Jay Shepherd

Have you ever noticed that some lawyers become different people when they get in front of a keyboard?

It’s like a Jekyll-and-Hyde kind of thing. They might be perfectly pleasant individuals in real life, capable of warmth or at least civility to their fellow human beings. But get them in front of a computer with a law-firm template on the screen, and they turn into some sort of lawyerly unmanned drone.

Most lawyers, especially junior lawyers, have an idea about what a lawyer letter is supposed to look like. It generally has fancy lawyerly words like “pursuant to,” and it usually includes lawyerly weirdnesses like parenthetically writing numbers in figures after having just spelled out the numbers in words (“If we do not receive a response for you and/or your counsel in five (5) days …”), and it almost always contains threats about Very Bad Things happening. And they tend to be uniformly douchey.

But here are four (4) reasons why lawyer letters are less effective than phone calls.…

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Before this column launched, I spent several moments stewing over possible pseudonyms. After all, branding is everything. So, I wanted to come up with a name that said to my audience that I was a small-firm expert and a super-cool chick. Naturally, I picked the name that is synonymous with post-menopausal Jewish bubbies. Perhaps I still have a thing or two to learn about branding.

I am not the only small-firm lawyer with a problem selecting the right name. Indeed, after Jay Shepherd opened my eyes to the hyphen-crisis, I began noticing a comma-crisis. Specifically, I noticed that there are a lot of small firms with way too many last names strung together with commas.

Why is it that many small firms have such problems coming up with the perfect firm name? Let’s explore this age-old question….

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Self-driving Vegas Cash Cab would be the most awesome thing ever.

* Self-driving cars in Vegas? Yes please, I want to play destination roulette. [ABA Journal]

* Wow, I guess law schools are still afraid of being exposed by the New York Times. Here’s some Case Western news, from Professor Jonathan Adler. [Volokh Conspiracy]

* A follow-up on Tim Wu’s recent Quote of the Day about Asians vs. whites, from a woman’s point of view. [The Ying-a-Ling (fka Exley of ATL Idol)]

* Tarting yourself up and pushing ice cream is one option for recent law school graduates. [DNAinfo]

* Our tax code is full of chicken s**t. [Going Concern]

* I used to get something called a “heart attack” at the old Tasty in Harvard Square. I never died from it, and I was pretty sure that scientists hadn’t yet perfected the way to distill a major coronary event into a sandwich. [WSJ Law Blog]

* I hope there are enough swords for King & Spalding managers to fall on. [The Careerist]

* I feel sorry for Osama bin Laden’s relatives. I mean, I don’t give a damn what they think they’re entitled to, but I still feel a little bit sorry for them. [CNN]

* Jay Shepherd puts his hyphen advice to practical rhetorical use. (Or: A chance to see and hear @JayShep, in the flesh.) [LexThink via YouTube]

* Not law-related, but this is the best thing that’s been written about Ben Kenobi since Return of the Jedi (and yes, I know what’s been released since Jedi). [Popurls]


You always hear this business axiom: “The customer is always right.” Whether true or not, you’re supposed to at least let the customer believe that he or she is correct. But in my experience, that doesn’t always work.

Before I went to law school, I was a banker. (That sentence makes me sound old, since I started law school 20 years ago this fall. Whatever.) Anywho, in my years as a banker, I frequently had to explain to customers the vagaries of the American banking system. “What do you mean my money’s not in my account? I just deposited the check. Of course it’s there!” No, sir, I’d have to say. Your money’s not there. Your check hasn’t cleared. The customer was very often just not right.

Turns out, practicing law isn’t much different. Your clients are often wrong. And your job as their lawyer is often to tell them that they’re wrong.

Even if it gets you fired.…

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Did you watch Lost? I was a big fan of the show, which ran on ABC from 2004 to 2010. The series required quite a commitment from its viewers, since it had a large ensemble cast and was a true serial — you really couldn’t miss any episodes. After the third season, the producers made the unusual announcement that the series would definitely conclude at the end of the sixth season. Since so many elements of the show remained a mystery until the very end, it became a guessing game as to whether the writers would be able to tie everything together into a satisfying ending.

Toward the end of the final season, the show revealed a location that we’d never seen before that was crucial to explaining the Island’s secrets. (I’m not giving anything away here if you haven’t seen it.) But the location, a glowing cave, was rendered with cheesy special effects that looked like they’d been borrowed from the original 1960s “Star Trek” series. The bad effects were so jarring that they took the viewer out of the story, causing you to say, “What’s with the cheeseball special effects?”

What the heck does this have to do with improving your legal writing? Find out after the jump.…

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There comes a time in the career of every law-firm lawyer when she realizes that her bosses are acting like idiots, that “they’re doing it wrong,” and that she could do a better job if she were running her own law firm. Most of the time, that idea goes no further: the lawyer rattles off a few choice curse words, ignores the partners’ shortcomings, gets the work done the way they want it, and lives to fight another day.

But for a small minority, this outburst becomes an epiphany, and then turns into a dream (kind of like Inception, but in reverse), then an obsession, then finally a reality. Others, like me, always knew that they they were going to start their own law firms, and it didn’t take frustration with partners for that idea to form.

So when’s the perfect time to start your own firm? The answer is the same as for the question of when’s the perfect time to start having kids:

Never.

But forget the “perfect” time. When’s the best time to start your own firm?

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I have a temper.

That might surprise people who know me casually, like my professional acquaintances. I work hard to keep it in check. Over the past 17 years as an employment litigator (representing companies), I’ve gotten better at controlling my anger. But it hasn’t always been easy.

Because lawyers can be pretty adept at pissing people off.

In fact, I know many people who left litigation — even left practicing law altogether — primarily because they were sick of dealing with obnoxious opposing lawyers. And I’m not talking about thin-skinned, confrontation-avoiding types. I’m talking about solid, talented litigators who just stopped finding it fun to fight with douchebags all the time.

And this is more of an issue for newer small-firm lawyers, who are much more likely to deal with opposing counsel early in their careers than their Biglaw counterparts. (Maybe someone else here can write a post on dealing with obnoxious document reviews.)

So to help you deal with the toolbags that all litigators face from time to time, here are five tips that I’ve picked up along the way….

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My first job out of law school was at a five-lawyer employment-law boutique: two partners, two other associates, and me. (OK, it was my only job out of law school; I started my firm after four years at this boutique.) The other two associates were third-years when I started. To be sure, they were both excellent lawyers and had already gained much experience working in a small firm with top-quality partners.

(I’ve often said that I’d take a third-year small-firm associate over a Biglaw third-year any day. The Biglaw associates have spent two years reading cases and writing memos; the small-firm lawyers have actually been doing, you know, lawyer work.)

I got along well with both associates, but one of them had more of a hierarchical view of the firm. One day, after I’d been there a couple months, that associate said to me, “I have an assignment for you.”

Being the new kid at the firm, the proper and deferential response might have been “Great. Thanks. Happy to help.” But my answer was less proper and by no means deferential.

And even though it ruffled some feathers, I’d recommend it to any new associate at a small firm. What I said was …

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I’ve got news for you: The future of practicing law will not be about cloud computing. It won’t be about tablets or offshoring or client self-help or virtual law offices. It won’t be about e-discovery, or practice management, or paperless offices. Yes, these things will certainly all happen; many are happening now, and a number of them are helping to give small firms an advantage, or at least level the playing field. But they will not be the biggest change in our industry.

I recently gave a speech on what the practice of law would look like in 2019. I chose that year for two reasons. First, it’s the year that the classic sci-fi movie Blade Runner takes place, with a younger-than-Calista-Flockhart-is-now Harrison Ford playing a cop who rides in flying cars and hunts robots that look like humans.

I’ve got news for you, guys: There won’t be any flying cars eight years from now. (Which is probably just as well, as people will insist on texting while flying.)

But the other reason I chose 2019 is because it will be the hundredth anniversary of something nearly every lawyer deals with all day every day.…

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Ed. note: This is the latest installment of Small Firms, Big Lawyers, one of Above the Law’s new columns for small-firm lawyers.

Funny story: One day during my third year of law school, I overslept and missed an important session of my Sales class. The problem is, when I tried to get the notes for the class, the only one who had … pardon me? Yes, Sales. No, not UCC Sales. “Sales.” As in “How to Market and Sell Your Legal Services.” … So, anyway, the only one who had the notes … what’s that? You didn’t? Seriously? So how were you supposed to learn how to sell your services as a lawyer?

Turns out my story, which was going to be hysterical, was also completely fabricated. Like you, I didn’t learn a damned thing about sales in law school. But at the time (the early nineties), that seemed OK. It’s a profession, you see. Sales is for commerce. Lawyers aren’t in commerce; we’re in a vocation.

Yeah, right.

As the practice of law careens away from its eighteenth-century traditions, where clients just find you, lawyers today (and especially small-firm lawyers) need to rely on sales skills to bring in business. Since we didn’t learn these in law school, we have to rely on our natural sales ability. Unfortunately, lawyers tend not to have any.

In fact, as a group, we suck at sales. But the reason we suck will probably surprise you.…

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