Monday, August 30, 2010

The Art & Science & Scams Of Lawyer Bios

Don't let Bob Ambrogi's "you talkin' to me" photo scare you, he is really is a very nice man. Actually, I don't know if he's a very nice man, he's never been "very nice" to me," but he's never threatened to kill me either.

Bob's been thinking about Lawyer Bios.

What was clear to me from the outset about lawyer bios was how poorly written they were.

Bob goes on to give his "basic philosophy" about lawyer bios:

•It should have a theme.
•It should use facts to back up that theme.
•It should be written in a compelling style that draws in and holds the reader.
•All of this should be done in no more than six paragraphs.

In the case of a lawyer’s biography, the theme should emphasize what makes that lawyer distinct — what makes that lawyer stand out from the competition.

Bob makes the point that "consumers of any product or service want to feel confident that they are making the right choice. There are two ways consumers most commonly reassure themselves. The first is by word-of-mouth referrals. The other is through objective information. Thus, if we are buying a product, we want to hear from friends and reviewers who’ve used that product. We also want to see data on repairs, safety, reliability, performance, etc."

Bob then kills the theory of the social media mavens out there that a Facebook and twitter account with lots of followers is the silver bullet to a lawyer's success:

In the legal context, word-of-mouth referrals remain the most powerful drivers of new business. Whether it is corporate counsel to corporate counsel or neighbor to neighbor, legal consumers are strongly influenced by the positive (or negative) experiences of others.

He believes that where a lawyer went to law school is important (although it in reality is not), and he believes in highlighting things like law review, clerkships, and specific cases.

Bob then makes a point that can be taken two different ways:

Different consumers look for different things, of course, and part of marketing is knowing how to position yourself to your target audience.

Positioning yourself to your target audience.

Meaning what?

Well, what Bob is talking about is the following:

I have spoken directly to corporate counsel who tell me they most definitely want to see evidence that the lawyer has handled the type of case or matter they have — and has handled it successfully.

Now this is a good point, and Bob's piece makes several good points at that. The lesson is that lawyers should be specific about what they do and their experience. It's not good enough to say "commercial litigation" when the lawyer mainly represents Banks in disputes over international fund transfers (I just made that up.) A potential client from France with a tax matter wants to know that the lawyer has represented "French Nationals in disputes with the IRS," not just that the lawyer practices "tax law."

But I go back to the prior comment:

Different consumers look for different things, of course, and part of marketing is knowing how to position yourself to your target audience.

This is part of the problem on the internet.

Lawyers know that "part of marketing" is knowing how to "position yourself to your target audience."

So they lie, or "fudge," or "exaggerate."

The best way to spot this, is when a lawyer doesn't list their year of graduation. That means they have been a lawyer less than 5 years. This is what the marketers tell them to do, because people are looking for "experienced" lawyers.

Which leads me to "experienced." What does that mean?

I say over 5 years. To a certain scam artist I know, it means 8 months.

So here's my thoughts on lawyer bios:

1. Always look to see if the lawyer fails to state their year of graduation or admission to the Bar, or doesn't have a link to easy access to that information.

2. Disregard any value you may put into someone being a "member" of anything." If they practice law, they are required to be a member of a bar. Stating that in a bio is nice, but means nothing. Basic memberships in other bar organizations are also meaningless.

3. Plenty of morons went to great schools.

4. Plenty of stellar lawyers went to unknown schools.

5. A lawyers bio was probably written by the lawyer. A lawyer looking for clients. People say a lot of interesting things when they are looking for clients. Some of those interesting things are actually true.

Located in Miami, Florida, Brian Tannebaum practices Bar Admission and Discipline and Criminal Defense. He is the author of I Got A Bar Complaint.Share/Save/Bookmark

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Would You Advise Your Child to Take on $150k in Debt to Go to Medical School?

Like flies on shit, the internet is full of non-practicing lawyers who are available, for a fee, or a speaking engagement, or a link to your blog, to tell you exactly how to successfully run a law practice - just don't ask them about theirs.

Then there is Carolyn Elefant. A real lawyer, with a real practice, and real advice for real lawyers with real issues.

Her latest post, hit a nerve with me.

She asks: Would You Advise Your Child to Take on $150k in Debt to Go to Law School?

I hate this question. I think it answers itself. More about that in a minute.

Seems a law student called the Solo By Choice Author recently and asked about starting a practice right out of law school:

Yet as we talked more, however, it seemed that the student had another, more basic question on his mind: whether to go further into debt, to the tune of $150,000, to obtain a law degree or to cut his losses.

Another, more basic question on his mind. Translated: Am I ever going to make enough money to pay back my loans?

He then asked Carolyn if she would have gone to law school "knowing what you do about the today’s economy and job prospects in the legal market."

Carolyn gave the answer that any real lawyer gives to that question. The answer that shows she went to law school to be a lawyer - not just to get a job that paid well.

For me, answering yes was fairly easy for a couple of reasons. Foremost, I really like practicing law. Corny as it sounds, I cherish my law degree and revel in being part of a profession that, as imperfect though it may be, is also comprised of amazing people with amazing stories. After twenty-two years in, I still get a thrill when I step up to the podium to argue an appeal. I still marvel that a lowly solo like myself can do stuff that matters, whether it’s preventing a multi-million dollar pipeline company from condemning my clients’ property (and winning attorneys’ fees to boot) or helping a financially troubled homeowner hold on to his house just a little bit longer or just showing up. Most of all, I’m amazed that with nothing more than my law degree and stubborn persistence, that I’ve been able to build something – a law firm out of thin air and on my own terms.

Like practicing law? Part of a profession? Thrill when I step up to the podium? Do stuff that matters?

Now whenever I talk about law students, I get the same silly responses - that I don't know what I'm talking about, that the law professors and hiring partners I speak to are all wrong - there is no sense of entitlement, and not every law student is in law school is there to get a "job."

I know that - so save your comments.

There are plenty of law students in school today that want to be lawyers. They went to law school to become prosecutors, appellate lawyers, family lawyers, public interest lawyers, and just generally to help clients in any given area resolve disputes.

But there is no denying that a significant amount of students are in law school for the sole purpose of getting a job that pays well. They could care less what they do, and for whom they do it. They invested six figures, and dammit, they want their six figure "job."

My answer to Carolyn's question is simple - if you want to be a lawyer, really want to be a lawyer, you shouldn't even be asking the question. If you are there to get paid back for your loan investment, drop out now and learn a trade or start a business, or get another degree. The profession doesn't need more empty suits who are there for the cash. We have enough of those.

Carolyn's decided to ask herself how she would advise her children on taking on $150,000 debt to become a lawyer:

The truth is, it’s hard to say. I suppose I’d start by suggesting that they avoid or limit debt to begin with, either by finding ways to work through school or perhaps choosing a less expensive law school that wouldn’t limit their opportunities. Then, I remind them that choosing law as a path to financial stability isn’t so much an option as it was back in my day.

Choosing law as a path to financial stability isn’t so much an option as it was back in my day.

Back in your day Carolyn, and back in my day, law students weren't graduating with an option of a six figure salary. It was the proliferation of the six figure salary that drove law school applications up. Is that a result of passion for law, or a desire to serve clients?"

I don't think so.

Continuing with the type of corny answer that the "where's my job, where's my six figure salary" law student laughs at, Carolyn says:

Still, if my daughters are committed to practicing law or have a feeling, after exploring other options that it’s right for them; if they’re passionate or excited about the prospect of serving clients – solving their problems and changing their lives or seeking justice and if they’re willing to be absolutely dogged in doing whatever it takes to succeed, then I’d tell them to go for it. I think.

Committed? Passionate? Excited? Serving clients? Seeking justice?


Oh man.

Here's my question: Why don't we ever ask whether we would advise our children to take on $150,000 in debt to go to medical school?

Medicine is a profession. Doctors have the option to make good money, and like law, some do, and many don't. But we never debate the loan issue when it comes to doctors.

And it's because medicine will always be a profession, while law has more and more become a dumping ground for college graduates looking for a good job.

Located in Miami, Florida, Brian Tannebaum practices Bar Admission and Discipline and Criminal Defense. He is the author of I Got A Bar Complaint.Share/Save/Bookmark

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Today At 4, My Social Media Strategy Revealed

Last week I had lunch with one of those funky new online brander types. Local girl, building a niche in the world of women and online branding. We did the typical "so where you from," "how'd you get into this," BS chatter, and then she told me about her upcoming "You, the online brand" seminar. Oh great, another seminar on how to be online, how to type your way to wealth and fame.

Then she started talking about me. She follows my blogs and everything else I do online. She knows my criticisms of the failed lawyers and phony snake oil salesmen who pray on geeky BigLaw partners and young desperate lawyers trying to "make money as a lawyer." She knows I'm always there to call out bullshit when I see it, and she knows I think much of this "let me teach you about the internet" crap is just that - crap.

So she asked me to speak at her seminar. Now please, social media types reading this, pick yourself up off the floor. Read: I am speaking, by invitation, not begging like so many of you do, today, at a seminar about online branding.

While the social media types are busy searching the internet to find this seminar and beg the host to rescind my invitation, let me tell you what I intend to say:

How I really feel. What I really think.

I plan to discuss how your offline reputation can be destroyed by your online parading. I plan to talk about creating an image online that's not true. I plan to talk about failing to respond to negativity - what the social media darlings mean when they send emails to each other: "don't respond to Brian," "watch out for Brian." I plan to talk about engaging with others as a real person, and not a used car salesman.

I trust those that have sat through a couple hours of this seminar will look at me and think "man, is everything I've heard for the last couple hours a bunch of garbage?"

There is honor in what the host is doing. Last year, after publicly criticizing online attorney directory AVVO, I was asked to speak on a panel at an AVVO seminar. I was introduced as "controversial." One of the AVVO people sitting next to me on the panel announced that "our first experience with Brian was not positive."

AVVO wasn't scared to not only engage with a dissenting voice, but to invite that dissenting voice into their world - to put me in front of a room full of people only there to hear the great and wonderful things about AVVO.

The social media folk will never understand the value of negativity. The value of accepting a dissenting voice, a person who questions both it, and the people behind the curtain. To the social media types, transparency is the enemy of their business.

So today at 4, after all the "rah rah rah," I'll get up and pour water on the crowd. I'll speak from a point of view of a human being who doesn't think setting up a blog and twitter account is the key to success in life.

Some will thank me, others will curse me.

It's what I call "Tuesday."

Located in Miami, Florida, Brian Tannebaum practices Bar Admission and Discipline and Criminal Defense. He is the author of I Got A Bar Complaint.Share/Save/Bookmark

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

The Stupidity Of Associates With Golden Handcuffs

There are two types of law firm associates - those expected to lock themselves in an office and stay there 7 days a week, and those that are expected to bring in business.

I'm speaking to the latter.

Why are you so stupid?

Specifically, if your firm wants you to develop business, but won't help you learn how to develop business, why are you still working there? I know the answer - you're there for the paycheck. You're there because you have little self-worth.

Let me break this down. You are expected to bring in business, or you realize you won't be at the firm forever and want to learn how to bring in business and your firm is indifferent. By learning I mean attending a seminar about business development, or attending a CLE conference. One is coming up. You want to go, but you won't unless your firm will pay for it. You are interested in personal development that will lead to business development, but have other priorities when it comes to money, like going out to dinner and paying the lease on your car that you can't afford. So you won't pay for it, and then learn your firm won't pay for it. You get mad. You don't go. Rinse and repeat.

If you want to be a lawyer that can run their own practice, or pay for themselves at a firm and share in profits, it's important to hone those skills. To some, even though there's always things to learn, it's natural. To others, the concept of "rainmaking" or "business development" is completely foreign.

I am tired of hearing from those associates who want to learn about business development, but won't take a dollar out of their pocket to further their career. If your firm won't give you a day off or write a check for a few hundred dollars, they do not support your efforts to develop business.

If you stay there, you're a moron.

To go to work everyday annoyed that a law firm is holding you back from learning the business side of your profession, is a complete waste of a law degree. To fail to make a personal investment in learning the business side of law, if that's what you want to do, is shameful.

Nothing is free. To expect others to invest in your continuing legal education, and then when they don't, avoiding the concept of sticking your hand in your own pocket, is the best way to never be more than you are today.

Located in Miami, Florida, Brian Tannebaum practices Bar Admission and Discipline and Criminal Defense. He is the author of I Got A Bar Complaint.Share/Save/Bookmark

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Blog Bonus: Today I Practiced Law In Starbucks

Frequent or even rare readers of this blog know that I believe the downfall of the legal profession is people with law degrees and law licenses who call themselves "lawyers" spending their days practicing law (read: "not really practicing law") in Starbucks.

The Starbucks across from my office, which is across from a courthouse, is (in my mind) a tribute to me - there are no tables or chairs. You can go in, stand in line, buy your coffee, low fat blueberry muffin, suicidal CD, and then you can leave.

Every other Starbucks has couches, chairs, tables, and the coveted outlet for the essential laptop that gains access to the most important (and free) wi-fi.

Today a witness in a case called me and wanted to meet. The witness did not want to come to my office. Being that this is an important witness in an important case, I turned on my nice guy hat and said "where would you like to meet?"


So I drove over to a Starbucks where the typical "Starbucks Lawyer" worked. There was all the appropriate furniture. I walked in, saw a couple guys in suits with "I am terribly important" dorky bluetooth things in their ears, a fat guy who was either sleeping or dead in a big comfy chair, and a couple t-shirt wearing kids with laptops who were either in school, unemployed, lottery winners, or "lawyers."

I met with the witness for an hour, and left.

The best part of leaving, was noticing that the same people I saw when I came in - those same people who always tell me that "people don't go there and hang out all day and mooch wifi and drink one cup of coffee," were still there.

They're probably still there.

Located in Miami, Florida, Brian Tannebaum practices Bar Admission and Discipline and Criminal Defense. He is the author of I Got A Bar Complaint.Share/Save/Bookmark

The Free Consultation And The Fee Secret

A few years ago I was at a seminar where one of the speakers said "who invented the free consultation?"

The answer is PI lawyers. They take no fees upfront, and are paid nothing unless they recover damages. It's an all risk, some reward practice. It's the closest thing to Vegas in the legal profession. Take on a case for free, and if you win, you get paid. If you lose, you get nothing, and lose what you put in to the case.

Most lawyers though charge an hourly or flat fee. That fee is either paid upfront or in monthly installments based on invoices. That fee is set at the initial consultation.

Long ago, lawyers would routinely charge a consultation fee. Often clients would go see a lawyer simply for a consultation. There was no reason to consult for free, as a few consultations a day would add up to real hours.

It still does today, in an age where the free consultation has become the norm in every practice area. Take the lawyer who charges $250 an hour and does 2 free consultations a day. That's $120,000 in free consultations a year. But lawyers who charge for a consultation are deemed "arrogant" or out of the mainstream.

The sense of most lawyers is that a free consultation is "good business practice" and "gets the client in the door." Many lawyers waive the consultation fee if they are retained on the case, so it's really only there to discourage "shoppers" and people who have no intention of hiring a lawyer at all.

I've gone back and forth with consultation fees. My practice now is that if the client comes from a good referral source, I waive the fee. If the client "found me on the internet," or otherwise "found me" somewhere, I advise of the consultation fee policy. I do not understand why lawyers act as car salesmen - thinking that getting the customer in the door, and in the car, will get them to buy. Car salesmen are great at what they do. They never discuss price until they've confirmed the customer loves the car, and the answer to price is "what would you like your monthly payment to be?" It's a game, and it's not for lawyers.

I find that a consultation fee sets the tone with the potential client that your time is valuable and your advice, worthwhile. A consultation without a fee is not a consultation, it's an audition.

Many lawyers scoff at the notion of a consultation fee because "no one in my area charges one." That's a great way to distinguish yourself as a lawyer - do what everyone else does.

I also think it's time we stopped talking fees at the end of the consultation. Lawyers who consult with potential clients regularly know that every meeting with a potential client has unspoken concerns: "can I afford this lawyer?" "Can the client afford me?"

It is a waste of time for both the lawyer and potential client to spend 30 minutes or an hour or more discussing a case when the client has $500 to his name and the lawyer wouldn't consider representation for less than $5,000.00.

Still, lawyers shudder to think about telling a potential client over the phone that "I don't take cases for less than _____________." Lawyers are fans of the car salesman model. "If the client meets me, he'll hire me."

It's time for lawyers to re-evaluate the free consultation and "hiding the ball" on the fee till the end. We are simply wasting time, our time, and the potential client's time.

Located in Miami, Florida, Brian Tannebaum practices Bar Admission and Discipline and Criminal Defense. He is the author of I Got A Bar Complaint.Share/Save/Bookmark

Monday, August 16, 2010

Who Are You Listening To?

Yesterday I spent 4 hours at the home of a lawyer who's been practicing law for 64 years. I became friends with him when he'd only been practicing 48 years, and have had the opportunity to learn from him and even work on good case together. We talked about law, lawyers, legal stuff, court, clients, and judges. The only time the word "computer" came up was when he told me his hands are having a hard time typing these days.

When I look around the internet, and see the lawyers who frequent this place, I wonder from where other lawyers get their advice, tips, mentors, and philosophies.

I see what I call "real lawyers," those with clients who get up every day and whether it be in their home office, rented time-share office space, or an actual real office with a name plate on the door, spend their days practicing law. They take phone calls and e-mail inquiries about representation, they research, write pleadings, negotiate resolutions to cases, or stand in courtrooms and seek a jury's input on their dispute.

I see what I call "Starbucks Lawyers." They don't necessarily sit in Starbucks all day, but they are lawyers who pray to the god of beans and free wi-fi because they would otherwise be at home, typing about social media among the silence. Starbucks Lawyers have law degrees, may have had a law job at one point, but for the most part spend their days being asked to or begging to speak at conferences, spending money they don't have when they actually are asked to speak at a conference, telling each other how great they are all day on the internet, taking vacations that only lawyers with no clients could take, and make sure they spend some part of everyday talking about how great their "work-life balance" is because they can do whatever they want. They may have wanted to be "real lawyers" at some point, but it was just too much to get up early, drive somewhere, and tax their brain with legal issues. Life is better trying to convince other real lawyers that they could have the life of "Starbucks Lawyer," if they just would hire them as consultants.

When I see the dozens of Google searches a day of "how to make money as a lawyer," I realize that my conversation with this lawyer yesterday seems like a complete waste of time. He didn't look at my website, he didn't ask me about my social media strategy. He just talked, and I just listened.

There are those reading this post who know this lawyer. He is undoubetdly one of the most legendary lawyers this country has ever seen. I don't need to mention his name, even though the Starbucks Lawyers out there couldn't imagine having a conversation with anyone they determine to be of some import and not spreading the word in order to make themselves appear relevant. Starbucks Lawyers love to let everyone know that they "just had a conversation with ________________." (insert seemingly important but really not person's name).

Someone asked me the other day why I care about these "Starbucks Lawyers?" Why does it matter that they falsely create this apparent celebrity life when in fact outside of a laptop screen, they are of no relevance to the practice of law?

I don't care. What I do care about is that I get the sense some of you out there who are real lawyers or want to be real lawyers, are listening to them. They have no secrets, they know nothing that you can't find yourself. They all need to go, away. They demean our profession by making you think that a piece of technology or "10 tips to pumping yourself on the internet" will make you a better member of our profession.

What will make you a better member of our profession, is spending time with those that are better members of our profession, even if they can't teach you how to use a toy.

Located in Miami, Florida, Brian Tannebaum practices Bar Admission and Discipline and Criminal Defense. He is the author of I Got A Bar Complaint.Share/Save/Bookmark

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Perfect: The ABA Finds 10, No 9, No 8, No, 4 Lawyers

Well, the 2010 ABA Annual Meeting is in full swing this week. I'm not a member of the ABA. I know people who are, and for many years it was two types of folks: senior lawyers in BigLaw, and young BigLaw associates sent on their way to the conferences looking to pad their resume with important stuff like "member, arts & crafts committee."

So I don't write as someone disappointed that the ABA has now fallen to the depths of highlighting non-practicing lawyers who sell snake oil and other products to actual real lawyers. I'm not a fan of the ABA, I've never seen its relevance to the solo or small firm lawyer, even though they have committees and sections devoted to us common folk. I was recently asked to write an article for an ABA magazine. It was due June 1, and I think someone said they'd "be in touch." I trust someone is saying "who the hell asked this Tannebaum guy to submit an article?"

This year's annual meeting will have all the typical meetings, and speeches. But my question is: has everyone signed up for 10 Ways To Build A Perfect Practice And Career?

Watch 10 of the most dynamic speakers in the legal community describe how to boost your bottom line and manage your career in these tough economic times

Ten speakers, an hour and a half.

Don't blink, or you may miss the next great secret to wealth and fame.

The ABA titled this right. If they left it as "10 Ways To Build A Perfect Practice," they'd have to explain why it appears 6 out of the 10 don't practice law.

But wait, there's more..... 6 of the 10 have something to sell you, right on the front of their website.

Four (4) of the 10 appear, and I say "appear," to be actual practicing lawyers.

Listen, the 6 salespeople may sell very important products. They may be respected sales people who formally practiced law.

But the ABA couldn't find 10 practicing lawyers to speak to lawyers about building a successful practice?

This isn't a seminar, it's a commercial, a 90 minute commercial which may or may not come with a set of knives that you are free to keep even if you don't buy anything.

Having marketers come and speak to lawyers is important. Lawyers need to know how to market their practice, especially if they are the type that sit in an office and wonder why no one is calling. There are respected marketers (not as many as the snake oil salesmen) who have a place speaking to real lawyers.

I just don't understand why the ABA couldn't find 10 lawyers who have built a perfect practice. Are there not 10?

Located in Miami, Florida, Brian Tannebaum practices Bar Admission and Discipline and Criminal Defense. He is the author of I Got A Bar Complaint.Share/Save/Bookmark

Monday, August 2, 2010

Oh No, Not More Proof That New Lawyers Feel Entitled!

Londoner John Flood updates his previous post on "The Future of Lawyers" today, and it's not difficult to read between the lines.

24% of associates plan to leave the legal profession in the next year.

Eight per cent want a career break and 16% are quitting the profession.

34% gave difficulty of work-life balance as main reason for leaving.

10% cited personality and management problems as another reason for departing, emphasizing gaps between management and employee communication.

OK, let's stop there.

24% of associates, i.e. those who haven't made partner yet.

8% want a vacation, and 16% realize that their get rich quick plan (including an appropriate mahogany desk, prime sports tickets, and 2 hour lunches) to go to law school didn't quite work out as it looked like it would on the various T.V. shows.

34% don't like the whole 5-day a week in an office, possibly in a suit, and not 3 days a week from 10-2 (with lunch) at Starbucks in shorts and sandals.

10% cited "personality and management problems." I think that means "don't you understand how lucky you are to have me working here?" "Gaps between management and employee communication" I think means "no, I'm not going to listen to you tell me how smart you are now that you've been here 4 months."

Flood picks out the following quote from the updates research as one of interest:

An absence of communication over the future of the profession, such as change from lock step to merit based pay, has been a catalyst for relationship issues between management and associates to surface. The survey found that 47% of partners had discussed plans to change their firms’ pay structure over the next five years, yet only 23% of associates believed such discussions were taking place.

Merit based pay?

1. claim to respect and praise; excellence; worth.

What is wrong with you law firm partners? When will you get the message that in order to keep associates you must respect and praise their excellence and worth (and be sure not to get too close to their law degree as the ink may still not be dry).

So to sum it up, a quarter of the young profession is leaving because they don't like being a lawyer (not that they ever thought of the concept), of those, 16% percent will find something else to do, 8% will do nothing while trying to find something else to do, 34% will find a job that gives them the "flex time" they need to "find themselves," and if partners don't get with the respect and praise of excellence and worth, more will leave.

I hope they leave soon.

Located in Miami, Florida, Brian Tannebaum practices Bar Admission and Discipline and Criminal Defense. He is the author of I Got A Bar Complaint.Share/Save/Bookmark