Crowdfunding Your Law Practice

crowdCrowdfunding is the practice of funding a project or venture by raising monetary contributions from a large number of people, typically via the Internet.

The crowdfunding model is fueled by three types of actors: the project initiator who proposes the idea and/or project to be funded; individuals or groups who support the idea; and a moderating organization (the “platform”) that brings the parties together to launch the idea.

In 2013, the crowdfunding industry grew to be over $5.1 billion worldwide.
Source: Wikipedia.

Crowdfunding for Lawyers

Potentially, lawyers could use crowdfunding at any time – to jumpstart a law practice, expand a law practice, or bridge the gap during a downturn in business.

As you might expect, crowdfunding is most successful when used to promote a cause or new product idea rather than a service.  But it could work for lawyers if donors find the practice area and marketing pitch appealing.

The Ethics of it All

Before we get too excited about this idea, we need to do a gut check.  Simply put: is crowdfunding ethical?

A quick Internet search produces a list of posts and articles on the subject.  Here are a few:

The first result is by far the most interesting for Oregon lawyers.  In Crowdfunding: The Future Of Public-Interest Funding? author Sam Wright reports a conversation with Oregon lawyer Kellie Ann Furr who is crowdfunding a “private-public interest environmental law firm” on Indiegogo.  Furr is halfway to her fundraising goal of $7,500.  Take the time to look at her campaign and you’ll understand the appeal and her success.

But back to the ethics of it all…

In his Above the Law post about Furr, Wright tells us:

First, she sought and received an informal opinion from the Oregon State Bar on “the ethics of donation-based crowdfunding” to make sure she was on sound ethical footing. She was also careful to select “perks” for donors that would not affect her “professional independence” — in her case, the perks mostly involve volunteer time or pro bono assistance to environmental organizations. And she includes appropriate disclaimers on her campaign page.

So does this mean Oregon lawyers are off and running – free to set up crowdfunding campaigns without a second thought?  Not quite….

Crowdfunding is a “Communication Concerning a Lawyer’s Services” for Purposes of Oregon RPC 7.1

By necessity, crowdfunding involves representations about your potential or ongoing law practice. Therefore, Oregon RPC 7.1 – Communication Concerning a Lawyer’s Services – would apply to the content contained in your crowdfunding appeal:

“A lawyer shall not make a false or misleading communication about the lawyer or the lawyer’s services. A communication is false or misleading if it contains a material misrepresentation of fact or law, or omits a fact necessary to make the statement considered as a whole not materially misleading.”

Simply put: lawyers are responsible for ensuring that representations made about their practice are accurate.  For an excellent discussion of this topic, see OSB Formal Opinion No. 2007-180 Internet Advertising: Payment of Referral Fees and the following articles:

“Dishonesty, Fraud, Deceit, or Misrepresentation” – the Companion of RPC 7.1

A violation of Oregon RPC 7.1 (communication that is false or misleading) could also implicate Oregon RPC 8.4:

“It is professional misconduct for a lawyer to … “engage in conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit, or misrepresentation that reflects adversely on the lawyer’s fitness to practice law.”

But lawyers can run afoul of RPC 8.4 in other ways.  As discussed below, crowdfunding campaigns often promise “rewards” or “perks” for donors.  Assuming that offering something in return for a donation is ethical, failing to deliver the “reward” or “perk” if all conditions are met would likely be construed as a violation of 8.4.

The Granddaddy of them all: Is Crowdfunding Fee Sharing with a Nonlawyer?

Lawyers and law firms are prohibited from sharing legal fees under Oregon RPC 5.4, except in limited circumstances.  This begs the question: if a donor gives a lawyer money to fund his or her law practice, does this constitute impermissible fee sharing?

Maybe yes.  Maybe no.  Where is the “fee” and how is it “shared?”  Compare the following scenarios:

  1. Lawyer and nonlawyer wish to form an LLC offering business advice.  They intend to charge potential clients a flat fee of $1,000 for their services and split the fee 50/50.  Lawyer will provide the legal advice; nonlawyer will coach clients on business strategies, financing, marketing, and the like.
    While this arrangement raises a number of issues, the question here is: does the proposed fee split violate Oregon RPC 5.4?  The answer is a straightforward: yes!
  2. A donor gives money to a lawyer to start her law practice, no strings attached – the funds are a gift, not a loan; the donor is seeking nothing in return; the lawyer is providing nothing in exchange for the donation.  There is no “fee.”  There is no “sharing.”  The donor could be Mom, Dad, a friend, or a stranger responding to a crowdfunding appeal.  It is hard to understand how this could be a violation of RPC 5.4 – but as always, I encourage readers: take your questions to the experts – OSB General Counsel’s Office.

So crowdfunding looks like a “go,” right?  Not so fast … here’s the thing about crowdfunding.  Donations aren’t generally a “gift” with no strings attached:

The Crowdfunding Centre’s May 2014 report identified the existence of two primary types of crowdfunding:

Rewards crowdfunding: entrepreneurs pre-sell a product or service to launch a business concept without incurring debt or sacrificing equity/shares.
Equity crowdfunding: the backer receives shares of a company, usually in its early stages, in exchange for the money pledged. The company’s success is determined by how successfully it can demonstrate its viability.

Source: Wikipedia.

Permitting donors to take an equity interest in your law firm is clearly impermissible under RPC 5.4.  A rewards approach could quickly go awry if the lawyer violated RPC 7.1, 8.4, or other applicable rules.  Remember Kellie Ann Furr?  Her Indiegogo campaign offers four different “perks” or rewards for donors:  volunteer time, pro bono work, or a one-hour consultation.  She carefully limits the one-hour consultation to Oregon residents only and includes a disclaimer that donating to her campaign does not create an attorney-client relationship. Is this sufficient?  At the risk of repeating myself: take this question to the experts – OSB General Counsel’s Office.

Funding a Law Practice Is Only Part of the Picture: Student Loans, Litigation, and Securities Regulation

Crowdfunding raises issues in other areas as well.  Check out these posts:

Learn More

If you want to learn more about crowdfunding, read the following:

Next, get ethics advice – from independent ethics counsel with whom you form an attorney-client relationship or OSB General Counsel’s Office.  The General Counsel’s Office can help you identify applicable rules, point out relevant formal ethics opinions and other resource material, and give you a reaction to your ethics question – they are always a good place to start.

All Rights Reserved [2015] Beverly Michaelis

Postscript:

In addition to the above, practitioners should also consult with a tax lawyer or CPA. Money raised via crowdfunding will likely be considered taxable income. Check out these guidelines, available from PayPal. A word of caution: as noted here, failure to meet PayPal’s threshold for purposes of generating a 1099 doesn’t mean you aren’t obligated to report the income.

A New Year – A New Opportunity

Each new year offers an opportunity for a fresh start.  A chance to do things differently to improve your life and your practice.

If your goals for the new year include any of the following:

  • Reducing your stress levelNY
  • Improving your office routines
  • Increasing productivity
  • Streamlining office systems
  • Balancing the demands of work and home

but you’re not sure where to start, check out these classic posts on how to “spring clean” your office systems and work habits.

Feeling Overwhelmed?

If you’re an Oregon lawyer, you have a great resource right in your own backyard:  the Oregon Attorney Assistance Program.  The OAAP can give you guidance on how to develop your own stress management program using deep relaxation, meditation, time management, and other proven stress-reducing techniques.  Best of all, OAAP services are free and confidential.  If you are looking for help in any of these areas, please give the OAAP a call at 1-800-321-6227.

Looking for Practice Management Advice?

Is it time to revamp your office systems and procedures?  We’re here to help! Professional Liability Fund Practice Management Advisors provide free and confidential assistance with office systems.  If you’re a lawyer in Oregon, give us a call!  800-452-1639 Toll-Free in Oregon or 503-639-6911.

All Rights Reserved – Beverly Michaelis [2015]

2014 WordPress Helper Monkeys

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2014 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

The Louvre Museum has 8.5 million visitors per year. This blog was viewed about 71,000 times in 2014. If it were an exhibit at the Louvre Museum, it would take about 3 days for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

The Year in Review – Top Posts in 2014

Thank you loyal readers!  As 2014 comes to a close, here is a look back at the year’s top posts:

eCourt

mouseAre you eCourt Ready?
Calculating Deadlines Using the REGISTER OF ACTIONS
eCourt Notices: Forwarding is Up to You
Rejected Filings and Relation Back
Searching eCourt Calendars

Fees – Getting Paid, Credit Cards, Trust Accounting

Partnership & Of Counsel – Managing Money – Leaving – FormingBusinesswomen Balancing Over Money

IOLTA Accounts and Partnerships – Dos and Don’ts
I Say Of Counsel You Say…
Leaving Your Firm
Thinking about Partnership?

Technology

Unbundling and the Nontraditional Practice

The Nontraditional Law Practice
Establishing a Successful Home-Based Practice

 

 

 

[All Rights Reserved 2014 – Beverly Michaelis]

Oregon eCourt Q and A

Looking for answers to frequently asked eCourt questions?  Check out this Q & A session from the November 19, 2014 Oregon eCourt Update CLE, jointly sponsored by the Oregon State Bar and Professional Liability Fund.

 

What Should I Do About Lost or Stolen Client Files?

imagesIs there any worse feeling than having your briefcase or laptop stolen?

While it can be hard to bounce back from such an experience, there are immediate steps you should take  if you discover that confidential client files have been compromised.

  1. File a police report.
  2. Don’t risk your personal safety. While Find my iPhone and MyLaptopGPS can track lost or stolen mobile devices and laptops, leave the police work to the police.  Do not confront the thief.
  3. If your laptop or mobile device is missing or stolen, notify your IT department.
  4. Change your network user name and password.
  5. Consider changing your user name and password for all accounts – anything you access via the Web.
  6. Check lost-and-found if applicable.  Believe it or not, laptops, devices, and briefcases get turned in by honest citizens.  Don’t give up until you try.
  7. Monitor Craigslist.  If you believe a thief has posted your property for sale, inform police.
  8. Contact your business insurance or liability carrier.  Property, valuable papers, or data breach coverage may cover the cost of replacing your laptop or reconstructing files. Beginning in 2013, the PLF added a Data Breach and Cyber Liability Endorsement to all excess coverage plans. The endorsement provides coverage for information security and privacy liability, privacy breach response services, regulatory defense and penalties, website media content liability, and crisis management and public relations services. Read more here.
  9. Inform your clients.  This is never easy, but clients must be informed if confidential information has been compromised. A sample notification letter is available on the PLF website.  Select Practice Management > Forms > Client Relations > “Notice to Clients re Theft of Computer Equipment.”
  10. Begin reconstructing your file.  Lawyers who are straightforward about an office break in or theft often find that clients are sympathetic, understanding, and more than willing to help.  With a bit of luck, you should be able to reconstruct most or all of your file from your backup or documents supplied by clients.
  11. Going forward, consider storing passwords or other sensitive information in an encrypted password manager.
  12. Backup, backup, backup!  Online backup services are a great way to automatically back up your laptop’s data.  Read more about backup protocols and available resources on the PLF website. Select Practice Management > Forms  > Technology > “How to Backup Your Computer.”
  13. If the theft occurred during an office break in, reassess building security. Talk to the building owner or property manager about alarms, surveillance, or other measures.
  14. Learn more by reading Protect Confidential Files – It Helps!
  15. Call your friendly Law Practice Management Advisor for help.

Scanning Documents for eCourt

mouseIn my last two posts, I discussed the 10 steps all practitioners should take to get ready for eCourt and how to manage the anxiety and stress of transitioning to the eCourt system.

This week the focus is on two essential eCourt tools: PDF and OCR software. 

Efficiency with a 2 in 1 Solution

There is no doubt in my mind that a two-in-one solution is best: PDF conversion software with OCR capability built-in. 

Most practitioners know immediately what a PDF document is, but not everyone is familiar with the acronym OCR

OCR refers to “optical character recognition,” and OCR software does exactly that.  It takes a scanned image – like your printed pleading document – and uses software to recognize the text on the page, making your scanned document searchable.  This is a necessity for eFiling under the Uniform Trial Court Rules. 

Software that can perform these two functions simultaneously is a great time saver. 

Assuming you have a working scanner that meets your needs and is compatible with your operating system (Mac OS or Windows 7/8), the next step is to get your hands on two-in-one PDF and OCR software.  If you don’t already have a scanner, see last week’s post for suggestions

Top Three Choices for PDF/OCR Software

  1. For me, the number one choice for PDF/OCR software is Acrobat XI.  As I said last week: get the “Pro” version for the redaction features. Adobe is running a 20% off sale on monthly subscriptions for two more days (the sale expires December 3).  See last week’s post to learn more.
  2. Nuance Power PDF Advanced would be my second choice.  Over the years, Nuance has expanded product features to compete against Acrobat – to the consumer’s benefit. 
  3. Coming in last is PrimoPDF.  I admit this is my personal bias, however, I don’t feel it is as robust as the other two choices. 

All three of these programs convert to PDF and all three have OCR software built-in to make your scanned documents text searchable. 

Setting Acrobat XI Pro to OCR Automatically

By default, Acrobat XI Pro should be set to OCR automatically if you initiate document scanning by using the program.  To verify that Acrobat XI Pro is set to OCR automatically, follow these steps:

  1. Start Acrobat XI Pro 
  2. Select Create
  3. Choose “PDF from Scanner”
  4. Move your cursor to the bottom right of the pop-up menu and select “Configure Presets…”
  5. Toward the bottom of the “Configure Presets…” box, verify that “Optimize Scanned PDFs” and “Make Searchable (Run OCR)” are selected
  6. Click Save then Close

Acrobat XI Pro will retain these settings.  As long as you initiate a scan from within Acrobat XI Pro, your documents will automatically be OCRed.  Follow these five simple steps to scan a document using Acrobat XI Pro:

  1. Load the document(s) in your scanner
  2. Start Acrobat XI Pro 
  3. Select Create
  4. Choose “PDF from Scanner”
  5. Select Black & White Document

and you’re done! 

Prove to Yourself that Your Scanned Document is Text Searchable

To prove that your PDF is searchable, type <ctrl> F if you are a Windows user; <command> F if you are a Mac user.  The “Find” box pops up:

find box

Enter a search term you know is contained within your document, such as your client’s name.  Click Next.  In a text searchable PDF, Acrobat XI Pro will jump to the first instance where the search term is found.

[All Rights Reserved – 2014 – Beverly Michaelis]

 

 

 

 

Submitting Your First eCourt Filing

Mandatory eCourt begins today for the eleven circuit courts that currently have the Oregon eCourt system.  In last week’s post, I described 10 steps to get ready for eFiling. Today I want to address how to manage the stress and anxiety of this transition.

Give Yourself Extra Time

I truly believe that once practitioners gain experience with eFiling, the transition will be embraced.  I appreciate that the road to gaining experience brings anxiety, especially since there is no way to “practice” with the Odyssey eFile & Serve system.

Knowing that the first filing or two might be a little nerve-wracking, please give yourself extra time.  You will become familiar with the process, but building familiarity and confidence takes time.  Don’t create extra pressure for yourself by waiting until the deadline date to file a document.  If your filing is rejected, you will need to seek relation back to cure the missed deadline.

If at all possible, file well in advance of the deadline.  If your filing is rejected, you will have time to breathe, fix the problem, and refile.

File During Business Hours When Support is Available

The Odyssey eFile & Serve system is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.  While it may be tempting to complete a filing at 10:00 p.m. Friday night, technical support staff are not available to assist you if something goes awry.

File during regular business hours, Monday through Friday, 7:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m. Central Time when Tyler Technologies support staff can assist you.

Tyler Technologies support staff can walk you through:

  • Initiating a new filing
  • Filing into an existing case
  • eServing parties in a case

Tech support can also use “GoToAssist” to take control of your computer and help you complete an eFiling. Keep the support number handy: 1.800.297.5377 and don’t hesitate to use it.

Reach Out to Experienced Colleagues

If you know a colleague who has used the Odyssey eFile & Serve system system, ask for pointers.  There are practitioners in Yamhill, Crook, Jefferson, and a handful of other counties who have lived with eCourt for 18 months.  If you don’t know of someone personally who has used the system, posting to a listserv or contacting a Resource Lawyer through the Oregon State Bar Lawyer-to-Lawyer program may be an option.  (Note: eCourt is not a specific resource category in the Lawyer-to-Lawyer program, but Litigation is.)

[All Rights Reserved – 2014 – Beverly Michaelis]

 

Are you eCourt Ready?

Clickhere_medFLT_490x250On December 1, 2014, eCourt will become mandatory for the eleven circuit courts that currently have the Oregon eCourt system, including the eFiling requirement.  Follow these steps to get ready for the mandatory transition:

  1. Get a credit or debit card that can be used to pay court fees online.  The Odyssey eFile & Serve System (eCourt) accepts Visa, MasterCard, and Discover.  Learn more about eCourt filing fees here.
  2. Create an eCourt account by registering with Odyssey eFile & ServeDon’t wait, do it now.  If you need assistance setting up your account, it may be difficult to reach Technical Support on the December 1 effective date. Registration is only a few steps.  Choose an account type, enter your name, contact information, and e-mail address, then create a password.  Sole practitioners should register as a “Firm Administrator.”
  3. Check your e-mail inbox for an activation link from Tylerhost.net – the vendor that operates Odyssey eFile & Serve for Oregon.  Click on the activation link to finish creating your account.
  4. Login to Odyssey eFile & Serve with your e-mail address and newly created password, click on the Firm Administrator tab, and set up a payment account (credit card).  [Note: if you are a firm member who created an individual user account this step was completed by your Firm Administrator.]
  5. Check your “tech.” To be an e-filer, lawyers will need a scanner and PDF conversion software with OCR (Optical Character Recognition) capability.  More on this below.
  6. Sign up for one of the free, one-hour training sessions on how to use Odyssey eFile & Serve.  There are three classes this week and additional classes scheduled for December.  See the complete class listing here. During the training you can ask questions.  If desired, take the training more than once.
  7. Watch the Oregon eCourt Update CLE presented on November 19, 2014 – available for Oregon lawyers to stream or download free of charge on the Professional Liability Fund (PLF) website.  This CLE provides an overview of the rules and includes a question and answer session with Oregon Judicial Department staff.
  8. Read Chapter 21 of the Uniform Trial Court Rules – Filing and Service by Electronic Means – and the Chief Justice Orders adopting out-of-cycle amendments.
  9. Get an OJCIN Account (Oregon Judicial Case Information Network).  OJCIN is the official website of Register of Actions and judgment records for the State of Oregon Judicial Department. OJCIN includes OJIN (Oregon Judicial Information Network), OECI (Oregon eCourt Case Information Network), and ACMS (Appellate Case Management System).  If you want to view case activity and access documents online, you must have an OJCIN account. ($35.00 per month.)
  10. Monitor the Oregon State Bar (OSB) and PLF websites.  Using the discussion from the Oregon eCourt Update CLE, OSB staff are preparing answers to frequently asked eCourt questions that will be posted in the near future.  This information will also be accessible on the PLF website.

Buying a Scanner 

Mac users can search for “top rated scanners” at MacWorld. If you have Windows OS, check out the online reviews at PC Magazine.  The Fujitsu ScanSnap ix500 was voted the best scanner of the year in 2013 by MacWorld and comes bundled with Acrobat XI Standard for Windows.  (You can – and should – upgrade to Acrobat XI Pro for a few more bucks.  See below.)

Brother scanners are popular too.  A “combo” machine – combination printer/scanner/copier may also be a good choice depending on your needs.  Check the sources listed above for product reviews.

When you’ve chosen a scanner make and model, use sites or apps like PriceGrabber and Google Shopper to find the best prices. Include shipping costs for the best head-to-head comparison.

PDF Conversion Software with OCR Capability

All documents submitted via the eCourt system must be text searchable PDFs.  PDF conversion software with OCR capability (Optical Character Recognition) turns your scanned documents into text searchable PDFs.  The free Adobe Reader software cannot do this.

For PDF conversion software, nothing beats Adobe Acrobat XI in this author’s opinion.  (Get the “Pro” version for the redaction features.)  While it may seem that you have no choice but to subscribe to Acrobat on a monthly basis, you can still purchase the product outright. Call sales at 800-585-0774 for details.  My two cents:  Buy the subscription.  Adobe is running a 25% off sale through December 3.  A subscription to Acrobat XI Pro is $14.99 per month (normally $19.99).  Subscriptions are locked in for one year and include all upgrades free of charge plus free telephone support.  If you purchase Acrobat XI Pro outright, you must buy the upgrades separately.  Free telephone support ends in 30 days, although other support options remain available.

PrimoPDF and Nuance Power PDF Advanced are worth a look too, but don’t have all the bells and whistles of Acrobat.

Using Your Scanner and PDF Conversion Software with OCR Capability

Use your scanner and PDF/OCR software to:

  • Create searchable PDFs of your pleading documents for eFiling.
  • Create searchable PDFs of attachments to pleading documents (e.g., a scanned copy of a Last Will and Testament attached to a petition for probate – a copy of the Will is eFiled with the petition; the original Will must be filed conventionally).
  • Create searchable PDFs of signature pages or signed documents.  (Text on the page will be searchable; signatures will not.)

Note:  Lawyers sign eCourt documents using a conformed signature: /s/ Lawyer Name.  If you are eFiling a document containing signatures other than your own, you must scan the signature page or the entire document.

Master the Tech and Make Your Life Easier

  • If you aren’t already using a version of Word, WordPerfect, or OpenOffice with built-in PDF conversion, upgrade now.
  • When you convert to PDF directly from within Word, WordPerfect, or OpenOffice your document is automatically text searchable.  No need to scan.
  • Always choose File > Print > to create a PDF from your word processing program.  Select File > Print, find the PDF printer in your printer list (Adobe PDF for example), click Print, give your document a name, and save it in the desired location.  When you create a PDF by selecting File > Save As > PDF or File > Publish to PDF, you are converting all the metadata in your document.  Additionally, files that are “published” to PDF are about 80% larger than documents that are “printed” to PDF.
  • Digital pleading templates are the way to go.  If you are printing the body of your document on numbered pleading paper, you will need to scan and OCR your documents for eFiling.  If you aren’t familiar with digital pleading templates, check out these options from Microsoft.  [Note: conform all templates to meet Oregon court rules.]

Troubleshooting

Don’t struggle on your own!  Call Odyssey eFile & Serve free technical support at 1.800.297.5377, Monday through Friday, 7:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m. Central Time.  Tech support can help with the following issues:

  • Browser error messages
  • Registering with Odyssey eFile & Serve
  • Setting up payment accounts / payment account troubleshooting
  • How to initiate a filing
  • How to file a document into an existing case
  • How to eServe parties

Use the Knowledge Base

You can find quite a bit of useful information in the Odyssey eFile & Serve Knowledge Base, which is divided into these categories: Administration, Court Contact, eFiling, eService, Notifications, and Support and Training.

Under Administration, learn about attorney management, fees, firm information, passwords, payment accounts, reconciliation, registration, and user management.  Under Court Contact find telephone numbers and other contact information for Multnomah, Yamhill, Crook, and Clatsop County Circuit Courts.  eFiling provides information on the active locations for eCourt, describes the filing process, document status, and how to create templates in the eFiling workspace.  Under eService read answers to commonly asked questions, such as where do I find proof of service for a filing I submitted?  (Also see Notifications.)  Access the Knowledge Base here.  Look for this sidebar on the left side of your screen:

2014-11-22_20-30-06

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

[All Rights Reserved – 2014 – Beverly Michaelis]