Passwords are often the weak link in data security. You can build the most secure system in the world, but as soon as someone sets their password to 12345, you might as well leave the front door open.
Good passwords are essential to data security, and this article has everything you need to know about creating and keeping track of good passwords.Index
First, why are good passwords important? In 2013, Ars Technica gave three experts an encrypted, 16,000-entry password file. The “winner” of the contest cracked 90% of the passwords. Even the loser cracked 62% of the passwords in a few hours. When a breach at a major corporation happens, hackers gain access to hundreds of thousands (sometimes millions) of hashed (encrypted) passwords. And they can crack the vast majority of them in under a day, compromising those users’ accounts on the target website and any other website with the same password.
You want to have one of the passwords that doesn’t get cracked so you don’t wake up a few days later to an email receipt because Amazon just billed you for 1,000 tins of uranium ore and shipping to someone named Wong-Chu in Southeast Asia. Or the entire Xbox game catalog and shipping to a teenager in Nebraska.What Makes a Good Password
A good password is unique, not found in the dictionary, long, and contains letters, numbers, and symbols.
Unique means not using the same password for multiple sites. If you reuse the same password across multiple sites, someone who gets ahold of your password for one of those sites can access your accounts on all the others. For example, if there is a security breach on the Target website, and you reused that password for your Gmail account, both have been compromised.
In practice, it is probably okay to share some passwords between sites that do not hold much personal information and that have a low potential for doing you harm if hacked. It won’t do anyone much good to have your NYTimes.com password, for example, even if you also use it on Pinterest. But never reuse passwords for important things.
Not found in the dictionary means don’t use real words. Or real names, for that matter. When attempting to decrypt passwords, one of the first things a hacker will do is run through every word found in a dictionary, common names, known passwords, and combinations of all of those things. You can use nonsense words, or you can change some letters to symbols, like replacing L with 1, or A with @. This is probably the easiest way to get numbers and symbols into your passwords, too.
Long is sort of a moving target, but 12–14 characters is a good length. More is better — to a point. At around 22 characters, brute-force decryption apparently becomes effectively impossible.
Consider scrambling your username, too. Or if you must use an email address and you have a Gmail account,1 you can add a code to the email address so that your plain email address won’t work. For example, if your email address is email@example.com, you could use firstname.lastname@example.org to make it harder for someone to figure out which email address goes with your account. You could even use something simple like the domain name of the website (e.g., email@example.com), which would be easier to remember and still better than your “naked” email address.Multi-Factor Authentication
Multi-factor authentication (usually just two factors, actually) bolsters security by pairing something you know — your password — with something you have — usually your phone. When you log in to your account, you must enter your password and a code sent to your phone or generated by an app or key fob. Some services (Clio, for example), can also send the code to your email address. With two-factor authentication turned on, a hacker needs more than just your password to access your account.
You should enable two-factor authentication for anything you care about, like your email account, password manager, and practice management software.Biometrics
The current trend in authentication seems to be biometrics — fingerprints, retina scans, etc. The iPhone 5S, for example, includes Touch ID, which lets you unlock your phone (and do a few other things) with your fingerprint. While Touch ID (which is currently the most-advanced biometric system on consumer hardware) is definitely more secure than nothing, it is not particularly difficult to crack. You leave your fingerprint everywhere you go, and as the Chaos Computer Club demonstrated soon after the iPhone 5S was released, Touch ID can be fooled with basic household items like a digital camera, laser printer, and white glue.
Biometrics may be the future of authentication, but there are many problems left to solve. You cannot get new fingerprints or retinas if your old ones are “cracked,” for example. For now, biometrics are not superior to a good password, and they seem to be easier to crack if someone is motivated.Password Managers
The best passwords are hard to remember, and even harder to type on a smartphone. And the more you are asked for your password, the more likely you are to use a shorter password that is easy to remember. So banking apps, for example, which typically demand your password every time you want to check your balances, are — perversely — discouraging you from using good passwords. One solution is to use a password manager like LastPass, 1Password, or KeePass. Or you could actually just write them down on paper.
Password managers encourage good-but-hard-to-remember passwords because you don’t actually need to remember them. You just need to remember one password: the one you use for your password manager, which should be really good and long and hard to crack, plus two-factor authentication. Everything else can be 22+ totally-random characters.
LastPass and 1Password2 are cloud-based password managers that sync your passwords between your browser, phone, tablet, and the cloud. This makes them an extremely convenient way to get at all those good-but-hard-to-remember passwords when you need them.
KeePass is a free, open-source, and cross-platform password manager. There are even third-party KeePass apps that can import your passwords from Dropbox to your phone or tablet. KeePass is a good option, but LastPass and 1Password seem to be more secure and more convenient.
Finally, writing down your passwords may seem old-school, but it is actually quite safe. Bruce Schneier recommends it, and Vox recently wrote about why it might actually be the best way to keep your passwords. Assuming you don’t lose the paper on which you wrote your passwords.The Future of Authentication
The password is far from perfect, and many call it broken. That’s why there are several efforts underway to “kill” the password. Apple’s Touch ID is one, and The Verge recently reported on the FIDO Alliance, which includes companies like Google, Microsoft, Bank of America, and MasterCard. The FIDO alliance is pushing for zero-knowledge proof authentication — a way of authenticating you without holding onto your credentials. If it works, you could use a single device you carry with you to authenticate yourself across the web.
If FIDO catches on in the next few years, it may render this entire article obsolete. For now, make sure you are using good passwords for everything that matters.
This tip works fine with Google Apps for Business accounts, and it may also work with non-Gmail accounts. Try it and let us know. ↩
Passwords: a User Guide for Lawyers and Law Firms 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.
Dropbox is popular with lawyers. According to the ABA’s most-recent technology survey, 58% of lawyers use Dropbox, making it the most popular online file storage option among lawyers. Here is everything you need to know about Dropbox, from how to install it to securing your client files.Index
Installing Dropbox on your computer is simple and easy. Just download the installer to your computer, and run it. If you do not already have a Dropbox account, you can sign up for one during installation. This video from Dropbox walks you through the process:
After you install Dropbox on your computer, you will have a new folder. On a Windows PC, the My Dropbox folder is located in your My Documents folder.1 On a Mac, the Dropbox folder is in your home directory. As of this writing, Dropbox also has mobile apps for iOS, Android, BlackBerry, and Kindle Fire.
Any files you put in your Dropbox folder will be automatically synced to the cloud and to any other computers or mobile devices with Dropbox installed.Features, Add-Ons, and PricingSyncing, File Versions, and Packrat
Image: “This image is a vector file representing a cloud data backup sync concept. ” from Shutterstock.
Dropbox syncs your files between your computers and devices and the cloud. That means your Dropbox folder will have the same, up-to-date contents on every device. With Dropbox installed, you can save a Word document on your desktop, then open your laptop and keep working on the same file. Or pull it up on your smartphone.
You can also use Selective Sync to limit the files that sync to a particular computer. For example, you might not want to sync photos of your children to your work computer. Or your client files to the laptop you use at home.
TipIf you are going to do a lot of file sorting, it’s a good idea to pause syncing on all your computers, or turn them off, and use the web interface. This will help prevent duplicate files and conflicts.
By default, Dropbox saves every version of your file, which you can access from the web interface. It is easy to roll back a file to the last time you saved it, or recover deleted files. It functions like an extended “undo” function. However, Dropbox only saves the last 30 days by default. If you want unlimited file versions and undelete, you will need the Packrat add-on.
For an additional $39/year, Packrat will keep unlimited file history. With Packrat, Dropbox functions as a pretty good cloud backup solution for your files.Sharing
Other than syncing, Dropbox’s biggest feature is sharing. You can share any file in your Dropbox just by right-clicking a file on your computer or using the chain icon next to any file or folder in the web app. You can share your vacation photos with your friends or your client files with another lawyer in your office, all with a couple of clicks. Rather than attach files to emails, you can just copy the share link and send it, instead.
Importantly, Dropbox also has a sharing dashboard where you can see all the files and folders you are sharing, and who you are sharing them with.
Sharing is pretty simple. The person or people with whom you want to share don’t even need a Dropbox account of their own, if you just use a link. To do this, click the Share link icon on any file or folder in the web app, or right-click any file or folder in your Dropbox on your computer and select Share Dropbox Link to copy the link to the clipboard. In the mobile apps, just use the share button to copy the link to the clipboard.Camera Upload
Image: “Vector illustration of an old camera with flash and birds on the background of clouds” from Shutterstock.
The Dropbox apps can help you upload your pictures to your personal Dropbox account. The mobile apps give you the option to automatically upload all your photos; on the desktop app, you can upload photos when importing photos from a camera.
You can enable Camera Upload when you first install the Dropbox mobile app, or you can turn it on or off later in the Dropbox settings. It is an easy way to back up and share your photos, but it is also an easy way to get photos or screen captures from your phone to your computer.
Just a note: Camera Upload is only for personal plans, not business plans (see below).
Dropbox has more detailed instructions for using Camera Upload.Extra Storage
Still, if you use Dropbox for most of your files, you will probably run out of space. That’s where the paid plans come in. Extra storage for personal accounts comes in 100 GB ($8.25/month), 200 GB ($16.60/month), and 500 GB ($41.60/month) chunks. (Those are prices if you pay yearly; the plans are a bit more expensive if you want to pay monthly.)
There are cheaper alternatives to Dropbox if that pricing does not work for you. Of course, one of the reasons Dropbox is able to charge a bit more than some of its competitors is that its widespread popularity means that Dropbox works with most of the apps and services with which you might want to use it.Business Plans
Originally, there was just one kind of Dropbox account. As more people and businesses started using Dropbox, though, some people wound up with multiple Dropbox accounts. Eventually, Dropbox released business plans, and they are finally becoming useful now that you can use your personal and business account at the same time.
While personal accounts are billed according to how much storage you need, business accounts are billed according to the number of users. All accounts come with unlimited storage and some additional features like the ability to remotely wipe a users’s files.
The cheapest business plan is $795/year for up to 5 users. Each additional user is $125/year. Solos and very small firms will be just fine using personal accounts, as long as the storage options are sufficient, but the business plan is a great option for firms with 5+ people who need to share files.Using Dropbox
Some people only use Dropbox to share or transfer files, like a USB drive but more convenient. While Dropbox works great for that, it is hardly the most effective way to use Dropbox.
Because Dropbox lets you share folders, it can function as an effective, inexpensive file server. Best of all, you don’t have to worry about actually maintaining a file server. It just works, and it keeps everyone on the same page. You can even sync up things like your QuickBooks company file or your Time Matters database.2
On mobile, Dropbox is essentially the missing file manager. Because of its popularity, many apps support Dropbox as a way to get files onto your phone or tablet. TrialPad, for example, largely relies on Dropbox for loading exhibits. So do the best text editors for iOS.Security
Image: “Big safe door with Gold ingots.” from Shutterstock.
Dropbox is about as secure as your online banking website. That means your data is transmitted to and from Dropbox over an encrypted connection, and it is encrypted while it is stored on Dropbox’s servers. This is pretty standard security for cloud software that handles private information.
There are a couple of things to know about Dropbox security, though.3 First, data is transmitted over an encrypted connection (SSL). The data itself is not encrypted, however, until it reaches Dropbox’s servers. There, it is encrypted before it is stored on Dropbox’s servers. Second, Dropbox has your encryption key. That means Dropbox can decrypt your files if it has a good reason to (like a subpoena). There are reasons why Dropbox does these things, but there are alternatives with greater security — and some tradeoffs. If you want greater security but you still want to use Dropbox, Viivo may be the best way to have your cake (Dropbox) and eat it too (file encryption).
Dropbox also offers two-factor authentication, which makes it much harder for someone to log into your account, even if they find out your password. To log into Dropbox with two-factor authentication, you have to enter your password as well as a code sent to your smartphone (or generated by an authentication app like Google Authenticator in order to log into your Dropbox account.
If you are storing anything important in Dropbox, you should definitely turn on two-factor authentication for substantially better login security. Make sure you get your recovery code after you turn on two-factor authentication, and store it in a safe place in case you ever need it.Terms of Service
Dropbox recently amended its terms of service to include mandatory binding arbitration and ban class actions. If you do not like these user-unfriendly changes, consider another service. As of this writing, the terms of service for Box and Google Drive did not contain mandatory binding arbitration or a ban on class actions.
With Dropbox, the terms for a personal account are the same whether you pay for the service or not. Some companies, like Google, change the terms of service when you become a “premium” customer.Who Should Use Dropbox
Dropbox is more secure than anything most lawyers have used to secure their files from the Battle of Hastings until about 5 or 10 years ago. Only the rare lawyer … needs to worry about a higher level of security. … Dropbox is just fine for most solo and small firm lawyers’ client files.
Texas criminal defense lawyer Mark Bennett disagrees, and he makes some strong arguments against using Dropbox for client files. Those arguments are even stronger now that we know what the NSA has been up to, and after the Heartbleed showed how a minor error by an OpenSSL developer can lead to a huge security breach. Cooperstein is still right, but many lawyers will want to re-think the cloud and use it in a more limited way from now on.
But that doesn’t mean you should not use Dropbox at all. Indeed, you can hardly avoid it if you want to be productive on more than one computing device. Instead, go ahead and use Dropbox, and use an add-on like Viivo to encrypt sensitive information.
In Windows, you can make your Dropbox folder behave like your My Documents folder. To do this, right-click your My Documents folder, then click on the Location tab and click the Move button. Then, select your My Dropbox folder, and your Dropbox folder will open whenever you select My Documents. ↩
These do work, but the files will only sync when QuickBooks or Time Matters is closed on one computer. If you try to open your QuickBooks company file or Time Matters database on two computers at once, or before everything is synced up, Dropbox will create a conflicted copy. ↩
Dropbox for Lawyers and Law Firms: the User Guide 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.
Even a person with the most passing interest in cloud storage likely has a Dropbox account, if for no other reason than that your Dropbox-loving friends invited you so they could collect that sweet additional-file-space bounty for doing so. When cloud syncing and storage was in its relative infancy, Dropbox was a miracle worker: a little piece of software that ensured you could stash stuff and grab it from anywhere without dragging USB sticks around or endlessly emailing things to yourself.
These days, you have tons of Dropbox alternatives (Wikipedia lists a dizzying array of upwards of 25 right now) to choose from if you’re so inclined. So why would you move away from the comfortable confines of Dropbox?
Perhaps you’re worried because Dropbox was affected by Heartbleed, but then again almost everything was. Maybe you’re worried about file security, even though Dropbox is generally as safe and secure as most law-related computer storage methods. (Sadly, digging a bunker under the earth and burying your physical client files there is an unattainable choice for most of us). You could be mad that Dropbox tapped Condoleezza Rice for its board. No matter what your reason, you can now jump ship and take your data with you. No way we’re looking at 25+ services, but here are five that you might consider.
We have called it “marketing malpractice” not to have a law firm website. That is because most people, whether they are potential clients or referral sources or networking contacts, will expect you to have one so they can look you up online before they contact you. If they don’t find a website, chances are good they will call someone else — someone who does have a decent-looking website.
If you do not have a website, you are probably missing out on clients, networking opportunities, and more. Although you’ll never know unless you get with the program and get yourself a website.
Fortunately, getting a website is really cheap and really simple. This tutorial will walk you through setting up a website using WordPress, the most-popular content-management system (read: a website you can easily edit yourself) around. It is free and open source, and it powers everything from Lawyerist and our Sites network of websites to some of the world’s biggest websites.
All you need to get started is an internet connection and a credit or debit card. The total cost is less than $5.
Disclaimer: This may take you more than 30 minutes. I have not timed myself, to be honest. Sorry if it takes you longer. That said, I’m pretty sure it will take you 30 minutes or less to get a WordPress website up and running.Sign up for shared hosting and get a domain name
Difficulty: Piece of cake.
There are many options for shared hosting. We recommend going with one we have used before, that comes with good support, and that is a great deal: HostGator.
To sign up for shared hosting, visit HostGator and sign up for the Hatchling Plan. You can buy three years up front and get a great deal, but I think it’s a good idea to start out with a month-to-month plan to get started, and commit to a longer term, lower-priced package once your website is up and running.
Once you click the ORDER NOW button, you can pick a domain name. (Use the option on the left, which is selected by default.)
Choosing a domain name is important. Good domain names contain keywords relevant to your practice, use the .com top-level domain (as opposed to .net, .us, etc.), are short (10 characters or less), and are easy to tell someone over the phone. No hyphens, either.
If that gets your head spinning, just go with the name of your firm. If you can get a great domain name, that’s great, but there is a lot more to good search-engine optimization (SEO) than a domain name. Convenience is worth a lot, too; it gets tiring spelling out your email address military-style (“Charlie Tango Foxtrot law firm dot com”) a dozen times a day.
When you have picked your domain name, go ahead and check out. You should get a confirmation email shortly after completing the payment process with the information you will need to set up WordPress.
If you already have a domain name, you will need to use the box on the right, then forward your nameservers after you complete the setup process. To do this, go to the place where you bought your domain name — try GoDaddy if you aren’t sure — and set your nameservers to ns1.hostgator.com and ns2.hostgator.com. Follow GoDaddy’s instructions and select the “I have specific nameservers for my domains” option. You will also need to transfer your email to your new server. How you do this depends on how you use email; you should contact HostGator or get help in the Lab before you forward your nameservers.Install WordPress
Difficulty: Still really easy.
Follow the link in the email you received from HostGator to your control panel. This is the central control panel for your hosting account, which lets you set up email accounts, upload and download files, and much more. For now, find the Fantastico De Luxe icon and click it.
Then, click on WordPress in the sidebar under Blogs, then on New Installation.
Here is what goes in each box:Installation location
Once you have filled in all the fields, click the Install WordPress button. On the next screen, you will get the address to log in to your new WordPress website! Bookmark the address, then click the link and log in.
Your new WordPress website is up and running! (Check your watch — did it take more than 30 minutes?) Be honest, you thought that was going to be a lot harder, didn’t you?
Of course, a blank WordPress install is not much use as your website, so let’s get it cleaned up, configured, and start adding content.Configure WordPress
Difficulty: Like taking candy from a baby.
Now that you have WordPress installed, you should tweak the settings.
To make these configuration tweaks, you need to be logged into the WordPress Dashboard, the “backend” of your new site. The address is usually http://yourdomain.com/wp-admin/ (replace yourdomain with the domain name you registered), and you should have bookmarked it a moment ago.
Here are some of the things I do to configure a new WordPress install:
That takes care of the basics. However, you are not quite done. First, we will install a few plugins to trick out your new website. Then, you can make it pretty.Install and Configure Plugins
Difficulty: Slightly less easy, but still easy.
One of the reasons WordPress is so popular is that it is so extensible. There are thousands of plugins that add features and functionality, and the vast majority of them are free.
Installing plugins in WordPress is a piece of cake. Just go to Plugins in the WordPress Dashboard sidebar and click on Add New. Use the search field to look for each of the following plugins and install each one by clicking Install Now:
After you install each plugin, go ahead and click the Activate Plugin link on the next page. Broken Link Checker and WordPress SEO will start working without any additional steps, but the rest take a little more work.Jetpack
Being from WordPress, Jetpack is a user-friendly plugin. Sign into WordPress.com as directed, and you will get to use all the features, including site stats. To activate a module, click the Activate button (some will be activated by default). To deactivate modules, click the Learn More button on any module and then click the Deactivate button.
Here are the modules I would activate for a new site:
Go to Security > Dashboard in your WordPress dashboard to access the iThemes Security options. You should click Fix It for each of the items under High Priority.
There are many (many many) other plugins you may find useful; these are just a few that everyone with a WordPress site should probably use. A word of caution, though. Keep plugins to a minimum. Many plugins will slow down your site, so make sure there is a tradeoff in terms of functionality. Also, plugins can occasionally cause conflicts that can break your site. A few carefully-chosen plugins should be fine; go wild, though, and you may regret it. All of my own WordPress websites have fewer than 10 plugins active. Lawyerist, which has a lot more going on than the typical law firm website or blog, has 28.Add Content
Difficulty: Pretty hard, unless you hire someone to do it for you.
Your WordPress website is now set up, so my work here is technically done. However, I would not be doing my job if I let you stop at an empty website. You have a website, but you need to add content. To start with, at least, you need three pages:
Start with those and build your site out further when you can.
As you know now, setting up the basic website itself is pretty is easy. Writing compelling copy that helps turn potential clients into paying clients is another story. Keep it simple, straightforward, and short, so that potential clients can quickly understand who you are, what you do, and why they should hire you.
If you get stuck or come down with writer’s block, and your brand-new website is in danger of stagnating, start thinking about hiring someone to take the copywriting off your hands. A professional copywriter is a great way to get top-notch content and lower your stress levels.
Here is what I would recommend. Set a reminder for 4 weeks from today. If you still haven’t finished at least the three pages above at the end of 4 weeks, hire a copyrighter to help you get it done. If you cannot get your site content squared away in 4 weeks or less, you probably aren’t going to.Next Step: Design
Difficulty: While it is easy to play with your site’s looks, hire someone unless you have a lot of time and tech savvy.
At some point during this process, you probably looked at your website and were not very impressed. That is because all you did was put together the default WordPress install. It is pretty plain.
Nevertheless, design is crucial. It probably has more to do with the impression you make on visitors than anything else. To get you started, there are a ton of free and paid themes for WordPress. To start exploring themes, just click on Appearance in the sidebar, then on the Install Themes tab. Have fun.
There are also lots of professional premium themes out there. Two of our favorite theme frameworks are Genesis/StudioPress and WooThemes. These themes are generally more polished than what you can find for free, and they come with support.
Of course, not everyone wants to deal with customizing a theme, no matter how premium. If that is you, hire a designer to create a custom theme for your website. You can hire a designer (like us) directly.
Though it comes last and receives the least attention in this tutorial, design is one of the most important parts of building and maintaining your website. Build an amateurish site, and potential clients will think of you as an amateur lawyer.Parting Thoughts
Difficulty: That depends on how painful you find my prose.
I put together this guide because it seems like there are a lot of lawyers without websites, probably because they do not realize how easy it is to get started and set up a website themselves. It really is easy, and it doesn’t take long to set up a website. The hard part, it turns out, is not getting a website online, but filling it with compelling content.
So get started, and get help when you need it.
This was originally published on November 4, 2011. It was updated and republished on April 14, 2014.
Res ipsa loquitur:
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Jonathan R. Zell
5953 Rock Hill Road
Columbus, OH 43213-2127
Lawyer threatens lawsuit over American Bar Association’s censorship of malpractice-themed Peeps® diorama
Columbus, OH. Jonathan Zell simply wanted to illustrate a novel legal argument that his adversaries had made in a malpractice case Zell had filed on behalf of his mother against the Ohio-based law firm of Frost Brown Todd. (Eileen Zell v. Frost Brown Todd LLC, et al.. Case No. 2:13-cv-0458, U.S. District Court, Southern District of Ohio, Eastern Division.) So Zell entered the American Bar Assn’s (ABA’s) “Peeps in Law 2014” contest by submitting a miniature scene (called a “diorama”) made out of Peeps® (the animal-shaped marshmallow candies) depicting this argument.
In response, according to Zell, the national lawyers group “has banned my diorama simply because it involves the touchy subject (that is, touchy to lawyers) of legal malpractice.” So Zell now plans to sue the ABA, claiming that, “to avoid embarrassing lawyers,” the ABA is engaging in “a blatant kind of self-interested political censorship.”
In an e-mail to Zell, an ABA official claimed that Zell’s diorama was not accepted because it was submitted by someone “personally involved” in the legal case being depicted. But, because the contest deadline had already passed, it was now too late for anyone else to submit this diorama instead of Zell.
Zell wrote back to the ABA, pointing out that the contest rules say nothing about “involved persons.” Also, the ABA had already accepted and posted on its website similar dioramas from other “involved persons.” But Zell received no response.
Zell’s diorama showed six lawyers sitting in a law firm’s office, each of whom was holding up a sign stating “Not me.” This was intended to depict the six Frost Brown Todd lawyers whom Zell’s mother has sued for legal malpractice. As was explained in a caption accompanying the diorama, the statute of limitations on legal malpractice does not begin to run until after the client’s legal representation in the matter in question has ended. This is designed to give the malpracticing lawyer an opportunity to correct his or her mistake.
However, Frost Brown Todd recently filed a motion in court arguing that, because its six lawyers had worked on Zell’s mother’s case “successively,” the statute of limitations should be computed separately “for each particular attorney.” If so, then Ohio’s one-year statute of limitations on legal malpractice would have already expired on the first five lawyers’ mistakes. Since the alleged harm had already occurred before the sixth lawyer took over the case, Frost Brown Todd then claimed that none of its lawyers or even the firm itself has any liability.
Zell contends that, if Frost Brown Todd’s “novel legal argument” is accepted by the court, it would “provid[e] a roadmap for Ohio’s attorneys on how to defeat claims for legal malpractice committed during trial litigation.” Calling it the “Hot Potato” strategy, Zell described this roadmap as follows:
When one of the firm’s attorneys commits malpractice, reassign the case to another attorney. If the second attorney also commits malpractice, then reassign the case to a third attorney, and so on. Then have the final (non-malpracticing) attorney continue to represent the client on appeal in the same matter until the statutes of limitations on the previous attorneys’ legal malpractice expire.
The caption to Zell’s diorama concluded that a court decision sanctioning the “Hot Potato” strategy would be so unfair to clients that it might “provide the necessary impetus to get Ohio’s legislature to extend what is now the shortest statute of limitations on legal malpractice in the nation.”
So, although illustrated by a piece of artwork composed of marshmallow candies, Zell’s mother’s case has the potential to be a landmark legal ruling. On the other hand, Zell’s planned lawsuit against the ABA seems like a lot of peeping about nothing.
The contest entries can be viewed at http://www.abajournal.com/gallery/peeps_2014. Viewers of the website can vote for their favorite diorama at http://www.abajournal.com/news/article/vote_for_your_favorite_2014_peeps_in_law_diorama.
Photo of Zell’s Diorama
Close-up Photo of a Portion of Zell’s Diorama
The Caption to Zell’s Diorama
The ABA’s e-mail to Zell of 4/7/2014
Zell’s e-mail Reply to the ABA of 4/7/2014
Here’s the 3-page “caption” (pdf) that went with the diorama. Click over to the next page if you want to read those emails for some reason.
Lawyer Threatens Stupid Lawsuit Over Stupid Rule Interpretation for Stupid Entry in Stupid Contest 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.
Yesterday, partially in response to news about the “Heartbleed” computer exploit, Sam wrote a post about the importance of lawyers understanding how the internet works. Given all the media buzz about Heartbleed, I thought it might be useful for lawyers and law firms to understand what it really means for them, without either too much techno-jargon or over-use of dumbed-down metaphor.So What is Heartbleed?
Leaky website encryption.
Lots of websites that require password log-in use an encrypted connection to your browser, called SSL. You can see this when you go to sites that have an “https” website prefix, as opposed to the normal “http” prefix—the “s” means they’re using encryption to protect the data sent between you and that website.
One version of SSL is an open-source software called “OpenSSL”. For the past two years, the OpenSSL software has had an unknown bug in its code that could have allowed people to see what was supposed to by encrypted data passing between you and the websites using OpenSSL.
“Heartbleed” is just the creative name—given by internet security researchers—to identify the software bug in OpenSSL that allowed for this potential encryption leak.How Did Heartbleed Happen?
Because OpenSSL is an open-source software project, volunteer software developers around the world are able to submit suggested code edits and fixes, which can later be incorporated into the core software. Two years ago, a German software developer submitted some code fixes—intending to clean up some small software bugs in OpenSSL—and accidentally created a new, unnoticed, bug—now called “Heartbleed”.What Sites Are Impacted by Heartbleed?
Most of the big ones.
There are two ways to think about the potential impact of Heartbleed: direct impact and indirect impact.
The direct effects of Heartbleed involve theoretical access to your private data on sites that use the OpenSSL encryption code. These are usually “medium security” sites that require a password log-in and/or process payments.
The broader indirect effects of Heartbleed involve the fact that many people use only a small number of (bad) passwords across the internet, which means that access to one of these passwords through the Heartbleed exploit could give someone access to additional sites using the same password.Did Hackers Steal My Passwords or Client Files or Other Important Data?
Unlike the Target data breach last fall, Heartbleed was identified and announced before any known attacks occurred. Computer security researchers discovered the code problem last week and announced it immediately. Developers immediately started building software patches to fix the problem. Most effected sites have already implemented these fixes or will in the next couple of days.
It is certainly possible (maybe even probable) that in the past two years—since the creation of the “Heartbleed” code—a malicious hacker or espionage organization has been collecting and exploiting the vulnerability, but there isn’t currently any evidence that this happened to anyone.
UPDATE: It now appears—surprise to anyone?—that the NSA has known about Heartbleed for two years and didn’t tell anyone, because it’s been giving them easy access to otherwise-encrypted data.What Should I Do About It?
Use better passwords.
No, but maybe.
Fear of things you don’t understand isn’t a particularly useful thing. The “cloud” (software and data that is stored on servers outside of your location that you access through the internet) is a complex and changing thing. This complexity allows for some truly amazing innovations in technology, but also comes with potential risks.
Lawyers have a particularly-strong duty to understand what is happening with their confidential client data.
A good understanding of how the cloud—and a law firm’s particular web applications—works should also include a good understanding of the variety of ways that lawyers and law firms can protect themselves from risk.
Proper, rational risk analysis requires learning about the likelihood and magnitude of potential harm, as well as the cost and burden of both possible security measures, but also the alternative options. For instance, if your “fear” of the cloud leads you to keep everything in paper form, you are almost certainly leaving your important client data at greater risk to theft, fire, flood, or snooping than if you use best practices in the cloud.
That said, this analysis is very dependent on your particular circumstances.What’s next?
Here’s the reality: stuff like this (and probably worse) is inevitable. As the sophistication of web and mobile applications grows so do the methods of hackers and espionage operations. Similarly, increasing reliance upon and interactivity between these apps makes your data more vulnerable to hacks and bugs.
Who knows whether the next big internet security news with be a big data breach, a code exploit, a hack into one of your favorite websites, or something totally unforeseen. The question isn’t whether there will be security problems on the internet, but whether you are being smart about how you use technology to keep yourself as secure as possible.
It is legitimate to question whether these tradeoffs are worth it for your particular situation, but that requires education of what’s really going on, and a rational analysis of the costs and benefits of technology use and data security protocols, not just a resort to fear and doubt.
Heartbleed is a big deal in internet security, but hopefully its biggest effect will be in getting you to use more care in how you protect yourself online.
Featured image: “Businessman in suit puts his head down on his laptop computer ” from Shutterstock.
Heartbleed: What Lawyers and Law Firms Need to Know 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.
The new media site, Vox, is quickly establishing itself as a sort of FAQ (frequently-asked questions) for just about everything you might want to know about current events. And its “Everything you need to know about the Internet” article/resource page/deck of “cards” is a must-read.
Remember the comment to Rule 1.1:
 To maintain the requisite knowledge and skill, a lawyer should keep abreast of changes in the law and its practice, including the benefits and risks associated with relevant technology
That “should” makes the comment aspirational, sure, but it more than suggests that competent lawyers must know more than where to find the power button on a CPU. A great deal more than you will find in the Vox article, of course, but it does contain essential information for lawyers. It’s hard to appreciate the true threat posed by the Heartbleed security flaw, for example, if you don’t have a basic understanding of the role SSL plays in your everyday Internet use. Or the risks of using the cloud if you don’t know what the cloud is.
“If you don’t have a basic understanding of the technology you entrust with your clients’ information … I think you probably are not competent to represent anyone.”
Because a basic understanding of the Internet is so essential to the tools we trust with our clients’ information every day, I’m comfortable going a bit further than the comment to Rule 1.1. If you don’t have a basic understanding of the technology you entrust with your clients’ information so that you can make informed choices about security, I think you probably are not competent to represent anyone.
That’s just my opinion. But like your computer, the Internet is now a tool of the lawyering trade. Not knowing how it works is just as much a problem as not knowing how to put together a brief.
The Internet: a Primer for Lawyers and Everyone Else 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.
There is something new in legal SEO. Mid-sized firms with sophisticated SEO teams and six-figure SEO budgets are increasingly choking out solos and small firms. The economics of search-engine marketing have changed drastically over the past three years, driven by a flood of lawyers getting into SEO, along with search engine algorithm changes that have increased the complexity (and therefore cost) of bringing search-engine traffic to a website.
The change is a result of legal marketing dollars moving to more-effective marketing channels. As prospective clients started using the Internet instead of the Yellow Pages, advertising costs in these directories plummeted. Those ad budgets moved online, where capturing prospective clients means a strong presence in search results.
This budgeting shift has increased the cost of success in SEO. Large firms have built in-house SEO teams with dedicated web developers and content writers. Firm partners can increasingly be found at geeky search conferences like SMX and PubCon. The few high-end, legal-industry search agencies command monthly retainers of $3,000–$5,000 for even moderately competitive practice areas.
Over the past seven years, we’ve gone through two phases in the online legal marketing world. Phase I was a land grab, open to almost anyone with initiative and willingness to experiment with SEO. As more lawyers realized the Internet could deliver business, Phase II began with established “big box” vendors selling websites and SEO services at exorbitant prices and delivering a slew of clients through black-hat tactics. Over the past 18 months, as the search engines have cracked down publicly and aggressively on SPAM, there has been a very clear flight towards in-sourcing foundational SEO tactics and a reliance on quality SEO vendors. We’ve entered Phase III, and boy is it expensive.Three Phases of Online Marketing for Lawyers
We have entered the third phase of online marketing for lawyers — one in which the search engine algorithms have caught up with the spam, and the cost for delivering white-hat SEO solutions has surpassed the budgets of solos and small firms. To understand these economic changes, its important to understand the history of online legal marketing.Phase I: Land Grab (Prodigy–2008)
During the Land Grab, few lawyers were active in online marketing. Most had never heard of SEO and thought blogging involved four wheelers and muddy puddles. Due to low competition and limited technical savvy in the legal industry, a few entrepreneurial, creative, smart lawyers grew their firms very quickly. Avvo, though not a law firm, was an example of what was possible during Phase I. It was a tiny, underfunded startup that surpassed both Findlaw and Lawyers.com with a strong, smart approach to online marketing. During this phase, search engine algorithms were fairly simplistic and updated very slowly. Keyword stuffing and exact-match domain tactics ruled the day. Even boldfaced text mattered. Head term rankings actually mattered. Anyone who remembers the “Google Dance”, had a very successful firm. You can still find some relics of this era who haven’t adapted. They generally have multiple sites and include boldfaced keywords in their over-optimized content that links to all of their other sites.Phase II: Big Box Era (2008–2013)
The Big Box Era began as directory vendors responded to the Internet-induced demise of their offline products (everything from the yellow pages to those leather bound books) and upsold their website clients with SEO rankings (and sometimes with anchor-text-optimized links). SEO success was driven by linking thousands of websites together. Think blogrolls at a more sophisticated level. Attorneys entered the online marketing game en masse, which grew competition and drove up costs. Monthly prices for lawyer websites ballooned to hundreds and then thousands of dollars. Tactics in this era focused on keyword-optimized anchor text, exact-match domains, huge networks of interlinked sites, and towards the end, heavily-spun content.
Towards the end of the Big Box Era, Google specifically tried to move away from companies that relied on standard SEO practices with the introduction of the “over-optimization” penalty in May 2012. From an interview with Matt Cutts:
And the idea is basically to try and level the playing ground a little bit. So all those people who have sort of been doing, for lack of a better word, “over optimization” or “overly” doing their SEO, compared to the people who are just making great content and trying to make a fantastic site, we want to sort of make that playing field a little bit more level.
So Google was clearly aware of the issues — but of course all of the SEOs quickly ran back and underoptimized their overoptimized sites and unleveled the newly-leveled playing field. This heralded the start of Phase III.Phase III: White Hat Wonderland (2013–present)
On April 24, 2012, Google launched a branded algorithm update called Penguin — essentially the over-optimization penalty it promised. Penguin specifically targeted linkspam. Over the next 18 months, Google’s increasingly loud warnings about spam were resulted in law firms’ website traffic being decimated through algorithm updates. Lawyers started talking about Panda and Penguin and Hummingbird and manual penalties. Armed with a little knowledge and a lot of (justifiable) fear, firms started to scramble to try to identify white-hat SEOs who could recover their traffic/phone calls/clients after the traffic penalties decimated their business.
Even sites that haven’t been impacted directly by a spam update began seeing slow but persistent declines in traffic as more and more competitors employed genuinely high-quality results from white-hat tactics. All of this has had a massive impact on the business of many lawyers. Law firms that outsourced their SEO are learning about Penguin and Panda firsthand when their phones stop ringing.
The fix, of course, is simple: white-hat SEO tactics. Of course, these take time and, increasingly, a lot of money. Here’s another dirty secret: recovering from Penguin is a long, expensive process with no guarantees. We’re talking years, not months. That’s not a timeframe during which a solo can take a marketing hiatus.
White-hat SEO is expensive. Unique, thoughtful, insightful content is expensive. Changing your name, address, and phone number because you changed your name three times in the past two years is time consuming. And expensive. Recovering from a manual Google penalty is very expensive. Genuine links are hard to get. And expensive. And the SEO arms race — with more and more firms jumping into the fray — makes all of this more expensive, even if there wasn’t already an algorithm-driven flight towards quality.
Phase III is also shaped by the increasing prevalence of local search —searches that deliver a mapped result pinpointing the geographic location of a business. These searches are frequently delivered on mobile devices (and reliance on mobile is trending) and most frequently delivered from high-converting search queries — i.e. “Seattle Divorce Lawyer” where a prospect is actually looking to make a hire instead of just researching a legal issue. Solos working out of their house or Starbucks are mostly shut out of the local search marketing game. Who wants criminal-defense clients showing up on your doorstep unannounced at 2 am? This is a longstanding problem with no obvious solution, and it is only getting worse as local search grows.So, What is the Fate of Solos?
There is no getting around the fact that search engine quality markers favor larger firms — everything from a strong link profile to the volume of directory reviews (which impacts local search) to citation opportunities to the sheer manpower required to generate insightful, interesting content. This is reflected in the budgets that (good, white-hat ) SEO agencies command.
I talked with Carolyn Elefant, the godmother of solo lawyers, to get her take on the future of solos and SEO. She said:
I have predicted for a long time that solos and smalls would be priced out of the SEO market as the web becomes more saturated. Social media, which came on the scene around 2007/2008 stalled the full impact because I do think that solos who engaged social media early received some SEO benefits.
In some ways, the SEO-focus is really no different from the “olden days” when solos and smalls were priced out of TV advertising and the yellow pages. Solos and smalls still found creative ways to compete, from writing newspaper columns, newsletters, in-person seminars and of course, person to person referrals. I think that there are still online analogs to these techniques — such as the guest blog post, the enewsletters, etc… I think that there are still opportunities to capture niche markets with more narrow, focused SEO.
And we are just seeing the beginning of all of these issues. Solos with an established online presence may be able to weather the storm, as will enterprising attorneys in smaller, lower-tech markets. But what of the new solo hanging a virtual shingle for the first time in a large, tech savvy market? Can Jane Lawyer, with all her technical SEO marketing savvy (and tons of time) successfully compete in the technically-advanced, heavily-saturated Boston market? Just as those solos who depend on (private) home offices have been shut out of the local search market, are they also being out-budgeted from the natural search market as well?
I don’t have an answer. There is no simple solution. But I do know the SEO marketing channel has become so competitive that many can’t afford to participate. Sure, some lawyers have successfully built their practice with simple white hat SEO and an aggressive social media presence. But if you had a son hanging his legal shingle for the first time in this hyper-competitive marketplace, do you think he would make it by relying on the same tactics that built your practice? I don’t think so.
Featured image: “Business man showing his empty pockets on gray background” from Shutterstock.
Have Solos Been Priced Out of SEO? 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.
Adobe Acrobat Professional is powerful software, which can help lawyers do more with PDF files in e-filing, e-discovery, and general everyday law practice. But Acrobat Professional, which costs over $400, is way too expensive for lawyers in most small firms.
Adobe is showing no signs of lowering the price of Acrobat, and in fact seems headed in the direction of selling its software only on a subscription basis. Currently, Acrobat goes for $19/month as a subscription. If Adobe starts requiring lawyers to pay $200/year for its flagship PDF software, even fewer lawyers will opt to use it.
Enter Nuance Power PDF Advanced software (currently only available for Windows computers), which retails for $149. At one-third the price of Acrobat, many lawyers should be paying close attention to Power PDF.
The questions are: what trade-offs are there? And, does it have all of the features of the $400 Acrobat Professional?
Not surprisingly, as a power user of Acrobat I found some trade-offs. But I also found that Nuance Power PDF Advanced does everything Acrobat Professional does, but with a much easier-to-understand interface. In short, it’s a great option that many lawyers will happily embrace.
Here are some features, all of which mirror ones found in Acrobat Professional:
In short, Nuance took the “kitchen-sink” approach to adding features. But, they did so in a way that’s not hard to figure out.User-Interface Smackdown
Frankly, I find the interface of Power PDF (which is obviously much less familiar to me), easier to figure out than Acrobat. If you’re already used to the toolbar Ribbon in Microsoft Office, then Nuance’s Power PDF will be even easier to figure out.
Nuance has done a great job on the look and feel of its new PDF software. Tools are all clearly labeled and easy to find. Acrobat’s user interface, on the other hand, has been going backwards. The last two editions of Acrobat (X and XI) confused many of us with menus and tools that were moved or renamed. Adobe also increased the number of clicks needed to access many tools in Acrobat.
Acrobat has two side panels, one on the right and one on the left. Why they did this makes no sense to me. Nuance has only one side panel on the left, and it’s easy to figure out what tools are located there.
The comments and attachments area is located on the bottom, which is easy to find and makes a lot of sense.
When it comes to navigability, and usability, the advantage is clearly in Nuance’s favor.Stamps Galore
Acrobat ships with some default stamps that are typically used in business settings. The design quality of Adobe’s stamps is pretty pedestrian.
Nuance has about the same number of stamp choices, and its stamps look more modern and aesthetically pleasing.
The most-useful kind of stamp, in my estimation, is a signature stamp. Creating a full-blown digital signature is too cumbersome, and usually results in the recipient of the digitally-signed PDF being confused.
A signature stamp is just an imported digital copy of your real signature. The process for importing a graphic signature is the same in Nuance and Acrobat software, but Nuance offers some additional useful options.
First, when you import your graphic signature in Nuance’s Power PDF you can easily erase the white background during the import process. With Acrobat the process is harder and less intuitive.
Also, Nuance has a built-in, easy-to-find flattening option so you can permanently embed the signature into the document. Acrobat XI added a new menu that connects to its online EchoSign digital signature service, and from there you can flatten a signature. But it’s not obvious unless you know that the flattening option is there.
So the stamps features in Nuance are better than the ones in Acrobat.Cloud Connections
Adobe is eager to connect Acrobat to its EchoSign service, which is cloud-based. And as I mentioned, it’s possible that soon Acrobat will only be available as a subscription model.
Nuance has its eyes in the cloud too, but in a much less restrictive way.
Power PDF allows you to integrate easily with file-sharing sites like Box, Dropbox, Evernote, Google Drive, and Office 365. Firms can also integrate the software with document management systems such as NetDocuments or Sharepoint, among others.
Nuance’s software also allows you to add “sticky notes” to a PDF file using a cloud-based version of its well-known Dragon speech recognition software.Bates-Stamping & Redaction
The main reason I have advised lawyers to get at least one copy of Acrobat Professional for their law office is for the bates-stamping and redaction features. Acrobat Standard ($300) does not have these two important features.
Nuance Power PDF Advanced has them, and they work in the same manner as Adobe Acrobat Professional. Nuance sells a less expensive version of Power PDF called “Standard,” that does not do bates-stamping and redaction, and costs just $89.
Bates stamping in Nuance offers the ability to shrink the document to create white space where the bates-number can reliably be placed. And it allows you to save your favorite settings for reuse later.
Finding the bates-stamping function in Nuance was a rare example of something not being where I’d expect it. It’s located under the Edit menu, as opposed to the Advanced Processing menu. But it’s not easy to find in Acrobat either.Keyboard Shortcuts
Remember the beginning of this article, when I mentioned trade-offs? Well, keyboard shortcuts are one area where Nuance is behind Acrobat.
Being able to navigate and manipulate a PDF using keyboard shortcuts is crucial for power users. Here are important PDF tasks that should be done using keyboard shortcuts:
All of the keyboard shortcuts in Acrobat work in Nuance except two: jumping to specific pages, and creating sticky notes. Not having a keyboard shortcut to jump to a specific page baffles me.Splitting PDFs – Sad Trombones
The document splitting function in Acrobat is incredibly useful, and offers 3 choices: split by file size, split by number of pages, and split by bookmark.
Nuance Power PDF offers eight options, including the ability split by bookmarks below top-level (Acrobat only allows you to split by top-level bookmarks).
But Acrobat offers the ability to have the resulting files created from top-level bookmarks named the same as the bookmark. Nuance Power PDF outputs bookmarks with file names that begin with the phrase “Segment” followed by a number assigned to the bookmark, and then the file name of the source PDF.
Cue the sound of sad trombones.
Trust me, you want the ability to split bookmarks and wind up with file names based on the bookmarks. The reason is simple, if not obvious. When you get a large PDF from a client that contains many individual documents, you’ll want to wind up with a separate PDF for each document.
Each separate document is a separate PDF, which makes it easy to keep track of documents. But you want the documents to be named so that they sort chronologically, and do so automatically. In other words, you want the document to be named something like 2014–04–04 Letter from B. Jones to L. Smith re copyright.
So bookmarking and splitting is a key part of the workflow that produces this PDF document-management nirvana. Unfortunately, with Nuance you can’t split PDFs in this way, and that’s more than just sad or annoying. It’s a major downfall.Conclusion
Nuance Power PDF Advanced is easy to figure out and use. And the price is obviously the main advantage over Acrobat, since it costs about $300 less. Not having those two keyboard shortcuts I mentioned isn’t a big enough trade-off to make me jump ship from Acrobat.
However, not having the ability to split PDF bookmarks to create documents named based on the bookmark name is the real deal-killer for me. But here’s a happier takeaway.
For years I’ve told lawyers that they need at least one copy of Acrobat Professional in their office, and then they can get every one else a copy of Acrobat Standard. Now I’ll probably tell them to get Nuance Power PDF Advanced for all the lawyers who don’t have Acrobat Professional: it’s half the cost of Acrobat Standard, and much more useful.Summary
Nuance Power PDF Advanced is half the cost of Acrobat Standard, and much more useful. It doesn’t quite measure up to Acrobat Professional, though.
Rating: 4 (out of 5)
Nuance Power PDF Advanced, reviewed by Ernie Svenson on April 6, 2014.
Nuance Power PDF Advanced – Better Than Adobe Acrobat? 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.
No, I am not kidding with that headline. See for yourself:
The video was previously mentioned on Legal Cheek and Above the Law, but “EPM” (Eric Mirabel) wasn’t happy with the coverage. He says his reason for doing the video was not to promote his IP law practice, but to promote the pro-bono offer that appears for 7 seconds at the beginning of the video:
Here’s how Mirabel described his motivation for doing the video to me:
I’m EPM not [only] because I’m Eric P Mirabel but because it stands for Extraordinarily Positive Motivation. I have a pro bono program to help injured veterans establish a business venture by doing all legal work to get them a patent (or trademark). All veterans orgs refused to even respond to my suggestions I collaborate with them, so I have to do my own promotion to reach all those veterans who are in need (ie., who want to raise money for their project, which is what a patent does). “A man does not dream of bread when he’s starving, but of the grandest meal he’s ever eaten.” (by Some Russian author I read when young). Other lawyers are there to fill out benefit forms for them already. I’m here to get them a piece of the American Dream.
As for why he didn’t mention anything about his pro bono offer in the video:
I don’t mention veterans in my “song” because it’s a gansta rap parody/tribute, and the possible topics are: money, bling, hos; or “professional achievements” (usually in drug dealing or rapping – mine is in lawyering).
Regardless, you’ve got to appreciate the footnoted lyrics. Since they did not already appear on RapGenius, I went ahead and remedied that. Here they are, for your consideration and annotation:Read “Lawyers Lament” by EPM on Rap Genius
How to Promote Your Pro Bono Project with Gangsta Rap 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.
Managing trust accounts — handling other people’s money — is one of the most sensitive things lawyers do, and one of the most common sources of ethical violations. You must know the rules.Common Rules
Every state has its own set of rules, but the basics that are common to most.
Opening a trust account: Check your state rules for details on how a trust account must be held. It probably needs to be held in the state (no matter your physical location) and bear certain words in the title of the account (such as “attorney-client trust account”). Follow the rules to the letter.
Receiving retainers: When a client provides you with an up-front retainer before fees are earned, immediately deposit it in your trust account. You may not put money received for unearned fees in any other place, including your firm’s operating account.
Withdrawing funds: As soon as you earn fees, take them out of your trust account. Funds held in the trust account belong to the client. Once earned those funds as fees, they no longer belong to the client and should be withdrawn. This does not mean you have to withdraw fees on a daily basis, but you do need to send out regular bills, and you should be withdrawing earned fees from the trust account each period. This should really be done monthly.
Receiving fees already earned: If a client’s bill exceeds the amount held in trust and the client pays the balance after the fees have been earned, then the check should not go into your trust account.
Disputed fees: If you are holding money in trust and you think you have earned fees that should be paid from that money, but you know that the client disputes your bill, do not take the fees out of the trust account. Any disputed fees must remain in your trust account until the matter is resolved. However, if some portion of the money held in trust is undisputed, you should take that portion out.
Consider this situation:
You receive $10,000 from the client as a retainer. You work for the client and generate an invoice with a balance of $8,000. Before you take funds out of trust to pay this invoice, the client calls and says they think your bill is too high, and that they only owe you $7,000.
You should immediately withdraw the $7,000 as undisputedly earned, but leave the $2,000 not-yet earned and the $1,000 disputed amount in your trust account until the dispute is resolved.
But what do you do when you have earned a fee, withdrawn the funds from trust to pay it, and then the client disputes the fee? In California, there is no rule that says you must return the now-disputed funds to trust. However, a recent unpublished decision of the State Bar Court Review Department stated that the attorney should have returned the funds to trust when the dispute arose, even though the funds had been undisputed at the time they were withdrawn. Absent clarification or a clear rule by your state that such an obligation exists, if this situation arises you should contact your ethics regulator to ensure compliance with your applicable rules.
Refunds: If the client demands return of money held in trust and you have no claim to the funds for fees, immediately return it. In the example above, the $2,000 not-yet earned should be immediately refunded upon demand.
Segregation of funds: The general attorney trust account is for relatively-small amounts from many clients. Even though the money is in one bank account, it belongs exclusively to the client who deposited it. This means that you cannot commingle the funds of one client with the funds of another, even though they are residing in one account. If a client provides you with $1,000 to hold to pay costs and his costs add up to $1,200, you may not “borrow” $200 from another client’s funds in the trust account to pay the bill.
Holding large sums: If one client gives you a lot of money to hold in your trust account (consider “a lot” to be an amount well in excess of the advance fees of your other clients), look at your state rules for opening a separate account for that client. You may be able to open a completely separate account where the client receives the interest on the funds held.Getting Educated
Make sure you are educated on your state’s rules. Check your state bar or local bar association for training on trust accounting for your area. Some states offer a trust accounting class that is usually required if you have been brought up on an ethics violation relating to handling client funds, but it is also valuable preemptive education.Consequences are Severe
The consequences for mistakes in trust accounting are severe. Ethics regulators tend to think attorneys have acted with moral turpitude rather than ignorance or confusion when a trust accounting violation occurs. Some states have standards that a trust account balance dropping below the amount that should be held for clients is deemed misappropriation. It is an uphill battle to show a lack of intent to misappropriate client funds, and the attorney’s defense is basically a showing that they lack skills and organization to manage their clients’ funds — not something most of us want to try to prove!
So get educated, know your states rules, and keep up with any changes in those rules. Set up a system of trust accounting to ensure ongoing compliance and avoid ethics charges.
This was originally published on June 26, 2013. It was revised and republished on April 4, 2014.
Featured image: “Young man with piggy bank” from Shutterstock.
At TechShow, everyone seemed pretty impressed with Viivo, which can encrypt files and store them in the four most-popular cloud services: Dropbox, Box, OneDrive, and Drive. Viivo is free for personal use, and you only have to pay a pretty-reasonable $4.99/month if you want mobile access.
Viivo is really simple to use. Once you download and install the software, you get a Viivo folder in the user directory on your computer and a Viivo-Encrypted folder in your Dropbox/Box/OneDrive/Drive account. Anything you put in that folder is encrypted and synced up through the cloud.
If you try to access the encrypted files by going in through your Dropbox folder, you will see a lot of files with the .viivo extension, and you won’t be able to read any of them. If you ever wondered what an encrypted file looks like if you try to open it, here’s one of mine:
(Those readable text strings aren’t in the actual file I encrypted with Viivo; they must be related to the encrypted file’s meta data.) You can only read your encrypted files if you start in the Viivo folder on your computer or in the Viivo apps.
Viivo’s security looks rock-solid. Your data is encrypted before it leaves your computer, and you keep the encryption keys. From the FAQ:
When you create your Viivo account, public and private keys are generated to secure your private data and files. Because your account is created on your device, the chances of your data being prone to attack and exploitation are next to none. We have designed our system so that any account information that is stored in our servers is nearly impossible to retrieve by anyone other than you.
(Emphasis added.) Viivo also has a more extensive security fact sheet, and if you want lawyer-specific information, you can get that, too. At TechShow, I also learned that it is even eligible for HIPAA compliance.
The only downside to all this security is that you cannot access your files through a web browser. I think that is a fair tradeoff for the impressive security Viivo is offering, but it might get in your way from time to time. You can still share encrypted files with other Viivo users, though.
To be frank, I’m sold. I’m moving a bunch of directories into Viivo as I write this.
Viivo Secures Your Client Files in the Cloud 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.
The Americans with Disabilities Act protects people with disabilities — including mental illness — from discrimination. So can a lawyer with a disability invoke the ADA when ethics regulators impose discipline for behavior that stems directly from the disability? While it may seem like a clever argument (and some lawyers have tried it), the answer is no. Here is why.
“It stands to reason that the ADA comes up when lawyers with disabilities face charges from ethics regulators … ”
The ADA protects the disabled from discrimination in employment-related situations and in their access to government services. It stands to reason that the ADA comes up when lawyers with disabilities face charges from ethics regulators for allegedly failing to meet their duties as attorneys. However, ethics regulators are doing more — much more — than punishing lawyers for behavior brought on by their disabilities. They are protecting the public, ensuring the integrity of the profession, and enforcing continuing adherence to the admission standards for the practice of law. If a lawyer is unable to fulfill his duties due to his disability, then it is not discrimination to remove him in some way (through suspension or disbarment) from practicing law.Purpose of the ADA
The ADA was passed in 1990, and it prohibits discrimination against and provides equal opportunities for people suffering from physical and mental disabilities in terms of employment, access to services, public accommodations, commercial facilities, and transportation. When train stations have wheelchair ramps and elevator access, local government offices have interpreter services for the deaf and blind, and an employer must provide screen reading software, thank the ADA.Persons Protected by the ADA
The ADA protects “qualified individuals with disabilities,” which means anyone with a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities, or who has a record of such an impairment, or is generally regarded as having such an impairment. 42 U.S.C. § 12102(1). When applied to public entities providing services to the public, that means someone who, with or without accommodations, “meets the essential eligibility requirements for the receipt of services or the participation in programs or activities provided by a public entity.” 42 U.S.C. § 12131(3).
Thus, an attorney battling depression that interferes with his daily life, or facing cancer treatments that make eight-hour work days impossible, would be protected by the ADA. What he is protected against, however, is discrimination. Even though he is covered by the law for professional licensing purposes, he must find a provision of the ADA to invoke against the bar if it alleges he failed to meet his obligations as counsel. Unfortunately, there is none.ADA Employment Mandates
The employment mandates of the ADA are directed to employers with 15 or more employees, so a disabled lawyer working in a firm or a company is protected from discrimination for his disability by the employer, but he is not employed by the ethics regulators. So, even if the regulators sought to revoke his license to practice explicitly based upon his disability, the employment provisions would not protect him.ADA Public Services Mandates
The ADA guarantees access to public government services for persons with disabilities. A glance at the lengthy list provided by the Federal government of enforcement cases under this provision of the ADA reveals that most of the cases involve physical access to the offices in which government services are rendered, such as wheelchair ramps into government buildings and accessibility of polling places. Cases regarding the actual rendering of services are frequently focused on the need for translation services for the deaf and effective communication with disabled persons in police situations.
No doubt a license to practice law issued by the state is a government service, and the ADA clearly requires reasonable accommodation for disabled applicants for licenses, such as accommodations at the facilities in which bar exams are administered. See 42 USC § 12189 (“such examination or courses [shall be offered] in a place and manner accessible to persons with disabilities or offer alternative accessible arrangements for such individuals”).
However, the essence of the issue for lawyers is whether the ADA applies to the disabled person’s conduct in the actual practice of law. This is not the same as allowing accommodation to take an exam; the lawyer’s conduct in the practice of law goes directly to the lawyer’s ability to fulfill his obligations to his clients, the general public, and the legal profession. This is not a question of whether a court must provide a deaf lawyer with an interpreter, but whether the lawyer must provide his client with the level of skill and diligence expected of a non-disabled lawyer.Case Law is Sparse
There is not a lot of case law on lawyers litigating the ADA’s applicability to the practice of law once they are admitted. Most litigation focuses on getting admitted in the first place — accessibility of schools, accommodations for testing in school and on the bar exam, and issues related to character fitness examinations as part of the admittance process.
In California, however, one case is most informative: In re Wolfgram, (Review Dept. 1995) 3 Cal. State Bar Rptr. 355. Mr. Wolfgram was an attorney who suffered from depression.
California law allows the state bar to step in and force an attorney who is unable to meet his practice obligations onto inactive status, thus precluding him from continuing to represent clients. Cal. Bus. & Prof. Code § 6007(b)(3) provides the bar with this authority if, after notice and an opportunity to be heard, the State Bar Court finds that “because of mental infirmity or illness,” the lawyer is either (1) unable to or “habitually fails to perform his or her duties or undertakings competently,” or is (2) “unable to practice law without substantial threat of harm to the interests of his or her clients or the public.”
“[I]f the disability causes harm to clients and the public, ethics regulators are not bound to allow that harm to continue simply because the attorney suffers from a disability.”
The state bar brought a disciplinary action against Mr. Wolfgram alleging that he should be enrolled inactive because he was failing to meet his obligations as a lawyer. Mr. Wolfgram argued that the ADA protected him from being involuntarily enrolled inactive, which obviously forced him to close his law practice, because he was disabled within the meaning of the ADA and thus protected from retribution for his disability. Otherwise, he could only restart his practice by proving he was fit to practice law and able to meet the duties of a lawyer, a lengthy and difficult process involving petitioning the state bar for reinstatement.
The State Bar Court said no, the ADA did not preclude Mr. Wolgram from being enrolled inactive. Finding that the bar could only be held to the ADA rules pertaining to a “public entity” for purposes of Mr. Wolfgram’s argument, the definition of a “qualified individual with disabilities” requires that the individual suffering the infirmity be otherwise qualified to receive services or participate in the government programs to which he was denied access. Mr. Wolfgram was not qualified to practice law and maintain an active law license by reason of his conduct in failing to meet client obligations and his demonstrated difficulty with mental illness.
The key to the court’s holding was that Mr. Wolfgram was not being placed on inactive status because he was depressed. His inactive status was a result of his demonstrated inability to handle client matters without threatening his clients’ and the public’s interests. 3 Cal. State Bar Rptr. at 362. Contrasting the ADA’s requirement to provide accommodations for test taking, the Court said, “respondent can point to no provision of the ADA which would require the State Bar to make accommodations to allow respondent to practice law despite the substantial threat of harm to clients and the public as a result.” Id.
The court’s holding makes logical sense, and it seems perfectly sound to assume the same holding would be adopted in other states if the issue is raised. Much as the infirmed lawyer is entitled to protections under the ADA, the ethics regulators must also protect the interests of clients and the public. If an attorney is able to meet his demands of practice despite his disability by making reasonable accommodations in his employment, then he will be protected by the ADA from discrimination in employment situations and can continue his craft; but if the disability causes harm to clients and the public, ethics regulators are not bound to allow that harm to continue simply because the attorney suffers from a disability.Steps Disabled Lawyers Should Be Taking
If the ADA is not going to protect an attorney whose illness or disability has led to ethics charges, lawyers with concerns about their mental or physical abilities should take steps to avoid landing before the regulators in the first place.
First, disabled lawyers should ensure they are getting reasonable accommodation for their disabilities in the workplace so that they are able to meet their obligations as counsel. If a disabled attorney is employed by an entity with 15 or more employees, subchapter 1 of the ADA applies to the employer, and a lawyer can make sure that he is being given adequate accommodation to meet his work’s demands. If he needs accommodations in facilities covered by the ADA related to his practice, such as in courtrooms, he can seek those accommodations so that he practices competently in court.
Second, he needs to be extra vigilant to maintain compliance with the applicable ethics standards. We all need to be aware of the rules and remain in compliance, but if an attorney suffers from a particular ailment with the potential to impact his ability to comply, he must be cognizant of his limitations and his propensity to have difficulties.
Third, any lawyer with a heightened likelihood of needing assistance must have a contingency plan in place. All attorneys really should have one anyway, since anyone could be struck down by a sudden accident or illness at any time; an attorney who knows his likelihood of needing help is greater than average needs to be pay close attention to his need for a backup. This may take the form of having a law partner who is aware of his illness and is kept up to date on his current matters, or it may be a written plan constantly updated and ready to be handed to an identified lawyer who has agreed to act as a backup in the event they are needed.Have a Contingency Plan
“[L]awyers of all abilities are ethically permitted to engage in the practice of law as if they were superhuman … ”
The need for a lawyer suffering from a disability to have a contingency plan in the event he cannot continue his practice raises the question of whether a disabled lawyer — or any lawyer, in fact — has an ethical duty to establish such a plan.
There does not seem to be any affirmative duty to have a backup plan, no matter how much it may seem like a good idea to have one. In theory, lawyers of all abilities are ethically permitted to engage in the practice of law as if they were superhuman and nothing will ever interfere with their ability to continue to represent clients in full compliance with their ethical obligations.
Of course, once an attorney does falter in meeting his ethical obligations, disciplinary charges are waiting in the wings. One charge is bound to be failing to perform with competence. The entire lot of charges, and in fact the whole disciplinary investigation, could probably be avoided by the prior institution of a contingency plan.
So no, attorneys do not have an affirmative duty to have a backup plan in place. But failing to have one is extremely likely to lead to ethics charges in the event of a catastrophe — exactly what a lawyer does not need in the wake of a catastrophe.The ADA for Prospective Lawyers
ADA law relating to lawyers is not done developing. Most recently, Louisiana has come under scrutiny from the Department of Justice for its admittance system, which includes questions of applicants’ mental health, burdensome additional investigations triggered by disclosure of mental health issues, and a conditional admittance system for applicants suffering from disabilities. In February 2014, the DOJ notified the Louisiana Supreme Court and its primary ethics regulators that after an investigation, it concluded that Louisiana is violating the public entities provisions of the ADA. This is not the first time Louisiana’s mental health questions have come under fire, as notably the country’s first openly transgender judge (Victoria Kolakowski, who sits in California) once had to sue Louisiana for the right to take the bar exam after Louisiana questioned her mental competence due to her gender choice. The DOJ investigation could have far-reaching ramifications, as every state has some form of character assessment as part of its admission standards and mental fitness is part of the assessment.
While applicants for bar admission may be most interested in the development of ADA law, practitioners should also keep abreast of how challenges under the ADA may impact them and their ongoing work. Mr. Wolfgram’s challenge was unsuccessful, but future efforts to modify the requirements applicable to disabled attorneys may have different results.
Featured image: “Soccer Referee Assigning Red Card” from Shutterstock.
Can Depressed Lawyers Escape Discipline by Invoking the ADA? 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.
It is 1:30 in the morning, the night before I mediate a major medical malpractice case. I have spent dozens of hours in the last few weeks preparing. I tend to treat a big mediation the way I treat trial — I over-prepare.
Preparation is my security blanket. I pride myself in knowing the case better than the other attorney. I spend hours crafting an opening which, if the mediation is unsuccessful, will lay the foundation for my later opening statement and closing argument in trial.
I spend hours crafting a PowerPoint, and then mercilessly pare it down the day before mediation. It isn’t time wasted — every minute spent reviewing testimony, editing video clips of stupid shit the defendant said, and anticipating defense arguments helps me to be as prepared as I can for my client.
I am as prepared as I can be for this mediation. For my client, I hope that I am successful. But ultimately, nothing I do, no outcome tomorrow, will change this fact:
My client will die.
That is an incredibly difficult sentence to write. As a medical malpractice lawyer it is a situation that I have faced and will face again. Thankfully, not in every case. The emotional toll is too great.
As the mediation has approached, I’ve slept less and less. I toss and turn, unable to stop the wheels spinning in my head. At times, all too infrequently, the spinning is that of a fine old vintage auto, alternately accelerating and idling, changing gears and eating up the miles, chewing on a problem and arriving at the destination. At other times it is more like a lawn mower that was simply shoved into a corner of the garage at the end of the summer and pulled out the next spring. The gas is stale and the spark plug hasn’t been changed since … well, never.
In the dark my mind sputters, shudders, stalls, and smokes and ultimately ends up going back and forth over the same patch of ground, again and again, arriving at no destination. And all too often my mind is spinning like a piece of machinery in an old cartoon. It runs faster and faster and part of me watches, knowing that, at some point during the long night, it’s going to explode with a clang and gears and springs will fly everywhere. And I will emerge out the other side with my face blackened, my eyes dazed and little birdies spinning around my head.
And all because, no matter what I do, my client will die.
The cancer that is there will take him. Eventually another surgery will no longer be an option. The surgeon who has worked so valiantly, first to try to cure and then to simply prolong his life, will be unable to open him up again. After every operation the tumors recur. They pick up steam, they mutate faster, they grow like the evil beasts that they are. I have talked to those working so hard for this man. I know that eventually these tumors will simple grow so fast and so large that they will fill his abdomen, squeezing his organs, constricting them, until those vital organs fail, one by one and he dies.
What keeps me up at night is the senselessness.
Senseless in that this shouldn’t have happened. As cancers go, my client was afflicted with one that had a high probability of survival. This particular type of tumor is fairly benign in its early stages. It doesn’t tend to metastasize and it doesn’t tend to invade organs. Rather, it grows and pushes them aside, filling up any available space. It is almost always detected when it is grapefruit sized and smaller, because that pushing against organs has led to symptoms that lead to discovery of the tumor.
But in this case, despite more than 2 years of increasing complaints and problems, my client’s doctor didn’t put it together. He didn’t examine my clients increasingly growing abdomen. Instead the doctor opted to assume that each symptom presented was caused by a different benign condition. My client needed him to be a diagnostician. He needed him to be Dr. House. What he got was Dr. Doolittle. As a result, the grapefruit became a cantaloupe. The cantaloupe became a chicken. The chicken became a turkey and the turkey became an ostrich. The tumor grew to an incomprehensible size before it was discovered. And still, there was no Dr. House. Dr. Doolittle diagnosed something else. Thankfully, the test ordered led to another that discovered the tumor.
Senseless in that, to everyone except this doctor and his attorneys, the facts lead to only one conclusion. You screwed up. Man up. Admit you made a catastrophic mistake. Pay up and let my client try to enjoy the remaining time he has until the cancer literally squeeze the life out f him. Pay up and let him travel or spend time with his grandchildren or experience something he’s always wanted to do. Pay up and let him enjoy his remaining time rather than waste even one of his dwindling days in mediation or in trial.
Instead, tomorrow we go to mediation. The dance that I am all too familiar with will be danced. The mediator will exhort everyone to compromise and exchange the uncertainty of trial for the certainty of a settlement. I will give my carefully prepared opening. The defendants counsel will tell my client that he is sorry for what has happened to him, but the good doctor doesn’t believe he did anything wrong. Still, they are there in the spirit of compromise to try to resolve this case. My client will listen to this and will bravely refrain from saying anything in response to this insult. I will restrain myself from screaming my frustration.
And the doctor will say nothing. In fact, he probably won’t even have the guts to show up. He will have consented to a settlement and will send the insurance adjuster and the lawyers to resolve his mess.
I don’t know if we will settle this case or not. For my client’s sake I hope so. I don’t want him to spend even one of his remaining days in trial, listening to the ridiculous testimony of experts seeking to excuse what the doctor did. But part of me wants to take this case to a jury and watch their reaction as the evidence unfolds, to see the expression on their faces as they see the photos of a tumor the size of an ostrich. I want to hear the verdict returned and I want to be able to expose this for the injustice it is.
I don’t know what will happen later today. I only know my client will die.Postscript
I’ve waited almost a week to come back to this piece of writing. The mediation was held the day after I wrote this. The result of the mediation is, by agreement, confidential. The doctor was a no-show. Defense counsel did his job and tried to show my client how the good doctor didn’t do anything wrong. He attacked my expert witnesses as hired guns. In fact, all my experts were full professors, heads of their respective departments at prestigious medical schools.
Through all this my client sat and listened and held his tongue. When he had the chance to speak to the mediator privately he did so eloquently and succinctly. Throughout the entire process, from the first day I met this client, he exhibited grace and dignity. I guess that is what makes knowing that he will die because of someone’s mistake all the more painful.
In recent weeks, a study has been released showing what my practice had told me for years: the most common cause of a medical malpractice claims is diagnostic errors. This infographic lays out the most compelling statistics. Knowing that this is happening day in and day out only makes it more difficult.
This was originally published on May 9, 2013. It was (lightly) revised and republished on April 2, 2014.
Featured image: “Last Minutes” from Shutterstock.
RelatedLaw Technology Buyer’s Guide
If I were starting a brand-new solo practice right now — i.e., no legacy systems to support, and no well-established procedures, and limited funds — here is what I would put in my technology budget.Hardware13″ Retina MacBook Pro or Lenovo ThinkPad T440s
I’m not going to try to persuade you to use Apple products if you really don’t want to. But if you are starting out fresh, I think you should get a Mac. Despite the higher up-front cost, Macs tend to have lower total cost of ownership, and there is at least some data to suggest that you can be more efficient with a Mac. Many people (me, included) also find Macs to be easier to use, and more reliable. Those are big plusses when you are your own IT department.
I would not get an ultralight laptop like the MacBook Air or Lenovo X1 Carbon. Those are great laptops, and they do a perfectly good job as a primary computer. But they make sacrifices for their small size, namely processor speed and battery life. The Retina MacBook Pro and ThinkPad T440s are definitely bigger and heavier than the ultralights, but they cost less, are faster, and last longer unplugged. I think those features are worth a bit of extra heft. The extra power also means you will be able to wait longer before upgrading (I usually upgrade laptops every 4–5 years).
You could get a desktop, instead. They cost even less and last even longer. But if you have a desktop, you will want something to take with you to meetings, to court, or for working at home. Depending on how you work and what you do, you might be able to get by with an iPad, or a Chromebook, or you might want an ultralight laptop. In the end, a laptop is usually less expensive than a desktop and another device.iPhone or Google Nexus 5
Again, the choice between iOS and Android is up to you. Just recognize that a fairly large majority of lawyers use iPhones and iPads, which means that most apps for lawyers get released on iOS, first. Android versions generally seem to lag behind by about a year.
However, I don’t think the choice of phone platform is all that important. What is more important is which phone you choose. The up-front cost of the handset is a fraction of the cost of the monthly fees, which are basically the same no matter what phone you choose. So get a good phone, not a cheap one. If I were buying an Android handset, I would get the Nexus 5. If you want an iPhone, just get the current one (that’s the iPhone 5S, at the moment).Fujitsu ScanSnap iX500
When it comes to scanners, the ScanSnap iX500 is indisputably the number one choice. It is fast, easy to use, and comes with Acrobat (for Windows users).
I’ve already written a fairly detailed review on this one, so I won’t go into more detail here. The bottom line: this is the scanner to have, whether you are just starting out or not. And yes, you should budget for it right away.A Laser Printer
Your printer must be a laser printer, and it needs to be fast with a fairly high duty cycle. Other than that, it does not really matter what laser printer you get. What you are really buying a printer for is printing reams of documents the night before a trial or deposition or deal, when a slow printer means you will be up all night, swearing at your printer.
Pretty much any black-and-white laser printer in the $3–500 range should do the trick. I tend to get HP printers, which are rock-solid and durable. Brother printers are also popular. Get a good one as soon as you can, and you will probably have it for 10 years or more.Software and ServicesVirtual Assistant
I am not the right person to answer my phone. I don’t like to be interrupted, so I am usually impatient when I do, which does not generally make a good impression on potential clients. That is why I would hire either Ruby Receptionists or a virtual assistant who could answer my phone and manage intake.
While a receptionist is one of the more expensive things on this list, I wouldn’t go without one. Ruby handles the phones now, so that I don’t miss anything. Before that, I had a wonderful virtual assistant, Erica, who not only answered the phones but tracked all our potential clients throughout the intake process, managed paid consultations, and ensured that everyone got timely follow-up from my office.
Whether you just hire Ruby to answer your phones or find a virtual assistant to do more, I’ve learned that some tasks are better left to specialists.Google Apps Premium
Gmail and Google Calendar are just the best way to manage your email and calendar. But get a premium account. You get more favorable terms, and you can customize your email address so it is on your domain (i.e., firstname.lastname@example.org instead of email@example.com), which makes you look like a professional.
RelatedA New Google Docs Pleading for California Lawyers
The Droid Lawyer
You can also use Google Docs for most of your documents. I have, and I still do. In fact, Google Docs is closer to my ideal office suite than Microsoft Office. But if you handle appeals or you work in a jurisdiction with complicated formatting requirements, you should still have a copy of Office.Office 365
Microsoft Office is bloated and often frustrating to use, but it is still the standard, and realistically it is still what most lawyers ought to be using. If you regularly exchange documents with other people, for example, using Microsoft Word will make your life easier than trying to track changes in Google Docs or Pages.
A Home Premium Office 365 subscription should get you what you need, plus a chunk of extra storage, plus full functionality in the iPad apps.File Storage: Drive or OneDrive with Boxcryptor or Viivo
If you’ve been following along so far, you have two options for file storage and syncing, Google Drive and Microsoft OneDrive. It’s probably easiest to go with whatever platform you have decided to use for creating documents. In other words, if you decide to use Google Docs, store your files in Drive. If you decide to use Microsoft Office, store your files in OneDrive.
There are valid reasons to be concerned (but not alarmed) about the security of your clients’ files in Drive or OneDrive (or Dropbox or Box or anywhere else). You can alleviate those concerns by using Boxcryptor or Viivo to allow you to encrypt files within your cloud storage.
The key difference is that Boxcryptor allows you to encrypt your files in place (i.e., you can have one encrypted file in your 12345 Jones Matter folder) while Viivo gives you an encrypted folder for anything you want to encrypt. Viivo is probably easier to understand, conceptually, but I think Boxcryptor offers a smoother workflow. Both have been clunky for me in testing, but they do offer an extra level of security that the cloud file storage vendors have yet to provide.Accounting: Xero
Accounting software is essential, and you should not try to get by with consumer-grade software like Quicken. Xero will handle bookkeeping and billing, and it integrates with a bunch of other services, including a pretty good list of credit card processors. If you already use QuickBooks (online or not), I don’t think there is a compelling reason to switch to Xero. But if you are just starting out, I think it is definitely the better choice.
If you need something for timekeeping, Xero integrates with a number of time-tracking services.Practice Management Software
I love practice management software, but I have not used it much in my own practice, and never as a solo. With two or more lawyers working on the same files, I think practice management software is essential. For a solo, it can be nice to have, but it is not essential.
What is essential (or close to it) is a secure client portal for communication and exchanging documents. Email has always been about as secure as sending a postcard, but we are much more aware of that, now. I think it is pretty important to keep confidential documents and communications out of email.
You don’t have to use legal-specific software for this, but you do need to make sure the portal is secure. In particular, it should not actually send the content of the message via email. When you send a message to your client through Clio or MyCase, for example, the message your client receives just says something along the lines of “you have a message/file; click to get it.” (Rocket Matter may do the same thing, but I don’t have reviewer access to it, so I can’t check.) So Basecamp, as much as I like it, does not work.
On balance, I would probably use practice management software. Which one? Here was my answer last year, which amounts to this: take the time to narrow down the field to a few, then test each one yourself. The choice will come down to your preferences and your specific needs.Acrobat Professional
Depending on what type of law you practice, you can probably get by without Acrobat for a while. But as soon as you do need to add exhibit stamps or Bates numbering to a document, go ahead and get a copy of Acrobat Professional.Legal Research: Fastcase
I used Fastcase (a benefit for bar association members in my state) for my law practice for something like eight years. While I recognize that both Westlaw and Lexis add plenty of valuable stuff to their legal-research packages, I never felt like I needed that stuff. Fastcase worked great for me, and if I were starting over, that is what I use.
Depending on your area of practice, you might feel differently, but I think it is better off starting with Fastcase rather than getting yourself into a lengthy and expensive contract with Westlaw or Lexis right off the bat.Backup: CrashPlan
Last but not least. You need to back up your files. We have published lots of posts about backup on Lawyerist, and there is a current discussion in the Lab. The easies option, and one of the most secure, is still CrashPlan for local, network, and remote backup. (Always have at least two up-to-date backups of your files in at least two different locations.)
If you use CrashPlan, you can consider your backup covered.Other Stuff
I think I’ve covered the basics, but you will undoubtedly need or want some other tools. I can’t get by without Remember the Milk, for example. And while I like Evernote, I don’t have enough confidence in its security to use it for client information (this could be unfounded, but this post by Jason Kincaid resonated with me).
And, of course, I use lots of other tools that aren’t necessarily law practice–related. Here are just a few:
Did I miss anything you would put in your startup budget if you were starting a new solo practice?
Featured image: “wood mounting tools” from Shutterstock.
Solo Law Practice Technology Setup 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.
The trend towards the cloud has been pretty clear for some time, but walking the EXPO Hall at ABA TechShow made it clear that we have passed the tipping point for practice management software. The future is in the cloud.
The “Big Three” for cloud-based practice management software are Clio, MyCase, and Rocket Matter, and all seem to be on solid financial footing, which means they are pretty unlikely to just fold up and quit (a valid concern when a company is new and burning venture capital just to keep the lights on). Clio is profitable and flush with $18 million in new funding. MyCase’s parent company, Appfolio, is healthy and pretty clearly committed to MyCase over the long run. Rocket Matter is also profitable. Any of them could get acquired, of course, but it’s hard to imagine why a company would acquire them only to shut them down.
Established premises-based practice management software vendors, Amicus and Abacus, are both pushing cloud-based versions of their software. Actionstep is in active development, and it seems like a new option pops up every couple of weeks. (CosmoLex was the new kid on the block at TechShow this year.)
Even Lexis and Thomson are going to the cloud. Lexis is betting big, in fact. At TechShow, I learned that Lexis is putting most of its development resources into its cloud-based practice-management software, Firm Manager, although it expects to be supporting legacy systems for quite some time. I’m not sure Westlaw has made its mind up, yet. Firm Central feels a bit like Thomson is hedging its bets rather than committing to the cloud. But Thomson is definitely ready for a cloud-based future for practice management software. Even Fastcase is branching out with its bankruptcy software, TopForm, which will launch within the next couple of weeks. A move into practice management software at some point would not be much of a surprise.
In other words, you will be using the cloud for practice management sooner rather than later — if you aren’t already.
This is, for the most part, a good thing. Cloud-based practice management software is ideal for collaboration across firms. The secure client portals built into many of the options are better than email for communicating with clients — and nearly as easy to use. Cloud software is platform-agnostic and usually mobile-friendly, giving more options to lawyers who use it.
Practice management software — cloud-based or not — is no panacea. It definitely will not make you a better lawyer. It probably won’t even make you a more productive lawyer, although it might help you be more efficient. But many lawyers find that their firms function better with practice management software. In the very near future, they will almost certainly be using it in the cloud.
Featured image: “Cloud computing concept” from Shutterstock.
The Future of Practice Management is in the Cloud 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.
We are live from ABA TechShow 2014! (It’s the closest thing to an Apple event that we get to do.) This is a slow-moving liveblog for updates from the EXPO Hall and from the sessions we attend. (Day Two coverage starts here, and Day Three coverage starts here.)
Brother has a reputation for solid hardware built for budget-conscious consumers. That was basically my conclusion when I reviewed the ImageCenter ADS-2000 desktop document scanner, and it turns out to be true for the portable ADS-1000w and ADS-1500w, too. These are good, basic scanners at an attractive price.
The only functional difference between the ADS-1000w and the ADS-1500w is that the 1500w comes with a color resistive touchscreen. That means you can do a lot more right from the scanner, although it wasn’t a huge advantage. Otherwise, the scanners are the same.
Note from Brother’s PR rep: “notable differences include the ability to scan to a variety of popular cloud storage sites over wireless network and faster scan speeds for the ADS-1500W.”
For reference, I reviewed both scanners on a desktop PC running Windows 7. It’s an older computer (Core 2 Duo 2.4 GHz processor, 4 GB of memory), but everything worked just fine on it.What I Like About the ADS-1000w and ADS-1500w
The ADS-1000w is just $190 on Amazon, while the ScanSnap S1300i is $246.33. That’s almost $60 less for nearly the same feature set. The ScanSnap is definitely the better scanner, but the ADS-1000w is also a good choice.
Portable scanners that only work if they are plugged into a laptop feel a bit old-school, these days. And while these Brother scanners do not have batteries for true mobility, both of them can scan to an Android or iOS device over wi-fi using the Brother iPrint&Scan app for Android and iOS. That wi-fi capability means you can skip plugging either scanner into your computer, as well.
At their size, the ADS-1000w and ADS-1500w also manage to pack in a 20-page document feeder, and they can scan both sides of the page at once. That’s a lot of options for such a small package.
Speaking of the package, both of these scanners look pretty good. And so do the scans. The feeder works great, and they will automatically detect and remove blank pages, as you would expect. Both scanners produced good-quality scans from the legal documents I ran through them.
And like their bigger brother, the ADS-1000w and ADS-1500w both let you scan straight to a USB drive, which is a pretty nice extra feature to have.What I Didn’t Like About the ADS-1000w and ADS-1500w
The Brother scanners are decent machines, but I have some gripes. First, they come with a lot of crapware, like a business-card scanner and PaperPort 12 SE. And Brother tries to trick you into signing up for some web conferencing app. Hardware vendors usually get paid for bundling software, which is probably why Brother is able to charge $60 less than the ScanSnap.
Another note from Brother’s rep: “Brother does not receive rewards for bundling software.”
Speaking of software, that is where the Brother falls behind. First, the install process quit midway through on my first try. I tried again, and made it through the end, where I wound up with this annoying thing on my Windows desktop:
But at least now the scanner worked.
Brother’s scanning utility — Control Center 4 — is barebones and works pretty well. Most importantly, there is a built-in profile for scanning to PDF straight to a folder. That’s exactly what I want.
Unfortunately, there is no way I could find to continue scanning pages after the document feeder is empty. That means you can either get 20-page PDF documents, tops, or try to add pages by hand as fast as possible. This is, mostly, a minor annoyance on a scanner that you are most likely to use for short documents on the go. But it makes it completely inadequate for desktop use.
Of course, if you don’t mind using PaperPort or you have a copy of Acrobat (or you have a Mac), you can stitch PDFs together to make a bigger document, but that is a lot of extra work for something that is usually built into the scanning utility.
Finally on the negative side, the color touchscreen on the ADS-1500w is nice to have, but for day-to-day scanning, it just means more taps to accomplish anything.Who Should Buy the ADS-1000w and ADS-1500w
All in all, the Brother ADS-1000w is a solid portable scanner and a good buy if you need to be mobile without spending a lot of money. They won’t make it into our best scanner picks, but they probably won’t disappoint you, either. If you are a budget-conscious lawyer who need to scan on the go, get the ADS-1000w. I don’t think the color touchscreen on the ADS-1500w is worth the extra money or clicks.Summary
The Brother ADS-1000w and ADS-1500w are good scanners with a few flaws, and they would be a smart buy for budget-minded mobile lawyers.
Rating: 3 (out of 5)
Brother ADS-1000w and ADS-1500w, reviewed by Sam Glover on March 27, 2014.
Brother Compact Document Scanners (ADS-1000w and ADS-1500w) Review 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.
At LexThink.1, produced by Matt Homann and JoAnna Forshee, 10 speakers get 6 minutes apiece to present 20 slides on a common theme. This year, the theme is “the end of irrelevance” (long version: “overcoming the significant challenges the legal profession is currently facing”). Here is the speaker lineup.
The show starts at 7:30pm Central on March 26, 2014. Get your bingo card and tune in for our liveblog.
#LexThink.1 Liveblog from #ABATechShow 2014 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.
LexThink.1 is 10 fast-paced presentations. Each speaker gets 6 minutes to present 20 slides — hopefully making a point in the process. If you haven’t been before and want to get the flavor of it, read my post about last year’s event. tl;dr: It’s great fun.
But, I am convinced, LexThink.1 would be even more fun if there were a side game for the audience. So this year, I’ve put together a bingo card. Or drinking game, as you please.
You can download a printable PDF, or find me before LexThink.1 gets started. I will bring a bunch of copies.
Please wait until the current presentation ends to shout BINGO.
Also, we will be liveblogging LexThink.1 right here, starting a 6pm Central on Wednesday (the presentations get under way at 7).