Legal Research

Ed. note: This is the fourth installment in a new series of posts from the ATL Career Center’s team of expert contributors. Today, we have some great advice for newly minted attorneys from Joshua Stein, the principal of Joshua Stein PLLC, a prominent commercial real estate law practice in Manhattan.

It’s your first year as a new lawyer. What do you need to know? How can you not screw it up? Here are some suggestions, based on more than 30 years of experience — as an associate at two firms, then a brief time as an associate at a third firm, followed by 20+ years as a partner at that third firm. These suggestions reflect my own experiences, lessons learned along the way, and what I’ve seen and heard from others. Nothing here applies specifically or uniquely to any firm where I worked.

It’s a Business. As much as we might all want law firms to be kind and gentle, remember that client demands are not kind and gentle. Also remember that a firm’s profitability — the ultimate main event — depends on buying a lot of legal expertise wholesale, converting it into as many hours of billable legal work as possible, then selling those hours at retail. That isn’t going to go away. Get used to it. That’s the business you’re in. If you don’t want to be in it, go find some other business to be in.

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Ah, the Bluebook. Some people love it, but even more people despise it. If you ask my colleague Elie Mystal about the Bluebook, he’ll tell you that it’s the only book in the world he’d actually consider burning in public. Even federal judges hate the Bluebook. In fact, when we held a poll about whether use of the Bluebook should be abolished, 51% of our readers agreed that it should be banished.

All that being said, is it any wonder that a student from a law school in Virginia is raging against the law review’s upcoming Bluebook exam? Several law students have written to us about this student’s “guerilla campaign” against the school’s annual exercise in “academic hazing,” and they have even provided us with copies of this kid’s manifesto. (Yeah, he’s got one.)

Who is this revolutionary, and why does he think the school’s Bluebook exam needs to go?

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Tom Wallerstein

Over the last few years, the legal market has changed dramatically. We live in a buyer’s market in which the clients hold the upper hand and can demand financial concessions from their attorneys that go beyond lower hourly rates.

This good news for clients might sound like bad news for lawyers. If lawyers can’t charge as much, they likely won’t make as much. But although greater price competition might lower revenue for some firms, it surely presents an opportunity for others. Small law firms often compete with bigger firms on price, and increased client sensitivity to legal fees can be a marketing boon to firms that can undercut their competition (with the familiar caveat, of course, that the smaller firm must be able to provide the resources and quality required by the particular matter).

The changing market invites, if not demands, lawyers to offer concessions for clients. Happily, many of the concessions have relatively little impact on the firm’s bottom line, but can garner significant goodwill with clients. For example….

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Where would lawyers be without open (and absurdly expensive) access to Westlaw and Lexis-Nexis for legal research? They’d have to trudge down to the closest law library and read real books made of paper. They’d have to head over to the courthouse and pull actual files with non-electronic documents inside of them. In a time where legal texts are used solely for decorative bookshelf purposes, that is just too much to ask.

But that is the behavior that two lawyers would expect of their professional colleagues. As we mentioned in Morning Docket, they claim that the legal database providers have been engaging in “unabashed wholesale copying of thousands of copyright-protected works created by, and owned by, the attorneys and law firms who authored them.”

Do they have any chance of winning their class action copyright suit?

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The great thing about free stuff is that it is free. Nobody cares what kind of plastic junk they’re getting as long as it’s free. Why do sports fans go nuts over t-shirt cannons, even though the shirts are ugly as hell and always XXL? Duh, because they’re free.

To me, it seems logical that no one has any right to complain when free stuff is taken away, or when it turns out to be a major letdown.

If you want a crummy T-shirt so badly, go buy one. If you want to go to Starbucks, don’t complain that your aunt Maggie didn’t give you a big enough gift card for Christmas. Just go buy your coffee.

Judging from a recent LexisNexis online promotion geared toward law students, though, it seems I might be in the minority. On its Facebook page, Lexis has been advertising “challenges” for law students. Supposedly, the first 1,000 students to complete each challenge win 1,000 “Lexis points,” which are similar to credit card rewards points.

Tragically, some computer problems caused students to have trouble accessing and submitting their answers earlier this week. A tidal wave of law school students became enraged and took to Lexis’s Facebook with their fury. Woe to he who angers law students….

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Welcome to the latest edition of Above the Law’s Grammer Pole of the Weak, a column where we turn questions of legal writing and English grammar and usage over to our readers for discussion and debate.

Last week, we found out that only 29% of our readers lie back and think of England when dealing with punctuation and quotation marks. Makes you proud to be an American, doesn’t it?

This week, we turn to a hotly-debated issue among legal professionals: the use of the Bluebook. At least one federal judge hates it, joining hundreds upon thousands of law students to date.

Should we consider putting the Bluebook on the backburner in our legal writing?

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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.

Let me tell you about a couple of cases I lost. Now, wait: before the Commentariat sharpens its knives (“This guy couldn’t get a big-firm job, then loses all his cases. No wonder he’s writing for ATL. Heh.” — Guest), let me point out a few things. In 17 years as an employment litigator, I’ve won plenty more cases than I’ve lost. But I didn’t learn as much from the cases I won; I learned much more from the ones I lost.

So this post covers the single most important lesson I’ve learned in litigation, and now I’m sharing it with you. You didn’t learn it in law school, and you’re not likely to find a CLE on it. But the lesson these two cases illustrate can prevent you from making the most common mistake lawyers make.

And learning that lesson will help you win more cases.…

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[N]eedless to say, I have not read the nineteenth edition. I have dipped into it, much as one might dip one’s toes in a pail of freezing water. I am put in mind of Mr. Kurtz’s dying words in Heart of Darkness — ‘The horror! The horror!’ — and am tempted to end there.

— Judge Richard Posner, in a scathing Yale Law Journal review of The Bluebook: A Uniform System of Citation (19th ed.).

(For additional discussion and funny excerpts, see Paul Horwitz, Ilya Somin, and Eugene Volokh.)

Although no accredited law school offered night classes, public interest did not require granting of accreditation to law school offering night classes, absent a sound operation, because there was no compelling need for additional law graduates.

Matter of Laclede School of Law, 700 S.W.2d 81 (Mo. 1985) (via Westlaw Headnote of the Day).

Over the next year, LexisNexis is rolling out a completely redesigned research platform, and guess who they’re starting with? From the press release that came out Tuesday:

LexisNexis… today announced the launch of Lexis® Advance for Solos – the first in a series of releases of new Lexis® Advance online legal research tools. Created through close collaboration with solo practice lawyers to meet their unique requirements, Lexis Advance for Solos is the first online legal research solution built specifically for solo attorneys…

That’s right. They’re starting with solos. Maybe we don’t need to worry so much about advancing the small firm agenda after all? Perhaps, but I suspect that the real answer is that solos represent the market where Lexis has the most to gain.

But, let’s not quibble over why it’s here. It’s here, and I got a sneak preview of the new product Monday morning. Said “peek” was actually a LexisNexis-led tour via Microsoft’s Live Meeting, so read this with the caveat that I didn’t have a chance to truly kick the tires.

Dubbed Lexis® Advance for Solos, the product went live for purchase on Monday, October 4, and is available only for one and two lawyer outfits. Future segments of the new Lexis Advance platform, including those specifically for Biglaw and even for paralegals, will roll out over the course of the next year, but who cares? Solos have the floor!

My thoughts on the new product, sample screen shots, and pricing, after the break…

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