Legal Planning in a Different Economy

When I look around my community, I see a totally new and evolving economic paradigm. Sure there are layoffs everywhere. Circuit City closes and there are 30,000 fewer jobs. Magna may close their local plant eliminating what at its height was 8,000 jobs in the automobile industry. Five years ago, who would have ever thought that Lehman Brothers would no longer be in existence? If you ask me, it is a time for opportunity to grow and develop a business.

Globally the economy is shrinking. This is no surprise from picking up the newspapers. However, that offers an opportunity for an enterprising person to open and develop a new business. In my view, the old economy of manufacturing and big business is no longer viable in today’s marketplace. The manufacturing is being accomplished in other countries where the costs of doing business are less. These only makes sense in a capitalistic society, if I can make it cheaper and sell it on the marketplace, then why do I need to pay the overhead, taxes and other costs of manufacturing in this country. So, how are we going to survive and what can a lawyer do to help?

The best way to reinvigorate the economy in times such as the now is to invest in ourselves and be creative. For some, that means thinking outside the box of what they know to look for employment in new areas. For others, it is to examine what their strengths are and to start their own business. My thinking is the small to medium sized businesses are going to drive this economy forward because those are the businesses that are going to roll up their sleeves and move us forward through creative work. What industry that is in is to be determined. However this is an exciting time to be involved in legal representation of small closely held businesses.

How does a lawyer help you? A good business lawyer can help in each facet of business planning. Whether it is setting up a good quality business plan., determining the right entity to begin this venture with, whether it is a solo proprietorship, general partnership, limited liability partnership, or corporation, a lawyer can guide you through the process and help fill out the appropriate documentation. A lawyer will work with you to project financing needs and developing strategies for obtaining startup capital. A lawyer can advise as to the tax implications of owning versus renting your business location and other depreciation techniques. Use a lawyer at the beginning who you trust, and it can be mean money saved down the line.

Todd Engel

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Basic Office Technology for a Solo

It is somewhat ironic that I am writing a blog on the importance of technology to practicing law as a solo while Legal Tech is presently underway. Legal Tech is the largest conference regarding practicing law and the use of technology. I am sure the seminars and materials are fascinating and the swag is going to be fantastic, however this year my attendance is not meant to be. That does not diminish the importance of all types of technology for a solo attorney. I have decided to make this a two part blog. The first will be on “basic” technology; hardware, phone system, wordprocessors and the like. Second post will deal with more web 2.0, case management software, and other detailed technological issues.

The very first piece of technology that every office must have is a good quality telephone system. Sure you can run to Office Max and buy a $99 cordless phone and answering machine and be done with it. That sends two messages, I work on the cheap and I don’t value you as a client. Remember one thing, perception is someone else’s reality and when you look cheap the clients will perceive you as cheap. For me, a phone system has to have voice mail, call forwarding, an ability to add at least one caller to a call and caller ID. These are essential to a good practice in that it aids you in being responsive to the clients. Newer phone systems will send emails to you with either transcripts of the voice mail or the voice mail itself as a file attachment. I am not sold that is necessary, but if you are into add ons go ahead.

One needs to start out with a good solid computer system. I am not advocating it be Vista, the sooner Microsoft buries that operating system the better off those of us non Mac users will be. I am not saying don’t use a Mac either. I am the wrong guy to make hardware suggestions. The important thing is that the system you use be stable. In that vein, look at the RAM you want to have in the computer and double it. It is a way to help insure that when you are running two versions of word processing, a bookkeeping suite, a time management suite calendar email and several windows in a browser you don’t crash your computer.

A large monitor is ideal, two are better. The reason I say this is that if you have two monitors and you are working on a document or brief where you need to research and drop in language simultaneously, two screens will allow you to have the word processor open and your research open and move seamlessly between the two. I would think two 19 inch screens are the way to go.

A two printer system is ideal for most small offices. The first printer being an all in one with a glass scanner and document feeder in order for you to be able to create PDFs to keep paper files to a minimum. Yes, another reason for dual monitors you can scan the document in and have it on one screen and on the second have your reply letter, email or document and refer to the original effortlessly. The second printer I would have is a high quality laser printer for document production. I still find that inkjets smudge too much for my liking especially when I use highlighters.

Finally for this section, we will discuss generally about office suites. Wordperfect was for many years the standard bearer for legal offices. It was the suite found in every single office and was the one that most attorneys were trained on. That has slowly shifted to the point now where Microsoft Office has the dominant market share for lawyers; this only makes sense due to the fact that if you buy your computer through Dell or other manufacturers Office can come preloaded. Although certain versions of Word and WordPerfect allow for viewing of each other’s documents, the formatting is never the same as it was in the original software. I also am using Open Office more, not because I am programming in the open language, but instead want to meet all my clients needs. Word is now my primary word processor. Outlook is my primary calendar and email provider . However, I can seamlessly go into WordPerfect when a matter or document calls for it.

In the 21st century, lawyers who do not use technology to their advantage are one step behind the competition. The next part of this will detail more software and web based choices including ways to network online and ways to make your practice more effective to help you generate the product your client deserves and you want to be proud of.

Todd Engel

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WHY LAW AND WHY SPECIALIZE?

More often than not, people I meet invariably ask me what I do for a living. It is common place to ask that question, because it allows you to learn more about the person you are interacting with. I always answer that I am a lawyer. Never do I say that I am a certain type of lawyer. I let that conversation develop over time.

I then am asked why you became a lawyer. The short quip is that I am genetically predisposed, after being the third generation in my family to practice law. That is a flippant response that really does not touch on the real reason I became a lawyer. I have a desire to help people and the law offers me that opportunity to help my clients achieve their goals and desires.

So, then the question as to what type of law I practice comes up. For the first ten years of my practice, I said I was a general practitioner. I wanted to be that lawyer everyone went to for issues from cradle to grave. I did divorces, I did DWI’s. I did trusts, estates and probate. I even dabbled in Worker’s Compensation. I was everywhere and spread very thin in what expertise in any subject I could provide. I had a choice to make, I could specialize and find my niche or continue to spread myself across all aspects of the law and not truly have a focus for myself or my clients.

I changed that starting this year. I am now focused on wealth development and preservation. Sounds great Todd, but what does that mean? It means that I am focused on establishing and representing small and closely held businesses from their inception through successful operation. It means that I represent individuals in making sure that their assets are protected for the future. It means that I will make sure that the estate planning necessary for individuals meet their needs and the needs of their family. It means that I will make sure that assets survive for children and future generations. I also will work to determine the best ways to make sure any charitable gifts are done in the best manner.

Todd Engel

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