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8 Best Practices for Law Firm Website Content

Mon, 01/11/2016 - 12:11

If your website content does not engage and convert, then your website is a waste of time and money — even if you have a great website design. To ensure your website copy makes a positive impact on your audience, put the following best practices to use.

Format Your Content for Easy Scanning

According to the Nielsen Norman Group — a leading user experience consulting group — 79% of people do not actually read content online. Instead, they scan and pick up words and phrases as they go. Accordingly, Nielsen Norman suggests formatting your content to make it as easy as possible for visitors to scan your site, while also conveying the information you believe is most valuable. Some of the best ways to format for scannability include:

  • Writing engaging headlines and subheads
  • Using bulleted lists
  • Highlighting key words or phrases (e.g., using bold, different color text, hyperlinks)
  • Using succinct language
  • Incorporating graphics to break up heavy blocks of text
  • Diversifying content through use of images, infographics and video
Follow the Inverted Pyramid Writing Style

Related Make Your Website’s First Sentence Count

Also according to Nielsen Norman research, users prefer to first read a summary or conclusion before diving into the body of a web page. Avoid writing introductory paragraphs that are full fluff. Instead, introduce your conclusion at the outset, then provide supporting information that entices your website visitor to read (scan) further.

Write to Your Audience, Not to the Search Engines

Optimizing your content for search engines is important, but you need make smart choices when it comes to how you optimize your site. Google no longer rewards repetitive use of overly optimized phrases (e.g., Chicago Personal Injury Lawyer), and people don’t like to read it, either.

You can succeed, however, if you focus on your audience. When you write, write to your prospective clients, not search engines. Craft each page around a single idea or concept. If you write thoroughly and smartly about that topic, the keywords will flow naturally and the search engines will follow.

Think about Your Mobile Audience

According to comScore’s 2014 U.S. Mobile App Report, mobile users now account for 60% of all online traffic. This means you need to put mobile users’ needs to work when writing your content. Keep two things in mind:

  • Mobile users are impatient. They want to quickly find the information they are seeking. Let them know they have found the right resource immediately upon landing on your site. Write engaging headlines that grab their attention. Follow those headlines with short, succinct sentences and paragraphs. Avoid filler content. Do not use overt marketing phrases.
  • Mobile screens are small. There is very little room on a mobile screen when compared to desktop monitors. Nielsen Norman recommends prioritizing content in a way that helps mobile viewers find what they want without having to wade through unnecessary text. Determine what your most important message is and then make sure you deliver that information first.
Answer Your Prospective Clients’ Questions

I cannot emphasize this enough. When you write your website copy, address your prospective clients’ concerns. If you answer their most pressing questions, your website will convert those prospects into clients.

Tell Your Readers What to Do Next

One item that all great law firm websites have in common is a clear call to action — telling the reader what his or her next step is. Do not leave it up to your readers to decide what they should do once they land on your website. Explicitly state what you want them to do, and then make it easy for them to do it.

Two More Content Best Practices for Lawyers

While the above best practices apply to all websites, here are two recommendations geared specifically to lawyers seeking to write their own website content:

  • Stop using legalese. Your website is a marketing tool meant to attract prospective clients. It will not succeed if you use legal terms of art or write in the same way you would write a legal brief. One way to help you focus on marketing writing instead of legal writing is to pretend you are talking with a good friend. This will make your content more conversational and engaging. It will also keep your content at a more accessible grade level. This is important, as Jakob Nielsen of the Nielsen Norman Group estimates that 30% of Internet users have low literacy.1 Another way to keep your content free of jargon is to write in plain English. This particular style of writing is extremely precise and persuasive, but takes some practice to do it properly. Here’s a list of 39 rules to get you started down the path of writing in plain English.
  • Remember your ethical obligations. As mentioned above, your website is a marketing tool. As such, it should comply with rules regarding ethics in advertising. Don’t make promises about representation or results. Don’t be misleading in any way. Provide disclaimers where necessary to make it clear you are not providing individual legal counsel with your general legal marketing copy. Also state that any contacts from your website do not automatically create an attorney-client relationship. Finally, write honestly. As one lawyer stated during a conversation about online marketing and lawyer ethics, “If you wouldn’t feel comfortable being questioned about your posts in a deposition, you shouldn’t put it there.”

Put these best practices to work when writing (or rewriting) your website content, and you can create better website copy that engages your audience and encourages prospective clients to act. Above all, keep in mind the one central theme running through each of these practices: write as clearly as possible for your audience. Your site will be better for it.

Originally published 2014-12-04.

Featured image: “illustration concept of programmer or coder workflow for website coding and html programming of web application.” from Shutterstock.

  1. You can check the grade level of your content through the Spelling & Grammar feature of your preferred word processing program. 

8 Best Practices for Law Firm Website Content was originally published on Lawyerist.

Categories: Teknoids Blogs

How to Get Your First Client

Mon, 01/11/2016 - 07:12

You might be the smartest attorney in the world, but you can’t run a law firm without clients. And believe it or not, getting clients and practicing law are two distinct skills.

Getting your first client can be stressful, nerve-wracking, and quite humbling. And for the most part, it’s a two-step process: mental preparation and some old-fashioned pounding the pavement.

Be Realistic and Lower Your Expectations

Remember your first kiss? It was probably memorable because it was awkward, not what you expected, and resulted in more laughs than romance. It was also memorable because you got it over with, and you no longer were that kid who had never kissed anyone.

Please don’t kiss your clients. That’s generally bad (see every model rule ever). But like your first kiss, your first client is going to memorable for all the reasons you don’t expect.

You are not going to represent Google in your first case. You are not going to defend a wrongfully accused defendant in a high-profile murder trial. You are not going to shake the foundations of the legal community with new precedent.

Those are all great goals, but nobody gets there on their first attempt.

I still have lots of phone calls, coffees, and lunches with young attorneys who are about to go solo. The biggest assumption many of them make is that they will “only do the big cases.” All of us only want to do the big cases. It just doesn’t work that way. There’s a reason lawyers always talk about their big cases — they just don’t happen every day.

Keep that in mind when you are trying to land your first client. If you think you are too smart or have too high of a GPA to draft a basic estate plan for $300, then you need to re-think your decision to start a law firm.

Once you have humbled yourself, you are ready for step two.

Recognize the Value in Gaining Experience, Not the Money

Good news: you have swallowed your pride. Bad news: swallow it even more.

I’m hoping your business plan accounts for, and assumes, that you will not make much money for the first few months.

Depending on your life experience and your experiences in law school, you probably need to focus on learning how to be a lawyer. There are a number of skills you need to learn: how to sell a client on you, how to talk to opposing counsel, how to counsel a client, how to run a business, how to keep your business moving forward, how to deal with the unexpected, and how to deal with a bad client.

That does not mean you should give away your time. One of the things you need to learn is that your time is valuable. Once you start valuing your time, so will your clients.

What all that means is that in the long-term, you need to develop skills that put you in a position to regularly succeed as an attorney. Everyone can get lucky and land one big client or case. The attorneys that regularly get those cases get them because they have a reputation for being a good attorney. They also have strong client relationship skills. And they probably know how to run a business too.

If you aren’t ready to take on “regular old cases” or think you’re going to strike it rich with your first client, you will go out of business before you get your first client.

Every client has monetary value, including your first client. But the more important value in your first client is the opportunity to gain experience. The valuable experience might not even be the legal work; it could be the experience gained in learning to manage client expectations. Or it could be dealing with an unexpected good or bad event in the case.

Whatever the experience is, it is experience you currently lack. Now that you have no expectations and recognize the non-monetary value in getting experience, you are actually ready to take a case and a client.

Beg, Borrow, and Steal “Sending an email is lazy, impersonal, and unmemorable.”

Here’s an easy way to get your first client: let other attorneys know you are looking for work. If you are lucky enough to be working in a shared office space, tell those attorneys you are looking for work.

Don’t send them an email. Don’t leave a note in their mailbox. Go to their office and introduce yourself. Tell them who you are. Tell them you just started. Tell them you are looking for work. Tell them you are ready to take on whatever — because you are looking to gain experience. If you have this conversation with ten attorneys, I can almost guarantee one will send you a case. It might not be a great case, but it will be a case — your first case.

If an attorney tells you “I don’t really refer many cases out,” offer to help out on a case. Don’t offer to work for free. But you can say something like, “I’m really looking for some experience in a civil case and I’ve heard you are an awesome attorney. Any chance I can help out on a case?”

By working with another attorney, you are not gaining your first client. But you are gaining an opportunity to learn new skills, and to showcase your skills to another attorney that can send you clients in the future.

Even if you don’t share an office with other attorneys, you can take another attorney out for coffee (it’s cheaper than lunch) and having the same conversation. Other attorneys are the single best way to get client referrals. There is a common theme here, though: you need to put in some face-to-face time and effort to get referrals.

Sending an email is lazy, impersonal, and unmemorable.

If someone doesn’t return your request for coffee, ask again. If they still ignore you, forget it. They aren’t worth your time anyway. It may not be flattering to beg for clients, or beg for work, but it will get results.

Another option is to use a referral service. Stay away from “lead generators” or “national” law firms that want to send you their local cases. Those can be malpractice bombs waiting to go off. But referral services from your local bar associations could be a nice starting point for four reasons:

  1. Local bar associations are unlikely to use unethical or illegal referral practices.
  2. Clients use them. I know plenty of other attorneys that get clients from the bar association.
  3. A local bar association referral usually means the potential clients are actually looking to hire an attorney, versus looking for free legal advice.
  4. The fees for referrals from the local bar associations are not unreasonable.
Announce Yourself to the World

Nobody knows you are in business until you tell them you are in business. So let everyone know that you are open for business and ready for clients.

Related “10 Things the Best Law-Firm Websites Have in Common”

As a starting point, make sure you have a working phone number and website. Even if your website just has your picture, name, and contact info, that is better than nothing. And it is much better than “coming soon!” It takes approximately ten minutes —maybe an hour — to create a static page with basic info.

Then start yelling from the rooftops, blow up Twitter, have coffee/lunch/drinks with everyone you know. You don’t have to make it awkward, just be yourself, and your new endeavors will certainly become a topic of conversation.

That said, use the opening of a new business to be more self-promotional than you usually are. If you are reluctant to promote yourself, use this as your first chance to get over that. You are no longer just practicing law, you are also running a business.

Getting your first client is not easy. But with the right mental approach and some hustle, you’ll have a full caseload before you know it.

Featured image: “Portrait of a two young business colleagues during a business meeting with coffee. Top view.” from Shutterstock.

How to Get Your First Client was originally published on Lawyerist.

Categories: Teknoids Blogs

If An Online Review Is Libelous, You May Be Able To Collect Damages

Fri, 01/08/2016 - 12:31

Being a lawyer in the Yelp/Avvo era can be tough. People get to review your services online and, while some of those may be honest (and perhaps chock full of praise!) some of them are just venting by an unhappy client. Usually, there is nothing to be done. People throw up some anonymous hate and move on, and you hope that potential clients take such things with a grain of salt.

Sometimes, though, people engage in that two-minute hate in a verified review. And sometimes they use their real names or are otherwise identifiable. And sometimes they are actually just completely lying. Then, at least if you are in Florida or a state with similar libel laws, you can win damages. 

Ann-Marie Giustibelli represented Copia Blake in a divorce proceeding, but somewhere in that process, things went sideways and broke down. Blake decided a good way to deal with this was to post defamatory reviews.

Some of the offending statements:

“She misrepresented her fees with regards to the contract I initially signed. The contract she submitted to the courts for her fees were 4 times her original quote and pages of the original had been exchanged to support her claims…”

“No integrity. Will say one thing and do another. Her fees outweigh the truth.”

“Altered her charges to 4 times the original quote with no explanation.”

If those things were true, that is obviously objectively a bad thing and that sort of information should be disseminated so people avoid that sort of lawyer. Except none of it was true.

At trial, the defendants admitted the claim that Giustibelli  had charged them four times the quoted fee was not true, but said their statements were protected by the First Amendment as a statement of opinion. The court, thankfully, noted that the statements the defendants made were demonstrably false and therefore not protected speech. It might be worth keeping an eye on those online reviews after all.

Featured image: “Write LIBEL in The hanging projection screen” from Shutterstock.

If An Online Review Is Libelous, You May Be Able To Collect Damages was originally published on Lawyerist.

Categories: Teknoids Blogs

The Impact of White Teeth on Legal Tech

Fri, 01/08/2016 - 11:09

After the U.S. Supreme Court decided that dental associations can’t regulate teeth whitening services, professional associations of all kinds were hit with similar lawsuits—including bar associations. Now, to avoid looking like they have a monopoly on legal services, bar associations may be forced to play ball with some legal tech companies they have been trying to push out of the legal market.

Opening the Door to Legal Tech

In a battle of briefs, self-help and legal technology entities such as LegalZoom, JustiaFileRight, ShakeJustAnswer, and Consumers for a Responsive Legal System were pitted head-to-head with state bar associations—and this wasn’t the first time.

While many other professions leverage innovation, LegalZoom and other legal technology services have faced resistance by bar associations across the country. From recent lawsuits in Ohio and Missouri to settlements in California and South Carolina on top of countless other legal challenges, LegalZoom has held their ground but still has yet to be embraced across the board.

Last June, LegalZoom even sued the North Carolina bar over whether its business really constitutes unauthorized legal services. As part of the settlement, the two are now working together, with the NC bar signing off on LegalZoom’s template and the NC bar supporting a redefinition of UPL.

Legal Ethics Free-For-All

Fearing legal entanglement, the Washington State Bar Association told its Ethics Commission to stop issuing any opinions that could be considered a “restraint on trade” as of December 2015—effectively gutting much of the committee’s authority to do just about anything. The bar is currently reviewing the committee’s work, but has not indicated how long the committee’s authority will remain in check.

State definitions of UPL remain few and far between. In light of an over trend towards acceptance of legal technology services such as LegalZoom, these definitions have no choice but to evolve. What legal technology companies also have yet to be set in stone, especially when it comes to more hard-core legal services like court proceedings. As technology continues to evolve and new services emerge, however, these issues may need to be addressed.

Are all legal services the equivalent of whitening teeth or are some more like drilling them?

The Impact of White Teeth on Legal Tech was originally published on Lawyerist.

Categories: Teknoids Blogs

Spell-Checkers Won’t Catch These Usage Bungles

Fri, 01/08/2016 - 07:12

Rigorous lawyers should be sticklers for detail. After all, they’re supposed to be professional writers. Yet lawyers often relegate the important task of catching misspelled words to their electronic spell-checker.

Worse, some lawyers use words they’re unsure about given the context of the sentence, and let their grammar-checker render the final usage verdict.

Not only can these abdications of professional responsibility result in malpractice claims and needless litigation, they also lead to comical usage bungles, some of which end up as examples in legal-writing texts.

Garner on Language and Writing contains numerous examples of usage mistakes common to legal writing, many of which a spell- or grammar-checker will fail to correct. I’ll examine nine of them below, along with a personal favorite.1

  1. Adverse — averse. Both adjectives take the preposition toaverse can also take the preposition from. To be adverse to something means “to be turned in opposition against it.” Adverse, when referring to circumstances, also means “potentially afflictive or calamitous.” To be averse to something means “to have feelings against” it. As Garner notes, the Brooklyn Journal of International Law mixed up these words when referring to public-opinion studies that found most people are adverse to receiving unsolicited e-mail.
  2. Bequest — bequeath — behest. Bequest is a noun that means “the act of bequeathing” or, alternatively, “personal property (usu. other than money) disposed of in a will.” The verb bequeath means to give something (usu. an estate or effect) to a person by a will. Garner points out that “[u]sing bequeath as a fancy equivalent of give or present is an ignorant pretension.” The noun behest has nothing to do with wills and means “a command [or] a strong urging.” Lawyers can easily misuse bequest for behest, as in “Sally filed the brief at her boss’s bequest.”
  3. Compliment — complement. This homophonic bungle—my personal favorite—infects all writing. As a verb compliment means “to praise.” As a verb complement means “to supplement appropriately or adequately.” A partner can compliment an associate if he complements a brief with secondary legal authority.
  4. Corollary — correlation. As a noun corollary means “a subsidiary proposition inferred from a main proposition—or, by extension, a practical consequence or result.” The noun correlation means “a proportional correspondence between things.” As Garner notes, legal writers tend to misuse corollary for correlation, although correlation is called for more frequently in legal writing.
  5. Flaunt — flout. The verb flaunt means “to show off or parade (something) in an ostentatious manner.” The verb flout means “to contravene or disregard; to treat with contempt.” A lawyer doesn’t flaunt a legal rule (unless he’s promoting it); he flouts the rule. According to Oxford Dictionaries, more than 5% of the flaunts in the public domain should be flouts. And as Theodore Bernstein coaches, “it will help those who are confused by these two words to keep in mind that one who is defiant of authority is, to mint a word, a floutlaw.”
  6. Inhere — inure. The verb inhere takes the preposition in—not within—and means “to exist as a basic quality in.” The verb inure also needs the preposition to, and in most contexts means “to become accustomed [or] to take effect to (someone’s) advantage.” Confusing inhere for inure is a malapropism: The Ponzi scheme inhered [read inured] to the benefit of defendant and his business partners.
  7. Inimicable — inimical. Like irregardlessinimicable isn’t a word, although Stanford linguistics professor Arnold Zwicky contends that its proscription is a relatively recent development. Lawyers confuse inimicable with the adjective inimical, which means “hostile, injurious, adverse.” Inimical takes the prepositions to or toward. So you should be inimical to using inimicable in your legal writing.
  8. Mitigate — militate. The verb mitigate means “to make less severe or intense.” The verb militate means “to exert a strong influence.” Mitigate against is plainly wrong, though Faulkner was fond of it.  Garner notes that militate can take for or in favor of, as well as against. So it’s correct to write: Defendant’s clean [extensive] criminal record militates in favor of [against] a reduced prison sentence.
  9. Perpetuate — perpetrate. The verb perpetuate means “to make last indefinitely; prolong.” The verb perpetrate means “to commit or carry out.” So a criminal doesn’t perpetuate a crime, he perpetrates it. But a litigant could perpetrate a fraud by lying under oath, and then perpetuate the fraud by continuing to lie. The Boston Globe confused these words in a 2008 headline: Perpetrating the autism myth.
  10. Subordination — subornation. The noun subordination means “the act of placing in a lower rank or position.” The noun subornation means “the act of inducing or procuring a person to commit an evil action, by bribery, corruption, or the like.” The phrase subordination of perjury, then, is another malapropism, though it inexplicably found its way into the West Virginia Criminal Code: “Penalties for perjury, subordination of perjury, and false swearing.”

Originally published 2012-11-28. Last updated 2016-01-08.

Featured image: “Man Hand writing Spell Check with black marker on visual screen. Isolated on office. Business, technology, internet concept.” from Shutterstock.

  1. Unless noted, the quoted definitions in the text are from Garner’s Dictionary of Modern Legal Usage and Garner’s Modern American Usage. 

Spell-Checkers Won’t Catch These Usage Bungles was originally published on Lawyerist.

Categories: Teknoids Blogs

How to Outsource or Delegate Administrative Tasks

Thu, 01/07/2016 - 07:13

You have heard the phrase, “Jack of all trades, master of none.” As a solo practitioner or solopreneur, you are Jack. You must be able to handle all aspects of running a business on top of providing the legal services you have trained for. But chances are you are not as proficient at those business-related tasks as you are at practicing law.

If you find yourself overwhelmed with aspects of your business, consider delegating or outsourcing certain tasks so you can focus on providing legal services.

To Whom to Delegate

As attorney coach Roy Ginsburg discussed in his post on when to hire help, you need to carefully weigh your options when it comes to looking for help. Before you choose to hire a part-time assistant or paralegal, you need to spend time evaluating the type and amount of work you want to offload. From there, you can make your choice as to whether to hire a/an:

  • Virtual receptionist
  • Virtual assistant
  • Independent contractor
  • In-office administrative assistant
  • Full-time paralegal or legal assistant

One of my solo attorney clients uses a mix of these options for his practice. He relies on Ruby Receptionists to take his calls, a virtual paralegal to help with research and drafting of documents, and a part-time in-office assistant who handles paperwork in his office.

Whatever mix of administrative support you use, choose individuals you are comfortable with and on whom you can rely to keep the pieces moving when you are not available.

The Benefits of Delegating

Personal injury attorney Daniel J. Brazil does a great job summarizing what several lawyers have told me about the benefits of building a team and delegating tasks:

Delegating gives me time to focus on my litigation files in a way that makes me a more effective litigator. It equally gives me more time to network, build referral relationships and spend time working with my clients.

Delegate These Administrative Tasks for a More Effective Practice Bookkeeping

Accounts receivable, billing, and accounts payable: are you familiar with all that is required to keep your bookkeeping records complete and up to date? If you are like most attorneys, the answer is no.

You probably spend hours each month trying to catch up on your receipts and making sure you have paid all of your bills. And you probably are not sure you have done everything correctly.

You can put your time to better use by hiring a virtual bookkeeper. The bookkeeper’s time spent on your books will be much less than your own, and the cost probably won’t come anywhere near your billable hour rate.

New Client Inquiries & Intake

Vetting potential clients and gathering initial intake information can take up a fair amount of your time. Spare yourself by sending all new client inquiries to a specific email address so you can forward them to a virtual assistant. Your assistant can vet those inquiries based on criteria you provide. You can also create an initial intake form for your assistant to complete with each new approved potential client, saving you from spending time on basic information gathering.

Paperwork

Incoming mail. Outgoing demand letters. File closings. There is no shortage of paperwork to handle in an office. While you can go paperless, someone still needs to manage the paperless process. That is where a part-time (or full-time, if you can afford it) assistant can prove invaluable.

“I spend a big part of my day talking with insurance adjusters, working with my clients, and meeting with new prospects,” said Brazil. “I just do not have a ton of time to draft a lot of the materials we prepare for our litigation files. I delegate preparation of arbitration brochures and liability demand letter to my paralegal and legal assistant.”

Phone Calls

Disrupting work to answer the phone leaves you wondering where you left off and leaves the caller feeling like you are uninterested or frustrated.

You deserve focused time to work. Your callers deserve a good experience. Give everyone the experience they deserve by outsourcing your phone calls to a virtual receptionist service.

Brett Manchel, associate attorney with Levinson and Stefani, finds great value in having someone else answer the phones. “I love being the go-to contact for our current and potential clients. But in a small firm, delegation is key. I’ve got to manage my time so I can focus on strategizing and moving cases forward. Having someone there to answer phone calls—providing assistance to the caller or taking a message—allows me to work more efficiently while giving clients the attention they deserve.”

3 Keys to Successful Delegation Prioritize

Brazil says it best:

As a solo practitioner, I have to think about what I want to focus my time on and why. I then look at each file, itemize the tasks that need to be completed, and then decide who is best equipped in my office to get the job done.

He is not just talking about prioritizing the order of task completion. He is also prioritizing each individual’s time and abilities to ensure that each task goes to the right person.

Use Project Management Software

There are numerous free and paid project management apps that allow you to quickly and concisely organize your tasks for yourself and those you hire to help you. Two of my favorites are Asana and Basecamp. You can also look to practice management software that provides a more comprehensive service aimed at law firms. Options abound here, ranging from Clio and MyCase to CosmoLex and Rocket Matter.

Listen to Your New Hires

Once your new hire or independent contractor is comfortable with you and how you work, they will likely start offering additional assistance. Listen to and trust your assistant. You may find that there are more tasks you can offload than you originally thought, which would allow that position to grow organically and, hopefully, enable your business to do the same.

Featured image: “Notebook with delegate sign. Notebook with delegate sign and sticker remember on wooden desk with cup of coffee and muffin” from Shutterstock.

How to Outsource or Delegate Administrative Tasks was originally published on Lawyerist.

Categories: Teknoids Blogs

First Look: Zola Law Practice Management Software

Wed, 01/06/2016 - 07:12

First things first: Zola is pretty. Really pretty. Designed-by-designers-not-lawyers level of pretty. And that makes sense, given that the team behind Zola are the folks at Amicus Creative, a web-design company. Pretty does not always mean powerful, however, as is evident from another recent newcomer, Ciinch. Zola occupies some of the same territory as Ciinch, such as having a clean one-screen dashboard interface, but adds a few key things that are missing.

Dashboard

The dashboard page is basically a bunch of widgets: email, events, activity list, recent matters, and a timer. From the dashboard, you can also hop over to everything: accounting, documents, matters, calendar… you get the picture. It’s a pleasing and efficient way to maneuver.

Email

The email section does two things well. First, it actually looks like an email inbox you are familiar with, rather than a hobbled and truncated version.

Next, Zola recognizes that you probably already have email that you are perfectly happy with, so its email is just a front end, set up via IMAP, for whatever email you are already using. In this day and age, no one should have to keep a separate email account that only lives inside your practice management software. Zola will also import all of your Google contacts if that is how you roll. There are apps for both iOS and Android (although the iOS appears to only be in beta at this point).

Accounting

Besides the things that I would argue are a bare minimum for modern practice management software—calendars, matter management, timekeeping, invoicing, and a client portal—Zola offers double entry accounting and escrow fund tracking. There is also a robust document management component that has version tracking and keeps an audit trail. However, one thing that is missing at this point, document management-wise, is integration with cloud storage. Zola says that will be coming in the future and, to be frank, that is something that needs to happen soon. We have rightly gotten used to the idea that we don’t just store stuff locally, we store data everywhere, be that via Google Drive, iCloud, or Dropbox.

Invoices look like invoices everywhere, but with a nice design touch: your imported logo will scale beautifully and look good even on the fanciest Retina screen.

This may seem like a little thing, but if you are moving towards sending out invoices via email or portal (and why wouldn’t you be?), you want your logo to look as nice as it would if you had ordered up some letterhead.

Productivity

Related “Getting Things Done, for Lawyers”

Zola also boasts a few things that are useful if you are a Getting Things Done sort of person. There’s a fairly high-powered and good-looking Notepad built in for when you just want to jot something down.

The Tasks section gives you the standard ability to create a task list, but GTDs it up with two extra features: the ability to assign things to other people on the fly and the ability to do a quick task brain dump at the end of each day.

  1. The ability to assign things to other people on the fly.
  2. To do a quick task brain dump at the end of each day.
Pricing

Zola will likely work well for a solo attorney and could scale up to about a 20-person firm, maximum.

The pricing looks odd at first until you realize that it is essentially set up to differentiate between solo and multi-attorney firms. Solo with no support staff? $49/month. Solo with a couple support staff that need access? $99/month. Multi-attorney and multi-support staff? Priced out per person and per role, with support staff billed at half the attorney rate.

Bottom line: if aesthetics and productivity hacks appeal to you, you will likely enjoy the clean interface and the relatively low cost. If you have already wedded yourself to a certain form of cloud storage, you may want to wait until that gets fully integrated.

First Look: Zola Law Practice Management Software was originally published on Lawyerist.

Categories: Teknoids Blogs

How Not to Suck at Social Media

Tue, 01/05/2016 - 07:12

Many lawyers seem to fear social media, perhaps because it involves technology and technology = hard. But as technology, social media is about as simple as it gets. Just visit a website, sign up for an account, and start posting things.

Related “The Mistakes Lawyers Make with Social Media”

If anything, lawyers should fear social media because it is social, and few things are as awkward as a lawyer trying to build business in a social setting. Many lawyers have an annoying tendency to misread social as marketing and then behave like billboards or business-card dispensers instead of human beings.

Fortunately, it’s not hard to use social media. Here’s how to use it without looking like a tool.

Ignore the “Experts”

You could be forgiven for thinking social media is complicated. After all, there are plenty of self-styled “experts” who insist it takes thousands of dollars and exclusive coaching sessions to figure it out.

This works, I think, because social media feels unfamiliar to so many lawyers. Partly because normal socializing apparently feels unfamiliar to so many lawyers, but mostly because it involves technology, and many people assume technology is complicated. For many lawyers, technology is still something you hire somebody else to do for you.

But social media is actually quite simple, and there is only one way to succeed: be interesting while being social.

Most consultants will try to give you a formula for “social media success,” which is a bit like handing you a joke book and then sending you to a cocktail party to network. (If you need to learn how to sign up for a Twitter account, fine. Hire your nephew or neice to show you.)

Besides, almost nobody is famous just for having a Twitter account. People who are popular on Twitter are mostly people who are popular in real life. You may not have Justin Bieber’s following—online or off—but you shouldn’t be surprised if your online audience looks a lot like your offline one.

Be Yourself, but Interesting and/or Funny

In order to use accounting software, you need to have a basic grasp of bookkeeping, not filmmaking. Similarly, in order to use social media, you need to have a basic grasp of being social, not advertising.

In order to succeed at social media, you must be social. You must be interested in people, in making friends, and in sharing experiences.

You don’t need to be a social butterfly offline, but if you want to succeed online, it helps to have a little experience. But it is perfectly okay to be an introvert offline as long as you can be an extrovert online.

So be social, not someone who does the online equivalent of showing up to lunch with a pile of business cards. Spend as much time responding to what others post as publishing your own posts. You will meet more interesting people that way, and maybe even make a few e-friends.

And be yourself. Get rid of your @SpringfieldDUILawyer Twitter handle and just use your name. Nobody wants to make friends with a practice area. Have a personality. Above all, have fun.

What Does Success Mean When it Comes to Social Media, Exactly?

When it comes to social media success means attracting an audience, whether that means blog subscribers, Twitter followers, Facebook friends, or whatever. And not just an audience, but an engaged one—with people who are interested in hearing what you have to say. You can’t buy that with a coaching program; you have to earn it.

How does this get you clients? It may not. But you will have a much better chance of getting referrals than if you try to shovel advertising tweets at everyone. If you build an engaged audience, you will expand the number of people who know who you are and what you do. That is what makes a network of potential referral sources, after all.

But it does take a lot of people. For every offline lunch you have with a real person, it might take 100 (or 1,000) Twitter followers or Facebook friends to result in a single referral.

Should You Use Social Media?

Related “How to Network: Get Out and Do Things. With People.”

If that sounds like a lot of time and effort for an uncertain result, it is. But then again, so is every “networking lunch” you schedule. If you do manage to build a good-sized social circle online, you will have a lot more people who may refer you a client, even if each person is less likely to refer to you due to the more tenuous nature of your connection to them.

But social media does take time and effort—and it can take a lot of both. The best reason to spend time and effort on social media is because you enjoy it, not because you are trying to get clients (just as the best reason to blog is because you would be writing anyway). Nobody likes to be marketed to, but everybody likes their friends. Go make friends, and the referrals will probably follow.

Originally published 2012-06-20. Last updated 2016-01-05.

Featured image: “Closeup portrait confused, skeptical business man” from Shutterstock.

How Not to Suck at Social Media was originally published on Lawyerist.

Categories: Teknoids Blogs

How To Hire Your First Associate Attorney

Mon, 01/04/2016 - 07:12

Related “How To Hire a Paralegal”

Thinking about hiring your first associate for your solo or small firm can be exciting. The good news is it probably means you have so much work you can justify the added expense and effort a new associate demands. It can also be the first step to creating a bigger presence in the legal community.

Affording a New Associate Attorney

Before posting a job ad on Craigslist, consider other hiring options such as a paralegal—even if your burgeoning caseload is screaming for help.

If that’s not an option, remember you aren’t just paying an associate’s salary. There are many ways to calculate the actual financial cost of an employee, but it is “typically in the 1.25 to 1.4 times base salary” range. That means paying an associate attorney $50,000 a year will actually cost you up to $70,000 a year.

Scott Seiler, an attorney who mostly represents organizations, estimates that he has hired nearly a dozen associates. He states that it’s important to plot out exactly how you will pay for the new position. Whether you have the income already secured with existing clients or the new income you think you can generate with the new associate on board, you have to figure out how you’ll be able to pay them.

The Fallacy of More Time

If you think that you’ll automatically have more time the minute you hire the new associate, that’s almost certainly wrong. Seiler pointed out that you’ll be “inheriting new tasks.” You are now management, which means you have to supervise and train the new associates.

Some associates are more capable than others, but it’s a safe bet that the time you spend training and supervising the new associate will, at least briefly, affect your firm’s overall production. You will have less time to work on your own cases, at least until your new hire is comfortable in the new position.

But assuming that you’ve made all the calculations and want to go ahead with hiring your first associate, what do you do next? When you hire any employee, you have to consider a whole new range of issues.

The Logistics of a New Hire

There are a lot of different ways to start hiring, but a sensible first step might be to find out some of the technical logistics that you should think about before trying to find your new associate. In most ways, an associate is just one of many types of new employees. For small employers, the Small Business Association offers a useful checklist for basic compliance. This isn’t a complete list, but you’ll want to make sure you’re complying with all regulations concerning:

  • Federal income tax withholding
  • Federal wage and tax statements
  • State taxes
  • Employment eligibility verification (I-9 forms)
  • Register new hires with the state
  • Worker’s compensation insurance
  • Posting of required employment-related notices
  • Notify your accountant or bookkeeper about the new employee
  • Tax consequences
  • OSHA compliance
  • Unemployment insurance requirements
  • Malpractice insurance
  • Employee manual (whether you should have one or not and what it should include)

You may be able to find someone to help you work through this type of checklist. Gloria Contreras Edin, who practices primarily in immigration, family, and criminal law, recommends looking into working through an EDC (Economic Development Corporation). These regional, private, non-profits may be able to help answer some of the “new hire” questions you hadn’t yet considered.

When your firm is just starting to grow, you probably can’t justify a formal HR department. Contreras Edin recommends working through a payroll consulting firm, like Paychex or Intuit. These firms will help with payroll and work you through most of the tasks on the checklist.

Attracting Talent If you want someone… you better not put them in the basement of a C-class building.

Even with a tight job market, you still have to convince a good applicant to work for you. You’ll have to offer a competitive wage. You may not decide to state the salary before the first interview, but the question will eventually come up. There are sites that can help you figure out what the going rate is in your area.

Seiler points out that even things like a workspace can matter: “If you want someone who wants to work for you and bring in business, you better not put them in the basement of a C-class building.”

Finding the Right Associate Attorney

Once you have the logistics worked out, it’s time to think past how to hire and move on to who to hire.

“Our most successful hires have been law students at the beginning,” said Seiler. “We know we’ll have a need for a growing part of our practice in two years or even one year. If you know you’ll need their help … you get to develop them. Work on their skills.”

Contreras Edin, who estimates that she has hired ten associates in her practice, said there are three versions of law student help:

  1. Hourly wage
  2. Volunteer positions
  3. Grades for class

Contreras Edin’s preference is hourly wage law students. “[Law students] are usually looking for a position after law school and seem dedicated,” said Edin. “They’re trying to impress us.”

If the law school route seems too slow, there are other methods to find your first associate. Seiler mentioned that both ads and headhunting services haven’t been very effective. Edin echoes this advice: “The lawyers we have been most pleased with are usually referred by judges or colleagues.”

Once again, Seiler recommends a patient approach. “Make calls. Talk to people at medium or large firms—ask if they know people. It’s not fast. It takes time. But the phone rings. Use relationships with colleagues. Be direct, tell people exactly what you are looking for.”

Whatever route you choose, make sure to target the right applicants by being as clear as possible in what you are looking for in an associate. If you advertise, ask for a cover letter along with the resume. You may be surprised how many people will fail to follow basic instructions in applying. Chances are they won’t be the detail-oriented associate you were hoping for.

The Interview Process

Winnow your list of resumes down to candidates you think you might actually hire. Contreras Edin mentioned she once interviewed seven different candidates for one position. Now she tries to limit it to two or three at the most.

There are some basics in the interview process. “You need to know what you can’t ask. For instance, Do you have children?” Contreras Edin said. To get to know your applicant, Seiler suggests asking, “What books do you read?” and “What sort of stuff do you watch on Netflix?”. He also introduces an applicant to as many staff members as possible to gauge their reaction whenever possible.

It can also be helpful to have two people conduct the interview. Contreras Edin has a senior paralegal in the room during the first interview. One asks the questions while the other is both listening to the answers and watching for body language. The majority of her practice is serving clients who speak Spanish with limited or no English proficiency. In the interview, Contreras Edin will flow from Spanish to English, a good test to see if the applicant is fluent in both languages.

Once you get an applicant through the door, how many times should you interview them? Some people are comfortable with one interview while others will do several. Seiler invites candidates for coffee or some other setting that’s outside of the office after the initial interview. Meeting outside of the office in a less formal spot can give you a more complete glimpse into the applicant’s personality.

Last, you will want to check with your applicant’s references. While most references will offer glowing praise, occasionally you can learn something useful. One method to get references to offer something more candid is to describe the position the person applied for. Ask how the reference thinks the applicant will do in that specific job or if they would have any concerns picturing them doing that type of work.

Pulling the Trigger

Related “How To Retain Employees in a Competitive Market”

Once you have gone through the interview process, checked references, and made your decision, make the offer. Don’t wait. Whether they are a law student or a practicing lawyer, a good applicant might be interviewing for other positions while you try to decide. You can lose them by deciding to take your time in the hiring decision.

When you do call to offer the position, you need to present a clear offer. Obviously, the applicant will want to know their new salary. But they will also probably ask about sick leave, vacation time, health, dental, 401(k), expenses and other specifics. It may have come up in the interview, but if you have a billable-hour requirement, you should state it explicitly here.

Even in this tight job market, you have to convince the applicant to say yes. There are few things as frustrating in the hiring process as offering the job to an applicant and getting turned down. Offering a competitive salary and understanding the benefits you’re offering can be the difference between a “No” and “When do I start?”

Featured image: “Business colleagues shaking hands at desk in office” from Shutterstock.

How To Hire Your First Associate Attorney was originally published on Lawyerist.

Categories: Teknoids Blogs

California’s Out-of-Whack Ethics System

Fri, 01/01/2016 - 09:55

California’s drama in the legal ethics world continues. After a vote of no confidence from her unionized employees in October, and a presentation to the State Bar of California Board of Trustees by some of her top deputies in November, Chief Trial Counsel Jayne Kim was reappointed by the Board of Trustees in December. If confirmed by the State Senate, she will serve a rare second four-year term as California’s chief prosecutor of other lawyers.

A complicating factor in Ms. Kim’s reappointment is that the State Bar is facing a lawsuit from its former CEO (and former State Senator) Joseph Dunn. In that action, Senator Dunn alleges, among other things, that Ms. Kim employed questionable tactics in supposedly eliminating California’s disciplinary case backlog. In light of Senator Dunn’s suit, many observers question whether the Board of Trustees could have done anything other than reappoint Ms. Kim if the State Bar is to defend against the Senator’s allegations.

Even if the State Bar is not just circling the wagons when it comes to Ms. Kim, the other real possibility is equaling concerning. The Board of Trustees may simply think that the prosecutor’s office is doing right by the citizens of California. The trouble is, the Board of Trustees has repeatedly heard that the Office of Chief Trial Counsel is very much not doing right by the lawyers it regulates. The Board of Trustees seems not to give any credit to the union, the deputy trial counsel’s presentation, and the large number of comments received from defense counsel detailing how Ms. Kim’s administration of the prosecutor’s office has led to extreme injustice toward lawyers.

Now, the State Bar President has weighed in, albeit indirectly, and exposed an obvious lack of concern for the rights of the lawyers being prosecuted by an unreasonable and overzealous prosecutor.  California attorney and former ALJ Dianna Albini was prosecuted by the Office of Chief Trial Counsel with no substantive evidence against her and significant exculpatory evidence.  Nevertheless, Ms. Kim’s office attempted to crucify Ms. Albini for the worst of ethical violations— misappropriation of tens of thousands of dollars. The allegation was that she had never paid a medical lien from client settlement funds – only the lienholder had no record that it was owed money, and it was so long ago that Ms. Albini and the bank had destroyed their records too.  Ms. Albini was exonerated of all charges, but only after losing her ALJ position and having her reputation severely tarnished.

Most of us consider this type of overreaching unacceptable and an indication that there is something very wrong with the handling of the case, if not with the entire system and its leadership. President Pasternak, though, was quoted in the Daily Journal as saying, “If anything, the allegations are that we are trying too hard to protect the public, which is much better than not trying hard enough.”

The State Bar of California appears to be taking its mission to protect the public to such an extreme that the rights of lawyers, members of the very profession bred with the idea of pursuing fairness and justice and protecting the rights of others, are completely irrelevant. The reappointment of Ms. Kim in spite of the intense criticism by those within the system, combined with President Pasternak’s comments, reveal that this may be a very troubling time to be a lawyer in California.

Featured image: “ethics” from Shutterstock.

California’s Out-of-Whack Ethics System was originally published on Lawyerist.

Categories: Teknoids Blogs

Nominate the Best Law Firm Websites, 2016 Edition

Fri, 01/01/2016 - 07:12

It’s time to start collecting nominations for our annual best law firm website contest! There are (tens of? hundreds of?) thousands of law-firm websites out there, which means we need your help to find the cream of the crop. Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to tell us about the best law-firm websites you’ve seen.

The only way we can find the most well-designed law-firm websites is if you nominate them!

How to Nominate a Website

The rules for nomination are pretty simple:

  1. No self-interested nominations. If you design a website, host a website, do SEO for a website, work for the firm the website belongs to, or have any other interest in the website, do not nominate that website. If you cannot get one uninterested person to nominate it for you, then it probably isn’t worth nominating.
  2. Law firm websites only.

To nominate a website, just paste the URL into this form:

Multiple entries are unnecessary. This form is for nominating, not voting. Websites with excessive nominations will be banned for spamming.

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See the nominations so far. Nominations will will remain open through February 1st.

How We Pick the Top 10

While drinking coffee or cocktails, depending on the time of day, and probably with the help of some web designers we respect. We won’t pick a winner; instead, we will cull the nominations to the top 10.

We don’t have strict criteria for picking the top websites, but at a minimum, websites that make the top 10 will look good on all screens (i.e., be responsive) and have the basics covered. We tend not to like hard-sell websites, overly-busy websites, or websites full of cheesy videos. We tend to like good design, tasteful innovation, copy that informs and engages, and websites that are well-optimized for their target market.

We also try to keep an eye out for misleading information. You won’t make the top 10 if we catch you calling yourself “experienced” your first year out of law school. We don’t conduct an in-depth inquiry into every site (and we aren’t up on the specific ethics rules of every jurisdiction), but we are on the lookout for misleading information, and we know our readers will take us to task if we miss something.

Finally, we don’t do SEO assessments. Every year the comments on our top 10 post are full of SEO consultants criticizing our top 10 because we haven’t used their SEO tool of choice. That’s by design. Maybe when the Lawyer Marketing Score is more widely available, we’ll try using it. But for now it’s just too hard to compare websites objectively on their search-engine effectiveness.

Past Winners

To see the winners of our annual contest going back to 2010, visit our best law firm websites contest landing page.

Featured image: “Super hero businessman holding a trophy” from Shutterstock.

Nominate the Best Law Firm Websites, 2016 Edition was originally published on Lawyerist.

Categories: Teknoids Blogs

Year-End Law Practice Checklist

Thu, 12/31/2015 - 07:12

With the end of one year and the beginning of the next, it’s a great time to take action to keep your practice running smoothly and keep yourself in check from an ethics standpoint.

Here are some tasks that should be hitting your to-do list this week.

Review Your Archives

Take a look at what you’ve put in cold storage, both in hard copy and electronically. Hopefully, you have a document destruction policy in place. You will want to follow that policy in going through your old files and tossing what has expired.

As you go through your archives, you will find files you will be able to throw out soon. Make note of those files and calendar them. Don’t wait until your next scheduled cull through the tombs to delete them.

Clear Out Your Current Files

Once there is room in your archives, go through your current files. You probably are sitting on some open files that are not open anymore.

  • Archive according to procedures. When you have current client files ready to go to the archives, be sure to put them away in compliance with file closing procedures. (If you don’t have those in place, it’s a great time to draft them, including sending a closing letter, reconciling your trust account, and refunding any unearned fees.)
  • Archive current operating files. Operating and administrative files can grow bloated and create a mess in your filing cabinet. Close out current year files and start fresh ones for next year. Put this year’s files in your archives.

If you do not have the space, consider scanning files and then destroying the originals. Even if you think the records are available elsewhere (such as bank statements from the institution), keep the statements on hand if you can. While many records are available from the original source, the time and effort required to get them can be costly. In terms of ethics inquiries, the faster you can respond with copies of those records, the better.

Tax Matters

Just before the year closes is a great time to take stock of where you stand with Uncle Sam. If you are a solo or small firm, check on whether you have gotten your quarterly payments in, and if not, rectify it. There is no point in getting hit with an underpayment penalty.

On the personal side, check in on your retirement contributions and college savings accounts. It’s a good time to make sure you have made your yearly contributions (or have a plan in place to make them by April 15) and check your investment allocations.

Get Your Credit Reports

This is also a great time to pull your credit reports. You can get them free at Annual Credit Report or Credit Karma. What does this have to do with legal ethics?

Among the issues you may find on your credit report are accounts or judgments that could come back to haunt you before ethics regulators. You may also find problems that could impact your ability to borrow to expand your firm, take on a large contingency case, or meet other goals you have set for your practice.

Assess Your Vendor Relationships

Check on the vendors you have been using this year and see if they remain your best choice. Can you get a better deal on your Internet, timekeeping software, cell phone, office space, or any other service you use?

Check on discounts available through your state bar or any organization of which you are a member.

Streamline Procedures

The fresh new year is a great time to put in place new streamlined practices and procedures. Revisit (or draft for the first time) your client intake form, file opening procedures, calendar system, billing processes, file maintenance practices (such as filing away all loose paper weekly), file closing procedures, monthly trust account reconciliation process, timekeeping practices, and any other office procedures utilized in your practice.

Routinize Career Management

Whether you are a BigLaw associate or a solo practitioner, there are things you can be doing in your practice to keep yourself on the straight and narrow and up your odds of career success. Everyone’s list will look different, but it may include such items as attend monthly networking functions, review subject matter periodicals when they come in, write a publication quarterly, blog weekly, or whatever other tasks will boost your career and keep you focused on your practice.

In addition to being good for marketing, networking can be a buffer for ethics problems because a lot of problems can be avoided if you have a network to fall back. So be sure to include some network development on your list.

Continuing Legal Education

Take stock of your CLE requirements, deadlines, and how close you are to meeting your requirements. If the office is slow, take advantage and pick up some courses where you can.
Organizations you belong to may offer free webinars, as do some mainstream vendors. If you are not in a hurry at deadline time, you can pick up a lot of free CLE credits.

The new year is a great time to set yourself up for success and refresh your practice. Take the time to put in place the tools for a great and prosperous year.

Download the Checklist

Instead of relying on your memory, use our downloadable checklist to ensure that you are caught up for the New Year.

Free – Add to Cart Checkout Added to cart

Featured image: “Writing, List, Checklist.” from Shutterstock.

Year-End Law Practice Checklist was originally published on Lawyerist.

Categories: Teknoids Blogs

How To Hire a Paralegal

Wed, 12/30/2015 - 07:12

Do you know what you should be looking for when hiring a paralegal to help out in your growing law firm?

There are a variety of ways paralegals are trained to do their jobs. You can increase your chances of hiring the right paralegal the first time by knowing what paralegals can do for you and your office.

What You Need to Know About Paralegals

Unlike becoming an attorney, there isn’t a strict educational requirement. The short answer is that anyone can just say to someone else, “I’m a paralegal.” The good news is that startling revelation happens less than you think. Most paralegals either receive on the job training (which is just as vital than any formal education program) or attend some sort of formal education program.

Generally speaking, there are four types of formal education programs. Here’s what you need to know about each type.

  1. Trade schools. Trade schools offer two-year degrees or certificates. These programs are quite rigorous, and there are some that have the approval of the ABA. T
  2. College. There are colleges that offer both two and four-year programs. Most are Associate degree or Bachelor degree programs. They include basic undergrad courses such as English, Algebra, and other courses that make up the backbone of every college degree. There are also non-elective and elective law classes such as civil law (non-elective), criminal law (non-elective), tort law (generally non-elective), legal research and writing (non-elective), investigations and interviewing (elective), law office management (generally non-elective), bankruptcy (elective), and other substantive legal courses before culminating in a final capstone project. There are also a few colleges that offer a Master’s in paralegal studies.
  3. Post-college certification programs. These courses provide a few courses based on different areas of law. Since they are designed for college graduates, these programs generally don’t take as long to complete.
  4. Certifications. The most well-known is National Association of Legal Assistant’s NALA certification program. National Federation of Paralegal Associations (NFPA) also has an excellent certification program. These programs are designed for paralegals with experience who want something extra to prove their knowledge.

Regardless of the type of program your paralegal attended, they participated in a wide variety of classes covering everything from substantive law, legal research, and law office management. These aren’t kiddie courses, either. They are highly in-depth and require a lot of devotion.

FYI on ABA Approved Courses

While it may sound great to only hire someone who attended an ABA-approved course, here’s what you need to know about that. In addition to how difficult it is to get a paralegal program approved by the ABA, there may not be one in your immediate area. Also, most paralegal programs, regardless of ABA approval, model their programs after the ABA’s guidelines for paralegal education.

Finally, there are some very talented paralegals that cannot attend an ABA approved school. Don’t let the lure of ABA approved programs cause you to miss out on someone really great.

What You Should Ask During the Interview

What you should ask during a paralegal interview will largely depend on what you need them to. If you know from the paralegal’s resume that they attended a formal educational program,

  • Ask for an unofficial copy of their transcript. If the paralegal’s resume says they attended a formal educational program, ask for an unofficial copy of their transcript. It can be time-consuming to get a copy of an official transcript that you can keep. Asking for an unofficial copy will enable you to see the courses they took and the grades they received.
  • Ask if they took law office management. Even if you don’t plan to use the paralegal in that capacity, the knowledge from the course is extremely beneficial. It teaches paralegals quality management and exactly how a law office should operate.
  • Discuss their experience in legal research and writing. Paralegal education generally has three legal research and writing courses that are taken. Two of the courses are devoted solely to writing. Despite having the word research in the name, paralegals don’t learn much about research during that time (although if they still have their books, there are chapters devoted to both online and offline research). In those two courses, they do learn about primary and secondary sources and how to brief a case. The third course is computer-aided legal research. They learn how to perform research on either Lexis or Westlaw and also how to use a lot of free online legal research websites.
  • Ask if they learned to use Lexis or Westlaw. You’ll also want to ask how comfortable they are using it. Book learning and research for classes are certainly important concepts. Yet, if you want them to help you with research, you need to make sure they are comfortable with the process.
  • Ask if they have experience drafting documents without a template. Even if they don’t, they may know where to find templates online through your state court website. That’s good, too. Most paralegal programs tell the students to switch the state listed in any given exercise to their home state. This helps familiarize them with the requirements of their local jurisdiction.
  • Ask to see a writing sample. This could be a copy of their capstone project (if they still have it), a sample demand letter that they drafted, or whatever else they have that is professional-level writing. This can give you a sense of their professional skills.
What Your Paralegal Can Do Once They’re Hired

Talk with your paralegal if you don’t have a copy of their transcript. Find out about their strengths and their interests. Use the following as ideas to leverage your paralegal’s skills to benefit your firm.

1. Interview Clients and Witnesses

Paralegals in a four-year college degree program (and in many two-year programs) take an entire course devoted to interviewing clients and witnesses. That course also teaches paralegals how to properly summarize the information. Clients and witnesses may also feel more relaxed speaking with a paralegal than with an attorney. Of course, it is very important to make sure that your paralegal understands how to avoid unauthorized practice of law and what constitutes giving legal advice.

2. Review and Verify Qualifications of Experts

It’s important to verify the credentials of potential expert witnesses. Using a paralegal for this task gives you more time to attend to more important matters.

3. Investigations

Paralegals are skilled investigators. You can use your paralegal to draft a custom investigation plan including locating witnesses, taking photos of the scene (in some cases), and creating a summary for easy reference. While this should certainly be done under the supervision of an attorney, it never hurts to have a fresh set of eyes to start this process. It does more than save time. It also provides a new perspective.

4. Act as a Liaison

When a client or opposing attorney calls your office, who is the first person that they speak with? Often, it’s the paralegal. Paralegals are the first line of contact for trustees, court officials, attorneys, and client. It should remain this way. As the first point of contact, most non-lawyers feel more comfortable and open speaking with a paralegal than with an attorney (with the exception of judges).

5. Refine Office Procedures

What’s your office organization look like? Does it work for your office staff? Are there unreturned phone calls and angry clients? Give your paralegal the authority to put their experience in law office management to work. Paralegals spend a majority of their time in the office environment. They will know what’s working and what’s not. Using your paralegal to handle the administrative functions isn’t a demotion and it isn’t a poor use of their skills. It’s an integral part of the success of your law office.

The end product will be a great set of policies and procedures that you can work together on to perfect and use in the future.

It’s All About Your Law Office

Your practice is a business with specific needs. The good news is that you are not alone in managing the needs of your business. Relying on the skills of your paralegal can drastically improve your work life as a lawyer.

Use this information to move forward with hiring a paralegal. Remember, ask questions. That’s the best way that you can truly get a sense of someone and their educational background before you hire them.

Featured image: “Executive business man working on accounts while being concentrated and serious, wearing white shirt and tie” from Shutterstock.

How To Hire a Paralegal was originally published on Lawyerist.

Categories: Teknoids Blogs

Episode #49: Law Firm Website Best Practices, with Karin Conroy

Tue, 12/29/2015 - 07:12

Karin Conroy is back to talk about law firm websites. This is also, you might notice, our last podcast of 2015. Call it the end of Season 1. But don’t worry, we’ll be back in 2016, thanks in large part to your contributions.

Law Firm Website Best Practices, with Karin Conroy

In Karin’s last podcast, we talked about her 5-step marketing plan. In today’s podcast, we talk about best practices for law-firm websites, from landing pages to color usage.

Thinking about a website (or refreshing your old one)? We can help you pick the right designer to help.

Thanks to Ruby Receptionists for sponsoring this episode!

Support the Podcast

In order to bring you this podcast, we pay for hosting, equipment, and editing, and we put in a fair amount of time. In short, it takes money to keep our podcast going, and our sponsors are only covering a small part of the cost.

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Episode #49: Law Firm Website Best Practices, with Karin Conroy was originally published on Lawyerist.

Categories: Teknoids Blogs

Open Source “Baby Blue” Project Could Finally Kill the Bluebook

Mon, 12/28/2015 - 18:03

Last year, we speculated about whether we might soon see an open-source Bluebook, as the folks that publish it had forgotten to renew the copyright on an older edition, which opened the door to a free electronic version.1 It looks like that will soon be a reality.

The latest turn came this month when open-records activist Carl Malamud tweeted about the coming release of “Baby Blue,” the name that he and his project partner New York University law professor Christopher Sprigman are calling their rival guide.

You will not be surprised to learn that the Bluebook publishers promptly hired a big fancy white shoe IP law firm to send an angry letter to Malamud and Sprigman arguing, in effect, that the Bluebook publishers basically own the word “blue” in this context.

[I]t is our client’s position that the title “BabyBlue,” or any title consisting of or comprising the word “Blue,” when used on or in connection with your work, would so resemble the BLUEBOOK Marks as to be likely, to cause confusion, mistake, and/or deception…Accordingly, and to avoid any risk of consumer confusion, my client respectfully demands that you agree (i) not to use the title or name “BabyBlue,” or any other title or name including the word “blue,” for your work…

The response from Sprigman can best be described as “LOL, nope.”

“The idea they own the name ‘blue’ for a manual for legal citations is ridiculous,” he told Law Blog. Baby Blue he said is also based in part on a 1958 edition of the Bluebook that has fallen into the public domain.

Anything that results in a simplification of the book’s Byzantine structure – or better still, a citation generator, the likes of which already exist for other citation schemes – is something that every lawyer should get behind.

  1. A consortium consisting of Harvard Law Review Association, Columbia Law Review Association, the University of Pennsylvania Law Review and the Yale Law Journal 

Open Source “Baby Blue” Project Could Finally Kill the Bluebook was originally published on Lawyerist.

Categories: Teknoids Blogs

Which One is the Client?

Mon, 12/28/2015 - 07:12

A lawyer cannot follow a client’s directions if it isn’t clear who the client is.

It may sound like an academic question, but there are many real-life situations where attorneys are not sure of the client’s identity. Here are a few of those scenarios:

Third-Party Payer

There are many types of representation in which third-party payers are common. For example, sometimes in civil litigation an insurance company foots the bill. In criminal matters for a young adult, and parent probably pays. In less common scenarios, an existing client may bring in someone and offer to pay the bill for your services.

The third party paying the bill is not your client, even if they are your client in another matter. Since they are not the client, do not follow the payer’s instructions when they conflict with the client’s, and remember the payer cannot be involved in privileged communications.

Multiple Owners of Marital Property

In a family law matter involving property, such as a divorce, third-party interests can come into play if someone outside the marriage has an interest in marital property. For example, parents may have provided the down payment on the marital home in exchange for an equity-sharing arrangement. Though you may be contacted by these other property owners in the course of representing one of the divorcing spouses, those other owners are not the client.

Joint Representation

Consider this scenario: midway through immigration work to bring a non-citizen spouse into the US, the couple divorces. They have already paid you for your work. Which spouse has the right to seek a refund of your fees? (Not to say they would be entitled, but it would be the client who can seek the refund.) Which spouse is the client?

Representation of multiple clients in the same matter is always thorny to some extent, and when jointly represented clients give conflicting instructions, it becomes an absolute briar patch. Yet it is extremely common in many areas of law, particularly immigration.

An immigration lawyer will often represent an entire family in their aligned efforts to immigrate; sometimes, both the immigrant and a US citizen spouse are represented, even though the spouse does not actually need immigration services except in the capacity of a sponsor. Signed conflict waivers are a must, as are discussions with the clients about whose instructions are to be followed.

Institutional Representation

Major consumers of legal services, such as corporations and other institutions, are made up of individuals who do not always agree on legal strategy. Lawyers for institutions may face conflicting instructions from individual members of an organization.

A lawyer’s duty is to the client, which is the institutional entity, and not an individual within the organization (even the individual responsible for bringing the business to the lawyer). Practically speaking, this means the lawyer can be faced with telling the person they think of as the client (the one the lawyer talks to on behalf of the entity) to rethink instructions the lawyer deems against the interest of the corporation, or the lawyer may have to take an issue up the chain of command in the entity beyond the authority of the person giving the instruction.

Either situation can lead to a very awkward attorney-client relationship.

Representing an Entity and Individuals Within It

Since entities are major clients, sometimes when their individual members also need representation, a single lawyer is hired to handle both. This seems logical at first blush, when the interests of the entity and individual are aligned, but you must be very careful about conflicts arising in the representation.

In securities fraud cases, for example, there often comes a point where the organization is best served by blaming (and disowning) an individual within it. Who the lawyer represents then becomes a key issue.

If the lawyer has been representing the entity and the individual about to take the fall, it is likely the lawyer will have to withdraw completely, losing both clients. If the lawyer was only representing the entity and not the individual, but the individual did not know that, the individual may end up with a valid complaint against the lawyer. The identity of the client needs to be made clear at the outset (and sometimes revisited repeatedly).

Partnerships and Other Small Entities

Institutional clients are often large corporations, but client identity is even less clear when dealing with small businesses such as partnerships. Two people come to you to write a partnership agreement, and there are multiple possibilities for the identity of the client. One of the people but not the other? Both jointly? The partnership? Make sure you clarify at the outset to whom your duties are owed and who holds the rights and responsibilities of the client role.

Representing Government

A different type of entity is a governmental one. When you represent a city, for instance, the client is not the general public residing within the city; the client is the city itself. Think of it like representing a corporation but not its individual shareholders.

Clients Needing Assistance

When representing individuals, the client may need someone to assist them in obtaining your services due to a language barrier, the client being elderly, the client being informed but not incompetent, or the client being physically handicapped.

Any time another person is involved in the delivery of legal services to the client, the line between client and helper can get blurred. It becomes a problem when privilege is challenged or when instructions conflict. Your client is not the helper unless you are in a joint representation situation.

Not as Obvious as It Seems

The idea that you may not know the identity of your client may sound absurd, but as these examples illustrate, it is an actual concern in many cases. This is one more reason why clearly defining the roles of all persons involved in a representation at the very beginning is critical.

Featured image: “ thinking woman with question mark on gray wall background ” from Shutterstock.

Which One is the Client? was originally published on Lawyerist.

Categories: Teknoids Blogs

How to Prepare for Oral Argument

Fri, 12/25/2015 - 07:12

Oral argument is one of the most exciting parts of litigation, and only a few lawyers are really good at it. But even if you aren’t a naturally-talented presenter, you can still improve. The important thing is to get away from your outline and use a more “modular” approach to oral argument.

Many lawyers — especially those new to law practice — prepare for oral argument the same way, by creating an outline and rehearsing as they would for a speech. They may prepare for questions by talking through the issues with a colleague, but this does not usually result in effective oral argument. What it does result in is a stiff argument, awkward recovery after answering questions, and an ineffective presentation overall.

That’s because oral argument is so much more dynamic than an outline — even if you have a “cold” bench. In order to prepare for dynamic argument, you need a more dynamic approach than an outline and a few run-throughs.

Preparing for oral argument takes a deep understanding of the law, the facts, and the arguments. Then, you need to break up your argument into “modules.” You can organize your argument (not just outline it) around your modules, but then you must practice making your argument in and out of order. Only by doing this will you be prepared to field questions and deliver your argument with skill and nimbleness, instead of rigid adherence to an outline.

Ditch the Outline

An outline isn’t inherently good or bad, but it encourages rigid thinking. Lawyers who rely on an outline alone tend to get thrown off by questions, which often results in repetition and skipped issues.

Worse, many lawyers also haul a binder (or several) full of cases, pleadings, exhibits, and briefs to the podium, which they try to rely on while delivering their arguments. I think this is because they rely on their stacks of paper in place of adequate preparation.

Of course you can use an outline if you really want to — I do — but it is important to shed the rigid thinking and intellectual laziness that outline-as-preparation encourages.

Practice Intense Preparation

There are no tricks to good oral argument, and the single most-important component of great oral argument is preparation. I realize it is one thing to say Prepare! and another to do it with a full caseload, but it is a lawyer’s duty to prepare adequately, if not better. You must find the time.

You must know four things about your case for every argument:

1The facts. Know the facts of your case backwards and forwards. Make sure you know which are actually in the record, too.

2The law. Although you probably researched the law at various points in the litigation, including when you wrote the brief, you should review at least the key cases before your argument, and learn them well enough to talk about the nuances without the case in front of you. The same goes for any statutes or rules involved, which you should know inside out.

You must also be able to state the rule you want the court to adopt and apply, whether it is a rule from existing law or a new one that you want the court to adopt. Enough judges have asked me about this that it has become one of my favorite questions to ask students when I judge moot court competitions — few are prepared with a rule. But if you want to win, you had better know how you want the court to do it.

3Your argument. Make sure you can explain why your client should win. This ought to go without saying, but I have seen an astonishing number of attorneys who cannot seem to articulate a coherent reason why their client ought to win.

Your job is to convince the court that your client ought to win, and give the court a legally-permissible route to that result. Don’t forget the second part. You cannot win without it.

4What you want. This should go without saying, too. You must be able to tell the court what you want it to do. By the way, as part of this, you should make sure the court can do what you want it to do. Your client won’t thank you for the time and expense of a motion hearing if the court doesn’t have the power to grant your motion.

Organize and Practice Your Argument

Here’s how I like to organize my argument. I write each issue I want to discuss or point I want to make on a separate index card (or piece of paper, but the idea is to keep it short — these are prompts, not parts of a script). Then, I take each index card and practice the argument around that topic or idea. Usually, the oral argument starts to organize itself as I do this, because I generally refer to other cards as I go. As the argument begins to take shape, I start laying out the cards on the floor to sort them.

As I lay all the cards out on the floor (this works great for organizing the topics you want to discuss with a witness on direct examination, too), I put them in the order that makes the most sense. Group them into the two or three main topics you need to argue. Even if your argument is going to be complicated by necessity, group it into a few main topics, if you can.

Now, turn those main topics into a roadmap. Starting your argument with a concise roadmap is helpful for the court, because the judge will know right away if she is likely to get an answer to her questions, or if she should just go ahead and ask them now because you aren’t likely to cover them.

Spreading out index cards on the floor works for me, but you could also do an outline, if you prefer. I just think it works better to start with something more flexible, and convert it to an outline as it starts to come together.

Whether you do an outline or not, you should also practice your argument as a single, cohesive unit. You might get a cold bench, after all. I usually run through my argument this way a few times, then set my index cards and outline aside and go for a walk. (Bring your dog, if you are preparing at home.)

With no prompts in front of you, go through your argument several more times from memory. Work through it without resorting to your outline or notes. This will force you to learn your argument much more thoroughly than if you are always relying on your notes.

Practice your argument with non-lawyers, too. If they look bored, you aren’t doing a very good job. Keeping a non-lawyer interested forces you to boil down the facts, issues, and arguments to their essentials. You can always go into the nitty-gritty (boring) details if you need to, but it’s generally better to get to the point — especially with judges.

Commit Your Argument to Memory

Outlines, binders full of reference material, and other paper and props are distractions, not performance aids. The best way to argue is from memory (although it won’t hurt to bring your index cards or outline with you, just in case — or just for show).

If you have followed my advice so far, you have essentially committed your argument to memory. Deep understanding of the facts and law will give you the ability to discuss the issues without an outline to guide you. Practicing your argument out of order helps dissociate each issue from your outline. Getting out of your office and walking as you practice will help you embed your argument in your brain. As you walk around, your brain will associate your argument with your surroundings, which will make it easier to remember your key points when you are under stress at the podium.

Your goal is not to remember your argument word-for-word; that is counterproductive. Your goal is to know what you want to say about a topic whether or not you are interrupted. If you are interrupted, you must be able to locate the question in your argument, then segue gracefully back into your argument after you answer. In other words, know what you want to say, and then cover at least the key points whether or not you are interrupted with questions.

If you have followed the steps above, you should have your argument sufficiently “memorized.”

If You Can, Moot Your Argument

Not every argument merits the time and expense of a moot session — or several. But if you can moot the issue, you will get invaluable information and feedback. If your “judges” do a good job, you will have a good idea of what you may hear from the bench. You will also get great feedback on the way you argue so that you can improve.

I’ve had the opportunity to conduct several moot sessions on both sides of the “bench,” and it has been well worth the effort in each case. Do it if you can.

Last-Minute Prep On the Day of Your Argument

Here is what works for me on the day of my argument, but what you do is not as important as having a routine that quiets your nerves and gives you one last refresher of the facts, law, and your argument.

I usually get dressed, then go walk the dog. (My hearings tend to be first thing in the morning.) While we walk, I run through my argument — out loud — two or three times (wear a Bluetooth headset if you don’t want to look crazy, and people will think you are just on the phone). I keep it up in the car on my way to court. I don’t have my index cards or outline out when I do this.

When I get to court (always at least fifteen minutes early), I sit down and jot down my main “talking points” on a legal pad, referring to my outline if I need to. When my case is called, that’s all I take to the podium. I don’t try to review cases or the facts at this point. If I don’t know them by the time I am sitting in the courtroom, I’m not going to learn anything in those few minutes before I stand up to argue.

Preparation is key. If you have done enough, you will be confident behind the podium, and you will rarely be surprised by what happens in the courtroom. Don’t half-ass your preparation; it is always better to be over-prepared.

Originally published 2015-03-27. Last updated 2015-12-25.

Featured image: “Speaker’s table in conference room” from Shutterstock.

How to Prepare for Oral Argument was originally published on Lawyerist.

Categories: Teknoids Blogs

How To Serve Clients Pro Bono

Thu, 12/24/2015 - 07:12

Guest post by Alaina Sullivan.

The American Bar Association Model Rules of Professional Conduct state that “a lawyer should aspire to render at least 50 hours of pro bono publico legal services per year.” Most states also urge lawyers to provide legal services to those who cannot afford them.

Yet many lawyers do not take on pro bono cases.

In its “ABA’s Supporting Justice III: A Report on the Pro Bono Work of America’s Lawyer’s (2013)” report, the ABA took a look at this problem. The good news? Almost no one who responded said they did not want to help pro bono clients. That is why legal aid agencies are getting creative in reaching out to lawyers to make sure impoverished clients’ needs will be met.

Time is Limited

Time is money, but it is also fleeting. Only twenty-four hours exist in a day, and attorneys already struggle to juggle their clients’ cases. Taking on additional cases for no pay is not realistic for some attorneys, which is why so many turn down pro bono cases or never volunteer in the first place. On the one hand, this makes sense, since attorneys who take a pro bono case knowing they cannot dedicate the necessary time would be risking ethical sanction.

It can be a challenge to find the time, but it is possible. And if you do take a case, it is not optional. Carve out time in your schedule and clearly outline expectations with your pro bono client. You control your time, so find ways to allocate it appropriately while meeting your obligations to that client. Also, let the pro bono agency know your time limits so they can assign you something appropriate.

Lawyers Who Lack Experience

Pro bono cases often involve family law, consumer law, and disability/social security. What happens when the attorney does not handle these areas? You cannot represent someone competently in an area in which you have no experience. This is another primary reason attorneys turn down the pro bono cases. But even if you lack experience, you can help.

Most areas have legal clinics where attorneys donate their time to give free legal advice to clients on a walk-in basis. You can participate in one of these clinics to offer what you can in your area of expertise. If you take a full-representation case from a clinic, most legal aid organizations offer resources or mentors to help you handle the case competently.

Another option would be to take on only one of the client’s problems. Perhaps they have a consumer issue that is tied to a disability matter. Work out an agreement to assist the client just on one issue, assuming doing so will accrue to their benefit.

What to Do When a Pro Bono Client Comes Back for More

Attorneys taking pro bono family law cases often find that one simple hearing turns into years of free legal representation. When children are involved, that means eighteen years of disagreements. Odds are, the client will come back.

You could turn the client away and direct him or her back to legal aid, but these same attorneys often find legal aid calling them after the client completes intake due to their knowledge of the case, promising that it will be just one more short hearing. You see the cycle.

What do you do? Create a clear and understandable scope of representation agreements for both the attorney and client to sign. Your representation is for one specific matter only. After the end of that matter, you are done with the case. It is not a perfect solution, but it is better than not taking the case at all. If the client comes back for more, you can decide whether you have the time, ability, and desire to help them again.

Volunteer!

The need for pro bono services is great. Be creative with how you handle each case, and give what you can under your circumstances. Do not turn down a case before you give it a chance.

If nothing else, the ABA Standing Committee on Pro Bono & Public Service offers a host of resources for attorneys including events, training, publications, and links to local legal aid agencies for attorneys interested in helping out in their state. Rather than turn down a case because you think you are unable to handle it, reach out to your local legal aid organization and see how you can help.

Alaina Sullivan is a solo practitioner in the Indianapolis area, focusing on family and juvenile law. She has a soft place in her heart for equal access to justice and has focused a great part of her career in providing affordable or pro bono legal services to those who need them most.

Originally published 2014-10-30. Last updated 2015-12-24.

Featured image via Shutterstock: “Can You Help?

How To Serve Clients Pro Bono was originally published on Lawyerist.

Categories: Teknoids Blogs

12 Times the Holidays and the Law Didn’t Mix as Well as Eggnog

Wed, 12/23/2015 - 07:12

The holiday season is upon us. It’s the time for good cheer, decking the halls with boughs of holly, snagging the perfect gifts, and racking up enough billable hours to make that sweet year-end bonus—or at least not to get fired.

Why not add a dash of legal trivia to your holiday celebrations?

Featured image: “Happy business group people in santa hat at Xmas party.” from Shutterstock.

12 Times the Holidays and the Law Didn’t Mix as Well as Eggnog was originally published on Lawyerist.

Categories: Teknoids Blogs

Episode #48: Law Firm Data Security, with Sharon Nelson and John Simek

Tue, 12/22/2015 - 07:12

On today’s podcast, we ask security experts Sharon Nelson and John Simek things like how hard is it, really, to hack into someone’s email? And what’s the greatest security threat for lawyers? Plus, our favorite posts and podcasts of 2015.

Our Favorite Posts and Podcasts of 2015

We just posted our most-read posts and most-popular discussions of 2015, but today, Sam and Aaron take a moment to highlight some of their favorites, like the best law-firm websites of 2015, our posts about technology competence, and lots of our podcasts.

Law Firm Data Security, with Sharon Nelson and John Simek

Computer security experts Sharon Nelson and John Simek answer Sam’s questions you’ve always wanted to know, like how hard it is, really, to get into your email? What’s the weakest part of your security system? Do you really need to encrypt your email, and how should you go about it? And who is spying on you online, anyway?

Get the answers in today’s show.

Thanks to Ruby Receptionists for sponsoring this episode!

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Episode #48: Law Firm Data Security, with Sharon Nelson and John Simek was originally published on Lawyerist.

Categories: Teknoids Blogs