Typical Saturday at the Wolfe casa: I was bragging about an article I wrote on Texas Securities Act litigation. 10YO asks, “what’s that?” I said, “it’s just a kind of litigation, like when you invest money in a company and they steal the money.” “Oh, ok,” he said.
Whether you can explain a lawsuit in terms simple enough for a ten-year-old to understand is probably a good test for any lawyer (although my kid is savvier than most, thanks to his mom and big sister).
But the ability to simplify, by itself, won’t make you an expert on a legal topic. You also need to understand the nuances, the grey areas. And a good way to do that is to write a big paper on the subject. Maybe even a comprehensive paper. And maybe, if you’re really ambitious, the comprehensive paper.
That’s sort of what I tried to do with Texas Securities Act litigation. It started with a series of securities fraud cases my firm defended from around 2000-2005. When it was all over, I had accumulated a ton of research and briefing on case law applying the Texas Securities Act.
That coincided with a time in my career when I felt like I needed to start developing my own business (around eight years out of law school).
Up to that point my business development strategy had been somewhat, uh, thin. My earliest experience was with insurance coverage litigation, and I had written some articles for the Journal of Texas Insurance Law. But I wasn’t getting any traction.
This was partly my fault (I didn’t do much other than write the articles) and partly due to circumstances beyond my control (my firm didn’t get many insurance coverage matters). So I had pretty much given up on writing about insurance law.
But I knew if I was going to bring in business I needed to develop some kind of specialty beyond “business litigation,” and securities litigation seemed as good as any. Plus, I already had the knowledge and the material. I wouldn’t have to “reinvent the wheel.”
So I started writing the paper, one little chunk at a time. It literally took years for it to come together, but eventually I had a good long rough draft. Then the problem was figuring out what to do with it.
Fortunately, I got by with a little help from my friends. A more senior lawyer helped me get an opportunity to present the topic at a bar association event. That was just the push I needed to finally finish the paper. And then a peer at my law firm was willing to co-author the paper and fill in some sections that still needed work. The paper debuted at a CLE presentation in 2013. The response was small but enthusiastic.
I presented the topic at a few more CLE programs, and I updated the paper a couple times. You can download the most recent version here.
This big paper doesn’t cover every possible Texas Securities Act issue, but it at least touches on each major issue, and it explores some of the key issues in detail. In my humble opinion, I don’t think you will find a better paper on Texas Securities Act litigation that is both comprehensive and practical. I’m pretty proud of it.
Step 1 was complete. I was on my way to developing a thriving securities litigation practice. I would continue doing presentations and making a name for myself in the field. Other lawyers would start referring securities litigation cases to me, and I would eventually develop a robust book of business of my own.
Except none of that actually happened. I didn’t bring in a single securities litigation matter.
Then a funny thing happened. A friend I met at a presentation I gave for the Houston Bar Association needed help with a non-compete lawsuit. Around the same time I found myself trying to support a solo law practice. At first, I thought we’d settle the case, but it blew up and eventually went all the way to a jury trial. Along the way I got referrals for some other non-compete cases. Sometimes it was a lawsuit, but other times people just needed some advice. These matters started taking up more of my time.
That’s when it hit me. If I was going to develop business, I needed to turn down those pesky non-compete matters and keep my focus on securities litigation. It would be stupid to waste all that time I had spent writing and speaking about the Texas Securities Act. Right?
No! That was exactly wrong. The smart move was the opposite: focus on developing a reputation for the kind of work I was actually getting. This is the point business development expert Maria Granovsky made in a guest post right here on Five Minute Law. In Maria’s terms, the smart move for me was to stop looking for elusive copper deposits and to pick up the gold bricks at my feet.
But this time, I thought, I’m done spending hours and hours writing long legal papers that no one reads. Instead, I would focus on writing short articles that people might actually enjoy. Blog posts, to be specific. I would write about a wide variety of topics, but with an emphasis on the departing employee cases I was already working on. And I would try to keep the posts short enough that people could read them in, oh I don’t know, five minutes.
But what to call the blog?
Eventually I solved that problem, and now, five years after I started focusing on departing employee litigation, my business development efforts have had some modest success. I regularly receive inquiries for matters involving non-competes, trade secrets, and other departing employee issues. I still work on a variety of business litigation matters, but the departing employee disputes are my focus.
Then another funny thing happened. Recently a potential client saw that Texas Securities Act paper on the Internet and called me up. Keep in mind, this was over four years after I published the last version of the paper.
So maybe I was too quick to give up on the “big paper” concept. It obviously has some value.
Here are my main takeaways on lawyers writing big papers for business development:
- Writing a big paper on a legal topic is a good way to become a true expert on that topic. The legal profession is remarkably democratic in the sense that just about any lawyer can become an expert on an area of law by putting in the time to read and understand the key cases. (Credit to the late Mark Kincaid, a top-notch insurance coverage litigator and adjunct professor, for impressing this point on me.)
- The downside is that writing a big paper is very time-consuming. You can write a blog post, email alert, or short LinkedIn article in much less time, and people will be more likely to actually read it.
- On the other hand, once you’ve written a big comprehensive paper, it’s easy to update or repurpose it. Take a lesson from law professors. Charles Alan Wright didn’t rewrite all of Federal Practice and Procedure every time. McCarthy on Trademarks is not above recycling old material.
- Another lesson from law professors: you can get help from colleagues on a big paper. This can be a real win-win. You get to share credit with other lawyers, they can help lighten your load, and you can make new friends along the way.
- The major pitfall with writing a big paper is thinking it’s going to develop business for you by itself. It rarely happens that way. You need to present the paper at events, network with people at the events, share the paper on social media, etc. At the risk of using a corporate buzzword, you need to create synergy between the big paper and your other business development efforts.
- When you combine the big paper with networking, you’ll start to see another benefit of the big article: credibility. People who see that you have written a serious paper on a particular practice area will assume—usually correctly—that you know what you’re talking about.
- The big paper can also enhance the credibility of your professional profile. If you’re going after corporate clients, especially big ones with in-house lawyers, they are probably not going to find you by Googling “securities lawyer.” But a client who is referred to you will look at your profile on LinkedIn or your firm’s website and see you wrote that article.
- Individuals, and even corporate clients, will sometimes find you literally by Googling a practice area and seeing your article or name pop up. This is only going to become more common over time.
I can vouch for this last point from personal experience. If a potential client can see my big paper from four years ago and call me, the same can happen to you.
Now the big paper bug has bitten me again, in several ways:
First, I’ve already co-authored and updated a “medium” sized paper called Texas Trade Secrets 101. I plan to continue updating it.
Second, if you can keep a secret, I was already developing a monster paper on Texas non-compete litigation. I regularly monitor Texas non-compete cases and write about non-compete issues on my blog. I figure I might as well use that material for a big, comprehensive paper, especially if I want to be known as the top non-compete lawyer in Houston.
Third, even though securities litigation is not my focus these days, it’s still an arrow in my quiver, and I’m thinking I should update that big paper on Texas Securities Act litigation.
But that’s a lot of work, especially when I’m already blogging, composing the magnum opus on Texas non-compete litigation, and training for the 2022 Crossfit Open. I don’t want to work myself to death like a scene out of Amadeus. If I’m going to update the securities paper, I need a collaborator.
Unfortunately, my ten-year-old is not interested. So if you want to research and write about Texas securities law, hit me up. And maybe four years from now the clients will be calling you.
Zach Wolfe (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a Texas trial lawyer who handles non-compete and trade secret litigation at his firm Fleckman & McGlynn, PLLC. His son’s comment on this post was “I like the part about me.”
He’s joking about training for the 2022 Crossfit Open. Sort of. These are his opinions, not the opinions of his firm or clients. Every case is different, so don’t rely on this post (or the big paper) as legal advice for your case.