My Shingle

A New Reason To Limit Free Consultations

by Carolyn Elefant on February 27, 2015 · 0 comments

in Client Relations

I’ve long been a fan of free consultations for a couple of reasons. First, given the importance of the attorney-client relationship, it never made sense to put up obstacles  to clients seeking to vet different attorneys by forcing them to shell out a couple of hundred bucks for each meeting. Second, for some practices – like personal injury – free consults are so widely entrenched that lawyers may suffer a competitive disadvantage if they don’t offer them. Third, although free consultations date back to when time began, they’re also consistent with the 21st Century concept of Freemium where you give away some milk in hopes that it will persuade takers to buy the cow. (As it turns out, only between one and three percent will ). Finally, for lawyers starting out, free consults can be a learning experience.

Still, it’s articles like this one that may make you want to reconsider those free consultations. The piece, entitled How to Find Free Legal Advice for Your Business by Steve Gillman encourages businesses to seek out small lawyers who offer free consultations as a way to find free advice:

Finally, there are probably some lawyers near you who offer a free initial consultation of 30 minutes or more. That may not be enough to resolve your matter, but you’ll at least have a better idea how to proceed. Prepare for your initial consultation thoroughly, so you can get to the point quickly and get as much out of the meeting as possible.

Gillman even instructs readers on how to find firms that offer free legal advice by either calling and asking or simply Googling “lawyer free consultation” and the name of your city.  [click to continue…]

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When I couldn’t get a response from a medical provider after I’d written a lengthy complaint more than two months earlier, I did what any disgruntled consumer would do: I took it to Twitter. Cognizant of the possibility of a defamation claim ( been there, done that ) not to mention loss of my family’s privacy, I limited my tweets to a generic remark and a request for information to the facility’s ombudsman’s office. Still, my tweets did the trick and within 24-hours, I received two prompt replies along with an apology.

So I got to wondering, what if clients decided to do the same. For all of the thousands of words, and hundreds of hours that regulators have devoted to “protect” lawyers and clients alike from the “dangers” of lawyer review sites or endorsements or client testimonials, all it really takes is 140 characters to render those opinions meaningless. Because there’s simply no way to prevent dissatisfied clients from taking to Twitter to criticize their lawyers, or to keep them from praising their lawyers either.

Increasingly consumers are taking to Twitter to air all kinds of grievances. Why should we expect them to adopt a different approach when it comes to service providers? The short answer: we can’t. So instead of scaring lawyers off social media fora – or making it so complicated that they throw up their hands and outsource engagement to third parties – we should be encouraging them to participate because that’s what their clients are doing.  [click to continue…]

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shutterstock_104531351You’ve got to applaud Austin, Texas based lawyer, Lee DiFilippo.

Whereas many attorneys with experience in corporate transactions, not to mention a CPA degree in their back pocket might focus on representing Fortune 500 companies or sexy business start-ups, DiFilippo set out to assist moderate income folks in the state of Texas obtain access to courts. Yet in spite of DiFilippo’s willingness to offer unbundled legal services and affordable flat fees, he couldn’t find enough takers for his services, as he describes in his Testimony to the Commission on the Future of Legal Services on February 5, 2015.

According to DiFilippo, he first attempted to launch his firm through own grassroots marketing efforts, visiting local community centers, churches and YMCAs. When these efforts failed to yield a critical mass of clients, DiFilippo went to the source, reaching out to various legal aid organizations seeking referrals. Two of the groups were, according to DiFilippo, reluctant to refer limited scope clients to a private attorney, while one of the legal aid groups did not even have a formal referral program. Meanwhile, another group said that it could not refer limited scope clients to lawyers unless they were on a bar association-sponsored referral list.

Undeterred, DiFilippo reached out to the State Bar of Texas asking it to create a referral list so he could receive legal aid referral but as yet, he has had no response. Finally, DiFilippo stumbled across an article by Wayne Moore, a long-time purveyor of unbundled services (so much so that he doesn’t appear to have much internet presence!) who offered to assist DiFilippo in achieving his goals.

Still, search the web and you won’t find DiFilippo’s story or others like his. Instead, you’ll find the ABA President touting the potential for creating a limited license legal technician (sort of the equivalent of nurse practitioners in the medical profession). And you’ll also find lawyers – and indeed, the entire profession – castigated by non-practicing attorneys for our failure to unequivocally embrace the LLLT model.  [click to continue…]

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New Law Firm, New Turf

by Carolyn Elefant on February 13, 2015 · 1 comment

in Office Options, Planning a Practice

rocketLike the entrepreneurialclients it serves, Washington D.C.-born Innovista Legal is taking a new risk just a few months after its September launch, moving to a 3000-square foot space in Richmond Virginia, reports Richmond Biz Sense. There, the firm will occupy the first commercial space in a mixed-use building.  Although the article doesn’t say what the firm will pay for rent, presumably, the space is saving over the DC area. In fact, some quick research on Craigs’ List confirms that $3000/month will buy 2100 square feet of space, whereas it costs $800 more for 1000 square feet in D.C. Presumably, the firm will face less competition in Richmond and take advantage of a burgeoning start up community.

For more information about lawyers who’ve opened satellite offices, see this earlier MyShingle series here.

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by Carolyn Elefant on February 9, 2015 · 1 comment

in Future of Law, Legal Research Options

Last week, I found myself over at the law library, for the first time in more than a year.  That wouldn’t have been true back in the mid-90’s when I started my firm. Back then, LEXIS cost 600 bucks a month for a dozen searches, and the law library with its digests and bound CCH reporters and (eventually) a free Westlaw Kiosk, was a lifeline for my fledgling practice. Today, my legal research bills run about $250/month between various subscription services (Lexis included) for most of what I need on a daily basis.

Still, every so often as was true last week, I face a coverage gap that necessitated a trip to the library. And my has it changed. The free Westlaw kiosk is no longer – with the transition to Westlaw Next, it’s become too costly to offer Westlaw gratis, explained the librarian. Meanwhile, the library no longer subscribes to hard copies of various reporters, or updates treatises because it’s presumed that these resources can be had online. And yes that’s true – but at what cost?

In an era where we’re supposedly seeing “advancements” in legal research, premium research services any more accessible or affordable than it was a decade ago. In fact, if my experience is any indication, these services have become proportionally more expensive while basic research services for locating state and federal case law have come down. Yet, how many tools do lawyers really need to research case law? Today, we have Fastcase and Google Scholar as leaders of free legal research, plus newcomers like Ravel Law that generate results in a different way to Casetext, which crowdsources legal commentary.    [click to continue…]

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F-UBERs and the Future of Law

February 3, 2015 by Carolyn Elefant

As I’ve discussed before, my personal experience with Uber has been mixed. No doubt, due to Uber, DC taxis have stepped up their game and these days, I can typically catch a cab more quickly than waiting for Uber to arrive and pay by credit card to boot. Yet my perspective doesn’t matter because I’m […]

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Plan A Law Firm Party, Retreat or Seminar With AirBnB

February 2, 2015 by Carolyn Elefant

If you’re like me, you’ve probably attended dozens of networking events or continuing legal education (CLE) panels and thought to yourself, I could do better. Whether it’s choosing a more interesting speaker or coming up with new activities or just having a decent spread of food, most of us could probably come up with some […]

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Finding the Courage to Start

January 30, 2015 by Carolyn Elefant

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 […]

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Ask An Ethics Question: Gift Cards

January 29, 2015 by Carolyn Elefant

Updated – 1/30/2015 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 […]

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Convert Time and Expertise Into Money With Hire.Bid

January 28, 2015 by Carolyn Elefant

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 […]

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