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Archive for the ‘Thoughts on Solo Lawyering’ Category

May I serve as a cautionary example to young lawyers everywhere (UPDATED)

As I attend the South by Southwest Interactive Festival this week, I suppose one could say my transition from a law-focused career to a writing-focused career is turning a corner or something. I’ll have to work on that sales pitch a bit more.

It got me thinking about anything I might have to offer young lawyers trying to do what I did over the past decade, and a few tweeting colleagues helped me realize the biggest piece of advice I could possibly give: get a freaking mentor.

'Manta Ray, Kona Coast, Hawaii' by SteveD on Flickr

I couldn't find a good stock photo for "mentor," so here's a manta ray instead

If you are a young, newbie lawyer condemned by the economy to solo practice, get a mentor. Stop whatever you are doing, I don’t care if it’s cooking breakfast, driving down the interstate, or even getting some. Just stop, ponder the type of law you are trying to practice, and find a mentor. A Twitter exchange yesterday between veteran lawyer Antonin Pribetic and newbie Stephanie Toronto encompasses the importance of mentoring. (Of course I had to respond too, and that inspired this post).

As a second, somewhat-related piece of advice, I’d say this: don’t obsess over technology. Gadgets are awesome, but technology changes constantly and the practice of law changes pretty much never. Young lawyers, myself included, can get hung up on having the most-efficient doo-dads. Read Scott Greenfield’s post about the dangers of tech innovation in a law practice, especially when you deal with serious legal matters like criminal or family law, where the cost of an inconvenient computer crash could mean someone goes to prison or loses custody of their children. Sometimes taking notes on a legal pad makes sense, is what I’m saying.

I did not have anything resembling a mentor for years after I started practicing, and it showed. In my first year, I left the courthouse almost in tears on multiple occasions (at least I waited until I got to the car, most of the time) out of a sense of shame, embarrassment, or just plain ol’ fear. Fear because I never quite knew what to expect when I walked into a courtroom. Of course there is always uncertainty when you go into court, but I mean I sometimes literally had no idea what was going to happen. That was bad for me psychologically, but it was potentially far, far worse for my clients. I was doing family law, and my then-law partners’ criminal practice had several assault with family violence cases that led to divorces. These were not simple cases. They were highly emotional and combative, with every conceivable issue that could be disputed in dispute. Luck was an enormous factor in warding off disaster.

I went to CLE seminars on divorce, and I took advantage of the list of more-experienced lawyers who had agreed to offer their wisdom to us upstarts. I always called them with a strange sense of fear or shame, as if I was exposing too much of my ignorance by admitting there was something I did not know. I have no idea where that notion came from but it is (and let me be clear) utter, complete, and highly destructive bullshit. Of course you don’t know what you’re doing – you just started doing it!

The only people who expect a brand new lawyer to perform perfectly in court are clients, judges, and juries.

And they are the only people whose opinions matter at the end of the day.

So how do you find a mentor? Again, I was never very good at it, but here are a few tips anyway:

1. The courthouse. If you’re there all the time, try talking to other lawyers there. You might get blown off a lot, but you never know who you might meet.

2. Local bar associations. Many cities and towns have their own lawyer organizations that offer opportunities for CLE, networking, and even mentoring. Some even have official mentoring programs.

3. Actually, that’s a long enough list for now.

Where should you not go to find a mentor? A few places spring to mind:

1. Craigslist

2. Answers.yahoo.com

3. Bus stops

4. Bars frequented by college students

5. Me

As a final note, if you are in court, arguing an objection, and you suddenly realize that you just recited nearly-verbatim an objection you heard Jack McCoy make on “Law and Order,” it is time to get a mentor. Or a new career. Up to you.

UPDATED (03/23/2012): Corrected an unfortunate spelling error.

Photo credit: ‘Manta Ray, Kona Coast, Hawaii’ by SteveD on Flickr.

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A new manifesto for lawyers? Maybe…

Rachel Rodgers, the self-proclaimed 21st-Century Lawyer for Generation Y Entrepreneurs, has put out a “21st Century Lawyer Manifesto.” It proclaims a new ethic, or aesthetic, or something, for the newest generation of lawyers. I think this mostly includes the ones who came of lawyering age in the era of social media and no longer reasonably expecting to have a high-paid legal job upon graduation. The manifesto has 9+ elements (the “+” will be clear soon enough):

  1. We are a diverse group of people that come in all shapes, sizes, t-shirts and tattoos.
  2. We embrace our weirdness.
  3. We will not let being lawyers prevent us from being business savvy.
  4. We will not let our past with tradition rob us of a future with innovation.
  5. We will utilize technology in all of its glorious forms.
  6. We value actual morality over “ethics” rules.
  7. We understand that the true value of money is determined by what it costs us to make it.
  8. We will not live in fear.
  9. We recognize our duty to do epic sh*t now.
  10. [You tell me.]
The lawyer of the future?

The lawyer of the future?

See, #10 is a fill-in-the-blank. It’s a partly-DIY manifesto, making the whole thing delightfully (or obnoxiously, depending on your point of view) meta.

It’s worth reading the whole thing to get the nuance of each element. Overall, I absolutely support utilizing new technologies, rethinking some concepts of “ethics,” and generally shaking up the legal profession. I have no doubt that there will be vehement and altogether predictable retorts from certain lawyers about how unrealistic and irresponsible these newbie lawyers are being.

I see several problems with this manifesto.

For starters, I’m all about being “weird,” but not about being “weird” for weirdness’ sake. Maybe I’ve got that item on the list all wrong, but as lawyers we have a job to do and a broader legal system to represent. While the current system seriously eschews outside-the-box thinking in favor of a rather lockstep approach, that did not happen overnight. In truth, most outside-the-box ideas suck (cf. Sturgeon’s Law). As lawyers, for many of our clients, the stakes are quite high (livelihood, custody of children, liberty, etc.) Clients need to know that we are either using methods that are time-tested, tried, and true, or that we have worked out these new techniques and have the utmost professional faith that they will work. Otherwise, the hypothetical outside-the-box legal tactic doesn’t work, the client gets angry at the lawyer, the lawyer gets sued for malpractice and/or gets dragged before the state bar, CLE presenters use that lawyer as an example of what not to do, and everything goes right back to the way it was before. Being “business savvy” does not always equal being an effective advocate.

For another thing (and I’m not sure whose problem this is) is that replacing the current ethical regime with a broader concept of “morality” sounds awesome on paper. Try it in a contentious divorce case where one spouse wants a peaceful split and hires a newfangled “moral” attorney while the other spouse borrows $25K from a family member and hires the sharp-fanged divorce lawyer who keeps opposing parties’ extremities as trophies. I’ve dealt with divorce lawyers who, while they may be wonderful people with their families at Thanksgiving dinner, seem constitutionally incapable of even recognizing opportunities to peaceably resolve legal disputes. Decades in the nastiest divorce trenches will do that to a person. Long periods of time hearing about the worst of the worst divorce cases can sometimes make judges pretty cynical too. Not all divorce lawyers and family court judges are like this, of course, but a lawyer seeking to inject a bit of “morality” into the process should expect to get chewed up and spit back out, minus a few extremities, more than a few times.

The biggest threat to any kinder, gentler model of lawyering, then, comes not only from other lawyers who don’t subscribe to that ideology, but also from these lawyers’ own clients. Most people don’t have a clear understanding of how the legal system works (I blame lawyer TV shows). The system may be the best one conceived by humanity to resolve disputes, but it quite often sucks. It is inefficient, often unfair, and often mind-bogglingly counter-intuitive.  Clients expect justice, and they do not always understand how difficult (and expensive) true justice is to achieve. Many lawyers go for the illusion of justice through aggressive litigation, and that has become the standard model. Do not think for a second that this type of lawyer would hesitate to pounce on a newly-moral lawyer for any advantage available.

Are these reasons not to try to change the legal profession in ways that would quite possible make it fairer, more “moral,” and a more enjoyable (or at least less soul-crushing) way to make a living? Of course not. These are noble goals. The thing that “21st Century Lawyers” of the Rodgers model need to understand is that the early adopters of this model may end up martyrs to the cause. Good luck to them.

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Not all marketing ideas are created equal

While cleaning up around the house, I came across an old idea for a marketing piece that probably never would have worked out so well.

Austinites and Austinphiles are no doubt familiar with local institution Waterloo Records and their ubiquitous free bumper stickers. You can grab as many of them as you want (well, I did, anyway) and rearrange them in creative ways (People in Houston do this with stickers for the Rice University radio station, KTRU).

Or you can just do this:

This probably won't display in all its glory in this window.

 

You may notice that “Waterloo Records” does not include the letter “f”. I think I made the “f”s out of “t”s and “r”s that I stuck together. I think I was planning on putting this on my car to be a low-rent rolling billboard. Probably for the best that I never did that.

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Presenting Gregory Berry, who stands aginst BigLaw

Remember that generational clash among lawyers? It’s here. The front line combatant in this conflict is Gregory Berry, a New York attorney who until recently worked as an associate at Kasowitz Benson Torres & Friedman. Apparently he made a few whistleblower-type complaints and engaged in some self-aggrandizement within the firm, and now is no longer employed there, according to Reuters and a lawsuit Berry filed:

Gregory Berry, a former first-year associate at Kasowitz Benson Torres & Friedman, accused the firm of unethical behavior and lying about its work culture in a lawsuit filed on Monday in Manhattan state Supreme Court.

Two partners are also named as defendants in the suit. Berry accuses them of interfering with his job, inflicting emotional distress and trying to thwart his career prospects.

Berry claims he “immediately began doing superlative work” when he started working at Kasowitz last September after attending law school at the University of Pennsylvania.

But he ran into trouble after a few months when he e-mailed partners asking for more responsibility, he said in the lawsuit.

“It has become clear that I have as much experience and ability as an associate many years my senior, as much skill writing and a superior legal mind to most I have met,” his email said, according to his complaint.

He was informed by a partner at the firm that his email had “burned bridges” in the office, and he was fired a few days later, according to the lawsuit.

“There’s simply no room in a big law firm for an intelligent, creative lawyer with real-world experience, and I had to find that out the hard way,” Berry told Reuters.

In the lawsuit, he also said he was fired for comments he made about “possibly fraudulent” billing practices at the firm.

Is Berry out of his “superior legal mind”? Perhaps. Law school produces many innovative and creative legal minds. Big law firms, with their strict business models and general aversion to risk, stifle such innovation and creativity most of the time. I had never heard of Kasowitz before this morning, but a cursory review of the interwebz suggests they have a reputation as a “benevolent dictatorship.” Maybe Berry was fired for threatening to expose dirty secrets, maybe he was fired for having an ego, or maybe it was something else entirely. The truth may or may not come out in his lawsuit. The point is that we have a brand-new lawyer butting heads with his firm’s culture and getting the boot for one reason or another. Bring your own popcorn.

My attempt at creating a fair use graphic

My attempt at creating a fair use graphic

Now that he is free of the corporate yoke of BigLaw, he did what every young attorney who is too smart for the strictures of old-school legal culture should do: he started his own practice. And he did it with a bit of flair: his website states that:

[Berry] graduated from the University of Pennsylvania School of Law and began his legal career at the “big-law” firm of Kasowitz, Benson, Torres & Friedman, where he quickly discovered that the emphasis in “big-law” firms on generating billable hours rather than on applying creativity and intelligence to devising unorthodox and cutting-edge legal strategies left Mr. Berry wasting his talents. Mr. Berry became a lawyer to fight for justice and to use his powers for good. He started this law firm to lend his abilities to clients who need the highest legal talent possible.

Here is a screengrab of that page, in case he has to edit any statements contained therein. I look forward to seeing what “unorthodox and cutting-edge legal strategies” Berry develops in his new position. Just watch out for those pesky ethics rules–they’ll come at you from all over.

I for one welcome this opportunity for NewLaw (I now claim credit for coining that term, even if someone else has the website) to put itself up against BigLaw. The new versus the old.The small versus the big.  The innovative versus the time-tested. Let the battle royale begin.

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Risk-aversion and the coming generational clash amongst lawyers

The other day a young attorney named Rachel Rodgers wrote a post at Solo Practice University called “Ethics Should Not Be Used as a Weapon Against Young Lawyers.” The post outlines a bit of the tension between older attorneys and the hordes of young lawyers now entering the marketplace and not finding jobs, many of whom are now starting their own practices (this was largely the theme of my post from yesterday, “Too Many Lawyers?”).

It’s a complicated issue, and it’s not even entirely clear what the points of contention are. I have commented a bit at Ms. Rodgers’ post, but the blawgosphere is starting to light up about it. Ms. Rodgers states that:

Professional ethics is supposed to be a code by which we lawyers operate to ensure that we are maintaining the highest level of integrity as we practice law. Unfortunately, many experienced attorneys have taken to using the word “ethics” and all of its connotations as a weapon against any attorney serving their clients in a way with which the criticizing attorney is unfamiliar or does not approve. Sadly, given that young and innovative lawyers are blazing a trail for new ways to both practice law and deliver their services, we tend to be the target for such ridicule. I have even seen some lawyers claim that young lawyers, especially solos, cannot possibly be ethical without the hand-holding (otherwise known as chiding) of more experienced attorneys.

Not the way to run a law practice

Not the way to run a law practice

The thing about that is that legal ethics is a pretty vast field stretching back for centuries, and it is often difficult for even gray-haired lawyers to fully grasp it. Technology is fast outpacing ethics rules when it comes to advertising by attorneys–today’s ethics rules are useful for Yellow Pages ads, but not so much for blogs. That said, the question is whether the changes in ethics rules that need to happen can best be achieved through research and deliberation, which is pretty much how it has always been done, or through innovation and experimentation in a free market setting. Lawyers have never been much for a free market when it comes to how we actually practice law. We are not a profession with a great love of risk (quite the opposite, in fact).

Scott Greenfield remarked on Ms. Rodgers and her practice back in June, and Brian Tannenbaum picked up the story yesterday:

Used to be that lawyers would work for someone and then go solo. Now there’s no jobs so lawyers are going from law school graduation, right to the computer to create their law firm twitter account and Facebook fan page, and presto – a practice is born with an “experienced, aggressive” attorney. Today we fake it until we make it, as the marketers encourage young lawyers to do.

I can’t exactly be critical of a newly-licensed solo, since I used to be one (technically I was a newly-licensed shareholder in a firm of three newly-licensed lawyers, but I became fully solo within 3 years, so close enough). At the same time, I have seen quite a few sketchy schemes from solo lawyers, and the value of having a mentor cannot be denied. I think law may be the only profession where brand new practitioners are allowed to jump head first into the pool right away, so maybe we need some sort of apprenticeship system. Just a thought. Matt Brown sums up the concern very well:

No lawyer, especially a young lawyer, is going to see every ethical pitfall. Whatever it is that you want to do may be the next best thing in lawyer marketing since sliced bread, but there’s no rule insulating from attorney discipline those lawyers who engage in innovative but ethically-prohibited business practices. The truth is that ethics rules will prevent plenty of lawyers from opening up certain types of “cutting edge” practices, just as the criminal laws ultimately stop many of my clients from operating their “cutting edge” businesses.

On the other hand, there is much to be said for reevaluating the risk-averse culture of lawyerdom. An extreme, possibly sarcastic example appeared on the blog What About Clients? the other day. A series of mantras, supposedly dating to 1836, appeared in the post “The 7 Habits of Highly Useless Outside Corporate Lawyers”:

1. Be risk-averse at all times. Clients have come to expect this from their lawyers. It’s tradition. Honor it.

2. Tell the client only what it can’t do. Business clients are run by business people who take risks. They need to be managed, guided, stopped. Don’t encourage them.

3. Whatever you do, don’t take a stand, and don’t make a recommendation. (You don’t want to be wrong, do you?)

4. Treat the client as a potential adversary at all times. Keep a distance.

5. Cover yourself. Write a lot to the client. Craft lots of confirming letters which use clauses like “it is our understanding”, “our analysis is limited to…” and “we do not express an opinion as to whether…”

6. Churn up extra fees with extra letters and memoranda and tasks. Milk the engagement. (If you are going to be a weenie anyway, you might as well be a sneaky weenie.)

7. As out-house counsel, you are American royalty. Never forget that.

I have my doubts about the historical authenticity (as does the blog’s author), but it does nicely illustrate how lawyers emphasize the avoidance of risk almost over all else. Quite often, that is exactly what corporate clients hire their lawyers to do. The question is whether that attitude should extend to lawyers’ own businesses. I used to tell my business client that I was their “professional pessimist.” In other words, they started their business to make widgets (or whatever), not to worry about contract terms or premises liability, so they should pay me to worry about it for them.

That’s not a bad way to help a client, but it’s far from the best way to run a business.

It’s not like young lawyers and old ones are fighting in the street. Thus far the debate seems to be limited to blog exchanges and ABA conferences. Sooner or later, the question of new lawyer innovation will butt heads with traditional risk aversion (some might say it has already happened), and it will be fun to watch.

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Too many lawyers?

Are there too many lawyers in America? You would certainly get that impression from blogs like Overlawyered. It is by now widely known that there are more new lawyers graduating law school than there are legal jobs available. Young lawyers, holding a brand new shiny law license and a mountain of debt, are going solo in increasing numbers. More and more functions traditionally performed by lawyers are being automated, shipped overseas, or converted to DIY by individuals and businesses looking to save money. The “circle of life” of the legal profession (and most other professions) is being interrupted by economic conditions, as older attorneys postpone retirement.

Net result: more lawyers for less work.

This is leading to a significant generational clash between older, more experienced lawyers and their younger colleagues who might have been promised the world only to find a desert. While the older generation laments hordes of fresh-faced newbies with newfangled ideas (yes, I’m overgeneralizing), the younger generation looks for ways to chart their own path and tries to innovate without getting anyone (or themselves) in trouble. I’m not convinced that younger lawyers get into ethical trouble at any greater rate than older ones, but it is a growing concern among older lawyers, justified or not.

Something will have to change about the legal profession. Technology has made legal information available to anyone, and the internet allows anyone to be their own lawyer. Despite the loudest protests of the legal profession, this change is unlikely to reverse. We will continue to have new lawyers and old lawyers, and in the quest to make a living new ideas will be tested. Some will be disastrous, and lawyers have a capacity to do more harm with bad business ideas than most other professions or industries (perhaps second only to medicine). We can fight each other and resist change, we can fight each other and doggedly embrace change regardless of the possible negative consequences, or we can help one another out and make the law work for as many people as possible. The era of the lawyer as warrior may be nearing its end. The new era has yet to be defined.

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Solo lawyers are not prostitutes

Photo by ehpien

I got a surprisingly small number of results when searching for royalty-free images labeled "pole dancer" on Google (photo by ehpien)

The title of this post may be offensive to some. Especially to prostitutes. I got the idea from a post from The People’s Therapist, in which he compares practicing law at a big law firm to doing sex work.

Many of my big firm lawyer clients aren’t sure what they’re doing at the office or why they’re doing it. You keep showing up in the morning and keep leaving at night. Sometimes you aren’t doing much of anything. Other times you’re slaving away at a task you half-understand. People keep smiling and saying hello when they pass you in the hall – and that paycheck, the point of the exercise, keeps getting deposited in your bank account. As long as the firm keeps paying – heck, you’ll make phone calls, chase down research, prepare a closing table, do doc review…or whip quivering buttocks, dance on a pole, or murmur gentle exhortations while your toes are licked. What’s the difference? Who cares?

I’m not entirely sure if this is more a denigration of big firm lawyers or of sex workers, or of both equally, or of neither. I think the point is that big firm life is an unpleasant slog done almost exclusively for the money, with about as much emotional appeal as licking toes (unless you’re into that, of course). At first, his post put me in mind of my quasi-libertarian arguments on why much sex work shouldn’t be criminalized the way it currently is (a topic for another post later, perhaps), but then he went on to address the type of legal work he (presumably) respects.

It does raise an issue: Are there lawyers who aren’t prostitutes?

I never shook off a strong regret surrounding my legal career – that I never learned how to practice law. You know – real law. Like when your friend calls because his cousin got arrested for a DUI. I have no idea what to do with a DUI. I wasn’t even a litigator – I was on the corporate side. I wouldn’t know where to start.

Here are some other things I know next to nothing about, other than in some vague, theoretical bar exam sense:

How to file for divorce.

How to close on a house.

How to write a will.

How to handle the legal necessities of a small business.

At this point, if a friend rang up with any legal question short of how to prepare for the closing of a multi-million dollar merger – or proof a securities offering – my advice would be useless.

There are lawyers out there who are not proletarian sex workers, right? Lawyers not owned by the capitalists. Lawyers who possess the means of production (as Uncle Karl would say.) Lawyers who crawl out of bondage and ascend to the petite bourgeoisie. Lawyers who “hang a shingle” and do real law. Lawyers who work for themselves.

I have never worked for a big law firm, nor have I ever desired to do so. What I have done is nearly all the work listed above. I have filed (or defended) over a hundred divorces. I have closed on sales of houses, both as an attorney for a party and as an escrow agent. I have written a will. I have seen dozens of new businesses through their “legal necessities.” I am secure in the knowledge that my work over the past nine years has benefited real people, not just giant faceless corporations. I have made a difference, for good or ill, in the lives of hundreds of people (maybe more).

What’s the trade-off? Money, of course. A friend at a big firm was once telling me about a new, small case his firm has just started. I asked him what constituted “small” in his universe, and he told me that they expected about $100,000 in legal fees. That would have been a good two-year period for me at the time. Many of my law school classmates made upward of $120,000 in their first year of practice, while I earned the rough equivalent of minimum wage (since most revenue went to overhead).

At times I think there is no single legal profession, but rather those who practice for ordinary folks inhabiting the same earth as lawyers who practice some astronomically larger, yet infinitely less personal, form of law. There are also government attorneys, but they do not fit in my dichotomy so I will not mention them again. I do not even have a real concept of what these well-paid, overworked lawyers actually do during their 40+ billable hours per week. I encountered some confusion as to my daily routine from big firm colleagues as well. Courtroom time and “client contact” are like the proverbial pot of gold to many young big firm associates; I had both in droves within the first few months of my practice (and found them a mixed bag at best.)

I’m happy to know that I am not a prostitute (again, no offense intended to prostitutes by comparing them to lawyers). I’m also flattered to know that at least some big firm attorneys look at the sort of practice I have had with something that resembles admiration or even envy. I can honestly say that, aside from the big paycheck, I do not feel that I missed out on anything I wanted by choosing my path. Each lawyer has their own path to follow, and each path seems to lead to one of two worlds (or government).

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Why I’m at a family law CLE

This week I am at the Advanced Family Law CLE seminar in San Antonio. Some may be tempted to ask “Why?”, which is a good question. As I sit here with about 500 other lawyers, I ponder my decision to step away from family law yet immerse myself in it this week.

  1. Keeping my skills up. Legal skills are a good thing to have. The mind needs exercise.
  2. Reminder of why I’m doing what I’m doing. I’m in for four days of tale after tale of familial acrimony and bitter feuding, plus advice on how to facilitate such conflicts. I’m positively giddy about looking for a job.
  3. Reminder of why I did what I did. For every tale of vindictiveness and strife there is a story of someone genuinely helped by a lawyer through a difficult process. I am proud to have been part of that system.
  4. I already paid for it. I got a discount for being a solo, but this thing still ain’t cheap.
  5. CLE credit. This 4-day seminar gets me 22.5 hours of credit. Since I’ve always been an overachiever where CLE is concerned, by Thursday I’ll be covered through 2015 or so.
  6. I’m in San Antonio! I’m not sure if this is an argument in favor of or against my attendance :p

This will be an interesting few days. More to follow, I’m sure.

  • Posted with WordPress for BlackBerry.

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  • Wishful thinking doesn’t build a law practice

    Photo by Tiara at www.sxc.hu

    Face it, we're long overdue for a visual lawyer joke (photo by Tiara at www.sxc.hu)

    My friend Debra Bruce (a/k/a the Lawyer Coach) has an article at Law.com: “From Associate to Solo — Don’t Overestimate Your Value.” She discusses how young lawyers tend to overlook many of the expenses, both in money and time, associated with being a young lawyer. I can certainly relate to that. Law practice, as it turns out, is not necessarily the quick road to riches that it may seem to be.

    You may dream of being your own boss, running a lean and mean shop with a lot less overhead than your current organization. With the technological advances of the last few years, that is undoubtedly an option. Just don’t underestimate the three crucial responsibilities in the success of any law practice: client development, collection of fees and taking out the trash.

    Well, you may not really have to take out the trash, but you will have a lot of administrative duties that hinder your ability to rack up billable hours. Almost all businesses wind up writing off some accounts receivable, and for most lawyers, it takes a lot longer to bring in new clients than they expected.

    I don’t want this article to dash your hopes and your belief in yourself. I want it to encourage you to do some realistic assessment and planning so that you don’t end up dashed on the rocks.

    It is by now well-known that I have soured somewhat on being my own boss. There has been a steep learning curve in the realm of running a law practice, something law schools tend not to teach. Those” administrative duties” in the above quote certainly do pile up. Every profession has its unique expenses. Law has insurance, continuing legal education, and all sorts of other ethical compliance issues. Marketing is particularly tricky for lawyers, who cannot afford to leave their marketing in the hands of a non-lawyer. New York attorney Eric Turkewitz coined the term “outsourcing marketing = outsourcing ethics,” meaning lawyers have such a convoluted code of ethical requirements surrounding our advertising that we can ill afford to leave it to someone not intimately familiar with those rules (bad things have happened when marketing is left to non-lawyers).

    Then there is client development. Clients will not just come to you because they need a lawyer and you are awesome. Client development is complicated, and unless you have an immediate family member with a corner office on K Street, it will not happen overnight. What’s more, the market is saturated with new lawyers. You will need to start getting creative, and that does not automatically mean going high-tech.

    I started my firm in 2002 with two other lawyers. They had experience from law school doing criminal defense. I had some immigration experience and had worked for a civil litigation firm, so the plan was for them to build criminal practices and for me to develop civil clients. This was before “blog” was a household word, when most computers still had floppy disk drives. So we did our marketing the old-fashioned way: direct mail. Every day, we would get the jail roster from the Travis County Sheriff, develop a mailing list, and print, sign, stuff, seal, and stamp several hundred letters to prospective clients.

    It’s not as crazy as it sounds. Not everyone has regular internet access, even today, relying on the mail. We stopped doing it for two reasons: (1) stuffing 250-300 envelopes per day sucks, and we didn’t want to hire staff just yet; and (2) more and more lawyers were sending letters and the rate of return was plummeting. Anecdotally, I heard that in 2002 about 20-25 lawyers in town were sending letters, but by 2004 there were almost 75. Now, everyone is so internet-focused, perhaps snail mail could have a Renaissance. Many people respond quite well to receiving a personalized piece of mail.

    poofytoo.tumblr.com

    via poofytoo.tumblr.com

    Don’t even get me started on collecting fees. I’d compare it to herding cats, but all a cat can do is scratch you.

    Personally, I think it is great whenever a young lawyer wants to go solo. The number of resources to assist a new solo grows every day (resources I wish existed, or that I’d known of, back in the day). It’s scary, but it can also be rewarding. What it definitely is not, is easy.

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    This week in unusual litigation (R v. I update)

    “R v. I” is just my shorthand for Rakofsky v. the Internet, in case you were wondering. As I’ve said before, others have addressed this case with much greater wisdom than I, but a few notable events have appeared on my radar.

    1. “Rakofsky Effect” has made it into Urban Dictionary:

    Infinite pleading amendments as the unintended consequence of suing to censor your critics.

    This term is in reference to Rakofsky v. The Internet, a defamation suit filed by Joseph Rakofsky against approximately 80 defendants, including The Washington Post Company, screen names, email addresses, and various esteemed lawyers who publicly on their websites condemned Joseph Rakofsky for bringing shame upon the practice of criminal defense and the legal profession. As the story caught fire across the blogosphere, plaintiff Rakofsky continually amended the suit, adding new defendants seemingly every time a new individual on the internet spoke critically of him, which only prompted wider criticism, thus creating a self-perpetuating cycle.

    Photo by Woodlouse, http://www.flickr.com/photos/woodlouse/, used under a Creative Commons license

    This lemur has nothing to do with the case I am discussing. He's just cute.

    There’s also a Twitter account I hadn’t noticed before.

    2. This may be completely unrelated, it may be completed related, or it may be some strange meta-narrative on the whole strange saga of young Rakofsky. On June 30, an ad appeared on New York Craigslist looking for a lawyer to handle a large defamation case, offering $200/week plus $150 per court appearance (this has since been changed to “Compensation to be negotiated”). First, Joe DePaola tweeted about it, and Ryan at Absurd Results blogged about it. Then my fellow defendant George M. Wallace made note of it in his weekly update on the case.

    The ad is a bit long to quote at length, so I have a couple of screenshots for your enjoyment.

    The ad does not identify the person(s) seeking an attorney. It could be you-know-who, or it could be another New York litigant suing a large group of defendants for defamation. One thing is clear, though: this seems a singularly poor method of finding an attorney. Fellow defendant Scott Greenfield said it best:

    As enticing as this offer might seem at first blush, it reflects a problem.  Could it be possible that the reason that the litigant who found it necessary to solicit a lawyer blind on the internet can’t find a lawyer otherwise?  Lawyers are a dime a dozen, taking on dubious causes all the time if there is even the slightest hint of making a buck somewhere down the road.  Why, then, does the person who has carefully crafted his requirements for his lawyer found it necessary to go to the virtual street and solicit for anyone, anyone at all, willing to take him on?

    What if the ad-placer went from lawyer to lawyer, knowing a few who could be asked to fill the shoes he feels are so vital to his cause, and was told that despite their hunger and desperation, their willingness to take on pretty much any case that held any potential to make a buck, they would not take his?  This would seem to be as clear a message that his cause was not just, not right, a horrible loser.

    Who is this mysterious seeker of legal services? We may never know for sure, but his/her case seems to parallel one that is familiar to me. I will say this: we have a lot of lawyers in America right now. Some are quite good, some are not quite so good, and all of them probably need more than $200 per week to really focus attention on a case.

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