Relationships

If you’re not online, then you’re losing traction (and clients) to the professionals cultivating a strong online presence through the act of blogging. The Internet is a communication ecosystem that amplifies the effect of lucrative referrals with “word-of-mouse spread[ing] even faster than word-of-mouth,” according to a Harvard Business School study, The Economics of E-Loyalty.

An Example of Traction Through Blogging

Within six months of launching the Connecticut Employment Law Blog, Dan Schwartz got the high sign that his blog was working:

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Dr. N. Robert Riordan

Dr. N. Robert Riordan is a graduate of NYU School of Law and a former U.S. securities attorney for London- and Sydney-based Herbert Smith Freehills. After 10 years of practice in New York, London and Rome, he made the switch from corporate law to private practice as a clinical psychologist. Dr. Riordan now acts as a therapist to dozens of NYC attorneys. The following is the second of a two-part interview with Dr. Riordan. (You can read the first part here.)

ATL: In addition to professionals like attorneys, whom do you see in your private practice?

The remainder of my practice focuses on couples. I work with two distinct types of couples. First, I see couples whose romantic relationships are in crisis. The goal here is to improve their bond to one another. I happen to see many couples where both parties are professionals, and, most often, each member of the couple is struggling to balance personal and professional demands.

ATL: I would imagine that couples come to treatment for a variety of reasons.

I work with many couples whose connection to one another has been strained by things like demanding careers, childrearing, or an unexpected financial hardship. These couples are looking to recapture the connection that originally brought them together and to start working as a partnership again. Also I work with a handful of couples who are facing specific challenges, like infidelity or the loss of a child.

ATL: Has your training as an attorney prepared you for the conflicts that presumably arise in couples’ therapy?

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Congratulations to the newly minted Biglaw partners out there. Despite Biglaw’s current problems and murky future, it really is a signature professional achievement. So take a night, or a week, or even two to celebrate. And then get ready to start re-evaluating your entire life, top to bottom. You may not get a better chance, ever.

What am I talking about? Simple. In order to make partner in today’s Biglaw, you have made numerous sacrifices. Whether it be your student debt, your relationships, your waistline, or anything else, your sacrifice has now been validated. You now occupy a new professional status, and the nature of making partner is such that no matter how badly you screw up the rest of your life, you have accomplished something very rare. It is a life milestone, on par with getting married or winning the lottery in terms of its immediate alteration of your identity. A minute ago, you were single. Now, married. A minute ago, you were just another Biglaw associate. Now, you are a partner. Beautiful.

I am not discussing here the “professional” aspects about making partner, such as the need to start building a book of business, and how to handle yourself at the office. You will learn most of what you need to know on that front at your new partner orientation — a gloatfest galore, typically — and you will then spend a career figuring it all out.

Rather, I want to address some of the “personal” ramifications that hearing the good news of your “election” or “promotion” will lead to. Because it would be a shame to waste this golden opportunity to change the things about your life that you are less than perfectly satisfied with….

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Last week, I wrote about how gossiping at the office can indicate that you’re in dire need of soft skills training or may be a pathetic, passive-aggressive coward. Or, more likely, both. After I submitted the post to ATL, David Lat (aka The Legal Gossipmonger Grandmaster) reminded me that hey, gossip can be positive too! The Grandmaster was absolutely right, of course, as my article had really only focused on the type of gossip where people whine and complain about their coworkers.

I thought, hmm, true — gossiping at work can definitely have a positive impact on you if you’re gaining information that will be useful to you on the job. Like finding out about which IT dude won’t treat you like the complete tech idiot that you are. Thanks to one of the commenters, I decided to dig a little further into what some of the other positive effects of gossip could be. And I was surprised by what I learned….

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So, OMG you seriously haven’t heard that Brittany likes Mark, but Mark likes Claire even though he’s flirting with Brittany? Yeah, Mark — the guy who’s so dumb that the last time he cheated on a test he still failed… I know right, he’s so hot!

High school gossip can cover many aspects of life. Sometimes the chatter is about school and tests. Sometimes it’s about who got invited to the cool parties and got sick on the street later. But most often, it’s about juicy dish. (Kind of like ATL, pimply puberty-style, except… hmm, never mind, it’s just like ATL.)

In-house gossip is thoroughly less satisfying. It’s more about who ticked off whom a couple of years ago, who’s slacking off and getting away with it when the rest of us can’t, and who could vie for the gold if kissing up to senior executives were an Olympic event. The juicy stuff that I used to get wind of once in a while from law firm peers seems rare in an in-house setting. Little did I realize that I was giving up such a quality of life factor when taking this job. People really need to give you a heads up about these things.

Seriously though, kids who gossip in high school are immature. But, well, that’s just about everybody in high school, so it’s all good. (The mature ones are the weirdos — avoid them like the plague, high school kiddies.) Gossiping at work, however, is viewed as less acceptable and is instead indicative of needed soft skills improvement…

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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.

What about house calls?

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In Proof of an External World, G. E. Moore famously defended the concept of certainty: Moore could put his hand in front of his face and say (with certainty): “Here is a hand.”

Ludwig Wittgenstein disagreed. Wittgenstein was uncertain whether he knew — with certainty — that the hand in front of his face actually existed. The first sentence of Wittgenstein’s On Certainty reads: “If you do know that here is one hand, we’ll grant you all the rest.”

(Hah! You thought you came to Above the Law to read about bonuses and pictures of naked judges. It turns out that we’re epistemology through and through. But I digress.)

On three recent occasions, I’ve heard (or heard of) people asking, “Are you sure?”

I’m with Wittgenstein on this one: I can’t even tell you that “this is my hand,” for heaven’s sake; how dare you ask if I’m sure about a legal judgment?

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According to George Will, “Pessimism has its pleasures. Ninety percent of the time you’re right, and ten percent of the time you’re delighted to be wrong.”

That’s how I go through life.

What made me a pessimist? Nature or nurture, perhaps? (Should I blame my parents’ genes or their parenting skills?) Decades defending litigation, which forced me perpetually into a defensive crouch? (If that’s the reason, then plaintiffs’ lawyers must be optimists.) Or my preferred explanation: Keen observation of reality, coupled with endless experience, naturally breeds pessimism.

As an outside lawyer, my pessimism meant that I presumptively expected the worst (or, at a minimum, the least) from colleagues, opposing counsel, clients, and courts. Those folks generally performed precisely to my expectation, reinforcing my pessimism.

As an in-house lawyer, how does pessimism infuse life?

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There is nothing more important to lawyers than time. Time spent on cases (especially if you’re in trying to win the “most billable hours” contest award at your funeral), time in the day to “do everything,” time to enjoy the fruits of your labor. Everything comes down to time. The reason you don’t do certain things is because you claim to “have no time.”

Lawyers base their entire lives on time. Many try to figure out the latest time when they can roll out of bed to be on time to the office or court. We live on deadlines. We appear in court when told, file documents on certain dates (or fax them on certain dates at 4:59), and we set appointments for things. There are other things we want to do -– other things we need to do, but we use the excuse of “no time” as a crutch.

Truth is, we have plenty of time, we just don’t use it well. We let our practices control us, instead of trying to control our practices. Clients and cases will run lives, if you let them. Some lawyers believe the essence of being a lawyer is letting clients run their lives, we must let clients know we are available 24/7.

You can call me 24/7, but I’m no longer answering the phone when I’m doing something I consider more important than making money…

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If you’re trying to build a word-of-mouth-based referral practice (is anyone doing that anymore?), you may be frustrated with two things about some of your referral sources: they don’t appear to know what it is you do, and they don’t make a real effort to get you the case/client.

Let’s talk about the bad referrals first.

We’ve all been there. The call comes in, the client was referred by a familiar name, and he wants to hire you to do something you don’t do or don’t want to do. Maybe you’re a divorce lawyer but don’t want to handle child custody modifications, or you’re a commercial litigator who has said many times that you don’t do collections work.

If you’re getting the wrong referrals, it’s your fault…

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