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Solo In Chicago

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

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Self-Employed Health Insurance "Tool"

Thanks to the Times for alerting us to this new health insurance resource for the self-employed:

The site, maintained by the Georgetown Health Policy Institute, shows a map of the country and after clicking on a state, a document is downloaded that covers everything from what kinds of programs are available to small-business owners to whether there is a high-risk pool available for those who have been rejected by insurance providers. These primers are comprehensive and frequently updated, and they are a great place to start, especially if you have been wondering about the meaning of jargon that peppers insurance providers’ descriptions of their offerings.

Solo/Small Firm Media Bias

Saw this nice overview today of our old friend Carolyn Elefant. And it's an inspiring story and very much part of the solo practice and blogging lore on the 'Net by now.

What I don't like is the author's bias and what seem to be attempts to diminish and downgrade solo practice...

"There's no name on the door to Carolyn Elefant's K Street office in Washington, D.C. In the waiting room, a chubby man slouches on a black leather armchair, dozing..."

"some may shy away from its less-than-glamorous trappings

"Some of the nitty-gritty might spoil the daydreams of dissatisfied big-firm lawyers..."

I'm a frequent consumer of the legal media myself and it's true. Pick-up any of the large metropolitan area daily or weekly lawyer papers/magazines and it's big firm focused. Who's the biggest? Who represented x large corp. in their $99 billion dollar merger? What firms are offering $175k starting salaries. It's all there...frankly I've gotten my share of coverage but still...

So there, we've uncovered another media bias here today.

What Does Your Firm Look Like When You're Out??

So I had two experiences yesterday that got me thinking...

First, just another judge-not-on-the-bench court appearance that's often frustrating. This was at Daley so it's usually not as bad as the suburban courts since there are enough judges down there and you usually just get sent to another courtroom or one of the floater judges handles the absent judges call. With my particular case I actually wanted a continuance because one of our witnesses couldn't make it at the last minute so this gave credence to us doing that.

Second scenario deals with a townhome association's management company and its representative who works with a particular association that I have a client attempting to purchase that's set to close early next week. Association has to produce a 22.1 disclosure and in this case there are some proof of repairs that they have too. Well, lo-and-behold the association representative is out of town this week and the person "covering" for her (I use the term loosely) can't find the documents we need. Grrrr!!!!

So the above begs the question, what does/should your Firm look like when you're out of town? And what are some steps to improve its "appearance."

On the one hand vacations are important, yet on the other hand your Firm cannot just shutdown and be totally inattentive to clients just because you're scuba diving at the Great Coral Reef.

At a minimum you need to have some relationships with other attorneys who can cover stuff for you when you're gone (hopefully you can clear your schedule fairly effectively) or at a minimum be available for that emergency client call/court appearance. You should make sure your assistant has a couple names and also mention their contact info. on your voicemail. Related, it's useful for a non-lawyer assistant to have someone to "go to" if he/she needs some help.

Vacations are among the critical reasons to be developing your staff or getting one if you're totally solo. If it's just you, you either can never go on vacation (or you're working on the beach) or you're essentially closed for business when you are on vacation.

In my opinion, only two things should be impacted if you're out of the office: 1) lawyer-client meetings and at least on the court stuff you can control, 2) substantive court hearings.

Monday, March 24, 2008

10 Cheap Ways to Promote Your Business

Here's an abbreviated list:

Promote yourself as a speaker.

Offer a VIP discount card.

Start a blog.

Ask for referrals.

Write articles in your area of expertise.

Offer a free seminar or workshop.

Start a newsletter.

Write a press release.

Use your vehicle as a billboard.


Building a Better Profession

Saw this piece in the Sunday Trib. about Building a Better Legal Profession, a group of law school students aimed at forcing change in the hiring and promotion of young lawyers. Nothing too original in terms of the issues they're pushing...and the blog isn't exactly update daily. But I'm all for pushing change through Internet organizing.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

High Growth/Demand Areas of Practice

Once in a while I do actually read some other blogs...thanks to Build a Solo Practice, LLC for tipping us off to this one over at Law is Cool (I thought it was Law is Fun??). A nice variety of opinions from lawyers about the next "hot" practice area.

Cross-Selling v. Upselling

Cross-Selling vs. Upselling for lawyers from our friends over at Technolawyer:

Cross-Selling v. Upselling

Tom Rowe's post, wherein he equates cross-selling of legal services to upselling, compares apples and oranges. Upselling occurs when a vendor attempts to tack on extras or upgrades when a buyer comes in to buy a specific item, often because the advertised item won't do the job that the customer expects, or tries to sell "extras" that the client doesn't really need. If the customer's expectations were reasonable, then this is a form of a "bait-and-switch" and is objectionable.

Cross-selling, by contrast, occurs when a customer has obtained services that are of value to him, and retains the law firm for additional services because the firm has established a level of trust about the competence of their services. Cross-selling is therefore of benefit to both the law firm and the client.

"I Love Referrals"

Says Chuck Newton. So do I!

Here's Chuck's take on...

10 Low Costs Ways To Market To Referral Sources

Absolutely the truth for us small firmers out there. I don't think you can bring in sustainable rates of business w/o referral sources, particularly early in your businesses history. The other critical group is former clients but starting out that isn't a large group.

The Ideal Reference

Saw the piece here entitled, How to Pick the Ideal Reference.

The author's opinion...

So, here they are, my must-have qualities for the perfect reference:

  • People who you are certain think highly of you.
  • People who will take the request seriously and be prepared and thoughtful in their answers, even if you don’t have time to brief them beforehand (though building in time for a thorough briefing is a wise idea).
  • People who understand the context in which the reference is being given.
  • People who will know, intuitively, how to present any of your potential weaknesses as strengths.
  • People who express themselves well — either verbally or in writing, depending on which type of reference they will be giving.
Or as I've found in doing some checking on references for a legal assistant or law clerk, make sure they're people who will actually respond to a call/e-mail when someone's doing a reference check!

Boot These Five Dumb Practices...

Here's the full piece and a listing of the 5:

E-mail: a tree's worst nightmare. In one particular case, I have more than 700 e-mails waiting to be entered into the electronic database. After entering them, I must print them all and place them in correspondence folders. This is in addition to more than 3,000 e-mails I've already processed over the case's three-year life.
--How 'bout just properly archiving/saving e-mail in their digital format??

Correspondence deja vu. I receive a letter by fax, enter it into the database and file a paper copy. Three days later, I receive by mail what appears to be a second copy of the same letter. But a good legal secretary never assumes two documents are identical just because they appear so at first glance. It takes a careful comparison to be sure.

If only I could have back all the time I've spent analyzing incoming mail to make sure it is, indeed, something we've already received by e-mail, fax or both. And this doesn't even count the time I spend sending my own lawyers' correspondence by two or three different means.
--I still see this one a good bit...I think the only time it's justified is there are some real estate contracts (I think the form contract that most Chicago Realtors use) where "notice" is only proper by fax if a copy of the letter is sent via first-class mail.

E-file, then refile. Opposing counsel e-files a lengthy brief and appendix with the court. Instantly, my lawyer and I receive an e-mail containing a link to the filed document, and I print the file-marked copy. But three days later, a 6-inch stack of paper arrives in the mail from opposing counsel -- the same brief and appendix, not file-marked. It's trash I can't throw away. Somehow, I have to shoehorn it into my bulging file cabinets.

The $2,000 typewriter. I'm asked to revise and prepare for filing a Microsoft Word document someone else created. Upon opening it, I find a hodgepodge of hard returns, tabs, page breaks, manual numbering and direct formatting. I feverishly rework the document, because I understand the pitfalls of treating Word like a typewriter, and I've seen the embarrassment that can result. Then, I pray the original typist doesn't work on the document again before it's safely filed with the court.

The paper chase. I send a lengthy document to the printer I share with eight other people. The phone rings, then one of my lawyers needs something, and I forget my print job. An hour later, I check the printer and my document has vanished. After a fruitless search of the piles of unclaimed print jobs littering the table, I give up and send my job again. This time, I rush to the printer to claim my pages before they can disappear, and I find them mysteriously reordered. The only way I can ensure they're in the correct sequence is by printing them a third time.

When will the bean counters realize shared printers are more costly, not less? Aside from the reams of wasted paper, the gallons of toner and the needless wear on printer components, there are the hours staff and lawyers spend printing everything multiple times and sifting through stacks of unclaimed pages.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Does Anyone Pay for Legal Research Anymore??

Do you even know of anyone who does? For me: no & no...seriously. I think the last time I used a paid legal research provider was working at a large Loop firm at a summer job during law school in 2001.

Here's an overview of the "opening" of the legal research field. Now that Public.Resource.Org has filed all federal cases back to 1950, along with Cornell Law School's groundbreaking Legal Information Institute, the federal systems mostly all there.

On the state level, the IL Supreme Court has opinions posted going back to 1996. Free Fastcase is one of the best reasons to join the ISBA.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Small Firm Lobbyist?

Saw this piece about lobbying as a booming practice area...looks like mostly big firms. Obviously on the "top ten" lists it's going to be all big firms primarily representing the big corporate players. But I've known some folks who make a pretty penny in smaller firms doing lobbying work.

If you're chummy with your state reps (and Tony Rezko) I think you get some things done in Springfield.

Build This Type of Referral Arrangement

I've heard about this set-up enough now that it's "post" worthy.

The idea is for you as solo or small firm to set-up a direct referral relationship with another solo or small firm in your respective specialty area.

For example, firm #1 specializes in family law which likely includes a large divorce chunk. Now, a divorce has a dramatic impact on a persons life but particularly financially and in regards to estate planning. So the divorce specialty firm knows that a revised/new estate plan is critical post-divorce but the firm doesn't practice in that field.

So firm #2, the specialty estate planning firm steps in as "of counsel" to firm #1. The client stays with firm #1 but firm #2 (or lawyer #2) does the estate planning work and then pays firm #1 a referral fee.

The divorce/estate plan match is a good one but I'm sure many others could be discovered. This puts some money in firm #2's pocket and there's better client service at firm #1. Likely not a long term arrangement but could be a good set-up before #1 transitions more fully into a new practice area with the required investment.

Thanks AGAIN Loyola School of Law

Saw another free CLE offering from the folks over at Loyola:

I attended their last one on the Chicago Residential Landlord/Tenant Ordinance...good stuff. Hey they're #1 on the Chicago free CLE meter.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Cook's "Filing" Problem

Just to add to my personal experience to what's been reported here and here about the Cook County Circuit Clerk's antiquated filing system, I was up in Daley 802 reviewing an old dissolution of marriage file a couple days back and lo-and-behold a big bunch of pleadings from a different case were in this case file. Who's to say whether or not a big bunch of pleadings from the case I was interested in were elsewhere??

A couple things I don't think have been covered in previous articles on this subject:

First, even with Cook's antiquated paper-filing system, paper-filing may lack some convenience in terms of Internet document viewing but it could still be an accurate and effective system. However, the bigger problem isn't "paper," the problem is documents are lost (regardless of format)!

Second, lets be honest about causation, like most of Cook County government, we have non-competitive, one-party government. There's no incentive to change.

Have You Considered a Masters in Fine Arts??

I saw this little nugget from ABA yesterday:

This month, the American Bar Association Law Student Division will launch a mental health initiative with the goal of helping law students who are battling depression and anxiety.

"It's something that no one talks about," said Suvor, a third-year student at George Washington University School of Law and chairman of the 51,500-member group.

Part of the ABA Law Student Division's plan is to establish March 27 as the group's National Mental Health Day at law schools. The organization will provide schools with a mental health toolkit, which is an online source for student bar organizations and law deans to make available to students.

Included in the toolkit is "The Hidden Sources of Law School Stress," a pamphlet written by Lawrence Krieger, a clinical professor at Florida State University College of Law.

Hmmm...maybe a different career choice is in order?? I'm no psychiatrist but I'm not sure lawyerland is right for everyone when we read things like the above and the fact that the lawyer occupation generally has the highest reported depression rate of any occupation.

My observations...both in law school and in the practice of law, I observe waaaayyyy too many people who are letting this one aspect of their lives dominate their view of themselves and their self-worth.

Law school's a fishbowl; and nearly always a fairly small fishbowl. Personally I enjoyed the academic rigor of law school much the same as other aspects of my formal education. I think the law school error most people make is their life revolves only around law school. Perhaps during the 2-4 weeks of exams you do need to scale back and focus on school but for the rest of the year, law school should just be that 6-8 "job" you have in addition to other aspects of life. If law school becomes more and your other interests and loves go by the wayside; that is depressing.

The post-law school legal profession is even stranger. What's strange is the seeming goal of various legal groups to sort of create both a professional and social life that includes only interaction with other lawyers. YUCK! Why are there bar association theater groups and orchestras? Does creating an entire life around a profession that's depressing you help? I think not.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

A "Personal" Board of Advisors

Saw this piece of advise in the NYTimes' Shifting Careers blog (it's worth a read...written by a former lawyer). Michael Melcher (another former lawyer I believe) and author of The Creative Lawyer (is there such a thing) is today's guest poster.

His take is career-focused, i.e., most people have several careers over their lifetime and you need various outside advisers to help in these transition periods. The full article discusses uses for your board and how to go about selecting its members.

A personal board of directors is simply a collection of people who know you, are interested in your well-being, and have useful points of view. You consult with them on a regular basis -– say once every six months. It’s unlikely that you will assemble your board members in person, but you do assemble their perspectives.

Can I say I think that being too independent is my biggest weakness. That American self-reliance thing isn't a strength. Bottom line, you can't do anything BIG by yourself...whether building a family, business, blog, ect.

I remember a 2005 interview with my favorite football coach, recently retired Washington Redskins Coach Joe Gibbs commenting on why he's been so successful. His answer: great people around him...I (he) was just one of these P.E. guys.

Lawyers are too often the opposite...we think we're the smartest person in the room instead of building a great team around us.

I Don't Want to Serve on a Jury!!

Instead I'll phone in a bomb threat, or at least that's what happened out at the DuPage County Courthouse in Wheaton yesterday.

Toby Owhoka, 48, of the 900 block of College Boulevard was charged Tuesday with felony disorderly conduct, according to a news release from the DuPage County sheriff's office.

Police said Owhoka called the Jury Commission at the county courthouse in Wheaton at about 3 p.m. Tuesday "stating that she was upset about having to go to jury duty."

During her call, she made numerous threats, including one to blow up the courthouse, authorities said. After a search of the courthouse, no bomb materials were found.

When am I going to get called for jury duty?

I missed it...maybe The Connected Lawyer knows. But I was at Old Orchard last week when it was evacuated when a man with a scarf over his face was shopping.

A Solo's Advice on Going Solo

What to my wondering eyes would appear but a little free publicity about yours truly in the March ISBA Bar Journal. One of their staff writers summarized a longer article that I've previously written about here. It's in the Lawpulse section. I almost didn't feel right about it when the author contacted me...a "profile" of me being sent to all ISBA members one month before the election for the Board of Governors.

Yes, my title now includes lawyer and BLOGGER...it's only taken three years.

Hey gang, can we at least not password protect the current month's issue??

But semi-seriously, whether blogging or writing for various publications, you just never know who's going to read your stuff and where a little publicity might lead.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Been There; Done That; Here's How

Here's the article advising entrepreneurs. Some rules to get started:

First, act more like an entrepreneur at your current job.

Find a mentor.

Team up with a partner.

Exceed expectations.

Never be defensive.

Study successful entrepreneurs.

Get in people’s faces.

Fake it until you make it.

Give yourself a crash course in sensitivity training.

USLaw's Blog Directory

Add yours to the list.

Staying Afloat

A nice piece over at Law.com entitled, How Law Firms Can Stay Afloat When a Recession Strikes. The author's 4 highlights:

Do we have the right business model?

Are we diversified enough in our offerings?

Where can we cut costs or reduce overhead?

Are lawyers properly deployed in the correct business sectors?

Join the chorus.

$!?**$#!@! Client!!

That might be one lawyer's thoughts after being sanctioned to the tune of $29,000 for a client's behavior at a deposition. I guess there's more to defending a dep. than I thought.

During a 12-hour deposition, the client "used the word 'fuck' and variants thereof no less than 73 times." And the lawyer sat idly by.

The Boston Tea Party and Palatine

Well the quiet northwest 'burb of Palatine appears ready to join the distinguished list of protesting secessionists everywhere...the 13 colonies, The Confederate States of America, AND Palatine, Illinois. Stroger's 1% sales tax hike approved last week has Palatine ready to bolt Cook County. Get ready for 103 counties in IL.

Build Your "Platform" Through Blogging

The Anti 9 to 5 Guide had a helpful list regarding building a platform to sell a book idea through blogging. I think every thing's applicable to any potential blog topic: Nixon Presidency, Triathlons, Chicagoland Golf or Law Practice Management.

**Sign up for a free blog account with Blogger, TypePad, or WordPress.

**Pick a template for your blog. These are also free.

**If I’ve already lost you, read a
book on blogging. Or take a class. Or have a blog-savvy friend walk you through the setup.

**Pick a topic for your blog, a niche you’ll stick with. Don’t be a generalist. Since you’re trying to build what’s known as a “platform” for your nonfiction book, your blog topic should be the same as that of your book: wrench-wielding women, mimes who love too much, recovering Republicans, etc.

**Pick a relevant, catchy name for your blog.

**If you need inspiration, check out some other blogs by authors to see how their blog omplements their book topic, or at least showcases their crafty writing. Some blogs by authors I know:
Offbeat Bride, Single State of the Union, Bad Advice, Totally Wired, Watercooler Wisdom, The Renegade Writer, Lusty Lady, Felicia Sullivan, Marci Alboher, Boss Lady.

**Also check out blogs by people who went from blogging to book deal:
Escape from Cubicle Nation, Breakup Babe, Happily Even After, Lifehacker, and Web Worker Daily are a few examples. Here are some more — these “blookers” were even nominated for an award.

Galley Cat to learn more about who’s getting book deals from blogs these days. Sign up for Publishers Lunch. Skim Publishers Weekly. And google “blog to book.”

**Make sure your About Me page gives your real name, your email address, and your writing/subject matter credentials. Be sure to include a photo of yourself, and make sure you brush your hair and teeth.

**Start blogging! Preferably posts that are 300 to 600 words (give or take) in length.
Use photos whenever you can. And links. Especially to other blogs.

**Proofread your posts and check your links.

**Send out a blanket email to everyone you’ve ever met in your life telling them about your blog. Do this after you’ve made a few posts you’re proud of. Only do this once.

**Add your blog URL to the signature of your email address.

**Join some writing listservs or online communities and contribute to the conversation, keeping that signature in all your posts. Ditto for online communities revolving around the topic of your book.

**Post to your blog at least three times a week. Stay on topic, and don’t be afraid to be opinionated, funny, and/or controversial.

**Never apologize for not posting for the past two weeks. No one cares. If you have a lot of readers, a better idea is to
do a post like this in advance.

**If you feel compelled to blog about your cat, try to find the tie-in to your overall blog’s topic. Otherwise, maybe skip the cute pet posts.

**Read and comment on other people’s blogs. It’s the best way to get new readers to come to your blog — and to raise your Google rank.

**Read articles on how to blog.
Here’s one that people seem to like, though I tend to shy away from all those Best/Richest/Smartest Blogger Ever types. Here’s an even better tip list by my friend Amanda; it includes some suggestions for books on blogging too.

**Get a free tool to measure your site traffic so you can see what posts people like the best and how many readers you have. Here are a few:
Site Meter, Google Analytics, MyBlogLog. This is not my forte, so I’m sure others will chime in.

**Speaking of, know that blogging means putting yourself out there. Sometimes rude, nasty people with nothing better to do make obnoxious comments on your site, often anonymously. That’s the way of the web unfortunately. You have the option to hit Delete. More often than not, though, the comments will be supportive, encouraging, helpful. You may even make a new friend or two. Maybe even a book agent friend. And wouldn’t that be nice?

**Above all, have fun. If blogging sounds like a chore, maybe you’re better off publishing a couple of well-placed articles on your pet topic instead (think
Huffington Post, Salon, Slate).

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

A Heart-Warming Tale of Blog Development

We can do big things! He did.

Personal Assistant Options

Here's a recent Tribune piece entitled Your Personal Assistant, Half a World Away. The piece references several Indian companies that serve U.S. small business.

Some companies mentioned:

Get Friday


Ask Sunday

What Can I Do With a JD??

Part of an occasional series in the February ISBA Young Lawyers Division newsletter. This week the interview was with State Rep. and lawyer Franco Coladipietro. I thought he made 4 main points worth repeating:

First, work hard and show up every day.

Second, find good mentors.

Third, Coladipietro advised that you should get involved and meet as many people as you can and that you should not be afraid to ask for help.

Fourth, and perhaps the most inspiring of his advice, Coladipietro stated: “If you have a dream, chase it."

Further, Coladipietro’s advice to all young lawyers is to find an area of the law that you enjoy and work with people you like. “Work is a big part of your early career and if you don’t enjoy what you’re doing, you’ll be miserable. I work with some of the best people you could ever assemble in one firm and they make it easy to go to the office.” He also advised that you need to get out there and network, network, network. “It leads to so many positive results…business, friendships, professional advancement. One of the reasons my campaign for State Representative was successful was because I could draw on the support of my friendships developed over the years.”