The Practice

Young lawyers just starting out with their own practice usually tell me the type of work they’re doing is “whatever comes in the door.” Of course the pedigree Biglaw types criticize that type of practice, but probably don’t know that when the now dead founders of their firm started, they probably had a similar type of practice. They did real estate work, wrote a will, and maybe even (God forbid) found themselves defending a client in criminal court. At some point, they developed a practice and became known for a certain type of lawyering.

What I see today is lawyers doing any kind of work in order to eat, and lawyers who are lucky enough to have a niche, but are still taking cases in which they have no idea what they are doing. It’s like the lawyer whose niche is probate, but has never stepped foot in a probate litigation case, or the lawyer who handles misdemeanor cases taking on a complex white collar case because “it’s a good fee.”

Those of us who suffer through lawyer e-mail listservs see these lawyers all the time. “Has anyone filed a motion for ____________ who can send me a copy?” That same lawyer asks for multiple documents in a period of several weeks and then asks about procedure and whether anyone knows opposing counsel. They’ve never handled a case like this, and worse, have no idea what they are doing. They’ll never realize how pathetic they look to everyone else on the list, many of whom will have an opportunity to refer a case, and will remember not to send it to them.

There’s nothing wrong with learning, unless you are learning to the detriment of the client. There’s no doubt we’ve unknowingly been on an airplane with a pilot who is in the captain’s chair for the first time, but there’s also someone sitting to the right of him.

This post isn’t simply about asking for help, it’s also about determining whether the case is something you should take. When you’re starting out, or struggling, and someone comes in with more money than you received in the last three months, you’re all too eager to pretend you know how to handle the client’s case. You’ll just take the retainer and start typing away on the listserv, or fake it and hope you can figure it out. You also hope the client will never know that they’ve hired a lawyer that has no idea what to do.

I’m not saying you shouldn’t take these cases; I’m saying you should protect your client, and yourself, in that order….

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For lawyers considering opening up their own shop, malpractice insurance is one of those areas where you’re probably clueless. So you’ll rely on your friend’s recommendation for a carrier, or you’ll just call a few companies who advertise in the Bar publications and see if you can “get the best deal.”

As usual, I’m here to make your life easier with truthful information that you can actually use. No no, don’t thank me. I feel your appreciation.

For purposes of this post, I interviewed Sam Cohen of Attorneys First. Sam is a Florida-based broker. He is licensed in Georgia and has access to other brokers throughout the United States. Now before you gutter dwellers down there in the comment section start hypothesizing (I think that’s the biggest word I’ve used here) about my relationship with Sam, let me burst your conspiracy bubble.

Sam and I are long-time friends and have never done business together.

Some years ago, I was referred to Sam when my policy was up for renewal. He went out and got quotes from a half dozen companies, compared them to my policy, and determined that what I had was the best. So he made zero dollars, and based on his against-his-financial-interest honesty, I refer everyone to him. (There’s a lesson in there somewhere).

Here’s the interview….

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There’s no lack of advice these days about what lawyers should be doing to get clients or run their practices. And you take it. You take the advice of the former lawyers with no clients or practices, or the perennial failures who understand that lawyers are gullible when it comes to advice about making money. But still, you take it, or God forbid, pay for it.

So you create a Facebook Fan Page for your law firm and ask everyone to “like” your page. You go on LinkedIn and join groups. You go on Avvo.com and ask lawyers to endorse you. Your website is “awesome” and you’ve got an e-mail newsletter campaign going. Offline, you do the Bar association networking circuit. You’ve met some people for lunch, and you even had an article published. By the way, you’re also a good lawyer and have some happy clients.

But the phone isn’t ringing, or isn’t ringing enough. You get to the point of frustration, and start thinking of discontinuing part of your marketing, or worse, closing your practice.

Let’s be honest, some of you won’t make it. You’re decent lawyers but have no business sense. Some lawyers need to work for someone else. That’s why we have Biglaw, so really smart people with no ability to make a buck on their own can pretend they are superior.

Let’s say though that quitting is not an option, but neither is continuing on this path. You’re just trying to figure out which of the half-dozen things you’re doing is worth continuing, and what else you need to do.

So I’ll take a stab at it. My apologies for being a lawyer with clients and a practice, as I know I’m not the typical guru selling you on the dream….

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First, because it’s required, Happy New Year. I don’t really care whether you had a nice holiday or New Year’s Eve, neither do the others that ask you and feign concern.

Now let’s move on to more important topics, like working for free.

We all do it. We all have the friend, the family member, the downtrodden college buddy out of work or just broke, or the person we owe a favor or for whom we want to do a favor because we just “feel bad,” or worse — we think something will come of it.

This week, a stat came out that there are 21,880 legal careers available for 44,000 law school graduates. I read it on the internet, so it must be true. If it is, it looks like there will be plenty of lawyers doing free work out of necessity, boredom, or as a marketing tactic.

For this discussion, actually, for most of the discussions here, I have to put in the “I know, moron” disclaimer. I know, moron, that there is no way to handle these situations with a bright line policy. For example, moron, I understand that pro bono work that you do to help the needy is not something for which you should consider charging a fee. But whenever someone writes anything on the internet, there is some moron out there who says, “But but but, what about the situation where… see, you’re wrong, you’re just wrong wrong wrong.”

So I will say this, most (he said “most”) of the time, doing work for free is a mistake….

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I cannot just write a post today without expressing that the depths of my heart go out to the parents, grandparents, uncles, aunts, brothers, and sisters who sent their little one to school Friday and are now preparing funerals. As the father of two girls, I, well, you know. I just cannot imagine.

On to less important things.

It’s already starting. The lists of the 10 things not to do in 2013, 20 things to do in 2013, seven ways to be happier, five things Google will do to kill your practice, what the future holds for the future, how every lawyer in the world will be loving MySpace again in 2013, and on and on and on. None of these people will tell you that they have no idea what they are talking about. They only live to tell you at the end of the year that they were right about one of their many silly predictions, the making of which has brought them nothing (e.g., “More lawyers are using (insert shiny toy here) and this I predicted, praise me.”).

I have no such list — no to dos or do not dos. No predictions. My only prediction is that your life probably won’t change much. I say set mediocre goals. Do not try to accomplish anything extravagant. You’ll just be disappointed.

So I’m just going to tell you what I’m doing in 2013. You can do or not do these things, I don’t care. Really, I don’t….

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For those of you that have clients, and in turn, those that have referred them to you, other than an expensively created fake online presence (half, no, two-thirds of my readers just clicked off) you may be wondering how to say thank you to them this holiday season.

Not to worry, as always, I am here to help. No, no, no need to thank me, it’s my pleasure. The following is based on years of receiving crappy and awesome gifts during the holidays and provided in an effort to make you look like at one time before you became a lawyer, someone taught you good manners.

First, I know you like your name or your firm’s name or logo. No one else does. I’ve thrown out more leather binders with law firm logos, coffee mugs, pens, Godforsaken calendars, and things I’m supposed to carry around on in my golf bag that have a law firm name or logo than you’ve received.

Holidays are not a time to blatantly market your firm, they’re a time to say, “Thank you, you did something important for me.” The marketing aspect comes from making an impression without thinking that your logo in the hands of your referral source or client is something special. I know you got all excited when you opened up the box of firm logo trinkets (“Oh, awesome, this is my name on something.”), but please, throw them away….

double red triangle arrows Continue reading “The Practice: The Ultimate Small Law Gift Guide (Even If You’re Cheap)”

There is a notion (held mostly by the unemployed and unhappy people in the comments section) that I may be the only person writing about the possibility that the internet and those that “sell” the internet to lawyers, as well as this notion of “branding” and spending your day reading self-fulfilling predictions on “the future of law” from the losers of our profession is, well, maybe not the be-all and end-all in the practice of law.

Sometimes I think maybe I’m wrong (no I don’t). Maybe the goal of all lawyers should be to be first on Google, maybe these LinkedIn endorsements will result in something, anything. Maybe I do need to pay some 28-year-old former fired lawyer to teach me how to use the internet. Maybe I’m not using Facebook in a way that will get high-net-worth clients calling my office every day. Maybe instead of building a practice by doing well for clients, I need to be a brand like Coca-Cola or Amazon.com.

There’s a reason all these future-of-law people have an effect on lawyers: lawyers want to make money. Lawyers want to believe. We want to continue to hope that what we convinced ourselves of is true — that a law degree is a ticket to wealth and fame. If it’s not happening for us, we will seek out those that say we’re doing it wrong, and for a fee, they can make everything peachy….

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For those that have clients and spend their days surrounded by real people, I have some advice about year-end planning. I don’t care if you do or do not do any of this stuff, I can only tell you that it’s what I do and have done for years. Obviously, if you are part of the (“man, I hope all these idiot consultants are right”) future of law, much of it won’t apply to you.

If you’ve made some money this year, meet with your accountant.

One of my recent posts here was about my relationship with my accountant. I hope you have one, and I hope you set a lunch or meeting in your office or coffee shop in the next two weeks to discuss year-end tax planning. Next spring is a bad time to learn that you could have done some things to save yourself having to pay Uncle Sam more money. (By the way, for those of you getting a refund, you have bigger problems.)

If you’re not desperate for cash and you have clients that owe you money, consider telling them to pay in January.

What lawyer does this? You Biglaw folks have to try and collect before year’s end, so that leaves us small guys to give early Christmas gifts to our clients by telling them, yes, you will have money for that flat-screen you can’t afford, just pay your bill by January 15. Trying to get money out of clients during the holidays (read: after Thanksgiving) just makes you the one that is crushing the client’s mellow. Plus, relevant to point one here, you’ll be able to decrease your income for 2012….

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I’m often tagged as someone who hates young lawyers. I write about the whiners, the entitled, the ones who buy in to the notion that a law practice is a little square box with cool apps. Because I am critical of some, the narrow-minded tunnel vision types that troll the internet have assured themselves that I, in fact, hate all young lawyers.

None of these people were at the seminar I hosted last week for young lawyers interested in building, growing, and managing a private practice. Because I hate all young lawyers, I took a day and a half away from my practice to host a seminar, buy a few drinks, and help out a few that couldn’t afford to go.

The seminar was a mix of topics. Yes, there was tech — two hours, in fact. One hour on toys and apps, and one on internet marketing. We had a panel of women giving advice to women looking to build a private practice, and we had a panel to discuss the issues facing niche practitioners.

Casey Anthony defense lawyer Jose Baez spoke on how a high profile case can affect a lawyer’s practice. You know, high profile cases are always super awesome. Jose is now getting lots of calls, signing lots of autographs, and trying to recoup his life savings and resolve the foreclosure of his home. His new baby, a baby that was born in a hospital where his wife had to sneak in a back door and use an alias to keep the media and angry mobs away, is doing great.

The crowd was a mix — some experienced lawyers wanting to revamp their marketing or try a new software program — but mostly young lawyers, those that the hucksters and scammers try to convince the future of law is mostly virtual, and nothing like it was just a few years ago. I still laugh at those that don’t realize those touting “the future of law” are trying to sell their vision of “the future.” They don’t know what the future will bring, they just know that they need to make money, and just like fortune tellers, if they can convince you their “future” is reality, you’ll pay. Idiots….

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Please don’t riot.

I have turned down a job at Biglaw.

Three times.

The recruitment began about eight years ago. I had been a lawyer for ten years. A big firm was opening an office in my city. The managing partner came to see me. Nah, I just put my name on the door of this new office. We shook hands and kept in touch.

Then it was the big firm starting a new department. I wasn’t really interested, and after a few years, I read the firm lost interest in the department as well.

The third time was different.

It wasn’t just an offer, it was an offer for a leadership position. There wasn’t one meeting, there were five. We didn’t just talk about law and family and futures, I submitted tax returns. It got really close. The managing partner and I became fast friends, and with the excitement, came an equal amount of anxiety.

And so there are two things I want to tell you here: why I turned it down, and why, if the opportunity arises, you shouldn’t….

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