You have a few precious seconds to get a visitor’s attention so they will stay on your website. Why does this matter? Because the longer they stay on your site, the more likely they are to contact you.
One of the best ways to grab a visitor’s attention and keep it is to answer the most frequently asked questions users have. If you fail to do so you will lose visitors fast, and each visitor you lose is a missed opportunity.
To increase your odds of improving your site’s conversion rates (how many visitors turn into clients) make sure you answer these five questions:
If you have already made sure to answer the above five questions, great, but don’t stop. Answer these two questions, too:
Your law firm website can be one of your most powerful marketing tools. Make it as effective as possible by clearly answering these questions. If you do, you will position yourself to receive more leads that better fit the services you prefer to provide.
Featured image: “FAQ concept – machine answering frequently asked questions“
At last year’s LegalTech West Coast Conference, D. Casey Flaherty, Kia Motors America’s in-house counsel, made the provocative assertion that many lawyers are technologically incompetent, and this incompetence leads to wasted time and money. In an attempt to address this, Flaherty developed a legal tech audit (LTA) designed to test basic competencies in working with PDFs, Word documents, and Excel spreadsheets. Flaherty first administered the audit to nine outside counsel firms. According to Flaherty, all of them failed spectacularly.
After using an early version of his legal tech audit in house, Flaherty teamed up with Suffolk University’s Institute on Law Practice Technology and Innovation to make the LTA available for lawyers and law students.
Recently, both Sam Glover and I1 had a chance to take the audit, and here’s what we found.Lawyers Really Are Terrible at Basic Office Productivity Technology
First, there is no question that Flaherty is right about the fact that many, if not most, lawyers are shockingly bad at the things really are very basic skills, like making changes in Word documents, de-duplicating Excel spreadsheets, and redacting PDF files. Indeed, Flaherty’s own administration of the audit to outside firms makes that clear. Make no mistake — these are skills that should be expected of every attorney. Being able to do things like editing your own documents in order to make them presentable and preparing documents for e-filing are legal work.
That said, the Legal Tech Audit should be considered an office productivity software skills audit, rather than a legal technology audit. This audit won’t test you on whether you know how to share client files securely via cloud storage or FTP, or whether you know how to properly encrypt client files. This is about Microsoft Word, Excel, and Adobe Acrobat, basically.
The LTA website doesn’t give away all the secrets of what is tested, and I won’t do that here either, so I’ll only be talking about a few of the tasks. In Word, you will do things like move text around, delete comments, renumber contract sections, and remove identifying metadata. In Excel, you will be expected to do things like de-duplicate a spreadsheet and perform basic calculations. Finally, in Adobe Acrobat, prepare yourself for redacting documents, combining pages, and preparing for e-filing.The Audit is Not Ready for Prime Time
Unfortunately, while the idea of a legal tech audit is great and this one does test critical skills, the software for the testing is less than ideal. Flaherty definitely designed this with BigLaw in mind, assuming that the attorneys that take the test will be in a firm that has its own training department, learning management system, and IT staff that will facilitate taking the LTA. Perhaps that setting may change some of the problems both Sam and I had getting into the audit and working through it, but that setting will not fix all the problems with the user experience.
The audit runs only on Windows, and only in IE (or possibly Chrome or Firefox with an IE plugin). You’ll need Microsoft Word and Excel. In theory, you could do this in OpenOffice.org or something similar, but you’ll likely run into trouble because the audit expects you to do certain things in an exact way. You will also need Adobe Acrobat Professional or a similar PDF program that allows for redaction. (Not all do).
You’ll also need full administrative access to your computer and and network so that you can make the training page a trusted site in IE and let it do things like run executable files on your machine. The audit also records every keystroke you make during the test.
The invitations Sam and I received didn’t specify the system requirements (but invites to others would have) so as a result I took it in less than optimum conditions. I only have Mac and Linux machines at home, so I ran the entire test in Microsoft XP running in Parallels on Mac, which resulted, regrettably, in most of my keystrokes not being tracked. (This is probably due to Parallels.) I used Microsoft Office 2011 for Mac, but I did not have a PDF program installed that does redaction.
Full disclosure: I have no doubt that I did horribly anyway. I don’t need to see my scores to do that. The Excel portion was a killer, and I’m not ashamed to admit I did terrible at it.
Sam took the audit on a Windows 7 machine with Microsoft Office 2010 and Adobe Acrobat X Standard (which does not do redaction, either).
Assuming you have a compatible system (and obviously you will if you take the test in what Flaherty considers an ideal testing environment), you will find that the interface itself is odd. The buttons are detached from the instructions and the program bogged down and stopped running at one point. And there is no back button if you make a mistake and want to go back through previous instructions. This becomes a big issue when the instructions are vague, which they are in several places. For example, the Excel instructions do not specify which of two worksheets you should be modifying. And in the PDF section, you have to attach an exhibit that doesn’t exist in your sample documents. It may or may not be a PDF page you extracted earlier, but the instructions are not helpful.
At the end of the audit, you will get what is essentially a raw score. Your ultimate “grade” on the audit will be expressed as a function of the time it takes you to finish it, including time penalties for things you did wrong. This should arrive within a week, and the report will show you exactly where you went wrong. If you perform a task wrong or skip it altogether, you will be assessed a time penalty that is pegged to how long it would take the slowest person to complete the task.
Our concerns with the audit’s missteps may appear petty, but what those concerns generally mean is that the bad (and outdated — IE, really?) technology driving the audit and the clunkiness the user experiences end up overshadowing the usefulness of the audit itself.The Audit Could Have a Bright Future — For Some Types of Attorneys
Because we think the Legal Tech Audit is not ready for market (even though it is already available to attorneys who would like to learn how little they know about field codes in Word), that does not mean we think the audit should be written off. First, Flaherty and Suffolk are very responsive to suggestions about necessary changes, and have already modified one part of the Excel portion of the test after Sam ran into errors.
In the right situation — BigLaw, lots of training resources, a decent amount of money and time to spend on the audit — the LTA could become a meaningful way for general counsel to benchmark the efficiency of outside counsel. Law firms will be charged $250 per user for a one-year subscription, and can pay $150 per user for an additional tutorial. Additionally, Suffolk and Flaherty have partnered with training companies that can work with firms to increase proficiency on these skills. The hoped-for (and likely) outcome is that corporations who are shopping around for outside counsel will be able to request that the firm members take the test and provide the scores so that the company can choose a cost-conscious and efficient provider.
This scenario sounds great, but it also highlights why the audit is not for everyone. At the law school I teach at, more than half the students each year have Macs, and will probably stay with that platform if they are able to (even if their firms are officially using Windows). Solos might not have $400 to spare on learning material and are probably more likely to be running what the audit considers non-standard software, such as Google Docs or Preview. Small firms simply do not have the training department or learning management platform that the audit envisions. But for those people who work at firms that fall into the category of firms that Flaherty and Suffolk are targeting, this audit may very well be something you find yourself taking quite soon. Brush up on those Excel skills.Updates
Both Sam and I would be considered tech proficient under any rubric. ↩
Ask someone how much they worked last week, and they will probably overestimate the number by 5–10%, according to a study published by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. And the more someone thinks they worked, the greater their overestimate is likely to be, says the Economix blog at the New York Times.
Humans (well, American humans, at least) have really inaccurate memories when it comes to the time they spend working, in other words. We aren’t nearly as busy as we think we are, according to sociologist John Robinson, even if we feel like we are working all the time.
Lawyers are even worse when it comes to remembering billable time. Viewabill, a service that allows clients to see what their lawyers bill in real time, says that waiting until the end of the month to record your time means you are probably overbilling your clients by about 23%.Delayed Billing Adds Inaccuracy — And Cost
That number comes from Viewabill’s aggregated data. By comparing timely entries to delayed entries, co-founder David Schottenstein estimates firms that keep time regularly are saving their clients as much as 23%:
Viewabill thinks its software changes behavior through transparency, because clients can see the time as it is entered. If you know your clients can see what you bill in real-time, you are less likely to record all your time at the end of the month. (Again, Viewabill’s aggregated data bears this out.) Schottenstein says Viewabill is like an empty police car next to the freeway. Even if clients don’t check in very often, they could — and they can see when time was recorded no matter when they check in. This strongly encourages lawyers, to change their behavior.
— Viewabill (@Viewabill) February 10, 2014
— Viewabill (@Viewabill) February 10, 2014
You don’t need Viewabill to ensure your timekeeping is accurate, of course. But you do need to record your time as you work. The more frequently you record your time, the more accurate it will be. If you wait until the end of the month and then reconstruct your time, you are probably overcharging your clients.“Capture More Time!”
Many timekeeping products claim to help lawyers “capture more time.” Time Matters, for example, cites “[c]aptur[ing] billable hours and client expenses while you work to prevent revenue leakage” among its benefits. Rocket Matter says you can “Forget about losing track of precious billable time or expenses.” Amicus Attorney says it will help you “capture more billable time.” You can see similar claims from most practice management and timekeeping-and-billing software.
The idea is that, by making it easier to record your time, you will record it more frequently, so that you are less likely to miss things. This makes perfect sense, and it does turn out to be true, according to Schottenstein.
If you bill more frequently, you are likely to capture time you would miss if you tried to reconstruct your time at the end of the month. But, he says, your bills will still go down. That’s because you probably aren’t missing 23% of your bill. The time you overestimate you spent is almost certainly greater than any missed time you might catch with more-frequent timekeeping.Teaching Old Lawyers New (Timekeeping) Tricks
Whatever the benefits of real-time timekeeping, some firms really don’t want to do it. Or at least some influential partners at those firms don’t want to. Faced with clients who wanted them to use Viewabill, two large firms (one a prominent employment law firm based in San Francisco, another a large employment law firm in DC and Cleveland) mounted a spirited defense that included spreading a bunch of uninformed FUD about the cloud.
Why? Well, assuming the lawyers at those firms aren’t trying to pad their bills by 23%, the most-likely reason is that, as one firm admitted to Schottenstein, 80% of its billers do not put in their time until the last two days of the month. Apparently, they are willing to fight for their right not to change. You can’t always teach old partners new tricks, even if it means overcharging clients.
But clients are not yet insisting on real-time timekeeping and transparency. They probably will, eventually, no matter how hard the holdouts try to convince them not to. Eventually, those firms will be forced to accept greater billing transparency, and those partners will have to change. If that 23% figure is anywhere close to right, corporate clients will not stand for end-of-the-month billing for long. Sooner or later, they will make real-time billing a condition of representation.How About Alternative Fees?
If waiting until the end of the month to record time means you will be overbilling your clients, then you probably ought to stop it, and start billing in real time.
A partial solution might also be to stop using time to measure the cost of representation — at least when you don’t need to. If you quote flat fees or use subscriptions, unbundled services, or alternative fee arrangements, you can stop tracking time altogether. No timekeeping, no padding (inadvertent or otherwise).
Except sometimes hourly billing really is best, so don’t give it up entirely. Just use other options when they make more sense.
And when you do bill by the hour, consider doing it in real time. Don’t wait for your clients (or ethics boards) to find this article and start asking questions.Updates
Featured image: “Businessman and earning balance concept” from Shutterstock.
At first glance your law practice might not seem to have much in common with Silicon Valley companies like Facebook and Google. However, in today’s rapidly evolving world, the ability to innovate and adapt is crucial for any business…including large legal firms and upstart solo practitioners. Here are seven lessons you can learn from successful tech startups in order to grow your business and improve your practice’s bottom line:1. Understand the key metrics shaping your business
As clients increasingly push for lower legal costs, it’s all the more critical to understand how metrics like realization rates (the difference between recorded time and the percentage of that time paid by clients) are impacting your short- and long-term profitability. According to Georgetown Law’s 2014 Report on the State of the Legal Market, the average overall realization rate in 2013 was 83.49%, down 8% from 2007, and well below the ideal target of 95%.
You should track metrics like billing, collection, and overall realization rates in order to see how you are trending over time, as well as compare your data with other lawyers in your firm or even with other firms. You can find more details about how to measure and apply metrics to your business in the paper “Realization Rates in Law Firms.”2. Differentiate: Don’t commoditize
To survive in the era of LegalZoom and RocketLawyer, you need to identify market opportunities beyond commoditized services. Think about the unique value you can bring to your clients by positioning yourself as a trusted advisor, instead of a billing agent.
If you do not bring added value to the table by building relationships and guiding your clients, you risk losing business to someone who does or being undercut by the low prices of an online service. Richard Susskind’s book, Tomorrow’s Lawyers, is a must-read for anyone interested in going beyond the commoditized offerings of other firms and legal services.3. Focus on the customer experience
Tech companies like Apple understand the difference between delivering an experience and selling a product. Lawyers need to think about the overall customer experience from intake to billing. According to Matt Dixon, the author of “The End of Solution Sales”, in an interview with the Harvard Business Review, numbers show that a customer experience with a trusted advisor leads to more repeat business, referrals, and revenue.4. Build out a team
Too many lawyers go the “pure solo” route, handling anything from client intake to billing to answering the phone themselves. However, successful startup founders have learned that no one person can build a successful business. Having the right team in place can yield massive productivity gains.
Audit your time on a daily basis and ask yourself: Is each thing I’m doing the best use of my time? What tasks can be delegated?5. Culture matters
We have all heard the stories of startups going to extreme lengths to shape company culture and keep employees happy: onsite massage therapists and yoga classes, along with free dry cleaning, hair cuts and oil changes. However, culture is more than just the perks; it’s what your company stands for, your missions and beliefs. When employees embrace a firm’s culture, they put their best work forward. A strong company culture increases employee loyalty, encourages teamwork, improves productivity, and leads to better customer relations.6. Leverage technology
Clients today don’t have any patience for firms that insist on dragging out work by using outdated tools. They want real-time updates via client portals, after-hours services, and instant delivery of completed work.
The right technology platform, whether it’s for billing or document automation, can be a strategic partner to help you scale and operate more efficiently. Let technology handle the busy work, so you can focus your time on your client’s needs that require individual attention and are worthy of your law degree.7. Think about the big picture
It is easy to get bogged down in the day-to-day grind…the next hearing, brief, or meeting. However, without high-level thinking, your firm can stagnate. Reflect on where your firm is now and where you want it to be. Point the ship in that direction and lean on your technology, team, and company culture to take you there. Don’t be afraid to think big and experiment.
Attendees at the upcoming Clio Cloud Conference can learn more about the future of law and the rapidly evolving technology landscape, including a keynote presentation from Richard Susskind, author of “Tomorrow’s Lawyers.” Save $100 when you register with this exclusive discount code for Lawyerist readers: Lawyerist-CCC14.
Some of the most fundamental rules governing the ethics of lawyers relate to attorney advertising. Don’t over-promise in your ads, include basic disclaimers, and never offer your services to someone you know is already represented.
So what do you do when another lawyer is trying to solicit your client?
On the one hand there is the issue of whether to report unethical conduct to the proper regulators. In brief, in many states there is some obligation (or at least encouragement) to report lawyers who violate the rules.
On the other hand, there is the issue of keeping your client while still meeting all of your own ethical duties.Determine Your Client’s Knowledge
The Unsophisticated Client: Some clients are not particularly sophisticated, especially when hiring lawyers, and will not realize the issues raised by solicitation. They may be easily swayed to hire the soliciting lawyer without realizing the impact on their own case and fees. Of all the types of clients, it is this one you need to be most concerned about protecting their interests, beyond protecting your own bottom line.
The Sophisticated Client: Other clients hire lawyers routinely, and do so primarily for business reasons. They understand the game well enough to know that there are lots of lawyers out there, and will be less easily sucked in.
The Lawyer Client: Some clients are lawyers themselves, and they understand exactly what the soliciting lawyer is doing and the unethical nature of the conduct. They are likely to be as peeved as you are by the contact.Determine the Offense
If the contact from the soliciting lawyer is a simple flyer or letter offering services in a very general way, much like the letters often sent to people who have gotten traffic tickets, it is far less likely to cause any issues between you and your client.
Consider, though, the soliciting lawyer who presents to your client a specific idea or general impression that implies you may be failing at your job. An ethics defense lawyer knows that the state bar has jurisdiction over lawyers practicing in the state and licensed by the bar. He also knows that lawyers facing bar prosecution chaff at the idea. The lawyer’s client, also an attorney, receives a solicitation pushing the client to hire new counsel and make a motion to dismiss on due process and jurisdictional grounds. The soliciting lawyer claims that the state bar has no authority over the client.
Even a lawyer client (or perhaps especially one) will be intrigued by the prospect of a sexy game-changing jurisdictional argument. If you never addressed this potential argument with the client, and if the soliciting lawyer is being really aggressive, you may have a real issue on your hands between you and your client.Courses of Action
There are a couple of options on how to proceed. You might call the soliciting lawyer and inform them that your client is represented, but that does not negate the damage already done. The client ultimately has the right to change attorneys at any time, so this will not protect your client relationship.
In an effort to preserve the relationship, you should explain to your client that the soliciting lawyer has violated ethical rules by soliciting them, and who knows what other rules they will violate. That said, be careful with your choice of words. You do not want to inadvertently slander a fellow attorney.
Another explanation owed to your client is the cost involved to switch lawyers. You do not want to imply that you are forcing or pressuring them to stay with you, but you should objectively explain the costs, such as paying the new lawyer to get up to speed on their case. Additionally, you can ask your client if there is any way to improve your services. That is a perfectly acceptable question to ask, and is good business practice.
Finally, consider whether you want to report the attorney to the ethical authorities. In some states it is mandatory to report unethical conduct (those following Model Rule 8.3 as written). In other states it is encouraged but not required to report unethical conduct. Some states are completely silent on the issue, but no state would prohibit you from reporting ethical transgressions.Balancing Act
It is obviously a problem to have other lawyers attempting to poach your business, but in our “gentlemanly profession,” we must also be careful in how we handle it. Clients need our protection from unethical would-be poachers, but they also have a right to choose their counsel. Balance the sophistication of your client with the nature of the soliciting lawyer’s conduct, and you will find the appropriate action to cover all your bases, protect your client, and hopefully keep your business.
Like most successful legal professionals, I engage in a fair amount of networking. Much of my networking time is devoted to developing my own business, but sometimes I am on the “receiving end” of a networking exchange — someone is trying to develop their business through me. I am almost always happy to do this, even when there doesn’t seem to be much in it for me.
I do this because I take a long-term view towards networking. Networking is not just about making yourself more successful; is should be about making both parties more successful. If I can help someone become more successful today, maybe he or she will be able to return the favor in the future.
I also approach these seemingly one-sided networking events as a learning opportunity. I am always curious to see how effective other people are at networking for business development.
Recently, I had a networking coffee of this type with an individual who had created a software product for in-house counsel. He wanted my feedback. It did not go well.First Mistake: Not Being Inquisitive
This guy did not get a passing grade from me in networking. At an initial meeting like this between two people who do not know each other, an exchange of questions is expected. I certainly peppered him with questions about his background and product. To prepare, I had reviewed his LinkedIn profile and the product’s website before our meeting.
What did he ask me? Nothing.
When networking, you want a new acquaintance to walk away liking you. In this case, there was nothing to indicate this person was remotely interested in me beyond what I could do for him. His total lack of interest in me created no positive feelings in me, and I did not walk away liking him.
His performance did not improve over the course of our meeting. It was obvious to me why he wanted to meet me: although I wasn’t a potential customer, I could provide him with ideas for marketing his product to his target demographic. I market my services to lawyers and have learned much from my experiences. In addition, I suspect, he was hoping for some leads.Second Mistake: Being Pushy
I am more than happy to let others pick my brain about marketing ideas via networking, but I always warn them in advance that the advice may be worth only what they are paying. I am not nearly as generous when it comes to my leads. I am willing to leverage my relationships to help people I know well, but rarely for strangers. I certainly cannot make a sound judgment about someone after only 45 minutes, and I am not willing to risk offending or wasting the time of a close professional colleague if I guess wrong. I am especially wary when I know that the follow-up to any lead will be a sales pitch.
In any event, this individual didn’t hesitate to ask for names — several times during our meeting. I found his requests annoying, but also a bit naïve.Final Mistake: Forgetting to Say Thank You
Finally, it is fundamental to thank someone for taking the time out of their busy schedule to meet with you. I would like to think some of the information and ideas that I provided were helpful to this fellow. A thank you at the end of our time together would have gone a long way towards softening the above mistakes. But do you think I received any sort of acknowledgement? I did not. Hence the failing grade.
Whenever you meet with someone in a networking context, ask questions. Be interested in getting to know more about that person and their business. If you have to ask for leads, save it for a subsequent meeting or a follow-up conversation. And always say thank you.Updates
There is a good reason why some law firms dedicate significant amounts of time and money to developing a professional logo. Logos remind customers of your best attributes, and contribute to the growth of your firm through branding, recognition, and consistency of visual messages. Keep in mind that a logo does not equal a brand, but it does help build value in your brand. On the value of branding, Forbes says:
Branding is fundamental. Branding is basic. Branding is essential. Building brands builds incredible value for companies and corporations.What Makes a Logo Great?
A great logo reflects your firm’s brand and the quality of your work. Professional, memorable logos need to be simple. The goal is for people to immediately associate your logo with your firm.
If your logo fosters brand awareness (i.e., people think of your firm when they see your logo), it will be invaluable marketing for your law firm.Simple
Think of a logo as a one-second commercial that plays every time something from your business appears. You want certain associations to be broadcast effectively so that potential customers know exactly what your business does well. Additionally, your logo needs to be recognizable in many contexts. A simple logo will be effective regardless if it is big, small, online, or in print. For example, take a look at the Akerman logo on the right. It is simple and clean, but the bold color is memorable and used throughout the site as an accent.Professional
A polished logo is a sign of professionalism, and it implies that you bring professionalism to everything you do. That helps to persuade clients that you will do your job well. The logo of the McKenzie firm in Florida is a great example of a mark that displays professionalism without being cheesy:
Another example is the logo for Yong Gruber in Los Angeles, which features subtle modern elements of modern font design and a bit of color for the accent:
A professional, polished logo sends a positive message about the lawyers you employ, which can earn you customers and help attract the best employees. Success is not simply a matter of doing good work. Success is also about communicating to customers a commitment to quality and professionalism, and a great logo can help you do that.Updates
Startups and entrepreneurs in need of legal assistance are seeking alternatives to the traditional law firm model for convenience and affordability. Law firms are responding by providing unbundled legal services through different models, and doing so without sacrificing revenue.
I have written before about how lawyers can use unbundling as part of a marketing strategy for their law firms to differentiate themselves from traditional full-service law firms that stick to the billable hour model. Unbundling facilitates fixed fees and packaged legal services, and can be delivered online using secure methods. These alternatives to traditional delivery of legal services particularly appeal to busy and often money-strapped startups and entrepreneurs.
Take for example Cooley LLP’s Cooley Go. Pitched as a “mobile-friendly microsite,” the service of the firm caters to the startup and entrepreneurial set by providing unbundled legal forms and resources online, including a document assembly tool. Clients can take advantage of the Cooley Go’s unbundled services, and can connect with one of their lawyers for additional full-service representation. While this is no doubt part of a larger marketing strategy to attract cost-conscious and busy entrepreneurs and small business owners, this model still offers flexible payments and delivery.
Fenwick and West LLP created Fenwick Flex as a way to provide unbundled legal services and in-house counsel where legal assistance can be purchased by the number of hours a project might need. A startup needing a lawyer to assist it in a specific acquisition or other event might want to retain the unbundled services on a project basis, rather than retaining the traditional firm on the billable hour model for full-representation.
What both of these online models demonstrate is the law firm reaction to the market need by startups and entrepreneurs for unbundled and convenient legal assistance. What is also clear is that these services are not being offered at the detriment of the law firms, but rather as a creative way of inviting a target market base into their firm’s trusted fold. The projection of choice and flexibility that these models provide for clients is what sells the law firm. The use of technology, in the case of Cooley Go’s document assembly tool, allows their lawyers to offer services unbundled without sacrificing time or charging the same billable hour for standard documents.
This is an important lesson for law firms, because other online legal services such as UpCounsel are already on the scene attracting startups, small business owners, and entrepreneurs with affordable and convenient unbundled legal services. As the ABA Partners with Rocket Lawyer on pilot projects to connect members with clients through their platform, we will see unbundling occurring in more practice areas.
For solos and small firms, you will want to find ways to collaborate with companies like Rocket Lawyer and UpCounsel to connect with clients who desire unbundled legal services. Larger law firms will want to look at ways to create unbundling departments within their existing business model, such as those at Fenwick and Cooley. Lawyers will not have to sacrifice legal fees to offer unbundled services if they take note from the business models that work best.
A shift to unbundling in the legal profession will lead to greater access to legal assistance across most practice areas. The Legal Services Commission already acknowledged the benefits of unbundling and mobile delivery to increase access to justice in its 2013 Report of The Summit on the Use of Technology to Expand Access to Justice. The ABA House of Delegates adopted a Resolution 108 on Unbundling in 2013 encouraging the practice.
While the unbundling trend may be starting out with larger firms for startups and entrepreneurs, it will make its way to down to smaller sized firms and encompass many more areas of law. All lawyers can benefit from learning techniques for unbundling and using technology to deliver services online.
One of the toughest aspects of being an attorney (especially a solo) is that you can find yourself living in your own little bubble. Whether you are calling another member of your firm, or another attorney that you know, reaching out for help is easier said than done.
Regardless who you ask, be respectful of the other attorney’s time and advice.Step 1: Know What You Need To Ask
It is best to determine how much help you need before picking up the phone. To get started, here are some basic questions you should ask yourself.
The answers to those questions should guide how you ask for help, and what kind of help you are asking for.
You should also use the correct medium when requesting assistance. I would much rather have a ten minute call than a chain of emails throughout the day. If it is a detailed discussion, I would prefer lunch for an hour over numerous phone calls.
If you think you need more than a lunch meeting, then you should really consider asking someone to co-counsel or simply refer the case. There is nothing more awkward (and frustrating) than someone that buys you lunch, and then regularly wants to “bounce a few ideas off of you.” If they are someone you just met, you are burning down that bridge before you can even build it.Step 2: Be Respectful of Their Time and Schedule
Do not call someone out of the blue at 3:30 in the afternoon, and tell them you need to talk them right away about a case.
At that time of day, most attorneys are either putting out their own fires on a case, or starting to plow through work pushed aside earlier in the day. This is especially true if you do not know the person.
To be fair, there are situations where you might need an immediate answer. If that is the case, try reaching out to attorneys you have built relationships with. I would happily take phone calls from my close colleagues at any time of the day.
If you need to cold call someone, make sure your introduction follows these three important rules: you are respectful of their time, you have an estimate of how much time you need, and you offer an opportunity to set a meeting at their convenience.
If you are asking the right person for help, they are probably busy, so make it as easy as possible for them to say yes. If you send an email or leave a voicemail and do not get an immediate response, wait a day. Remember that your emergency is not another attorney’s emergency.Step 3: Respect Their Advice
If you are asking for advice, it is likely you are unsure of your client, the case, and procedural status. You may not be clueless, but you lack confidence in your position.
Keep that in mind when you ask for advice. There is nothing wrong with disagreeing over an interpretation of the law, facts, rules, and just straight up ignoring rock solid advice or common sense.
For example, I regularly get calls from attorneys that want to pursue a claim under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA). The FDCPA protects consumers against abusive and unfair debt collection. It also requires that the debt at issue must be a consumer debt.
I have had more than one conversation that goes like this:
Them: “Yeah, so they went out of business and now these collectors are threatening them with garnishment and harassing them.“
Me: “Wait, so this is a business debt?”
Them: “Yeah, it’s their business credit card that they used to buy stuff for the business.”
Me. “It has to be a consumer debt to bring a FDCPA claim, so your client doesn’t have standing. The other side will realize that immediately, and your case will be over before it starts.”
Them: “What? Oh, whatever. I’m just going to file it and see what happens.”
Not only did the attorney ignore me, they dug the hole deeper by professing their intention to plow ahead with a frivolous claim.
To be fair, it is not always that cut and dry. There is nothing wrong with having a discussion about an undecided fact, rule, or law. But be respectful about how you discuss it. If you are wading into unknown territory, remember that the other side probably understands the situation better than you.Updates
September 17, 2013. Originally published.
September 3, 2014 Entirely rewritten.
Featured image: “Young busy businessman at his desk” from Shutterstock.
Most of us know only enough about jury selection to figure out how to get bounced from a potential jury. Lawyers who work in jury selection, though, know its ins and outs and have a new tool to consider: social media. So how much can lawyers use social media to learn about jurors, and how far may a juror go in social media posts about their jury service before they corrupt the judicial process? And how will we all see this play out the next time the country gets wrapped up in a “trial of the century”?Social Media in Jury Research
Jury research is an entire industry unto itself. Trial lawyers and jury consultants frequently spend substantial resources to learn about the people coming into the courtroom who are just hoping to be excused to go back to their lives.
Books and movies like The Runaway Jury dramatize the jury selection process and give some actual insight into how it is really done. Media coverage of major trials like the Zimmerman trial bring jury selection into our living rooms. As lawyers and jury consultants seek to learn about potential jurors, social media postings provide great fodder for ferreting out a juror’s beliefs and personal preferences.
Is looking at a potential juror’s social media postings ethical?
In other posts, I discussed the ethics of investigating witnesses, judges, and other parties through their social media posts. The common theme is that so long as posts are public and a lawyer need not “friend” the posting person in order to see the post, the information is fair game. The same holds true for juror research.
_Communicating_ [with a juror, for example,] in the social media context includes sending a friend request.
The New York City Bar Association issued an opinion on this point. In Formal Opinion 2012-2, it said that an attorney may view publicly available social media postings for the purpose of evaluating a potential juror, but the attorney may not “communicate” with the potential juror any more than he could have before the advent of social media.
Communicating in the social media context includes sending a friend request or otherwise allowing the potential juror to know that the attorney is viewing the juror’s posts. Moreover, the attorney may not engage in any deception, including pretending to be someone else, for the purpose of gaining access to the potential juror’s posts.
This ethical framework is consistent with an attorney’s obligations regarding social media and other individuals as well, including judges and opposing parties.Social Media and Sitting Jurors
Sitting jurors are subject to court order not to discuss the pending case, but this can be a tough rule for many jurors to follow. (It shouldn’t be, but real-world examples show that it is.) As a result, many of them violate it. Lawyers are watching and taking these violations to the judge.
The New York City Bar Association’s Formal Opinion 2012-2 and the New York County Lawyers’ Association Committee on Professional Ethics Formal Opinion 743 addressed this issue, along with citing a number of actual cases where it has been a problem. The New York opinions concluded that an attorney who sees that a juror has violated the court’s order not to discuss the case must bring the violation to the attention of the court. The court will then act upon it just as it would if the court learned that a juror discussed the case in a non-social-media forum, such as during a phone call or a conversation. Lawyers must not take their own action to address the juror misconduct.
The problem of jurors on social media is not theoretical. Juror misconduct on social media can have a major impact on the administration of justice. Take for example the Arkansas case where a murder conviction was overturned because a juror tweeted during the trial. See Dimas-Martinez v. State, 2011 Ark. 515 (Ark. 2011).
There is also a big gray area between jurors ignoring the court’s instructions and misconduct leading to overturned convictions. Many cases have come down where jurors disregarded the court’s instructions and posted on social media about the trial, but the court did not find the misconduct severe enough to declare a mistrial. In Smead v. CL Financial Corp., No. 06CC11633, 2010 WL 6562541 (Cal. Super. Ct. Sept. 15, 2010), the court found that social media posts about the length of the trial were not prejudicial. Similarly, in United States v. Ganias, 2011 WL 4738684, at *3 (D. Conn. Oct. 5, 2011) juror postings such as “Guinness for lunch break. Jury duty ok today” did not taint the trial.
Courts are beginning to deal preemptively with the problems jurors and social media may create. In New York the pattern jury instructions now include a provision reminding jurors “It is important to remember that you may not use any internet services, such as Google, Facebook, Twitter or any others to individually or collectively research topics concerning the trial …” New Jersey and Florida have made similar provisions. These instructions coupled with ethics rules that explicitly allow attorneys to monitor the publicly-available social media postings of sitting jurors attempt to maintain the integrity of the judicial process in the digital age.Today’s Reality
Today we find ourselves immersed in periodic social media circuses during which the country will be riveted to the judicial process at work. The prosecutors and defense lawyers vet potential jurors, and they probably check the social media accounts of each and every one. As the trial progresses, they will also monitor jurors’ compliance with court instructions by keeping a close eye on those accounts. But as long as the lawyers refrain from communicating with the jurors, all of that monitoring will be ethical.
Featured image: “Lawyer showing evidence to the jury” from Shutterstock.
Let’s face it: even when you can understand them, No Parking signs suck. They are like a finger wagging no every time we try to park on a street. However, when we are faced with a No Parking Wednesdays from 4pm–6pm sign, at least we can rest assured that we actually understand the thing.
Not so with this crop of traffic signs, which make it nearly impossible for you to comply with whatever laws might be behind them.
Related“The Dropbox Q&A, Tips & Tricks Thread”
Dropbox is popular with lawyers. According to the ABA’s most-recent technology survey, 58% of lawyers use Dropbox, making it the most popular online file storage option among lawyers. Here is everything you need to know about Dropbox, from how to install it to securing your client files.Index
Installing Dropbox on your computer is simple and easy. Just download the installer to your computer, and run it. If you do not already have a Dropbox account, you can sign up for one during installation. This video from Dropbox walks you through the process:
After you install Dropbox on your computer, you will have a new folder. On a Windows PC, the My Dropbox folder is located in your My Documents folder.1 On a Mac, the Dropbox folder is in your home directory. As of this writing, Dropbox also has mobile apps for iOS, Android, BlackBerry, and Kindle Fire.
Any files you put in your Dropbox folder will be automatically synced to the cloud and to any other computers or mobile devices with Dropbox installed.Features, Add-Ons, and PricingSyncing, File Versions, and Packrat
Image: “This image is a vector file representing a cloud data backup sync concept. ” from Shutterstock.
Dropbox syncs your files between your computers and devices and the cloud. That means your Dropbox folder will have the same, up-to-date contents on every device. With Dropbox installed, you can save a Word document on your desktop, then open your laptop and keep working on the same file. Or pull it up on your smartphone.
You can also use Selective Sync to limit the files that sync to a particular computer. For example, you might not want to sync photos of your children to your work computer. Or your client files to the laptop you use at home.
TipIf you are going to do a lot of file sorting, it’s a good idea to pause syncing on all your computers, or turn them off, and use the web interface. This will help prevent duplicate files and conflicts.
By default, Dropbox saves every version of your file, which you can access from the web interface. It is easy to roll back a file to the last time you saved it, or recover deleted files. It functions like an extended “undo” function. However, Dropbox only saves the last 30 days by default. If you want unlimited file versions and undelete, you will need the Packrat add-on.
For an additional $39/year, Packrat will keep unlimited file history. With Packrat, Dropbox functions as a pretty good cloud backup solution for your files.Sharing
Other than syncing, Dropbox’s biggest feature is sharing. You can share any file in your Dropbox just by right-clicking a file on your computer or using the chain icon next to any file or folder in the web app. You can share your vacation photos with your friends or your client files with another lawyer in your office, all with a couple of clicks. Rather than attach files to emails, you can just copy the share link and send it, instead.
Importantly, Dropbox also has a sharing dashboard where you can see all the files and folders you are sharing, and who you are sharing them with.
Sharing is pretty simple. The person or people with whom you want to share don’t even need a Dropbox account of their own, if you just use a link. To do this, click the Share link icon on any file or folder in the web app, or right-click any file or folder in your Dropbox on your computer and select Share Dropbox Link to copy the link to the clipboard. In the mobile apps, just use the share button to copy the link to the clipboard.
Dropbox Pro subscribers can also click the Set visibility / expiration link to set a password or set an expiration date for the share link. When sharing a folder with another Dropbox user, you can also set the permissions to view-only and prevent changes.Camera Upload
Image: “Vector illustration of an old camera with flash and birds on the background of clouds” from Shutterstock.
The Dropbox apps can help you upload your pictures to your personal Dropbox account. The mobile apps give you the option to automatically upload all your photos; on the desktop app, you can upload photos when importing photos from a camera.
You can enable Camera Upload when you first install the Dropbox mobile app, or you can turn it on or off later in the Dropbox settings. It is an easy way to back up and share your photos, but it is also an easy way to get photos or screen captures from your phone to your computer.
Just a note: Camera Upload is only for personal plans, not business plans (see below).
Dropbox has more detailed instructions for using Camera Upload.Extra Storage
Still, if you use Dropbox for most of your files, you will probably run out of space. That’s where the paid plans come in. You can get 1TB of storage for $8.25/month, paid yearly. (The plans are a bit more expensive if you want to pay monthly.)
There are cheaper alternatives to Dropbox if that pricing does not work for you. Of course, one of the reasons Dropbox is able to charge a bit more than some of its competitors is that its widespread popularity means that Dropbox works with most of the apps and services with which you might want to use it.Business Plans
Originally, there was just one kind of Dropbox account. As more people and businesses started using Dropbox, though, some people wound up with multiple Dropbox accounts. Eventually, Dropbox released business plans, and they are finally becoming useful now that you can use your personal and business account at the same time.
While personal accounts are billed according to how much storage you need, business accounts are billed according to the number of users. All accounts come with unlimited storage and some additional features.
The cheapest business plan is $795/year for up to 5 users. Each additional user is $125/year. Solos and very small firms will be just fine using personal accounts, as long as the storage options are sufficient, but the business plan is a great option for firms with 5+ people who need to share files.Using Dropbox
Some people only use Dropbox to share or transfer files, like a USB drive but more convenient. While Dropbox works great for that, it is hardly the most effective way to use Dropbox.
Because Dropbox lets you share folders, it can function as an effective, inexpensive file server. Best of all, you don’t have to worry about actually maintaining a file server. It just works, and it keeps everyone on the same page. You can even sync up things like your QuickBooks company file or your Time Matters database.2
On mobile, Dropbox is essentially the missing file manager. Because of its popularity, many apps support Dropbox as a way to get files onto your phone or tablet. TrialPad, for example, largely relies on Dropbox for loading exhibits. So do the best text editors for iOS.Security
Image: “Big safe door with Gold ingots.” from Shutterstock.
Dropbox is about as secure as your online banking website. That means your data is transmitted to and from Dropbox over an encrypted connection, and it is encrypted while it is stored on Dropbox’s servers. This is pretty standard security for cloud software that handles private information.
“Dropbox is more secure than anything most lawyers have used to secure their files from the Battle of Hastings until about 5 or 10 years ago.”
There are a couple of things to know about Dropbox security, though.3 First, data is transmitted over an encrypted connection (SSL). The data itself is not encrypted, however, until it reaches Dropbox’s servers. There, it is encrypted before it is stored on Dropbox’s servers. Second, Dropbox has your encryption key. That means Dropbox can decrypt your files if it has a good reason to (like a subpoena). There are reasons why Dropbox does these things, but there are alternatives with greater security — and some tradeoffs. If you want greater security but you still want to use Dropbox, Viivo may be the best way to have your cake (Dropbox) and eat it too (file encryption).
Dropbox also offers two-factor authentication, which makes it much harder for someone to log into your account, even if they find out your password. To log into Dropbox with two-factor authentication, you have to enter your password as well as a code sent to your smartphone (or generated by an authentication app like Google Authenticator in order to log into your Dropbox account.
If you are storing anything important in Dropbox, you should definitely turn on two-factor authentication for substantially better login security. Make sure you get your recovery code after you turn on two-factor authentication, and store it in a safe place in case you ever need it.
Dropbox Pro and Dropbox Business subscribers can also remotely wipe the files from a device when unlinking it (you can see which devices are linked to your Dropbox account by going to Settings > Security).Terms of Service
Dropbox recently amended its terms of service to include mandatory binding arbitration and ban class actions. If you do not like these user-unfriendly changes, consider another service. As of this writing, the terms of service for Box and Google Drive did not contain mandatory binding arbitration or a ban on class actions.
With Dropbox, the terms for a personal account are the same whether you pay for the service or not. Some companies, like Google, change the terms of service when you become a “premium” customer.Who Should Use Dropbox
Dropbox is more secure than anything most lawyers have used to secure their files from the Battle of Hastings until about 5 or 10 years ago. Only the rare lawyer … needs to worry about a higher level of security. … Dropbox is just fine for most solo and small firm lawyers’ client files.
Texas criminal defense lawyer Mark Bennett strongly disagrees, and he makes some good arguments against using Dropbox for client files. Those arguments are even stronger now that we know what the NSA has been up to, and after the Heartbleed showed how a minor error by an OpenSSL developer can lead to a huge security breach. Cooperstein is still right, but many lawyers will want to re-think the cloud and use it in a more limited way from now on.
But that doesn’t mean you should not use Dropbox at all. Indeed, you can hardly avoid it if you want to be productive on more than one computing device. Instead, go ahead and use Dropbox, and use an add-on like Viivo to encrypt sensitive information.Updates
In Windows, you can make your Dropbox folder behave like your My Documents folder. To do this, right-click your My Documents folder, then click on the Location tab and click the Move button. Then, select your My Dropbox folder, and your Dropbox folder will open whenever you select My Documents. ↩
These do work, but the files will only sync when QuickBooks or Time Matters is closed on one computer. If you try to open your QuickBooks company file or Time Matters database on two computers at once, or before everything is synced up, Dropbox will create a conflicted copy. ↩
Many law-firm websites are designed like business cards or thick brochures. They either have too little information (just a single page with the firm name and contact information) or way too much (page after page listing specialties, experience, and biographical details). Whatever the designers of such sites are thinking, they are missing the single most important concept in online marketing:
Design your site for the action you want your readers to take.
If the goal of your site is to find clients (and I assume it is), you should make sure that every design, navigation, and content decision is calculated to:
And you want to accomplish all of these things in a way that is simple, smooth, and obvious to visitors to your law-firm website. A great resource for this is Don’t Make Me Think: A Common Sense Approach to Web Usability by Steve Krug, which has become a seminal guide to web usability.
Don’t make potential clients think when they visit your website.
Don’t make potential clients think when they visit your website. Focus on eliminating navigation barriers on your website and making it easy for potential clients to contact you. Include a direct call to action on every page telling readers what you want them to do after they arrive on your site.
If your site clearly identifies who it is designed for, what you want those people to do, and how to do it, you should be able to convert visitors into clients.
Featured image: “young little girls shh to camera not to telling their secret” from Shutterstock.
“By replacing formulaic openers with forceful arguments,” says Burlingame, “lawyers can capture the judge’s attention, enhance their credibility, and show from the outset why their clients should win.”
Here’s a typical opening paragraph from a brief:
NOW COMES PLAINTIFF BELCOM COMPUTER COMPANY, INC. (“Belcom”), and files this its Opposition to Defendant Worldwide Telco, Inc.’s (“Worldwide’s”) Motion to Dismiss or, in the Alternative, to Strike Pleadings Based on Plaintiff ’s Violation of This Court’s June 13, 2003 Order (“Worldwide’s Motion to Dismiss”), and for its Opposition, Belcom would respectfully show unto this Honorable Court as follows:
Ugh. It’s full of archaic jargon, unnecessary parentheticals, and completely devoid of any substance. There is not a thing in it to remind the judge of the issues when the case is called. The only thing it does effectively is remind the judge (twice!) that Belcom has been accused of violating a court order.
That example comes from “On Beginning a Court Paper,” an article by Beverly Ray Burlingame in the Michigan Bar Journal, but every litigator has plenty of similar examples in their own files. It is a prime example of what happens when lawyers blindly copy from old documents. There’s no reason you have to use “now comes …” to begin a brief, but plenty of briefs start that way. There’s no reason to use a parenthetical for completely obvious shorthand (“Belcom” for “Belcom Computer Company, Inc.”), and there is no reason to repeat the caption.
As Burlingame points out, opening paragraphs like this “waste judges’ time and sacrifice a valuable chance for persuasion.” Consider this alternative:
Belcom has fully complied with this Court’s June 13, 2003 order to amend its complaint. As the order requires, Belcom’s amended complaint states specific facts supporting its contention that Worldwide deceived the patent office in applying for the patent at issue, thus rendering the patent invalid. Instead of disputing those facts, Worldwide now seeks drastic relief—asking this Court to dismiss or strike Belcom’s invalidity claim. Worldwide’s motion should be denied.
That’s much better. It gets right to the point, doesn’t insult the judge’s intelligence, and sums up the argument. On the day of court, the judge should be able to refresh her memory from a quick glance at the first page of the brief. “By replacing formulaic openers with forceful arguments,” says Burlingame, “lawyers can capture the judge’s attention, enhance their credibility, and show from the outset why their clients should win.”
Featured image: “Hands on keyboard symbolizing overloaded writer” from Shutterstock.
Never ever ever send a Word file as “correspondence.” A Word file — or a WordPerfect, OpenOffice.org, or Pages file — is not a document. PDFs are documents. Word files are drafts. And sending a draft that includes your digital letterhead and signature to anyone is just plain stupid. Here’s why.
I frequently receive “correspondence” attached to an email from an attorney involved in one of my cases. Nothing is unusual about that. While I think an email with a professional-looking signature block is plenty formal, there are times when a more formal letter is important, and sending it as an attachment to an email works just fine. What is unusual is how these attachments are sent to me — as a Word file instead of as a PDF.
Okay, first thing to take away: Word files are not documents. In a paperless environment, a document must be a substitute for the actual paper. A PDF file can be a document. A Word file cannot. Write this down. Word files are drafts. They are never ever final documents.
Why? Because by their very nature anyone you send them to can change them! That all-important not in your letter can be deleted and the doctored letter used against your client — as in “My client did not steal $100,000 from your client” becomes “My client did steal $100,000 from your client.” See the problem?
Word files are simply not final documents and should never be sent to anyone unless you are working on a draft.
What I usually receive is a .doc file with the firm’s digital letterhead and the content of the letter. In each case the “signature” of the attorney was simply their name preceded by /s/. First, this is the lamest way to “sign” a document outside of electronic case filing, what those attorneys did was provide me with a template to create correspondence from their firm, if I was inclined to do so. (Obviously, I would not, since it would be an obvious ethical violation.) You should not expect everyone you deal with to be scrupulous. In fact, you should assume that they will be unscrupulous to protect yourself and your client.
The second thing to take away from this is that many, many attorneys still have no idea how to operate in an increasingly paperless world. Many state courts are converting to electronic filing. Attorneys who do not understand the basics of a paperless practice will not be able to navigate in that world.
The bottom line is this: sending a Word file to an attorney is fine if you are in fact collaborating on that file. But always remember that the Word file is not the final product; it is only a draft and you should never treat it as anything else. Protect your digital signatures and digital letterhead as you would physical versions. You’ve never sent your opposing counsel a stack of your blank letterhead have you? Then don’t do it digitally.
This was originally published on April 25, 2013. It bears repeating, so we republished it on August 25, 2014.
CosmoLex is a new cloud-based software that launched at this year’s ABA Tech Show. Shortly after launch, CosmoLex announced integrated trust accounting, with a goal of creating an all-in-one solution for attorneys that negates the need for third-party software like QuickBooks. CosmoLex is still a work in progress, so consider this a first look.
CosmoLex calls itself “practice management software,” but that isn’t quite apt. More properly, it is timekeeping and billing software. It has some robust features, like built-in conflict checks, but it lacks the heart of case management software such as calendars, reminders, and integrated email. However, CosmoLex has indicated these features are forthcoming.Index
CosmoLex’s signup is dead simple. Provide a name, email, and phone number, and you are set. You can also request an on-demand demo. There is a free 30-day trial period, and you do not need a credit card for the trial. This flexibility is refreshing for lawyers that would like to try out several types of case management software.Migrating to CosmoLex
At this time, CosmoLex does not allow for data migration from other case management or accounting software. They do provide information on the best way to migrate your financial data in terms of sound trust accounting principles, but there is no way to actually import data.Using CosmoLex
When you first start using CosmoLex, the software will have you enter your firm and bank information. You can enter account information for both an operational and a trust account. Optionally, you can set up information about your bank, your default check style (you can print checks from within the program), and the default payee when trust funds are drawn.
After you have done an initial setup, CosmoLex opens into its Matter screen and states that you can perform approximately 90% of your tasks from this screen, which seems largely borne out by use.
From this screen, you can enter a new matter, keep track of time spent on a client matter, enter receipt of a retainer, enter receipt of a trust retainer, and enter a trust transaction. It is a clean and simple user interface that uses pop-ups, and ensures you do not have to keep leaving the main screen.
Further, CosmoLex is very flexible in terms of accommodating the myriad ways in which lawyers charge for services. Fixed rate? You can do that. Hourly? No problem. Need a localized billing rate that is different from your usual rate? Sure. Need to note that there is a retainer? Of course.
Generating an invoice is slightly less intuitive. You get to the Invoices screen via the Matter Details button on the main page, and that will take you to a different screen where you can generate the invoice.
However, rather than getting a pop-up with the generated invoice, you get no information. CosmoLex is actually generating the invoice, but you won’t know that until you go back out to the Activities screen, choose the Invoices tab, and then click the Action button. It is an odd hiccup in an otherwise smooth user experience. The invoices themselves can be customized with a cover page and your law firm’s logo, which is a nice feature.
Checks can be printed directly from CosmoLex, and you can specify if those are being drawn on your trust or operating account. From the Bank screen, you choose which account you will be paying funds from, which brings you to a transaction screen where you choose the checks you want printed. A pop-up box gives you a number of choices as to how the check should look.
Checks print as a PDF with the stub and design information you have selected, and you can then print those on your computer checks.
The reporting system in CosmoLex is excellent. With one click, you can generate accounting reports, billing reports, bank reports, and trust account reports.
If you are the kind of attorney that likes to crunch your financial data in every possible way, CosmoLex gives you exactly what you need. You can run reports that give you a high-level overview of your firm’s finances or drill down to matter-by-matter transactions. There is a wide variety of trust account reports you can run, and you can also run key banking and compliance reports such as three-way reconciliation. If your main concern in selecting software is that it helps you get a handle on knowing exactly where your firm is at financially, CosmoLex would be a good choice.
One quibble: when you generate a report, it does not show up as a pop-up that you can view at a glance. Instead, your report will automatically download as a PDF to your desktop. It would be preferable to have the report pop-up and give you the option to print instead, since it is a slight hassle to hop out of the program to open a PDF from your desktop. Honestly though, this a very small problem for a very strong reporting feature.Mobile Apps and Extensions
CosmoLex states it has a mobile app, but in actuality it is just a mobile site. It is very responsive, but is limited to only adding time and expense cards.
CosmoLex does not integrate with any extensions at this time.Security
CosmoLex is browser-based and encrypts all traffic via 128 bit SSL, which is bank-level protection. All servers are located in the United States and, CosmoLex notes, are subject to U.S. jurisdiction. CosmoLex has McAfee run a third-party security audit every 24 hours.
CosmoLex also offers role-based user security, which means that different users can be assigned different access rights and roles. These roles can limit exposure of financial data within your firm.Backing Up Your CosmoLex Data
CosmoLex states that they back up your data every four hours, but they do not offer exporting your data or keeping your own backup copy.Evaluating CosmoLex for Your Practice
CosmoLex will not take the place of traditional full-scale case management software. For some attorneys, that may be an insurmountable problem. Since CosmoLex does not import or export data, it is not currently possible to integrate your case management software with it in any fashion. Related, the fact that you cannot import your current financial data into CosmoLex may pose a problem for established attorneys. However, if you are just starting out, the clean interface and the trust accounting features may make CosmoLex appealing.
Since CosmoLex is fairly new, very few reviews exist.
Normally, CosmoLex is $50 a month per user, billed annually. Until September 30, users can take advantage of a promotional price of $43 a month per user, which is also billed annually. That is a relatively high rate if you have multiple users, particularly if you are also paying for multiple users for your case management software. However, CosmoLex can be commended for having a very simple pricing structure with no hidden costs. They also state that if you purchase now, their price will not change as additional features are added.What CosmoLex Does Well
CosmoLex offers an excellent user experience. It is intuitive and easy to navigate. It runs extremely fast in a browser and the mobile version, while limited, is speedy also. CosmoLex does a great job of helping you get a handle on firm finances, particularly in terms of trust accounting. They clearly want to alleviate difficulties in maintaining proper trust account records, and do a good job of doing so.Where CosmoLex Needs Work
CosmoLex is going to need to make a choice soon: does it want to be a complete case management solution or would it like to focus solely on billing? Right now, the client matter and timekeeping functions are a bit more extensive than you would expect in a piece of billing software, but the fact that you are not able to import information from your existing case management software means tracking timekeeping data in two places. If CosmoLex adds robust data importing and exporting, or moves towards explicit integration with other case management software, it could be a much better product.Summary
As timekeeping and billing software, CosmoLex is sleek and easy to use. However, much of the timekeeping and client functions are duplicated by other case management software, and the lack of data integration or import makes it an expensive choice for what it does.
Rating: 3 (out of 5)
CosmoLex, reviewed by Lisa Needham on August 22, 2014.
Full disclosure: Sam just signed a contract to do some consulting with CosmoLex. As a result, he did not contribute to this article. —Ed.
Solo and small-firm lawyers often cite their strong personal relationships with clients as one of the main reasons why computers aren’t going to make them irrelevant any time soon. While lawyers probably aren’t going to become irrelevant any time soon, it probably is not because their personal relationships with clients are so strong.
I think many of those lawyers are overestimating those relationships. Most lawyers’ relationships with clients are pretty superficial and businesslike. Lawyers rarely get more personal than posting “Happy birthday!” on the client’s Facebook wall (or, worse, a holiday card with the firm’s logo and a stamped signature).
But what should worry lawyers more is that it is absolutely possible for bigger companies to forge strong personal relationships with customers through great client service. Here is an example.
It was really touching, and I have told that story again and again …
My first daughter, Caroline, was born in 2009. On my way to the hospital, I called Ruby Receptionists and told them to hold my calls for 48 hours. When I stopped by my office a few days later to check the mail, a care package from Ruby was waiting for me. There was no Ruby branding, just a note and a few nice things from a high-quality baby brand — a rattle, a onesie, and a pacifier, I think — for our new baby. It was really touching, and I have told that story again and again as an example of why I love Ruby. The first time I met some of Ruby’s people at a conference, I felt like I needed to give them a hug (and they were okay with that).
What is the most thoughtful thing you have done for a client? If someone else did the same thing for you, how much of your loyalty would it earn? Would it make you want to give them a hug?
Ruby’s approach is actually pretty simple. According to Ruby’s Katie Wilson, “We start by looking for people who genuinely enjoy making other people’s days. Then, we incentivize them, share stories of what other Rubys have done, and provide various tools to make it easy.” One of those tools is the “WOW Station,” a well-stocked desk full of gifts, cards, wrapping paper, and tools.
Further, Ruby maintains a prepaid Amazon account that any employee can use to buy anything for any client at any time, no questions asked. The only guideline is to avoid “wowing” the same client more than once in a four-month period — although that is also a judgment call Ruby leaves to its employees. Wilson says the gifts make up roughly 2% of the company’s marketing budget, but since 60% of Ruby’s clients come from word of mouth, it’s a pretty great return on investment.
Call it institutionalized thoughtfulness. It is obviously impossible for any one person at Ruby to have a deep personal relationship with any one client, but individual employees are empowered to act on what they may learn during a phone call or request from a client. It’s not faked, either. Ruby receptionists really are paying attention and looking for opportunities to surprise and delight clients. Being thoughtful is part of their job.
The bottom line is that big companies can deliver greater client service — better even than most solos and small firms. Not all of them do, sure, but for every Comcast, there are plenty of examples of companies that know how to suprise and delight customers and clients. (Ruby Receptionists, Zappos, Freshbooks, USAA, and Trader Joe’s are just a few that come immediately to mind.)
Keep a box of nice, brand-new toys and puzzles and games in your office and let your clients’ children pick something to take home.
Great client service and relationships should be even easier for a solo or small firm, but I think a lot of lawyers are deluding themselves about the strength of their client relationships. Clients probably aren’t all that thrilled just because they got to meet you at your office a couple of times, or that you send a holiday email every year.
You can take a page from Ruby’s playbook, though. Stock a cupboard with gifts, cards, and mailing supplies, or just give yourself permission to send a thoughtful gift to anyone you know, whenever it occurs to you. Don’t keep a box of toys and puzzles and games in your waiting room for clients’ children to play with. Keep a box of nice, brand-new toys and puzzles and games in your office and let each kid pick something to take home. If you are crafty, keep a supply of your handiwork for your clients, when the occasion arises.
The gifts you give don’t need to have your law firm name plastered all over them, by the way. The act is more important than the thing. People will be even more likely to appreciate a gift and remember who it came from if it isn’t blatant marketing. If it is a coffee mug, fine, put your logo on it. If it is a onesie or a fountain pen, skip the logo and include a personal note.
No gift cards, either. A $10 gift card to Amazon or Starbucks is pretty unremarkable. A $10 teddy bear for your client’s kid, however, is potentially memorable.
The key if you want to make your client relationships strong is to find a way to incorporate thoughtfulness into the way you do business. If you do that successfully, your client relationships really will be as strong as you think they are.
Featured image: “Business man offering a gift” from Shutterstock.
“Tool or Trap?” was originally published in the July/August edition of NW Lawyer. It is republished here with permission.
When it comes to using technology, it appears that common sense is a lot like Bigfoot. You hear people talk about it, but you don’t invest your own money looking for proof.
The legal profession and the practice of law — like many other professions and businesses — are undergoing profound transformative changes driven, in large measure, by rapid technology changes. Most lawyers will be impacted, including large multi-office firms who face greater competition for their services, small firms and sole practitioners who lack in-house IT staff but must file electronically and connect with clients, in-house counsel who face increasing cost pressures to rationalize their legal spending, and litigators who must address age-old disputes with the rules of civil practice and the modern realities of stored electronic information.
Before identifying some of the myriad ways in which lawyers can get into trouble with technology (as well as offering a few practical suggestions), let’s first scope the opportunity.
In short, there is a lot of electronic information out there that lawyers, along with almost everyone else on the planet, store, access, and use. Of course, that also means there is no shortage of opportunities for things to go horribly wrong. For example:
What is a lawyer to do? Well, according to the ABA Commission on Ethics 20/20 report in 2012, there are a couple of things.5
First, lawyers who wish to be considered competent (presumably, that’s most of us) should “stay abreast of changes in the law and its practice, [which] includes understanding relevant technology’s benefits and risk.” This doesn’t mean that lawyers must have a computer science degree. It does, however, mean that you cannot turn a blind eye to the technology-driven global economy; rather, lawyers must “remain competent in a digital age.”
Second, lawyers who wish to be considered ethical (again, presumably that’s most of us) should “take reasonable measures to protect a client’s confidential information from inadvertent disclosure, unauthorized disclosure, and unauthorized access, regardless of the medium used.” Lawyers, of course, are not required to guarantee digital security, but should take into consideration whether their information technology provides protection appropriate to the risk and the data entrusted to (or created by) them.
Today, in the 21st century (and more than half a decade past the introduction of the iPhone), attorneys must address the obvious tension between safeguarding client data and confidentiality on the one hand, and the business realities of data mobility and security on the other. For example, while technology is ever more ubiquitous and enables mobility, carries the potential for easier client communication, and places enormous resources into the palm of an attorney’s hand, it also escalates the risk that data (including client confidences) can be compromised — e.g., theft (hacking; stolen devices); loss (lost smartphone or tablet); and carelessness (unsecure connections; free email accounts where data is mined; corrupted via virus).How to Get Into Trouble with Technology
Like anyone else, lawyers have a variety of ways to create trouble with technology. Space limitations preclude an exhaustive list, but the following examples are illustrative.
Email. Perhaps because of its easy availability, immediacy, and casualness, email continues to provide a target-rich environment for trouble. In the recent criminal action against certain leaders of the Dewey & LeBoeuf LLP law firm, the 106-count indictment references email messages alleged to provide evidence of concocting a scheme to cover a financial shortfall. One email bragged, “We kicked ass! Time to get paid.”6 Little wonder why the prosecutors included that. What is a mystery, however, is why anyone would write and send such an email.
Altering Documents. The advice that many parents use with their toddlers — i.e., “just because you can, doesn’t mean you should” — is also useful for attorneys. It should go without saying that altering documents and email messages — used in court — should have mental alarm bells going off. Not always. In King County Superior Court, a case had to be stayed while a party sought new counsel after their attorney acknowledged that he falsified a memo and emails before turning them over to plaintiffs in a nationwide class-action lawsuit.7 Similarly, this spring, U.S. District Court Judge Lewis Kaplan, in a 500-page opinion, blasted a legal team (who previously had “won” a $19 billion judgment in an Ecuadorean court) for their “egregious fraud” which included ghostwriting “independent reports.”8
Cellphones. It’s not 1990. We know you have a cellphone — it’s probably even a smartphone — with a quirky ringtone. But do you really need to take it to court to field your calls? Before mobile phones, would you ever have considered dragging a landline around with you and plugging it in regardless of where you happened to be? Increasingly, judges are getting fed up with cellphones in the courtroom and are sanctioning attorneys when their phones ring.
Zombie Counsel. Clients — just so you know — don’t like to be represented by zombie counsel. Quite the contrary. Clients expect their counsel to be present . . . in the moment. That means, quite often, that you should resist the temptation to mentally check out of meetings or court hearings to check your email, text messages, stock portfolio, or social media posts. While some may think that such behavior makes you seem busy or important, more seasoned clients (and counsel) will recognize you as a zombie counsel — there only physically and, during meetings, having an undue fascination for staring at your lap and making faces . . . er, checking your email on the sly. Some leaders now insist that meetings be device-free simply to ward off the zombies and actually get things accomplished efficiently.
Identity Theft. It does not matter if you are a lawyer. Lying (er, “pretexting” for those with professional degrees) to obtain records is not only poor form, it increasingly is illegal. For example, a pretexting scandal at Hewlett-Packard in 2006 (which was designed to obtain telephone records of HP board members) implicated the highest levels of the corporation, including its chairwoman and its general counsel, both of whom resigned.
Gadgets. There are many differences between super-spy James Bond and lawyers. While he has a license to kill, you have a license to practice law. Which you can lose. As counsel — subject to the Rules of Professional Conduct — you will want to remain mindful of these differences. Just because you have the ability to use technology and deceive people doesn’t mean it is prudent. Washington’s Court of Appeals recently ruled that Washington’s anti-SLAPP act does not protect a law firm and its attorneys who transcribed telephone calls with an opponent’s former employee without his knowledge from possible liability for invasion of privacy.9
Social Media. Hopefully, this is not news: People (including opposing counsel) read your Internet postings. That seems obvious, but counsel and their clients need to be mindful of that reality. Recently, a single Facebook post cost a family $80,000 when, following the post (which evidenced breach of a confidentiality agreement), a Florida court tossed out a settlement agreement. In that case, the daughter of the plaintiff took time to post that her parents “won the case against Gulliver. Gulliver is now officially paying for my vacation to Europe this summer. SUCK IT.”10
Data Theft. The conventional wisdom is that bank robbers rob banks because that’s where the money is. For at least a generation, however, some criminals have figured out that law firm data also is where the money can be found in the form of deal data. In one case, it appears that the Chinese government may have targeted several Canadian law firms in an apparent effort to derail a $40 billion acquisition.11 In another, a firm’s managing clerk is alleged to have accessed inside information about the firm’s clients as part of an insider-trading scheme.12 Also, it recently was revealed that hackers working for the Chinese military targeted one company for information useful in ongoing litigation.13 Failure to secure such data from malicious employees, cyber-attacks, or carelessness can cause drastic reputational damage as well as liability.Practical Suggestions to Reduce the Opportunity for Trouble
Notwithstanding the large number of opportunities for trouble with technology, there are practical ways to reduce your risk. Again, these examples are not meant to be exhaustive. We’ve divided these tips into four categories.Client Data
Lawyers and their staff — on a daily basis — often deal with vast amounts of confidential or sensitive information. It used to be that the physical form of the data imposed obvious transaction costs that tended to minimize the potential for loss, theft, or corruption. However, digital data — which is now the vast majority of client data —is mobile and readily recordable at astonishingly low costs. Accordingly, the risk for loss, theft, or corruption is substantially greater and continues to grow. Client data and firm data, need to be safeguarded from loss, theft, and corruption. There are practices to address these risks:
Minimize. Obviously, you have no obligations for data you do not have. But because lawyers tend to squirrel away data, and online data tends to stay online forever, this strategy has limited application. But for those who wish to reduce risk and minimize security costs, it’s an option. Your records management practice should be disciplined and cognizant of changing technology.
Protect. Okay, you’re not going to minimize. We get it. Fortunately, there are strategies to reduce risk to the data that you retain:
Keep Current. Technology evolves quickly. Although it is sensible to avoid the bleeding edge, it is important to stay abreast of changing technology (e.g., Boeing, for example, recently announced a high-security smartphone). Simply said, you shouldn’t just buy a Palm Pilot and fax machine and call it done.Mobile Devices
Mobile devices (e.g., laptops, tablets, smartphones, data drives) and data mobility are inextricably connected. These devices, which enhance productivity, also present obvious risks. Accordingly, you will want to use security measures and data protection strategies:
Security Measures. Password-protect all mobile devices. Use encryption tools for sensitive communications.
Data Protection Strategies. You should minimize data storage on mobile devices and:
As the number of cyber attacks increase overall, there is nothing to indicate law firms are immune, in fact, some consultants now see professional firms as likely targets for cyber attacks. While reducing vulnerabilities is important, law firms — like other businesses — also need to figure out how to respond to a breach.
Start (and End) at the Top. Make sure your organization’s leaders are aware of the risks associated with potential breaches. Educate them about best practices, your response plan, and provide periodic updates.
Know What Information You Have. Learn what is stored (personal information, health information, client trade secrets), where it’s stored (on premises, cloud), how it’s stored (encrypted or not), and who has access to it (internal IT, subcontractors, service providers). Answers to these questions will help inform the details of your plan.
Identify Response Team Members and Roles. Establish a team leader and specific members from different teams within your organization (executive, IT, HR, communications) and outline their responsibilities beforehand. For smaller organizations, consider selecting, after appropriate due diligence, an outside consultant in advance to perform tasks that can’t be staffed in-house.
Practice, Practice, Practice. Having a plan is a good first step. Making sure everyone with a role to play knows what to do and how to do it is the next. Regularly test your plan and consider, if you have the resources, inviting third parties to conduct an audit.Behavior
Technology consultants will tell you that users don’t properly evaluate technology risks (e.g., hard drive failure) until an event occurs, at which point they over-value the risk. Which is to say that individual behavior is difficult to manage and, quite often, is your biggest risk.
Educate. Those same technology consultants will tell you there is no firewall for stupid. Stated more kindly, you don’t know what you don’t know. The same is true for the people around you as well as your clients. You should make it a priority for you and your clients to appreciate the advantages as well as the risks of utilizing various technologies in your practice. Accordingly, you should consider:
Use Common Sense. Unless you are a reality television star, data leaks don’t create value. Therefore, you will want to exercise common sense.
Shift the Risk. As with any transaction, deal terms involving firm or client data should not be limited to price and a service description.
Try to avoid click-through agreements. Not surprisingly, these are not pro-consumer terms. Look for cloud service providers or third-party resellers who are willing to accept some risk for storing sensitive data.
Obtain cyber liability insurance (generally speaking, your comprehensive, umbrella, and E&O insurance likely will not cover cyber liability issues).Stay Aware
Today, we’re half a generation removed from the chatter about whether communication by cellphone or email-waived attorney-client privilege and what, precisely, needed to be included in sometimes shockingly long facsimile and email notices and disclaimers. The technology scolds notwithstanding, we’ve long left the days when one of the biggest risks to client confidentiality was leaving the file cabinet unlocked or leaving behind a deal sheet on a photocopier. Today’s technology enables users to have orders of magnitude greater data in their pocket . . . or left behind on a coffee counter. Accordingly, the need for common sense — and keeping abreast of technology — is even more urgent.
Featured image: “Primary Japanese girl playing dodge ball” from Shutterstock.
See, e.g., “Data on Big Data” (July 18, 2013), www.marciaconner.com/blog/data-on-big-data. ↩
“Airport Lost & Found: Over 8,000 Laptops and Cell Phones Left at Major Airports,” Travelers Today (July 6, 2012). ↩
See ABA Commission on Ethics 20/20, www.americanbar.org/content/dam/aba/administrative/ethics_2020/20120508_ethics_20_20_final_hod_introdution_and_overview_report.authcheckdam.pdf. ↩
“Fallen Law Firm’s Leaders Are Indicted,” Wall Street Journal, B1 (March 7, 2014). ↩
See “Lawyer Altered Documents in Best Buy Case” (June 5, 2007), www.nbcnews.com/id/19056379, www.fuerstlaw.com/wp/index.php/07/lawyers-fired-bank-recants-testimony-after-it-is-discovered-that-bank-altered-document-used-at-federal-trial. ↩
Chevron Corp. v. Donziger (S.D.N.Y. 2014) [11-cv-00691 LAK]. See opinion at www.online.wsj.com/public/resources/documents/chevronruling.pdf. ↩
Dillon v. Seattle Deposition Reporters, LLC & Davis Wright Tremaine, LLP, and James Grant, Wn. App., No. 69300-0-1 (Div. 1, January 21, 2014). ↩
Gulliver Schools, Inc. v. Snay, 2014 WL 769030 (Fla Dist. Ct. App. Feb. 26, 2014). ↩
See “Prostitute Takes Laptop, Psychologist Loses License,” Seattle Times (Oct. 14, 2013), www.seattletimes.com/html/localnews/2022044490_lostlaptop
It is difficult to respond to legal marketing questions with a simple answer. For instance, what source of referral traffic should you care about most, social media or search engines?
Who would have thought even a couple years ago that social media may be as important as Google in drawing traffic to your law blog. After all, eight or nine years ago we said BLOG stood for “Better Listing On Google.”
There is no question that the explosive use of social media has increased traffic. Regularly, I review analytics from legal websites and blogs that show considerable year-over-year growth in social media referral traffic.
On the other hand, it is rare that I review a site or blog that receives more traffic from social media than from search engines. Over time, the numbers tend to look more like this:
I suspect O’Keefe sees similar trends across much of the LexBlog network, but he does not discount search as being important. In fact, he notes:
Sure, Google remains important. But going forward you ought to be spending more time looking at how you can increase traffic to your blog from social media than from Google.
Which he further supports in our brief exchange on Twitter:
— Gyi Tsakalakis (@gyitsakalakis) August 14, 2014
@gyitsakalakis No question it’s both – social and search; law firms just need be less myopic in how people arrive at content.
— Kevin O’Keefe (@kevinokeefe) August 14, 2014
Admittedly, I am also guilty of being myopic. But paying additional attention to search is warranted. Define Media Group Founder and CEO Marshall D. Simmonds confirms this in his retort to BuzzFeed’s social media coronation:
Despite BuzzFeed’s claims to the contrary and the follow up mis-reporting, the data we analyzed irrefutably shows the following:
Organic search traffic is aggressively growing year over year
Social grew in Q4 (on that much we can agree with BuzzFeed), however organic search traffic did as well
Among our network of publishers, search sent nearly 2.5 times more traffic than social, accounting for 41% of all referrals, versus social’s 16%.
Gun to my head, which source of referral traffic is more important? Neither of them.
The truth is these channels have become inextricably intertwined as illustrated in this infographic by MDG Advertising:
Instead of trying to decide which channel is more important, focus on understanding how they work together.
Social media is an effective channel for staying current with your community and professional network. Additionally, it serves as a venue to get the attention of journalists who may write about and link to your posts. This is a positive signal search engines use to rank web pages.
Search engines will remain the primary source for people who look you up online. They will expect to see information about you on search engines. However, when they search, they will also expect to find information about you on social media sites. That is where social activity such as ratings, reviews and comments play a role.
This is why I recommend taking a diversified approach to web traffic. Google’s Matt Cutts articulates it well:
“I’m all for having eggs in lots of different baskets, because if your website goes down and then you can always have your brick-and-mortar business,” Cutts said. “If your ranking on Google is not as good, then you can have other channels that you can use – from print media advertising, to billboards, to Twitter, to Facebook. So you should always have a very well-rounded portfolio of ways to get leads whether from people walking through your door or Yellow Pages or whatever it is, because you can’t count on any one channel always working out perfectly.
All of these baskets work together. The lines between search, social, and offline marketing channels are blurred. Firms that focus on understanding how these channels work together get a better return on their investments in both time and money.
This week I was on This Week in Law with Ali Sternberg to talk about copyright, robot lawyers, Star Lord’s “Awesome Mix Vol. 1″ from Guardians of the Galaxy, trolls, and much more. Watch Episode 271 of TWiL here:
(Yes, my mic was terrible. If I do something like this again, I promise to get a better one.)