"Things refuse to be mismanaged long."
"The foundation of every financially successful law practice is an efficient business system."
ADMINISTERING AND MANAGING THE CRIMINAL DEFENSE LAW OFFICE - A Solo's Guide
[What this page is about: Resources, management skills, and planning tools to deal with the operation and maintenance of a small criminal defense office, includes serving clients, marketing skills, financing, accounting, budgeting, time and billing system, taxes, office policy, hiring and firing, office manual, supplies and equipment, communications system, managing human resources, benefits, insurance, family leave (FMLA), disabilities (ADA), office technology, building your own web site, grammar, style and citation in communication, legal research, etc.]
Putting Together the Building Blocks for a Private Criminal Defense Practice Marketing and Management Consultants for Law Firms Office Administration Organizational Structure Facility Management Caseload and Docket Management Time Billing, Fees, and Client Monitoring System Accounting Systems Budgeting Expenses Bookkeeping and Payroll Copliance Supplies and Equipment - Purchasing Procedures Communication Systems Managing Human Resources Benefits - Retirement Plans Insurance Motivating Employees and Inspiring Office Morale Supervisory Skills and Meetings Hiring and Firing Decisions Sample Ad for a Legal Secretary Skill Building - Tutorials, Training, Education Workflow Obstacles Sexual Harassment Family Leave Act (FMLA) Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) Age Discrimination in Employment (ADEA) Civil Rights - Title VII Cash and Cash Equivalent Reporting Handling the High Profile Case Ethics and Professionalism Tech Support Tech Terms Web Searching and Researching Electronic Filing (pdf) Text to Spoken Word Security While Using Internet Resources Customer Service and Satisfaction Selling Your Services Through a Professional Web Site Other Marketing Stratagems Advertising Firm Brochures E-Newsletter Blawing Becoming a Self-Proclaimed Expert Writing for the the Public Making Friends with the Media Joining Groups of Lay Persons Becoming Active in Lawyer Organizations Taking Part in Community Affairs Finding a Mentor Developing a Subspecialty Speaking at CLE Events Speaking to Non-Lawyers Developing an Ever-Expanding Contact List Paying Legitimate Referral Fees Becoming a Board-Certified Specialist Making Your Clients Walking Advertisements Becoming Inventive with Word of Mouth Advertising Keeping Track of Yourself and Your Cases Office Practices and Procedures Manual Electronically Monitoring Cases in the Court System Security Email Etiquette Email Privacy Notice Dealing with Upset Clients Grammar, Presentation, Style, Citations and Language in Written Communications Rent Location Workplace Design Finding Available Space Sharing Space Furnishing the Office Directions to the Office Protecting and Recovering from Natural Disasters RESOURCES - Links, Case Management Software; Creating an Law Practice Manual; ISP; Free Downloads; Email Security; Other Downloads; Postage and Mail; Calsulators; Office Music; Web Sites and Books
GETTING READY TO RUN A BUSINESS
The poet Robert Frost said, "The difference between a job and a career is the difference between forty and sixty hours a week." Administering a small law office is no small task. As a lawyer, your primary objective is to provide high quality legal services to your clients in a manner that results in client satisfaction with your efforts. You are also faced daily with a multiplicity of ever-changing human and financial dynamics that require correct business and client-centered choices. Your job centers around planning and problem-solving. You have to manage your caseload and your business. The twin goals are to create an office system that facilitates the delivery of excellent services to your clients, while stimulating the continued vital growth and productivity of your practice. As the person in charge of your office, you must equip yourself with the business knowledge, supervisory skills, and resources to meet these goals. The successful criminal defense lawyer usually manages his or her office in a manner that allows a substantial portion of the work to be done by other people, i.e., employees. Google for Entrepreneurs Small Businesses CCH Toolkit Business Information Search Business Guidance Government Information Better Business Bureau SBA Small Business Advisor. American Express Business Site Nolo Small Business Info Ninja Suit Ehow (free membership for full access) Businesstown Attorney at Work (Blawg)
This law office management page of the CCJA web site, with over 375 useful small business related hyperlinks, is devoted to assisting private criminal defense lawyers who are working without a net. Although listings of criminal defense lawyers increasingly include big name law factories, private criminal defense practitioners typically work in what can be fairly described as small law offices with one to four lawyers and one to four support persons. Most private defenders are working solo without any support network. Many graduated from law school and never gained a mentor. They simply began practicing law. The discussion on this CCJA Law Office Management (LOM) web page is geared for the small law office run by a private defender who is netting from $75 to $150 thousand per annum. The information you find here is not for the "big guns" who defend the mafia, the drug cartel, and Hollywood celebrity types. These folks, the oft-times arrogant, egotisical ones who make the chest-pounding speeches at the Las Vegas, ski-vacation, and island seminars and own houses in Aspen, LaJolla, and/or the Hamptons, have large staffs to take care of business. The criminal justice system has made those egocentric big shots mega-rich. If you are one of these folks, quit reading - this is not for you.
This material is presented for the defenders in the trenches, the ones who are not well-known senior partner types. Working class criminal defense lawyers who who show up at the courthouse every day are sometimes criticized because they don't produce anything, but they have an indestructible worth. If you are a day laborer in the vineyard of criminal defense, I salute you. You are the backbone of a lean and lonely line of lawyers, facing a government whose tendrils constantly thirst for ways to expand its power and, in the process, diminish the individual liberty and freedom that people in a just society deserve. It's you men and women in the courtroom, often defending the worst amongst us, that keep the government at bay and, in the process, protect our Constitution. You are the true guardians of liberty. You are the paladins of the citizenry.
More power to the fat cat chest-thumpers, but they need no help from CCJA in managing their law practices. Likewise, public defenders, prosecutors, and big law factories with a white-collar crime section can hire experts to streamline their offices. But what about the recent law grad, with an average law school debt in 2011 of $125,000 vs. $70,000 in 2001, who, without any mentoring, is trying to set up shop as a defender of those accused of crime? And how about the struggling neophyte criminal defense lawyer who has been licensed for a couple of years? If you are one of these folks, you already know that you need all the help you can get in starting up and/or managing your law office. One good resource is the Law Practice Management Section of the ABA; but, aside from the excellent Law Practice Today magazine, some useful free articles (1), (2) on budgeting, billing, and technology, plus their useful SOLOsez info exchange site, section membership has a price tag attached. You may find a few integrated state bar associations that provide solo practitioners with practice information, e.g., Texas. In recent years a number of practitioners have created blawgs: My Shingle, the best of the bunch, has a list of them, e.g., HomeOfficeLawyer, TheNon-BillableHour, CounseltoCounsel, AmazingPractices, Legal Insanity, Build a Solo Practice, MsJD (for XX's), Law Marketing, What About Clients, etc., that focus on law practice issues faced by solos. Quite a few of these blawgs are written by so-called consultants that will try to sell you something, but you'll find useful free info on most. You may find help at this site that provides small firms with lots of useful business reading material. So, here we are with some modest CCJA suggestions and some links to free sources that nascent defenders can utilize in setting up a private criminal defense office and keeping it afloat. Some of us may have had the good fortune to clerk for an established firm while in law school. One of the advantages of clerking is to observe a real lawyer practicing law. Another is to learn how a law office is managed. The bar associations of several states have web sites containing useful information about LOM, e.g., setting billing rates, drafting an employee handbook, preparing a law office business plan, needs analysis for technology, cash flow budgeting, setting up trust accounts, evaluating office leasing needs, planning for relocation, LOM marketing strategies, becoming an employer, etc. (1), (2), (3). Most law schools offer a course in Law Office Management (LOM). No disrespect is intended, but sometimes the law school LOM course is taught by tenured non-practitioner professors who haven't recently had the responsibility of running a solo practice and/or meeting a payroll. Because they are acquainting students with a broad range of practice, from mega to solo, such courses can be generalist in approach. Fortunately, there are a few good how-to-do-it books for solo practitioners. See Books below. There are even a few web-based articles (1), (2), (3 -10 tips), (4), by practitioners or consultants and Blawgs (1), (2 - a consultant) devoted to LOM. Many of the law school LOM courses utilize the hands-on books, i.e., How to Start and Build A Law Practice and How to Get and Keep Good Clients, produced for several decades for the ABA by lawyer Jay Foonberg and now in its fifth edition. [Note: I must confess that I haven't read these books for many years, but you can review the most recent editions for yourself by going to Foonberg's web site which proudly proclaims that the How to Start ... book is the most stolen from law libraries around the country.] Another popular book is Rainmaking: The Professionals' Guide to Attracting New Clients by Ford Hartung. Sadly, the big criminal defense organizations, such as the NACDL (with +10,000 members) don't appear to spend much effort helping their defender members sharpen their managerial and business skills. The same may be said for the Macon Georgia based National College of Criminal Defense which, with a spindly staff, offers the same tired programs year after year, none of which appear to deal with law office management training. Sadly, the same is true for federal public defenders, with the notable exception of the DC and San Diego Federal Public Defenders headed by Reuben Cahn and A.J. Kramer respectively. [Note: The Office of Defender Services offered a learning-by-doing trial advocacy training program for the first time in 2009, several decades late to the party.] By way of contrast, the National College of District Attorneys, spearheaded by Dean Mary Galvin and courtroom technology guru Jim Dedman, Director of Academic Training, delivers a panoply of offerings, including dedicated courses in office administration and investigation. Yet, upon reflection, we would all agree that the management and design of the small criminal defense office, the staffing, and the procedures for delivery of defense services to the accused client are essential keys to successful, effective, and productive practice. Accordingly, CCJA presents this modest Law Office Management page as a starting point to partially fill the vacuum, providing a modicum of free advice and help for you, the fledgling solo criminal defense practitioner.
LEARNING BUSINESS SKILLS
Why should you be concerned with learning about the business skills, technology, techniques, and methods that provide the structural backbone of your service delivery operation. What's at stake? Your success as a business person depends on client satisfaction. If your clients think they've been mistreated, they'll tell anyone who will listen about the criminal defense lawyer who dropped them in the grease. They'll never refer you a case, and, if, by chance, they are ever the subject of another criminal accusation, they will not use your services. The dissatisfied client is the client who will balk at paying the balance of your fee. The dissatisfied client is the client who will jump ship and hire another lawyer. The dissatisfied client is the client who will file a grievance against you with state bar association. In short, sloppiness in delivering legal services to your clients spells disaster for your business.
Aside from courtroom and negotiation skills, your success in handling clients depends, in large part, on the way you manage your practice. Your attitude, behavior, and actions will set the standard for your employees. How will you structure your office, deal with difficult clients, find capable support personnel, motivate your employees, and deal with the stress that flows from trying to help people who face loss of life, liberty or property?
PUTTING TOGETHER THE BUILDING BLOCKS FOR A PRIVATE CRIMINAL DEFENSE PRACTICE
Starting and Operating a Business
To understand the legal issues involved in starting a small business and to protect your law office, see "The Upstart Small Business Legal Guide, Second Edition" complete with forms. Planning and budgeting are essential to your business success. For example, you'll need to set financial goals for your criminal defense practice, put a budget together, track your expenditures, and measure your financial progress. Start-ups will need a business plan for delivering criminal defense services. Check these sources also: Developing a Business Plan (1), (2), (3), (4 and a Blawg ) Incorporation (1), (2), (3) Financing & Banking (1), (2), (3), (4), (5) Management (1), (2) Trouble Shooting (1) General Marketing of Your Business (1), (2), (3), (4) Federal Taxes - (1- IRS Small Business Self-Employed Page), (2), (3), (4), (5), (6), (7) Federal Government Guide to Government Sites - (1) You'll also need a plan for promote yourself and your defense business. See below, Build a Profitable Practice with a Marketing Plan and Stratagems.
Marketing and Management Consultants for Law Firms
There are a number of consulting firms that assist law firms with marketing and management solutions. They also help with career strategy choices. These consultants charge for their services, but most have web sites that contain useful free articles on the subjects of marketing and managing law firms. If you can't afford to pay for the consulting services, you still may want to avail yourself of the opportunity to gain free self-help guidance from the numerous articles about marketing and managing a law practice that are posted on these various sites. I particulary like Duct Tape Marketing. It's chock full of good information on small business marketing. Here's a list of some other companies whose sites you should investigate for valuable information on how to market your legal services: (1), (2), (3), (4), (5), (6), (7).
- Organizational Structure - The organizational chart of a small law office is not complex. Why? Because there are few employees to recruit, train , and manage. The very fact that your office is small does create potential problems. For example, in a small firm where one or two people have the responsibility for management and day-to-day operation of the office, from handling the mail to ordering supplies to keeping the books and writing checks, it is difficult to avoid putting an employee in a position where it is difficult to commit fraud. With a large firm, one can divide the money-related responsibilities among several people. Not so with a small firm. Still, you must make certain decisions: Who screens mail? Who makes bank deposits? Who approves checks? Who signs checks? Who reviews bank statements? Who keeps the books? If one person is doing all of these things, that person must be absolutely trustworthy. Nevertheless, with planning and business organization (1) you can increase your own productivity and performance and that of your associates and support staff. - Facility Management - What's involved in the operation (1), (2) of a business? Organization of the work in your office will allow you to increase your billable time and provide better service to your clients. The trend in practice is to move to a paperless office. Every law office needs a software system to assist with management of the office, transforming data into documents, coordination of the staff, keeping track of documents, communications, etc. There are a number of available practice management software systems (1), (2), (3). Here's an article briefly comparing the first two systems.
Tip: How do you manage your small criminal defense firm to avoid major problems? You do this with preventive maintenance. You can anticipate problems before they arise. You can have systems at play that will either avoid problems or contain them. For example, you can create the proverbial "back-up system." In space travel they call such systems "redundancies" because they serve as duplicates for preventing failure of an entire system upon failure of a single component.
- Caseload & Docket Management - As a trial lawyer, you must keep track of time limits and deadlines established by statutes and court rules. Exact time limits vary among the jurisdictions, but every case has time limits and deadline that must be met. Time management advice is freely available on the Internet (1). You'll also find listings for a many different forms of law office software that facilitate active computer assisted caseload and docket management (1). Keep your calendar on your computer.
Never miss a deadline! Effective calendaring of your cases is essential. Keep a special calendar that tracks your docketing and filing deadlines. A timeline with a monthly calendar of deadlines may help keep you out of high water. Many of the problems that arise out of attorney-client relationship result from scheduling lapses on the part of the attorney.
- Time Billing, Fees, and Client Monitoring Systems - Whatever billing format you use, be certain that it is readily understandable and sufficiently descriptive for your clients to comprehend what services you have performed for them. This can prevent client dissatisfaction. Keep time records contemporaneously with your efforts. If you are billing by the hour, send written bills regularly. As a matter of standard office procedure, all checks for fees should be made payable to your firm, not to an individual. Your time and billing system should feature various forms of fees, e.g., flat, hourly, etc., and trust accounts, e.g., IOLTA (TX) and non-IOLTA. (Trust accounts).
Billing is a bit more complicated than simply generating a written bill - sending out the bill - receiving payment of the bill. You need to be aware of a few basic realities of billing. Poor turnover causes cash flow problems. "Turnover" is the average length of time it will take you to convert your billable time into cash in the bank. If you are billing hourly, the turnover benchmark to shoot for is about 90-120 days. Bill promptly each month. A good average for payment of accounts receivable is 60-75 days. Avoid situations where more than 15% of your billed fees are over180 days due. You may encounter clients who will try to stretch out their payment. When there is a lengthy turnover period, you may have to spend time and money on collections rather than earning new money; also, there is the cost of borrowing money to cover cash shortfalls as you wait for payment. One way of avoiding billing problems is to bill against a cash advance; the client posts a cash advance that you deposit in a trust account, and you draw funds from that cash advance, being certain to inform the client with periodic bills of the status of the cash advance. At the end of the case, you return any balance of the cash advance remaining.
You must use your computer to assist with keeping time records and billing. That means purchasing a software program, obtaining the necessary training to operate it efficiently, and using the system both to keep accurate records of time expended and to bill regularly and promptly. Old-fashioned manual timekeeping and billing is a thing of the past. You'll save time and money when you get your computer time and billings system operational. Once your billing software is in place, you can eliminate many cash flow bottlenecks. There are abundant timekeeping and billing programs on the market. For the criminal defense lawyer on a shoestring budget, the cheap way of keeping time is TraxTime ($39). Next up the line for a low-cost Windows-based time and billing program is RTG. If you have the money, Timeslips is one of the more popular accounting and billing software programs available to criminal defense attorneys in small to medium-sized offices. LexisNexis' Time Matters is the overwhelmingly popular case management software of choice among my solo-practitioner defender friends, partly because it combines everything, e.g., time, billing, accounting, document management, e-mail, calendars, phone records, etc., into one system that avoids the hassle of switching from one program to another. Lexis gives you a free trial and a 90-day money-back guarantee. Amicus Small Edition 2008, a new billing and practice management system designed specifically for the solo practitioner and small firm (1), and CaseData's litigation technology services employ Internet-based databases that work through a browser. There are numerous other billing software programs (1) on the market. Some software (1), (2), (3) is designed to integrate practice management, calendaring cases, checking conflicts, dockets, contacts, documents, e-mails, instant messages, monitoring case status, tracking time, billing, accounts payable/receivable, payroll, trust account, and other financial software into a single program that eliminates the necessity of having to enter data over and over and insures that all you data is in one place. These integrated systems claim that you can enter information once and see the whole picture. Check available software online and be on the lookout for one of the local legal technology trade shows that are being held in all parts of the country. You will probably want to do your own timekeeping, billing, and collection, (1), (2) but there are companies, e.g., (1), who do this work for sole practitioners and small firms. Most criminal defense practitioners try to get paid "up front" because they know that criminal clients are notorious for refusing to pay any unpaid balances after disposition of the case. (1), (2 - ever considered an online payment option). Still, you may occasionally face the specter of collecting an unpaid balance. If you are going to chase this money, have a bill collection policy in place with someone assigned responsibility to enforce it. In a small office, you may be the person who has to police the system. The typical approach by a solo practitioner to collecting unpaid bills is to send a reminder letter 30 days after the unpaid bill is sent. If the reminder letter produces no response in 30 days, a more emphatic letter can be sent, followed shortly by a phone call from the employee responsible for billing and collection. If the client still does not respond, the lawyer typically tries to talk with the client personally to resolve the situation. In cases where the client does respond but expresses inability to pay the balance, it may be possible to work out an installment payment plan. Other alternatives include discounting the bill or simply forgiving the unpaid balance. Suing the criminal client for an unpaid account is a rarity, though possible. [For information about attorney's fees, see Ethics. Concerning fees, if you are interested in the salaries the big metropolitan firms pay their lawyers, check this site.]
How much should you charge the client? Financial management advisors suggest that the billable fees should be at least three times your salary. Your compensation is generally about 30% of the practice's revenue.
Tip: Regarding the structure of fees, in most instances criminal defense lawyers should charge flat fees. There's a reason. Your typical client wants to know how much the representation will cost. Most clients don't like to go into an attorney-client relationship where cost is an open question. When you bill by the hour, the "How much will it cost?" question cannot be answered. Looking at hourly billing from the client's point of view, there may be concern about the lawyer stretching things out and stacking up unnecessary billable hours. Of course, some criminal cases and some clients are not suited to a flat fee and mandate hourly billing.
Tip: If you bill for your services, always be sure that your bills go out on the first business day of the month. Bills have to go out on time.
Tip: Arrange for your client's to pay by credit card (1). At the initial interview, the prospective criminal client may say, "I didn't bring my checkbook, and I don't have enough cash on me. Do you take plastic?" Be prepared and ready to respond, "Will that be Mastercard, Discover or Visa?"
Tip: Clients still like to receive tangible evidence of their attorney's work. This means that paper will remain part of the office work product, even if courts eventually allow everything to be filed electronically. If you think about it, we lawyers like to have our how-to-do-it information on paper. For example, if you find the material on the CCJA site useful, you'll probably print some of it out, rather than relying on the presence of the web site as a resource.
- Accounting Systems - Where does the cash go? When trying to determine your office's financial performance, the tendency of the rookie lawyer is to look at cash flow. This is not the best indicator. To judge your operation's performance, look at your books. You can readily determine how much money is coming in and how much is going out. More importantly, you can get a handle on how the money is being spent. Your accounting records will reveal the financial health of the operational parts of your practice. Operations include things like finance, client management, human resources, facilities, and technology. You should reconcile your accounts monthly. Of course, you can hire an accountant (1), (2), (3), (4) but many solo defenders keep their own books (1), (2). There are a number of inexpensive software programs. One of the most popular for solo criminal defense practitioners is Intuit's Quick Books in either the online or workstation- loaded versions. Check these additional sites (1), (2), (3) for downloads, some free, for small business accounting, finance, spreadsheets, etc. See also Resources below.
From a layman's standpoint, be aware that there are three key income related concepts: Cash (money in the bank), Accounts Receivable (unpaid invoices) and Work In Progress (work that has been done but is yet unbilled). Your basic goal is to turn work in progress into accounts receivable that yield cash.
Tip: When determining the percentage of billable fees that you actually collect (the billing realization rate), 90% is a good rule of thumb for maintaining a healthy practice. This percentage is extremely important., e.g., if you bill 2000 hours and have a 50% billing realization rate, you are effectively billing only 1000 hours.
- Budgeting Expenses - As a rule of thumb, you should have at least six weeks of cash on hand to cover office practice expenses. Once your practice is off the ground, try to avoid debt that exceeds 50% of the average total of your work in progress and accounts receivable. Finances (super links to business sites). Bank Rates. Federal Reserve. Taxes (1), (2), (3). Before you buy supplies, computer hardware or software, etc., check these consumer-oriented sites (1), (2). Think about using business plastic. Know how much short-term liquidity you should have. Learn about business entertaining. - Bookkeeping & Payroll Compliance - Avoid check writing. Online bill-paying is readily available from most financial institutions. You can pay your bills online as often as once a week.The service allows you to pay bills immediately or at a future time of your choosing. Once you have entered the information into the program, you can pay a stack of bills in a brief period. You can arrange to automatically pay recurring bills such as telephone, insurance, Internet service, etc. With electronic bill-paying you still receive statements from your providers with detailed explanation of charges. You can use the service as a reminder to alert yourself of payments due. It is also possible to download transaction data from your electronic bill-pay service to your accounting software. As to your payroll, you can set up an online payroll through a payroll service such as Paychex (1). Of course, you will have to pay for the payroll service, but they also prepare most of your tax reports. Concerning bank accounts, one revenue account is typically adequate. You should also have two trust accounts, one IOLTA and one Non-IOLTA. For assistance with payroll tax compliance, check this site. - Supplies and Equipment - Purchasing Procedures - Supplies (1), (2), (3), (4) forms (1), (2), (3 - IRS), (4), (5 - includes social security forms), (6), (7), (8), (9), (10 - free employment, rental and lease agreements) and equipment (1), (2), (3 - computer software, hardware suppliers) are available through the Internet. Check with consumer organizations, e.g., (1), (2), to determine the quality of products. Check with the Better Business Bureau if you have reason to suspect that a vendor may be a bit shady. When looking for the physical location of the business or service nearest to your office, Google Local provides your answer. You have to buy or lease scanning, printing, copying, and computer equipment for the office. [The textual comments here will always be a little dated. I simply don't have time to keep up with the constantly expanding changes in computer technology.] Get some advice before purchasing hardware and software. Cutting-edge technology is not required. It doesn't need to be complicated. Sometimes you can find excellent prices on hardware or software that has been recently supplanted. Oftentimes, the supplanted technology will have been tested by the marketplace and proven to be excellent support. Some solos may even be able to install their own computer hardware and/or software, but some will need help with the installation. Most good computers come with adequate software included in the price of the bundle. At the present time, you can purchase a good desktop computer and flat screen monitor, e.g., a 25-inch widescreen LCD display, for around $1000. [Note: Bare minimum requirements should include an Intel Core 2 Duo Processor @ 2.0 Ghz (or better), 4 gigabytes (GB) of System RAM, a 750-gigabyte hard drive, 256 MB Display Graphics RAM, 1280 x 1024 Display Resolution @ 32 bit Color Palette, 8XDVD Recordable Drive, Sound Card and Speakers/Headphones. A Windows 7 Home Premium or Professional operating system (Avoid Vista at all costs!) will come with newer units; combine that with a word processing system - WordPerfect (my favorite) or MS Word and a MS PowerPoint presentation package, included in the MS Office package - and you are set.] There are many uses for a computer, e.g., timekeeping, billing, e-mail, word processing (Microsoft, WordPerfect, and the best deal in town OpenOffice -Microsoft Office-compatible and downloadable for free but watch out for sites that try to poach by charging you for a download; if you want help using Open Office, buy Getting Started with Open Office or one of the comparable how-to-do-it paperback, document assembly (To speed up your motion practice, you may want to purchase document assembly software, e.g., HotDocs, Qshift, etc.; I suggest writing your own motions.), web-based research, case management, conflicts, calendaring, courtroom presentation (PowerPoint, etc), scanning (You will need a scanner.), speech recognition dictation (1 - Dragon), printing, copying, faxing (You will need fax capability.), to name a few. If you aren't knowledgeable re the capabilities of technology, seek help regarding what is available, what it can do, and how much it will cost. You can start by talking to colleagues and vendors or by reading what other similarly situated solo lawyers have written about the type of office equipment that they think an office needs. For example, you'll have to have a scanner, e.g. Xerox and Fujitsu have good reputations. You may want to invest in a tablet PC or it's cheaper cousin the cyberpad notebook. See the Law Office Management Bibliography. Leasing may make more business sense when the equipment in question is likely to quickly become outdated or obsolete. There is a constant stream of new computer products and peripherals. The nature of the particular product may dictate the wisdom of lease or purchase. Obsolescence is always a consideration. For example, when you are shopping for a copier, consider renting a digital copier rather than buying one. Consider buying, rather than leasing, a laser FAX machine. You can rent or buy a postage meter or utilize an Internet supplier of stamps that you can print. When you purchase or lease new technology systems equipment, there will often be a transitional learning curve during which you or your staff will be learning how to operate the new systems while functioning under the old equipment. However you look at the issue of office equipment, to run a successful defender office you'll have to keep up with changes in technology (1), (2), (3) and budget for regular upgrades. - Communication Systems - Your electronic communication system is analogous to the circulatory system of the body. If it is ineffective, your office will soon be moribund. Communications systems encompass computer systems, telephone systems, cell phones, e-mail, pagers, fax machines (They utilize phone lines.), handheld PDA (Personal Digital Assistant), etc. Be certain that you office electronics are linked to the Internet with high speed, e.g., DSL, connections.Cell phones and PDAs have long been wireless. The Blackberry Wireless also provides powerful voice and data delivery. When you buy a laptop computer, make sure it is also capable of working in a wireless (WiFi) environment. We are well into the age of wireless laptops, cell phone/digital camera/PDA combinations, and web conferencing. Here's a source for free conference call software. The free to-do-notes organizer from Accomplice syncs with your PDA. We are also entering the age when court systems will not only allow lawyers to file court documents over the Internet but will require it. Within a couple of years, all federal courts will allow e-filing. Most courts with e-filing are adopting the Adobe pdf format for e-filing. To play the e-filing game, a lawyer will have to have a computer, high-speed Internet access, and Adobe's Acrobat pdf writer software. Most will also need a scanner that will allow the scanning of paper documents into electronic files that can be transmitted on the net. Note, the feds keep a record of who looks at the e-filed documents; they also notify counsel by e-mail when a document is filed.
Network your office so that all of the computers are connected via a network. With regard to intra-office communication, networked e-mail provides a superb alternative to post-it notes and oral discourse. Does it make sense to e-mail your secretary? For several reasons the answer is "yes."
Tip: For security purposes and to keep track of who in your office is doing what, make it an office practice to use passwords for your computers and codes for long distance calls.
- Managing Human Resources - The human resources of your business are its employees, i.e., your support staff and any associate lawyers that you may employ. You are the heart and lungs of your office. You cannot shirk or shift ultimate decision-making regarding your clients' cases. But the support staff is the circulatory system of your practice. Your associates, if any, are like extra appendages. Success in a solo or small law office depends largely on the efforts of your non-lawyer staff and your associates, if any. Your job is to learn how to manage your human resources in manner that both encourages productivity and positively motivates each person to perform with his or her utmost skill. As a small business owner, you cannot avoid dealing with personnel issues.
One of the first steps in learning how to supervise employees is to think of your employees. Try to visualize the job from the employee's standpoint. Let each employee know what is expected of him/her. Do this by having a written job description for each employee in your office. Employees will be concerned about things such as role, job security, benefits, and training. If you want to create a pleasant atmosphere for your personnel, you will have to give it some thought. For example, think about how you can best define and explain the job to the employee. Think through the various benefits that you can confer on your personnel. Think about the efficacy of occasionally using a collaborative approach where you involve employees in your decision-making by asking for in-put. Consider having a weekly staff meeting. Ask your staff for suggestions as to what can be done to improve their working conditions. Do something nice for your staff, e.g., treat them to a nice lunch or a mini-shopping spree. If you hire an inexperienced associate, consider how you will go about training the associate to be competent. Check these sites (1), (2), (3), (4), (5), (6), (7) for some free information about handling and successfully resolving the myriad of human resource development issues. - Benefits - Retirement Plans - Regular vacations are good for employee morale and also act as deterrent to fraud. There are always perks that you can make available to employees to improve the work atmosphere. For example: you can negotiate low cost health club rates for yourself and your employees; you can pay for training seminars and office skills courses at local community colleges; you can provide information about financial planning; you can provide flexibility in work hours; you can arrange for office pick-up of certain delivery services such as cleaning; you can give your employees used office equipment such as computers and/or printers when you upgrade. Employee pension plans are expected by most full time employees. Study the various pension plan options (1), (2). The IRS has helpful suggestions for employers regarding appropriate retirement plans for small employers. Employee health insurance, a very valuable benefit in modern society, is discussed in the next section. Parking can be expensive, e.g., the average rate for an unreserved parking space is about $143 a month in 55 metropolitan markets, for your employees. Perhaps, you can arrange to pick up this cost. - Insurance (health or medical, malpractice, property, workers' compensation or employment) Your health and the health of your employees are vital ingredients in the recipe for a successful law practice. The Obama Health Care Reform Bill of 2010 says that beginning in 2014 fifty employees is the maximum number that a company can have without providing medical benefits and paying a penalty. Major medical insurance (health insurance) provides payments for hospitalization, prescription drugs, and medical services. Dental and vision insurance are additional options to your health insurance coverage. One who leaves a job with health insurance benefits may have the right under the federal COBRA law to continue the coverage for a year by paying the premiums. Life insurance is a necessity for those with dependant children. It may be economically efficient to rely on low cost term insurance rather than whole life insurance to provide for the needs of minor children. [Suggestion: When you handle your life insurance and disability needs, also consider documenting a contingency plan for your practice in the event of your untimely death or significant disability that requires closure of your office. Prepare a plan that designates another competent criminal defense lawyer to review your files, notify each client of your death or disability, and determine whether there is a need for immediate protective action. This may help lower malpractice premiums.] Auto insurance (including collision, e.g., when your car is in a collision, and comprehensive, e.g., when your car is damaged by something other than a collision or is stolen) is required; higher deductibles mean lower premiums. Before you buy you may want to check the vehicle's safety and thefts stats. Disability insurance provides a stream of income when one becomes unable to work because of a disabling injury or illness. Paid maternity benefits are a form of short term disability insurance. The disability payments can be used to cover personal expenses when there is no income, but disability payments probably won't be sufficient to keep your office afloat during the interval when you are unable to work. For this you will need business continuation insurance, which is not the same as property insurance. Malpractice insurance for lawyers is required only by Oregon. Alaska, California, New Hampshire, New Mexico, Ohio, Pennsylvania and South Dakota require lawyers to reveal to clients whether they carry malpractice insurance. Arizona, Colorado, Delaware, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Kansas, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Nebraska, Nevada, North Carolina, North Dakota, Rhode Island, Virginia, Washington, and West Virginia mandate that lawyers disclose on their annual registration whether they have malpractice insurance. As of 2010, Texas (my home state) was considering a notice requirement to new clients. Malpractice insurance is not cheap. Most lawyers need it. However, criminal defense is not a high-risk field of practice for insurance carriers. See Heck v. Humphrey, 512 U.S. 477 (1994). See Cort Thomas, Criminal Malpractice: Avoiding the Chutes and Using the Ladders, 37 Am. J. Crim L. 331 (2009-2010) indicating that most jurisdictions require that a criminal malpractice plaintiff prove either legal innocence, factual innocence or both before s/he may bring a criminal malpractice claim. See also Kevin Bannardo, A Defense Bar: The "Proof of Innocence" Requirement in Criminal Malpractice Claims, 5 Ohio St. J. Crim. L. 341 (2007). However, read this article. If you decide to purchase malpractice insurance, be certain to get competitive quotes. Visit with the company representative and explain the efficiency of you law office's risk management system, e.g., the type of computerized software you utilize, and how your office procedure is designed to prevent errors and omissions. You may get a discount on your malpractice premium. Your malpractice rates may also be influenced by the area of the country in which you practice, your prior claims history, and the deductible you are able to assume; again, a higher deductible means a lower rate. Most malpractice policies are "claims made" policies, providing coverage only for claims made while the policy is in effect. They do not cover dishonesty or other intentional acts. Caution: As a solo-practitioner or member of a small firm, you won't be able to negotiate the high volume discounts on insurance that the big firms can. For insurance guidance, check the Internet (1), (2), (3), (4), (5 - rating). Generally speaking, the kinds of insurance you don't need are things like flight insurance, mortgage life insurance, and insurance on your outstanding credit card balance. - Motivating Employees & Improving Office Morale - Nothing impedes success of the workplace any more than an atmosphere of negativity. How well do subordinates receive and respond to your communication? Do you share ideas, discuss tasks, have common understanding and vision of the direction the office will take? Studies confirm common sense is revealing that motivated employees are more productive, stay longer and provide better client care. Your job is to create a positive working environment for the office staff. The atmosphere of your office flows from the top, and it's infectious. That means that your attitude, behavior, and actions toward your employees and clients will influence their response to you. This site provides a free subscription to an email newsletter containing tips on boosting employee morale. See Managing Human Resources above. - Supervisory Skills & Meetings - It is essential that the lawyer in charge develop supervisory skills that will increase productivity and performance of the associates and the non-lawyer support personnel. Here is some good advice regarding meetings that could apply to staff meetings as well as meetings with clients, witnesses, and with the opposition for purposes of settlement. When you conduct meetings, it's good practice to have an agenda and adhere to it. Set ground rules. Keep people on topic. This article discusses ways of managing difficult employees.
- Hiring and Firing Decisions - As a solo defender, you will first have to decide whether you need and can afford support personnel. At some point you may shift from a one man/woman shop by hiring your first employee. The computer age has made it possible for a single lawyer with lots of tech skills to handle many tasks previously relegated to support staff. In my experience, however, successful defenders always seem to have an excellent support staff. Sometimes the ratio of lawyer to support staff is 1:1. But the most successful defenders typically have: (1) a personable well-trained secretary to generate written work product, supervise the receptionist, handle e-mail, and help with fee collection and basic bookkeeping; (2) a paralegal to assist with legal research, document drafting, client contact, filing deadlines, and shouldering much of the burden of getting the case ready for court; and (3) a receptionist who greets visitors, handles the phones, copying, snail mail, etc. Law clerks and file clerks can often be drafted from local law schools to do legal research and writing. Most students spend three years in law school. So, the shelf life of a law student employee is limited. The heavy-hitters sometimes employ one or more full-time trained investigators to interview witnesses and gather defense-building information. The reality is that most defenders cannot afford a support staff of three to six employees.
At some point you may need to hire a lawyer as an associate. The associate may be a rookie lawyer, e.g., a recent law school grad (maybe your former law clerk), or an experienced lateral hire, e.g., an experienced public defender or prosecutor who is ready to make the jump into private practice. A mistake in who you hire as an associate can be devastating to your practice. Recruiting an associate will occupy your time and, for a time, lighten your wallet. Rookie lawyers are typically looking for a job that will train them; the rookie will probably not bring any business with him/her; after a couple of years working for you, and with no hope for being made a partner, the rookie may depart for a solo practice. You will incur training costs to bring a rookie up to the necessary competency level. With a lateral hire associate, you get an experienced hand who is capable of handling complex tasks and who may bring in some new business. Of course, you will have to pay more for a lateral hire. Before taking on an associate of any sort, be quite sure that your have enough extra work and revenue to justify the additional expense, and enough time to justify the added effort of training the rookie and orienting the lateral hire. Assume that there will be a period during which you will have a net loss from the increased overhead costs flowing from adding an associate. At the other end, when an associate leaves your firm, you will either have to find a replacement or scale back your practice. Some solo lawyers report success in sharing an associate with another solo; this approach can reduce costs but requires a very clear written agreement delineating the nature of the shared rights and responsibilities of the parties. [Note: For those who prefer a one person office, contract services are available for most support services that would be performed by full-time employees.]
The basic rule of hiring is: Hire competent people! Competent people have job skills and are technologically proficient; they are emotionally balanced, trustworthy, loyal, willing to adapt, and willing to learn, How do you find a top-notch secretary or paralegal? My advice is that you use an employment search firm. You'll have to pay a hefty placement fee. But in the long run it will be worth the cost. Make it clear from the start that you are only interested in talking to highly skilled applicants. That way, the firm will do the screening and you will not have to spend valuable time interviewing unsuitable candidates. If you don't want to pay a placement fee to an employment service, you can try to find competent office personnel on your own. You can do some web-based investigation of applicants. Some competent people in search of employment are posting job applications to the Internet. Employers can also post help wanted ads. You may find competent folks to fill your staff positions by searching the mega-employment web sites at both Monster and Yahoo. If you aren't familiar with salary ranges for legal secretaries, paralegals, (1), (2), (3), (4 - average salary +- 40K), lawyers (1), (2) etc., in your community and others, check out the salary wizard for ball park figures. Be aware that the average business with less than 20 employees will pay over $5,000 per employee each year to comply with various federal regulations, some of which are described in later portions of this web page. Weed out applicants who won't fit into the dynamics of your office system. You do this by conducting a complete interview of the applicant. Whether you are doing your own screening and hiring or using a screener to winnow out undesirables, you'll still have to have an interviewing plan. What should you include in your interviews? Always check computer program knowledge and typing (1), (2 - typing test and free lessons) skills. Call all references and speak to them personally. Try the collaborative approach to staff recruitment and retention. If you have other employees, make sure they are introduced to the applicant. Get your present employees' thoughts about the applicant. You don't want friction between staff members. As a safety valve, be certain that the people you do hire are hired for a probationary period. If you feel that a new hire isn't working out, discharge the individual before the probationary period expires. Let your new employee know from the start that if they aren't fired up with enthusiasm for the job, they will be fired with enthusiasm. See "From Hiring to Firing: The Legal Survival Guide for Employers" by Attorney Steven Sack. If there are significant lapses in an employee's performance, document them with a memo. Don't make the mistake of thinking that you can fire an employee for any reason. Though employment at will is the general rule, there are numerous federal and state laws that protect the employee against wrongful discharge. See the list below. One way to avoid having to discharge employees is by promoting good work ethics. Conduct an annual review of your employees, and provide periodic feedback so your staff will know how they are doing. Create motivating workplace, e.g., up-to-date furnishings and equipment, and financial, e.g., raises, bonuses, incentives. Check these sources for more information about hiring and firing (1), (2), (3), (4). Educate yourself about the cost of employee turnover. All the statistical information you can imagine about wages, earnings, and benefits can be found on the Labor Department site.
Firing (discharging, terminating) an employee is always an unpleasant task. To be fair to your employees, let them know what you expect of them. When there are lapses in performance, give your staff member the opportunity to bring his/her work up to standard. Have progressive disciplinary procedures in place.Take time to create a set of written rules and standards of office practice. Of course, you will always have to follow your official disciplinary rules and standards. The employee should always be allowed to respond to performance issues. You must substantiate and document any disciplinary inquiry and action that you take. This means documenting all conversations and disciplinary action. If you have to discipline or discharge an employee, communicate this personally, always with a witness, and in writing. Be professional, respectful and polite but firm and unwavering. Don't discharge an employee unless you are reasonably certain it is the correct action to take. Don't waver when you meet with the employee to deliver the termination message. Indicate that the decision has been made. Don't ever make it personal. It's always strictly a business decision. Provide any information concerning severance benefits. Be prepared to deal with the employee whose frustrations might manifest themselves in aggressive retaliatory acts, e.g., sabotaging files, erasing computerized information, etc. After the exit interview, accompany the employee to gather his/her personal possessions, obtain any office keys, ID cards, phone cards, parking permits, and other office equipment, and escort the employee out of the office. Reassure remaining employees that they are doing a good job. If an employee separates from your employment voluntarily, request a letter of resignation that contains the reason for leaving and the last day of active work.
Outsourcing may be a good alternative to hiring and firing. Whether to send your office work out to an independent contractor is a big decision. The fees are not cheap, but savings may be substantial. The number of outsourcing firms increases each year. Here's an example (1) of a firm that can take over substantial typing duties.
- Sample Employment Ad for a Legal Secretary - Your ad for an employee must be drafted to include the traits you value. Here is a rough working sample of an ad for a legal secretary; it has lots of requirement and lots of benefits:
" Downtown criminal defense law firm with heavy litigation docket has immediate opportunity for a Legal Secretary - requirements include a minimum of (state the #) years secretarial experience, typing at least (state the #) wpm, experience in (state the necessary experience e.g., Microsoft suite of products, WordPerfect suite of products, (name) time, billing and document management system, spreadsheets, light bookkeeping and payroll, etc.). Must be a team player, detail oriented, have the ability to multi-task well under pressure, have excellent spelling and grammar, good telephone manner, strong organizational and interpersonal communication skills, have experience in drafting correspondence and motions and be familiar with court filing procedures. Candidate must have professional conservative appearance and ability to keep files and work area organized. Must be trusted to handle extremely confidential and sensitive information. Excellent attendance a must. Bilingual a plus. Competitive salary. Benefits include: paid parking, 401 (k) retirement plan, paid medical, dental, life, LTD/STD and vision. Email resume and salary requirements to (state the contact person's email address). No faxes please. Send resume only once. Only qualified candidates will be contacted. [We are an Equal Opportunity Employer.]"
- Skill Building: Tutorials, Training, and Education - Proficiency training of yourself and your employees is essential to continuing success of your business. The Internet has numerous sites that provide tutorials for business and office skills, e.g., (1), (2 - go to "archives"), (3), proficiency with various computer software programs (1), (2 -76 tips re Windows). For example, if you have Microsoft Office, you will find a list of free tutorials along with training, assistance, clip art, media, downloads, etc., on the Office site. Anytime you update or add software, there will be a learning curve. There is always a cost in time. Though you may have to pay for some training, many tutorials are free. Simply go to a good search engine like Beaucoup and search for "free tutorial for computers" or whatever. For example, your employees with typing responsibilities can brush up on their skills with free tutorials at Good Typing. As to people skills, it is unrealistic to expect your employees to know instinctively how to provide the brand of friendly, helpful and caring service that you want to deliver to your clients. It's up to you to spell out what you expect and to provide a protocol of conduct and responsibilities. This prevents misunderstandings and lets your employees know from the start what is expected of them. Try llrx, mentioned above, for very useful and informative skill-building and training articles and suggestions. You may find some useful ideas for building forms, e.g., letters, motions, etc., at LectLaw. - Workflow Obstacles - Here is a good site for help with paper management. - Preventing and Protecting Yourself and Your Firm Against Charges of Sexual Harassment in a Job-Discrimination Lawsuit - These web sites (1), (2), (3), (4), (5), (6) provide information regarding policy concerning sexual harassment and discrimination in the workplace. Sexual harassment may take several forms,e.g., requests for sexual favors, unwelcome sexual advances, etc. See 29 C.F.R. 1604.11. Your state probably has one or more statutes protecting employees from sexual harassment and from retaliation for making a charge, testifying, assisting in, or participating in an investigation of an unlawful employment practice, e.g. Texas Labor Code, Chapter 21, including an anti-retaliation provision. Of course, federal law also prohibits employers from practicing sexual harassment in the workplace. See Title VII of the Civil Rights Ac of 1964 ( 42 U.S.C. Section 2000e) below. Title VII provides a remedy against the employer not the individual employee. Be aware that Title VII contains an anti-retaliation provision that constitutes a separate act of job-discrimination. See Title VII Section 2000e-3(a). See also Thompson v. North American Stainless, __ U.S. __, 131 S.Ct. 863 (2011) holding that Title VII allows a remedy for a retaliation claim when the claimant was fired three weeks after his fiance, also an employee of Stainless, filed a sex discrimination suit and the claimant complained orally; CBOCS West Inc. v. Humphries, 553 U. S. 442 (2008). The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) is the federal agency charged with investigation of complaints of employment discrimination. In recent years, approximately 12,000 complaints of sexual harassment in the workplace are filed annually; somewhat less than ten percent of the complaints filed are found to have merit. Title VII is gender neutral; both males and females are protected. The offender does not have to be a member of the opposite sex. It is not necessary that the victim hold an employment position inferior or subordinate to the harasser. Here are some of the landmark cases dealing with sexual harassment: Oncale v. Sundowner Offshore Services Inc. et al, 523 U.S. 75 (1998); Burlington Industries Inc. v. Ellerth, 524 U.S. 775 ( 1998); Faragher v. City of Boca Raton, 524 U.S. 742 (1998); Harris v. Forklift Systems, Inc., 510 U.S. 17 (1993); Meritor Savings Bank v. Vinson, 477 U.S. 57 (1986). The case of Burlington Northern & Sante Fe Railway Co. v. White, 548 U.S. 53 (2006) a Title VII of the Civil Rights Act case that deals with the meaning of "retaliation" after the employee has filed a formal EEOC complaint of discrimination; tread softly. See also Staub v. Proctor Hospital, __ U.S. __, 131 S.Ct. 1186 (2011) a lawsuit relying on the USERRA holding that employees who are the victims of unlawful bias by a supervisor who intends to cause adverse employment action have a claim even though the supersisor is not the ultimate decisionmaker. Ledbetter v. Goodyear Tire, 550 U.S. 618 (2007) (1- Wiki) was an unsuccessful gender- based employment discrimination case. However, the Ledbetter decision led to the enactment of the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009 (1). What preventive action can you take to protect your practice from sexual harassment charges? Create a clear cut policy barring sexual harassment of any kind, and circulate it to each of your employees. Let your employees know that sexual harassment includes an unwelcome sexual advance or request that involves an express or implicit threat of retaliation or offer of employment benefit. Notify them that a sexual advance or request that does not involve any threat or offer may still constitute sexual harassment if it occurs in a way that unreasonably interferes with a person's work performance, or creates an abusive environment, because of its persistence or offensive manner. Tell them that sexual harassment may also include any other offensive conduct that involves a sexual nature or theme; that disparages women or men as a class; or that disparages or humiliates any individual in a sexual manner. Explain that in some egregious situations a single sexual advance, request or disparagement may be so offensive or disruptive to a person's performance as an employee that is constitutes sexual harassment. Spell out some examples of conduct that may constitute or be part of a pattern of sexual harassment, depending on the circumstances, severity and pervasiveness or persistence of the conduct, e.g., unwelcome sexual flirtation, innuendo, advances or propositions; any suggestion that employment evaluation may depend on consent to a sexual relationship; graffiti, photographs, cartoons or other displays of material that are sexual in nature or that are offensive or derogatory to men or women as a class; inappropriate touching or physical contact; offensive and uninvited sexual humor; whistling or other sounds or gestures that convey a message of sexual invitation or judgment; uninvited discussion or inquiry with another individual about that individual's sexual activities or lifestyle; leering or ogling. Explain further that conduct that fits the definition of sexual harassment may constitute sexual harassment whether or not the harasser and the complaining party are of different genders, and whether or not the harasser is motivated by sexual attraction or hostility to a particular gender. Include in your policy a statement that neither your firm nor any employee will retaliate against an employee who has acted in good faith in filing a harassment charge or acting as a witness. Make clear that sexual harassment is prohibited when it occurs between attorneys and support personnel; or between attorneys; or between support personnel; or between attorneys or support personnel and any contractor performing business for your law practice. As an employer with power to take corrective action, you can never respond to with indifference to potentially harassing situations or to complaints by an aggrieved employee. Regarding the USSC's pro-business strangle-hold on employee class actions, you may be interested in reading the notorious Wal-Mart Stores, Inc v. Dukes, __ U.S. __, 131 S. Ct. 2541 (2011). - Complying with Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) - This law protects employees who are unable to work because of a serious health condition. It applies to employers in the private sector who employ 50 or more employees for each working day in the 20 or more calendar weeks of the current or preceding calendar year. Consequently, the FMLA will not be of concern to the criminal defense practitioner with a few employees. The FMLA provides covered employees with up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave per year for a "serious health condition" of the employee or an immediate family member. It includes adopting a child and pregnancy. Violations are investigated by the Department of Labor which also collects back wages for family leave violations. For further information, check these sources: definitions, discussion, forms, explanations, FAQS, tips for employers and employees, guide 1, guide 2 See Byrne v. Avon Products Inc, 328 F.3d 379 (2003). - Complying with Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) - The ADA law protects employees who are able to perform the essential work functions of a position despite having a physical or mental impairment. The disability must be one that substantially limits one or more major life activities. The ADA applies to employers with 15 or more employees. It prohibits discrimination in all employment practices, including job application procedures, hiring, firing, advancement, compensation, training, and other terms conditions and privileges of employment. It applies to recruitment, advertising, tenure, layoff, leave, fringe benefits, and all other employment related activities. Nine federal agencies are designated to investigate disability related discrimination. The solo criminal defense practitioner will typically not fall under the terms of the ADA because s/he will not employ 15 or more employees. For further information, check these sources: primary ADA site, ADA, ADA, ADA, analysis, information 1, information 2, information 3, links re disability, disability resources. Note: With regard to the various federal employment statutes such as ADA, ADEA, and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, be careful to avoid any retaliation against an individual who files a charge of discrimination or opposes discriminatory practices. - Complying with the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) - You will be interested in this brief discussion if you have employees who might be entitled to overtime pay. You also want to avoid the expense and bother of dealing with claims for back overtime pay. The FLSA (Sections 201-219 of Title 29, United States Code) provides minimum standards for both wages, e.g., the "minimum wage" currently $5.15 per hour, and overtime, e.g., "guaranteed overtime" pay required after 40 hours of work in a workweek at a rate of not less than one and one-half times the employee's regular rate of pay. The FLSA also has provisions related to child labor and equal pay. Importantly the FLSA exempts specified employees or groups of employees from the application of certain of its provisions. The FLSA regulations are published in the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR). Changes to the CFR are published in the Federal Register. On August 23, 2004, changes in the FLSA standards "overtime provisions" (CFR 29, Pa 541) took effect. The new FLSA regulations contain some eleven job analysis questions that allow an employer to reach a conclusion as to whether an employee is "exempt" from the overtime pay requirement. The Department of Labor provides businesses with an Internet tool, based on a question-answer format that helps greatly in complying with the updated overtime-exemption rules. Here's more information (1) re overtime pay rules, including a number of resources and tools, e.g., fact sheets. The provisions of the new FLSA updated the regulations defining and delimiting the exemptions for "white collar " executives and administrative and professional employees. As a general rule, to qualify for an exemption from the FSLA, the employee must receive compensation above a minimum salary level, receive pay on a salary basis, and perform specific primary job duties. The professional exemption includes licensed lawyers; thus, the minimum salary requirements and salary basis tests do not apply to those employees who practice law. See 29 CFR Section 541.304. Another exemptions apply to executives, i.e., employees (1) whose primary duty is management of the enterprise, (2) who regularly and customarily direct the work of two or more other employees, and (3) who have the authority to hire and fire other employees or whose suggestions or recommendations as to the change of another employee's status such as hiring, firing, advancement, or promotion is given particular weight. See 29 CFR Section 541.100. There is also an administrative exemption for administrative employees such as executive or administrative assistants to a business owner, the test being (1) that the employee's primary duty must be the performance of office or non-manual work directly related to the management or general business operations of the employer or its clients, and (2) that the employee, when performing the primary duty must exercise discretion and independent judgment with respect to matters of significance.See 29 CFR Section 541.200 Under Section 13(a)(1) of the FLSA and its implementing regulations, employees cannot be classified as exempt from the minimum wage and overtime requirements unless they are guaranteed a minimum weekly salary and perform certain required job duties. You'll have to investigate the FLSA to determine who among your law office employees is entitled to overtime pay and who is exempt under the new rules. It does appear that employees earning less than $455 per week ($23,660 per year) are automatically entitled to overtime. See 29 CFR Section 541.600. Under the new overtime law, it also appears that employees earning $100,000 a year are likely to be exempt from the overtime pay requirement if they are paid $455 or more a week, perform office or non-manual work, and customarily or regularly perform at least one of the duties of an executive, administrative, or professional employee. If you have your own small law office, you as law office manager, must be aware of these FLSA changes to correctly classify exempt positions and non-exempt positions. Since non-exempt employees are entitled to overtime pay for all hours worked over 40 hours in a week., you'll need to figure which of your employees is non-exempt and factor that into the individuals hourly schedule for the workweek. Payment for overtime can have a significant impact on your office budget and fees. Be aware the failure to comply with the overtime requirements can spark a Department of Labor investigation, as well as lawsuits from employees wrongly deprived of overtime pay. [Note that some states, notably California, have their own state overtime laws that are broader and more generous regarding those who are eligible for overtime. For example, it appears that employees in California earning less than $585 per week ($28,080 per year) are entitled to overtime. The 204 changes in the FLSA do not affect more generous state laws. You'll have to check your state law to see if it varies from the FLSA. (1)] See Kasten v. Saint-Gobain Performance Plastics Corp., __ U.S. __, 131 S.Ct. 1325 (2011) applying the anti-retaliation provison of the FLSA to an employee's oral complaint. - Complying with the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) - The ADEA of 1967, U.S.C., Title 29, Chapter 14, Sections 621-634 applies to employers with 20 or more employees. At its origin, the ADEA provided age discrimination in employment protection for persons between 40 And 64. The 1978 amendment expanded the ceiling of protection to age 70 for all federal employees and most non-federal employees. The 1986 amendment to ADEA removed any age cap to the protective features of the ADEA. It is reported that about half of small law firms have mandatory retirement. The number is increasing. Regarding age discrimination and mandatory retirement in law firms covered by the ADEA, take a look at Equal Employment Opportunity Commission v. Sidley, Austin, Brown & Wood, 315 F.3d 696 (7th Cir. 2002). The ADEA permits preferences for the old over the young; it cuts only way, i.e., it does not encompass reverse discrimination claims (1). Further information on discrimination against individuals 40 and up based on age in hiring, firing, wage benefits, hours worked, and availability of overtime is available from these sources: (1), (2), (3), (4). Note that many states have anti-discrimination laws that apply to employers with fewer than 20 employees; therefore, check your state's age anti-discrimination law through your state department of labor or fair employment bureau. For a retaliation case, see Gomez-Perez v. Potter, 553 U.S. 474 (2008). - Complying with Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 - Title VII applies to employers with 15 or more employees. It protects employees against discrimination based on sex, race/color, religion, pregnancy. See Sexual Harassment above. - Cash and Cash Equivalent Payments Reporting Requirement - The reporting requirements regarding cash and cash equivalent payments from clients are contained in 26 U.S.C. Section 6050I. [The last figure is a capital "eye" without ( ).] The code requires each person engaged in a trade or business who, in the course of that trade or business, receives more than $10,000 in cash in one transaction or in two or more related transactions, must file Form 8300. Reports to the government are made on Form 8300. - Handling the High Profile Case - Communicating with the Media - Brendan Behan said, "There is no such thing as bad publicity, except your own obituary." That's a bit of overstatement, but when you have a high profile case, you will have to contend with the public's thirst for crime news. The media will come calling. Don't give them the cold shoulder, unless there is a gag order in place. The media will pay you back for your recalcitrance by giving you negative coverage. This hurts your client and your professional reputation. Take telephone calls from the legitimate media. Return phone calls. If a particular reporter has betrayed your confidence in the past, do not discuss your cases with her. Reporters have deadlines. Stories have a limited shelf-life. If you are prepared to make a comment, make sure that the media has access to you. In dealing with the press, remember that everything you say is on the record unless the reporter agrees with you in advance that it is "off the record." Rather than stonewalling in a case where you don't want to make a comment, make it appear that you need to postpone commenting until you are able to adequately investigate the case, e.g., "That is still under investigation" or "I am limited in what I am allowed to say in this matter." Ask the reporter if you can get back to her; then wait a day or so and call her back. Be prepared either to make the most favorable statement possible or to give a reasonable excuse for not being able to comment. Remember that news does not keep any better than fish. If the story is yesterday's news by the time you respond, your comments probably won't be publicized. By the same token, if you want to talk, do it while the story is front page news. When and if you do comment on a case, make it short, simple, and sweet. This is particularly true if you are going to do a TV interview. Speak in sound bytes - short pithy bits of information of 10 to 20 seconds duration. Thirty seconds is the maximum. Use plain words and short sentences. Boil it down. Gear you level of communication to an audience of bright eighth graders. Plan what you will say. Pitch it to the essential issue. On occasion you may use a catchy phrase, metaphor, anecdote, or quote (1). If you are asked a negative question, look in it for a word or idea that you can use to spin your answer back toward your positive message.
In case of TV interviews, try to schedule the interview in the setting of your office. Ask the reporter the general nature of the questions you will be asked. In some cases, the reporter will have been given a set of questions from the news room. Ask whether this is true in your case. If so, ask to look at the questions. TV anchors follow a set script. If the reporter has no set questions, suggest some. If you know the questions that you will be asked, you can tailor your answers. If the reporter can't give you a list of his questions, you will need to anticipate what the questions will be. Make an outline of the anticipated questions and your responses. You don't want to sound rehearsed - so never read you answers. However, it is a good idea to have your outline notes available before and during the interview.
Interviews may be live or taped. Most interviews are taped. Mistakes can't be cut out of live interviews. However, you have more control of what the viewer/listener sees and/or hears if the interview is live. A taped interview will be edited. Your mistakes may be removed. On the other hand, if you give a taped interview, your statements may be taken out of context. Thus, in the taped interview it is vital that you speak in short, pithy blocks that reiterate your basic theme.
Project the image that you want the public to have of you - a competent well-reasoning lawyer. You will be shot chose-up by the camera. So, if you normally wear glasses, put them in your pocket. Tan or medium blue suits show up better than very dark suits. Maintain a steady gaze. Don't shift your eyes. When being interviewed in your office, you will generally be displaying a 3/4 profile. Position yourself so that your best side is facing the camera. Once the interview begins, forget the cameras and talk to the interviewer. Don't look at the camera, and, if there is a monitor, don't look at it either. You've seen people dart their eyes to watch themselves on the monitor. When they do, their self-consciousness breaks their sincerity. Move your head slowly rather than jerkily. Use a conversational tone. Avoid being overly dramatic. If you are caught on the street by reporters with cameras and decide to comment, don't talk while walking. Stop, face the reporter, and say what you are going to say. Make it very short and sweet. First think, then speak.
You might want to read Robert S. Bennett's (Ex-President Clinton's one-time lawyer in the days when special prosecutors were investigating the ex-prez) article: Press Advocacy and the High Profile Client, 30 Loyola of Los Angeles Law Review 13 (1996). This site gives you guidance in writing press releases, and this one provides a few suggestions on dealing with the media in a highly publicized case. See the extensive discussion on the ethics of dealing with the media on the CCJA Ethics page. - Ethics & Professionalism - Check the Ethics page and the fairly extensive bibliography of articles on this subject in the CCJA Bibliography.
- Tech Support - Techsupportalert is a great resource for those looking for help with their office technology. It has excellent reviews of free software and terrific how-to-do-it articles for those with some knowledge of tech utilities. - Tech Terms - This site will help you brush up on common technology terms. - Web Searching and Researching - The Links page contains a number of good search engines, links, and tutorials for the legal profession, particularly those involved in prosecution and defense. For further information about researching the case for free on a shoestring and using the big fee-based research giants like Westlaw, Lexis, Loislaw, etc., see the extensive discussion on CCJA's Pretrial Practice in Criminal Cases page. You can get research help from your staff and maybe by visiting with other practitioners, but you have to learn a lot sitting alone reading from your computer and/or from books.
Tip: If you do any legal research on the Internet, make certain that you have a high speed Internet connection. The days of dial-up connections for office computers have passed.
- Electronic Filing in PDF Format - In the coming years, most jurisdictions will provide for electronic filing of legal documents. It has already happened with federal bankruptcy and civil cases. Criminal shouldn't be too far behind. The preferred format will often be pdf. My colleagues tell me that the best (and perhaps most costly) pdf packages come from Adobe. Visit the Adobe site and learn about the full version of Acrobat and the Acrobat distiller that allow you to create the pdf documents. When you visit the Adobe site, be sure to read the Adobe publication "Four Flavors of pdf." Caution: One of the dangers of being served with documents or orders by e-mail is that e-mail may be lost in the stack; you may want to dedicate an e-mail address for electronic receipt and filing of documents. This site discusses electronic discovery. See also Pretrial. - Text to Spoken Word - Current technology can easily turn text to the spoken word. (1) You may find it useful to obtain inexpensive software, e.g., Text-Aloud MP3, that allows you, for around $50, to turn computer text into natural voice MP3 audio files. These MP3 files can be placed on CD's that can be listened to at your leisure on a palm-sized MP3 player, e.g., Apple's MP3 iPod with 4 GB of storage. - Security While Using Internet Resources - In this era of crackers and hackers, we have become increasingly aware of the vulnerability of the sensitive data we have stored on hard drives, file servers, and in computer memory. If you are a practicing criminal defense lawyer, your office network is loaded with privileged and confidential information. There is always an ongoing problem with viruses (keep up with the latest), worms, Trojan horses, etc.,. These affect the small criminal defense law office as well as the gigantic civil law factories. Every defense practitioner has to take steps to safeguard business and client information from unauthorized intrusion and access. This means you have to learn from computer security experts about encryption, virus scan protection software, firewalls to block hackers, access control through password protection, backup and recovery systems, remote access safeguards, and all the other stumbling blocks that can be put in place to prevent breach of your cyber office's security. Check this web site for loads of information about spyware cleaners, spam filters and more. When you seek tech support, you may do well to seek out folks with law firm experience. How do you find out if tech support advisors are competent? Get a list of their law firm clients. Do they service a number of small office clients? Will your office be their smallest customer? Determine if they can handle continuing needs of both hardware and software. Find out how quickly they can get to your office in cases where on-site service is necessary. Don't rely solely on your tech support. Become knowledgeable about law office systems. Concern about security should temper and fetter our choices of freeware, shareware, media players, file sharing, and interactive content. Some of these choices may contain code that allows the developers to collect and disseminate information about users. Your computer surfing habits can be tracked, your system files maybe altered, your habits may be profiled, etc. In short, security and privacy concerns must be considered in every purchase and modification of your electronic office. To provide security for your computers always install updates and security patches. Try this site to stay abreast of Internet security vulnerabilities. For Microsoft security patches, try here: (1). Windows users, always download the latest available Microsoft security patches for critical flaws in Windows operating systems (1). Microsoft Office software users have their site. Always have a current anti-virus program installed on your computers. See the downloads section under Additional Resources below for links to good anti-virus providers, e.g. Symantec's Norton. Disk encryption of files or folders can be accomplished with freeware, e.g., TrueCrypt. Guard your privacy when you use the Internet. That means installing a software firewall from a provider such as Symantec or Zone Labs. See Additional Resources below. Here's the Spybot site that is devoted to helping you maintain your privacy and that of your clients; also, check out Counterspy for spyware and adware. The download (1) of their software to keep spyware off your computer is free. You will also find similar free software at Ad-Aware. Windows Startup will tell you about the programs running on your system when you start your computer. To disable pop-up ads that appear in Internet Explorer, I have had good results with the free downloadable "Pop-Up Stopper 2.4" from this site. Netscape has built in pop-up stoppers. Here are some very good sites (1), (2) for resources and links to various sources of technology useful to the legal profession. Try the Automated Lawyer and Law Tech News for some useful information and tips on technology for the office and courtroom. These sites (1), (2) has reviews and how-to's for tech needs. You can get the latest if you have time to attend legal technology shows. Here's a dictionary of tech terms. This public defender site has some useful technology links. See Resources for Law Office Management below for more web-based support. (1 - an article on electronic data security)
Tip: No matter how much security you have, you must regularly back up your files. I suggest an off site backup service; the provider, e.g., Abacus Backup, will charge you a monthly fee.
OFFICE STRENGTHENING - BUILD A PROFITABLE PRACTICE WITH A MARKETING PLAN
- Customer Service and Satisfaction - [See Ethics of Criminal Defense Attorneys, Attorney-Client Interview Skills] Take responsibility for managing your attorney-client relationships. It's easy to lose sight of what you are selling. A major part of your value as a lawyer in and out of the courtroom is providing your clients with service. In a way, you are selling peace of mind. Criminal defense doesn't come with a warranty. You can't make promises of a particular outcome, but you can do your darnest to satisfy that client's needs. How do you do this better and better with each client? Find out what services the accused expects and appreciates. How does your client view your efforts? What is lacking? You can determine this by getting client feedback. Try doing what your car dealerships does when you've had mechanical work done. After the case disposition is complete, send a follow-up letter asking your client for feedback. Do it in a way that shows you care and valued the opportunity to work for the client. [This may not work if your client is a psychopathic triple axe-murderer residing on death row.]
Most lawyers are taught to be result-oriented. Results are important. Yet, you may find that keeping in touch with the client during the evolution of the case is as important to the client as the result that you achieve. In short, construct your practice so that it's not only result-oriented but client-driven, i.e., customer service must be at the top of your agenda. Communicate with the client well and often. Use layman's terms. If you are billing, include case status updates updates with your bills. Involve your client in decision-making. You won't go too far wrong simply by following the "Golden Rule" - treat your clients the way you would wish to be treated if you stood in their shoes.
If your case management software doesn't include all the necessary attorney-client forms, put together checklists and form templates for various attorney-client communications, e.g., letter declining representation, letter welcoming the new client and reiterating the rights and responsibilities of yourself and your client, letter informing the client of current case status, letter notifying the client of breaking developments in the case, letter notifying the client of court settings, etc.
- Selling Your Services Through Professional Web Site - Custom Build Your Own - To better serve your clients and to expand your client base, it's essential to have a professional web site. You can't afford not to have information about yourself on the web. Yellow page use is said to be declining, while Internet usage is expanding. See Internet Use Stats. More clients are using the Internet to find, evaluate, and/or select a defender. You can use you site to provide general information. Clients like having access to password protected pages. And guess what, if your trial lasts more than one day, some of your jurors will look you up on the web. These jurors will try to learn more about you by reading your bio on your web site. So, it's not sufficient just to have a web site. Yours has to be attractive and functional. It needs to highlight the good things about you as as lawyer/person. In designing your professional web site, you'll have to think about your clients' needs. Your web site will provide a 24 hour-a-day link for your client and the public at large. If you want to spend the capital, you will find plenty of companies that build web sites for lawyers, e.g., (1). It will cost you roughly $4000-$5000 per year to have a company develop a respectable web presence for your firm - more if you want something fancy. On the other hand, you may want to try building your own. Before making either choice, look at some existing solo-practitioner lawyer web sites (1), (2) to get an idea of what others are doing to market their services. Get some ideas by looking at the fancy web sites of some of the highfalutin' civil law factories (1) or perusing the sites of civil/criminal law boutiques (1) that spend a considerable amount of money in planning and design. Take a look at a relevant book, e.g., Robbins, Web Site Design in a Nutshell 3rd ed. (2005) for +-$25. Be sure to give some thought to color (1). NASA has a site devoted to the use of color in displays. If you are a solo practitioner on a limited budget, I strongly suggest that you use a service, such as Homestead or builder, that allows the technologically challenged (you and me) to create an attractive law firm web site, using tools that a chimp could understand. These turn-key services charge a modest monthly fee (+-$10 a month) and provide paint by the numbers guidance in building your site, plus providing you with your own personal domain name (URL), a couple of matching email addresses, search engine submission, Internet space and (at least in the case of Homestead) terrific tracking information that provides you with data about the traffic on your site. Homestead allows you to create exclusive password protected pages accessible only with a password that you can supply to clients. You can update your Homestead site as often as you wish, at no additional cost. I like the idea of being able to control the content of my site. [Personal Note: I built every page of this CCJA public service site and four other sites using Homestead's site builder software. The tools are extremely easy to use and a lot of fun. I am not a computer whiz. In fact, I'm only interested in what services a web site provider can furnish me. How they work - I don't care. So, if I can do it, you definitely can. The Homestead price is very affordable, and the options in the basic software are immense. In nine years, I have had one small problem stemming from an outdated version of java script that I was using; the problem was easily remedied, at no cost, when, on the Homestead counselor's advice, I upgraded my creaky old computer's version of Java. In short, I recommend Homestead as a great resource for building a very low-cost criminal defense law office web site. Homestead has a program in which one can earn credit by referring business, but I have never signed up for it and get absolutely nothing from them for this recommendation. I doubt that they are even aware that I am plugging their product to you.] For an example of attractive low-cost web sites built by solo legal practitioners using Homestead, look at these (1), (2), (3), (4), (5), (6), (7). In building one of these sites, my advice is that you incorporate the best features from various solo sites listed on the Internet. Using a low cost do-it-yourself web site builder service may seem too cheesy to some. If so, you can find web authoring software packages, e.g., Microsoft Frontage, Adobe Olive and Undersign, that will allow you to build a web site. There are some bargain basement providers. e.g., (1), (2). Of course, if you have the dollars and don't mind shelling out a nut up front, you can readily find a number of companies that will design and create a legal web site for you, e.g., (1), (2), (3). Some will both create and maintain your law office web site (1), (2). Then there are the legal directories, e.g., Findlaw, Lawyers.Com, that provide you with page space and, typically, a first page listing on search engines when someone searches for you by name. Find your own legal web site builders on the Internet. Martindale might be a good starting place. You'll have to register a domain name. Someone else may have the URL you want. See Domain Registration (1), (2), (3) Country Domain. If you do decide to design your own professional web site, the Internet can provide you with good ideas for the architecture. (1), (2), (3). Here's a good place to start your research on how to design a fetching web site with innovative content for your clientele. Here's some good general poop on what works in advertising and Internet advertising. Here are a couple of Internet sites (1), (2) with helpful information re web site promotion. Suffice it to say that in designing your law firm web site you'll need to know the needs and wants of your targeted audience of future clients; you'll need to decide whether your web site will provide information, e.g., brief explanatory articles, hyperlinks, etc., about the way the criminal justice system acts upon accused offenders and/or how the will provide relevant trust-inspiring information about you, along with contact data, and preliminary forms e.g., a downloadable client information sheet; make sure that it is easy for the uninitiated to navigate your site; finally, take time keep the site current and contemporary; don't publish your site to the Internet until you have gone over it with a fine-tooth comb for errors, omissions, and ease of use. If you don't already have image editing software installed on your computer, you will find many image-editing software packages in computer stores. You can also download image-editing software from sites, e.g. (1), on the web. Top of the line software can cost several hundred dollars, but basic packages are quite affordable. [Of course, I like Homestead because they provide the easy-to-use software as part of the monthly package - no technological expertise required.] Cautionary Note: When you put a professional law office web site in cyberspace for the consuming public, you must know what strictures your state bar rules place upon the design and content of the site. Check your state bar rules regarding lawyer advertising and what you can say on your site. For example, if you are from my home state, Texas, you will need to consult new Rule 7.02 of the Texas Disciplinary Rules of Professional Conduct and know about this. - Other Marketing Stratagems and Tools to Obtain Clients - The 19th century circus and sideshow promoter P. T. Barnum said, "Without promotion something terrible happens, NOTHING!" Running a law practice as a business requires that you develop marketing skills of promoting yourself and your business. For the criminal defense lawyer, this translates into efforts that will expand and/or elevate your potential client base. Common sense and experience teaches us that the more affluent the clientele, the more competition there will be for the business. If you are selling criminal defense services, ask yourself where your potential client base is. Then figure out how you will convey your professional availability in the most favorable light to this group of potential clients. You need to spend money to make money - spend it wisely. In addition to having your own professional web site, there are a number of marketing tools that are easily obtainable as you try to build your practice (1), (2), (3), (4 - a bylaw devoted to getting clients). The following list includes some of the most obvious and effective steps you can take to market your criminal defense practice: (1) Advertising and Use of Social Media - Be sure you are listed in the yellow pages and in the white business pages; from a cost benefit standpoint, an inexpensive well-crafted small ad with a tasteful photo of yourself (Prospective clients like to know how you look.) ad is probably better than a pricey full page splash. Offer a free consultation. [Before you publish a newspaper or yellow page ad or establish a web site, make sure that it complies with your state's rules of professional responsibility. For example, lawyers from my home state (TX) should contact the Advertising Review Committee of the State Bar of Texas.] The cost of advertising in a legal directory, e.g., placing a biographical reference in Martindale Hubbell or the West Legal Directory, probably doesn't justify the benefit for a new solo criminal defense lawyer. Most criminal defendants won't think about checking to see if you have an "AV" Martindale rating. Martindale does offer an Internet Lawyer Homepage service. (Martindale does not list its prices.) West markets something called the West Firm Site through Findlaw Products. It appears to cost a pricey $350 to $650 per annum, depending on the level of services. Free advertising on the Internet makes more sense. Look for it. For example, Lawguru.com has a network program of over 2000 lawyers that practitioners can join; you get a free listing in their attorney directory; when visitors to the Lawguru web site post legal questions in your specialty of law and in your geographic area, you may answer the question; your answer will be sent via email to the person who asked the question; if the person is impressed by your answer, s/he may then contact you directly. If you have a web site be sure to put the address on your business cards, stationary, envelopes, invoices, email signature, etc. See Bates v. State Bar of Arizona, 433 U.S. 350 (1977). But see Ohralik v. Ohio State Bar Association, 436 U.S. 447 (1978); Shapero v. Kentucky Bar Association, 486 U.S. 466 (1988), Peel v. Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission of Illinois, 496 U.S. 91 (1990). To understand the methods of marketing your practice in social media, check out the Social Media Examiner.
(2) Create a Firm Brochure - For nominal expenditure of time and money, you can put together an impressive triple-fold brochure describing yourself and the nature of your practice. If you have a web site address, be sure to put it on your firm brochure.
(3) Consider the Usefulness of an E-Newsletter - Criminal defense practice does not fit well with the use of a monthly newsletter or e-newsletter (1). People become concerned about their rights only when they are charged. Better than a newsletter, simply provide information about topics of interest, e.g., arrest, bail, etc., on your web site or use some other means of contact, e.g., a Happy New Year card. See contact lists below. (4) Become a Blawger - Join the gazillion other lawyers who are bogging. It'll cost you from $50 - $150 a year. I have no favorite among the many providers; you can start by looking at the templates and tools on Typepad, Blogspot and Wordpress. But, for goodness sake, if you blawg, provide some useful content, e.g., talk about law office management, confessions, discovery, etc., not the "pigs I have stuck" and "let me throw my arm out of joint patting myself on the back" stuff you see on many blawgs. Check out Copyblogger for tips on blawging. [I must admit that I subscribe to a blawg authored by a Florida lawyer just to read his egotistical, "know it all" claims of trial advocacy expertise, when his reports are typically recycled information that has been around for year.] If you would like to see a sampling of worthwhile blawgs, take a look at the Recent News and Scholarship page. Caution: Lawyers who blog should be aware of the case of Horace F. Hunter v. Virginia State Bar where the bar association came after attorney Hunter for failure to label his blawg, "This Week in Richmond Criminal Defense", as lawyer advertising. (1), (2), (3), (4-memo of law in support of Hunter), (5-federal court order dismissing Hunter's suit for injunctive relief) (5) Become a Self-Proclaimed Expert in the Print Media or on YouTube - Write an article for a professional journal, e.g., your local or state bar journal, that is distributed to civil as well as criminal lawyers; pick an issue of general interest, maybe one that you have to research anyway in connection with a case, and write an informative six to ten page footnoted article. Learn enough to write a paper by experiencing what you are going to explain, talking to other experts in the field, reading and researching, and taking a step back to observe the process you are commenting upon. The collateral benefit of writing a professional paper for publication is that it qualifies you to become a public speaker on the subject at gatherings of lawyers. For a wider audience, get a YouTube account and publish one or more short high quality videos about some area of your practice that will interest the public. Quite a few defenders have done this, but the quality of the presentations is typically poor.
(6) Write Something that Helps the General Public (Including Prospective Clients) Understand the System and Their Rights In It - Almost every city or town has a free newspaper or magazine that is distributed to the public; volunteer to write a monthly column that informs the readers about the criminal justice system and their constitutional and statutory rights; accuracy is important here, but the writing is non-legalese.
(7) Make Friends with the Radio and TV Reporters Who Have the Courthouse Beat - Free media coverage can boost your visibility in the community; you'll get it in high profile cases but you can also get it if you are called upon to comment on developments in local and national criminal cases. Who knows, you may be asked to appear as a host or guest on a local Saturday morning radio legal talk show. If you are offered the opportunity to appear on TV or radio, be certain to educate yourself about the nuances and ethics of dealing with the media; also see above for a list of practical tips when communicating with the media concerning a high profile case.
(8) Join Groups that Will Allow You to Network with Non-Lawyers - Meet non-lawyer members of the community who can refer clients to you. You can do this by joining groups that meet of on a regular basis. Simply joining a group is not enough. Try to attend one or two breakfast or luncheon meetings each week. Try to get on a committee or the board. This involves a commitment of time without immediate payback, but eventually you will start to get referrals.
(9) Be Active in Attorney Organizations - One of the best ways of getting clients who are able to pay for your defense services is through referral from other lawyers who do not do precisely the same type of work you do. How do you meet other non-criminal defense lawyers? You join and become active in their groups. Local bar associations abound. Become active. If there is an organized group of local solo practitioners, join and become active. Most of us are required to belong to our state bar association. Outrageously high compulsory bar dues may seem to provide scant practical good in terms of help with your practice, but membership in the state bar association does provide an entree for you to become active in committee work and, thus, expand your connections in the legal community. Pick a committee that is not composed of other defenders and prosecutors. Sometimes you will get a referral from another criminal defense lawyer. This may happen because you are a member of a national LISTSERV (email discussion group) of criminal defenders. [The NACDL has one of these, and, from time to time, a message will be posted by a lawyer in one part of the country seeking to refer a client to a lawyer in another part of the country.] Sometimes a fellow defender realizes s/he does not have the competency to handle a particular case and seeks to refer the case to a more experienced practitioner. Sometimes a highly competent defender with a full caseload or unaffordable fee structure will refer a client to a lawyer with lighter caseload or lower fees. When you are starting out, you should cultivate such a relationship with established lawyers who may toss you an occasional bone.
(10) Be Active in Community Affairs - Take part in the political process. Become active in one of the political parties. Volunteer to serve as an election judge. Become a member of the Sierra Club or other socially conscious groups. Again, the payoff in terms of building your client base may be slow, but it will happen.
(11) Find a Mentor and Get Experience and Exposure - It's great when you come out of law school and immediately find a job with a law firm or lawyer that specializes in criminal law. Experience is probably the most important ingredient in building and operating a successful criminal defense law practice. Unfortunately, there aren't that many multi-lawyer firms that practice criminal law. If you haven't found a job with a firm or with a D.A. or P.D. office, try to establish a professional mentoring relationship with an experienced defender. Volunteer your time to assist your mentor in trial, interviews, and in office practice. Shadow your mentor and absorb what you see and hear. You'll be paid with the coin of experience. There is also a spillover effect whereby a bit of your mentor's good reputation in the legal community spills over onto you.
(12) Develop a Subspecialty - There are a number of sub-specialties in criminal law, e.g., DWI, white collar offenses, controlled substances, in both federal and state court. If you focus on one of these subspecialties you can more easily become a known expert. For example, in every community, there are so-called DUI/DWI lawyers who command premium fees based on their expertise in defending drunk-driving cases. [These "specialists" are not always remarkable advocates; their professional success often flows from their focused knowledge of a very particular area of criminal practice, e.g., DUI/DWI.]
(13) Organize or Speak at a CLE Event for Defenders - With the rise of mandatory CLE (Continuing Legal Education), lawyers must attend a certain number of CLE events each year. There are a slew of CLE (Continuing Legal Education) organizations competing for those lawyer dollars. [CLE events in my area of Texas cost at least $200 a day.] These CLE organizations are always on the lookout for "presenters," i.e., lawyers who will work for free. If you want to get your name in front of your defender colleagues, this is a good way. The downside is that you generally have to write a paper and present a good speech. This takes time and considerable effort. If your speech is to be helpful, it follows that you will to share information and/or technique with your fellow defenders.
(14) Give Speeches to Non- Lawyers - Many organizations are on the prowl for good speakers. The general public is fascinated with crime and criminals. The media spends an enormous amount of its resources promoting and catering to this enormous public appetite for information about crime. When you work in a field that fascinates the public, the subject matter is automatically of interest. With a bit of thought, you can come up with a criminal law topic of popular interest. Write a speech about the topic, and put together a supporting PowerPoint presentation, using the same mechanics (8-step-method) you would use in preparation for a jury argument. You will find an enormous amount of source material in your local library. Look at the relevant CLE talks that others have made, gather some information from the Internet, and convert it into an entertaining and informative talk for John Q. Citizen. The speech has to be geared to your audience. So, you don't have to worry about using legalese and footnotes and the sort of lawyer-speak that we use in appellate court briefs and appellate arguments. Work on your delivery. Once you're ready, call some local organizations, and get yourself on their speakers list. [Note: Criminal defense lawyers are paid to talk for their clients. If you have done this work for long, you are probably a tolerable public speaker. Yet, when we watch trials, we discover that many of us aren't compelling speakers. If you are a lousy public speaker, work on becoming a good one. Take a speech course at a local college or university. Become a member of Toastmasters. Go to the public library, check out some books on public speaking, e.g., Davidson, Jeff, The Complete Guide to Public Speaking, Wiley Publishing, N.J. 2003, Morgan, Nick, Working the Room: How to Move Action Through Audience-Centered Speaking, Harvard Business School Press, Boston 2003, and read them. For more resources, look at the list of public speaking books under the CCJA Jury Argument Bibliography. Most importantly, to become a good public speaker, start giving public speeches.]
(15) Develop an Ever-Expanding Contact List - Over thirty-five years of teaching criminal practice courses, I have encountered many students; candidly, I don't remember most of them. I do remember one student from thirty years past. He's a prominent criminal defense lawyer in Florida. I know exactly where his office is located. I know that he is still defending. I know this because I am on his contact list. Every year, rain or shine, I receive a Christmas holiday card from this man. The face of the card has an attractive pencil drawing of his law office. The written message inside is secular in tone, the "hope the new year brings your health, wealth, and happiness" type. For the cost of a stamp and the card, he has reminded me each year that he is still fighting the good fight. Should I need his help or need to refer a case, I know how to find him. The point of the story is - develop a list of people who can send or provide you with business. Computerize your list of contacts. Divide it into categories, e.g., professional contacts, former clients, etc. Stay in contact with the folks on that list. Email is cheaper and easier to send than holiday cards. But holiday cards or birthday cards have a more friendly connotation. Should you put former clients on the list? Of course. What if your former client is an involuntary resident of the Cross-Bar Hotel? Send the card. Some clients who were in trouble with the law once will be in trouble again. When it comes time to hire a lawyer, they'll remember you.
(16) Seek Court Appointments to Represent Indigents - For new lawyers, one of the best ways of polishing your skills as a negotiator and advocate is to have clients. Court appointments provide you with the opportunity to serve the underclass of accused criminals who depend on court-appointed counsel to voice their case. These cases also provide you with the opportunity, albeit for limited recompense from taxpayer's coffers, to hone your criminal practice skills. In many jurisdictions, there are organized public defender offices. In these jurisdictions, private counsel are still employed in cases where there may be a conflict of interest, e.g. multiple indigent co-defendants. One downside of receiving a court appointment is that future appointments may depend on the good wishes of the person or persons who dole out the appointments. There is always the danger of crouching down and licking the hand that feeds you. So, when you do accept court appointments, maintain your loyalty to the client's best interest. Be cautious against becoming a lackey to those who appoint and pay you.
(17) Pay Referral Fees to Lawyers Who Refer Cases to You - To the extent that it is ethically legitimate, be open to paying a referral fee to lawyers who send you a case. This provides non-criminal lawyer with an incentive to send you business. Most financially successful criminal lawyers get their business from referrals, not from walk-in clients. Note: The process of paying referral fees is under ethical scrutiny in some jurisdictions, particularly when the referring lawyer does little or no work and the terms of the referral are not fully explained to the client. For example, in my own home state of Texas there are new rules establishing minimum standards of conduct for an attorney to divide a fee on a case with a lawyer not in the same firm; the pure "forwarding fee" has been eliminated; lawyers who do not work on a case but only refer it to another lawyer may no longer collect a referral fee; lawyers not in the same firm may divide a fee either on the basis of the proportion of services they render or if each lawyer assumes joint responsibility for the representation; there is also a test for determining a reasonable correlation between the amount and value of services performed and the share of the fee received; attorneys must obtain client consent to the terms and conditions of any agreement among attorneys to divide a fee; see Rule 1.04 of the Texas Disciplinary Rules of Professional Conduct (effective March 1, 2005), Ethics.
(18) Become a Board-Certified Specialist - There are national and statewide organizations that certify lawyers as specialists. Without debating who certifies the certifiers, the label attesting that you are "certified by the Board of Legal Specialization as a specialist in criminal law " or vouching that you are "certified as a member of the National Board of Trial Advocacy" may engender confidence in your clients. In addition, your local ethical rules will no doubt allow board-certified specialists to so advertise themselves. Finally, it will assure non-criminal lawyers that you are competent for a referral.
(19) Make Such Dedicated Effort on Behalf of Each Client that the Client Becomes a Walking Advertisement for Your Capability - We know that client satisfaction is based not only on the result achieved but also, in large part, on the client's assessment of the elbow grease expended by the lawyer in behalf of the client. Make sure your client is aware of your exerted efforts. Keep in touch with former clients whose songs of praise might be a source of future business. [Note: I have known several defense lawyers whose former criminal clients became the source of multi-million dollar civil cases.]
(20) Find Out What Brought Each Client to Your Office - You need to know how every client was referred to your office. Ask every client, and keep track if the answers. This will give you an insight into the relative productivity of your various marketing techniques.
(21) Be Inventive and Innovative in Cultivating Word of Mouth Advertising- It's always good to keep up with what the competition is doing to market its services. You can find plenty of reading material on the subject of marketing. You can do everything mentioned in the 19 preceding suggestions. But don't stop there. As they say, "Think outside the box." Keep your mind open to other avenues of developing and marketing yourself and your practice. Remember that word of mouth is one of the most effective means of advertising to your target base. It's probably more important to get your message to one person who is facing criminal accusation than it is to get it to 100 people in the population-at-large. The person facing accusation will often come to you through referral by a lawyer who doesn't practice criminal law. But you cannot afford to neglect the potential clients in the population-at-large. Your business and self-marketing plan should extends to the health club where you exercise, the place where you worship, the PTA committee you chair, the political party in which you are active, the ACLU or American Compass Conservative Book Club meetings you attend, the tavern where you drink, the waffle house where you breakfast, etc.
(22) Keep Track of Yourself and Your Cases in the Media - If you engage in the sort of self-promotion, attention-seeking conduct that I have enumerated, an immodest but seeming necessity for the criminal lawyer seeking to develop business, and want to track your success in getting into the media spotlight, you can use Google Alert to deliver you an email alert to any online mention of your search term, e.g., you. [Note: This Google service is also good for tracking your high publicity cases for purposes of seeking a change of venue or a gag-order. See Motions.]
(23) Final Word of Caution Re Dreams of Fame - Criminal defense sometimes attracts the audacious, chest-pounding, loudmouth, fame-seeking egotist. If you are one of these "bride at every wedding, corpse at every funeral" types, I beseech you, never let your desire or dreams of fame become more consuming than the job you signed on to do - defending the rights of the client against a very powerful foe, the government.
OFFICE PRACTICES AND PROCEDURES FOR THE NON-LAWYER STAFF
Office Practice and Procedures Handbook/Manual - A wise businessperson once said, "Nothing is so inefficient as doing well that which should not be done." If you have a staff and possible turnover of employees, it is a good idea to cobble together a written handbook of office procedures and practices. This will help you manage the work product of your office. Putting together a staff manual will force you to determine who does what. Ideally, you would want routine work shifted to the lowest pay level at which it can be done with professional competence. One caveat: If you promise defined benefits in your staff handbook/manual, remember that you are probably going to be bound to provide those benefits even though the law does not specifically mandate them. In addition to its useful articles guiding you in your practice, the ABA LPM Section page may provide some helpful ideas to incorporate into your homemade office practices/procedures handbook. For starters, here are a few subjects that should be addressed in your handbook: - Monitoring Cases Through an Electronic Connection to the Local Criminal Justice System - In some counties it is possible for your staff and you to monitor case status and filings through a subscriber service. In my own a county, Harris County, Texas, we have something called the Harris County Justice Information Management System (JIMS for short). Check it out. You may have something similar in your county. If not, lobby for it.
-Security - If you have employees, try to have an employee out front who screens those who enter your office. If you run a bare bones office, try to have a layout that provides a secure buffer to those who enter your reception room. Make sure that you have locks on office doors and in the filer. Restrict access to areas containing sensitive data.
-Telephone Etiquette - The Internet will provide you with a dearth of material dealing with proper office telephone etiquette (1), (2), (3), (4). Simply have your staff go to a search engine and type "telephone etiquette." A raft of sites will appear. [Aside for lawyers: The one thing that I must mention is the habit some courthouse lawyers have of talking on cell phones within earshot of others. It seems that when you put a cell phone in a young lawyer's hands, his/her voice goes up in decibels. Don't cut your business up in public. Keep your phone calls private and confidential. Lower your voice.] - Email Etiquette - Here are some suggestions re email etiquette. (1), (2 - Ten Commandments), (3 - Handling email overflow) and confidentiality (1). Of course, we all should know the standard rules such as the following: (1) Confine work email to work. (2) Don't open unexpected attachments - viruses seem to live in these things. (3) Don't do anything emotional, e.g. furloughing or firing, by email. (4) Use the subject line to define your overall topic. (5) Since the email is already addressed to the recipient, you don't need to have a typical "Dear So-and So" greeting. (6) Use proper grammar, punctuation, and spelling. (7) Use spell-check befoe (See what I mean. You've probably seen it before on the CCJA site because I haven't upgraded my Homestead web-builder to the version with Spell Checker.) sending the email. (8) Don't type in all caps to emphasize. (9) Don't use multiple exclamation points at the end of a sentence. (10) Don't use emoticons, e.g. smileys, in business communications. (11) Put basic contact information, e.g., a phone number, in your email signature file. (12) Use the phone to politely follow up if you don't receive a response to your e-mail within a reasonable time. Recognize that your legitimate email message may have been filtered out by the recipient's spam-prevention system. (13) Don't get hot under the collar if you don't receive a response to every legitimate email message that you send, but do expect that some folks who send you unanswered email will be angry. (14) Don't ever send a rude, nasty or racial email! It will come back to haunt you. Notice the possible email downloads mentioned below in Resources for Law Office Management. - Email Notice Re Privacy & Privilege - (1): Here is a good "NOTICE" to add to the end of all your law office e-mail communications: "The information contained in this communication is a transaction from the Law Office of (state your name) and is information protected by the attorney/client privilege and/or work product privilege. This communication, along with any attachments hereto, is also covered by the Electronic Communications Privacy Act, 18 U.S.C., Sections 2510-2512. It is intended only for the personal and confidential use of the recipient/s named in the communication, and the privileges are not waived by virtue of this communication having been sent by electronic mail. If the person actually receiving this communication or any other reader of the communication is not the named recipient, any use , dissemination, distribution, or copying of the communication is strictly prohibited. If you have received this communication in error, please immediately notify us collect by telephone at (state the phone number) and delete the message from your system. Although this mail communication and any attachment(s) are believed to be free of any virus or other defect that may negatively affect any computer system into which it is received and opened, it is the responsibility of the recipient to ensure that it is virus free, and no responsibility is accepted by the sender for loss or damage arising in any way should such a virus or defect exist. Thank you. End of Notice." - Dealing with Upset Clients - [See Ethics] In criminal practice you and your staff will have to deal with volatile clients who are under tremendous stress. This stress can lead to emotional outbursts and verbal abuse directed at you or your staff. Studies show that most client outbursts can be traced to a single factor: the client's perception that the client is not being served by the lawyer. How do you and staff deal with the client who is critical of your work effort? Some lawyers might say, "Weed 'em out before you sign on." The problem with that philosophy is that most of your clients will naturally be stressed by the mere fact of being charged with a crime by the government. So, the trick is to develop disarming people skills that will help you bring abusive incidents to polite and positive conclusions, e.g., learn to stay calm when an angry client lashes out, learn to choose the best responses (magic phrases, tone of voice, facial expressions), recognize when you should interrupt or contradict the client, know when and how to apologize, etc. - Grammar, Punctuation, Style, Citations, and Language in Written Communications - Here are a few sites that you can provide your staff for those occasions when they have a question of proper grammar and punctuation for written communications. (1), (2 -grammar), (3), (4), (5-grammar), (6), (7-grammar), (8), (9-grammar), (10), (11 - punctuation), (12-grammar), (13 - grammar), (14 - grammar), (15 - legal writing in plain English), (16 - grammar exercises), (17 - exercises), (18 - self-diagnostic grammar test). For answers to most of your office staff's legal writing logistical problems, including grammar, try this excellent site. These sites have style (1), (2), (3). This one has a spell-checker (1). This site (1) helps you with your spelling. These sites (1), (2) will help with regular citations. Cornell provides you with a free Bluebook. Proper abbreviations of law review titles are found on this site (1). This site (1) will assist with web grammar. Here are two handy glossaries (1), (2) of legal terms. There are a number of good dictionaries (1), (2) listed on the links page, but here are a couple of quick links to the online Wordsmyth dictionary (You'll have to register for this one.), specialty dictionaries, reverse dictionary, and two legal dictionaries (1), (2). Provide your staff with these sites for the father of all foreign word Internet dictionaries, the mother of all dictionaries, a free thesaurus (1), (2), a language translator, and a site with links to lots of dictionaries. Let them know that the product that your law office is selling is words, either written or spoken. So, with regard to client contact and written work product, language matters big time (1). Everyone in your office should be encouraged to strive to be a better writer (1), (2), (3), (4), (5 - a 23-page lawyer's guide to effective legal writing), (6 - good legal writing blawg).
As a criminal defense lawyer, you'll have to hang your shingle somewhere. You need a utilitarian place to work and to conduct business. Try to find a place that will work for your clients, your employees (They will spend most of their workdays ensconced there.), and yourself. (New office checklist) (Relocation checklist)
Rent -Rent should be no more than 10% of your revenue.
Where to Locate Your Office - Criminal defense practitioners have to go to court. Once a criminal case is filed, it doesn't go away unless it is dismissed, the accused pleads guilty, or the case is tried to verdict. So, where will your locate your office? You will pick your office location with the knowledge that it should be accessible to the courthouse. Do you want to office within walking distance of the courthouse or do you want office in an area more readily accessible to your clients? This choice will be influenced by many factors, e.g., your office expense budget, office rent, drive times, parking, access to local public transportation such as buses, trolleys, and/or subways, the amount of space you will need, the layout you want, whether you will share space, proximity to restaurants, the image you want to portray, etc.
Workplace Design - For many solos, the thought of office layout may conjure up a simple notion, e.g., a reception area, a secretary's space, a storage area, and your office. Most two and three lawyer firms also include a conference room, paralegal/law clerk/support staff space, and a modest library. Some include a bathroom and/or small kitchen area with a microwave, sink, and mini-fridge. It's certainly possible to combine some of these spaces, e.g. your conference room may contain shelves for you hard copy books, a storage room may also contain your copying machine. Remember that workplace design (1) must be contribute to the satisfaction and comfort of your employees and clients and promote good work habits and work flow. My advice, spend the time to plan the spatial layout of your office right the first time. Then you won't have to move or remodel. (Design tips)
Finding Available Space - The best way to find rental office space is to consult a leasing agent. These are specialists, and their fee is customarily paid by the lessor, not you. You may want to share office space with one or more non-criminal lawyers who can refer their criminal cases to you. Some criminal defense lawyers purchase office space, sometimes a small stand-alone building or a small house that can be remodeled for use as an office. The last choice is to build an office in an existing building or build a small office building; the latter is an option that is more viable for practitioners in small towns than those in big cities. When arranging for space, always keep in mind whether you plan to grow your staff.
Sharing Space with Other Lawyers - If you are a solo practitioner, you may want to share space with one or more other lawyers. If your suite mates are practitioners in other but related areas of law, e.g, plaintiff's personal injury, domestic relations, etc., they may refer you business. Local and state bar journals often contain ads from lawyers seeking to share their office space. You'll also find real estate web sites that offer shared space, e,g., offices to share and local leasing agents can provide such information. If you do decide to share space with other lawyers, be certain that you have a written agreement, Articles of Association, setting out your rights and responsibilities as well as those of the lawyers with whom you associate yourself. If you share a common letterhead (not a good idea), be certain that the letterhead indicates clearly that you have no common financial connection. Always be aware that when you share office space and conduct your business as though you were a partnership, the law may look upon the business as a partnership. Partners are liable for debts of the partnership. So, take care in the appearance of your affiliation with other lawyers for the purpose of sharing space. (Office sharing checklist) Avoid confusing your client as to exactly who you are and who works for and with you. It is equally important to be sure that the lawyer you share space with lets his/her clients know that you are not connected or in any way affiliated with his/her law practice.
Furnishing the Office - Your office furnishings are a reflection of your taste and preferences. Your choice of furnishings should be made with your staff and clients in mind. Workstations should be designed for comfort.
Directions to the Office and Elsewhere - If you have clients, they may need to know how to find your office (or the courthouse) on the first visit. These sites (1), (2), (3) will help you give clients, witnesses, etc., directions to unfamiliar places they need to be. If you have a web site, you can devote a page to "Directions" or "How to Find Us" and incorporate the directions from a good map site. Another possibility is to include a hyperlink to a good map site on your home page. The CCJA links page lists several good map sites. Protecting and Recovering the Office from Natural Disaster - In the event of a natural disaster such as hurricane, flood, tornado, earthquake, etc. strikes your office, what can you do to protect the integrity of your office in anticipation of the disaster and recover from its influence? Here are several resources. (1 - ABA Resources re Disaster Relief), (2 - Resources re Disaster Recovery), (3- Preparing for Disaster), (4- Recovering from Disaster), (5), (6 - a 6-page presentation from the State Bar of Texas)
RESOURCES FOR LAW OFFICE MANAGEMENT
+ LINKS: Here's a link to small business resources including federal agencies, business trends and stats, business advocacy, laws, regs, court rulings, government printing office, tax research, business reference guides, etc. Here's a dandy little link for various useful hyperlinked addresses. Here's a list of free useful forms for LOM. + CASE MANAGEMENT SOFTWARE: As mentioned above, anecdotal sources (word-of-mouth) have convinced me that the most useful case management software system for the solo criminal defense practitioner is Time Matters. There are a number of software programs that offer you case management help, e.g., AbacusLaw, AmicusAttorney, etc. Decide for yourself after checking them all out. Personally, my money would be spent on Time Matters. With a bit of investigation, you will find software that will help you avoid overstuffed paper files and electronically do almost everything that makes a law practice function, e.g., calendaring, tasking, reminding, docketing, keeping track of your cash flow, deposits, expenses, and yearly income; setting up a case payment plan, etc. + USEFUL PERIODICALS, MAGAZINES, ARTICLES AND BLAWGS TO CREATE A LAW PRACTICE MANUAL FOR THE CRIMINAL DEFENSE PRACTITIONER: There are some very useful free articles and lots of great information about law practice management on the web site of the ABA and the ABA GPSolo magazine. It's a very useful site for the private defense practitioner who is trying to run manage a small law practice. There are numerous blawgs that provide useful free information concerning law office management. Unfortunately, the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers is not quite as generous in providing useful case management materials to those who represent the citizen accused. The same can be said for the venerable ABA Criminal Justice Section. You'll have to pay your way into each of those organizations, and thousands of lawyers do. No disrespect intended, but membership is not cheap, and the available publications and support re law office and case management are not anything to write home about, though each organization does produce a magazine with articles that can be helpful in other areas of your practice; for defenders with fat wallets, NACDL also has tax-deductible seminars with chest-thumping speakers in fun cities, e.g., Aspen during the height of ski season. + INTERNET SERVICE PROVIDER: Here's a site with a list of ISP's across the country. + OODLES OF FREEWARE DOWNLOADS: [If you are new to downloading, you may wish to visit the following web sites before you start: (1), (2), (3). Be cautious in what you load onto your computer.] If you are concerned about the security of your office computers, the freeware on this site may be of use. Downloads, Simtel, and PC World are three of my favorite places to start looking for helpful downloads (many free) for the office; you'll find helpful applications, e.g., accounting, finance, spreadsheet, word processing. Shareware is a terrific site for freeware. Most law offices use Microsoft Word or Corel WordPerfect, but if you want free word processor software, you might try TextShield Fusion Those who don't want to shell out the dough for Microsoft Office might take a good look at the free software (It runs on the Windows operating system, among others.) from the folks at Open Office or Atlantis Nova. If you only need something like NotePad, rather unlikely, take a look at free Note Tab Light.) For Apple Macintosh aficionados/as, (About 10% of solos claim to use and love their Macs.) check out this lawyer's excellent web site and its Mac "Toolbox." Email Freeware Downloads: Many free downloads assist with your email, e.g., you can get a free e-mail software package from Mozilla Thunderbird. Spam is an ongoing nuisance; to fight spam and obtain email blockers, consider Spambayes for Microsoft Outlook (not Microsoft Express) and definitely look at Mailwasher v2.0.40 - the Pro version is $30; for a fee of +- $40, also check out Choicemail; if you are interested in protecting your email from interception look at PGP Freeware V8.0.2 ; for help in handling multiple email accounts, look at Eudora V6.; to manage email in multiple folders, look at Nelson Email Organizer NEO V2.5. - free trial, $40 to keep; if you would like to determine whether your email was read, even though the recipient ignores the receipt request, look at MSGTAG.; for tracking everyday tasks and giving yourself reminders, WinOrganizer may be helpful. Send and receive faxes through email, store typed or handwritten memos, web page excerpts, etc. Manage your bookmarks and passwords for free. Email Security: To encrypt your email documents you may need a program (1). You will also need a digital certificate from a provider (1), (2). Other downloads: These include patches, screen savers, fax, Internet tools, java plug-ins, graphics (clipart -1), multimedia, utilities, and handhelds. You may need to visit the following sites to update your reader Acrobat Reader and /or browser(s) Internet Explorer 8 (IE), Netscape 7.1, Opera , Mozilla. Mozilla offers lots of extensions, e.g., the very helpful enhanced Google searchbar, to its free browser. Here are a couple of other download libraries: (1), (2). Check here for Winzip and Shockwave. Firewalls (1 - free for personal use) are a virtual necessity. Anti-virus software providing essential protection against computer viruses is available a small fee (1 my favorite), (2), and for free (3), (4). There's a free virus scanner if you visit Pitstop. Here's a site where you can have your computer diagnosed. Try this site for downloadable fonts and this one for free software that can read computer text in voice form. This software helps you search street and e-mail addresses and telephone numbers. The atomic clock keeps your computer clock accurate. Kodak EasyShare is a great free download for photo-organizing; it works on all camera and printers; go to "Downloads and Drivers." When laying out real dollars for technology, here's the rule of sound business practice, "Fit the technology to the need, not the need to the technology." + CALCULATORS: Try this site for calculators of all sorts. + MUSIC TO WORK BY: If you like to research while listening to music, as opposed to listening to music while researching, you might want to download the best free media player. Web Sites & Books (for short articles re LOM, see Bibliography) Blawgs: (1 - technology & marketing law blog) (2 - small firm innovation) (3 - attorney at work.com) (4 - at cousel table) (5 - Philly law blog) (6 - geek law) (7 - employees' rights) (8 - employee/employer rights) (9 - reviews of technology for lawyers) - Basic Forms (Includes conflict search, intake, letter agreement for legal services, fee agreement, client engagement letter, follow-up letter, retainer letter, 3 non-engagement letters )
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-Munneke, Gary et al, The Essential Formbook: Comprehensive Management Tools for Lawyers, Volume Two: Human Resources / Fees, Billing and Collection, ABA-Law Practice Management Section (2001).
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