New ATL columnist Brian Tannebaum.

So, looks like I’m going to hang out here for a little while writing weekly about small-firm and solo law practice issues. I’m as shocked as you are that I was asked to type over here – as I actually practice law, in a suit, in an office, with other humans, with a desk, and have real live clients who actually need legal services. I’ve done so for 17 years.

I’m also not the law review type. I wrote one sentence of a law review article in law school and threw it in the garbage. Since that day, no client has asked about my law review experience or cared when they were sitting next to me in a courtroom, so save your writing critique. To those who pay for advice from lawyers practicing 17 months, stop reading now. I can’t predict the future as it pertains to the practice of law, as the people doing that around the internet are mostly unfamiliar with the practice of law, and I can’t tell you how to be rich and famous via Twitter or a Facebook Fan Page.

Not to further disappoint, but I’m not here to play to the pajama-wearing, Starbucks-dwelling, sell-documents-and-pretend-I’m-a-lawyer-and-insist-this-is-how-all-law-will-be-practiced collection of lawyers. And to the resident cheetos-eating basement-dwelling “my law school sucks” whining anonymous commenting crowd here, start typing now – it will help drown out the possibility of you actually learning something….

Just to make sure the “can’t I develop my practice with Twitter” crowd clears out of here like roaches when the lights turn on, let’s take a drive through memory lane where we make a stop at “do people still practice law like they used to back in the old 1990’s?”

Since the norm today of so many “lawyers” giving selling advice on the internet is to be a bit unclear about their background, let me be different.

I started as a public defender. When I left, I went to work for a two-lawyer firm for nine months. As it was a volume-type firm, I learned quickly about the business of running a practice. I learned both about clients who paid “up front,” and “chasing” the payment-plan types. When I left, it was because I wanted a word-of-mouth referral practice, and not a direct-mail blow-your-brains-out-on-the-internet type practice.

I had become friends with two prominent criminal defense lawyers who were looking for someone to come in and help with work, but not hire a full-time associate. I also did not want to be a full-time associate. Working with them got me in to a nice office, in a nice building, and surrounded by nice clients. I got free rent for a while, a free desk and computer, and it was there I learned the importance of involvement outside the practice, and what it took to get the good cases. There were no secrets – be around, do good work, never take shortcuts, and eventually (not tomorrow) you will be a lawyer that first comes to mind when someone needs help.

I stayed there five years, and next year will celebrate ten years starting my own firm.

I have two small black-and-white ads for my Bar discipline practice in two trade papers, no ads for my criminal practice, I’m not in the Yellow Pages, don’t have a Facebook Fan Page for my law firm, speak and write a lot, and to the shock of those who insist at their social media conferences that my practice model will bankrupt me, do actually sit in my office quite a bit and “the phone just rings.”

That’s what I’m here to write about – that there will always be clients who want to meet lawyers in offices, wearing business clothes, understanding their legal issues, and making decisions on hiring that are unrelated to a 140-character statement on a website. I’m also here to write about running a practice from a business perspective, that work-life balance is something that comes with “work,” and that while clients come first, sometimes you have to fire them, turn them down, and watch their dollars walk out the door.

That’s what I’m going to write about.


Brian Tannebaum will never “get on board” at the advice of failed lawyers who were never a part of the past but claim to know “the future of law.” He represents clients, every day, in criminal and lawyer discipline cases without the assistance of an Apple device, and usually gets to work (in an office, not a coffee shop) by 9 a.m. No client has ever asked if he’s on Twitter. He can be reached at [email protected].


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