July 17, 2007

Technology Challenged? It's Time to Move Ahead

Although I have discussed this subject in a prior post, this is the column as it appeared in the Connecticut Law Tribune - June 8, 2007

Technology can be very daunting and intimidating to lots of lawyers. Quite frankly, beyond a laptop, a cell phone, maybe a Blackberry or Treo, and finally acknowledging they need a web site, most lawyers are just screaming, "I'm not into this stuff! How am I supposed to go solo without help? When will I have the time to actually practice law?

By way of a blog post from The Great American Lawyer quoting Dennis Kennedy's popular blog comes a very valid statement:

"by the end of 2007, we will be talking about a clear and growing digital divide between technology-forward and technology-backward lawyers and firms and a subtle restructuring of the practice of law." (original post here)

That being said, being a solo practitioner doesn't mean "no help." Nor does it mean that solos have to get on board with every electronic advancement or new software sensation.

It does, however, mean finding some balance. I will not get into what is "essential" for a law office because that is always debatable and subjective. However, when investigating new technology, lawyers should always do a cost-benefit analysis on the value of their time to carry out these tech-oriented tasks versus hiring someone to do them on their behalf.

There are a lot of brilliant lawyers who are techno-junkies, getting their fix with every new electronic toy out there, spending hours updating their current systems with every new program that emerges. But not all of us are like them and it really is okay that we aren't.

There is a new site, www.tenminut.es, that is like speed-dating for the newest technology. On the site, users get a brief introduction to the latest technology with a summary as to whether they should explore the product further. The idea is, if the maker of a product can't prove the product's worth to potential buyers in 10 minutes, it's not worth buying. Like dating, you are either intrigued and want to learn more, or you move on. I think this site will prove its value.

When lawyers go high-tech, they can earn more and keep more of what they earn because of the incredible efficiencies that certain technology creates.

One of my former students told me how he has a "paperless" office. Every document that comes into his office is immediately scanned into his computer and directed to the appropriate client or administrative digital folder. He has a flash drive that he carries around his neck so wherever he is, as long as he has access to a computer, he can insert his flash drive and have access to whatever documents he needs to work on. He has similar backups in a safe place. He is not bound to his office.

Other solos use a system called "Basecamp." All documents stored in Basecamp can be accessed by their clients through a password-protected system, so that, at any given time, the clients can review their file and know the status of their case.

Understand this reality: solos can move quickly because every decision they make isn't by committee. That means they can create a state-of-the-art law practice much faster and jump to the top of the heap selling these advancements to their clients long before Big Law can convene a committee to determine if there is even a problem that needs to be addressed.

Even if they suffer from Technoshock, lawyers can no longer afford to not take advantage of new technology. They need it to keep competitive and stay profitable. If technology still remains the great intimidator, they need to recognize that they will have to pay others to compensate for their "chosen" or "perceived" shortcomings. This is the new reality.•

Susan Cartier-Liebel is solo practitioner, adjunct professor at Quinnipiac University School of Law and a business consultant for solo and small firms. Her blog, Build A Solo Practice, is at susancartierliebel.typepad.com. She can be reached at SCartier_Liebel@comcast.net. Copyright © Susan Cartier-Liebel (2007) All Rights Reserved. No portion of this material may be copied, transmitted, posted, duplicated or otherwise used without the express written approval of Susan Cartier-Liebel.

June 11, 2007

Lawyer's Services Should Be Theirs To Give Away...Not the ABA's

Connecticut Law Tribune - June 8, 2007

(This column comes on the heels of the recent Second Circuit Decision regarding pro bono fees, as a I promised.)

It's been a year since I read an Illinois Supreme Court ruling regarding mandatory pro bono reporting and I'm still feeling claustrophobic as the legal universe we are permitted to function in gets smaller and smaller.

That state's new rule, celebrating it's one year anniversary this month, requires lawyers to "annually report their pro-bono activities, including hours worked and any money contributed to pro-bono efforts." The rationale behind the rule is that, by having to report what they do (or don't do) by way of pro bono work or financial gifts to recognized legal aid organizations, lawyers will somehow be shamed into actually doing some, or do more than they're already doing.

It doesn't take a genius to see where this is really going. Although structured as simply a confidential reporting program for the purpose of accruing an aggregate total of pro bono hours, lawyers who fail to report their numbers to Illinois authorities face possible suspension of their law licenses. With this framework in place, if actual pro bono hours do not increase in a voluntary fashion, is it really a stretch to see pro bono work being mandated in order to continue practicing in the state of Illinois? (Note: Illinois is home to the American Bar Association.)

Who will have the hardest time meeting these requirements? Not large law firms that use their pro bono efforts as a tool for self-promotion. How much does it really cost them, anyway? At most large firms, it's low-level associates who do the majority of the firm's pro bono work. The firms write it off as a loss. At their worst, they take on high-profile cases in an effort to gain incalculable publicity. Mandatory pro bono wouldn't hurt large law firms. Rather, they will profit on many levels.

Solos, however, will be the ones injured. They will look ungenerous and self-serving, as they single-handedly face the everyday struggles to stay in business.

As the pro bono numbers generated by solos, the largest body of lawyers out there, fail to increase appreciably, what will be the next logical step? Forcing them to take on a minimum number of pro bono hours or face suspension? It is certainly plausible.

And as word is spread to the general public regarding an attorney's obligation to do pro bono work, is it unreasonable to believe that lower-income clients will demand lawyers represent them for free or at sharply reduced rates?

Yes, mandatory pro bono would be a great image enhancement for the legal profession, particularly large firms. But for solos, it would be a daily migraine.

Shouldn't Illinois officials be looking to catalog aggregate results rather than aggregate hours if the stated goal of this self-aggrandizing exercise is to actually help indigent clients? If painters took two days instead of two weeks to paint your house, wouldn't you applaud their speed and efficiency? We should be measuring effectiveness through results, not inefficiency through racked up hours.

And, of course, we can't let Illinois get all the glory for being so benevolent when giving away our services. All the states will want to jump on board for fear of looking mercenary and uncaring. They, too, will want to crack the whip and give away our time and money.

As a lawyer, I believe the role of the judiciary and national and state bar associations should be to provide a de minimus framework of what we can't do in order to avoid risking our law licenses. Outside of that, they should be a source of professional support and information.

It is not their job to legislate or mandate how I should aspire to be a better person or lawyer. Nor should they tell me that I must give away my services.

But that is where they are heading. Please don't order me to tithe to the Church of the American Bar Association. I still believe in freedom of professionalism. •

Susan Cartier-Liebel is solo practitioner, adjunct professor at Quinnipiac University School of Law and a business consultant for solo and small firms. Her blog, Build A Solo Practice, is at susancartierliebel.typepad.com. She can be reached at SCartier_Liebel@comcast.net. Copyright © Susan Cartier-Liebel (2007) All Rights Reserved. No portion of this material may be copied, transmitted, posted, duplicated or otherwise used without the express written approval of Susan Cartier-Liebel.

May 22, 2007

Revolting Against The Billable Hour

Connecticut Law Tribune - May 21, 2007, New York Lawyer - May 21, 2007 (Billable Hour = Apocalypto)

In my opinion, one of the worst remnants of a second-wave law firm is the billable-hour model of doing business. It has become the two-ton elephant sitting on the chest of most large (and some smaller) law firms.

The model is suffocating and crushing the life out of larger firms, in the form of associate and client attrition rates, and creates negative tensions with those associates and clients who remain. After all, associates' worth to a firm is based upon how many billable hours they can churn out to feed the bottomless stomach of the partnership monster, and the clients are the ones who are writing the checks.

One of the most profitable — and enjoyable — benefits of being a solo is freedom to create something new and effectuate change without having to first go through a committee.

We all talk about Darwin's oft misquoted "survival of the fittest" when, in fact, it is survival of those who can adapt. But it is best analogized to the Ice Age. Many of the larger, more lumbering animals who had long gestation cycles didn't survive because they couldn't genetically "change" fast enough thereby precluding timely "adaptation." However, the mouse (or its historical predecessor) was able to weather the environmental changes, because it was small and gestated so frequently with so many offspring (some survived, some didn't).

Now, I'm not comparing solos to mice. I'm saying the solo practitioner has the ability to "pro"-create rapidly precisely because they are solo; change isn't by committee. This enables them to change their billing practices (some will be profitable, some will not) and adapt with the times.

Why would anyone want to change the billable-hour model, which is the lifeblood of most firms? Because when one worships the billable hour, the client disappears. The billable hour has become the altar upon which we sacrifice the client.

Imagine a system whereby the resolution of a problem is given a value by the client. It is negotiated between the attorney and the client thereby creating a "budget" for the legal services. Absent any unforeseen circumstances of which there would be some contingency plan, the relationship is based upon the terms of the agreement which is a predetermined fixed value. It is results-oriented, not "hours worked" driven. The negative relationship is gone as the price for resolution is predetermined and accepted.

I will never hire a tradesman for a project on an hourly basis because there is an incentive to drag out the process. By having a budget or fixed cost, there is an incentive for the tradesman not to waste time.

If you believe this to be professional blasphemy, think again. How many times has an attorney gone to court to collect fees only to have the judge make her own value judgment about the attorney's work and reduce the fee accordingly? If solos can capture the fair market value for their work and repackage it as a benefit to clients who now no longer have to suffer under the billable-hour model, who will have more clients than they can handle?

It has been done for years in the real estate market. You know up front what a real estate closing costs as a buyer or seller. It is done in criminal practice and for simple wills, too. Some may argue the idea is not suitable for practice areas like family law. Well, maybe it is more suitable than we would like to admit. If a lawyer knew they were only going to get a certain dollar amount for resolution, they would be less inclined to participate in nonessential litigation.

Larger firms may have more of their attorneys arguing in front of the Supreme Court. But solos, well they have it over large firms in work/life balance, client relationships, office innovation, technology and now billing. It may be uncomfortable for larger firms to see the billable-hour model sullied and disregarded as unworthy by solos. But it will be these innovative lawyers who will pave the way for better client relationships and improve the image of the profession by removing the number one relationship and image-buster: the billable hour. •

Susan Cartier-Liebel, a solo practitioner, is an adjunct professor at Quinnipiac University School of Law and a business consultant for solo and small firms. Her blog, Build A Solo Practice, is at susancartierliebel.typepad.com. She can be reached at SCartier_Liebel@comcast.net. Copyright © Susan Cartier-Liebel (2007) All Rights Reserved. No portion of this material may be copied, transmitted, posted, duplicated or otherwise used without the express written approval of Susan Cartier-Liebel.

May 01, 2007

The Secrets of Successful Solos

Connecticut Law Tribune/National Law Journal - April 30, 2007

Every semester, to drive home the point that law school students can hang a shingle successfully upon graduation, I invite a panel of recent Quinnipiac University School of Law grads to speak to my Law Office Management class. They bring a fresh reality of the very real possibilities that await newly minted solos in today's legal and economic climate.

One graduate, who I did not have the pleasure of knowing in law school, asked me if he could participate. His story is uplifting.

Having graduated in 2003, he knew he did not want to work for anyone but himself. However, for the first seven months, he opted to work as a temporary assistant clerk in the Norwalk courthouse to get the lay of the land, learn the ropes, meet the players and get face time with those he deemed important to his advancement.

After the seven months, just as he was going to get his health benefits, and even though he was offered a job with an attorney of some prominence, he chose to barter his services for space, getting a tiny round table in that same attorney's office near the courthouse. When it came time to meet clients at "his office," he went into the other attorney's well-appointed office, hung up his diploma and "Voila."

His work ethic was so strong, not only did he get free rent but he was earning money from the other attorney as well. But what struck me most about this young attorney, who has only been practicing on his own for 14 months, is how he instinctively understood that he is the product. His clients are buying him, not his surroundings.

His family name is well known in Fairfield County and he capitalized on the association. He practices criminal law so he took his established name, his very nice giveaway pens, his catchy slogan and made sure every person he ever met had this pen, including judges, clerks and janitors in the courthouse, the tellers at his bank, even the McDonald's drive-through attendant.

Most importantly, he understands his clients' need to feel valued. Without fail, the single most important statement he made and drove home to the class was "my clients will have a return telephone call within four hours. Even if I have 100 cases which will result in the same disposition, each client's situation, embarrassment, pain, sadness is unique and I respect that. They will get my time."

Two or three times a week he is at the jails seeing his clients even if only for a few moments, giving them face-time. Does he have 20 years of experience and pricey real estate? No. His clients don't care about that. He is giving them what they need, his individualized attention.

One student asked the panel, "Do you establish yourself where the business is or establish the business where you want to live." Each and every panel member said, "Establish the business where you want to live." And this young attorney did just that for all the right reasons.

Did he spend a lot of capital on marketing? Other than a million-dollar suit, a web site, his laptop, cell phone, business cards and hundreds of pens, I think not. He does, however, run a small business card-sized ad each day in the local paper. For those of you wondering how successful is he? Well, in his words, "I may not be able to buy that mansion in Greenwich, but I'm closing in on that small cottage."

On a closing note, each attorney was asked to define success. One said: "I have to admit it, I'm in it for the money. It was always my driving force." Second attorney: "The money comes, but I love the feeling I get knowing I got a great disposition for my client." Third attorney: "Never in my life have I enjoyed getting up in the morning and going to work ... until now." And in unison, they proclaimed, "We will never work for someone else, ever again." •

Susan Cartier-Liebel is solo practitioner, adjunct professor at Quinnipiac University School of Law and a business consultant for solo and small firms. Her blog, Build A Solo Practice, is at susancartierliebel.typepad.com. She can be reached at SCartier_Liebel@comcast.net. Copyright © Susan Cartier-Liebel (2007) All Rights Reserved. No portion of this material may be copied, transmitted, posted, duplicated or otherwise used without the express written approval of Susan Cartier-Liebel.

March 20, 2007

Many Gen Y Lawyers Shunning Big Law

I posted on a similar topic not too long ago, but here is the expanded version of my original post as it appeared in the Connecticut Law Tribune.

Many Gen Y Lawyers Shunning Big Law

Connecticut Law Tribune - February 26, 2007

Tectonic plates are shifting and there looks to be an earthquake of seismic proportions coming to shake up "Second Wave" law firms.

A very insightful Dec. 8, 2006, article in USA Today discusses Generation Y — the Echo Boomers — and how they are making a statement to the corporate world which cannot be ignored. Those corporate entities include law firms, particularly the mega-behemoths that are forever growing in size.

Gen Y lawyers, the article proclaimed, have "got the smarts and the confidence to get a job, but increasing numbers of the millennial generation — those in their mid-20s and younger — are deciding corporate America just doesn't fit their needs. So, armed with a hefty dose of optimism, moxie and self-esteem, they are becoming entrepreneurs, or if they've earned their legal degree, solo and small firm practitioners. Young lawyers," it continued, "are realizing they don't have to go to work in suits and ties. They can have a job they like. They can create a job for themselves."

I have been reading startling commentary (not statistically quantified) that more than half of all lawyers in Big Law would just love to pack up and leave. And I've talked to partners of large law firms who have told me "the minute things don't feel right, I've got my exit strategy with other partners and we are ready to set up shop."

Unfortunately, Big Law is slow to adjust to the work-life balance concerns of Generation Y. As the USA Today article noted, "It is a fun-loving generation. They view work as part of life, but they don't live to work the way we were socialized as boomers. There is a real mismatch between what the young generation wants and what employers are offering."

Continue reading "Many Gen Y Lawyers Shunning Big Law" »

March 17, 2007

"Tip of The Week" - Stop Telling Me What 'I Can't' Do

Connecticut Law Tribune - March 19, 2007

When I was growing up my mother forbade my brothers and I to say, "I can't." Without fail, she would repeat her mantra, "Say, 'you don't want to' or 'you don't know how' or 'you don't have time.' But never let me hear you say 'you can't."

Therefore, I would like to officially strike the two words "I can't" from our lexicon. It has to be the most debilitating phrase in the English language. It serves no other purpose than to express fear at trying something new, encourages us to never challenge the norm, or, in the alternative, is a phrase we use to avoid doing what is requested of us.

When I was in the fourth grade, our class was going to put on the musical "The H.M.S. Pinafore, by Gilbert & Sullivan." I wanted nothing more than to be the Monarch of the Sea, one of the lead male singing roles. When I told the teacher I wanted to audition for the part, she explained it was a male role and "you can't." I didn't understand why? It made no sense to me.

I was getting my first lesson in blind, thoughtless, habitual sexism. I got off the school bus so upset I was inconsolable. Finally, my mother asked why I was so upset. I told her the story. She explained to me as only a mother can that the teacher was just buying into the norm. She was going along with "the rules" because it was easy. She lacked creativity and a mind of her own and wasn't looking for the best person to fill the role, just looking for the correct gender to fill the role. Therefore, if I really wanted the part, it was my job to let her know in no uncertain terms that I had the right to try out for the role.

My mother asked me about the tryout process. I told her that none of the boys really wanted the role. They were told they didn't have to memorize the words and they could even sing facing the wall, their backs to the audience, if they were scared. My mother said, "Go back to school, demand an audition, then memorize the lyrics and sing straight into the audience." I did. I got the part. It was one of those life-defining moments.

As a new lawyer, when I started my own practice right out of law school, my two partners (also newly minted) and I had a running joke. If I suggested something legally innovative, they would say, "You can't do that." I would say, "Show me where it says I can't?" And they would laugh, "The law according to Susan." From fourth grade on, the motivating principal in my life has been: Until someone shows me legitimately why I can't, I'm going to assume I can.

As new lawyers, we are told over and over again that "we can't" open our own practice right out of law school. Like my fourth grade teacher, these naysayers in the form of professors, career counselors, other lawyers, judges and family members are just projecting their fears upon you, maybe the very same fears that stopped them from venturing out on their own and pursuing their dreams. Find out why they are so fearful of you, so you can address the obstacles to the success they perceive to be insurmountable, one hurdle at a time.

You can open your own legal practice. Some perceived hurdles might present challenges you're not willing to take on. That, however, is very different than saying, "I can't." If you're just not willing to make those hard choices, that's perfectly alright. But you absolutely can open your own law practice if you want to.

I've stricken the phrase, "I can't" from my vocabulary and banished it from my household. If my husband says those words, I give him the raised eyebrow. If my three-year old says those words, I immediately say, "Don't tell me you can't. Tell me you don't want to or you're scared because you don't know how. If you're scared because you don't know how, I'll teach you how." •

Susan Cartier-Liebel is solo practitioner, adjunct professor at Quinnipiac University School of Law and a business consultant for solo and small firms. Her blog, Build A Solo Practice, is at susancartierliebel.typepad.com. She can be reached at SCartier_Liebel@comcast.net. Copyright © Susan Cartier-Liebel (2007) All Rights Reserved. No portion of this material may be copied, transmitted, posted, duplicated or otherwise used without the express written approval of Susan Cartier-Liebel

March 13, 2007

MySpace or Yours, It's a New World Out There

Connecticut Law Tribune - March 5, 2007;  National Law Journal on Line - March 7, 2007

Recently, a former student of mine who hung his shingle right out of law school asked me a loaded question: "What do you think about my putting a page on MySpace.com?"

I immediately started thinking about all the negative news out there: false representations, predators lurking for impressionable minors, parents looking to protect their children and so on. My knee-jerk reaction was, "Be careful about the image you are trying to present."

The question, of course, triggered a full investigation so I could form a much more considered opinion. Here goes.

There is a lot of conversation about www.MySpace.com and its use as a marketing tool for lawyers to attract new clients. Based upon an informal poll, a majority of practitioners have reservations about it. Most only knew what they've heard in the news, or nothing at all, about MySpace. Then again, many of them had never seen a blog, and are just getting around to constructing their own web sites. These same people also are still paying through the nose for Yellow Page ads.

For those who are negative, this strikes me as provincial, but typical. They are the same people who would still be sitting in the belly of the overturned S.S. Poseidon because the captain told them to stay put, even while younger, more open minds with nimbler bodies understood the ship had turned upside down and that they would drown if they conformed to the status quo.

The principles of marketing — communication of a message to your target audience — are as old as the birth of man. The method of delivery is what keeps changing. And if one doesn't change with the times, they are either deliberately choosing to wind down their business or will be among those people who close up shop claiming there are just too many lawyers. But deep down, they know they just didn't want to do what was needed to be done.

MySpace has been around for 10 years. It has more than 43,000 uploads a day. According to Alexa.com, MySpace ranks sixth, behind Yahoo, MSN, Google, Baidu and YouTube, in terms of global users. Within the U.S., it ranks third behind Yahoo then Google. MySpace is accessed nearly 40 million times a day! And it's FREE!

These previously named search engines and venues are a very different means of advertising/marketing. In a traditional advertisement, like television, viewers are looking to watch a show, and advertisements interfere with that goal, which is why we have gadgets like TiVo. It is why marketers started negotiating deals with the networks to have their products used by the television stars within the program itself so it couldn't be fast forwarded. These product placements started on TV with shows like "Survivor," when a reward for a victorious player was a bag of Doritos and a can of Mountain Dew. (Of course, product use within the movies started as early as the black and white movies when cigarette manufacturers paid stars to smoke on screen.)

With MySpace.com, the purpose of going on the site is to seek out information, establish networks, make friends, find lovers, whatever. In order to find any information, you have to participate by setting up a MySpace site. That is, "in order to see theirs, you have to be willing to show them yours." You are not viewed as an interference by the people you're targeting, you are the reason why they are going to the site. This is very different than traditional advertising/marketing. And that means it is constantly evolving as the audience evolves, grows and changes its demands.

To be most effective, MySpace is where you want to actively participate as one of the crowd, not place ads. There may be some who disagree with me on that point. But if you follow my logic, it makes much more sense. Again, be part of the purpose, not a distracting annoyance from that purpose.

Remember, with these new venues, the only thing that really works is authenticity. How you present yourself — whether in a blog, or on a web site, MySpace or YouTube — needs to genuinely and honestly reflect you and your goals as a practitioner. Audiences today are very smart and very savvy. Anything less than authenticity in any form, once caught and outed, will stay with you forever on the internet. •

Susan Cartier-Liebel is solo practitioner, adjunct professor at Quinnipiac University School of Law and a business consultant for solo and small firms. Her blog, Build A Solo Practice, is at susancartierliebel.typepad.com. She can be reached at SCartier_Liebel@comcast.net. Copyright © Susan Cartier-Liebel (2007) All Rights Reserved. No portion of this material may be copied, transmitted, posted, duplicated or otherwise used without the express written approval of Susan Cartier-Liebel.

February 27, 2007

Mandatory Malpractice Insurance Only Hurts Law-Abiding Lawyers

Connecticut Law Tribune - February 12, 2007

Mandatory malpractice insurance? In the Feb. 5 edition of this paper, the "Advice of Counsel" column discussed ways to discourage attorney malfeasance (theft of client funds). One suggestion made to discourage criminal behavior, thereby protecting clients' funds, is to make malpractice insurance mandatory, or at least give lawyers strong incentives to have such coverage.

The author believed more lawyers would be inspired to take continuing legal education courses so they could keep their skyrocketing malpractice insurance rates at bay or reduce them by a negligible amount.

Once again, the medical profession is held out as an example of this logic. But the column clearly stated that there is no correlation between malpractice insurance and continuing education for doctors and a reduction in actual medical malpractice.

Huh? What I can tell you is this: forcing lawyers to purchase malpractice insurance for this purpose would itself be a crime. It's called extortion

And the ones who will be harmed the most are solo and small firm practitioners who already struggle under the weight of malpractice insurance premiums.

Lawyer malfeasance usually doesn't stem from ignorance of how to handle a client's funds. It's criminal behavior. Mandatory malpractice insurance and continuing legal education will not curb criminal behavior. If you have a criminal mind, you have a criminal mind. And it is a criminal act when a fiduciary knowingly takes money that does not belong to him. And...most major malpractice carriers do not cover acts of malfeasance!

Forcing lawyers into "voluntary" continuing legal education presumably to get lower rates on grossly overpriced malpractice insurance is, honestly, a ridiculous concept. The logic simply doesn't flow anymore than the belief that gun laws stop criminals from having guns.

Criminal behavior will not be curbed by imposing rules and additional expenses on non-criminal attorneys. It would be just more hard-earned dollars flowing to the insurance industry and those who run the CLE programs.

Insurance is meant to protect the insured's assets from exposure in the event of a loss. One should be able to choose not to purchase insurance, especially if they have no assets to protect. That is the right and privilege of each attorney and business owner based upon their own risk-tolerance.

Malpractice insurance is not primarily for the benefit of the client who uses the lawyer's services any more than homeowner's coverage is for the individual who gets hurt while visiting the homeowner's property. It is for the insured's benefit, to protect their assets from exposure in the event of something unforeseen. If an attorney is willing to put her assets on the line instead of purchasing insurance that should remain her right.

Each year, every lawyer in Connecticut pays $110 into the state Client Security Fund to compensate the victims of attorneys' criminal acts. The profession recognizes the need to protect those who may be harmed by the few bad apples.

Forcing an attorney to have malpractice insurance to protect those who would use his services, or forcing him to disclose that he doesn't have such coverage, will predominantly adversely impact new solo and small-firm lawyers, punishing them for a being new and financially tight. Instead of branding new uninsured attorneys with a Scarlet Letter, why not simply educate the consumer on the benefits of having a lawyer who is insured. If they are litigious, they'll seek out the insured attorneys, I promise.

As a profession, we already have certain protections in place to help the victims of malfeasance. Let the state Client Security Fund reimburse qualified victims. Let the Statewide Grievance Committee disbar irresponsible or criminal lawyers. Then let the criminal courts take it from there. •

Susan Cartier-Liebel is solo practitioner, adjunct professor at Quinnipiac University School of Law and a business consultant for solo and small firms. Her blog, Build A Solo Practice, is at susancartierliebel.typepad.com. She can be reached at SCartier_Liebel@comcast.net. Copyright © Susan Cartier-Liebel (2007) All Rights Reserved. No portion of this material may be copied, transmitted, posted, duplicated or otherwise used without the express written approval of Susan Cartier-Liebel.

January 30, 2007

Blogging Advice For The Blog-Challenged

Connecticut Law Tribune - January 1, 2007

(Since the writing of this article back in early November, there is much more I would add because of all I have subsequently learned.  However, this is the way it was published on January 1st of this year and I will continue to update with future posts.  More importantly, I have come to realize that the majority of attorneys still do not know what a blog is nevermind to use one effectively in their practice.  These same lawyers are still contemplating the wisdom of a website as they write large checks out to their yellow page providers.  We take for granted, because we have blogs and read blogs that all lawyers must.  Trust me, it just isn't true.)

Blogging is all the rage these days, and for good reason. It's a very inexpensive, if not an out-and-out free, means of communicating to countless potential clients or referrers of clients. However, most lawyers, especially solos with limited time, may browse blogs and glean information, but few really feel comfortable blogging themselves.

This is because they don't quite know how to design a blog or can't imagine how to use it .......

Continue reading "Blogging Advice For The Blog-Challenged" »

January 17, 2007

Don't Be A Prisoner To Certification

Connecticut Law Tribune - January 15, 2007

On Thursday, Jan. 18, the New Haven County Bar Association is holding a "Lunch 'n Learn" open meeting, at 12:30 p.m. at the Graduate Club, to discuss the Connecticut Bar Association's proposed residential real estate certification program.

Unfortunately, I won't be able to attend, not that I was invited. In June of 2006, I wrote a column blasting the CBA Real Property Section for attempting to create a specialization certification status for the state's real estate bar. It set off a firestorm of responses, with most of them applauding my speaking out against this push. Those comments came primarily from solos who felt their business and professional growth options would be severely limited by such a program, even if it's not mandatory.

At least some associates at large firms also felt, if they were forced by their employers to become certified, it would hamper any career changes they might make because they would be labeled as real estate specialists.

However, I would like to clarify my past statements on real estate certification. Any judicially sanctioned program or peer-sponsored review board that seeks to limit — and it does, in fact, limit — an attorney's right to use his or her professional license is not acceptable to me and should not be acceptable to other members of the bar, either.

Some may truly believe that certification in a particular area of law will help them gain business by elevating their "authority" status beyond other non-specializing attorneys. They will take all the expensive courses and exams, pay their dues, overweight their practice in that area of specialty and then be acknowledged for doing so by their peers, all in the name of giving themselves a competitive edge that is being thinly disguised as "protecting the public." They need to learn, however, that a house with every imaginable alarm system to keep intruders out also makes its inhabitants a prisoner in their own home.

Follow the money. Who profits from this "specialization certification?" Who will attorneys be making their checks out to in order to continue handling residential real estate closings, something they have already been doing without restriction?

How lawyers practice, how they grow their practices should be totally up to them without any limitations other than the basic rules of professional conduct. They've passed the bar. They're already entitled to practice in any area of law they choose to practice in. If they need or want to shift gears and focus on new areas, they should be able to do so without suffering professionally or financially.

Specialization certification, especially in something as basic as residential real estate, primarily benefits those who are already at, or on their way to, the top of their game and will profit from these programs. It has nothing to do with protecting the public. If it did, anyone should be able to sit for the certification exam. If they pass, then the public is protected by a presentation of an additional skill set.

Instead, certification has everything to do with closing the palace doors on the great unwashed masses of lawyers looking to raid what remains in the royal coffers.

In the news on Jan 2 was the following: "Economists at Goldman Sachs estimate that housing-related industries — construction, furniture manufacturing and sales, real estate agents, mortgage brokers — will see more than 1 million jobs evaporate over the next two years because of the housing slowdown after five boom years for sales."

Is it really difficult to envision lawyers who perform residential real estate closings and face a threat of losing their livelihoods as a result of this downward trend leading the parade on "specialization certification?" This push has nothing to do with consumer protection. It has everything to do with self-preservation.

Anyone who has ever shopped for a lawyer knows that consumers can get information about who is competent with a little research. The real acknowledgment that an attorney is a respected authority in his or her field is in the court of public opinion. And that honor is bestowed upon lawyers with increased business through word-of-mouth by satisfied clients and through referrals from their professional colleagues.

Susan Cartier-Liebel is solo practitioner, adjunct professor at Quinnipiac University School of Law and a business consultant for solo and small firms. Her blog, Build A Solo Practice, is at susancartierliebel.typepad.com. She can be reached at SCartier_Liebel@comcast.net. Copyright © Susan Cartier-Liebel (2007) All Rights Reserved. No portion of this material may be copied, transmitted, posted, duplicated or otherwise used without the express written approval of Susan Cartier-Liebel.