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Solo In Chicago

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

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Lawyer & litigant unfriendly

Question to Chicago family law attorneys, is there a less lawyer and litigant friendly environment than 32 W. Randolph when the opposing party is pro se and yet is (not represented) by the IL Dept. of Healthcare and Family Services (IDHFS) regarding the child support portion of the case?

I was over there yesterday bringing a very simple motion to set aside a default order entered against a client within 30 days of entry. But of course you're first sent to one of the hearing officers which wastes maybe an hour of your time. Then your file gets sent over to a courtroom (by which time the judge is now off the bench). Even more annoying are these cases where IDHFS are not representing people but of course they're drafting the orders and such so we don't get any contact information on the opposing litigant before the initial court date.

End result we get a whole pleading schedule on a simple motion to set aside a default Order that was entered previously without notice to our client. Fighting that court system and also the bureaucracy of IDHFS in dealing with support payments is miserable!

Some great financial and marketing advice

I'm going to just straight-out direct you to Ed Poll's blog. He has a ton of great recent posts on law firm marketing and financial bench-marking for law firms.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Where do your employees want to work?

LexisONE had a blurb that reported on employees experiences and feelings regarding working from home here. The underlying report is here.

The report includes some not suprising data suggesting the increased popularity of working from home. It stated that 29% of employees work from home once a week. Is your company competitive on this critical life issue (especially for people with children)??

Why do we work?

Law.com has a well-written piece here from Attorney Greg A. Gallopoulos from Jenner & Block addressing the above referenced question. It's a good read. His perspective is that of a managing partner at a large law firm providing advice regarding the motives of current and potential employees.

As I read the piece I thought that a lot of the factors which he suggested were the vocational motives of law firm attorneys might also be motives that motivate people to go solo.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Blogging seniors

Here's a post from The Christian Science Monitor about an online networking site for seniors called Eons.com. The article heralds the increased usage of online networking sites by seniors. I don't know a lot about the site other than what's mentioned in the article. It appears the site is centered around different topic areas around which persons congregate.

I think the bigger thought is the online/blogging/social networking demographics are going to be slowing broadening. And if you assume that the teen and twenty-something crowd are pretty much all online already, the growth is with the more elderly demographics. Maybe we should launch the elder law blog that we've been hesitant to do?

Fee collection commentary

There's a regular column in Chicago Lawyer magazine written by Chicago Attorney Joe DuCanto regarding family law matters. It's an often very useful column by a seemingly experienced family law attorney. His column in the September 2006 issue discuss fee collection in family law cases. He makes some good if rather unoriginal points regarding fee collection: select clients carefully, be up-front about the costs of good legal services, keep the client informed, bill them while the emotions are positive.

His last paragraph reads:

But in the meantime, understand that litigation and collection of fees don't belong together. If you must litigate your fees, brothers and sisters, you've lost not only your money but your professional dignity as well.

Is that a bit much Joe? Is the use of hard collection action somehow a loss of dignity? I think I take issue with his perspective. At its core I suppose this is the old professional versus business argument regarding the practice of law. For the record we haven't sued any clients over fees although we do use a third-party collection manager to "remind" clients when they get behind. I just find that perspective a bit too ivory tower. If you're out of business, you're no longer "professional" period, dignified or not.

Need coverage attorneys (or want to be one)?

Picked up some interesting stuff from Hoffman & Pomerantz LLP advertising local appearance counsel. I know as a sole practitioner this a constant need for me. Also, if you're in real start-up phase still as a solo, you might want to contact them to be one of their coverage attorneys to get a little cash into your pocket. The contact is Amy Cutter (acutter@weappear.com).

Friday, September 22, 2006

Small business...a harsh reality

Be Excellent has a nice post here about small business attrition and some tips for staying in business.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Super Lawyers and ethics

Here's another good NYTimes piece regarding attorneys. The article discusses a recent New Jersey Supreme Court ethics opinion holding that a Super Lawyers advertising supplement violated professional responsibility rules in NJ. It seems that the problem with this publication was that it was distributed to the mass market rather than through more narrow, lawyer-specific media.

As I think about it, most of the Super Lawyer and Leading Lawyer rankings in IL are in lawyer specific or more public-policy type publications. I think the NJ holding is appropriate and do think that a consumer could be misled by such rankings. What is everyone else's view on these lists?

I think I got the nomination form for the Leading Lawyer Network in IL for the first time this year. My recolection was that you had to nominate like at least five people to them in order for you to be considered. So, it wasn't as bogus as I had previously thought...I thought you could just buy your way onto those lists. However, is my ability to nominate five other people to their list in some way indicative of my ability as a lawyer? No.

Small business ideas, tools

Get some ideas from this piece from the 9/17/06 NYTimes on running a business on a small budget. See if you find anything new. By way of example in our practice, we use eFax for faxing that is referenced in the piece. For the package we use we get a local fax number and virtually unlimited faxing for $12.95 per month. I think the only issue that we run into every so often is a ceiling on how many pages we can receive per month. One recent month we had a trial and were exchanging all sorts of large document batches and we hit our ceiling but that's the only time it's happened thus far. 1and1.com is our Web host...we pay under $10 per month for them.

The article mentions bartering too. I haven't done any bartering in the small business realm but I've heard other lawyers doing it. The Greatest American Lawyer had a post about his bartering for services recently.

Back to blogging

Well we're back to blogging (and practicing law for that matter) after a short hiatus of living the conference life. I attended and presented at the IL State Bar Assn.'s Solo and Small Firm Conference over the long weekend...so maybe we'll have more readers now too.

This was my first year at the conference (it's ISBA's second annual) and found it quite enjoyable. Pheasant Run's a nice conference resort. More on the conference in days to come...

Monday, September 11, 2006

Dragon Dictate Naturally Speaking product review

Jim Callaway from his Law Practice Tips blog has a nice review here of the new release of Dragon Dictate. I've seen a lot of discussion about it in various lawyer groups and thought this would be useful.


There was a nice tidbit in John Preston's weekly e-mail discussing what he calls the three P's in client retention. John has some decent free stuff in the way of e-mail and teleconferences. He's pretty estate planning focused but it's useful for you non-estate planners out there.

His view is that the above three must be addressed up-front with nearly every client:

  • Price - fees.
  • Process - sort your back office, staff and systems.
  • Professional - the lawyers working on the client's behalf.

Simple but good I think!

Where can blogging take you?

This obviously isn't a new story, but Law.com has a nice and lengthy post here about Jeremy Blachman (Anonymous Lawyer), his book and the various other endeavors that seemingly all started from his blog.

There are some teaching points from his story for me:

The largest issue that I'm still working on overcoming completely is making sure that I don't live within this narrow, little lawyer mindset. And I don't mean to be insulting to any lawyers when I say that, I make the statement as a personal struggle and regarding limits I have too often put on myself. Particulary as a person who's started a practice, I need to have my entrepreneaur/businessman hat on a ton and obviously sometimes my narrow lawyer hat on too. But like Jeremy's story attests, there are a ton of opportunities sprouting from blogging and I need to have my eyes open. Too often in the past my question to myself has been, what areas of legal practice might I expand into; I think the better question is, what business opportunities exist that my company can fill and profit from??

For the record, I too would much rather be a novelist and IL candidate for governor than practicing attorney. And if I kick myself in the butt a little to get some of these firm management issues resolved, I'm going to make that jump!

Friday, September 08, 2006

Do you keep score of referrals?

Here are a couple of posts here from the Marketing Catalyst blog and here from the Legal Marketing blog. There's some interesting discussion regarding whether or not to "keep score" in your referral network. I think both posts suggest that at some level you need to keep score of who you're referring to. The disagreement only seems to be about how often you're keeping score versus a very long-term mindset that suggests that your referrals will pay off in the long run.

In my opinion, issue one regarding a referral is simply, will my client get the best possible service from the business or individual to whom I'm referring. That's where I struggle when you're in the situation where there are some people who refer business to you, but, to be frank, you don't think too highly of their professional competence in their business. What to do in this situation? I don't want to lose good referers, yet I can't just throw my clients to the wolves to balance my need to refer business. I think my short-term solution has been to sort of show my appreciation to these types of referers in other ways...maybe a lunch out or golf or whatever. It's a tough one...

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Bring in the business...interesting discussion

I thought I'd share some interesting comments from attorneys over at the ISBA list serve regarding bringing in business. It's an interesting dichotomy on the ISBA groups ranging from urban to very rural. These were some conclusions that seemed to be reached:

First, Yellow Page ads are not effective in large urban areas such as Chicago. They are most effective in smaller towns and possibly in suburbs if the book's reach is narrow enough. These ads are most effective for the PI, DUI and criminal defense practice areas. As a 32-year-old urban attorney I don't invest in Yellow Page ads. I haven't done too much market research but I think in my personal life the only time I can remember opening a Yellow Pages in the last few years was when for some reason my computer was packed away or not on and I just needed a really quick restaurant look-up or something like that.

Second, write articles to annoint yourself an expert. This is a good one...especially to non-attorney referrer groups. It's somewhat similar with blogging. I don't think people realize how easy it is to get annointed an "expert" on an issue or subject matter. Back in law school I started a student organization called eLaw which did various things and hosted speakers on technology law topics. It was sort of fun and we'd be able to qualify for school funds since we were a student organization. But my larger point is this, the local media downstate picked up on me and I actually made a few television appearances commenting on different technology law issues. All the media needed was some title to put after the comma so to speak when quoting me or putting me on the air. I think a similar principal applies in the practice of law.

Lastly, get acquainted with other attorneys not in your practice areas. A great referral source!

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

The most ridiculous filing fee in the Cook Circuit Court

This isn't a new one to me but I had to pay it on behalf of a client again today so I'm re-irked. How/Why does the Cook Circuit Clerk justify the $60 and $90 fee to set aside or vacate a judgment within 30 or beyond 30 days of an Order/Judgment being entered?? A party has already paid their upfront or Appearance fee. Various parts of the IL Code of Civil Procedure allow you to bring these motions (2-1203, 2-1301, 2-1401) and yet there's a disincentive placed before a litigant to file these motions.

I admit I'm particularly steemed at the case I had to pay it on today because the Cook County State's Attorney Child Support Enforcement Division entered a default Order against my client where they clearly didn't give proper notice to an out-of-state party...grrrrr!

Saturday, September 02, 2006

ISBA's legal research tool is up

As they've been promising for the couple months or so, the IL State Bar Assn. has Fastcase up and running for members for online legal research. I haven't used it enough to give it a fair review, but I'm sure hopeful as someone who has skimped a bit on my online research budget in the last six months. The increase in membership fee was imperceptible to me...couldn't have been more than a $10 or $20 increase.