Monday, December 6, 2010

Ten Benefits of Freelance Attorneys

We all know that the down economy has affected the legal practice – layoffs, hiring freezes, and the like are widespread.  Clients are more cost conscious than ever, and are increasingly looking to alternatives in legal services where possible.  But legal work doesn’t stop.  Clients still need and deserve excellent service.  Regardless of how thin you’re trying to stretch yourself in your legal practice, no client should ever feel it. 


Even in a booming economy, outsourcing to freelance attorneys can add value to your practice.  Solo attorneys, small firm practitioners, large firms, and their clients all benefit when adding skilled and experienced freelance attorneys to any legal practice.  Solo practitioners and small firm attorneys can gain peace of mind, and even some free time, with the extra help a freelance attorney can provide, without the risks involved in hiring a full-time associate.  Large firms, most of which have scaled back significantly, also benefit from outsourcing legal work to temporary attorneys.
Are you a solo practitioner ready for some extra help? Are you an overworked associate ready to run for the hills? Are you a member of a small firm interested in expanding your practice areas, or are looking for a solution to peaks in work?  Are you interested in strategies that can improve your practice and even help your law firm to grow and thrive?  There are many benefits to using freelance attorneys, ten of which are set forth below.
1.     Save Your Firm Money
Freelance attorneys cost a law firm and its clients less than traditional associates.  It is as simple as that.  Because freelance attorneys charge substantially less per hour, you can lower your legal fees by 25-50% and pass the savings on to your client.  The even better news is that there are freelance attorneys available to handle your firm’s projects who have better credentials and are more qualified than you can afford to hire full time.  Freelance attorneys can increase the quality of the legal services your firm provides while saving you and your clients money.  It can be a win/win situation.
2.     Increase Your Profit in A Down Economy

One of the most important benefits of using a freelance attorney is that since freelance attorneys cost less per hour than a traditional associate, you can receive a margin on their services and still save your client money.  According to ABA Formal Opinion 00-420, attorneys are permitted to add a reasonable surcharge when billing clients for the use of freelance lawyers.

Pay your freelance attorney for the time they bill, charge your client a percentage above that, and keep the profit without overhead.  In other words, freelance attorneys generate pure profit for a law firm.  

3.     Save Your Client Money

It's no surprise that clients want to spend as little money as possible on legal services, no matter the economic conditions.  The bottom line is – freelance attorneys are much less expensive than traditional law firm rates, sometimes by as much as 75%. Firms can slash the rates they charge to their clients, keeping their clients happy, and gaining new ones.  The trick is to find a freelance attorney who is experienced and qualified, and who has the big firm experience every client wants.  Cost savings should never translate into low quality or a decrease in service.  Quite the opposite results when you use the right freelance attorney who can devote the time and attention to your important clients that they deserve. 
4.     Add Skills To Your Firm

In the past, “contract attorneys” frequently were lawyers who could not get jobs or clients.  These contract attorneys primarily were given projects like document review, and firms would never consider allowing these attorneys to perform complex or substantive tasks.  Their work was thought to be substandard. 

There has been a recent change in attitude about “contract attorneys,” now generally called “freelance attorneys.”  (See our previous blog entry – Contract Attorney v. Freelance Attorney – for more information.)  For a number of reasons, including layoffs and an increasing desire for work-life balance, freelance attorneys today have excellent credentials.  Attorneys with excellent credentials from top law schools, who have extensive experience from working at the biggest law firms in the nation, have made the decision to become freelance attorneys.   Using a freelance attorney today means adding experience and skill to a firm’s practice, and any stigma previously associated with outsourcing has disappeared.

Not only can freelance attorneys add skill to your current practice, but they can provide assistance in areas where you firm lacks experience. 
Perhaps you specialize in negotiation or have excellent trial skills, but quickly lose patience with the drudgery involved with discovery practice.  Maybe you have a case presenting an unfamiliar area of law, like bankruptcy or probate litigation.  Or you are a transactional attorney with an opportunity to handle some litigation cases, but lack experience in litigation practice.  Whatever the case may be, outsourcing to an experienced freelance attorney will give your firm access to that attorney’s skills and experience.  More experience and skills lead to more value to your client, who will be happy with your service.
5.     Lower Your Hiring Risk

We are all familiar with the ebb and flow of a typical legal practice.   Sometimes you and your associates are so busy that everyone is working crazy hours and you’re still not sure how everything will get done.  But you hesitate to hire an associate because of the times when work or collections are slow.  Maybe you have enough work to hire for a few weeks or months, but not full-time.  Hiring a full-time associate, with the costs, benefits, and training involved, may not be the right decision for your firm.  Freelance attorneys are not looking for vacation pay, insurance, profit-sharing, or other benefits, and actually gave those things up when choosing an alternative career path.  An experienced freelance attorney can assist you and your firm during periods of increased work for as long as you need her.

6.     Increase Efficiency

By utilizing freelance attorneys for legal projects, you can focus your time on the things that directly increase your bottom line, like case strategy and major substantive issues.  An experienced freelance attorney can also increase your efficiency by bringing her own exceptional organizational skills and experience to your practice.  You can spend more time generating revenue and growing your practice, and the legal work can be delegated to a competent but much less expensive lawyer.  
7.     Grow Your Business

Marketing and business development is crucial to any law firm, small or large.  In order to grow or even sustain your practice, you should be spending approximately 25% of your time marketing and developing business.  Be honest with yourself, is this really happening?  Delegating legal work to an experienced freelance attorney can free time for you to develop business.  Freelance attorneys can also assist in your marketing efforts by ghostwriting presentations or whitepapers.

8.     Effectively Manage Legal Projects

Attorneys are a necessary evil to many companies that want to focus on the core of their business and grow their profits.  No one wants to pay high legal fees.  Many small companies do not have legal departments or a general counsel because their legal needs are few enough to send them all to outside law firms.  In times of increased cost consciousness, companies are turning to alternative solutions to meet their legal needs. 

Freelance attorneys with big firm transactional and litigation experience can offer companies more value for their dollar.  Freelance attorneys are significantly less expensive than law firms, sometimes by 50% or more.  Freelance attorneys can act as temporary in-house counsel as needs arise, and can handle many tasks such as contract drafting, revising, review and negotiation, regulatory issues, and due diligence. 

What do you do if you’re a small company and you receive a summons and complaint?  You might just call your regular law firm for help.  But what if it’s a unique issue, or what if you want to save your company some money?  Freelance attorneys can help steer companies that are unfamiliar with the litigation process when a company is served with a complaint.  Freelance attorneys can assist a small company prepare a request for proposals, interview law firms, retain the right firm for you, and can even assist in managing the litigation (ultimately resulting in cost savings).  If your company is unfamiliar with the litigation process, it’s easy to get overwhelmed.  A freelance attorney acting as temporary in-house counsel can help to ease the process.

9.     Maternity Leave Does Not Spell Disaster

Your associate is going out on maternity leave, and you need to figure out how to manage her caseload in her absence without sacrificing client service.  You’re busy, your associates are busy, and it might not be practical to distribute her work.  Rather than dumping more work on your busy associates, consider using an experienced freelance attorney for 8 to 16 weeks or longer, depending on the situation.  The contract attorney will ensure that your cases receive the attention they need, and that your clients receive the outstanding service they deserve.  

10.  Avoid Associate Burnout

Associate turnover is a concern to any firm because of the high training costs involved.  But many firms have no idea how to better retain the associates they have.  Most firms cannot afford to pay more than the high salaries they are already paying.  Most also do not realize that money is not the problem.  Many partners are surprised to hear that young Gen X and Gen Y attorneys are not interested in working 60-80 hour weeks, no matter how much you pay us.  We all want a life, and are willing to sacrifice money to have one. 

Here is another secret for you – we’ve talked to your associates, and many of them want an express ticket out of there.  Its not that they don’t like you, its just that they want less work and less stress.  Many of them are looking around for other options right now.  Wouldn’t you rather keep your associates happy and avoid losing them to another opportunity?  What if keeping your associates happy actually leads to increased profits to your firm?

Rather than incurring all of the (impractical or impossible) costs involved with hiring another associate to ease the burden, consider bringing in an experienced freelance attorney who needs very little training or oversight to keep your associates happy.  As an added bonus, allow your associates to be involved with the oversight process to help them gain leadership and training experience. 

There are many excellent reasons to consider adding freelance attorneys to your team.  A word of caution – not all freelance attorneys are created equal.  Maximize the benefits to your firm by using only the best freelance attorneys.  There is potential for violating certain ethical rules by using substandard contract attorneys.  The old adage still applies – you really do get what you pay for!

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Survey Confirms Major Law Firms are Increasing Their Use of Contract Lawyers

The American Lawyer reports in its article out yesterday, Law Firm Leaders Survey 2010 - The New Normal, that “the changes implemented during the recession--smaller associate classes, postponed start dates for new hires, reductions in the equity pool, and scaled-back profit expectations--are here to stay, at least for a while.” This includes more partner layoffs, and the increased use of contract attorneys.

They base this prediction on their 2010 Survey of Leaders of Am Law 200 firms. Among many cost-saving measures that firms implemented in 2010, the survey found that the use of contract lawyers increased.

A little more than half of our respondents (55 percent) said that their firm had used contract lawyers, up from 44 percent a year ago.
The ABA article on this same topic, BigLaw Partner Cuts Aren't Over by Debra Cassens Weiss, also stated that “many firms are apparently making up for reduced associate numbers by shifting work to temporary lawyers.”

The survey also found the following:

• 87 percent of respondents said that 2011's incoming class will be the same size or smaller than their (usually already reduced) 2010 class.

• 60 percent of respondents said that the downturn has produced a fundamental shift in the legal marketplace.

• 70 percent of respondents said that they plan to ask partners to leave in 2011, and 31 percent said that their firm plans to deequitize partners.

• 46 percent of respondents said they deferred first-year starting dates in 2010, but only 17 percent said they anticipate doing so in 2011.

• 91 percent of respondents said that their firm used a flat fee for entire matters in 2010, compared to 82 percent in 2009, and nearly 93 percent said that their firm used a flat fee for some or all stages of matters last year, up from 78 percent.

• 47 percent of respondents said that clients have refused to pay for work done by first- or second-year associates—a development that is part of clients' strategy to shift economic risk back to law firms.

• 85 percent of respondents said that more clients are requesting discounts.

• 41 percent of respondents said that they expect their 2011 profits per partner to rise by 5 percent or less—lower than the 8 percent and 9 percent increases common during the boom but better than 2009's flat result.

While things still look a little dismal in 2011,  there is still hope.  "About seventy percent of respondents said that they were somewhat optimistic about 2011, and 10 percent said that they were very optimistic.” And for attorneys choosing to leave their firms to do contract/freelance legal work, given the results of this survey, things are looking very optimistic for 2011!

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Is Legal Outsourcing a Threat?

The ABA Journal came out with an article today, Ethics 20/20 Commission Releases Draft Report on Outsourcing, Seeks Feeback, discussing the reports from the ABA Commission on Ethics 20/20 regarding the ethics of legal outsourcing.  According to the article, the Commission is particularly sensitive to the current employment market for lawyers and the economic hardships faced by those lawyers seeking jobs, especially young lawyers.  The article also states that some consider legal outsourcing to be a threat:
Outsourcing has been a hot-button issue for some who view it as a threat to employment prospects for lawyers during the recession, even though the discussion draft notes that most outsourced legal work goes to lawyers or support services in the United States rather than overseas.
Some may view legal outsourcing to overseas attorneys as a threat to the attorneys here in the United States since firms opt to outsource legal work in lieu of hiring a full-time U.S. licensed attorney.  During a down economy, it is difficult for all lawyers in the United States to obtain jobs, and outsourcing legal work overseas exacerbates this issue for attorneys here.  But do people also view freelance attorneys, such as the attorneys in Montage Legal Group's network, as a threat?

While some may consider Montage Legal Group attorneys to technically fit under the category of “legal outsourcing,” the attorneys in Montage Legal Group's network actually play a role in creating employment opportunities for attorneys seeking full-time employment, as well to attorneys seeking part-time legal work.  Specifically, the majority of Montage Legal Group's attorneys have voluntarily left large law firms, arguably “freeing spots” for other attorneys who desire full time work at those firms.  Montage Legal Group attorneys are not seeking full-time jobs in law firms, but instead prefer to work on a part-time or project basis.  While this arrangement works for Montage Legal Group attorneys, many attorneys desire full-time work with a more stable source of income.  Further, Montage Legal Group's attorneys assist small and large law firms (many of which are facing the same consequences of a down economy) in meeting their clients' needs and in growing their businesses, without taking the economic risk of hiring an employee they may be unable to support.  Success to Montage Legal Group's law firm clients equates to future and current full-time employment potential for other attorneys.

The discussion draft of the ABA Commission on Ethics 20/20 also addresses ethics issues that law firms should take into account when they outsource work to lawyers and non-lawyers in the United States or overseas.  The ABA article confirms that the draft “contains no dramatic changes in the ABA Model Rules of Professional Conduct to account for the growing use of outsourcing by U.S. firms” but also states that the draft “does set forth comments to three model rules recognizing that lawyers may outsource work as long as they take reasonable steps to assure that the work is performed in accordance with ethics standards for U.S. lawyers.”

In Formal Ethics Opinion 08-451 (issued Aug. 5, 2008), the Standing Committee on Ethics and Professional Responsibility concluded that “There is nothing unethical about a lawyer outsourcing legal and nonlegal services, provided the outsourcing lawyer renders legal services to the client with the ‘legal skill, thoroughness and preparation reasonably necessary for the representation’ ” under Rule 1.1 of the Model Rules. “The challenge for an outsourcing lawyer is, therefore, to ensure that tasks are delegated to individuals who are competent to perform them,” states the opinion, “and then to oversee the execution of the project adequately and appropriately.”

Check back to our blog for an in-depth analysis of the ethical rules pertaining to both firms and contract/freelance attorneys.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Gen Y - The Future of Juries

Many of us can’t live without our smart phones. Our phones are our portals to our businesses, personal lives, and the world as a whole through email accounts, social network connections, and the internet – all at our fingertips and available 24 hours a day and 7 days a week. The Honorable Linda Marks of the Orange County Superior Court recently presented an excellent CLE hosted by the Orange County Women Lawyers Association. Judge Marks thoughtfully offered her observations regarding recent changes in juror voir dire due to rapidly changing technology and Gen Y joining the jury pool.

By way of background, Gen Y is the name given to those born after 1985. They are proficient in, and dependent on, social media (smart phones, the internet, and texting). For them, it would be unthinkable to leave the house without their phone/email/internet/texting. They are constantly in touch with their friends.

According to Judge Marks, Gen Y presents two unique issues with jury selection: (1) capturing their attention in a way that makes sense to them given their constant access to information; and (2) potential issues with juror misconduct.

Gen Y was born into an age filled with unlimited information. They are, by and large, comfortable with and dependent on the internet and other technology for easy access to unlimited information in real time. Gen Y are constantly exposed to multiple sides of every story via blogs, Twitter, Facebook, and other websites. They also grew up exposed to major scandals of all kinds, especially involving the government and large companies – Monica Lewinsky, Enron, Madoff, oil spills, and seemingly endless political and economic stories of corruption. Its not surprising that Gen Y doesn’t have much trust for the system, including if not especially, attorneys and the judicial system.

Judge Marks advises that attorneys Google their clients and other parties, as well as themselves, before trial to be aware of the public information that may affect the jurors. Even though potential jurors are advised during voir dire that they are not to seek out information regarding the case or the parties, many jurors may be unable to resist the temptation of just one quick Google search. Attorneys who elect to keep Gen Y jurors might consider addressing weaknesses in their case early and often, as Gen Y tends to view an attorney avoiding an issue with suspicion.

Technology also presents increased concerns for juror misconduct, starting immediately during voir dire. Because potential jurors, especially Gen Y, are in constant contact with friends and the outside world via texting and the internet (which is conveniently located in their pocket smart phone), they face the possibility of misconduct or inadvertent juror tampering 24 hours a day. Judge Marks suggests admonishing potential jurors immediately during void dire, and that attorneys seek assistance from the judge regarding additional guidelines for jurors to reduce these risks.

Overall, Judge Marks views Gen Y jurors as unpredictable and risky. But like it or not, Gen Y is the up and coming pool of potential jurors, and attorneys need to take the necessary steps to reach these jurors, embrace technology, and get comfortable with trying cases in the face of constant and unlimited information. Gen Y isn’t going anywhere, and besides, if attorneys are nervous about Gen Y, we had all better fasten our seatbelts for the jury pool up next!

Monday, November 8, 2010

The Second Episode of "So You Want to Go to Law School"

The second episode of "So You Want to Go to Law School" is up on The Corner.  This week, Carrie-Ann comes face-to-face with her new nemesis, the diabolical Professor Walker, and battle lines are drawn.  Thank you dwkazzie (@RBSHoo) for the great videos!

Click here to watch the video: So You Want to Go to Law School - The Series (Episode 2)

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Marketing Your Freelance Practice for Free

For those attorneys out there who are thinking about going out on their own – either as freelance/contract attorneys or solo practitioners – but are not sure how they will be able to afford the marketing costs, take a look at the recent blog post by Dawn Berryman on Hybrid Mom: 5 FREE Necessities for Your 2011 Marketing Plan. The article gives five simple marketing tips that can benefit new solo lawyers, without costing anything. Check out the full article when you get a chance, but here’s a quick summary:

1. Search Engine Optimization - By writing content-rich, relevant copy for your blog and/or website, you can increase your SEO for free.

2. Social Media - Connect with potential business partners, future customers or even future employees on Facebook, Twitter or Linkedin.

3. E-news: There are several sites that offer free e-newsletter services, allowing you to update your clients and potential clients once a month.

4. Media Relations: Although there are a few tricks and formatting rules to press release writing, it isn’t rocket science. With a little research and a little practice; you can do it, too.

5. Real-life Networking: Don’t forget about face-to-face marketing!

As you can see, it doesn't have to cost anything to market your own law firm!

Dawn Berryman is the founder of Market Mommy, an online marketing resource for mom business owners. She holds a Bachelor of Arts degree from Indiana University. She has worked in the marketing and communications field for the past eight years. She and her husband reside in rural Ohio with their two pre-school aged children.

Friday, October 29, 2010

“It's Time to be an Architect of Change”

By Amy Guldner

While attending the very inspirational “Main Event” of the annual Governor and First Lady’s Women’s Conference this week, I couldn’t help but reflect on how well the conference’s theme describes Montage Legal Group. “It’s Time To Be An Architect of Change” was the mantra heard by 14,000 attendees, and all of the speeches and break-out sessions were focused on ways that we can be architects of change in our own lives.

According to Maria Shriver, “An architect of change is someone who sees a problem and seeks a solution.” Since its inception, Montage Legal Group has been that architect. Law firms today are being faced with challenges that will end their existence if not properly addressed, and they aren’t the only ones crying out for change. Overworked, incredibly stressed out attorneys trying to bill 2000 hours per year, develop business, be involved in their community and simultaneously have a life outside work(whether it be with their spouses/partners, children, aging parents, hobbies, interests, etc.) are shedding their share of tears as well. MLG offers a solution for both.

For law firms and solo practitioners, MLG provides experienced attorneys who can jump in on a moment’s notice to assist with an overflow of work when it’s not in the firm’s best interest to bring on more employees. For attorneys, MLG provides the opportunity to scale back and better control their workload while hopefully freeing up more time to spend with families and outside interests.

MLG attorneys are showing by example an alternative to traditional law firm life. Granted, it is not easy to walk away from a steady law firm paycheck, but as one of the conference panelists noted, we sometimes make a choice between happiness and security/success, only to find out how wrong we were about what it means to be successful.

Maria Shriver talked about some of the difficulties she faced when she gave up her “working mother” identity to be First Lady, noting that, when there is no definition for a role, we are challenged to define it for ourselves and figure out what’s truly important. Each MLG attorney truly defines for herself what her role is, and in so doing, each of us are learning what’s most important to us. We are gradually learning, as Maria Shriver encouraged the attendees to do, to realize that it’s enough to fill our own shoes and be comfortable in our own skin and with our own contradictions.

Maria Shriver ended her speech with a heartfelt and candid discussion of what she will do when her role as First Lady ends. Like Maria, MLG attorneys have been letting go of our plans and our need for certainty, opening our hearts and minds to the unknown, and starting on a journey that forges stronger, wiser and more confident selves with the courage to live our own lives.

The conference was packed with a very impressive list of speakers and panelists representing more than 150 of the world’s greatest voices, hearts and minds, but as a woman attorney myself, I was particularly delighted to see and hear Diane Sawyer talk with Supreme Court Justices Sandra Day O’Connor and Ruth Bader Ginsberg. Both gave the audience a taste of their wit and sense of humor they’ve held on to despite the recent battles and losses in their own personal lives. I realize just how far women lawyers have come when Sandra Day O’Connor shares that, despite graduating in the top 3 of her class from Stanford Law School, she was unable to find a paying job because law firms did not hire women lawyers. And I love this quote Ruth Bader Ginsberg provided: “Leave tracks. Just as others have been way-pavers for your good fortune, so you should aid those who will follow in your way."

I am so proud to be affiliated with Montage Legal Group - an empowering architect of change paving the way for the future.

Click here to watch 2010 Videos from the Women's Conference.

Amy Leinen Guldner joined Montage Legal Group in January, 2010 after practicing for over thirteen years at Morgan Lewis & Bockius LLP and Snell & Wilmer LLP.  In addition to her legal work and caring for her two young children, Amy is a volunteer Court-Appointed Special Advocate with CASA of Orange County, mentoring and advocating in court on behalf of abused and neglected children. She also volunteers with the Constitutional Rights Foundation’s High School Mock Trial tournaments.

Friday, October 22, 2010

So You Want to Go to Law School Video

Most of you probably already saw this YouTube video on Legal Blog Watch or Above the Law, but for those of you who haven't seen the hilarious animated video "So You Want to Go to Law School," we posted it here for you.  It was first posted on Wahoo Corner by dwkazzie, David Kazzie.  David now has a new book out called The Jackpot which you can find here: The Jackpot - Amazon.com.  Enjoy!

Click here to watch the video: So You Want to Go to Law School.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Montage Legal Group and the "Work Life Balance Project"

One of our owners and founders of Montage Legal Group, Laurie Rowen, was selected by Women Lawyers OnLine to be part of an interview series called “The Work Life Balance Project.” Several women lawyers were interviewed to share their views on balancing work and life, struggles they have faced in their attempt to create success in their personal life and legal career, and tips to assist other women lawyers who may be facing the same challenges.

Laurie provided her insights on work life balance, and shared why Montage Legal Group has helped her in an ongoing struggle to balance her personal life and her life as a lawyer. Below are a few excerpts from the interview:

Kendra Brodin: What do you consider to be your biggest challenge or struggle in attempting to create this kind of success that we’ve been talking about in your personal and legal career? What’s been the hardest thing for you to accomplish?

Laurie Rowen: The profession of law is frequently based upon the amount of hours you bill. And so my biggest challenge, and I feel like a big challenge for a lot of women, is how can you reduce your workload and still meet the expectations of your law firms? There are only 24 hours in one day. After you meet your billable hours requirement, and you sleep for a little bit, there’s no time left over for personal life, family, husbands, and fun. For me, after starting Montage Legal Group, I find that there are significantly fewer challenges in balancing my personal life and career. I can choose the exact amount of legal work I want that particular week, based on time commitments, how finances are going, and other things that I have going on. It’s been working out really well and I feel like I’ve kind of met those challenges and I’m not struggling anymore as I used to be prior to starting my own legal group.

……

Kendra Brodin: What’s been your biggest lesson as you’ve moved along this journey in terms of creating your successful personal and professional life?

Laurie Rowen: I’ve learned that happiness is key. Many women let their jobs control them, as I used to do, and when you do that, you lose your life. You let life happen to you, instead of controlling your own life. You need to be the engineer of your life, and constantly evaluate and re-evaluate your commitments. Don’t feel like you need to stay in a job where you are unhappy just because there is outside pressures to stay on a traditional career path. For me, I looked up to the amazing female partners in my prior law firm and I initially had a very hard time dealing with the fact that being a partner was not the right solution for me. And I had to accept that while the profession needs women like them to stay in law firms and be female partners like we need, the legal professional also needs women like me. The right solution that works for you may not be obvious, but I learned that a legal career is absolutely possible to achieve and balance with a fulfilling personal life.
To listen to Laurie Rowen’s full 30 minute interview, please click on Laurie Rowen’s Interview.

Laurie Gormican Rowen graduated magna cum laude from UCLA and was admitted into Phi Beta Kappa. She attended University of San Diego School of Law, where she was an associate editor of the San Diego Law Review and served as President of the Student Bar Association. She obtained her Juris Doctor, cum laude, in 2004. Following law school, Laurie was an associate at Snell & Wilmer, LLP in Costa Mesa from 2004 to 2008. After having her first daughter, Laurie left Snell & Wilmer to co-found Montage Legal Group in early 2009.   In addition to her legal career, Laurie is the President of the Board of Directors of Women Helping Women, an Orange County non-profit charity with a mission to empower low-income individuals to attain economic self-sufficiency through employment success.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Should Lawyers Work More Than 40 Hours A Week?

Posted by Amy Guldner

The ABA Journal posted an article last week with a title that instantly grabbed my attention – Why Lawyers Should Work No More than 40 Hours a Week. The article stems from the recent writing of Margaret Heffernan, a CEO of five businesses, who asserts that working more than 40 hours per week results in poor quality work and that the professional service industry should focus more on preserving the minds of its workers. In my 13+ years experience in BigLaw, I felt the degradation in the quality of my own billable hours during the 9pm-6am timeframe, but I worked with many whose legal minds seemed just as sharp in the 250th-299th billable hours of their month as the first hour. As is frequently the case these days in our online news world, there’s perhaps a more interesting story in the comments that people have posted to this article than the article itself. One week later, there are over 100 comments. Granted, some are from the same people bantering back and forth, but the article clearly grabbed the attention of quite a few readers.

The majority of the commentators seem to agree with the premise that lawyers are overworked and acknowledge the reality that most lawyers, especially those in BigLaw, are unlikely to heed the advice of Heffernan and others to spend more time sharpening the saw. They disagree, however, on the motivation underlying the 60-80+ hour workweeks. Some attribute it to greed, and while that may seem like a harsh word to those who are working long hours and still struggling to make ends meet, most of us are choosing the golden handcuffs, even if we try to convince ourselves otherwise. Others claim they work long hours because they enjoy their practice areas and would prefer to work 75 hours per week doing what they enjoy instead of 20 hours per week doing something they loathe. Kudos to those of you in that boat, but in light of the high rates of depression, substance abuse and suicide amongst lawyers, I think we can safely say that you are a very small minority. Many pointed to the financial basis of most law firms as the cause for the inhumane hours, and given that this foundation is proving itself to being increasingly less viable, their comments were also a segue to some possible solutions.

While some proposed making the third year of law school a “residency” or following the lead of the French, most seem to agree that the key lies in overhauling the financial structure of law firms and moving toward alternative billing arrangements. Debbie Epstein Henry, founder of Flex Time Lawyers LLC, has spent the last ten years advising law firms and others on work/life balance, the retention and promotion of women, and new models of legal practice. She has written numerous articles and spoken many times on these topics with unparalleled wisdom, insight and pragmatism. In mid-October, Ms. Henry will be releasing her first book, entitled LAW & REORDER: Legal Industry Solutions for Work/Life Balance, Retention, Promotion & Restructure (American Bar Association, 2010). Stay tuned to our blog for more on this book when it’s released!

Those attorneys who routinely bill 60+ hours per week might even go so far as to argue that no lawyer should work less than 40 hours per week unless one is content with professional mediocrity. A shorter work week in theory allows one to put on more hats more easily (team mom, soccer coach, church volunteer), and there is always a risk of overextending ourselves such that we can’t do proper justice to all of our roles, but if the volume of work per attorney is appropriately reduced, those attorneys can still excel in their practice of law.

Law is a demanding master at times, but when attorneys are routinely billing more than 40 hours per week, something in their lives is usually paying the price – health, marriages and families being the usual victims. I have known a few attorneys who bill 2000+ hours/year and seem to have all other axles in their lives rolling fairly smoothly, but I’ve not yet figured out their secrets. Fortunately, more and more clients are valuing those attorneys who are more well-rounded and involved with their communities and families and, dare we say, hobbies? (That’s a mighty unfamiliar word to most of us who spent our formative lawyer years in BigLaw). It’s not easy for anyone to give up some of the luxuries that come with the big incomes, but I’ll bet that most of our spouses and children would prefer more time with us.

Alternative billing arrangements and new models of legal practice are being, and will continue to be, embraced by some firms and legal communities more quickly and strongly than others. One approach to reducing the workload on already overworked attorneys that is feasible now – for most firms and solos alike – is retaining experienced freelance or contract attorneys to assist with the overflow of work. Montage Legal Group has many such attorneys with years of BigLaw experience who were each fortunate to have had the economic choice to leave those positions in the pursuit of challenging and rewarding legal work that usually consumes less than 40 hours per week.

Amy Leinen Guldner joined Montage Legal Group in January, 2010 after practicing for over thirteen years at Morgan Lewis & Bockius LLP and Snell & Wilmer LLP.  In addition to her legal work and caring for her two young children, Amy is a volunteer Court-Appointed Special Advocate with CASA of Orange County, mentoring and advocating in court on behalf of abused and neglected children. She also volunteers with the Constitutional Rights Foundation’s High School Mock Trial tournament. 


www.montagelegal.com/attorney

Saturday, August 7, 2010

More on the "Mommy Lawyer" Debate

For those who enjoyed our prior blog post, Laywer or Mom: Choose Only One? MLG Says "No.", check out the recent article A Labor Market Punishing to Mothers by David Leonhardt.  It discusses the fact that women have come a long way in the workforce, but states that "Women do almost as well as men today, as long as they don't have children."  Alana K. Bassin of The Legal Divas Blog wrote a great post about this article, so we thought we'd refer you to her blog: Mommy Lawyer: Still Closer to an Oxymoron Than the Truth.  Alana is a partner at a large law firm and has 4 children, and provides some honest insight about the difficulty of making partner when a female associate already has children, and why she was able to succeed.   Here are some interesting quotes from her blog post:
I further was and continue to be willing to make sacrifices that others are not. I always worked through my maternity leave - not necessarily full time but I treated every day like a work day.... 
I often say that I never could have made it if I had kids earlier when there is a different expectation about face time and a person has to answer to partners in the office according to their schedules. I recently wondered how one of our new associates was managing three kids and being a first year associate. She just gave notice she was leaving....
There are 5 senior women partners in our firm (I do not even count myself as one of them). Two do not have children, one has one child but she waited until she was already a partner, and the remaining two had kids prior to making partner. Of the two that had kids at a younger age, one only has one child (not that this still isn't incredibly tough to manage), and the other has 4... 

Flexible hours, part-time etc., these things help, but they won't solve everything (including that it will likely take you longer to get where you are going). Perhaps recognizing the issue will help the battle....
Thanks for the great post.  Like Alana's title says, "Mommy Lawyer" is still probably closer to an oxymoron than the truth when the mother works in a law firm, but we hope "Mommy Lawyers" continue to look for other options like freelance/contract legal work and part-time work.  And the debate continues...

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Legal Outsourcing Series

Anyone interested in either hiring a freelance attorney or becoming a freelance attorney should read the Outsourcing Series on Lawyerist.com by Kendra Brodin. The 3-part series will cover 1) what outsourcing can do for you, 2) what tasks are suitable for outsourcing, and 3) how to find contract legal help.

Part 1: When Does Outsourcing Make Sense” explains why outsourcing has become a good option for many attorneys, and explains the following six benefits for firms:

1) Better service to clients

2) More money in your pocket

3) Less stress

4) More flexibility in your schedule

5) Reduced risk of a malpractice claim

6) Career satisfaction

In the comments section of the post, Kendra reached out to MLG's co-owner/founder, Laurie Rowen, for her comments regarding special contracts required for freelance work.  Kendra quoted Laurie as follows:
One of the biggest mistakes attorneys make in outsourcing is not having a signed contract prior to the start of the first project. Both the hiring firm and the freelance attorney should demand a contract to protect their interests, and should make sure to include clauses concerning the protection of confidential data, whether the freelance attorney is covered by malpractice insurance, a confirmation that the freelance attorney is an independent contractor not an employee, ethical issues like conflicts of interest, and issues concerning rates and payment. For example, will the firm only pay the freelance attorney after the ultimate client pays (which could take many months), or will the firm pay the freelance attorney on a monthly basis, even if the ultimate client never pays their bills? All of this should be discussed and memorialized prior to the start of the relationship. Using freelance attorneys is an excellent way to keep costs down and reduce stress, but good communication and a good contract is essential.
"Outsourcing Series, Part 2: What Tasks You Can Outsource" states that the following are the most common tasks to outsource:

• Legal research - the most common

• Write motions or briefs

• Other litigation documents (like a complaint, answer, interrogatories, jury instructions, etc.)

• Attend and defend depositions

• Organize your files for trial, interview witnesses, or give advice in a complex matter.

• Writing an article or book or even preparing CLE materials

• Billing, accounting, and payroll (usually to a non-attorney)

• Public relations


The Outsourcing Series, Part 3: How to Find and Hire a Contract Attorney states that one of the best ways to find a contract attorney is to ask for referrals. Other options include going on-line to look for websites of contract attorneys and advertising through your local bar association's website or newsletter.  (Of course, we believe the best way to find a contract attorney is to contact Montage Legal Group!)  Part 3 of this series also listed five tips to keep the relationship smooth:

1) Be clear and precise about your work.

2) Be clear on the payment.

3) Be clear on the deadline.

4) Be clear about your budget.

5) Be clear about when you will pay (..."Don't make her payment contingent on your being paid by your client. No one wants to work for free.")

Thanks for the great series, Kendra.

Kendra Brodin is the Founder and CEO of Kendra Brodin Companies, LLC and WomenLawyersOnline.com, a national resource for women attorneys launching September 8, 2010. Kendra is also a law firm consultant and CLE faculty focused on the hiring, retention, and advancement of women attorneys for law firms across the country.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Montage Attorney and Author Maureen Aplin Joins the Kindle Revolution

The market for e-readers and e-books has been red hot over the last year, with Amazon leading the way. Amazon recently reported that the Kindle e-books even outpaced the sales of paper books. Good news for authors like Maureen Meehan Aplin, who recently released two new novels to her Mary MacIntosh murder mystery series, POISONED BY PROXY, and THE FIVE, via Kindle Books through Amazon.com. And now Maureen has something in common with Stephanie Meyer and J.K. Rowling – a series of thriller novels and the big screen. Her novel, THE FIVE, was optioned by Blue Rocket Films and is set for production in 2011.

A sneak peak:
The sixth book in the author's Mary MacIntosh murder mystery series centers around a serial killer (Chandler Craig) who commenced his murderous rampage before the ripe of age 12, but due to a loophole in the law, is released from juvenile detention at age 21. "Mac" hosts a reunion for her four college roommates at her family cabin in the Colorado Rockies. Within months of his release from jail, Chandler shows up at the cabin and captures each of the five with means of force, violence and torture, telling them that “one of their husbands hired him to kill one of them, and it was up to each to convince him that she was not it.” Each friend struggles with the notion that her husband wants her dead, soul searching the past, present and future of the bonds of marriage and friendship. Chandler’s mayhem and means of torture stem from his abusive and tumultuous childhood and with each act of violence committed against THE FIVE, he reveals the depths of his hatred and sorrow. Mac's search for the truth behind Chandler’s motive to kill is entangled with the revelation of infidelity, betrayal, and conspiracy stemming from Chandler’s true birth father and a husband’s fall from professional sports grace – into a league of crime involving performance enhancement drugs that, if discovered, will certainly derail dozens of high-profile athlete’s careers.
Congratulations Maureen!
http://www.maureenaplin.com/

Friday, July 9, 2010

Women still reluctant to help each other?

Recent MSN article, Women Still Reluctant to Help Each Other by Eve Tahmincioglu, states just that - that as a general rule, women are reluctant to help each other because of jealosy, self-preservation, and self-promotion. Tahmincioglu uses The Real Housewives of New York, and politicians entrenched in their campaigns as example of this seemingly unique female behavior. Oh really?

Let's talk about women helping women, but let's be real. In other words, let's not use "The Real Housewives" of Anywhere as our example, because there's nothing "real" about that show or the people on it. The point of reality TV, like most TV, is to entertain. A producer has no choice but to find the most outrageous, entertaining women possible to cast such a show. What other choice do they have? A bunch of scrapbooking soccer moms baking cookies is B-O-R-I-N-G TV. The same is true for many of the professional women who the media considers newsworthy - they're entertaining, perhaps with caustic wit.

The reality is, most successful women have attitude, strength, confidence, and a voice because those are the qualities that led to their success. But most don't use it to oppress other women. There are thousands of professional womens' organizations dedicated to womens' career advancement and empowerment - and they work. The National Association of Women Business Owners (NAWBO), is a prime example. While it is true that successful women have little time to devote to a traditional mentor/mentee relationship, most have and will make at least some effort to help the women around them. It also may be true that there are toxic female relationships within companies, but we maintain that, in our experience, they are probably not as common as we're led to believe in the media. At least we hope not.

Montage Legal Group supports women at all stages of their career paths. We encourage each attorney to find the right balance between career and life that works for them, and we're here to do whatever we can to help!

"There is a special place in hell for women who don't help other women." - Madeleine Albright

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Lawyer or Mom: Choose only one? Montage says "No."

Lawyer or Mom: Choose only one?, written by Amy Impellizzeri of The Glass Hammer, addresses the ongoing debate of whether women can be both successful mothers and successful lawyers. It states that female Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor and nominee Elena Kagan are unmarried and childless, which has many commentators speculating about the choices women today must make in order to achieve heights in their chosen careers, particularly in the legal field.

Perhaps a better question is, "Law Firm Partner or Mom?".  An attorney does not have to practice in a large firm to be successful, whether male or female.  There are many attorneys who, for example, sit on boards of directors, judicial offices, or are executives, politicians, writers, etc.  Female attorneys are, and have likely always been, a remarkably resourceful group.  This is especially true of female attorneys in top law firms, since top firms take only top students from top schools.  Because female attorneys in top firms are intelligent, resourceful, and successful professionally and academically, these women will look critically at their career and family options.  These are the women who, by nature of their hard work and sacrifices just to land in top law firms, have the skills to determine whether they want to fit motherhood into their career, or vice versa.  These women know what their options are, and that those options differ for everyone depending on employer flexibility and outside support systems.  These women will hopefully define their successes not only by the title they can achieve within an established framework, but will actually create their own framework and redefine their success as a career path that allows them to skillfully practice law and fulfill their personal, social, and family needs. 

The article also highlights Carol Fishman Cohen who is well-known for helping women relaunch their careers after breaks to raise children:
Consider also the lawyer moms who continue to take hiatuses from huge billables and grueling work schedules to raise their young children before returning with vigor to rewarding and successful careers. Carol Fishman Cohen, co-author of Back on the Career Track: A Guide for Stay-at-Home Moms Who Want to Return to Work, has made it a personal mission to bring recognition to success stories of women in all fields, including the legal field, who relaunch their careers after multi-year breaks…Of course, it would be helpful to give those hiatuses the same publicity we give the choices made by successful women like Kagan and Sotomayor.

Montage Legal Group shares Carol Fishman Cohen's vision, and strives to assist female attorneys in continuing their legal practice while they care for young children, as well as to support those relaunching their careers.  Cohen recently profiled Montage Legal Group’s Kandy Williams as a “success story” on her website. Kandy left Brobeck Phleger & Harrison to raise her children. She relaunched her legal practice after 7 years out of the work-force, and joined Montage Legal Group's network of freelance attorneys.

This debate certainly will not end anytime soon.  Female attorneys at top firms have certainly made many personal sacrifices to achieve their success, which has many benefits to all female attorneys.  But success at a law firm, with or without children, is not the only option.  Creative, intelligent, and skilled female attorneys have alternatives to making the choice between career and law, and Montage Legal Group is honored to be a part of it.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

ABA article states "Growing Enthusiasm" for Contract Lawyers

A recent ABA article titled "Law Firms Express Growing Enthusiams for Contract Lawyers" states that the use of contract attorneys is increasing:

This year, 10 percent of the firms plan to cut associates, 38 percent plan to reduce or discontinue hiring first-year associates, and 54 percent plan to shrink their summer programs.

At the same time, law firms are instead expressing a “growing enthusiasm” for a staffing alternative—contract lawyers, according to an Altman Weil press release. Last year, 39 percent of the law firms used contract lawyers. This year, 53 percent will or might do so, while 52 percent expect that contract lawyers will become a permanent part of their staffing plans.

This is good news for Montage Legal Group!

Freelance Attorney v. Contract Attorney

You might wonder why Montage Legal Group has started to use the term “freelance attorney” instead of “contract attorney.”  The answer is that we are following the trend towards distinguishing ourselves from inexperienced document review "contract attorneys," and identifying ourselves with highly skilled, experienced entrepreneur attorneys who have made the decision to achieve a work-life balance by becoming "freelance attorneys."

The term “contract attorney” unfortunately is associated with attorneys who have not been able to get hired at law firms, so are instead forced to work with staffing agencies on large document review projects for low rates. The popular blog Temporary Attorney: The Sweatshop Edition is famous for describing the horrible sweatshop conditions, where temp lawyers perform document review in crowded basements with inadequate sanitary facilities. Even the Wikipedia page for Contract Attorneys cites criticisms of contract lawyers, stating that “the legal profession, which is topped by law firm partners billing hundreds of dollars an hour, now has a new proletariat of temp lawyers working for $19-25 an hour in sweatshop conditions."

The term “freelance attorney,” however, is now being used for a new breed of independent contract attorneys who have made the choice to leave law firms and work on a project basis for other law firms. The National Association of Freelance Legal Professionals does a great job of explaining the distinction.

Contract attorneys are treated as second-class citizens both in terms of law firm atmosphere, mentoring opportunities, and the perception of their resume for future jobs. The perception is that these attorneys were unable to get their first job option (assumed to be an associate position at a prestigious large law firm) and that working contract was their second choice. It is a perception of inadequacy and failure right out of the starting gate, hardly a selling point for ones competency as a legal professional. ….

The key difference between contract attorney (or paralegal, etc.) and a freelancer by definition is the identity of employer. A staffing agency simply does not have the incentive to provide a contract legal professional with any benefit other than sufficient pay to get them to come to work every day that they want them to come to work. A freelancer does not wait for a phone call and then jumps when asked to work here or there on some boring project or another that will simply pay the bills. Freelancers are employed by the only people that has the freelancer’s best interests at heart – themselves.

A response by well-know freelance attorney Lisa Solomon to the ABA Call for Comments Regarding Legal Process Outsourcing also provides a section regarding the definition of the terms “contract attorney” and “freelance attorney."  It describes freelance attorneys as “entrepreneurs” who have “a great deal of control over their careers.” It states that in contrast to "contract attorneys," "freelance attorneys" report a very high level of satisfaction with their careers.

Montage Legal Group attorneys are certainly “freelance” attorneys by those definitions.  We graduated at the top of our law school classes and worked at large firms like Latham and Watkins and Snell & Wilmer. We all made the choice to gain control of our lives by leaving law firms and becoming independent contract attorneys, and we all certainly have a very high level of satisfaction with our legal careers. 

You may still see us using the two terms interchangably in our blog, but we wanted to let our readers know why we made the sudden change on our facebook page and website.  We hope that clears it up!

Our Montage Legal Group Blog is Finally Here!

Montage Legal Group has started a blog to provide details on the Southern California contract attorney/freelance attorney market, and to help other attorneys keep their life in balance. Check back here for more posts! See our website at http://www.montagelegal.com/.
  
Owners/Founders - Laurie Rowen and Erin Giglia