Advice

Soon after I started my solo practice, I realized that I needed to develop and execute a plan for getting new clients. At first, I did it the old-fashioned way: networking, joining organizations, giving elevator speeches, passing out business cards, and doing contract work for other attorneys. This method took time and cost money and it didn’t work to the extent I had hoped. So I asked a few colleagues whether I should hire someone to help me improve my business.

I received the names of consultants, SEO experts, and coaches. Someone even suggested I talk to Tony Robbins. Some people swore by them while others said that the “advice” they provided was a bunch of hooey and can be found on the internet or at the library for free.

Over the last few years, I have become very skeptical of business development professionals (sometimes known as “marketeers”) who claim that they know the “secret technique” for improving my solo practice. A number of them are lawyers or ex-lawyers who — for one reason or another — decided to go into consulting and coaching. Also, some of these “experts” have questionable backgrounds and may not understand the professional rules that we lawyers have to follow.

I should point out that the purpose of this post is not to badmouth any particular person or the legal business development industry. This guy covered that already. But click onwards to find out the reasons for my skepticism and my thoughts on when it might make sense to retain a business development professional….

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The first question people usually ask me when they find out I am a lawyer is: “What kind of lawyer are you?” My response is usually: “I am a story teller.” A good deal of my practice involves helping lawyers tell stories, because no juror ever said, “Well… I’m not really sure that I understand the plaintiff’s point of view completely. Let’s give him $10 million.” I usually advocate for the cyborg approach: part human and part machine. I think you can tell an effective story without a computer, but from my experience, jurors are a reflective part of the population that consciously moved out of the radio era and into CGI-laden-movies era.

I use neat hardware (sometimes cheap hardware), I use neat software, and I almost always use a whole lot of custom graphics. Talking about how to make a great graphic is almost impossible. Most of the good ones are good for unique reasons. Most of the bad ones are bad because they fall into a few general categories. Here are a couple of those categories:

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Patent litigators travel frequently. I addressed the topic back in early March. Travel can be tiring, or fun, or a combination of the two. And travel episodes are sometimes good for a laugh afterwards. Sometimes, you can even learn a business lesson or two from a travel experience. On a recent trip, I was reminded that trying to save some money can be costly in other ways. And while it is nice to be running a firm that is a cheaper alternative to Biglaw, there is no excuse for letting that price differential compromise the quality of our services. We don’t, and never will, but reminders of that principle do not hurt either.

A few months ago, Zach and I needed to make a trip to meet with a client and separately deal with an issue in one of our cases. When I was in Biglaw, both of the firms I worked for had in-house travel agents, and because of the nature of my practice, I got to know the actual agents pretty well. If I had a business trip, all it took was an email or phone call, and everything would be arranged based on my travel profile and preferences. The occasional “can you get me an earlier flight” or “flight cancelled, get me home” situation was often handled seamlessly as well. And while I was never in the “client is paying for it, so it’s first class for me” camp, I also never hesitated while at Biglaw to incur additional travel cost when there was a compelling business reason for it.

So if it cost a bit more to take a flight at a certain time of day, so be it — especially if flying at those times would make me more productive, i.e., capable of generating billable hours. Or if an upgrade that would allow me to get some much-needed rest was available for a moderate cost, I would take it. But I could not stomach employing some well-worn Biglaw travel tricks, such as always booking refundable full-fare tickets in coach to pretty much guarantee an upgrade. As the years went by, of course, increased client focus on expenses cut out some of the marginally abusive practices. It is hard to worry about securing an upgrade — when you are trying to get the client to pay for the trip in the first place.

Things are different now that I have my own boutique firm….

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Elie here. Everybody wants a deal. Everybody wants to “beat the market,” and the internet makes us think that we can. If a baby with an e-Trade app can make money, why can’t you? Buy low, sell high: I’m sure I read that on a bumper sticker somewhere, or maybe in the New Yorker.

Increasingly, the internet thinks it’s identified just the right undervalued asset to snap up at a discount: legal education. The decline in law school applications has been sharp and truly shocking to some. It doesn’t make sense that a law degree would suddenly be much less valuable now than it was 5 or 10 or 20 years ago. The value should rebound. The world still needs lawyers. And if you haven’t noticed, or just disregarded, long-term structural changes in the market for legal services, the fact that every law dean will tell you that the market rebound is right around the corner gives you more confidence in your logical assessment. It’s not like every law dean in the country would lie about the value of their product, right?

We can and will continue to debate the likely future value of a legal education. But can we dispense with the notion that purchasing full-price legal education right now involves “buying low”? You are not buying low, you are buying at historically unprecedented heights. Nobody would put “Buy high, hope to sell at fair market price in three years” on a bumper sticker.

And nobody should be putting that on the internet either….

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American companies make a lot of mistakes in China. And even when they don’t make mistakes, they get frustrated.

I view both of these results as healthy, because mistakes and frustration are par for the course in China, and the sooner companies realize that the better. That said, they could avoid at least some of their heartbreak by following these five principles…

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Ed. note: This is the latest installment in a series of posts on lateral partner moves from Lateral Link’s team of expert contributors. Sarah Morris is a Director at Lateral Link based in Northern California and oversees attorney placements and client services in California. Prior to joining Lateral Link, Sarah practiced law for five years at Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP where she was involved with the hiring and women’s committees. Sarah also worked as an in-house attorney for Bare Escentuals. Sarah obtained her J.D. from Berkeley Law School (Boalt) and her B.A. from the University of California at Berkeley.

Many candidates find that most lateral interviews end up being easier than anticipated, but there are always those tough questions that you want to be prepared for. In addition to doing your research on the firm or company you are interviewing with, be prepared to spend a few hours familiarizing yourself with the types of questions you may be asked. Nothing turns off an interviewer more than “ummm” and “uhhh.” You don’t have to memorize your responses verbatim (and you shouldn’t), but being prepared will help you avoid awkward answers. While it is impossible to cover every tough question an interviewer may ask, below are some of the more commonly asked questions. In addition to some recommended responses, I have also added comments explaining the purpose of the question, and I point out some “traps” the interviewer may be setting by asking you that particular question…

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I participate in at least one group discussion per month where a lawyer — employed or not — asks the collective for advice about starting a solo practice. These nonbelievers envy our independence and our ability to adapt quickly to client needs and changing trends.

We respond with the usual tried and usually true advice: Get ready for uncertain income. Don’t overspend. Don’t underspend. Find a mentor. Find another one. Practice in a unique niche you are passionate about, but also serve the needs of the community. Have a sales mentality. And did I mention network?

After the jump, I will talk about a few other things an unemployed lawyer aspiring solo practitioner should also consider — and rant about the worst reason to start a solo practice….

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Ed note: This is the latest installment in a series of posts from the ATL Career Center’s team of expert contributors. Today, Rob Jordan explores how good use of technology can improve your skills at networking events.

“The most meaningful way to differentiate your company from your competition, the best way to put distance between you and the crowd, is to do an outstanding job with information. How you gather, manage, and use information will determine whether you win or lose.” — Bill Gates

I wish I had a dollar for every time I heard attorneys and bankers initiate a networking conversation with the question: “What are you working on these days?” Given attorney-client privilege and/or other confidentiality issues, there is a strong likelihood that the recipient of that question is in no position to answer. And, so, the conversation is instantly uncomfortable and awkward. This is the professional equivalent of asking a potential mate “What do you do?” in a social setting — which is largely, mistakenly, and unfortunately the question of default (at least in New York City). Quite simply, many people either don’t or can’t define themselves by what they “do” or what they’re “working on.” So… don’t do that.

A better approach is to ask, “What’s interesting?”

Continue reading at the ATL Career Center…

Bruce Stachenfeld

Of all the regrets I have in life, one of my greatest is that I never had the chance to meet Peter Drucker before he died.

Drucker is one of my intellectual heroes. He was able to look at the same world that everyone else was looking at but see things that others couldn’t see. He literally invented a science. And like all science, it is around you from the start but you just can’t see it till someone shows you the way.

The science he invented was the science of “management.” Before Drucker, people just ran things and sometimes good things happened and sometimes bad things — no one really delved too deeply into the “why” of it all. But then along came Drucker, who made order out of chaos and realized that there were principles that, if followed, would increase the likelihood a business would be successful.

All those leadership books you sometimes read, all those “how to” books you sometimes read, all of that thinking evolved from his groundbreaking analysis into the science of “management.” Drucker’s books are utter masterpieces. Indeed, there was an epiphany for me on every single page of his amazing book Management (affiliate link). I think I learned more about how to run my law firm successfully from Drucker than from any other source.

Here are two thoughts from Drucker that hit me like a bolt of lightning when I read them. Honestly, my business — and even my whole life — was never the same again.

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A blog post represents our entry into a conversation. Nothing could be more true when it comes to blogging by lawyers and other professionals.

Dave Winer, an American software developer, entrepreneur and writer who is widely known for his contributions to blogging, established over a decade ago that a blog represents the unedited voice of a person.

Law firms and other organizations don’t edit what their professionals are saying when engaging others face-to-face. Nor should they do so with blog posts.

During last week’s Business Development Institute’s Social Media Summit for Law Firms, I asked the members of the panel I was moderating: do your firms vet or edit lawyers’ blog posts before publishing?

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