My Shingle

Finding the Courage to Start

by Carolyn Elefant on January 30, 2015 · 2 comments

in Encouragement, Inspiration

The miracle isn’t that I finished. The miracle is that I had the courage to start.
John Bingham

In the dozen years I’ve blogged here, I’ve sung the praises of solo practice – the unexpected surprises, the enormous opportunity, and the satisfaction that flows from doing work that matters  or makes you feel alive or like dancing a jig.

For those in my audience avid to start a law firm, my words reinforce an decision you’ve already made. And for the unemployed, the graduates who’ve never found jobs or the otherwise desperate who come to solo practice not by choice but necessity, my blog offers hope that there just may be a a future in the law for you through solo practice if you want it badly enough. These readers – the determined and the nothing-left-to-losers – are easy to help.

But there’s a third group – the stuck and the trapped who face obstacles – either real (like being $500,000 in debt or staring down your kids’ $60,000 tuition bill) or imagined – that make it tough, even impossible to get started. And until my own personal misfortune, I simply didn’t fully realize that a rah rah, cheerleader attitude or even sheer force of will aren’t enough to overcome real fears that hold us back. Like the fear that life as a solo can never live up to the prestige of being a big law partner. Or financial fear that triggers survival mode, such that you don’t feel that you can do anything else than put one foot in front of the other, focused on the next fee, the next contract job, the next paycheck or the next tuition or loan payment, feeling so trapped on the hamster-wheel of life that you don’t have the energy to lift your eyes to the stars. [click to continue…]

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Ask An Ethics Question: Gift Cards

by Carolyn Elefant on January 29, 2015 · 1 comment

in Ethics Issues, Marketing Ethics

Updated – 1/30/2015
Screen Shot 2015-01-28 at 11.55.57 AM

A few days ago, a question appeared on the Solosez Listserve, inquiring whether a promotional strategy – whereby individuals referred to a firm by an existing client would be entered into a drawing for a gift card upon coming in for a free consultation – passed ethical muster.

Happily, everyone who responded recognized that the strategy violates legal ethics prohibitions on giving something of value in exchange for a referral. Or in colloquial terms, lawyers can’t buy clients whether the currency comes in the form of dollars, gift cards or meals. Here are some of ethics decisions that I founded up on this point. [click to continue…]

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Hire.Bid   Auction Your Available Time

A few weeks ago, I earned $1000 for a couple of hours offering some insights in my practice area. While certainly not a large enough fee to close up shop for the month, it was a tidy little windfall that helped cover some home repairs that I’d put off for a while.

What if there were a way to regularly convert legal expertise into extra money? Now there is, with a new platform, launched at the end of 2014, called Hire.Bid. The brainchild of Neil Sandu, a lawyer and technologist who conceived of and developed the site, Hire.Bid:

allows professionals in the U.S. to auction their available time (whether on nights, weekends, or otherwise) to be bid upon by prospective clients needing a helping hand on anything from complex matters to simple tasks.

So how is Hire.bid different from the myriad of on demandauction or legal consults on the spot platforms cropping up ever day? Well, for starters, Hire.bid though started by a lawyer isn’t limited to lawyers – so you can find web developers, financial analysts, graphic designers and other professionals. Second, service providers set the price for their services rather than the platform setting rates or extracting discounts. [click to continue…]

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What’s the most effective way for lawyers to protect their clients from a data breach of  Sony-like magnitude? Sure, they can sponsor trainings for clients, develop handbooks and checklists and purchase cyberinsurance. Or lawyers could take the most direct approach and identify and plug the security gaps themselves.

Sounds crazy – and outside a lawyer’s pay grade. Yet, Chris Cwalina and Steve Roosa, two Holland & Knight attorneys have built a practice area within their firm on that very concept. As the Washington Post describes (sorry, this story is from August 2014 – a bit dated for me), Cwalina and Roosa have created a “lab” that they use to research and test apps and websites of their clients to detect security lapses. Cwalina and Roosa don’t appear to have technical expertise (though Cwalina was in-house counsel at ChoicePoint, one of the first companies to disclose a massive data breach a decade ago), they work with a team of paralegals and tech consultants to create the testing environment. Once familiar with vulnerabilities, the lawyers can plug them. In addition, through hands on use of these technologies, Cwalina and Roosa can gain an idea of what types of procedures for protecting security are practical and feasible.

The firm charges a flat fee for this service. Presumably, fee-splitting rules aren’t invoked because the lawyers team with IT professionals employed by the firm who are paid a salary rather than allocated a share of the fee.   [click to continue…]

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A Place Where Solos Can Work Away

by Carolyn Elefant on January 21, 2015 · 3 comments

in Law Practice Management, New Ideas

To me, there’s nothing more depressing than the concept of the staycation  – essentially, spending valuable days off from work hanging around the house and area where you live. Sure, I get the concept of local sightseeing (I live in the tourism capitol after all) but that’s what visitors and houseguests are for. To me, vacation means getting away – far, far away.

Still, as a small law firm owner, I realize that true vacations aren’t always possible. Even if you can successfully master the planning, a trip of sufficient duration — i.e, more than a three-day weekend — can be costly and often not worth the effort when a pile of work awaits upon return.

Having wrestled with this conundrum myself, I was intrigued to learn, via the New York Times  of co-working vacations. As the article, by Tanya Mohn describes,   [click to continue…]

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California Bar Offers A Reason to Keep Your Website and Blog Separate

January 16, 2015 by Carolyn Elefant

Should a law firm blog be incorporated into a website or function as a freestanding entity? That’s a question that’s been asked almost since the beginning of time, with at least two experts – Sam Glover and Kevin O’Keefe endorsing separation for a variety of different reasons. But now, a recent California ethics decision offers […]

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Free and the Contract

January 14, 2015 by Carolyn Elefant

Once upon a time, law firms used wills as a loss leader. Clients would come to a law firm for a free will and in theory, the firm would have first dibs on the more lucrative probate work when the time came. These days, free contracts are the 21st century version of free wills with […]

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How Can An Incubator That Can’t Support Itself Teach New Solo Lawyers To Do So?

January 9, 2015 by Carolyn Elefant

Seven participants in Florida International University (FIU)’s LawBridge program which provides incubator space to lawyers willing to do low bono work recently got a rude dose of reality when FIU was bumped from its donated space by a large law firm that presumably could pay rent.  Without free space, the FIU program leaders can’t figure […]

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Unemployment Benefits as a Transition to Hanging a Shingle

January 9, 2015 by Carolyn Elefant

Back in the dark ages when I started my law firm, I took advantage of unemployment benefits to help pay the bills. I’d been working five years before a layoff lead me to hang my shingle, so I figured that I’d paid enough into the system to deserve some support. Although my unemployment benefits maxed […]

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I’m Back!!!

January 9, 2015 by Carolyn Elefant

If you haven’t noticed, I haven’t posted since December 19. Three weeks ago. And last year too! That’s a huge gap for my blog, probably unprecedented. But life interrupted, and between a heavy caseload and my college daughter’s return from break, I’ve been too busy or too tired to blog. But I’m feeling reinvigorated. Like […]

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