4 p.m. - Another Reason that I Love Solo Practice
At four p.m., my workday ends , at least until late at night. Four p.m. is when I leave the house to pick up my daughters, nearly 6 and 9 from the bus stop around the corner. I walk them home and we talk about their day. The older one generally blurts out a million events a mile a minute while the younger one needs a little more prodding. Some days they're grouchy or tired and don't say much; some days they're angry that I didn't bring the car or cook the dinner that they wanted.
I have my own practice so that four pm is mine. Sure, there are days every so often when I'm delayed downtown or have a lengthy deposition where my husband or mom have to step in for pick up instead. But in general, the four p.m. deadline is etched in stone, it's one of those aspects of my practice (probably the only one!) that I'm committed to not compromising. And because I'm committed, I've been able to make it happen.
Four p.m. until 8:30 when my daughters go to bed is a fairly long time, long enough for them to get bored if they don't have an after school lesson that day or for me to get tired shuttling them around if they do. Long enough that much of our time together is quantity time rather than quality time with all kinds of creative activities programmed in. Long enough to sometimes even make me wonder whether at their age, I even need to be home for them at all. But then I remember that the reason that 4 pm is so important isn't because my girls need me every day, because they don't. Rather, it's for that one day every so often that they might want to confide about a bully or a friend who was mean or a teacher who was unfair and if I'm not there on standby everyday, I'll miss out when they need me most.
Do you have your own four pm in your life, an uncompromisable commitment that you abide no matter the cost? And if you don't, why not?
Refunds for Shoddy Service - If It's Good Enough for Biglaw, It's Good Enough for Solos
This article, Payback for Bad Service, Connecticut Law Tribune (8/29/05) caught my eye for several reasons. The article reports that a North Haven, Connecticut attorney, Bruce Killion has has been ordered to pay his former clients more than $25,000 for shoddy representation. The clients had retained Killion to represent them in a slip and fall case but Killion failed to file suit before the statute of limitations expired. The clients also filed a grievance against the attorney which remains pending.
The reason the article intrigued me was because it raises the issue of whether attorney malpractice and grievances should be handled through private resolution between the parties without intervention from the bar. That's how I suspect things work in biglaw - when large firm attorneys commit error or ethical violations they'll refund money or pay clients off to stay out of trouble with the bar. By contrast, most small clients don't have that option, in part because with a contingency case, there's no money to refund anyway and in part because unfortunately, many small law firms don't have the money or the malpractice coverage to buy clients off. And even if a small firm is able to come up with money to resolve a claim with a disgruntled client, once a complaint reaches the board, it's out of the client's hands.
In this case, I don't know if a buy out (as opposed to disciplinary action) is fully appropriate; after all, missing a statute of limitations is pretty serious stuff. But there might be infractions less severe - perhaps just failure to timely return calls or overcharging where a refund or money back should be sufficient remedy without involving the grievance committee of the bar.
Cincinnati Law Library Adds New Benefits
This article, Law Library Offers Virtual Services (Cincinnati Business Journal 8/29/05) reports on some of the new, free computerized research services offered by the Cincinnati Law Library Association. The services include computerized legal research by Fastcase.com and a journal service, HeinOnline. (as an aside, I've used Hein Online at the American University Pence Law Library and it's a fabulous tool for locating law review articles, including many that have been de-listed by LEXIS).
So why do we at MyShingle care about what a midwest law library has to offer? Fastcase's CEO Ed Walters said it best:
"The new offerings of the Cincinnati Law Library Association will truly level the playing field, giving smaller firms the kind of national, online access to the law that is usually reserved only for the largest law firms."
As I've said multiple times, access to affordable online legal research is one of the most important and least expensive steps that the bar can take to improve the quality of legal representation for all.
New Edmunston Solo Featured
This article, A Local Woman With A Plan (8/31/05) reports on former city attorney May Ann Karns new private practice in Edmund, Oklahoma complete with pink velvet armchair. After serving as a fulltime city attorney for Edmund and Stillwater, another municipality, Karns' will In Edmond, represent developers and residential clients in her private practice and will also serve as a city attorney or consultant for several small rural towns. Sounds like a successful niche practice.
Blawg Review #21
Ah, the joy of being host of a Blawg Review during the last week of August which is a time of endings (summer) and beginnings (school). So I've got a built in theme: Endings, Beginnings and the Transitions and Crossings in Between. I'll list posts by theme but I'm going to be brief with links because it's so late and I've already experienced one fatal error with this inferior blogware known as Typepad. You'll note a couple of forced entries that just didn't want to stay on topic.
Last Words Margaret Marks has found the The Standard Catchall Universal Disclaimer Notice, over 7000 words long.
Last Resort George Lenard blogs about the last resort Ninth Circuit argument of a [casino]resort bartender challenge to a requirement to wear makeup as sex discrimination. George summarizes the argument and predicts the outcome.
Last Breath of Summer Two posts reflecting the dying days of fling-filled, wild, carefree summer months. First up is Lawyer-Writer who in this post ponders why she's working so hard in August while her friends carouse without her and the wisdom of this article on the life less travelled. Meanwhile, The Wired GC post entitled Sex and the City (London) discusses Fish Sunday Thinking, a book allegedly written by a young lawyer at a large London firm about "the sexual antics and misbehaviour of some of the City's richest lawyers."
Death of Faith Professor Bainbridge writes that the Vioxx/Merck verdict has shaken his faith in juries. Check out his post and the accompanying discussion. Apparently, however, Merck still has faith in juries, since according to this post by Patrick Lamb, Merck plans to try every case. In this same post, Patrick also expresses a death of faith (whatever he might have had) in corporate decision making, wondering why the Merck CEO and other senior executives gave videotaped testimony and were absent from the trial.
Death of Jury Trials Larry Bodine blogs about the death of federal jury trials, which have declined by 80 percent over the past two decades. He advises "If your firm has an active practice in Federal trials, it's time to get out. This area is dead or dying."
II. In-Betweens: Transitions, Changes and Crossings
From Obscurity to Fifteen Seconds Stopped Clock blogs about what it's like to go from obscurity to fifteen seconds of fame after being quoted in a newspaper article about John Roberts' comments about homemakers becoming lawyers.
Change of Wardrobe? Professor Ethan Leib asks this question: "Anyone think it's totally inappropriate to wear jeans? (in the classroom?) Already, 23 commenters have chimed in. My own view - yes. Jeans either betray arrogance (I can wear what I want and no one can do anything about it) or lack of respect for one's position as a professor. Neither is a particularly appealing classroom trait.
Change of Ranking? White Collar Crime Prof Blog links to this Crime Reporter article that ranks prosecutors and wonders how and whether to rank prosecutors. One standard that I'd propose not mentioned in the post: unlike the Crime Reporter article, I wouldn't give a top ranking to a prosecutor who's under investigation for public corruption. But that's just me.
Crossing Borders David Giacalone crosses the border to explore Ernie the Attorney reminisces about a bar exam question in this post which tasked test takers with spotting legal issues. Ernie recalls that he concluded that there were no legal issues, only "issues with people not being able to get along properly." Many lawyers, but apparently not Ernie, fail to lose that perspective the longer they practice, failing to remember that some problems are legal while some are not. And speaking of change, Ernie is stealing himself for the massive change that Hurricane Katrina promises to bring to his city of New Orleans. Stay safe, Ernie.
It makes me think of the changes to the practice of IP law in the past 7 years (since my oldest child was born). Easy access to PDF copies of patents (remember ordering a paper patent or having a service fax you a copy?), online filing, online searching and the rethink(ip)'r favorite....working with patent attorneys who are not in major metro areas. All of this is possible because not only is more and more content available online, but people are becoming more and more used to relying on technology (the Internet in this case) for their business needs.Most of these changes weren't driven by attorneys wanting to earn more money. It's hard to argue that simplifying things, ease of use and speed are synonymous with billing by the hour. They aren't. Instead, these changes were driven by the public, by entrepreneurs and by access to technology.
III. New Introductions, Meetings and Beginnings
There are a bunch of intros, meetings and fresh starts this week, listed briefly below:
According to this post from Appellate Law and Practice, There's a new beginning of a sort for a lawyer who was fired for reporting a grievance against an attorney in his firm, who was vindicated by a Connecticut court ruling.
Craig Williams introduces a contest entitled "There oughta be a law." He proposes one that requires each portable piece of electronic equipment to use the same charger. How about a law requiring blog software to automatically save changes every few seconds and create a history page instead of just disappearing from the screen? (obviously, my proposal)
Meet Home School Blogger Scott Sommerville, a lawyer for the Home School Legal Defense Association, Harvard law grad and dad of six.
Robert Coffield of Health Care Law Blog sent an introduction to Diva of the Disgruntled, a former Kaiser employee who blogged about work related issues and was fired. (for more on this subject, visit Coffield's past posts).
Eh Nonymous introduces us to his Carnival of the Anonymous, a round up of what's been said, pro and con, about anonymous bloggers.
Article III Groupie has been writing Underneath Their Robes for some time, but Will Baude introduces us to her in more depth with his Twenty Questions interview. And on the topic of new looks, A3G's post Judging John Roberts: The Straight Empire Strikes Back has a fresh picture of Judge Roberts and an analysis of whether he might be gay, which goes to show that sources and links, like statistics, can be used to prove anything (which I believe is precisely the point of A3G's satire).
Blawg Review has information about next week's host and instructions how to get your blawg posts reviewed in upcoming issues.
Lawyers Can Be A Star and A Mom on Their Own
It's always bittersweet when I read articles like this one, Work Family Divide Keeps Numbers of Women Low, Rachel Osterman (8/20/05) about women attorneys leaving firms because they find them incompatible with raising a family. Without sounding too much like John Roberts, I'm all in favor of attorneys - male or female - who choose to forego their careers short term to stay home with children so long as they're aware of middle of the road options for balancing law and family. But I wonder how many women leave the law without knowing about other options - like solo practice - (or those described here) that might offer the best of both worlds.
Breaking Up [A Law Firm] Is Hard to Do
For a couple formerly in love, Breaking Up Is Hard to Do. But for lawyers at a firm, who stuck together for the sake of money, breaking up is even more difficult as demonstrated by this article, Court Fight Pits Barnes Firm Versus Defecting Top Lawyer, Michael Beebe (8/28/05). As the article reports, the split was apparently precipitated by ethics action against Cellino and Barnes, the two name attorneys (we blogged indirectly about it here, decisions are here):
Joseph E. Dietrich III, one of the top two money makers at The Barnes Firm, has quit the personal injury law firm and is embroiled in a court battle over the clients he took with him. Dietrich, who in the past three years brought in $30 million worth of settlements and verdicts to Cellino & Barnes and its successor, The Barnes Firm, took 41 clients with him following his resignation July 16. "The reason I left is I believe I can do a better job for my clients outside of that environment," Dietrich said. Dietrich left a little more than a month after Ross M. Cellino Jr. was suspended from practice for six months and Stephen E. Barnes was censured. The two were disciplined for advancing money to clients through a company they owned and then through one they controlled.
According to the article, the firm claims it invested money in advertising that enabled Dietrich to attract his clients to begin with. On the other hand, Dietrich's contract provided that the firm would retain 80 percent of revenues generated from his cases, which means that the firm has presumably been compensated for a large part of the costs that it invested in marketing. In addition, the reason that Dietrich is leaving is not merely to profit from the firm's investment but also because the firm's founders engaged in conduct that could potentially harm Dietrich's clients. And of course, clients always ultimately have the unfettered right to choose their own counsel; it's not surprising they'd prefer a Dietrich to ethically-challenged Cellino and Barnes.
In this post, we described some of the guidelines that govern lawyers departing firms, but don't have any suggestions for resolving anything as messy as this, short of some kind of mediation. Send your ideas on what you think the outcome here out to be.
Small Firm Contest
Monica Bay of Common Scold has this announcement to all Small Firms:
The Small Firm Business 2005 Best Practices Awards competition has just been announced!
Here's your chance to show the blawgosphere -- hey! the entire legal community -- how your firm shines in six key law firm management areas. We're seeking nominations in the following categories:
"Bottom Line" (aka efficiences, cost containment, profitability, etc.)
Marketing campaigns (print, TV or radio)
You may nominate your own firm -- or a colleague's -- and deadline for nomination is SEPT. 30. Download the application here. The contest is open to firms with 2-40 attorneys. Questions? Call Trevor Delaney at 2121 313 9176.
Should Solos Blog - An Alternative View
I'm sure that no one's surprised that I endorse blogging for solo and small firm lawyers, not as an end in itself but as part of an overall marketing portfolio, as I once wrote here. At the same time, I believe that blogs don't have to be time consuming if you don't want them to be and I've also described shortcuts to getting the benefits of blogs without the burdens.
Still, there are others who wonder whether small businesses (not small firms per se) really benefit from blogs or whether they're better off directing their limited resources elsewhere - as articulated in this post from AllBusiness.com. (hat tip for the link and additional commentary at Business Blog Consulting). Author Jim Logan recommends the following marketing activities as an alternative to blogging:
* targeted direct mail sales letter
* referral programs
* sales promotions and incentives
* white papers
* targeted advertising
* joint ventures
* co-op marketing
Logan's ideas may be worth pursuing. But I see no reason why blogging and following these proposals can't all be part of one great, big marketing package.
Take A Vacation TO Marketing
Via this post at Arnie Herz's Legal Sanity comes a bunch of marketing ideas, including a link to this article (Boston Globe 8/21/05) about how to turn vacation into marketing opportunities. Nothing stressful here that would spoil a vacation, but things you might do anyway such as striking up a conversation with people you meet, carrying business cards and following up with potential contacts when you return from your trip (as opposed to the next day as you might do while working).