Business

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…

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Dan Harris

I figured my first Above the Law post should be something aimed squarely at those who generally read this blog: American lawyers. I also figured I should lead with what I do best and that is scaring the heck out of people.

So I am going to write about four common and egregious mistakes my law firm’s China lawyers often see American domestic lawyers make when representing their clients in doing business with or in China, along with a very brief analysis of what causes American lawyers to make each sort of mistake.

1. Many years ago, a lawyer in the Midwest called us to discuss his client’s desire to form a company in China. This lawyer did not even tell us that his client was in the room. The lawyer asked us the minimum capital the Chinese government would likely require his client put into a Chinese bank to be able to start a business (a WFOE) in China. Based on the nature and size of the business, we estimated $6 to $8 million. The lawyer asked us to confirm that a portion of the required $6 to $8 million could come from factory equipment not cash, and we assured him that it could. At that point, he said, “good,” because his client had already purchased $5 million in equipment and shipped it to China.

We then had to tell him those equipment purchases could not count because they had not been previously designated as going to the WFOE. The lawyer then complained about how his client could not afford to come up with another $5 million and how China was putting form over substance. To which we could say little more than, “yeah”…

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Last Friday afternoon, we ran a fun little item: a celebrity sighting of Justice Sandra Day O’Connor at the grocery store. Judging from the strong traffic, you enjoyed the story.

So we’re happy to bring you some additional information. As it turns out, the owner of the grocery store in question is an attorney. She left a high-powered legal career to launch her business….

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Video games and the law are quite a combination. Sometimes games spawn lawsuits, like Zynga’s case against the makers of Bang With Friends (which should really just change its name to Bangville, as Joe Patrice suggested). Sometimes the law spawns games, like Primordia, created by Harvard Law grad Mark Yohalem.

Are you a lawyer who enjoys playing video games? And do you like making money?

Here’s one lawyer’s story of how he took his interest in gaming and monetized it quite nicely….

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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, Kristina Tsamis shares some career advice for JD/MBAs from a panel discussion hosted by Duke Law in conjunction with other peer law schools.

We spend a lot of time discussing the dismal employment outcomes for JD grads. Things aren’t so rosy for MBA graduates either. To talk about a dual JD/MBA degree in this context seems like a double fail — a one-two punch of more work and potentially more debt in exchange for the same sad outcome.

Enter the panelists of How to Use the JD/MBA Degree in Business and Entrepreneurship: all JD/MBA graduates who touted the usefulness of a dual degree during a discussion hosted by Duke Law in conjunction with other peer law schools. The panelists centered their advice on four main areas: what to focus on while pursuing the dual degree, how to select a good mentor, how to interview well, and how to stop being risk-averse.

1. Maintain the Right Focus as a JD/MBA student

That class in early English case law will leave you painfully ill-equipped for the modern practice of law. But there are some courses you should be paying attention to, both on the JD and MBA side.

Continue reading at the ATL Career Center…

I’m one of those lawyers that goes on vacation. Not just long weekends, real vacations. I pity those of you that pride yourselves in announcing, “I don’t take vacations.” Good for you, you pathetic drone. I didn’t take vacations at first, as I was always fearful that someone would call to hire me on a non-emergency basis and wouldn’t wait until I came back. Now I don’t care. If you can’t wait until I come back, there are plenty of lawyers on the internet to hire that can take your PayPal payment online and send you whatever documents you think you need to handle your case.

When was I able to take my first two-week vacation and not worry about business? After 14 years in private practice. I say that because I know how patient all of you are out there.

First, let me congratulate the commentariat, who I found in San Francisco had turned their child-like recurring comments into a t-shirt business. See, there’s all kinds of ways to make money as an unemployed lawyer, not to worry. (For those of you that tell me you don’t read the comments, it’s okay, just look at the picture and imagine those phrases being said over and over again, anonymously.)

Anyway, when I’m on vacation, I think about my business. I think about what I love, what I hate, and what I want to change. There is nothing like thinking about your business (not the cases or the clients) while you are away from the phone calls (if your phone is ringing), other interruptions, the deadlines, and all the trappings of a lawyer’s day. (That was tip number one of today’s column for those of you shallow folks that can’t comprehend messages that aren’t in your face with drawings.)

One of the things I do a lot while I’m away is watch other businesses. I try to figure out how they make their money, why their employees are happy, or unhappy, why their customers patronize the store, restaurant, tour company, and how they handle problems. You’re an idiot if you are trying to build your law practice solely by watching how other lawyers run their practices. Client dynamics can be found in many places, and ideas come from everywhere. Most lawyers are doing it wrong anyway. (Enter tip number two — see how that works?)

Here’s what I saw over two weeks in California….

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Business relationships are kind of like marriages. In the beginning, everyone’s excited, and life is fresh and full of promise. “Things are really going to change around here,” you think. You know that you’re going to need to make some adjustments, some compromises, but it’s all going to be worth it. You ignore small warning signs, such as the fact that your partner sometimes seems to spend a lot on discretionary items. (But at least he only bought nine pairs of Prada shoes during the trip to Italy instead of the 23 he really wanted.)

Then, as you settle into a routine, you may find that, well… things aren’t exactly as you had expected. There are minor annoyances — things that make working together take more time, communication, and effort than you had thought.

And unfortunately, like some marriages, one or more parties figure out that the benefits of the relationship don’t outweigh the negatives, and decide to part ways. You decide that 18,000 pairs of designer shoes is definitely an indication of a problem. Sometimes, the decision to separate is fairly mutual. Other times, one partner is desperately clawing out from under a pile of fancy footwear that the other only continues to build up.

Also like many marriages, at the start of the business relationship, nobody wants to think about how it will end. Ninety-nine percent of engaged couples won’t touch a prenuptial agreement with a ten-foot pole because they absolutely KNOW that they’re truly in love, and no way are they in the group of the more than 50% of married couples who will part before death.

Similarly, nobody likes to think about the business “prenup” (i.e., the termination/transition provisions in a contract) for more than a few microseconds. For example, there’s the uber-lazy version of a catchall survival provision that makes it into some contracts. It basically says as follows: “Everything in this agreement that’s intended to survive termination will survive”….

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By the time I made the switch to in-house work, I was burned out on litigating. Some of my friends and colleagues live for the fight, or as Wallerstein recently said, “have a fire in their belly.” In my case, I just couldn’t draft yet another motion to compel, interrogatory, etc. I had been doing it so long that it had become mundane. Appearing in court was always a kick, and depositions could be entertaining, but the day to day fun had dissipated.

Due to the economy and firm billing practices, I found myself at times resorting to noting “.1s” on my time sheets. So, when my bio says I don’t miss litigation, I really don’t. And what I don’t miss most of all is the bluster of the powerful down to the less leveraged.

In litigation, bluster can begin as soon as the adversary reads your bio and decides that you are not quite a peer. This inappropriate elitism only worsens when one side gains the upper hand for whatever reason; the bluster ends, and the bludgeoning begins….

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Going to law school worked out great for this guy.

And now we come to the real reason I, and so many others, went to law school: I wanted to go into politics. Before I was married, before my father’s name recognition spiked, before I was in debt, before I realized I had no talent asking people for money, I thought elected office was in my future and a law degree was an important credential.

Don’t act like I’m the only one. For as long as anybody can remember, a training in law has been viewed as a good foundation for an eventual career in politics. Even if you never practice, it makes sense that a person who would make laws would have a fundamental understanding of how laws work. A law degree also suggests a certain respect for the rules, a useful quality for those who would be in charge of the rules. In the modern era, law has been the best “career” for would-be politicians to start out in, and historically only military service has been a more common way to elected office.

But maybe that’s all changing? Catherine Rampell of the New York Times has a great piece showing that while lawyers are still the dominant profession among our senators and congresspeople, there are fewer former lawyers running Washington than there have been for a generation.

So, you know, just add one more way in which law school isn’t as valuable as it used to be…

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Tom Wallerstein

When I started my firm, several mentors gave me the same advice: Don’t work for free. It’s easy to see the problem with working for free. Giving away what you’re trying to sell isn’t exactly in the business plan. Unfortunately, this sage advice can only really be learned the hard way, through experience.

Working for free can arise in many different ways. The most obvious example is a client who wants you to represent him but can only promise to pay you later.

Even if your gut tells you that taking on that client is a bad idea, this can be surprisingly tempting to a new firm or solo practice. For starters, there is such a thrill with getting your first client, or your first “real” client, or your first big client, or your first whatever client, that the excitement can cloud your better judgment. You will be tempted to overlook the red flags that you will not be paid for your work….

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