From the time of my first column here, I’ve received emails from readers. Thoughtful people, both lawyers and non-lawyers, critical and yes, thankful, have offered (even using their real names) their suggestions, comments, lists of typos and grammar issues, and questions.
Questions like these:
1. Is it worth going into the field of law right now, or has the oversaturation of the market made building a solo practice or finding a decent firm position an almost impossible goal? Many of the writers on legal blogs (names of legal blogs deleted as not to upset my boss Lat) make it sound as though one would be foolish to enter the profession in any capacity.
2. If you had to make a decision between a tier three school with a full tuition scholarship, or $100k of debt to attend a “top 14″ law school, which would you choose?
If you’re one of the few left a lawyer that believes success and enjoyment of the practice of law may involve more than just sitting at home with some computer equipment and an internet connection, here’s a list of people, yes, real live people, that have been important in my practice:
1. The Accountant.
No, not your father’s accountant, but an accountant that has a few years on you and experience with lawyers. You know, someone like you that is building a business but in another field. I know, you have Turbo Tax or some other software you can type some numbers into on April 14th, but that’s not the reason for an accountant. Your accountant should know where you are financially and where you want to be. He should be someone you meet with at least twice a year and discuss your whole financial picture. Your accountant should be listening to the details of your finances, your thoughts about business, and giving you advice — not just putting numbers in to an 1120-S or 1040.
2. The Financial Advisor.
No, not the guy calling you with a “tip.” Find someone who is a certified financial planner that has been at the same brokerage house for over five years — not just someone with over five years’ experience. (Cue the blowback from financial advisors who find this advice bad for business). Why? I like someone that knows the philosophy of their firm and has some knowledge of their money managers. And I know, you have no money to put away or invest in the market, but if you build that great LinkedIn profile to start making money, you should. Maybe some advice from a financial planner will put you in a position to have a few bucks to put away, and soon enough you’ll have a killer defined benefit program. (I learned about defined benefit programs from my financial advisor.) Oh, and my financial advisor often sets up lunches for me to meet other professionals.
Who else should be essential to your law practice?
Before I provide some advice on client relations that will be deemed “totally wrong” by some and “good advice” by me pretending to be anonymous, I wanted you all to know that I bought a wireless printer that allows me to send documents from my phone, wherever I am, to my printer at my office. Although I currently have no use for this feature in my law practice, and haven’t in 17 years, I hope this puts me in better stead with those of you that think I hate tech.
Now let’s talk about clients, for those of you that have some.
The core of running a practice is machines and toys clients. That you are able to do competent work for clients doesn’t matter if you are not versed in the retaining and retention of them. The retention of any client starts at the initial contact, not when they come to your coffee shop office with a check. For those of you who have practices where you never meet with clients, your initial contact with them (unless it’s them using your website as an ATM to buy documents) is even more important.
While you may be in a position where the client is only calling you, most clients are calling several lawyers. Regardless, you are now auditioning for the job. That audition begins at the very moment you first speak to the client, or the person calling for the client….
An article came out this week musing on solo practice from resident tech tweeter Niki Black. I felt bad there were no comments, so I thought I would write one.
From Black’s article: “Nowadays, however, it’s much easier to launch a solo practice with a minimal up front investment. All that’s really needed is a small amount of savings, a laptop, a smart phone, and an Internet connection.”
There you have it. We’re done here. All you basement-dwelling “my law school screwed me over by lying to me” bitter and broke lawyers now have the golden ticket: a few bucks in the bank, a quick trip to Best Buy, and voila — a solo practice is born. You heard it here — “[a]ll that’s really needed” is… tech!
And let’s not get into other necessities, like opening an operating and trust account, incorporating, learning the proper way to pay yourself and the IRS, securing appropriate insurances (life, health, disability), maybe having an address to receive mail that isn’t your parents’ house, figuring out how to properly organize and store client files that aren’t in the precious “cloud,” and understanding your state bar’s advertising rules.
I’m sure there are a few dozen other things I’ve missed, but hey, you can only handle so much, right?
Hardly ever Every so often an interesting email comes across a lawyer listserv. The good ones are hard to find in the middle of, “Does anyone know a really fantastic and also really cheap lawyer in (some town no one’s heard of where there are no lawyers or courthouses) for my friend who got fired for being late 16 times but he says he was discriminated against,” or, “I know this question has been asked before (every week) but….,” or, “What is the best printer for a lawyer with no practice?”
And then there’s Solosez. This is the listserv for solo practitioners that has all the answers, except to many of the lawyers there who believe it is evidence of the end of the profession. Every once in a while I see an email from Solosez, sent by a young solo who wants to show me evidence of why they may off themselves. (Note: As a result of this disclosure, there will be an email on Solosez reminding members not to forward any evidence that what I’m saying is true emails to Brian Tannebaum anyone.)
Recently, in a moment of rare honesty by a lawyer, a solo wrote to tell fellow Sezzers (I did not make that up, they actually call themselves this) that they had failed at solo practice….
For those ignoring the unemployed “future of law” idiots typing away from their kitchen table in some crap city with a regional airport and instead still living in the universe where you believe practices can be built and survive on the referrals of others, I have some advice on maintaining your referral base. Some good stuff here, so keep reading if you actually practice law and have to bring in business instead of living off the originations of lawyers who people actually hire.
A referral base is sometimes, but not always, a two-way street. This is where honesty comes into the equation. There may be a lawyer who refers you business, to whom you would never refer business. There may be those lawyers who refer you business, but you have never had the opportunity to send them any. On the other hand, there are those lawyers to whom you send business, who haven’t sent you anything.
Referrals from other lawyers happen for two reasons, either the lawyer is your BFF, or because they know your reputation in the practice area. Sad news for some of you, your reputation, as I’ve said before, is not based on how many people have accepted your begging them invitation to write online testimonials about you….
* Don’t you wish there was some way to have a destructive Sharpie Party all over your student loan debt? [CNBC]
* Should Romney be on the ballot in Washington State? Some people say “no.” Other people say “Obama is a Kenyan Muslo-fascist who wants to turn America into a communist hunter-gatherer economy.” I say “The jury’s still out on Steve Sarkisian, that is why we’re talking about Washington, correct?” [The Stranger]
* Meanwhile, early voting is still a go in Florida. I know it’s the kind of thing that turns Federalists white(r), but would it be so wrong if there was like, one set of voting laws instead of 50? It just feels, I think the technical phrase is f**king stupid, to have 50 different set of laws governing the most fundamental civic activity in a democracy. [Election Law Blog]
* The personal injury attorney picked to be the new dean of Saint Louis Law School, Tom Keefe, will “donate” his salary back to the university. In a similar show of good faith, SLU Law students have promised to donate their debts back to Keefe. [St. Louis Business Journal]
* Man claims it’s against his “creed” to allow black people to bag his groceries. I sure hope this guy has kids because I want to find out how his religion feels about black people bagging his daughter. [Longview News-Journal]
This past week, I was in Chicago for a national conference of professional responsibility lawyers. We usually meet in the same city and at the same time as the ABA, as we have many dual members (no, not at the same time as ABA toy tech show — I’m talking about the ABA meetings where real lawyers discuss law and policy). So although I don’t attend the ABA meetings, those that do come over to our conference and vice versa.
One of the benefits of attending national (real) lawyer conferences as a small-firm lawyer with a real practice (not the social media conferences where broke and unemployed non-practicing lawyers hang out in the vendor hall), is that besides learning something, you have the ability to network and develop relationships that may turn into referrals. I hear lawyers talk about not going to conferences because of the cost. The cost, including transportation, hotel, and conference tuition should usually be no more than $1,000-$1,500. If investing that amount of money in your firm is not worth it, then you are doomed to be nothing. Stop reading now and go work on your internet presence….
In the late 90’s, lawyers taking credit cards was not the norm.
Stores took credit cards. Restaurants took credit cards. Lawyers took checks and wire transfers, and yes, cash in rubber bands. It was typical lawyer arrogance and ego – taking credit cards turned the lawyer in to a merchant, and paying a portion of the fee (because if you check your state ethics rules and opinions you may find you cannot charge the client for the percentage you pay the credit card company… oops) for the convenience of the client being able to “charge it” was seen as unattractive.
I didn’t take credit cards at first, a couple years later I started, and now I take them under certain conditions. One, I don’t advertise that I take credit cards. No signs on my door, no indication on invoices. If the client asks, the answer is yes, but like many places, there is a minimum amount (and no, it’s not $20). For volume-type lawyers who charge small fees, credit cards are a great way to sign up clients and maintain a good cash flow. For those with bigger fees and smaller practices, it’s a last resort for that client that you believe may have an issue paying, or who just can’t come up with the retainer unless it’s charged on a credit card.
Visa and Mastercard rates are lower than AMEX, but in the end, you’re looking at getting about 96% of the fee once the percentage and transaction fees are paid. If you can’t survive on that, I can’t help you.
“We’re dinosaurs, Brian,” said the 12-year lawyer in my office last week.
We were discussing the way we get cases as opposed to the way “they do it today.”
I never thought I would be called a dinosaur at 43, after 17 years in practice, but the tech hacks and non-practicing lawyers who claim to know how to build successful practices have tagged me one. They say I’m a “dying breed,” and that “lawyers like me” will be extinct very very very very soon. I try to pay attention to them, as those who have failed at law, or have never run a law practice but can predict the future of the profession with a keyboard from their kitchen table in some crap town are always worthy of my time. Unfortunately, I am usually interrupted by yet another new client calling my office.
So my colleague, the 12-year lawyer, says we’re dinosaurs. Neither of us pays an internet marketer, or buy lists of prospective “leads” to contact. Our way of getting cases isn’t as interesting. It’s usually: “Remember that guy I represented seven years ago on that thing? The referral came from him,” or, “Remember that lawyer we had that case against who we hated? He referred the client.” Our way took a while, but it was worth the long while.
Ask some “old” curmudgeon lawyer like me what “reputation management” is, and I will tell you it’s managing your reputation. It’s conducting yourself in a way that won’t cause you to have a “bad reputation,” or a “questionable reputation.” It’s about showing up to places on time, not chronically canceling, being honest, not looking like a slob, not filing documents that are nonsensical or full of typos, being professional with opposing counsel, being a zealous advocate in front of judges trying to silence you, and being asked to speak, write, and give opinions on important issues. That’s reputation management….
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We currently have a number of active openings for associate roles at US and UK firms in HK / China, Singapore and two new in-house openings. As always, please feel free to reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org in order to get details of current openings in Asia, as well as to discuss the Asia markets in general and what we expect for openings later this year. Our Evan Jowers and Robert Kinney will be in Beijing the week of March 25 and Evan Jowers will be in Hong Kong the week of April 1, if you would like to meet them in person.
The US associate openings we have in law firms are in the usual areas of M&A, cap markets, FCPA / white collar litigation, finance, and project finance. The most urgent of our top tier (top 15 US or magic circle) law firm openings in Asia (among many other firm openings that we have in Asia) are as follows:
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The last time I flapped my wings your way, I tried to make at least enough noise about your mobile phone to make you more than a little bit uncomfortable. I hope I did. If enough of us become anxious enough about the known and unknown unknowns and knowns in our mobile phones, then we can start making wise decisions about how to manage that information and its resultant investigations.
Today, I’d like to put a finer point on the last installment’s topic by asking a question that seemed to catch most attendees off-guard at a conference panel that I moderated last week: is there discoverable personal information in a mobile app? Our panelists’ answer was a uniform “yes” with one stating that, if he had to choose only one type of data that he could discover from a mobile phone, he’d choose app data. Why? Because there’s simply so much of it and because almost all of it is objective – not just user-created like an email – but machine-tracked like GPS, usage duration, log in and log out times, browsed web addresses, browsed actual addresses. Also, most of us seem to have the idea that data doesn’t actually “stick” to our mobile devices the way it “sticks” to our hard drives. Maybe there’s a disconnect based on the fact that our phones are mobile so we assume the data is mobile to?
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