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Walmart Law’s Noble Roots

by Carolyn Elefant on April 23, 2014 · 1 comment

in New Marketing Ideas, Office Options

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Via Solo Practice University’s Susan Cartier-Liebel, I learned that $99 wills and have documents notarized  — at least at two Walmart locations in Canada. The services are offered through Axess , a bonafide law Canadian law firm, through small branch offices located at the entrance of two Walmart stores. Currently, customer-clients can access Axess for wills and notary services; other matters are referred out to other firms.  Axess plans to add uncontested divorces to its service menu in the fall.

While Axess’ Walmart-based branch offices are fairly new, the concept of a store-based firms or legal kiosks has been around for a while. As Susan notes, she blogged about store-based law firms years ago, as did I. And of course, in the UK, Tesco Law  - supermarket-owned law shops – functioned as shorthand for alternative business structures (ABS) enabled by the  2007 Legal Services Act  — though significantly, the Axess model differs because the branch offices are owned by a law firm, not Walmart.

Many lawyers today turn up their nose at the concept of “Walmart Law,” – either arguing that a downscale location isn’t sufficiently dignified for lawyers, or questioning the competence of firms that choose to practice in that manner.  But truth is, the Walmart Law concept has legal nobility in its history, as I discovered on a family vacation in the midwest this summer.  [click to continue…]

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Are Solos Priced Out of SEO?

by Carolyn Elefant on April 16, 2014 · 7 comments

in Marketing & Making Money

Last week, I shared some of the internet marketing lessons learned by online marketing companies. The bottom line: internet advertising can be pricey especially for small companies. This week, I’m publishing an article by Conrad Saam, founder of Mockingbird Marketing who asks whether solo attorneys are priced out of SEO.  What do you think?

Last week I wrote a post on Lawyerist outlining the changing economics of the legal search marketing game, expressing my concern (and frustration) that BigLaw is increasingly choking the solo practitioner out of the SEO game.

The posts genesis originated in my experience running an agency over the past year. I’m fortunate to belong to tight knit group (counted on one hand) of legal SEO professionals who run smaller agencies and deliver solid results for their clients. At geek conferences, we drink microbrews and share thoughts about the direction of search, rail against FindLaw contracts and trade tips about online project management systems.

And we share a deep dark secret:  our target market – those clients who make up the perfect client profile – does NOT include solos. [click to continue…]

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For nearly three years, I’ve been tracking solo Ekaterina Schoenefeld’s challenge to the constitutionality of New York Judicial Code 470, which imposes an in-state office requirement – but only on nonresident lawyers. Schoenefeld won round one, when a federal district court judge ruled that the statute infringes on nonresident attorneys’ right to practice law in violation of the Privileges and Immunities Clause by imposing significant costs on non-resident lawyers that New York residents don’t bear. The state appealed to the Second Circuit – and as a non-resident New York lawyer, I was able to participate as a party to the amicus effort.

Last week -after a year and a half – the Second Circuit finally ruled.(See opinion here. In a somewhat anti-climactic decision, the court certified the question of the meaning of the word “office” – explaining that if the term as used in the statute means a set of rooms or physical space, then the New York law is unconstitutional because it imposes undue burdens on out of state residents.

And so the wheels of justice grind on….

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Via the Legal Profession Blog, comes a recent Indiana ethics decision reprimanding a lawyer who’d practiced 41 years without incident for participating Law Tigers , a site that helps members of the public find a motorcycle attorney.  Trouble is, in pursuit of a single Tiger that may purportedly cause harm to the public, the Indiana Supreme Court now has the entire fledgling industry of legal matchmaking platforms by the tail.

Here’s the background. The American Association of Motorcycle Injury Lawyers (AAMIL) operates the Law Tigers website – one of dozens of  lead gen platforms like the Nolo Law Directory  Total Attorneys that direct website visitors and prospective clients to participating lawyers who pay to receive leads within a designated geographic area. Naturally, to encourage site visitors to seek legal services, the Law Tigers website boasts “Exceptional Results: Settlements and Verdicts” and links to glowing client testimonials.  However, the respondent lawyers website, which could be accessed through a link on the Law Tigers site, included a disclaimer that a firm could not advertise past settlements or results.

Even so, this wasn’t enough for the Indiana Supreme Court which found that:

An average viewer would not differentiate between Respondent and the statements about Law Tigers on the AAMIL website and that Respondent is therefore responsible for objectionable content on the website.

For example, the court worried that website visitors might be mislead into believing that the testimonials on the Law Tiger sites referred to the Respondent or that the Respondent would achieve exceptional results even though the Respondent’s firm website contained a disclaimer. It is difficult to imagine a client so stupid as to associate a generic testimonial with Respondent’s service or so passive as to not inquire about the “Exceptional Verdicts and Settlements” advertised. In today’s internet world, clients have never been more savvy or educated, but to the court, they’re treated like a bunch of morons.   [click to continue…]

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In the past, I’ve griped about the circa 1970s bar association retainer agreements that abound on the Internet. In fact, that’s one of the peeves that spurred me to put together my ebook, The Art, Science and Ethics of the 21st Century Retainer Agreement .

Still, bar associations are perpetually underfunded, so I’m willing to give them a pass. What’s worse is when malpractice providers don’t offer plan members up to date representation agreements. But I found that to be the case with one insurance company, whose form engagement agreement was decidedly 19th Century.

ALPS, another insurer, is no different.  Its ebook on Starting A Solo Practice doesn’t cover the kind of information that today’s agreements need to have – from clauses relating to cloud computing, flat fees, credit card payments, outsourcing and social media use. To be fair, however, ALPS’ book does include some good website disclaimers as a hat tip to current day standards.

Let’s face it – drafting high quality, standard representation agreements can be costly and involve some expertise and no one wants to spend money on solos and smalls. I get that.  But since the companies and organizations that purport to serve solos and smalls aren’t doing the job, I’ve stepped in to do it for them.  Though my My Art, Science and Ethics of the 21st Century Retainer has been on sale for a long time and can be purchased here , for those who’d rather not pay the full book price, I’ve made the cut and paste clauses, web disclaimers and word-forms available separately here. Essentially, the cut and paste clauses cover all of the topics in the book, which are listed here.

The representation agreement is one of the most important contracts you’ll ever sign. Protect yourself by ensuring that your agreement covers the issues that matter to a 21st Century practice.

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Does Internet Advertising Drive Work for Online Businesses? Lessons for Virtual Law Firms, Courtesy of E-commerce

April 7, 2014 by Carolyn Elefant

How do you find clients for an online business – whether it’s an e—commerce shop selling a product like shows or magazines or gift baskets, or a website that offers services like web design or job placement or even legal services, through a virtual law firm? Not surprisingly, many online business’ customers come from heavy […]

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The Best Client Gifts Are Heartfelt

April 4, 2014 by Carolyn Elefant

Google the phrase lawyers and “client service,” and you’ll find hundreds of posts on the importance of great client service – not as a reminder that lawyers have an ethical obligation to serve clients well – but rather as a way to generate future referrals or avoid malpractice. Lawyers are advised to over promise and […]

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Blocked

April 1, 2014 by Carolyn Elefant

This isn’t an April Fools’ joke. You may have noticed my blog posts have become more sporadic. Part of the slow down relates to my schedule – just plain busy. But I’m also having more difficulty coming up with original content relevant to solos and smalls. So if there are any topics you’d like me […]

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My Experience With Udemy

April 1, 2014 by Carolyn Elefant

After my last  failed attempt to offer a webinar, I decided to take a break.  Still, I wanted to present content on starting a practice in a different fashion than blog posts or books, and I wanted the ability to reach a larger audience than a Google Hangout would allow. So I began to explore […]

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Solos Are the Future? Not News To Us But Good News Nonetheless

March 27, 2014 by Carolyn Elefant

I’ve long believed that solo and small firm practice is the best kept secret of the legal profession. For thirteen years, I’ve blogged about all of the benefits that solo and small firm practice has to offer, particularly in these transformative times.  Yet even as big law fell from grace, the legal profession continued to […]

Read more Encouragement 3 comments