THE CHAIR’S CORNER: We Are Here to Serve You

Vol. 28 No. 6

By

Laura V. Farber is Chair of the General Practice, Solo and Small Firm Division.

 

The General Practice, Solo and Small Firm Division prides itself in providing service for everyone, whether you are a solo, a small firm lawyer, or a general practitioner. The Best of ABA Sections issues are particularly useful given the wide variety of areas they cover. This issue includes anticipating damages in a letter of intent, criminal child abuse accusations, tax rulings for estate planners, technology to improve client service, takings issues, federal rules of evidence in criminal cases, HIPAA in claims litigation, ways to market mediation, fair use, licensing, recognition of international judgments, disparate impact claims under the ADEA, and ethical issues of a personal connection with the client. We have chosen the best and most interesting topics written by experts throughout the American Bar Association to assist our members.

It has been stated recently that general practitioners are a dying breed—that the need to specialize is driving the market, and those who are the Jack or Jacklyn of all trades will soon find themselves out of work and out of practice, having lost clients and matters to those who are more expert and specialized. It is an interesting theory, but I am not sure it will actually come to fruition. There are still plenty of clients who value their relationship with their lawyer and expect that lawyer not only to provide them with legal advice, but also to serve as their business advisor, counselor, and friend. They look to their lawyer—whether in facilitating a business deal, reviewing a lease, defending them in court, or pursuing a lawsuit—to be a trustworthy individual who can help them solve their problems regardless of the area of the law. And there are still plenty of lawyers who are able to practice in a way that best meets the needs of their clients, especially in a solo or small firm setting. This is not to say that specialization is not a good idea, just that the general practitioner of today may actually be more knowledgeable in many areas of the law than the general practitioner of yesterday.

When I first started to practice law, I certainly was not going to answer client questions relating to “transactional” issues or real estate; I was a “litigator” and “trial lawyer.” After 21 years of practicing law, I have found myself drafting leases, preparing all types of contracts, reviewing contracts, incorporating corporations, and doing a variety of things that I would have never fashioned “litigation” or “courtroom involvement.” I have found that being involved in these other areas has made me a better lawyer because I now know what to do when the deal falls apart, when the problems begin, and when litigation must ensue. I know what documents to ask for in discovery, I have a better sense of how to review, analyze, and deal with financial records and statements, and I am more proactive in preventing litigation on behalf of my clients. In my view, there is a role for a general practitioner. Perhaps it is merely the way legal services are delivered that is changing. It is always helpful to have friends who practice in fields such as tax, patent, bankruptcy, and criminal law and who can serve as resources to answer questions, but I have personally represented clients on creditors’ claims and adversary proceedings in bankruptcy court, despite the fact that I am not a bankruptcy specialist. I have gone to court on criminal matters (of course, concerning minor matters), having conferred with my criminal defense bar friends, and resolved matters for clients. Once again, it depends on the needs of the client and how comfortable lawyers are in broadening their horizons enough to be knowledgeable and, one hopes, not dangerous.

This is not to say that solo and small firm lawyers, as well as general practitioners, do not need to pay attention to trends and get a feel for where the demand is going. An understanding of these trends, combined with advances in technology, can allow solo and small firm lawyers to compete with lawyers in big firms and other practice settings. But ultimately, the needs of clients are what should drive the practice of law.

In order to hone your skills and provide excellent services to your client, regardless of your area of practice, whether you are a solo, a small firm lawyer, or a general practitioner, the ABA General Practice Solo and Small Firm Division has a fantastic National Solo & Small Firm Conference coming up, October 20–22, 2011, in Denver, Colorado, at the Westin Denver Downtown Hotel, which will be extremely useful to you. Whether you can attend in person, virtually, or via access to the video-recorded offerings after the conference ends, I encourage your involvement. Here is an overview of some of the CLE offerings at the meeting:

  • Tips in Technology
  • Ten Ways WordPerfect Can Make You Better, Stronger, Faster
  • RESPA, Dodd-Frank, and Consumer Financial Protection for Real Estate Practice
  • Residential Foreclosure Update
  • Taxes: How Do They Affect Lawyers?
  • Credit Scores, Credit Reporting, and the FCRA
  • How to Get More Clients Out of Legal Plan Participation
  • What Solo and Small Firm Practitioners Need to Know about the Professional Discipline System
  • Veterans Disability Compensation
  • Bankruptcy for Non-Bankruptcy Lawyers
  • 60 Technology Tips in 60 Minutes
  • Setting Up a Law Office
  • Ethics and Internet/Website Use
  • Technology for the Solo or Small Office
  • How to Avoid Electronic Malpractice
  • How to Have Happier Clients
  • An Introduction to Special Education Law

With our pro bono and diversity efforts in the Division this year, we are offering some very exciting training in Denver to allow attorneys to assist unaccompanied children, some only three, four, or five years old, who currently represent themselves, in immigration court proceedings. If you are thinking about expanding your practice into the area of immigration or are willing to provide pro bono services for a vulnerable child, this will be for you. We will also offer a program in collaboration with the Procurement Technical Assistance Center in the Denver area, which assists attorneys in becoming certified to obtain business from the government. Further, we will put on a CLE program to assist minority- and women-owned solo and small firm practices (as well as all solos and small firm lawyers) in using strategies to attract business from corporations, traditionally big firm clients. All these offerings will be available via webcast, and if the timing does not work for you, they will be video recorded and available for viewing online after the conference. If you register for either the conference or the webcasting, you will get a code that will give you access to more than 20 hours of CLE to use at your convenience during the next 18 months.

Throughout the year, the Division will also provide the opportunity for you to get involved in substantive committees composed predominantly of solo, small firm, and general practitioners and focusing on areas such as administrative and government law; agricultural law; alternative dispute resolution; bankruptcy; business advice and financial planning; business opportunities and commercial law; construction law; consumer protection; corporate counsel; criminal law; elder law; estate planning, probate, and trust; ethics and professional responsibility; family law; gaming law; immigration law; intellectual property law; international law; juvenile law; labor employment and civil rights law; legal educators; litigation; military law; real estate law; taxation; technology; title conveyancing; tort and insurance practice; urban, state, and local law; workers’ compensation; and others. This list gives you an idea of the depth and breadth of the areas and types of law being practiced by members of the Division. If any of these committees sounds interesting to you, visit our website to sign up—it’s free for Division members.

This year we are trying some new and exciting initiatives. In addition to our print and electronic publications, our monthly teleconferences, and our webcasts and on-demand recording of all our CLE offerings, we will be hosting monthly virtual brown bag luncheons to provide our members with an opportunity to network with others across the country on issues of interest to them. These virtual brown bags will be run by our substantive law committees and will feature topics of great interest to solos, small firm lawyers, and general practitioners. For more information, see our website.

I encourage you to roll up your sleeves and learn more about your current practice area or other new areas by joining us either in person or virtually, as we share with you information from a broad spectrum of areas of the law in this issue, at our National Solo & Small Firm Conference, at our monthly CLE teleconferences, in our print and electronic publications, and at our virtual brown bag luncheons.

We are here to make you successful and to help you serve your clients, your profession, and your community at large.

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