Trying a Case and Running a Business? As Trial Lawyers, We Do It All

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For over twenty years, at about this time of year, I wrap up my law firm’s year-end finances. I meet with my bookkeeper (repeatedly), coordinate with my CPA, ensure the books are balanced and pay all my remaining taxes. As I discharge these mundane annual duties, I am reminded once again that we trial lawyers are not only full-time attorneys but also employers, taxpayers and small business owners or employees of small business owners.

Just like the mom- and-pop store on the corner, we are responsible for every detail of our businesses, making sure that the employees are compensated and the bills are paid whether we are on a trial calendar that week or not.

On top of practicing law and running a business, many of us are active in our communities and local civic organizations. After all, each of us has a vested interest in the community in which we have chosen to hang our shingle and our communities, in turn, rely on us not only for our legal advice, but also for our continuing support. This explanation of trial lawyers as small business owners and active members of our community resonates with legislators in particular, not because it convinces them that trial lawyers are not the enemies of small business — as we are often made out to be by adversaries at the Capitol—but because it helps to explain that we ARE small business in every way.

The reality is that the practice of law is a full-time job, but so too is the much less glamorous role that involves the management of a law practice. Many small firm and solo practitioners learn to balance these roles through trial and error when they go out on their own. Others are fortunate enough to learn from senior lawyers. Yet many of us still struggle to do all of the things the practice of law requires- -advocate on behalf of our clients while keeping the lights on, hiring qualified support staff, maintaining a balanced ledger regardless of whether it has been a profitable or lean year for the firm, ensuring the taxes are paid, and the list goes on and on.

This copy of Verdict was written with that balance in mind. This “Business Side of Practicing Law” edition focuses on managing the day-to-day and long-term affairs of a law firm, whether you are in your first or fortieth year of practicing law. It is written with an eye toward helping young lawyers understand the different facets of hanging their own shingle while, at the same time, also providing experienced lawyers with a fresh perspective on the business aspects of law practice.

Jonathan Hawkins opens up this edition with an insightful and useful step-by-step look at creating or updating your law firm partnership agreements. These agreements, though often viewed as a mere formality in the partnership process, can truly make or break your fledgling law firm before the doors are ever opened. As Jonathan writes, “The adage ‘breaking up is hard to do’ doesn’t just apply to our personal relationships. A business divorce can wreak havoc. And when the business is a law firm, a breakup that ends up in court can affect your bottom line and your professional reputation.” Amen.

 Also in this edition is a helpful primer on the use of social media and the legal hurdles you should know before your firm tweets itself into hot water; an article from the perspective of a real estate professional and attorney about considerations when looking for office space, negotiating a deal and entering into a lease agreement; a thought-provoking article from John Bey on the potential to use psychological techniques to ensure that you are hiring the right employees for your firm; and so much more.

No issue of Verdict would be complete without a “How I Obtained Justice for my Client” article, and we are thrilled to feature GTLA Past President Lance Cooper’s heroic work to uncover the now-infamous GM ignition switch recall scandal. His efforts to seek justice for the family of Brooke Melton, a 29-year-old nurse killed when her Chevrolet Cobalt’s ignition switch failed, began a chain of events that has led to one of the largest car maker scandals in the 21st Century—and perhaps of all time. What could possibly compel an attorney to rescind a multi-million dollar settlement agreement? You’ll have to read Lance’s incredible first-hand account of the events since Brook’s tragic and untimely death in 2010 to find out.

As is the case with each issue, we spend a great deal of time putting together a list of entertaining and insightful articles from some of our state’s most experienced and well-respected experts in their respective fields and areas of practices in order to share best practices with fellow members of the plaintiffs’ trial bar. More specifically, our goal with this “Business Side of Practicing Law” edition is to provide you with a reference that can — we hope — serve as an important resource for you as you transition to solo practice or undergo major changes to the business-side of your existing law practice. We sincerely hope that we’ve achieved that goal with this issue, and that your small business continues to thrive in 2015 and beyond.