My Shingle: Inspiring Solo and Small Firm Lawyers

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Overkill for a Missed Hearing

Seems like this judge overreacted by sentencing an attorney to 60 days in jail for missing a court appearance (notwithstanding that he'd explained his absence) - as reported in this article, Judge Mulls Over Missed Court Date - In Jail (ABA E-report 2/24/06).  It's not clear from the article what exactly made this judge so incensed - perhaps she ought to be sentenced to 60 days to reconsider the impact of her sentence.

Posted by Carolyn Elefant on February 25, 2006 at 08:09 PM in Judges and Court News | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Information on Billable Hour

The Billable Hour, run by  Lisa Solomon and her husband, Mark, announces the release of resources on the billable hour, now available here on their website.  They invite submissions from others who can offer other resources on the billable hour.

Posted by Carolyn Elefant on February 25, 2006 at 08:05 PM in Announcements | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

I Have Been Crazy-Busy

This past month has been crazy-busy, but busy in a good way.  Many new opportunities have come my way and I'm optimistic about what's ahead.  But I'll be the first to tell you that my practice has not always been this way.  I've had slow months when I felt frustrated enough about earning the equivalent of ten dollars an hour that I was ready to throw in the towel or stressed over the fear of malpractice or from dealing with difficult clients.

I admit this all publicly for all of you solos out there who are struggling today.  Maybe you started your firm, brimming with enthusiasm, but now a year later, you still can't find a steady stream of business.  Maybe you just made what you think is the world's stupidest mistake in a case and you can't sleep at night because you're so afraid of what might happen.  I've been in that place (as recently as 2 months ago, in fact!), all of us solos have.  Yet we keep it secret, never admit our weaknesses to our colleagues or seek out help.  To each other, we all look as if we have the perfect practice, which is almost never the case, all the time.

Remember, that we've all been in the dark place that you may occupy now, yet one way or another, we've gotten through.  And also remember that on balance, solo practice is the most optimistic place on earth, the most addictive, page turning novel ever written, because something exciting always lies just ahead.  As you move through the problems in front of you, try to peek ahead to see the opportunities around the corner.  I guarantee that in a few months, like me, you'll be too crazy-busy, in a good way, to remember how you're feeling now. 

Posted by Carolyn Elefant on February 22, 2006 at 08:12 PM in MyShingle Solo | Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack

The Death Penalty Must Be Wrong If Its Too Big for Biglaw

I'm not sure where my own personal opinion on the death penalty lies.  I've always believed that it's incredibly disparately and arbitrarily applied - I'm just not certain whether the remedy is wholesale elimination of the death penalty or reducing its random application by improving the quality of legal representation provided to indigent defendants. 

But now, apparently, Ken Starr has another reason for eliminating the death penalty - because it puts too much strain on biglaw.  Here's the exact quote in the Hamilton Spectator (2/22/06):

"Society is not equipped to handle death penalty cases because of resources. Large law firms are not willing at this stage to take these cases on, at a cost of many thousands of dollars, in order to make sure that if the public wants the death penalty, it is not administered with arbitrariness and caprice."

There's a solution, of course, but most large firms don't want to hear it.  If large firms targeted their pro bono efforts at representing indigent defendants or providing resources to court appointed lawyers where it matters, i.e., at the trial phase, they wouldn't have to face the burden of taking on costly death penalty cases down the road. 

Posted by Carolyn Elefant on February 22, 2006 at 07:59 PM in MyShingle Solo | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

More Tips on Starting A Practice

David Swanner, a solo South Carolina Trial Lawyer gives us his tips for starting a practice, which are followed by a discussion of the merits of Mac v. PC.

Posted by Carolyn Elefant on February 22, 2006 at 07:44 PM in Law Practice Management | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Too Much Complaining: A Good or Bad Thing?

I've been thinking alot about my colleague  Jon Stein's recent post complaining that there are too many bloggers complaining about the practice of law and urging them to focus more on the positives.   Like Jon, I don't have much tolerance for complainers (as exemplified by this earlier post).  But at the same time, complaining is a necessary part of bringing about change in the profession.

I'm not sure how long Jon has been practicing as an attorney, but I graduated from law school in 1988.  Back then, I'd say that 90 percent of my classmates assumed that they'd go on to work at a challenging, intellectually stimulating biglaw job, make partner in seven years and be set for life.  Back then, no one ever really complained about the drawbacks of large firm practice, the drudgery for young associates, the sacrifices you make for your family, the lack of experience and training that you actually receive at a large firm, and the seeming randomness, and sometimes even inequities of partnership decisions.   Blogging is changing all of that.  Blogging, even that of a whiny, complaining nature, exposes the dark underside of biglaw practice that so many lawyers were ashamed to talk about.  And more positively, blogs show that there are other career paths, options other than biglaw practice.

If it weren't for the dissatisfaction and complaints of large firm lawyers, blogs like mine and Jon's wouldn't even be here.  One reason for our success is the unhappiness in the profession and the desire, the yearning in many biglaw attorneys to really practice law rather than shuffle papers and research loopholes.   I'm willing to put up with the complaints, now anyway, because this is just the beginning.  Someday, all of this complaining will lead to changes, changes that we're already starting to see.

Posted by Carolyn Elefant on February 19, 2006 at 11:02 AM in MyShingle Solo | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Wisdom from a Chicago Solo

Peter Olson, Solo in Chicago expresses the sentiments that drove many of us to solo and small firm practice in this post.  And Peter offers a follow up link to an article from NALP on achieving work life balance.

Posted by Carolyn Elefant on February 19, 2006 at 10:48 AM in Solo Practice Trends | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Be the One Who Says Stop

Did this lawyer really need to accuse a judge of extortion?  Did this young lawyer really need to express sarcasm and disrespect in an email turning down a job offer?   And did this hiring attorney need to respond by forwarding her email (apparently without redacting her name) to third parties?  Why don't lawyers realize that sometimes they need to be the ones to say stop?

Is having the last word really so important that you're willing to risk sanction by the bar or ruining your reputation?  Some battles are worth engagement, but most, especially those where you're personally involved, aren't.  That's a lesson that I was fortunate enough to have learned long ago in law school, at a time when it didn't matter (maybe some day I'll post the details); I'm always surprised to see that so many of my colleagues haven't.

Posted by Carolyn Elefant on February 19, 2006 at 10:37 AM in Ethics & Malpractice Issues | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Improvements Coming for NY Solos and Their Clients

A couple of years back, we posted about  New York's formation of a committee to examine difficulties facing solo practitioners.  As this article describes, the Committee's Report has now issued, recommending a variety of chances including improving the efficiency of calendar calls and scheduling conferences which often waste solos' time on waiting and figuring out ways to "to strengthen lawyer professionalism and law office economics support." (I've not yet seen the report which is 95 pages).  The report also recognized that many facially neutral policies adversely impact solos - a topic that I've been harping on here at MyShingle for over three years. 

While I don't like the sound of the goal of "strengthening lawyer professionalism" (which to me is a code for disciplining more solos or forcing us to pay for and sit through CLE), I'm encouraged by the move to make courts more efficient.  At the end of the day,  it's really not us solos who suffer by waiting - it's our clients, who lose work time or pay higher fees. 

Posted by Carolyn Elefant on February 19, 2006 at 10:25 AM in Solo Practice Trends | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Niche Blogs

Kevin O'Keefe of  Lex Blog has a post on niche blogging, summarizing tips by Darren Rowse on choosing a niche topic.  The tips include selecting a topic that interests you, where there's not yet much competition and which will offer enough content.  These tips are particularly important these days in starting a law related blog, where many of the larger subjects like federal appeals, Supreme Court, IP (too many to list) and others are well covered by other bloggers.    

One great example of a new niche blog is Andrea Goldman's newly created Home Contractor v. Homeowner, focusing on home improvement and construction law.  What a home run!  With housing pricing increasing, home improvement is becoming more and moe common and it's an area where so many things can go wrong.  Legally, home improvement is interesting, allowing for coverage of a wide range of issues like like contracts and consumer law, bankruptcy and real estate. 

By the way, here's my own personal suggestion for selecting a niche blogging topic.  After you come up with an idea, run a couple of google news searches to see what kinds of articles generate.  If there are at least two or three on your topic in a week, then you'll probably have enough content to keep you busy.

Posted by Carolyn Elefant on February 19, 2006 at 09:55 AM in Practice Areas | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack