Most standard law practice management programs counsel against discounts. When given up front, they accustom clients to bargain rates, and if applied at the end of the project, they show a willingness to settle for less than what’s owed, thus setting in motion a tradition of haggling for future cases. And now, a recent study suggests that there’s a correlation between discounts and collections problems, thus further reinforcing that discounting fees is a bad idea.
But Devil’s Advocate John Toothman, a lawyer who’s built a career on legal fee management, is appalled by advisors who diss discounts. At his blog, Civilian’s Guide to Lawyers, Toothman argues that the reason that many firms wind up giving discounts to begin with is because they never offered clients an estimate of the likely fee to begin with:
Last week I wrote about a complaint I heard from a client after they had been billed for two bottles of water served to them by their former lawyers at a meeting. I got numerous emails from people saying it was one of the most shocking behaviors that they had ever heard, the lowest of the low — a lawyer billing a client for a bottle of water that they had given to the client. When I wrote about it, it was the most egregious thing I had ever heard that a lawyer had billed to their client. But as a lawyer I know often says, “Take your expectations, then put even lower. Try the gutter.”
Less than a week later, there’s something worse in the news. A lawyer got sanctioned for his incompetent representation — then billed the sanctions to the client….
I enjoy reading Alex Rich‘s informative, comical, and sometimes depressing posts about life as a contract attorney, particularly in the world of document review. While I have no desire to do full-time doc review, I can see how the “bill and chill” nature of the job could appeal to some people. But in my world, there is more to being a “contract attorney” than being a coder.
Contract work is basically working for an attorney for a limited purpose. It ends once a task is accomplished or after a fixed period of time. Common contract-work projects are court appearances, document review, legal research, drafting or editing motions, and even trial. If you know the right people and have a certain skill set, contract work is not a bad way to make a lawyerly living. But for most new solo practitioners, contract work serves as a supplemental source of income (along with other interesting and strange side gigs) while they try to get their practice up and running.
Today, I want to talk about a rare contract attorney position: a temp-to-hire arrangement where your employer/client hires you on a contract basis and may offer an associate position in the future. I will talk about how to spot such a position and make the most of it. Finally, I will discuss whether it is better to accept the associate position or remain a contract attorney.
It’s always interesting to have conversations with clients who have gone through multiple lawyers. Not the sort of clients who have gone lawyer shopping in the past, bouncing around looking for the lowest price, but rather the client who has had a relationship with a lawyer in the past and has decided to break away from that lawyer due to poor performance or bad customer service. Listening to clients who have severed relationships with other lawyers offers a glimpse into what is going on in the mind of clients and what they expect from the legal services they obtain.
One of the most egregious things I’ve heard lately from a client has to do with a couple of bottles of water….
* Here’s the international sign for “don’t urinate in public.” Glad to know we needed a sign for this. [National Review]
* An illegal hostile work environment is created when coworkers wear confederate flag T-shirts. Because… obviously it is. Professor Volokh thinks this is unconstitutional. Apparently a document drafted by white slaveholders is set up to protect “broadcasting to black people that they should still be enslaved.” Because… obviously it is. [Volokh Conspiracy / Washington Post]
* Police accidentally killed a crew member for the TV show “Cops” while foiling a robbery. That’s just shocking… the fact that “Cops” is still on the air. [Associated Press via ABC News]
* Practice pointer: Get in the practice of writing non-clients to tell them that they are not, in fact, your clients. People can be crazy stalkers out there and you need to protect your practice. [What About Clients]
* Scheduling trials is like playing musical chairs. Except no matter when the music stops someone’s probably getting screwed. [Katz Justice]
* It turns out that lawyers have a hard time talking to clients about overdue bills. As a lawyer who has literally had state troopers impound a client’s private jet, I don’t understand this. But here are the results of a comprehensive survey on the subject. [Lexis-Nexis]
* If you’re interested in how the “justice gap” functions overseas, here’s a report from the Legal Services Board in the UK. [Red Brick Solutions]
* A Texas man, David Barajas, was acquitted of shooting and killing a drunk driver who had killed the man’s sons. The defense argued that Barajas didn’t kill the guy and that there was little physical evidence tying Barajas to the killing. Atlanta news (specifically WSB-TV) may not quite understand the whole “innocent until proven guilty” thing. Pic after the jump [via Twitter]:
It’s not all doom and gloom in the Back In The Race series. Despite getting ignored or getting countless rejection letters from law firms big and small, I like to have a little fun with my job search. So today, I will share my experience at an interview with a firm I had no interest in working for. Thanks to Above The Law’s generous contributor compensation plan, retirement benefits and student loan repayment assistance program, I can afford to be slightly more picky when it comes to choosing employers.
Over the weekend, a recruiter asked if I would be interested in meeting with a local solo practitioner who seeks to hire an associate. After learning a little bit about her and her area of practice, I knew it wasn’t going to work between us. But I decided to go to this interview anyway just so I could play the role of the demanding, entitled special snowflake and see her reaction.
So let’s find out who the lucky solo is and see how it all went…
Because I’m a glutton for punishment (I’m writing for ATL aren’t I?), every now and then I will trawl through SSRN to see if there is anything worthwhile to read. Usually there isn’t. Mostly it’s stuff like Harry Potter and the Law or whatever. It can be hard finding substantive, interesting material to read among the cruft. The other problem is that the authors are publishing articles in law reviews — which no one reads. It’s far better to submit an article to a blog (or set up your own), if you really want to reach people. I gather the point is not to be read, but instead to have an extra line on your résumé. But I digress.
It is a rather broad study covering a number of issues that arise from the quality of legal writing among new lawyers. In particular how established members of the profession view the writing skills of new lawyers. So how did they fare?
When starting out, solo practitioners have to find clients. The traditional way, through networking and advertising, will get mixed results. So some think outside the box and try to find new ways to get people’s attention. Some attorneys have fantasized about setting up a hybrid business combining law and something else.
Law practice can successfully complement other work because of overlap. It is not unusual to see attorney/CPAs practicing in the areas of tax, business, and finance. I have also seen estate planning attorneys double as financial planners. And I have seen too many real estate lawyers work as sales agents or brokers on the side.
But once in a while, someone proposes a business that tries to combine law practice with something that seems totally unrelated, such as clothing sales or a bakery (I know some attorneys who have actually proposed these). These ideas sound crazy and in most cases go no further than that. But a brave few have ran with it. And some are seriously considering it in light of the terrible job market.
While I don’t want to wish ill on someone who is legitimately trying to make a living and taking a risk, I think most legal hybrid business plans are not viable. Not to mention sounding silly. Click onwards to find out why…
A few weeks ago, I discussed whether it was possible to go paperless. I want to pick up where I left off and drop a few more tips for how to go paperless and why it’s important. For me, as a solo practitioner, I have to be efficient. It’s how I keep an edge over other small firms and how I level the playing ground with big firms. But, it’s not all about competing with others. I reduce my paper use because I am just way too busy to spend 3 hours doing something that I could do in 30 minutes.
Also, just to be clear, when I say “paperless,” I really mean “mostly paperless.” It is not possible or practical to go entirely paperless in this current decade, but I think that the less paper we use, the better.
Last week, at Minnesota’s Strategic Solutions for Solo and Small Firms Conference, I shared a panel with Lawyerist’s Sam Glover and an innovational speaker, Matt Homann. The panel focused on the future of solo and small-firm practice over the next ten years. Although we all agreed that the solos and smalls — and, indeed, lawyers in general — will face challenges over the next decade, I still believe that opportunities remain for solos who understand these challenges and figure out ways to overcome them.
So, no great surprise there. But all of us on the panel agreed that technology is changing the face of law practice in a way that may expand access to justice but that may also take work from solos and smalls….
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