Monday, September 20, 2010

The Oprah Effect: It's Not Your Fault, It's The Law School

The Connecticut Law Tribune reports on one of my favorite topics - the entitled law student. (cue the angry commenters).

The article grabs me at hello: There's nothing like a scorned law school graduate with mounting debt and a niche in cyberspace to stir up a great debate about the merits of a legal education.

Like I said - "entitled."

Instead of law school grads looking at themselves and admitting that the only reason they went to law school was for the cash rainbow at the end, and not to actually be lawyers, they have decided that, surprise surprise, the law schools are to blame.

BAD Law schools - BAD.

My goal is to inform potential law school students and applicants of the ugly realities of attending law school," the author of the blog Third Tier Reality states. That includes few promising job prospects upon graduation unless a student attends one of the top eight law schools in the country, the author says.

Another blogger, The Jobless Juris Doctor, is more specific about his gamble and loss on attending law school for the guaranteed prize at the end:

Graduated from law school in 2009. Keep my diploma in the bathroom in case I run out of toilet paper.

The Tribune article analyzes this collection of blogs as a forum to send a message that law school is a "scam," and that law schools manipulate job placement and starting-salary figures to entice students to campus.

Apparently, the message is being heard:

Reading these blogs has made all of our expectations a little more realistic, said Danny O'Day, a second-year University of Connecticut law student from Westport.

And I've found the one law student who isn't entitled, although I know, I know, there's a ton out there.

O'Day said he and his classmates have no expectation of graduating into a legal industry job that pays six figures and allows for quick repayment of students loans.

Although the article says there are "dozens" of these blogs, written by whiners who wont admit that they only sought to be Members of the Bar and Officers of the Court, was because they heard 6-figures were as guaranteed as a cap and gown at graduation:

...they clearly aren't having much impact on law school enrollment. The number of law school applicants for the incoming 2010 class increased 3 percent nationally over last year, according to the Law School Admissions Council.

And the conspiracy theory gets more focused:

There are legions of underemployed document reviewers slaving away in unventilated basements so that morally bankrupt individuals [at law schools] can continue pulling down half a mil a year by scamming unsuspecting college graduates," the blogger states.

Yeah, now it all makes sense....

And here's my favorite part of the article:

Thirty people [working as legal temps] are absolutely miserable, but nobody has the courage to stand up and say anything," one blogger stated, noting that the air conditioner in the room was set uncomfortably low. "The market is so rotten, so-called professional attorneys are afraid of rocking the boat and being frozen out of low-rate $20 an hour temp gigs.

....nobody has the courage to stand up and say anything.

You should have stood up at the beginning of the law school process, when you held that application in your hand, and said something - like "why am I doing this?"

This guy has the right attitude:

I don't think in this economy that there's a reasonable expectation of anything," said Bryce Petruccelli, a 27-year-old first-year student at UConn. The world doesn't owe me a living, and I realize that," Petruccelli said. "You've got to do what you have to to get by, and I'm not afraid of doing that.

For a long time here I've been talking about this growing group of law school students and grads that have no concept of being a lawyer. They are there for the job at the end. They are there because they heard they could "make money as a lawyer." Lawyering is secondary. Representing clients, going to court, drafting pleadings is not in the mindset - it's all about the cash - and the entitlement.

So blame who you want. If you were stupid enough to go to law school because of the "lure," you're too stupid to be in this profession.

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

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

Thursday, September 16, 2010

3 Names, And Other Stupid Things About Referring Business

It has always been my belief that the "I need 3 names" method of referrals was invented at BigLaw, and it happened like this:

A young associate had the rare opportunity to be asked to whom he would refer a matter. He gave out the name of one lawyer who he knew and respected. The client hired the lawyer and wasn't happy. The client called the managing partner at the firm and complained. The managing partner decided that his firm would not be in the middle of unhappy clients and lawyers from other firms. The new procedure would be to only give out three names, and let the client pick. That way, BigLaw could never be on the hook.

And it spread. No longer would lawyers just give out the name of the one lawyer they believed was perfect for the client and the case, but would instead make no referral at all by giving out three.

The argument for giving out three names comes from lawyers who claim that "some clients like to have a choice, several lawyers to talk to."


The client wants three prices, and three opportunities to hear what they want to hear.

And it's our fault. We are the profession known best for referring business and we suck at it.

The lawyers practicing the longest, are the worst at it.

Here's why:

We never ask questions.

A client calls and wants an "aggressive divorce lawyer." We never ask why. We never ask, how long have you been married?" We instead refer the 3 year married guy with no assets, to a $400 an hour divorce lawyer who wants a $15,000 retainer.

A client calls about a "criminal case in ________________," and is looking for the "best criminal lawyer in town." We don't ask what type of case. We just refer him to the "marquis" criminal defense lawyer in that town - not realizing it's for stealing a t-shirt while on spring break and the kid has $750 for a lawyer.

A client emails they need an "employment lawyer." You don't ask why. Is it for a termination, sexual harassment, contract dispute? Doesn't it matter to you when referring the client to a lawyer? Or are you just looking to waste your colleague's time?

By doing this, we do a disservice to the client and the lawyer.

I see this routinely. I see the 30 year practitioner referring cases to their fellow 30-year practitioners, without even asking about the case. While I understand that a 30-year practitioner may not know too many younger lawyers who may be better suited for a particular case, I have to think they at least know how to find one.

Referring the wrong lawyer for the wrong case is how you become useless to potential clients. A client who receives a successful referral from you is one who is going to call back the next time they need a referral, or advice, or you.

As I watch emails go across listservs daily, I laugh at the referrals I see. Yesterday someone was simply asking a simple procedural question in a certain jurisdiction, and was told to call who is known to be the finest lawyer practicing in that area. I found the answer on Google. The other day someone had a very small matter in a certain city, and there was that 30-year practitioner referring him to a lawyer who probably wouldn't get out of bed for the case.

And back to giving three names. I never do it, even if the client demands. I tell them this is the lawyer I would hire (if it is) and that if it doesn't work out, to call me back and I'll try to help them. By giving one name, you are giving a referral, not a "which one doesn't belong" list of "pick one." By giving a name of the right lawyer for the case, you become a resource to the client. By giving three names, you are nothing more than a switchboard.

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, September 8, 2010

Social Media: Where Lawyers Show Their True Colors

For me it started when I was chatting with a former lawyer/now blog merchant on twitter. A private message came in asking me if I knew the lawyer was disbarred.


Now I deal with disbarred lawyers daily. Some are raging criminals who should of never had a law license, but most just screwed up, bad. They're otherwise good people who've hit professional, and maybe personal, bottom.

This disbarred lawyer though, was lying on his bio about why he left the law, and that bothered me. Of course he wasn't going to admit, among many other things, that he raided a trust account that was set aside for some kids. The option was to not mention he was a "recovering lawyer," and just peddle his blog templates, or come clean. After I wrote about him, he changed his bio, several times. Now I hear he no longer works with lawyers, but I don't know that for sure.

The lawyer moniker is a silver bullet for the desperate lawyers out there - tell me you practice(d) law, and that makes you just like me, check's in the mail.

After I wrote about this former lawyer, some were shocked, some acted shocked even though I knew they knew about it, and some called me a "bully," never understanding that I didn't care that he was disbarred, just that he was lying about it.

Then the floodgates opened. People privately told me about the real estate lawyer who recently pled guilty to mortgage fraud, but was still online, trying to bring in business even though her law license was suspended. I learned about the teach-you-twitter-lawyer who claimed to be an experienced corporate lawyer, but was really laid off after 8 months out of law school. It went on and on.

I realized that social media is a place where bad lawyers, liars, and those that want to corner the "how to build your practice with a computer keyboard" market come to pray on those that are just looking for "how to make money as a lawyer."

Yesterday, I learned that Mr. How to Manage a Law Firm, can't manage his own law license.

In came the typical reactions - "wow," "amazing," "guess he needs to learn to manage his own firm." And I also got the two main questions I am always asked:

1. How do you find these people?
2. Why do you care?

To answer 1, you find these people, and you tell me. You tell me because you know I'll write about them, and you won't. The sad thing is that those that tell me about these frauds, are other lawyers. Other lawyers who are here to type away, build their "brands," and stay away from anything controversial. Exposing frauds on social media is a messy business, and it doesn't bring the Google juice or SEO love.

Why do I care?

Because I'm not here for me. I'm part of a profession. A profession that is watching itself fall into a deep hole of shit. A profession where our colleagues are establishing online identities that are false. A profession where we watch our colleagues do this, and hide behind the notion that "we don't care," and that "no one's hiring these people anyway." A few (couple) bloggers write about this phenomenon, but those of you who watch this go on and do nothing, are like that kid who hides behind Mommy's leg when someone you don't know is in your presence.

I was asked yesterday what other lawyers should do besides watch me write about this issue, because "I do such a good job."

I dunno. Blog about it, tweet about it, post about it on Facebook, email other bloggers.

Or you can forget you're a lawyer, forget that the profession matters, and do nothing.

No need to get yourself or your online brand dirty, I'll take care of it.

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

Friday, September 3, 2010

A Message From BigLaw Associates, We Are Quite Dissatisfied

The ABA Journal, taking a break from promoting worthless social media hacks, has brought us a message from Big Law Associates. It reads more like a list of demands from a hostage taker without hostages:

One of their big complaints is compensation, the American Lawyer reports. Twenty-seven percent of associates surveyed said their benefits had been reduced in 2010, and the associates rated their overall compensation and benefits an average of 3.78 on a five-point scale, the lowest rating in recent years.

No, I don't have any tissues, but I will let these BigLaw office dwellers who have never brought in a single client, in on a little news: compensation for most lawyers has been reduced in 2010. In fact, your BigLaw colleagues who were laid off so you could have a job, have seen their compensation reduced 100%.

Many associates complained they were being paid below-market rates. One asked for restoration of the firm’s 401(k) match, and another wanted to "bring back fun perks from before the recession.

"Below market rates." What market? This market? This is a market where clients want real legal services, not hours and hours of meaningless research. There is not so much of a market for law firms who handle every case with 5 lawyers billing hourly.

Associates also expressed dissatisfaction with staff layoffs that are forcing them to take on paralegal work.

Oh gee. Typing, stuffing an envelope here and there, answering a call. What to do? What to do?

Heavy workloads were also a factor; almost 45 percent said that if they leave their law firms, it will be for better work-life balance.

And there's the phrase that's injected in every discussion of the practice of law these days - "Work-life balance."

I have a suggestion for these unhappy associates who can't figure out how to convince their bosses to let them hang out at Starbucks, cut out at 3 on Fridays, and take a few weeks off to wander around Asia - start your own practice - then you can't complain about how much your firm thinks you are worth, or the extra work you have to do as a result of the fact that you still have a job. I know, you don't know how to practice law, but that really doesn't matter anymore - get a Facebook and twitter account, start a blog and link yourself to death and the clients will flow.

The article refers to these associates as "cranky." I think that's offensive to all the cranky babies in the world.

I'm off to work. This long Labor Day Weekend, I'll concentrate on "life balance."

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