Thursday, March 22, 2012

4L: What to do When . . . You Don't Have Clients Part 2: Learning the Law

"Wisdom is a shelter as money is a shelter, but the advantage of knowledge is this: Wisdom preserves those who have it."  ~Proverb from about 954 B.C. 

The idea of attorneys is one that attorneys are typically wealthy.  Closely related to that is they are typically knowledgeable and wise.  The proverb above has an interesting interplay of words.  Look at this:

1) Wisdom is a shelter.
2) Money is a shelter.
3) There is an advantage to knowledge (not wisdom).
4) Wisdom PRESERVES those who have [knowledge].

The writer is specifically stating, by omission, that money does not preserve those who have it, even though it can be a shelter.  On the other hand, knowledge backed by wisdom preserves the wise.  And wisdom can only come through having knowledge and applying it.  This week's blog focuses on HOW to get knowledge that can actually translate into wisdom.  Once wisdom is attained, then money will likely follow.

Learning the Law - A good friend and gracious mentor, Alan Gallas, told me one time, "Practice the law during the day, and learn the law at night."  We were discussing that, as solo practitioners, there really isn't enough time to try to learn the law during working hours.  Between client calls, meetings, court appearances, and document drafting, it is hard to sit down and search an area of law you need to know (or not even know you need to know yet).  When you do have clients and cases to attend to, you must make time in the evening to grab the Mobar CLE deskbooks (or whatever resources your state offers), a treatise on mergers and acquisitions, or get on lexis and look up case law on a certain topic . . .

When you don't have clients it's not that easy . . . I went to law school not so long ago, in a galaxy far, far away.  This school had a ton of physical books for nearly every state.  The school renovated its library and needed to free up a ton of space by giving away unused books.  The unused books on the East Coast happen to be the entire sets of Vernon's Annotated Missouri Statutes and West's Missouri Digest 2d.  Knowing that I was coming back to the Midwest, Saundra I begrudgingly loaded all 266 books ($10,000 worth of books that I could've never purchased) in the back of my old Land Rover (it looked like it was on the verge of popping a wheelie).

When I first started practicing, and I only had two clients (neither case was an area I really wanted to get into) I decided to start going through my free books to learn certain areas of the law.  And I did this for about one week.  It was actually very hard to learn anything.  I figured out that the only law I was learning was the law related to my two cases. Why? Because I had no purpose in my research or answers I needed to find.

Q and A - As I tried to find things to fill up my time, I began signing up for legal related websites.  A few of them have question and answer forums.  The two that I have found were the easiest to use were and  For the newest attorneys, you probably won't be able to sign up for Avvo for about 9 months.  So sign up for and start answering questions.  For all other attorneys, you already have a Avvo placeholder for your profile because the state bar associations give that information to Avvo (or Avvo takes it, one of the two).

Why is this important? Because you will be forced to seek out a specific answer to a real question.  And these limited scope representation answers probably won't lead to malpractice. (To be honest, several of my answers have translated into paying clients. So that alone should motivate you to do this).  Once you get old enough to go to Avvo, do that.  The questions are better and more specific.

Another thing Avvo offers is a point system.  You get points for answering questions, for other attorney's marking your answer as good, for the asker marking your answer as the best, for writing legal guides, etc.  Being raised on video games, it makes it easy to want to answer questions to increase my score.  It's really kinda competitive and requires good, thorough answers to score better.

When you get a question on a certain area of law, start trying to learn as much as you can so you can answer the question thoroughly.  And if the question doesn't have enough facts don't say, "This doesn't have enough facts and I can't answer this you idiot."  You'd be surprised, but you will see other attorneys answer that way.  Would you put that on a law school exam? I hope not.  Say, "Well if the facts were this way _____ (answer appropriately to the facts). And if they were this way _____________(answer alternatively)."

You'll start finding out you can argue any case both ways.  And you'll know one of the most important things in real practice.  What facts change the outcome.

So run out and start learning to gain knowledge, for wisdom will preserve you if you have knowledge.

Friday, March 9, 2012

4L: What to do When . . . You Don't Have Clients Part 1

Well it's that time again.  It's February bar exam time.  And that may be harder than the regular July bar exam time.  At this time, students are coming out of school at a time when most firms are prepping for their summer interns or fall associates.  At least this year, the economy is supposedly getting better and more firms are hiring . . . supposedly.  So if you take the Feb. bar, or took the July bar and are still looking (or took the July bar in 2010 and are still looking), this blog's for you.  It's also for the attorneys that have been practicing for 10+ years and have seen a substantial drop in clientele. 
You don't have clients.  You're sitting there in a suit watching YouTube.  Or you're sleeping in till noon.  I've done both.  I've done both with and without clients.  It's more fun with clients, let me tell you.  Then it's a time-waster or mini-vacation, not a way of life.  Either way it's probably your fault.  Yes, I said it! IT IS YOUR FAULT!  Clients are not going to find you out and walk in your door (especially if you're in sweatpants and a Superman shirt).  You will have to do SOMETHING.  So what are those somethings? 

Relationships - I've said it before and I'll say it until I die, I hate the word "networking."  No, seriously I hate it. And you should too!  Don't network.  You won't want to, it won't be important, and you won't remember anyone (and they won't remember you either).  Build relationships.  This way, you'll care, you'll want to, and you'll remember people (they still won't remember you). 

When you don't have clients it is ABSOLUTELY imperative that you build relationships with a great deal of people, especially attorneys.  If you have local bar events, or free CLEs, or know any one attorney you can do this.  Email the one attorney you know.  Tell them you are just starting out and have some questions (offer to take THEM to lunch and then actually pay). 

At this meeting, tell them you want to know how to do __________.  Ask them how it was when they started.  Tell them you're not looking for a job, but just wanted to pick their brain about something legal.  I will almost GUARANTEE that they will offer a LIST of people to talk to.  Be real.  Tell them the areas you want to practice (even if it's not in their area, they'll know people).  My wife met with a Federal Judge and he gave her a list of 13 people to contact! 13 PEOPLE! Well at least you know your next 13 emails and meetings. When you email the leads, tell them "so and so told me to contact you."  Then you're introducing yourself in the authority of the person you got their name from.

The day after the meeting, and I MEAN DAY! Hand write a note to them.  Thank them for their time, their advice, and tell them you are "looking forward to developing a mutually beneficial relationship."  (As a side note, I got lunch with a partner of Bigfirm.  I was EXCITED!!!!!! I thought, this guy can help my career!  You know what happened? He paid for my lunch and I gave him several legal documents for a new client that needed products liability intake procedures.  And you know what? It was worth it. We became friends and he introduced me to other people.  And he answered my phone call every time I called.  Just remember, sometimes you're there to bless someone else, not be blessed.  He has since passed and the whole Kansas City legal community has felt it.)

Do it.  You'll get clients from it.  Most importantly, you'll meet people that will guide you and continue to guide you.  And you'll build a relationship that is worth having.  I have meet a few of my mentors this way.  And in my position - "young attorney upstart that started up own firm" - it is imperative to surround myself with experienced teachers that are willing to share their knowledge at the risk of training their competition.  Almost every one of my mentors has referred work my way. 

Stay tuned for "What to do When . . . You Don't Have Clients Part 2 . . . Learning the Law."