating factor, like friendship, or if the team's collective performance benefits each individual's compensation. So, you can expect that it may happen frequently until work friendships get too strained.

When lawyers co-counsel, if one attorney makes a mistake, it hurts the case. That means that co-counsel should be extra motivated to not let their co-counsel make mistakes, regardless of who is in the lead role. But when it happens, and it is always bound to happen, an attorney has three basic choices:

3 Things You Can Learn From Bad Clients

'I just need some quick advice' -- famous first words from that time-wasting, non-paying client.

Not to be harsh, but if someone starts with that line, your "no-pay-radar" should beep or something. Sure, you should give "quick advice" when appropriate, but if you make it a habit you will not make money.

These are lessons from the trenches of law practice, where you can get dirty sometimes. Here are three things you can learn from the bad clients you may find there.

When it comes to online reputation management, law firms often fear the damage that can be done as a result of negative online reviews. The fact that there are several platforms that allow the public to write reviews for lawyers and law firms means that lawyers and law firms should be actively monitoring these platforms, and participating if possible.

A recent study discussed in the Harvard Business Review explains that businesses that respond to every online review tend to receive higher online ratings and better quality reviews. But before you start maniacally responding to every review you've ever received online, the following will help you understand why it helps, and provide a few best practices.

If you've been considering getting into environmental law, you may be wondering whether or not it's a worthwhile pursuit for your practice. And whether your firm has the passion or maybe already has the clients, may be the determining factors.

For example, for business attorneys that primarily serve manufacturing and real estate clients, environmental law can really be a boon for business, and is often a necessary part of representing some types of businesses. Apart from defending litigation, there can often be environmental compliance work, and other environmental legal risks associated with certain processes or transactions. For non-transactional attorneys, environmental law takes on more civil rights-ish aspect.

Don't Freak Out About the Case You Can't Handle

Harold LaFlamme's very first case turned into a murder trial.

He didn't freak out, and his client was not executed. But LaFlamme, who passed away last year, was like that: a fearless courtroom champion.

Of course, his first career as an arms dealer probably had something to do with it. Everybody else, on the other hand, should be afraid of taking a case that is way over their head.

Oxford Comma Case Settles for $5M

In recent years, no case has made such a splash over a statute's lack of punctuation as the Oakhurst Dairy overtime case. On appeal, the First Circuit overturned a lower district court ruling finding that dairy delivery drivers in the state of Maine were not entitled to overtime under the state's overtime statute due to a missing comma.

The appellate court found that but for the lack of an Oxford or serial comma, the statute could not be read unambiguously, and that that ambiguity had to be resolved in the dairy drivers' favor. After the appellate court remanded the matter, the parties managed to work out a five million dollar compromise so as to avoid further proceedings.

Tips for Lawyers: How to Eliminate Office Distractions

Did you ever notice how a teenagers can focus on video games so intently, an earthquake couldn't shake their attention?

Or how about those basketball players who make free throws while 20,000 fans scream and wag those monster fingers at them? It's called focus, and you need some of that in your law practice.

So let's talk about eliminating distractions at work. We're going to take a couple of pages from the video game and basketball playbooks.

For criminal defense attorneys and defendants, sometimes getting creative is the only way to get justice. Unfortunately, most of the time creativity can't carry the day when the facts and evidence are just stacked against your client.

One Indiana man is learning, the hard way, that getting doused in lime juice doesn't give you a free pass to break the fluid thrower's nose. Trent Summers, of Jasper, Indiana, appealed his felony conviction after punching another man in the face after he grabbed a bottle of lime juice and sprayed Summers's chest and arm. Summers' conviction earned him a one year suspended sentence and probation. The appellate court in Indiana was not convinced that getting sprayed with lime juice required fisticuffs to fight off.

Strategic Ways to Prepare for an Interview

You've done everything to prepare for that job interview, right?

Resume? Check. References? Check. Self-interview? Wh-what? Exactly.

There are some things to do before a job interview that you may not have thought of. In a tough job market, they might be the very things that make the difference between a job and just another interview. Try these before your next one:

It's only a matter of time before divorce lawyers start thanking the recently passed tax bill for all their new clients. Experts believe that changes to the way alimony is taxed will lead to a spike in divorces. This is likely due to the fact that anyone that was putting off divorce because of the fear of alimony is probably not going to want to wait any longer.

The new tax law eliminates the tax deduction for an alimony paying spouse, while also re-characterizes the payment to no longer be considered income for the recipient. The catch, and the fact that current payers of alimony will be pleased to hear: the law will not apply to divorces or separations signed before 2019. However, that 2019 deadline means that individuals that were putting off divorce for financial reasons might be rethinking things.

Judge Not Thrilled With 53 Law Firms on One Case

'What is this, some kind of convention for plaintiffs' lawyers?'

That's what Judge Lucy Koh could have been thinking when two law firms brought 49 more firms into a data breach case. Then she told the attorneys what she was really thinking, and it wasn't funny.

"What made you think I wanted 53 firms churning on this case?" Koh asked the attorneys in federal court in San Jose.

Worst Fonts to Use in Court

When it comes to the debate over what fonts should be used in legal filings, there are generally only definitive answers of what not to do. Don't use tiny fonts, don't use comic sans, or other clearly non-professional fonts, and don't fail to exercise common sense and read the court's rules about what fonts can be used.

In the absence of a rule, you can pretty much get away with whatever font your heart desires so long as it is clear to read, not embellished, and not over or undersized. So, maybe you'll have to exercise some discretion. But hey, at least most of the time, you can be like Posner and use his favorite, Century Schoolbook. To help, below, you'll find three font types you should never use in a court filing.

Jurors Will Be Anonymous in El Chapo Trial

Who could blame a juror for wanting out of the El Chapo trial?

After all, according to reports, the Mexican drug lord has hired hitmen to kill potential witnesses and informants in the past. But not jurors, Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman has promised in a motion before his upcoming federal trial. That would be uncivilized.

In any case, the judge will have a handful trying to put together a jury -- and then protecting them.

When we lawyers draft a pleading, words like herewith, therewith, forwith, whichwith, and other seemingly required, yet almost nonsensical, phrases materialize effortlessly. Whether they get used to draw attention to our list of demands, or to transition to a conclusion for a dense section of poorly stated facts, the aforementioneds, hereinafters, wherefores, comenows, and legalese nonsense, all need to go.

Many attorneys were taught that certain words and phrases, and even Latin ones, were required parts of pleading. The attorneys that questioned the use of legalese were told not to question it and just do it the way it has always been done before. However, the tide seems to be changing as the classic plain language movement continues to gain followers amongst lawyers and judges.

ABA Approves Privacy Law Certification

The American Bar Association narrowly approved a certification program for specialists in privacy law.

It was so close on a voice vote that it took a second call for the ABA House of Delegates to pass the resolution and approve a program. Before the vote, opponents complained about the program definition of privacy law and the potential that clients would be confused by it.

Barbara Howard, chair of the standing committee on specialization, told delegates that was not the issue. She said the program met the requirements for certification, and that ended the debate.

How to Ask for Part-Time Work at Your Law Firm

It's not too late, but you probably should have asked about part-time work at your law firm a while ago.

That's because most firms today have part-time policies, and it's one of those things you can know even before you start a job. So if you are just starting to think about it, relax because there are plenty of law firms that even encourage part-timers.

But when it comes down to it, asking for part-time is about asking at the right time. Timing, of course, is everything.

In this day and age, it is virtually inexcusable to not have a coffeemaker in your office, even if you have a virtual office. And due to the wide variety of ways to brew coffee, what kind of coffeemaker you choose, and how you serve your coffee, might say more than you anticipate about your law practice.

In the grand scheme of things, law firms really shouldn't try to cut costs when it comes to coffee. Especially if you have staff or associates, providing high quality coffee is one of the perks where you get the most bang for your buck. Also, though you might not think that a client would care if your coffee is good or bad, great coffee can definitely help present an image of being a premier law firm. Below, you can read about what your coffeemaker signals to the world about your law practice.

With the price of Bitcoin going absolutely bonkers, law firms, like many other businesses, are wondering whether they should accept, or even invest in, new, and even old, cryptocurrencies.

However, few cryptocurrencies will ever make it off the ground, and there are quite a few different ones out there. Choosing to accept one as payment for services has been okayed by at least one state bar, whose guidance seems to be good for just about every jurisdiction. However, you may want to think twice about whether or not you want to be the one to convert a digital currency to dollars or if you should leave the crypto-to-dollar conversion to the client that wants to use it.

How to Legally 'Stalk' a Debtor

Stalking is a crime, even when collecting a debt.

So how can you "legally" stalk a debtor? It can be done, but requires due diligence.

In other words, you can be the bad guy if you follow the laws of your jurisdiction. After all, as Dirty Harry said, "man's got to know his limitations."

If you practice for long enough, say, more than a few days, the novelty wears off and you may need some enrichment while working. After all, sometimes you need something to listen to while zoning out and hammering out your pleading. Some folks want lyrics-free classical or jazz music, while others need the hubbub of a cafe, or that oh-so-awful, somniferous, monotone drone of talk radio.

For that last group, the world has changed thanks to podcasts. With the sheer volume of podcasts being created today (who would've thunk that people like talking, and others like listening), if you like talk radio and haven't gotten into podcasts, you're missing out.

Below, you'll find a list of five podcasts for lawyers that might help you stay up to date, or stay up late, or at very least, keep you entertained while commuting.