My Shingle: Inspiring Solo and Small Firm Lawyers

Reach Out And Make A Connection

Arnie Herz at Legal Sanity offers a great tip, echoed by What About Clients: reconnect with your business network so that you can continue to nurture and reinforce the trusted relationships that produce not only business referrals, but personal fulfillment. Taking a page from Curt Rosengren, Herz recommends that you try speaking with someone personally whom you know via email or the Internet, but haven't actually spoken with. Why don't you give it try?

Posted by Carolyn Elefant on December 16, 2007 at 04:05 PM in Blogging, Client Relations, Ideas & Tips | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

What Does A Sample Invoice Look Like?

I realize that these days, alternative billing is all the rage - and I too am a proponent of alternatives to the billable hour. Still, there are times when you have to resort to the billable hour, either at the insistence of a client, or under some of the guidelines for submitting a fee petition to the court.

So if you're billing by the hour, what should your invoice look like? When I started my own practice, I had the benefit of knowing what a sample invoice looked like, having reviewed many of the outgoing bills at my former firm. Since then, I've seen many other invoices: as a contract attorney for a federal agency (a part time position that I held in the early years of my practice), my responsibilities included evauating and ruling on fee petitions submitted by lawyers on behalf of clients who prevailed in litigation against the agency. And I've come across other fee petitions in researching caselaw for fee petitions that I've submitted on behalf of my own clients (which favorable results, I'm happy to report).

So while invoices are second nature to me, I realized that some lawyers, either those starting a practice from government, or those straight out of law school may not know what an invoice looks like. And because I believe that the best examples are those straight from real life, rather than create a "pretend invoice," I'm presenting a copy of this Fee Petition, one of several submitted by the attorney representing the defendant in Capitol Records v. Foster, who was sued for allegedly downloading copyrighted materials. Ultimately, in this decision, the court granted $68,685.23 of the $105,680.7 total amount sought. While recovering only sixty percent of a bill doesn't seem like much of a victory, chances are that the individual defendant in this matter could not have afforded more than a fraction of that bill. Plus, the court noted in its decision that once it had decided preliminarily to grant attorneys' fees, the defendants' activity stepped up considerably, thereby suggesting that some of the work may have been performed to run up the bill since the record company would be paying.

As a general matter, the attorney's invoice offers the level of detail necessary to convey to the client - and a reviewing court (if your bills are ever disputed) the amount of work done. That aside, the invoice has some problems as well. Personally, I would not include the same level of detail regarding my conversations with my client, if only to preserve attorney-client confidentiality. And for a bill of that magnitude, I wouldn't charge for the cost of Westlaw or a six minute phone call.

The court's decision is useful as well, because it offers insight into how clients might scrutinize the bill. For example, the court refused to reimburse the attorney for duplicative items, such as the unnecessary presence of two attorneys at a settlement conference. More importantly, the court did not award fees for supplemental filings to correct pleadings that should have been filed correctly from the outset. Think about it: if a judge reviewing a bill does not believe it appropriate to compensate for mistakes or duplicative effort, how will your client feel?

I'll try to locate and periodically post other fee requests. If you're interested in finding this information yourself, you can do some research on attorney fee awards either on Google or with your preferred research service, and then plug the docket number (assuming it's a federal case) into PACER to pull the fee request. [BTW, if you don't have a PACER account, you ought to; it's free with an .8 cents a page download charge - and there's no better place to find sample complaints, briefs and other pleadings than PACER].

Posted by Carolyn Elefant on November 26, 2007 at 09:47 AM in book, Ideas & Tips , Marketing & Making Money | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Using Law Students to Power Your Blog: Win-Win for Everyone

When it comes to ghostwriting law blogs, the majority view within the blawgosphere is "don't." (For the precedent on this, see these selected opinions at Death and Taxes;
f/k/a;
Georgia Bankruptcy Blog; Home Office Lawyer and Simple Justice). At the same time, we all recognize that content makes a blog valuable to readers. So what can busy lawyers do to improve the quality of their blogs if they can't spare the time to create original content themselves?

Here's one possible solution that I discovered at Pennsylvania attorney, Neil Hendershot's blog, Pennsylvania Elder, Estate & Fiduciary Blog: have a law student research and draft an articles for your blog, just as Hendershot did with Joshua Prince, a third year student in a class that Hendershot teaches on elder law. In the most recent of his three articles, Prince wrote a piece on the fascinating topic of Estate Planning Under the National Firearms Act. And Hendershot doubled the exposure of his article by soliciting input from firearms estate planning expert David Goldman, of Florida Estate Planning Blog, who cross referenced the article in his blog as well.

Hiring a law student to write an article for your blog presents a win-win situation for all involved. The lawyer obtains quality content at reasonable rates (or perhaps at no charge, if the student can use the research for a class). The student gains valuable feedback from the lawyer as well as an opportunity to publish his or her article on the national scene. And because the student receives credit for the article, the concerns underlying ghostwriting aren't implicated.

Related post: Make A Positive Contact, Write Away.

Posted by Carolyn Elefant on November 16, 2007 at 07:17 PM in Ideas & Tips | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Getting Along With Other Lawyers

John Day of Day On Torts offers some good tips on the proper way to memorialize conversations with other lawyers. Among other things, write objectively, repeat your understanding of the agreement accurately, and if you can't remember what was discussed, admit it. Then, give your adversary a chance to make corrections.

All of Day's advice should be common sense, of course. Unfortunately, it's not. But if you follow Day's tips, you can protect your clients' interests and minimize the stress and distrust in dealing with other lawyers.

Posted by Carolyn Elefant on November 7, 2007 at 06:37 AM in Ideas & Tips | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Whatever You Call Yourself, Please Don't Sign Your Pleadings This Way

It's the perennial question for lawyers starting a law firm - what do you call yourself? As I wrote here over two years ago, Enrico Schaefer maintains that the term "solo" is inaccurate. And more recently, the topic has been discussed on Solosez. As for me, I've always regarded the term "solo" as a catch phrase for lawyers who start a firm - be it one lawyer or multiples. And my upcoming book, Solo by Choice uses the term "solo" in the title because it's the most universally recognized phrase for lawyers who choose to step out on their own to work for themselves, rather than others.

Still, though I don't have a problem using the term solo descriptively, I'd never use it to describe myself. When I meet other attorneys, I explain that I'm an independent practitioner or (more preferable) that I have my own law firm. But even if you have a close attachment to the term solo, please - don't ever sign off on a pleading the way the way that this Phelps Family lawyer did: Margie Phelps, A Sole Practitioner. In fact, the entire pleading makes me cringe - and is an example of why, despite all of our best efforts, we self-starting lawyers still face image problems.

Posted by Carolyn Elefant on November 2, 2007 at 07:47 AM in Ideas & Tips , Law Practice Management , MyShingle Solo | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack

What Solos Can Learn From The Recent Obesity Study

As you've probably heard on the news by now, turns out that obesity isn't exclusively hereditary; it's also socially contagious (US News, 7/25/07). A recent study to be published in the New England Journal of Medicine suggests that if you're close friends with people who are obese, you're more likely to gain weight yourself either because you adopt the same unhealthful lifestyle, you don't feel as much pressure to stay thin in front of an obese friend or you alter your perception of acceptable appearance when you see that your friends have gained weight.

All very interesting, but what does a study about obesity have to do with solos? Plenty. The study reinforces a basic concept: that our behavior, action and self-worth are affected significantly by those around us - even to the point where we compromise our health and well being. And we solos and aspiring solos, independent and bold as we may like to believer, are not impervious to this phenomenon. Thus, much as we believe in our ability to start and run a successful practice, if we surround ourselves with naysayers, we may begin to have doubts. And if we've already got a pretty decent practice up and running, we're more likely to look down on our accomplishments when colleagues belittle solos.

So just as you may want to seek out fit people if you're trying to lose weight, you need to seek out supportive, go-getting, self-starters if you're thinking about starting a practice or if you already run one. Doesn't matter if they share your practice area or if they're 20 years older or younger than you, but just that they share your drive and optimism. And fortunately, with blogs and listserves, this kind of supportive crowd is only an internet connection away.

Posted by Carolyn Elefant on July 26, 2007 at 12:07 PM in Ideas & Tips , MyShingle Solo | Permalink | Comments (7) | TrackBack

Find Out If Someone is Really A Lawyer

These days, most bar associations make information about a lawyer's bar membership publicly accessible, so that consumers can ensure that the lawyer they've retained is actually licensed to practice. But these bar data bases are important for lawyers. For example, perhaps you're suspicious that your opposing counsel isn't licensed in the court where he's filed or defended a suit. Or you'd like to refer a case to a colleague, but would like to confirm that she's in good standing.

Now, there's an easy way to find an attorney's bar status - at least in the 40 states that retain an online database. Maryland attorney Terry Berger recently created the site, Is He Really A Lawyer , which serves as a convenient portal to each bar's attorney membership site. It's a simple site, but it will quickly direct you to the information you need. And while you're there, why not check your online status, just to make sure it's up to date.

Posted by Carolyn Elefant on May 18, 2007 at 03:19 AM in Ideas & Tips | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack

Good Tip From A New Solo Blogger

There's a new solo blogger on the block - Susan Cartier-Liebel and today, she offers a simple, but important tip - don't quit if you want your practice to succeed.

Posted by Carolyn Elefant on December 3, 2006 at 07:50 AM in Ideas & Tips | Permalink | Comments (8) | TrackBack

Oh, If We Could Get Clients to Pay To Do Their Own Work

One of the legacies of the first conference that I attended over a year ago is that I'm still reading other women's blogs that I'd have never encountered but for the conference.  And it's through one of those blogs that I learned about a franchise called Dinner My Way where you pay to cook your own meals to take home and freeze for meals throughout the next few weeks.  Dinner My Way pre-cuts all of the ingredients, provides recipes and utensils, but you still do the work.  The apparent appeal of this set up is that you retain control over the food, you prepare all your meals at once (so you save time) and get the satisfaction of claiming credit for a home cooked meal.

Reading about this insane idea (really, what it boils down to is that you are paying someone to do your own work), I marvelled at the way the idea has been packaged - and then wondered whether there was some way that lawyers could make this work for us.  Could we set up forms in our office for simple legal transactions and have clients pay to come in and fill them out themselves?  Would clients pay a few hundred dollars to draft their own uncontested divorce petition or simple will or any of the other documents that groups like We the People provide?  If something like this can work for food, seems that there should be a way to make it work for law.

Posted by Carolyn Elefant on October 25, 2006 at 05:35 AM in Ideas & Tips | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack

Of counsel - another solo practice option

This month's issues of GP Solo Magazine has an article by Elio Martinez entitled Of Counsel:  An Alternative to Solo and Firm Practice.  The article tells a little bit about Martinez's of counsel arrangement (all of them differ, I think):

My of counsel arrangement is simple. I maintain a separate and independent practice while occupying an office at my friend’s firm. I keep my own schedule, develop my own clients, and run my own firm. In exchange for the office space and a percentage of fees collected for my work on my friend’s cases, I guarantee that I will work a certain number of hours per month on those cases. This arrangement is beneficial to us both: He has some of the burdens of the practice lifted from his shoulders by someone he knows and trusts, and I have guaranteed work and income every month, as well as an office where I can grow my practice. The of counsel arrangement also provides me the added benefit of always having someone with whom to discuss issues and ideas, as well as assurance that, in my absence, someone will be there to step in and handle emergencies on my cases.

Unfortunately (and as is the case with many GP Solo articles, which is why I don't reference them often), the article does not offer much detail on how to find an of counsel arrangement, nor does it link to any sample contracts for "of counsel" relationships (a frequent request to me from readers).  But the article shows the advantages of an "of counsel" relationship, so it may be something you want to pursue.

Posted by Carolyn Elefant on August 13, 2006 at 07:40 PM in Ideas & Tips | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack