Solo Practitioners

Since I began my job search, I have read many books and articles on how to find a job. Most of them gave the usual tried and true advice — meet people and learn new skills — with some variation. And to prove their points, they include cool and heartwarming anecdotal stories.

But I have also been given awful job search tips. They typically revolve around a story about someone who uses a gimmick to get the attention of an employer. One thing leads to another and the applicant is hired over the many others who had better grades and work experience. The success story is passed off as advice because it worked in his particular case in very unusual conditions.

After the jump, I will discuss some of the worst job advice I have been given.

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At some point, while stuck in an unending traffic jam or pressed up against the throngs of humanity in an unair-conditioned train, every lawyer contemplates working from home. And any lawyer with kids thinks about working from home about twice as often. Imagine the convenience of strolling down the hall to begin the workday, dressed in your finest “whatever was laying around,” and taking a break to read Above the Law without anyone being the wiser. Living the dream.

Unfortunately, this dream is beyond the grasp of most lawyers today. The staid legal industry expects lawyers in their offices near their colleagues, even though few tasks aren’t handled electronically — even when lawyers sit mere steps away.

Fair or not, lawyering from home raises eyebrows. “If you’re working from home, people tend to assume you’re either doing it because you’re good at what you do, so you can, or because you can’t make it anywhere else, so you have to. You want to brand yourself as the former.”

One would certainly hope so. How does a lawyer go about doing that?

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Keith Lee

Starting out one’s career as a lawyer is hard. You’re inexperienced, with only a passing knowledge of the law, thrust into being responsible for other people’s problems. Too often you might not feel confident in handling your own. People are going  to criticize you for any mistake you might make and take you to task for not handling a matter exactly as they would have wished. When beset with criticism and difficult situations, it can be easy to turn inwards and reel in feelings of doubt and a lack of self-confidence.

It can be difficult to preserve….

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I thought now would be a good time to give a progress report on my job search. It’s been a little over five months since the race began, and I still have not reached the finish line. All of the jobs openings I applied to have been filled. By someone else.

Recently, I wrote an email to an attorney named Stephanie whom I have known for many years and think of as a role model. Since I have been feeling discouraged and cynical lately, I thought it would be best to be direct with her and not beat around the bush. I was curious what kind of response and advice she would have, if any.

Read onwards to read my email and her response…

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You may have heard about a behavioral science experiment involving monkeys and a ladder with a banana at the top of the ladder. When one monkey would try to climb the ladder to reach the banana, the researchers would spray all of the monkeys with a hose. After a while, when a monkey tried to go towards the ladder, the others would stop him so that they wouldn’t get hosed. The researchers then switched out one of the monkeys with a new monkey who didn’t know about the hose. When he would go towards the ladder, just as before, the others would stop him. The swapping continued, and the new monkeys would join in stopping newer monkeys from going towards the ladder, not knowing about the hose treatment, but learning from the example of the original monkeys that going towards the ladder is bad. The researchers eventually swapped out all of the monkeys so that none of the original monkeys were together, but all of the new monkeys would try to stop each other from going towards the ladder.

There is some debate online as to the origins of that experiment, or whether it ever happened, so I’ll just call it the “parable of the monkeys who just do what everyone else does without understanding why” — or, for short, “the parable of the associate.” If you work in a law firm, you probably recognize the above fact pattern and can analogize it to your colleagues.

I’ve come across a bunch of lawyers since I started my legal career ten years ago. Some of them were really good, some were really bad, and most of them were just somewhere in the spectrum of not being memorable. The lawyers who were bad were all bad for about a thousand different reasons, but the lawyers who were good, almost always shared one quality: they were outside-the-box thinkers….

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Most standard law practice management programs counsel against discounts. When given up front, they accustom clients to bargain rates, and if applied at the end of the project, they show a willingness to settle for less than what’s owed, thus setting in motion a tradition of haggling for future cases.  And now, a recent study suggests that there’s a correlation between discounts and collections problems, thus further reinforcing that discounting fees is a bad idea.

But Devil’s Advocate John Toothman, a lawyer who’s built a career on legal fee management, is appalled by advisors who diss discounts. At his blog, Civilian’s Guide to Lawyers, Toothman argues that the reason that many firms wind up giving discounts to begin with is because they never offered clients an estimate of the likely fee to begin with:

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Keith Lee

Last week I wrote about a complaint I heard from a client after they had been billed for two bottles of water served to them by their former lawyers at a meeting. I got numerous emails from people saying it was one of the most shocking behaviors that they had ever heard, the lowest of the low — a lawyer billing a client for a bottle of water that they had given to the client. When I wrote about it, it was the most egregious thing I had ever heard that a lawyer had billed to their client. But as a lawyer I know often says, “Take your expectations, then put even lower. Try the gutter.”

Less than a week later, there’s something worse in the news. A lawyer got sanctioned for his incompetent representation — then billed the sanctions to the client….

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I enjoy reading Alex Rich‘s informative, comical, and sometimes depressing posts about life as a contract attorney, particularly in the world of document review. While I have no desire to do full-time doc review, I can see how the “bill and chill” nature of the job could appeal to some people. But in my world, there is more to being a “contract attorney” than being a coder.

Contract work is basically working for an attorney for a limited purpose. It ends once a task is accomplished or after a fixed period of time. Common contract-work projects are court appearances, document review, legal research, drafting or editing motions, and even trial. If you know the right people and have a certain skill set, contract work is not a bad way to make a lawyerly living. But for most new solo practitioners, contract work serves as a supplemental source of income (along with other interesting and strange side gigs) while they try to get their practice up and running.

Today, I want to talk about a rare contract attorney position: a temp-to-hire arrangement where your employer/client hires you on a contract basis and may offer an associate position in the future. I will talk about how to spot such a position and make the most of it. Finally, I will discuss whether it is better to accept the associate position or remain a contract attorney.

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Keith Lee

It’s always interesting to have conversations with clients who have gone through multiple lawyers. Not the sort of clients who have gone lawyer shopping in the past, bouncing around looking for the lowest price, but rather the client who has had a relationship with a lawyer in the past and has decided to break away from that lawyer due to poor performance or bad customer service. Listening to clients who have severed relationships with other lawyers offers a glimpse into what is going on in the mind of clients and what they expect from the legal services they obtain.

One of the most egregious things I’ve heard lately from a client has to do with a couple of bottles of water….

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* Here’s the international sign for “don’t urinate in public.” Glad to know we needed a sign for this. [National Review]

* An illegal hostile work environment is created when coworkers wear confederate flag T-shirts. Because… obviously it is. Professor Volokh thinks this is unconstitutional. Apparently a document drafted by white slaveholders is set up to protect “broadcasting to black people that they should still be enslaved.” Because… obviously it is. [Volokh Conspiracy / Washington Post]

* Police accidentally killed a crew member for the TV show “Cops” while foiling a robbery. That’s just shocking… the fact that “Cops” is still on the air. [Associated Press via ABC News]

* Practice pointer: Get in the practice of writing non-clients to tell them that they are not, in fact, your clients. People can be crazy stalkers out there and you need to protect your practice. [What About Clients]

* Scheduling trials is like playing musical chairs. Except no matter when the music stops someone’s probably getting screwed. [Katz Justice]

* It turns out that lawyers have a hard time talking to clients about overdue bills. As a lawyer who has literally had state troopers impound a client’s private jet, I don’t understand this. But here are the results of a comprehensive survey on the subject. [Lexis-Nexis]

* If you’re interested in how the “justice gap” functions overseas, here’s a report from the Legal Services Board in the UK. [Red Brick Solutions]

* A Texas man, David Barajas, was acquitted of shooting and killing a drunk driver who had killed the man’s sons. The defense argued that Barajas didn’t kill the guy and that there was little physical evidence tying Barajas to the killing. Atlanta news (specifically WSB-TV) may not quite understand the whole “innocent until proven guilty” thing. Pic after the jump [via Twitter]:

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