Helpful Hints In Law Practice
by John J. Brandt, Esquire
Note new phone number effective 11/24/14: (703) 281-2600 x101
- Be pleasant and courteous to office staff, clients, and adversaries. It's contagious.
- Obtain free from the VSB "Checklist For Opening Your First Law Office." Or you may download it at www.vsb.org/site/publications
- If you are a young lawyer, with less than three years in practice, participate in the "fellows mentor program" of the Virginia Law Foundation. www.virginialawfoundation.org
- Use the VSB members free on-line legal research site (Fastcase).
- Use engagement letters in your representations, understanding that this creates a written contract with a five-year statute of limitations.
- Carefully evaluate a potential client on the first visit just as you would have the client evaluate you. Remember, you do not have to accept the representation of every potential client you meet.
- Never accept a representation which is beyond your own expertise; do not be afraid to refer the potential client to another lawyer or consider associating yourself with an attorney who does have the necessary expertise.
- "Generally speaking, domestic relations clients and personal-injury plaintiffs are not happy people. They have already taken the first initial giant step into the legal system by actually suing someone or something and if they do not get what they want or what they feel they deserve, it is an easy step to blame their attorney." Robert A. Martin, Assistant Risk Manager, Attorneys Liability Protection Society (ALPS) "Practicing Law in the 21st Century: Fundamentals for Avoiding Malpractice Liability" in Volume XXXIII, Number 1, The Land and Water Law Review, University of Wyoming College of Law (1998).
- Communication Communication Communication. Year after year, the most common bar complaint in Virginia was failure to communicate. Return telephone calls as soon as possible; give a potential client information about yourself, on the first visit, in the form of a brochure or simply a curriculum vitae. The first visit with a potential client is a great marketing opportunity so take advantage of it.
- Since trust accounting is so important in your law practice, and unfortunately trust account rule violations serve as the basis for many disciplinary complaints, obtain the recently up-dated publication entitled, "Lawyers and Other People's Money (4th ed. 2007) (www.vsb.org/site/publications)
- When referring clients or potential clients to other lawyers or third-party service providers, attempt to present a selection of two or three, if possible, and document your referral advice in writing.
- Beware of conflicts of interest and create a "conflicts database" or a manual "conflicts check system" of some kind.
- Join your local bar association; it is a marvelous way to meet wonderful lawyers like you, form mentoring relationships, and begin to market yourself.
- If you are a sole proprietor or in a small law firm, consider purchasing the $75 publication entitled, "Marketing for the Small Law Firm: Inexpensive Ways to Keep Up with the Big Guys," available from the Virginia Trial Lawyers Association at 1-800-267-8852.
- Seriously consider what will happen to your clients in case of your death or disability, particularly if you are a sole practicioner; and then consult the publication "Planning Ahead: Protecting Your Client's Interests in the Event of Your Disability or Death." (www.vsb.org/site/publications)