My Shingle: Inspiring Solo and Small Firm Lawyers

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Me and My Mac

Following in the footsteps of bloggers like Ernie the Attorney, Adriana Linares and of course, Grant Griffiths (I'm sure that there are many others, feel free to out yourselves in the comments), I finally broke down and succumbed to the appeal of the Mac. But as I describe in this guest post at Home Office Lawyer, buying a Mac isn't a technological advancement, but instead, a return to my law schools days when I bought my first Mac and realized the power of technology. But you'll have to visit Home Office Lawyer to read the post....

Posted by Carolyn Elefant on March 30, 2007 at 10:14 AM in Tech & Web | Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack

The Florida Bar won't let lawyer promise to help you get rid of "that vermin you call a spouse"

Ah, I suppose it was just a matter of time before the Florida Bar went after divorce lawyer Steven Miller, who ran these provocative ads that insult overpriced downtown lawyers and promise to help clients "rid themselves of that vermin [they] call a spouse." According to this story (3/27/07), when Miller submitted his ad for review by the Florida Bar, found that the ad is a "verbal depiction" whose language promises a particular result, which is prohibited under Florida law.

When I posted about Miller's ad several months ago, I applauded him for targeting that underserved part of the population that can't always afford high priced legal counsel. At the same time, I explained that I wasn't a fan of his confrontational style, not because I found it offensive or unprofessional or deceptive but rather, because I feared that it would attract the types of uncompromising, litigious clients who eventually devolve into "clients from hell."

Just like with its decision banning use of animals like pit bulls, sharks and snakes as logos, it seems to me that the Florida Bar's prohibition on Miller's ad is a stretch. In the "animal logo" decision, the Florida bar determined, among other things, that consumers might not realize that pit bull on a logo is simply a metaphor and instead, might conclude that the lawyers really behaved like pit bulls. Here, the bar's conclusion that the bar promises a result is untrue. In the ad, Miller says that by signing up for his service "you're on your way to getting rid of that vermin you call a spouse," but he doesn't promise that he will succeed. That's not a guarantee of a result in my view.

If Miller's ads are truly offensive - and don't kid yourself, that's the only reason why the bar wants them eliminated - then the market will decide their success. Clients turned off by Miller's ads won't use him and as a result, he'll change his approach. But if consumers have a need for low cost or aggressive, straight talking lawyers, they're entitled to that option - and without Miller's ad, consumers might never learn of that option. Moreover, in our technologically enabled age, the bar has an option as well: let the bar put up its own video on YouTube and explain to consumers what's wrong with Miller's ads. The bar doesn't need to ban them.

Posted by Carolyn Elefant on March 27, 2007 at 05:51 PM in Ethics & Malpractice Issues | Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack

Introductions Matter In Marketing, And Why Women Can Do Better Introducing Themselves

Lawyer Mama, a 30 something female law firm attorney, expresses her exasperation when an older male to whom she's introduced by her boss (a firm partner) mistakes her for a secretary. While Lawyer Mama's wrath is justified, she also unfairly directs her anger. As I see it, manner in which Partner introduced Lawyer Mama caused the confusion to begin with.

As Lawyer Mama describes, she attended a networking event with a Partner with whom she works closely. After the lunch, the Partner took the opportunity to introduce Lawyer Mama to others at the event, at which point the offending incident took place.

As we were making our way through the crowd, Partner introduced me to several industry players. Everyone seemed pleased to meet me and, while no one ever looks forward to needing to consult their lawyers, I am sure that I will be working with some of them in the future. Then Partner introduced me to an Older Gentleman who placed himself in our path. Partner made some flattering comment about how I generally "keep him out of trouble." Polite chuckling ensued and then Older Gentleman proclaimed that he could use someone like that because he could never "remember how to work that pesky teleconference feature on his phone."

Seems to me that the Older Gentleman's reaction flowed from the Partner's introduction of Lawyer Mama as someone who "keeps him out of trouble." Come on - what kind of an introduction is that? Personally, I've always thought that lawyers make those kinds of remarks either are either engaging in false self-deprecation or trying to make themselves look good for respecting "the help." When I introduce the younger attorneys whom I've mentored or hired for contract assignments, I always try to mention some attribute of theirs that will make them attractive to a potential client or stimulate additional conversation.

Why didn't Partner say "This is Lawyer Mama, our firm expert on XYZ" or "This is Lawyer Mama who has taken the lead on developing our ABC practice from the ground up." Had Partner introduced Lawyer Mama that way, her status would have been clear from the beginning and the confusion that she gripes about would not have ensued. Moreover, Partner might have helped generate more business for his firm by mentioning matters that Lawyer Mama handles that would interest prospective clients.

Lawyer Mama's complaints also remind me of why women in solo practice rarely suffer these same indignities. When you introduce yourself as "I'm Ms. X, and I'm a lawyer with my own law firm" you tend to make your status crystal clear right from the beginning. I realize that women working at law firms can't claim ownership of a firm, but they can claim ownership of the work they handle at their firm.

There are lots of Older Gentleman types still out there in the world. You can complain about their neanderthal attitudes, but you can't avoid them. Nor would you want to, because some might eventually become clients. But what you can change is the way you present yourself to the world. So why not eliminate any confusion about your status at the outset and introduce yourself the way that you want others to remember you?

Posted by Carolyn Elefant on March 24, 2007 at 08:08 AM in Marketing & Making Money | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

No malpractice insurance for blogging firms?

File this under the category of "gross misunderstanding of blogs and technology:" - a malpractice insurer's recent decision to deny coverage to a law firm because of its weblogs. Apparently, the insurer believed that the blogs could potentially expose the firm to liability, either through an implication that the blog offered legal advice or somehow gave rise to an attorney-client relationship.

Frankly, this is just crazy. No one ever suggested that law review articles or newspaper advice columns constitute advice. No one ever required lawyers to paper their written work with disclaimers. So why are blogs are any different?

Yes, a disclaimer will shield a blog from liability, but to my mind, that's not an adequate solution. Disclaimers detract from the quality of advice provided. When lawyers need to post disclaimers like "this is advertising" or "do not rely on this advice" on their blogs, it conveys the impression of second class status, as if the blog were some kind of informercial instead of a valuable and reliable source of information. Plus, just the suggestion that blogs may expose lawyers to liability invites the bar to step up regulation of blogs, which is a dangerous development.

Perhaps the day will come when readers start suing bloggers for advice provided. If and when that happens, insurers might be justified in examining the malpractice consequences of blogs. But right now, it's premature, and if anything, plants the seed that these kinds of liability might actually be viable.

Posted by Carolyn Elefant on March 22, 2007 at 08:10 AM in Ethics & Malpractice Issues | Permalink | Comments (7) | TrackBack

Thank you, Nicole Black and Grant Griffiths

I've just posted this new project at my Offshore Renewable Energy Law Blog, and it couldn't have happened without Nicole Black's terrific inspiration (which I have shamelessly copied, albeit with what I hope is sufficient attribution) and Grant Griffiths' unbridled enthusiasm for the Mac (and you can see my new little accomplice in the left hand of the video). I'm hoping to follow this up with some MyShingle moments as well.

I urge all of you to set up a video and get one up on the screen. Reach out and make a personal introduction to colleagues and clients. Politicians are recognizing the power of video - you should too!

Posted by Carolyn Elefant on March 21, 2007 at 08:54 AM in MyShingle Solo | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Cold Calling Works

I've always been a fan of the cold call ever since I started my practice back in 1993. Not a fan of making the calls, because I'm not fond of doing it, but rather, a fan of the returns that cold calls can bring. Of course, like many of the techniques I write about here, I don't endorse them unless I've applied them myself. And indeed, I have cold called for a variety of reasons ranging from seeking advice from other energy lawyers when I started my firm, as I described here or attempting to drum up business, as I wrote in this short piece, Pick Up the Phone and Make Yourself A Better Lawyer . And I wrote a chapter on Cold Calling for the ABA Book,
How to Capture and Keep Clients
.

So naturally, I was gratified to read that marketing guru Larry Bodine report that cold calling works; it is second only to referrals as the number one lead generation. Bodine also addresses why so many lawyers dislike cold calling. The study found that "people are doing cold calls the wrong way: the purpose of a cold call is to set a meeting to introduce yourself, and to learn about the prospect… not to go into a detailed sales pitch. Another expert who knows about cold calls is Rjon Robbins, who offers these resources.

As for me, as I said at the outset, I don't like making cold calls, though with the passage of time, I've toughened myself to rejection. But, as I've said in all my writings, if you can't sell yourself as a lawyer, how can you sell your client's case?

Update (3/19/07) - Somehow, in writing this post, I overlooked Chuck Newton's excellent post on the same topic.

Posted by Carolyn Elefant on March 18, 2007 at 07:56 PM in Marketing & Making Money | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack

Does work-life balance mean we need to settle for a B+?

My colleague and fellow solo blogger, Jill Pugh Employment Law Blog tipped me off to an interesting new resource, Ms-JD to address the growing number of women leaving the legal profession or failing to reach the upper echelons of the profession. The site seems promising, though thus far, there's little mention of the law firm start up as a way to empower women (a failing of other similar projects that I've critiqued previously here). Since Ms. JD is new, I'll give it some time....

Besides, I'm grateful to Ms. JD for introducing me to this outstanding essay by legal correspondent Dahlia Lithwick that speaks to the conflict that many struggling to balance work and life confront daily (myself included: whether we simply need to settle for doing less than our best, for getting the B+ rather than the A.

From Lithwick's essay:

I once read somewhere that the notion of “balancing” work and family is a misnomer. Two enterprises that require 100% of your attention can never be in balance. The real goal is to “integrate” them. But while that can work if you plan to start a daycare in your basement, it’s hard to pull off if you work in the law. I suppose, if I were to be completely honest then, the way I have chosen to “integrate” my work and my babies is by doing work that could always be better. Stories that could have stood another draft are sometimes filed as they are, so I can climb into the bathtub with baby Sopher. Conferences and dinner parties that would offer up contacts and opportunities are foregone for the chance to sit on the big stuffed bear and watch Superman for the 240th time. And aggregated across weeks and years, that is, of course, all time that could have gone to a spectacular career[...]

It is hard, particularly as lawyers, to accept B-pluses as mothers or as workers. We are capable of A’s. We expect them. We earned them. But until someone figures out a way to make one woman hold down two full-time jobs; we’re going to be overwhelmed and frustrated and torn. For awhile. And then – as I keep reminding myself – our babies gallop off to kindergarten and the prospect of focusing on a single task for more than two consecutive hours stops being a fantasy.


I agree with Lithwick. I often wonder where my career would be if I'd pursued it with all of my attention, just like I wonder what my daughters would be like if I'd stopped working entirely and devoted all my attention to them. And yet, at the same time, there's something about multi-tasking that makes you want to do more. I doubt that I'd have started MyShingle or had the opportunities that it's brought me unless I was working part time and looking for new ways to do more.

What's your view? Have you found the elusive work life balance or do you feel that you're burning the candle at both ends?

Posted by Carolyn Elefant on March 16, 2007 at 06:33 AM in Work Life Balance | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Partners in love and law

We all know the song, Lawyers in Love, but did you ever wonder what happens to lawyers in love? With many of the dual lawyer couples whom I knew from the law school, once the couple had children, the woman either left the law or went on to an alternative career like teaching, while the man stayed in a high power job. That's certainly one work-life balance possibility, but as this article, Couples in Law Are A Case Study in Work Life Balance points out, a number of husband and wife lawyer couples have discovered that starting a firm provides a way to spend time together. The article notes that these kinds of partnerships aren't for everyone, but the lawyers profiled in the article do indeed seem happy together in life and law.

Posted by Carolyn Elefant on March 16, 2007 at 05:21 AM in Solo Practice Trends, Work Life Balance | Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack

Another large firm lawyer goes solo - and it's all about the [lower] rates

One of the unintended consquences of the expansion of large law firms is that this trend may drive more lawyers to start their own firms. Think about it - though large firms hope that increased size will foster economies of scale and result in savings, there's still a whole lot of overhead involved in running a big firm. So to increase profits, firms will cut non-producing partners from the ranks and raise hourly rates.

So what's a lawyer to do when his clients can no longer afford him? Most of the conventional wisdom that I see here on the web would counsel lawyers in this position to cut clients who can't pay and raise rates even more as proof of value. Fortunately, most lawyers, myself included, don't buy that logic; we realize that there's a market out there for rates that are lower than market but nonetheless substantial enough to make big profits. And that seems to have been the motivation for Simon Bloom, a former attorney at Biglaw firm Powell Goldstein, who just put up a shingle, according to this article, Powell Goldstein Lawyer Steps Out to Open His Own Firm (3/15/07).

Listen to what Goldstein had to say:

"It's always been a dream of mine to go out on my own and offer my services to a wider market," said Bloom, 35, of his decision to open his own firm. He had practiced at Powell Goldstein since 1997. He explained that big-firm rates were pricing him out of what he sees as a "huge middle market."
He said that at Powell Goldstein he billed clients $385 an hour, adding that his rate there was about to increase to $405 an hour. "Only the Fortune 1000 could afford my rates -- and there are only so many of those clients to go around that have real estate issues," he said. His new rate is $295. "If you want a Powell Goldstein-quality trial lawyer, you're not going to get a better deal," he said.

My thoughts exactly.

Posted by Carolyn Elefant on March 16, 2007 at 05:06 AM in Biglaw Practice and Issues, Law Firm Announcement , Solo Practice Trends | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

A Cool Marketing Idea from Sharmil McKee: The Harpers Index

I've always enjoyed the Harpers Index and its ability to convey so much information in so few words.  So that's probably why I was so impressed with Philadelphia based attorney Sharmil McKee's marketing sheet entitled Interesting Facts About Sharmil McKee.  In contrast to a lengthy firm resume, the fact sheet offers just the facts such as number of clients served, average dollar value of transactions, number of transactions handled by Attorney McKee.  It's a persuasive and attractively packaged document that answers all of the questions that you'd want a prospective client to ask.

Other advantages of the fact sheet:  you don't need to include dates which might reveal lack of experience (for example, you may have only practiced for 6 months directly out of law school) or too much experience (you may have been working as an attorney for 30 years but just started a practice and haven't had much experience in a new field).  And, you don't need to specify where you acquired the experience.  So, for example, in my case, if I were to list "number of federal circuit court appeals briefed and/or argued," I could claim around 38 (even though only 2/3 of those have been at my own practice, while the others have been with other attorneys or firms).   

I'm going to prepare a fact sheet for my practice.  How about the rest of you?
 
Editor's Note:  you have a really neat practice idea that you've not seen used elsewhere and that you'd like me to write up at MyShingle, just drop me a line at carolyn.elefant@gmail.com and I'll try to post it here.

Posted by Carolyn Elefant on March 11, 2007 at 06:48 PM in Marketing & Making Money | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack