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July 2008

One Law School Student Asks How One Becomes An Internet Lawyer

I received an email the other day from a law student who asks:

I am a 3rd year law student at [deleted] law school in Lansing. ...  I find the area of law in which you practice particularly fascinating.  The reason I write is to ask a bit of your advice.  I am very interested in what your firm does regarding internet law.  I love your new website and hope to incorporate a thriving web scene into my own firm.  [My law school] really doesn't offer classes on this material as I'm sure it is a new and rapidly developing area of the law.  How did you get involved in this area of the law, and how might a young attorney like myself become involved?  Any information or advice you have would be greatly appreciated.

Like most attorneys practicing internet law, e-commerce law and variations of these practice areas.  There are two routes to get into this particular space.  The one I see all the time is that lawyers have prior experience working for or with technology companies.  I was general counsel to an internet start-up in Boulder Colorado from approximately 1994 through 1996.  That was my introduction to the internet and technology company representation. 

Other lawyers end up working for law firms who have technology clients, and simply learn on the job.  Keep in mind, internet law does have some statutes which apply only within the internet law space such as:

A variety of other federal and state laws which deal particularly with the internet and technology issues. 

Beyond the specialized statutes, there are licensing issues and other contract principles which apply in lots of situations but get thrown into the category “internet law” when they have an online or ecommerce component.  Much of what we do in the internet law space is apply general legal principles to the particular facts presented by technology. 

My advice to you or anyone else who wants to practice internet law is to set up some Google alerts for terms such as “internet law” “cyber-law” and any other particular things you want  to learn about.  Do a blog search for those terms as well and start following the commentary in the RSS feeds.  RSS feeds on niche blogs provide more educational material than any law school ever could.  You can learn more about these particular issues using online tools such as alerts and feeds in ways previously unthinkable.  Best of luck and let me know if you need any more advice. 

Lawyers Who Fail To Incorporate The Latest Technologies Will Be Left Behind

Stephen Nipper over at  the Invent Blog has an interesting post “Are attorneys (on average) lacking in basic technical skills?

"It is surprising to most people, but attorneys tend to be late adopters of technology. I think it is a result of having a “I don’t have time to learn something new, must keep working” mentality."

"Proof: check out branding guru Justin Foster’s recent post on “5 technical skills a modern professional should know” and tell me what percent of the attorneys you know have all five of those skills."

There’s no question that professionals, including attorneys, are late adopters of technology.  Those who simply think “they don’t have time” to (fill in the blank) (blog, learn technology, participate in online professional networking, experiment with group collaboration systems, etc.), are just about everywhere within our profession.  Part of it is the hourly billing mentality.  Lawyers get up in the morning with one thing on their mind, capturing six-minute increments until the end of the day.  Learning about technology is often seen as non-billable time, and therefore without merit.  Our law firm Traverse Legal, PLC incorporates technology at all levels.  We often say that we are one of the most technologically advanced law firms in the world.  I believe this is true.  From our extranet system which puts every client’s case-matter online, to our transparency and use of a range of software items which help us organize and collaborate is unique.  But these technology tools are much more than “fun.”  They provide a real advantage in the marketplace.  Clients notice and regularly comment about our systems.  Clients who are located in distant corners of the world tell us that they are more closely tied with us than their large law firms located down the block in their home town.  Technology makes us both accountable and efficient. 

Lawyers who fail to incorporate the latest technologies into their law firm business model will simply be left behind.  It’s that simple. 

Alleged Hourly Billing Fraud against Wilmer Law Firm: This Is What Happens When Legal Budgets Are Not Reviewed and Approved Ahead of Time by the Client

My friend Patrick Lamb over at the In Search Of Perfect Client Service blog has an interesting post “Both Sides: You Reap What You Sow.” 

Patrick is commenting on an article at noting McAfee Sues WilmerHale for over $12 Million in Legal Fees.

It is hard to imagine any client entering into a legal services agreement with a law firm without first identifying the budget.  Obviously, litigation is more challenging to budget.  However, it certainly appears that the Wilmer law firm and McAfee failed to discuss expectations going in.  A law firm can always, consistent with the ethical duties of protecting the client’s interest, scale up or down its activities consistent with the budget expectation from the client.  Hourly billing is ripe with possibility of overbilling allegations since it is a system built around simply “paying whatever it costs” after the work is done and after the bill arrives. 

90% of the work that we do at Traverse Legal is on a flat fee basis.  We set forth defined deliverables and a flat fee cost for the client to review and approve.  As noted in the previous post, our retainer agreement is simply an email exchange between us and the potential client.  There is very little room for problems because the client’s expectations and fee are approved before the project even begins. 

The above allegations of attorney fraud and hourly overbilling are yet another example illustrating why hourly billing is bad for both law firms and clients. 

Are Traditional Retainer Agreements Outdated?

Carolyn Elefant over at the MyShingle blog has an interesting post and related links concerning well-drafted retainer agreements.  It is true that in personal injury cases, retainer agreements remain critically important if you wish to collect your fee.  But in commercial and most other transactions, I wonder whether the traditional formalized retainer agreement is outdated, unnecessary and otherwise creates an unnecessary barrier to actually doing business with a client. 

At Traverse Legal, PLC, we essentially offer clients a money back guarantee.  If they’re not happy with a particular project, then they simply don’t pay.  We would not work with them again in most instances.  If we really did screw up, then we shouldn’t get paid anyway. 

We’ve only had two instances in four years where a client was unsatisfied with the deliverables we provided for the flat fee quoted.  In both instances, we returned the entire fee and sent the client on their way.  These were clients which we concluded would never be happy under any circumstances.  Some companies simply beat on vendors as part of their business model. 

Our retainer agreement consists of an email which defines the deliverables and quotes the fee.  The client responds to the email indicating that they wish to proceed forward.  We generate an invoice allowing the client to “pay now” by PayPal, credit card or other banking transaction.  Most of our clients retain us and pay their flat fee within hours of first contact. 

Essentially, we have eliminated the barriers to actually starting our business relationship with clients.  The formalized and traditional retainer agreement has numerous drawbacks.  First, it is a paper document which raises challenges in the digital world.  At best, you would email or fax the retainer agreement to a client, who would have to print it out, sign it and fax it back.  Some companies may require the client to provide an original signature before they’ll start work.  Many clients become extremely intimidated by the language of the retainer agreement which, of course, has all sorts of legal jargon imbedded in it.  Some clients will even take the retainer agreement to another attorney for review.  Once your focus is no longer on ensuring that you collect the fee, you can start seeing the potential of getting clients signed up and starting their project in real time.  Remember that most clients contact attorneys because they have a legal issue which is extremely pressing.  All of the hoops that law firms put in front of clients to jump through before they can even provide assistance seems, to us, unnecessary. 

As always, your thoughts appreciated. 

Voicemail Has Become More of a Burden than an Asset

I have long hated just about everything concerning voicemail.  Fundamentally, I still don’t understand why I should have to push multiple buttons, codes and selections to get my voicemail.  I want my voicemail when I want it.  I should be able to push one button and have it start playing.

But Professor Mark J. Randazza over at The Legal Satyricon links to a new TechCrunch article “Think Before You Voicemail.” Mark hits the nail on the head when he says “voicemail is an outdated form of communication.”  Text messages, emails and the like are the best forms of communication which technology has to offer.  Set up phone conferences at specific times on specific dates if you need to talk to someone directly.  Voicemail Sucks!

Continue reading "Voicemail Has Become More of a Burden than an Asset" »

One of my Favorite Interviews: Alan Drewsen from the INTA

Biosalan_drewsen As I was reading back through some old blog posts, I stumbled across this Vtalk Radio interview sponsored by my firm Traverse Legal, PLC of Alan Drewsen, the executive director of the International Trademark Association (INTA).  As many of you who follow this blog know, we specialize in internet law.  A significant portion of our practice deals specifically with domain name disputes

Mr. Drewsen provides an extremely cogent and comprehensible view of what the trademark community believes about cybersquatting. 

Continue reading "One of my Favorite Interviews: Alan Drewsen from the INTA" »

Large Law Firms Can’t Compete with Small Law Firms

Here is an interesting post from the eBiz Insider titled “Why “SMALL” is BIG in E-commerce”.  I have often said that small law firms have a tremendous advantage in the current market because the can deploy technology and rework their internal processes in such a short period of time.   Large law firms are typically stuck with their software purchases and attendant process for three to five years after commitment.  Then they have the nearly impossible task of getting everyone to buy into the new system and use it. 

Here are the seven reasons noted by eBiz Insider as to why small is big in e-commerce:

Reason #1: Now the big boys are playing by YOUR RULES!!!
Reason #2: You are more motivated…
Reason #3: You are more fluid.
Reason #4:  They never EVER have good ideas.
Reason #5: When someone has a good idea—they don’t stop until they screw it up.
Reason #6: You listen. They don’t.
Reason #7: You know the Internet shopper better than they do.

I would say that this is very interesting reading for large and small law firms as well as any e-commerce business.  As you know, we represent e-commerce companies in a variety of transactions.  It is amazing how quickly a small e-commerce company can grow and drive revenue.  Once they get to a certain size, it is much harder for them to change. 

The World's Oldest Blogger, Olive Riley, Dies at the age of 108

Art_blogger_mikerubbo "An Australian woman often described as the world's oldest blogger has died at the age of 108 after posting a final message about her ailing health but how she sang "a happy song, as I do every day."

Story Highlights

  • Olive Riley died Saturday at a nursing home in New South Wales
  • She recounted life during 2 world wars, raising three kids and working as a barmaid
  • In her final post, dated June 26, Riley wrote how she felt weak

Read the full story.

Continue reading "The World's Oldest Blogger, Olive Riley, Dies at the age of 108" »

Finding Opportunity in Difficult Economic Times

Only about ten to twenty percent of our client base is local.  Most of our clients are located outside the State of Michigan and many outside the United States of America.  Because we are a law firm specializing in internet law, intellectual property, domain name disputes, corporate services and complex litigation, we tend to get hired by companies and outside counsel in cases where specialization is required.  Because our market is global, we are somewhat insulated from the economic downturns which shrink corporate budgets.

Continue reading "Finding Opportunity in Difficult Economic Times" »

Fully Integrated Web/Blog: A Law Firm Website

We’ve received a lot of inquiries concerning our post last week concerning the launch of our new website.  As noted, we are a Traverse City, MI law firm. Our new website is part traditional “brochure” web pages describing our practice areas and includes nine distinct vertical blogs within niche practice areas.  Some people have noted that they could not distinguish between the blog pages and the traditional “brochure” pages on our website.  To help break things down further, here are the practice area pages with relatively static information about our legal practice areas:

Our niche blogs which discuss the latest cases, information and issues within various practice areas, are found here:

Because blog pages are easier to update, we have kept our attorney and staff pages as blog pages:

Note that the home page at pulls in the latest three posts from each of our niche blogs creating dynamic content.  We believe that it is no longer necessary for attorneys to host their blogs as separate websites, distinct from their primary law firm website.  While it used to be true that blogs were considered to be personal.  There is simply no reason to isolate and cast to the background your professional blog.  In many instances, your professional blog receives much more traffic than your static web page.  By failing to incorporate the same basic design as your website, you fail to capitalize on the great marketing, biographical and contact information which is found on your traditional website.  The time has come for your website and blog pages to contain the same design template as a fully integrated web 2.0 website.

Traverse Legal is proud to have launched one of the first fully integrated website/blogs of any law firm.  If anyone is aware of any other law firm that has fully integrated the design of their website onto their blog, or vice versa, let us know.  We would love to take a look.