Advice

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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I got caught.

In a column last week, I criticized a brief for using the alphabetical short form “EUSLA” to signify “end user software license agreement.” Depending on the circumstances, I suggested, one might shorten the name of that contract to “agreement,” “license agreement,” or “software license agreement,” but “EUSLA” just doesn’t work — it’s meaningless alphabet soup that doesn’t help the reader of a brief.

As I said, I got caught: The lawyer who had drafted the brief read my column, cleverly figured out who I was criticizing, and called to take issue with me. (Serves me right for using real-world examples in this forum, I suppose.)

“You’re wrong, Mark,” my outside counsel said. “We called that contract an ‘EUSLA’ in all of the depositions in the case. When we quoted deposition transcripts in the summary judgment brief, those quotations called the contract an ‘EUSLA.’ We would have confused things if we called the contract an ‘EUSLA’ in the deposition excerpts and a ‘software license agreement’ in the rest of the brief. ‘EUSLA’ was the right choice.”

This conversation illustrates, first, why you shouldn’t quarrel with me while I have this nifty megaphone at Above the Law and you’ve got bupkis; I can’t possibly lose. And the conversation illustrates, second, the meaning of “digging yourself into an even deeper hole.” “EUSLA” is the wrong short-form in a brief, and your earlier mistakes don’t justify your later one . . .

double red triangle arrows Continue reading “Inside Straight: On EUSLAs, Depositions, And Trials”

It is hardly shocking that a woman who chooses to operate under a pseudonym is an introvert. If left to my own devices, I would stay at home watching television and looking out my window. I am talking Boo Radley here.

Unfortunately, momma’s got to earn the money to pay the cable bill, so I must force myself out into the world. Oh, and momma needs a new job, so I have to do the single most painful thing a girl like me must do. No, not hook. I must… NETWORK.

In the past, when attending networking events, I would bring a friend, get drunk on cheap chardonnay, and leave without speaking to anyone new. That is apparently the wrong way to network. So, recently, I decided to really put myself out there: I have started attending networking events (well, at least one networking event) alone. I got there late, hung alone in the corner awkwardly playing with my phone, drank cheap chardonnay, and left without speaking to anyone new. Alas, it was time for me to ask for help…

Luckily for me, I did not have to search far for advice on networking. There are thousands of listicles about how to network. Most of them were useless (e.g., they suggested foregoing chardonnay), and most were geared towards people who did not consider “fear of public speaking” as a scarier thing than death. (Yes, I am one of those people.) Thanks to my LinkedIn news suggestions, I discovered a subset of networking articles geared towards introverts. The advice was earth-shattering….

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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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First, a stand-up comedy routine; then, my point.

In the early 1980s, Robin Williams performed in a nightclub. His performance was taped and later broadcast by HBO. During the performance, Williams spied on-stage a wine glass filled with a clear liquid (which was, in fact, water), and Williams was off and running:

“There are white wines. There are red wines. Why are there no black wines?

“Reggie wine! It’s a m*therf*cker! Goes with meat; goes with fish; goes with any damn thing it wants to.

“I like my wine like I like my women — ready to pass out.

“We’ll get Mean Joe Green to advertise the stuff: ‘Reggie wine! Drink this sh*t or I’ll nail your ass to a tree.’”

After HBO broadcast the performance, an African-American winemaker named David Rege (pronounced “Reggie”) sued Williams and others in California state court, claiming that Williams had damaged Rege’s reputation and adversely affected the sales of his wine. (You knew there was a lawsuit tucked in here someplace, didn’t you?)

double red triangle arrows Continue reading “Inside Straight: On Robin Williams And Saying ‘Thank You’”

I am always intrigued by articles giving advice on appropriate office behavior. For whatever reason, these advice columns almost always discuss the appropriateness (or lack thereof) of crying in the office. I am not sure why this is such a newsworthy topic, as I have rarely witnessed such behavior — either as a Biglaw associate or when I went to a small firm. And I only cried once in my five years of practice, and that was not in the office — it was in the elevator. Unfortunately a partner happened to be in the elevator with me, but I could not help it.

Last week the Wall Street Journal featured an article on this topic. Don’t Cry (At The Office) suggests that you not cry at the office (yes, shocking). The article goes on to suggest that you go home or to your therapist’s office to cry because while having feelings at work is a no-no, it is important to have feelings when you are off the clock.

After learning that one should not cry at the office, I decided to investigate other inappropriate behaviors. I have put together a list of forbidden actions for small-firm attorneys based on input from my cadre of small-firm Emily Posts.

double red triangle arrows Continue reading “Size Matters: Do Not Cry At Work And Other No-Nos”

At a breakfast last week, the Seventh Circuit Bar Association learned the true meaning of going “from the sublime to the ridiculous”: As Judge Frank Easterbrook took his seat, I approached the lectern.

I won’t burden you with the subject of my remarks (regular readers of this column could probably guess), but I’ll share the sublime. Judge Easterbrook said one thing, and he failed to mention another topic that he often raises.

Judge Easterbrook explained that, as a young lawyer, he had sent a brief to the Third Circuit for filing. The clerk rejected the brief and mailed it back. Easterbrook called, and the clerk’s office explained that it had rejected the brief because the back cover was the wrong shade of blue — a shade specified by an unwritten local rule. Easterbrook asked if there were any other unwritten rules, and the clerk said he wasn’t sure. Easterbrook mailed a revised version of the brief, which the clerk’s office again rejected — this time for violating a different unwritten local rule. On the third try, the clerk’s office finally accepted the brief. Easterbrook swore that, if he were ever the chief judge of a circuit, all of the rules would be in writing. Easterbrook then told the assembled crowd that (1) the Seventh Circuit’s written rules are fairly comprehensive and (2) the clerk’s office is extremely helpful if you call for advice, so there’s no longer an excuse for not complying with appellate local rules.

Judge Easterbrook last week chose not to discuss a different subject. One of the other folks who attended the breakfast meeting told me that the judge often raises this in his talks . . .

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Andrew Sweat

If you know Cleveland Browns rookie free agent Andrew Sweat, please send him this post. Tell him to drop me a line. Let me help this man avoid making what could be the biggest mistake of his life.

Sweat, a linebacker for the Ohio State Buckeyes, went undrafted in last month’s NFL draft. He later signed as a rookie free agent with the Browns. Now, instead of attending camp and trying to make the team, Sweat has decided to give up on his NFL career and attend law school instead.

Not even a very highly ranked law school. More like the Cleveland Browns of law schools.

I can’t know if Sweat’s decision is being partially motivated by all the media attention focused on the long-term health consequences of playing in the NFL. But I’d bet all the money in my pocket that Sweat has not been paying attention to the media coverage of the long-term professional and financial damage that can be done by going to law school…

double red triangle arrows Continue reading “Potential NFL Rookie Is About To Make The Biggest Mistake Of His Life By Going To Law School”

At large law firms, unless you’re interviewing for a small practice group, nobody’s losing sleep over whether you’ll fit in. They’ll take you so long as you’re smart, willing to work crazy hours, and not obviously a jerk. (Although if you’re a rainmaker jerk, they can’t seem to roll out the red carpet to the corner office quickly enough.)

You’ll tend hear the concern about the “right fit” voiced more often for in-house than Biglaw job openings. When you interview for an in-house position, your technical and substantive abilities certainly need to pass the bar (every possible pun intended). But after that, there’s a broad and maddeningly vague analysis regarding how good a “fit” you are….

double red triangle arrows Continue reading “Moonlighting: Just Trying To Fit In”

Future partner nobody wants to work for.

You know how they say that if a kid tortures animals, then it’s a pretty good bet that the kid will grow to be a danger to people? I feel like a similar thing can be said of law students. If you see a law student who picks on law librarians, administrative staff, and others in the law school community who don’t have the power and respect of the academic faculty, it’s a pretty good bet that you’re looking at a future lawyer who is going to yell and scream and bully his secretary and people who are junior to him.

It’s. Really. Pathetic. Throwing a hissy fit at those who have no power is the mark of a coward.

Of course, the ultimate law school pressure-cooker is final exams. And when the pressure is on, you can find out who keeps their cool, and who is a d-bag…

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