Tuesday, January 30, 2007

19 Quick Business Tips and Ideas

Here is a quick list of tips and ideas that can help a practice. I will not elaborate in this post, I'm just going to list them and post further on some of these later. Most of these are pretty self-explanatory, and hopefully will inspire some action.....

1. Let other lawyers know you are available in "conflict of interest" situations.
2. If you want to see how other lawyers market, do some web-surfing and look at lawyer sites, especially your "competitors".
3. Make sure your office staff and family members know what kind of cases you would like to have referred.
4. Open a "case file" for marketing.
5. Spruce up your printed material, consider specialized roladex cards (I did really well with this one).
6. Pay special attention to "ethnic community leaders".
7. Answer classified ads in the law journal for special situations.
8. Establish a relationship with an older lawyer thinking about retirement.
9. Get rid of bad situations fast and effectively.
10.Find out how to get court appointments on Civil matters.
11. Have a budget for marketing, and spend the time to spend the money effectively.
12. Consider a direct mail campaign to other attorneys.
13. Consider taking payment by credit card. Its VERY easy to do.
14. Refine your intake procedures.
15. Thank your referral sources appropriately.
16. Think about how you answer THE question "What do you do?"
17. Return calls the same day. Consider telephone appointments.
18. Refer business to other professionals and businesses.
19. Pursue interests you enjoy, having nothing to do with law. Not only is this crucial for mental health and happiness, but you get more quality business from this than all the others combined. Hard to fathom, but TRUE.

Law Story

This should probably be read AFTER the previous post "How I Went Directly Into Solo Law Practice...." http://nylaw2law.blogspot.com/search/label/Directly%20Into%20Solo%20Practice since this piece makes reference to people and ideas from the previous post. In any event, hopefully this true story can also stand on its own. The events below happened when I was a 25 year old attorney, practising on my own for six months. As previously, this is a true story, only the names have been changed....


Mark and Sheryl Stern called about a tenant problem. They owned a 10 unit building on West 18th Street and lived in one of the apartments themselves. They were in a printing business together, worked long hours, and managed the building themselves. If the building were a candy store, it would feel nice to call it a Mom & Pop store. A Mom & Pop apartment building doesn't feel as nice.

One of their tenants, Tommy Bazillo, had a rent-stabilized lease but had been legally subletting the apartment for the past two years. As far as the Stern's knew, he was gone. The subtenant had asked for a lease, but they refused to give her one, and they were legally correct, they did not have to. They wanted to raise the rent and rent the apartment to a doctor friend, Jerry Marks. Two days before the end of his written lease, Tommy Bazillo knocked on Mark and Sheryl's door and said "I'm back in the apartment, under the law you have to keep giving me renewal leases, and I want that, unless you want to make it worth my while to leave".

Sheryl told Tommy he had given up his rights by vanishing for so long. Mark then escorted him to the street. He then went to the apartment, made a list of the very sparse items inside, placed the items in the basement for safe-keeping, and changed the lock. Two weeks went by, the Sterns heard nothing from Tommy, so they rented the apartment to Dr. Marks. He promptly commenced $30,000 worth of renovations.

The Sterns were then served with legal papers from Tommy's lawyers, for a date in Housing Court. Mark also got papers for Criminal Court, charging illegal eviction, a misdemeanor. The Sterns then did what any experienced landlord would do, they got out the yellow pages and called ME. Not wanting to show a big landlord the renovations in my office, I offered to visit them at home, for which they were most appreciative. After hearing the facts, I told them it seemed like the tenant was trying to shake them down for some small settlement, and the Housing court realities indicated that they should consider a small offer, considering the number of court appearances it might take, with their busy schedules and all, and the legal fees it might run into, and kicking and screaming they authorized me to appear in court on their behalf and offer the tenant as high as $1000.

Not to get technical, but Tommy's lawyer had gotten a court order called an Order to Show Cause, essentially the Stern's had to show the court why Tommy shouldn't be put back into possession or awarded money. On the Court date I put my Housing Court training into use and requested a conference, certain it would result in a stip, if not now, on a future date. Tommy's lawyer was willing to talk. She was also disconcerting, a short woman with glasses, serious and studious looking, strictly business. We marked the case for a conference and went out into the crowded hall. "Can you put my client back into possession?" she asked. "No", I answered, thinking about the doctors renovations.

She answered, "OK, $75,000 then."

I then did my best Gary Coleman and said "What you talkin' about"?

She replied "Look, you seem like a nice guy, but our firm specializes in illegal eviction cases, the laws have recently changed, and this case is a sure winner. Why don't we adjourn this a week and you can look up the things I'm telling you about." I took a breath and said "Even if this is technically a wrongful eviction, how can you possibly be making a claim for $75,000?".

She shot back "Rent stabilized apartment in the West Village where he has automatic renewal rights. He pays $650 now, market is $1500, take the difference for the rest of his life expectancy, he's now 24 years old. Also, the new law provides for treble damages and attorneys fees." Uh-oh.

So we adjourned for a week, and I went to the library. The laws had changed six months earlier, and this was not a nuisance case, but serious stuff. I went to visit the Sterns, who were not happy. If they weren't so furious at Tommy, and so sure he had set them up, I knew it was a matter of time until some anger was directed at me. I concealed nervousness and embarrassment at this turn of events, while my mind raced. Suddenly, an idea, "Let me see your insurance on this building?" Until that moment it hadn't occurred to me, but I had read something in the Law Journal about insurance coverage for unusual claims. The Sterns insurance policy had something in it about wrongful eviction suits, written in obscure language, but there it was. Further study convinced me they had insurance for this case, so I sent all the paperwork over to the insurance company, with a cover letter demanding that they take over defense of this case. Two days later I received a telegram (in the pre-historic era when faxes were not invented) from the insurance company disclaiming coverage. They were wrong, but that's one reason we have courts.

I wasn't sure what to do next so I called Fred. He said I'd have to bring a
"D.J. action".

"A what?"

"A new lawsuit in Supreme Court for Declaratory Judgment (DJ) asking the Supreme Court to order the insurance company to do what they were supposed to do."

"Oh". "Got any forms I can use?"

He had something very basic that he'd used in an accident case once. Not exactly on point, but a start. This was going to take some work, and some time.

I showed up in Housing Court and told Tommy's lawyer "Listen, we have insurance, but the company disclaimed and I have to file a DJ action, so you should give me an adjournment so I can do the DJ. I can't talk settlement with you because it would blow my DJ action. How long can you give me??" I held my breath and waited for her to tell me how stupid I was. But, she knew exactly what I was talking about and gave me two weeks. Two weeks turned out not to be enough so we actually started a trial. Fortunately Dr. Marks showed up in Court, without a lawyer, and told the Judge he was the occupant of the apartment, was never served with papers, but came into court because he heard someone was trying to get his apartment. The Judge must have been mad at Tommy's lawyers for not giving me a longer adjournment, because he held a hearing to see if Dr. Marks was a proper party (he was) and whether the lawsuit papers were properly served on him (they weren’t) so in the middle of the trial he declared a mis-trial. Fred said he never heard of a mis-trial in Housing Court, but who cared, I now had some time. Tommy's lawyers would have to start their case over, and of course they did.

Somehow I filed the DJ papers in Supreme Court, basically an Order to Show Cause where the insurance company would have to show why they didn't have to defend this case. I waited for their opposing papers, they never came. On the court date I was sure they'd ask for more time to oppose me, but they didn't show up and my papers were submitted to the court without opposition. Now I was really nervous. I called the insurance company and asked "Are my papers so weak that you don't think the court will order you to defend and insure?"

"Not at all". came the reply. "We know you are right, there IS coverage. We just don't think there is any damages exposure so we'll let it run its course."

"Excuse me, but are you aware of the new law? And treble damages? And rent stabilization versus market rents? Read my papers, your policy says you have to cover for damages the landlord is LEGALLY RESPONSIBLE for, and I think you have a lot of exposure here!"

"Hold on". After 15 minutes he came back on. "When is the next Housing Court date?"

"Day after tomorrow. 111 Centre Street, 9:30, Judge Bramsen."

"We'll have a money man there". Click.

Bottom line, they sent a representative to Housing Court and we negotiated a settlement where the insurance company paid Tommy and his lawyers $22,500 and the Sterns were off the hook. Tommy never showed up in Criminal Court so the Criminal charges were dismissed. There was one small detail remaining. Insurance companies are not only supposed to insure you, the coverage includes paying for your defense. They usually hire their own lawyers, but I had clearly done their work. They told me to prepare an hourly statement showing what I had done. Not having kept time sheets as I went, I had to reconstruct, and probably lost some hours. It still came out to 84 hours of work, and since we hadn't agreed on an hourly, I decided on $75 per hour, which was below market even then. This came out to $6300. They received my statement and called, saying "We all looked bad on this one, the bill is high, can we talk about it?"

"The bill is right and fair."

"We think some of the hours you charged us for are prior to when you notified us."

"How many hours is that?"

"Hmm, about four."

"What do you want to do then?"

"Cut the bill down to $6000 even".

I thought about this for about 10 seconds, and said, "I'll agree, on one condition.......have the check ready so I can come pick it up right now".


And that was that. So much for the first of many law stories. I no longer do landlord tenant cases. The Sterns have been clients on many other matters up through the present. I love learning new things, and believe all lawyers learn something new on every case. Of course, the reality of law practice is there’s no time to bask in the glory. It’s always “on to the next case”.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

How I Went Directly Into Solo Law Practice.....

In 1981, I was in my third and final year of law school. I suspect most law students envision themselves actual attorneys only in the abstract, if they think about it at all. Not me, my picture was vivid. I would be a country lawyer in the City, sitting back at my desk, calm and cerebral, taking in all the facts and solving real problems for real people. Practicality for fun and profit.

Fellow students didn't talk about practicing law, only about getting into a firm and making partner. I listened intently and spoke little. The first inkling of a problem came during my second year at the University of Texas Law School. Park Avenue and Wall Street firms recruited on campus. I interviewed with 20 firms, each time it was like a bad blind date. I wondered if they hated me as much as I hated them. Easy question to answer, I never got a call back.

During my second year, I took a part time job at Montague & Smith (* all names are fictitious, all stories are true), a small Austin law firm. My first day on the job, my first assignment: Mrs. Peterson was a 50 year old woman with cerebral palsy who my boss, Joe Montague, had represented on her two divorces. He told me this client was physically handicapped but mentally functional, she was a decent client who paid her fees, so he wanted me to solve her present problem, some kind of insurance question. He wasn't sure exactly what it was because he couldn't understand her over the phone. He said to drive over to her house, straighten it out, and keep track of my time so the firm could bill her. I loved it, a mission.

Mrs. Peterson spoke loud and slurred. We walked slowly to her dinette table and she showed me stacks of papers. The whole situation was a mess....two years of Blue Cross claims unsubmitted, rejected, and neglected. Claim letters and lawsuits from doctors. No recollections, wrong recollections, misinformations. This was not a case that required any research, just plain talk, patience and persistence. I was in my element. I was a big hero at Montague & Smith when that situation got resolved, mostly because I saved anyone else from having to deal with it. They were paying me $10 per hour, and billed $100 per hour for my time. In my book, they were the greatest.

Still thinking I wanted Park Avenue, I left Texas after two years to attend Fordham Law for my third and final year. I got another part-time job with a solo practitioner named Fred Shulman. He handled mostly accident cases, plus other wacky stuff. My first assignment there, and representative of the flavor of the place: Fred's client owned a bar which was a known drug dealing location. It was about to be closed down by the Liquor Authority. The liquor license was almost suspended, and Fred had brought a proceeding to stop the suspension while the case was being reviewed. My assignment was to review the records and write something to convince the liquor authority to let him keep his license. The problem was, undercover agents had recorded many conversations of people asking the owner where they could find "Joe with the good blow", and the owner had consistently directed them to his back office. I asked Fred how we could possibly overcome this, and he said we couldn't but we had been paid to buy some time to keep them open through Christmas season. Working on a case you are supposed to lose is very relaxing. I loved working for Fred. Park Avenue firms started to lose their appeal.

Meanwhile, I was still in law school. More awkward interviews. This time I did get two call backs, one from a firm who defended accountants in malpractice cases, the other from a firm doing surety law. To this day I don't know what surety law is. Tight job market then too, no jobs at the District Attorneys office or even at legal aid. No jobs, but no panic, just an idea gnawing at me. I WANT TO OPEN MY OWN LAW OFFICE. Fact is, I had no money, no contacts, no clients, and no clue how to do this. So I sat down with the Placement Director at Fordham, "It is an unusual idea.", she said, then added "Statistically only about 3% of graduates nationally do that, and I've never heard of anyone in New York." She looked down, sorry that she had disappointed me. But she hadn't. I stood up, hesitated, and said too fast and too loud, "You mean, people actually do it? 3%? Are you sure?" She replied, "I don't know, I mean I never, I'm sorry, but wait a minute" She fumbled around in her desk while she spoke "I heard about a book.....I don't have it....I haven't read it....but I saw an ad......here it is, it's by a guy named Singer, take a look at this, you could probably get it at Barnes & Noble".

There it was, an ad for "HOW TO GO DIRECTLY INTO SOLO LAW PRACTICE, WITHOUT MISSING A MEAL", by Gerald Singer. 15 years later the trip to Barnes & Noble is a trail of smoke and dust. I flew out of her office, off on another mission. Found the book in the back of Barnes & Noble, a bright blue cover amidst the real law books. To buy or not was not a question. I started flipping through, thinking "I can't believe somebody wrote this book and I found it!" "Geez don't read it all right here. Read it on the way home."

I got a seat at 14th Street in the City and dove into the book. The F train is an express in Queens and it flies. Queens Plaza, then Roosevelt Avenue where I'm supposed to change for the local. When I looked up I was in Jamaica, five express stops past Roosevelt, heart pounding. This could actually work! This guy figured out how to go right into practice in Los Angeles. His plan was brilliant, but it would work even better in New York. I KNEW it.

Although my law office officially opened a year later, the day I was admitted to practice, I wanted to get started. That day I started a subscription to the New York Law Journal. This is a daily newspaper for New York lawyers. Besides articles about law, it also has a huge classified section, filled with ads for jobs, part-time jobs, offices, situations wanted, business opportunities, seminars, and court calendars. I started reading the Law Journal every day, still do. It keeps you in shape for daily practice. It should be read carefully and with feeling, like its the most important thing you can do for yourself. The law journal is the business transformer for entrepreneurial lawyers, you just have to plug in.

I hooked up with the Law Journal and set in motion the strategies of "How to Go Directly into practice....". In a nutshell, the idea is to find a time for space arrangement for an office, including referrals of legal work and cases. Next, introduce yourself to other lawyers in the same suite and in the building and get legal assignments and referrals. If that didn't get you busy, knock on doors in the rest of the building. Then, send announcements to every person and entity you've known in your whole life. Add in your own creativity and don't look back. You could also get on some referral panels, do a little advertising (if you have any specialized knowledge), and otherwise think like a businessperson with a valuable product to sell.

The next call after the law journal was to Fred. I told him my plans and asked if he'd let me work part-time once I was a lawyer. Money was secondary, I knew I'd need him for advice when real clients and cases came in. He was on board from the start. I used to call him all the time. Some of my best days now, 24 years later, are when he calls me with a question. I'd drop anything to take a question from Fred.

Still in school, I saw an ad in the Law Journal for a company called "Educated & Dedicated". I don't remember their exact ad, but it was basically "our clients need a messenger who can figure out what to do when they get there". The description was accurate. One of their clients was a company called "Federal Document Retrieval", who sent me to copy files at various places in New York, mostly the Federal Courts. Their clients were big law firms all over the country. I even made a few runs to the Federal Archives in Bayonne, New Jersey. "E&D" always wanted me to call them directly, never their clients, but one day I was stuck in Bayonne and couldn't find what their client wanted. Nobody at "E&D" knew what to do, so I called Suzanne at Federal Document Retrieval directly. We got the info straight, and she started asking me about myself, and I briefly told her my life story. She asked me to talk to her boss Doug, the owner. He got on the phone, had me re-tell my story and then asked "How would you like to be our exclusive agent in New York?".......and from then on I was.

I passed the bar exam on the first shot, and accomplished every law students dream, making partner in one day. Now the firm needed an office, and furniture, and telephones, and other trivial details like paying clients. My first office was located through an ad in the Law Journal, time for space with an attorney named Richard Herman at 299 Broadway. This was the deal: I paid $100 per month for a space which was actually the reception area for an insurance broker. I used to point inside to the brokers office and mention that my office was under construction "in there". My space included a desk, chair, file cabinet, and use of the library, copy machine and refrigerator, down the hall in Richard’s suite. Putting my sandwich and juice in that refrigerator was a big perk. Richard's 6 office law suite was down the hall, each office occupied by a different solo practitioner. Richard also had many "cases in progress" to refer, and the deal was 50/50. I soon found out that "cases in progress" meant cases he had signed up at various points in history and done nothing about. Those were the good ones. The bad ones were the ones he had worked on and made worse. I had a pretty good idea which cases to work on first, the ones with a chance to generate some money before too long. Also ones I had some idea how to do. Actually, some of these matters needed a phone call or two to resolve them. Like a five year old car accident case with no injuries, just a property damage claim. I think the client had forgotten about it and was thrilled when I called with news of his $1200 settlement, 1/3 to the lawyers was $400, which should have been $200 to me. But it was a little less because Richard took back his $35 in disbursements which I felt funny taking from the client. First lesson in high finance, never underestimate small-mindedness. Richard had been in practice 40 years, probably had more money than anyone could need, but made toast in his office toaster oven, adding jelly from an unmarked jar. One day I discovered his secret jelly source, spotted him scooping little packets of diner jelly into his private stock.

Most of Richard's cases were salvageable, and despite his idiosyncrasies he did help me build a client base. His referrals became very loyal to me, he never missed them and I never felt badly about it. I also had some other business building ideas. I sent out over 500 announcements to a list of friends, acquaintances, relatives, and people my mother suggested. You'd be surprised at how willing people are to hire a lawyer with no experience. Based on years as a clientologist, I now understand the psychology of this seeming folly:
people want a lawyer who has time to give their case attention, and who is affordable (a skeptic would say "cheap"). I had some decent work within a few months, directly from these announcements. Some collection cases from my friends Dad, a "deathbed will" for my cousins friend (which soon turned into an estate), an uncontested divorce referred by my family doctor.
Every one of Richard's suite mates had work for me. Some outright referrals, but court appearances on civil cases mostly. Never having been to court before, this was on the job training. One of them sent me to Housing Court. What a place! Hundreds of angry people doing the same mad dance hour after hour, every single day. Those are the lawyers and Judges. The clients, both landlords and tenants, don't dance much. They scream, at each other and at their lawyers. In Housing Court I first noticed something about the court system, and it applies to most types of courts, when there are more cases than any courthouse could possibly resolve, something must be done to finish all the cases. That something is providing both sides with an incentive to settle. In Housing Court every case gets conferenced and both sides are given options they don't like. If both sides agree to be unhappy, but sign an agreement nevertheless, you have a stipulation of settlement (called a "stip") and the court is happy. One of the things court personnel are always yelling is "Any stips? Why don't you just stip? C'mon, stip and you can get outta here!" If one side or the other doesn't want to stip, something bad is likely to happen. For a landlord, his case will be adjourned week after week while his tenant lives rent-free, and when the case finally comes up for trial his papers will be technically defective and his case dismissed. "And if you don't like it appeal, and off the record, you shoulda stipped to giving the tenant three months free in exchange for his leaving." Tenants get hammered too. If they don't stip as suggested they can get an immediate trial, and lose.

There seemed to be two kinds of lawyers in Housing Court, ones who didn't seem like "regulars" and were either screaming at their clients, screaming on the phone, or doing a stumble-mumble combo. The "regulars" seemed to float above, gliding from room to room, getting their stips working in the morning like short order cooks, and winning trials all afternoon against the irregulars.

I thought the Housing Court scene had some potential, primarily because I couldn't imagine experienced lawyers going there by choice, though it would be a good thing to boost my practice. I did a few things to get in the game. I asked all the lawyers in the suite specifically for Housing Court appearances and referrals, and took a continuing ed seminar on Landlord Tenant law. I also put an ad in the Manhattan Yellow Pages. $6 per month special introductory offer for a listing under the specialty listing "Landlord-Tenant" under the general heading "Lawyers". Since it was Manhattan, I was pretty sure there would be competition, but I would available and ready, and for $6 a month ($72 for the first year) how could it lose? When the book came out there were only five lawyers listed there! I got some calls and some real cases, not overwhelming, but decent stuff. I was surprised that many of my calls were landlords. You might think that all landlords have lawyers "on retainer", which it turns out is rarely the case, or that landlords as "business-people" would not resort to the yellow pages to find a lawyer. You might be right generally, but one of the great things about New York is that even a small percentage of such a large group is still a lot of folks. One of my landlord yellow page calls turned into my first law story......http://nylaw2law.blogspot.com/search/label/Law%20Story

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Summary Judgment Motion as a Discovery Tool

Let me give credit where credit is due. Back in 1982 I started my own practice right out of school, essentially following the plan outlined in the book "How To Go Directly Into Solo Law Practice Without Missing A Meal", by Gerald Singer. I will talk about this in another blog entry, but besides all the practical business and marketing advice in that book, he also gave the practical tip of using summary judgment motions as a discovery tool.

Summary judgment motions are useful for a few reasons:

1. Sometimes you win them.

2. Sometimes you get hit with a cross-motion and you lose, but better now than later. Incidentally, if the case is such that bringing a motion might end up with a cross-motion and a loss, don't make the motion.

3. You force your opponent to "lay his cards on the table". When you are on the receiving end of a summary judgment motion, do you take it lightly and put in a minimal response? Of course not, you want to make sure you defeat it, usually by raising "questions of fact". This is done by coming forth with Affidavits from persons with knowledge of the case, and documentary evidence. These are the exact things you get at a deposition or through written discovery demands. A sworn Affidavit from your adversary "locks him in" to a position, and can be used at trial for impeachment. Your opponent is no different than you....he will come forward with as detailed a response as he can. By making the motion, you bring forth his proof.

4. If you make the summary judgment and are not successful, because there are "questions of fact requiring a trial", your case is still alive and you are way ahead of the game. You have gotten "free" discovery and flushed out their position. You didn't have to pay a court reporter either.

5. Sometimes summary judgment motions get settlement discussions going. It forces the other side to address some serious attorneys fees, and it forces them to look at their evidence more carefully. Most Civil lawsuits are not actually that complicated, factually, its often a matter of the facts not really being exposed for both attorneys to look at. Once this happens, the case can often get into settlement mode.

6. Summary judgment motions force you to look at the legal bases for your claim. Of course you should have done this at the beginning, and your instincts at the beginning were probably right, but the research you do for your summary judgment motion also get you ready for the legal issues at trial, and for the proof you will need later.

I welcome comments from attorneys about this approach.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Depositions Part 2

You CAN win a case taking your opponents deposition.

It won't be true in every case, but there are some cases where you can see it might happen, and you should have a strategy regarding how you are going to do it. Taking a deposition is all about "nailing down facts". I like to question a witness about something that I KNOW is in a document, before I question about the document. If I can elicit testimony about how a document was produced, and the witness' awareness of it, and its reliability, I go for it. When I then produce the document and ask for specific identifications and admissions, the witness cannot escape.

Sometimes a witness will make a stunning admission during a deposition. If you pick up on this, do not tip your hand, but DO have the witness confirm what he has said, and keep narrowing down the questions to make the admissions stronger. Don't let on to what you have, but KEEP GOING for more, as much as you can get.

If a witness is being evasive about an issue, do not accept this at face value, make a record that helps you if you need to make a motion to compel. Witnesses will often admit that a document or record exists "but its not here". Confirming that it exists, and where it might be, and what its all about, are all worth making a record.

As mindful as I am about leaving "openings" for my own witness, I really try to close all the openings for an adversary. If I think something happened a certain way, but there are possible other ways, and the witness will testify in a way that closes off the other possibilities (if only you ask).....ASK!!!!

I am almost never confrontational with opposing witnesses at a deposition. I try to be clear and calm and direct. I try never to let them fluster me, and I want to convey that I have all the time in the world, and that I will keep asking questions until they answer what I want to know. You would be surprised how often an initially belligerant witness will capitulate and start answering directly, if they know you are going to keep at it, and not embarrass them.

If you think the witness may not appear later and his transcript will be used, prepare your questions this way, so you have a useful transcript.

If you got almost everything you wanted and needed, and think you can win the case on a motion for summary judgment, go for it. A motion for summary judgment is an overlooked discovery tool. More on this tomorrow....

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Jumping Out (fiction)

By Barry Seidel
(A Mike Sender story)

“We think your clients are jump ins.”
I had no idea what Jerry Pivinski was talking about. He’s one of the lawyers for Empire Bus Company, and he’d first said he was calling about my Walenda and Jonas cases. I knew them well. My two clients were Walter Walenda and Richard Jonas, passengers on a bus which had been in a nasty intersection collision with a Jeep. It was easily the best case in my office. Walenda’s case was especially good. A passenger, so no negligence on his part, and a badly broken leg with surgery, a really good injury. After 18 years in practice I’d just started referring to “good” injuries. Guess I was finally becoming a real negligence lawyer. The Jonas case wasn’t so good, soft tissue neck and back injuries, classic whiplash nonsense, a case I would not have ordinarily accepted. But since Jonas was a prior client, and more importantly, had brought me Walenda, I took his case too.
This was about three years ago. Now we were getting close to a trial date. We’d already had numerous depositions, with interminable questions about the accident and the injuries. I had also deposed both drivers, and sat there while the lawyers for six other injured parties deposed them. There had also been 12 motions made in this case. One of them was on Jonas’ case, a motion to dismiss based on the marginal nature of his injuries. I fought the motion hard, and barely beat it. Then there were the motions to consolidate, since there were eleven separate lawsuits. You’d think the lawyers could just agree to one trial, but no, some of the lawyers wanted the case heard in Brooklyn, some wanted the Bronx, so we all argued about it and the case ended up in Brooklyn. I would have preferred Queens, where my office is, but “convenience of Mike Sender” is not a basis for venue. All my Brooklyn trips would ultimately be worth it. My one third contingency fee on Walenda’s case was gonna be a nice one. We had already turned down an offer of $45,000, I thought the case would ultimately go for $150,000. Maybe more, if I had the nerve to try it to verdict. I really needed a big fee, just this once.
“What’s a jump in?”, I asked.
“You really don’t know?” Jerry said. “We get these all the time. It’s incredible.”
“You get what all the time?”
“Jump ins. You know, people see a big bus accident, and they jump in.” And he let loose a big belly laugh, which continued until evolving into a coughing fit.
While he coughed, I tried to compose myself. Could it be? But what should I say, stay cool, stay calm, find out what they have, don’t get dragged into trouble, stay cool, figure out what to do.
“You don’t think that I.....”, but he interrupted me.
“Mike, we know you a long time, and we don’t think you knew, but your two clients are some real pieces of work.”
“Now wait a minute,” I said, “Your telling me Walenda didn’t break his leg in this accident? How did he get there with a broken leg? He was picked up at the scene by an ambulance, wasn’t he?”
“Sure he was, that’s one of the best parts of this. He had broken his leg earlier in the day playing soccer. Your Mr. Jonas took him to Coney Island hospital. They set it and put him in a soft cast, gave him some demerol and told him to come back the next day for the surgeon to evaluate him. After he and Jonas left Coney Island, they saw this accident and jumped in, but I guess Walenda limped in.” More laughing and coughing, then Jerry continued, “Lemme tell you the best part, which is how we found out about it.”
“Tell me.”
“Couple of months ago one of the other plaintiffs was in here with his attorney for a settlement conference, and when he didn’t like our offer, he asked if we’d used up all our money paying the knucklehead who dragged his friend through the back door of the bus. Unbelievable, isn’t it?”
As much as Jerry jokes around, he’s a good attorney who’s been with the bus company a long time. He settles cases fairly, and if the bus company owes, they pay. If the cases have to go to trial, they go, and we live with the results.
I still needed more details, and Jerry told me everything. When the jump in question came to light, the company hired an outside investigator and really dug into it. They thought it was strange that Walenda could actually have a freshly broken leg. “Most jump ins have bullshit injuries, like Jonas.” Jerry said. The investigator confirmed that from the bus accident Walenda was taken to Brookdale Hospital by ambulance, and was x-rayed, admitted to the hospital and had surgery to set the bones properly. Jerry had asked the investigator to canvas local hospitals, looking for Walter Walenda with a tib-fib fracture that day or earlier. Sure enough, a little leg work around the ER’s had given them the basics, Walter Walenda, 11 AM, tib-fib fracture, Coney Island Hospital. With this info, they got a court order and subpoenaed the Coney Island records, and there was my client, with ER records showing a broken leg 6 hours before he was supposedly in my bus accident. And more, the investigator called one of the witnesses to the accident, who had been listed on the police report. He had previously told these same investigators what he had seen, that the bus had entered the intersection of Kings Highway and 28th with a yellow light, and the Jeep had gone through the red and blasted the bus. When asked about people entering the bus after the accident, the witness gave a detailed account of Jonas helping Walenda peel off his soft cast, and dragging him up into the bus as some of the other passengers were leaving. He remembered Jonas yelling that they were off duty EMS workers and they had to help the injured people. When asked why he hadn’t reported this before, the witness replied that nobody had asked.
“Jerry, I need to call you back”
“Sure Mike, I understand”.
My office in Queens has a sweeping view of Manhattan. I looked at the City skyline and tried to think it through. Jump ins. This is what I’m working for? I thought about the first case Jonas had, the one before this one. He was a passenger in a car which was tapped from behind. There happened to be two easy insurance companies, and he willingly went to the medical mill I sent him to. I got him a $7500 settlement in six months and he kept telling me what a great lawyer I was. Yeah right. Opportunistic little leach. When Jonas had later brought me Walenda, dealing with Jonas was offensive, but acceptable. Not only did Walenda have a great case, I liked him. He worked off the books in his Dad’s store at night and had taken a few college courses. A young guy who would eventually figure himself out. His injury had left him with a slight limp and a scar, but all in all, he had recovered well. He was quiet around me because his mouthpiece Jonas was always talking. But I had talked to Walenda alone, enough to get a read on him, and he was OK, I thought. Now I was only sure of one thing. These two schemers had duped ME.
I took a deep breath and let the full magnitude of this sleaziness work on me. I wanted to feel it, wanted to know THEM and everyone like them. What did they talk about when I wasn’t with them? Did they tell their friends about it? How did they feel lying at their depositions? How would they have felt doing it at trial? Was it any harder for Walenda? Would they have felt guilty if they had pulled it off? Not Jonas, no. Walenda? Maybe. Or maybe I just don’t know anything. Had I represented other jump ins or phonies? I had put myself in this position. Greed and good injuries, and this is what I get. Damn, I’m just trying to make a living out here.
I closed my eyes and meditated. Nothing fancy, just thinking about nothing until my mind was clear and I was able to think without anger.
I called Pivinski and asked him to fax me all his reports and documentation, the proof of my clients’ scam. Seventeen pages of evidence inched out of my fax machine. I read each page as it came out. I stacked them and set them aside, making a conscious effort to control myself. Barely succeeding.
I called Pivinski again. Had he told his co-defendants (the Jeep) what he had told me? No, but eventually he was going to have to. I asked if he could hold off a couple of days. He said “You know we have to withdraw our portion of the previous offer. You gonna try to settle with the Jeep? I think I would try, if I were you”, Jerry said. I replied that I didn’t know yet, but could he hold off a few days? He gave me two days.
Next, I called the lawyers for the Jeep. These are actually the in house lawyers for All Claim Insurance Company. Their clients are nameless, faceless numbers to them, since their client is really All Claim Insurance. Considering how close we were to a trial date, my call was not out of place. This was Steve Melton’s file. Steve and I have a long history. He was my adversary on one of my first trials, the Angel Zapata case. Angel’s foot had been run over while standing on a curb. He was a construction worker who would never be able to work again. Money would not have changed that, but this was a righteous case. Steve Melton represented the driver (for All Claim) and had half a million in coverage. Angel and I had turned down a $75,000 offer, rolled the dice and tried the case. Somehow, the jury came in with a verdict of $24,000, and it was as bad as losing. If Steve Melton felt like this was a win, he never acted like it. Angel never blamed me, but I blamed myself. Steve and I had talked about it many times in the aftermath, and he always said “Its just one of those things with juries, things like that happen sometimes.” It took a few years, but I eventually accepted it. We had settled and tried other cases in the meantime, and Angel Zapata was never mentioned, but he was always there.
Now we were talking about Walenda and Jonas. Steve told me what his file write-up showed, that there were two eyewitnesses stating his Jeep had run the light. They assessed the liability to be mostly against their client. They had $1 million in coverage, which I already knew. There had previously been a package offered to my clients of $45,000, with $37,500 offered by All Claim and $7500 offered by Empire Bus. Of the $45,000, $40,000 was for Walenda and $5000 for Jonas. I asked whether there was any further offer, if we could close it out today? Steve said, “What do you have in mind?” I said, “Look, here’s what I’ve got. Walenda has a shot to get a job with the bus company, but he’s afraid if the case goes forward, they’ll hold it against him. Could you put another $7500 on Walenda, bring us to a total of $45,000, and I’ll discontinue against Empire Bus. $45,000 is a good deal for you guys on an injury like this” He asked, “Will that close it?” I said “Yeah, it would.” He said, “Lets do it.”
Then, I called Jonas. “Can you and Walter come in so we can talk in person?”
“What’s up Mr. Mike?”
“I’ll tell you when you’re here. Can you come in today? 2 o’clock, my office?”
“We’ll be there.”

When they arrived I was smiling. As usual, Jonas was animated, Walenda was sullen. Both in their late 20's, Jonas about 5'7", Walenda about 6'2". Jonas with gray slacks and a tight black shirt, new shoes. Walenda in jeans, sneakers and a Knicks sweatshirt. I told Jonas he was looking well, and asked what he’d been up to lately. “Still doing my little projects, making deals, busy busy, ya know.”
“How ‘bout you, Walter?”
“Not much.” Looking down at the floor.
Jonas interrupted, “So, good news, Mr. Mike?”
“Well, we had a conference on the case, and the lawyer for the bus company told me some disturbing things, and we have to talk about them.”
“What kind of things?” Walter surprised me.
“Why don’t you tell me?”, I said.
Jonas stood up, “Listen man, what kind of shit is this? You’re our lawyer, don’t be playing games with us.” Walter was looking down.
“Walter, do you want to tell me?”
So I dropped 2 extra copies of Pivinski’s papers on the desk. Jonas picked them up and started reading. Walter was still looking down. Jonas finished reading and looked at me.
I said, “Walter, I want to know about the soccer game and Coney Island Hospital.”
“I never even knew you played soccer, I bet you were a good player.”
“I want to know how it felt taking off the soft cast.”
“Were you going to pay Jonas a commission for coming up with this plan?”
“Shut up, man.” from Jonas.
“Did Jonas visit you in the hospital after surgery?”
“Tell me about being an EMS worker.”
“Were you going to tell me about it afterwards?”
“Does your mother know how you really got hurt?”
“Walter, what exactly did Jonas say to you when you saw the bus crash? What were his exact words. I want to know what he said.”
Jonas stood up and said “We don’t have to listen to this”, and then Walter looked up and
said, “Shut up Jonas.” He looked right at me, and then back at Jonas. Jonas looked down. Then Walter said, “Jonas, I want the lawyer to advise me what to do.”
So I laid it out for him. That the bus company had them nailed bad, and it could turn into
a criminal matter. The bus company had pulled their offer, but I still had an offer of $45,000
from All Claim. It was good for two days, after which the bus company was going to All Claim,
and then the offer would be zero.
“So lets do it.” said Jonas.
“That’s not all, is it?” said Walter.
“No.” I said. “You guys pulled a fraud on ME, but I still salvaged things, so one third as my fee doesn’t do it. I want half.”
“You son of a bitch.” said Jonas.
“Any more you advising us?” from Walter.
“Thank you, yes. From my half, which will be $22,500, I’m keeping $2500 to cover my expenses. The other $20,000 I’m giving to Angel Zapata.”
“Who’s that?” Said Walter.
“Someone who really needs the money, a client of mine who’s foot got run over and he can’t work any more. I didn’t get him as much money as he deserved, and now he’s getting a gift.”
“What about the rest?” said Walter.
“I don’t know yet, Walter. You’re going to tell me. You’ll have $22,500 to work with. I’d like to see you get rid of Jonas for $2500, and I am advising you to do that. As far as the other $20,000, tell me what you think is right. I won’t question it. The money will all come in to my account, and I will pay your share wherever and to whomever you say. If you say ‘give it to me’, you’ll get it, no questions asked. If tonight Jonas convinces you that you should be 50/50 partners, I’ll do it that way too. I don’t want to spend a second more on this matter than I have to. Tomorrow you can come up at 2 o’clock and see the receptionist. A letter will be there for you to fill in the blanks and sign. I am coming back at 3 o’clock tomorrow. If the letter is filled out and signed, it’s a done deal and you’ll have money in 3 weeks. If either of you are here, or if the letter is not filled out and signed, I’m going to the police”.
Then I handed them the letter:
Richard Jonas hereby states that he did not sustain any injuries in a bus accident on Kings Highway and 28th Street. Rather than risk litigation expenses I am electing to discontinue my portion of the lawsuit. Walter Walenda hereby agrees to settle his case arising out of a bus accident on Kings Highway and 28th Street for the sum of $45,000. Out of this settlement I agree that $15,000 shall go to my lawyer Mike Sender. From my share of $30,000 I direct Mike Sender to pay the sum of $7500 to Angel Zapata to satisfy a previous debt and $__________ to Richard Jonas to satisfy my personal debt to him. I direct that the remainder of my share be paid as follows:_____________________________________________________________
_________________ ____________________
Richard Jonas Walter Walenda

They both read the letter. Then they both looked at me. I looked at Jonas, then at Walter.
Not another word was spoken. They ambled out of my office and closed the door. I looked out at Manhattan. A crystal clear day. I had decided on my future as a negligence lawyer. I’d be jumping out.

100 Favorite Movies List

My friend Rich Applebaum keeps a 100 favorite movie list. He told me the rules for keeping the list, and I agree with the rules:

"You don't have to defend your list"
"You should not criticize another persons list"
"You should not be ashamed of your list"
"You can (and should) update and amend your list"
"Your list, and other people's lists, are a great way to find new movies to see (I would never have seen Fight Club, #7 on my list, if I had not seen it on Rich's list and asked him about it)"

So, here's my list:

1. It's a Wonderful Life
2. Groundhog Day
3. Casablanca
4. Manhattan
5. The Godfather
6. Defending Your Life
7. Fight Club
8. The Grapes of Wrath
9. Carnal Knowledge
10. Double Indemnity
11. Goodfellas
12. The Caine Mutiny
13. Chinatown
14. Little Big Man
15. The Wizard of Oz
16. Wall Street
17. Rocky
18. Midnight Cowboy
19. Saving Private Ryan
20. Schindler's List
21. The Maltese Falcon
22. The Graduate
23. Silence of the Lambs
24. Annie Hall
25. Animal House
26. Men in Black II
27. Hannah and Her Sisters
28. August Rush
29. What's Eating Gilbert Grape
30. Bull Durham
31. Full Metal Jacket
32. Glengarry Glenross
33. Treasure of the Sierra Madre
34. Rounders
35. Field of Dreams
36. Crimes & Misdemeanors
37. Planet of the Apes
38. Do the Right Thing
39. Natural Born Killers
40. American Beauty
41. Trading Places
42. The Verdict
43. Pleasantville
44. North by Northwest
45. The Last Picture Show
46. Forrest Gump
47. All That Jazz
48. The Big Chill
49. Casino
50. Days of Wine and Roses
51. Moonstruck
52. The Truman Show
53. Saturday Night Fever
54. Psycho
55. To Kill a Mockingbird
56. Bright Lights, Big City
57. High Fidelity
58. Lost in Translation
59. House of Games
60. Swept Away
61. A Christmas Story
62. Ferris Buellers Day Off
63. Tommy Boy
64. Mother
65. Sex, Lies & Videotape
66. Breakfast Club
67. Amadeus
68. Mr. Smith Goes to Washington
69. Back to the Future
70. Battleground
71. Ed Wood
72. The Accidental Tourist
73. All the President's Men
74. Network
75. Holes
76. Shawshank Redemption
77. Young Frankenstein
78. The Sound of Music
79. Breakfast at Tiffany's
80. The Ten Commandments
81. E.T.
82. Doctor Zhivago
83. Ushpizin
84. 12 Angry Men
85. Diner
86. Fast Times at Ridgemont High
87. Mars Attacks
88. Napolean Dynamite
89. The Muse
90. Body & Soul
91. Pope of Greenwich Village
92. Breaking Away
93. Coming Home
94. The Thin Man
95. Woodstock
96. Broadway Danny Rose
97. Van Wilder
98. Closer
99. Beavis & Butthead Do America
100. Coneheads

Putting together a list like this is a lot of fun. I admit, I got about 60 "off the top of my head", and then did a google search for movie lists to refresh my recollection and get some ideas. It's not cheating to do that, and I played around with the order.

A few other notes....I think you have to have actually seen a movie to include it, so while "Gone With the Wind" is on most lists, I have to leave it off. I broke the must see rule on one entry, #90 "Body & Soul", an old movie which is my Dad's favorite movie of all time. He has a very strong opinion about this, so I had to include it. When I see it, I will either adjust its ranking and remove it if called for, though I suspect it will move up.

One factor I considered was "will I stop channel surfing and start watching if I catch a particular movie on cable".

I will make additions, subtractions and adjustment to the list as needed. I welcome input about the list, within the spirit of "I don't have to defend my list". I do love talking about it though.

Depositions Part 1

You can't win a case at your clients deposition, but you CAN lose it.

I have handled depositions for other attorneys, where part of my assignment was to "prep the client". This can be a very uncomfortable situation. I have had prepped plaintiffs in a trip and fall case where they "didn't know where the accident happened". Another time the plaintiff told me "I guess I just fell". Another time, in a pedestrian knockdown case, the plaintiff told me he ran in front of a parked bus and then got nailed by a car which could not see him, because his friend had motioned to him that it was safe. What did their attorneys of record expect ME to do? What is "prep" in a case like that? I know that in those situations, the clients testimony is going to doom the case if I don't advise them properly. It's a dicey proposition..... how far you can go? I try to explain to the client the importance of the deposition, the purpose for it, and the consequences of the answers. Sometimes this is the first time the client realizes there is more to the case than "I got hurt, when do I get paid?". If I have to educate another lawyer's client about proving liability, shame on the lawyer, BUT, I will do it.

When I have depositions for my own clients, and the luxury of proper prep, here are a few helpful suggestions for proper prep:

1. I emphasize to the client that we are not there to "testify" or "prove the case" or "convince". We are there because the law gives the adversary the right to get more information about the case. However, they are going to have to work for it. Therefor, most importantly....."LISTEN TO THE QUESTION ASKED, AND ANSWER JUST THAT QUESTION". The way I illustrate this to the client is to say "If the question is.....'Did there come a time when you were involved in a motor vehicle accident', the answer to that question is 'YES'". That's it, let them ask you the details, answer the question asked and STOP.

2. THINK before you answer. The deposition is recorded on a written transcript, but the transcript will not show if you hesitate or think. If you need to think, think. If you are not sure what a question means, ask for it to be clarified.

3. Remember that the defense lawyer needs to establish what your claim IS, and what it ISN'T. Therefor, you will answer certain questions, especially about your damages or injuries, in the negative. Don't worry if you can't say yes to every question about your injuries.

4. The one time you can speak expansively is when asked about how your injuries affect you. Remember, when the questions start to be "is there anything else", your agreeing that there is nothing else will be used to limit your damages claim.

5. If there is some key element on liability, and you know the defendant will focus on it (like NOTICE in a premises cases, or damages threshold in an auto case), emphasize this to the client and go over these issues carefully. Ask sample questions and talk to the client about the answers.

6. Some clients don't know what to expect, and are so nervous they don't absorb your prep. I always explain to an inexperienced client that we will NOT be in court, there will be no judge or jury present, we will be sitting around a table, that I will be there next to you, that the deposition will not be much different than our prep, and that being nervous does not help (though I understand you may be anyway). I really work hard to calm a nervous client before we start, because these clients can fall apart in disastrous ways.

You should NOT let a case be lost by a poor deposition, and the onus is on YOU to control this.

Tomorrow, you can't lose your case taking your adversaries deposition, but you CAN win it.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Economics of Trial Counsel, Part 2

Consult with your potential trial attorney early, and let them get started doing what they do. If you are going to part with a third of your fee anyway, you might as well get the benefit of their input early. Here are a few things they do, that you may not:

1. Bring in an expert witness on liability. You may have been thinking "maybe I will....at some point....", but if a trial attorney tells me we need an engineer, or an accident reconstructionist, it's a no-brainer.

2. Make sure you are ready to try the case on damages. This means you have a doctor who can testify, that all exchanges have been made, that subpoenas are prepared and served, and that there are no evidence "problems" that you may not realize.

3. Is your liability theory viable and legally sustainable? A trial attorney once told me that on his own cases, and on new files he picks up for trial, after hearing the basic facts he starts thinking about the PJI (Pattern Jury Instructions) for the case. Most non-trial lawyers think about that last, if at all.

4. Another trial lawyer told me that the first thing he reads in a new file he receives for trial is the plaintiffs deposition. What testimony are we "locked into", and where might there be some flexibility. What issues are the defendants thinking are problems? Incidentally, this same trial lawyer told me he is amazed at how many plaintiff cases are ruined by a poor plaintiffs deposition (more on this tomorrow).

5. Do you need to supplement the Bill of Particulars so ALL damages are included in the case?

6. In a motor vehicle soft tissue injury case, how will the New York "serious injury" threshold be met? This can be a make or break issue in the case, and should not be something that the trial attorney and client are first talking about in the hallway during trial....and I have seen this happen.

7. Have we confirmed the insurance limits. Can the carriers be placed in position for a possible excess verdict? Can pressure be brought on this issue?

I recommend having a working relationship with more than one trial attorney or firm. You may find that some firms are particularly good at certain cases. You can even run a particular case by more than one firm, and see who is enthusiastic about it, or who has an approach that excites you. Some firms are stronger in one venue than another. You can and should consider this.

Remember, bringing in trial counsel is not a negative reflection on your abilities. You will end up being a hero, you will make more money, and you will learn to prep your files better and better with each case.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Economics of trial counsel, Part 1

Many firms who handle plaintiffs cases don't try the cases themselves. Not everybody knows how, some don't want to do it anymore, sometimes the "trial guy" has left the firm, and sometimes there are unsolvable calendar conflicts. What considerations should go into employing outside trial counsel?

Why? Some cases have to be tried because the offer is zero or near zero, or because a liability verdict must be taken before an offer will be made (this applies in bifurcated trial jurisdictions, unified trials have different issues). Most cases reach their maximum settlement value at the time of trial. Not at the last "pre-trial conference", but when the carrier knows the trial IS actually happening and the plaintiffs are proceeding. This might be during jury selection, or right after, or when assigned to a trial part, or after opening, or after some plaintiff testimony. Whenever the exact time is for a partiular case, the biggest single jump in value is some time after the "trial" starts. I put that in quotes because to me, the trial starts when the attorney who is trying the case is in Court selecting a jury. It is often tempting for the attorney of record to hang in as long as possible and settle the case at the last moment before he'd have to either try the case himself or get a trial lawyer in there. We all know why attorneys do this.....to avoid that "turning point". The point where they are giving up a third (or more) of the fee. Waiting like this is a big mistake.....let me count the ways:

1. The good trial attorneys may not accept the case at this late juncture (more on this in Part 2), or the attorney you want may not be available.

2. You may have overlooked something a trial attorney would have done to maximize the value, and now it's too late.

3. You may spring this on the client so late, and so ineptly, that the client does not have confidence in your trial attorney.

4. You may think you have maximized the settlement, when you don't know how much better the trial attorney would have settled for, AND THEN, your client refuses to accept the offer.

5. You develop a reputation as someone who doesn't try his cases (or bring in trial counsel), and your offers reflect this.

It is true that sometimes the attorney of record will net less of a fee after the trial counsel comes in. Simple example: You had an offer of $15,000, so a fee of $5000 was yours, with $10,000 to the client (putting aside disbursements). You bring in trial counsel and settle the case for $18,000, with fees of $4000 to you, $2000 to trial counsel and $12,000 to the client. So, the client did $2000 better and you did $1000 worse. But the thing is, this is the RIGHT way to do things, and WAY more often, the trial attorney boosts that $15,000 to offer to $45,000, and you and the client both benefit.

Of course, trial counsel is able to do this when you bring them in early enough to help you....

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Insurance Insurance Insurance

I could write a book about how insurance affects law practice, but I'd rather write a book about something more interesting.

However, I do have a few observations about the interaction of insurance with law practice:

1. Try as they might to act as if they represent "real clients", insurance defense firms represent insurance companies. When you have a case that forces the defense firm to look out for a real client (ie. you may have a case that a jury will bring in a verdict above the policy limits), you can exert real pressure if you play it right. My advice here is the same as any negligence case, only more so. Prepare the case for trial from the git-go. Insurance companies live for plaintiff lawyers who bumble and stumble. The cumulative effect of our bumbling is that payday comes later, and spread across an industry, it really adds up. When you play hard and tough, they notice, and they pay you.

2. You can control your caseload and workload (to a degree), insurance defense firms cannot. The economics at an insurance defense firm dictates that all the associates and partners be working close to capacity at all times. They also have to take ALL the cases the carrier gives them. Plaintiff lawyers don't have to take ALL the cases. They should take enough GOOD cases to do a quality job, and not make the mistake of taking too many marginal cases. These cases always end up taking more work, engendering more disbursements, and bringing less return than good cases. However, the WORST thing about taking marginal cases is it prevents you from doing quality, timely work on your good cases. You thereby lose the biggest tactical edge over the defense firms. If you don't have enough quality negligence cases, spend your time marketing for quality cases. Do NOT waste your time with poor liability, soft tissue injury, low potential junk. Do NOT fall into the trap of thinking these will lead to bigger cases....they will lead to more junk, and you will be seen as that kind of lawyer. When those clients get good cases they will go to "big lawyers".

3. Out of State carriers sometimes overvalue cases and will over pay early. I have had this happen a few times, so if you get the police report and you have a carrier you have never seen before, it may be worthwhile to investigate the case, send them what you have, and try to settle it pre-suit. You need a co-operative client to do this, and you have to be sure there are no surprise medicals lurking, but it is worth considering.

4. For what its worth, I find that carriers tend to over value dog bite cases.

5. If a defendant is self insured, or there is "self insured retention" in play, it is in your interest as plaintiff to fully understand the defense situation. This will prevent you from wasting time on impossible negotiations.

6. If the carrier is acting stupid, don't get angry, just move the case and prepare for trial.

7. If you do not try cases yourself, develop good relations with trial counsel. This is an economic issue, and we should act like business people. This applies to the attorneys of record, and to trial counsel. More on this tomorrow.....

Monday, January 15, 2007

Attorneys fees and settlements

Have you ever been involved in a case that should be settled but isn't?

Many times the reason for this is.....one side or the other (or both) are not in a "proper" fee arrangement with their attorney. Sometimes, it might be YOU who is not in a proper agreement. I prefer situations where everyone is acting like big boys and girls, but sometimes a party is acting like a baby....they are not seeing reason, or making a reasonable offer, or accepting a reasonable offer, or even negotiating, just.......BECAUSE. And the extension of this is because...they can. Lets look at a few scenarios:

1. If there is no consequence to the client in being unreasonable, sometimes their strongest negotiating position is to be just that. In a civil litigation (I am leaving aside personal injury cases with insurance....more on that tomorrow), if both parties are paying their attorneys hourly, they should behave like adults. Sometimes one of the attorneys is on a contingency (generally the plaintiff, though I have seen reverse contingencies for a defendant), and if the plaintiffs attorney did not get strong client control from the outset, the client will cheer him on and may mis-behave. Conversely, if the defense counsel is a family member, or is "doing a favor for a good client" (slap yourself in the face if you hear yourself saying this), the client has a disincentive to negotiate properly.

2. In small matters, the ones that start out "just write a letter", you can't finish the matter properly because nobody is paying as they go, and all the details get magnified. The clients are asking the lawyers for more and more, and you could stop them with a bill, but its not that kind of case. STOP GETTING INVOLVED IN THESE SITUATIONS...... OK, I'm yelling at myself here, but if you do this, you know what I mean....stop before you start.

3. You got a retainer, started to work, but those further hourly bills are hard to come by. Until the client gets the second bill, he doesn't respect your time. If you want to control litigated matters, keep time, bill timely, and don't apologize for it. You can give your best to all your clients if you have time to give, and you will not have time if you don't control it.

4. Sometimes the clients are willing to pay, and are paying, and they are still acting irrationally and the attorneys are cleaning up. These are called "matrimonial cases". I respect matrimonial cases and the specialists who handle them, and never begrudge them their monstrous incomes. They earn it, the clients are not happy to pay them, but they understand it. The surest way for a generalist to learn about why hourly billing is important, and how cases don't settle if you don't bill properly, is to "dabble" in some matrimonial cases.

There are a few things to learn from all this. First, control your clients and your billings. To the extent you have problems with this, actively work on improving it. Second, pay attention to your adversaries attorneys fee situation. I always try to assess this at the outset. Clients are always puzzled when I ask whether they know the relationship between the adversary and their attorney, but I consider this valuable and important. Third, pay attention to what has and has not been working for you. Don't beat yourself up over mistakes, we all make them, but for G-d's sake, LEARN from them.

Tomorrow.......insurance insurance insurance

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Perils of Real Estate Practice, Part 3

Continuing with my "ideal" real estate matter, the one we never EVER see, here's more reality:

1. A closing is scheduled with just a few calls, in a convenient location. In reality, the scheduling takes many many calls, and even if you "delegate" this to a secretary or paralegal, it takes a lot of THEIR time. If you regularly makes these calls yourself, I challenge you to show me how flat fee real estate is remotely profitable. A tip to save real aggravation.....if you know what is realistic as far as when the closing can happen, assert yourself. Do NOT go with the clients or the brokers aggressively early date. When you do this, invariably you will make the calls, and then get to the last call, and a key player can't do it. As far as convenient locations, other than your own office, all other locations are inconvenient, its only a matter of degree. It's YOUR time, remember that.

2. The closing takes place on time and takes an hour. Uhhh, someone is usually late. When I feel really cynical, I try to arrive LAST, so at least less of MY time gets wasted. I have had a few closings take less than an hour, but I've had many more that took 2-3 hours. That would be ok, if I were on an hourly, but, well...you get the point.

3. The closing is done, and there are no post-closing escrow issues. Was it Shakespeare who said "Nature abhors an escrow"? OK, HE didn't say it, but if a post-closing escrow exists, and we're not getting paid extra to deal with it, WE lose. Of course, many times the only way to resolve a problem at closing is to hold an escrow, so at least you can close. I always try to convince everyone at the closing to "adjust" rather than escrow. The attorneys always understand why, and the clients don't, until you mention the extra attorneys fees....then suddenly they can adjust the problem. (Incidentally, this is tomorrows topic....how attorneys fees affect case settlement) You might think, if proper pre-closing prep is done, all issues should be known and resolved, but WHO CAN DO THIS FOR THESE FEES???? So you show up at the closing, get it done, and hold an escrow (for some taxes, or possession, or a judgment, or a lien, or for any number of things). The times when I have charged for a post-closing escrow issue, I felt distinct resentment from the client. Of course, the times I didn't charge, I felt distinct resentment myself. I finally concluded that I have enough resentment, so this is one I try hard to avoid.

4. You send a closing statement; the client appreciates everything you did.....and refers you all kinds of business over the years. I always leave a closing with my closing statement checked and re-checked so all the math is right, and I can send out a clear statement. Its worth the extra time at the closing to be sure. Getting back and having the numbers not work is frustrating, time consuming, and non-compensable. So, be thorough, EARN your money, and don't spend that $950 in one place.
As far as client appreciation, I've gotten some nice, heartfelt thank-yous over the years, and they are always appreciated. I've also had many occassions where I had run through brick walls for the client, and KNEW they had no idea how hard I worked, or they knew and took it for granted.
Lastly, if you are a generalist, and you do real estate to "increase your client base", and hope to be that clients "family lawyer" and get ALL their business, including the juicy negligence cases you find most profitable....BEWARE. Unless you take steps to educate your clients, they will view you as a "real estate lawyer" and refer their "real cases" elsewhere. I once had some difficult clients who I had represented when they bought their house. Six years later when they were selling, we conducted all our business by phone and mail up until the closing. At the closing the wife was in a wheelchair, the result of a pedestrian/auto accident, which was my first knowledge of this. The husband proudly told me about the big settlement, and the big fee their lawyer had made "without doing hardly anything". I told the wife I hoped she was feeling better, and was thankful for the opportunity to work my ass off for a small fee, and my future "opportunities"

and so, I shall rant no more.....

Random Thoughts.....on or near my 50th birthday

My 50th birthday was January 9th. I was going to wax philosophical that day, but instead I broke my twelve day blogging streak, and then went into a several day blogging slump. It was probably caused by ending my "law as business" ranting, thinking I'd be profound on my big day, and then realizing that its easier to talk biz than personal. So, six days late, here's what I think about a few things:

Four of my proudest accomplishments: I have never seen a moment of American Idol, Survivor, Desperate Housewives or Grey's Anatomy. This will be an easy streak to maintain.

I was once in a cult for a weekend (long story, I'll tell it some other time). I did not join, BUT I got one useful phrase that I have used many times when confronting long entrenched, apparently unsolvable problems. This is it...."Everything that happened, is just a bunch of stuff that happened, everything else is SPIN".

I love to read, but I have a variation that really enhances the expereience. I like to read books that have been made into movies, especially if I have not yet read the book or seen the movie. Then I like to read the book and rent the movie right after. BTW, I did this with "Fight Club", initially because someone recommended the movie as something "different, not what you think its gonna be". So, I read the book, which was amazing (and discovered an author I now read, Chuck Palahniuk), and followed it up with this great movie. If you have never seen it, try it and let me know what you think.....I did not see it for years because it did not seem like "my kind of movie", but it's creative and thought provoking. Even better, read the book first. A few that I have done this with are "Sideways", "High Fidelity", "Election", "CiderHouse Rules" and "Angela's Ashes".

Speaking of movies, my favorite baseball movie is Bull Durham.

My favorite movie of all, though, is Groundhog Day. I have come to learn that I am not the only one, and I will make a blog entry about Groundhog Day on 2/2, which is also my brothers birthday. Here's a link to a site which talks about Groundhog Day, and has a link to other Groundhog Day material.... http://www.schindler.org/psacot/20010813_ghd.shtml

From personal experience and careful observation, there IS an epidemic of autism and related disorders going on, and it probably is related to vaccines. I would not give two cents for any government sponsored "studies" showing the contrary.

The Iraq war will go down in history as the worst foreign policy blunder in U.S. history. If the powers that be actually believe the justifications they gave (that by removing Saddam we'd set the stage for democracy etc.), then they are delusional. If there other nefarious business reasons, then they are butcherous liers. Choose your poison.

I don't like political labels. People should think and have opinions based on ideas. If someone goes with their party, I don't give much credibility to their positions. I used to enjoy Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity, when their ideas seemed to confront the liberal boobs with the fallacy of their positions. Unfortunately, they have now become the exact things they used to rail against, and you have to check your brain at the door to listen to them. They are not interesting, or fun, or entertaining, unless you like being at a pro-government rally. I listen to a guy named Lionel, on WOR-AM, usually around 10 PM. Here's his site http://www.lionelonline.com/ Check him out and let me know what you think.

Diet soda makes people fat. It also CANNOT be healthy, and this should not be a surprise to anyone.

Am I the only person who remembers what Jesse Jackson used to talk about when he was first on the political scene? When he used to say that responsibility rests with families, and if people were going to advance it had to start THERE, at home, with family values and religion and spirituality. His message was identical to what we would now call Republican religious fundamentalism. What evil forces threw out that message, and made him the spokesman for government largesse as a political movement?

I don't care much for lawyer jokes, even though I will laugh at a good one. Its the assumptions behind the jokes that irk me. Most lawyers I know are hard working, decent people, who contribute to society in a positive way. To the extent there are greedy, lecherous lawyers out there (and I don't deny there are some), this is a reflection of a greedy, lecherous populace.

There should be a rule that families can take their kids to Disneyland, or world, or whatever it is, ONCE. The other times you go on vacation, DO SOMETHING ELSE. See some sights, take hikes, go to restaurants in a new city, let kids see what gownups do on vacation, so they don't think that what grownups do on vacation is "take kids to Disney".

If your child got a college scholarship for "cheerleading", would you tell anyone about it?

High school and college kids should work at part-time jobs. I'm not saying it should be a law, I'm suggesting their parents should recognize the immense value in this experience, and encourage them to work. It helps a young person value their education, to understand the business world, to learn discipline, and to respect all kinds of people. In high school I worked in the local dry cleaners (making deliveries, working the counter, and putting plastic bags on garments). During college I worked in a leather warehouse in lower Manhattan, mostly loading and unloading trucks with "men". I also worked at a temp agency, where we were assigned to a different office almost every day. In my present office, I have interviewed new lawyers whose first job, OF ANY KIND, was the one they were applying for with me. What were they and/or their parents thinking?

The weakest word a person can use is "should". The strongest word is "YET".

Is anybody reading my blog? Comments are welcome.

Next entry....back to perils of real estate.....part 3

Monday, January 8, 2007

Perils of Real Estate Practice, Part 2

Yesterday I outlined a simple, albeit fictional, deal, and promised to compare it to reality. Here goes:

1. You meet the client and establish a "relationship". Sometimes you start out just on the phone, and you either connect or you don't. Sometimes you have an initial meeting and you realize this client should not be buying a house, but how do you convince them of it? Sometimes you just get a bad feeling. Sometimes the initial meeting takes way longer than you thought, and you know that every aspect of the deal is going to be like that.....and that's always a profit killer when you are on a flat fee.

2. You advise them "pre-contract" so they understand the process, and if the first deal doesn't go through maybe you get paid something for your time......and for a lot of reasons, maybe you don't.

3. You get initial details on a solid deal from an honest real estate broker. Pardon my oxymorons, but in general I have come across real estate brokers who are "hard-working", "tenacious", and even "enthusiastic", but then I run out of complimentary adjectives. One thing they do a lot is CALL you, and they want one thing.....to find out when the closing is. I have had brokers who actually told my client, and the other party, when the closing was, even though we attorneys had not scheduled it yet. I guess the way they saw it, they took a shot. You can't make these things up.

4. You represent the client on the contract (which of course goes smoothly and is all done via the mail). Uhhhh, usually it goes back and forth and back and forth and takes WAY longer than it should, and engenders numerous calls to and from EVERYBODY. When brokers offer to pick up and deliver the contracts, I usually let them, let em WORK.

5. The client gets timely financing without a hitch. OK, sometimes this happens, but only because some banks are so careless they'd give a loan to a ham sandwich. Of course, when your client has trouble getting financing, everybody's stress gauges go up, and you realize your client should have gone to one of those ham sandwich banks, and everyone is blaming you for not sending him there. Any lawyer who has ever been in one of these mortgage problem deals, knows all the extra work thats coming (for no extra fees and tons of pressure)......and all the questions from the client.......is my down payment at risk? can we kill the deal? can I get an extension? can I re-apply? when is the closing? who put that mustard all over my back?

6. You review the title report and it is clean. Maybe one out of ten you don't have an issue. The rest of the time, somebody from your office who knows what they are talking about (YOU?) has to make some calls or draw some affadavits to solve a problem. Extra fees? NO, its included.

I have a few more, but I will deal with them on Wednesday, in Part 3.

Tomorrow is my 50th birthday, so I will post some random thoughts on that......for a goof....

Sunday, January 7, 2007

Perils of Real Estate Practice, Part 1

After 24 years, I recently decided to stop taking new real estate matters. These are what many general practitioners would call the "bread and butter" of a general practice. I am talking about basic representation for the buyer or seller of a residence. In New York, this is generally a house or a co-op apartment. I know that real estate practices differ from state to state, but I'm sure many of the business issues are the same. I also know that while I can, and will, list a litany of real estate perils, many of them have solutions. I will even try to offer some, I just won't being doing them any more.

Let's define a few "givens" in the market:

1. Clients expect to be quoted a fixed fee, for handling the matter from start to finish. I know there are attorneys who charge hourly for real estate closings, my hat is off and I bow as I say it, but generally market forces have made this a flat fee affair.

2. It is a huge responsibility for the attorney. There is a lot of money at stake, and there are often multiple deals hinging on each other. And Lord knows, we all need more pressure in our lives.

3. A real estate matter is very "client intensive". For the client this is often the biggest transaction of their life, and THEY are under pressure. This is something they love to share.

4. There are no simple deals. Think about this....here's the outline of a simple deal, where all goes well.....You meet the client and establish a "relationship"; you advise them "pre-contract" so they understand the process; you get details on a solid deal from an honest real estate broker; you represent the client on the contract (which of course goes smoothly and is all done via the mail); the client gets timely financing without a hitch; you review the title report and it is clean; a closing is scheduled with just a few calls, in a convenient location; the closing takes place on time and takes an hour; there are no post-closing escrow issues; you send a closing statement; the client appreciates everything you did.....and refers you all kinds of business over the years.............If this EVER, EVER happens, I'd say the $950 or $1250 or $1500 you received was MAYBE worth the time, but......
I have done hundreds of closings and I have NEVER, EVER had a transaction go that way. Tomorrow I will review some aspects of the usual deal, and then we can re-visit what the proper payment for such fun should be.

5. Not only are the deals client intensive, the deals rely on multiple parties performing their role correctly. On a New York co-op sale, as sellers attorney I rely on the following parties knowing their stuff and acting professionally: the buyers attorney, the buyers mortgage broker, the buyers lender, the co-op board, the co-op managing agent, the lenders attorney, the lien search company, the attorney for the mortgage payoff bank, and the brokers. Thats a lot of people "getting it right", and the consequences of any of them being a bozo are significant. Additionally, if the buyer or seller flakes out at some point (something that always seems to happen when the rest of the players are top caliber), you end up working your tail off.

I knew I might rant a bit when I started this, thats why I called it Part 1. Part 2 tomorrow....

Saturday, January 6, 2007

Location Location Location

Of course its true in real estate, and its true for the venue of our cases and clients. When you make that big decision to take a matter or not, you must consider the venue, not just of the case itself, but of the clients and other players.

Where I am in Queens County, New York, there are 8 counties in reasonable proximity to my office (5 boros of NYC, and Nassau, Suffolk & Westchester Counties). When a new matter is being discussed, I've learned to consider WHERE will the action take place. If there is litigation involved, we all think of this from the outset.....as a plaintiff where will I venue the case, as a potential defendant, where will plaintiff venue it, and why.

I think of non-litigation matters as having a "venue" too. Will there be meetings with clients and counsel? WHERE will they be? Here's a reality, if I have to attend meetings in Brooklyn or Manhattan during the day, add two hours. If its not the kind of case or client where you KNOW you are truly compensated for your time (and be HONEST with yourself), factor this in when deciding whether to get involved. This is primarily why I have stopped taking real estate closings on a flat fee basis (aside from all the other reasons, more on this tomorrow.....)

Is it the kind of client who will need to be in your office more than once during the matter? If they have to commute an hour each time, how long will it be till they resent that?

On litigated matters, will your adversary have "home court advantage"? Don't overlook this, and its not just because they know the Judges and Clerks and customs of the home court. A simple status conference with the court, where your adversary is there anyway because ALL his cases are there, is a big waste for you. You may be better off paying a "per diem" lawyer to go, but do you prefer that?

How much more confident do you feel when you are in YOUR home court. I know that the case is still the case, and I think they invariably turn out the way they should, BUT we are talking now about BUSINESS, and profits, and convenience, and lifestyle. I will often decide to refer a case to "local counsel", even if its in Manhattan or Brooklyn or Nassau counties (all contiguous to Queens and all close by), for business reasons. I also have cases referred TO me because of my Queens presence.

Bottom line, venue, venue venue.

Friday, January 5, 2007

Expanding Your Network

Expanding your database of attorneys should be a constant, ongoing process, and you should always recognize its importance. I like to maintain an actual computerized database, so I can do searches, BUT a rolodex and a brain can suffice for this purpose. The quality of your referrals will depend on the quality of this database. If you have one, make it better, if you don't have one to speak of, start one. It takes very little effort, and pays dividends almost immediately.

I have a few tips on building the database:

1. Be a card COLLECTOR, more than a card giver. We all go to functions, lawyer functions, meetings, family events, parties. The tendency for many lawyers is to "look for business", and give out cards. Of course you should seize opportunites to give your card and try to make connections, but the real opportunites at functions is expanding your database and collecting cards. Want to make a real connection with a fellow attorney who you have just met? Ask what they do, ask them questions about it, and ask them this question "What kind of cases should I refer you?" When you get their card, make notes on it (discreetly, after they walk away, we don't want to be wierdo stalkers here).

2. Make updates and corrections promptly. We all get notices of new offices and affiliations....update your database, you want it to be accurate when you need it.

3. If you know lawyers who seem to know a lot of lawyers, do not hesitate to call and ask them for referrals......So many times I have called lawyers like this and said "Who do you like for a ______case in ______County". I always assure the attorney that I will tell the specialist where the lead came from......this type of thing is OUR currency. It should be obtained with passion, and circulated, not saved.

Incidentally, I referred to cases being in _____ County. I am always interested in the location and venue of a potential case and the various players.....more on this tomorrow.....

Thursday, January 4, 2007

Making Great Referrals

Let's examine what happens when you make a great referral:

1. You have provided your client great legal services. By YOUR knowledge of the clients legal issues, and contacts in the legal community, you got them to the right lawyer. You also probably gave the client some real advice, AND you got the new lawyer started right, by narrowing the issues. You would have (probably....maybe) done a credible job with the case....your specialist referral will do it better, and we all know it.

2. Referral/participation fees. You make money the old fashioned way. When you make money and someone else is doing the bulk of the work, and you are repeating this process, this sounds like smart business. In the sophisticated business world, as opposed to the lawyer general practice world, this is called LEVERAGE. Leverage, in this context, is a good thing.

3. You will receive referrals back. Remember, although you specialize in general practice, there are some areas of law that you still do, and you do them well. Every time you make a referral, you have an opportunity to market for the cases you DO want. Specialists all get calls for cases outside their field, and they refer them out (because they are specialists). BE one of the lawyers they refer cases to.

4. You expand your network. Sometimes you don't have an attorney in your rolodex, or in Outlook, or wherever. Don't turn the client away. Get the facts, and use your resources to find them an attorney. Use the internet, call your attorney friends, check the County Bar Association committee lists, but MAKE SOME EFFORT. A specialist that you call after tracking them down, and hearing you say "I'm ______ an attorney in _____ County, and I have a client who needs an attorney who can do ______, and I found you by ___________" will respect you, will probably take the case, will pay you, will refer business to you, and will be someone you can refer to again. Expanding your network is always good.......

Wednesday, January 3, 2007

Specializing in General Practice

Is general practice a specialty?
Just "doing general practice" is the antithesis of a specialty, and will have all the pitfalls of an unfocused activity. It will have all the problems and few of the benefits that specialists reap.
However, if you do general practice RIGHT, if you "specialize" in it, it can be as rewarding as any specialty. Here are a few ideas:
1. Make great referrals. This is the backbone of specializing in general practice. It is analogous to a medical GP. Patients rely on them to identify what specialty they need, and make the referral. There are GP's who are great at this, and others whose network may be weak. As attorney GP's, our referral network is one of our most valuable assets. It should always be growing, it should be alive and lively. By the way, I encourage all GP's to receive proper and ethical fees on referrals made. Contrary to what attorneys sometimes think, the ethical rules tell you exactly how to do this. We are one of the few professionals that spells it out. I am tired of self-righteous attorneys who view the ethical rules on referrals strictly for what you can't do (and yes, there are things you can't do). But, the rules tell you what you CAN do, and you should welcome opportunites to make referrals......more on this tomorrow
2. Learn to say no and respectfully decline losing situations. If you can't make a referral, and its not for you, DON'T get involved. Have a form declination letter and USE it. Resist the urge to "just write a letter".
3. Take pro bono cases by choice, not by default. Never rationalize your mistakes (the ones where you hate the client and aren't being paid) by saying they are "pro-bono". Learn from the mistake, and find pro bono cases where you care.
4. Constantly improve the way you handle the cases you DO take.....your specialties within your general practice.
5. Specializing in general practice is a philosophical approach. Any associates and support staff should understand what you are doing. This will help your referral network develop.....

Tuesday, January 2, 2007

Specialize in Something(s)

Generally speaking, the most successful lawyers (by any measure: financial, personal satisfaction, recognition) are the specialists. I am qualified to say this, having been a misguided generalist all these years. Here are some things we can observe about specialists:

1. They know their stuff. When we generalists are up against a specialist, we know our stuff too, to a point, but on more substantial cases we are soon "out of our element", we are in THEIR element.
2. They get paid more.....and with confidence, and they should, they give their clients value.
3. They tend to find their chosen field interesting and exciting. I have been a generalist because I find all areas of law interesting, to talk and think about, and to strategize about, but to actually DO.....not so much fun. Have we all, as generalists, had the experience of calling someone who "really knew"? I'd like to be that person all day long.
4. They have systems geared for their specialty......we have general, all purpose systems, that work....to a point....and then our inefficiencies haunt us.
5. They know the players in their field, and they know the fakers (us).

I have two main pieces of advice for general practitioners:

1. Specialize in something(s). Even if you are still a generalist, have one or two areas where you act like a specialist. Define yourself by it "I'm a ________ lawyer", make systems for it, take extra CLE in it, follow all the cases, and otherwise get really good at it.

2. Specialize in general practice......I think this IS a specialty unto itself....more on this tomorrow.........

Monday, January 1, 2007

Refine How You Define

Happy New Year! Todays topic can be viewed as helpful advice, and can be adopted as a resolution.......REFINE HOW YOU DEFINE
How many opportunities do we have to answer the question "What do you do?" The answer can say a lot to the questioner, in both content and tone, but it should also say a lot to YOU. Do you notice how you answer the question? Do you use vague generalities? "I am in general practice.....I do a lot of different things.....I do some real estate, some estates, some litigation.....I work for a small firm......" Do you give a disparaging answer? (How would you view someone who defined themselves as doing something they hated......and then when you saw them again a year later they said the same thing? It sickens me to recall having answered that way) Are you enthusiastic?
Here are some basic suggestions:
1. Observe how you answer that question (or would answer it, hypothetically)
2. THINK about what it indicates: (a) to the hearer, and (b) to yourself
3. Experiment with some different ways to answer, first by thinking of some, and then trying them out when asked (btw, you will be amazed how many opportunites you have to answer the question), and then follow the above.....observe your response, and THINK about what it indicates to the hearer and to yourself.
4. Keep refining how you define, it will move you in the right direction.

You will also notice that specificity, and specializing in SOMETHING(s) improves your approach to practice, and results in new, QUALITY business........