My Shingle: Inspiring Solo and Small Firm Lawyers

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Wear Your Scarlet H Proudly

As I wrote in my upcoming book, back in 1993 when I started my law firm and worked primarily from home, I often felt as if I had a huge scarlet "H" emblazoned on my chest. Back then, I jumped through all kinds of hoops to prevent clients from discovering that I only had a virtual office and much of the time, worked from home.

But times have really changed. As Headquarters at Home and Proud to Be Moreover, there are advantages to home based businesses, There(9/27/07), fifty percent of businesses in the United States are run from home and business owners have grown more transparent about home based status. And with the advent of more home based businesses come opportunities to network and connect such as Start Up Nation's Home Based 100 rankings and resources as well as my friend Grant Griffiths' upcominghome office blogging network.

So for all you home office lawyers, go ahead and expose that big H - as in "Ha! - I actually get paid to say home!"

Posted by Carolyn Elefant on September 30, 2007 at 05:16 PM in Marketing & Making Money | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack

Jobs At Biglaw Limited - So Why Is This News?

This Wall Street Journal story about how lawyers from the lower ranks of lower tiered law schools have a tough time finding jobs has been getting lots of coverage, such as in thiscommentary by Susan Cartier Liebel; a round up of law professor blogs and this discussion at the WSJ Law Blog. As for me, I'm under-whelmed...I can't understand why this is news to anyone.

I graduated from law school nearly two decades ago. Though Cornell is considered "top tier," there were at least a handful of students in my class who didn't have jobs when graduation rolled around. And if that was the case for Cornell, it was certainly even more true for lawyers graduating from lower ranked schools (let me make clear, I don't agree that lawyers from top schools are better than those from lower schools or that ranking even matters at all. But when it comes to conventional hiring practices, most firms favor students from top tier schools, fair or not). Moreover, 20 years ago, students took out loans; I myself owed $70,000 when I graduated. Though that may sound small by today's standards, bear in mind that salaries back then were smaller as well: my GS-11 position as a government attorney paid $27,800 (I turned down a law firm job at nearly three times that because I felt too burned out to work that hard); today a GS-11 makes $54,000.

So here's my own "conspiracy theory" on why the WSJ suddenly shows an interest in law students who aren't getting the top dollar jobs. If you follow My Shingle, you can see a trend of well credentialed lawyers disatisfied enough with biglaw to leave and start their own firms, or even leave the law entirely. If the trend continues, the future of biglaw will eventually be threatened as individual lawyers leverage technology and start their own firms that can compete with large firms on rates and effectiveness. In that context, I view the the WSJ article not as a caution to law students who attend lower tier schools but as a scare tactic to remind lawyers that as much as they hate their 80 hour billable weeks, life could be much, much worse.

What do you think?

Posted by Carolyn Elefant on September 24, 2007 at 07:17 PM | Permalink | Comments (11) | TrackBack

Last Lecture

By now, this story and video of Carnegie Mellon professor Randy Pausch's inspiring and moving talk has made its way around the blogosphere, appearing at a number of law blogs, including this extensive coverage at Sheryl Schelin's Inspired Solo. Pausch, a computer science professor is dying of pancreatic cancer and with three to six months to live, speaks about living his childhood dreams and other lessons of life in what's been billed as his "last lecture." I can't say much more about this lecture now, except that you should take the time to watch at least part of it.

Posted by Carolyn Elefant on September 24, 2007 at 06:56 PM | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

An Interview With Foonberg - A Blast From the Past!

Thanks to the Wayback Machine, you can access most of the MyShingle posts that pre-date November 2004 . For those who don't recall, I've been blogging at MyShingle since December 2002, but I moved from the Slash Code to Typepad platform when I became an ALM affiliate blogger at the end of 2004.

Searching through my archives, I came across this classic - Jay Foonberg's responses to reader questions. Over the next few months, 'll be unearthing other old posts to share with newer readers - or you can head to the Wayback archives and dig them up yourself!

Posted by Carolyn Elefant on September 24, 2007 at 06:38 PM | Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack

Beware the Mis-named Non-Refundable Retainer

Thank goodness for lawyers who are willing to risk a disciplinary sanction to retain $2500 of money that any objective observer would recognize as unearned and undeserved. After all, if we didn't have lawyers like this, we wouldn't have the benefit of this well written and researched decision by the Michigan Attorney Grievance Board that describes the difference between an ordinary retainer fee (which represents advance payment for services to be rendered) and a non-refundable retainer fee (which is typically allowed only where a fee agreement states specifically that the retainer is intended to compensate the attorney for availability, not for service to be rendered) (hat tip to Legal Profession Blog for the link.

The Michigan case involved attorney Patricia Cooper, who collected a $4000 non-refundable retainer from a client to handle her divorce. After two weeks, the client changed her mind about going forward with the divorce and asked to Cooper to stop work, provide an itemized bill and return an unearned balance. Cooper sent an itemized bill showing that she performed $1228 worth of work and agreed to return $1385 "out of the goodness of her heart." She refused, however, to return the balance, citing the non-refundable nature of the retainer agreement.

The client filed a grievance seeking a refund. The Michigan Board agreed. The Board explained that Cooper's designation of a retainer as "non-refundable" was irrelevant because the retainer was intended to secure advance payment for services to be rendered in the future. Because Cooper did not render the services contemplated, she was bound to refund the unearned amount. Citing cases from a variety of jurisdictions, the Michigan Board cautioned that a non-refundable retainer could be used only in situations such as to secure a lawyers availabilty and that the purpose of the non-refundable retainer must be explained to clients.

For those who have wondered about non-refundable retainers, the Michigan Board clarifies that they're generally a "don't" except in narrow situations. And the Board also makes clear that if you're not sure of whether a retainer is non-refundable or not, then GIVE THE UNEARNED MONEY BACK!!

Posted by Carolyn Elefant on September 24, 2007 at 06:16 PM in Ethics & Malpractice Issues | Permalink | Comments (8) | TrackBack

GAL's GAS (Great American Success) Continues

Some of my favorite blogs are those with a continuing story line. And there's no greater story line than that shared by over the past few years by Enrico Schaefer, who revealed himself as Greatest American Lawyer. Enrico's blog takes us from the
the day he quit his job at a firm to start his own
to his firm's recent growth into a full fledged, three lawyer practice. When Enrico started his firm, he vowed - as his tagline says - to change the way law is practiced. That's a tall order, but one which I think accounts for his firm's success. The lesson here: even if you're starting small, be sure to think big; as big as you can.

Posted by Carolyn Elefant on September 24, 2007 at 05:49 PM in Profiles | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Why Are So Few Women Lawyers Solo?

Since women lawyers pull their own weight in the genre of solo and small firm blogs (along with me, there are my colleagues and friends, Susan Cartier Liebel and Inspired Solo's Sheryl Schelin, I was surprised to learn that Few Women Choose to Practice Solo (NLJ 9/13/07). A recent study released by NALP revealed that women comprise only 34 percent of solo practitioners, while 77 percent of lawyers working for public interest groups are women.

Why don't more women choose solo practice? After all, you'd think that women looking for work life balance would find solo practice appealing, because when you work for yourself, you gain control over the hours you work and the hours you handle. My own belief is that women themselves are driving lawyers away from solo practice. As I posted here previously, when women demand equality in the profession, they're usually referring to equality at big law firms. Women who start and head their own practices, no matter how prominent, simply don't count. As a result, younger women don't view solo practice as an option.

Posted by Carolyn Elefant on September 13, 2007 at 11:40 AM in Solo Practice Trends, Trends, Work Life Balance | Permalink | Comments (7) | TrackBack

It's Official - I Have My Own Dewey Decimal!

Those of you who read MyShingle regularly may have noticed the dwindling number of posts over the past few months. No, the site is not coming to an end...even after blogging for almost five years, I still find that there's plenty of new material to cover. But since I'm not a natural born writer, there's a limit to how much writing I can squeeze out of myself. And lately, most of my non-legal writing has been directed to the final stages of editing the book draft that I finished in December and that will be going to production shortly (Still some more last minute edits).

In fact, I'm far enough along that I've even gotten my own copyright and Dewey decimal - and I can announce the official information here:
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Elefant, Carolyn.
Solo by choice : how to be the lawyer you always wanted to be / Carolyn Elefant.
p. cm.
Includes bibliographical references.
ISBN 978-0-940675-58-2
1. Solo law practice--United States. 2. Lawyers--United States. I. Title.
KF300.Z9E44 2007 340.023'73--dc22

If you're planning on attending the ABA's Second National Solo and Small Firm Conference in Philadelphia on October 5-6, 2007, I'll be there moderating a panel on contract lawyering (a topic covered in my book) and I will have information on how to order a copy of the book at a special discount rate for attendees.

Posted by Carolyn Elefant on September 11, 2007 at 08:23 AM in Announcements | Permalink | Comments (6) | TrackBack

First Day, Fresh Start

Firstday
For me, fall brings a fresh start - both the beginning of the school year and Rosh Hashanna, the Jewish New Year. Back when I was a student, no matter how bad the previous year had been, I'd always welcome the new school year with hope and optimism.

Of course, those of us in the working world don't have the perennial option of a fresh start. We need to affirmatively create one for ourselves as the need arises. Perhaps our fresh start might be as simple as closing out a file of a problem client and promising ourselves that you'll never take a case where you have a gut feeling that there's something not quite right about the client. The fresh start might involve shuttering a practice area that you never enjoyed or learning a new one. And sometimes you may not even make that fresh start at all, but you'll start to sense the need that it's time for change. Currently, I'm in that last category, knowing it's time for a change, but still contemplating my path.

As for my daughters, with their first day (depicted in photos), change still comes easily. My younger daughter who didn't like school much last year has declared that she "really loves third grade." My older daughter's binder is still tidy three weeks into the year; those of you who struggle with a disorganized child (or are disorganized themselves) recognize this as a major accomplishment. And actually, this school year brings a change for me as well: my daughters now ride the bus which means they're out the door by 7:20, which gives me an extra 30-60 minutes every morning. Now, that's a change for the better (and if you are wondering how an extra hour could make a difference...well, then, you're probably not busy enough!)

Elanafirstday_2Mirafirstday

Posted by Carolyn Elefant on September 11, 2007 at 08:04 AM in MyShingle Solo | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Reid Trautz to Give His "50 Top Tips" to DC Bar...Though the DC Bar Makes It impossible for People to Hear About It!

On Friday, September 21, 2007, former DC Bar law practice management expert and nationally acclaimed speaker Reid Trautz will be presenting a newly revised version of the perennial favorite,
50 Hot Technology Tips, Tricks & Web Sites for Lawyers
. Ordinarily, you'd have to pay several hundred dollars to sign up for an ABA conference to hear this presentation, but the DC Bar's Law Practice Management Section (I'm an elected member of the LPM Steering Committee) is sponsoring this program as part of our Brown Bag lunch series for just $25 for section (and co-sponsoring section) members and $35 for section members.

Now, if you're a member of the DC Bar, you're probably wondering why the heck you need to learn about this event at My Shingle. Well, there's a reason for that. You see, the DC Bar is probably one of the only bar associations in the country that does not have any kind of a list serve which would otherwise serve as a source of information for events. And the DC Bar will only send an email about an event to a co-sponsoring section, which means that if you don't belong to a specific DC Bar section or your section chooses not to co-sponsor the event, you'll never learn about it unless you frequent the DC Bar's website. (We can't offer this section by teleconference, which would enable even more people to benefit from the talk, but that's a completely different matter that I'm working on changing)

Anyway, you are all fortunate to be reading my site, so sign up for the event and meet and hear Reid Trautz. The event information is below the jump - and you can sign up at the DC Bar website or by calling the Sections Office at the number below:

Start: September 21, 2007 Friday 12:00 PM
End: September 21, 2007 Friday 1:30 PM

Description
District of Columbia Bar Law Practice Management Section

Intellectual Property Law Section

Antitrust and Consumer Law Section

Real Estate, Housing and Land Use Section

Present a Brown Bag Program

A newly-revised version of a perennial favorite! This fast-paced program will cover:

*The latest in law office communications, connectivity, and portability;

*Websites that can really help with legal and factual research, and practice information;

*Practicing safe computing, including e-mail security and confidentiality;

*Simple desktop tips and strategies to power your practice;

*What is available (and good) for calendaring, billing, accounting, and financial reporting; and

*Anything else worthwhile about law office technology we can cram into 75 minutes!!


Location
D.C. Bar Conference Center
1250 H Street NW, B-1 Level
(Metro Center)
Washington DC 20005
Contact
Sections Office 202-626-3463
Speakers
Reid F Trautz, Legal Technologist/Practice Management Advisor
CLE Credit
No
Cost
Law Students $15.00
Intellectual Property Law Section $25.00
Antitrust and Consumer Law Section $25.00
Real Estate, Housing and Land Use Section $25.00
Law Practice Management Section $25.00
Non-Section Members $35.00

Posted by Carolyn Elefant on September 6, 2007 at 05:20 PM in Announcements | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack