Brian Tannebaum

Posts by Brian Tannebaum

I’m one of those lawyers that goes on vacation. Not just long weekends, real vacations. I pity those of you that pride yourselves in announcing, “I don’t take vacations.” Good for you, you pathetic drone. I didn’t take vacations at first, as I was always fearful that someone would call to hire me on a non-emergency basis and wouldn’t wait until I came back. Now I don’t care. If you can’t wait until I come back, there are plenty of lawyers on the internet to hire that can take your PayPal payment online and send you whatever documents you think you need to handle your case.

When was I able to take my first two-week vacation and not worry about business? After 14 years in private practice. I say that because I know how patient all of you are out there.

First, let me congratulate the commentariat, who I found in San Francisco had turned their child-like recurring comments into a t-shirt business. See, there’s all kinds of ways to make money as an unemployed lawyer, not to worry. (For those of you that tell me you don’t read the comments, it’s okay, just look at the picture and imagine those phrases being said over and over again, anonymously.)

Anyway, when I’m on vacation, I think about my business. I think about what I love, what I hate, and what I want to change. There is nothing like thinking about your business (not the cases or the clients) while you are away from the phone calls (if your phone is ringing), other interruptions, the deadlines, and all the trappings of a lawyer’s day. (That was tip number one of today’s column for those of you shallow folks that can’t comprehend messages that aren’t in your face with drawings.)

One of the things I do a lot while I’m away is watch other businesses. I try to figure out how they make their money, why their employees are happy, or unhappy, why their customers patronize the store, restaurant, tour company, and how they handle problems. You’re an idiot if you are trying to build your law practice solely by watching how other lawyers run their practices. Client dynamics can be found in many places, and ideas come from everywhere. Most lawyers are doing it wrong anyway. (Enter tip number two — see how that works?)

Here’s what I saw over two weeks in California….

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Yep, born and raised right here in Miami, Florida. I know, you hate me more now. Shucks. When I was a kid though, the only people who took their talents to South Beach were drug dealers, prostitutes, and movie producers depicting the place through the eyes of Tony Montana.

And now we are NBA Champions. We deserve it. We’ve waited a whole six years for this.

And you hate us. We love it, watching all of you whine and moan about how much you hate the Heat, hate Lebron, how Miami “bought” their championship. Yep, we bought it – cost a fortune too, you petty jealous nothings. We are the best, we are having a parade, probably right at the moment you sit in your miserable office, or Starbucks, and read this.

No surprise that I am a big fan of divisive people. I love watching the hate, the squirming when these people are successful, the “yeah, but…” commentary. I love watching losers nip at the feet of winners.

Lawyers love to do this…

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I rarely follow up on potential clients anymore. You want to hire me — you’ll let me know. I’m not playing your game of calling you back after the initial interview so you can tell me you’re “thinking about it,” but “the fee is really big.” Yeah, the fee is really big; so is your problem. You want to take your big problem to a bargain basement lawyer — knock yourself out. I don’t run a booth at the Straw Market in the Bahamas. If I’m going to negotiate, it’s going to be with opposing counsel, not you.

It’s killing you, though. You spoke with the client, they seemed interested, they asked all the right questions, and you gave all the right answers. They told you “money is no issue” (first clue they have no money.) It’s been a day or two, and nothing. No call, no email, and no questions about the retainer agreement you gave them.

What to do?

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There is nothing more important to lawyers than time. Time spent on cases (especially if you’re in trying to win the “most billable hours” contest award at your funeral), time in the day to “do everything,” time to enjoy the fruits of your labor. Everything comes down to time. The reason you don’t do certain things is because you claim to “have no time.”

Lawyers base their entire lives on time. Many try to figure out the latest time when they can roll out of bed to be on time to the office or court. We live on deadlines. We appear in court when told, file documents on certain dates (or fax them on certain dates at 4:59), and we set appointments for things. There are other things we want to do -– other things we need to do, but we use the excuse of “no time” as a crutch.

Truth is, we have plenty of time, we just don’t use it well. We let our practices control us, instead of trying to control our practices. Clients and cases will run lives, if you let them. Some lawyers believe the essence of being a lawyer is letting clients run their lives, we must let clients know we are available 24/7.

You can call me 24/7, but I’m no longer answering the phone when I’m doing something I consider more important than making money…

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Man it’s been a rough week around here at ATL. With the addition of Eric Turkewitz, or as I call him, E.T., I now see you all weren’t kidding when you told me the only reason I was here was because Lat and Mystal just go down the alphabet.

I was also invited to experience misery at its peak have drinks with Elie during his visit to South Florida where he continued to call B.S. spoke on a panel to a conference of “all our graduates get jobs” law school admissions folks and apparently experienced what can only be described as “commentariat live.”

Our meeting was just your typical conversation between an angry short Jewish lawyer from Miami who successfully overcame academic probation at a state college and third-tier law school and a big fat black guy with dual degrees from Harvard. We left before the Boca Raton Resort and Club noticed we were there.

Now let’s talk about Biglaw summer associates….

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If you’re trying to build a word-of-mouth-based referral practice (is anyone doing that anymore?), you may be frustrated with two things about some of your referral sources: they don’t appear to know what it is you do, and they don’t make a real effort to get you the case/client.

Let’s talk about the bad referrals first.

We’ve all been there. The call comes in, the client was referred by a familiar name, and he wants to hire you to do something you don’t do or don’t want to do. Maybe you’re a divorce lawyer but don’t want to handle child custody modifications, or you’re a commercial litigator who has said many times that you don’t do collections work.

If you’re getting the wrong referrals, it’s your fault…

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It’s not part of a legal strategy or way to churn the file; it’s an attorney-initiated discussion about the client smack in the middle of the case.

What usually happens is that the attorney is retained, legal work begins, the client is updated as to the status of the case/matter, asked to weigh in occasionally on strategy, and reminded about the pending bill. We see this as part of the job, but how do the clients perceive the representation?

At some point in the representation, the best chance you have to hear what the client is really thinking is when they are not happy. You’ll get that anxious phone call, that question that is really a criticism, and it is during those times that you focus on trying to make the client happy.

What if you were proactive?

What if you scheduled a non-billable meeting with the client, outside your office, for the sole purpose of allowing the client to voice their overall concerns after you’ve been representing them for a while?

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A retail business owner asked me why I don’t believe in pay-per-click advertising or spending money on SEO strategies for my practice, as it has worked well for his stores. So I asked him: “What would you do if you needed a lawyer?” “I would call someone, get a name, and then look that person up,” he said. “You wouldn’t just do a Google search?” “No, never. After I got a name, I would check out the lawyer’s background, maybe see if he’s written anything that gives him credibility.”

No kids, he’s not talking about cute tweets or postings with links on a Facebook Fan Page. He’s talking about real writing, and he’s talking about getting your name from real people.

Now I know that I’m wrong, don’t know what I’m talking about, and am facing a sure death of my practice by suggesting that there are other ways of getting your name out there besides vomiting all over every social media platform, but it’s okay. When it all dries up, I’m sure I will have plenty of job offers from the wildly successful lawyers of the commentariat.

For those wondering if the life of a lawyer will ever be anything more than keeping track of your Google prowess by taking calls of, “I found you on the internet. How much do you charge?,” I have good news — it can be. There are actually real people out there that are looking for quality. It’s not that they found you first; it’s that they found you after a little research. If you’re going to be the type of lawyer that is found after someone gives your name, you might as well have something on the internet that evidences you have done more than just listen to some unemployed lawyer’s advice on building a practice.

My ideas are all free, and if you’re not afraid to use your real name, you may get some benefit from using them….

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Spirit Airlines is a cheap airline. They advertise a “$9 fare club.” They advertise a lot. Their goal appears to be to let everyone know, to create the reputation, that they are the low cost alternative to other airlines – just like you want everyone to know you are the “aggressive” alternative to all other “aggressive” lawyers out there that will “fight” for their clients (free consultations and payment plans available of course as well.). In fact, when you Google “Spirit Airlines,” you get this:

“Spirit Airlines – cheap tickets, cheap flights, discount airfare, cheap … ”

I’ve never flown Spirit, and I don’t know if anyone has actually flown anywhere for $9, but I do know that I’ve never heard anything good about this airline. They call themselves “cheap,” while others say they’re “bad.” They do make a ton of money, which should bring a smile to the growing number of cheap and bad lawyers out there….

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Friday night, I attended the first ever Innocence Project of Florida dinner. I was invited by a close, personal Twitter follower board member, and upon acceptance, asked by someone in one of my Google+ circles the Incoming Chair of the Innocence of Project of Florida to turn over a fairly large amount of cash to be a co-sponsor. Apparently, while Holland & Knight was receiving an award for their thousands of hours helping to free the wrongfully convicted, money for the dinner wasn’t pouring in from the establishment. Maybe next year.

As lawyer-type dinners go, it was a little different — poor lawyers representing alleged violent criminals mixed with Biglaw lawyers who spent the last decade doing the same, as well as three dozen judges, the elected state attorney, the appointed United States Attorney, and a slew of law students. Also in the crowd were a half-dozen exonerees. The exonerees included James Bain, who served more time than any other exoneree — 35 years for a crime he didn’t commit. He went to jail when I was four years old, and got out as I was planning a trip for my 40th birthday.

The night had its share of speeches and awards. One of the awards went to lawyer Marty McClain, whose client, Juan Melendez, was there among the suits wearing a t-shirt. Juan spent 17 years, eight months, and one day on death row before being exonerated. Marty’s other client, Frank Lee Smith, couldn’t make it because he died of cancer on death row before being exonerated. At his table was Marty’s high school buddy, actor Tony Shalhoub, who looked like a stalking fan taking pictures on his phone when his lawyer-friend was honored for being poor and a hero. While people were asking Shalhoub for pictures and autographs, he was busy being enamored with Marty….

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