Nonlawyer Ownership of Law Firms

A financial planner, a CPA, and a lawyer walk into a bar … to form a law firm. A joke, right? Two years from now, some version of this could be happening for real in California.

A state task force headed by a former law professor is expected to produce proposals in 2019. Presently, Rule of Professional Conduct 5.4 prohibits nonlawyers from acting as partners, corporate officers, or directors of a law firm. The same rule strictly regulates fee sharing and forbids nonlawyers from directing or controlling a lawyer’s professional judgment.

Why consider nonlawyer ownership?

Some view nonlawyer ownership as a means of boosting productivity, reducing costs, and improving access to justice. Others herald the benefits of outside investment and potential for greater innovation in the corporate legal market.

What we can expect from California

Your opinion may differ, but I believe the State Bar of California is ready to make this change. The purpose of the Task Force is to work out the issues.  I predict:

  • California will be the first state to allow nonlawyer ownership of a law firm.
  • Nonlawyer owners will be prohibited from controlling or directing the professional judgment of a lawyer in the course of providing professional services to a client.
  • Nonlawyer owners will be allowed to control or direct business affairs of the firm.
  • Fee sharing will be authorized, provided: (a) clients give informed consent in writing; and (b) the sharing of legal fees does not affect the lawyer’s professional judgment.
  • Receiving referral fees from nonlawyers will be permissible.
  • Disclaimers or disclosures may be required in firm advertising, marketing, engagement agreements, websites, etc.
  • Lawyers will be permitted to reveal confidential client information to nonlawyer owners and their staff in order to carry out representation.
  • Conflict of interest rules will expand to include nonlawyers as “members” of the firm – a conflict for one is a conflict for all.

Operational concerns

Anyone pondering formation of a future lawyer/nonlawyer union should think long and hard about all the issues involved in business formation. A business plan, mission statement, and written ownership agreement will be an absolute must. Thorough insurance coverage, including professional liability, will be a necessity.  Prepare to integrate office systems, record retention, and nonlawyer staff. This includes training!  If nonlawyer partners are beholden to regulatory agencies, know the ins and outs for your sake, but don’t fall into the trap of advising nonlawyer owners. Lastly, have a plan for departure. When a law partner leaves you high and dry, the repercussions aren’t pretty. But at least you can temporarily cover your partner’s legal cases. This isn’t likely to be true with a nonlawyer partner who has an area of expertise (and perhaps licensure) that you lack.

All Rights Reserved – Beverly Michaelis – 2018

Support Your Local Bar Association

If you’re newly admitted, recently moved, or just transitioned to private practice the best way to get connected to your new community is to join the local bar association.

A quick visit to the Oregon State Bar website reveals that not all local bars are active at this time, but don’t despair.

If your local bar association is up and running

Join!  Attend events, including social gatherings and CLEs. Get involved and meet local judges and practitioners.

If your local bar association is inactive

This is your golden opportunity to get it up and running.

  • Hold an open house at your office
  • Organize and deliver a CLE
  • Host an after-hours social event
  • Invite locals to a no-host coffee hour at a local business
  • Organize a themed lunch gathering where attendees share tips on marketing, technology, or other relevant subjects

Don’t let inertia prevail – find ways to connect!  Get started by introducing yourself to the local judiciary and courthouse staff.  Visit local law offices (if geographically feasible). Otherwise, make calls and send emails or even letters.

One easy way to find other lawyers in your area is to access the Member Directory PDF behind the secured login on the OSB website.  Listings of lawyers organized by city begin on page 278.  Take note that the directory does not include the latest contact information.  Another option is to search by city using the online directory. 

Given your objective, you should also consider contacting Member Services at the OSB.  They may be willing to pull a current list of attorneys by county or city for you.

Local bar associations offer many advantages

  • Community
  • Networking
  • Local cost CLE
  • Member benefits
  • Volunteer opportunities
  • Connection to the local judiciary (for discussion/resolution of practice issues in the judicial district)
  • And more!

Join started today!

All Rights Reserved Beverly Michaelis 2017

My Desk, My Enemy

Desks are the pedestals of our productivity. How we organize the stuff on them has a big effect on how well or if we get things done in a timely fashion. But just as important as these practical concerns is the impact it has on our mental health.

While researching content for a presentation, I came across this older post: My Desk, My Enemy: 6 Helpful Ways to Get Organized.  Written by Dan Lukasik and published at Lawyers with Depression, it contains helpful information that remains relevant.

Organizational Style

Dan begins by describing the four organizational styles identified by Kelly Lynn Anders in her book, The Organized Lawyer:

Stackers organize by topic in stacks. They are visual and tactile and like to give the appearance of order. The busier these people are, the more stacks they have.

Spreaders are visual like stackers, but must be able to see everything they’re working on.

Free Spirits keep very few personal belongings around the work area. They like new ideas and keep reports, books, articles and magazines near.

Pack Rats have emotional ties to things. They like the feeling of fullness around them and like to tell stories about what’s in the office.

These categories are insightful, and describe a fair number of people I’ve worked with. But they fail to recognize what happens when a lawyer is depressed, depleted of energy, and has no motivation to get organized.  Dan calls this “the depressed desk:”

When a lawyer has depression, motivation and organization are BIG problems. A lack of energy blunts motivation. We already know that it’s a good idea to keep our desk together, but there simply isn’t much neurochemical juice to get it done….

We must outfox depression. It would have us do nothing. So we must do something. 

Dan’s Six Simple Solutions [Abbreviated]

  1. Get rid of all those pens. Only keep three or four.
  2. Take home any books that you don’t use on a regular basis. [I would add: do the same with magazines and legal periodicals. Create a “free spirit” space at home if this is your organizational style.]
  3. Hide cords – use twist-ties or coil your cords up.
  4. Only keep on your desk what you need for that day. Then section off your desk and workspace so that everything has a specific space.
  5. Have a dump day.  Pull everything out, put it in a big pile, sort, and toss.
  6. Schedule a date and time to clean your desk.

Read Dan’s original “six simple solutions” here.

Parting Thoughts

It’s easy to be skeptical of simple solutions.  How could tossing excess pens or hiding cords possibly help?  What difference does it make to clean off my desk?  

Trust me, it helps.

  • Eliminating clutter reduces stress and anxiety.
  • Organizing and prioritizing gives you back a sense of control.
  • Compartmentalizing allows you to plan for what you need to do and when.
  • Freeing up space allows you to breathe, think, and work.

You owe yourself, and you deserve, a pleasant work environment.

If you are a lawyer with depression, consider following Dan’s blog and connect with one of the confidential attorney counselors at the Oregon Attorney Assistance Program.

[All Rights Reserved 2016 Beverly Michaelis]

In Defense of Lawyers Who Write Letters

Is there anything more “old-fashioned” than writing a letter?  I remember posting a Tweet a few years back in which I stressed the importance of documenting your file with a letter to the client if the client chooses to act against your advice.  I was chided by a few followers who asked what a “letter” was.  (In my defense, letters are easily attached to e-mail messages!)

After the virtual laughter died down, I didn’t give the letter vs. e-mail “controversy” any more thought.  Recently, I spoke to a lawyer who told me he purposely prepares letters for all client communication unless the question is very brief – a quick confirmation or yes/no answer.  His reasoning?  E-mail can lend itself to quick, knee-jerk responses that are often regretted after the fact.  This lawyer felt that by taking the time to compose a letter he treated matters more thoughtfully and professionally.  He often sends letters by e-mail, as a PDF attachment, but felt strongly that the process of composing a letter forced him – in a good way – to treat his client communication more formally.  An excellent point, I thought.  And clearly it worked best for him.

There is another reason why you might want to consider writing and mailing a letter via the US Postal Service.

In 2010, the Radicati Group estimated that 294 billion e-mails are sent per day.  If you’re like me, I suspect you have days when you wish e-mail would just go away.  Perhaps there is still a place for a good, old-fashioned letter:

envelope

Copyright 2013 Beverly Michaelis

The Year in Review – Useful Tips You May Have Missed

Thank you readers!  I hope this has been a fruitful year for you.  Just in case you missed a tip or two, here is a list of 2012 blog posts for your perusal:

January

February

March

April

May

June

July

August

September

October

November

December

All Rights Reserved 2012 Beverly Michaelis