Tag Archives: The Economy

Inspirational (Steve) Jobs

Angie Robertson graduated from Loyola University Chicago School of Law in 2010. She has experience with public interest law, family law, legal document review and sales.  When she is not reading or writing about law, she enjoys live music, exploring Chicago, watching roller-derby, and spending time with her husband and her dog.

“You’ve got to find what you love. And that is as true for your work as it is for your lovers. Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle. As with all matters of the heart, you’ll know when you find it. And, like any great relationship, it just gets better and better as the years roll on. So keep looking until you find it. Don’t settle.”- Steve Jobs (2005)

This week, we lost one of the greatest creative business leaders of our time with the death of Steve Jobs.  Entrepreneurs like Steve Jobs truly inspire me.  In this economy, most of us aren’t lucky enough to be in jobs that we enjoy. This could not be more true for the young attorneys who have sought document review work on a contract basis just to pay the bills. But are people like me who have spent the better part of the year in temp work settling, against the advice of visionaries like Jobs?

Those who do temporary doc review assignments right out of law school risk future employers turning their noses up at the doc review experience, potentially spending months unemployed between contracts waiting for an opportunity to match availability or eventually finding that document review is so different from the legal career they prepared themselves for in law school that they cannot continue.  So why do so many of us persist in this line of work?

The primary justifications for temporary doc review work are relationships with significant others. Many of us don’t pursue the entry-level legal work available in the collar counties or other states because we have spouses with good jobs here. For us, being close to those people outweighs the opportunity to get litigation experience. Also, many of us are actively pursuing other interests that would not be possible in a traditional legal career. The range of other interests my co-workers have is incredible. Someone is working on getting her CPA license, another is in acting classes, someone is in a band, many have young children and a myriad of others have unique hobbies that would be impossible in the shackles of a law firm of any size.

Nonetheless, Steve Jobs’ point is poignant. If you find yourself bored with your current legal career, whether it be permanent or temporary, try to figure out if you can use this transitional time to find another love. If you can’t it may be time to explore other fields. We are up to the neck in student loan debt; if we will be paying our student loans essentially for the rest of our lives, is there any reason in the world to do something we don’t absolutely love?

Advertisements

Does the media tell you that law school is a waste of time?

 Nick Augustine, J.D., is the principal of Pro Serve Public Relations, a PR firm serving the law and finance industries. Nick advises and assists attorneys in transition based on his experience in law, legal marketing, public relations, and his Secured Solo Practice model. Nick shares career growth strategy and experience with legal job seekers.

Recently I saw another editorial article suggesting law school is a waste of time. Rubbish! There are plenty of clients and cases in our communities. During challenging times, successful professionals adapt to market demands. Forget about the doom and gloom in certain media, whose advertisers are happy when fear tactics are used to attract readership. Most of the bad press you see is a product of groupthink and isn’t based in reality.

People make decisions based on emotion. If 10 people told you not to go to law school because the job outlook was no good, would you be scared to take the plunge? Most people say yes, some even reconsider. The optimist thinks, “Maybe if I don’t get a job in the private sector I can clerk for a judge.” Using logic, consider history. Do you think the need for lawyers has decreased? There are always new and developing practice areas, you just have to pay attention and think out of the box to find the practice areas with available work.

Economies and job markets are cyclical. When I graduated from law school in 2002 the insurance defense jobs were plentiful. It was easy to get a job. Today this is not the case. Tomorrow it will not likely be much better, but who knows where things will be five years from now. Where will you be then? Maybe you take a lower paying associate position now and in five years when you are ready to move up the ladder the markets might be very favorable. The best way to handle the economic fluctuation is to budget and manage your finances, keeping your chin up and nose to the grindstone.

Making the best of a poor economy is easy if you practice optimism. Self-fulfilling prophecies are dangerous in down economies. If you believe there are not jobs you are less likely to work hard to find a position in law. Meanwhile, there are people out there who are so busy they have a hard time understanding how some lawyers cannot find any work. You have to go to the work, aggressively, and with hat in hand sometimes, always believing the next win is just around the corner. Optimistic people tend to create situations that serve their best interests. Engage in optimism.

If you have extra time you should get involved. If you are looking for job offers, referrals and good contacts, then you should get involved in your community. Think about social networking websites – you likely know more people than you think. If you take the time to connect with people in your network then you will have a chance to tell them about you or your firm and the services offered. If the price is right, you might attract work from someone who otherwise might have gone to a legal document company or do it yourself resource. The best way to market yourself in a down economy is to tell many people what you do and engage in dialogue to find out if you can help them or someone they know.

Closing the loop on negative media, consider that in good economies we might hear more about tort reform and the lawyers making very large salaries. How likely is it that the average lawyer is at either end of the spectrum of the economy? Ignore the bad press and keep busy.

Find a better way to finance your practice area

J. Nick Augustine J.D., “The Law Publicist,” is the principal of Law Publicist Communications, an ALR/PRA, Incorporated agency. Nick advises and assists attorneys in transition in public relations, marketing and practice management. Nick shares recruiting and staffing experience and tips for legal job seekers.

The economy is always changing. The need for skilled legal practitioners rarely changes. What changes is the consumer’s ability to pay and the lawyer’s creativity in charging fees. If you follow economic trends and are looking to modify your business model you just might discover a better way to practice law and make more money. Step one is recognizing the status quo is no longer viable.

Increased numbers of cases filed pro-se tells us a few things. First, there are still law suits clogging the court’s dockets. Second, the cases that should be settled out of court are now increasingly before the courts. Third, pro-se litigants who take a stab at practicing law from a form book or online resource might be getting it wrong. The problem is not a lacking need for lawyers, rather an ability to pay legal fees.

As unpopular as it sounds, I have said for a while now, “The people getting divorced in the suburbs cannot afford the legal fees but for their home equity loans and lines of credit.” I am sure there are still motions for disbursement of funds for legal fees (from house proceeds sitting in escrow); most houses are not selling and most lines of credit and equity are no longer available. At this point the attorneys need to focus on a client’s actual income and ability to pay.

Some lawyers are turning to value billing. When you offer services at a fixed fee the client is more likely to budget, borrow or otherwise finance legal fees. Progressive law offices spread fixed fees over time so a client is more likely to pay. This way the client receives proper service and the lawyer earns fair revenue.

For many, it seems like the days of a billable hour bonanza are gone. Even if so, don’t think you get out of billing. The ARDC has long stayed away from the business of billing disputes. Having said that, the ARDC is requiring billing to back up fixed fee retainer agreements, and attorneys need to establish that they earned their fees. Other benefits of diligent billing include: (1) offering “No Charges” for short or simple matters; (2) keeping up on billing; (3) increased likelihood of getting paid. Nowadays, if a bill gets to large, the lawyer isn’t as likely to be paid in full. Diligent billing will always serve you well.

When modifying how you sell and deliver legal services, make sure you pay attention to the rules governing how you are allowed to charge by statute. Last time I checked you couldn’t charge a contingent fee in a criminal defense case. Even if you take this advice and decide to keep your status quo, you might think of better ways to practice law and make more money.

Be of counsel, keep your own shingle

J. Nick Augustine J.D. is the principal of Law Publicist Communications, an ALR/PRA, Inc. company.  Law Publicist Communications is a public relations agency also offering coaching and consulting.  Nick advises and assists attorneys in transition in public relations, marketing and practice management.  He shares recruiting and staffing experience and tips for legal job seekers.

Attorneys starting their own practice want to be able to build their name and reputation while earning money from “of counsel relationships,” as I will term them.   I suggest anyone looking for of counsel opportunities should first do their research, including a call to the ARDC and the ABA.  Knowing, and being able to demonstrate the finer points of an of counsel relationship, should help you when approaching seasoned lawyers with too much work on their plate.  Here are a few of today’s economic realities we need to consider.

Economic Reality #1:  We are practicing in a rebounding economy where seasoned professionals are cautious when approaching mergers and acquisitions of new associates.  There are two things lawyers generally dislike, turning away clients and terminating employees.  I may get some disagreement on turning away, or referring interested clients, but I doubt anyone enjoys terminating an employee.  Keeping associates with no scheduled work is a realistic concern for many lawyers in solo and small firm practices.  Having another lawyer as a back-up is a great proposition in a rebounding economy.

Economic Reality #2:  You never make more money working for others as you would on your own but bills need to be paid now.  If you establish an of counsel relationship with a firm who has work now but no promise of continuation, you can bring in money today to pay bills while building your own practice.  Along the way, you may just happen to stumble upon your very own client.  If you continue the of counsel relationship you will likely reach a point where the income from your main practice eclipses the value of the work being fed by the of counsel firm.

Economic Reality #3:  The clients who retained an of counsel firm are more likely to be loyal to that firm and won’t send referral clients to you.  If you have and market your own practice the chances of referrals are minimal compared to associates of a growing firm. People will assume the firm who hired you has a solid book of business and is less concerned about client generation. But don’t forget, you have bills to pay now.

Economic Reality #4:  The economy is rebounding, but remember, it will take some time.  If you are set up to accept those clients next year, the setup activity this year becomes well worth your investment.  Remember, an of counsel relationship doesn’t have to dissolve when you are well on your own.  You just might be in the position to hire an associate who you can feed with an of counsel workload.  Consider as well that you might be listed as an of counsel lawyer on another firm’s site.  They will probably keep all the work that comes from their own marketing efforts, but isn’t it nice to be found another place online?

With the caveat that young attorneys should always get help when practicing in new areas, I suggest losing the training wheels and take the solo plunge. The sooner you establish your own firm the sooner your value will grow among your colleges and clients.  Again, get help, don’t practice on your own without having co-counsel and of counsel plans in place.

Surviving the economic climate

J. Nick Augustine J.D. is the principal of ALR/PRA Inc., a full service law practice management agency.  Nick advises and assists attorneys in transition in public relations and marketing.  Nick also shares recruiting and staffing experience and tips for legal job seekers.

I often ask lawyers in my social networks what advice they want to hear.  For some attorneys in transition, the advice is easily taken; in other situations advice can be more complicated.  This week’s advice goes out to a solo practicing attorney in California.  A native of Egypt, my friend likely anticipated a career in the Golden State here in the U.S. would be a “dream come true.”  Today he is asking how to survive in the present economic climate?

“Suddenly Solo” is being tossed around as a remedy for associates who have fallen from big firms or law school graduates who just passed their bar exam and are looking for employment.  One of our leaders in law practice management, Ed Poll, recently appeared up on my Facebook wall with a link to a story about the risks of going solo versus riding out the storm.  I tend to agree with the sentiment that if you don’t have to make a great change, you might be better off holding on to your hat and waiting a while longer.

First, to those who want to leave a firm temporarily challenged by a dip in revenue:  hold on a while longer.  Take an assessment of your capital contributions and consider the amount of brand equity you have with your current line-up.  Even though the cash may not be flowing this month, the contacts and connections you’ve made already will suit you well in the future.  Many professionals have said that economic cleansing leaves behind the people who are best suited for their jobs.  The lawyers who hold tight in their current positions are more likely to appear successful and maintain the respect of clients and colleagues.

Second, to those solo practitioners who want to hang up their shingle:  hold on a while longer.  A few attorneys have mentioned that they terminated some associates last year when there was little work; now, instead of hiring new associates, principals are bringing some struggling solo’s into their firms instead of re-hiring associates.  While this may be a temporary fix, this scenario could require you to hang up on the tremendous human capital and sweat equity you invested into your solo practice.  If you are going to go this route, consider an of counsel relationship to another firm instead of closing the doors to your solo practice.

I expect some to say:  “Nick, how can you expect us to hold on where there is no money?”  OK, fair question – there are always alternative incoming generators you can tap into while maintaining your status quo.  When I started my business in 2005 things were good, then in 2007, the clients started drying up and I took an extra part-time job to keep cash flowing.  Is it a shock to the ego to take a second job?  Yes.  Is it worth it in the long run to be able to ride out the storm?  I think so.

Taking a second job can be as simple as assuming some overflow cases as an of counsel attorney to another firm.  Taking on contract work through an agency can be another secondary income source – you would be surprised how many solo practitioners are doing just that.  To my colleague in California, I wish you well; to all the attorneys in transition:  just hold on a while longer.