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Solo In Chicago

...empowering the Second City's entrepreneurial legal community

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

It's Fun to Stay at the...

Y.M.C.A. It's fun to stay at the Y.M.C.A. They have everything For young men to enjoy. You can hang out with all the boys..." Hey don't kid yourself, I own a copy of the Village People's Greatest Hits and I'm a member of my local Y.M.C.A. branch. But that's for another blog...

So I was doing my weekly lap swim and as I passed a racquetball court lo-and-behold on its wall was a law firm advertisement. Olson, Olson and Olson, P.C., Peter Olson's a YMCA member...that's sort of how it read. Good use of marketing dollars?

Not really commenting specifically on the "Y", I think niche, smallish non-profits (often a lot smaller than a YMCA branch) can provide cost effective marketing opportunities for lawyers. Our firm used to run an ad in a local catholic church bulletin, I think the cost was like $100 for the entire year. All the local service groups (Rotary, Kiwanis, Optomist, ect.) and chambers of commerce have their newsletters and golf outing sponsorships. Be creative in finding an effective way to find this niche...it's there and often it's CHEAP!

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Who Will be the Next Cook County State's Attorney??

I acknowledge up front I'm a political junkie with a "problem," but putting on my pure attorney-at-law hat for a while, isn't it a bit concerning the lack of scrutiny that's been given to the State's Attorney race here in Cook/Chicago??

At the pure citizen/taxpayer level, at stake is an office with a $100 million budget, more than 900 lawyers and the authority to launch investigations, issue subpoenas and convene grand juries. Size and stature make the post one of the highest-profile political jobs in Illinois. But beyond that as lawyers so many of us are having daily contact with the SAO. Obviously if you're doing any criminal work the SAO is the Plaintiff in every case. Even on the traffic tickets...they're on the other side. As a domestic relations attorney I'm often facing assistant state's attorneys representing the IL Dept. of Healthcare and Family Services in child support collection matters.

Here's a decent overview piece. All that to say that if you're a practicing lawyer in Cook County I doubt there's a more important race on the 2/5 ballot...all apologies to our favorite Park Ridge native.

My First Court Appointment: Cook Domestic Relations

We previously blogged here on these indigent contempt of court cases in Cook County. It's unique when your client approaches the bench in Cook County Jail garb in handcuffs (I don't do criminal so this is about the only scenario where I see this). So by way of a little follow-up, I got appointed to my first case this week. I was beginning to wonder if the program was worthless...I'd been the "on-call" lawyer for one week per month over the last 3-4 months and hadn't gotten any calls. I guess all the deadbeats out there suddenly got current on their support and no contempt proceedings were pending (yeah, likely story).

Just thought I'd post an update...because this program is a viable business source for solo/small firm folks. I hope the head judge of the domestic relations division publicizes it a little better. I'm told by a lawyer who has been in the program much longer than me that the procedures that judges use to appoint lawyers just recently changed dramatically and apparently everyone is not clued in yet. Even if you/I don't get appointed much I'll say this, the 3/4 hour training for the program and the materials you receive in themselves are worth it.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Next on the Docket for the Supremes: A Fee Waiver Appeal??

Yep I think that's called litigation run amok or is it the ACLU again? But I digress...so a transgender woman was denied her rule 298 fee waiver for a name change and now she's appealing to the IL Supreme Court. The IL Code of Civil Procedure (735 ILCS 5/5‑105) and Supreme Court Rule 298 control the petitions to sue/defend as an indigent person. Sort of interesting; frivolous, but interesting.

I think it's essentially the judges discretion as to what is/isn't "indigent." I was surprised on the only 298 petition I've ever filed on behalf of a pro bono, disabled client that the judge in my particular case didn't allow the fee waiver. The woman has MS and is severely disabled. We only got a three-month fee "delay." Perhaps I should have filed my Notice of Appeal.

Mirror, Mirror on the Wall, Who's the Fairest Lawyer...

of all? Hmmm...well I don't know. But it does matter according to a new study entitled Mirror, Mirror on the Wall: The Effect of Time Spent Grooming on Wages. Here's an overview article. It turns out that particularly w/ men that those who invest time/effort in their appearance earn more.

Freebie Law Firm Management Rag

No guarantees from the management and I don't know much about this but a free offer to Law Firm, Inc. dropped into my inbox the other day. Granted it can't replace this blog...but every bit helps and it's FREE!!

Home Office Even Works w/ 2 at Home

An interesting overview of the workings of a two-income family where both spouses work from the home office (2 separate home offices really). I'm not quite at that level although Mr. Third Wave may be. Some funny interplay over the course of the day...hey but mom meets the bus at 2:30pm everyday.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

International Family Law Resource

Here's a free eBook download available entitled, Litigating International Child Abduction Cases Under the Hague Convention. I know we get the multi-state cases quite regularly...I imagine the international disputes aren't far behind.

Does Anyone Know what an Ascot is??

I didn't until I did a smidgen of research. Saw this where a Milwaukee lawyer almost went to the pokey for violating the court's neck-tie requirement. An ascot is NOT a neck-tie...at least not in Milwaukee. I for one have appeared in court without a tie or an ascot without much ado.

I Just Got my First MLK Day Card!

"I have a dream that one day, down in Alabama, with its vicious racists, with its governor having his lips dripping with the words of interposition and nullification; one day right there in Alabama, little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers. I have a dream today..."

Alright, although I do appreciate rhetorical splendor the point of the post isn't really to celebrate MLK Day. I'm serious I got this glossy, cool card from a Chicago lawyer colleague (and I'm sure I'm not the only one getting it) that has some high-minded quotes celebrating diversity. Then it also lists various diversity-oriented charities that this particular law firm supports. Interesting marketing tool, eh?

I recall Keith Farrazzi in his book Never Eat Alone mentioning that he sent cards/gifts on peoples birthdays.

I think the key is differentiating yourself. Many, many businesses send out holiday cards in December. I couldn't tell you who we received a holiday card from. I'm going to remember my MLK Day card sender!

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Our Image Takes a Hit

Ya know I really do support the ISBA advertisements that show a picture of Abraham Lincoln with the tag line that Illinois has a pretty good history of lawyers. But then you get something like this from today's Trib. and the image polishing seems all for naught:

Personal injury lawyer Gerald Penovich sat in his Loop office discussing a car crash with two clients.

Instead of expressing concern for their injuries, Penovich advised them to make sure that they told the doctor that their chest, neck, back and head hurt.

"He told them that he liked to make money and that they needed to go to the doctor a lot," court records said...

Penovich submitted the false claims and fake medical bills to insurance and automobile rental companies. He sought more than $100,000 in false claims and received about $50,000, court records show...

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Drew Peterson & an Almost "Solo In Chicago"

Nice little overview piece of Attorney Joel A. Brodsky in the news today, Drew Peterson's lawyer. An interesting tale of many personal and professional experiences. He's in a two person firm on Michigan Ave. Sounds like an interesting tale of a real "Chicago" guy. Well, and he's had the guts to file and win an "Alienation of Affections" suit so he's got my respect. I think I've had contact with the guy but I'm groping for when/where.

Monday, January 14, 2008

The Unauthorized Practice of Law...It's Now More Than

Just us lawyers standing around and yelling about it. The Illinois Attorney Act (705 ILCS 205/1) has been amended to actually allow for the recovery of damages ($$) against nonlawyers doin' stuff only lawyers can do.

The new law creates statutory remedies for the unauthorized practice of law (UPL), including: a) appropriate equitable relief; b) a civil penalty up to $5k with monies going to the Illinois Equal Justice Foundation; and, c) actual damages.

From the Illinois Bar Journal:

How can lawyers use this legislation?

This legislation will help people who have been harmed by nonlawyers who performed legal services on their behalf. They may now seek equitable relief, actual damages, and civil penalties on behalf of injured clients under the Attorney Act. This Act will make it easier for injured individuals to seek relief because no separate negligence action will have to be filed.

Additionally, lawyers may choose to bring actions on behalf of their clients upon learning of non-lawyers holding themselves out as able to practice law, or of instances in which the act of unauthorized practice has already occurred. Under Richard F. Mallen & Asso, Ltd v MyInjuryClaim.com Corp,27 the appellate court held that both Illinois licensed lawyers and law firms have standing to file a cause of action seeking to enjoin another from UPL.28

Thursday, January 10, 2008

2 Years in Solo Practice...a Great Overview Article

There's a great article in January's General Practice, Solo and Small Firm newsletter from the I.S.B.A. 10 dos/don'ts regarding starting a law firm. I know the author real well! Unfortunately it's password protected...drop me an e-mail if you want a copy.

"Home-Office Life and its Discontents"

That's the title of the piece that recently appeared in the NYTimes. A nice overview of some of the "new" challenges faced as soooo many people work from home. Some funny examples of couples where now both spouses were working at home and one of them HAD to move out.

I'm about 3 months into the home office thing, no major complaints. My trouble spots:

--Putting down the morning papers and political television and getting into lawyering.

--Making sure I actually shower each day.

--Finding more out-of-home, convenient work spaces...come on Des Plaines, how 'bout some community WiFi.

Attract Clients Online

Saw this free Webinar offered by The Rainmaker Institute.

Lawyer Just Phones it in...

Saw this one come down from Washington, Wright v. Van Patten, No. 07-212, (January 7, 2008).

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled unanimously that nothing in its own precedent prevented a lawyer from participating in a plea hearing by speaker phone. However, the unsigned opinion cautioned that the justices weren't ruling on whether such a practice should be allowed.

Joseph Van Patten was charged with first-degree intentional homicide under Wisconsin law, but he pleaded guilty in Shawano County to a reduced count of first-degree reckless homicide. His lawyer wasn't physically in the courtroom for the plea hearing, but participated by speaker phone. The judge imposed the maximum 25 years in prison.

It's hard to imagine NOT appearing in court for a substantive hearing/matter. Right? Your communication is not just verbal isn't more of communication actually non-verbal? That said, I should never have to appear in court in-person for status hearings.

Try to Avoid Disbarment; Oh, and Jail Too...

Don't see this everyday...an IL lawyer continued taking client retainers despite his law license having been suspended and subsequently got prosecuted criminally and now he's behind bars.

Are you a Bad Boss??

12 questions from the National Federation of Independent Business to help you decide:

1. Have you ever berated an employee in public?
2. Have you ever taken credit for something an employee did?
3. Are your employees afraid of you?
4. Are you a "no excuses allowed" type?
5. Do you expect employees to "know" or to "do" without telling them?
6. Do you yell or shout at employees?
7. Have you ever tried to belittle or humiliate an employee as punishment?
8. Do you "lean on" or make it more difficult for someone who has displeased you?
9. Do you play favorites?
10. Do you constantly check everyone's work for quality?
11. Are you reluctant to let employees make decisions?
12. Do you expect employees to do what you ask without question?

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

"Reed Smith Hires Two to Run Firm as Global Business"

An intriguing headline about Reed Smith's hiring of two non-lawyers in executive roles. If you read the piece it includes all the usual rhetoric about "running a law firm like a business."

How should small firms grow their personnel??

Our first hire was a part-time non-lawyer secretary whose primarily role is to oversee billing/collections and the non-lawyer aspects of residential real estate closings. I think for most small firms the first hire should be a non-lawyer to oversee the business side of the firm. If this person were full-time with us I'd use her for more marketing related development and general business planning/forecasting.

I think our next hire will also be a non-lawyer sort of paralegal figure to work in pure legal areas, thus creating a pure business staff person and a pure legal staff person. As yet we haven't made this hire...we sort of cover this role currently with a law student who does periodic project work and legal research.

The third hire I could foresee would be an attorney or maybe a merger. I'd like this to be a good "sales" lawyer. Rather than practice area splits in small firms I like the model of a lawyer or two who sign-up clients and then a lawyer or two who focus on substantive legal work. I don't think the strong sales skills plus strong analytical legal skills are found too often in a single person.

What have others done?

Sexual Relations with Clients...

Informative piece here about the above and some "difficulty" lawyers have faced from our friends at ARDC when they've engaged in such contact with clients. Ahh, and most of the cases involve domestic relations cases...our primary practice area.

Illinois does not have a specific rule prohibiting sexual relations with clients that many states have. Most of the lawyer complaints here come under rule 1.7(b) which prohibits representation when representation would be limited by the lawyer's own interests.

My $.02...just say no. If there are "sparks" with a client, hey that's more motivation to get that case settled quick!

The Wall Street Journal, Chicago Sun-Times and Now...

Chicago Lawyer magazine. They've decreased the physical size of the publication and dropped content. Too bad! No more appellate case summaries in the hard copy. All that said, they did upgrade the Website.

Hey and look at this they've starting a competing blog.

Monday, January 07, 2008

Don't Waste Time!

Saw this top 10 list of lawyer time wasters. Interesting list...personal Internet usage and too much e-mail checking I think are the biggest time wasters lawyers or otherwise. I'm not sure I'm mature enough to handle a Blackberry myself.

But back to the lawyer exclusive list...my personal top 3:

1. The problem client. This is a very real time waster area...two of my clients pop right to mind in this area. One of these clients was in an area where there was a clear "end" to the representation...i.e. estate plan, real estate closing. In this sort of area I tend to take the "suck it up" attitude. Only a month or so until the closing and then he/she is gone. In a less defined representation this is tougher...I have one right now in some post-divorce work. A couple thoughts here...set a fairly high "minimum billing" time. For example you'll bill in a minimum increment of 1/4 or 1/3 of an hour. So if he wants to make all these "garbage" calls keep the meter running. Related, make sure you're billing for all the "garbage" calls. I think I've had a tendency to sort of get exasperated with the "garbage" calls of such a trivial nature but then due to their triviality I'll under-bill. Big mistake!

2. Dabbling in unfamiliar areas of practice. My leaning on this point is to take most business rather than not. I think as a "newish" sole practitioner you need to seek business aggressively. When you get that business that's not familiar research the issues and get a mentor for sure. The reason I'd error on the side of taking unfamiliar business is simply that it's too unpredictable where your business is going to evolve over time. Even sitting here in my sixth year of practice I'm not totally locked into the 2-3 practice areas that are going to really work for us forever.

3. Ignoring accounts receivable. Unless your representation is pro bono, your time is wasted if you cannot collect your fee. Two resolutions for '08: get bigger retainers up front & use a non-lawyer collection manager to prod those slow in paying or not paying.

Saturday, January 05, 2008

Happy 2008 from Chicago's Premier Lawyer Blog...

Alright that sounds a bit extravagant but it's all in good humor. Have you renewed your ARDC registration for '08? My annual fee was up to $268...yikes!

Sorry for the sparse postings over the last couple weeks. I had that 10 day flu over the holiday season. Probably the most boring Christmas of my life...the highlight being the top 100 songs of the 80s on VH-1. I am a child of the 80s so it wasn't all bad, but Bon Jovi's "Living on a Prayer" as #1? Questionable.

Meanwhile I'm trying to round up my 50 signatures to get on the ISBA ballot for the Board of Governors. If you're an ISBA member in Cook County drop me a line...I don't think I have the 50 signatures yet. I need them by February 15, 2008.

And then there's some general planning for '08 with this blog and beyond. I finally got around to registering the soloinchicago.com domain name so hopefully we'll be kissing blogger.com behind in the near future.

I have some law firm and personal goals that I'll be rolling out shortly. My family's annual meeting is January 20, 2008 at the Old Harbor Inn in South Haven, MI so that's my REAL deadline.