One difficulty in representing clients who are “under water” on their mortgages is how the lawyer should get paid for his or her time negotiating a better deal for the client.
The client is heavily in debt, but if the lawyer shines, the client could save tens of thousands of dollars. In a listserve post this week, Professor Andrew Perlman asked: What if the lawyer was paid by taking a percentage of the money that the client saved through renegotiating the mortgage?
This kind of arrangement is used in other areas of the law and is commonly referred to as a “reverse contingent fee.” The ABA issued an opinion over 15 years ago, Formal Opinion 93-373, stating that there was no ethical prohibition against charging a client a fee based on a percentage of the money the client would save if the lawyer was successful.
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This has nothing to do with law practice, firm technology, or ethics, except peripherally, but it is pretty cool, nonetheless.
The Smithsonian recently posted a series of photographs from the Scopes monkey trial—the first major evolution case, which involved Clarence Darrow and William Jennings Bryan (shown below) on opposite sides of the courtroom.
Now go and add Inherit the Wind to your Netflix queue.
Tennessee v. John Thomas Scopes Trial Photographs | Flickr (via BoingBoing)
I have been using Ubuntu Linux exclusively for nearly a year now, with one abortive attempt to return to Windows. For me, the transition has been smooth. But to date, I have not exposed anyone new to Ubuntu.
But recently, I hired a law clerk to help me with a few projects, so I bought a new desktop computer for her. I went with a Dell computer with Ubuntu Linux pre-installed, and when my law clerk showed up on day one, I just showed her how to log in, where to find my client folders on the network, and not much else.
After a week using Ubuntu, she has not come to me with any problems or asked me how to do anything. I am sure it helps that most of my practice management software is online, but she had no issues getting up to speed with OpenOffice.org, the Evince PDF viewer, or anything else.
She says it feels like a mix of Windows and OSX, which is pretty much what I think about the default Ubuntu interface.
So for those who might want to try Ubuntu, give it a shot. It is easy to get oriented, and it just works. Plus, you can download a LiveCD and try Ubuntu without installing it or affecting your hard drive.
By now, everyone knows Sarah Palin’s email account was hacked a few weeks back. How? The clever interloper found her email address and used the forgotten password links plus a few well-known facts about Palin to reset her password. Piece of cake. Almost as easy as opening your physical mailbox to read your mail, in fact.
So take a lesson from Sarah Palin and change all your security questions to something less obvious. Instead of putting down your mother’s actual maiden name, use a different response you will remember. Something nobody will guess. Like the license plate number of your first car. Make a mental note of your response, and then use that same code for every security question.
(image: Huffington Post)
I have not decided just how I want to use Dropbox yet, but I will tell you what: this is one slick program. Dropbox is a very simple, easy-to-use program you install on all your computers, and it automatically syncs your files with a set of files in the cloud whenever you make changes, on whatever computer you have Dropbox install on.
Watch the video. Dropbox is really cool. I do not think it is ready, yet, to use for sensitive client documents, but I can think of a lot of other documents I want to have with me no matter what computer I am using.
Like Rocket Matter before it, Clio is a promising online practice management solution. Clio gave me a tour last Friday, so I have seen it in action and had the opportunity to ask the developers all kinds of questions.
For lawyers currently wrestling with Time Matters, Amicus, Abacus, and other clumsy practice management packages, Clio would be a breath of fresh air, and well worth the $49 per month for attorneys and $25 per month for staff. For lawyers like me whose practice management software is based on disparate webapps like Google’s online applications, Freshbooks, and Remember the Milk, Clio has no real advantage.
I like everything about Clio except the price. For me, Clio just does not pass the cost/benefit barrier.
Since first writing this article, I’ve taken advantage of the opportunity to do an in-depth test-drive of Clio. While I still think the price is high, I also think it is worth it, especially for growing firms where the cost of equivalent hardware, software, and support would be comparable, if not greater.
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When I got my first job out of college (back when God was a child) as a loan officer trainee at a big bank, computers (old Wang workstations) were only for secretaries. I suggested to my superiors that if I had a computer on my desk I could be much more efficient but that was like asking them to send me to school to learn stenography. Several years later, when I got out of law school and went to work at a law firm and at legal aid, still no computer on my desk. But that didn’t last long.
In talking to lawyers about going paperless, I’ve come to realize that in some offices with more than one attorney or more than one staff person, the scanner (if there is one) is treated like the fax machine or the copier. That is, they have one machine, it is in a common area, and the lawyer either has to leave his or her desk to use it or ask the staff person to scan the documents. The scanner is treated like the old Wang workstation.
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Lawyers have a terrible habit of Overusing Capitalization. This goes for pleadings, discovery requests, briefs, you name it. Exuberant capitalization is the “cop talk” of legal writing.
Litigators capitalize some other words, like Plaintiff and Defendant, by convention, but many get carried away.
Capitalize the name of a document only when you are referring to a specific document. “complaint,” “counterclaim,” “third-party complaint,” and similar terms are sufficiently generic that you never need to capitalize them.
For any delicate questions of capitalization, as well as other fine points of legal style, Bryan Garner’s Redbook is an excellent legal writer’s reference.
You see them everywhere: heads bowed, thumbs flying, oblivious to the things they’re about to walk into. They’re people texting friends and family on their cell phones, the communication method du jour, favored by the under-30 set (although the rest of us are not immune).
Over the last 30 years, we’ve gone from the formality of letters sent by post, to the immediacy of faxes, to the instancy of e-mail. Each new form of communication has been both a blessing and a curse to busy lawyers. Which makes me wonder whether texting would be a good way of communicating with clients.
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Like time-share shysters and ultra high-end restaurants, most lawyers prefer not to advertise their fees. Oh, many attorneys advertise their hourly rate, but that does not really help consumers, who have no idea how long a task should take.
Sure, you have a better chance of getting a client to sign a retainer once they walk in the door, so many attorneys focus on that. But if potential clients already know what you charge before they walk in the door, your potential client:client ratio should approach 1:1.
Will you lose clients if you give up the opportunity to give your “spiel” to each one? I suppose that, in part, depends on your spiel.
I have seen criminal defense attorneys whose sales method seems to be scaring the hell out of potential clients, then trying to find out how much money the client could beg, borrow, or steal for a retainer fee. That is definitely harder to do through a website or phone book ad.
If, on the other hand, your strategy is to be straightforward, up front, and consistent, I think advertising your fees—to the extent you can—could only help. We’ll see, anyway. I am giving it a try to see how it goes.