Guest post by Conrad Saam.
Starting on October 12th, lawyers will be able to purchase domains with the .law top-level domain (TLD). We are most familiar with TLDs like .com, .org, .edu, etc., and soon you could have a domain like personalinjury.law or seattledui.law. According to the ABA Journal, lawyers are forecasted to spend “north of $200 million” registering .law domains (each is $200/year).
Law firms have long been ponying up money to purchase domains defensively (to protect their brand) or offensively (to lock others out of the market). The new .law domains may also be a good option for new lawyers, or firms with annoyingly long and convoluted domains who want a “reset.” But the .law domains are also being aggressively marketed as a silver bullet for SEO.
From the ABA Journal:
A firm’s search engine strategy should also be taken into account when choosing a domain name.
And from FindLaw:
From both a consumer and an SEO perspective, a verified, restricted top-level domain provides a level of confidence that you know who you are dealing with online. Which leads us to today and the .law domain.
And from nic.law, one of the few resellers that can actually provide .law domains:
Since only lawyers can own .law domains, lawyers and law firms will be able to increase credibility in search results as compared to other top level domains.
The promise of Google dominating .law domains has been predicted to set off a “domain gold rush.” But before we head off to the URL Yukon, let’s first examine the facts about just how TLDs impact SEO. Let’s first look at the official Google handling of TLDs and their impact on search ranking. In a July post this year on Google’s handling of new top level domains, Googler John Muller explained:
Q: How will new gTLDs affect search? Is Google changing the search algorithm to favor these TLDs? How important are they really in search?
A: Overall, our systems treat new gTLDs like other gTLDs (like .com & .org). Keywords in a TLD do not give any advantage or disadvantage in search.
In simple terms, John says the new TLDs will not result in search gold (my emphasis):
Somewhat simplified: if you spot a domain name on a new TLD that you really like, you’re keen on using it for longer, and understand there’s no magical SEO bonus, then go for it :-).
In the spirit of trust but verify, I enlisted the help of Dan Weeks to find out whether Muller’s statements are accurate. New TLDs have been available for a good while — .lawyer and .attorney domains have been around for a more than a year — so I asked Dan to look through his data to answer this question: “Is there inherent value in a legal specific TLD?” Dan looked at the search results for hundreds of transactional personal-injury keywords in the Los Angeles market, analyzing 7,325 different domains that showed up. Just 14 of the domains had a .lawyer or .attorney TLD. Thats less than 1 in 500 (and none of those were first-page results).
So about that gold rush … it’s not happening.
Conrad Saam is the founder of Mockingbird Marketing – an agency delivering advanced online marketing exclusively for the legal industry. Prior to Mockingbird, Conrad architected Avvo’s ascendancy from concept to legal directory market leader through advanced search engine optimization tactics. He previously ran the marketing team for the widely popular restaurant app, Urbanspoon. Conrad writes the In-House column for Search Engine Land, has been featured in USA Today, the New York Times and the Huffington Post and is the author of The FindLaw Jailbreak Guide. You can follow him @conradsaam.
Once, lawyers suffered from a dearth of specialized law practice management software, and if you were not at a firm large enough to get something custom-built, you limped along with Outlook or a clunky, old-school software package. However, the success of practice-management suites like Clio and MyCase have made it clear that lawyers are desperate for something to help them manage contacts, emails, documents, and billing in one package.
The latest entry into the increasingly crowded field is the nearly-impossible-to-Google-accurately Ciinch. (No, that is not a typo. No, we do not know why it is spelled that way.) Besides the now-standard array of timekeeping, calendaring, and matter tracking tools, Ciinch boasts some features that lawyers have come to expect, such as online invoicing (though Quickbooks integration is yet to come, which may pose a problem for many) and Dropbox and Google Drive integration.
Ciinch offers a free seven-day trial and does not require a credit card — or any other information beyond your name, email, and firm name — to sign up, something which really should be a feature of all practice management software. If you cannot easily test-drive something, the chances you will actually adopt it are probably pretty small. In terms of monthly and annual cost, Ciinch is competitive, charging $29/user per month, or $19/user per month if you choose to pay annually. That is quite a bit less than applications like Clio and CosmoLex, but unfortunately you don’t get what you don’t pay for.
Unlike most of the leading practice management applications, Ciinch does not allow you to import data from existing practice management software, nor does it integrate email or your existing calendar. If you do heavy-duty task, calendar, and document management via your Outlook account currently, as many lawyers do, Ciinch will make you feel like you are doubling up on your work. Finally, if one of your reasons to use practice management software is because you have become security-minded and want to create a secure client portal rather than emailing documents back and forth to clients, Ciinch can’t do that for you.
With those caveats in mind, who is Ciinch best for? If you are someone whose practice is relatively new and you have not yet accumulated a lot of data elsewhere, you probably will not mind Ciinch’s integration limitations. If you like to simply set and forget a timer while you are working on a matter and have a program spit out a time-based invoice when you are done, you will probably like Ciinch. If you are a fan of a clean one-page dashboard, Ciinch may be the practice management application for you.
From the dashboard, you can hop over to matter creation, your calendar, an on-the-fly task list, invoice creation, your files, your notes, or your contacts. It is simple, clean, and speedy. If you like the lean look that is all the rage in current web design, you will love Ciinch. But that simplicity is actually part of the problem. Ciinch looks and acts a lot like Basecamp and other similar web-based apps, which is to say that the legal aspect feels somewhat bolted on. It is a great space to store your files, your client info, and your task list, but it does not take into account the billing- and calendar-heavy needs of most attorneys.
Bottom line: If you are looking for something quick and efficient that helps you grind through your tasks each day, allows you to create a lot of reminders, and helps you with just invoicing rather than full-fledged accounting, Ciinch is a solid choice. If you need more features, though, wait until Ciinch matures a bit more.
First Look: Ciinch Law Practice Management Software was originally published on Lawyerist.
The value of a quality staff member is often understated. Reducing turnover and hiring quality personnel will give you time to focus on developing your business, improving your processes, and other tasks that have more value.
If you are having difficulty hiring or retaining quality staff members for your firm, reevaluate your hiring process and the criteria on which you are basing your decisions.Looking Past the Resume
The information on an applicant’s resume is not always as important as how well they will fit into your firm. More important than education and experience is what you can tell about the person by their past and how they will respond to challenges, come up with innovative solutions to problems, and learn how to become more proficient at their job. Not looking beyond what is written on paper could cost you a high quality prospect.
Rather than looking only at a candidate’s experience and history, try to identify some of the following qualities throughout their resume or an in person interview:
If you are having trouble bringing on new hires or retaining employees, consider hiring interns. This allows you to identify the qualities listed above in your interns so you can make job offers to the ones that exhibit the qualities you are looking for. Interns are also able to handle menial tasks.
However, an intern is still a student. If they are not a paid member of your staff, you will not be able to bill for the hours your intern spends on tasks. If possible, pay your interns so you have more control over the work they do while maintaining the right to bill clients for the hours they contribute.Always Consider Long Term Potential
Before you bring on a new employee, assess whether the hire is going to last. You cannot find this information in a resume or in a long list of qualifications. Attorneys with incredible resumes and qualifications may lack the character qualities to contribute to the firm long-term. On the other hand, I have a paralegal who has been with me for over seven years. I could not tell you a thing about her past experience or where she went to school. What I do know is that she is driven, accountable, and passionate about what she does, and has the attitude I want in my employees.
Whether you are considering hiring from within or bringing in fresh blood, character qualities will reveal more about your potential hires. Next time you interview a candidate, ask questions that are likely to reveal whether they possess the character you are looking for. Here are some examples of questions that might reveal the character you desire in an employee.
Pay attention to the questions your potential hire asks as well. Their questions will reveal their ambition and character qualities. If a potential new hire has very few questions to ask about your firm or the position, it may reveal a lack of interest or passion and indicate the need to move onto the next candidate.
Finding the perfect fit for your firm takes patience. Do not be too quick to jump on the first candidate that appears to meet your criteria. By doing so, you may be overlooking that diamond in the rough you have been looking for. That said, never be afraid to take a shot on a candidate that shows all the character qualities you are looking for but lacks a wealth of experience. As long they are willing to learn, and passionate about the job, you can be sure the experience will follow in time.
Featured image: “Retro image of male hand holding words” from Shutterstock.
Clio’s exuberant legal tech conference kicks off in Chicago in just under two weeks. (Here’s my coverage of the past two Clio Cloud Conferences, in 2013 and 2014.) Several Lawyerist contributors and podcast guests will be speaking or attending, so keep an eye out for us and say hello if you are going to be there!
If you’re going, let us know in the comments!
Disclaimer: Clio wants me at its conference so badly it is flying me to Chicago and putting me up at the Radisson Blu where the shower and toilet share a door and it’s actually kind of confusing.
The Internet is a powerful tool for research that few people know how to use well. Carole Levitt and Mark Rosch are two of those people. They move through the Internet like ninjas through a moonless night. Before we talk to Carole and Mark, we argue about whether Nikki Black is right that 50% of lawyers will have an Apple Watch in 2 years.Will 50% of Lawyers Have an Apple Watch in 2 Years? “50% of lawyers will have Apple Watch within 2 years.” —Nikki Black
That’s from Brian Focht’s podcast. Sam is skeptical. Aaron thinks it’s a safe bet. Maybe.Internet Ninja Research Tricks
I’ve written before about the really amazing internet research tips Carole Levitt and Mark Rosch have been teaching to lawyers for years.
If you’re thinking “hey, I know how to use Google so I’m good,” think again. You don’t know anything. You can find out just about anything you might want to find out about a client, opposing party, lawyer, or judge if you know how to look for it.
After you listen to the podcast, you will want to get one of their books. I would start with the Cybersleuth’s Guide to the Internet. And if you ever get a chance to go to one of their seminars (or to book them), do it. You’ll be glad you did.
But for now, listen to the podcast. You’ll be glad you did that, too.
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Podcast #37: Internet Ninja Research Tricks with Carole Levitt & Mark Rosch was originally published on Lawyerist.
Link rot. Even the name sounds repugnant, like something you’d see when you turn over a log. It actually refers to a perennial Internet problem: when you link to something, the thing you have linked to can move or go dead entirely. Imagine someone happily reading along through your blog post, law review article, or manifesto, and then coming to a screeching halt when they try to click through to one of your key sources only to hit a “404 – Page Not Found” error. That’s link rot, and it is a huge problem for lawyers and judges. Court opinions contain tons of links, both to other court opinions and to external resources. (You might not even be aware that those things are linked if you always read things via PDF, but they are there, I assure you.) Law review articles are sometimes glorified piles of links, and those links might be things you really need. If you can’t find the linked-to things because the Internet has shuffled or disappeared them, that resource becomes useless.
The profession began freaking out about this in earnest a few years ago, when a pile of studies showed that basically everything we were linking to was vanishing.
[A study published] in the Yale Journal of Law and Technology found that nearly one-third of the websites cited by the U.S. Supreme Court were nonfunctioning, many of which linked to government or education domains.
In a similar study […] Harvard law professor Jonathan Zittrain reports the percentage of defunct links to be at 50 percent. Zittrain’s study […] also found that 70 percent of the links in the Harvard Law Review, measured from 1999 to 2012, don’t work.
Given how much of our work is predicated on precedent, our authorities disappearing right out from under us is a far bigger problem then when, say, your recipe blog no longer links to that perfect recipe for shrimp scampi. Some courts, like the 9th Circuit, have tried to get around this problem by doing things like attaching a PDF copy of all links cited to each opinion, but that is clunky at best. A cleaner solution is that offered by perma.cc, which takes a belt-and-suspenders approach to making sure your linked material stays available.
Perma.cc takes screenshots of the linked documents and keeps them stored on its servers so there’s always a permanent record. Using a Perma.cc link, a viewer can link to a current-day version of the webpage if it is still available. If not, a tab links to a screenshot of the page as it was when it was submitted. Another tab links to an archived HTML version of the page.
Anyone can use perma.cc to create links. Those links stay in place for two years,. After two years, you can renew the links for another two years, after which they expire. What perma.cc calls “vesting organizations” — universities, courts, journal editors, and librarians — can enroll with perma.cc and create a collection of truly permanent links. Michigan’s Supreme Court is using the service to ensure all links within court decisions remain forever available, as is Harvard Law Review for journal articles. The latter is probably obliged to do so, morally if not contractually, because the service is housed there.
This method — writing a document and then turning around and submitting all your links to a third party — still has a kludge-y feel to it, but until we figure out a better way for the Internet as a whole to deal with the vanishing links problem, this is probably the best bet for the profession.
Featured image: “Spaceman” from Shutterstock.
The About page on your law firm website is probably the second-most visited page. Make sure you do it justice by writing a bio that engages your audience. How you go about writing your bio is not as challenging as you may think — as long as you are willing to approach it correctly.Your Bio is Not Your CV
A CV, even when done well, is still a laundry list of past employment positions and accomplishments. A list tells people nothing about you as a practicing attorney (and they are, honestly, quite dull). The last result you want from your About page is to lull your readers to sleep.
Unfortunately, most lawyer bios are CVs written out in paragraph. They have no point and no personality. They fail to tell the reader much of anything aside from education and bar admissions.
This is not to say that you cannot include your CV on your site. The best place for it is on your bio page. To include it, upload a PDF version of it to your website and add a link to it on your bio page. But a link is all your CV should be.The 7 Most Important Items to Include in Your Lawyer Bio
Now that you know what your bio is not, it is time to learn what to include to make you stand out from the crowd.
If you include everything in the above list, you could end up with a bio that is either two paragraphs or ten paragraphs long. Length does not matter. It is all about presentation:
The best thing you can do for your bio is to bring your personality to the forefront. If you are laid back and casual, then your bio should express that. If you use humor in all you do, make sure it comes through in your bio. As long as you are genuine, whatever you care to share will hit the mark.
Focusing on personality achieves these goals:
For law firms with more than one attorney, you can create a standard format for your attorney profiles that allow for their personality to shine through. Here’s a great example of a law firm website that has formatted their bio pages in a way that allows some fun:
This bio still has room for improvement. For instance, his practice area concentration is more important than where he went to school, but he lists his concentration last. And he completely lost me with the large blocks of text under the Curriculum Vitae header.The Great Debate
I find they spend more time than they need to necessary on this question: “Should my bio be in first or third person?” You should determine the answer by asking two questions:
While I tend to prefer bios that are written in first person, either approach can make strong connections with your intended audience, if done well.Still Stuck?
Writer’s block is a bear to break through. If you find you are still stuck when it comes to getting started on your bio, try starting with one of these options:
You can also download our form to help you write an engaging bio.Free – Add to Cart Checkout Added to cart Keep It Current
The last thing you want to do is create a great bio that becomes stale with age. To avoid this, schedule calendar reminders to revisit your bio every three-to-six months. Review your photos, practice areas, years of experience, and any other time-sensitive items to ensure you do not lose prospects.
Featured image: “Who are you?” from Shutterstock.
Oh, the venerable benchslap. The term is perhaps the greatest achievement of Above the Law‘s David Lat and is an all-purpose bringer of joy to attorneys everywhere — except the attorney getting slapped, of course.
For the unfamiliar, benchslap originally referred to one judge snarking at another, but now refers to any time a member of the bench crushes an attorney with wit, rage, or both. We all live in terror of it happening to us, but we circulate every benchslap that comes our way. Benchslaps are one-half “thank god I’ve dodged that bullet thus far,” one-half gallows humor, and one-half schadenfreude. Yeah, that is three halves. We law types aren’t noted for our math skills, but we are pretty sure these are the six best benchslaps we could find.1. The “Learn to Proofread, You Idiot” Benchslap
Mr. Brian Puricelli managed to be such a relentlessly bad speller, spell-checker, and proofreader that not only did he get a benchslap — he got his attorney fees slashed.
First, there was the part where Puricelli spelled the judge’s name wrong.
In one letter, Mr. Puricelli had given the magistrate’s first name as Jacon, not Jacob.
“I appreciate the elevation to what sounds like a character in `The Lord of the Rings,’ ” Magistrate Hart wrote, “but, alas, I am only a judge.”
Did we mention the part where he also misspelled the name of the court in which he was filing?
Among Puricelli’s errors, he referred to the court as the “Easter” district of Pennsylvania. Judge Hart, who is Jewish, opined that considering his religious persuasion, “the Passover district might have been more appropriate.”
Judge Hart knocked Puricelli’s fees for drafting the pleadings down to $150 from $300, which is pretty much the ultimate benchslap.2. The Benchslap From a Judge Who is Doing Time
It is tough to sing the praises of former U.S District Court judge for the Southern District of Texas Samuel B. Kent, mainly because he is in prison for lying to investigators about sexually assaulting two women who worked for him. He also initially refused to step down, so the House had to impeach him, which finally got the message through.
Now that we have cleared up that Kent is not a person to be emulated, we feel free to share with you his benchslap that roundhoused both attorneys in one opinion.
Before proceeding further, the Court notes that this case involves two extremely likable lawyers, who have together delivered some of the most amateurish pleadings ever to cross the hallowed causeway into Galveston, an effort which leads the Court to surmise but one plausible explanation. Both attorneys have obviously entered into a secret pact–complete with hats, handshakes and cryptic words–to draft their pleadings entirely in crayon on the back sides of gravy-stained paper place mats, in the hope that the Court would be so charmed by their child-like efforts that their utter dearth of legal authorities in their briefing would go unnoticed.
You are a terrible human being, Samuel Kent, but that was a fine bit of snark.3. “Please Dear God Let This Oral Argument End” Benchslap
Usually, telling someone to listen to an entire appellate oral argument is a a terribly mean thing to do, because let’s face it: we barely want to listen to our own oral arguments. But you are really missing out if you don’t listen to the entire argument in Wolf v. Walker.
Wolf was a challenge to Wisconsin’s same-sex marriage ban, and the hapless Timothy Samuelson, assistant attorney general in America’s dairyland, was benchslapped by the Seventh Circuit appellate panel of Judges Richard Posner, Ann Clair Williams, and David Hamilton for nearly the entire argument. Sam Glover already covered one of the most excruciating moments over at the Lawyerist Lab.
Samuelson offered to brief an issue related to the possible negatives of same-sex marriage. According to the Washington Blade, “Posner retorted, ‘How can you brief it, if you don’t know anything about it?'”
Posner is a reliable source of benchslappery, but in this case no one in the court room was buying anything Samuelson was selling as he tried to explain, vainly, that gay marriage was bad because it is bad. You can not help but cringe as Samuelson tries desperately to make the torment end. Posner is busy pummeling Samuelson with yet another question when the yellow light comes on, giving Samuelson the signal his time is close to up.
Samuelson: First off, the yellow light is on — may I respond, Your Honor?
Posner: Yes, because the yellow light, it just tells you that you’ve got….
Williams: It won’t save you.
This is the stuff lawyer nightmares are made of.4. The Patent Infringement Benchslap
This is a new benchslap, courtesy of United States Magistrate Frederick F. Mumm, sitting in the Central District of California. Magistrate Mumm is currently presiding over a patent dispute between two aerospace companies, and things have gotten a bit testy during depositions, calling for a benchslap to both client and attorney.
The witness started the train wreck of a deposition by asking counsel “to clarify” what he meant by such obvious words as “responsibilities” and “educational background.” Counsel soon hopped on the bandwagon and began interposing inappropriate objections that perfectly clear (albeit broad) questions were “vague.” Like a tag team, the witness would respond by asking plaintiff’s counsel to “be more precise.” Counsel stepped up the attempt to disrupt any worthwhile examination by continually interposing inappropriate objections, “cluing” the witness to ask the questions to be rephrased, and wasting everyone’s time trying to engage plaintiff’s counsel in banter. The witness responded in kind, by essentially refusing to answer any question if he was not “100% sure” of the answer.
This benchslap came with an order that defendants were to reimburse the plaintiffs for attorneys fees and court attorney fees incurred during this train wreck of a deposition. The very best and worst benchslaps are the ones that cost lawyers money.5. The “STFU With All Your Acronyms” Benchslap
Judge Laurence Silberman of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit does not like acronyms one bit. Back in 2012, he mildly batted at some attorneys who dared to use nuclear power-related acronyms in their nuclear regulatory cases. Back then, however, Silberman limited himself to grumbling about the acronym use after the fact. These days, Silberman has stepped up his game and, along with some other D.C. Circuit judges, has now just stone cold banned some acronyms.
We do not envy the poor first-year associate who has to figure out what acronyms are uncommon. We also pity the fifth-year who is going to need to find out a way to eliminate 1000 words or so from a brief now that they have to spell everything out.6. The Incredibly Nerdy Benchslap
The Prenda Law saga has been a multi-year odyssey encompassing copyright trolls, pornography, heroic small firm practitioners, and sanctions.
The Prenda Law firm is functionally a living copyright troll whose sole purpose is to threaten people for allegedly downloading copyrighted porn. The lucky souls Prenda targeted were then given the awesome opportunity to pay $4,000 for the privilege of not telling the whole world how much they love porn. Along the way, it turned out that Prenda was creating shell corporations, engaging in identity theft, and, in an especially nice touch, actually being the people sharing the porn in the first place. You can see why this would be an irresistible target for some solid benchslappery for whichever judge had to continue to deal with these people.
Judge Otis Wright is a federal judge in the Central District of California and is apparently a big fan of Star Trek. After presiding over a near-infinite number of matters involving Prenda, he decided to drop the bomb, or photon torpedo, on the troll-tastic law firm.
In lieu of a punitive sanction, Judge Wright ordered Prenda to pay attorney’s fees, referred their actions to the bar, and dropped this gem:
Third, though Plaintiffs boldly probe the outskirts of law, the only enterprise they resemble is RICO. The federal agency eleven decks up is familiar with their prime directive and will gladly refit them for their next voyage.
We are just going to pretend we understood all the nerdspeak, and remain secure in the knowledge that no one has ruled against us while using bad television jargon. Yet.
Originally published 2014-09-23. Last updated 2015-08-02.
If you think a confidentiality statement in your email counts as a precaution when you are sending confidential information, you are incompetent. We can argue about whether precautions are necessary in the first place, but there is no argument to be made that words constitute a precaution. Disclaimers (including confidentiality statements) are pointless.
Apparently 70.7% of lawyers responding to the ABA’s technology survey fall into that category.1 I’m just so discouraged by that. Even more discouraged than I was on discovering 70% of lawyers don’t think they use the cloud. Lawyers who don’t get this: you are not competent to represent clients.
It looks like respondents could select multiple options, or another 26.4% think putting the confidentiality statement in the subject line makes a difference. ↩
70% of Lawyers Think Words Make Email Safe, Are Incompetent was originally published on Lawyerist.
Just about everyone uses a digital calendar, whether it is in Outlook, the calendar app built into Windows or OS X, or Google Calendar. And if you use a digital calendar, you should use calendar invites. Used well, calendar invites keep everyone on the same schedule and make it easy to ensure everyone has the information they need for the meeting. Used poorly, they are just annoying.
Here are some best practices for using calendar invites.Describe the Purpose Instead of Listing Guests
When creating a title for an appointment on your own calendar, it is natural to use something like “Coffee with Jane Doe.” But when you are sending a calendar invite, that is not helpful. Jane isn’t having coffee with herself; she is having coffee with you. “Coffee with Jane Doe” is not a helpful description for Jane to have on her calendar. It does not help Jane remember what you intend to talk about, either. When you have scheduled a meeting well in advance, you do not want to appear scatterbrained by starting out by asking “why are we meeting, again?”
The better practice is to use a title that describes the purpose of the meeting. For example:
If other people don not use helpful titles on calendar invites they send to you, you can change the name of the appointment on your own calendar.Use Real Start and End Times
Do not use a default appointment duration, like an hour or a half hour. If you are scheduling a meeting that should last 15 minutes, make it 15 minutes on your calendar. It helps set expectations.
Here are some suggestions:
If your appointment is going to be somewhere physical, include the address. It is annoying when you open up your calendar app to get directions only to realize you do not have the address.
Most people will be checking their phone on their way out the door, and if you have been considerate enough to include the address, they can smoothly transition to driving (or biking or walking) directions. If not, they may have to Google the location and copy and paste the address to their map app. Including the address in the first place avoids this bit of hassle.Include Contact Information
You can add notes to calendar appointments for a reason. Use notes to add contact information like phone numbers, Skype IDs, or web meeting information and access codes. You cannot have a meeting if you do not know how to start it. And make sure everyone knows who is responsible for the call. A simple “(Anne will initiate)” in the title or notes should be sufficient.
Notes are also useful for parking instructions if they aren’t straightforward, or for giving directions to a location inside a building.Set an Appropriate Notification
Notifications are not shared; everyone has the chance to set their own defaults and add their own notifications. But when you create a new calendar invite, make sure the notification on your end is reasonable. If you need to be all the way across town, 15 minutes may not be enough of a reminder. If it is a phone call, 15 minutes may be too much.
Being smart about your calendar invites will make you look considerate and organized — and help you stay on schedule, of course.
Ah, the “selfie.” People take them everywhere now, at sporting events, at landmarks, and even at funerals. But sometimes a selfie goes too far. A lawyer in Wisconsin found the legal limit of the selfie after a judge ordered him to take it off his Facebook page. The selfie in question was one the lawyer snapped of himself and his client inside the courtroom immediately after the jury acquitted his client on a charge of first-degree intentional homicide. The lawyer took it off his Facebook page and apologized, but by that time it had already been shared across the internet. The judge who ordered the lawyer take the selfie down was concerned about the emotional, privacy, and ethical issues in play. From the article:
“I was concerned if the victim’s family had seen (the taking of the photo), or if jurors had been included in the frame,” McAdams said.
“To me it’s undignified,” said McAdams, 53. “But I know that a younger generation sees that social media stuff differently.”
Many courts have specific rules against photography or video recording in courtrooms that were drafted before the age of smartphones, Instagram, and Periscope. The vast majority of American courts are supposed to be open to public view. But does that mean lawyers should be taking selfies inside the courtroom or Periscoping their closing arguments? If you’ve taken a courtroom selfie let us know by posting it in the comments, along with the presiding judge’s contact information.
Featured image: “Old Man using a smartphone on neutral background” from Shutterstock.
YouTube can be a tool to reach, engage, and attract potential clients. It is also a graveyard of videos past, archiving everything from the absurd to the ethically questionable.
Comment 3 to Rule 7.2 of the Model Rules of Professional Conduct points out that questions of effectiveness and taste in advertising are “matters of speculation and subjective judgment.” Although dignity and good taste are open to interpretation, the ABA has encouraged lawyers to consider advertising that reflects the ABA’s aspirational goals.
Lawyer Videos That Push the Boundaries of Dignity and Good Taste was originally published on Lawyerist.
Dennis Kennedy thinks the real promise of technology is taking away the tedious bits of law practice so lawyers can do more of what matters. And do the numbers show that law school crushed all our dreams?Lawyers Don’t Know What Else to Do
If you look closely, the answer is most lawyers don’t have much imagination. In today’s podcast, we wonder if law school really does crush everyone’s dreams.Dennis Kennedy on How Technology Can Make Law Practice More Fun
Why do lawyers fight so hard to keep doing the repetitive tasks that computers can and should do better than we can? Are we really that excited about spending our days doing tedious work just so we can bill lots of hours? Dennis Kennedy thinks lawyers should be excited to assign that stuff to computers — what’s left are the rewarding parts of lawyering that allow lawyers to deliver higher-quality services without selling mainly time and attention. Plus, maybe you shouldn’t be afraid of volume after all.
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Podcast #36: Dennis Kennedy on How Technology Can Make Law Practice More Satisfying was originally published on Lawyerist.
Every year, several of my friends and acquaintances get married. At least one of them meets me at a dive bar to ask whether they should file their tax returns separately. Usually it is due to one of the following situations:
So when are spouses better off filing separately?
It comes down to balancing two factors: saving money and avoiding a dispute with federal and state tax agencies. Filing separately can also reduce federal student loan payments. These factors should be considered together when deciding to file separately.Paying Less in Taxes
In most cases, filing jointly is beneficial because you will pay less in taxes. For middle-class income couples, the tax savings can be significant. In addition to more favorable income tax brackets, you can take advantage of various tax deductions and credits including:
However, if you file separately, you will lose the above deductions and credits.
In some cases, you may pay less tax by filing separately. This is usually the case when one spouse has a low adjusted gross income but high itemized deductions, especially employee expenses and medical payment deductions. Unfortunately, because of the complexity of how the tax laws interact, it is near impossible to give simple examples. It is best to consult with a tax professional to see how the tax bill will differ if you file separately as opposed to jointly.
It is a different story if you and your spouse are a high-income couple. Your income will disqualify you from many of the above deductions and credits. Your itemized deductions can be limited. Finally, you may also have to pay the Alternative Minimum Tax in addition to a regular income tax. Because of this, your marginal tax savings will be lower.
Another problem with being high-income couple is your returns have a higher chance of being audited by a tax agency. You should consider whether the tax savings is worth the time and administrative costs of dealing with an audit, which brings us to the next issue.Preventing a Tax Controversy Headache
When you file a joint return, each are jointly and severally liable for the entire tax debt, penalties, and interest. In other words, both you and your spouse can be liable for the mistakes or fraudulent activities of the other. If the tax debt is large enough and nothing is done to resolve it, then you may both be subject to tax liens, bank levies, wage garnishments and even criminal action.
Under these circumstances, I would recommend filing separately:
In recent years, more married couples are filing separately to reduce their federal student loan payments under the Income Based Repayment (IBR) or Pay As You Earn (PAYE) programs. Under these programs, if a debtor files married filing jointly, then the couple’s combined income will be used to determine the monthly student loan payment. But if the debtor files separately, only their income will be considered. While you will likely pay higher taxes, this can be offset by the savings in monthly student loan payments.
The savings can be significant. To use a very simple example, suppose a married couple has a combined adjusted gross income (AGI) of $170,000 if their return was filed jointly. If filed separately, the wife’s AGI is $130,000 while the husband’s AGI is $40,000. Let’s also assume that the couple pays around $1,500 in additional taxes by filing separately. Finally, let’s suppose the husband has $120,000 in federal student loan debt.
Using this IBR payment estimator, if the couple files jointly, their $170,000 AGI would disqualify the husband for reduced payments under IBR or PAYE. The minimum monthly payment the husband would qualify for is $700 under the 25 year extended graduated repayment plan. On the other hand, if the couple filed separately, the husband would only have to pay $201 per month under IBR or $134 per month under PAYE. At best the husband will save $566 per month ($700 – $134 = $566) or $6,792 per year in student loan payments.
So by filing separately, the couple will pay $1,500 in additional taxes but with the student loan payment savings, the couple will save $5,292 overall ($6,792 – $1,500 = $5,292).
But there are drawbacks. By paying less through IBR or PAYE, your overall student loan balance will be higher and you will pay more in the future unless you are planning for loan forgiveness. Also, under the proposed Revised Pay As You Earn (REPAYE) program, married borrowers would have their monthly payment amount calculated based on the couple’s combined income, regardless whether they file their returns jointly or separately.
Unfortunately, few CPAs and other professional tax preparers are aware of IBR and PAYE because most of them did not finish school with six figure student loan debt. I recommend working closely with your tax preparer to ensure that you pay the optimal taxes while minimizing your student loan payments.Key Takeaways
In most cases, it is best to file jointly. But you should consider filing separately in one or more of these situations:
In some cases, you may pay less in taxes by filing separately. But if one or both spouses are enrolled in the IBR alternative repayment programs, filing separately may result in greater overall savings. Even if you pay more by filing separately, the payment may be worth the peace of mind of not being liable for your spouse’s tax mistakes.
Featured image: “couple doing bills” from Shutterstock.
Whether Married Lawyers Should File Separate Tax Returns was originally published on Lawyerist.
One of my friends is a doctor who treats patients with HIV/AIDS at an inner-city hospital in Minneapolis. Years ago he told me one of the biggest challenges about his job is getting his patients to take their medicine. HIV/AIDS is no longer a death sentence. You can live a long life if you take your medicine. But many of his patients are living in poverty, and keeping up with their prescriptions takes a back seat to everything else going on in their lives. If they miss a pill, they still feel fine, but if they miss an appointment at the social security office, they won’t eat, and getting there means taking public transportation, which requires money, which they don’t have, and finding someone to take care of the kids while they are gone, and so on.
Everything is harder when you’re poor. There are mountains of necessary bullshit to deal with, and doing something that will keep you alive for years seems low-priority when you aren’t sure how you’ll make it to next week.“Worrying about tomorrow can be a luxury if you don’t know how you’ll survive today.”
That’s from an article in the New Republic citing this study (and others) on the influence of poverty on planning for the future. The point when it comes to clients is that what seems critically important to you, like taking life-saving medicine or preparing for a court hearing, may not feel so important to the impoverished person you are trying to help. They’ve got a lot of bullshit to deal with between now and that deposition next month. The obvious-to-you goal of winning the case might not actually be the best outcome for your client. Often, they just want the problem to go away, and that probably doesn’t mean a long, drawn-out process with a win at the end.
I used to volunteer at a free legal clinic to help people who were dealing with debt collection. Many of them had FDCPA claims and could have sued the debt collector for at least $1,000. The debt collector would even have had to pay their attorney’s fees. I would often refer them to a consumer lawyer or offer to help them if they called me. Very few followed through. I had a hard time getting my head around that. $1,000 (sometimes substantially more) was real money to them, and all they had to do was call. Why couldn’t they? The same reason so many structured settlements are sold for a song: future money doesn’t help you deal with today’s problems.
When you represent impoverished clients, you need to think differently about your role and their priorities. You need to take extra time to make sure you understand what a good outcome would be to your client. And always keep in mind that people in poverty have a ton of bullshit to deal with every day. You might need to put in a little extra effort to make sure you and your client get to that outcome.
Featured image: “Empty piggy bank” from Shutterstock.
Chief among the amenities that belong in any office, law or otherwise, is coffee. Oh sure, you should have tea, water, and soda, but coffee is the king of non-alcoholic beverage consumption. It also gives everyone something besides each other and their phones to stare at during long meetings.
Offering coffee is basic client service, but how you serve coffee says a lot about your firm.
Next: The most-convenient way to serve coffee in your office.
Passwords are often the weak link in data security. You can build the most secure system in the world, but as soon as someone sets their password to 12345, you might as well leave the front door open.
Good passwords are essential to data security, and this article has everything you need to know about creating and keeping track of good passwords.Index
First, why are good passwords important? In 2013, Ars Technica gave three experts an encrypted, 16,000-entry password file. The “winner” of the contest cracked 90% of the passwords. Even the loser cracked 62% of the passwords in a few hours. When a breach at a major corporation happens, hackers gain access to hundreds of thousands (sometimes millions) of hashed (encrypted) passwords. And they can crack the vast majority of them in under a day, compromising those users’ accounts on the target website and any other website with the same password.
You want to have one of the passwords that doesn’t get cracked so you don’t wake up a few days later to an email receipt because Amazon just billed you for 1,000 tins of uranium ore and shipping to someone in North Korea. Or the entire Xbox game catalog and shipping to a teenager in Nebraska.What Makes a Good Password
A good password is unique, not found in the dictionary, long, and contains letters, numbers, and symbols.
Unique means not using the same password for multiple sites. If you reuse the same password across multiple sites, someone who gets ahold of your password for one of those sites can access your accounts on all the others. For example, if there is a security breach on the Target website, and you reused that password for your Gmail account, both have been compromised.
In practice, it is probably okay to share some passwords between sites that do not hold much personal information and that have a low potential for doing you harm if hacked. It won’t do anyone much good to have your NYTimes.com password, for example, even if you also use it on Pinterest. But never reuse passwords for important things.
Not found in the dictionary means don’t use real words. Or real names, for that matter. When attempting to decrypt passwords, one of the first things a hacker will do is run through every word found in a dictionary, common names, known passwords, and combinations of all of those things. You can use nonsense words, or you can change some letters to symbols, like replacing L with 1, or A with @. This is probably the easiest way to get numbers and symbols into your passwords, too.
Long is sort of a moving target, but 12–14 characters is a good length. More is better — to a point. At around 22 characters, brute-force decryption apparently becomes effectively impossible.
The password scheme popularized by Randall Munro in his webcomic, XKCD, may no longer be good advice, by the way, according to security expert Bruce Schneier. Hackers are on to it, he says in his own guide to good passwords.
As Trevor Gau points out in the comments, there is a spirited debate about this in the comments to Schneier’s post. In another comment, Joseph McDaniels elaborates further. Here’s my takeaway: you can’t go wrong with long and random.Extra Security Scramble Your Username
Consider scrambling your username, too. Or if you must use an email address and you have a Gmail account,1 you can add a code to the email address so that your plain email address won’t work. For example, if your email address is email@example.com, you could use firstname.lastname@example.org to make it harder for someone to figure out which email address goes with your account. You could even use something simple like the domain name of the website (e.g., email@example.com), which would be easier to remember and still better than your “naked” email address.Multi-Factor Authentication
Multi-factor authentication (usually just two factors, actually) bolsters security by pairing something you know — your password — with something you have — usually your phone. When you log in to your account, you must enter your password and a code sent to your phone or generated by an app or key fob. Some services (Clio, for example), can also send the code to your email address. With two-factor authentication turned on, a hacker needs more than just your password to access your account.
You should enable two-factor authentication for anything you care about, like your email account, password manager, and practice management software.Biometrics
The current trend in authentication seems to be biometrics — fingerprints, retina scans, etc. The iPhone 5S, for example, includes Touch ID, which lets you unlock your phone (and do a few other things) with your fingerprint. While Touch ID (which is currently the most-advanced biometric system on consumer hardware) is definitely more secure than nothing, it is not particularly difficult to crack. You leave your fingerprint everywhere you go, and as the Chaos Computer Club demonstrated soon after the iPhone 5S was released, Touch ID can be fooled with basic household items like a digital camera, laser printer, and white glue.
Biometrics may be the future of authentication, but there are many problems left to solve. You cannot get new fingerprints or retinas if your old ones are “cracked,” for example. For now, biometrics are not superior to a good password, and they seem to be easier to crack if someone is motivated.Password Managers
The best passwords are hard to remember, and even harder to type on a smartphone. And the more you are asked for your password, the more likely you are to use a shorter password that is easy to remember. So banking apps, for example, which typically demand your password every time you want to check your balances, are — perversely — discouraging you from using good passwords. One solution is to use a password manager like LastPass, 1Password, Dashlane, or KeePass. Or you could actually just write them down on paper.
Password managers encourage good-but-hard-to-remember passwords because you don’t actually need to remember them. You just need to remember one password: the one you use for your password manager, which should be really good and long and hard to crack, plus two-factor authentication. Everything else can be 22+ totally-random characters.
LastPass, Dashlane, and 1Password2 are cloud-based password managers that sync your passwords between your browser, phone, tablet, and the cloud. This makes them an extremely convenient way to get at all those good-but-hard-to-remember passwords when you need them.
KeePass is a free, open-source, and cross-platform password manager. There are even third-party KeePass apps that can import your passwords from Dropbox to your phone or tablet. KeePass is a good option, but LastPass, Dashlane, and 1Password seem to be more secure and more convenient.
Finally, writing down your passwords may seem old-school, but it is actually quite safe. Bruce Schneier recommends it, and Vox recently wrote about why it might actually be the best way to keep your passwords. Assuming you don’t lose the paper on which you wrote your passwords.The Future of Authentication
The password is far from perfect, and many call it broken. That’s why there are several efforts underway to “kill” the password. Apple’s Touch ID is one, and The Verge recently reported on the FIDO Alliance, which includes companies like Google, Microsoft, Bank of America, and MasterCard. The FIDO alliance is pushing for zero-knowledge proof authentication — a way of authenticating you without holding onto your credentials. If it works, you could use a single device you carry with you to authenticate yourself across the web.
If FIDO catches on in the next few years, it may render this entire article obsolete. For now, make sure you are using good passwords for everything that matters.
Originally published 2014-04-18. Last updated 2015-09-24.
This tip works fine with Google Apps for Business accounts, and it may also work with non-Gmail accounts. Try it and let us know. ↩
Before we were even lawyers, law school trained us to find the most creative arguments possible, and to never leave one out. That’s how we passed our Torts exam—we identified 18 causes of action in a simple slip-and-fall hypothetical. But now we’re in the real world of law practice.The Stakes Are High
If your life is on the line, it might make sense to throw out any argument you have. After all, it worked for Jake Elwood in Blues Brothers:Stick With The Winners
But in legal writing and advocacy, including bad arguments with good ones is a dangerous game. You might just prevent the judge from seeing the case your way. Justice Kagan says as much in her interview with Bryan Garner:
G: If there were one thing about brief-writing you could reform, what would it be?
K: Well, I think everybody would say the same thing: that the most important thing in a brief is clarity. If there’s one thing about brief-writing you could reform, it’s confusing briefs—briefs where you’re working too hard to try to figure out what the point is and to figure out how the argument goes. There are two really important things about brief-writing. One is you have to know your best arguments. Second, you have to say those arguments clearly. Sometimes it’s frustrating, because you’ll be reading a brief and there will be good arguments there, but it’s just so hard to get them out of this brief. You have to do so much work by yourself or with clerks to do that. It’s a disservice to the real arguments that are there.
You can find the full transcript of Bryan Garner’s interview of Justice Kagan here.Some Judges Don’t Like Watching A “Back-Alley Knife Fight”
Combine the employees’ evidence-free sexual harassment and retaliation allegations with the employer’s “grapeshot and canister defense,” and you have “one of the sorriest examples of the way that [employment] litigation should be handled.” (pp. 832–833.) The entire order can be found here.
The magistrate judgment lamented (pg. 861 fn. 2) that plaintiffs’ counsel drowned their good arguments in a sea of bad ones:
There were valid and worthwhile issues in this case. It was certainly not baseless on all counts.
For instance, here is the sum total of the evidence plaintiffs offered in support of their retaliation claim (pg. 851):
A. I just mean that, whether I meant to, I felt, I said, I had gone to the top and I felt like nothing was ever going to change at Wabash. I felt like I was going to put up with this as long as I stayed there.
Q. OK, and that’s what you mean by retaliation?
But instead of simply filing a summary-judgment motion, the employer asked the court for Rule 11 sanctions against plaintiffs for their baseless sexual harassment and retaliation claims. The magistrate judge denied the motion, and noted that both claims “were more like pesky gnats and could have just as easily been shooed away.” (pg. 852.) The district court judge agreed.
Among other things, the court was unimpressed by these arguments in favor of sanctioning plaintiffs:
The magistrate judge came up with his own sanction—one that applied to all the lawyers (pg. 860):
Accordingly, it will be the recommendation of the undersigned Magistrate Judge that a nominal and equal sanction be imposed against Attorneys […] with the sanctions to be paid to the Office of the Clerk within 60 days, provided however, that counsel can petition the Court to set aside the monetary sanction by agreeing to attend and successfully complete within the next year, a Continuing Legal Education (“CLE”) seminar approved by the Court as hereinafter specified.
Now that’s justice.The Moral Of The Story
Don’t try to destroy your opponent’s case with a bomb when “one or two well-armed rifle shots would have done nicely.” (pg. 858.) The bomb might kill your case instead.
Want To Destroy Your Case? Throw In The Kitchen Sink. was originally published on Lawyerist.
Every new law practice needs a business plan. This is a guide to creating one, with a free template you can download to get started.
Here is what should go in your business plan.Section One: Executive Summary
This section provides a succinct overview of your full plan. It should also include the following:
Are you feeling slightly overwhelmed by all of this? Then write this section last, as you’ll find much of what you write here is a summary of everything you include in subsequent sections.Section Two: Company Description
Write a succinct overview of your company. Here is what it should cover:
This section is often the shortest. Do not spend much time or space here. Touch on the major points and move on.Section Three: Market Analysis
Done correctly, a well thought out market analysis will help you identify exactly what your potential clients are looking for and how much you should charge for your services. It also enables you to identify your competitors’ weaknesses, which in turn helps you best frame your services in a way that attracts your preferred clientele.
Elements of a market analysis include:
A proper market analysis includes actual data to support your analysis. If you are unsure of where to find data, Bplans has a great list of resources for you to use. And if you would like to read further about conducting a market analysis, check out this article from the Small Business Administration.Section Four: Organization & Management
This section goes into detail about you and any others who may have ownership interest in the firm. Do not be afraid to brag a bit!
If there are other individuals involved, it is a good idea to insert your organizational chart here. Visuals help quickly convey information and break up otherwise blocky text.Section Five: Services
The Services section is the heart of your plan. It is where you dive into all aspects of your services, including:
Your marketing strategy section needs to address the three P’s:
Last comes the financials section. It is the key component to your plan if you are going to seek funding to get your practice off the ground. It is imperative that you complete this section even if you are not seeking funding, however, as you need to paint a clear financial picture before opening your doors.
Two main items make up this section: budgeting and forecasting (sales and cash flow). Answer these questions to help you address these items:
This section often incorporates graphs and other images, including profit-and-loss and cash-flow tables. The more specific you get with your numbers, the more likely you are to succeed!
Finally, read the first comment on Part One of this business plans series. The commenter, Walker, raises valid points for consideration.Put Your Answers Into This Handy Template
I looked for a clear, concise, and easy-to-use template, but I couldn’t find one. So I created one instead. Download it, use it, and remember to implement it.Free – Add to Cart Checkout Added to cart
One final note: If your goal is to submit your business plan to potential funders, you want to do everything you can to make sure your plan stands out. One good way to do this is to work with a designer to artfully format your plan. Great presentation can take you a long way.
Featured image: “Business Planning” from Shutterstock.
Creating a Business Plan, Step Two: How to Actually Write Your Business Plan was originally published on Lawyerist.
CaseText is building an online citator, WeCite, by asking users how cases are cited. You get points for tagging and annotating citations, and law students can even earn prizes.
Prizes include gift cards, Casetext swag (just 25 points for a water bottle!), exposure opportunities, and for a few rockstar WeCiters, even free textbooks next semester!
And there’s a law school contest too! At the end of the semester, the law school with with the most points from its students gets a school-wide party, on us. We may even make an appearance!
Did you know about LawyerFlirts.com? I did not, but apparently it has a ready audience, since lawyers are highly likely to marry their own kind. (LawyerFlirts.com also looks like it was designed in the 90s by the same company that designed most law firm websites, which might actually work to its advantage.)
As we’ve reported before, bar exam scores keep dropping. This is probably a good sign for the collective intelligence of our nation’s youth, but an ominous sign for the future of the practice of law. (h/t @DanielGershberg)
According to the American Lawyer (paywall), BigLaw firms continue to disappoint on the technology front:
Law firms’ technology irked a couple of associates. One griped that, “their technology is pretty dated. I mean, I’m used to the stuff at Google and similarly techy companies, but I was not expecting to use Windows 2007 again. Getting used to using a BlackBerry has also been a challenge.”
On the one hand, no big surprise. On the other, wait Windows 2007? There is no such thing. Are these summer associates even qualified to gripe about technology? Since the American Lawyer is paywalled, you might want to click over to Above the Law for the executive summary. (h/t @rmcclead)
Like it or not, it looks like crowdsourced lawsuit funding is going to be a thing. A new startup, Mighty, just raised $5.25 million “to reimagine the way lawsuits are won.” In related news, this is probably a bad idea.
Last but not least, if you need an awesome way to encrypt communications with your clients, why not try a one-time pad? It’s like hipster encryption!
Featured image: “Caricature of two muscular man with exposed skull showing brain with rotating machinery gear.” from Shutterstock.
Briefs: Lawyers Can’t Keep their Hands Off Each Other, Etc. was originally published on Lawyerist.