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The Top 5

Top 5 –  Finding and Keeping Good Staff

A dedicated and responsible staff can make or break a firm. So how do you find (and keep) the right people?

  1. Build a strong foundation. If you've never hired before, a one- or two-hour appointment with an employment lawyer can give you a basic overview of your responsibilities when it comes to applicable anti-discrimination statutes, or even payroll deductions.
  2. Don't cut corners. Take time to meet and evaluate how a candidate will fit in with the rest of your team.
  3. Invest in training. Many of the Rules of Professional Conduct apply to staff—and as supervisor you can be held accountable for your employees' ethics violations.
  4. Create the healthy environment. If you're stressed, your staff will be too. Set a good example by investing in your own mental and physical health and work-life balance.
  5. Communicate clearly. Tell your people exactly what you expect and how they can succeed. If a problem does arise, you want your employee to feel comfortable coming to you before it becomes a crisis.

Top 5 – The most reported malpractice insurance claims

How can you avoid the ABA's most common malpractice claims? Try these tips:

  1. Failure to know/apply the law. Ask questions of your supervising attorneys, even if you think you should already know the answers.
  2. Planning errors. A checklist can help ensure you make every effort to devise plans that yield the results that the client expects.
  3. Inadequate discovery or investigation. Don't be afraid of information damaging to your case-- The more you know, the better you can prepare for trial.
  4. Failure to file.  Your staff are on the front lines here-- Give them copies of the Rules of Professional Conduct and advise them of the ways in which their conduct can cause or prevent claims. 
  5. Failure to calendar. Risk managers have long advised lawyers to have a "dual calendar" system in which two different people enter key dates in two different calendars. This is still an important fail-safe measure - whether the calendars are electronic or paper.

Top 5 – How to respond to an ARDC letter

Young attorneys are particularly susceptible to receiving ARDC complaints due to lack of experience. If you receive an "ARDC letter," what should you do?

  1. Take a breath. After the fear and anger subsides, take comfort in the fact that more than 90 percent of initial complaints are disposed of without charges being brought.
  2. Do your research. The ISBA has published opinions on a large number of issues treated by the Rules. It's a quick and efficient way to learn if there are interpretations of the Rules affecting your situation.
  3. Get a second opinion. Show the letter to a fellow attorney whom you trust and respect and get some perspective.
  4. Notify your insurance. Many professional liability insurance policies offer some coverage for the defense of disciplinary complaints.
  5. Keep a level head, be cooperative and respond timely. Support your response like you would build any other case— provide documents in support of your position, and avoid anger, sarcasm and personal attacks levelled against the complainant or ARDC counsel.

Top 5 – Questions YOU should ask when interviewing for a job

When searching for a job, don't forget the employer needs to be a good match for you too.

  1. Is the culture compatible? Decide ahead of time what's important to you and whether the job you're applying for fits the bill. Do you like defined rules or a relaxed environment? Is diversity a priority? How about flexible work hours?
  2. Where does the firm see itself in X number of years?  A firm with a strategic plan will be better able to appreciate the skills you bring to help it achieve its goals.
  3. How is success measured? Maybe it's by the hours you bill or the new clients you generate—but no matter what you'll want to know before you sign up.
  4. How will success be rewarded? Will you be eligible for a bonus or other compensation if you achieve your goals? 
  5. What's in the fine print? What else might you be expected to do or provide? Will you need to work weekends? Does the job require much travel?

Top 5 – Survival of the Fittest

What can you do to ensure your firm thrives in a competitive legal market? Try these tips.

  1. Know where you want to go. Clearly state your firm's goals, the steps you'll take to achieve them, and the metrics you'll use to measure whether you've succeeded.
  2. Focus your practice.  Concentrating on just one area of law and developing your reputation will make you more memorable and referable.
  3. Save time with technology. Use templates as often as possible to streamline regular tasks like case management, timesheets and billing. Meet with clients via Skype if that's a reasonable option for them.
  4. Trim any fat. Identify areas where savings can be made, then prioritize and develop specific strategies and implement action plans to achieve the savings.
  5. Invest in your team. Having the right people around you will make your job less stressful and your firm more productive. Hire the best support staff you can afford and treat them well.

Top 5 – What Clients Really Want

How do you get repeat business? Make the client happy the first time.  And it's easier than you think.

  1. They want you to listen. Give your client your full attention—Maintain eye contact, don't interrupt, and never take a phone calls while meeting with your client. 
  2. They want to believe you care. Show this by responding to emails and phone calls quickly—within 24 hours at most.  Silence is often misinterpreted as inattention.
  3. They want guidance. Give reasonable expectations and estimates. Explain legal terms, procedures and concepts, and provide information so that the client can ultimately make their own decisions.
  4. They want updates. It can be frustrating for a client who hasn't heard from you in awhile. Even if nothing has changed, send regular, reliable emails to let your client know the status.
  5. They want transparency. Outline your fees and expenses upfront and in writing so your client isn't blindsided or confused when they get your bill.

Top 5 – Tips for transitioning from student to professional

Law school prepared you to practice law, but there's a lot left to learn after graduation.

  1. Ask stupid questions. No one likes to admit they don't know something. But a problem only gets compounded the longer you wait.
  2. Don't take it personally. You will more than likely encounter other attorneys, staff, court personnel and the like who are less than pleasant to you, to say the least.
  3. First impressions matter. Judges, opposing counsel, and your colleagues may not always remember your name, but they'll definitely remember if you've made an impression on them.
  4. Transact in person. If a business client calls you, offer to meet at their place. It's flattering, it gets you out of the office, and it may get you more business-- somehow the sight of their lawyer reminds them of all of the things they've been meaning to talk about with you. 
  5. Maintain balance. Maybe the hardest lesson of all-- Make sure there is time for your family and friends. And take time for yourself, too.

Top 5 – Why Diversity Matters

Recent events have called into question the importance of diversity. Here are five reasons diversity is essential to a successful lawyer.

  1. Diversity drives competition. The creativity to be truly successful is a function of diverse perspectives and an environment of trust and safety.
  2. Diversity inspires empathy. How can you truly represent a client if you don't care to understand their point of view?
  3. Diversity builds strength. Just as a sports team needs the skills that different players bring, so does a legal team.
  4. Diversity promotes access. The courts and the members of the legal profession should be as diverse as those who are seeking justice and representation.
  5. Diversity is right. Fairness, respect, equal access and opportunity are fundamental principles to the legal profession.

Top 5 – Earn MCLE credit without paying a dime

Looking to save money but still need MCLE credit? Try these ideas:

  1. Use your ISBA benefits: Eligible ISBA members can  select from over 450 hours of online CLE content to earn up to 15 MCLE credit hours (including PMCLE credit) per bar year (July 1 - June 30) via our Online CLE site at no additional cost
  2. Write a scholarly article—  We believe our ISBA newsletters are responsible legal sources—Review Rule 795(d)(7) of the MCLE rules and this FAQ to determine if your work is a 'law-related article' and then submit it to Katie Underwood at kunderwood@isba.org for publication.
  3. Teach an accredited CLE program – How much can you earn? Find the calculation guidelines on MCLE Board's website.
  4. Become a mentor – Participate in a year-long program, such as the ISBA's Lawyer-to-Lawyer program, and give back while earning credit.
  5. Be a leaderNominate yourself for a role as an ISBA Section Council member, or serve on the ISBA Assembly or Board of Governors and earn Free CLE for attending business meetings where substantive topics are discussed.  

Top 5 – Dealing with Difficult Clients

Difficulty may be in the eye of the beholder, but there are a few universal truths to consider:

  1. Learn the signs – It'll take time to develop your Spidey senses, but in the long run it's better for everyone to reject a client at the outset than to take the case and eventually break up.
  2. Manage expectations – Communicate early, often, and in writing— the more you provide the client with clear, written communications, the less likely it is that there will be a misunderstanding.
  3. Keep meticulous records - Family law attorneys, who often deal with angry people, should be especially careful. Most of the time what a client is upset about has nothing to do with the attorney or her work, so make sure that can be very clearly illustrated to anyone who inquires.
  4. Stay cool – When a difficult client has pushed all of the right buttons, even the most secure professional can fall victim to a fit of anger. But you should never compromise your reputation or sanity.
  5. Cut your losses – While the step of terminating a relationship should never be taken lightly, if you find yourself unable to move forward with a client because they will not accept your advice and expertise, it may be necessary to end the relationship.

Top 5 – Landing Your First Real Job

  1. Improve your resume— Volunteer, get published, and never stop learning.
  2. Make connections—Take advantage of networking events and don't be afraid to introduce yourself.
  3. Do your homework—Tailor your cover letters to each employer and show that you're genuinely interested in becoming a member of their team.
  4. Invest in your own success—The better you feel about yourself, the better you'll come across during an interview.
  5. Be kind, courteous and professional-- Always. — You never know who's forming an opinion of you, so treat everyone well.

Top 5 – Become a Better Writer

Is your brief a winner?

  1. Start with an Outline. Easy as 1, 2, 3, right?
  2. Flesh it out—It's just a first draft, so cut, snip, and chop with abandon!
  3. Stay strong— There is no room for weak words. Eliminate everything that isn't persuasive.
  4. Consider how each page looks—Employ pull-quotes, subheadings and even white open space to help keep a judge from getting bored.
  5. Get a second opinion—Because four eyes are always better than two.

Top 5 – Working with Judges

Want the best outcome for your client and a great reputation at the courthouse? Keep these simple rules in mind. 

  1. Don't be late – Wasting a judge's time is not going to help you or your client.
  2. Learn the rules – A lawyer who doesn't know or understand the applicable rules – procedural rules, ethics rules, evidence rules, and the like – risks appearing incompetent or, worse, giving their opponent a big advantage. 
  3. Remain civil – Even if things aren't going your way, keep cool and think before you speak.
  4. Put yourself in her shoes – Is the judge having a bad day? Don't be surprised if that happens sometimes. Imagine the stress that a judge encounters on a daily basis
  5. Don't Argue -- Nothing is more certain to upset a Judge than to argue after the Judge has ruled. If you disagree with the ruling on a substantive issue, you can file an appropriate motion to reconsider.

Top 5 – Working with Work E-mail

Before you hit send, take a breath and ask yourself the following:

  1. Could this be published in a newspaper? – Sure, there’s nothing criminal in your message—but would you be embarrassed if it were made public? Consider how the staff at Enron probably felt in 2001 when 92% of their emails were published by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission in 2001.
  2. To whom am I responding? – When you receive a group email it’s quick and easy to just click ‘Reply All.’ But during the course of a conversation other addresses could have been added or removed… and don’t forget there may be blind copied recipients that you don’t even know about.
  3. Did I proofread? Attention to detail is important. Don’t throw away your good professional image on a careless typo.
  4. Is the content better suited for a letter, phone call or in-person conversation? Email’s  convenient, but not all information is best delivered electronically.
  5. Did I reveal too much? Be wary of including sensitive information—social security numbers, credit card numbers, or other personal information—that could be used by identity thieves.

Top 5 – Should You Blawg?

A blawg is simply a blog for the legal crowd. But not every lawyer is suited to becoming a blawgger—do you have what it takes?

  1. Are you eager to stand out? A blog can establish you as a leader in your field among your colleagues.
  2. Do you have something to say? No one's going to ready a boring blawg!
  3. Looking to attract more clients? Posting useful information to your social media platforms increases your website traffic and thus your odds of connecting with a prospective client.
  4. Is your skin thick enough? Dip your toe in first with a post or two on Facebook-- If you hate social media and value your privacy, move on.
  5. Do you have enough time? If not (and who really does?) there are companies out there who can help.

Top 5 – Ways to Help a Struggling Co-worker

Lawyers carry a heavy load. And in this profession, it's easy to mistake depression for just being busy. But even those who are great at solving other peoples' problems could use some help now and then. Here's how you can help.

  1. Learn the signs – Is your colleague always late? Irritable? These could just be symptoms of a heavy workload. Or they could mean something more.
  2. Open your door - You can't spot problems at your firm if you're not approachable and willing to listen.
  3. Change the culture  – Fight the urge to make work your everything. The lawyer who proudly proclaims, "I haven't taken vacation in 10 years" should be given a referral to a travel agent, not a medal.
  4. But don't cover for him – In Illinois, if you know that a fellow lawyer has committed fraud, deceit, dishonesty or criminal conduct, you're required under the Himmel case to report that behavior to the ARDC.
  5. Call in the cavalry -  If you think you—or someone you know—may have a problem, contact the free and confidential services of the Lawyers Assistance Program. Check out their Web site: <www.illinoislap.org>, or call them at 1-800-LAP-1233.

Top 5 – Hiring the Right Staff

Need to hire? Everyone knows that good support staff can make a lawyer's job infinitely easier, but how do you go about it? Here are five suggestions to help you find the right person and avoid potential pitfalls.

  1. Start with a strong foundation—Spend time thinking about the position, and draft an accurate, detailed job description. What are the four to eight most important duties? What training or qualifications are necessary? Be as specific as you can to narrow down your applicant pool.
  2. Be prepared—An interview goes both ways, so be ready to answer questions about incentives, benefits and your realistic expectations.
  3. Know What You Can and Can't Ask—Discrimination claims can arise out of thoughtless questions or comments made during interviews.
  4. Don't Oversell— Doing so may unrealistically inflate applicant expectations and could result in a claim for breach of contract or promissory estoppel.
  5. Consider Virtual—Not every law practice wants or can afford more bodies in the office.

Top 5 – Have the Career You Want

Feeling like maybe a traditional career in the law isn't for you? Good news-- there are a great deal of options out there for those with a J.D. and a law license. Here's how to find the perfect fit for you.

  1. Discover New Interests – Attend CLE programs on a variety of topics, even ones you don't think you're interested in.
  2. Do what you love—Do you read? Watch football? If so, consider work as a literary or sports agent.
  3. Think Outside the Box—See our ongoing series, "What Can I Be with a J.D.?" for some ideas. 
  4. Do a little bit of everything—One reason many solo and small firm practitioners love what they do is because every day and every case is different.
  5. Don't Be Afraid of Change—It might not be easy, but transitions within the law happen all the time.

Top 5 – Going Solo

More and more attorneys are opting to work for themselves. So what does it actually take to create and build a small law firm?

  1. Learn the ropes: This is best done on an employer's dime and under the supervision of an experienced practitioner.
  2. Don't dive in: Have a realistic business plan in place-- What kind of law are you going to practice? How you will support yourself until you see revenue? 
  3. Get insurance: Select and obtain liability insurance. You need it.
  1. Find clients: Start networking immediately. And then network some more.
  2. Prepare to be unprepared: Law school doesn't teach the business management side of things, so it's okay not to know everything.

Top 5 – Getting and Keeping Clients

Paying clients are the bread and butter of every law practice. So how do you find them? And better yet, how do you keep them happy?

  1. Avoid Complacency: Promoting your practice isn't something you do just to get new business—even current clients want to be reminded of your strengths.
  2. Get Out There: The more people you know, the more potential clients you know.
  3. Invest in the Relationships You Already Have: Take a genuine interest in your clients' lives—greet them when you see them socially, or send an email to follow-up on a previous conversation.
  4. Practice Good Etiquette: Ask yourself how you would want to be treated. Would you be irritated if you left a message for your lawyer and he took four days to get back to you?
  5. Ask Clients Directly: Give out a client satisfaction survey—and this is the hard part-- be open to making changes accordingly.

Top 5 – Get That Raise

Come to the table with a plan and you just might be rewarded:

  1. Don't Be Shy: You've got to ask for what you want. No one's going to give you more when they think you're satisfied with less.
  2. Come prepared: And if you can quantify your value, hard data is always a plus.
  3. Consider alternatives: If money's tight (and really, when is it not?) you may need to be open to non-salary benefits.
  4. Be realistic: Bottom line, you need to bring in more than you cost. If you can't prove your worth, wait until you can.
  5. Have perspective: A reasonable request will likely be met with a reasonable response.

Top 5 – Ways to Keep Your Balance

You're making great strides in your career, but at what personal expense? Here are five tips to ensure your work and home life stay balanced.

  1. Be Honest: With your family, your employer, and with yourself. It's okay to love what you do, and it's also okay to step back when you feel overwhelmed.
  2. Set Reasonable Expectations: Blackout times when you're absolutely unavailable to answer calls and emails—like during family dinner-- then let your employer and clients know you'll respond afterwards.
  3. Bring Your Kids: The next Take Our Daughters and Sons to Work Day is April 27, 2017. Put it on your calendar.
  4. Work it Off: Many employers sponsor wellness programs-- Check with your boss or HR rep to see if yours is one of them.
  5. Develop a Plan: Where would you like to be in five years? Create a roadmap to help you achieve your personal goals.

Top 5 – Resolutions for 2017

This year, make resolutions you want to keep.

  1. Set achievable goals: Something broad, like "don't procrastinate," isn't realistic. But having all briefs drafted a week before they're due, so you have time to review them with clients and colleagues, is.
  2. Become a better writer: If you are just starting out, identify someone whose writing you admire and develop a mentor relationship with him or her.
  3. Take advantage of free CLE - Eligible ISBA members can  select from over 450 hours of online CLE content to earn up to 15 MCLE credit hours (including PMCLE credit) per bar year (July 1 - June 30).
  4. Fix Your Finances: Overwhelmed by law school debt? By developing a plan early on in your career you'll also hone the financial skills you'll use the rest of your life.
  5. Make Time for What Matters: Remember that you have a life outside of your career and it's important too.

Top 5 – Surviving and Thriving Through the Holidays

The holiday season is upon us. It can be overwhelming, but it also presents opportunities to shine.

  1. Reconnect with clients: Send a simple, inexpensive holiday card to your existing clients. Most lawyers don't, and you'll set yourself apart while securing client loyalty.
  2. Savor the Experiences: The end of the year is a natural time to look back and consider what was good and what could have been done better.
  3. Celebrate Differences: Not everyone observes the same holidays. Remember to be respectful and accommodating with those who don't share your beliefs.
  4. Prepare for Peace: By working with your clients to create an end-of-year game plan you'll prevent any emergency motions and ensure you get to enjoy this time with your own family.
  5. Enjoy the Festivities: Office parties and social events are everywhere. Have fun, but keep in mind you'll be seeing your co-workers on Monday!

Top 5 – Ways to Give Back

With the holidays upon us it's important to remember to give back - to others in need, to the profession, and to those who will follow us in our profession. Here are some ideas:

  1. Contribute Your Time: Check out Illinois Legal Aid Online's Young Professionals Board. They're looking for attorneys, paralegals, non-lawyer volunteers and law students to volunteer just four hours or fewer per month.
  2. Donate Money: The Illinois Bar Foundation (IBF) is the charitable arm of the ISBA. The IBF's mission is to enhance the availability of justice for those without attorneys and to support lawyers in financial need.
  3. Share Your Talent:  The ISBA encourages lawyers to participate in pro bono activities and has compiled an informative webpage to help you find the right opportunity.
  4. Impart Your Wisdom: The ISBA's Lawyer-to-Lawyer Mentoring Program is a year-long mentoring program that pairs ISBA lawyers with new admittees to provide them with guidance during their first years of practice. Hurry—enrollment deadline is December 16, 2016.
  5. Remember the Children: The ISBA's YLD Holiday Party is an annual tradition that benefits the Illinois Bar Foundation / YLD Children's Assistance Fund. This year's party will be held on December 8, 2016 from 7:00: 9:00 p.m.

Top 5 – Do You Need an Office?

Is your practice a good candidate for going virtual? Here's what you need to consider:

  1. How long you've been in practice: The more stuff you've accumulated, the tougher it may be.
  2. How often you meet with clients face to face: Why pay rent if you're working over phone or e-mail anyway?
  3. How much staff your practice requires: A few employees could probably work just as productively offsite.
  4. How much paper you have: If there's not too much paper coming in, you can work scanning into your daily routine.
  5. How secure the cloud is: What if cloud servers are hacked? Do your homework.

Top 5 – Ways Add Value to Your Firm

With legal jobs in high demand, job security is at an all-time low, especially for the less experienced. Here’s how to make yourself indispensable:

  1. Lend a hand: Be helpful for the sake of helping others, and don’t aim to get credit every time.
  2. Generate business: Your personal connections can help your firm. Don’t be afraid to share.
  3. Pay it forward: Say yes when asked to give a presentation to law students or judge a moot court competition. 
  4. Identify opportunities: Organize the holiday party or offer to help interview for the new paralegal position.  
  5. Take the initiative: If you see a problem, fix it. Remember, you’re a part of the team!