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Solo In Chicago

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

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Blog Post = Disbarment

A Florida lawyer faces ethics charges for a blog post critical of a local judge. Sounds like there are some interesting first amendment issues: do we as bar members have restricted first amendment privileges when discussing judicial conduct?

As for us here at Solo In Chicago we'll continue to not name names...we'll just talk about competence and incompetence when we see it.

Lawyer "Directory" News

Quite a bit of news out in the last few days regarding various lawyer "directories"...i.e. Martindale-Hubbell, Avvo. News stories here and here plus commentary from the venerable Chuck Newton here. The Martindale-Hubble piece discusses its waning usage. Avvo successfully dismissed the class-action lawsuit against it. Mr. Newton gives what I see as an accurate small firm perspective...i.e. these "fake" rating systems don't help us. The personal touch with your referral sources is what brings in the business. We've written about Martindale-Hubbell before here. Apparently there's still some benefit for the big firms but even it appears to be waning. I'll say this, at least I can find myself on Avvo...I'm no where to be found on M-H and I am a licensed attorney in the State of Illinois.

In the Chicago area we have the Sullivan's Law Directory which lists lawyers with practice areas and contact information. I used to get these but no longer. I do think they at least attempt to include all lawyers whether you're a subscriber or not. In IL the Supreme Court lists all lawyers on the Illinois Attorney Registration and Disciplinary website...that's what I use to look-up lawyers.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

We Make Up Our Own Law...

Had a frustrating example of judge-made law in court yesterday. We took an approx. $20k judgment against a defendant. I always try to get a Memorandum of Judgment signed simultaneously with entry of Judgment to immediately lock-up any real estate. This is proper. A judgment is a "judgment" immediately! And yet the Court yesterday required us to wait 30 days before they'll sign-off on a Memorandum of Judgment.

Legal Service Outsourcing...

I got my first contact by an offshore "Legal Outsourcing Consultant" as it called itself. They were pitching to me for assistance in the real estate lease administration, mortgage and title areas.

The Dwindling Status of Laywers...

A piece about the dwindling income of lawyers compared to others in the business world. Of course the legal field has never been a get rich field. The corporate world has always been where the big money is. More greater concern is plight of many, many young attorneys as profiled here.

Snail Mail Isn't Dead...

How should lawyers discriminate between the use of e-mail versus snail mail?

As reported, Monday, December 17, 2007, was supposedly the heaviest mail day of the year and it got me to thinking...

I don't think this is "mission critical" so to speak but I think there might be some client perception issues. I know over the last 3-4 years it had been my goal to always encourage e-mail and really attempt to go nearly exclusively "e-mail" with everything from firm letters to court orders. I've been ever-so-slightly backing off the e-mail everything mindset. Surely for "generic" client communication it's still the majority medium. But when dealing with court-related documents we've gone back to snail mail.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

BigLaw confesses: Solos do better work than BigLaw Associates...

Here's a list of advise for "newbie" BigLaw associates. Here's #10 on the list:

Consider yourself a solo practitioner doing work for senior associates and partners. This mindset will help you realize the need to consistently deliver “good work, value-added creativity and efficiency.”

Ah the pride of a "solo practitioner"...or you could become a real one!

Dyslexia and sole practitioners?

This piece has gotten a lot of attention on the Web, it's title, Tracing Business Acumen to Dyslexia, is descriptive. The theme of piece is that persons with dyslexia need to sort of "create their own way" due to rejection by the "system." And that skill set has often turned greatly successful, particularly for entrepreneurs. One of the key strong suits identified: the ability to delegate. I can think of more than a few lawyers who could use some help in this area.

Good for career shifting or starting a solo law practice

Here's a good interview with tips about career change. A lot of the points are useful for the new solo attorney.

A Personal Marketing Plan for '08

My weekly e-mail from John Remsen included a pitch to create a personal marketing plan. There's a pdf with some "workbook" materials to really help yourself establish clear goals with follow-thru. These were a couple good points:

How Much Time Should You Invest?

Of course, implementing your plan is the key to success….and it takes time. Non-billable time. I
recommend that Partners invest 200 hours a year, and 100 hours a year for Associates. It’s critical you do a little bit every day. Fifteen minutes here. A half-hour there. Effective marketing and business development is not a “start-stop” process. It’s like an exercise regimen…results come with consistency over time.

What Types of Things Should You Do?

Partners should visit top clients at the clients’ places of business each year. (Refer to my previous Marketing Tip about Client Site Visits.) Associates should focus first on honing their legal skills and“credentialing” activities. For all attorneys, lunch once a week with a client, prospective client or referral source is a good habit. Joining and being actively involved in a well-chosen organization is another good thing to do. (Refer to my previous Marketing Tip about Individual Marketing Plans.) Article writing and speech giving are good activities, as well.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Now you can be even more ready for your Supreme Court oral argument...

The IL Supreme Court has announced it will now post audio/video of oral arguments the day after the hearing on its Website. Now if the Court can just agree on a standardized electronic filing system statewide and we'll be getting somewhere...

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Marketing + Cost Cutting = Solo Success?

Well, at least that's what the Juris 2007 Law Firm Economic Survey by LexisNexis seems to say. Chuck Newton agrees.

So going to a home office is the easiest way to cut a big chunk of costs. Other attorney expenses are generally fairly minimal: malpractice insurance, "group" memberships, and minimal general office expenses. Take it from me, signing that office lease is dumb by itself and then knowing that you have to earn more income often causes further dumb decisions/investments as you flail away, attempting to bring in new business just so you can pay that rent.

I think the "marketing mindset" can be difficult to develop in a lot of analytical thinkers (often lawyers). All of the retailers know that marketing rules. Just open your ears and eyes...marketing is everywhere. And yet I think lawyers often have the mindset of deep down I want and respect competence above all else. I don't want the slick salesman. Maybe the answer is a mindset change...shift your thinking from selling to helping solve problems. Isn't that what clients want...a lawyer who is looking out for their needs and making the full breadth of their services known.

Clients must know of your competence.

Monday, December 03, 2007

So ya won't turn off your cell phone...

Well, just wave this story at the judge when she tries to put you into jail.

NIAGARA FALLS, N.Y. — A judge who jailed 46 people who were in his courtroom when a cell phone call interrupted proceedings was removed from the bench Tuesday by a state commission.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Basic legal work + low quality...

Along with opposing attorneys who like to make personal attacks on my clients, few things bother me more than observing crappy legal work in some of the most basic and easy areas of the practice. Two areas I've dwelt on recently have been Illinois powers of attorneys and legal representation in residential real estate closings. Basic estate planning and real estate transactions can be great areas for new solos...but do great work!

It's nearly never the proper thing to do to just use the form Illinois Statutory Short Form Power of Attorney for Property. Tailor that the document to serve your clients best interests...things like gifting and estate planning should be included to empower agents. With real estate, use tax reproration agreements the year after a tax reassessment...there's big money to be saved if a property's taxes sky rocket.

Being a great lawyer begins with doing the basics well!

Cook County Sheriff process server fees...

I filed a lawsuit the other day and then went over to place it for service and lo-and-behold found out that the Sheriff has increased its service fees. Now they're charging a flat fee of $60 per defendant (they say it's $50 plus a $10 fee). It used to be a mileage based system. So in my case where there were two defendants one in Chicago (literally right out of the door of Daley Center) and the other in Oak Forest the cost was the same. I think this is a significant increase over the old system. Well the "Combine" has to feed itself, right?

Lets see if the success rate is any better...that's the bigger complaint!

So what if my GPA is only 1.94...

Did you see this one? My Alma mater, SIU, is being sued for $1.5 million by a former 1L for failing to re-admit her when her GPA fell below 1.95, the minimum established by the school to continue after year one.

Where's the $1.5 mil. in damages coming from?

The Legal Job Market

I'm a periodic but not daily reader of the WSJ and must have missed this article (Hard Case: Job Market Wanes for U.S. Lawyers) but it's still worth a read. I heard a couple attorneys referencing it and looked it up. In summary it essentially discusses how poor the business climate is for lawyers other than the very top tier from first tier law schools. Here's a part of the article that's particularly relevant to us "Solos in Chicago"...

A survey of about 650 Chicago lawyers published in 2005 found that between 1975 and 1995 the inflation-adjusted average income of the top 25% of earners in the survey group grew by 22%, while income for the other 75% of earners dropped.

Essentially the big firm incomes increased by quite a bit over 20 years while the 2-5 person firms often showed declines.

There's some interesting discussion about the less than full disclosure on the part of law school marketing campaigns...i.e. average salary figures for recent graduates.

One new solos experience:

Some new lawyers try to hang their own shingle. Matthew Fox Curl graduated in 2004 from second-tier University of Houston in the bottom quarter of his class. After months of job hunting, he took his first job working for a sole practitioner focused on personal injury in the Houston area and made $32,000 in his first year. He quickly found that tort-reform legislation has been "brutal" to Texas plaintiffs' lawyers and last year left the firm to open up his own criminal-defense private practice.

He's making less money than at his last job and has thought about moving back to his parents' house. "I didn't think three years out I'd be uninsured, thinking it's a great day when a crackhead brings me $500."

None of these findings surprise me. Through the blog I meet a lot of young attorneys job hunting and get the occasional resume sent my way. For a part time "coverage" position we've been trying to fill of late I've received nearing 100 resumes. I think the garbage "contract/document review" position is the most likely first job for new graduates in the Chicago area these days.

Would you attend law school if you had to do it all over again?