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Solo In Chicago

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

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Be available...

A thoughtful post from the Dirty Lawyer on being "available" as an attorney.

This stuff never happens in my little civil actions...

Defendant hurls file, striking judge in face

Judges sometimes throw the book at defendants, but defendants don't usually throw things at judges.

On Wednesday, though, Damen Toy hurled a thick legal file at Cook County Judge James Obbish during a sentencing, striking the judge in the face, according to witnesses. The incident prompted Obbish to slap an extra six months onto Toy's 75-year sentence.

Full article. This is why I'm civil only...all I ever see is the occasional verbal outburst.

Your opposing party: pro se litigant

Well I had a paternity case over 32 W. Randolph recently and lo and behold the opposing attorney withdrew. How to proceed? This comes up a bit in some of these domestic relations cases and in eviction matters.

1. My client's interests come first. If you can take advantage of the opposing party's lack of experience (frankly whether a pro se or attorney situation) for the advantage of your client, do it! I didn't say be fraudulent or unethical. I said get the best result for your client using this potential advantage. Use discovery and pleading formalities to your advantage.

2. Be the "objective voice" and lower the temperature. This is important in most of my cases where we're dealing with people bickering about totally not relevant issues in domestic relations cases. Cut to chase and see what the pro se litigant wants...it might be tenable and you can get the case settled.

3. How to handle judge "softness" with pro se litigants. This is a tough one and I don't think there's one answer. The issue is pro se litigants being able to get away with stuff and just ramble on in court. I don't think too many judges do a great job of "controlling" the pro se litigants. And then your client thinks, oh, she/he is getting to spout off and such and why aren't I? You as lawyer may need to aggressively stop these outbursts in court.

Happy Clients...

ABA's Law Practice Today had a good piece entitled, Ten Golden Rules to Make Your New Client Happy. Some of the tips we've seen before, but I thought this was a good, new one:

1) Send Your New Client a “Client Welcome Kit”

I am amazed at how few law firms do this. In addition to a well-written cover letter from the managing partner, include your firm brochure, a client service pledge, a current list of contacts with direct dial phone numbers and email addresses and a nice gift.

Chicago Bar podcasts

CBA is starting to post podcasts of various seminars. Not too many posted yet, but what's there is free.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Law Bulletin's 40 under 40 list

Well another year missed on making the list...six more for me to remain eligible. Why does Clifford Law get somone on it every year? Is this an accomplishment? There was a sole practitioner on the list...congrats!

Seniors are "sticky" on the Web

More evidence that seniors are on the Web in big ways. If the venture capitalists are going aften them, are you marketing to them as potential clients on the Web?

Back at ya Chuck

Thanks for the link to our attorney referral article Chuck. He makes another point about attorney referrals: getting these from attorneys inside your practice area (not just from people outside your practice area like I listed). I think I could argue that these are "outside" one's practice area within our list...but then I'd be being too much of a lawyer...

But absolutely...Chuck claims to get these sort of referrals within the bankruptcy field. An obvious one within domestic relations would be attorneys who specialize in Qualified Domestic Relations Orders (QDRO). For those of you outside the field, this is a specialized order required to divide pension rights in a divorce. Many or perhaps most "pure" divorce lawyers refer all of these out because they're pretty high risk with often a lot of $$ at stake and they involve quite a bit of nuanced federal law that most of us in the domestic relations don't work with too much. Elizabeth Wells is well-known in the Chicago area as a specialist in this field. Another thought in our practice areas: real estate - a lot of these pure real estate transactional lawyers need a litigation referral or an attorney who specializes in real estate assessment appeals.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Body Shop founder & business passion...

I read many of the obits on Body Shop founder Anita Roddick with interest...quite a fascinating entrepreneur.

Here's a blurb from the Times' piece:

A woman of fierce passions, boundless energy, unconventional idealism and sometimes diva-like temperament, Ms. Roddick was one of Britain’s most visible business executives, and not just because of the ubiquitous and instantly recognizable Body Shop franchises. Working on behalf of numerous causes — the rain forest, debt relief for developing countries, indigenous farmers in impoverished nations, whales, voting rights, anti-sexism and anti-ageism, to name a few — Ms. Roddick believed that businesses could be run ethically, with what she called “moral leadership,” and still turn a profit.

Is there passion in your law firm? How do you get it? Or do you have passion for an "end" that your law firm can contribute towards?

I struggle on this front...too often it's just the day-to-day "grind." Is there a practice area I can be more passionate about? Is there a cause outside the firm that can help create that passion within the firm? I'm looking.

Cook domestic relations appointment

Well on my second attempt I did get appointed to the Cook County domestic relations contempt of court appointed counsel list (see local rule 13.8). So now about once a month if a domestic relations judge wants to appoint counsel in a contempt case I'm their guy. And the fees come right from the old Cook County Board or I guess I should say my property tax bill. It's a semi-cut rate fee but you might look into this if you do a lot of domestic relations work in Cook County.

Referrals from other lawyers...

Other lawyers are potentially great referral sources but I think a lot of people (myself included) don't always pursue these effectively. Initially when I went solo I sent out a large mailing to other small firm attorneys in the area essentially announcing the firm, seeking referrals and volunteering for any court coverage that they may need. There was little to no return from this.

What is an effective method for seeking referrals from other lawyers? As a general rule, I think the development of relationships is important...a mere mailing won't do it. Make friendships. Some helpful guidelines:

1. Attorneys outside your geographic region. Both locally and nationally. My best lawyer referral sources are lawyers in Will and Du Page counties who don't want to handle Cook county cases. But you need to meet these people. In the Loop I think a lot of lawyers are into their little "downtown Chicago" world too much. They do their events in their firm or maybe CBA but that's it. Join the ABA or ISBA and get involved on section councils...these are great ways to meet lawyers from outside the Chicago area.

2. Attorneys outside your practice area. Depending on your practice area I think this can be critical. I think this must be a great source of business for the person with a very "narrow" niche practice. I don't think this is as great of a referral source for a more general practice such as myself. I do get some business in this area from lawyers who "refuse to do family law."

3. Non-native speaking attorneys. This is a strange one that has happened more than once. What this has been for me has been getting litigation referrals from non-English or not great English speakers for litigation. Perhaps there's some hesitancy to deal with the verbal advocacy that in-court representation involves.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Trouble finding an attorney job: what should you do?

Here's a link to a Chicago Daily Law Bulletin article that I was recently interviewed for. The article essentially runs through three routes for newly minted attorneys not finding work:

--Contract work for law firms;

--Go Solo;

--Volunteer for legal service organizations while waiting;

We got this comment recently:

russ said...

The Chicago market is brutal.

I think it's because lots of kids went to law school in the weak economy of the early 2000s. Then when they graduate they don't want to stay in Toledo, DeKalb, or wherever the heck they went to school. They want to live a real lawyer's life...in the big city. Let's face it, the only way you can experience urban living between the two coasts is in Chicago.

I think it's a tough call and I suppose it's somewhat related to your immediate financial need. I don't know enough about the different contract arrangements...I see them listed in classifieds and I do know of people who've done them. I guess the question is if that's all your doing, other than making a few bucks how does it benefit you longer term?

Some combination of the three to me seems the best route. Or, work in a non-legal job for $$ that isn't purely 9-5 on weekdays and then build your solo practice. I'll work with you!

CLE options?

So I'm about to update my CLE "options" for the coming year...what's the better move:



Chicago Bar CLE Advantage Plan?

I did the CBA program this past year and was quite happy with it. It's essentially unlimited CLE for $125. But I've heard a lot of good things about West and since I'm going home office I'll be in downtown Chicago less frequently so there is the convenience factor. I've heard $300 thrown out for West but when I click around its Website for solo/small firm I'm seeing $840...hmmm, if it's $840 the decision is pretty much made for me. Also, isn't there value in networking at CLE events even though I'll grant that the convenience of attending CLE on your computer is useful??

New clients at the courthouse part II: opposing parties...

This is another potential client source to keep in mind...opposing parties. Obviously there are ethical issues to consider so keep those in mind. But this past Friday I had some post-divorce stuff in domestic relations court at Daley Center. As a side issue I withdrew from this case on Friday (long story) and as I was walking out of court the opposing party (who was not represented so I could be talking to her) asked me about some legal work related to a business that she was starting. Not sure what will come of it but it's an important and useful teaching point.

Just think about it, who sees your legal work up closely more than an opposing party? Other than your client probably no one. Obviously you'll likely be conflicted in the particular matter where that client is opposing party but for unrelated stuff in the future...these are great potential client/referral sources.

My main point is to treat the opposing party with respect and don't personalize cases. You're there to represent your client to the best of your abilities...absolutely! But, you're not their to be disrespectful or unprofessional with opposing clients. Don't personalize cases, you're the professional!! At least to me, there are few things less tacky then opposing lawyers who are getting too personally involved with clients or disparaging my client.