A Word from DRI's Membership Committee

Posted on January 31, 2013 01:58 by Jennifer Muse

Welcome!  I have been a member of DRI since 2007.  A partner at a former law firm suggested that I join DRI to develop my practice.  At the first conference I attended (Insurance Coverage and Claims Institute), he introduced me to friends he had made over the years and encouraged me to get involved.  Little did I know six years later, I would be a DRI success story and that DRI would ask me and my new friend, Steve Crislip (a member since 1982), to help get the word out about the benefits of a DRI membership through a Membership Blog.  

On a bi-weekly basis (every other Thursday), DRI and its Membership Committee will use the DRI Blog to provide you with information about the benefits of a DRI membership.  We will provide answers to some of the most often asked questions and help you navigate the waters so that you can get what you want out of your DRI membership.  We will provide you with useful information about the various substantive law committees (i.e., upcoming seminars, the structure of the committee and ideas for how to get involved).  We will highlight some of the best features of a DRI Membership including DRI On-Line, DRI Today, For the Defense, In-House Defense Quarterly, the DRI Member Directory and DRI’s Expert Witness Database.  We will provide you with instructions and ideas on how to update your DRI profile in the DRI Member Directory to make it work for you.  We will also use the blog to shine a spotlight on some of the members who have helped make DRI the organization it is today and let them tell you their success stories and how DRI has helped them in their careers.  

We don’t want the blog to just be about what DRI has to offer.  We want (need) to hear from you.  Ask us your questions.  Let us know how DRI can improve your membership experience so that we can make DRI work for you.    

With that said, DRI and the Membership Committee would like to officially welcome you to its Membership Blog.  We look forwarding to sharing our knowledge and hearing from you!

Jennifer Muse
Anderson McPharlin & Conners LLP
Los Angeles, CA 
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According to this infographic from the Wall Street Journal,  “lawyer gluts” and the “dismal state of today’s job market”, a deeper examination of the actual numbers in this piece (completely unverified at the time of this blog's publication, I might add) could equally support the conclusion that the legal market is simply changing – breaking fee from its traditional trappings -- rather than drying up altogether.  This generation of law graduates need not focus on the adversity created by a lack of large to medium size firm openings, but take note of the numerous ways these same numbers identify other employment options and encourage you to make yourself marketable to the very outside forces that are allegedly squeezing the big/medium law firm jobs out. 

Globalization making an impact?  Go learn a second or third language targeting those exploding European/Asian/Middle Eastern markets.  Alternative legal service providers making a dent in the workload at large firms?  Make sure you seek out and target those service providers, as they need guess what as their business platforms expand?  That’s right, lawyers.  Trends suggesting boutique firms are the flavor of the day?  Narrow in through your extra-curricular activities in school on a practice area that interests you and supports a boutique practice, and then actively target those firms.  Don’t let these headlines discourage you – they are intended to be dramatic and attention-grabbing, just as with any other piece of journalism in today’s age.  These numbers aren’t a doomsday forecast – but they should be an encouragement to lay out your job strategy early, and to be flexible in your searches.  This “adversity” only primes you to become stronger lawyers/marketers/business-people. 

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I came across a post on the Lawyerist on the question whether good legal writing is inherited or developed.  Putting aside that debate (the answer is both, by the way), it occurred to me that there are two steps that mediocre legal writers can take to immediately improve their writing.

There are actually three steps.  The first is to realize your legal writing needs help and care enough to try to improve it.  There are lots of advocates who slog through an entire career filing nearly incomprehensible briefs.   Don't be that lawyer.  Take pride in your product.  The fact you have read this far, rather than clicking on to something more compelling, means you are at least curious, or you just got an Apple and haven't figured out how to navigate away from this page.

The first sure-fire way to improve your legal writing is to strive to use an active rather than a passive voice.  It's ironic that I spent several (ok 6, but who's counting) years getting a degree in Literature-Writing from a really solid university, but it wasn't until I was a staff member on Law Review that I truly began to understand the importance of active voice.  If you missed the special torture that is editing a legal journal, or were otherwise never trained to write in active versus passive voice, I'll provide a very easy example to illustrate the difference.  Using passive voice, a lawyer might construct a sentence that reads: A man, woman and two children were shot by the defendant.  Contrast that sentence with one written using active voice: The defendant shot a man, woman and two children.

See? Simplest thing in the world.  But, even those of us who generally strive to use active voice occasionally fall into passive voice.  The key is to recognize when you're doing it and decide whether the sentence you've created could be improved by changing the voice.

The second way to immediately improve your legal writing is equally simple.  Pare back the number of words you use to say what you're trying to say.  This was something my mentor taught me when I was a baby lawyer and I've generally tried to adhere to the principle, at least when writing to a court or opposing counsel.  Basically, every word in any sentence should be necessary.  Nothing extraneous.  This will automatically take care of the tendency to include "herein" and other pointless words.  It also forces the writer, you, to think about what you're trying to say and how to say it in the clearest way possible.  Judges and clerks appreciate clarity.

Now.  This second "way to immediately improve your legal writing" is not a rule.  It's just an approach.  And, it's an approach I freely disregard when I want to emphasize something through repetition or diction (word choice).  Hell, I often write entire paragraphs in the passive voice  and include a lot of extra words.  But, when I do it, I do it purposely, usually for effect.  Otherwise, I strive to write clean, spare, Hemingway-like sentences, in the active voice, as free as possible of legalese.*  (*Ok, I'll admit an affinity for ancient latin phrases like sua sponte, ab initio, inter alia.  I know that writers who know what they're talking about, as opposed to armchair poseurs (who me?), have zero tolerance latin phrases.  If I give in to the urge to use them in an early draft, I almost always delete them.)

There.  If you struggle with your legal writing, try these two suggestions.  I guarantee you'll see results.

(As originally posted at http://atcounseltable.wordpress.com/2012/07/02/two-sure-fire-ways-to-immediately-improve-your-legal-writing/)

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We've all been there, wondering when we'll get "our shot" – perhaps a high-profile role at trial, taking an important expert deposition, or simply face time with the firm's largest client. And, despite the insecurities that naturally accompany the rigors of a demanding job, most of us are probably less concerned about our capability for handling high-level responsibilities as we are about simply getting opportunities to develop the skills they require.

While there is obviously no single path to skills-development, effective leadership, and internal promotion, one important and often overlooked opportunity for a young lawyer to advance his or her career is by mastering the role of local counsel. In fact, as anyone who regularly serves as or manages local counsel in large national litigation will tell you – good local counsel is critical for the defense. Good local counsel not only gets work done, but adds insight and perspective to the litigation, and value to the defense team.

This article is just a starting point. But the best practices offered below – framed under six objectives, to provide context – should take you a long way toward demonstrating to law firms and clients around the country that your firm has the capable and dependable people they need as local counsel for their matters.

Objective #1: Be Helpful

The beginning of any local counsel work – often occurring at or near the time a lawsuit is filed in your home jurisdiction – provides an immediate opportunity to help national counsel with the case. Without being asked, provide information to national counsel about the venue, judge, opposing counsel, jury pool, deadlines, and any important local rules governing the initial pleadings. Some of this information can be obtained quickly by sending a short email to the attorneys in your office. You can also be helpful by sending national counsel copies of example pleadings or motions that may be relevant, and by offering to complete and file the necessary paperwork for national counsel to be admitted pro hac vice.

As the case progresses, continue to anticipate the needs of national counsel, and consider that national counsel may be busy with multiple cases and deadlines across many jurisdictions. Clearly label your emails to remind them of the specific case and topic for discussion. Responding quickly to emails and completing assignments early is crucial. Important briefs, correspondence, discovery, etc., will often need to be reviewed by several layers of lawyers from national counsel on up to the client. This inevitably takes time, and an important brief received by national counsel the day before it is due will surely frustrate them.

Objective #2: Determine Your Role

Not every local counsel role is the same. It can range from signing the initial pleadings to first chair trial counsel. Usually, local counsel's role is somewhere in between. Depending on the client, there may even be written guidelines and expectations for local counsel. Be sure to request any such guidelines as early as possible. Absent formal guidelines, however, the role and responsibilities of local counsel may be driven by such factors as the busyness of the litigation, personalities involved, and specific skills of the lawyers, to name a few. With this in mind, local counsel should (1) work quickly to determine his/her role; (2) stay within the confines of that role; and (3) be ready for that role to change. Flexibility is key, as is a proper respect for the relationship between national counsel and the client. Local counsel work should not be used as a platform to establish one's own business connection with the client. You will gain respect from all members of the defense team when you perform your role well. And when in doubt concerning your role, just remember the first objective: be helpful.

Objective #3: Be Proactive (within reason)

This objective goes hand-in-hand with determining one's role. Once you know your role, make sure you do not get lazy. Monitor the docket and let national counsel know right away about any filings. Send reminders when deadlines are near. Provide regular updates, even when there is seemingly nothing new to report. (The lack of developments in a case can nonetheless be significant. And, at least everyone will know you are on top of things.) As early as possible, ask national counsel for educational materials concerning the subject of the litigation that they think would be helpful for the performance of your responsibilities. Anticipate the needs for depositions or hearings, such as reserving conference rooms and court reporters, and recommending food, lodging, and transportation. Of course, you should not "overwork" the case. But a proactive approach to your representation will instill confidence in you and your firm, and increase your value to the team.

Also, just one quick piece of advice: draft your updates with the client in mind. You likely will be expected to report to national counsel on updates in the case, who then has the discretion to determine whether or not the information needs the client's attention. Draft your email so that it can be cut and pasted into a new email by national counsel, or simply forwarded to the client. This is helpful to national counsel, and can provide an opportunity for national counsel to commend your good work.

Objective #4: Give Advice

You can add great value to the defense team by being more than a taskmaster. Local counsel is often hired for their judgment and perspective on issues, in addition to the tasks necessitated by the location of the case filing. Do not shy away from giving an informed opinion, especially when asked. Whether working directly for a client, firm partner, or outside law firm, providing advice is a necessary part of our job. Think carefully, articulate your thoughts, and give your advice. Experienced lawyers know this is difficult, and will appreciate your input.

Objective #5: Build Relationships

One of the benefits of serving as local counsel is that you can be introduced to new clients, other law firms, and experts. Try to take advantage of these opportunities to build relationships. These connections will make you and your firm more valuable for future work, in any capacity.

Objective #6: Remember the Ethical Rules

Do not forget that you could be held responsible for the decisions of national counsel, depending on how they are carried out. Although you are acting under the direction of another person, you are still bound by the rules of professional conduct. (See Model Rule of Professional Conduct ["MRPC"] 5.2(a)). Similarly, a lawyer should not practice law in a jurisdiction in violation of the regulation of the legal profession in that jurisdiction, or assist another in doing so. (See MRPC 5.5(a)).

And do not forget Civil Rule 11, under which your signature certifies that you read the document, believe there is good ground to support it, and that it is not meant to harass or delay. Rule 11 can be particularly troublesome for local counsel when national counsel provides documents just before they need to be filed, and expects local counsel to simply sign and file them. You should carefully review documents before they are filed, and work respectfully with national counsel to ensure there is time to do so. While the implications of these ethical rules are beyond the scope of this article, they are nonetheless offered for consideration.

In short, be helpful, be proactive, stay within the confines of your role, and be careful. For the young lawyer who takes advantage of such opportunities, serving as local counsel can be a very rewarding experience.

Justin Rice is an Associate with Tucker Ellis LLP in Cleveland, Ohio. He practices primarily in the areas of products liability and business litigation. As a member of Tucker Ellis's Medical & Pharmaceutical Liability Practice Group, Justin works with law firms around the country in both national and local counsel capacities, defending manufacturers of pharmaceuticals and medical devices. He can be reached at justin.rice@tuckerellis.com.

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If you’re looking forward to your flight to South Florida as much as I am (and attending DRI's Young Lawyers seminar), you’ve probably already got your stack of magazines ready.  In flipping through US Weekly, I noticed the Snickers ad campaign “Help Us Bar Hunger.”  Snickers is donating the cash equivalent of 2.5 Million meals and an additional cash donation in an amount equal to 2 meals will be made for each 8 digit or 12 digit Bar Code Number entered on www.snickers.com until June 27th.  There is a ten bar maximum per day, so don’t get too carried away.    

Snickers is not alone in our quest to fight hunger:  Baskin Robbins will provide one meal for every sale of their Iced Cappy Blast or new “like” on their Facebook page; and Harry’s Seafood Bar and Grille will donate $1 from every Po’Boy to the Florida Association of Food Banks.

The DRI Young Lawyers Committee will continue our tradition of community service by spending an afternoon with Feeding South Florida on June 13th at 12:30 p.m. Attendees will inspect, clean, sort and get donations ready for distribution to partner agencies and their clients.  Participation is open to all seminar attendees and their families (age limits may apply). Transportation will be provided. Please join us in this opportunity to give back to the South Florida community while developing and strengthening relationships with your fellow young lawyers.  

Looking forward to seeing you on June 13th!

Note:  Neither Snickers nor Baskin Robbins are sponsors of this blog or DRI.
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May 1 is Law Day

Posted on May 1, 2012 04:35 by Matthew Cairns

I often find it curious that Law Day falls on May 1st.  Growing up, May 1st was always the day the news carried pictures of over the top parades in Red Square in Moscow where the USSR would display its missiles, goose stepping soldiers and mummified Politburo.  In hindsight, that seems quite antithetical to what I now celebrate on May 1st – the rule of law that sets our country apart from all others.  Being a lawyer should be and most often is a noble profession.  Incrementally, lawyers and judges shape the rules of conduct for society.  We protect the rights of individuals who are victims of crime.  We hold the government’s feet to the fire when it seeks to deprive a person of liberty.  We work to ensure that injured persons are fairly compensated when they prove their case to a jury of their peers.  We provide the vehicles for businesses to form, grow, prosper and provide jobs.  We protect assets at death so that heirs can enjoy the fruits of their loved ones’ hard work.  So on May 1, 2012, remember the great things lawyers and judges do for society and all of us, and not the punch lines of inane lawyer jokes.


Matt is a partner with Gallagher, Callahan & Gartrell in Concord, New Hampshire.  He is the DRI Immediate Past President.  He also sits on the Board of Directors for the NFJE and LCJ.

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DRI Young Lawyers Committee continues its tradition of community service by spending an afternoon with Feeding South Florida.  Founded in 1981 as the Daily Bread Food Bank, Feeding South Florida has been working to reduce hunger by reducing waste.  Its mission is to feed South Florida's hungry in order to improve their lives.  The result? Feeding South Florida distributes approximately 2 million pounds of food each month to hungry South Floridians, including children and the elderly, the unemployed and the working poor, the disabled, the homeless, and victims of natural disasters, illness and violence.  

To help support Feeding South Florida’s mission, our team of DRI Young Lawyers Committee volunteers will be sorting.....What is sorting? Sorting donations gives you a "behind-the-scenes" look at how donations from the community get to hungry South Floridians.  Volunteers inspect, clean, sort, box and make donations ready for distribution to Partner Agencies and their clients. All volunteering takes place at 2501 SW 32 Terrace, Pembroke Park, Fl 33023 - 20 minutes away from our hotel. Participation is open to all seminar attendees and their families (age limits may apply).  

When you register for the Young Lawyers Seminar, please be sure to check the box on the registration form for the Community Service Project.  Registration is free, and transportation, refreshments and a t-shirt will be provided to all volunteers.  

Please join us in this fantastic opportunity to give back to the South Florida community while developing and strengthening relationships with your fellow young lawyers.  

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Less Jury Trials Impact Many; Florida Study

Posted on February 10, 2012 08:56 by Lori Vella

 If you spend some time looking at the statistics, you will see the number of jury trials is swiftly declining.  Many states and organizations have recognized the decline, voicing concerns about the resulting impact on the judicial system, the public and lawyers.  The Florida Bar created a special taskforce, the Special Committee to Study the Decline in Jury Trials (“Committee”), to research and analyze the trend, determine the root cause of the decline and recommend a course of action to the Florida Board of Governors to minimize the impact of this decline.  The Committee issued its final report in December 2011.  The full report is available at floridabar.org by clicking “About the Bar,” followed by “Committees” and then “Special.”

The Committee reviewed, among other published studies, Professor Marc Galanter’s article The Vanishing Trial: An Examination of Trials and Related Matters in Federal and State Courts (1 J. Empirical Legal Studies 459 (2004)).  When you view the statistics, the decline is apparent, and staggering.   For example, in 1962, 11.5% of 50,320 civil federal court dispositions were by trial.  In 2002, there were only 1.8% dispositions by trial, out of 258,876.  In Florida civil cases, 1.6% of total civil cases (155,407) were resolved by jury in 1986.  By 2009, the percentage reduced to .2%, while the number of civil cases increased to 401,463. 

According to the Committee, there are several reasons why jury trials suffered declines.  For civil cases, the rise of alternative dispute resolution mechanisms contributed markedly.  The expense of trials is always another common deterrent.  Another factor is the time it takes to bring a case to trial.  Despite the reduction in number, it was noted that jury trials have become more complex -- longer and more complicated. 

The declines have not been without negative impacts.  With fewer jury trials, fewer people participate in the judicial system as jurors.  Jury service helps educate the public about the justice system.  It is a simple way for the average citizen to play a role in governmental decision making.  If the nearly all disputes are resolved privately, via mediation or arbitration, rather than in an open courtroom, the public’s perception of the justice system will become further skewed.

The decline in jury trials also contributes to reduced funding to the court system, as the decline itself may be viewed as a reason to fund less.  This contributes to a never ending cycle of funding and less independence of the judiciary. 

One of the greatest impacts, however, is the effect on new lawyers.  A lawyer learns best by first-hand practice.  With less opportunity to conduct a trial, lawyers must look to other training which will always be less adequate than the real thing.  The new lawyer ends up feeling uncomfortable and unsure regarding his or her skills.  When the opportunity finally arises, the lawyer may shy away from the experience because he or she simply does not know how to try a case. 

The Committee recommended several measures, including full funding of the courts.  To reduce the impact, the Committee also suggested training and mentoring programs for young lawyers, such as certified legal intern programs or State Attorney/ Public Defender internships.  The Committee further recommended techniques to the bench to more efficiently administer judicial duties, with less cost to litigants, such as streamlining discovery and encouraging the use of expedited jury trials. 

DRI created the Jury Preservation Task Force to examine this federal and state vanishing jury trial phenomenon and report on its findings, which will be published in a future edition of For the Defense.    


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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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It is no secret that law firms sometimes encounter clients that are less than enthusiastic about paying their bills. When a client balks at paying, there can be an enormous strain on the relationship, just as there can be "trickle down" stress at the firm for those attorneys who spent valuable time on the case. When a firm is unable to collect full payment in these situations, often the younger lawyers on the case are the first to suffer. They can have their time and billings cut, which can affect  not just their compensation and progress in the firm, but also their confidence and belief that their contributions are being valued.

Sometimes these situations are well beyond the control of the lawyers involved, especially the younger lawyers. For example, a client may fall on hard financial times, change owners, or simply refuse to pay. There may also be business development reasons that prompt a firm to write off amounts that they could otherwise legitimately claim. Nevertheless, there are a few proactive steps all lawyers, including younger lawyers, can try to take to minimize the risk that they will be on the short end of the deal.

One of the best ways for lawyers to minimize this risk is to set clear expectations in advance about what work is needed, how long it will take, and what it should cost. Understandably, this may be easier said than done. Often we do not know precisely how much work will be involved, how long it will take, or what it should cost. Moreover, sometimes shrewd clients will shop around for lawyers who will say just what they want to hear about the prospects of their case.

These realities, however, are no reason to avoid having a conversation about the expectations of the client and the lawyers. These expectations can include what the initial fees will likely be, what retainer is appropriate, and the range of possible outcomes for the case. While we do not have the benefit of a crystal ball, we do have experience we can draw on from other cases. A lawyer can usually forecast what will be needed in the short term and can give predictions about low and high ends based on prior experience. If the client is uncomfortable with those estimates or is unwilling to pay an appropriate retainer, it is far better to find out before expending time on a matter that may not be paid. Furthermore, setting these expectations early will allow the client to make a more informed decision about the case, which, in turn, usually leads to better client satisfaction.

Younger lawyers may not be involved in these direct client discussions, but they can still help set and manage expectations in a way that minimizes their own risk. Younger lawyers can make sure that their more senior colleagues have had these client discussions and that any appropriate retainers have been paid. They can ask for clear direction on how much time and money should be spent on certain projects and can speak up if the expectations seem unrealistic. They can keep an eye on the timely payment of prior bills to make sure additional work is not being done on non-paying cases. They can even ask to help generate the client's bill so that they understand what all the other moving parts are and what a client is ultimately being asked to pay.

Without a doubt, this is not the fun part of practicing law and is, in fact, something many lawyers deliberately avoid. Nevertheless, setting and fulfilling expectations is a critical step toward more profitable firms, more successful younger lawyers, and happier, better served clients.

Tom Vanderbloemen is an attorney at Gallivan, White & Boyd, P.A. in Greenville, South Carolina. He can be reached at TVanderbloemen@gwblawfirm.com or (864) 271-5428
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