The Practice

Discipline.

It’s one of the things that separates professionals, who exhibit the essence of a professional, from those who are in a profession, but have the reputation of “being all over the place.” This can be the result of having a practice where organization takes a back seat to being busy, or having a life where there’s just too much going on – too many cases, as well as too many committees, too many networking events, too much going on at home – no ability to cut out the things that need to be cut.

There is that phrase that “it doesn’t matter what happens to you, but how you react.” In other words, life either happens to you, or you control it to the best of your ability. As you go through life, especially as a lawyer, saying “yes” becomes routine. “Yes” I’ll take that case pro bono, “yes” I’ll help organize that CLE, “yes” I’ll serve in a leadership position, “yes” I’ll coach Little League. There are only so many hours in a day, yet we as lawyers are routinely finding ourselves overcommitted to both professional and community endeavors. We’ll say “no” next time, or resign from that committee in a few months….

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When the iPad came out, legal technologists did what they always do to try and appear relevant — they went crazy. If you don’t read anything written by legal technologists, let me summarize: 1. New shiny toy or software or app comes out; and 2. Legal technologist feverishly writes that it’s a “game changer” for lawyers.

Although anytime a new Apple product comes out it creates a feverish vibe, bringing unemployed lawyers and other Mommy’s-basement-dwellers and their lawn chairs and tents to Apple Stores everywhere, the iPad, nothing more than a big iPhone, was different. Books would be written, and CLE seminars for which no state Bar would ever consider giving CLE credits — “iPad for Lawyers,” or “How Lawyers Can Use an iPad,” or “Using the IPad, for Lawyers” — sprouted up all over the country. We were all told we had to have one because… because.

I, hoping it wasn’t true that the legal technologists trying hard to find a way to make a living telling everyone that law practices would “die” without one, ignored the hype and continued to try and get by with a laptop. I first saw an iPad in court when a lawyer showed me his and said, “Look, you can watch movies on it.” Having never had the thought of watching a movie in court, I didn’t see the urgency to get one, plus, of course, I hate technology. Hate it.

Three years and a couple hundred clients later, I asked my daughter if the iPad 2 sitting in her room collecting dust was available for Daddy to use. It was time to see the miracles that would come my way by carrying around a big iPhone with a pink cover…

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The news continues to be bad for the impatient “just get me on the internet” types regarding the development of relationships. Regardless of how many times your name appears on the first page of Google, developing meaningful professional relationships still takes time, and it always will. Sorry.

I recently read of a lawyer who closed up shop, a prominent reason being that after dropping from the first page to fourth page of Google, “the phone stopped ringing.” Google doesn’t develop relationships that bring referrals. Some learn that that hard way.

I spoke at a local breakfast last week. It was a kick-off of a new chapter of a monthly “lawyers” group. There were 20 lawyers. One guy was in his 70s and is now of counsel to a firm after a long career, another just graduated law school and drove two hours to meet some Miami lawyers. Not sure why he drove so far to meet lawyers instead of sitting at home and poking around on LinkedIn. Anyway, a few said they were with firms I knew, and there were a bunch of solo practitioners, some just a few years in, and others who have been at it for a while.

I know, you’re thinking, “Sounds like BNI.” Kind of, but BNI is weekly, and not limited to lawyers.

As this was the first meeting of the second local chapter, everyone was there to check it out, to decide whether they would attend a second meeting. After going around the room and introducing themselves to each other, and then ending the meeting by walking around and exchanging business cards and “do you know so and so…” some will apply, while others will see getting up for a 7:30 a.m. breakfast once a month as the most awful thing they could think of and never come back.

The host of the meeting said something that may cause some not to return: “No one in this room is required to refer clients to each other.”

Wait, what? You can’t just sit there, eat eggs, and the cases will come?

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Were you part of that email catastrophe this past Friday? It seems that the American Bar Association added the world to one of its email listservs, and the crowd went wild.

No? You weren’t? Here’s what happened.

An email arrived from a 2007 John Marshall Law School graduate (that’s how we’re supposed to refer to lawyers here because when and from where they graduated means everything in the world, right?), via an ABA listserv:

Just as a reminder, the YLD Antitrust Law Committee, the Section’s Joint Conduct Committee and Distribution and Franchising Committee will host a live webinar entitled “Antitrust Fundamentals for Distribution and Franchise Practitioners” this coming Monday, September 9th.

It had one of those typical endings about how to get off the list — email or call the ABA. Or, of course, email the whole list…

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There’s that old adage that if you say something enough times, you actually believe it to be true, even if it isn’t true. This is part of my issue with the “law futurists.” The mostly no longer-practicing or never practiced pound their keyboards daily trying to convince those of us that actually do have clients that we need to be scared, very scared. Everything around us is seemingly changing and as the phrase goes that inspired my bio below, if we don’t “get on board” immediately, it’s all over and we may tragically end up pounding keyboards daily telling practicing lawyers that the future is coming tomorrow and they better be prepared.

Canadian Jordan Furlong writes at Law21 and is someone I call a “law futurist.” His bio says the same thing, just in more words: Jordan Furlong delivers dynamic and thought-provoking presentations to law firms and legal organizations throughout North America on how to survive and profit from the extraordinary changes underway in the legal services marketplace. He is a partner with Edge International and a senior consultant with Stem Legal Web Enterprises. Jordan is also a lawyer, although his bio reflects no actual current law practice.

I’ve never spoken with Jordan because I’m one of those people who doesn’t have good happy conversations with the cheerleading world of law futurists. I’m a mean troll bully buzzkill. I’m sure Jordan is a great guy, and I see people on the internet smiling at many of his thoughts, but I’m a bit of a skeptic when non-practicing lawyers try to convince those that “do” that we are doing it wrong and, for a fee, the answers are nearby…

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I see you all enjoyed your vacations. I saw the 175 pictures you posted on Facebook of every single place you went, and now I see you “can’t believe your baby is starting 7th grade.” So now that it’s time to get back to work and figure out what to do about all those clients calling you as a result of seeing you on the first page of Google, I will again offer you life-changing advice for which you come here weekly.

This advice is all real, and in no particular order.

1. If you have an office, or even a desk, take every single thing off the top. I did this the other day. Clean it, and then place everything back, except the stack of papers that belong in a file or the garbage, the magazines and articles you’re never going to read, and the items that do nothing but take up otherwise workable space. This will cost you no money, take about 15-20 minutes, and you will thank me. Well, not all of you…

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Before I once again provide you with thoughts and advice that will hit a nerve, causing your bitter self to (1) again claim, like you do every week, that you hate this column, hate reading every word I write every week, and don’t know why you continue to read every word, every week, or (2) send me private emails thanking me, I just wanted to comment on David Mowry’s closing of comments in his column.

It’s fun to watch the commentariat scatter in desperation for another place to spew, using other columns to cry like infants about their loss of entitlement to say things that make them feel better about their miserable lives just based on the amount of up-votes they get (hey, three people who always like what I say liked what I said, again!).
I don’t know why Mowry closed comments, but I just want to reiterate that I will never close the comments on my columns. There is no reason to stifle irrelevancy.

I’ve watched lawyers reinvent themselves — both successfully and unsuccessfully. It can be done, but like anything else in the legal profession, it takes thought and time. (I just lost half the audience.)

For those left here, there are only two reasons you want to reinvent yourself. One is money, and/or two, is that you hate what you’re doing…

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For those AUSAs taking the plunge into Biglaw because they orgasm over having a “former federal prosecutor” handling their “white collar” work, my advice is call me when you realize you’re merely reading compliance documents and walking corporate executives over to your old office to give proffers. For now, you can stop reading here.

Leaving government work to “open your own shop” is a unique proposition. If you’re leaving Biglaw, your main concern is not making what you’re making now. If you’re “going solo” right out of law school, you’re worried about making any money at all.

Leaving government service is leaving a guaranteed salary, the precious “benefits,” and if you’ve been there for a good amount of years, a level of comfort not found in small law firms (with the exception of the federal public defenders who have fallen victim to the sequester and deserve better). The main reason people leave government is the perception that there is more money in the private sector. That was mostly true before the economy tanked. Now it’s not so certain, and it’s something you need to consider before cashing out on your accrued vacation and sick time…

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One of the things I hear from lawyers is: “I want to write, but I don’t have the time/know where to post/want to start a blog.”

Now I’m not in the blog-selling business or believe that every lawyer should have a blog because I’m not in the blog-selling business. (Get ready commentariat.) Not every lawyer can write (there commentariat… go!), but if you want to write, I’ll offer my thoughts. I offer them because this is my column, and I can do whatever I damn well please and I feel like it.

The first thing you have to determine when thinking about writing is your audience.

Unfortunately, many of you law review types actually think anyone out there wants to read something closely resembling a law review article. You can’t write anything without citing to case law or other articles no one has read or wants to read. You believe you’re still writing for adoration of your ability to analyze the history of some statute. You believe you can’t write anything unless it takes you weeks to research and is perfectly cited. You believe writing is done to impress rather than educate or inform.

When you write, you’ll see — ahem — comments about the writing style. Those are coming from those that can’t write like normal people. They spent months writing some over-cited, boring article that no one read and are raging against anyone who writes something interesting that contains a non-law-review-type writing style…

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I’ve always marveled at lawyers who continue to represent clients when they’re not getting paid, or are too weak and fragile to engage in a serious conversation with the client over the unpaid bill(s). It happens more in the civil arena, as any halfway intelligent criminal lawyer knows you get the money up-front. Bad results with open bills is never a good way to pay the rent.

But there are those criminal lawyers who are too stupid to get the money up-front. They claim “where I practice,” you have to offer payment plans. Problem is, there is no such thing as a payment plan. What I call it is a “non-payment” plan.

I can count on one hand, well, maybe one and a half hands, the amount of times I’ve been stiffed by a client. In most cases, it was where I was waiting for the “money up-front,” and decided to do some work in the interim because I (wrongly) believed the client was good for it. The client wasn’t good for it, and I quickly withdrew from any court case or ceased doing work.

And I know, there are those out there that believe it’s pure arrogance to claim that I get paid or I don’t work, that chasing money or waiting for money that will never come is part of the practice. There are criminal defense lawyers that get paid, sorry if you don’t know any, and not getting paid is not “part of your practice,” unless you let your practice run you instead of running your practice.

So let me tell you what I hear — you probably hear it too — or say it to yourself, and how to make it stop, and stop now…

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