Sunday, January 31, 2010

Back From The Board of Bar Examiners Hearings, With A Question

I had an interesting series of hearings last week. I left with some observations as usual, but also a question.

My question is "what is the purpose of this process?"

I always thought the process was meant to determine whether the applicant has the character and fitness to be a Member of the Florida Bar. I left this weekend thinking the process is meant to determine whether the applicant can back out of the corner they've been backed into at their hearing.

I'm not going to get into the details here, it's not fair to my clients, but safe to say all three hearings evidenced that the environment of these hearings is changing. Maybe it's too many applicants or maybe it's that this generation of new lawyers are just complete liars, criminals, scoundrels, and unworthy of practicing in Florida. I can't tell.

These applicants are scared, they're nervous. They're not there to perform. They are there to clear up any issues the Board may have as to their past - a past that is not perfect. Yes, some of them will lie, some of them can't be candid at all, but for the rest maybe that imperfect past will make them better lawyers than the lily white applicants the Board never sees.

Should we question these applicants on their failure to disclose issues and their candor? Absolutely. But we have gone overboard.

Well, no reason to complain without offering suggestions.

So here they are:

1. The Board is an arm of the Florida Supreme Court. I'd like the Florida Supreme Court Justices to randomly attend these hearings and observe.

2. Initial "Hearings" should be in the form of meetings, under oath, with "A" Bar Examiner, where questions are asked. If that examiner determines further inquiry is necessary, they will put their findings in writing for further determination by the Board. (In other states, applicants meet with individual examiners).

3. Just like oral arguments in the Florida and U.S Supreme Court where important things like the death penalty are being decided, hearings must be time limited. Thirty minutes. These time limits will prevent the examiners from engaging in anything less than direct questions designed to obtain direct answers.Hearings are taking way too long. My 1:30 hearing started at 2:45, and ended at 4:30. I was speaking to a colleague of an applicant who was hoping at 9:30 (while waiting for their 9:00 a.m. hearing to start), to make the 11:00 a.m. flight home. (The hearings were in the airport, steps from the gates). When she was still waiting at 10:50 a.m. for her colleague to have his 9:00 a.m. hearing, she just shrugged her shoulders at me.

3. Any issue over 10 years old must be certified by the Board to be of "great significance" to be part of any hearing.

4. Speeding tickets and the like have nothing to do with anyone's ability to be a good and ethical lawyer. I've been a lawyer 15 years, and not once have I ever had a potential or current client say "Mr. Tannebaum, what's your driving record like?" Nor has a client accused me of an ethics violation because of a traffic ticket. I know, they show disrespect for the law, but not too much disrespect.

I think for the most part the Board does the right thing. I just think getting there can be done a bit more efficiently.

Located in Miami, Florida, Brian Tannebaum practices Bar Admission and Discipline and Criminal Defense. Read his free ebook The Truth About Hiring A Criminal Defense Lawyer. Please visit


Thursday, January 21, 2010

A Rare Moment Of Reflection: I Am Privileged To Be A Lawyer

I'm in my 15th year of practice. I've walked into courtrooms hundreds of times. I remember thinking after I was admitted to the Bar how great it was that I could "talk in court." I remember telling people how cool it was that the Florida Supreme Court gave me a license to go into court and represent people. I still think that, but I say it much less.

My daily life now is running a private practice. That means interviewing new clients, signing retainer agreements, dealing with office politics, talking on the phone, a lot, running to court for mostly mundane hearings, and occasionally getting a moment, other than at night, to read case law and draft motions.

I still love what I do, and can't imaging doing anything else, but the practice has changed since I left the public defender's office 13 years ago. Back then, I just went to court. No overhead to worry about, no bringing in any business.

And so my practice now is mostly following a calendar, dealing with emergencies, and just making sure that none of the balls in the air, ever hit the ground.

And then there was today. Mostly typical. I had a hearing in the morning in state court, a few client meetings, several phone calls, lunch with a bankruptcy lawyer friend of mine, and a hearing in federal court in the afternoon.

During that hearing in federal court in the afternoon, while the judge was talking. I had one of those moments that you see in the movies - where the person zones out from what is going on around them and begins thinking about something else.

Although I was listening to the judge, I began to look around. I looked at the jury box. I looked at the prosecutor. I looked at the big seal behind the judge. I looked out the window. I thought - how many people right now are doing what I do? How many lawyers are sitting in a federal district courtroom representing a client? How many people have this privilege?

I may bitch and moan on a day to day basis about the mundane aspects of practicing law; I think many lawyers do the same. But today, just for a moment, I had an epiphany.

I am privileged to be a lawyer, doing what I love to do - representing people in a courtroom.

Located in Miami, Florida, Brian Tannebaum practices Bar Admission and Discipline and Criminal Defense. Read his free ebook The Truth About Hiring A Criminal Defense Lawyer. Please visit


Monday, January 18, 2010

How To Help Unhappy, Laid Off BigLaw Lawyers: Disbar Them

Almost a year ago I wrote that BigLaw was dead. I was chided, called "jealous" (as I am anytime I say anything negative about the useless BigLaw lawyers of our generation). I was told I was writing the post a bit "early."

So now the New York Times has come out with this article, entitled "No Longer Their Golden Ticket, filled with all the whiny complaints of those that should have never been lawyers in the first place.

Cue the violins. do not just feel as if they are diving into the deep end, but rather, drowning.

Lawyers who entered the field as recently as a few years ago could reasonably expect a life of comfort, security and social esteem. Many are now faced with a different landscape. Bonuses for those who survive are shriveling, and an increasing number of firms now compensate associates based on grades for performance — shades of law school — rather than automatically advancing them on the salary scale.

“I thought, ‘Great, I can afford to buy a house at 23,’ ” said Jacqueline Muna Musiitwa, recalling her first year as an associate in 2006 at Pillsbury in San Francisco. “If I start this way at 23, goodness knows what it will be like when I’m 40.”

She accepted the notoriously grueling workload for the prospect of Caribbean vacations, a convertible and a big loft apartment. But young lawyers now entering the field can feel no such assurance, said Ms. Musiitwa, 27, who left Pillsbury after a year to start a boutique firm. If she were an associate now, she would “have to work a million times harder,” she said, “just to make sure that next time there’s a cut, I’m not on that list.”

“We used to gather in someone’s office, close the door, and say, ‘I hate my life, why are we doing this?’ ” she said.

Even associates who find plenty to do worry that outstanding performance is no longer enough to protect them, said Daniel Lukasik, a Buffalo lawyer who runs an information and outreach Web site called Lawyers With Depression, adding that his traffic is up 25 percent since June, to about 25,000 visitors a month.

A midlevel associate in the New York office of a white-shoe firm, who writes provocatively about law-firm life under the name Legal Tease on her blog, Sweet Hot Justice, described a big law firm as “an absolute torture shack.”

Some partners say that the next generation may have to expect less from a legal career. “What has come to pass is that a law degree is not a ticket to a six-figure salary and a six-figure bonus,” said Matthew A. Feldman, a partner at Willkie Farr & Gallagher in New York.

So it's over people, o-v-e-r. I'm not talking about those in BigLaw that are actually practicing lawyers, with clients, who do the type of large corporate cork that is only able to be done in Big Law. I'm talking to those of you who are in law school or went to law school because you want a nice office, nice clothes, a six-figure salary you never deserved in the first place, and a guarantee of a life of bonuses and eventual partnership. That's, over.

Do us all a favor, instead of whining about why your legal career is no longer being handed to you, consent to disbarment. Leave the practice of law. No one in this day of thrift and a desire for lawyers that are necessary to a specific legal matter, needs you. Being the 4th lawyer on a team and sitting at a conference table pretending like you are of any value is not going to be your "career" anymore.

If we are to be fair to the profession, we will realize that the vast majority of these whiners, never wanted to be "lawyers." They merely wanted money, and a lot of it. They don't belong in the profession, and there's a way to get rid of them.

Just ask each one: "Why did you go to law school?"

If the answer doesn't include "people," or "help," or "represent," or includes "Big Law Firm," disbar them. Put them out of their misery. You can't complain about not getting a job in law if you don't have the right to do so.

The world thought they needed you BigLaw paraders up until last year. Now it's time to move on and get out, for the benefit of those that actually want to be a part of what used to be a profession.

Located in Miami, Florida, Brian Tannebaum practices Bar Admission and Discipline and Criminal Defense. Read his free ebook The Truth About Hiring A Criminal Defense Lawyer. Please visit


Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Tales From The Big Legal Fee

The other day some of the comments on my post on my other blog about the Las Vegas Federal Courthouse shooting were posted on another blog, and led to this comment:

"But yet, Brian would defend this person if the price was right! Spare us Brian......"

I don't know who wrote this. It's no one who knows me well, just a person that judges from afar. These people don't bother me, they entertain me - those who assume, without asking.

I remember having a high profile case 7 years ago. It was on the news almost daily. It was in the New York Times. It was everywhere. One day, walking into the courthouse, a fellow lawyer said "wow Brian, you sure are milking the fees in this case." My response - "I was appointed."

Anyway, the purpose of this post is to recall the time, (and possibly give some pause to a young lawyer out there, when I lost a really big fee.

It was 6 years ago. I was representing someone under investigation. He paid me a small retainer to communicate with the prosecutor during the investigation and do all the other things criminal defense lawyers do during investigations.

Then the arrest came. The bond was over 2 million dollars. A quick conversation with the prosecutor, and it was lowered to 1 million dollars. The only hold up was that the prosecutor wanted proof the bond money was clean. This would take a little time - gathering bank statements and other documents.

I quoted a mid six figure fee. It was the biggest fee I had ever quoted.

The client hemmed and hawed, and then offered to pay me a substantial amount of money for the bond work, the fee for the case to be solidified after he was released.

I received half of the substantial amount of the fee for the bond work, and was told I would receive the other half "next week."

The bond work was all I could do. I dropped everything. My entire office was working every minute of every day to get all the documents together. I was getting ready to head out of town for the annual criminal defense conference, and everything was moving along.

I left for the conference and my cell phone rang constantly from 7:30 a.m. throughout the day. It was the prosecutor, the family, my office, the family, the family, and the family. When was he getting out?

Then I got the call - the prosecutor was told that my client had a substantial amount of funds in an offshore account. My client denied this, but the prosecutor, apologetic, revoked the bond offer. This was on a Friday. We would now go to court and have the judge set bond. The judge wouldn't hear the case Monday, it would be days before we could get a hearing.

Regardless that there was nothing that could be done on the weekend. The family continued to call, Saturday and Sunday, throughout the day, beginning with my wake up call. I took every call, missing almost all of the conference.

When I came back home, I ran to the jail to see my client. Looking over the sign-in book, I saw another criminal defense lawyer had been to see him. I asked him what this was about, and he told me his family sent this (very good) lawyer to see him. I told him I would get him a bond hearing as soon as possible. He was not happy I went out of town over the weekend.

I called the other lawyer and was told I was probably out. The client's uncle called and told me the same within the hour. He asked me for money back, and got an earful.

I went back to my office and told everyone I was out.

They were thrilled.

They told me they put off other clients, other work, and like me, were also bombarded with nasty calls throughout the day. They told me I was not pleasant over the past week or so, and they wanted to get back to our normal way of doing things.

I was still devastated over losing the client, and yes, the big fee.

I went home and told my wife. She was equally as happy.

It's been six years since I lost that "big fee," and guess what, the case is still going on, and the big fee would have been a big loss by now.

The point is obvious - big fees look nice from afar, and they are when you have a good client and good case. But never forget that when someone pays you a large amount of money, sometimes they believe they own you. If you're OK with that, then this post is meaningless to you.

My point is that taking a case shouldn't ever be just about the fee, and sometimes, the best case, is the case you don't get or the one you choose not to take.

Located in Miami, Florida, Brian Tannebaum practices Bar Admission and Discipline and Criminal Defense. Read his free ebook The Truth About Hiring A Criminal Defense Lawyer. Please visit


Sunday, January 10, 2010

Young Lawyers Know Everything, And Nothing

I'm not one of those who spends their days publicizing that another blog has written about a post here, but through the magic of Google, I found this blog, and this post, and I like the story that was written by the anonymous blogger.

The post tells the story about a young lawyer who missed an opportunity to learn something, and instead used the law and procedure to help a seasoned lawyer understand more fully why lawyers continue to find themselves the butt of jokes and disrespected by society. Read the post. It's a great story for those just out of school, and those who have been around a while.

Located in Miami, Florida, Brian Tannebaum practices Bar Admission and Discipline and Criminal Defense. Read his free ebook The Truth About Hiring A Criminal Defense Lawyer. Please visit


Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Substance May Be Coming Back To The Practice Of Law

Marketers generally hate me. I started my practice with no advertising, no website, no direct mail brochures. There was no Facebook, no twitter, no LinkedIn. There were the full page ads in the then still important yellow pages for $5,000 a month. I took an ad that was nothing more than my name in bold with I think a color. It was about $100a month. Several years later a yellow pages rep came to see me and I learned that for about 4 years, my name was not even in the book. I'm still not there.

I started my practice by sending out letters to everyone I knew. Former clients, friends, family, everyone in my address book. It was a simple letter, saying I was in private practice and happy to receive any referrals.

Over the years I've advertised in charity dinner program books and sponsored a hole at a golf tournament or two. My name appears in the Florida Bar News "Lawyer's Marketplace" along side a half-dozen or so other lawyers who do Bar work. No picture, no color, no lights, a few bucks a month.

Yes I had some tangible benefits. I was born here in Miami and spent 3 years at the public defender's office. I was in court almost everyday and got to know everyone in the courthouse. But I also went to functions, got involved in associations, and spoke and wrote about legal issues.

Sure, I now have a website, two blogs, and am on twitter and Facebook. But I don't have a marketing person helping me, and I don't pay anyone for "placement" on Google. I ignore all their phone calls and emails offering to "do better" than I am doing right now, and openly blast the people that have no reputation except the fake one they have created online.

Many lawyers are building their online reputation, prior to even trying to have an offline reputation. When I graduated, I was handed a diploma. Now I envision law school graduates walking across the stage and being handed a diploma, Facebook account, twitter account, blog, and phone number of a marketing and social media expert.

I understand, there are tens of thousands of lawyers out there, many laid off, and many unable to obtain even their first job out of law school. These lawyers see no other option than to engage in any form of advertising that will "get their name out there," even if the name they are "getting out there" has nothing behind it.

So I was interested, and a little encouraged, to see that law firms appear to be changing their tact.

Larry Bodine posted this chart that reflects firms are cutting back on advertising, and "their highest law firm marketing priorities are proposals, business development coaching and training, and client seminars and CLE."

All of these priorities indicate a trend towards substance. Spending time preparing proposals, teaching lawyers how to develop business, providing real value to clients outside of general legal work with seminars, and continuing legal education are all activities that engage the lawyer as a person, instead of putting their picture on a slick brochure.

By spending dollars training lawyers how to develop clients, by having them talk to clients in a seminar about what the firm does, and by providing lawyers with practice tips through CLE, a firm shows their commitment to the personnel, and not just the outward perception of the firm on paper.

I've said before here that this is a time when clients are looking for lawyers - real lawyers that can do real work. Advertising is not real. I'm happy to see that law firms are taking a step in the direction of putting their lawyers out there, in the real world.

Located in Miami, Florida, Brian Tannebaum practices Bar Admission and Discipline and Criminal Defense. Read his free ebook The Truth About Hiring A Criminal Defense Lawyer. Please visit


Monday, January 4, 2010

A New Year's Message To Bar Applicants

I have a lot to do today, so this will be quick:

[1] Stop asking me about disclosing stuff. The answer is "yes, disclose."

[2] Stop asking me why this process takes so long. It's like traffic - too many people trying to get to the same place.

[3] Stop asking me if you need a lawyer. Did I call you, or was it the other way around?

[4] Stop worrying about Facebook. Start behaving on Facebook.

[5] Stop asking me if you should withdraw your application because you're afraid you won't get in. You're trying to become a lawyer. Butch up. No one said it would be easy.

Happy 2010.

Located in Miami, Florida, Brian Tannebaum practices Bar Admission and Discipline and Criminal Defense. Read his free ebook The Truth About Hiring A Criminal Defense Lawyer. Please visit