Around the Blawgosphere: Bloggers Tell Solos to Mine the 'Scrap Heap' and Get Inspired by 'Chopped'

Scraps as Strategy

Washington, D.C., solo Carolyn Elefant writes at My Shingle that she often gets asked what one thing can guarantee you success. She naturally doesn’t believe that there is such a magic bullet, but if pressed for an answer says: Mine the scrap heap. Find the clients and cases and practice areas that your large-firm competitors can’t be bothered with and take them on. Elefant mention’s Skadden’s Joe Flom as an example of someone “who built an empire on rough-and-tumble M&A cases, which were a dog at the time he took them on.” Solos have “turned garbage into gold” forever, Elefant says.

“Not to brag, but I’m the queen of the junkyard myself in my own practice area, where I started representing ocean energy developers in the early 1990s when no other law firms would give them the time of day,” Elefant wrote.

Chefs vs. Ingredients

Solo Practice University’s Susan Cartier Liebel writes that she is a “frenzied fan” of the Food Network’s television program Chopped. In this three-round cooking game show, four chefs are all given the same three to five ingredients and the same amount of time to invent and prepare a dish for three judges. The worst performers from each round are “chopped” by the judges, and the winner is left standing.

Watching the show, she came to think of solo practitioners as chefs, legal document companies as ingredients—and, it seems, clients as the judges. “When [solos] fear forms companies, [solos] are fearing that clients will go to a forms superstore believing getting a form is comparable to hiring a lawyer,” Liebel wrote. “Similarly, a forms company can only sell legal forms in their most basic state, just like a box of dried pasta. There is no experience attached, no nuance, no interpretation of the facts and the law to help a potential client with their legal problem the way an experienced practitioner familiar with their legal problem, precedent, the courts and local procedure can bring to bear. The purchaser of forms is buying the hope of a gourmet meal but being told to create it themselves without understanding the first thing about cooking. It is up to each and every lawyer to help potential clients recognize this major distinction between a forms company peddling boxed pasta and hiring a lawyer to do the actual cooking.”

Accordion to Experts

At Persuasive Litigator, litigation consultant Ken Broda-Bahm was surprised by the contention in an article in the George Mason Law Review (PDF) that ” ‘modern approaches to jury selection’ focus on biases relating to factors ‘such as race and gender.’ ” The article also notes a particular brand of software on the market that uses demographic data to predict jurors’ values.

That approach is hardly a modern one, Broda-Bahm writes: Researchers have known for decades that such demographics are poor predictors of verdicts. “That is like claiming that the accordion occupies the central place in modern music—it is very nearly the opposite of the truth.” And the software in question is not only not that widely used, it is, as the law review writers note, “a walking Batson challenge.”

Not that Broda-Bahm is opposed to all technology related to jury selection. “Skepticism of the ability of ‘a computer’ to pick your jury … might unfairly tarnish many of the more modern approaches to laptop- or iPad-aided jury selection. To be clear, the tools that I’ve used and reviewed—Jury Box, iJuror, and Jury Duty—do not make a similar demographic calculation to tell you who is at risk. Instead, these tools serve as sophisticated versions of the old Post-it note grid in order to systematize the choice for the attorney.”

Wanted: Law Bloggers

Above the Law announced this week that it is looking for up to three new columnists. These are not full-time positions, but these lawyer-bloggers would be paid for their content. The site’s columnist wish list is as follows: a partner from an Am Law 200 firm to write about the culture at large law firms, much like former Kirkland & Ellis partner Steven Harper does at The Belly of the Beast; a member of the U.S. Supreme Court bar to cover oral arguments; and a fourth small-firm columnist.

“The rules for writing for Above the Law are simple,” the site says. “You can be anonymous, or not. You can have the comments on, or not. You can be a tool, or not. But if you are boring, there isn’t anything we can do for you.”

Email applications will be accepted through 11:59 p.m. on Monday, April 23, and they’ll have made their decisions by May 1.

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