Practice Pointers

Federal judges don’t always tell lawyers that their writing is crap, but when they do, they’ll do it in a publicly filed court order. Because while judges have got many a tool in their benchslapping arsenal, a public shaming is perhaps the most useful of them all.

Today’s instance of public shaming comes to us courtesy of Judge Steven Merryday (M.D. Fla.), the same fellow who denied a motion to suspend trial in a death penalty case from an attorney who wanted to participate in an Ernest Hemingway look-alike contest.

Let’s jump right in and see what happened, because this judge had a field day with redlining….

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I have borrowed the Boy Scout motto because I am involved in a complex cross-border transaction. Yeah, I am not kidding. I am using today’s column to point up the importance of in-house counsel being involved in a difficult deal as close to inception as possible.

Usually, the field calls when there is an approval needed for some non-standard language, or a review of a legal concept is required. At this stage in a deal, the parties are well on their way to completion, and some legal issue has arisen. But, in a complex global agreement, there are numerous variables that one must remain on top of from the start. Foremost is an understanding of the deal itself. A very close second is an understanding of what exactly the Customer is expecting, having awarded an RFP to your company.

RFPs are quirky animals, rife with opportunity for miscommunication or differing interpretations of answers. The field has prepared its response in reaction to the knowledge that several competitors are bidding on the same deal. And we all know that field ops are known for their lack of puffery and straight arrow responses to questions like, “Can you deliver X in Dubai on a single day’s notice?” Not to denigrate field ops, but the answers are always, “Yes, yes, a thousand times yes,” setting the Customer’s expectation at such a high level, that when it comes time to actually negotiate Ts and Cs, you, in-house lawyer-person, are going out to some very hungry wolves….

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It’s annoying when people talk about stuff they know little about. (Unless it’s on a law blog, in which case this is assumed.) Take Twitter. Most people I know who’ve decided that Twitter is a waste of time have either never used it or tried it out briefly and given up. It’s particularly annoying when you’re attending a social media CLE and one of the panelists says, “I don’t get Twitter.” I’ve seen this happen more than once and automatically think, “And I’m listening to you why…?”

Twitter is partly to blame for this. The site launched eight years ago with a prompt for users to answer the question, “What are you doing?” This led to the assumption that users would post stuff like they just had a soup and sandwich for lunch. As if any of us would care. Twitter has since updated the question to “What’s happening?” which is a more accurate reflection of the variety of content that’s actually shared on Twitter.

I’m one of those people who created a Twitter account some time ago and promptly forgot about its existence. Then, about two years ago, I decided to try Twitter out in earnest for two reasons: one that was related to work and the other that was much more selfish….

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I went to vote Saturday at 7:20 a.m. I left with my “I voted” sticker at 12:39 p.m. When you stand in line for five hours, even a person like me has to pass the time by speaking to someone. After skimming through the morning paper and making a futile attempt to find something interesting on Twitter or Facebook, Jeff asked me a simple question: “What do you do?”

In the backdrop was typical polling place activity. There were signs everywhere. Many candidates had a half-dozen signs in a row at the entrance to the polling place. Apparently one sign isn’t enough anymore. The candidates were in all smiles, “asking” for votes, while the candidates’ shills designees were begging for votes by lying to everyone about everything saying they were a “mom,” or “not a politician.” People who didn’t even know the candidate were wearing their t-shirts and shoving palm cards in voters hands, and a long line of voters — some knowledgeable about the issues, and others not having a clue — were just waiting make their decision official.

It was like the internet, live.

On one side, there were people looking to make a decision, on the other, a bunch of people wanting to be “hired.” The one common thread was that the candidates wanted to make sure each person in line knew they, and their campaign, were there. The difference was how they did it….

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Previously on Moonlighting, we considered some common mistakes that law firm attorneys make when pitching their firms to seek work from new clients. It featured such dramatic gems as: find out who our enemies are; BS sounds like… gee, whaddya know… BS; and cameos from other need-to-know concepts making their appearance on the big (computer) screen.

In this week’s episode article, we’ll look at the other side of the coin, with a remake that focuses on the in-house lawyer’s perspective. What are some ways that in-house lawyers can ensure that they get the most out of those pitch meetings?

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I know that having people answer your phone or type documents for you is part of the past and a sure path to extinction, but for those that actually employ people and are looking for ways to better that relationship, read on.

Like many lawyers, I’ve been through receptionists and secretaries. Some left for school, or other jobs, and some left because they had a different concept of the truth, or the meaning of “9:00 a.m.”

I have three rules for office staff: never lie to me, never try to fix a problem without telling me about it, and be on time. When I hire a receptionist, I put a telephone on the conference table and say that “this is the most important thing in this office.”

The relationship between lawyers and staff has a built-in tension — they help you make money, but are usually paid a very small percentage of what you make. They know that. Yes, they aren’t as educated, they’re not licensed, and they shouldn’t expect to make what you make, but the premise remains. Your secretary or receptionist opens the mail and sees the checks, takes the credit card information, gives out the wire transfer information and gets the confirmations, and knows what kind of money is coming in. They are helping you run your practice so you can make money, and they need to be treated that way….

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You’re an attorney at a mid-sized or large firm and have received an opportunity to pitch your firm’s work to a brand new prospective client. You’ve researched the company and the deals that your firm has worked on that would be a good match. All you have to do is go into the meeting sounding like you know what you’re talking about, and soon you’ll be raking in the hourly dough, right?

Perhaps. Many attorneys would be benefit from heeding Alexander Graham Bell’s words: “Before anything else, preparation is the key to success.” A lot of you falsely believe you’re just unnaturally talented at just winging it. And most of the companies you pitch to will never tell you that no, you’re really not. What follows are some actual examples of some common mistakes that lawyers make when pitching their firms to in-house counsel….

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Last week, I focused on the stupidity of competing on price as opposed to competing on quality and service. And I understand, young lawyers believe all they have is the ability to compete on price. More experienced lawyers believe they have to compete on price because today’s clients don’t care about anything but price.

You can convince yourself of anything. As for price, convince yourself of this — continue to compete on price and you’ll spend your career becoming the cheapest lawyer in town.

Now let’s talk about using the competition as a resource….

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A plumber once told me, “There’s price, quality, and service — I can only give two. Pick which ones you want.”

In the service business there are those that focus on beating the competition the easy way — price. Quality and service are often assumed by unknowing clients who believe that a $500 lawyer is going to offer the quality and service of the $5,000 lawyer (sometimes that’s true). You find out your “competition” quoted a flat fee of $10,000 for the representation, so you’ll do it for $7,500.00. You’ve determined the client is only hiring on price, and you’re good at price. You would never think to tell the client that your fee is $15,000.00. You don’t feel confident in your quality or service, nor that the client cares. You’re just trying to compete at the lowest common denominator.

Focusing on the competition is a waste of time. I see it over and over again. A group of lawyers start a niche and there is a standard fee no matter who you hire. Then some young broke stud jumps in and charges $20 less. A few years later, everyone is charging 60 percent less. No one is making money, except those that aren’t focused on the competition….

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Last week, we evaluated the importance of executive presence for gaining your colleagues’ trust and confidence, as well for career advancement. We also examined more specifically what we may be inadvertently communicating to others with just our body language. For those of you who didn’t have a chance to read last week’s article, I know you’re dying to find out what you missed (your body language told me), so you can catch up right here.

In this article, we’ll explore several other qualities that together create the bright and beautiful package of executive presence that you can use to rule the world. MUAHAHAHAHA. (I know, I have a bit of a problem…sorry….)

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