Amid discussions on how the Sequester will impact the country and reports of law firm downsizing, two recent surveys indicate that economic conditions in the legal industry are on an upswing.

First, on March 18, 2013, Citi Private Bank’s Law Firm Group released results from its Law Watch Managing Partner Index survey. The survey covers the fourth quarter of 2012 and is based on responses from 77 law firm leaders to questions about his or her overall confidence in business conditions in the legal industry. The leaders’ responses were plotted on a 200-point index, with 99 points or less representing a lack of confidence, 100 points representing a neutral response and 101-200 points representing complete confidence. Overall confidence in the industry rose 13 points from the third quarter of 2012, with 34% of respondents indicating his or her overall confidence is now “somewhat better.” Other topics in which leaders are increasingly confident are the economy at large, business conditions of the legal profession, profits and revenues, and demand. As one may expect, leaders also reported a continued increase in demand for discounts, cumulating in 73 points, which places this category in the “lack of confidence” portion of the scale; this index value represents a 4-point drop from Q3 2012 to Q4 2012, indicating that leaders still experience push-back from clients on fees.

Supporting the idea that economic conditions are improving, Robert Half Legal released its 2013 Salary Guide, stating that “an upturn in business activity has sparked renewed hiring at both law firms and corporate legal departments.” Law firms are focusing on hiring experienced lawyers; “hybrid paralegal/legal secretary positions” are also in demand as firms continue to streamline operations. Also, based on a survey of 200 lawyers in the largest firms and corporations in the United States, three key areas of law should experience the most growth in the next two years: healthcare, general business/commercial law, and litigation. Salaries for all legal positions in both law firms (all sizes) and corporations are expected to increase. The Salary Guide further indicates that the employment outlook for Canada also remains positive, with general business/corporate law expected to experience the most growth over the next two years. The Guide concludes with eight signs it’s time to start hiring additional staff (beyond the obvious “new work is coming in”), whether or not counteroffers should be made to departing employees, and eight low-cost employee perks that are inexpensive for employers to offer yet are highly appealing to employees.

Perhaps 2013 will be a banner year after all . . .

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The Cloud with a Silver Lining?

Posted on February 5, 2013 02:48 by Chad Godwin

The "cloud." It’s a term all of us have become familiar with, but also one that many of us give little thought to within the context of our law practices. That, however, is likely to change, as an increasing number of firms are going to be faced with the choice of keeping their data and/or applications local, moving them offsite, moving them to a true data cloud, or employing a combination of on and offsite strategies. What are the cost benefits associated with these choices? What are the security issues that must be addressed? These are questions that IT managers are facing on an ever increasing basis. 


The American Bar Association recently addressed this issue in the ABA Journal. The Journal referred to a survey of 438 lawyers, paralegals and technology staffers, who noted that the bar currently seems to be split down the middle, with 46% of respondents opposing a move to the cloud, 45% favoring such a move and 9% providing no opinion. Moreover, the study suggests that small and mid-size firms appear far more willing to make the move than large firms, perhaps due to the investment in locally-based IT and equipment large firms are presumed to be invested in. Somewhat surprisingly, 47% of lawyers favored the move, while only 40% opposed it. This suggests that one of the primary hurdles associated with such a move, data security, is being adequately addressed. Finally, the study noted that 81% of respondents expect the cloud overtake on-site computing within the next 10 years.

The fact that so many respondents view the move as imminent suggests that the legal industry’s primary concerns are being addressed, and that costs associated with moving to the cloud are likely to continue decreasing while security becomes less of a concern. If there’s one constant with technology, it is that it grows cheaper and more accessible with time. As cloud access continues down that path, one has to believe that it will become an increasingly attractive alternative to on-site data and program management.

If you find this content interesting, or are involved in the technological aspects of practicing law, the DRI Technology Committee would like to urge you to join.  There are currently leadership positions available within the committee, along with plenty of opportunities to obtain exposure for your practice.  If you are interested in joining the committee and getting involved, please contact the me at cgodwin@carrallison.com or our Vice Chair, Joe Cohen at JCohen@porterhedges.com for more information on these opportunities.
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The Approach to Diversity

Posted on October 18, 2012 02:24 by Alison Y. Ashe-Card

“Is dicing the workforce into pre-set categories going to encourage working together,” ponders author Liz Ryan.  In a recent Harvard Business Review article, she describes a recent diversity conference with which she was involved where concurrent sessions were held focusing on women, Baby Boomers, the GLBTQ population, Asians, African-Americans, and the physically challenged.  Ryan suggests, "We are not going to get better at confronting the differences that hamper our ability to work together by separating our people into broad-brush groups... Instead, we're going to get better at celebrating the family backgrounds, religious traditions, and ethnic heritage that our people bring with them to work. We can do that by talking about it — all the time — and by teaching people to talk about the 'sticky human stuff' in general."  She advocates that barriers will be broken down when we actively engage in conversations about our differences.

DRI has demonstrated that it is on the path to becoming a thought leader on the issue of diversity within our profession.  A core centerpiece of DRI’s diversity efforts is the Diversity for Success Seminar and Corporate Expo which will be held on May 30, 2013 in Chicago.  Diversity not only involves how people perceive themselves, but how they perceive others. Those perceptions affect their interactions.  The Diversity for Success Seminar provides a forum for attendees to have courageous, thought-provoking discussions about our differences and the role it plays in our firms, businesses and in the legal profession. 

 

 

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It is simply too easy for lawyers to quickly lose credibility within the bar and before the judiciary. It seems we've already lost this battle with much of the public, but within the profession I like to think we begin our careers with an undeserved presumption that most of us (at least those without the last name "Madoff") are straight shooters. This presumption should be nurtured and guarded for the gift it truly is.


A lawyer's individual reputation for honesty is as important, if not more important, than his or her intelligence or skill set.  Why? Most of us quickly learn that if we're out of our comfort zone skill-wise, we have choices.  We can involve another, more experienced practitioner.  Or we can double up on our research until we completely understand an issue or area.  Skills can be improved.  The same is not true for reputation.  Once our reputation for honesty is placed at risk, it is nearly impossible to fix.

The easiest way to lose credibility is almost too obvious to mention: to be untruthful, even about the most trivial detail. It's not necessary to falsify documents or manufacture evidence; a lawyer's reputation for honesty can be ruined simply by stretching the truth when "memorializing" a telephone conversation. We hang up, I read your letter, realize you've mischaracterized our discussion and from that point forward I don't trust a word you say. Worse, when my law partner mentions ten years from now that he's got a case against you, the first thought that comes to mind, which I surely share, is that you're not to be trusted. And just like that, you're no longer trusted.

Being untruthful with the court is even more dangerous.  Setting aside the risks of sanctions, contempt, complaints to the state bar, etc., judges have institutional memory which can follow you your entire career. Just as I'll tell my law partner that you can't be trusted, judges do talk, and have lunch together and, I am informed, discuss their cases and the lawyers appearing before them.  Let just one judge conclude that you are a lawyer capable of lying to the bench and that alone could devalue any statement you ever make in the same courthouse or even jurisdiction.

Many lawyers believe we only have our time and intelligence to sell on the open market.  I would add that neither time nor intelligence have any value at all without a reputation for honesty. Once we lose the trust of our colleagues and judges, everything about the practice of law becomes more difficult, especially winning cases and getting referrals.  Don't risk it.

as originally published at www.atcounseltable.com
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Since 2009, Altman Weil, Inc. has conducted its Law Firms in Transition Survey that measures the impact of the economy on the legal profession, tracks trends, and summarizes what profession leaders believe will impact the profession in the future. Issues initially brought to light as emerging trends in 2009 are now considered permanent changes in 2012: almost all law firm leaders who participated in the survey believe that the profession will continuously face price competition from present into the future; the majority of survey participants also believe commoditized legal work and non-hourly billing are permanent fixtures in the profession. What a difference a few years make!

Efficiency is also now regarded as a permanent trend, with 96% of respondents recognizing that efficiency in legal services delivery must improve – clients will continue to demand greater transparency and greater value. As mentioned in the survey, “Trends that showed clear momentum in interim years have become deeply entrenched in 2012.”

This year’s survey polled Managing Partners and Chairs at 792 US law firms with 50 or more lawyers. Completed surveys were received from 238 firms, including 40% of the 250 largest US law firms. The full survey includes sections on economic performance and billing rates, alternative fee arrangements, law firm demographics, hiring trends, outsourcing trends, client relationships and the future of the profession.

Access the full survey here.

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The iPad is becoming more common and much less a novelty in the everyday practice of law.  It’s advantages in the courtroom are highly praised.  The ability to make a voluminous file highly portable is unmatched.   The out of office connectivity give us an ability to work remotely and on a moment’s notice that has never before existed.  Yet it still is criticized for its inability to do the one thing that lawyers do most: draft documents.  In the iPad world, this is know as “generating content.”  This article in Time by Harry McCracken addresses the content creation “problem” and raises some interesting points. 

Do you use your iPad for more than quick email responses?  What drafting obstacles do you have with the iPad?  Is speech recognition on mobile devices like the iPad the end of the Dictaphone?

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Anyone who has viewed the viral video, “So You Want to Go to Law School” on YouTube may recall an older male attorney describing one of the more mundane aspects of the practice of law (e.g., responding to Requests for Admissions created solely to confuse you) to an earnest young woman considering going to law school. Despite the male attorney's ominous warnings, the female protagonist in the video, Carrie-Ann Fox, nonetheless decides to go to a fictitious law school and even spawns a sequel YouTube video. Unfortunately, many women are making a different decision—to not go to law school. As a result, this could be a critical time for law firms to make the practice of law more "friendly" to women.

The data provided in a recent Catalyst study illustrates this fact. (Catalyst’s “Women in Law in the U.S.” (2011).) Catalyst is not alone in reporting this trend—according to the ABA, in the 2009 to 2010 class, women made up 47.2 percent of J.D. Students. (American Bar Association, “Enrollment and Degrees Awarded 1963-2010.") This is a noticeable change from 1993, when women comprised 50.4 percent of J.D. students. (American Bar Association, “First Year and Total J.D. Enrollment by Gender 1947 – 2010.”)

Several factors are likely to blame for the erosion of female law school applicants—the economy, related concerns about student loan debt, and perhaps most importantly, the lack of women in the upper echelons of law firms and corporate law departments. This stalled advancement coupled with the perception that law school may not be a good investment in these trying economic times could contribute to a long-term setback for women in the profession. These troubling statistics have certainly been noted by the media—the New York Times, for example, published a piece last year documenting the progress of women in the law in light of the 30th anniversary of former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor hearing her first case on the United States Supreme Court. (Editorial. "The Glass Ceiling." New York Times on the Web, 8 Oct. 2011. 5 April 2012.) The editorial noted that women with children are having the hardest time staying in the profession, and are half as likely to be hired as women without children.

In 2010, women made up 31.5 percent of all lawyers. (Current Population Survey, Bureau of Labor Statistics, “Table 11: Employed Persons by Detailed Occupation, S*x, Race, and Hispanic or Latino Ethnicity,” Annual Averages 2010 (2011).) However, 11 percent of the largest law firms in the United States have no women on their governing committees. (National Association of Women Lawyers and The NAWL Foundation, Report of the Sixth Annual National Survey on Retention and Promotion of Women in Law Firms (October 2011). At many firms, female partners do not play a major role in business development. Indeed, women partners account for only 16 percent of those partners receiving credit for having $500,000 or more business at law firms. (Id.)

After assessing the amount of time, effort, and money required to complete law school and make partner at a law firm, some women may determine that it is not worth the sacrifice, if being partner does not give them actual power relative to firm business decisions. In a survey of the 50 best law firms for women, only a fraction of the decision makers were women: 10 percent of firm chairpersons were women; 2 percent of the firms had women managing partners; 19 percent of the equity partners were women; and 28 percent of the non-equity partners were women. (NAFE and Flex-Time Lawyers, “Executive Summary,” Best Law Firms for Women 2011 (2011).)

This lack of power translates into cold hard dollars, as women lawyers made approximately 77 percent of male lawyers' salaries in 2010. (Current Population Survey, Bureau of Labor Statistics, “Table 39: Median Weekly Earnings of Full-time Wage and Salary Workers by Detailed Occupation and S*x,” Annual Averages 2010 (2011).) This lesser income, combined with the demands facing women at home, may not make the practice of law as appealing to females who may feel that they are choosing between a family life and a successful law practice. One study found that nearly half as many male lawyers as women lawyers (44 percent vs. 84 percent) have a spouse that is employed full-time. (Catalyst, Women in Law: Making the Case (2001).) So while top male lawyers may have spouses who do not work full-time, if at all, many female lawyers' spouses work full-time, and the demands of both spouses working is particularly hard on these families.

What do these declining enrollment figures mean for the future practice of law? A decreasing number of females entering law school will undoubtedly result in fewer female attorneys in the coming years. And, that could result in even fewer women in leadership positions within firms, which may further perpetuate the enrollment trend.

What can law firms do to encourage women to enroll in and complete law school? Law firms should consider instituting female-friendly work practices, such as generous maternity leave, flex-time, and telecommuting ability. These business decisions may lead to increased productivity and lower turnover rates. What goes without saying is the impact of technology on the modern lawyer's life. Gone are the days of being “off-the-clock.” The BlackBerry, iPhone, and other PDAs have contributed to a whole new level of accessibility for most attorneys, particularly those who communicate with clients. Although there are some drawbacks to the norm of around-the-clock communication, it has ushered in a new age of flexibility for attorneys who do not have to be in their office to review e-mails, work documents, and participate in telephone conferences. These advancements have benefited female practitioners to the extent that they allow for some of the same work to be done from home, which is particularly helpful for those with family obligations.

Notwithstanding the percentage reduction in law school enrollment, there are still a number of organizations focused on advancing women in the profession. Groups like DRI's Women in the Law Committee (WITL), the National Association of Women Lawyers (NAWL), and the National Association of Women and Minority Owned Law Firms (NAMWOLF) have undertaken noteworthy work aimed at ensuring the success of women both in law school and in private practice. The WITL, for instance, holds an annual Sharing Success Seminar, n/k/a Women in the Law Seminar, which provides an opportunity for female attorneys to discuss tried and true methods aimed at achieving success in and outside of the courtroom. NAWL has similar initiatives like the continuing series, “Taking Charge of Your Career,” designed to provide the skills and information that women lawyers need to reach leadership levels in their practice settings. These efforts will hopefully cause law firms to pay closer attention to these important issues moving forward in order to counteract the enrollment decline and ensure diversity in future generations of attorneys to come.

Michele Hale DeShazo is senior counsel with the New Orleans office of Kuchler Polk Schell Weiner & Richeson LLC, in which four of the firm's five founding partners are women. Her practice is entirely devoted to litigation, including environmental, toxic tort, product liability and general civil defense litigation.

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Last week, the Wall Street Journal Law Blog wrote about a recent New York ethics opinion approving legal advertising on Groupon and other group coupon sites.  These services allow consumers to pay one price up front for a service that is more valuable. A restaurant, for example, may offer a $50 meal for $25 that is paid immediately. An attorney, like this one, for example, may offer to provide a will for $99.  New York wasn’t the first state to weigh in on the issue--South Carolina has, too--and it probably won’t be the last. 

Both New York and South Carolina have approved groupon lawyer advertising per se despite claims that it constitutes the improper sharing of legal fees with a non-lawyer. However, and probably of more practical use to one considering running a groupon lawyer deal, the opinion of each state shows that it is essentially a path fraught with dangerous ethical pitfalls.  For example, New York identified a laundry list of issues aside from fee-sharing that may be implicated in the typical scenario depending on the facts, including improper payment for referral, excessive fees, advertising violations, improper creation of the lawyer-client relationship, conflicts of interest, and improper scope of representation.

With these potential ethical pitfalls in mind, not to mention the questionable effectiveness and taste of such advertising, it is doubtful that legal service groupons will ever become too common. 

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Over the past few years, we have all heard about and possibly participated in alternative fee agreements.  According the legal analysts, these agreements are “here to stay” and in response  DRI appointed an  Alternative Fee and Billing Task Force which recently authored a comprehensive white paper on 10 of the most popular alternative fee agreements.  This paper, now available on the DRI web site, exclusively for DRI members, details the most popular features of and potential ethical issues raised by each type of alternative fee agreements. The paper outlines the considerations that each party should consider before entering any type of arrangement.   


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Do you feel at a loss or intimidated or repulsed by the thought of using social media? Like it or not, social media sites are a new means of communication, which we cannot ignore any more than we can ignore email. The fact is social media, if used properly, can be an effective, professional, and personal tool. If you are not using these sites currently, take a few minutes to see why you should be using social media and what you can do efficiently and effectively to save time, learn more and even advance your career. 

What’s the point? It’s all about building and creating relationships. Think about the way you traditionally get to know someone. You meet, you talk, you learn about each other’s likes and dislikes, you find things in common, and if you like that person enough, you set up another meeting to do it all again. Social media is simply an outlet to let people get to know others at their own convenience. Instead of sharing things face to face, you share things with a select group of people via Facebook or Google+ or you just share things with the world via Twitter. 

But I don’t have time. If you don’t have time to watch the news, read a newspaper/magazine, or go to dinner with a friend—just check your newsfeed. The magic of social media is that it was designed for people with little time and/or short attention spans. We all have smart phones—be it an iPhone, BlackBerry or Android phone. We all check our email. But it is even faster to check your newsfeed. Your Twitter/Facebook/LinkedIn apps provide a constantly updating newsfeed right on your phone. No longer do you have to read an entire article about the debt crisis; now you can just “follow” the @NYTimes or @CNN on Twitter and catch their headlines in 140 characters or less. Each contains a link that you can choose to click on if you want more information or you can simply scroll past it. Do you love a good travel deal? Do you want to get tips about home repair? For any kind of information that you may desire, there is someone tweeting about it. And that information does not have to flood your inbox and you do not have to waste time deleting it. Got a complaint about a restaurant or hotel you just visited? You can tweet about it. In fact, I tweeted about problems I was having with a particular hotel recently and within minutes, I was offered free parking, free points and free breakfast. I did not have to ask for a manager, and I did not have to be put on hold. Quite frankly, I did not have the time to do either. 

What do I get out of it? You gain information and instant perspective about a company or person just by following their tweets and/or status updates. You would be surprised how often most corporate entities are tweeting and what they are tweeting about. Corporations tweet articles or people that have mentioned them. Some tweet deals and discounts. Some even tweet about legislation that is up for a vote in the House or Senate that may affect them. Not only can you follow the entity, you can follow your client contact. Now I am not suggesting that you “friend” a client on Facebook initially, but you can “follow” them on Twitter or invite them to your LinkedIn network. Both are less personal than Facebook. Following someone can give you great insight into who he or she is and give you an easy way to break the ice the next time you speak with him or her. You can keep it professional and discuss that New York Times article his or her company tweeted about, or you can make it a little personal and ask about the restaurant he or she recently tweeted about. Either way, you have something to talk about.

But what should I share? Anything that interests you from articles to restaurants to experiences. It’s up to you. I assume many people email articles or links to things they have read that they think will be of special interest to someone. While you can still do that, what is even easier is simply posting it on your wall or tweeting about it. You can quickly suggest books, movies or restaurants to your friends and acquaintances. You might tell them about an amazing trip or experience that you have just had – share pictures or video. What we often like to know about people or share about ourselves can all be posted to your “wall” or shared through a simple 140 character “tweet.”

How do I use social media for professional purposes?  It’s all marketing. Lawyers live by their professional reputations and work hard at becoming the expert in their niche area of practice. Social media is a way to advertise your knowledge and insight in a quick and simple way. People may have little time to read your blog or log in and peruse your profile. But a short and insightful post is like a perfect news sound bite. It can have lasting effects and get you noticed. Twitter is the perfect tool for this, and because it is searchable and open to the public, it is best to keep it professional. Facebook can be linked to your Twitter account; however, because many people use Facebook to keep up with friends and family and post pictures, it is probably best to keep Facebook strictly personal. Professional relationships with judges, clients and coworkers (unless they are your very good friends), are better fostered through LinkedIn and Twitter.

Getting Started

1. Open a Twitter account and find some people or businesses to follow. Every so-called expert, personality, news source, or business is on Twitter, so search for them and follow them. You can find out who follows them or who they follow and build your base from there. You will be surprised how much information is available to you in just a 140 character tweet.

2. Pick your niche. Just like finding a niche area of practice, it is important to find your niche when developing your social media personality. Are you the guru on employment law, products, health care? Are you an expert in cooking or travel? Remember just because you are a lawyer, does not mean your social media personality has to be all about the law. It is about building a following and providing helpful information to your followers. If your followers trust you in one area, they are more likely to trust you in other areas.

3. Tweet daily. This sounds harder than it is. We are constantly absorbing information all day. Take a minute to spread that information around. Read a great article —tweet about it. Learned something new today —tweet about it. Found great, but possibly little known case law —tweet about it.

4. Connect your Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn accounts, selectively. Keeping some things separate is important, but sometimes we want to reach all of our audiences at once. 

    a. Sync your Twitter and LinkedIn account. Market more than just your resume and your network of connections to the LinkedIn universe —market through the tweets you are already posting on Twitter. Do not wait for connections to happen —make them happen. Ask for advice or a business through both your Twitter and LinkedIn accounts. Syncing is simple. After logging into LinkedIn, there is a status update box just left of the share button. You will see the famous Twitter icon. Click on it and you will be taken to the Twitter authorization page. Follow the steps and choose what you want to be connected.

    b. Selectively connect your Twitter and Facebook accounts. Sharing personal pictures and status updates on Twitter may not always be wise, but you can send tweets to Facebook by linking the two services and using the hashtag #fb to get certain tweets onto Facebook.This is an option you can turn on through Facebook, just search for “selective tweets.”

Kim Tran is an attorney in the law firm of Hiltgen & Brewer PC in Oklahoma City. Ms. Tran's practice is concentrated in the areas of product liability, insurance defense, insurance coverage, commercial litigation and construction law. She represents companies involved with consumer goods and products, manufacturing industries and the insurance market. Ms. Tran is an active member of the DRI Women in the Law Committee, serving as the vice chair for the webpage subcommittee.
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