Monthly Archives: March 2010

Howdy, partner

Tiffany Farber is a solo practitioner who has been practicing law since 2008. As someone who has been through transition in her career, she understands the challenges lawyers in this situation face.

So, you’ve made the decision to start your own law practice.  Congratulations, step one is complete!  Chances are your head is spinning from thinking about the things you need to do to get started.  Starting a practice can be overwhelming at first, especially if you plan to have a full-time practice.

When you are feeling overwhelmed, organization is usually the key to decreasing your stress.  The first step I take when I need to get organized is to make a list of things to consider.  The next couple of blog posts will cover the things that I think you should consider when making your list.  Your challenge is to simply think about my suggestions.  If you like them, add them to your list and flesh them out according to what is right for you.  This week, I ask you to consider whether or not you want to be a solo or work with a partner.

This question requires some serious soul searching.  If you are thinking about partnering, the first question to ask yourself is who your partner will be.

Remember how frustrating it was when you argued with your college roommate about who would clean the bathroom?  I imagine that it’s much worse when you are arguing with your business partner about how much money you are owed or how the office files should be kept.  You need to think really hard about your personality type and how that will or will not mesh with a person that you may have in mind.  The last thing that you want when you are just starting out is to walk into a land mine.

You will also want to ask yourself whether your partner will be someone who has never started a law practice.   It can be a plus to have someone learning along side of you, which can make you feel less alone.  But, if you partner with someone who has never started a practice, it may take some time for both of you to learn the ropes.  In the alternative, your partner can be someone who has experience running a practice.  This may be a good idea because you can learn a lot from that person, but they may also require a bigger piece of the pie when you bring in fees.

If you are going to partner up, you need to decide if the arrangement will be a formal partnership or other type of arrangement.  There are obvious risks involved in a formal partnership, and there is paperwork that needs to be done.  I don’t profess to be an expert in partnership formation and everything that goes along with it, but there are certainly people out there who are experts.  I would recommend asking someone who has already formed a partnership about their arrangement, and how they came to it.

There are other options that don’t involve partnership in the traditional sense.  You can simply share office space with another attorney.  This can be a good way to network and get referrals, but that other attorney may also choose to have nothing officially to do with your firm and focus on his or her own practice.  You may also decide to co-counsel with another attorney and split fees.  This can be a good arrangement, but you will need to negotiate with the other attorney and clear this arrangement with the client.

The decision to have a partner can have a great impact on the trajectory of your practice.  It will dictate what sorts of clients you have, where your office will be and how the administrative aspects of the practice will be run.  Having a partner can be the best decision you will ever make, or it can be a disaster.  You should really think it through before you make your final decision.

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Inside Perspective: Annoying things outside lawyers do …

Anita Wilson is VP & Chief Employment Counsel at TreeHouse Foods Inc. in Westchester, Ill., where she handles all labor, employment, benefits, ethics and compliance issues.

I used to live in the north suburbs and take the Metra downtown.  I hated every minute of it.   Don’t get me wrong.  It wasn’t Metra that I hated.  It was the PEOPLE on the Metra that drove me crazy.  People did the most annoying things on the train.  They screamed into cell phones and clipped their nails.  They ate smelly food and slept through their stops … snoring and drooling.  Okay. It wasn’t that bad.  I now drive to work in my own car by myself thus no longer having to endure the annoying train people.  But as an in-house lawyer, I still have to endure other annoying things.  Last week I wrote about my favorite things that outside lawyers do.  This week, it seems only fitting to write about the annoying things that outside lawyers do.

Lawyers who are not detail-oriented

There is a capital “H” in “TreeHouse Foods.”  If you omit the capital “H” I will pause, correct it and then wonder what else I need to correct.  A few years ago I worked with a senior associate on a temporary restraining order.  This lawyer asked a zillion questions and remembered absolutely everything.  He was phenomenal and we won.  I don’t think the man slept.  I, on the other hand, went to sleep every night knowing that he would not miss a thing. 

Lawyers who don’t think strategically

The first thing that comes to my mind when I get a new matter or issue is: “What is the value of this?”  In-house lawyers put a value on everything.  I will put a value on my own mother if you give me a minute.  What’s the value of this deal?  How many people in the business will have to spend precious time away from their day jobs working on this matter?  Assessing the value of a matter early on drives how much time I spend on the issue, how much money I’m willing to pay outside counsel to work on the issue, and how much I might be willing to pay to settle the matter. Outside lawyers who think about a matter’s value early on provide a great service to their clients.  To the contrary, outside lawyers who think only in terms of which motion to file and which letter to write miss the big picture and miss a big opportunity to properly service their in-house counsel clients.

Lawyers who wait until the last minute to get my review or permission.

Outside lawyers have heard in-house counsel say this a million times.  Do not send in-house counsel briefs, letters, memos an hour or two before that brief, letter or memo is due.  Invariably, an outside lawyer who waits until the day a key document is due or an issue needs to be decided, will find that I am out of the office, in meetings or on vacation.  That lawyer will first leave me frantic voicemails — which I will not get or answer (see last week’s column) until hours later.  The smarter lawyer will send me frantic e-mails.  I will leave the meeting or interrupt my vacation to address the emergency that you created because you waited until the last minute. I will not be happy. I will be annoyed.  You will hear about my annoyance and it will not be pretty.

When I was a young associate, I did all the annoying things that I now condemn.  I wasn’t super detail-oriented.  I couldn’t spell “strategic” let alone think that way.  And I didn’t finish briefs or memos until the last minute because I wasn’t efficient or experienced.  But along the way, after plenty of criticism, baptism-by-fire and just plain-old hard work, I developed a few skills and improved my abilities and habits.  No one intends to be an annoying passenger on the Metra train just like no outside lawyer intends to be annoying … but oh how these things do annoy.

Q & A with one of the event speakers

Tamara Klein, one of our speakers for Wednesday’s Attorneys in Transition event, took some time to answer our questions.

What do you hope people get out of the event?

I hope that people learn that there is hope.  I think we have hit the bottom of the financial crisis (in terms of legal placement), and are on our way back up.  There will still be firms laying off people – but I think it’s going to happen more irregularly.  Moreover, I think the firms that continue to lay off people will be ones that should have done it a year ago.  I think we are on our way back up.  There are plenty of jobs out there.

What is the biggest mistake job candidates make when looking for a legal job?

I think there are a number of mistakes that candidates make.  First, I think that associate candidates are trusting headhunters, when they shouldn’t.  Although I think the legal market is picking back up, I don’t think it’s at a level yet where firms are going to pay a recruiter for an associate candidate – except in rare circumstances.  I also think that people tend to sell themselves short.  Although an attorney may have an expertise in employment discrimination litigation, that attorney will be able to handle antitrust litigation.  Litigation is litigation, although the forum may change.  …  People need to think bigger and broader.  They shouldn’t limit themselves in terms of presenting their experience in resumes, and they shouldn’t limit themselves at interviews.

Job Search Strategies: Irons in the fire

Aurora Donnelly is a solo practitioner always looking forward to the next exciting transition.

Three attorneys I know have found work at law firms in the last couple of weeks. What is interesting is that in two cases the position is not permanent. The jobs are temporary, with no specific promise of permanency, but open-ended as far as longevity. One friend was told he would have a job until they lost that business and/or the market got worse. The other was told he would be employed as long as the project he is working on continued or if other projects came along.

The third attorney was called back by a firm who had laid him off last year and had now seen a resurgence of the business he had done for them before. He was also advised that should the business drop off, he would be again be subject to termination, no minced words.

The salaries are not great, but not terrible. The law firms are reasonably pleasant to work at and do not demand a certain (sometimes crazy) number of billable hours. They just want projects done for specific, paying clients.

I see this as an improvement in the job market. At least the firms are hiring again, though tentatively and with no promises. It makes sense that they are tying the employment to specific projects and clients. And, generally, I think it is better to be forewarned about the durability of the position than to be caught by surprise, again!

Something else that comes to mind when I talk to these newly-hired or re-hired associates is that we should, if possible, keep other work possibilities alive. Such as, if you have a part-time practice, try to keep it going; if you have a good relationship with a recruiter, stay in touch, and if you have other relationships that might lead to permanent work, don’t let them lapse. Likewise with learning new things or re-honing and maybe getting certified in old interests and skills. Adaptation is key.

The business of law feels different to me now—it seems not so much about setting up client relationships with unlimited billable hours and years of durability, but about providing legal services for specific issues that clients need help with right now. Maybe this is a legal twist on the “added value” model with which other types of businesses have long succeeded and which hasn’t in the past been at the top of some law firms’ lists of priorities. Maybe this is a good thing.

Q & A with Heather A. Begley

Heather A. Begley has been an associate with the Law Offices of Jeffrey J. Kroll since the firm’s inception six years ago. She works on high-profile personal injury and wrongful death cases, including aviation and train disasters, automobile and truck crashes, medical malpractice and construction negligence. In 2005, she was selected by the Illinois Trial Lawyers Association to receive a William J. Harte Amicus Volunteer Award. Before joining the Law Offices of Jeffrey J. Kroll, Ms. Begley worked at Clifford Law Offices.

— What do you find the most interesting about your practice?

Personal injury law is interesting because you are always learning new things.  Every case is different.  Whether my client was injured by a bus, a crane or a punch press machine, I need to gain a thorough understanding of how they were injured.

I also find negotiating settlements and mediation interesting.  The factors at play in resolving a case include a fascinating mixture of economics, psychology, sociology, communications and sales.  I think it is very interesting to see the different styles and skills that judges, mediators and attorneys bring to the table to come to an agreement and settle cases.

— What makes a good lawyer?

In my opinion, integrity is a quality that makes a good lawyer.  No matter which area of law that a lawyer practices, if the lawyer possesses integrity, he or she will value that his or her professional responsibility is to represent the client and will strive toward meeting the client’s goals.  A strong commitment to the client is necessary to be effective counsel.  Other qualities that I equate with good lawyers include intelligence, good listening skills and ethical behavior.

— What is the biggest legal news right now and what is its impact?

The biggest legal news right now is that the Illinois Supreme Court ruled that caps for non-economic damage awards in medical malpractice cases are unconstitutional.  This is a major victory for the preservation of patient’s rights.  It is also big news that it is illegal in Illinois to write, send or read text messages while driving. This is important legislation for the safety of Illinois residents. Although it is tempting to text and drive, it is extremely dangerous and could have devastating results.

Meet one of our speakers

Jinnie English is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW), and the CEO of International & Chicago’s High Achievers, a personal and professional development firm for High Achievers, their families and companies. She will be one of our speakers at our March 31 event. She took some time to answer some of our questions.

— What do you hope to discuss at the event?

The secret behind transitioning well in ANY career.  How to determine the best type of interpersonal engagement based on the request and circumstance.

— What is the best piece of advice you have for lawyers going through a career transition?

Know what makes you unique and brings value to your clients and firm.  Since there are thousands of attorneys in Chicago and hundreds of firms, it is important to know where you excel and generate the highest revenue and results for clients.  Then, package that message in a strong yet modest manner fashion.

— How can someone leverage their legal career to be more successful?

Use you legal expertise/career to creatively solve common problems.   Great examples are negotiation, do-it-yourself legal, or small business group consultations.

Tell us about your unusual practice

What is the practice: Shefsky & Froelich’s Gaming Practice

How would you describe it? Shefsky & Froelich’s Gaming Practice has offered legal services to a wide range of clients in the gaming industry throughout North America and worldwide. In a heavily regulated industry like gaming, the firm’s attorneys knew early on that the best way to learn the industry was by starting from the inside—by working with state governments and their regulatory authorities to draft gaming legislation, rules, and regulations and serving as gaming counsel to these governmental authorities. The lawyers then went on to develop an in-depth understanding of the operational side of the casino gaming business by serving as counsel to some of the largest gaming companies in the world. The firm also acquired significant expertise in the financial structuring of gaming transactions.

The practice’s clients include: hotel and casino owners and operators; sovereign wealth funds; gaming suppliers, equipment manufacturers, and other vendors; commercial lenders, underwriters, and investment banks; investors such as financial institutions, private equity funds, and individuals; governmental entities.

How many lawyers are in the practice and when was it started? The practice began in 1991 and currently has 13 attorneys practicing in this group.

Why is this practice needed in the legal community? The Illinois Video Gaming Act (enacted on July 13, 2009) legalized the use of Video Gaming Terminals in liquor licensed establishments including bars, restaurants, truck stops, and certain fraternal and veterans organizations. This new Act has sparked much controversy and has been a hot topic in recent media. Beyond just serving as counsel to entities in the gaming industry, the attorneys are currently working with businesses who are applying for video gaming licenses as the applications were released last week. Additionally, they have to stay on top of any new Illinois gaming legislature and relating topics in the news.

Practice Leader’s Name: Paul T. Jenson

Gaming Practice Webpage: http://www.shefskylaw.com/%5C?t=5&LPA=236&format=xml