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Solo In Chicago

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

Monday, June 30, 2008

Get Inside Their Heads not Their Hearts

I saw this little nugget in a recent edition of The Economist. It was a study by Adam Galinsky over at Northwestern that looked at two related approaches often used in negotiations: perspective-taking and empathy. Although the terms are often used interchangeably they're actually different. Perspective-taking is the cognitive power to consider the world from someone else's viewpoint, whereas empathy is the power to connect with them emotionally.

Which was more successful your lawyer/negotiators???

The results of the three studies imply that perspective-taking is a useful trait to have and a useful approach to take in negotiations, and that empathy, although helpful in many types of social interactions, can be detrimental both for creating integrative solutions and promoting one’s own self-interest.

“Negotiators give themselves an advantage by thinking about what is motivating the other party, by getting inside their head” Galinsky said. “Perspective-taking gives you insights into how to structure a deal that can benefit both parties. But unfortunately in negotiations, empathizing makes you more concerned about making the other party happy, which can sometimes come at your own expense.”

So learn your opponents perspective but don't be too squishy.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Lawyer E-mail Addresses

I'm bothered when lawyers or law firms do not include e-mail contact information on their letterheads or anywhere where I can find it. It's not efficient.

For example, today I needed a property inspection report from another attorney so instead of shooting him a quick e-mail and getting it returned to me. I had to call him, got voicemail, he called back and got voicemail, and I still don't have the inspection report.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Cool, FREE Outlook Add-On

Checkout Xonbni...I've been using it for about a month now. Once installed it's a thin tool bar pane when you open up Outlook. It does a bunch of things with your email: supplies contact phone numbers, looks-up email threads with particular contacts quickly plus file attachments, and has some cool social networking features.

Get it for the email search capabilities alone. Find an old email in seconds instead of the less than fast "Find" feature in Outlook.

Compete with Customer Service

Just a quick little post and I'll follow-up with some ideas and examples on how best to do this going forward. But this factor in business struck me this morning as I was returning several phone calls to lawyers and generally getting terrible service. Primarily I was getting pure voice mail...not even a minimally helpful receptionist or secretary. And I'm assuming it wasn't just me...if that great, potential new client called one minute after me I'm guessing she got the same lack of responsiveness. Surely you can do better?

I think too often lawyers are solely focused on their legal competence as the criteria upon which they're judged. But that's not correct, particularly as it relates to clients. I might suggest that non-lawyer clients frankly cannot judge your legal acumen but I bet they know good customer service when they see it.

Grow your legal services business through beating the competition with great customer service.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Schedule "Profitable" Court Dates

I have a good compare/contrast example from the past week that might provide some useful guidance. The issue is scheduling your court schedule in a way that's profitable versus a way that's NOT.

The key to making your court-related legal work profitable is scheduling as many court hearings on one day in one courthouse as possible. As a caveat to that, I don't think it's wise to practice in courts that require much more than 30 minutes of travel time. Understand that my statement is colored by the fact I'm practicing in a large urban setting and from my home or office I can get to 4-6 courthouses within 30 minutes. In a rural environment you may have to modify this "30 minute rule." Also, I generally practice in hourly billing areas as opposed to big dollar contingency cases.

For example, last week I was able to set 5 cases at Daley Center on one day. You probably don't want to set 5 contested hearings but I think I had a couple status hearings and entered an Agreed Order on another case and maybe 2 of the matters were substantive and took 30+ minutes. But on that type of day where you have 3-6 cases up in one court, those are quick and usually easy $500 to $1,000 days often spent in one hallway at Daley.

By contrast today I'm driving 30 minutes to get a Special Process Server appointed in one case. This happens to be one of our very best clients so that's the unique factor in play here but that's a money loser trip. I'll make calls in the car as best I can and bring some work with me to do while I'm in court but it won't get close to the billable day where there's 3-6 items set in court.

It's not always possible early in your practice to set a lot of cases on each day because you may not have too many cases. But as your practice matures, I'd suggest these two rules:

1. Never go to court unless you've set at least 3 cases for that day (Obviously there are exceptions to this rule like emergency motions and the like but as a general rule I suggest the above);

2. Don't cover any courthouses located more than 30 minutes from your home/office. Speaking from my experience as someone with an office in Chicago's Loop and a home in the near northwest suburbs. I can get to Cook districts 1-4 while following the above criteria and almost to Lake County and District 5. Anything beyond that and it's a loser. I'd suggest that nearly anywhere in the Chicago area you can get to 2-5 courts within 30 minutes...focus on those cases/clients. Unlike some transactional work like a real estate closing where maybe you go a bit farther because you'll only actually go somewhere one time, court is very unpredictable and you might find yourself going to court on a case several days in a row.

Friday, June 20, 2008

I Don't Have a Problem with 2-Year Legal Education

I mean God forbid there's a degree of progressiveness in law school land. Here's the piece about Northwestern's announcement of its new 2-year law degree program.

Many passionate comments about the move...I liked this one:

As a law school graduate, here's my take: great move. There is absolutely no reason why it should take three years of dedicated study to prepare someone to be a lawyer when 80% of legal tasks could be performed by paralegals with a community college certificate and a few months of on-the-job experience.

Law school is about 25% actual education and 75% jumping through hoops. Let's see if the rent-seeking, self-serving, self-protecting legal industry will allow this to happen or if they will threaten to revoke Northwestern's ABA accreditation.

Depending on one's mindset what's the problem with in essence cramming two years into three. Use your summers for school instead of working and it's easy. Who's it good for? I think if you're going into law school with a specific outcome in mind ("I've wanted to be a prosecutor from age 5") go for it. Get out and do what you've always wanted to do.

On the other hand if you're like me and went to law school with some faint notion of being a non-practicing lawyer/politician/writer I think that extra year for "discovery" is a good thing.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Free Legal Forms?

Here's a new site aimed at providing fee legal forms and articles to the public: JDSupra. Give away your legal work? That's nuts. Well essentially the site is trading you the forms for publicity on their Website. Or you might consider selling your forms.

Virtual Phone Systems

I looked into this a bit yesterday and perhaps this info. could be helpful to you. These are Internet based services that answer your phones and let you set-up various extensions and such regardless of where everyone's located. We have a small staff of folks all working from home so it seems ideal for our set-up.

The two I reviewed were Gotvmail.com and eVoice. It appears the services offered are virtually identical but I chose eVoice. It essentially boiled down to price, $29.95 per month for 1000 minutes versus $49.95. Gotvmail had some decent pricing options for very low minute amounts but not enough for us. eVoice comes from the same company as eFax which we've been quite happy with.

A Family Law Business Opportunity

Here's a recent case interpreting the Illinois Parentage Act touching on what happens when a Voluntary Acknowledgment of Paternity has been signed by two parents and later on one of them thinks it's a mistake...i.e. one of them claims usually the alleged father is not the father. The case is unusual because it's actually the child's mother who tries to vacate the court's order against the first father.

The case emphasizes again the huge stakes of acknowledging you're the father without DNA testing. If you're wrong and you don't get into court within 60 days you're likely stuck. You're on the hook for 18-23 years of various forms of child-related financial support.

I know everyone reading this space isn't and may not want to be in the domestic relations field. But I post on the above mainly to point out the huge numbers of pro se litigants in this field and encourage reaching out to these people as a business matter. Go over to 32 W. Randolph, 14th Floor, someday...I'd say 70% of cases have one or both pro se litigants. I'm seriously considering having some high school kid stand out front with our firm's flyers.

Monday, June 09, 2008

Sorry, We Ignored the Court's Order

The Cook County Sheriff that is...I mean they don't come right out and say it but sit around a courtroom sometime and observe. I often do. A couple recent tales from the 30th Floor (Daley Center that is).

First, I was in court the Wednesday after Memorial Day weekend. I actually got appointed to represent two new jailed clients. But while I was conferring with my client in the jury room there was another inmate there too. Well, moments later his case got called and he was brought before the judge. Lo-and-behold it came out that he'd been ordered released on the Friday before Memorial Day weekend and he was never released now, some 5 days over. Hopefully he's out by now but he's not my client...hard to tell.

Second, my client who was jailed for missing one court date when a Petition for Rule to Show Cause was pending (seeking to find him in contempt of court) found himself in the medium security division down at 26th and Cal. for a couple nights. Honestly I don't know all their divisions but he told me in horror that hethis guy with no criminal record who missed one civil court date was housed with all these murders and such. Fun, fun.

I say the above a bit in jest but it isn't funny especially if you're the inmate. I think the recourse is a 1983 case in federal court but it's out of my area but once was tangentially involved in such case. Of course if I keep seeing all this abuse...that's how practice areas get formed I guess.

Oops, I Forgot to Blog

Well, not really but I saw that posting here and I liked the title.

No you just have a few long weekend commitments out of town, the law practice starts to really heat-up, and then there's this new writing gig and the blogging lags. I have a weekly commitment over a Technolawyer Newswire. It's fun but a bit of work too. Technolawyer has several free newsletters if you're not yet a subscriber. The big upside as it relates to this blog is I'm coming into contact with a lot of useful technology products that I'll speak about or introduce to readers this space. I mean I'll never be The Connected Lawyer but perhaps I'll leave my Luddite days behind.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Don't Send Your Secretary or Paralegal To Court

I was sitting in court at Daley yesterday waiting for my case to be called and I observed a young woman step up on a case who was not a lawyer which she readily admitted. After some questioning the judge angrily demanded that her firm get a lawyer over here immediately. The young woman made the call outside the courtroom and then returned saying that no one could come over and that the attorney had a broken leg and wouldn't be available for 4 weeks (ever heard of crutches). The judge then asked whether or not there were children involved in the case (domestic relations matter) so the young woman went outside to make another phone call. After which she returned and said there are no kids involved and the judge finally granted her a 5 week status date.

Sending a non-lawyer from your office to court is stupid at so many levels. By far the biggest reason being the behavior that you're subjecting your staff too. I've seen the above happen more than once. Granted it's not the non-lawyers fault but it's akin to someone yelling at the ticket agent at the airport...it's not her/his fault the flight's 2 hours late but he/she is on the front line and will take the brunt of the criticism. Beyond that I think you're probably opening yourself up to being accused of unauthorized practice of law and you're certainly not helping your relationships with opposing counsel or the court.