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Security Issues Galore Await You in the Internet Of Things

Mon, 03/16/2015 - 06:12
“Everything will talk to everything, and it will be an enormous legal and security nightmare.”

The Internet of Things (IoT) — what happens when you connect everything to the Internet, from coffee mugs and washing machines to cell phones and cars and jet engines — makes us feel like the Jetsons/Matrix/Dick Tracy future we’ve always wanted is finally here.

There is no doubt you are already familiar with many IoT devices. By 2020, there will be 26 billion Things, and that estimate does not include smartphones, computers, and tablets. Those are just plain old Internet devices. There are already a number of smartwatches, ranging from the aggressively utilitarian to the downright fancy. You can also buy a refrigerator that will let you know if you are running low on beer, thanks to an internal camera and chat app.

Grab some connected home devices alongside the Wink app, and you can tell your smart deadbolt lock to tell your smart lights and smart A/C to turn on as you walk through the door.1

Other IoT devices in the pipeline will have several practical applications for attorneys and professionals. Who doesn’t want a car that will drive itself while you update some case notes? Everything will talk to everything, and it will be an enormous legal and security nightmare.

Now, to be clear, we aren’t talking about an overwrought dystopian horror show where machines come alive like Maximum Overdrive

… though that is definitely terrifying. Instead, we are talking about an Internet of Things that is, at least at this point, nearly completely unregulated.

At first glance, the possibility of things going wrong with Things seems trivial and even a bit comic. Your smart fridge goes mad and orders a metric ton of cheese. In real life, the possibility of your Things going awry are much subtler and actually much worse. The Chairwoman of the Federal Trade Commission, Edith Ramirez, spoke at the Consumer Electronics Show in Vegas earlier this year and outlined some key concerns.

First, your newly connected world is going to collect data. Tons of data.

Ubiquitous data collection refers to the cumulative impact of multiple sensing and tracking technologies, which — working in symphony — could sketch a “deeply personal and startlingly complete picture of each of us”, said Ramirez, with the massive volume of collected data allowing analysis that generates additional sensitive inferences.

Connected devices are also increasing the sensitivity of the data collected, as sensors and devices find their way into the most intimate spaces in our lives: our homes, our cars, and even onto our bodies.

If your car is helpfully collecting data on where you go, how you get there, and how long you stay, you are creating a (quite literal) road map to your client’s location. That might be fine if you retained ultimate control of that data, but the entire point of IoT is that it only works if data is flowing constantly. Worse still, what if your hypothetical future client is an IoT aficionado? She is also going to be creating a road map of her travels — data that may very well be discoverable.

Next, all that data being scooped out of your car, your refrigerator, your thermostat, and your television is not your data. It is data that belongs to Apple, Samsung, LG, Ford, and Microsft, just to name a few. And, Ramirez pointed out, companies have never been shy about selling your data.

So, rather than being used to enhance the experience of the particular product a consumer bought, the data a connected device harvests might be funneled off elsewhere — and be used by prospective employers to judge the merits of a job application, for instance, or insurance companies to ascertain the risk of accepting a new customer, and so on.

Besides creating massive amounts of data that you do not necessarily want that will be kept by private companies, the Internet of Things also holds the potential for data security breaches that will eclipse the scale of the Target or Home Depot breaches.

Related “How to Encrypt Attorney-Client Communications

Twenty-six billion Things all connected together in the next five years? That is twenty-six billion more connected objects that are hacking targets.

Your cool automated home office with the smart thermometer and smart lock? Those devices are running on your home network. Those devices are two more entry points into your wireless network and all of your data.

Regrettably, as much as the FTC seems aware of the potential problems, it does not seem all that interested in regulating the security of these devices. Writing at Re/code, FTC Commissioner Terrell McSweeny offered a very tepid suggestion about the security issues.

To mitigate security risks, the FTC recommends that IoT device manufacturers incorporate security into the design of connected products. Properly implemented, security by design requires manufacturers to consider security throughout the entirety of a product’s lifecycle.

This means, for example, incorporating security practices into the culture of a corporation, bringing security expertise into the design phase of a product, working with vendors who prioritize it, and establishing breach protocols that can be implemented when flaws are discovered or attacks occur. Specific security measures required may depend on a number of factors, including the sensitivity of the information collected by a device and the costs of remedying security vulnerabilities.

While it is nice to think companies will be mindful of security considerations, particularly concerning sensitive material, plenty of companies have shown no restraint collecting and storing mounds of often-unsecured data.

So industry self-regulation seems very much like wishful thinking. It is likely the security landscape of the Internet of Things will be carved out by trial and massive error as new devices become available. So, as appealing as that smart fridge or wireless furnace controller might be, you may wish to exercise some caution in the brave new world of Things for your and your future client’s sake.

Featured image: “Internet of things vector illustration with flat design.” from Shutterstock.

  1. Wink markets this with the ever-so-slightly terrifying tagline “Think of it as teaching your home to think on its own.” 

Categories: Teknoids Blogs

5 Questions to Ask Before Taking a Deposition

Thu, 03/12/2015 - 06:12

Depositions are costly, time consuming, and exhausting. It can also be a complete waste of both your time and money. Before you take a deposition, make sure you really need to.

Depositions for the Wrong Reasons

The decision to depose a witness is sometimes used as a lazy alternative to critically thinking about trial strategy. Here’s a familiar example: say that after concluding written discovery, you are faced with a number of witnesses who might testify at trial. The knee-jerk reaction, especially for lawyers with unlimited budgets, is to depose them all.

A deposition, however, should be a last resort.

First, you need to think about what the witness is likely to say, then ask how this testimony will impact your trial strategy. Viewed this way, some witnesses should not be deposed at all.

A whole category of witnesses, for example, might be friendly to your side and available to testify at trial. A deposition of these witnesses would only benefit your opponent, who would get a helpful preview of the witnesses’ testimony.

At the other extreme are witnesses with damaging testimony who might be unavailable for trial. A deposition risks preserving testimony that would otherwise go unheeded. You might decide not to depose these witnesses either.

Decisions about whom to depose have important consequences beyond trial strategy. You cannot get back the time you spent on an unnecessary deposition. Just as troubling, depositions are very expensive. Deposition costs include outlays for the court reporter, transcripts, room rental, travel, and more.

Clients also expect their lawyers to keep litigation costs under control. For a lawyer wishing to control costs, cutting out unnecessary depositions is an effective way of accomplishing this goal.

5 Questions to Ask Yourself Before Taking a Deposition

In assessing whether a deposition is necessary, ask these questions about each witness.

1. How Important is the Witness to the Case?

To make intelligent decisions about witnesses, you need to know the entire file — claims, defenses, written discovery, and case documents. You also need to think about how the evidence is likely to be presented at trial. Only then can you asses the witness’s importance. If the witness does not have anything to say that will help or hurt your case, you don’t need to depose the witness at all.

2. Is the Witness Available for an Interview?

Friendly witnesses who are under your control usually aren’t good candidates for depositions. To learn what the witness has to say, use the techniques of “informal discovery” and call the witness on the phone or set up a face-to-face meeting. Assuming the witness is available for trial, this might dispense with the need for a deposition. It would be foolish to give your opposing counsel a free preview of testimony.

3. Can You Use Other Types of Informal Discovery?

Informal discovery isn’t limited to friendly witnesses. Assuming there are no ethical barriers (see below), you can interview witnesses before deciding whether to take their depositions. If you decide you want to memorialize a witness’s story, consider a witness statement as an alternative to a deposition. (Keep in mind, however, that witness statements might be discoverable.)

4. Will the Benefits of the Deposition Outweigh Its Cost?

Even when you cannot interview a witness, you might still learn the substance of the witness’s testimony through traditional discovery methods — interrogatories, document requests, or depositions of other witnesses.

Even when the testimony is material, you can still say no to a deposition. At the firm where I started, one of my bosses rarely took depositions. With a background in the criminal courts, where depositions are rare, he was confident he could cross-examine most witnesses at trial without a deposition.

5. Are There Risks to Preserving the Witness’s Testimony?

If a witness has damaging testimony and isn’t going to be available for trial, a deposition might hurt your case. While you often can’t predict all the variables ahead of time, consider the risks before rushing into a deposition. Otherwise, you might be preserving harmful testimony that otherwise would not be available for your opponent to use at trial.

Limitations of Informal Discovery

Sometimes, there is no good alternative to a deposition. A helpful witness, otherwise a candidate for informal discovery,  might not be available for trial. Whole categories of witnesses might be off-limits to informal discovery — corporate employees, for example. Some lawyers decide to depose every adverse expert. (Notably, others don’t.)

Despite these limitations, always consider alternatives to depositions. If you can reduce litigation costs while improving your case, why not try it? Not only will it make you a smart litigator, but your client will thank you for it.

Featured image: “Putting coin into a piggybank” from Shutterstock.

Categories: Teknoids Blogs

10 Lessons You Weren’t Taught In Law School

Wed, 03/11/2015 - 06:12

It is often said law schools fail to prepare students for the actual practice of law.

Yes, law school does a good job at training you to “think like a lawyer” and spot issues, do legal research, draft legal documents, and put together a legal argument. But there are so many practical things that law school doesn’t teach you, especially a number of soft skills. This includes things like social grace, communication, language, personal habits, friendliness, optimism, and resilience.

Here are ten critical skills missing from many law school curricula.

1. How to Handle Conflict

Related “Don’t Let Intimidation Drive Your Litigation Strategy”

Most of the time, your client will be in a conflict with someone else. Your role is to represent the client in the conflict with competence. Most people don’t enjoy being in conflict. Conflict is uncomfortable, triggers stress responses, and can make you angry. Because of our desire to win, it often brings out the absolute worst in all of us.

Law schools should teach ways of engaging in conflict that are constructive, healthy, and maintains civil relationships with opposing counsel. This can be done by valuing emotional intelligence, tact, and grace over aggression. Law schools should teach students that they are a part of the larger legal community, and today’s opposing counsel may be tomorrow’s judge, co-counsel, co-worker, or your best referral partner. Students should never think about an interaction with a particular lawyer as a single transaction.

Law students should also learn different conflict styles and be familiar with their own conflict style. Graduates should come with a toolbox full of different ways of living with, working through, and managing conflict. It’s not enough to teach or talk about civility as an abstract concept. Students should also understand that conflict isn’t inherently bad, and can be used as an opportunity to grow and strengthen a relationship.

2. How to Forgive “Resentment is like drinking poison and waiting for it to kill your enemy.” – Nelson Mandela

I used to walk around with a rolodex of every terrible thing that people said or did to me. This included classmates, bosses, co-workers, judges, opposing counsel, clients, family, and friends.

That’s a lot of baggage to carry around.

When you’re in the conflict management business, people are bound to step on your toes and piss you off. How do you let go of these feelings of anger, resentment, hostility and revenge? How do you stop these experiences from consuming you?

The answer lies with forgiveness. Forgiveness doesn’t mean you forget about what the other person did (that’s probably unwise anyway). It doesn’t mean you have to kiss and mak eup. It’s not about repairing the relationship, although, in certain situations, it can certainly involve that. And it doesn’t mean letting the other person off the hook or condoning their behavior.

The primary beneficiary of forgiveness is yourself.

Law schools can foster an environment where forgiveness is a valued skill by encouraging professors to discuss it in the classroom and give students the opportunity to practice it. To forgive each other can enhance the moral of the student body and increase social bond.

3. How to Have Difficult and Uncomfortable Conversations

I could not have imagined the incredibly difficult conversations I would have with my clients over the years. There are the usual uncomfortable calls to remind a client about an unpaid invoice, quoting a fee, or telling her that you lost a Motion for Summary Judgement.

We constantly deal with incredibly delicate issues and are charged with delivering life altering news yet we don’t receive any training on how to do this. We also don’t receive any training on ways to manage our own internal challenges of being in these difficult situations.

It took me many years to figure out how to manage these difficult conversations with grace, authenticity, and compassion — key ingredients needed to make a good lawyer.

4. How to be Present

Related “How to Increase Focus on Productivity with Mindfulness”

As lawyers, our time is the commodity we trade for money. The more fully present we can be in each moment, the better we will be as lawyers. Luckily, being in the moment is a trainable and learnable skill.

Some law schools are, in fact, teaching contemplative lawyering skills, which includes mindfulness — learning to be in the present moment without preference or judgment.

As lawyers, we must be agile and able to pivot as information is gathered. If our mind is completely preoccupied with thoughts about the future or the past, we can’t be fully be present to process the information available to us, hindering our ability to be agile and pivot when necessary.

5. How to Maintain Physical and Emotional Health

As lawyers, we have a duty to provide competent representation to a client. And to do that, we must maintain our mental, emotional, and physical health.

The key to maintaining your mental, emotional, and physical health is self-care. You must be self-aware enough to recognize and care for your mental health, which requires noticing when you are experiencing stress or anxiety. In order to care for your emotions, you must be able to recognize when you are experiencing negative emotions and find healthy ways of working through them. Maintaining your physical health requires a balance of exercise, rest, and a healthy diet.

Law schools should bring more awareness to this and start teaching law students tools for self-care. This would help many of the problems which is so prevalent in our profession — burnout, depression, alcohol and substance abuse.

6. How to Be Compassionate

When I say compassionate, what I am referring to is our innate feeling of wanting to help when witnessing someone else’s suffering. What I am not referring to is sympathy, being soft, or let’s hold hands and sing Kumbaya.

In our line of work, we often witness a lot of pain. Rarely do clients come into our office to share happy news. In many ways, our relationship to our clients is very intimate. We gain inside information about our client that she wouldn’t share with anyone else. Therefore, our ability to handle the suffering of our clients without losing ourselves is a critically important skill.

Maintaining a healthy balance between our client’s difficulties and ourselves is a skill that can only come with practice. It’s important to know how to be compassionate with our client’s suffering while being compassionate towards ourselves. This is an essential part of self-care. If we can’t recognize that we’re hurting and take time to care for ourselves, we begin to deplete our mental and emotional reserve. When lawyers continue to push ourselves without refilling our reserve, he or she will experience burnout.

7. How to Manage Personal Finances

Law students often graduate with $150,000 or more in student loan debt. Rarely do these students seriously think about what repaying that amount of debt looks like. When I taught a Solo Practice Management course, I was surprised at how few students could answer questions these basic questions:

  • How much do you owe?
  • What will be your monthly minimum payments?
  • How much do you have to earn to be able to repay that loan within a reasonable amount of time?
  • If your gross income was $100,000, what would be your net income?
  • What is your anticipated monthly living expenses?

As a bankruptcy attorney, I’m seeing an increased number of graduates (some law school graduates) who clearly had little or no understanding of what it will take to repay the debt. Even one-day course on personal finance would go a long way in giving students basic tools to help understand and manage their financial futures.

8. How to Manage Law Firm Finances

Related “Law Firm Finances: Everything You Need to Get Started”

For most lawyers, the practice of law is a business. It’s a profit driven activity, yet there is little or no emphasis on the business end of the law practice. This includes things like law firm finance, understanding overhead, hiring/managing staff, how to price your services, as well as marketing and advertising. Some basic knowledge of law firm finance would not only benefit students who are going into solo practice, but also those who go on to work in a law firm.

9. How to Create and Sustain Your Own Brand

Long gone are the days where most law student graduates find a nice associate job, make partner seven years later, and retire at the same firm. Lawyers must actively market and brand themselves. They must also grow and learn to leverage their network. They must figure out their own networking style and understand what works for them. This doesn’t happen overnight. It’s a skill law students should be encouraged to hone from their first day in law school.

Law students should be familiar with social media and proper ways to use it to promote themselves. Too often, law students don’t pay enough attention to networking during law school.

10. How to Collaborate With Others (Nicely)

During my first year in law school, I was doing legal research for a Research & Writing class. When I went to the library to pull the book that I needed, I was horrified to find that the pages I needed had been torn out of the book. Stories like this are all too familiar in law school. I don’t know if law school attracts students who enjoy aggressive competition, or if law school trains them to become this way, but we must equip students with more tools than one.

Law students should understand that even in adversarial situations, cooperation is often critical in moving a case forward towards a resolution. Students should also know you can zealously represent your clients without demonizing the other side. And at the end of the day, you can safely enjoy a beer with opposing counsel.

Featured image: “Image of businessman in blindfold standing on edge of mountain” from Shutterstock.

Categories: Teknoids Blogs

Podcast #10: David Sparks on Going Solo with a Mac

Tue, 03/10/2015 - 06:12

Law school admissions are dropping, but the bar exam is getting harder. Is a smaller bar inevitable? After Sam and Aaron try to figure that out, David Sparks talks about starting a brand-new solo practice, including the Mac tools he is using to make it work.

Lower Admissions Standards, Higher Licensing Standards

Three things that are happening:

  1. Law schools are lowering their admissions standards and even …
  2. … eliminating the LSAT as an admission standard.
  3. Meanwhile, the bar exam is going to be marginally harder due to the inclusion of federal civil procedure.

What does it all mean for the future of law? Are truth, justice, and the American Way hanging by a thread, or will we just finally see a reduction in the population of the American lawyer?

Interview: David Sparks

Our interview with David Sparks is a fascinating look at what happens when a lawyer, Mac power user, and productivity whiz hangs his own shingle — which he did just a few days before we recorded this conversation. Here are some of the apps we discuss:

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, Stitcher, or any other podcast player. 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.

Categories: Teknoids Blogs

7 Ways Cloud Accounting Propels Lawyers to Success (Sponsored)

Tue, 03/10/2015 - 06:11

Brought to you by GLG Accounting,
the premier CPA firm for lawyers.

Surely you like to win, because we sure love that feeling when we’ve just accomplished something really awesome. With tax time here, the stress of having to get the books together and file taxes looms (especially for those who don’t have a solid accounting process in place already). But it doesn’t have to be this way…

You see, cloud computing has transformed the way that we do business and store our data. It has especially hit businesses hard by enabling them to use the power of cloud accounting to their advantage. As a CPA firm that helps many lawyers with their accounting needs, we know how critical it is to keep the numbers right and easy-to-access at all times.

With that said, let’s take a look at how cloud accounting has helped many lawyers win already. Who knows, you could be the next one to let accounting smell its own defeat!

Always know about your cash flow.

Knowing where you stand financially is the first step to experiencing true financial security not only personally, but in your business as well. We use Xero, which is the leading cloud accounting platform on the market that packs powerful features right into your phone (or tablet/laptop). This means that no matter where you’re at, you can always put your finger right on the cash flow of your business.

Picking up the tab for a client lunch? Just snap a pic, upload, and go.

We all love to go out for lunch, especially when it comes to ensuring that we secure the business of a client who we can help win their own battle. The problem is that some of us lose the receipt when we go out, which poses a problem when trying to account for it.

All you have to do with Xero is snap a picture of the receipt with your smartphone and upload it to the cloud using the Xero mobile app. As soon as it’s uploaded, your trusted accountant will be able to see the expense so that they know your financial situation has been updated.

Compliance couldn’t get any better than this!

As lawyers, it’s already known that we have to protect ourselves (especially when it comes to regulatory authorities). Cloud accounting is able to give your accountant the real-time look of your finances (and financial history) to comply with audits and ensure that all filings are completed accurately. Worrying about compliance is now a thing of the past.

Send Bills to Your Clients from Anywhere

When it comes to sending an invoice, kiss the old days of sticking a stamp on it away. Invoices can be sent digitally to your clients right from your phone (and any other Xero-connected devices). Instead of waiting until you get to the office, get everything done at once instead of letting it add up.

Only in the 21st century can something like this be possible, it’s truly a game-changer to say the least.

Make Payments Instantly

Do you have a bill that just came in or do you need to send a payment to an employee? Fear no more, the accounting cloud is here!

You can make payments instantly via your smartphone thanks to the Xero app. The mobility advantages that Xero has is why we’re happy to integrate it into our CPA firm for our clients while revealing the power that is has for those who are just now finding out about it.

Easily Track Your Time

You wouldn’t believe how many lawyers are missing out on money due to the low quality process that they have in place for tracking their time. Time is money, and it shouldn’t be looked at any differently.

Xero allows our clients to efficiently track their time, while providing them with the opportunity to add it to an invoice instantly. Talking about making things quick and easy.

You’re saving trees!

You see them talk about how the cloud saves time and money all of the time, but they didn’t seem to think about the impact it had on our environment! By utilizing cloud accounting, you’re allowing yourself the opportunity to eliminate the waste of paper that used to be all too common in the law firm. The world provides us with beautiful days, so we might as well conserve its resources!

Now you see the big picture, a better form of communication.

This makes it easier than ever to have an accounting system in place for your law firm without having to worry about how much work it causes, because it was designed for growth right out of the gate. It also helps law firms reduce their overhead, increase the effectiveness of their billing, easily manage their payroll (or have it managed for you), and keep a close eye on their financial state.

Since it is tax season, we figured this would be a great time to help you save money on filing. We want to prove that we’ll fight for your business, and we’ll beat anyone’s rate. We also offer a breadth of other accounting services for our clients. Click here to find out what it’s really like to have a first-class accounting experience for your law firm.

Categories: Teknoids Blogs

Strategic Planning for Law-Firm Success and Growth

Mon, 03/09/2015 - 06:12

“Practice Management: Plan to Grow,” by Ed Finkel, was originally published in the March 2015 edition of the Illinois Bar Journal.

“The world is complicated. It doesn’t stay the same forever.”

While nothing is guaranteed in life or law, attorneys and firm management consultants say taking a step back and looking at the big picture, whether you’re a solo practitioner or at a large firm, is essential to knowing where you’ve been, where you’re going, and how you will keep growing. And such a strategic planning process is the best way to achieve success in the long run, even if it seems like you’ve been doing just fine dealing with the day-to-day.

Managing Change

“The world is complicated. It doesn’t stay the same forever,” says Craig Caldwell, department chair in marketing and management at Butler University and a speaker on strategic planning for law firms at the Solo & Small Firm Institute program in Peoria. “Firms can get blindsided by getting too down into the weeds of their business. It’s necessary at times, for the livelihood and success of the firm, to pop your head up, see what’s going on in the marketplace, and see whether your firm needs to make some changes.”

Lack of strategic planning might not negatively impact a law firm as quickly as another type of business — say, a technology firm — because of the highly regulated legal environment, which provides a buffer of sorts from economic and other changes, Caldwell says. “But if there are aspirations for growth, or skill sets within the law firm that simply aren’t as in demand as they used to be, you’re going to find yourself in a scenario where strategic planning is going to be critical,” he says.

Related “Offer Unbundled Legal Services to Compete in Today’s Legal Market”

One current scenario that’s affecting consumer-oriented firms in particular is the trend toward websites that help people handle some of their own legal matters, Caldwell says. “They have a choice to make — do we find other ways to get those dollars that we’ve lost to, or do we join that site?” he says. “If we decide the Internet’s the thing, let’s chase that business.”

The most common strategic issue facing firms in recent years has been how to respond to the economic shift in the legal market since the Great Recession, with fewer clients and a tighter bottom line, says John Olmstead, principal at St. Louis-based consultancy Olmstead & Associates.

“The process doesn’t change. The need for strategic planning doesn’t change,” John says. “Sometimes what changes is the fundamentals and what’s going on, and what firms need to develop strategies to deal with. In recent years, most of the challenges firms are having are the same, everything from pressure on the economics, to resistance from clients to fee increases.”

Don’t React. Have a Plan. “Every day is filled with new opportunities and new curveballs.”

It’s easy for firms to lose sight of the big picture as they’re working through day-to-day matters, says Terrence Truax, managing partner at Jenner & Block in Chicago.

“You have your nose to the stone, you’re working flat out as hard as you can, and it’s difficult to step back and ask those important questions: What is my priority? Where do I want to be in 24, 36 months?” he says.

“That doesn’t mean you don’t react to the moment,” Truax adds. “Every day is filled with new opportunities and new curveballs.”

For smaller firms and solos, there’s always a temptation to do nothing but react to the moment, says Bill Wilson, principal at The Law Offices of Wilson & Wilson and The Center for Estate Planning and Elder Law, based in west suburban LaGrange.

“But then you’re just going to work each day and letting your environment dictate to you how you’re going to manage and work your law firm,” Wilson says. A strategic plan provides “a guidebook where you’re intentionally doing things to get you to a certain point, instead of having clients or other external forces dictate to you where you’re going,” he says.

Firm Size Matters

Olmstead figures that probably three quarters of large firms have strategic plans, while mid-sized firms in the 50-attorney range are closer to 50-50, with the likelihood shrinking to 15 percent or less of firms with 10 attorneys and fewer. “Different approaches to strategic planning [for different-sized firms] would be appropriate,” he says. “The challenges and issues are different.”

Big Firms Hire Big Help

In larger firms, top partners typically sit down, figure out where their practice has been growing and where it’s become stagnant, and decide whether and how to recast lines of business that fall into the latter category, Caldwell says. His talks aren’t tailored to large firms because “they have a lot of their own educational systems — they hire some hotshots and bring them in and pay them a lot of money to walk them through the strategy,” he says.

Jenner has its practice broadly divided between litigation and business transactions groups, with several disciplines in each, and at the beginning of each year each group develops its own strategic plan. Those are then “vetted and cross-examined, and people are being encouraged and challenged in a positive way,” Truax says.

“We ask all the basic questions any business enterprise would be asking. What do we look like today? What are our strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats? Where do we want to be in 12 months, and in five years?”

The plans are revisited throughout the year iteratively, Truax says, which “requires focus and discipline, making sure everybody stays on message. They’re refined throughout the year; we ask people to pull together their plans and test them.”

Breaking Out of Crisis Mode at Small Firms “It’s hard to think long term when you can’t think through the current day.”

In smaller firms, there are fewer people involved and fewer decisions to make but also less time, Caldwell says. “People don’t engage with the same discipline because they’re doing work,” he says. “They’re fighting fires, meeting deadlines, getting things filed in court.” Plus, he adds, “They don’t have the resources to hire an expert to do it for them.”

Small firm attorneys need to pick out a time and day, on a regular interval, to pop their heads out and look around, Caldwell says. “It requires the discipline to say, Friday afternoon, from noon to 5, we’re going to sit down, and not be billable, and work through some stuff about what we’re going to be when we grow up,” he says. “Three to five years from now, what are we going to be doing?”

Wilson finds it very important to “disconnect” when he creates his strategic plans, “meaning I get off premises,” he says. “I need to do that where the phone isn’t ringing, or I’m tempted to look at my e-mails.

“I go off site and hibernate. Then I come back and talk to the people I need to talk to, my bookkeeper, marketing person, other attorneys, to figure out how are we going to get there, and what do we need to do? I start soliciting some advice. I have my own ideas, but they’re more down in the trenches and know a lot of things I don’t know, or forgot, or need to keep in mind.”

Firms should not confuse strategic planning with crisis management, Olmstead says — and the latter is more urgent. “In some of the smaller firms, especially, I’ve run across some where I’ve advised them, ‘You guys have so many tactical issues going on in the swamp; you’re trying to survive day to day. Until you do some things as far as operations in the short term, maybe you shouldn’t think about strategic planning,'” he says. “It’s hard to think long term when you can’t think through the current day.”

For example, Olmstead has worked with firms who have legal accounting software but need to hire a consultant to pull reports for them. “If they’re not using technology right, and they can’t even pull any basic reports to know how they’re performing financially, they can’t pull together reports as far as what they’re paying their people, if they don’t have a website or some of those basic things – and you’d be surprised how many don’t. If they’ve got 14 or 15 attorneys and don’t have an office manager in place,” they should take care of that first, he says.

The Challenge Intensifies For Solos

Related “Going Solo: Debunking the Top Ten Fears”

Sole practitioners face particular challenges, Olmstead says, because figuring out what they are trying to do and where they want to take their practice – and what steps they need to take to get there – ideally should not be a solo activity. “It’s hard to do a long-range strategic plan by yourself,” he says. “It’s not something you do in one sitting, and you need somebody looking over your shoulder, whether that somebody might be your spouse or your staff person.”

Olmstead worked with a solo practitioner in Iowa who did not realize he was only paying his associate of 10 years a $60,000 salary – or that he himself had only cleared $20,000 the previous year. “He sent me his numbers, and I’m looking at the financials, and they’re terrible,” he says. “When I say I ought to be seeing $300,000 in fee revenue per year, that’s an achievable number, and I’ve got some who are barely doing $100,000. I told one guy, ‘I hate to say this, but your effective rate is $45 per hour.’ It involves internal analysis and benchmarking.”

Implementing and Measuring Results

Because attorneys tend to enjoy discussion and debate, the process of putting together a strategic plan can seem natural and appealing, Olmstead says. “The bigger challenge is getting them to implement anything. [The plans] go into books, they go on shelves, and very little happens as a result,” he says.

A plan that isn’t implemented is only a list of suggestions. Here’s how to increase the odds that strategic planning will lead to real progress.

Don’t Bite Off too Much

It’s important to keep things manageable, Caldwell says. He cautions smaller firms not to take on more than one or two significant strategic initiatives at one time. “To take on more is simply not tenable because there are not enough horses,” he says.

That goes for the planning document, too, Olmstead adds. “Most of the [plans] I’ve done for 15 and 25 attorney firms and under, particularly even smaller ones, will typically be 10 pages or less,” he says. “To me, if you can keep them briefer and to the point, as opposed to carrying on and making these things too elaborate, they’ve got a much better chance of implementation.”

Define Goals Clearly

Related “The Importance of Long-Term Goals for Your Practice”

“If you’re going to get into family law going forward, you have to have some ideas about what success is going to look like before you launch it,” Caldwell says. “If you’re wanting to grow your corporate law practice, maybe it’s the snagging of three to five major accounts, something that will let you know you’re getting a little bit closer to what the plan had set out for you.”

Make Results Accountable

Be sure to assign responsibility for specific planks of the strategic plan, Caldwell says. “To the extent you can reduce implementation down to metrics that let you know how much progress you’re making, that’s critical,” he says. “And then also, it’s important to get back to people in the organization with feedback about how things are going.”

Olmstead agrees. “I want to know: When are we going to do it, and whose name am I putting in the box, and when is this task going to start,” he says. “It needs to get down to the nitty-gritty, hold people accountable for some of the action items you’re going to get done. Otherwise, it’s just one of those non-billable activities.”

Move Quickly

While a larger firm might take six months from the kickoff meeting to the presentation at the end, smaller firms can get such plans finished in a month — and that’s probably wise given that they don’t have the professional administrators and other support staff in place to help out, Olmstead says.

“They may only have one shot at doing it,” he says. “They’re not going to have the patience for a time commitment over a period of months. It might have to happen in a retreat setting. You do the pre-work, financial review and analysis, beforehand. And then we lock ourselves up for a day or two in a retreat-type setting and basically work through the whole process.”

Measure Results

To measure success financially and otherwise, Jenner uses a range of metrics and compares performance throughout the year against the strategic plan, monthly, biannually, and annually, Truax says. “That will guide us as to whether we’re moving forward with respect to that strategic objective,” he says. “There may be all kinds of reasons why your performance deviates from the plan, but we measure that on an ongoing basis.”

Related “Strategic Planning for Small Law Firms”

What sort of metrics? Wilson’s strategic plans go out five years and attempt to project for each year the gross revenue, net income before taxes, the number of people he will employ, and numbers of matters he expects to handle. He measures his marketing success in terms of numbers of articles published, newsletters contributed to, seminars delivered, and new contacts and referral sources. “From that, we would also try to back in the number of new clients we would get each year,” he says. “These obviously are all projected goals.”

Wilson considers his plans living documents that he revisits continuously to see how well the firm’s efforts are matching the vision laid out. “If my plan is to increase estate administration and asset planning, and I see we’re putting too much time into real estate, I’m not adhering to my plan,” he says. “The reason it’s important is because it’s a guide for a firm to keep on topic and on goals, so we can always look back and bring it up at a monthly meeting.”

Featured image: “Businessman Working on Project About Business Growth” from Shutterstock.

Categories: Teknoids Blogs

Dear Public: No, the Fajita Lawsuit is Nothing like the Hot Coffee Lawsuit

Fri, 03/06/2015 - 12:05

Look, I love a good laugh at a ridiculous lawsuit as much as the next person, but fajitas AND "hot coffee" already returns 7 pages of search results on Google for the last 24 hours. The results include comments like this:

Too bad McD’s didn’t get the same consideration while they were sued by that old lady over hot coffee several years back. Yup, folks, both sizzling fajitas AND hot coffee are, well………………very hot.

And this:

Well, thankfully, the appellate court got this one right. Now, if they could “undo” the hot coffee/McDonald ruling. Sheez….

But the two cases don’t have anything in common apart from a hot food item. In fact, the McDonald’s case was so widely misunderstood there is even a documentary that explains what really happened:

The difference in a nutshell: (1) The coffee was much hotter than normal coffee (edit: maybe not, according to Wikipedia) — hot enough to cause _third-degree burns. The fact that the coffee was much hotter than you would expect was not remotely obvious from the coffee cup. (2) McDonald’s already knew people were getting burned by its coffee — it had plenty of notice that its coffee was dangerously hot and that people weren’t aware of it.

Here, you have an man who bent over a sizzling platter of meat, which was exactly as hot as you would expect, and which behaved exactly as you would expect a plate of sizzling meat to behave. And he got burned. Exactly as you would expect.

Similarly, his lawyer signed up a client with a ridiculous case, and he got burned, too. Exactly as you would expect.

Categories: Teknoids Blogs

How to Run Effective Meetings

Fri, 03/06/2015 - 07:12

Lawyers have a lot of meetings. To make your meetings effective and avoid wasting time, follow these steps.

Determine Your Purpose

First, decide the purpose and goal for your meeting. Once you know what you are trying to accomplish, you can decide on the meeting structure by answering this questions:

  • Will it be a free-flowing discussion?
  • Will participants have a set time to speak?
  • Is this a brainstorming meeting to generate ideas, an action-based meeting to identify next steps and responsibilities, or a task-based meeting to accomplish a particular assignment?
  • Does the meeting address a time-sensitive issue that must be addressed right away, or is it a future-oriented, planning meeting?

The meeting’s purpose will also drive the attendance. Attendance can make or break your meeting: inviting too many people can unnecessarily complicate it, but inviting too few (or the wrong people) can hinder progress.

Set the Agenda and Communicate in Advance

Create an agenda for the meeting with topics to be discussed and persons responsible. Show that you respect the time of all involved and set limits for discussion, with a concrete beginning and ending time for the meeting.

Advise attendees of the date and time of the meeting. Communicate the purpose of the meeting, goals, and agenda to all participants in advance of your meeting so they can prepare. Request that participants confirm his or her attendance. Send out a meeting reminder the day before the meeting to confirm.

The Optimal Meeting

Start on time and stick to your agenda. Begin by repeating the goal of the meeting. If unrelated issues arise that must be discussed during the meeting, request agreement of the participants to continue the meeting. Clearly establish that only those individuals involved in that particular project or issue be required to stay. If non-urgent issues arise, table them for a meeting specifically for that purpose at another time.

Designate one person to be the meeting facilitator to stay on point and on time. You can also assign a time-keeper to keep an eye on the clock and remind the facilitator.

To obtain maximum participation, make the meeting a “safe place” for people to express their opinions without judgment or ridicule. Allow each person the opportunity to speak, but don’t let one person take over the meeting. Obtain different perspectives by asking open-ended questions.

When controversy arises, look for points of agreement.

Before concluding the meeting, develop an action plan and next steps. Set deadlines for the tasks identified and assign responsibility for those tasks to specific groups or individuals.

Post-Meeting Actions

Even if you don’t take minutes of the meeting, make sure that the main goals, decisions, deadlines, and responsibilities determined during the meeting are communicated afterwards to make follow up and future meetings more productive — even for those who were unable to attend. Follow up individually with those who have action steps to complete.

  • 2010-09-15. Originally published.
  • 2015-03-06. Revised and republished.

Featured image: “Group of Business People Discussing on a Cafe” from Shutterstock.

Categories: Teknoids Blogs

Get the Office 2016 for Mac Preview Right Now

Thu, 03/05/2015 - 12:16

I feel like we were originally told this would be Office 2015, but whatever. You can get a not-4-years-old-and-feels-15-years-old version of Office for Mac right here, right now!

Categories: Teknoids Blogs

Four Reasons Billing By the Hour is a Competitive Disadvantage

Thu, 03/05/2015 - 07:12

Customers expect much more than a resolution to their legal problems. They expect gold-class service and value. Unfortunately, the billable hour model is handicapping your ability to provide gold class value that customers will expect in the future for the following four reasons:

1. The Billable Hour Destroys Innovation

For a while now, clients have recognized that a shift away from the billable hour would increase efficiency and the quality of legal services. Lawyers have been slower to embrace the concept.

Until last year, the vast majority of the family law firms in my local bar turned over disclosure via mail or hand delivery. (And the vast majority of those firms where charging their clients copy costs and paralegal rates to make the copies.) Digital copies of pleadings and documents to clients were the exception rather than the rule.

This only changed because our bar association mandated electronic service of documents.

The billable hour guarantees every hour that you spend on innovation takes away from your income. After all, you only have twenty-four hours in a day. And if you allocate time away from billing clients to innovation and technology upgrades, you will be decreasing the total value of your case under the billable hour.

Investing time and money in a top-notch online collaborative portal? Since it saves time, you would actually decrease the total value of your case because your paralegal wouldn’t need multiple hours to organize, copy, and sort disclosure records.

Thinking of using your firms collective knowledge to create a form bank with automated document creation using document assembly software? The billable hour penalizes you for building such firm assets because they decrease the amount of time needed to execute a project like drafting documents. You could have the collective wisdom of a hundred lawyers in your firm’s knowledge bank that automatically generates 95% of a pleading from the click of a few buttons. These pleadings could be superior to your competitions’ pleadings and you could create them in a fraction of the time.

But doing so would only devalue your case under the billable hour, because it would take you less time.

2. The Billable Hour Does Not Capture Value

Creating a knowledge bank that generates automated forms does not work under the billable hour because the billable hour fails to capture value.

The billable hour simply measures time. But value in the eyes of your client is completely unrelated to time. And while you can increase your hourly rate, you are still pricing your services on time, just with a higher dollar amount per minute.

Sam wrote here about staying up late thinking through a case, before finally falling asleep only to dream about the case. Gerry Spence talks about keeping a notepad by his bedside, only to wake up to hurriedly scribble out ideas for a case.

You can’t bill for dreaming. Yet for many lawyers, it is the constant mental tinkering with the problem that leads to striking gold — to having the brilliant “ah-ha!” moment that redefines the structure of the case.

Oddly enough, you will bill more for the time it takes to tell your client about your brilliant new strategy than for the time it took you to come up with the idea itself.

This is a problem.

Clients want value. Whether you are servicing businesses or customers, the best clients will pay you handsomely as long as you can deliver value that exceeds the money you charge.

3. The Billable Hour is an Atrocious Measure of Performance

My firm tracks billables and rewards performance when lawyers meet hourly goals. Much better measures of performance exist; we just don’t have time to worry about them.

Yet I wonder where we would be if for the last couple of years we measured:

  • Turnover time: Many clients’ goals include minimizing the time of their case from start to finish. Measuring the turnaround time for the distinct phases of a divorce case would align with this goal and indicate that cases are moving and deadlines are being met.
  • Client happiness: Happy clients refer more cases. More cases are good for business. Surveying your clients’ satisfaction is an effective way to measure client happiness. The Net Promoter Score (NPS) is a simple one-question survey that will generate a high response rate and assign a quantifiable number to measure happiness. Moving the score up on a monthly basis is a much better way to recognize achievement than counting hours.
  • Unilateral client calls: Related, how about measuring the number of calls lawyers make to clients just to check in and see how they are doing?

My firm has been working on implementing the three measures outlined above. It has been more difficult than anticipated because the culture of the firm relies on the billable hour. For example, we would lose the goodwill received from our clients if we billed them for calling just to see how things are progressing. Yet it is difficult to tell a lawyer whose compensation is tied directly hours billed that we need them to call clients every Friday afternoon and mark the call as non-billable.

If your clients are not getting great service, they will let the world know it with their fingertips. The firms that will be successful in the future will care about their customers so much they will measure and reward their people who care the most. The billable hour impedes those measurements.

4. The Billable Hour Causes Tension Between the Client and the Lawyer

Most painfully, the billable hour causes tension and erodes trust between you and your client.

When you are billing by the hour, the client assumes all the risk. That may sound good at first but it impedes your ability to establish strong client ties — the kind of ties that make your clients “customers” for life and motivates them to tell potential leads what an amazing lawyer you are.

And because the client shoulders all the risk, few lawyers will spend the time and energy necessary at the beginning of a case to scope the anticipated cost. Family law attorneys in particular often decline to give estimates of legal fees due to the uncertainty in the amount of hours required to complete a case. This leaves your client in the dark. If the case spirals out of your control, the client has no choice but to foot the heavy legal costs or be left out in the dark.

This creates tension in the lawyer-client relationship.

At the end of the day, clients expect much more from their business vendors today than they did just ten years ago. This includes your clients. But while the billable hour may make pricing and profit forecasting easier, it is increasingly putting your firm at a competitive disadvantage. It makes you focus on the wrong measurements and metrics, and it takes away your attention from what the client really wants.

Featured image: “Clock with words ‘time a new plan’ on its face” from Shutterstock.

Categories: Teknoids Blogs

Dear Lawyers: It’s Not Word, It’s You

Wed, 03/04/2015 - 07:12
“The ability to beat text into submission via formatting work-arounds and hacks does not indicate that you know how to skillfully use Word.”

Here are two important facts about Microsoft Word:

Fact 1: 100% of the formatting problems you’ve experienced when drafting new documents can be completely avoided before they occur.

Fact 2: When editing a document someone else drafted, any formatting glitches can be resolved in just a few clicks, no matter how bad of a mess it is.

Unfortunately, the foregoing facts are true only if you have mastered Word.

If, instead, you feel like every complex document turns into a wrestling match, don’t feel bad. Only a tiny percentage of Word users have achieved domination. In my decades of experience, even people who feel they know what they are doing with Word have almost always misdiagnosed themselves. The ability to beat text into submission via formatting work-arounds and hacks does not indicate that you know how to skillfully use Word.

Word should be doing the work for the user, not the other way around.

Most users find Word to be pretty frustrating when drafting or editing documents with complex formatting. This is because many of Word’s most important features are either concealed or nearly impossible to figure out without research and training.

Related “Five Microsoft Word Rules You Must Follow”

For example, the most important feature one must understand in Word is styles, and nothing in Word’s interface indicates this. Clicking around in Word will not reveal what styles are, how they work, or how to control them. Word’s (fairly useless) built-in help sheds little light on the subject. I can give you all of the steps to construct a 5-level deep, auto-paragraph numbered outline that works perfectly in every situation thanks to styles. However, you can use Word every day for the rest of your life and not stumble upon those steps or discover what they are by accident.

Related “Using Microsoft Word Styles”

Having said that, styles are definitely not difficult or illogical for you to use once you understand them. To the contrary, styles are a wonderful formatting tool that allow you to completely control font-and-paragraph formatting in your documents in all situations. It’s just that these features are not easily mastered simply by using Word.

The fact that mastering Word requires training isn’t the problem; the problem is that most people don’t expect a word processor to be that complicated. There’s a general assumption that simply using the program over time will increase one’s skill with it. I’m here to tell you that this assumption is patently false when it comes to Word.

For example, I ran a quick search on Amazon for Word 2013 manuals. Here’s what I found:

  • Microsoft Word 2013 (Signature Series) by Rutkosky and Roggenkamp is 1,152 pages
  • Word 2013 Bible by Bucki is 1,056 pages
  • Word 2013 In Depth by Wempen is 1,008 pages.

The page counts alone would indicate that there’s a lot more going on here than most people expect.

In my experience, you can only build Word proficiency by working through comprehensive manuals or taking hands-on classes. Most people would rather clean toilets than read software manuals, but you have to keep in mind that not all classes are created equal. The critical issue is that legal professionals need to understand word processor functionality that most people do not need to use.

“Ultimately, you can’t complain about the politicians if you don’t vote; and you can’t gripe about the technology if you don’t attempt to educate yourself.”

As a professional, you need to know how to turn page numbering on and off in the middle of a document, start it over, and switch from romanettes to Arabic and back again. You need to understand how to use Word’s table of contents and table of authority feature, how automatic paragraph numbering works, and how to control styles. These are precisely the kind of features ignored in Word classes designed for the general public. So it is important to find legal-specific training that will address these issues.

For years, I’ve heard experienced Word users complain that Word can’t do this and can’t do that. I always ask those complaining if they’ve ever read a whole manual on Word or taken a hands-on class. Invariably, the answers are no. When I demonstrate how easily one can do all of the things they were complaining about, they often look at me like I just pulled off some kind of David Copperfield magic trick. Once you learn how the program works, it’s not complicated (and I’m no magician).

Ultimately, you can’t complain about the politicians if you don’t vote; and you can’t gripe about the technology if you don’t attempt to educate yourself. The thing to remember with Word is that practice does not make perfect unless you know what to practice; and simply using the program won’t reveal it.

Featured image: “Illustration of a monochrome cartoon character (modified)” from Shutterstock.

Categories: Teknoids Blogs

Podcast #9: Ali Grace Marquart’s Fashion Law Boutique

Tue, 03/03/2015 - 07:12

Entertainment lawyer Ali Grace Marquart recently made Forbes’ 2015 30 Under 30 list for law and policy. She talked about the unusual path she took to owning a successful fashion law boutique, what success means at this point in her career, and how she represents clients all over the world from her office in New York.

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, Stitcher, or any other podcast player. 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.

Categories: Teknoids Blogs

How to Keep Your Solo Practice Sustainable and Lean

Mon, 03/02/2015 - 07:12

One of the biggest issues for solo attorneys, especially new ones, is figuring out how to balance the books and keep overhead costs low. Here are six ways to reduce costs and keep your firm profitable.

Be a Minimalist “When you start your practice, you should worry about two things besides taking care of your clients: keeping the lights on and paying yourself consistently.”

I’ve been running my own firm for nearly four years, and I’ve seen countless other firms open and close within that time frame.

Related “The Myth of More Time for Billing”

The number one mistake these firms make is adding overhead that’s not necessary. Typically, a new solo gets a really nice (and expensive) office in a prime location without having any business. Or a new solo hires an administrative assistant before they can really afford one.

When you start your practice, you should worry about two things besides taking care of your clients: keeping the lights on and paying yourself consistently.

At the start of your practice, you will probably spend a lot of time sitting in your office, waiting, and hoping that the phone will ring. There is no need to pay someone else to sit there with you. And do not assume that a good month or two means you have hit the jackpot and are ready for the big time. Wait until you have had a string of good months before you deciding to upgrade your office or hire a part-time assistant.

Stop Killing Trees

Running a paperless office will save you money.

Related “Going Paperless: Everything You Need to Get Started”

You can rent a smaller office because you don’t need extra storage space for files. Generally speaking, less space means lower rent. And instead of having a big office in the suburbs, you can pay the same for a smaller office in a prime location.

You will also save money on paper and postage. Mailing briefs, client information, and bills gets more and more expensive every year. Fax service is usually perfectly acceptable, which mean you can use an e-fax services. When I serve documents in state court, I fax it and email a courtesy copy. That saves money on postage and paper. Plus, I don’t have to walk to the mailbox.

Another advantage of running a paperless firm is that you can work remotely. I don’t need to come into my office to pick up the Smith file — everything is scanned and stored on my hard drive. I also don’t need to come into my office because I need to print and mail something.

The only caveat here is that you will need to spend around $425 up front to buy a ScanSnap, but that cost will pay for itself within a matter of months with the money you will save elsewhere.

Find Alternative Research Sources

I admit I miss the ease and utility of Westlaw. At the same time, I do not have any desire to pay the rates that Westlaw charges.

Through my state bar association, I have access to Fastcase. It is not as robust as Westlaw, but it certainly gets the job done. Google Scholar, a free option, also appears to be getting better by the day. If you practice in a niche area, your bar association may offer a free service to deliver recent opinions via email. That will help you stay on top of the most recent case law in your practice area.

Check around to see what other options are available to you, especially if your practice is not motion-practice heavy. Chances are good you can survive without paying a ton for research. And if you find yourself in a pinch, you can always use the public access terminal at the law library.

Tackle Your Own Administrative Tasks

I’m not particular fond of doing my own bookkeeping, opening and closing files, running to the bank, etc. At the same time, if I hired someone else to do these tedious tasks, I’d have to pay them, which is a huge increase in overhead. Quite frankly, some months my firm could afford that expense, and other months it would be a problem. Until I get to the point where the firm is overflowing with money (wishful thinking), I’m not hiring anyone.1

On the plus side, tackling my own administrative tasks means I know exactly how my firm’s finances look month-to-month. Knowing this about my firm helps me adjust my workflow and overheard as needed.

For example, if the trust account is getting low, then it’s time to revisit clients on retainer and make sure they refresh their retainers. If the cases need to be closed, then I need to spend time closing those files and pound the pavement for some new clients.

Answer Your Own Phone

Related “Maybe You Shouldn’t Answer Your Own Phone. Here’s Why.”

I have always been a big proponent of answering your own phone. After using Call Ruby for the majority of this year, I’ll probably go back to answering my own calls for these reasons:

  1. It’s not cheap to pay someone else to answer your phone.
  2. If you are using a virtual answering service, they will not do much more than take a message or provide your voicemail. If the caller is a potential client, you still have to talk to them.
  3. In my practice area, clients want to talk to an attorney ASAP. They might leave a message with an answering service or on your voicemail, but by the time you call them back they may have found someone else. It doesn’t make sense to pay someone to take messages for potential clients who will always remain potential clients.
  4. If your marketing is well-targeted, you should want to talk to every potential client who calls you because you are the best person to help them. You are also in the best position to evaluate if they are a good client with a good case. Having someone else do that will save time in the short run, but will cost you time and money in the long run.
Write Your Own Website Content

A great way to plant a seed about your services before you even meet your next client, is to write great website content.

If you outsource someone else to write your copy, it’s not the same. One, you are paying for it. And if you’re not paying much, it’s probably not very good content. Two, go look at a few law firm websites, and I bet you can tell who writes their own copy. From what I’ve heard from prospective clients, they can tell too. Outsourced material (especially stuff written by marketing/social media “experts”) reads like a sales pitch. If you write it yourself, it will come across like you know what you are doing.

Running your own solo firm comes with numerous benefits and lots of new responsibilities. Make sure you can keep your solo practice running until it succeeds by keeping costs down and overhead low.

Featured image: “Business man drawing graph of profit compare with cost” from Shutterstock.

  1. I do hire outside help to prepare my taxes. But I do my own accounting and bookkeeping. It can get annoying. A couple of times a year I have to come in on a Saturday morning for a few hours to do billing and balance the books. 

Categories: Teknoids Blogs

Podcast #8: Aaron Hall’s Client-Satisfaction Guarantee

Sun, 03/01/2015 - 22:45

Sam and Aaron talk with Jeena about why jerky law students become jerky lawyers, and then Aaron Hall explains why and how he is giving some clients a satisfaction guarantee.

Jerks in the Legal Profession

Two possibly-related things:

  1. Lots of lawyers are jerks (and not necessarily in a way that benefits clients).
  2. There is a movement to “humanize” law school.

Jeena Cho joined us briefly to explore the potential relationship between those two things and the surprising reaction to her HuffPo article (link #1, above) in which she argued that lawyers shouldn’t be jerks.

Interview: Aaron Hall

Aaron Hall’s firm recently started offering a satisfaction guarantee to some clients. In other words, clients can unilaterally write down their bill if they aren’t happy with it. In this interview, we discussed the why, how, and the promising early results.

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, Stitcher, or any other podcast player. 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.

Categories: Teknoids Blogs

Call for Submissions: Lawyerist’s 2nd Annual Short-Fiction Contest

Sun, 03/01/2015 - 07:12

Our short-fiction contest is open to all writers. If you have a story to tell (in 5,000 words or less), we want to read it! Submissions are due on June 1st, and the top two entries will receive cash awards and be published right here on Lawyerist.

Submission Guidelines

Entries must be original works of fiction of no more than 5,000 words that feature a lawyer as a prominent character. Entries must be submitted by email to no later than June 1, 2015.

The top entries will be posted on Lawyerist. The top two entries will receive cash awards of $200 (first place) and $100 (runner up). The top entries will also be published on

By submitting a work for consideration, you grant Lawyerist Media, LLC, a perpetual, irrevocable, non-exclusive license to publish the work in any format, print or digital.

Contest entries will be judged by an independent panel selected by the editor of The winner and runner up will be announced as soon as possible.

Last Year’s Winners

Featured image: “Pensive writer working on her book” from Shutterstock.

Categories: Teknoids Blogs

Do NOT Let Your Client Write Your Petition for a Writ of Certiorari

Fri, 02/27/2015 - 16:46

Howard Neil Shipley, of Washington, D.C., is ordered to show cause, within 40 days, why he should not be sanctioned for his conduct as a member of the Bar of this Court in connection with the petition for a writ of certiorari in No. 14-424, Sigram Schindler Beteiligungsgesellschaft MBH v. Lee.

What did he do?

Shipley basically let his client write his brief, and the thing turned into an utter shitshow. Witness the nightmare hellscape that is the question presented in this case

Read “Lawyers, Don’t Do This: SCOTUS Pile Of Words Edition” at Bitter Lawyer.

Categories: Teknoids Blogs

How to Listen to Podcasts

Fri, 02/27/2015 - 07:12

Podcasts are exploding in popularity. Nearly 39 million americans have listened to at least one podcast in the past month. That number is expected to grow significantly as the quality of podcasts goes up and Internet-connected cars become commonplace. And yes, we do one.

In this post, you will learn what a podcast is, how to subscribe to them, and what apps you can use to manage your inevitable addiction to this exciting medium.

Index What is a Podcast?

Think of a podcast as on-demand talk radio. Instead of getting your favorite talk show through a radio, you can download shows (using a podcast app) as a standard MP3 file that plays on your phone, tablet, or computer. It’s really that simple.

How to Subscribe to Podcasts

The two most popular ways to subscribe to a podcast are through iTunes and Stitcher. Both offer a huge marketplace of podcasts with programs that work on an array of devices.

If you are not a fan of iTunes or Stitcher, you can also subscribe to a podcast in your favorite podcast manager by entering its RSS feed into any podcast app.

Podcast Subscription Starter Pack

Related “The Lawyerist Podcast”

There are a ton of podcasts out there. The best way to find podcasts you like is just to open up iTunes or Stitcher and start browsing. But if you want some help getting started, here are some not-just-legal podcasts we recommend. Download an episode or two of each and subscribe to the ones you enjoy.

Lawyer 2 Lawyer

With over ten years in podcasting, Bob Ambrogi and J. Craig Williams are showing no signs of slowing down. On Lawyer 2 Lawyer, they discuss current events through a legal lens with insights from industry experts.

This Week In Law

This Week in Law covers the latest in technology law with legal blogger and attorney Denise Howell. If you care about SOPA, the NSA, and the legalities of cutting-edge technology like drones, definitely tune in. New episodes are recorded (and broadcast live) every Friday.


It’s easy to get caught up in your own work life. Working, hosted by David Plotz, is a podcast dedicated to exploring how people do their jobs, and is inspired by Studs Terkel’s book Working: People Talk About What They Do All Day and How They Feel About What They Do.

Guests, who tell all about their work lives, range from comedian Stephen Colbert to your local repairman.


If you haven’t heard of Serial, you may be living under a rock. Serial is Sarah Koenig’s investigates into a fifteen-year-old murder mystery, and it is the most popular podcast in history. As of this writing, it has over 5 million downloads in iTunes. Start at the beginning and try not to get hooked.

The Pen Addict

The Pen Addict podcast discusses and reviews the latest pens, pencils, field notes, and notebooks on the market with hosts Brad Dowdy and Mike Hurley. With 140+ episodes and counting, you’ll be a persnickety pen and notebook snob in no time.

Podcast Apps

Similar to a good blog reader, a good podcast app will let you subscribe to your favorite podcasts and automatically download new episodes for you. Here are a few podcast apps we recommend:

On Your Computer

Many people use a smartphone to listen to podcasts, but these podcast apps for your computer work on both Windows and Mac PCs, and can sync your podcast subscriptions to your phone or tablet.


iTunes is the most popular way to subscribe to podcasts. iTunes indexes thousands of podcasts through its store and will sync subscriptions to your Windows, Mac, and iOS devices if you have an iCloud account. iTunes also gives you the option to stream or download a podcast right on your computer. Using iTunes, you can even subscribe to podcasts not listed in the iTunes Store if you know its feed url.

Basically, if you are familiar with finding, downloading, and streaming songs in iTunes, you are familiar with doing the same for podcasts. This makes it the most user-friendly podcast app for beginners.


Stitcher is available in your browser and as an app for your Android or iOS device. Stitcher has nearly 25,000+ podcasts you can subscribe to in its directory. It also puts a lot of focus on its discovery features, which uses community recommendations to suggest podcasts you should try listening to. You can also pause your podcast on one device and pick up from the same spot you paused from on another device with Stitcher installed.

While it is convenient that Stitcher is available on your desktop and on two major smartphone platforms, its iOS app does have lower reviews than its Android and web app counterparts. And for those of you who sport a Fire Phone, Stitcher is also available through the Amazon App Store.

Pocket Casts

Pocket Casts is a great podcast app for Android and iOS and, much like Stitcher, it offers a web app. It’s Android app was a Google Play Editor’s Choice, and the iOS app sports a healthy 4.5 stars in the App Store.

Both apps can sync your podcasts across your devices, import subscriptions from other podcast apps, and auto-download episodes.

Pocket Casts costs $3.99 on both Android and iOS.


SoundCloud hosts a number of podcasts. Like iTunes, it is a media player with enough podcast-specific features to help you keep up with your subscriptions. SoundCloud apps are available for free on the web, iOS, and Android.

But you very much get what you pay for. SoundCloud lacks a robust discovery system, and advanced features such as auto-downloads and importing subscriptions from another service.

iOS and Mac

Many native podcast apps on iOS and Mac are polished and beautifully designed. If you own an iPhone, you are probably already aware of the default Podcasts app. We have left Apple’s default app out of the list due to its paltry two-star rating and lack of features relative to what third-party developers have come up with.


Overcast is one of the most popular iOS podcast apps. It has no companion app on the Mac, but that hasn’t burdened its five-star rating in the app store. It also comes from the founder of Instapaper, another wildly successful (and well-worth-getting) iOS app.

Overcast has both a free and paid tier. Its free tier is perfectly functional and allows you to manage and subscribe to podcasts. But for $4.99, you get with intelligent episode sorting, voice boost (so the volume is equalized across your podcasts), and a feature called Smart Speed that cuts out elongated silences in your favorite podcasts. Overcast will also recommend new podcasts for you to subscribe to from your friends on Twitter.

Overcast is our favorite podcast app, and you if you own an iPhone, you should try it.


Instacast works on all iOS devices and also has a Mac app. It will import your subscriptions automatically from iTunes and sync them across your devices.

While Instacast is free, it does offer a couple of in-app purchases you may find useful: an automatic night mode and a robust search engine for sorting through past episode notes. All-in-all, if you want a free podcast app that works reliably, this is the app for you.


Downcast is a robust “podcatcher” available on Mac and iOS. On iOS, Downcast is a reasonable $2.99. But for the Mac app, the price increases to $9.99. Put together, these apps are quite expensive, but for those who listen to a lot of podcasts, Downcast appears to offer the most advanced features.

You can rename podcast titles, access password-protected podcasts, define how long you want to retain episodes, and download podcast episodes in the background on iOS, among a number of other features.

For a beginner listener, this is a bit much. But for those who live and breath podcasts, this is an app worth investing in.


For a long time, podcast managers on Android weren’t nearly as polished as iOS apps. This has changed very quickly and, in some ways, they offer more than most iOS podcast managers do.

Podcast Addict

Podcast Addict is an ad-supported podcast manager. While its UI is certainly crowded, it offers a robust set of features at no cost. You can search and subscribe to its database of 500,000+ podcasts.

Podcast Addict lets you import, export, and backup your subscriptions. Additionally, it has an array of useful widgets to listen to your podcasts from the lockscreen. And for early adopters, Podcast Addict supports Android Wear notifications and Chromecast streaming.


DoggCatcher isn’t very pretty or elegant, but what it lacks in looks it makes up for in functionality.

Like other podcast managers, it will automatically download and schedule podcast downloads. You can also import and export feeds as necessary. DoggCatcher will also limit downloads based on your connection speed and battery life left in your device.


Podkicker is probably the best-looking Android app in this list. Its minimal design allows for easy scanning of your subscriptions and episodes.

There is a free and paid version of the Podkicker app. The paid version is $1.99 and for that price you’ll get no ads and access to new features first. Podkicker supports audio and video, has a dedicated car mode, supports Chromecast streaming, and will let you transfer your downloaded podcasts to your Dropbox account. You can also give money to your favorite podcasts through its integration with Flattr.

Do you use a podcast manager that isn’t mentioned above? Let us know in the comments.

Featured image: “studio microphone for recording podcasts” from Shutterstock.

Categories: Teknoids Blogs

Actually, Legal Jobs Aren’t Recovering

Thu, 02/26/2015 - 11:51

While the job market is recovering from the recession quite nicely (that’s the blue line), legal jobs aren’t doing quite so well, at least according to this chart from the American Lawyer. (Follow that link for an interactive version of the chart.)

Related “Entry-Level Legal Job Market ‘Has Actually Been Improving for the Past Three Years'”

Since legal employment bottomed out in 2009 Q4, the net gain is just about 100,000 jobs. That’s something, but with 35–40,000 new lawyers every year, it’s not nearly enough. Besides, look at that sad little hill in the red line. Firms started hiring, then apparently realized the work wasn’t coming back and laid off everyone they hired back. Then, the market went flat. For most of 2014 it looks like any new job openings must have been due to attrition, not growth.

That’s a depressing chart.

(h/t Keith Lee)

Categories: Teknoids Blogs

Hiring Employees Using Craigslist

Thu, 02/26/2015 - 07:12

Craigslist currently boasts over one million new job listings each month, making it one of the largest job boards in the world. It is a popular place for employers to advertise for new employees, and it can serve you well in hiring attorneys and support staff.

Anatomy of a Job Posting

Craigslist allows employers to post a basic job listing that includes a description, a photo, and contact information. If you are uncomfortable using your own email in a job posting, Craigslist lets you use an anonymous email address to which prospective employees can submit their application. Craigslist will automatically forward applications to your real email address.

Each job posting on Craigslist costs $25, and you can post to one category in one city no more than once every forty-eight hours (the relevant category for lawyers and paralegals is the legal / paralegal category; support staff jobs can also be posted under admin / office). Another way to find new hires on Craigslist is to search posted resumes under the resumes section.

Separating the Wheat From the Chaff

The good and bad news is it’s a buyer’s market. Our law firm is based in North Jersey and is considered part of the greater metro/NYC area. Post a listing here in the legal / paralegal section and you are likely to be inundated with applications in hours, and each applicant will probably send a text-laden email accompanied by a cover letter, resume, and sometimes even a writing sample. It can become extremely tedious to sift through all those emails and attachments.

Related “Too Busy? When to Hire Help”

If your law firm is looking for a person with specific training, skill sets, or credentials, you will still have to go through all of the submissions, but at least you can whittle the pile down quickly. On the other hand, if your law firm is looking to hire an entry-level employee, a large percentage of applicants may fit the bill. This will make the job of locating the applicants you want much more difficult.

There will also be many applicants who do not fulfill any of the job requirements but submit an application anyway. (I once had an applicant for an associate attorney position who didn’t have a law degree and his past work experience was limited to working as a sales clerk in a shoe store — you can’t make this stuff up.)

Tweaking the Job Posting

One way to pare down submissions is to make the job application requirements specific. The problem with this approach is that an applicant may have the credentials you want but may not follow your instructions.

Related “How Laws Are Written So You Ignore the Important Parts”

For example, I have created job postings where I said in all caps and in boldface (with asterisks!):


Even so, many qualified applicants ignored my requirements. While it is easy to make the assumption that a person who can’t follow basic instructions may not be someone you want working for you, the other side of the coin is that it may have been a simple omission and not an indication of sloppiness.

Whether or Not to Include Compensation

If you are offering a specific, fixed compensation (either salary or hourly rate) the straightforward and most efficient approach is to include that information in the job posting. This way you are more likely to attract applicants who are looking for compensation that is in line with what you are offering, and you can screen out individuals who expect higher compensation than what you are offering.

The downside of this approach is that you might have an individual who feels they should be earning more, but decides to apply for the job since they are desperate for work. To avoid this, consider omitting compensation in your job posting and request that applicants include salary requirements or an acceptable salary range in their application. This forces the applicant to disclose how much they feel they deserve or want to be paid.

Of course, this makes more work for you, since you have to go through the applications to see who is willing to accept what you are willing to pay.

Quality of Craigslist Applicants

I have used a number of job posting websites (some paid, some free) and found that Craigslist tends to produce the same quality of applicants you will get from any other job site.

The upside to using a more general job posting website like Craigslist is that you are likely to get a larger pool of applicants. Of course, that also means there will be a greater number of applicants that don’t fit your basic requirements.

So while Craigslist hasn’t kept pace with modern website design and functionality, it will get the job done for your hiring needs. Its basic interface, low-cost listings, and wealth of potential applicants will more than likely get you the right person for your law firm — even if the list of applicants seems daunting to sift through at first.

Categories: Teknoids Blogs

MM.LaFleur: The Best Workwear Company You’ve Never Heard Of [Sponsored]

Thu, 02/26/2015 - 07:11

As professional women, we’ve all been there: You’re standing in front of your closet at 7am, frantically trying to devise an outfit that will take you from your first meeting, to a client lunch, to a presentation, and then to post-work drinks with friends. Your closet is full but you still feel you have “nothing to wear”—and no time to shop.

Enter MM.LaFleur, an NYC-based fashion startup that is changing the sartorial game for busy professional women. Not only does MM produce luxury-quality clothing at a contemporary price point, but it also offers an insanely convenient way for women to try on and buy that clothing: The MM Bento.

So how does it work? You take a quick online survey about your style and fit preferences, then an MM.LaFleur stylist sends you a “Bento Box” of 4-8 pieces (including accessories) that can be mixed and matched to create multiple work outfits. The best part? It’s completely free to try, and you only pay for what you keep. If you’re mall-averse or simply don’t have time to shop, this system brings the dressing room to you. (All you have to do is pour yourself a glass of wine and try the pieces at your own pace.)

As for the MM collection, it’s designed by Miyako Nakamura, formerly the head designer of Zac Posen, who brings a high-fashion sensibility to the realm of women’s workwear. Fear not: Nakamura’s versatile pieces are as practical as they are elegant. Much of MM’s collection is machine-washable, wrinkle-resistant, and travel-friendly—perfect for women who want to look impeccable (without thinking too much about it).

The company’s motto is “take the work out of dressing for work,” and with the MM Bento, that’s exactly what they’ve done.

Categories: Teknoids Blogs