Last Friday, I had the privilege of attending, and presenting a session on niche practice at The Practice, organized by my friend and colleague Brian Tannebaum, this year’s president of the Florida Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (FACDL) . Geared towards criminal defense lawyers running a law firm, the Practice touched on all of the elements necessary to a successful practice, from homespun, practical advice from two criminal defense lawyers with 25 years of experience or more, insight on transitioning tech into the clouds from Rocket Matter’s Larry Port, law firm marketing strategies from David Lorenzo, plus advice on personal investment and public relations from other speakers at the close of the session.
On top of that, there was also a keynote luncheon speaker by criminal defense attorney, Roy Black who rose from the ranks of public defender to the heights of cases that capture front page news. Also a panel talk that included criminal defense legend, Albert Krieger who’s been practicing law since the 1940’s and spoke movingly of the historic role of the criminal defense bar in protecting our liberties and the most important thing in his life, his wife of 65 years. Finally, capping the evening was a rousing night of dancing on the tables, and an opportunity to spend some more time with Brian, Larry and also Brian Gurwitz a criminal defense lawyer, blogger and blog-commenter who flew in from California to attend (As an aside, Brian is as humble criminal defense lawyers I’ve ever met; he quietly confessed to me privately and even reluctantly that he’d won the 2010 Best of Orange County Criminal Defense Attorney award without mentioning the dozens of other glowing write-ups that I later learned about him online).
Anyway, if you’re thinking that the experienced lawyers who dominated the Practice’s agenda wouldn’t have any relevance in today’s 21st century world, you couldn’t be more wrong. One lawyer emphasized the importance of using technology – not just for the sake of looking cool, but to access court records and information on DUI arrests right in his office with clients, both to show that he’s on top of their case and to provide them with immediate updates. Roy Black, who could have spent hours talking about his trial skills, instead urged lawyers to throw away their trial advocacy books and pick up some marketing books, not just to find clients, but to learn how to be more persuasive to juries. Albert Krieger reminded lawyers of a time when the profession was dominated by white men, and praised the strides we’ve made in diversity, something we often forget with all of the complaining about lack of diversity at biglaw, as if that was, or should be a barometer of the profession.
Moreover, even in today’s world, so much of the old advice is timeless, universal – and yet, not the type of stuff that’s covered in the books. Consider some of what I picked up from the talks: Don’t bring your client to the hearing in a case that relies on eyewitness identification. Don’t shirk on your ethics obligations to any client, but don’t feel compelled to charge the same rate for a wealthier client as for one who’s short on cash. Find out what your client hopes to achieve by retaining you – if they want to avoid jail time after 4 DUI arrests, you probably aren’t going to be able to do much to help them and should either help them accept reality or send them elsewhere. You may have to get up at 4:30 am in the morning to get home to your kids at night, but you do what it takes to make it all work. Treat people right – not something that was said overtly, but which I picked up on nonetheless. Both of the experienced criminal defense lawyer who spoke heaped praises on their associates and their knack for extracting information or winning touch cases. When’s the last time you heard a biglaw attorney mention, let alone compliment a junior colleague publicly?
That Brian was able to get these busy lawyers to turn out for his event is a testament to both his reputation and his ability to organize a rocking conference. Don’t turn up your nose at that skill, because there aren’t many people – even those who do CLE professionally – who get it right. Brian planned a well-rounded, balanced day at a stunning location with affordable rates for overnight stays and arranged for transportation to the evening’s event. He surveyed participants in advance to get a sense of their interest in attending so that speakers could tailor our materials to attendees’ interests. Brian also browbeat all of us speakers to encourage, even compel audience participation. He asked us to tweet the conference so that others, beyond on-site attendees, could benefit from all of the value. And after all of that, he stayed in the background, shining the spotlight on everyone else except himself.
Practicing law in your own firm is so much more than a job, where all you do is show up. Running a law practice involves so much more – there’s the most important part, of course, – representing clients, but there’s marketing and technology and feeding our families and planning for retirement getting to know colleagues outside of the office. The Practice was all that. And unlike most of our own practices (well, mine anyway), this Practice was just perfect. Thank you, Brian!