Lawyerist readers are familiar with the mantra for building a law practice: networking, networking, networking. But there are lawyers out there who, despite their keen legal minds, are just painfully shy. For these lawyers, the idea of “working the room” at a cocktail party or calling someone that they hardly know to arrange a coffee or lunch meeting is not just undesirable, it actually could make them break into a cold sweat.
ERIC T. COOPERSTEIN has a solo practice devoted to ethics consulting and representation, including defending lawyers against ethics complaints, providing advice and expert opinions, and representing lawyers in fee disputes and law firm break-ups. Eric is Chair of the MSBA Rules of Professional Conduct Committee and treasurer of the Hennepin County Bar Association. He is also a member of the Association of Professional Responsibility Lawyers, and served from 2007 to 2008 on the Supreme Court Advisory Committee to Review the Lawyer Discipline Process. Eric is a frequent lecturer and writer on legal ethics. Eric graduated cum laude from the University of Minnesota Law School in 1990 and obtained his B.A. magna cum laude from Hamilton College in New York in 1985.
Despite lawyers’ efforts to get the best possible results for their clients, sometimes clients are dissatisfied. Their disappointment is often accompanied by finger-pointing; surely someone must be to blame for the outcome of the case besides the client or the opposing party. When the lawyer ends up in the path of that finger, the most common complaint is that the lawyer rarely, if ever, talked to the client and that on the few occasions the lawyer did talk to the client, the lawyer never let the client know what bad events were about to unfold.
I met with a lawyer a couple of weeks ago in a small town about two hours outside of the Twin Cities. Our conversation turned to operating a law firm in a small town and the lawyer told me two things I probably knew but did not really appreciate. One was a complaint about how difficult it is to attract new lawyers to join law firms in rural areas. The other was the lawyer’s prediction that in the next ten years, half the lawyers in her quarter of the state were going to retire from the practice of law.
That prediction probably is not unique to Minnesota. New lawyers unable to find a job in a major American city may want to broaden their job searches beyond their local beltways.
Tuning in to the live tweets last week from the opening of the Association of Continuing Legal Education conference in New York City (it may sound dull, but they are a hard partying group!), there was much talk at the plenary session about the allegedly irrevocable changes occurring in the legal profession because of the fallout from the Great Recession. Familiar themes: hourly billing is evil, the leveraged-associate model is on its way out, law firms will never be the same, etc. This has been the drumbeat of blawggers, consultants, and plenary speakers for at least two years now. I think they get a kick out of seeing the color drain from lawyers’ faces.
Fortunately, the old French saying remains true: The more things change, the more they stay the same. Seemingly huge upheavals often have less long-term impact than we expect. After 9/11, many people thought we would all be singing Kumbayah for at least a generation. Ten years later, the music has faded.
Many of the posts on Lawyerist focus on how to get good clients; we spend very little time talking about how to get rid of bad clients. As a general rule, the goal is to keep the clients around once they hire you. Nevertheless, for some clients, the lawyer’s advice should be limited to “don’t let the door hit you on the way out.”
Lawyers are typically reluctant to withdraw from representing clients. Several of the most important principles of lawyer ethics —confidentiality, avoidance of conflicts, holding funds in trust— are built on the idea of loyalty to the client. Many old school lawyers believe that once you agree to represent a client, you stick with them until the bitter end, even if you are the one left with the sour taste in your mouth.
At some point in our educational careers, we have all returned to school in September and been directed to write an essay titled “What I Did Last Summer.” And we have all had the same first thought: Nothing. I did nothing all summer.
If you are a first or second-year law student, you cannot afford to return to school in September without a long list of the things you did this summer to better position yourself to ultimately get a job in this tough economy. Even when times were good, 1Ls could not typically expect to find paid legal work over the summer; now many 2Ls are caught in the same position. But that doesn’t mean you should spend the summer sleeping in, taking Facebook surveys, and watching Hulu. Keep Reading ⇒
Running a successful law practice is all about getting clients. One way is by building a referral network, a frequent topic on Lawyerist. Another way is by advertising, such as in the yellow pages.
As traditional advertising methods wane, lawyers are getting excited by new methods of attracting clients through the internet. All those potential clients out there, yearning to find the lawyer of their dreams — all they need is a little encouragement. A little channelling. A system of connecting clients with lawyers. And lawyers will be eager to pay to have pre-screened clients sent their way – as long as they do not violate any ethics rules.
The general ethics rule is that a lawyer can not pay someone for referring a particular client or case. In fact, not only is a lawyer prohibited from paying but in most jurisdictions a lawyer cannot give “anything of value” to someone who recommends a lawyer’s services. No tickets to the Superbowl, no bottles of single-malt, not even a Starbucks gift card. Keep Reading ⇒
A family member or close friend calls you one day with a “quick” question. Seems she has a dispute with a neighbor or she just got denied a promotion or she needs to tell the renter of her duplex to stop smoking in his unit. She knows you are really busy but was wondering if you would mind looking into it or just writing a letter or making a phone call for her. She hates to bother you but she does not know any other attorneys and really needs some help with this problem.
So, do you agree to help? The answer differs for each attorney. Some swear against representing friends and family on the theory that no good deed goes unpunished. If the case turns sour, you lose the friendship or become a persona non grata at family get-togethers. Plead ignorance as to that area of the law, refer the matter out, and keep your nose clean.
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As I surf around the blawgosphere, I have noticed that it seems to be in vogue for solo and small firm attorneys to take potshots at large law firms. If one read only the solo blawgs, it would seem all large law firms are lumbering, inefficient, selfish behemoths, so knocked off balance by this recession that they are about to keel over and smash their marble conference room tables. Then all the solo munchkins would come out of their hiding places in brightly colored garb, sing songs of freedom, and sign up all of the large firms’ former clients.
I am a solo and if large law firms crash, I am going to end up covered in dust.
A few months ago, I posted a warning to lawyers about emailing clients at work. My concern was based in large part on a NJ district court decision that found an employee had waived the attorney-client privilege for emails that she sent to her attorney while using her work computer. Although the emails had been sent using a Yahoo! account, the employer found images of the emails on the employee’s hard drive.
Well, the New Jersey Court of Appeals has quickly reversed the decision. Although the opinion starts off as a criticism of the district court for not properly evaluating the factual dispute over whether the employer had properly adopted its computer usage policy, the appellate court went on to proclaim the preeminence of the attorney-client privilege over employers’ computer usage policies.