Summer 2016 Entrepreneurial Experiences

Author Archive

Week 10: The End of My Internship

Monday, August 22, 2016 12:38 pm

Now that my internship has ended, I am able to reflect on this very wonderful experience. I have learned many lessons and I am grateful for the opportunity. With my legal background, I came into this internship certain that I knew what to expect and could predict how things would run from week to week. This firsthand experience definitely opened my eyes to the daily operations and obstacles faced by a new law practice. The most important lesson that I have learned is that there is nothing predictable about running a new law firm. Ultimately, I plan to open an international law office and I believe that I now know what it takes to get it started. Additionally, I have seen the amount of work that will be required to market my firm and help it become a success. There will be challenges, but it is important to face each obstacle head-on and to continue to persevere and remain persistent in spite of any discouragement or difficulties that may occur. In the legal field, it is difficult to be the newbie and at the same time gain a competitive advantage. However, during this internship, I have been involved in many projects that I will be able to use in my own law practice including, various marketing techniques, community relations projects, a law practice management program, and effective office policies and procedures. I have learned many valuable lessons while helping to research and implement each of these projects. In the end, I am glad that I was able to participate in this experience, and I am encouraged now that I see the wide range of possibilities for my own practice.

Week 9: Out-take Procedures

Friday, August 12, 2016 2:09 am

As I finish my internship, I have been tasked with helping to revise the firm’s out-take policy. The main purpose of the out-take policy is to put specific guidelines and procedures in place for when the obligation to the client is complete. It may seem simple, but it is important for a law firm to make stipulations for things such as, how to inform the client that you have finished your obligation, how to keep track of clients to advise them of changes in the law, and how to make sure your clients think of you the next time they need a lawyer.

A law firm must set clear expectations and effectively communicate information to clients to ensure that both parties are on the same page. Letting the client know every step of his case will prevent any misunderstandings, and can help the attorney avoid frivolous malpractice suits. A well-written closing letter can greatly aid with finalizing the attorney-client relationship. The closing letter that I assisted with left instructions for the client, and included a handy reference guide for when there is confusion. This extra detail makes a great impression with the client, and can help alleviate a lot of future stress and concern.

In addition to the closing letter, I helped update the procedure for following up with former clients. This additional service can help the client feel valued and can lead to repeat clients, which is a great marketing tool for the firm. Even if former clients are not likely to need the services again, statistics have shown that repeat clients spend more and refer more.

I have personally seen the gratitude that clients have when they feel their case is given extra care. That is why it is important to have effective out-take procedures in place. These procedures may take some time and work to implement but it is well worth the effort.

Week 8: (CLE) Continuing Legal Education

Monday, August 8, 2016 3:42 pm

This past week I attended a CLE on professional ethics. The course was taught by licensed North Carolina practitioners. This course covered the codes of conduct governing proper professional behavior and the obligations owed to clients and society. After attending the course, I learned that CLE’s are beneficial and can be very enjoyable.

Most states require continued legal education for attorneys, known as CLE’s. The continued professional development consists of professional education courses for attorneys. These courses take place after admission to the bar and are required each year an attorney is actively licensed. North Carolina requires a minimum of 12 CLE credits per year, and failure to meet the requirements can result in suspension of your license.

The purpose of CLE’s is to fill out the gap between the theory and the reality of legal practice. They keep lawyers updated on new regulations and trends in the legal field. The goal is to make lawyers more competent and to ensure that attorneys will not allow their knowledge and skills to diminish after passing the bar. Each state requires a minimum number of CLE credits, which are measured in hours. CLE credits range in various legal topics such as ethics, diversity training , family law, professional responsibility, basic skills, substance abuse , prevention of malpractice, and attorney-client disputes.

A lawyer might be unsure about a particular area of law, or have doubt about certain legal issues. By attending CLE courses, you learn about current and relevant topics. Additionally, you can get answers to any questions you may have, and have the opportunity to participate in active discussions with other attorneys. CLE’s are an excellent way to connect with other attorneys that may have similar questions or concerns.

Continued educational training for attorneys is not a requirement in Saudi Arabia, where I am a professor and attorney. In the US, it is critical to remaining actively licensed and an important aspect of networking within the profession. By attending the course, I learned about the latest updates regarding the rules of professional ethics and had the opportunity to network with other legal professionals.

Week 7: The Importance of Networking

Friday, August 5, 2016 9:15 am

One of the things that have become quite apparent during my internship is the importance of networking in the legal profession. Networking is an invaluable tool in any business but is fundamental to the success of a solo practitioner. Still today, the most common way to get a new client is through a referral. Having a successful practice requires acquiring and sustaining meaningful relationships. Therefore, a new law firm’s success is contingent upon the ability to network with peers and build a strong reputation in the legal community.

The legal profession has changed dramatically over the last few years. The current market has become over-saturated with licensed attorneys, which has led to increased competition between attorneys and law offices. As well, technology has led to increased competition with legal services such as LegalZoom. With the abundance of legal options, it can be very difficult to maintain a successful law practice. That is why good networking is essential.

Through meeting new people and attending networking events, an attorney can market their firm, as well as, add to their list of professional contacts. A firm’s network is a group of people who may, over time, refer business to the firm or become clients themselves. Effective networking requires determining your networking goals, developing a plan of action, and committing the time needed to produce meaningful results. For attorneys, networking frequently occurs through professional associations and being in the community. Additionally, many networking opportunities arise from business conducted in meetings or the courthouse.

Networking is not always in an office or business setting, it can also include community activities or the occasional party. For attorneys, the opportunities are endless. I have been surprised to learn the amount of time that must be dedicated to networking ventures. It truly requires a commitment. Throughout my internship, I have gained a tremendous amount of knowledge and professional contacts through different networking opportunities. I have met amazing people and I hope to maintain those relationships. Ultimately, this may help with my plan to open an international law firm.

 

WEEK 6: An Effective Law Practice Management Program for a New Solo Practitioner

Tuesday, August 2, 2016 11:34 am

This past week I have continued to monitor the office policies and procedures to ensure they are adequately meeting the firm’s needs. I have been particularly focused on the current calendaring policy. This policy is really important to the firm’s success.

Attorneys need an effective way to organize the many tasks that they must juggle during the course of a day. A successful calendaring policy sets the boundaries for employees to work within specific time limitations. This policy details the times set for meetings, client interviews, court dates, etc. To implement an effective calendaring policy, most law firms use law practice management software. This software provides attorneys with a convenient way to manage information electronically. A modern law firm uses practice management software to manage contacts, case information, documents and calendaring effectively. It also has a feature that allows associates in the same firm to share data, and helps prevent the attorneys from having to enter duplicate information. Fortunately, there are many cost effective software options available.

When choosing the best software many factors must be considered. Many programs link with personal digital assistants (PDAs) so that calendars and schedules are always handy. Some case management packages are web-based and allow for 24-hour access to all features. Another factor to consider is the size of the firm. Practice and case management programs vary in their compatibility by the firm size and features. Some programs are not suitable for larger firms, but may contain features that effectively service a solo or small firm. When selecting a case management program, it is important to first determine your case management needs. Your firm may not need every available function, but a program that enhances your practice seamlessly and effortlessly.

After careful research, I have found two practice management programs that adequately meets the needs of a new law office, particularly a small or solo practice. Both Clio and Rocket Matter law firm practice management programs offer starter and boutique packages that have all of the essential features needed to streamline a law office. They offer free trials and are relatively easy to set up and get running. Additionally, they offer support with excellent customer service.

I have passed these suggestions over to my supervising attorney and hope that they can be implemented and make a positive impact on the firm.

Week 5: Establishing Policies and Procedure

Monday, July 18, 2016 1:55 am

This week I researched the importance of establishing proper policies and procedures. A policy is a course of action adopted by a business. Policies help organize the workplace, the services offered, and many aspects of the business. Policies in general, framework the operational and organizational structure of a law firm. They are essential to managing a business and outlining business standards. Policies create structure by guidelines and rules, thereby making goal achievement much easier. A set of strong policies will help guide a business to success.

It is important for law firms to set clear policies. For example, if the billing policy is unclear, clients may think that pricing is up for negotiation. Lack of consistency in billing can ruin a business plan. Therefore, you must select policies and procedures to help ensure the success of your business. Challenges a new law firm may face is determining when a current policy is not effective, finding a suitable policy to meet the firm’s needs, and learning when it is best to update an old policy.

I have been monitoring the following office policies to help determine if the current policy is sufficient to meet the needs of the firm and its clients:

1. Intake Procedures: All law firms should have an intake procedure in place, the more detailed the better. This policy should include the type of information to gather before an initial consultation, determining who is responsible for running conflict checks, and what type of follow-up is needed.

2. Criteria for Taking a Case: Using a gauge to determine if the area of practice and level of skill is suitable. In addition to being able, to estimate if the required workload of a case fits within the schedule.

3. Client Communication Policy: Determining who will be the point of contact for the client. How often to contact the client? The method of communication (email, letter, phone call)? How quickly to respond to clients? How to be reached when the attorney is out of the office?

For a law firm, it is important that clients know the office policies to ensure they have proper expectations. This can help reduce the number of client complaints, and foster a better relationship between the attorney and client. I have been working closely with my supervising attorney to help determine if the policies currently in place are meeting the needs of the firm. I am working diligently, because I know that adequate policies and procedures keep a law firm running smoothly.

 

Week 4: Courtroom Observation

Saturday, July 2, 2016 8:09 pm

To better understand how the courtroom runs, I spent this week viewing district court. Prosecutors decide whom to offer a plea or any type of special sentencing. Since there are no hard rules in place, a large amount of discrepancy may exist in the determination of which defendants receive alternative sentencing options. This was regularly exhibited this week in court. In one example, there were two defendants in court requesting assistance, but the outcomes were completely different.

The first defendant was an eighteen-year-old African American female. She had no prior criminal record; however, she did exhibit some anger management issues. The police department had been called to her home at least three times this year. Every incident involved her having an emotional outburst and placing threats on her family. In the last incident, which led to her arrest, she told her mother that she would get a rifle and kill everyone in the home. Crying uncontrollably, the mother stated that her only intention was to get her daughter help. She never wanted her daughter to get arrested or have a criminal record. The mother and daughter both stated that the eighteen-year-old was suffering from depression and needed some type of counseling or special program to help her deal with her emotional issues.

The family was advised there is no special program in the county for someone with mental health issues. The eighteen-year-old ultimately plead guilty to one count of communicating threats. She was sentenced to supervised probation, community service, and court costs.

Later a middle-aged white male was facing a charge of theft and possession of cocaine. He was accompanied by his attorney and his pastor. His family found a substance abuse program outside of the county and the pastor was willing to drive the defendant straight to the program if the judge would allow him to enter treatment instead of criminal prosecution. Upon the judge’s request, the assistance district attorney read the defendant’s five-page criminal history. The charges went back twenty years and ranged from larceny and DWI, to drug possession, communicating threats, and assault with a deadly weapon. His attorney spoke passionately on his behalf, and his parents and pastor followed suit. The judge noted that the defendant was very lucky to have so many people pulling for him, and advised him to take advantage of the opportunity he would be granted. The judge dismissed the charges and allowed the pastor to escort the defendant to treatment.

I learned a lot from observing court this week. It was difficult for me to accept that there were no programs available for an eighteen-year-old female with no prior criminal record, while a middle aged man was escorted to a treatment program directly from court. The eighteen-year-old was clearly dealing with deep emotion issues that needed to be addressed, and that will not be achieved with community service and a criminal record. It is the prosecutor’s and judge’s discretion; however, instances such as this suggest that there needs to be guidelines in place to ensure equal access and opportunity. Luckily, I am interning for an attorney that is working to alleviate this type of disparity in the courtroom. The firm aims to work closely with the underrepresented members of the community. With the firm’s client-first approach, the goal is to ensure that all defendants receive equal access to justice, and that every client is given clear and consistent sentencing guidelines.

Week 3: Marketing the Firm

Friday, June 24, 2016 3:02 am

After researching different law initiatives that can be implemented in the community, I spent this week working on innovative ways to market the firm. As for any business, marketing is a fundamental element of success. Before initiating a marketing campaign, I had to do adequate market research. Market research helps you understand your target audience. It allows you to learn who your client is, what their needs are, and how to best reach them. I was able to perform much of my research online. Nowadays, the internet is a key resource not only for collecting information, but also for effective marketing.

With the help of the internet, a lawyer can reach clients easily and at a low cost. Lacking an online presence can lead to decreased revenue, because many potential clients use the internet to find attorneys and to schedule initial appointments. Establishing a website is essential for a law firm’s success. Beyond offering basic information, a law firm’s website can be a valuable source of information. While providing creative legal service via internet is challenging, it is a way to differentiate your firm from the competition. An innovative website can provide clients with online tutorials, essential legal information, and downloadable court documents. Most importantly, the information needs to be available in a way that is clear and easy to use.

From my research I have learned that much of the procedural information is not readily available online. As a result, clients are not made aware of what to expect in court or the order in which things occur. I also have not been able to locate anyone locally that provides basic legal documents on the web. Having access to these forms, especially in the area of family law would greatly benefit clients. My aim is to have the firm’s website offer a detailed outline of procedural steps, organized by topic. Additionally, I would like to have some of the basic family law forms made available for download. To aid in understanding and filling out the forms, online tutorials will be made available. In the area of marketing, offering this service can provide a huge competitive advantage.

Week 2: Community Relations Project

Wednesday, June 15, 2016 11:05 pm

This week I spent a large amount of time researching different community outreach programs that are currently available that educate teenagers about the law. Before beginning, I was not sure if I would have much success finding material that would be both relevant and interesting to today’s youth. While prepared to create my own project, I was happy to find a vast amount of resources currently available. There is one program that fit the firm’s specifications perfectly. It is a worldwide nonprofit organization named Street Law.

Street Law creates classroom and community programs that teach people about law, democracy, and human rights. The goal of the Street Law is to offer real-life lessons and insights, which the participants can use to effect positive change. The program offers curriculum over a large amount of legal topics. There is a detailed lesson plan for each subject that includes a lecture, role-play, group discussion, and assignment.

My task was to come up with a course curriculum that engages high school students. The most difficult part was narrowing down the material. The Street Law program is not only implemented around the world, it covers a wide range of legal principles. After thorough research, I chose the topics Sexting, Teen Dating Violence, and Arrest: Fourth Amendment Protections. These subjects are most relevant to a teenage audience.

Being able to educate teenagers on the issues they face daily, makes this a great initiative to bring to the local high schools. The program is engaging and interactive, and empowers students to become more legally-savvy. Initiating the Street Law program is a great start to the firm giving back to the community.

Week One: Startup Law Firm

Tuesday, June 7, 2016 12:57 pm

I am currently studying for my S.J.D. at Wake Forest University School of Law. I work for Institute of Public Administration as a law professor in my hometown of Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. Upon graduation I look forward to continuing my career as a law professor, and eventually opening an international law firm that focuses on both international contracts and human rights. I enjoy my teaching career, but I am passionate about the prospect of opening my own law practice and being my own boss. An internship at the Law Office of Adrianne D. Roberts is a once in a lifetime opportunity.

This is a startup law firm that focuses on family and criminal law. The attorney is particularly committed to assisting youth and community service. One of the primary goals of the firm is to become integrated in the community. The purpose of this goal is not only for the success of the firm, but also for the attorney to fulfill one of the primary responsibilities of the profession, which is service. From this experience, I will get a firsthand view of what it takes to run a new law practice. Most importantly, I will be able to apply the knowledge that I learn over the new few months to my own firm.

I am excited about having the opportunity to intern for an attorney that has a shared commitment to service. The first task that I have been assigned is to come up with a community relations project that will help the firm build a strong presence in the community. The initial interest is to start a school program that will engage and inform middle or high school aged students. This is the beginning of many weeks of research, innovation, and hard work that I am certain will pay off in the future.

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