My Shingle

We’ve all been there. After months of sitting on the fence about bringing an assistant or paralegal or associate on board to help dig you out from under, you place an ad or ask around to colleagues for recommendations. You’re encouraged when you identify a job candidate who looks great on paper or comes highly recommended, and even more excited when he or she turns out to be the real deal in person. Yet, four or five weeks after you make the hire, you have buyers’ remorse. Turns out, your new hire can’t write to save her life or is disorganized or passive. And you wonder if the situation could have been avoided?

A recent New York Times Trial Hire Guide suggests yes – through test period hiring. The article recounts the experience of several startups that have employed this approach – essentially hiring a job candidate on a consulting or contract basis for a few weeks to test them out before they are hired. One company gives potential hires work to do after hours or on weekends, while they’re still at an existing job while paying them a “solid consulting rate.”   [click to continue…]

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The niche practice as the future of law is also yesterday’s news. Meaning that the benefits of niche practice have been well documented forever, nowhere more extensively than at Chuck Newton’s Third Wave Blog, which is jam packed with dozens of niche practice ideas.

But I don’t like re-blogging old territory. So here’s a little twist on the niche. Instead of starting a niche practice with the goal of becoming, in the words of Seth Godin, the best in the world, why not incubate a niche as you might a start-up, with the end goal of selling it out to another firm.

That thought occurred to me after coming across this news story-cum-press release a UK-based general corporate law firm which acquired a specialist dental law practice. According to the article:

The acquisition and the addition of corporate lawyer David McEwan as part of the deal will allow Schofield Sweeney to offer services to dentists, dental agents, accountants and financial advisers.

The marriage of the two firms makes sense.  With the addition of a dental practice, the general firm obtains the both the skills and reputation of a specialist which would have taken years to build up, and may have been impossible to do anyway without working against the firm’s ability to market to a broader array of client. As for the dental practice, it gains resources to serve a broader range of its clients’ needs, as well as those of potential referrals.  [click to continue…]

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Whose Client Is It Anyway?

by Carolyn Elefant on September 9, 2014 · 4 comments

in Marketing & Making Money, Trends

Rob Jordan’s recent Above the Law column, The (Alleged) Uber-fication of Legal Services  comprehensively compares the latest crop of  lawyer match-making services and platforms designed to connect consumers and small business clients to lawyers. One of the characteristics that Jordan examines in distinguishing between services like Upcounsel, Priori, Law Kick or Law Dingo is “data compilation” — i.e., the ability of the platforms to aggregate information about user transactions and sign-up and retention rates. That’s valuable information both for product promotion and also attracting outside capital (not to mention, a potential revenue stream).  Yet only sites like Priori and UpCounsel, which offer a platform for managing attorney-client relations, retain this information. By contrast, sites that simply “introduce” lawyer to clients but allow interaction to take place off-platform don’t have data as to who many clients actually purchase legal services beyond the initial payment for a consult.

Jordan’s observation piqued my interest for another reason as well. After all, if attorney-client interactions all take place on a branded platform, then whose client is it anyway? That was one of the concerns/complaints of a disgruntled ATL commenter who made this point on another post about one lawyer’s experience using UpCounsel:

You didn’t at all mention the BIGGEST drawback of UpCounsel, which is that they prohibit you from EVER working with that “client” again — they mistakenly believe that is that it is “THEIR” client, and if the client ever contacts you outside of their platform attempting to hire you, they will kick you off their servers and terminate/suspend your account. So, for the rest of your relationship with that client, you will be working “within” their platform. They refuse to grasp the concept that this is illegal under Rules of Prof. Conduct and that clients have a CHOICE as to who they hire to represent them.

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WhatnextsoloEvery so often, I’ll go back and review several months of posts at my blog, and a distinct theme emerges. In 2010, it was your client as partner, after noticing the uptick in posts on do-it-yourself client on my blog and others. In 2011, I was obsessed with bespoke on a budget.

More recently, I’ve been concerned about the long-term sustainability of solo and small firm law practice. I know, it seems almost counter-intuitive. After all, I’ve spent nearly a dozen years on this cyber-soapbox harping about how technology empowers solos and smalls to thrive and compete with the big boys. And that’s all still true.

Trouble is, technology is an equal opportunity enabler. So the same technology that allows solos operate as veritable (or virtual) one-man bands or run our law practices from remote islands similarly has given large firms and startups low cost tools to develop platforms and DIY sites to serve clients even more cheaply – and in some instances, just as effectively. Ultimately, many of these sites threaten the long term survival of solos – just as the corporate takeover of medicine is threatening the future of independent doctors.   [click to continue…]

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Online dispute resolution is rapidly gaining traction. Modria, a leading online dispute resolution (ODR) platform, boasts that its service is used to settle more than 60 million cases annually. Yet even though ABA task forces have studied, and appear to endorse ODR, I’ve not found much mention of the potential uses of ODR to resolve disputes between lawyers and clients.

Currently,in most state ethics codes, lawyers may include binding arbitration clauses in representation agreements resolution of legal malpractice disputes. But should lawyers consider including ODR clauses instead – not necessarily as binding requirements but perhaps as prerequisites to litigation. Consumers are already familiar with the ODR process as its used widely in e-commerce, so they would understand the need to adequately documenting their claims. And while granted, the relative ease of ODR could invite groundless fee disputes from clients, that’s probably preferable to posting negative reviews or filing a grievance.

Attorneys could benefit from ODR also, using it to attempt to collect debts owed from clients. I realize that going after fees always raises the prospect of malpractice or a grievance, but because ODR is less intimidating than a court process, perhaps clients would be less likely to retaliate. Or not – this may be purely wishful thinking. And even if attorneys don’t make the option of ODR available through participation in a third party service, bar associations could offer online fee dispute resolution. Many bars offer this service already but ODR would make it faster and more efficient as well.  [click to continue…]

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Rural Round-Up: Practice Opportunities Remain for Those Willing to Stake a Claim

September 3, 2014 by Carolyn Elefant

Three years ago, I blogged about opportunities for lawyers in rural practice. That wasn’t just a short term trend either; demand for rural lawyers remains high, as shown by yesterday’s story from the Journal Star about veteran lawyer John Thomas’ efforts to find a successor to his busy rural practice. It’s a great story about […]

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A Legal Tech Tool That Is Actually Very Cool – But Does It Break Ethics Rules?

September 2, 2014 by Carolyn Elefant

To date, much of what’s been characterized as legal disruption hasn’t impressed me as much more than a souped-up, techno-powered version of what’s been tried before and failed. Still, I’m no curmudgeon and every so often, I find myself excited about the possibility of tiny law applications like Shake Legal – an app to create […]

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The Girl Is Gone

August 27, 2014 by Carolyn Elefant

I saw it coming a year ago but that didn’t prepare me for the reality that she is no longer here. Oh, sure, she’ll be back but as a visitor or a guest, not a resident of this house where she grew up. Only two days have passed since I dropped my daughter off at […]

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If We Change Rules to Allow Non-Lawyers to Own Law Firms, How About Changing Them to Let Lawyers Compete?

August 22, 2014 by Carolyn Elefant

Last week, Jordan Furlong lavished praise on the Canada Bar Association’s new report, Futures: Transforming the Delivery of Legal Services in Canada. As you might expect, the Report reads like a legal futurist’s wish list, supporting initiatives like non-lawyer ownership of law firms and fee-splitting between lawyers and non-lawyers. Still, truth be told, Jordan’s kudos […]

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Pros and Cons of LobbyConning for Solos and Smalls

August 20, 2014 by Carolyn Elefant

Many folks often complain about the cost of legal conferences – but trust me, the $300-$500 price range is pocket change compared to many events in my industry that start at one thousand dollars. If that’s true for conferences that you may want to attend, why not try lobby conning instead? The New York Times […]

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