Archive for October, 2012

As I mentioned in a couple of my postslast week, my firm recently had to dissociate with a case as a result of a dispute between a client and our co-counsel over the fee agreement. Fee disputes can be very delicate and dangerous territory — and, I imagine, are probably very common — so it’s best to think ahead about how to prevent them from occurring. Here are some tips: Carefully craft — and communicate — retainer agreement Put everything related to the scope of representation and the fee structure — and any changes to these — in writing. Explain your billing policy in your engagement agreement explaining your billing policy, including how frequently the client will receive statements, what you expect the client to pay for (costs, expenses), whether the client is expected to maintain a certain minimum balance in trust form with which to pay you (and whether you […]

Project management software — like Basecamp or Total Attorneys or Clio — that helps improve internal collaboration within an organization can also be used to communicate externally with clients. There are many benefits to using this software as a client portal — i.e., as a secure place clients can log into with a personal password to see everything about their matter. (Clio’s client portal is called Clio Client Connect.) For example: Impatient clients can get the answers they need right away — e.g., upcoming dates on the case, documents that have been filed and actions that have been taken in the case — by messaging the lawyers through the portal or looking at what is already posted to it. This will also save lawyers from having to answer client questions over and over. Lawyers don’t have to constantly update the client on the progress of the matter, as long as they post all relevant […]

Where do consumers go to find legal representation? A Nielsen Company survey on who consumers trust when looking for legal representation found they trust the following sources: recommendations from people they know (90%), consumer opinions posted online (70%), brand websites (70%), editorial content like a newspaper article (69%), brand sponsorships (64%), TV (62%), newspaper (61%), magazines (59%), billboards/outdoor advertising (55%), radio (55%), emails signed up for (54%), ads before movies (52%), search engine result ads (41%), online video ads (37%), online banner ads (33%), text ads on mobile phones (24%). In other words, offering valuable content and garnering referrals seem more effective in generating business than advertising per se. That idea is the spirit behind most of the marketing suggestions below. (Note: Don’t try all of these, just the ones that work for you.) (1) Get business cards No brainer. (2) Set up a web site This is becoming increasingly indispensable. My […]

One of the reasons I went to law school was to empower myself.  In a way I did, but I also learned how incredibly unempowered (powerless?) non-lawyers are in the legal system.  I always hated the idea that in my moments of need I would have to rely on some stuck-up lawyer wanting to charge me through the teeth.  I always thought that the court system was put in place for the average person.  It’s not though.  It is a forum for lawyers by lawyers. (Source: I Just Want to Practice Law . . .) I worked a lot this week on my juvenile appeal. First step was to pore through the hundreds of pages in the court transcript and the reporter’s transcript. The court transcript contains anything in writing that exists on the case: police reports, school reports, probation officer reports, formal charges, written motions, any other written correspondence. The […]

Last week the partner in my firm was approached by some women who wanted to press charges against a restaurant for discriminatory behavior. The partner’s first step after deciding to take the case was to prepare a demand letter. A demand letter is simply what it says: a letter demanding payment or some other action from someone. An attorney might write a formal demand letter for a client as an attempt to avoid litigation over a dispute and expedite a resolution. A demand letter generally includes: What payment or action is demanded. Why. Law out the facts that led to the writing of the letter. Make sure to get the facts straight; this is also good preparation in case you end up litigating the dispute. Then explain why the person owes money — have they failed to pay for a job done, have they botched a job you paid them […]

This week we lost one client and gained two. Ending the attorney-client relationship Our co-counsel and his client could not resolve their dispute about the fee agreement. Our co-counsel (lead counsel on the case) decided to withdraw, and my partner (who only just recently joined the case) decided to dissociate from the case before he did so, so that she would not then be left on the hook as the client’s only counsel on record. Otherwise, with only two months left until trial, the judge would likely insist she stay on the case. Two important lessons from this whole episode: When deciding whether to take a case, be as careful as possible about avoiding entering an attorney-client relationship with someone you might foresee personal conflict with. I’m not sure how exactly one can vet a prospective client in this regard, but it might be worth, at minimum, meeting with them […]

Risk-taking

October 16th, 2012 by Briana Cummings

If there’s one thing that the world’s most successful entrepreneurs and reformers have in common, it is an unusually high tolerance — or even appetite — for risk. For example, Jeff  Bezos says he makes decisions according to a “regret minimization framework.”  As in, do whatever it is you think will cause the least regret when you’re 80 years old and looking back at your life.  In his case, that meant taking a huge risk and starting Amazon. Sometimes there’s nothing better than a good quote to steel up your resolve. So I’ve collected some here that have given me encouragement: Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover. Mark Twain Security is mostly a […]

The gap in the middle The U.S. ranks last among peer nations in access to legal services. Despite a very crowded legal profession, millions of Americans — those who are too rich for subsidized legal services but too poor to afford a private attorney at market rates of around $200 to $350 an hour — lack access to high-quality, or any, legal assistance. As Jeanne Charn puts it, our legal system has had “a nearly exclusive focus on the very poor at the expense of middle income people who also cannot afford traditional market-rate lawyer services.” It guarantees help to those who have incomes of 125% above the poverty line but offers nothing to those whose incomes are at 150 or 200% of the poverty line, but who also cannot afford the legal assistance they need. As lawyers know, the law guarantees the right to a (government-subsidized) attorney if you are […]

This week, the first at my new job, I have been confronted with more discretionary decisionmaking than I have ever encountered while working in this field. In prior law jobs, all of my assignments  — researching legal questions, investigating factual background, writing motions, preparing bench memoranda — were pretty cut-and-dry. Does this person have a Fourth Amendment claim? What are the country conditions in El Salvador? What are the elements of this client’s complaint? Now all of that seems so . . . boilerplate. What we did this week: Trying to resolve a fee dispute between a client and our co-counsel. He’s been calling the office pretty aggressively. The partner I’m working with asks me to research the client’s background, the value of the claim, anything that will help us decide whether to go any further with the case. We will meet with him next week to see if we can […]

Tonight I had dinner with a law school classmate and her friend from college, who is now a third-year associate at a big firm in San Francisco. We had barely been at our table for two minutes before she began to talk about her dreams of opening up a flower shop. “How long have you been at the firm?” I asked. “Two and a half years.” “Oh, that’s early to want out. Most of the people I know want to leave after four years or so.” “Not at my firm. More like one year.” She had recently spent three months working on a famous case between a Silicon Valley heavyweight and a foreign competitor. “Oh cool. What did you do for the case?” “Discovery.” When I asked what she worked on after that case, she said, “Nothing.” For the next several months she billed one or two hours a day, […]