Thursday, January 19, 2006

Secret Underground Location

Dear loyal fans and readers:

I am sorry for my long and unexcused absence from this hallowed blog. I have been indisposed as the consequence of involuntary sequestering at a secret underground location in suburban Maryland (see left) with nothing to entertain me but a bottle of Two Fingers tequila, a paddle ball set and a copy of fraudulent memoirist James Frey's A Million Little Pieces.

I should be recovered in a few days and have plenty of exciting topics for discussion, such as:

  • When Playmates Land in County Court
  • "Don't Bogart the Xerox"- Office Suites vs. Virtual Offices
  • Pro-Bono for Beginners With No Paying Clients

Stay tuned...

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Casting for Clients

The World Wide Web has become an indispensible marketing tool for attorneys large and small. Some web sites are nice and functional, others crowded and cheap looking. However, a slick and sophisticated web site does have the ability of making a small practitioner look like a much bigger fish than he really is.

Even so, a web site is only useful to the extent that potential clients actually go to it, read it and are impressed by it. Just throw something together without thinking about how someone will arrive at it and see how many times it appears at the top of your Google search.

Recently Xylemark Internet Marketing published a short guide to web site placement that offered a few helpful tips for getting your web site featured more prominently:

"Unlike traditional media advertising, search engine marketing (SEM) allows you to precisely target your prospective audience. With traditional media, your prospect is being served an ad, or in other words, they are just “looking” at it. During a search engine marketing campaign, your prospect is actively “searching” for what you offer. This greatly increases your chances of retaining these prospects as clients.

If your law firm’s website is positioned correctly near the top of those results, you’re sure to add to your existing client base. However, it’s never easy to ensure top placement of your website in search engine rankings. It’s an involved process that’s not exactly neither art nor science.This process is referred to as "Search Engine Optimization."

Search engine optimization is the process that involves many different elements to ensure a top placement of your website. Some of these elements are; modifying the "code" of your website, the addition of informative resources specific to your practice, the addition of your website to many online business directories, and more. This entire process can take a few months to implement, but once completed and properly maintained, will be a huge "hands free" asset to your practice that will pull in leads and customers for years to come."
  • Does your firm rely on web marketing? To what extent does it consume your marketing budget?
  • How does your firm place its web site? Do you pay to have it listed?
  • How many clients came to your firm because of your web site?

Saturday, September 17, 2005

Is Harass One Word or Two?

As many attorneys in Washington and Florida know, the global law firm of Holland & Knight has had some acute brushes with political correctness in 2005. Notably, one such instance occurred in the form of a sexual harassment scandal involving one of its senior partners and his pleas for female associates to feel his pipes.

But what happens when a prominent client causes sexual unrest in a law firm? Given the legal profession's default left-wing presumption, and its perpetual hand-wringing over accommodating political correctness in the workplace, shouldn't law firms (especially those which espouse zero-tolerance policies toward sexual harassment) have as easy a time dealing with clients that break the rules as they do with each other? Can filthy lucre corrupt even the best of intentions? Apparently so.

In Goodman v. Blank Rome, a lawsuit recently filed in New York, an associate of the 459-attorney Blank Rome claimed, that notwithstanding the firm's "zero-tolerance policy" she was subjected to the perverse sexual antics of a wealthy and loyal client while senior partners looked the other way. In one such particularly lurid incident, the associate was requested to travel to the client's hotel room for his signature on some documents and was greeted by the client clad only in a terrycloth bathrobe (I suppose we have the Four Seasons New York to thank for its choice of terrycloth over flimsy negligee). The associate complained-then sued, and as a consequence of her failure to loosen up and party, she was fired.

Blank Rome and Holland & Knight are huge firms with as many HR issues as the day is long. Sooner or later, sexual harassment by partners and associates, is bound to become an issue and these firms are supposed to have preexisting policies to contend with them. While this form of sexual harassment may not be as institutional or endemic on the small/solo practice level, the issue of valuable and loyal clients harassing you or your help is one that should span all types of practice.

Is your office "zero-tolerant" of inside as well as outside sexual harassment? If not, what level of tolerance is it willing to stomach?

Have you had incidents with wealthy clients in the past?

If so, how did you handle them?

If not, how would you handle them?

Sunday, September 11, 2005

And You Believed Me?

Are you concerned about third-parties, not in privity and outside of the attorney-client relationship, relying upon your advice to their own detriment? Maybe you should be.

Without going into too much detail about the underlying case, the South Florida law firm of Gunster Yoakley is being sued by three foreign companies that filed third-party malpractice claims on the basis that the firm damaged them by failing to disclose crucial information related to a debt offering.

According to the Palm Beach Daily Business Review: "In general, legal malpractice can be alleged against an attorney or law firm by a party that retained the lawyer's or law firm's services. But in March, the Florida Supreme Court held that a third party that relied on the lawyer's professional services - even if those services were rendered on behalf of another - can sue if the lawyer failed to exercise due diligence and proper care and thereby damaged the third party. In Cowan Liebowitz & Latman, P.C., et al. v. Donald Kaplan, the Supreme Court permitted creditors of an insolvent corporation to sue the lawyers who represented the corporation. The creditors accused the lawyers of failing to disclose material information in private placement memoranda for the sale of shares in the soon-to-be-insolvent company, Medical Research Industries Inc."

As a consequence of the Kaplan decision, Florida has now become a testing-ground for a drastic broadening of the traditional notion that a claim for malpractice by virtue of negligence can only exist where there is privity or an attorney-client relationship. Although the Florida Supreme Court went to great lengths to insist that the precedent established in the Kaplan decision would be limited to specific facts it has nonetheless thrust the Courts into an area where they previously were hesitant to venture.

How do you envision this new precedent and the lawsuit against Gunster Yoakley will impact small and solo practitioners in Florida?

Do foresee an increase in the cost of malpractice liability coverage for small and solo practitioners?

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Back on the Air

After a one-month hiatus, TFM is back. Sorry for any inconvenience. I swear I'll do my best from now on to keep this place filled with interesting stories, sexy topics and meaningless anecdotes on a regular basis.

My absence is not totally without excuse: Unknown wife and I took unknown son to stay at unknown brother's beach house in Ft. Lauderdale. Everything was wonderful right up to the point where Hurricane Katrina bored straight for his backyard and we had to flee to the house of unknown mom and dad in Orlando.

Oh - and I can't forget the Macedonian maid my brother hired that tried to sell my son into white slavery. But that is another story for another time.

Finally, a message for the cheese girl at Whole Foods on US1 and Sunset: Hummus was in the prepared foods refrigerator case near the exit. Don't tell me you just do cheese. The store isn't that big.

Monday, August 08, 2005

Take A Load Off

Today's blog is gonna be short. My teething six-month-old son (my wife and I suspect he's teething) and I haven't slept since Friday and I am just about to run short of steam. He seems to be doing just fine though.

At any rate, today's topic is: "What is the best type of business form for my firm?"

Small/solo practitioners are not as limited as you might think when it comes to creative business formation solutions. Some stick to classic sole proprietorship, while others go the partnership route. Still others go a little more exotic and try the PLLC or P.A. architecture.

Whatever the reasons for choosing a type of business structure, your choice should always be guided by the core principle of: "What will enable me to make the most amount of money?" Accordingly, this core principle can be broken down into two subgroups:

  • How do I limit my own liability?
  • How do I (legally) avoid the tax man?

Believe it or not, these two goals do not always work hand in hand. For starters, we must assume as axiomatic that the tax man is always going to get some slice of your pie. Therefore the goal is to limit the size of that slice. Further complicating things are the rules of professional ethics which limit the ability of attorneys to engage in more exotic business schemes that would potentially interfere with servicing clients.

A PLLC offers small/solo practitioners the nifty tax treatment (no double taxation) of a partnership while shielding its members from liability like a corporation does. However, a PLLC does not allow its members to be employed by the firm and requires them to take distributions subject to heavy-handed "self-employment" taxes which, in some jurisdictions, can be as high as 55%!

A P.A. with a sub-chapter "S" election may be a better alternative for some: It has limited liability and can employ its own shareholders while avoiding the dreaded corporate double-tax. However, salaried employees are still subjected to the same payroll withholding as before.

Sound confusing? It is - even for attorneys. The key then is to carefully analyze how and when you want to take distributions/salary and consult an experienced CPA/tax professional when making a decision. Doing so will make sure that you enjoy the most of your labors and avoid the pitfalls of taxation and liability.

Friday, August 05, 2005

The Stigma of Solo

Small/Solo practitioners are often regarded as the red-headed step-children of the medium/big firm legal establishment. Large, international firms work diligently to promote the image that firms, where the only attorney is the one on the letterhead are incapable of handling complex litigation and making a substantial impression in court.

Is the image unwarranted, or are small/solo practitioners also to blame for the "solo stigma"?

In 2004, the ABA Journal featured an article in which several successful solo practitioners related their experiences in dealing with medium/large firm colleagues and their own clients. Initially, they all shared the same stigma of being attorneys not competent enough to be employed by larger firms. However, they each overcame the stigma in the end through a combination of competent professionalism and effective marketing, in essence reassuring clients that they chose to pursue a solo career path rather than being reconciled to it.

In my opinion, the "solo stigma" can be both a handicap and a tool: Let's face it - there are a lot of small/solo attorneys out there who are practicing by themselves for reasons such as professional incompetence; or inability to play nicely with others. But for those who pursue a small/solo route because they would rather enjoy the fruits of their talents themselves, could the relative ineptitude of their less-competent colleagues provide an effective marketing device? In essence, can small/solo practitioners through marketing (read: branding); use of technology and past professional sophistication capitalize on the relative shortcomings of their other small/solo colleagues to their own benefit?

Have you suffered from "solo stigma"? If so, how did/do you remedy it?

Do you address "solo stigma" in your marketing plan? How?