Jay Shepherd

Posts by Jay Shepherd

My first job out of law school was at a five-lawyer employment-law boutique: two partners, two other associates, and me. (OK, it was my only job out of law school; I started my firm after four years at this boutique.) The other two associates were third-years when I started. To be sure, they were both excellent lawyers and had already gained much experience working in a small firm with top-quality partners.

(I’ve often said that I’d take a third-year small-firm associate over a Biglaw third-year any day. The Biglaw associates have spent two years reading cases and writing memos; the small-firm lawyers have actually been doing, you know, lawyer work.)

I got along well with both associates, but one of them had more of a hierarchical view of the firm. One day, after I’d been there a couple months, that associate said to me, “I have an assignment for you.”

Being the new kid at the firm, the proper and deferential response might have been “Great. Thanks. Happy to help.” But my answer was less proper and by no means deferential.

And even though it ruffled some feathers, I’d recommend it to any new associate at a small firm. What I said was …

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I’ve got news for you: The future of practicing law will not be about cloud computing. It won’t be about tablets or offshoring or client self-help or virtual law offices. It won’t be about e-discovery, or practice management, or paperless offices. Yes, these things will certainly all happen; many are happening now, and a number of them are helping to give small firms an advantage, or at least level the playing field. But they will not be the biggest change in our industry.

I recently gave a speech on what the practice of law would look like in 2019. I chose that year for two reasons. First, it’s the year that the classic sci-fi movie Blade Runner takes place, with a younger-than-Calista-Flockhart-is-now Harrison Ford playing a cop who rides in flying cars and hunts robots that look like humans.

I’ve got news for you, guys: There won’t be any flying cars eight years from now. (Which is probably just as well, as people will insist on texting while flying.)

But the other reason I chose 2019 is because it will be the hundredth anniversary of something nearly every lawyer deals with all day every day.…

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Ed. note: This is the latest installment of Small Firms, Big Lawyers, one of Above the Law’s new columns for small-firm lawyers.

Funny story: One day during my third year of law school, I overslept and missed an important session of my Sales class. The problem is, when I tried to get the notes for the class, the only one who had … pardon me? Yes, Sales. No, not UCC Sales. “Sales.” As in “How to Market and Sell Your Legal Services.” … So, anyway, the only one who had the notes … what’s that? You didn’t? Seriously? So how were you supposed to learn how to sell your services as a lawyer?

Turns out my story, which was going to be hysterical, was also completely fabricated. Like you, I didn’t learn a damned thing about sales in law school. But at the time (the early nineties), that seemed OK. It’s a profession, you see. Sales is for commerce. Lawyers aren’t in commerce; we’re in a vocation.

Yeah, right.

As the practice of law careens away from its eighteenth-century traditions, where clients just find you, lawyers today (and especially small-firm lawyers) need to rely on sales skills to bring in business. Since we didn’t learn these in law school, we have to rely on our natural sales ability. Unfortunately, lawyers tend not to have any.

In fact, as a group, we suck at sales. But the reason we suck will probably surprise you.…

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Ed. note: This is the latest installment of Small Firms, Big Lawyers, one of Above the Law’s new columns for small-firm lawyers.

Ever since I stopped billing by the hour in 2006, lawyers are constantly asking me, “How do you set your prices?” It’s a topic I’ve lectured on and written about frequently, and my new consulting firm, Prefix, LLC, focuses on teaching lawyers how to do it for themselves. But today, I want to turn the question around:

How do you set your billing rates?

It’s an important question, and one you should know the answer to.

I know what the books on starting your own firm say (I’ve read them). Most of them come up with a formula along these lines: Decide how much profit you want to make in a year, add your estimated annual overhead, then divide the sum by the number of hours you think you can bill in a year. That’s your hourly rate.

Yeah, right.

That’s not how anyone sets their billing rates, regardless of what the books say. Instead, their rates are based on three factors.…

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Ed. note: This is the latest installment of Small Firms, Big Lawyers, one of Above the Law’s new columns for small-firm lawyers.

When 1,500 lawyers gathered at this week’s ABA TechShow in Chicago, an interesting thing happened:

The business card died.

When these lawyers weren’t listening to the dozens of cutting-edge seminars or browsing the exhibitors’ booths, they were making new friends and new professional connections. But instead of exchanging business cards, many of the attendees were trading Twitter handles — their online identities that begin with the @ symbol. (I’m @jayshep.) Massachusetts lawyer Gabriel Cheong (@gabrielcheong) told me that by the end of the conference, he had collected exactly zero business cards. (I immediately gave him one of mine. #irony) Instead of accumulating two-by-three-and-a-half-inch scraps of cardstock, he typed their Twitter names directly into his iPhone. (And I doubt anyone actually said, “Uh, I’m not on the Twitter.”) Molly McDonough (@Molly_McDonough), online editor at the ABA Journal, tweeted at the end of the conference: “For first time, I didn’t collect any biz cards at #abatechshow. Just made note of names and followed on Twitter.” Others retweeted (quoted) her tweet with approval.

So does this mean it’s time for small-firm lawyers to learn how to tweet?

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Ed. note: This is the latest installment of Small Firms, Big Lawyers, one of Above the Law’s new columns for small-firm lawyers.

I’m reporting to you live from Chicago at the 25th Annual ABA TechShow, where an amazing group of passionate lawyers from around the country have gathered to talk and teach about the future of law practice. While many of the programs deal with technology, the underlying theme seems to be that change is coming to our industry, and we should probably figure this stuff out before it’s too late.

As Elie reported yesterday, I had the chance to present at the IgniteLaw 2011 program, which made for a pre-Conference kickoff Sunday night. I’m not going to talk about my presentation here — suffice to say it included references to Blade Runner, cannibalistic English food, and Hale and Dorr’s WilmerHale’s invention of the billable hour in 1919. (That was the same year that Prohibition started. Coincidence? I think not.)

Instead, I’m going to talk about the constraints placed on every speaker — because they were frickin’ crazy.…

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Ed. note: This is the latest installment of Small Firms, Big Lawyers, one of Above the Law’s new columns for small-firm lawyers.

If you want to send a message that you really don’t care what your document looks like, or that you never really gave it any thought, then this is the font for you. It might mean that you don’t really understand computers very well, and never bothered to learn how to change the default font. It probably also means that you never took a moment to consider the judge (or the client or whoever is reading what you wrote) and how she will have to slog through yet another gray document filled with too-small text that looks like every other one she’s read today.

But mostly it just means that you’re apathetic, and that you don’t consider what you write to be work worthy of craftsmanship.

So what is this font that says so much about you, and what should you use instead?

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Ed. note: This is the latest installment of Small Firms, Big Lawyers, one of Above the Law’s new columns for small-firm lawyers.

So you’re at a small firm and you want to be successful. Good. Why you wouldn’t want that is beyond me. But if you want to be a successful lawyer, you need to make a name for yourself. If you don’t want to be a successful lawyer, you can leave this post now. We’ll wait. [Waits while the preternaturally mediocre leave ATL for Dlisted or whatever.] OK? The rest of you stick with me.

Look. You didn’t end up at a big firm, because you didn’t go to a top law school or because your first-year grades weren’t as stellar as they could have been. So you’re not going to be making a huge salary in exchange for billing 2,500 hours a year. Deal with it. That doesn’t mean that you can’t have a very successful career as a lawyer. It just means that you need to take a different approach.

The most important thing you can do to make a name for yourself as a lawyer is to find a way to stand out from the crowd. Here are six tips on how to do it.…

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Ed. note: This is the latest installment of Small Firms, Big Lawyers, one of Above the Law’s new columns for small-firm lawyers.

No, not in the way you think. I’m not talking about E-tickets and giant bow-tied mice and screaming, overtired kids being dragged around by the half-crazed parents determined to get their money’s worth. (“Have fun, dammit! Have fun!”) I mean in the way that the company, Walt Disney, creates a consistently positive and memorable experience year round for people from all over the world.

Whatever your impressions or memories of Disney World, most people agree that the company’s ability to make people happy is unrivaled. Executives and managers from companies in every industry pay thousands of dollars to study how the company does it at the Disney Institute. And the Institute even published a book on how to Disneyify your company called Be Our Guest. You can get the book at Amazon for about ten bucks; I recommend it.

So what can your law firm do to create the kind of world-class service that Mickey would be proud of? Let’s discuss….

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Ed. note: This is the latest installment of Small Firms, Big Lawyers, one of Above the Law’s new columns for small-firm lawyers.

As with love affairs, all lawyer-client relationships must eventually end. If you’re lucky, they won’t end until retirement or death (not the untimely kind; that would be unlucky). More often though, they will end with one of you — usually the client — finding someone new or simply no longer needing the other. The goal, then, is to try to stave off this end for as long as possible. But it will come eventually. And while no one likes to lose a client, it’s not the end of the world.

But there’s one situation where losing a client is a much more serious problem:

When it’s an uberclient.

Let me explain. When I got the offer at my first law firm, I met with one of the partners one last time before accepting. I felt like I was supposed to ask him important questions about the four-lawyer firm, to help me decide whether to accept. The first question I asked was whether the firm had any debt. Someone told me that this was a good question to ask. He said they didn’t, and that seemed like a good answer. Then I had a brain flash, and asked a much better question:

“Is there any one thing that could put the firm out of business?”

This is what he told me.…

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