Small Law Firms

Every couple of months, I get a legal technology newsletter that mentions the Word vs. WordPerfect debate. It’s not so much a debate as it is a handful of lawyers arguing with everyone that WordPerfect is better than Word. I’ve had this discussion in person multiple times before as well. A few months ago, an attorney tried to convince me that WordPerfect is better because you can press ctrl+c and ctrl+v to copy and then paste text. People usually bring up that federal courts require proposed orders to be in WordPerfect format (although this is no longer true). No matter what the argument is, there is usually some name calling.

WordPerfect is like Latin. It’s dead and used only by lawyers. When I see people arguing why WordPerfect should still exist, I always picture that person as someone who still has a Gore/Lieberman bumper sticker on their car. It’s over. Decisively over. It is the betamax of word processing software. It has lost the race.

Most people have moved on from WordPerfect for the same reason that language was invented in the first place: to communicate with others. You cannot share .wpd files with people outside your office. Unless you represent Corel, your client probably has Word. Sure you can open a .wpd in Word or save a WordPerfect file as a Word document, but the formatting is so screwed up that it’s usually unusable as a pleading. And, sure you can save it as a .pdf, but then you might as well print it and scan it.

Here are the arguments that I see every time on this issue:

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Since Lat tweeted this past weekend about my UpCounsel profile, I thought I would share some thoughts about my experience with the service to date. First off, compared to leaving a Biglaw partnership to open a new firm, trying out a new legal platform was easy. I first heard about UpCounsel from a former in-house client who had struck out on his own. He happens to now be back in-house, but at the time we discussed UpCounsel, he was very enthusiastic about his experience using the site. Since I happen to like trying out new things, signing up once I left Biglaw was an easy decision.

Notice how I did not join UpCounsel while a Biglaw partner. Such things are simply not done. For all of Biglaw’s talk about encouraging partners to be “entrepreneurial” or to “try new marketing ideas,” there is a lot of resistance to using “new ways” to reach potential new clients. Couple that inertia with a general distaste towards marketing individual lawyers at the expense of “firm branding” (aside from a select group of key current rainmakers), and platforms like UpCounsel face a Tough Mudder-level set of obstacles to overcome if they want to break into the Biglaw firm marketing rotation. But I don’t think UpCounsel and their “evolution of legal services”-oriented kin want to….

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Keith Lee

One of the great, unspoken realities of being a new lawyer that is never mentioned in law school is that you are going to screw up – badly. And then you’re going to have to explain it to your client or supervising attorney.

You’re going to miss a deadline, not file an objection, miss some case law, or not contact an attorney involved in the case on a hearing. A mistake is going to be made and it will be your fault.

You may be tempted to try and shift the blame. Come up with excuses as to why something outside of your control caused the problem. That you were swamped with work and had too much on your plate. He said, she said. But if it was a task assigned to you, it is your personal responsibility to make sure it was completed on time and specification.

As the task, and subsequent mistake, are your responsibility – you must own it….

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Bruce Stachenfeld

I give credit for the inspiration of this article to a writer named Seth Godin who wrote a book called The Purple Cow (affiliate link). My law firm benefited hugely from this book.

The theory of the Purple Cow in a nutshell is that you should try to STAND OUT like a purple cow would stand out from the other mere brown cows. If you don’t STAND OUT, then you just blend in, and you are nothing at all.

Okay, so that is a good point – as if you didn’t know that already. But it is not that simple. And here is why. Our instincts and everything we learn every day – our emotions, our colleagues, and our loved ones – all lead us in the safe (and wrong) direction.

And the reason for this is very simple:

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When the world economy took a gigantic dump in 2008, among the many people whose jobs were flushed down the toilet were in-house recruiters and human resources employees of mid-size and large companies. Some of them began writing op-ed pieces on the internet advising employers how they should weed out the many résumés they received during those difficult times. By far, the most controversial advice was: Don’t hire the unemployed.

In the last few years, there were numerous news reports of employers refusing to hire the unemployed on the belief that it was the employee’s fault that he was fired. After all, if the employee worked harder by producing the extra widget or billing the extra hour, then his employer would magically generate extra business and would not have to cut staff, file bankruptcy or close up shop. And the housing market would not have collapsed. This irrational, unfair and possibly racist practice got so prevalent that some states and the federal government have enacted or proposed laws prohibiting this practice.

Now that the economy is supposedly recovering, has this practice declined? As far as law firm hiring is concerned, employers just became more covert about it….

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The New York Times lost 80 million home page visitors—half the traffic to the nytimes.com page—in the last two years.

Likewise, traffic to law firm website home pages is down almost 20 percent in the last year. Only 39 percent of law firm traffic now enters through the home page per a study conducted by law firm website developers Great Jakes.

Law firms list their websites in online and offline directories. The home page URL is included on emails, business cards and social media profiles. Search engine optimization tactics are used to draw traffic to the firm’s home page. Website navigation schemas are developed to get users to browse from the home page to industries, areas of the law, about the firm, the people, office locations and articles.

The problem is that people no longer browse pages on a website by going through home pages. They’re coming from Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, blogs, Google+ and Google searches to visit specific content within the site….

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A few months ago, I went to an MCLE seminar on cybersecurity. The 90-minute presentation hit topics such as public wifi, cloud computing, thumb drives, and password strength. The goal of the presentation was of course to scare everyone into being more vigilant in their firm policies regarding cybersecurity. The recommendations included:

  • Never use cloud computing. Always store your data on onsite servers.
  • Don’t use thumb drives on company computers.
  • Never use any mobile devices to store firm information (including emails).

After the presentation, we ate dinner, and everyone and my table came to the same conclusion: “Screw that. We are going to use thumb drives while checking our business email on our phones while client files upload to Dropbox.” That’s because some things are just too convenient to give up. As a solo, I might not want a server that I have to maintain. And I like getting my emails on my phone and on my watch because it makes my life easier.

Now, I don’t want to make light of cybersecurity because it is a very serious issue. But, the fact remains that if your data exists in a tangible form, people can steal it and it is vulnerable….

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It is funny how our kids can reawaken old interests for us. As I mentioned a few weeks ago, my eldest son started playing organized roller hockey this year. Aside from becoming a quite loud vocal presence at his games, I was also inspired to buy some gear and start practicing with him. I have already addressed the interplay between the Biglaw and boutique “lifestyle” regarding the latter. This week, I want to address another “side effect” of my rekindled interest in hockey. Because you are forced to confront where you stand when something happens in your current reality that sparks memories of an earlier time.

So after a long-hiatus, I have been watching a fair amount of playoff hockey lately. Especially Rangers games, like a good number of my fellow New Yorkers. And when the Rangers made the Stanley Cup by beating the Canadiens a few nights ago, my thought process went like this: “Wow, the Rangers made the Cup!” followed by “This is great, if they win it will be their first Cup since ‘94!” followed by “Hey, I remember senior year in high school when the Rangers winning the Cup was a huge deal” followed by “No way, I graduated high school TWENTY years ago!”

That feels like a very long time. But despite the passage of time, I can also remember certain things from back then as if they just happened….

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Home is where the heart business is?

Recently, a short piece in the Marshfield News Herald describing the downsides of entrepreneurship included this sad story about another solo practice that didn’t make it to the finish line, this time for geographic reasons:

“A few years ago, a lawyer I know had to leave her hometown where she had lived most of her life and move cross country for family reasons. And because she loved her solo practice and the flexibility it afforded her as a mother, and since she is smart and confident, she decided to re-start her solo practice in the new city, thinking it would not be too difficult. But it proved to be much more challenging than she ever thought.”

“Back here, in her hometown where she knew everyone, clients were not hard to come by. In the new city however, she had a lot fewer contacts and even fewer potential clients. And given that back here she had not really had to work too hard to get business, she never really learned about marketing, so that too was new. Eventually, between the Not-So-Great Recession and the challenges of starting from scratch, she finally had to go to work for someone else.”

The article got me thinking: How much of an edge does a lawyer’s hometown — or college or law school town, for that matter — provide in starting a successful solo practice?

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Keith Lee

It’s easy to get caught up in the day-to-day life of a lawyer. And the longer you are a lawyer, the more it will come to define you – if you let it. But it is a limiting definition, even for the best and brightest of lawyers. Take Marcus Tullius Cicero, likely the most famous lawyer in history. Upon being acclaimed for his skills as a lawyer, it is said that Cicero remarked:

“And yet he often desired his friends not to call him orator, but philosopher, because he had made philosophy his business, and had only used rhetoric as an instrument for attaining his objects in public life. But the desire of glory has great power in washing the tinctures of philosophy out of the souls of men, and in imprinting the passions of the common people, by custom and conversation, in the minds of those that take a part in governing them, unless the politician be very careful so to engage in public affairs as to interest himself only in the affairs themselves, but not participate in the passions that are consequent to them.”

– Plutarch, Cicero, Lives of the Noble Grecians and Romans (c. 75-100 AD), John Dryden translation

Here we have the greatest lawyer in all of Rome, insisting that he wished to be remembered as a philosopher — a thinker — not a lawyer. Being a lawyer was part of who he was; it did not define him….

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