My Shingle: Inspiring Solo and Small Firm Lawyers

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Why Would You Blog At Biglaw?

Can any biglaw associates answer this question for me:  why would you write posts for a biglaw blog?  Recently, I've been checking out some of the biglaw blogs, like Sheppard Mullin's Antitrust Law Blog, Davis, Wright & Tremaine's Telecom Law Blog or Preston, Ellis, Gate's e-Discovery Blog.  Though presumably associates write the bulk of the posts, none of the blogs give any attribution to the individual writer.  In that regard, associates are far better off writing a traditional article, where at least they can show authorship.   

None of this is surprising, of course, in light of the phenomenon of the "invisible associate," discussed here or here.   This isn't anonymous blogging by choice, but by fiat.  And what's both troubling and sad is that smart, young attorneys would so willingly forego ownership of their writing and analytical work, one of the few things that gives us any currency in this profession, simply because the firm demands it.  Yes, I may be a lowly solo in the eyes of biglaw, but at least I can say that not only is my name on the door of my firm, it's on my web posts as well, every one of them.

Posted by Carolyn Elefant on January 30, 2006 at 06:36 PM in MyShingle Solo | Permalink | Comments (9) | TrackBack

How Responsive Are You?

In this recent post at More Partner Income, Tom Collins asks whether an attorney who has a one day turn-around to respond to email and phone calls is being responsive.  Tom Collins says no, as does Ed Poll.  As a practicing attorney, however, I don't completely agree.

Some days, I might return late to my office from depositions or meetings and simply don't have the energy to respond to an email or phone call.  There are some days when I'm under or close to a deadline and I simply can't pick up the phone or answer every email that comes in.  Collins criticizes this approach, asking whether clients would be "happy dealing with someone who places a greater priority on their own efficiency than yours?"  Maybe not, but at the same time, I'm certain that those same clients would not want you to miss one of their deadlines because you were responding to someone else's emails. 

Ultimately, responsiveness involves balance.  When you're juggling even a reasonable number of clients, all of them can't expect to have their demands met instantaneously.  So you have to give priority to those with the most immediate needs first.

At the same time, I certainly do not advocate the blanket approach by the attorney described in Collins' post who has a policy of responding to emails and phone calls a day after he receives them. That's one of those "lowering expectation" techniques that I don't endorse (as an aside, there's nothing wrong with realistic expectations, where you honestly tell a client it will take a week and you finish in two days.  But to lie and pump up estimates and then come in way under target to look good I think is dishonest).  If I receive an email and can readily respond quickly, I'll do so.  Same with a phone call.  What I also try to do to make myself available and avoid the annoyance of phone tag is to use email to schedule calls, so that a client does not go crazy trying to get me by phone and vice versa.  Sometimes, if I have free time and I've not spoken with a client in a while, I'll get in touch with him or her, which enables me to act responsively within the parameters of my schedule. 

Being responsive means being around when someone needs you, not being at someone's beck and call 24-7 just because you can.  Though I consider myself a good parent, I'm not even that responsive to my on children (I'd like to be but it's not always possible and maybe not even to their benefit) - and I'm certainly not going to treat my clients better than I treat my own family.

Posted by Carolyn Elefant on January 29, 2006 at 06:58 PM in Law Practice Management | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack

The Travelling Lawyer

If you're going solo and can't afford an office, don't feel badly.  In fact, celebrate - because the lack of an office will enable you to follow in the tradition of Thomas Hall, the subject of this article, He house calls; attorney breaks free from tradition (Journal Times, 1/27/06).    As the article describes:

Since starting a business-law practice here last June, Hall meets all clients on their turf. They don't come to his office; he goes to theirs. It's sort of the legal profession's version of a doctor who only makes house calls.  "I liked the idea of going to see the clients where they are," said Hall, 45, of Wind Point. "It gets me out of the office, and it doesn't disrupt their day so much.  "I think I learn more when I go to the client's shop," he continued. "And usually everything they need is there."

When Hall travels, he does so on his dime, starting the clock when he arrives at his destination.

Convenience for clients, the opportunity to learn the business and an excuse to get out of the office.  What's not to like about a house-call based practice?

Posted by Carolyn Elefant on January 29, 2006 at 12:34 PM in Practice Areas | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack

NH Limits on Small Claims Court Won't Help Lawyers

David Giacalone of f/k/a writes this post about a New Hampshire bill that would reduce the jurisdictional limit in small claims court in New Hampshire from $5000 to $2500.  Lest anyone think that this kind of legislation is a lawyers-relief bill in disguise, I can assure you that it is not.  A case valued at $2500, particularly of the sort commonly brought in small claims (contract disputes, lost earnings, individual attempt to collect a debt) are rarely worthwhile for a lawyer to take or a client to bring.  (do the math - it's going to take a lawyer at least 3 hours to gather facts, draft a complaint and file suit, which is $450 at a rate of $150 an hour, plus at least $100 for filing fees.  So you're out $550 at the outset, even if the lawyer doesn't bill another minute on the matter.  For a $2500 matter, that's 20 percent even before you start).  So in the absence of small claims court, most of these claims simply won't be brought at all. 

NH

Posted by Carolyn Elefant on January 29, 2006 at 12:11 PM in News | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

IOLTA Pioneer (and Shingler) With A Killer App

Remember back in the dotcom days, when everyone's goal was to develop that killer app, a computer program that is so useful that people will invest in a particular machine or hardware simply to run that program?  In law, a killer app is harder to come by, yet  Henry Zapruder, who died earlier this week of brain cancer (Wash. Post, 1/27/06) helped create one, by bringing the concept of IOLTA (Interest on Lawyers' Trust Accounts) to legal practice in our country.  According to the article, since their inception, IOLTA funds have raised more than $1 billion for legal fees for impoverished clients.  Reading on,  I also learned that though Zapruder eventually became a senior partner at biglaw firm Baker and Hostetler in 1998, for nine years prior to that, he was a shingler with a firm he'd formed,  Zapruder & Odell.

What's your killer app for our profession, the thing that will improve it measurably, the idea that will bring real meaning to concepts like "client service" and "equal justice" and "access to law"?  Because we need those killer apps now more than ever, before our profession kills itself.

Posted by Carolyn Elefant on January 27, 2006 at 02:24 PM in News | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Let Your Fingers Do the Walking...At the Keyboard, Not the Yellow Pages

Not sure how many folks remember a tagline for one of the Yellow Pages books - "Let your fingers do the walking...." Seems that our fingers are doing just that, walking right out of the Yellow Pages and over to the computer keyboard.  Or at least, that seems to be the trend as first this earlier post and now this article, Still the Gold Standard? (ABA e-report, 1/27/06) question whether yellow pages ads are still worth the money  - especially, now that the cost of ads is increasing:

Now that lawyers have a variety of options for getting their information out, it would stand to reason that Yellow Pages advertising rates would drop, right? Wrong. Because the Yellow Pages has a high level of overhead due to distribution, rates have in fact skyrocketed, says Charles Laughlin, vice president and program director at the Kelsey Group, a Princeton, N.J., firm that analyzes trends in the Yellow Pages, electronic directories and local media.

Results, however, have not risen in conjunction with rates, and experts say that reason alone should persuade lawyers to reallocate their ad dollars. But what’s the best alternative outlet? It often depends on whom you talk to.

There's nothing in the article that gives any reason, from what I can tell, for continuing to advertise in the Yellow Pages.  Perhaps the best thing the article has to conclude about Yellow Pages is that you might be able to negotiate more favorable rates.  But Yellow Page ads will have to come down significantly in price and generate far better return to compete with these kinds of results.

Posted by Carolyn Elefant on January 27, 2006 at 02:05 PM in Marketing & Making Money | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Leaving A Law Firm: More Resources and A Prediction

Adding to this earlier compilation of resources on leaving a firm is this recent article, Practicing Ethics: Soliciting Clients, David Keyko, New York Lawyer (1/27/06).  The
article summarizes various New York professional code provisions governing client solicitation, including when lawyers depart a firm. 

In researching this issue lately, I consulted fellow blogger Dennis Kennedy's excellent chapter in Flying Solo  entitled "Leaving a Firm:  Guidelines for A Smoother Transition."  Dennis writes:

You might think the applicable rules and procedures of [leaving a firm] would be (1) easy to find and (2) quite clear and well settled.  If that is what you think, you will be surprised.  The guidance on this matter varies widely from state to state, and applying rules in any given situation can be a difficult exercise.

I completely agree with Dennis on this one - I've had great difficulty finding guidance on what lawyers can ethically do when they leave a firm (Can they contact clients without firm authorization after leaving?  What if the client calls you - who tells your old firm?  You can't take files, but can you copy them?  My question list goes on and on). 
But here's one thing I'm sure of, but also worried about: that the rules won't stay vague for long.

As more and more lawyers flee large firms, the bars will move to refine ethics rules on departure of attorneys.  And because large firms are the ones that stand to lose out when lawyers leave to start their own more efficient and service-oriented practices, you can bet that the bars will adopt measures to restrict the ability of departing lawyers to contact clients or take work product with them when they leave.  Sure, our code purports to defend the client's unfettered right to the attorney of his choice.  But I'm guessing that rule won't remain as sacrosanct as more and more clients leave biglaw firms for smaller, less costly ones. 

Posted by Carolyn Elefant on January 27, 2006 at 01:50 PM in Ethics & Malpractice Issues | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Good and BAD Tips on Making Speaking Opportunities Effective

This article, Speaking Opportunities Need to Be BAD to Be Effective, Julie Meyer (Legal Intelligencer, 1/19/06) starts out promisingly enough, with BAD tips (Before, During and After) on making the most of speaking opportunities.  Among other tips, Mayer recommends sending out an invitation or announcement before making your speech and obtaining the list of conference attendees so you can follow up after.

But the other advice misses the mark.  For example, Mayer suggests:

No need to be shy about selecting a nonclient or two to contact [after the event], either. The approach can be that you were flattered they made the time to attend, you hoped they found it worthwhile and they should contact you if they have any questions in the future. Eager for an opportunity to further develop the relationship? Propose a follow-up meeting of some sort with yourself and someone else from your network who will be an asset to theirs.

Contact one nonclient or two?  You should prioritize contacting nonclients and introducing yourself.  And why invite someone else along for the ride the first time, unless that person's going to help you snag the client. 

In addition, Mayer's article doesn't mention that During the conference, you ought to approach nonclients and introduce yourself.  Sure, you can follow up with a letter, but there's nothing like making an impression in person.  Plus, you have the advantage of approaching people from a position of strength and authority when you're a speaker on a panel. 

For a collection of other tips on getting more out of speaking engagements, check out this link at Legal Sanity.

Posted by Carolyn Elefant on January 25, 2006 at 11:25 AM in Marketing & Making Money | Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack

Ohio Bar Won't Allow Lawyers to Say They Offer Cut Rate Service

Via this post from Allison Shields as LegalEase is a link to this ABA e-report article (1/20/06) on the Ohio Bar's disiplinary board's recent ruling that ocupons for free or discounted legal services violate the Ohio Code.   The board found that coupons characterize a lawyer's legal services as "discount" and thus, run afoul of commentary to the Ohio rules that provides:
"Characterization of rates or fees chargeable by the lawyer or law firm such as ‘cut-rate,’ ‘lowest,’ ‘giveaway,’ ‘below cost,’ ‘discount,’ or ‘special’ is misleading."

As with all bar regulation, the rules sound benign enough in practice - protecting consumers from deceptive practices and preventing lawyers from acting like undignified hucksters.  Here's the reality, though.  Services like We the People aren't subject to bar rules - and thus, they're able to proclaim, as a tag line, that they offer "Low cost accurate document preparation."  Can an Ohio lawyer do the same?  As I read the commentary, I'd argue yes, but it's a close call since both "low cost" and "accurate" are charaterizations of service.  And for that reason, the Ohio Bar's rules have a chilling effect on lawyers who want to advertise their service in a way that allows them to compete with We the People.

Many bars have tried going after companies like We the People but the problem remains, that it's a service that fills a void for consumers who don't want to handle a case pro se and need affordable service.  Given that a need for affordable, basic service remains unmet, don't we want to do all we can to ensure that this service is provided by attorneys?  Overbearing and restrictive regulations like those of the Ohio Bar sure don't make that easy.

Posted by Carolyn Elefant on January 25, 2006 at 07:15 AM in Ethics & Malpractice Issues | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Why Do Lawyers Have to Be Forced to Take CLE?

This article, Attorneys' education is an ongoing process (Business Journal of Phoenix, 1/23/06) reports on Continuing Legal Education (CLE) in Arizona, which has been a required since 1989.  The article talks about the importance of CLE and the bar's flexibility in allowing the requirements satisfied through a variety of differently priced options.  But I'd have liked to see statistics, such as whether lawsuits or grievances based on attorney incompetence have declined or whether public perception of attorneys has improved, during the 16 years that the requirement has been in place. 

Given that there are now so many low cost options available for CLE (and at least one more that I've proposed), I can't really object that it places an undue financial burden on solo and small firm lawyers.  At the same time, the most valuable learning for many solo and small firm lawyers comes not in the form of classroom education, but from bouncing ideas off, and asking questions of more experienced colleagues.  I know that's certainly where I've learned the most in my practice. 

Also, I think it's kind of silly that the bar has to force people to learn more.  Staying abreast of your practice areas and learning new ones will make your practice more competitive and keep things fresh.  The fact that lawyers don't realize the value of continuing to learn as much as they can doesn't speak well of our profession.  And that attitude isn't something that can be cured by forcing lawyers to sit in a classroom or in front of a computer participating in a webinar 15 hours a year.

Posted by Carolyn Elefant on January 24, 2006 at 01:02 PM in Ethics & Malpractice Issues | Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack