Archive for the ‘Nuts and Bolts’ Category

Legal Technology Big Change Through Small Revolution Guest post by BlueLine staff Investment in legal technology has moved at a staggering pace over the past few years. Tech start-ups promise to radically disrupt law practice by automating everything from document review to legal research, while Lex Machina and Judicata promise to empower lawyers with data-driven insights and analytics. Despite these revolutionary possibilities, myriad simple legal tasks, such as cite-checking, pulling cases, and reviewing quotes, still consume absurd lengths of time. We question whether the low hanging fruit is being left on the tree. The low hanging fruit has already been picked in practice management software. Lawyers are now familiar with digital time-entry, e-billing, and expense-tracking applications. There has been less interest in applications that are specifically designed to improve the tasks that lawyers can actually bill their clients for doing. Perhaps this is because lawyers focus on automation that speeds […]

If you have no idea how to choose a bank based on anything other than how long it takes you to walk to the closest branch (or whether they offer lollipops at the teller window), I off the following checklist of other factors to consider. Not all banks are created equal, and most experts recommend reevaluating your banking needs not just at the start of your business but also every few years. As you comparison-shop, a business account officer from each bank you’re considering should be available to answer all your questions—though you might get the best scoop by asking around among your colleagues. Is it approved for IOLTA accounts? If you plan to hold client fees in trust (i.e., before you perform the work), you need to hold the money in an “Interest on Lawyers’ Trust Account” (IOLTA). In Massachusetts, attorneys may only hold IOLTA deposits in financial institutions that have […]

Declarations provide the factual basis for claims made in memoranda of points and authorities, briefs, and writs. (I.e., every statement of fact in a brief must be properly supported with a citation to a declaration.) Here’s how to write a really good declaration: First, write the declaration in the declarant’s own voice, using her own language, from her own perspective. Second, tell a good story. The declaration should be a narrative, and it should be comprehensive with regard to the incidents it relates. Finally, follow the rules of evidence. Everything in a declaration must be admissible as if it were testimony in court. There must be foundation (how the witness knows what she knows) and there must not be inadmissible hearsay. Show personal knowledge for every claim in the declaration. For example, do not say, “I applied for General Relief last week but I can’t get it for six more weeks.” Instead, […]

Taking on pro bono cases is an oft-used way for new and seasoned lawyers alike to learn new areas of law and/or begin to develop a network for referrals. Here are some resources online to find the right pro bono opportunity for you: Probono.net’s  Volunteer Guide lists organizations with pro bono opportunities, by state. You can narrow your search to specific areas of law, specific populations served, specific counties, and/or specific type of project. The Boston Bar Association’s Volunteer Lawyer Project lists specific cases or shorter-term projects. Like probono.net, the site also lists programs and organizations that can refer pro bono cases that might not be listed on the site.  

If you want to hang your own shingle, or change the structure of your existing practice, one of your first decisions will be whether to form an entity for your business, and, if so, which one. Note that the law governing entity formation is mostly a matter of state law, so check your local rules. First some general considerations: Every person or entity doing business in the City and County of San Francisco must obtain a valid Business Registration Certificate from the Office of the Treasurer & Tax Collector. Check whether your locality has a similar requirement. Every person or entity conducting business under a name  other than that person’s or entity’s full legal name must also file a Fictitious Business Name Statement with the County Clerk. In some places, you may not call yourself a firm if you are a solo practitioner, no matter what entity you practice under. (See California Rules of Professional […]

We . . . turned our courts into giant unthinking machines for sweeping our problem citizens under a rug. . . . [I]nstead of dealing with problems like poverty, drug abuse and mental illness, we increasingly just removed them all from view by putting them in jail.” ~ Matt Taibbi, “Cruel and Unusual Punishment,” Rolling Stone  The Myth Criminal punishment was at one time often very public: we whipped or executed outlaws before throngs of onlookers, or displayed them in the stocks in the public square.  Now we spirit the condemned away to hidden prison cells, forgotten by the rest of us, a modern-day form of ostracism.  The punishment of convicts occurs behind closed doors, much of it in secret. Adding to the cloak of invisibility is the popular media, which saturates us with fictionalized and misleading versions of what prison and the people inside it must be like. The new show […]

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 […]

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 […]