My Shingle

To date, much of what’s been characterized as legal disruption hasn’t impressed me as much more than a souped-up, techno-powered version of what’s been tried before and failed. Still, I’m no curmudgeon and every so often, I find myself excited about the possibility of tiny law applications like Shake Legal – an app to create quickie contracts for small matters where a lawyer doesn’t make economic sense) – and now, Legal Sifter.

Basically, LegalSifter employs technology to eyeball a contract, much in the same way that an experienced lawyer might if asked by a fellow attorney or a friend to have a quick look.  As described at Tech Crunch, Legal Sifter

use[s] natural language processing…and scans your documents (in Word format only, for now) and assigns them a score based on how favorable the terms are for the user. It also provides users with an explanation of the clauses and provisions in the document and suggests potential changes to provisions that are probably not in the user’s best interest.

LegalSifter was developed to review consulting contracts for designers, so the scores assigned are most relevant to these types of engagements. Nevertheless, as an aficionado of another type of service agreement – specifically, the Legal Retainer Agreement, I couldn’t resist running a sample engagement agreement through LegalSifter.

I used the Standard Hourly Billing Agreement below from Lawyers’ Mutual online Attorney ToolKit. [click to continue…]

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The Girl Is Gone

by Carolyn Elefant on August 27, 2014 · 3 comments

in MyShingle Solo, Work Life Balance

onedowncapI saw it coming a year ago but that didn’t prepare me for the reality that she is no longer here. Oh, sure, she’ll be back but as a visitor or a guest, not a resident of this house where she grew up. Only two days have passed since I dropped my daughter off at the designated kiss-and-cry before she joined her orientation group.  Yet there’s an emptiness in the house and my heart that lingers, while daily flotsam and jetsam of life are a constant reminder that the girl is gone. The Safeway where she bought baking supplies. The drive-through window at the bank where I’d sometimes let her press the buttons to withdraw cash. Our Prius, which she proudly drove everywhere after getting her license earlier this year. The adjacent bedrooms that she and her sister shared, and the giggling and squabbling that routinely emerged every night. Too quiet now. The coffee shop where I walked with her as a baby in her cadillac baby carriage and sat mesmerized for hours, just staring at her staring at the world. [click to continue…]

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Last week, Jordan Furlong lavished praise on the Canada Bar Association’s new report, Futures: Transforming the Delivery of Legal Services in Canada. As you might expect, the Report reads like a legal futurist’s wish list, supporting initiatives like non-lawyer ownership of law firms and fee-splitting between lawyers and non-lawyers. Still, truth be told, Jordan’s kudos for the CBA Report aren’t undeserved.

What’s heartening about the report from a traditionalists’ perspective like mine is that the CBA Report also keeps clients in mind. Thus, the Report recommends regulatory oversight of alternative business structures (ABS), the loose term for non-lawyer owned legal service providers which include (a) lawyer supervision of non-lawyer delivery of legal services,(b) a requirement that ABS purchase legal malpractice insurance and (c) a prohibition on access to privileged client information by ABS owners without express client consent.  Lawyers are already subject to these requirements, so extending them to ABS will ensure that clients have a level of tangible protection beyond “market forces” (such as e-shaming an ABS that does a client wrong). Further, subjecting ABS to these types of obligations avoids a dual standard in oversight of ABS and lawyers which can’t be justified, given that both serve clients.

The CBA’s proposed regulatory framework certainly makes the ABS concept more palatable – and therefore, more likely to gain traction in the United States. But here’s what I don’t get:  why are legal futurists and #newlaw advocates so willing to bend over backwards to accommodate non-lawyer innovation while turning a blind eye to the regulatory barriers that keep lawyers, particularly solos and smalls from competing and innovating?  [click to continue…]

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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 · 2 comments

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

August 13, 2014 by Carolyn Elefant

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 […]

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Lessons from MOOCs About the Future of Law

August 8, 2014 by Carolyn Elefant

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 […]

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Is “Birds of A Feather” Branding a Smart Marketing Practice for Law Firms?

August 5, 2014 by Carolyn Elefant

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 […]

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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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