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Updated: 12 min 15 sec ago

Understanding and Working with Anxiety

1 hour 30 min ago

Face it: anxiety is a part of your life. As lawyers, we are constantly pressured to deliver results for our boss, opposing counsel, the court, and most importantly, our clients. Regardless what can be controlled, we are expected to foresee what could go wrong with every correspondence, motion, hearing, email, settlement agreement, and contract. It is no wonder that so many lawyers suffer from anxiety, among other illnesses.

For most lawyers, anxiety is just another facet of life. In our do more culture, this means billing as many 0.1 increments as possible. Often, we do not realize how much stress we are under until we go on vacation — assuming we left our computers and phones behind.

Despite the prevalence of anxiety among lawyers, we rarely discuss healthy ways of managing it. To learn more about anxiety, I reached out to Joe Gilbert, a Licensed Professional Counselor in Raleigh, NC. Gilbert says:

Our brains are hardwired to scan our environment for potential threats. This served a purpose when our cavemen/cavewoman ancestors faced legitimate threats of starvation, attack by another tribe, or being an appetizer to a large animal. “Fight or flight” was necessary to stay alive.

Thinking about anxiety as an evolutionary response is helpful, as we often try to understand our anxiety from a logical place. According to Gilbert:

Most of us don’t face matters of life or death on a regular basis, [yet our] brain still tries to justify why we are feeling anxious. We may wake up feeling restless, irritable, or worried, and then our brain tells us “there must be a reason for this!” and works hard to find an answer to justify these feelings. In our culture of “knowing,” we believe that if we can find the logical answer, then we’ll feel better. Unfortunately, logic and analytics don’t always apply to human behavior.

Often, stress and anxiety fuels our motivation and drive. As a caffeine fueled insomniac, I was certainly no exception. I would suffer from stomachaches starting on Sunday evening, which mysteriously subsided in time for Friday happy hour. However, I did not see this as a problem, as many lawyers I knew also lived this way. Our anxiety gives us a feeling of purpose and meaning; after all, the work must be important if it is making us miserable.

After nearly a decade of living with persistent anxiety, I finally took action, and found healthier ways of working with anxiety. I started practicing mindfulness and meditation daily, and went through cognitive behavior therapy. What I know now is that debilitating anxiety does not have to be a part of law practice.

Tips for Healthy Ways of Relating to Anxiety

Breathe. Breathe. And Breathe: This is Gilbert’s first piece of advice, and has consistently worked for me. Our breath is a gift that is always under our nose. It is an anchor in stressful situations, and reminds us that we are living beings, not machines that are supposed to run perfectly. Reciting a mantra or prayer can help as well. Two of Gilbert’s favorites are: “This too shall pass” and “Easy does it.”

Smile: Smiling loosens up the facial muscles and helps us relax. Focus on where the tension is in your body. Many of us carry anxiety in our forehead, throat, shoulders, chest, abdomen, and hands. If we can relax those parts of our body, it might help relax our mind as well.

Honesty: One of the most powerful — and paradoxical — tools we have at our disposal is being honest, and naming what we feel. A surefire way to diffuse anxiety is to name it.

Change Your Behavior: Gilbert offers the following mantra to his clients suffering from anxiety, “Move a muscle, change a thought.” If you are having an anxious thought, chances are that further rumination is unnecessary. Go for a walk or a run. Talk to a friend. Pick up a pen and journal. Toughing it out or fighting through anxiety may be a way to avoid the an underlying issue. He encourages people to “put down the boxing gloves, and learn to dance with anxiety.”

Write Your Worries: Slow your thoughts down to the speed of writing by journaling (with pen and paper, not on a computer). Ask for help, even though this can be hard. Talk with a trusted friend. Everybody experiences anxiety, even if they have a different word or definition for it.

Good vs. Bad:  According to Gilbert, labeling anxiety as bad can actually make it worse.

In the field of mental health, there is a saying that may help explain this: “It’s not important how you feel, but how you feel about the way that you feel.” So when I feel anxious do I add a layer of judgment to this feeling? Am I mad at myself for feeling anxious? Do I believe I shouldn’t feel anxious? Rather than thinking about anxiety in terms of “good vs. bad,” I suggest focusing on healthy or unhealthy ways of relating to our inevitable anxiety.

Back To Basics: It is important to maintain adequate sleep (typically 8 hours a night), exercise regularly, eat healthy foods, drink plenty of water, and cut out vices such as sugar and tobacco. Try meditation, yoga, or another form of mind-body awareness practice.

Knowing When To Get Help

How do you know when it is time to get help for your anxiety? “If you’ve been using the tools mentioned above for 90 days, and you still feel that anxiety is causing significant problems in your life domains [family, work, social, physical], seek professional help,” says Gilbert.

I was not aware of how anxious I was until I learned to stop living with it. Today, I feel grounded, happier, and at ease. It was not an easy process. Having spent over a decade with anxiety, it was a part of my life and identity. However, the payoff from getting help was immense. I no longer suffer from insomnia, headaches, backaches, or stomachaches. Additionally, I am a better lawyer because I can stay calm and present in difficult situations. Start addressing your own anxiety with these tips from Dr. Gilbert, and seek help if you need to.

Featured image: Fear, man in white shirt with funny expressions

Categories: Teknoids Blogs

Law Firm SEO Has Not Changed in 40 Years

Mon, 07/28/2014 - 06:12

Just the other day, Sam provocatively declared “There is No Such Thing As Online Marketing.” His point was that people who think that online marketing is fundamentally different from traditional marketing are splitting hairs. It is about letting people know who you are and what you do, in an effort to get paying clients in the future.

Sam’s post made me think about the specific tactics lawyers can and should use, both online and offline, for search engine optimization (SEO) and link building.

Purpose of Online and Offline Marketing

The goals of both online and offline marketing are to get clients and referral sources who trust you, and understand how your services can benefit them. That’s it.

The Internet has created a number of new opportunities to engage with clients and colleagues, but that engagement is not (or at least it should not be) fundamentally different from how you would relate to those people if you saw them in your office or bumped into them at the grocery store.

Secret Tricks for Ranking in Google

When lawyers ask us about website marketing, they are thinking about sneaky tools marketing consultants must have for making their sites rank in Google. The sad truth is that for a long time, there were tricks that SEO experts used to get low-quality sites to rank well. Google has been learning its lesson, though, and with few exceptions, the current understanding of Google’s algorithm are increasingly based on three principles:

  1. Naturally-acquired links from reputable sites.
  2. Your site’s trust and reputation among real people, based on their social media presence.
  3. Interest and engagement on your site by actual visitors.

It turns out that the best ways to “rank well in Google” are what good lawyers have been doing offline for decades.

Seven No-Risk Tips for Sustainable Online Marketing

The good news is that all of these things are easy for an effective lawyer to start implementing today. These tips are guaranteed to work, cost little-to-no money, and you will never get a Google “penalty” for doing them. In return, you will get high-quality links to your site, mentions in social media, and see your Google search rankings increase.

So, how do you become an online and offline marketing master?

  1. Write quality, relevant, valuable content about your topic of expertise.
    Good lawyers write. If you have an idea for an article, submit it to your local bar journal or community newspaper. Of course, you can write a guest post on Lawyerist, or even start your own law blog. Regardless of the medium, there is no better way to build your reputation than to write valuable content for others.
  2. Speak and teach.
    Use your practice area expertise to teach CLEs, speak at client industry events, offer a community education course, or guest lecture at your local law school.
  3. Win awards.
    If you have actually done good work, you will eventually receive recognition for it. Awards from esteemed organizations will often promote you on their website.
  4. Sponsor events.
    Have your firm sponsor a client industry conference, a local pro bono organization, a little league team, or a charity 5K. These opportunities often come with links from the organization’s website to the sponsor’s website. You may even be able to deduct the cost of the sponsorship as a charitable deduction.
  5. Become a source to the media.
    Find local reporters — most are on Twitter, if you are looking — and let them know that you can be a smart, media-savvy source for quotes in future stories about your practice area.
  6. Be a leader in your community.
    Chair a section of your bar association, serve on the board of a non-profit, get appointed to a local commission, or run for local office. Do not do these things for the SEO; do them because you care about your community and will do a great job. If you have no board experience, start small by volunteering for a committee.
  7. Stay engaged with friends, colleagues, former clients, mentors, and mentees.
    Make a point of checking in with your social and professional network and offer them help. Whenever you can, share interesting and valuable information with your network. You can do this with social media, an email newsletter, or by picking up the phone.

What other activities should lawyers consider for getting people to know, like, and trust them on and off the Internet?

Featured image: “Grandpa Fedora Core” by prupert is licensed CC BY-NC-ND 2.0. The image has been cropped and filtered.

Categories: Teknoids Blogs

There is No Such Thing As Online Marketing

Sat, 07/26/2014 - 09:51

“I’m thinking about trying online marketing.”

Even in 2014, I hear this from lawyers all the time. But there is no such thing as online marketing. There is just marketing, some of which happens online because there is almost no meaningful line between offline and online activity anymore.

Almost everything we do now has offline and online components. We may plan to get together with friends over Facebook. Then we get together, have a great time somewhere offline, and post the pictures back on Facebook while we are out. Similar things happen with legal marketing.

At some point, someone in your network (let’s say it is someone you only know offline) will be in a position to make a referral. Once that new referral has your name, they are probably going to Google it right from their phone. They may even ask for a referral over Facebook or Twitter.

Nothing about that is remotely cutting edge or groundbreaking. Having a law firm website and a Facebook account are roughly as cutting edge as email. (In fact, the bigger news lately is people leaving Facebook, not joining.)

I’m not saying lawyers must go all in on social media marketing. (Probably a bad idea, anyway.) But having an active presence online is just part of being in the world today, especially if you are trying to get people to give you money. You need an online presence because everyone is online, just like you need a phone number because everybody has a phone. Calling it online marketing is meaningless in a world where everyone is connected — or can be — all the time.

I feel compelled to point out that same ethics rules sensibly apply to both. That should be obvious, but some lawyers still seem confused. The rules may be slow to change, but that is a feature, not a bug. With some time and perspective, it has become apparent that the existing rules are general enough to work just fine.

To treat offline and online marketing as separate things is to ignore the reality of the world today. If the people you want to sign your retainer agreement cross the line between offline and online as easily as pulling a phone out of their pockets, then you should too.

Featured image: “Offline Online Keys Showing Internet Communication Status” from Shutterstock.

Categories: Teknoids Blogs

Write a Compelling Opening Line for Blog Posts

Fri, 07/25/2014 - 06:12

When it comes to writing, opening lines are crucial. This is especially true for modern writing, which is usually read on a computer or smartphone display. Few people will put down a novel after reading a single paragraph, but many people will close a tab or click away after reading less than that. A compelling opening can make them stick around, instead.

Like this one from The Atlantic‘s Caitlin Flanagan, for example:

One warm spring night in 2011, a young man named Travis Hughes stood on the back deck of the Alpha Tau Omega fraternity house at Marshall University, in West Virginia, and was struck by what seemed to him—under the influence of powerful inebriants, not least among them the clear ether of youth itself—to be an excellent idea: he would shove a bottle rocket up his ass and blast it into the sweet night air. And perhaps it was an excellent idea. What was not an excellent idea, however, was to misjudge the relative tightness of a 20-year-old sphincter and the propulsive reliability of a 20-cent bottle rocket. What followed ignition was not the bright report of a successful blastoff, but the muffled thud of fire in the hole. —“The Dark Power of Fraternities”

Related“Gallery of good ledes, recommendation edition”
Poynter

The only reason you would click away from that page is to save it for later, when you have time to sit down and read all 15,000+ words. That opening does not get out all the who, what, when, where, why, and how of the article, but it graphically sets the stage for a deep dive into the world of misbehaving fraternities.

Bloggers can learn from novelists, too. The best novels use the first lines to set the stage and give the reader a preview of what lies in the pages ahead:

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife. —Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice

Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendía was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice. —Gabriel García Márquez, One Hundred Years of Solitude; trans. Gregory Rabassa)

It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen. —George Orwell, 1984

All this happened, more or less. —Kurt Vonnegut, Slaughterhouse-Five1

There was a boy called Eustace Clarence Scrubb, and he almost deserved it. —C. S. Lewis, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader

Related“How to Write a Lead”
Purdue OWL

Contrast those opening lines with the wandering first paragraphs of many lawyers’ blog posts, many of which never seem to get anywhere near the point. If anything, the opening line matters more on blog posts than novels, because clicking away is trivial. There are so many other things a reader could be reading or doing instead of investing time in your post. Your opening paragraph is the first and best chance to get the reader to stick around and keep reading. Make it good.

Ken White at Popehat recently provided a great example of an opening line for a law blog post (as he often does):

Thomas G. Smith made a fundamental error: he assumed that as an American he had a right to use blunt language to criticize the police.

Legally, he was right. Practically, he was wrong. —“Watch Your Mouth, Or The Village Of Arena Police Department May Get Violent”

So did (former journalist) Bob Ambrogi:

You can lead a horse to water but you can’t make it drink. And you can teach a lawyer all about social media, but you can’t make the lawyer do anything with it. —“Another Look at ClearView Social, the Social Media Sharing App for Lawyers”

And I especially like this opening paragraph from Above the Law‘s Elie Mystal:

Adam Chodorow, a law professor at the Arizona State Sandra Day O’Connor School of Law, has written the definitive guide on zombies and taxes. His paper, published in the Iowa Law Review, concludes that Congress and the IRS have failed to anticipate zombie tax implications, and have therefore put our entire tax code at risk. —“Do Zombies Have To Pay Taxes?”

As a general rule, the first paragraph should get right to the point and briefly give the reader the who, what, when, where, and how of its subject matter. If you have a good reason to hold the essence of the story back until the end, you still must set the stage up front, and you must do it in a way that piques the reader’s curiosity enough to stick around and keep reading.

Additionally, if you wander into your subject instead of getting right to the point, you may forget to have one. It is always unsatisfying to finish a blog post only to wonder what the point was. If you decide to start with a long anecdote, at least remember remember to give the reader a preview of your point before you get too far afield.

The opening paragraph is, after all, the only thing most readers will see before they decide to stay or go. If it is boring, very few will stick around to find out of you had anything worthwhile to say lower down.

Featured image: “Crumpled paper and businessman tearing up another paper ball for the pile” from Shutterstock.

  1. This isn’t really the opening line, though. The opening line is really the first sentence of Chapter 2: “Listen: Billy Pilgrim has come unstuck in time.” 

Categories: Teknoids Blogs

How to Accept Credit Cards from Clients

Thu, 07/24/2014 - 06:12

In this post, we will compare four credit-card processors designed for lawyers: LawCharge, PayPros Legal, LawPay, and Lex/Actum. In addition, we will look at three general-purpose credit-card processors: Stripe, Authorize.Net, and PayPal. All these services let you take credit card payments via the web, and some will let you hook up a physical terminal, as well.

IndexEthical Issues

RelatedFind Your State Bar Opinion
LawPay

Credit card payments and trust accounting can be a thorny ethical issues. While moonlighting at Attorney at Work, Megan Zavieh wrote that lawyers should get over the fear of taking credit cards because (a) credit cards are how most people pay for things, and (b) there is no prohibition on taking credit cards. Familiarize yourself with the rules on advance fees and credit-card chargebacks in your jurisdiction. Finally, consider using a lawyer-specific credit card processor that avoids taking fees from trust accounts. It can also be helpful to put language in your retainer requiring your client to dispute payment with you, first, instead of going straight to the credit card company.

Understanding Credit-Card Processing

Credit card processing is a complicated mess of components and fees. No matter who you choose, it is hard not to feel as if you are getting nickeled-and-dimed.

That said, credit card processing boils down to two main components, each of which involve a monthly fee that applies to every transaction:

  1. The payment gateway is what you or your clients use to enter credit card information. This can be a physical card reader, a form on your website, or a virtual terminal — basically a credit card entry form that you can use to enter a client’s credit-card information yourself.
  2. The merchant account receives the money and holds it for a bit before the transferring it to your firm’s bank account.

Although there are a lot of different fee possibilities, it should not be impossible for you to determine how much money you will spend. For any service you choose to use, expect monthly fees anywhere from $5–100. Per-transaction fees generally include a flat fee plus a percentage of the amount charged. This can vary from 10-75¢ for the flat fee, and 1.95-3.5% for the percentage. (The per-transaction charges get smaller if you do enough business by credit card. If you expect a lot of payments, investigate the options.)

You usually have to pay for extra services, like recurring billing, or integration with external software like Quickbooks. Unlike monthly fees and processing costs, this information may not be easily available. You may have to talk to a sales representative to get more information. Additionally, these extra costs may vary widely based on how much business you are planning on doing, and how much the processor wants your business.

Lex/Actum

Lex/Actum’s pricing tier was not readily available on its site, but it took only a quick email to get detailed info about its plans. Lex/Actum’s pricing structure forgoes certain types of transaction costs in favor of higher monthly costs.

With Lex/Actum, attorneys that process less than $10,000/month of payments have two choices:

$19/month
  • 25¢/transaction fee
  • No separation of trust, and operating accounts.
  • Unlimited processing
$39/month
  • 25¢/transaction fee
  • Separation of trust, and operating accounts.
  • Unlimited processing
  • Invoicing software

Attorneys that process more than $10,000/month also have two options:

$59/month
  • 10¢/transaction fee
  • No separation of trust, and operating accounts.
  • Unlimited processing
  • Invoicing software
$99/month
  • 10¢/transaction fee
  • Separation of trust, and operating accounts.
  • Unlimited processing
  • Invoicing software

All of the options come with a dedicated payment page for your firm (example here).

Much like LawPay, the lower tiers of Lex/Actum do not include the separation of trust and operating accounts, making those plans a poor choice if you regularly deal with advance fees.

Although Lex/Actum does not charge percentage fees, you can not get around the interchange costs charged by Visa and Mastercard, which are 1-2% of a transaction. Every merchant pays those fees, period. Card processors typically pass this cost along to you and then add a bit on top, which is why you see the 1.95-3.5% fees with other providers. Lex/Actum gets rid of additional fees in its pricing scheme (though you’ll still pay them to Visa/Mastercard no matter what) in favor of the higher monthly costs.

Lex/Actum is a good choice for firms that can predict how many transactions they process each month, and would rather have the certainty of steady monthly costs.

LawPay

If you feel most comfortable with a high-profile endorsement, LawPay is for you. LawPay boasts endorsements from the ABA and 39 state bars. That does not mean you are free of worrying about ethical issues, but it does indicate acceptance among lawyers, for whatever that is worth.

LawPay offers three separate tiers of service depending on your firm’s credit card processing needs:

Small Firm Plan
  • 3.5% transaction fee
  • $5/month subscription fee
LawPay Plan
  • 1.95% + 20¢ per transaction fee
  • $15/month subscription fee
LawPay Trust Program
  • 1.95% + 20¢ per transaction fee
  • $20/month for deposit to multiple accounts.

None of the plans come with setup fees, though those may exist if you have special processing needs. Both the Small Firm Plan and Lawpay Plan are attractive to small firms at first blush, as the low monthly subscription fee keeps your overhead low, but those two plans will not provide you with the seamless trust account options that the Trust Program offers. If you choose the Trust Program, you get a plan that separates your funds immediately into trust and operating accounts, with processing fees being deducted from your operating account. There is no commingling and no need to move money from one account to the other depending on the kind of payment.

LawPay also integrates with Clio and Rocket Matter, and offers a mobile platform that allows you to charge payments via iPhone, iPad, or Android.

The lower-cost plans are good choices for attorneys who process a few, usually-small transactions each month, but the real accolades for LawPay are based on the features of the highest-priced plan. That said, the $20/month fee and 1.95% + 20¢ transaction fee are completely in line with other plans we looked at. If integration features are appealing, and you frequently need to deal with trust accounting issues, LawPay may be your first choice.

PayPros Legal

PayPros Legal is a lawyer-specific branch of a long-time credit card processor, PayPros. Although it is geared towards general credit card processing questions, PayPros seems to understand the ethical obligations lawyers face, and can set up separate operating and trust accounts for you. Additionally, PayPros Legal ensures that fees are deducted only from the operating account. PayPros also partners with MyCase and Lexis, among others. Along with the standard virtual terminal, PayPro Legal provides eBilling and a mobile payment platform. However, much of the business model is built around encouraging a physical card swipe.

PayPros Legal’s pricing structure is the functional opposite of Lex/Actum. PayPros does not charge any monthly fees, nor does it require a contract. Instead, you will pay anywhere from 1.69% to 2.99% per transaction depending on the type of card you accept. However, that low-end rate of 1.69% is only available if you swipe rather than key the card, which means you have to buy a swipe terminal from PayPros Legal ($60), or pick one up elsewhere. That may be an unattractive option for an attorney who is looking to handle payments with minimal fuss. If you (or your client, possibly) key in a card, you will pay 2.75% per transaction. While the transaction cost is high, the lack of monthly fees might make this a great option for an attorney who only needs to take credit card payments sparingly.

LawCharge

LawCharge provides the key feature — ability to deposit to multiple accounts, and thus avoid commingling — that the other legal-specific providers do. However, the website comes with a relatively loose explanation of how fees will be charged.

Your setup fee will be $100-$200, but you can request that the fee be waived if you are moving from another processor. Your monthly charges can range anywhere from $0 to $20. Per transaction fees can span anywhere from 19¢ to 75¢ per transaction, and your percentage per transaction can only be obtained by calling for an additional quote, and that quote will be determined by the type of processing you need. However, once you are all set up, LawCharge will let you deposit fees to both your trust, and operating accounts, with fees debited from the operating account at the the end of the month.

LawCharge also offers what it calls a “private payment portal,” where your client would go to LawCharge’s website, and pay via that site. The client then pays the transaction fees as a convenience fee, essentially, and you never have access to their credit card information.

LawCharge integrates with Clio, and offers a mobile app as well. It is entirely possible that LawCharge can live up to its claim that it is the most cost-effective option for attorneys, but unfortunately you will not find that out unless you invest some time discussing pricing scenarios with them directly.

With so many lawyer-specific options, it is tempting to avoid the general service credit card processors entirely. Regardless, these services may be valuable for lawyers who charge flat fees or rarely deal with trust funds.

Authorize.Net

Three years ago, we were impressed with how responsive they were to pricing inquiries, and how easy it was to set up their services. They offer the obligatory virtual terminal, and a free mobile app. Even though they have shifted the pricing structure on their website, it remains roughly the same as when we looked three years ago, which is nice to see.

Authorize.Net does not offer different tiers, but instead charges extra for some add-ons. Here are the fees you have to pay no matter what you are setting up:

  • Setup fee: $99.00
  • Monthly gateway fee: $20.00
  • Transaction fee: 10¢

Setting up recurring billing will cost you an additional $20/month, and fraud protection runs $9.95/month.

It is easy to connect Authorize.Net to external software like Freshbooks and Xero, and Authorize.Net makes it seamless for attorneys to generate invoices, and clients to pay those invoices. The only downside to Authorize.Net for lawyers is that it is not set up for trust payments, and given that a lot of lawyer-specific services now exist, that might be a dealbreaker, as you will either need to engage in some very complicated maneuvering to deal with advance fees, or forego them entirely.

Stripe

Full disclosure: Lawyerist is currently using Stripe.

Though Stripe will not help you address the trust account issue, if you do not frequently find yourself processing advance fees, Stripe is probably the credit card processor. Your only fees are a 2.9% + 30¢ transaction fee. There are no monthly fees, no setup fees, and no small-print-at-the-bottom-of-the-page fees. If you process an upwards of $80,000/month, shoot them an email for a custom pricing scheme.

Stripe provides a payment form that works across smartphones, tablets, and desktops without any additional setup on your end. They will also transfer funds to your existing bank account for free, but they will charge you 25¢ per transfer if you want to send it to a third-party account. If you enjoy having a wide variety of features, Stripe has a large number of third-party add-ons that can handle tasks such recurring billing, integrating with Quickbooks, or building your own custom payment platform. The latter may prove entirely unnecessary, but sometimes it is nice to know you have options. All the options.

PayPal

Three years ago, PayPal was clunky to navigate. That has changed somewhat as PayPal has moved towards trying to offer a Stripe-like out-of-the-virtual-box experience. Paypal will charge you the same amount as Stripe — 2.9% + 30¢ per transaction — for the basic PayPal experience that many of your clients may already be familiar with. However, if you want to keep your clients on your site while they pay, rather than kicking them over to PayPal, you will need to go with PayPal Payments Pro, which will run you $30/month. This will then lead you down the most complicated labyrinth of possible fees imaginable.

Several years ago, PayPal was an attractive option despite its misgivings due to its familiarity, and integration with services such as Quickbooks — albeit at a steep cost. Now, the PayPal interface feels dated and it is still difficult to navigate. It is also unseemly to kick your client over to the same type of website he or she would use if they won an eBay auction for a vintage Metallica t-shirt. If you need to accept credit cards more than a few times a year, there is no reason to go with PayPal when Stripe exists.

Square

Square has always focused on point-of-sale credit card swiping, and is an excellent choice for small merchants who sell products on the go or at multiple locations. They will even send you a free card reader just for signing up. Swiped cards cost you 2.75% in transaction fees, which is well within the average range of other payment processors.

You can also send your clients a Square Invoice via email, which they can pay using their credit or debit card. However, Square invoices come with some significant limitations. You cannot apply discounts or send the invoice to more than one email address. Additionally, the invoices look very much like an invoice for a sale of an item, not a charge for services. That said, Square provides you with a dashboard to track your invoices, and sends payments to your bank within one to two business days.

If you choose to accept a credit card without using the free Square reader, you will be charged 3.15% + 15¢ a transaction, which is definitely in the high range. It is difficult to see why Square would be a useful option for lawyers given the number of competitors that offer more versatility, lower fees, or both.

Intuit QuickBooks Payments

Many lawyers are likely using Quickbooks to track accounts payables and receivables and other profit/loss information. If that is the case, it is natural to look at QuickBooks Payments as a credit card processor. For an existing QuickBooks user, Intuit’s card processing service has no set-up fee and no contract, which is attractive to the attorney who only needs to run a few credit card payments per year.

QuickBooks offers two processing options for current QuickBooks users. For $19.95 a month, your transaction cost will be 1.75% + 25¢ for swiped cards, and 3.15% + 25¢ for cards that are keyed in. At $0 a month, a transaction will cost you 2.4% + 25¢ for swiped cards, and 3.4% + 25¢ for keyed cards. QuickBooks also allows you to send invoices, and updates your books when the invoice is paid. Additionally, QuickBooks will auto-deposit your funds. For current customers, these extras make Quickbooks an attractive option to Stripe, even though the swiped card rates are higher.

If you are not already a QuickBooks user, the transaction costs will remain the same, but you will have to use their GoPayment mobile app to accept payment. If you want to accept payments via the web, you or your client have to go through QuickBooks’ unattractive and cumbersome Online Service Center. Like PayPal, your clients will also have to leave your site to make a payment. This makes Stripe a superior contender to Quickbooks if you are not a customer.

Closing the Sale with a Credit Card

Three years ago, there were virtually no lawyer-specific options, leaving us to recommend the best general card processor. In that arena, Stripe is the current leader, simply because it has taken the guesswork out of running a credit card processor. However, for attorneys that need to routinely process advance fees, it is difficult to go with a general services provider.

In that event, LawPay’s mountain of bar endorsements speaks to the fact that it is well-respected. Keep in mind, however, if you go with LawPay, you need pay for their Trust Program to get the benefit of the trust account separation. If you are using any of the other payment services, let us know how those are working out for you.

This post was originally published on March 17, 2011. It was rewritten and updated with several new processors on July 24, 2014.

Featured image: “Businessman in business suit pay by credit card.”

Categories: Teknoids Blogs

Ntrepid Timestream Interactive Timeline Software Review

Wed, 07/23/2014 - 06:12

One hurdle for small practices is acquiring technology that assists in complex matters without breaking the bank.

Ntrepid Timestream is a budding resource for organizing factual material electronically at an affordable price ($995 for a single-user one year license). Described simply, Timestream is a platform for creating an organized timeline of key case events, and linking electronic evidence to these events.

Software capable of organizing a large number of facts and documents into an easily accessible database is tremendously useful to small firms. BigLaw uses systems that do this, but they are extremely expensive and complex, frequently involving outside vendors to process, and code documents. Small firms, and their clients don’t have the resources to do this, yet still need the organized output.

When I heard about Ntrepid Timestream, I hoped it would compare to BigLaw systems, and really impress me. It simply did not.

What I found was that Ntrepid Timestream has great basic functionalities, but its limitations really take away from its usefulness. It is not going to help me compete with the big boys. I would like to see Timestream further developed, and then perhaps I would recommend the next version.

What Timestream Can Do Well

Despite my overall discontent with Timestream, there are definitely tasks it does well. To test it out, I first viewed sample cases provided by the company; then I created my file using an actual ongoing litigation. Mine is a moderately complex case involving fewer than one hundred individual events, and documents.

Create a Timeline: It is simple to create your own timeline by entering events from your case, and if you have your documents stored electronically, it is very easy to link to them. When you go to an event on your timeline, a link to the document related to the event is visible in a lower window, and the document can easily be opened. You can also include your own notes in a “summary” window. In fact, this step is so easy that it gave me the false impression that the output was going to be amazing.

Save Data: A great plus when working in Timestream is that it is constantly storing your work. There is no need to save, or risk losing any of your input.

View Timeline in Relevant Scale: Your timeline can be visualized in various states of zoom, so you can see a large scale overview or a smaller period of time. This capability is important because the time relevant to any particular case will vary. For instance, a stock scheme may have key events over a period of months or years, while a personal injury case may involve a critical period of only minutes.

The timeline shown above from one of NTreprid’s sample cases shows the September 11, 2012 attack on the US Consulate in Benghazi by the minute. Here is the same timeline in a different scale. All I have done to change the view is zoom out.

Though I appreciate this feature, it is really clunky to use. You have to manually zoom in or out, and I found no way to make one portion of the timeline remain in one level of zoom while another is viewed differently. This would have made a big difference in my case, where most events matter only by the day or month, but for one day in the two-year period I need to see the events in hours.

Tags: For each event you enter, you can define your own “tags” to apply. You can tag an event with more than one user-defined tag, which I found very helpful. Using a Timestream tag filter, you can then choose which events to show based on their tags.

Bookmarks: Key events can be bookmarked for easy navigation. They appear on a separate list in the left-hand menu.

Timeframes v. Events: Most of the information entered in a timeline are individual events, but it can be useful to designate a longer period of time encompassing many events. Timestream allows users to do that using a “timeframe,” which is also bookmarked. My case has three distinct periods of time that are independent from one another, so this feature was useful.

Share Projects: Timelines can be shared with other Timestream users, and because all of the files you have attached to events become part of a single Timestream file, it is much more efficient than trying to electronically share the timeline itself, your notes, and all of your individual evidence files. Sharing can be through transfer of a file to removable media, or through Timestream’s server for nearly real-time collaboration. (I say “nearly” real-time because you must click a “sync” button in Timestream to send and receive updates to the timeline project. It has a function for resolving issues between users who have inputted conflicting information.)

What Timestream Lacks

As noted at the outset, I didn’t love the system, and these drawbacks are why.

No Spell Check or Auto-Fill: I found it irritating that there was no spell check in Timestream. Granted, a lot of case-specific information is going to contain proper names and abbreviations, but typos really make the final output look juvenile. An auto-fill would be a welcome step in the right direction.

Time of Day Required: It seems like there must be a solution to this, but I could not find one. For any event entered in your timeline, you must include a time of day. Time of day may matter in certain cases, or even in certain events in a case, but for my purposes the time of day was irrelevant. It is distracting and inaccurate to have times listed for things like letters received or written. I wanted to be able to skip the time of day, but a time was necessary for every event by default (and not a consistent default like 12:00 a.m.).

Untitled Events: I found in using Timestream that I was getting a lot of extra “untitled” events on my timeline. When entering an event, until you put in a title it will show up on the timeline “untitled.” However, I was getting blank events all over. This resulted from me clicking the “add event” button, and then not actually adding any information on my next click. Timestream does not recognize that I chose to do something else instead, and it records an empty event on whatever date is defaulting in the new event window. I found it irritating to have to go back through my timeline, and delete the empty events.

Difficulty Printing: I like to work in a mix of paper and electronic form, therefore I wanted to print my timeline when it was done. I wanted my printed copy to include the dates of all of my key events in order, details of the events, and a note of any documents attached. I thought it would be really awesome if that printing could even include the attached documents.

Unfortunately, Timestream’s answer is a simple text file that recites my text of each event, and its associated notes, but it really is not half as useful (and certainly not at all sexy-looking) as I had hoped.

Somewhat better is the “presentation” option which generates a graphically-cool interactive version of the timeline in a browser window complete with links to embedded documents, but it doesn’t print well. This is what it looks like on-screen:

A simple file-print command does not work for my purposes either. This printed only the timeline, not any detailed information, and only the exact portion then showing on my screen. It even highlighted the event I was then viewing just as it was highlighted on my screen, as if I was printing a screen shot. Events are shown as dots within the month in which they occurred, so I had no details on my printout of the specific dates.

Help Is not Helpful: The online help tool did not provide me with answers to many of my issues. Additionally, it was also not reasonably searchable. For instance, in trying to figure out if I could generate a report, I tried searching “print,” and got nothing. I searched the phrase “print out timeline” in quotes, and got 25 results, none of which dealt with printing.

Wait For New Release

I think Timestream is a good start on a product I would use, but it still has a number of issues to resolve. It is a work-in-progress, and not quite yet ready for prime-time. If the issues listed here were addressed, I would likely spend $995 to use it for a year.

Summary

Ntrepid Timestream is a good start on a useful product, but still has a number of issues to resolve. It is a work-in-progress, and not quite yet ready for prime-time.

Rating: 2 (out of 5)

Ntrepid Timestream, reviewed by Sam Glover on July 23, 2014.

Categories: Teknoids Blogs

Get Your Law Blog Off Your Law Firm Website

Tue, 07/22/2014 - 06:12
Get Your Law Blog Off Your Law Firm Website

Show me a lawyer with a new website, and I’ll show you a lawyer with a blog. It seems like most law firm websites have a blog tab leading to a few boring, useless posts that stopped shortly after they started. If the lawyer is especially determined, the blog will be recently updated, and may even have a few posts that might be interesting to someone looking for a lawyer in the firm’s practice area(s).

Related“Why Your Blog Sucks (and What To Do About It)”

It used to be the reason for doing this was to pump the site full of keywords to boost its search profile (SEO). The idea was that if you had a ton of pages with keywords that matched up to what your potential clients were searching for, your site would be more likely to pop up at the top of search results. This was always a stupid idea if done poorly, because potential clients aren’t going to be impressed by dozens of hundreds of barely-readable crap.

Now, the idea is similar but the emphasis (finally) is on quality content. Instead of SEO, the buzzword du jour is inbound marketing. Inbound marketing is an old concept, and the idea is simple: give people quality, actually-valuable stuff and they will be more likely to pay you for something. It’s hard to argue with that.

If your marketing strategy sounds like SEO or inbound marketing and you are getting advice from someone competent, then by all means stop reading. This article is not about SEO or inbound marketing. It is about blogging, a form of self-publishing1 that is best done completely separately from your law firm website.

Context

You probably would not decorate your law office like a sports bar, because you want your clients to take you seriously and you want them to know that you take their legal matters seriously. This is why meeting in a coffee shop is problematic (along with the problems that come with discussing sensitive legal matters in a public place). The context in which you meet with clients matters — it creates an atmosphere and sets expectations.

Websites are no different, and a law firm website creates a very different context than a publication built to be a place for reading interesting or useful things.

Law Firm Websites

A law firm website is, well, a law firm website. Most people come to a law firm website because they are thinking about hiring a lawyer. Very few people visit a law firm website more than once or twice, or however many times it takes them to decide whether to contact the firm.

Whether or not the website is covered in pictures of gavels, scales, and columns, a law firm website is a lot like a law office, about which I once wrote:

Most normal people are as interested in visiting a lawyer as they are in getting a colonoscopy — and for similar reasons. A blog on a law firm website is, at best, like a great magazine in a proctologist’s waiting room.

People don’t want to hang around on law firm websites any more than they want to hang around in law offices. If your blogging strategy is just about getting people to visit your website once, then maybe that is okay. But that is a pretty shortsighted blogging strategy. You might be missing the forest for the trees.

Law Blogs

A blog is not a direct marketing tool; it serves a very different purpose. Blogs are publications,2 which means they are meant to be read by an audience of people who return at least occasionally to read more.

This is important because the kind of writing that attracts an audience of repeat visitors is rarely the same kind of writing that attracts search engines and inbound marketing prospects. And the context is important. If you took the most popular articles from the New York Times and put them on a law firm website, nobody would read them. Or at least, if someone happened to find one of them, it is pretty unlikely that they would come back for more.

Blogging is long-game marketing. When you have a well-read blog, you earn your own media every time you post something. You don’t need to wait around for the local news to call you for your analysis of the latest celebrity divorce or corporate bankruptcy (although if you have a good blog, they probably will); you can just publish it yourself.

But in order to build that audience, your blog is better off on its own website, with its own look and feel. Your blog should appear to be (and actually be) a publication, not a law firm’s marketing website.

Separating Your Blog

Blogging done well is a lot of work. But if you build a successful blog, you will probably have a reliable source of referrals, as well.

When you start your blog, give it its own identity and domain (and don’t name it something bland and law-y like “State Personal Injury Law Blog”). Give it a real name and identity, like Duets Blog or Caveat Emptor.

Build an audience by writing about a subject related to what you do, not by writing only about your area of practice. For example, if you handle bankruptcy or represent consumers dealing with debt collection, write about personal finance or consumer news. If you do family law, write about children, marriage, and divorce. If you do estate planning, write about celebrities’ wills. And do it well. Bring your insight to the subject, or dig up information nobody else has taken the time to find. In other words, write a blog your potential clients might want to read when they aren’t looking for a lawyer.

Then, update it frequently. Write at least weekly, if not daily. If you aren’t willing to invest that time, just pay for advertising. But if you want to build something longer-lasting, put in the time to write a good blog.

As for that pretty-much-dead “blog” taking up space on your law firm website? Move it off, give it up, or convince yourself that your law firm website is a unique situation (hint: it probably isn’t).

This was originally published on November 3, 2011 (hence all the older comments). It was rewritten and republished on July 22, 2014.

Featured image: “Business person standing against the blackboard” from Shutterstock.

  1. In the comments, Mark Merenda wrote:

    People love to pontificate on what a blog is or is not. A blog is for readers, not for marketing. A blog is different than a Web site because it…blah blah blah. Folks, a blog is what you make it.

    It’s a good point. Bloggers (including me) can get overly preoccupied with the Form of blog. But if a blog is what you make it, I guess I’m arguing for my vision of what you ought to make of it. 

  2. Again, many things called blogs, but I am presenting my argument for how blogging ought to be done — by lawyers, at least. 

Categories: Teknoids Blogs

Law Blog Week in Review: Unethical Marketing, Quick Writing Fixes, & Email Disclaimer Trolling

Sat, 07/19/2014 - 06:12

Each weekend, I round up the best law blog posts I have found during the previous week. You can help by sending me links using our contact form, starting discussions in the Lab, or tweeting the link to @lawyerist. Or just tell me what I missed in the comments.

A Solo Practitioner’s Manifesto

This “Why I Went Solo” post from Canadian lawyer Vince Wong is a pretty great answer to those who buy into the myths about solo practice. [VW Law]

Law Firms, the “Soft Underbelly” of Data Security

It’s true. We are the weakest link. Frank Strong offers some tips for being less soft and weak. [Business of Law Blog]

“I don’t think these people … intend to be dishonest. I just think they don’t get it.”

Rick Horowitz perfectly describes a lot of lawyers online, whether the subject is blogs, Avvo, or just about any other form of online marketing used by lawyers. [Probable Cause]

Three Quick Writing Fixes
  1. Look for that and eliminate it if the sentence makes sense without it. (This is a pet peeve of mine.)
  2. Look for of, because it often indicates extraneous words.
  3. Look for in, for the same reasons.

For a more detailed explanation and more tips, see Steven Taylor’s post. [Attorney at Work]

Find Well Settled Law

The essential premise of WellSettled.com, written up by Bob Ambrogi, is pretty simple: scoop up all instances of a judge writing things like “it is well settled that …” or “it is well established that …” in opinions. It’s like a legal research shortcut so you don’t have to assemble your own string cites from scratch. [LawSites]

Trolling with Email Disclaimer

I wanted to post an excerpt of the amazingly stupid email disclaimer Mark Bennett posted, but you really should just read the whole thing. Here is a sample that does not do it justice:

If you are the intended recipient or receive this communication intentionally by the intended recipient, subject to Texas Rule of Evidence (including rule 408) you are granted express consent to disclose, copy, and/or distribute this communication. In return, you agree to not alter it, for example, by removing any of these disclaimers. In violation thereof, you agree to (1) be personally liable for a minimal of $15,000 in liquidated damages, reasonable attorney fees, and court costs in collecting these damages

Note: Email disclaimers are pretty pointless, period. This one goes well above and beyond pointless. [Defending People]

Investors Are Betting on Legal Tech

When Clio announced its $18 million investment, it was exciting for legal tech, but it was also an outlier. Now NetDocuments has raised $25 million, which looks more like it could be the beginning of a trend. [LawSites]

Featured image: “Businessman in a suit holds wrench” from Shutterstock.

Categories: Teknoids Blogs

Hacking Chaos: The Cornell Method of Note-Taking

Fri, 07/18/2014 - 06:12

Taking notes by hand is better than typing notes, because it forces you to slow down and focus on what is important. Slowing down greatly increases your understanding of information, which is why you need to become better at note-taking.

That’s where the Cornell Method comes in. The Cornell Method has you separate your notes into note-taking portion, key points, and a summary. And it is ideal for lawyers.1

Setting Up the Cornell Method

It is absurdly simple to arrange your notes in the Cornell fashion. Take your standard legal pad and draw a thick vertical line down the left-hand side of the paper approximately 2-3 inches from the side of the page. Then draw a horizontal line all the way across the paper about two inches from the bottom of the page. You’ll end up with something like this.

If this line-drawing strikes you as too daunting or ugly, you can design one in seconds online and print it on any old paper you’d like. You can also purchase Levenger pads optimized for the Cornell Method.

There. You’re all done getting ready to take notes Cornell-style. Easiest life hack prep ever.

The Structure of the Cornell Method

Dividing your paper gave you three sections. The largest one is your note-taking section, the left-hand margin is your key points/key questions section, and the bottom is your summary.

Opinions differ wildly on what should happen with your notes section. Some people — particularly those that recommend it as a college study tool — subscribe to a fairly elaborate set of rules about recording, reciting, reflecting, and reviewing. You probably don’t need to go that deep. However, there’s one principle that should guide you if you’re going to take notes using the Cornell Method, write less not more. If you’ve gotten used to taking notes on a laptop, you are already guilty of writing down too much stuff. Treat your notes section like an outline. Shoot for key points, not a verbatim transcript. Think of that section as an outline you will return to later, after your lecture or meeting or motion hearing has finished.

The left-hand margin is your cue/recall section. When you’re using Cornell as an academic note-taking method, the cue functions as a memorization and comprehension tool. You should be able to cover up your notes section, and answer any questions you posed to yourself in the cue section. You probably aren’t going to need to do that with your notes. Depending on what you are taking notes, this section can contain a series of questions, a roundup of notable points, or, to get all business-speak, action items. You should be able to throw your entire notes section away and walk out of your meeting, hearing, or lecture with the key ideas intact. If you are the kind of person who likes to distill your oral arguments down to one notecard, this will seem pretty familiar.

The summary at the bottom is exactly what you would expect — a quick summary of the notes on that page. Internet nerds differ on whether you should do that right when you are done taking notes or after you’ve reviewed them. I tend to summarize right away, because otherwise that summary section sits alone and unloved forever.

How the Cornell Method Works For Me

It isn’t an exaggeration to say that the Cornell Method helps me in every note-taking situation I have encountered in my professional life.

In meetings, I use it to easily call out follow-up items by dumping them in the cue section. This can be anything from a statute I need to look up to a call I need to return. Pulling those to-do items and reminders out of the main text of the notes really highlights them. Every time I fall in love with a new type of notebook that doesn’t have the Cornell margin, I go back to trying to just circle, underline, or highlight my follow up items and two things happen. First, my notes look like an utter mess, and second, I can’t easily find the things I want to do just by glancing at the page.

Pulling your next steps/to dos/action items over into the left-hand column also works well if you like to reduce your notes to an actual to-do list that you put on an index card, in a computer file, or a fancy Getting Things Done tickler file, because that left-hand column is now functionally your list of next actions. In meeting situations, the summary usually ends up being nothing but the date, time, purpose, and attendees of the meeting, but even that can be helpful, as it gives me a way to file the notes easily.

When I am listening to someone else talk for any length of time, whether an opponent in court or speaker at a CLE, being forced to organize my notes Cornell-style on the fly means that I am actively engaged and listening. If I don’t take handwritten notes, my mind drifts, and suddenly I’ve missed everything. Here, I use the notes section to force me into keeping a cohesive outline, even if the speaker wanders around a bit (as lawyers often do).

Then I use the recall section to break out big-picture points I’m going to address and key questions I’d like to ask. Again, pulling those things out of the notes section cleans up my notes visually, and creates a quick mini-outline that I can refer to quickly.

The arena in which I’ve definitely found the Cornell method most helpful is in organizing my own teaching notes. The notes section covers the main points of my lecture in an outline and forces me to stay on task. The recall section is my dumping ground for everything I can’t deal with in my notes without things getting messy. Questions I plan on asking appear there, linked to whichever part of the lecture they’re related to. Reminders to myself also go there when I’m re-reading notes before getting up to speak. Notes on sources, if I need to mention those, go in the side margin as well.

With that wide Cornell margin, my teaching notes last three or four semesters instead of one. This is because I’m able to use that recall section to highlight key changes I want to make next time I present the material. Finally, the summary functions like the tagging function in Evernote. I’ve got the week of the semester the lecture occurs, the name of the class, the major topics I’m covering that week, and a page number. This way, when I’ve hopelessly shuffled and reshuffled the pages while speaking, I can easily put them back together again when I’m done (or let’s be honest, mid-lecture).

If you are hopelessly disorganized like me, but wish you were an organized person hacking your own tendencies towards chaos, you really can’t go wrong with taking your notes by hand using the Cornell Method to force you into a specific but flexible note-taking framework. All my notes — meeting notes, lecture notes, deposition notes — look and function the same, which means I always know where to put information when I am writing, and I always know how to find information when I’m reviewing later.

The Cornell Method is the only productivity tool that has stuck with me for more than a year, and I’m never giving it up.

  1. I didn’t pursue the Cornell Method as some sort of lifehack or magic productivity enhancer. I stumbled upon it because I wanted some really nice legal pads. Well before law school, I’d developed a completely unnecessary fondness for the Levenger catalog, which carried within its pages nice pens, some lap desks, and some legal pads that cost approximately five times any other legal pad I’d ever seen. The catalog waxed rhapsodically about the weight of the paper and the smooth as silk feel you’d have writing on it with your fountain pen, but never explained the weird huge margin at the left hand side. I figured I’d live with that, and plunked down $25 in 2001 dollars for a five-pack. That large left-hand margin turned out to be my introduction to the Cornell Method, and I’ve been a devotee and an evangelist ever since. 

Categories: Teknoids Blogs

The Bad Clients You Don’t Take Will Be the Best Money You Never Made

Wed, 07/16/2014 - 02:08

Not all clients are created equal. Great clients will enhance your legal skills, your reputation, and your bottom line.  Bad clients can make you question your skills, destroy your reputation, and result in the worst money you have ever made.

Once you have a better understanding of how bad clients can wreck your practice, you will get better at spotting them and avoiding them. And it will be the best money you never made.

Money is Money, Right?

No.

Bad clients have an amazing way of sapping time and energy in ways you cannot bill for. You probably cannot bill a client extra for meeting only in the evenings or on the weekends. You definitely cannot bill a client extra because you have a personality conflict.

Even if you could bill for scheduling issues, you cannot bill for stress. You cannot bill for screaming when you get off the phone. You cannot bill for not sleeping well. You cannot bill for spending an hour talking about why you already wrote off a third of your time and why your bill is reasonable. Talk to any smart attorney and they will tell you that the total cost of a problem client does not add up in the long run.

Bad Clients Can Crowd Out Good Clients

Bad clients are like a virus that spreads throughout your practice. They make you icky and grumpy while you marathon-watch Arrested Development all day in bed.

Bad clients can cause you to turn down good clients for two reasons:

  1. Bad clients have an amazing way of sucking up more time than they should. That means you will probably turn down good clients because you are so busy dealing your problem client. It’s tough to admit, but I know that I have done it.
  2. The mental fatigue is greater than you realize. When you are in the middle of dealing with a bad client, it can make otherwise good clients seem like bad clients. Bad clients cloud your thinking and mess with your normally rock-solid client evaluation skills.
It Gets Worse Before it Gets Better

Let’s go back to the virus metaphor. When was the last time you started to get sick and magically woke up feeling better the next day? It’s pretty rare. Same thing with bad clients. They usually become much worse before they get better. And when I say better, I mean the case ends or you fire them.

You are doing yourself a disservice if you tell yourself “it can only get better” or “it has to get better from here.” Sure, you can cross your fingers and hope they suddenly start responding to phone calls or emails. Maybe the first three appointments they missed truly were emergencies (although I doubt it).

Hopefully your retainer has a provision for these scenarios. Hopefully you are not afraid to invoke it and terminate your representation. I am not suggesting you become cut-throat and cut loose every client that is five minutes late to a meeting. But if they no-show, or are two hours late, that is a serious red flag — and a giant flashing sign that there will be more trouble down the road.

The Warning Signs Are Usually Clear

Now that you understand all money is not created equal, you can sharpen your intake skills to avoid bad clients. Over the past five years I have talked to thousands of potential clients. Without fail, the most important thing I have learned is to trust my gut.

Someone might call with what sounds like the greatest case in the world, but something makes me question the case or the client. Whether it’s during the first meeting, the second meeting, or right before the case implodes, my gut is almost always right. I used to fight it and talk myself into taking cases. Not anymore. If my gut says no, then I say no.

If you are not ready to live and die by your gut, here are some other warning signs that trouble could be brewing down the road:

That is not an exhaustive list by any means. Those are just some of the red alerts I have encountered. As noted above, if your gut says something is not right, something is probably amiss. That is the perfect opportunity to bounce the case off another attorney and get some feedback. But never try and convince yourself that any client is a good client. It’s not that simple.

Featured image: “employee gets punched through a smart phone on the face by an angry caller” from Shutterstock

Categories: Teknoids Blogs

Is Evernote Secure Enough for Client Data?

Tue, 07/15/2014 - 22:57

I love Evernote and I use it every day, but I am uncomfortable with the idea of using it for client data.

Related“The Evernote Q&A, Tips & Tricks Thread”

The other day on the Macs in Law Offices (MILO) group, someone said they were exploring using Evernote to manage client files. I responded that I do not think it is a good idea. Here are my two reasons:

  1. As far as I can tell (Evernote’s security page does not actually have any information about its security practices), Evernote does not encrypt data at rest. Anything you put into Evernote is stored unencrypted on Evernote’s servers.
  2. After reading Jason Kincaid’s blog post1 about Evernote’s bugs, I share his concern that “Evernote seems to be playing fast and loose with the data entrusted to it.”

In response, Rocket Matter‘s Larry Port reached out to Evernote’s head of security for a response.

Encryption at Rest

Here is what Evernote’s security chief had to say about encryption at rest:

We are not encrypting data at rest unless you manually encrypt selected text inside a note (http://evernote.com/contact/support/kb/#!/article/23480996). Encryption at rest is an answer to a different question depending on who you talk to. Some people want us to encrypt their data on the client to protect against data loss when their phone is stolen. Some want us to use it to protect against a server being stolen. One of the main reasons a service provider looks at encryption as a control is to protect against unauthorized physical access. Because we operate our own infrastructure in our own physically secure data center cage, we’ve mitigated much of that risk. We haven’t dismissed implementing encryption at rest and will continue to consider it when looking at ways to protect Evernote users’ data.

Our computing infrastructure is physically located inside dedicated cages in multiple data centers. We rely on those data centers to manage physical access controls and each one has a third party auditor attest to their ability to do so securely.

Here’s what I glean from that. Evernote has its servers in third-party data centers, where they are protected by a cage like this one. It sounds like the data center has the key to the cage and the responsibility for ensuring that only authorized people can get through the gate. Third-party auditors have attested to each data center’s physical access controls.

This requires a lot of trust in procedures and the willingness of third-party server admins to comply with those procedures.

However, if Evernote encrypted the data on those servers, it would still have all those physical access controls in place, but encryption would render the data on the servers pretty much useless to anyone who did get unauthorized access to them. With data encrypted at rest, you don’t have to worry as much about who might have physical access to Evernote’s servers, or how Evernote disposes of old hard drives.

To be fair, Evernote does let you encrypt portions of your notes. Just highlight what you want to encrypt, right-click, and select Encrypt Selected Text…. This works fine for one thing at a time, but it is obviously impractical for securing your notes in bulk.

Related“It’s Time for Lawyers to Re-Think the Cloud”

To put this in context, cloud storage providers like Dropbox mostly encrypt data at rest. This makes Dropbox objectively more secure than Evernote, yet many are still debating whether Dropbox is secure enough to store sensitive data. With Dropbox, the concern is mostly that Dropbox keeps the encryption key, which means some Dropbox employees could decrypt your data. There are fewer people to trust than with Evernote and its third-party data centers, but there are still some people you have to trust, in addition to any spy agencies who might take an interest in your clients or scoop up your data on a whim.

If you aren’t comfortable storing sensitive information in Dropbox without an extra layer of encryption, you definitely won’t want to use Evernote. Even if you are comfortable storing sensitive information in Dropbox, you might not want to do it in Evernote.

Playing Fast and Loose with Data

Is Evernote “playing fast and loose with the data entrusted to it,” as Kincaid alleges? That may be overstating it, but I don’t think Evernote is living up to the spirit of its “Your Data Is Protected” promise. Reading that statement, Evernote seems to see the issue as one of privacy, not security.

Evernote’s actual security practices don’t seem to reflect the concerns of a company that makes security a top priority. I don’t think there is a sensible argument that it is somehow more secure not to encrypt data at rest. It is just more convenient (and probably cheaper) for Evernote.

It also refused to implement two-factor authentication because it would be inconvenient. Evernote finally implemented two-factor authentication only after it was hacked.

The useless security page doesn’t help, either. Evernote could certainly tell users more about its security practices without compromising security. Saying nothing feels evasive, as if Evernote isn’t comfortable telling users what it is doing to protect their data.

Adding it up, I don’t come away with the impression that the security of users’ data is a top priority at Evernote. While Evernote is obviously not ignoring security entirely, I don’t think it is taking it all that seriously. So I do not store sensitive information in Evernote. Instead, I use it for stuff like lists of books I want to read, cases or law-review articles I want to hold onto, cocktail recipes, pictures of restaurants’ take-out menus, and CLE notes. I would like to use it for things like receipts and deposit slips and notes on client meetings, but I just don’t think they would be well-enough protected.

It is certainly possible I have gotten the wrong impression by reading the wrong things into Evernote’s statements and drawing the wrong conclusions from a few errors and omissions. You might very well have read the above and come to the opposite conclusion. If you do, I would be interested in reading your thoughts in the comments.

Securing Evernote

If you do decide to store client data or other sensitive information in Evernote, definitely follow the security chief’s advice, at a minimum:

We recommend that you enable 2-step verification to protect your account from hackers that may try to guess your password or phish you for it. Because your data also lives on the devices you sync it to, we recommend you make use of the security features available on your devices to protect it.

Also, make a habit of selectively encrypting any especially-sensitive information within your notes by using the Encrypt Selected Text… option. (This does not seem to work with images and attachments, however.)

  1. Damage-control response from Evernote CEO here

Categories: Teknoids Blogs

Read Important Things on Paper, Not on Your Computer Screen

Tue, 07/15/2014 - 10:48

One of the most common objections to going paperless is from people who say they don’t want to read documents on a screen. That turns out to be a valid concern, but probably not because paper is inherently superior to screens. And as far as going paperless is concerned, it is a red herring.

Paper v. Screen

Scientific American took a look at the studies comparing paper to screens and e-readers and concluded that “[w]hen it comes to intensively reading long pieces of plain text, paper and ink may still have the advantage.” Interestingly, the reason boils down to attitude. We don’t take screens as seriously, so we scan rather than read deeply. Plus, computers are basically distraction machines, which means our reading is often interrupted by other activities. According to Scientific American, “people reading on screens take a lot of shortcuts—they spend more time browsing, scanning and hunting for keywords compared with people reading on paper, and are more likely to read a document once, and only once.”

Specifically, people who read on paper are more likely to engage in metacognitive learning regulation. That’s what psychologists call the process of reading, re-reading, and interpreting information in a document. So when you need to understand something thoroughly (like a contract or a summary judgment memorandum), paper is the way to go. When you are reading quickly, it doesn’t really matter whether you read on paper or on a screen.

Your age may matter, too. The attitude that makes people take screens less seriously could very well be the result of experience. Today’s young people start using screens so early that they might grow up with a different attitude about reading on screen.

Going Paperless Still Makes Sense

None of this means you should avoid going paperless.

Going paperless just means having a digital copy of every document. It means moving The File from your file cabinets to your file server, but you can still keep your file cabinets if you want to. At a minimum, you probably have to hold onto original copies of some documents. It would be wasteful to shred documents you may use again as exhibits. And if you prefer to hold onto some documents so you can read them on paper, go ahead.

The advantages of going paperless are numerous, and there is no rule that says you cannot hold onto paper copies or print documents. The important thing is to think through your firm’s paperless workflow so that it accommodates your needs and preferences — one of which should be keeping paper copies of documents you need to read and understand thoroughly.

Featured image: “Businessman reading a document” from Shutterstock.

Categories: Teknoids Blogs

Law Blog Week in Review: Your Brief’s Secret Ambition, a New Incubator, & the Fastcase 50

Fri, 07/11/2014 - 23:17

Each weekend, I round up the best law blog posts I have found during the previous week. You can help by sending me links using our contact form, starting discussions in the Lab, or tweeting the link to @lawyerist. Or just tell me what I missed in the comments.

Should Judges Blog?

Yes, says Nebraska Federal Judge Richard Kopf, after giving the matter serious consideration:

The implicit assumption … is that mystery and mythology are better for the legal profession and the judiciary than transparency, particularly when the transparency revealed is raw. I profoundly disagree.

Phew. Although he says he intends to elevate his rhetoric a bit from now on:

Like the gross Sancho Panza, I have in the past, albeit inadvertently, sometimes played the earthy and profane foil to the mad knight. In so doing, I allowed myself to become a caricature rather than the teacher of transparency that I aspired to become.

Truly, I will try to do better.

I hope he doesn’t elevate it too much. One of the great things about reading Judge Kopf’s blog is his extreme candor. [Hercules and the Empire]

Your Brief’s Secret Ambition

Featured image: “A male judge sleeping over the files” from Shutterstock.

‘The secret ambition of every brief should be to spare the judge the necessity of engaging in any work, mental or physical.”

Well now you know. As Keith Lee points out, this shouldn’t be considered a secret. This should be obvious to anyone who has spent any time on motion practice. [Associate's Mind]

Do You Work Too Much?

According to the ABA Journal, “When American University law professor Andrew Taslitz died in February, his admirers praised his productivity, scholarship and devotion to work.” His wife has a different perspective:

His life was not normal, at least not to me, and it certainly wasn’t balanced. Yes, I know he genuinely loved his work and yes, I know he had a brilliant and unusual mind, and yes, I know he was cut down in his prime when he still had so much more to give. But all of that came with a price. Not the teaching or the mentoring, but all that scholarship. …

So what was the price in the end? In the entire time we were married we only took a two-week vacation once, and just about every vacation we did take was wrapped around one of his conferences or presentations. The furthest he went on each of his two sabbaticals was his front bedroom, because he spent every single day on his manuscripts. …

So in the end how do I feel about his productivity? Yes, he enjoyed it, but he also killed himself trying not to disappoint people or to break deadlines.

And as I sit here with the dogs on July 4th, I think was it really that important to add one more book review to his CV or to do one more tenure letter as a favor for someone he never met? I’m glad his peers all loved him for the reliable genius that he was, and I don’t know how he feels wherever he is now, but I am very, very bitter.

Yes, he was a great academic mentor and collaborator, but the price for all that frenzied output was me, and there’s a part of me that will never forgive him for it, because he died right after he promised to slow down and enjoy life itself more.

Maybe you should take some time off. [ABA Journal]

Lots of Baby-Lawyer Incubators

Law school are taking the tech startup incubator concept and adapting it for new law practices (the ABA keeps a list). The latest was just launches this fall at Widener Law. It will help two or three graduates of the Class of 2014 launch a solo practice or small firm by providing office space, equipment, and mentoring. [Legal Skills Prof Blog]

Law Firm Homepages Are Losing Traffic — and That’s Maybe a Good Thing

Traffic to law firm homepages (that is, the front page of the website) is either stagnant or dropping, but Steve Matthews says that’s probably a good thing.

The funny truth is that the lower the percentage of visitors who arrive directly at the homepage, the healthier the site is. Because it is a sign that folks are either directly accessing information about your firm’s services and lawyers or that people are consuming your firm’s commentary and ideas.

In short, Matthews says that because people are generally going straight to what interests them instead of browsing from the front page, they are probably more interested in what they do read. [Attorney at Work]

The Fastcase 50

Last but not least (and not, technically, from a law blog), I’m pretty sure SCOTUSBlog founder Tom Goldstein is pumped to be right next to yours truly in this year’s Fastcase 50:

The Fastcase 50 is in its fourth year, and highlights “entrepreneurs, innovators, and trailblazers” in the law. And bloggers, apparently. One of the best things about the Fastcase 50 is the Twitter list of honorees, to which you should subscribe. Aside from me, the past and present Fastcase 50 are some of the most interesting people on Twitter. [Fastcase]

Featured image: “little nestling chicks and white egg on grey background” from Shutterstock.

Categories: Teknoids Blogs

The Death of Punishment: Searching for Justice Among the Worst of the Worst

Fri, 07/11/2014 - 06:11

If you want to read a book about the pros and cons of the death penalty, this is not it. The Death of Punishment: Searching for Justice Among the Worst of the Worst fails to do much more than further Professor Robert Blecker’s career as a crusader for the death penalty.

For the sake of full disclosure, I am not a death penalty advocate. I find the imposition of the death penalty to be barbaric and believe that it should be abolished. So Professor Blecker and I will never come to a meeting of the minds due to our opposing moral certainties. But, this is not my book, it is Professor Blecker’s. He does not claim every murder requires the death penalty. Indeed, he proclaims that only “the worst of the worst” should be executed.

In support of his argument, Prof. Blecker relies on conversations with death penalty prisoners over the last 10-plus years. Examples of the cases he discusses include multiple murders of children, cases involving torture followed by death, rape-murder cases, and other heinous crimes.

There is no question that the cases he writes about will make your blood boil. Throughout the book, Blecker talks about how emotional this subject makes him, and how much he wants the monsters perpetrating those acts to be killed. This, of course, is part of the problem. The criminal justice system must be administered by professionals in a fair and impartial manner, not over-emotional law professors.

Thankfully, Blecker does spend time discussing the notion of proportionality in sentencing. His proposal is that the death penalty should be reserved for only the “worst of the worst.” This is not exactly a novel position, as penal law recognizes that different crimes require different times. For example, in New York State, where Blecker teaches, there is no death penalty. However, murder in the first-degree can carry a penalty of life without parole while murder in the second degree carries a maximum penalty of 25 years to life. Murder in the second-degree at least carries the possibility of parole.

There are, of course, many different homicide categories in New York State, including manslaughter, vehicular homicides, negligent homicides, etc. Each of these crimes has a specific penalty attached to it based on the New York State Legislature’s determination of the seriousness of the crime. This business of proportionality depends on the nature of the crime and the intent of the actor when committing the crime.

The Death of Punishment is written from an academic point of view. As a result, it suffers some shortcomings. He has gone out and interviewed people on death row and a few people working in the actual prisons. There were not, that I saw, any interviews or conversations with trial lawyers, although Blecker did have some conversations with appellate attorneys.

As is often the case, ivory towers are sometimes claustrophobic. If Blecker was serious about tackling problems in sentencing, he might wish to walk the floors with a prison guard or try a case or two with seven in the trenches. In this way, he might have come up with a more balanced view of how the criminal justice system actually works.

As a reviewer I think it appropriate to ask why this book was written. As far as the pros and cons of the death penalty go, it is of very little value. In terms of sentencing individuals to the death penalty, Professor Blecker does not really come up with any particular construct. Advocating for administering the death penalty to the worst of the worst raises too many obvious, unanswered questions. If we are to accept that proportionality is the key to fair sentencing then legislatures all over the country have already come to that conclusion.

Professor Blecker is a very smart man, make no mistake about that. But The Death of Punishment: Searching for Justice Among the Worst of the Worst fails to do much more than further his career as a crusader for the death penalty.

Categories: Teknoids Blogs

Brydge+ with Speakers Bluetooth iPad Keyboard Review

Thu, 07/10/2014 - 10:39

We have reviewed a lot of iPad keyboard cases. Here are some of them:

In the end, Randall picked the Logitech cases as the best. But I recently received a Brydge+ with Speakers to review. The Brydge+ is a full-size, all-aluminum Bluetooth keyboard that basically turns your iPad into a small laptop. Build quality is excellent, although you might notice that the lines on the Brydge+ make it look more like a MacBook Pro than an iPad.

Since I no longer have a full-sized iPad, I delegated the testing to my wife, who is a staff attorney for the educator’s union in Minnesota. Her offices uses Windows, but Jess almost never uses a regular computer when she isn’t at work, even for doing work. She has my old ThinkPad, but I bet she hasn’t powered it on more than twice in the last three months. Instead, she uses her iPad 2 for almost everything she does when she is not in her office.

Here is what she liked and didn’t like about the Brydge+ with Speakers.

First she says it is really great for typing. She really likes the keyboard as a keyboard. And battery life is great (without the speakers turned on, anyway). She’s charged it maybe once in the last month. If battery life is a concern, though, you will want to keep the speakers off (there is a hard switch for this, so it’s easy to keep them off until you need them). They are nice if you want to listen to a voicemail or play some music in the background, but they do drain the battery quite a lot faster.

Jess mainly attaches the keyboard when she is actually doing work (answering emails, taking it to meetings, and using the iPad more like a laptop). She especially liked it during a three-day conference, because she was able to keep up with her work without any major compromises.

And the weight of the keyboard means the iPad isn’t tippy. It stands up well, like a laptop ought to, instead of tipping over from the weight of the iPad like many lighter-weight keyboard covers have an annoying tendency to do.

On the negative side, Jess said the Brydge+ isn’t easy to get on and off of the iPad. She doesn’t like leaving it on all the time because she still likes to use her iPad as a tablet most of the time — for reading her favorite blogs, catching up on email, and other stuff. She doesn’t actually want a laptop all the time, after all. Just when she needs to get work done.

(When I mentioned the Logitech Ultrathin cover, she said “oh, I’d love one of those” because all you have to do is drop the iPad into a slot instead of maneuvering it into the grabber things on the Brydge+. Of course, the Logitech Ultrathin is less laptop-y, as well.)

It doesn’t actually protect the iPad very well, either, since it’s just a cover and not a case. And if you want to want to take the Brydge+ off of your iPad, you have no protection at all. It means you may want to carry a protective sleeve or a case with you, if you are worried about your iPad. But that means extra bulk, which seems silly when you are carrying an iPad.

All in all, Jess really likes the Brydge+ with Speakers. It lets her get more done with her iPad so she doesn’t need a laptop.

Summary

The Brydge+ with Speakers is a full-size, all-aluminum Bluetooth keyboard that basically turns your iPad into a small laptop.

Rating: 4 (out of 5)

Brydge+ with Speakers, reviewed by Sam Glover on July 10, 2014.

Categories: Teknoids Blogs

MITs: A Simple Way to Be More Productive

Wed, 07/09/2014 - 13:11

If the idea of learning a productivity system like Getting Things Done is keeping you from being more productive, here is a simple practice that requires nothing more than reading this pretty-short blog post. The best part: it will instantly make you more productive, every day.

Most Important Tasks (MITs) is a simple idea that (I think) was first outlined on the Zen Habits blog. At the beginning of each day, sit down and write down the two or three things you must do that day. No matter what else you do that day, get those things done.

Three seems like a small number, but if you strive to accomplish at least three things, you will have done something besides just putting out fires. And working from a short list of MITs is a lot easier than working from the huge lists you probably have in your practice management software or your GTD system. That helps you to be more productive.

You can write down more than three things — I have five today. But make sure you can realistically complete all the tasks during your day. Don’t put down “draft motion for summary judgment” if you haven’t even started it yet and it isn’t due for a week. That’s probably not a must-do-today task, and it is too big a task for one day, anyway. Try something like “draft statement of facts” instead.

If you like, you can put together your MITs the night before. That is what I do, actually. I spend a few minutes looking at my inbox, reviewing our project management software, seeing what is coming due in Remember the Milk, and checking my calendar. Then I write down my MITs for the next day. I do it at night because it helps me get to sleep if I know I already have done my planning for the next day.

If you finish all your MITs, you obviously are not done for the day, but you should feel better knowing you have already had a fairly productive day. So if you finish, go back to your to-do lists or inbox and pick another task or three to try to complete before you are finished for the day.

I even do MITs for the weekend, although I let my kids help with that. So things like “go to the Pumphouse Creamery for ice cream” and “build a fairy house” usually end up on our weekend MITs.

You can write down your MITs on whatever you want. I usually use a little notebook or index card, but a work plan or TeuxDeux works well, too. Just put them on something you will carry with you throughout the day.

Setting aside a few minutes every day to put your MITs down on paper will make you more productive. And knowing what’s most important every day will probably lower your stress level a bit, too.

Featured image: “Close up shot of filled check boxes with red pen” from Shutterstock.

MITs: A Simple Way to Be More Productive is a post from Lawyerist.com. The original content in this feed is © 2013 Lawyerist Media, LLC. This feed is provided for private use only and may not be re-published.

Categories: Teknoids Blogs

Going Solo: Debunking the Top Ten Fears

Tue, 07/08/2014 - 12:45

Lawyers who cannot not find the courage to leave a law firm for solo practice usually have one fear that stops them dead in their tracks. They know the consequences of going solo, and they know in their heads and hearts that they should leave, but they can’t quite do it.

Most of those fears are well-founded, though, and none of the lawyers I have helped confront their fears have decided to stay at their firms. All of them left, and are happy they did.

In no particular order, here are the fears they overcame.

1. There Is More Job Security at My Firm

Have you read the newspapers recently? There is no such thing as job security in law. The lawyers who have the most job security are those with the most clients, because they can go anywhere and prosper.

The size of a firm or its revenues does not provide any job security. In fact, sometimes the larger firms provide less security because high overhead costs have weighed them down.

2. My Clients Will Not Follow Me

Don’t be so pessimistic. Clients (individuals as well as businesses) hire lawyers, not law firms. If your client relationships are strong, they will follow you when you go solo.

Probably not all of them, but most will — and if most will, why stay?

3. I cannot Afford the Start-Up Costs of Going Solo

Yes you can. You should consider yourself lucky that you are in a profession where the start up costs are relatively low.

Numerous articles on Lawyerist alone should be enough to convince you that you can be up and running by spending only a few thousand dollars (even if you probably need to spend a bit more).

Spend a little more to get help from consultants if you think you need to. Even so, starting a law firm is a relatively inexpensive venture.

4. My Former Partners Will Hate Me

So what. Every time I heard this excuse, the next words out of their mouths were that they wanted to leave in order to get away from these same people. You have always thought they were jerks; why should you care how they feel towards you in the future?

5. Prospective Clients Want to Know There Is a Firm Behind Me

See number 2, above.

Law firms do not develop relationships; lawyers do. Continue to develop strong relationships and convince prospects that you are capable to do the work. Few, if any, will care that you are no longer part of a firm with lawyers doing lots of other things that the client could care less about.

6. I Will Miss Bouncing Ideas Off My Colleagues

You still know plenty of lawyers at other firms who will be more than happy to talk to you on the phone or respond to an email. Join a listserv. Do some conventional and social networking.

Most lawyers — especially other solos — are happy to let you use them as a sounding board, as long as you are willing to return the favor.

7. I Do Not Have the Business Know-How to Run My Own Firm

You probably don’t. It is a skill set few lawyers possess. That is the bad news. The good news is that your competitors are just as clueless about managing their practices as you may be. They all somehow seem to make a nice living. You will, too, if you work at this.

8. I Will Miss the Prestige

Yes, there is a certain cachet to be able to tell others you work at Big Law Firm, P.A. But you just told me all of the reasons why you hate going to work there. Is the prestige really that important to you?

9. If a Big Case Walks in the Door, I May Not Be Able to handle it

You probably will, actually. Have you ever heard of co-counseling matters and referral fee arrangements? If you are lucky enough to have that big case walk in the door, there are plenty of lawyers who will be more than happy to help you. Ditto for expertise.

10. I Hate Change and Fear the Unknown

Join the club. But wouldn’t it be nice to proactively create a change in your career that you control? You cannot stop change. Sooner rather than later, there will be changes at your law firm creating many unknowns that you will have to react to with your partners. Wouldn’t you rather deal with change when you are in the driver’s seat?

Go for it and don’t look back. Life is too short. Although there are no guarantees, the chances are very good you will not regret it.

This was originally published on June 23, 2010. It was revised and republished on July 8, 2014.

Featured image: “Closeup portrait of young nerdy funny female” from Shutterstock.

Going Solo: Debunking the Top Ten Fears is a post from Lawyerist.com. The original content in this feed is © 2013 Lawyerist Media, LLC. This feed is provided for private use only and may not be re-published.

Categories: Teknoids Blogs

Law Blog Week in Review: Smartphone Warrants, Real Numbers, and Going Paperless by Force

Sun, 07/06/2014 - 22:31

Welcome back from the holiday weekend, Americans! I hope you had a great weekend drinking things, grilling things, and watching pretty explosions. (Non-Americans, I guess it was just a regular weekend for you, but welcome back, anyway.)

Each weekend, I round up the best law blog posts I have found during the previous week. You can help by sending me links using our contact form, starting discussions in the Lab, or tweeting the link to @lawyerist. Or just tell me what I missed in the comments.

This is a short one, because the legal blogosphere was pretty sleepy leading up to the holiday weekend.

Real Numbers on Solo Practice

Another update from Florida Esq, who had a great June.

Overall, June was not only the best month I’ve had by far, but a better month than I ever thought I’d have my first (or even second) year. I feel like my efforts in getting my name out there have finally started to pay off, and now momentum is on my side.

I love following this column. It reminds me of my first few years in practice, and it is a great perspective on what it’s like to start a solo practice — unlike the bluster and braggadocio you will get from local solos over drinks. [Associate's Mind]

“You Are Going to Be Paperless Whether You Like it Or Not”

Pretty much. Despite the truth of this statement, I’ve met many lawyers who seem to be planning to die or retire before they buy a scanner. The good news is that nobody is going to take your paper away. You just have to learn to deal with digital files, too. [Law Technology Today]

Your New Lock Screen Wallpaper

Courtesy of the boys at Philly Law Blog, a reminder just where it will be needed most:

(More options at this link.) [Philly Law Blog]

Youth ≠ Tech Competence

Most young people know how to use Facebook and Instagram, but properly formatting a Word document using styles isn’t the sort of thing they teach in social media 101. This is Vivian Manning’s point about young people and technology, and it bears repeating — especially to lawyers who assume they are getting an IT department when bringing a young law clerk on board. [Attorney at Work]

Law Blog Week in Review: Smartphone Warrants, Real Numbers, and Going Paperless by Force is a post from Lawyerist.com. The original content in this feed is © 2013 Lawyerist Media, LLC. This feed is provided for private use only and may not be re-published.

Categories: Teknoids Blogs

Reduce Legal Research Costs with Google Scholar

Thu, 07/03/2014 - 10:29

This was originally published as “Reducing Research Costs with Google Scholar: What You Don’t Know About Google Scholar (But Should)” in the June 2014 issue of the Cincinnati Bar Report. It is republished here with the permission of the author. — Ed.

Clients have been increasingly reluctant to pay for legal research. In this age of bundled services, they think that research costs should be included with an attorney’s hourly or flat-rate fee. If you are seeking ways to reduce research costs, here is one good option: Google Scholar. It is an online research service that you should use to find cases and secondary sources—for free. This article first explains the primary benefits of Google Scholar. But before you cancel your subscription to LexisNexis or Westlaw, read the second part of this article on its limitations.

Extensive Database of Cases

Google Scholar has an extensive database of reported cases from state and federal courts. Its database covers cases from the United States Supreme Court (since 1791), the United States Courts of Appeals and United States District Courts (since 1923), and supreme court and intermediate appellate courts from all states (since 1950). It also has federal and state cases that have not been officially reported. The inclusion of unreported cases is useful to Ohio attorneys because appellate opinions issued after May 1, 2002 are binding.1 Unfortunately, Google does not identify the scope of coverage, but its database appears to have more unreported opinions from federal circuit courts than federal district courts.

Reliable Search Algorithm and Advanced Searching

Unsurprisingly, Google Scholar is powered by Google’s powerful search algorithm. When searching for federal and state cases using keywords, the relevancy of the results are comparable to the results on WestlawNext and Lexis Advance. In fact, like those paid services, Google Scholar will likely return relevant results even if you do not use the proper terms of art. Its search algorithm works best for commonly-litigated issues but often returns irrelevant results for novel issues.

Google Scholar also allows you to filter search results by date and court. For example, say you need to determine whether the Ohio Supreme Court has recently addressed your client’s issue. You would first run a keyword search in the database of Ohio Supreme Court cases. After receiving those results, you can then limit the search results to cases that were decided since 2013 or 2014 (the filter is on the far-left column). You can also limit a search to specific federal courts, such as the Sixth Circuit or the District Court for the Southern District of Ohio. Additionally, you can sort your results by relevancy (default) or date.

Useful Proximity Connector

Most free services do not allow users to run searches with proximity connectors. Thus, if you want to find cases where “warrantless” and “search” and “vehicle” appear in the same sentence or paragraph, you cannot. But Google Scholar has one proximity connector—AROUND.  For some odd reason, Google wants only the “in-crowd” to know about this search functionality; in fact, it does not even mention the connector “AROUND” on the official Google Scholar Blog.

RelatedGoogle Scholar Advanced Legal Research Tips

After experimenting with this proximity connector, I learned a few useful tips. First, you can use “AROUND” only to search for a term that appears after another term. For example, assume you need to find federal cases addressing when the police may conduct a Terry stop based on a suspected misdemeanor crime. One search string could be “Terry AROUND(15) stop AROUND(15) misdemeanor.” In that string, Google Scholar will search for cases where “stop” appears within 15 words after “Terry” and “misdemeanor” appears within 15 words after “Terry” and “stop.” It will not find cases where “misdemeanor” appears before “Terry” or “stop.” Second, you must capitalize “AROUND,” have no space between it and the parenthetical, and include quotation marks around the entire search string. Without quotation marks, Google will run a natural language search. Third, the connector “AROUND” does not work for phrases. Thus, if you used the search string “Terry stop AROUND(15) misdemeanor,” you will receive no results.

Citation Service for Cases

Google Scholar has a citation service for cases that is similar to Shepard’s and KeyCite. To find subsequent authority that has cited your case, simply click “cited by,” which appears at the bottom of each result (see image below).

And the results can be organized based on the depth of discussion—meaning, the first listed results would have discussed your case in more detail than later results. The depth of discussion is represented by horizontal bars next to each case name: the more bars, the greater the discussion of your case. Thus, you will immediately know which opinions did more than merely cite your case. You also can create citation alerts and have them delivered to your email.

Free Secondary Sources

Although Google Scholar has no database for secondary sources, you can use it to find legal articles that are hosted on other websites. Some sites are free and some require a paid subscription. For instance, if you searched for articles on Ohio tortious interference law, Google Scholar would provide links to articles on bepress (free), the Social Science Research Network (free), and HeinOnline (paid).

Limitations of Google Scholar

Google Scholar has several limitations … it will not put Westlaw or LexisNexis out of business any time soon.

Despite my praise for Google Scholar, it should not be an one-stop shop for your research needs. Google Scholar has several limitations; as a result, it will not put Westlaw or LexisNexis out of business any time soon.

First, it has no database of statutes—not even the United States Code. If a statute covers your issue, you will not find it on Google Scholar. And you may not even find cases addressing your statute. For example, say under Tennessee law your client wants to recover non-economic damages for the wrongful death of her dog. If you searched Tennessee cases with the terms “non-economic damages death pet,” you would not find any relevant authority because a Tennessee statute governs this issue and no case has cited that statute.

Second, Google Scholar’s citation service is not as effective as Shepard’s or KeyCite. Although you can cite check cases, you cannot cite check statutes. And you cannot cite check unreported cases—a must for issues governed by Ohio law. Consequently, if your unreported case was overturned on appeal, you may not know. Further, Google Scholar’s citation service does not indicate whether a case remains valid or how subsequent courts have treated it. (Of course, you should not rely on the colorful symbols next to cases on Westlaw or LexisNexis.)

Third, for some cases, its database contains duplicates. Duplicates can occur when an unreported opinion is released and then designated for publication. One example is In re Aqua Dots Products Liability Litigation, No. 10-3847 (7th Cir. Aug. 17, 2011).  A keyword search of federal cases returns the unreported and reported versions of that case. If you found only the unreported opinion on Google Scholar, you would not know that the opinion was later reported, which makes it binding on federal courts within the Seventh Circuit.

In short, you should research with Google Scholar to reduce costs, but you should not rely on it exclusively. There is still a place for paid research services.

Featured image: “3d illustration of magnifier glass sign button on keyboard” from Shutterstock.

  1. Rep.Op.R. 3.4 (“All opinions of the courts of appeals issued after May 1, 2002 may be cited as legal authority and weighted as deemed appropriate by the courts without regard to whether the opinion was published or in what form it was published.”). 

Reduce Legal Research Costs with Google Scholar is a post from Lawyerist.com. The original content in this feed is © 2013 Lawyerist Media, LLC. This feed is provided for private use only and may not be re-published.

Categories: Teknoids Blogs

TrialPad 4.0: Trial Presentation Made Easy

Wed, 07/02/2014 - 09:11

I recently put TrialPad 4.0 through its paces during  a two-week trial — but not from the start. As in the past, I felt to overwhelmed to add figure out a new app to my trial prep to-do list.

So I started trial using Acrobat to display documents. I am very comfortable with Acrobat, and I knew I would not have to wonder about how to find a particular feature or function in the middle of trial.

After all, like most paperless lawyers, I use Acrobat on a daily basis. But by day two of what I knew would be a two-week trial, I was frustrated with the limitations of Acrobat, particularly the inability to do a call-out on the fly. This was hampering my ability to really emphasize key pieces of evidence.

A heavenly light should have descended.

I had a copy of TrialPad from Ian O’Flaherty, who developed it. Ian was kind enough to provide me with a code to download TrialPad at no cost. This is probably why I felt no need to use it, since I wasn’t invested in it. But now I had to get up and running overnight if I wanted to use something better than Acrobat during my trial. And I did get up and running overnight. I went back to my hotel room, loaded up the documents I knew I would be working with the next day, ran through the process of presenting and annotating, and then set back to prepare for the next day of trial.

With more than a little trepidation, I hooked my iPad up to my projector the next day at trial.

A heavenly light should have descended. I’m not kidding, TrialPad was nearly magical. To say that ease of use is built in is a vast understatement. Using TrialPad was simple and intuitive. I was calling out and highlighting key passages with ease like I had never experienced before. I have tried cases against trial teams with dedicated IT teams, and their process was so cumbersome and prone to error that I had sworn off dedicated trial presentation applications.

By day four of trial, my opposing counsel had switched to his iPad and TrialPad as well.

TrialPad brought all the features of the dedicated trial presentation programs that work (when they work) and more, and it was so simple to use that literally anyone could do it. By day four of trial, my opposing counsel had switched to his iPad and TrialPad as well.

Here are the features I found to be the most important.

Adding Files is Easy

TrialPad 4.0 allows you to add files via Dropbox, Box, and iCloud, using wi-fi or Bluetooth. You can import photos from the Photos app on your iPad, and you can also connect your iPad to your computer to add files in bulk via iTunes.

I used both iTunes and Dropbox to import files throughout the trial. My only complaint is that files added via Dropbox are not automatically updated when you make changes to the file on your computer. I understand that allowing continuous sync of files like this could lead to problems if multiple people are working on the files during the course of a trial, but for a solo like me it would be a huge convenience. Perhaps one solution would be to allow this to be toggled on or off as a setting.

That being said, one thing I found surprising was how quickly I could edit a document on my computer and re-upload it via Dropbox. All I needed was a wi-fi connection. I had to do this on numerous occasions on the fly, during lunch and other breaks.

Presentation Tools Are Simple, Easy to Use, and Great-Looking

Trial Pad has five presentation tools: Callout, Highlight, Pen, Redact and Laser.

I relied almost exclusively on the Callout and Highlight tools. A simple tap on the Callout tool icon allows you to draw a box around the selected text or portion of a document. That portion is immediately enlarged to nearly the full image, emphasizing the selected portion. It is the same process for Highlight. The only trouble was that, on a couple of occasions my fat finger made selecting a small portion of text troublesome. The solution was simple: use a stylus.

The Pen tool simply lets you draw on the document — whether you want to add text or circle a critical element. Redact works just like the Highlight and Callout tools but hides the selected text. And Laser simply “projects” a replica of a laser pointer so you can point things out without looking for your laser pointer.

Another really nice feature of TrialPad is the ability to project two documents side by side for comparison. This is also easy to do.

Presenting with a Projector or External Monitor

The courtroom I was working in had recently added a 50″ monitor I could have used. Instead, I opted to connect my iPad to my own projector via HDMI. As I expected, it was a simple matter of plug and play. No muss, no fuss.

Exhibit Stickers and Introducing Exhibits

I generally pre-mark my exhibits using Acrobat stamps, so I did not use the Exhibit Sticker feature of TrialPad this time — although I probably will use it in the future. It is simple and intuitive.

The feature for tracking evidence that had been admitted was a great addition to version 4.0, although figuring out how to do this in the midst of trial was one of the few things that was not entirely intuitive. To use either the Exhibit Sticker or Admitted feature, you tap and hold on the document image. A window will open allowing you to chose whether to mark the exhibit as admitted, rename the document, or assign and exhibit sticker. That explanation may have been in the quick start tutorial, but I missed it if it was.

Admitted documents get sorted into their own list so you can access them quickly.

The Key Documents Feature

One of the features I appreciated the most was the ability to mark an entire document or even just a page from a document as a key document. Like admitted documents, the key documents can be called up in their own list for quick access.

My particular trial had more than 10,000 pages of medical records and deposition testimony, so it was fairly document intensive (to say the least) and I gave the Key Documents feature quite a workout. One thing I’d love to see added, if possible, would be multiple sets of key documents so that you could pre-identify key documents to use with different witnesses. Instead, I found myself re-shuffling key documents before each day of trial in order to be ready for that day’s witnesses. The ability to do that in advance for multiple witnesses would be a great addition to the application.

Other Features

TrialPad also has the ability to display audio and video files. While I have not tried this live in trial, I can easily understand how this would be useful for short video clips, such as those you might use to impeach a witness. Given the size of most video deposition files, I would doubt that this would be a reasonable method for playing full video depositions.

The video display feature does have basic video editing options for capturing a frame or a video clip. Like other features, it is simple to use and designed so you can use it on the fly, if necessary.

The Bottom Line

Every iPad-toting trial lawyer should buy TrialPad and use it at your next trial or mediation. You won’t regret it.

Overall, TrialPad is an outstanding addition to a trial lawyer’s arsenal. It simply and elegantly duplicates the most often used features of many different trial presentation programs, at far less cost. A single license for Trial Director is $695. While Trial Director obviously does more, I seriously doubt that it does what TrialPad does with the same ease.

TrialPad is an absolute bargain at $89. And unlike Trial Director, there is no annual maintenance cost.

Every iPad-toting trial lawyer should buy TrialPad and use it at your next trial or mediation. You won’t regret it.

Summary

TrialPad is an outstanding addition to anyone’s trial arsenal. It simply and elegantly duplicates the most-used trial presentation features at far less cost than the competition.

Rating: 5 (out of 5)

TrialPad, reviewed by Todd Hendrickson on July 2, 2014.

TrialPad 4.0: Trial Presentation Made Easy is a post from Lawyerist.com. The original content in this feed is © 2013 Lawyerist Media, LLC. This feed is provided for private use only and may not be re-published.

Categories: Teknoids Blogs