Popular Threads - June 2019

Conference Call Services

When I first opened my practice and money was tighter, freeconferencecall.com seemed like a very economical option for the rare occasion when I needed to schedule a multi-party conference call. My practice is more established now, and I am now willing and able to pay for a more professional solution. That said, my need for such a service is still infrequent and ideally, I'd be looking for a pay-as-you-go option.

So, I'm looking for suggestions.

Thanks, in advance, for your help.

Just because you're able to pay for more isn't the same as whether you should. Do you need more services than freeconferencecall offers? I've been a fan of theirs for years too, for the same reason. Even the free version has the ability to do both audio and video calls, screen sharing, a mobile app, etc.. I use it in combination (when needed) with other tools like Dropbox and it's been fine. Is there some functionality in particular that you're looking for?

            Amy A. Breyer, California

What is the nature of your phone service? My 8x8 VOIP service includes the ability to set up conference bridges. (And I can create an outbound conference call on the fly quite easily.)

            Richard J. Rutledge, Jr., North Carolina

Ditto what Rick said. I use Dialpad and teleconferencing is included.

            Andrew C. McDannold, Florida

I'm with Amy. I have been using freeconferencecall.com for years, and have migrating to their new platform which has additional options. I don't know what you're looking for that the service is lacking, but for my purposes it's been fine for as long as I've used it.


            Scott I. Barer, California

I have used freeconferencecall.com for years, both as a solo and later when I was with a bigger firm. I preferred it to a much more expensive option my firm provided because it was much easier for everyone to use and the reports are great.

            Deena Buchanan, New Mexico

They have a paid service for about $4 per month that includes a dedicated number, so no PIN. I have the service and rarely use it, but it works better than the free one. Or so it seems.

            Mike Phillips, North Carolina

I use VoIP.ms[1] as my VoIP provider, which has a fairly feature-rich customer portal, including the ability to set up conference calling on a phone number[2]. It's also very cheap: Each local phone number you add or port costs $0.85 per month + $0.009 per minute, and toll-free numbers are $0.99/month + $0.019/minute. Their customer service is great, as well.

VoIP.ms, like most modern VoIP providers, allow you to connect any device or system supporting the SIP or IAX2 protocols (e.g., IP phones and PBX software) to their network. Personally, I use PBX software: I have a Raspberry Pi running FreeSWITCH[3], which I manage via FusionPBX[4]. The benefit of this approach is that I no longer need to rely on the VoIP.ms customer portal to manage my phone system. In other words, it gives me more freedom to implement features not currently offered by VoIP.ms. The disadvantage to this approach is that it's rather complicated and requires a comprehensive understanding of Linux system administration and IP telephony (VoIP).

I have no affiliation with VoIP.ms whatsoever, but I have been using them for roughly four years and have no complaints.

[1] https://voip.ms/

[2] https://wiki.voip.ms/article/Conference

[3] https://freeswitch.org/confluence/display/FREESWITCH/Introduction#Introduction-WhatisFreeSWITCH?

[4] https://docs.fusionpbx.com/en/latest/

            Kevin M. Morenski, Florida

We use https://www.gotomeeting.com/.

            Richard Young, New York

Yes, I've used and liked gotomeeting too.

            Amy A. Breyer

www.voip.ms <http://www.voip.ms/> is great and low-cost, but requires some tech-savvy.

            Matthew C. Chapin, California


Hi all, for the first time I have a case with lots of documents. Relativity has been recommended as a good choice for organizing all. However, before using Relativity, I thought I would check with the Firm to see if others have used it and if so whether your like it. Also are there other good choices?

I have also heard good things about Logickull, although I haven't used it myself.

            Katie Burghardt Kramer, Vermont

I went through this in 2018 on a big case. Check around to see if there are any local vendors near you that do it. The one we used was local to Minneapolis and even came over to our office to help with showing us how to use some of the document review and search features. They weren't as pricey as some of the national services we looked at.

Not sure if there's someone local to you or not, but it might be worth checking.

            Andrew M. Ayers, New York

Our firm uses Logikcull and we find it intuitive. Be careful what you feed it though, or those per gigabyte fees will add up. It pays to parse whatever your client sends you a little bit and try to load what is likely to be relevant. For example, if you get a laptop and load the whole thing, you may pay an arm and a leg to process an iTunes music library or the photos from 10 years of family vacations when there is no reason they should go up on an e-discovery platform.

            Bryan Carey

Don't be forced into an ediscovery platform prematurely. I have had cases with 50,000 documents (de-duplicated). All were processed internally and kept organized for trial. With the right mind set and software it is addressable. The biggest problem I had was printing and organizing all the exhibits for a non-tech courtroom for trial.

            Darrell G. Stewart, Texas

Darrell, did you scan, ocr, and put into searchable pdf files (and then use the portfolio system inside adobe pro) along with something like OneNote or Evernote? You can probably set up a process that can be scaled up or down depending on the volume of documents. One caveat:

you need to be able to get the OC's documents in a conventional pdf format, I would guess. That would mean --- no TIFFs or weird file format structures. I would guess. How to get the OC to agree upfront to exchange all documents in a pdf format --- I don't know?!?

Am I on the right track or do you use a specific set of process steps?

Thanks for any replies.

            Roberta Fay, California

In the case I related, many of the documents from opposing counsel were picked up by a legal records service who at my request scanned them into PDF. Late in the case opposing counsel also produced some directly in PDF format. If any were produced in an alternate format (there was some), I maintained the original and converted to searchable PDF.

All of my client's records were produced in PDF format. Some I scanned, some I converted. At the end stage of production to opposing counsel, a single production response was merged and all of it was continuously bates stamped (actually I did a custom footer).

We did not have controversy on emails, because there were only a few, mostly produced by a lender involved. I did maintain original forms of things like photos but they were post-litigation photos produced to opposing counsel with labels and in PDF format.

I organized production in a way that made sense to me. Each of opposing counsel's production was maintained as produced, then I would manipulate a copy of the production for my purposes in analysis, exhibits for trial, etc. Each of my client's production was maintained as produced, then I would do the same manipulation. We also had two other parties that had records produced, and I followed a similar process. When I wanted searchable PDF, I created it.

Not all would be comfortable with the manipulation and preservation of records, but it worked here. I worked in several versions of PDF, as sometimes I ran into weird compatibility issues and I would then use an alternate package (I have several versions of Nuance, Acrobat and a few others).

Case settled about a week before trial. I had an associate work with me to print and organize everything in 4-inch binders, since the courtroom did not have technology other than what I was bringing. In trial you have about five seconds to lay your hands on something, so I wanted both paper and electronic versions of everything. I don't remember how many boxes of pleadings and paperwork we had in trial binders, but I think I ordered about forty binders to supplement what I already had in inventory. My associate nearly quit after all that work organizing when the case settled.

            Darrell G. Stewart

This is very helpful. Darrell, thanks for the details. I guess that you did not need to worry about metatags on the documents or ensuring that the pdfs were "original" documents, rather than tampered with or smoothed over recently in preparation for the litigation. Also, I guess that photos were easy to save and access as jpegs and tiff files (and then they could even be integrated into adobe acrobat pdf files if desired). What you describe is infinitely easier than using the razzle-dazzle ediscovery platforms. Also, what you describe fits the necessary organization required in preparation for actual trial or settlement conference.

            Roberta Fay

We weren't fighting about metatags. I don't think opposing counsel would have understood it. This was commercial construction litigation. Although some of opposing counsels’ production was post-litigation pre-trial created just to make an argument paperwork that would have been fun in a courtroom.

            Darrell G. Stewart

Thanks. Really appreciate your emails about this subject matter.

            Roberta Fay

What software did you use? Thanks.

            Kenneth A. Sprang, Pennsylvania

Kenneth, if you are addressing your question to me, the answer is -- none so far. I am looking as much as possible but using pdf files (or tiff files converted to pdf) inside of adobe acrobat is what I am "settling" on for the present. If there is a sw program that will convert native format files into pdf or tiff files --- and maintain any metatags (and original file structure/words), then that would be great. Then, with that one step or sequence, we could handle even large pdf files without the need of a computer e-discovery consultant (and all the attendant expenses with outsourced e-discovery matters).

Unfortunately, I don't know any specific program to just do that particular task. Some e-discovery platforms purport to "do it all" but they quickly become very expensive.

Good luck to all of us.

            Roberta Fay

I have had two run-ins with Relativity for big cases, as a small firm with small firm infrastructure. Both convinced me that Relativity, or more precisely the NEED for Relativity, should be avoided at nearly all costs. The root of the problem is that this type of doc review software is geared toward big firms with IT departments, countless document-intensive cases, and a vested interest in burdening opposing parties in litigation. As many judges and ediscovery pros have noted, this knee-jerk practice of turning everything into a tiff file for loading into Relativity or the like is neither warranted by the discovery rules nor practical in most cases, and can actually be contrary to the rules.

The key here is to know your court's e-discovery rules inside and out, and to beat the other side to the punch when e-discovery protocols are being exchanged! In even highly doc-intensive cases, small firms are often best served by asking for production of simple text-searchable pdf files, with the exception of a few file types (audio, video, excel) which should be produced in native format. Then leave yourself an "out" to be able to request native word processing files upon a showing of need. That's it. If they fuss, get the court involved. EARLY.

Adobe Acrobat is nearly free and is vastly superior to every lawyer-geared doc review software I have every tried.

DO NOT agree to any big firm standard e-discovery protocol.

Craig Ball's blog (https://craigball.net/) is an incredible resource on keeping ediscovery productive and inexpensive.

Finally, don't hire a non-lawyer ediscovery firm. While non-IT oriented lawyers sometime misunderstand IT, non-lawyer IT professionals WILL misunderstand your discovery rules and objectives, and bill you many thousands of dollars for it. The rub is this means you need to be versed in the technical side of ediscovery. That's not aspirational; many state ethics opinions so hold.

Good luck.

            Tony LaCroix, Missouri

Tony LaCroix, thanks for your detailed email message, especially about adobe acrobat's utility in this particular area. I really like your ideas about specifying 'an "out" to be able to request native word processing files upon a showing of need' and involving the court early. Under CA law, we can send an instruction letter about how we receive discovery documents.

            Roberta Fay

Relativity is the gold standard for the last couple of years. It’s intuitive and highly adaptable. My only concern has been the pricing. They realize it’s a market leader and have priced accordingly.

You’ll be happy you used Relativity. It will actually save your clients money because of the ease of use.

            Roger Traversa, Pennsylvania

Roger, are you saying that Relativity is better than Logikcull and other related products as well as most IT consultants in this area? I did not know.

            Roberta Fay

Paperport pro puts all documents into an "all-in-one" searchable db. You can set it to do it upon scan OR set it to read and add all files, or both.

Cheap, easy to use.


            Russ Carmichael, Pennsylvania


Nuance PaperPortPro works directly with windows explorer, according to this link.


Does PaperPortPro work okay (that is, as well) with Firefox, chrome, opera, and pale moon? I don’t use windows explorer on my desktop set-up. That is why I ask.

The reviews on various places are very favorable.

            Roberta Fay

Flat Fees

I hope everyone is having a wonderful week!

I have a question which probably applies to every lawyer who charges a flat fee...

I have many clients that I have prepared estate plans for and unfortunately many of them do not make it a priority to review the documents and schedule a time to finalize everything. So for those that haven't, I haven't been able to pay myself from the trust account. Now that is completely understandable, because in their eyes, they have already paid me. They don't understand the rules of ethics we are bound by.

I called the Ethics hotline to get advice or direction from them, and they directed me to California Rules of Professional Conduct 1.15(b) which I've already looked at.

Going forward I plan to include a breakdown of what fees are earned and at what stage of the estate plan, so that I can pay myself for the work I've done.

Any advice or suggestions from someone who has dealt with this problem would be greatly appreciated!

I used to have an issue in bankruptcy cases when I first started practice.

I drafted agreements that limited the amount of time to file the case and provided for payment for work done if they did not finish as well as more money if I had to redo the case because of their delay.

            Mitchell Goldstein, Virginia

I have been working with an attorney for an estate plan. She charged me half the flat fee to draft the docs, and half at signing.

            Kevin Grierson, Virginia

That’s what I do. Half at first meeting, half when signed. My engagement agreement makes it clear that the first half is earned immediately by having that first meeting.

That said, I currently have two clients in limbo between first meeting and finalizing. In one case, the friends they were planning to nominate as guardians declined (!) and they need to figure out who to name. In the other case, the client decided to move and wants to put the new property in her trust. It’s a coop, tho, so lots of drafting implications. So, we’re waiting till that closes so we can coordinate everything.

Stuff happens.

            Meg Tebo, Illinois

I'll add another vote for half up front, half when you sign your estate plan documents. I switched to that a couple years ago and haven't had any issues with my clients. Everyone is motivated to get the documents drafted and signed that way in my experience.

            Andrew M. Ayers, New York

For ,y family law flat fees I charge 90% up front and remainder at conclusion. Why not? Clients have never complained.

            Matthew Rosenthal, California

Actually, my agreement now says that half of the fee is earned upon delivery of document drafts, and the other half earned at signing _or_45 days from the date of the agreement, whichever is earlier*. Usually, though, I just collect the second half at the signing. I have a number of clients with estate plans pending, to whom I send regular reminders.


* Wish I'd done that with a fellow whose 1/2 retainer I just sent back.

Had to get a cashier's check, because he never cashed the regular check I sent him the first time.

            Michael Koenecke, Texas

For contract clients I charge the full fee once I send them the contract because the work is completed.

Why can't you charge once you've completed your part?

Our estate planning attorney told my husband he had never lost a client between drafting and signing. My husband didn't sign his docs for a year.

Good story, eh?

            Andrea Goldman, Massachusetts

My fee agreement for estate planning says 1/2 of the full fee is payable in advance in order for me to begin the work and that the balance of the fee is due and payable upon my completion of the draft documents, not upon execution of the documents. This gets around the problem of the clients not getting around to reviewing and signing the documents.

            Miriam N. Jacobson, Pennsylvania

My engagement letter includes the following regarding when I will move the fee from the trust account to my operating account:

50% of the fee is deemed as earned when I have completed the *first draft* of your documents for you to review. The remaining 50% is deemed as earned when the *final documents are ready to be executed* by your signatures.

            Sharon Plavnick, Michigan

When the CA Bar updated its ethics rules last year, it made an even bigger distinction between earned vs. unearned fees and between true retainers and advance fees.

When you are putting your new paperwork together, think about when you have actually done the work and could prove (using an hourly rate, time records, etc.) that you had actually earned whatever you paid yourself. You will likely never run into a problem, but if a client's kid comes in demanding a refund, because mom or dad died before they signed the paperwork, you should be able to prove to the kid and the court that you did the work for which you were paid.

I also have a section in my paperwork discussing what happens after a breakdown in client communication, client's disappearance, etc. and what happens to the money. I even added a clause for when I have to hire a PI to find you, I will bill you.

            Corrine Bielejeski, California

I prepare condominium and planned community documents on a flat fee basis. My representation agreement says that 75% of the fees are earned when the initial drafts of the documents are provided, with the balance earned when the recordable document is provided.

            Caroline A. Edwards, Pennsylvania

All my flat fees are earned at the time the document is produced. That’s where my job ends - the client’s signature on the document is the client’s responsibility and subject to the client’s calendar.

            Michael Jack Kaczynski, Connecticut

My fee agreement also says the flat fee is earned in full when drafts are sent. The bulk of the work is done then. Getting clients in to sign is not always their priority, and to allow them to control when I get paid is never OK with me. Also, I write in a "delay paragraph" that says if it takes over 30 days to finish, for reasons that are not due to me, it reverts to an hourly rate, which is usually more. I did that after a client took 18 months to sign and my second half of the payment was not made until it was signed back then. Those two together seem to really work for me.

            Eliz. C. A. Johnson, California

Not a California attorney, but for my estate planning clients, for my fixed fee work (which is most but not all of my EP work), my fee agreement indicates a minimum fee for consultation, discloses my hourly rate (even if fixed fee), and that my full fee is completely earned when I've done the first draft. That's when I usually pull it from trust. If I have no trust retainer, I produce the draft only upon receipt of payment in full. If there are some costs in there, like a recording or deposit fee, I either write the check from trust at the same time as pulling the fee, or leave it in trust.

Sometimes we change a lot from the first draft, sometimes we change absolutely nothing.

I've also had clients who have put off signing for months and years - it actually isn't all that uncommon. I know that people delay coming back specifically so they wouldn't have to pay me. Most folks are more likely to come back and sign if they've already paid for it.

            Cynthia V. Hall, Florida

I consulted with our state's chief ethics counsel on a similar question.

If the fee is, say, $1000 and you tell the client that after x hours of work you will have earned the fee, you should be able to pay yourself. The only restriction on that in my state is that the fee needs to be reasonable. Given our market rates, I'd have to probably set that number at 3-4 hours to be safe.

            Deena L. Buchanan, New Mexico

Elizabeth -

I like that concept of reverting to hourly rate after a specific period of time - I will think about using that.

            Caroline A. Edwards

Handling Vacations as a Solo Practitioner

I'm planning on taking the longest vacation of my career - a whole 2 weeks!

I'll be out of the country for that time and I would like to not have to worry about work and just enjoy a vacation.

I have contacted the clients that have things pending and they know about my time off.

Obviously, I'm going to give my answer service a heads-up as well but not quite sure how to deal with others calling - clients with non-urgent issues, other lawyers calling etc. I was thinking about having the receptionists tell the caller I'm out of the country but I will call them upon my return. That seems like the most reasonable and logical thing to do.

Any other creative suggestions?

I have no idea what to do with an answering service. When I go out of town, I change my voice mail to say I am out of town. I then give them the option of emailing me or texting me. I explain that no calls will be returned until I get back.

That being said, I also have two friends who will return calls for me, if need be. They will also deal with other issues that may pop up. I just call them or text them if there is an issue.

            Jonathan Stein, California

What’s a vacation . . . ??

            Walter D. James III, Texas

I just returned from nearly a week away and did the following:

- told clients with active matters about the trip and met all deadlines up through a few days after the trip done in advance -filed notices of unavailability in cases that are active (this is a NM thing, not sure if it applies elsewhere) -prepped an out of office email automatic response -set my calendar to busy so no one could book with me through Acuity online

With all of that, I still checked email (which also contains voicemail) once a day first thing in the morning and had a lovely time.

Enjoy your trip!

            Deena Buchanan, New Mexico

In addition to Deena's and Jonathan's suggestions, one further thought: be very careful about telling OC that you are on vacation (never mind out of the country). I know someone who had a problem once because he told OC he was going out of town (and this was just a long weekend) and OC took the opportunity to file an emergency motion. My friend compounded his problem by cheaping out and not paying someone to cover the motion. He tried to call in, but basically it was a mess... and a long time before he got out of the judge's dog house.

            Amy Breyer, California

My situation makes turning off the phone a little tough because I get new clients almost every day, so if I don't answer I lose business. Last vacation I took I had my answering service tell all callers that I was unavailable all day but that I would return all calls after 8 PM, by which time I was back in my hotel room. I made all my calls at night and managed to pick up several new clients that week, which more than paid for the whole trip so the extra aggravation at night was worth it.

            Glenn Kurtzrock

Find out if there are state or local rules that require you to notify the court, if you have anything pending in court.

North Carolina has Secured Leave: With 90 days' notice, and proper service on all parties or opposing counsel and the clerks of court in the counties where you have actions pending, you are excused from any court dates that may arise while you're out, the court will not peremptorily calendar anything in your matters during the secured leave period, and opposing parties are on notice not to schedule anything during that period. (Courtesy generally dictates that they don't calendar anything for the day you first return, as well, but that's not always observed.) We are allowed to schedule up to three weeks of Secured Leave per calendar year.

My experience, having no staff, is that taking off more than one week uninterrupted is infeasible.

Other than that, make sure your service knows. Update your voice mail to set realistic expectations for response, if any will be forthcoming. The ideal situation would generally be to have a live person of some suitable discretion to whom your service could route a message if someone needs to be talked off a ledge until you get back, etc. Set an autoresponder on your e-mail, to respond to people in your contacts, if not everyone. If you configure send/receive groups and you're using sorting mailboxes, don't retrieve mailing lists and the like while you're out, so you're not overwhelmed by it on your return, and you can deal with clients' issues before turning the tap back on.

Make sure the clients know as far in advance as possible, and remind them again a week before you leave; they will have forgotten.

            Richard J. Rutledge, Jr., North Carolina

I had a similar situation to Amy's friend. I filed a Notice of Unavailability in a case in Sacramento. It was a long, drawn out, debt collection case. Plaintiff's counsel took the opportunity to file an ex parte motion. They served me by email. I drove to a Starbucks and faxed an unsigned letter to the clerk, who I had known for a few years. The judge, on his own, continued the motion until I returned. He subsequently denied the motion and issued $1,030 in non-discovery sanctions against Plaintiff's counsel. The trick was that $1,000 was the reporting limit to the State Bar and by making it just over $1,000, it triggered Plaintiff's counsel to notify the Bar. Nothing came of it in terms of discipline, but he was making a point to them.

I always file a Notice of Unavailability since then!

            Jonathan Stein

I would tell the receptionist to tell them that you are unavailable but that she will be emailing you daily your messages and that you will return calls as practical unless it’s an emergency in which case you will return as soon as you can. Don’t say you are out of the country... that’s letting nefarious folks know your house is open as well as gives other unscrupulous counsel opportunity out to take advantage by making motions etc... yes, I have had that happen for them to try to get a leg up. I also would do an auto email reply saying same.

This email may have been dictated. Please excuse any errors caused by such method of composition.

Choose Happiness,

            Micah G. Guilfoil Payne, Kentucky

I concur with Micah. Don't advertise that your home is vulnerable. Also, don't have an auto-response for Solosez emails!

A well-instructed phone answerer, perhaps Ruby (?), might be what you need for this vacation.

Whatever you do, enjoy!

            Marilou Auer, not a lawyer, Virginia

I’m a true Solo, I have no answering service and don’t usually ask anyone to cover for me unless I have a real estate closing coming up. I also notify existing clients with pending matters of my upcoming plans.

I never set an out of office reply because that would just cause endless loop emails. In the last several years I have gone out of country without publicizing that fact to other than existing clients, but have monitored emails and replied only to those that sounded like serious potential new business or from existing clients that required replies within a short period of time. In both of those instances, I responded saying that I was away from the office and the date I would return and that I could do nothing until my return but would contact them immediately thereafter. If their matter required more immediate response, I would try to refer them to someone who could give immediate assistance. They were usually able to wait. My practice areas are such that there are no true emergencies.

            Miriam Jacobson, Pennsylvania

Best option would be to have a backup lawyer available to handle the unexpected for you and your clients. If you don’t have one yet, you may want to find another lawyer to work with in case you have a medical emergency in the future.

In my jurisdiction, you can file a notice of unavailability on each case which should toll scheduling of any motion hearings. You could respond to emails and phone messages each night on your vacation, but that certainly takes some of the fun out of a vacation. It’s a difficult problem with no easy answer.

            Duke Drouillard, Nebraska


Yes, you can go away and forget about work for 2 weeks, but you need to take some steps.

1 - Set Solosez to NoMail while you are away. You can switch it back on after. Otherwise if you have an automated away message, SoloSez may drop you from the listserv (This happens to me every time I forget. Thankfully COTE lets me back on.)

2 - Hire appearance counsel to watch your office in case of an emergency or bribe a colleague to watch it for you. That doesn't mean they are actually sitting there, but your receptionist service should have someone to reach if there is an urgent matter. When I went on maternity leave for 2 months, I hired an amazing appearance counsel who handled the 2 appearances I had during that period and called me if there was anything big that came up.

Nothing big, no call. Now when my friend or I go on vacation, we usually cover one another's offices for emergencies only.

3 - If your court has a notice of unavailability, file it. Yes, some attorneys are jerks and will file stuff just to harass you around your vacation, but the new CA ethics rules place a stronger emphasis on playing nice with opposing parties and counsel, and many judges don't put up with the "file stuff while Scott is away" type of practice. You can also put your appearance counsel or helpful attorney friend in the notice and ask that any papers that are served while you are gone be served on them too.

4 - Realize that you will miss out on clients, and be okay with that. My former boss told me he was excited to hire me, because it meant he could finally make money while on vacation.

5 - I sometimes put up an autorespond that I will respond to urgent matters only, so my clients know to email me back and put URGENT in the subject line if there is an emergency. That way I can look, check for urgent matters, and then put it away.

            Corrine Bielejeski, California

Good advice on this thread. I am thinking about taking a cruise in January.

What advice would you give for being on a cruise where Wi-Fi and cell reception might be spotty?

            Jason Komninos, New Jersey

I recently returned from a Carnival cruise. Pay for the fastest internet available on the ship and use internet calling technologies (e.g., Google voice or wifi calling--I know advanced Samsungs and iPhones have Wi-Fi calling.), and you should be generally fine even if you lose reception a little. If you have the kind of practice where you can't lose access to a phone for a minute or a few hours, then I wouldn't suggest going on a cruise or find a realistic backup. I would also suggest a VPN that works even when standard VPN ports are blocked--I used VyprVPN.


            Jarrett Silver

Good advice, Jarrett. Since opening my practice, I have never been on a trip where I did not have cell service. One reason the cruise appeals to me is that it occurs during a time which is traditionally dead for me. But in my practice area, if I don't answer or return the prospective client's call right away, they go call 10 other attorneys.

            Jason Komninos

Depending on the cruise area and ship, you probably aren't going to have the best cellphone service or even WIFI, typically ship Wi-Fi is 'satellite' link which is slow. And it can be expensive. Depending on the areas you are visiting you might be better off getting cell phone service in those geographic areas and then use it when you're in port. Obviously, it depends; if it's 'domestic' cruise you're fine; I've had fine cell phone service in Key West, Puerto Rico and US Virgin Islands. But Bahamas, Mexico and Guatemala, no. And I've never bought cellphone service in European cruises and I don't intend to on my Asian cruise this fall. I just resign myself to not having cell service.

I'll let everyone possible know that I'm going on vacay, I'll put a message on my answering machine, I'll put out of office reply on my 'main' email address (not this one, this is strictly Solosez) and hang a sign on the door.

I'm not going to get new clients during that period but that's OK.

            Ronald Jones, Florida

I agree that you have to accept that you most likely will not get new business while on vacation. Here, we file vacation letters. I start MONTHS out doing this to prevent trials from being set during vacation. I do not do auto-respond on emails. I check emails. I do not check voicemail or return calls. I put a message on my voicemail about being gone and I have an office person check my voicemail while I am gone; if any emergency, I have a lawyer friend as stand by to handle. I tell people well in advance that I will be gone. If you plan ahead like this, should be no big problems. I just took a

12 day vacation this spring, no problems (Belgium, The Netherlands, Luxembourg). I actually proved this could be done, to myself, back in 99, back before cell phones, etc.

Everything was fine. I could probably get away with not checking emails but that is the most I will do. It IS vacation, after all.

I have decided I am going to take one real nice trip a year for the foreseeable future. Thinking about going back to England, next. Was last there in 99. Not going in spring; as just learned first-hand, still too cold in Europe. Probably June.

            Sharon K. Campbell, Texas

I’ve been on a couple cruises in the last couple of years. Resign yourself to being out of touch and let your clients know that will be the case. If your cruise ship is stopping in any ports, you can probably check your email in Port because you will have Internet service there if you make proper arrangements or have cell service depending on your provider that covers the ports you will be in. Questionable whether it’s worth it. It’s a good way to take a real vacation, totally unplugged.

            Miriam Jacobson

One of the best pieces of advice I received from a mentor when I was a freshly admitted attorney was to plan your vacations around times that tend to be slow for business.

Unfortunately, a recent girlfriend broke up with me and one of the reasons she cited was my reluctance to go on vacations.

Strangely enough, she was a paralegal for a solo attorney and she should know that it isn't always easy to be away from the office.

In my experience, good times of the year for me to take off and minimize losing business are mid-to-late August and early-to-mid January. Hence the possibility of going on this cruise.

I really love being my own boss but it's a lifestyle that is difficult for other people to understand. Unfortunately, this could take a toll in one's personal life.

A friend of mine had difficulty with this with his wife, who works for a school. So she has every July and August off like clockwork and is used to spending the entire month of July every year in South Carolina with her family. Obviously, as an attorney who appears in court a lot, this wasn't plausible for my friend. So they worked out a compromise that he would drive down to meet them for a week or two once his schedule frees up. They are still married and have a baby on the way!

I understand that vacations are important to many people. I enjoy them as well but 9 out of 10 times I would rather bring in the new client or make sure I make it to that court appearance and have a happy client. I don't like the idea of sending a per diem if it can be avoided. I figure it's my business, my brand, and my responsibility. A happy client will refer more clients to me. A happy judge will be glad to see me next time I appear in his or her court.

I don't really relate to people who grind at a job they hate everyday but they get that one vacation a year so they keep hating on their lives the other 50 weeks out of the year.

Maybe I'm weird.

In any event, I figure if I can plan this cruise far enough in advance, get any adjournments I might need, and maybe book the flight or hotel with credit card points, it might actually happen.

            Jason Komninos

Look, I am not a huge vacation taker either. I spent years not taking one.

We are now going to Disney World for the 3rd time in 5 years coming up. The kids like it. More importantly, the wife likes it. The first trip was over Christmas. I will never do that again. The last one and this one are over July 4. It is a Wednesday. I can leave on Saturday, spend a week in Disney World, and at worst, miss 3 1/2 days of work. No one really works July 3 in the afternoon. No one works July 4.

If someone wants to call me July 4 and is looking for an attorney, and they REALLY need to talk to me on July 4, probably not the kind of client I want anyway. At least, in my line of work, I don't get a lot of cases then.

I also know that December is slow. Insurance companies don't want to send out checks. I don't want to get checks. Clients want their money either by December 10 or they get into the holiday spirit and don't want to hear from me. So, the last two weeks of the year we go to our beach house.

Maybe, look at something like that. Go buy a small place in Wildwood or Ocean City or something like that. You can still get away for a few days (hence vacations with the new Significant Other) but you can still work. I take my phone and laptop to our house. I have a printer hidden in the house. I can get some work done, if need be. I can also take some down time and avoid people!

            Jonathan Stein

My vacation protocol is:

  • Start telling clients and other people on the project team (for me, that is engineers, land planners, brokers and title companies) that I will be away as early as possible - I usually start about three months out. A month out, I send a reminder by email, then mention it pretty regularly after that.
  • To the extent possible, in the run up to vacation, be sure nothing big is scheduled for vacation time AND the following week.
  • Tell clients that I will not be available by phone but that I check emails once per day in late afternoon, so if they need to reach me, they should email me.
  • I set aside a short time each day to check email and respond. I have remote access to my office computer so I can prepare a document, if absolutely necessary. It generally hasn't been, but it makes my clients feel better.
  • I have my phone set up so I get voicemail messages via email, so I can keep track of what is going on. My practice is more email than phone intensive, so I don't worry too much about missing something coming in via phone. Anymore, I have gotten away from "out of the office" messages for security reasons - I figure if you are a client or someone I work with regularly, you know I am away, and if you are not, then you don't need to know.
  • My assistant checks my mail and scans anything that looks like it might be important. She sends me an email attaching anything scanned. She also knows how to restart my computer if there has been a power outage, etc., so I can maintain the remote access.

Personally, I am more relaxed being able to check email once a day and knowing things are handled, than I was when it was a lot more difficult to keep in touch. One thing I have learned is that while being away for two weeks feels like a lot, in the work world it really isn't all that significant a time period. Enjoy the vacation!

            Caroline A. Edwards, Pennsylvania

Reading Prospective Clients

So, I've learned that some clients are looking for a certain personality type in a lawyer. For example, some folks are looking for the bulldog in-the-ring type, while others are looking for the hand holding type.

I'm more down the middle in my consultations. I try to be professional and straightforward, so I probably don't come across as a bulldog, and I might seem cold to the ones looking for a hand holder. But some people seem to like my straightforward, honest approach and feel that they can trust me and that I'm not one to BS them around.

But I also lose clients because I'm not matching their preconceived notions. How are we supposed to know what the client is looking for when the phone rings or they just walk in the door? I think that would be tantamount to mind-reading, which I don't think is possible.

What do you think?

That's a feature, not a bug. :)

Your marketing should be done in your own personal style and personality.

When the PC picks up the phone to talk with you or walks into your office, they should already know what you're going to be like and how you're going to generally approach their case.

The ones who want the bulldog should never call you, if that's not your style.

Let's say you *could* read their mind (or maybe just had a smart phone intake person who asked slick questions to figure this stuff out)... If the PC wanted a bull dog lawyer, would you actually change your consult style to try to portray yourself that way?

Let's say they hired you after that consult. What happens when you don't actually act like a "bull dog" lawyer? You're going to have an unhappy client.

To the more subtle point here - one of the single best questions I've learned to ask: "What are you worried about?" I can tell the PC all about the law, how their facts might play out in court, and what their punishments might be. But maybe this individual PC is just worried about going to jail and doesn't care about anything else. Maybe their case has no realistic threat of jail. If I can find that out and reassure them that they're not going to jail, I'm the hero right off the bat!

            Andrew Flusche, Virginia

Are you asking how to be everything to everyone? IMHO, a good match for a lawyer isn't just the person being a prospective client. I want clients who can work with my practice style and personality, not ones for whom I would have to turn myself into a pretzel. That has never ended well for me.

            Deb Matthews, Virginia

I'm just wondering if there's something I'm "missing" in this sales game.

            Jason T. Komninos, New Jersey

You aren't missing anything. You want to "sell" only to the people who you want as customers. You don't want to sell to the general public. You aren't Walmart or Target.

You aren't Petco. A buddy of mine owns a pet store in town. He is small.

His prices may be a bit more expensive. But, if you want to walk in, have a question, and get an answer, he is the ONLY place to go. He understands that. He doesn't want to sell everything to everyone.

You are the same. I don't want someone who wants an attorney in a suit and tie every day. It isn't my style. I don't want to change for a client. I also don't want a client who expects me to drop everything in the middle of my son's soccer game to call them. It isn't happening. So I am up front with them. I get a LOT of referrals from other lawyers. I tell these people what to expect. If they don't like it, that is okay. They can find someone else.

Just figure out who you are and who you want to represent. Then be yourself and target those folks.

            Jonathan Stein, California

Wise advice by Andrew Jonathan and Deborah. Others may be more successful at converting meetings with prospective clients due to their personality or their salesmanship or physical appearance (Raymond Burr Perry Mason) than you. Although maybe the salesmanship talent in this regard could be taught (?).

            Roger M. Rosen, California

Rather than a bulldog or a kitty cat, in my experience, potential clients are looking for a lawyer who is confidence. Do you convey a air of confidence to your clients? Get someone who will tell you the truth to evaluate you. People hire lawyers because they want to solve a problem. How can you solve their problem?

I've always said that many lawyers leave a lot of money on the table because they're not salespeople. The practice of law is as much about sales as it is about the law. My previous sales training has served me well. I would trade the knowledge for anything. There are lots of books and courses on marketing a law practice, but I have yet to find one that rolls up its sleeves and calls the challenge what it really is: sales. Maybe I'll create one. Jonathan and I have created Marketing groups, but they unfortunately died out over time.

If I ever left the practice of law voluntarily or otherwise, I could make more money in sales.

            Mike Phillips, North Carolina

Depends on the area of law, to an extent.

 I've got probably a 98 or 99% 'closure' rate for ordinary probates; defined as "IF the client needs a probate in Florida then they hire me to bring the probate". Not everyone needs a probate; a significant percentage of my meetings result in me telling potential client, "you don't need a probate, take the death certificate to the banks, etc. transfer the accounts, take it to DMV transfer the car, record the death certificate in county records and that will transfer the house". I spend 10, maybe 15 minutes with them. I don't count that as a lost sale because they don't need a probate. And if turns out there is some sort of later discovered asset that does need probate, they'll call me back and I'll sign them up.

 Now, I'm talking ordinary probates here.

 Sometimes I get inquiries on 'different' probates, maybe something is already open, maybe it's contested matter, and I evaluate the law, the facts and the client; sometimes it's something normal; client is being asked to sign a waiver and consent to something that is perfectly routine (where PR is nominated in will or is entitled to preference in appointment); sometimes it is very hinky and I say "Woah, Nelly, lets talk about this" (client being asked to sign disclaimer of her interest in estate which would deprive her of any inheritance); but sometimes it's person who doesn't like what's going on and they want to contest Every.Single.Thing. Which they are almost certainly going to lose, or they don't have standing to contest it, or they want to turn it into a 'family law' case; I'll decline representation in those cases. In other words, client has unrealistic expectations of what I can do. You get a read of the client (usually; hopefully, sometimes you don't, you take the case THEN the client turns unrealistic).

             Ronald Jones, Florida

I usually ask people about their issue and tell them how I would handle it. After thirty years, I think I do convey a lot of confidence. I usually sell people on my way of dealing with the case.

Why don't you ask them about their expectations when you first speak to or meet with them?

            Andrea Goldman, Massachusetts

That's a good idea. Thank you everyone for the advise and reassurance.

            Jason T. Komninos

I think Mike hit it right.

Are you a sales person? Do you like sales? If not, you are going to "lose" a few more clients than our fellow lawyers who are naturally sales oriented.

That's okay.

I take the handholders, the people who need explanations, and the ones who just want everything to go smoothly. The really litigious folks and the ones who want to fight over every penny that the creditor lists on a proof of claim just aren't going to pick me, and that's fine.

Now, if you aren't reaching some of the people you want to reach, maybe there's a reason for that. Try recording yourself during a fake consultation. Do you seem confident or unsure? Are you listening to the client? What does your body language say? My former boss used to lean away from people (asserting control) and was very direct when it came to pricing and what he could offer. It took me years to get that direct. My price is X. Unfortunately, no I can't lower it. I'm so glad attorney Y quoted you less. Feel free to go with them. Oh you like me better?

Great. Still X. Here's the retainer.

            Corrine Bielejeski, California

I agree with what others have said about knowing the type of client that you enjoy working with and about knowing yourself and being true to who you are. That said, what I'm hearing from you is how can I better read what things a potential client is looking for in a lawyer and, if they are in my wheelhouse, how do I communicate that to the client.

I have represented a wide variety of clients. Some clients are "just the facts" folks. They don't want to talk through the pros and cons and their options. They want my recommendation in a short and sweet manner. They don't want to be bothered by repeated updates. On the other hand, I've also represented clients who want to understand what is happening, why, potential options, pros/cons, recommendations, etc. They want to wade through the case with me at their side, guiding and explaining everything along the way. There are countless other variations. I consider one of my strengths to be my ability to adapt how I communicate to what the client needs.

Getting to your question (or at least my interpretation of it), I think a lot comes down to being able to read the client, situation, and legal needs. Often, it's a matter of asking the right questions, and enough questions, and then really listening not to just the answer but all the verbal and nonverbal cues that come with it. For example, a hesitation can tell you more than the "yes" answer you receive. I find this easier to do in a face to face session (either in person or video chat) but have improved my ability to do the same over the phone.

I prefer to think of it as me having a closet-full of options, each of which are true to me and comfortable to wear. I am me whether I am all dressed up or heading home from the gym. When the client wants a high-powered, formal lawyer, I would choose the "suit" version of me -- using more sophisticated language, perhaps subject-specific or industry-specific language or abbreviations, discuss things in a more cut-to-the chase manner, and so on. I would stress those experiences I have that fit that style they are looking for. For example, I might mention that I have worked with clients with billions of dollars in annual revenue, international operations, many lines of business, and that I have achieved (or avoided) large settlements or closed on large, favorable deals. If the client is a bootstrapping entrepreneur, they may be put off by the "suit" version and instead want someone who understands tech, knows the entrepreneur lingo, and can explain the legal in a way an engineer can understand. They may be more of a business casual (or even jeans and t-shirt) client. I need to impress on that client that I am approachable and will meet them where they are; that I will make them feel comfortable and supported, and that questions are welcomed and expected.

I hope that helps. I'm happy to talk with you about you, your practice, your particular strengths, and the clients you want to land.

            Kristin Haugen