Solo Practitioners

Occasionally, someone wants me to do legal work outside of my practice area. I tend to refer the potential client to an attorney who can handle it and ask for a referral fee when appropriate. But sometimes it makes sense to work the case myself with outside help — for example, if the work is for an existing client and he cannot afford the referring attorney’s fee. So as a gesture of appreciation to the client, you want to help him for a reduced fee. Or you want to get experience in the area of law that is involved.

And let’s be anonymously honest. Sometimes the case has potential for large attorney’s fees and you want a bigger cut than the firm’s standard referral percentage. It’s hard not to feel bitter when you get a paltry referral fee up front and later learn that the attorney who handled the matter got a half-million-dollar payout.

So today, I want to write about how I typically (but not always) decide whether to refer a case out completely, or co-counsel with someone else. I assume readers are familiar with and will follow the ABA Model Rules 7.2 and 1.5(e) and your state’s versions of these rules. My first priority is to refer a client to a competent attorney, even if it means a smaller referral fee or none at all. But when there are three or more equally competent and business-savvy attorneys competing for your referrals, the size and girth of the compensation package can be appealing…

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Keith Lee

As has been discussed ad nauseam, it’s a tough time to be a lawyer right now. The legal industry is in a rut and the economy continues to limp along. With the flood of lawyers that have been forced to hang their shingle over the past few years, there has been increased competition for clients. This has led to some fairly cutthroat competition in the world of attorney advertising.

Many types of practice don’t advertise. Or rather, their advertising is of the tried-and-true “display expertise” variety. Write articles for your bar association magazine, speak at clients’ industry events, join boards and committees. Not so much talking about yourself, but showing that you are active and engaged in the legal industry. Let your reputation speak for itself; let others talk about you. Develop a reputation, not a brand.

But building a reputation is hard. Developing a brand is expensive. Wouldn’t it be easier if you could just mooch off of someone else’s hard work or money? Such was the proposition to New York attorney (and occasional ATL writer) Eric Turkewitz  this past week…

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Christina Gagnier

Cybersecurity is becoming an important issue for lawyers, whether you are a solo or working at a multinational law firm. When it is so easy and seamless from a workflow perspective to move to the cloud, many firms are pushing their operations and employees to this technology. There are many considerations to weigh when deciding to go from the file cabinet or local server to the cloud…

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I begin my quest for a fulfilling job by revisitng my alma mater’s career development office (CDO). When I was a law student, the CDO was unhelpful. This was because during my law school’s annual on-campus interview period, even the small firms and local government agencies wanted only the top 10% of the class. So the CDO tried its best to help me and the rest of the peasants scrounge for whatever was left. At this point, the Biglaw dreams and in-house wishes ended, and we were preparing for our multi-season starring role in Lifestyles of the Poor and Unknown, sponsored in part by IBR.

So I was not expecting much from the CDO as far as job leads were concerned. And since I am well past the all-important nine-month deadline for post-graduate employment, I expected the counselor to tell me the cruel truth — that there was nothing the CDO or my law school can do for me — EVER. So to ensure that my visit wasn’t a complete waste of time, I emailed the secretary ahead of time, telling her that I wanted to talk to the career counselor about a number of things other than any available job openings.

So, how did my visit go?

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With unemployment rates still high for new law school grads, incubator programs sponsored by law schools and bar associations are gaining traction. Not to be confused with the profit-generating incubators common in the business and start-up world, the law school incubator concept, conceived by Fred Rooney at CUNY Law School, subsidizes new law school grads to start their own practices to  provide “low bono” legal services.

In exchange for deeply discounting their fees, grads receive low-cost rent and training from more experienced attorneys. After 12-18 months in the incubator, these now practice-ready lawyers can move on to a position at a non-profit or continue to operate their firms on their own. Since the first law school incubator launched back in 2007, nearly two dozen others have cropped up at law schools and bar associations across the country.

What should we make of this trend?

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Keith Lee

For the past couple of days, I’ve been at a conference held by Institute for the Advancement of the American Legal System (IAALS). The purpose of the conference was to kick off a year-long project entitled Foundations For Practice that was being helmed by Educating Tomorrow’s Lawyers (ETL), a subset of IAALS. ETL is trying to determine the fundamental skills that new law graduates need to make them as appealing as possible to employers directly after they graduate from law school — i.e., how can law schools make sure that their graduates have skills that are valuable to future employers.

IAALS gathered a diverse group of lawyers to discuss the issue. Present were public defenders, judges, former ABA presidents, attorneys general, public interest lawyers, general counsels, Biglaw partners, and small firm lawyers such as myself and fellow Above The Law columnist Carolyn Elefant. We were there to give our perspectives on what were the skills we thought were necessary for new lawyers. Obviously there was strong general consensus as to what skills were necessary for new lawyers to have.

Or not….

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America’s favorite “Multi-Dimensional Trial Attorney” and “modern-day incarnation of the Ancient Roman Orators” is back, and this time he’s defending his own honor. So, as they say, this time it’s personal.

For those who don’t remember Legal Baller, a.k.a. LB, a.k.a. Raymundo Pacello, Jr., he’s the San Diego jack of all trades attorney who first came to our attention after placing a Craigslist ad for “[y]oung attractive hip females” to work as his assistants. Some would call this discriminatory, but he’s got a baller image to maintain.

A year later he sought a Law Clerk to join the practice, and our own Natasha Lydon took the opportunity to do a thorough profile on the man we know as the Baller, including a look at his poetry and bodybuilding past.

Now we have copies of filings in a disciplinary proceeding against the Legal Baller, and his baller response (along with some sad news)….

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Christina Gagnier

As awareness and use of Bitcoin increases, the question of whether our firm takes Bitcoin, or whether any lawyer should consider taking this new currency as a form of payment, is becoming ever more timely as many lawyers, particularly solos and small firms, try to keep their practices as virtual as possible…

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I am making plans to attend several conferences and major bar association events for the remainder of the year. My primary goal for attending is to meet people who will provide job leads. But I also hope to meet potential clients, industry leaders, mentors, referral sources, and possibly a shopping companion. The problem is that attending these conferences can be expensive, especially if you are a solo practitioner paying with your own money. But I believe with proper planning, I can make the most of it without breaking the bank.

When I was a newbie lawyer, I dreaded going to conferences. This was because the costs of registration, travel, and lodging were high, and the lectures were boring, obscure, or both (which was mostly the case). I went only because everyone told me that I should introduce myself to the attendees, offer my services, and possibly get a job offer or referrals. So I went, tried my absolute best to stay awake and learn something, and gave my elevator speech and business card to everyone I met. I even paid extra for the dinner reception where I listened to the keynote speaker ramble on and on about her pro bono work. After I left, I sent everyone I met a follow up email and requested a meeting over coffee or lunch. Most ignored me. Others politely declined. And the few I met in person were genuinely good people but probably not going to help my career. After spending several thousand dollars with no immediate results, it can get discouraging and frustrating.

Now that I am more seasoned, I still dread going to conferences, but my approach has changed….

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Ed. note: Please welcome our new legal technology columnist, Jeff Bennion.

My name is Jeff Bennion, and I am a new columnist here. I’m going to write all about how we should and shouldn’t use technology in our law practices.

I am a solo practicing out of San Diego. On top of my lawyerly duties, I get asked by lawyers to advise on all matters technical – from e-discovery to trial technology to law practice management. Usually I get brought in after people have tried and failed at something. I worked in a 200-lawyer firm, a midsized firm, and a three-person firm before going solo. I’ve written for Cracked.com on such topics as whether it’s a good idea for Amazon to sell books about knife fighting for beginners, the problems with the jury system, and, of course, the Batcave. I teach college paralegal classes.

One of the most common questions I get asked is, “How do I make my PowerPoints awesome for openings/closings/whatever?” Now, I’m a big fan of using technology in trial. I had a whole article written about all of my trial gadgets that compared me to Tony Stark. I remember how boring those hour-and-a-half classes were in law school, so I wouldn’t want jurors to sit through six hours of watching lawyers talk to witnesses for four days a week for several weeks at a time without breaking it up with some graphics or something.

But PowerPoint is just the worst….

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