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Updated: 42 min 37 sec ago

ROSS: Artificial Intelligence–Powered Legal Research

Sat, 01/24/2015 - 10:21

ROSS is a Toronto, Canada startup that promises to answer legal questions using IBM’s Watson super computer.

  1. ROSS provides you a highly relevant answer, not 1000s of results, to your question posed in natural language, not keywords.
  2. ROSS monitors the law for changes that can positively/negatively affect your case, instead of flooding you with legal news.
  3. ROSS learns the more you and other lawyers use it.

Watson, if you need a refresher, is the computer that won Jeopardy. IBM recently made Watson available to college students (you can see a showcase of all 8 participants), and it looks like ROSS’s founders, recent law-shool graduate Andrew Arruda and college student and serial entrepreneur Jimoh Ovbiagele, jumped at the opportunity.

More from the Globe and Mail:

“When we are short of time, we just say it is Siri for lawyers,” says Ross team software engineer Jimoh Ovbiagele, 21, referring to the Apple iPhone’s talking concierge program. He adds that “Watson is a lot smarter than Siri.”

You can watch an early version of the app in action:

(h/t Ron Friedman via Sarah Glassmeyer and Jordan Furlong)

Featured image: “Vintage tin toy robot” from Shutterstock.

Categories: Teknoids Blogs

Evaluate Your Writing with Word’s Readability Statistics

Fri, 01/23/2015 - 07:12

Simple communication is usually better for lawyers. Although we frequently write for a sophisticated audience, this does not mean our writing should be overly complex. We write to inform and persuade. Impediments to comprehension created by our writing style only serve to inhibit these objectives.

Related “Making It Sing: How Rhetorical Writing Techniques Can Improve Legal Writing”

If you want to know how readable your documents are, consider enabling Word’s readability statistics. You are probably familiar with Word’s ability to check spelling. You may also know that Word can check your grammar. (Both are enabled by default in Word.)

Word can also calculate the Flesch Reading Ease and Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level scores for your documents.

First, you need to enable this function:

  1. In Word, click the File menu (Word 2010/13) or Office button (Word 2007).
  2. Click Options (left side, bottom).
  3. Select Proofing (left side). Make sure that “Check grammar with spelling” and “Show readability statistics” are both checked (you cannot check the statistics option unless the grammar option is checked first).

Once enabled, a pop-up box will display your readability and grade-level scores immediately following each spell check. Microsoft explains the Flesch Reading Ease score as follows:

This test rates text on a 100-point scale. The higher the score, the easier it is to understand the document. For most standard files, you want the score to be between 60 and 70.

You can also find a detailed explanation of the Flesch Reading Ease score on Readability Formulas. The Flesch-Kinkaid measure indicates the grade level at which someone should be able to read the document. Therefore, a grade level score of 10.4 would indicate that a tenth grader would be able to read the document.

Here is what the statistics box will look like:

If you want to go farther with his concept, consider editing software such as WordRake or Hemingway Editor. As part of a growing trend, many lawyers are re-working their complex documents with an eye towards making them more readable. Traditional legalese and redundant terms (such as “free and clear,” “null and void,” or “due and payable”) are being stripped out while navigation-friendly paragraph titles and tables of contents are being added.

On behalf of everyone who has ever read a contract, I hope this trend continues.

Featured image: “reading on a cloud” from Shutterstock.

Categories: Teknoids Blogs

Smart Contracts: Will Bitcoin’s Blockchain Technology Fundamentally Change Contract Law?

Thu, 01/22/2015 - 17:24

The cryptocurrency Bitcoin gets a lot of media attention for its goals of decentralizing currency, funding drug dealers, and being more volatile than the Russian Ruble.

Less discussed by the mainstream press (mostly because these are topics that are super hard for an average person to understand) is the role that Bitcoin’s underlying Blockchain technology could have in non-currency solutions for verifying contracts, property transfers, or trust-related activities in an objective, decentralized way.

A variety of entrepreneurs and researchers are actively testing alternative uses of the blockchain to create a new category of “smart contracts” that allow for contract performance to be verified without requiring a judicial system or other centralized third party. While implementation of these new solutions are still fairly theoretical, a number of companies are actively building software solutions for smart contracts.

If these solutions are successful, they could reduce or eliminate the need for lawyers or courts for the creation or management of many different kinds of contracts.

For instance, a professional Rugby player in Australia is currently building a blockchain smart contract tool to manage third-party endorsement contracts for athletes, where the technology would use distributed software and the bitcoin blockchain to verify an athlete’s endorsement performance and immediately issue payments upon performance, eliminating the role of centralized authority or court in resolving contract performance disputes.

As the Rugby-player-turned-entrepreneur notes, “There would be no embarrassing scandals played out in public and media view, and neither the player nor sponsor would have the ability to dispute the outcome.”

While these are still early times in the development of these technologies, the rate at which they are being pursued indicates the technology solutions will almost certainly outpace the legal community’s ability to understand, evaluate, and plan for them.

(Photo: https://www.flickr.com/photos/btckeychain/10680258673/)

Categories: Teknoids Blogs

Hard Drive Failure Rates (2015 Report)

Thu, 01/22/2015 - 14:57

Cloud backup service Backblaze uses tens of thousands of hard drives (41,213 as of December 31, 2014, to be precise). Last year Backblaze published the hard drive failure rates it experienced, and it just updated those numbers with data from 2014. The chart above sums up the results.

The bottom line: if you want great reliability in a desktop hard drive, you probably want a 4TB hard drive from HGST (1.4% failure rate) or Seagate (2.6% failure rate).

Now, this survey probably is not totally scientific, since it depends on what Backblaze has in its data center. But it is probably the best data available on hard drive failure — especially at this kind of scale.

(via Ars Technica)

Categories: Teknoids Blogs

PDFs Are Terrible

Thu, 01/22/2015 - 12:44

At Open Law Lab, Margaret Hagan makes a really good point:

Please, legal authors & publishers of great content, unbury your content — let it free — make it usable for your target audiences. Take the text and images out of the pdf, and lay it out in a webpage with HTML.

PDFs are great for documents that need to look as close to exactly the same on every screen and printer. But they aren’t great for reading unless you print them out. Try reading a PDF on your smartphone, for example. Or searching a PDF that wasn’t OCR’d. Or closing a long PDF and trying to pick it up where you left off. Now do the same with a responsive website — or better yet, using Instapaper or Pocket.

Related “Paperless Tip: Never Ever Send Word Files as Correspondence”

So why, Margaret wants to know, is so much legal information — court opinions,1 know-your-rights explainers, legal information — hidden away in PDFs? It’s a good question.

Before you put a PDF on your website, ask yourself if it is the kind of document that is primarily meant to be printed, or whether people are likely to want to be able to read it on a screen. If it’s the latter (which is usually the case), follow Margaret’s advice and publish it as a web page, with the PDF available for download for those who want it.

  1. I wanted to read every Supreme Court opinion from the last term, for example, but they are all locked away in PDFs. 

Categories: Teknoids Blogs

70% of Law Students Are Depressed and a Lot of Them Aren’t Seeking Help

Thu, 01/22/2015 - 12:16

Seventy percent of Yale Law School students who participated in the school’s Mental Health Alliance survey have struggled with mental health issues at some point during their law school careers.

That’s from a summary of a recent study of 296 Yale Law School students. Despite my title, it’s hard to say whether the numbers support an inference about the mental health of law students in general, but I doubt anyone who went to law school is surprised by them.

(h/t Legal Skills Prof Blog, Above the Law)

Categories: Teknoids Blogs

How to Represent a Diverse Clientele

Thu, 01/22/2015 - 07:12

I run a tenant hotline where I have advised over 28,000 clients since 1996. There is no one religion, race, or socioeconomic background that describes all my clients. The only common thread is that they are all tenants.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, this will eventually be the same for you, whatever your own background. Non-Hispanic whites comprise only 63% of the overall population, and it is expected that whites in the U.S. will fall under 50% of the total population by 2043. Sooner rather than later, lawyers will have to start adjusting their client relations to adjust to these increasingly changing demographics. Here’s what you need to start doing to get it right.

Research Cultural Norms

If you know you are meeting a new client whose background is new to you, check online to see if there are any tips or taboos. This is especially true if you are meeting a client for lunch or dinner and you are asked to pick the restaurant. There may be dietary restrictions you had not considered.

Additionally, make a note of differing social norms. Before I worked with my first Somali client, I was told that because I am a man, it would not be appropriate for me to shake hands with a woman who is a practicing Muslim.

I researched this before the meeting to determine the appropriate course of action to take. I decided when I met the client to shake hands only if the client offered hers first. I have followed that rule since that meeting. This simple recognition of a different custom puts clients a little more at ease when I first meet them.

Perceptions of Fair Justice Are Not Uniform “How long will I be in jail for if I lose?”

In the mid 90’s, a client was suing her landlord for the return of her security deposit. I knew from her pronounced accent and her last name that she was a recent immigrant from Russia. She also lived in a community with a dense concentration of Russian immigrants.

I was preparing her for small claims court where she was going to represent herself pro se. I felt confident she would be ready. At the end of our meeting, I recapped the major points and felt she had a good grasp of what was going to happen in court.

As she packed up her documents, she asked, “So, if I go to court and win, I will get back my deposit?”

“Yes, if you win, you’ll have a judgment against your landlord for your deposit plus the filing fee,” I answered, standing up and holding the door open for her to leave.

“And if I lose, I will go to jail,” she added.

“What?”

“If I lose, I will go to jail,” she restated. “How long will I be in jail for if I lose?”

She was serious. She believed that if she lost a small claims court case where she was the plaintiff, she would end up in jail. My client did not know about the key distinction between civil and criminal court. We sat back down and it took another half hour for me to convince her jail was not a possibility. I actually showed her my diploma to help convince her I knew what I was talking about. Finally, I told her she could go a day early and watch other cases to see that nobody was being taken away to jail.

She ended up winning her case and collecting her deposit from her landlord. I was happy for her, of course, but I probably learned more from her than she did from me.

Explain What Being a Lawyer Means

A client new to the United States probably hasn’t worked with a lawyer before, and they may not know anyone who has. An early explanation about how attorney-client confidentiality works can be a great tool for easing your client’s tension. Although I represent clients pro bono, an early conversation about fees is also essential. Try to make your fee structure as simple and transparent as possible (which is pretty good advice for any client, regardless of their race, religion, or other characteristics).

Whenever I advise a client, I always make a point to start with a fairly oversimplified version of what I do, and then layer on more detail. Some clients are incredibly sophisticated and knowledgeable when I first encounter them, while others are not. I start with the assumption that they are not.

Appearances Matter

My default for meeting clients from a culture or country I haven’t encountered is that the more formal I appear, the better. Lawyers do not have official uniforms. In my daily work, I can generally get away with business casual, because most of my work is over the phone. When meeting with clients, I present a more formal appearance as a sign of respect and to help indicate my role.

To maintain a professional appearance in your office, have your diploma where your clients can see it. Even a simple lawyer’s notepad can have a visual effect. These two items let your client know you are a professional that can be trusted.

Another prop that is almost certain to impress a client is one that few lawyers still rely on: bookshelves filled with law books. Even though I rarely use them, my office has massive shelves filled with law books. It is remarkable how many clients literally stare at them. I have no doubt it adds credibility — especially for an initial client meeting.

Prepare to Be Responsive and Open

Finally, present yourself openly enough that the client feels comfortable asking any questions, whether it is at the beginning of a meeting or at the end. This open-ended “feel free to ask me anything” question can help alleviate any culturally-based fears you may not have caught. If you have any concerns at the end of the meeting, ask the client to restate what will happen next or what they should expect.

Featured image: “High angle view of group of happy multiethnic people raising hands together” from Shutterstock.

Categories: Teknoids Blogs

Don’t Let Intimidation Drive Your Litigation Strategy

Wed, 01/21/2015 - 07:12
If someone could burn down your house, would they really knock on your door and blow smoke in your face?

One of the toughest things for inexperienced lawyers to learn is how to deal with opposing counsel. Older attorneys love to huff and puff at new attorneys. Some days it feels like there is a giant target on your back — which, basically, there is.

Related “The Mental Fortitude Necessary to Practice Law”

The next time opposing counsel blows smoke, take a step back and decide whether there is any fire behind the puffery.

Intimidation Can Be a Lawyer’s Greatest Weapon

Law school does not teach you all the dirty tricks opposing counsel will use to throw you off your game.

By nature, many lawyers are bullies. Think of an experienced lawyer as the senior jock in high school. When that jock sees you walking down the hallway in suspenders and carrying a Trapper Keeper, your lunch money is as good as gone.

Just like those jocks, some lawyers rely on their tough image to get things done. Don’t get me wrong; the power of persuasion (in any form) is certainly a tangible skill. And to be fair, the best lawyers I know make the most of their specific talents. In many situations, attempting to scare a young attorney is their best leverage.

Make no mistake, opposing counsel will attempt to bully you. The good news is that just like those high school jocks, the bark is often bigger than the bite. And once you push through the facade, you are in good shape.

Huffing, Puffing, and Chest Thumping is Usually Just That The best defense counsel will not bark, scream, threaten, or jump up and down.

Opposing counsel will often tell you that your case sucks. But here’s the thing: if a party (or lawyer) has a really good claim or defense, they raise it in the pleadings. They don’t yell and bark about it, they just file a motion to dismiss or a motion for summary judgment (or serve you with a motion for sanctions).

If I believed every huff and puff that was sent my way or screamed at me, I would have closed my practice years ago. Do I put some stock in huffing and puffing? Sure. Do I put much stock in it? Nope.

Usually about once a month I am told “your case/claim is garbage for the following reasons …” That conversation usually ends with an offer to settle my client’s claims, despite the fact that my case has “no merit.” On rare occasions, I have had defense counsel bring motions to dismiss when they truly think the case has no merit (note: none have succeeded). When they want to try and scare me, they just blab about it.

If there is a real issue, the best lawyers will just lay it out for you. They will not bark, scream, threaten, or jump up and down. They just put it out there. That makes me listen — I may not always agree, but at least I’ll listen.

Just remember: if an issue is so clear or winnable, it’s usually not wrapped up in a bunch of bravado. It’s kind of like my old dachshund when I was kid. He barked louder than any dog I know (and would usually scare bigger dogs), but there was no way he would ever win a fight — he just tried to prevent one from happening.

Yes, I am suggesting that you picture opposing counsel as a wiener dog. That should help with any intimidation issues you may have.

Do Not Ignore What You Know About Your Client

If direct intimidation doesn’t work, opposing counsel will often try to turn you against your client. Usually this starts as vague statements like “well, I’ve looked into your client and there are some things that I don’t think you want the court to know” or “I’ve reviewed the evidence, and the allegations in the complaint don’t match up with what actually happened here.”

You have to know your clients and their allegations inside and out — cross-examine them before you file the case. Will you still be surprised sometimes? Sure. But there is a reason why I am picky about who I represent. I know that my client’s credibility will become a central issue in the case.

That does not mean you should ignore a warning shot from opposing counsel. It does mean that you should always take opposing counsel’s comments with a grain of salt and believe it when you see it or hear it. Make them produce whatever evidence they claim makes your client look bad. Then decide for yourself how it impacts your case and your client.

If you let opposing counsel dictate your opinion of your client, you have already lost your case.

Do Not Ignore What You Know About Your Case

The bad news is that opposing counsel just told you that “courts throw out cases like this all the time.”

Related “How to Lose Your Case”

The good news is that unless it is the United States Supreme Court with the exact same fact pattern as your case, you don’t need to pack up the tent and head home.

When I get hit with this, I ask for the decisions they are referring to. I’ll guarantee you three things:

  1. The case is not binding precedent.
  2. There are other decisions that reach the opposite conclusion.
  3. The facts are distinguishable. A circuit split with favorable facts? I’ll take my chances on that one everytime.

One of the smartest things I ever heard a judge say is “you can always find a case that supports your position; tell me about the facts.” In other words, good facts matter. If you have the greatest facts and a couple of cases on your side, you probably have a good chance.

Get the Court Involved

I’ve been on the receiving end of plenty of ridiculous statements, attacks, and shenanigans. Fortunately, it usually happens early in the case, even before the parties attend a pretrial scheduling conference.

For example, I had a FDCPA case in federal court. The FDCPA is a federal statute, so even a first-year lawyer would understand that federal jurisdiction is proper. The first time I discussed the case with opposing counsel, a partner from a big firm yelled at me and told me something along the lines of “the federal court is going to hate this little case — and they don’t even have jurisdiction anyway — we will just move to dismiss on those grounds.”

At the end of our pretrial conference, the magistrate judge asked if there were any other questions or concerns. I very politely told the magistrate that I was confused about my opponent’s argument about lack of jurisdiction. I then asked opposing counsel to explain to the court why they intended to bring a motion to dismiss based on lack of jurisdiction. Opposing counsel immediately turned bright red and mumbled something about not currently pursuing it, or something to that effect.

Did that win the case? Of course not. But it put the other side on notice that I call BS when I see it. (And we resolved the case shortly after that pretrial.)

If shenanigans happen at another point in the case, I will usually find a way to show the court what kind of malarkey I am dealing with. That generally involves sending very polite letters documenting the other side’s insanity, then bringing a motion or scheduling a phone conference with the court. Courts are not fond of dealing with discovery disputes, but they also have little tolerance for absurd behavior.

When the situation calls for it, take opposing counsel to the principal’s office.

Do Your Research On Opposing Counsel

Let’s assume that opposing counsel has some bite behind their bark. Just because they can bring a motion does not mean they will. Don’t forget, they have to tell their client “we want to charge you $10,000 to bring this motion, and it’s probably a 50/50 chance we win.”

Reach out to your network of attorneys and find out what they know about opposing counsel. Most people have a reputation, and it could include “they love motion practice” or “they always settle at the 11th hour.”

There is no guarantee they will follow their prior course of action, but a little gossip can still be helpful when trying to predict how they view the case and what they might actually do.

Regardless how they litigate, you will almost always get some nugget like “just offer to buy them coffee, and they’ll stop threatening you” or “don’t push them on this thing; that will send them into orbit.”

I am not saying you should let their personal preferences dictate how you run your case. But you should consider it, and if it helps you get a better result for your client, you should absolutely use that information to your advantage.

Bottom Line: Smoke Does Not Equal Fire

If someone could burn down your house, would they really knock on your door and blow smoke in your face?

Have faith in your case and your clients. If you decide there’s a problem, then deal with it as you see necessary. But don’t ever let opposing counsel dictate your view of your case and your client.

Featured image: “Verbal aggression against female employee” from Shutterstock.

Categories: Teknoids Blogs

Yep, It’s Time to Get Rid of Most Legal-Marketing Rules

Tue, 01/20/2015 - 14:26

From Avvo General Counsel and VP, Josh King:

Our suggested advertising rules would look like this:

Rule 7.1: A lawyer shall not make a false or misleading communication about the lawyer or the lawyer’s services. Rule 7.2: A lawyer shall not by in-person, live telephone or real-time electronic contact solicit professional employment when a significant motive for the lawyer’s doing so is the lawyer’s pecuniary gain, unless the person contacted: (1) is a lawyer; or (2) has a family, close personal, or prior professional relationship with the lawyer.

Everything else in the attorney advertising rules – prohibitions on specific forms of advertising, hard-and-fast disclaimer requirements, vague provisions about “lawyer referral services” and the like – is the crusty accretion of over-regulation.

Josh’s post is worth reading, and I’m convinced he’s right.

While most lawyer marketing is pretty awful, consumers are better off if they can find a lawyer when they need one. Marketing facilitates that, even if it isn’t always pretty. Our only concern ought to be whether legal marketing is misleading. And the in-person solicitation ban just makes sense, because many lawyers would become hard-sell pests without it.

I’d rather see ethics boards aggressively police false and misleading marketing than waste time cracking down on lawyers who forget to include ATTORNEY ADVERTISING disclaimers on their Twitter profiles.

Featured image: “office garbage with metal basket” from Shutterstock.

Categories: Teknoids Blogs

Podcast #3: Carolyn Elefant on Advance Planning for Going Solo

Tue, 01/20/2015 - 07:12

Interview: Carolyn Elefant

Carolyn Elefant probably does not need much introduction here. MyShingle, which she started in 2002, is one of the longest-running law blogs on the Internet, and serves as a kind of celebration of solo practice. Carolyn has written two books, Solo by Choice and (with Niki Black) Social Media for Lawyers: the Next Frontier.

In today’s podcast, we discuss what you can and should do in advance if you are planning to go solo. Part of advance planning is psychological stuff, like setting a date. Some of it is practical, like building savings and “practicing” for your solo budget, whether to get malpractice insurance, and when to take which steps. And some of the issues are ethical, like what you can do before you leave your current firm. Of course, we also spend some time talking about how to get clients.

Question: Should You Go “Naked”?

This episode’s question was posted to #AskLawyerist on Twitter by @kainanoo:

@lawyerist any benefits filing as a PC or PLLC instead of a sole proprietorship? Same taxes, same liability, less paper work #asklawyerist

— Kiananoo (@kiananoo) December 9, 2014

Carolyn and I also discussed this during her interview, but Aaron and I recap in the Q&A segment. This question is up near the top of the list of questions lawyers always ask about going out on their own.

Listen and Subscribe

To listen to the podcast, just scroll up and hit the play button.

Thanks to Ruby Receptionists for sponsoring this episode of our podcast.

To make sure you don’t miss an episode of the Lawyerist Podcast, subscribe now in iTunes or Stitcher. Or find out about new episodes by subscribing to the Lawyerist Insider, our email newsletter. We will announce new episodes in the Insider, and you can listen to them right here on Lawyerist.

To ask a question for us to answer in future episodes of the Lawyerist Podcast, send your question to email@lawyerist.com or use the hashtag #AskLawyerist on Twitter.

Categories: Teknoids Blogs

More Good Advice on Asking Lawyers for Advice

Mon, 01/19/2015 - 17:45
“First, and most importantly, before you ask for advice do whatever legal research you can yourself.”

Randall and I have both weighed in (here’s Randall and here’s me) with tips for asking a lawyer for advice, but Texas lawyer-blogger Mark Bennett has some valuable tips, too.

[W]hen you ask for advice, explain what you think the problem is …. Then explain what work you’ve already done to find the answer …. Then—and only then—explain the facts.

A thousand times this. In fact, this goes for more experienced lawyers and non-substantive topics, too. Bar association listservs are littered with brain-dead subject lines like “Thoughts on defending a deposition …” and “What do you think about Dropbox?” with no further context or explanation. Then the poster gets offended when you send a snarky response.

But I digress. Just go read Mark’s post before you ask a lawyer for advice, whether it’s on suppressing drugs or which scanner to buy.

Categories: Teknoids Blogs

Woman Sues Because Pantyhose Didn’t “Super Satisfy” Her

Fri, 01/16/2015 - 12:06

From Bitter Lawyer via Raw Story:

There’s some groans of satisfaction, some sexxxxy music, and the promise of making your whole body feel refreshed. We’ve always presumed that normal people understood this to be a bit of advertising hyperbole, but apparently not one Meng Wang.

Nope, not Meng Wang at all. From the complaint:

Plaintiff Wang relied on the [Kushyfoot] commercial and believed in the effectiveness and comfort of the Products. To her disappointment she found that the Purchased Products did not even feel different from her regular socks and tights.

View this document on Scribd
Categories: Teknoids Blogs

Let Your Ideal Client Guide Your Marketing Strategy

Fri, 01/16/2015 - 08:08

Everything I think I know about marketing flows from a simple idea: figure out who is your ideal client, and then figure out how to connect with your ideal client before they need a lawyer. This is pretty much the opposite of how I see many lawyers going about marketing.

Many lawyers ask whether they ought to use Twitter or write a blog or join a networking group. This is like asking whether you should use Word or Photoshop for your next project before you know what it is. What if your next project is a spreadsheet? The only appropriate answer is “I don’t know.” Anyone who gives a different answer is probably selling something.

But if you already have a clear picture of your ideal client — your laser-targeted demographic — your marketing strategy will probably be pretty obvious. (Just like once you know your project is to create a spreadsheet, it should be pretty obvious that you ought to use Excel.)

So before try to figure out whether a particular marketing activity (LinkedIn, blogging, a networking group) will work for you, you must have a clear picture of your ideal client.

Your Ideal Client

If you have never gone through this exercise, do it now.

Who is your ideal client? Don’t be lazy and respond with “people accused of a crime who can pay me” or “people who want to file bankruptcy.” Those are just the minimum qualifications, and they aren’t particularly helpful. You need to get more specific.

In fact, get as specific as possible. Here are some questions to get you started:

  • How old is your ideal client?
  • Is your ideal client a man or woman (if it doesn’t matter, flip a coin)?
  • Does your ideal client have a job?
  • What sorts of things does your ideal client like to do after work? On the weekends? (Make a list.)
  • Does your ideal client have a smartphone?
  • Does your ideal client have a car? What kind?
  • Where does your ideal client live, and what sort of housing does he or she live in?
  • Is your ideal client married? Happily?
  • Does your ideal client have children? How many? How old?
  • What are your ideal client’s politics, if any? Does he or she vote or contribute money to candidates?
  • Does your ideal client have a computer? PC or Mac?
  • How does your ideal client get the news?
  • Does your ideal client have a landline? Cable?
  • Does your ideal client live in your town?
  • What sorts of organizations is your client a member of, if any?

Hopefully you get the idea. You may even want to give your ideal client a name. If you want, you can flip through a magazine or a stock photo website to give your ideal client a face.

If you have been practicing for a while, you probably have a pretty clear picture of your ideal client already based on your conversations with your clients. Answering the questions above should be pretty easy, and will just help you clarify the picture you already have.

If you have not been practicing for a while, show your description to your friends and colleagues to make sure you have created a plausible profile.

Your Marketing Strategy

Now, it should be much easier to come up with a marketing strategy. With everything you now know about your ideal client, it should be relatively simple to decide whether pinning business cards to coffee shop bulletin boards is likely to get her attention. Or whether a Facebook fan page is likely to get your ideal client’s attention before or at the time he needs your services.

So, should you use Twitter? Well, does your ideal client use Twitter? If she does, can you even find and follow her (and more like her)? What sorts of things does she like to post? What sorts of people does she follow? Is there a way for you to contribute to the conversation she is already having on Twitter in a meaningful (and memorable) way? Or target her with ads she might pay attention to? Is any of this likely to be effective, or is there a more likely way for you to connect with your ideal client?

Since you know your ideal client pretty well by now, what other opportunities exist? As another exercise, go down the list you made of your ideal client’s characteristics and come up with a way you could adjust your marketing strategy to each one. For example, if your ideal client has a smartphone, could you make your website more mobile-friendly? If he likes scotch, would he come to a scotch tasting if you hosted one?

How can you connect with him days, weeks, or months before he knows he has a problem that a lawyer can help with? What groups could you join that tend to have a high percentage of your ideal clients in them? Would your ideal client see you if you were interviewed for the evening news? Would your client visit your blog regularly, if you had one?

When you have a clear picture of your ideal client, it should be pretty easy to answer these questions and increase the number and quality of the clients who contact you.

Featured image: “This is the best place we can choose” from Shutterstock.

Categories: Teknoids Blogs

MyCase and Firm Manager Get Better at Managing Documents

Thu, 01/15/2015 - 12:32

Folders and files usually go together, but until recently the major cloud-based practice management software has forced all files into a single folder with only tags or categories as an option for sorting.

This week, Bob Ambrogi reported that MyCase added the ability to create top-level folders, and LexisNexis Firm Manager followed quickly in its footsteps (probably just by coincidence).

Related “MyCase User Guide” & “Firm Manager User Guide”

Folders aren’t big news. After all, MS-DOS had folders too, and Dropbox has been around since 2007, with folders the whole time.

But what I hope it portends is the eventual inclusion of real, useful document management within cloud-based practice management software. After all, it’s clunky to use one service for files and another for all your other case information. Hopefully, folders are just the first step to adding Dropbox-like functionality with the security and particular features needed by lawyers.

Featured image: “Folder icon” from Shutterstock.

Categories: Teknoids Blogs

“Those Who Can’t Do, Teach” Apparently Applies to FIU’s Solo Practice Incubator

Thu, 01/15/2015 - 12:11

Related “How to Build a Law Practice Incubator”

The Florida International University LawBridge program “provided highly subsidized office space and personalized training for law graduates wanting to start their own law firms.” Call it a solo practice incubator.

Unfortunately, LawBridge’s own business plan was shaky. Its landlord found a paying tenant and canceled LawBridge’s donated space. Now the program is considering throwing in the towel on the office-space part of the incubator.

Carolyn Elefant describes the situation perfectly at MyShingle:

[T]he FIU incubator program seems like the blind leading the blind. The law school can’t figure out how to fund space unless its donated so it throws up its hands. How’s that for persistence or resilience?

Carolyn has some ideas for FIU if it decides not to bail after all.

Featured image: “Broken Robin’s Egg in Nest on Reflective Surface with White Background” from Shutterstock.

Categories: Teknoids Blogs

MyCase Law Practice Management Software

Thu, 01/15/2015 - 08:11

When MyCase launched, it called itself social practice management software because of the way it is designed from the ground up to facilitate secure communication between lawyers and clients. Communication remains a primary focus even though MyCase has dropped social from its tag line. MyCase’s mobile apps, for example, are not just for lawyers. Clients can also use the apps to communicate with you and keep tabs on their case.

Here’s what you need to know about MyCase, from getting started to using the mobile apps with your clients.

Index Getting Started with MyCase

All you need to get started with MyCase is your email address. Visit the login page and you can be up and running and using the software in moments.

The way to add your first case or contact or appointment should be obvious:

Migrating to MyCase

You can import matters and contacts into MyCase, though you will pretty much have to do it yourself. MyCase has several step-by-step data migration guides, though, and you can always email or call MyCase’s support staff for extra help. That should be enough to help you get started if you are transitioning from another software package.

Still, the data migration options are limited. While you can migrate the important stuff, you will probably have to leave some data behind when you move.

Using MyCase

MyCase’s tabbed user interface should feel familiar to anyone who has used web-based software, and the dashboard contains shortcuts (see above for a screenshot) for most common tasks.

The dashboard also features a feed of recent activity, in case you want to keep tabs on what the rest of the firm is doing, and widgets for upcoming tasks and appointments, pulled from your task list and calendar, respectively. The feed of recent activity is most useful if you have a very small firm (2 or 3 people). Fewer, and the feed will not be very interesting. More, and it will probably move too fast to be useful.

There is also an always visiblt “dock” at the bottom with shortcuts for the date calculator, email integration, timekeeping, and a menu for quickly adding anything you might want to add.

Apart from the dashboard and dock MyCase pretty much does the things all practice management software does, with a few things that are worth highlighting.

  • MyCase’s Workflows feature is really well-implemented, and makes it easy to create templates for tasks and appointments.
  • You can create folders within your cases to help you organize your documents. You cannot create nested folders, though, and you can only create folders within your cases (i.e., not from the Documents tab).
  • The date calculator (in the dock) is handy for quickly calculating due dates (although it does not account for holidays so use it carefully).
Sync and Integrations

MyCase comes with several integrations you can choose to use. You can sync contacts and calendars with Outlook, and you can sync your calendars with Google Calendar. MyCase email integration is simple. You can forward emails to a private email address, then associate them with your cases back in MyCase. (You could probably even automate this using filters in Gmail or Outlook.)

There is just one other integration: a $99 QuickBooks sync add-on that reportedly works quite well — until it doesn’t. At least one MyCase user I talked to said the QuickBooks integration stopped working all of a sudden. This seems to be a problem with QuickBooks, however, not with MyCase. The popular accounting software is not built to play well with other software. If QuickBooks integration is important to you, I think you have to expect that it might be unreliable.

So that’s it. As of this writing, MyCase is pretty shallow when it comes to sync and integrations. That seems to be by design. MyCase is focusing on adding features rather than relying on third-party software and services to fill in. So while MyCase will probably integrate with Dropbox at some point, for example, it will probably beef up its own document management, first.

Mobile Apps

MyCase just released its Android app. Together with its iOS app, that means most lawyers and clients can use the apps.

With the app, lawyers get most of the functionality of MyCase in the browser, in a touch-friendly package. Both apps are universal, meaning they work on both phones and tablets. The iOS app still has not yet been update for iOS 7, and that is starting to feel very overdue, especially since MyCase recently launched its Android app.

While most law practice management apps are just for lawyers, the MyCase apps are also for clients. Clients obviously don’t get to see all the information you do. They only get to see what you have shared with them, which mostly means documents and communications, but can include appointments, tasks, invoices, and anything else you can share in MyCase (i.e., most things).

Lawyerist reader Tom Stubbs did a head-to-head comparison of several practice management software apps, and decided that MyCase’s app is the best:

MyCase has the best app for two reasons. First and most importantly, it allows you to get messages. Clio and Rocket Matter’s apps unbelievably fail to allow that. Second, the search function is better on MyCase. It easily allows you to search across all sources of data. I input a name and it searches contacts, cases, events, etc. In the other apps, the search (at least initially) is limited to the area (contacts, calendar, matters) in which you reside at that moment.

Security

Like all responsible cloud-based software, MyCase uses “bank-grade” security. This means it secures your connection to MyCase’s servers with SSL, and stores your information, encrypted, on those servers. MyCase also offers two-factor authentication, which you should turn on. For (a bit) more information, check out the security summary on MyCase’s website.

So that’s the back-end security. But now that we know emails can be intercepted by just about anyone, security on the front end makes a lot of sense. A secure client portal — like MyCase — for sending messages and sharing documents is a really good idea, whether you just use it for just some messages or for all attorney-client communications.

When you send a message or share a file within MyCase, the system sends out a notice by email, but not the substance of the communication itself:

The client then has to log into MyCase to get the message or document. This makes the client portal a bit more of a hassle to use than email, obviously, but it is essential. If MyCase included the message in the notification email, there goes the security.

Remembering a username and password may be just enough of an obstacle that clients won’t want to use it, in fact. I have talked to a couple of MyCase users whose clients have shown no interest in the client portal.

Increasing security usually adds complication, but it may be worthwhile, anyway. In this case, communicating through MyCase is far more secure than communicating through email. If your clients use the apps, they can get at their communications much more easily (though you should probably caution clients against using the MyCase apps on an employer-provided smartphone).

Backing Up Your MyCase Data

Backing up your data from MyCase is simple. Just go to Settings > Import / Export > Full Backup and download a .zip file with all your data. It doesn’t get much easier than that. According to the MyCase knowledgebase, you can only do this once per day, but that should be more than enough.

Of course, MyCase also backs up your data regularly, but you should definitely take advantage of the option to download your own copy regularly.

Evaluating MyCase for Your Practice

There is only one way to find out if MyCase is right for your law practice: sign up for the free trial and give it a try. The best way to do it is probably to pick one or two willing clients to act as guinea pigs and try it with you.

However, it doesn’t hurt to see what others have to say. Here is a non-comprehensive list of MyCase reviews. I have included the dates, because anything more than a few months old is probably too far out of date.

Price

At just $39/user/month (and just $29/user/month for staff), MyCase is the least-expensive of the “big three” cloud-based law practice management software packages. More importantly, you can try it free for 30 days, so you might as well.

Updates
  • 2014-10-21. Added Jeff Taylor’s review at The Droid Lawyer.
  • 2015-01-15. Revised with new features from MyCase’s January 2015 updates. Promoted to the front page.
Categories: Teknoids Blogs

How to Challenge a Gag Order

Wed, 01/14/2015 - 13:07

At the Columbia Journalism Review, Jonathan Peters offers some information and advice for journalists who want to challenge a gag order to get access to newsworthy court documents.

I thought it might be helpful to add some broader analysis of when it’s proper for a judge to gag people or to restrict access to court records. I hope these notes will add to the coverage so far, and help any journalists facing similar restrictions. (These are the general principles, so there may be slight variations from one jurisdiction to the next.)

It’s a good primer (or refresher) for lawyers, too.

Featured image: “Man with tape over his mouth.” from Shutterstock.

Categories: Teknoids Blogs

If You Want to Improve Your Law Practice, Start Experimenting

Wed, 01/14/2015 - 12:44

Well put by Lee Rosen:

Experimenting is essential. It’s the root of all growth. Every hire is an experiment. Every new form is an experiment. Every change is the lobby background music is an experiment. You either maintain the status quo, or you grow. Growth is about experiments.

Follow Rule #10. Do an experiment. Start now.

I’ve said the same thing in numerous panels and presentations, but surprisingly few blog posts. You should always have an experiment going, whether it is trying late office hours like Lee did, or something else. Here are a few ideas:

  • Try a virtual receptionist like Ruby (or try answering your own phone if you already have a receptionist).
  • Try a flat fee on the next file you open.
  • Try working from home for a week.
  • Do a fire drill to test your tech.
  • Try doing your own trust accounting (or hiring a bookkeeper if you already do it yourself).
  • Try charging for initial consultations (or offering free consultations if you currently charge).
  • Try giving away a blank legal document.

Do it for a reasonable amount of time, collect data, then evaluate your results. Keep experimenting until you find a way to improve your law practice, then test the improvements with more experiments. Make experimenting part of the way you run your law practice.

Featured image: “female scientist and her senior male supervisor ” from Shutterstock.

Categories: Teknoids Blogs

Keep Your Website Copy Up-to-Date

Wed, 01/14/2015 - 07:12

Lawyers are notorious for publishing their websites and then abruptly forgetting about them. Unfortunately, outdated content can quickly diminish a lawyer’s credibility. Do not let an apparent lack of attention to detail or an appearance of being “behind the times” cause you to lose potential clients.

I challenge you to set a resolution for your practice to review your content for expired, outdated, or inaccurate information. This article can help you get started.

Examples of Outdated or Expired Content

If you published your website at least a year ago, I guarantee you have at least one update you can make to your website copy. If you are not sure, then consider these three common areas where outdated or expired content appears:

  • Years of Experience: Most lawyers list their years of experience as a factor to instill trust and reliability. As a way to avoid making updates every year, lawyers will choose to write “more than five years of experience” or “nearly ten years of experience.” But then they eventually forget that those numbers are there, and fail to go in to update once they have hit new practice milestones.
  • Outdated Legal Information: One of the best ways to write content for your audience is to provide detailed information about the legal issues you handle. This may include citing relevant statutes or upcoming legislative action. But statutes change and legislative seasons pass.
  • Outdated Practice Areas: This issue arises in one of two ways: a lawyer’s practice evolves to include or exclude areas that were not included in the initial website release, or a certain legal issue appears or disappears due to legal updates. Recent examples of changes in the law include same sex marriage and the legalization of marijuana.
How to Identify Which Content Needs Updating

One of the most reliable ways to ensure you keep your content updated is to run a content audit on your site.

A content audit is an all-encompassing view of your existing website copy. There are many benefits to running an audit — one of which is ensuring you have an eye on pages that may require updating in the future. The simplest way to run an audit is to first create a full inventory of your site.

The easiest method of capturing your audit in one place is to create a usable content inventory within a single spreadsheet. This spreadsheet should include at least the following items for every page on your site:

  • Page ID
  • Navigation
  • URL
  • Page Title
  • H1 (main header)
  • H2 (subheader)
  • Keywords
  • Meta Description
  • Title Tag
  • Word Count
  • Content Type (Landing Page, Article, Blog Post, PDF, etc.)
  • Content Summary
  • Updates Required? (Yes or No)
  • Date Audited
  • Date Last Updated

The quickest way to gather most of this information is to run Screaming Frog, a free SEO-tool (available for Windows, OS X, and Ubuntu). Once you download Screaming Frog to your computer and run your website, it will automatically report out the main SEO-related items on your site (e.g., URL, Title, H1, description, etc.). From there, you can pull out the relevant data into an Excel spreadsheet or a Google Drive spreadsheet.

At that point, you will need to sit down and spend some time going page-by-page on your website. Review all the content on each page for outdated SEO practices, inaccurate statements, irrelevant content, and other potential content issues. Mark down in your spreadsheet what each page is about and highlight pages that require updates.

This process will take some time if you have a large website. The time spent is well worth it, however, as this audit will help you understand what holes exist in your content, what updates you need to make, and which steps you can take to improve your content to take your site to the next level.

Ensuring Your Content Remains Up-to-Date Moving Forward

It is important that you use your content audit to track your ongoing website activity. Update the inventory spreadsheet as you update your website. And implement an editorial calendar that will help you remain aware of your content as time progresses.

This calendar can be as in-depth as you want it to be. For instance, you could include dates for when you want to run your next content inventory, weekly, or biweekly dates to publish out new blog posts, and as-needed updates to make as you prepare for speaking engagements or CLE presentations.

The trick with a content calendar is that you need to hold yourself accountable to the dates you set. It is far too easy to push off these tasks to “another day” and let them fall by the wayside altogether. If you feel you may fall into this routine, reach out to a colleague to help hold you accountable, have this task as part of one of your staff’s requirements, or outsource the work to your website marketing company. Just make sure you stick to it.

Writing Generalized Copy Is Not the Answer

Related “8 Best Practices for Law Firm Website Content”

If the goal for your website is to drive traffic and/or convert leads to paying clients, then you cannot afford to write generalized, or thin, content. Thin content does not connect with your reader and it does not provide enough information to entice someone to contact you.

Make sure you take time to write compelling, relevant content for your website. Then follow up that initial investment by staying on top of your content through ongoing audits.

Free Content Audit Resources

You do not need to start from scratch to get the content inventory and audit process rolling. Here are several free resources to help you:

Take a look at these free tips and tools, find the ones that work for you, and get started.

Featured image: “Digital Online Update Upgrade Office Working Concept” from Shutterstock.

Categories: Teknoids Blogs