My Shingle

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 recently reported on the practice of lobby conning which involves showing up at a conference but hanging out in the lobby to avoid paying the registration fee. Frugality isn’t the only motivation behind Lobbyconning; as frequent conference goers know, the most valuable parts of a conference take place in the hallways, outside of the formal presentations which can often be found online anyway. So why not skip them altogether, the theory goes.

Needless to say, conference organizers aren’t crazy about lobby conners, nor are participants who pay full freight to attend. I can see both sides – for solos and smalls, conference costs do add up and many starting out simply can’t afford to go. Still, there are alternatives to lobby conning or freeloading – such as one day passes or attending a per diem breakfast or cocktail reception if that option is available. Cash-strapped lawyers should also consider offering services for admission – for example, offering to blog or tweet the conference in exchange for a limited attendance pass. That’s a great way to make connections while providing value to conference organizers.  [click to continue…]

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Start a NonProfit Law Firm

by Carolyn Elefant on August 19, 2014 · 1 comment

in New Ideas, Pro Bono

A few months back at my beat at Above the Law, I posed this question: Why Do Low Bono Work When You Can Start Your Own Non-Profit?.  After all, if new lawyers are going to be offering discount rates, they might as well run the show and gain the advantage of being the boss, plus the opportunity to take advantage of  loan forgiveness programs available to lawyers who work for non-profits.

Curious about how this business model might work in practice? Look no further than Open Legal Services (OLS), an innovative Utah-based non-profit law firm started by relatively new lawyers and recently profiled in The Atlantic. OLS charges sliding scale legal fees ranging from $50 to $135/hour. And while the rates are low, as a non-profit, OLS pays less in tax, can plus its lawyers are eligible for loan forgiveness after ten years – but as a private, non-government funded entity, OLS also avoids various bureaucratic reporting and record-keeping requirements.  [click to continue…]

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Size Matters

by Carolyn Elefant on August 13, 2014 · 0 comments

in Guest Post

MyShingle is pleased to host this guest post by Roy Ginsburg. Other posts authored by Roy at MyShingle are available here

The most common exit strategies for retiring solo practitioners and small law firm owners typically include recruiting a successor, merging with another law firm, or selling the practice.  All of these options have advantages and disadvantages.

However, there’s one strategy that is rarely considered, though it may make the most sense in terms of the retiring lawyer’s financial and personal well-being. That strategy is downsizing.

It’s a rather simple concept, and works well for both solo practitioners and small law firm owners. In a nutshell, the attorney takes fewer cases and works less while reducing overhead expenses.

Downsizing works well for a number of reasons. First, I rarely meet a lawyer who, when contemplating retirement, wants to quit the practice of law cold turkey. It’s difficult to go straight from being a full-time practicing lawyer to someone whose primary focus is their golf handicap. Many attorneys want to wind down over a few years and gradually ease into full-time retirement. Gradually reducing one’s caseload accomplishes this objective.

Second, when contemplating retirement, many lawyers get nervous about depending upon only Social Security benefits and their IRAs to fund their retirement lifestyles. Downsizing can free up time to take those vacations you always wanted to go on, while still bringing in income to fund them.

Here’s how it works. [click to continue…]

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In theory, MOOCs — massive online open courses — sound too good to be true.  Classes are available on any topic – from learning a new language or computer coding or even how to start a law firm. Even better, most MOOCs are free (or inexpensive) and open to anyone with an Internet connection. Yet in spite of these enormous advantages, just ten percent of MOOC registrants complete their courses, reports Harman Singh at Beta Boston.

The reason for these high dropout rates? Singh suggests that lack of student-teacher engagement is to blame:

There are no live instructors to help facilitate the classes, lectures, or content. There is also no straight-and-narrow path from beginning-to-end and the format does not encourage the exchange of different thoughts and ideas among learners. The lack of live instructor involvement also means no follow-up with the student, or any assurance along the way that the student’s learning trajectory is heading in the right direction. At the course’s conclusion, only the learner can determine if he or she was successful.

Singh also offers a solution:

The modern MOOC — without live and interactive teacher engagement — is essentially an Internet version of a book. That said, there is tremendous potential for the MOOC to evolve in a major way. To reduce dropout rates, the MOOC must be structured around live teacher engagement.

[click to continue…]

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As the old adage goes, birds of a feather flock together. But does that mean that lawyers of certain feathers – whether it’s a gender, race, nationality or sexual preference – should flout them to attract clients of similar plumage?

This question came to mind while reading this Gina Passarella’s Pittsburgh-Post Gazette piece about Pennsylvania law firms gearing up to serve the LGBT community now that the state’s ban on same-sex marriage has been overturned. Naturally, given the potential new business opportunities created by the new policies, there’s a concern that some law firms will be tempted to add LGBT to their list of practice areas to attract LGBT clients — even though they aren’t necessarily familiar with the legal issues or sensitive to the LGBT community’s needs and concerns.

That critique is fair enough, but small firm attorney Angela Giampolo, who’s also president of Gay and Lesbian Lawyers of Philadelphia suggests that firms ought to tread cautiously on to LGBT turf. From the article:

 Aside from cultural sensitivity is the fierce loyalty the LGBT community has when exercising its purchasing power, said Angela Giampolo of Giampolo Law Group and president of Gay and Lesbian Lawyers of Philadelphia.

“I want a gay martini served to me by a gay guy at a gay bar surrounded by gay people,” Ms. Giampolo said of her purchasing preferences. “Italians go to Italians, Jews go to Jews and pink dollars go to pink people.”

Giampolo’s observation is nothing new.  After all, many clients do seek out lawyers who share the same background. But should lawyers do the same?  That is, should lawyers actively promoting their gender, nationality, race or preference as a unique selling proposition, suggesting that these characteristics confer a level of understanding of the issues and concerns faced by similarly situated prospective clients?  [click to continue…]

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Future Friday: Solo Leverage, Part II

August 1, 2014 by Carolyn Elefant

A long time ago in Internet years, I wrote that solos and smalls must come up with ways to diversify their services. That doesn’t mean having cheap rates for certain clients and full fees for others, but rather developing different revenue streams to ensure that cash is coming through the door. Back in 2008, the […]

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One Small Niche Practice, One Giant Leap for a Law Practice

July 29, 2014 by Carolyn Elefant

Be That Lawyer: Niche Practice for Lawyers from Carolyn Elefant   I’ve presented and written about the benefits of niche practice for solos on numerous occasions. It’s not a particularly original concept -many, many, many, others have covered this topic as well. In fact, the value of niche practice seems to be one lesson of […]

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Move It Or Lose It

July 25, 2014 by Carolyn Elefant

Legend has it that Southwest Airlines started with a business plan sketched on the back of a cocktail napkin up by founders Herb Kelleher and Rollin King back in the mid-1960s.   Back then, the federal government regulated airline rates, keeping prices so high that only the wealthy could afford to fly.  Kelleher and King […]

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Are You the Perfect Lawyer for the Job?

July 24, 2014 by Carolyn Elefant

This isn’t a solo story per se, but one with some lessons – a reminder that the perfect lawyer for the job or the client isn’t always the one with the biggest firm or the stellar credentials of the fanciest offices. From what I can tell from her LinkedIn profile, Sarah Feingold  had positions typical […]

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What If Lawyers Were Compelled to Use the Cloud?

July 16, 2014 by Carolyn Elefant

These days, most legal regulators are pre-occupied with the question of whether lawyers may ethically move files to the cloud rather than whether they must. That’s not so in the medical profession, where the Affordable Care Act mandates the use of electronic medical records and patient portals which will presumably be implemented through cloud-based platforms. […]

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