October 29, 2008

Did I Really Hear This Radio Ad By A Law School?

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/health/graphics/2007/06/13/hgillian300.jpgJust today I heard an ad on CBS news radio for Touro Law Center.  I wanted to jump for joy but nearly drove into a tree instead because I was so giddy.  The radio spot (and I'm paraphrasing) said:

All law students get an education.  Our law students are prepared to practice law.  Our students get training in their first year, meet judges, do pro bono work and basically can hit the ground running as competent trained associates and practitioners of law.

Can you imagine my stunned but euphoric state when I heard this law school on the radio promoting their students to potential employers (as it was to employers) not through grades but their practical training?  (And for those USNWR snobs, I don't know or care where this school is ranked.) Whatever the motivation, the school listened to what employers wanted and what their students wanted. For employers, experience and training in school so the students would come out with practical knowledge the employers were requesting. For the students, this in turn helps them find jobs!  (Which also, by the way, prepares them upon graduation for solo practice.)

I was truly impressed.  Maybe, just maybe, not every law school aspires to be the next Yale.  Maybe, just maybe, more positions will open at these law schools for adjuncts who actually practice law.  Maybe, just maybe more law schools will opt out of competing for artificial ranking in U.S. News and World Report.  And maybe, just maybe, as we preach to new lawyers to fashion practices centered around the client those same law schools will fashion educational programs around the needs of their clients, the students.  And maybe, just maybe, the ABA will loosen up or revamp their accreditation process to mandate more skills training so the education makes more sense in the real world.

Or maybe, just maybe, I'm tired and delusional and I didn't really hear the radio ad. (No..I heard it. I really did :-)

(And in case you didn't see, check out our first faculty announcement at Solo Practice University.)

If you enjoyed this post, why not subscribe to my RSS! If you would like to be part of a new educational and professional networking community for lawyers and law students why not subscribe to the RSS for Solo Practice University.

October 26, 2008

Still Fantasizing About That Big Law Job? Snap Out Of It!

   

http://blogs.warwick.ac.uk/images/ccarter/2005/06/03/crowd.jpg

According to the ABA, 2009 will see nearly 44,000 fresh-faced law school grads carrying an average debt load of about $73,000 in loan debt.  "...... only a small fraction will land the big firm job, leaving the rest to wonder whether they’ll find “any kind of attorney work” post-graduation.

(H/T to Scott Greenfield of Simple Justice)

NEW The Layoff List

Mayer Brown Lays off 33

White & Case Layoff 70 Associates

New Law Grads Should Have a Back Up Plan

Is An LLM a Good Back Up Plan? (NOT!)

Hiring Freezes

Thelen Collapses

The Hiring Bubble

Clifford Chance Laying Off Associates

Sonnenschein Swinging The Ax

Summer Associates Positions Could Decline by Up to 35%

Big Wave of Layoffs Hits Heller   And They are Pissed?

(And in case you didn't see, check out our recent faculty announcements at Solo Practice University.

If you enjoyed this post, why not subscribe to my RSS! If you would like to be part of a new educational and professional networking community for lawyers and law students why not subscribe to the RSS for Solo Practice University.

October 10, 2008

When Times Get Tough the Tough Solos Start Building Their Practice

http://www.blogcadre.com/files/images/superheroes.jpgThere is an interesting phenomenon afoot.  The tougher the times, the more people get up off the couch, break through their "I'm afraid" paralysis and finally start taking charge of their lives in a way they may not have in the past.  Is this the result of that dormant 'survival' instinct awakening as the realization hits there is no 'employer' who is going to rescue them with clients, a comfortable paycheck and a 401K or simply the intuitive knowing that no one else is responsible for feeding their families, paying their bills or protecting their homes BUT them.  I don't know the answer. Maybe it's a combination of the above.

However, one realizes very quickly; the time for complaining and commiserating over one's personal employment fate is over.  There has never been a more critical time for serious introspection, resolution and commitment to making something happen. At a time when most feel an overwhelming loss of control their is a tremendous desire to gain control over the future. This might also explain the uptick in those contacting me to help them get started by shortening the learning curve to a profitable solo practice.

While I've always enjoyed a steady flow of business and am grateful to those who have partnered with me in order to get to where they want to go, does it really take a global crisis to awaken these entrepreneurs?  Get them to be proactive in their own futures? For some, yes.

Frustrated legal entrepreneurs who've had private debates about their futures are now coming forward and declaring, "I'm ready. I'd rather sink or swim based upon my own efforts.  I'm not going down without a fight. And I don't see any life rafts or buoys out there."  It's also a time when real heroes are born, the Clark Kents shed their glasses and suits and don their capes and the Wonder Women tease out their big hair and slip on their spandex.  Everyone loves to be a superhero, a chance to present their alter ego.

Whatever the motivation one must always be able to take care of themselves regardless the economic times.  Survival of those best able to adapt and all that, right?

What is your survival gene telling you to do?  What color is your spandex?


September 16, 2008

Bank Failures and the Solo Practitioner

Given the recent news this week concerning major financial institutions and the potential rippling effect on other financial institutions, I thought I would repost: If A Bank Fails, What Is a Solo Practitioner's Responsibilities? - Guest Blogger, Ed Poll 

It is important you reacquaint yourself  with your fiduciary responsibilities in this seeming time of crisis and understand the what impact a bank's failure could have on your client's funds, if any.

April 09, 2008

Solos Should Not Be Mandated to Have Malpractice Insurance..nor Disclose They Don't

Ed Poll of LawBizManagement and I share concerns about mandatory malpractice insurance as well as mandatory disclosure if you do not have malpractice insurance as it will disproportionately hurt the solo practitioner as well as the public the mandate purports to protect.  You can read his passionate post here as it relates to the ongoing debate in California.

Lawyers will be hurt; that is, those estimated 30,000 lawyers (without reference to those in professional corporations) who currently do not have malpractice insurance will be hurt. And if they are hurt, their clients, typically the people who cannot afford the large law firms, will be hurt.  Here’s the rub: How does this provide greater access to the legal help the public needs?

In addition, Ed takes on the assertions made by the head of the California Bar Association, Bleich, that their mission is solely to address the needs of the public.  When Bleich says,

“The work of the State Bar ultimately is to protect the public and to ensure that the people of California have access to the legal help they need. Although the bar (sic) provides benefits and other services to lawyers, it does this not as an end in itself, but instead to help lawyers better serve the public ...”

Ed responds:

It appears quite clear from his comments that he believes the Bar has only one goal, to serve the public. What happened to the Board’s pronouncements two years ago when then President Jim Heiting said the Bar has two, co-equal goals, one to protect the public and the other to protect its members, lawyers, who need help in many different areas in order to be more effective and efficient in delivering legal services to the public? Has this been reversed? Seems to be ... especially if we believe that helping lawyers is only a means to an end, not a co-equal end!

This is a raging debate and may be rearing its ugly head in your state.  Pay attention.

You can read my take on mandatory malpractice insurance here.

March 30, 2008

"Tip of the Week" - Foreclosure Fairs

This is a quick tip for those who practice bankruptcy or are investigating foreclosures.  Consider participating in the new foreclosure fairs...fairs designed to help people prevent foreclosure and populated with lenders, realtors, accountants, counselors and lawyers.  What a great way to meet potential clients for not just foreclosure, but bankruptcy and real estate.

More and more family friendly foreclosure fairs, where mortgage lenders and counselors offer advice to desperate homeowners, are taking place in Miami, Philadelphia, Boston, Columbus, Ohio, and other hard-hit cities and towns across the country. This month began a series of "Homeownership Preservation Forums" sponsored by HOPE NOW, a collaboration of non-profit, corporate and government partners, including the Housing and Urban Development.

The fairs help homeowners who may be too paralyzed with fear to pick up a phone and call their lender as they fall behind in their mortgage payments and risk foreclosure. "Studies show that homeowners respond more quickly to community and non-profit groups than to lenders and banks," HUD Secretary Alphonso Jackson said in a recent speech in San Francisco.

Organizers of the Merced fair had worried that attendance would suffer from too little notice; instead, they were overwhelmed by the response. That same day, another 200 mobbed a fair in Los Banos, an old farming city of 35,000 residents, also in Merced County. Five percent of Los Banos' 10,000 houses have already foreclosed and another five percent are expected to foreclose in the coming months, Cardoza said.

I think lawyers with particular expertise to assist those with foreclosure, avoidance of foreclosure and/or bankruptcy might very well offer tremendous assistance while gaining clients and networking among those who can refer you business.

Check out the article here.

March 21, 2008

In a Weakening Economy Will Clients Trade Big Law for Innovative Small Firms?

I related to this article, "In a Weakening Economy, Americans Swap Steak for Chicken" because less discretionary income affects all purchases, including legal services.   It's called, "Trading Down."

Stung by the housing slump, tightening credit terms, and rising inflation, U.S. households are finding ways to cut back, putting a damper on the consumer spending that is the driving force behind the economy.

Retail sector analysts call it "trading down" when consumers seek out cheaper alternatives, and it is increasingly evident across chain stores and restaurants. Even gasoline consumption has slowed in recent weeks.

"With the burdens of the housing downturn broadening under the weight of tightening financial conditions, coupled with surging energy costs, 'trading down' and 'trading in' behavior should spread, especially as the labor market weakens,"

But unlike cattle farmers, who will have a hard time trying to become chicken farmers to save their business, solos should not trap themselves with one practice area, pricing structure or crushing overhead.

If you are married to one niche or pricing structure or have so much overhead you cannot afford to learn other practice areas or innovate with pricing models or packaging of your services then you are making a critical mistake.  (There are exceptions such as you are a 'lawyer's lawyer' meaning other lawyer's are your clients and they require your special area of expertise or you are already established as the go to person for a particular niche or you are in a life and death practice area where clients will sell their homes for your services.)

Others can and have argued with me on this point.  They say law is so complex you cannot be good at multiple areas.  I don't share their opinion.  I think you can be highly competent in two to three areas of the law even if ultimately want to only practice in one area of law.  But going into business for yourself and sustaining yourself requires you to be adaptable and talented and ready to do what you have to in order to sustain your practice.

Use Big Law as an example.  When a Big Law firm realizes the economy is changing they simple divest themselves of the associates working in the practice they've determined is no longer profitable.  They don't go out of business. Similarly, as a solo you need to divest yourself of unprofitable practice areas, not go out of business.  This means you need to be competent in more than one area or willing to learn quickly in order to not practice an area of law where clients are few or incapable of paying you.

Or, in the alternative, if you want to stay in your particular practice area you need to be prepared to change how you deliver services to work with clients who are now buying chicken instead of steak. (Yes, everybody and their brother talks about premium pricing, selling your value, etc.  It's valid.  As Big Law divests non-profitable practice areas there are still those steak buyers who now have nowhere to go. But if every lawyer is only going for the steak crowd, it becomes a buyer's market. Remember, there are alot of chicken and fish eaters out there as well as vegans who would make excellent clients.)

A new solo, (and many experienced solos) need to adapt to the economy, not expect the economy to adapt to them.  It's also not your gross sales which matter.  It's how much of each dollar you take home.  So, imagine finding a way to meet your client's needs through innovative delivery of your services by cutting overhead, providing pricing structures which work for the client and actually netting more of each dollar.  This is a business model you should be striving for...bad economy or good.

January 25, 2008

Class Action Claiming Bias in Loan Rates Filed Against Sallie Mae

Are you eligible to be part of this Class Action filed against Sallie Mae claiming students face race bias in loan rates?

Attorneys for the plaintiffs, who are seeking class action status, say they believe the suit could end up affecting "many thousands of students, if not more."

Rodriguez is a Hispanic woman who lived in Branford before moving to New Hampshire to attend McIntosh College. Gregoire is an African-American student from Tampa, Fla., who attends that city's International Academy of Design and Technology.

According to the complaint, Rodriguez was "coerced" into taking $19,500 in private student loans from Sallie Mae between 2003 and 2005.

Because of the 18.125 percent interest rate on her loan, her debt has increased to more than $33,000. Her monthly bill exceeds $500. The suit claims Rodriguez's rates are double what she was led to believe they would be.

Rodriguez, who could not be reached for comment, currently makes $10.40 an hour working at a Rite Aid pharmacy. She said in court documents that she cannot afford the loan payments and claims Sallie Mae calls as many as 17 times per day and also sends e-mails.

'Level Playing Field'

The suit alleges that Gregoire was told she would receive an interest rate of 7 percent when she agreed to a loan but was later informed of "a six percent supplemental fee at disbursement and an index of 5.5 percent over prime, which now equates to a 13.25 percent interest rate." She is now around $20,000 in debt.

"This suit seeks to level the playing field for minority students seeking higher education,"said Christa Collins, the managing partner at James, Hoyer, Newcomer & Smiljanich, a consumer action law firm based in Tampa. Collins is leading the team of attorneys handling the class action suit.

"Racially discriminatory lending practices like those alleged in the complaint create roadblocks to higher education for minorities and then put them at an economic disadvantage that can haunt them and severely damage their credit for years to come," added Collins. "Every student deserves a level playing field to pursue the dream of higher education, and this suit is aimed to achieve that goal."

Given the recent scandals with the Student Loans this is just repugnant to me.  If you think you may be eligible contact the attorneys mentioned in the first hyper-link.

January 05, 2008

A Law School Career Counseling Office Making Housecalls?

This initiative really impressed me.  Imagine if your law school career counseling officer came to visit you after graduation to see how you were doing and to see how they may be of further assistance in your efforts to find employment?  Wouldn't that be impressive?

Well, in Iowa that is just what they are doing.  Hat tip to Ed Wiest for alerting me to this article.

University of Iowa College of Law alumni who can't quite figure out what to do next with their careers should sit tight because UI officials will come to them.

The law school has a fairly new program where an official from the college travels across Iowa and around the country to meet face-to-face with graduates to help them re-assess their careers.

"This is part of a bigger picture of what we are trying to develop, thinking about the admission process all the way through alumni life about how students think about and act on career choices," said Steve Langerud, the college's associate dean for career services who helped launch the program and now leads it.

Since the program began last spring, Langerud has met with about 100 alumni in Iowa and cities such as Phoenix, Denver, Washington, D.C., and Salt Lake City. Langerud expects to counsel 200 to 250 alumni a year when the program is fully implemented.

I wonder how many T1 schools are doing this type of initiative?  If you are a reader from UI would love to know your experiences.  And if you have a story to tell about your career counseling office please share.  You can do so anonyomously, too.  But this is a huge issue for law schools and students and shouldn't be kept quiet.

January 02, 2008

The Connecticut Legal Advertising Police are Out of Control!!!

(UPDATE:  1/3/07 - I'm a little surprised by the 'apathy' surrounding the news of the CT Statewide Grievance Committee's merciless approach to advertising.  One commenter labeled the examples in this post as 'innocuous.'  How can you describe the inability to use an adjective (any adjective) in your advertising as innocuous?  To be told if you describe yourself as dedicated and professional it will mislead the public and must come out? It seems to me we are being outfitted for uniforms, our heads shaved and will be issued our dog tags to instructed to state nothing more than rank and serial number to potential clients.  Another anonymous e-mailer suggested SCOTUS failed the profession when they allowed advertising in the profession at all.   Does no one see the danger in this kind of unrestrained censorship by the Grievance Committee in the name of protecting the public?  Does noone, in CT at least, see their professional rights and freedoms being abridged except Attorney Aspell who commented?)

Now my marshmallows are really getting toasted!

In this week's edition of the Connecticut Law Tribune, Attorney David Atkins is interviewed by the Trib about the 'eyebrow' raising opinions being dispensed by the Statewide Grievance Committee, which is making the brew haha in New York over their new advertising rules look like a lovefest. 

The Committee is getting very extreme in three areas such as:

the concern about improperly suggesting a specialized field of practice; accolades, such as Super Lawyers; and touting past results and comparisons with other lawyers.

When it comes to stating you have received an award such as SuperLawyers (which is nonsense, anyway):

the committee has not concluded that a CT lawyer is prohibited from truthfully indicating that he or she has been designated by a lawyer rating system.  What they have required is that in connection with any rating system...the ad directs the reader to the statistical data of the collection process.  (Secret algorithms won't cut the mustard..take note, AVVO.)  The committee has not weighed in on other rating systems such as Best Lawyers in America or even Martindale-Hubbell.

In the area of improperly suggesting a specialized field of practice:

The committee has taken an extremely strict view of Rule 7.4 of the Connecticut Rules of Professional Conduct.  It says, "A lawyers shall not state or imply that lawyer is a specialist, unless he or she is certified" pursuant to a complex certification program....the committee has seized the wording that a lawyer shall not state or imply that the lawyer is a specialist, and that it is  presumptively misleading to use words such as "emphasize," "concentrate" or "focus on."

When questioned by the reporter that it makes sense to use such words so you don't take a dog bite case to a tax attorney, Atkins responded:

That's why this is a pretty dramatic position to take...I understand there are a lot of law firm web sites being changed, either at the behest of the committee or as a result of the firms reading their advisory opinions.

(Trib): It seems like there should be an ethical way for a lawyers to convey what kind of law he or she practices.

Atkins: If your practice is matrimonial and you say you practice in the area of matrimonial law and divorce, the committee will presumably bless that...But a recent ad that was reviewed before broadcast claimed the firm was exclusively involved in immigration law.  The committee rejected it because it felt it violated the specialization restrictions.  (What????)

(Trib): So this has become a real tightrope.

Atkins: Yes....In the third category, the committee has taken a somewhat strict view about comparisons with other lawyers.  In one opinion, they rejected the phrase, "excellence, integrity and dedication," that a firm had used in a proposed ad.  Which means, when you think about the very purpose of advertising, it's to make your services distinct.  But the committee has taken the prohibition on unsubstantiated comparisons and essentially used that as a basis to reject any adjective about a firm's services.  (Hair on fire!)

(Trib): It sounds like the bar regulators have their work cut out for them.

Atkins:  The question is: is the public misled?  The premise behind many of these conclusions, it seems to me, is a somewhat paternalistic view of the public and its ability to distinguish or understand advertising.  I think the public is more sophisticated than that.

Is anyone else imploding about now? I sat in on the Committee's introduction of the new rules of advertising which went into effect on July 1, 2007.  The committee members were all very charming and nonchalant about it..... while secretly practicing their goose-stepping behind closed doors. I was appalled then and challenged a member of the committee with regards to blogging as advertising and referenced the then pending litigation in New York.  I was told, "you are required to submit quarterly any URL with your firm's name on it. We don't distinguish between static websites or blogs and we are keeping our eye on what is going on in New York."  End of topic.

This is appalling.  New York lawyers pulled out the nuclear artillery when they felt their mouths being sewn shut.  Connecticut just says, "How high?"

Quite frankly, if Connecticut lawyers don't start fighting back, they deserve whatever gag gets shoved in their collective mouths.  If they can't start advocating for their own rights, maybe they should give up their licenses now.