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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

Podcast #2: Paul Floyd on How to Value and Sell a Law Practice

Tue, 01/13/2015 - 07:12

Interview: Paul Floyd

Today’s guest is Paul Floyd, a business lawyer for lawyers — and a very successful one. Paul may not have an edgy website, but he is a good lawyer who gives good advice, which means he has an enviable law practice without all the virtual offices, alternatives billing arrangements and iPads actually I can’t remember the last time I saw Paul without his iPad.

Among other things, Paul helps lawyers sell their practices, and I wanted to talk to Paul about valuing a practice because I felt like I never got a straight answer when I have asked how to do it. Paul finally explained it so I could understand: the best way to value a law practice is not to value it. That sounds mysterious, but it’s not. Paul explains why it doesn’t really make sense to try to come up with a value for most law firms, and what makes some more valuable than others.

Question: How Do You Calculate Flat Fees When Starting Out?

This question comes from our forum. Aaron and I offer our own suggestions for coming up with flat fees early on in your legal career.

(By the way, we know that Aaron’s mic is too echo-y in this segment. We didn’t have a chance to fix it before we finalized this episode, but the echo should be gone by Episode 3.)

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

Coming Soon: Practice-Management Software from Microsoft

Mon, 01/12/2015 - 11:50

For better or for worse, Outlook remains ubiquitous (if not necessarily popular) among lawyers. And really, it’s for good reason. Nothing else combines email, contacts, calendar, and tasks in a single place. Unlike some, I’m an Outlook fan. For a while, I even figured out a way to use Outlook 2007 as a matter-based organizer, although Microsoft removed the Activity tab in Outlook 2010.

So I think it is pretty exciting that Microsoft is finally going to build practice management features into Office, specifically for lawyers. From Bob Ambrogi:

Microsoft unveiled a preview version of Matter Center during the International Legal Technology Association (ILTA) conference in August, but has said virtually nothing about it since, apart from what is said on the product’s web page.

Bob thinks it will be launched at ABA TechShow in April. If so, I will be sure to publish a preview as soon as I can see it in action. For much more information, read Bob’s post at LawSites.

Categories: Teknoids Blogs

Your New Competition: Non-Lawyers

Mon, 01/12/2015 - 11:32

From the ABA Journal:

The first practice area in which LLLTs [in Washington state] will be licensed is domestic relations. Cummings and 14 others have taken the required courses and will sit for a licensing examination in March. The state will begin licensing those who pass in the spring.

In addition to Washington, non-lawyers are doing some of the work traditionally reserved for lawyers in New York, and California is actively exploring non-lawyer licensing. Other states are starting to take an interest, as well.

Also in what-used-to-be-UPL news, LegalZoom recently became approved to provide legal services as an Alternative Business Structure in the UK. Expect it to try to figure out ways to do the same thing in the US.

Categories: Teknoids Blogs

“Practice-Ready” Law School Programs Don’t Help Law Grads Get Jobs

Mon, 01/12/2015 - 07:13

At Above the Law, Elie Mystal points out that most employers still go for prestige, not a practice-ready certificate:

The practice-ready debate isn’t trying to address the problem that law grads are having. It’s trying to address the problem that law schools are having attracting fresh meat.

Categories: Teknoids Blogs

How To Avoid Billing for Interruptions

Mon, 01/12/2015 - 07:12

Lawyers are interrupted a lot, as often as every three to ten minutes. The difficulty of recollecting our time when we are interrupted so often can be more than a nuisance; it can be a real ethical problem if not carefully managed.

The Risk of Over- and Under-Billing Amidst Interruptions

Ethical rules require attorneys to accurately account for their time. ABA Model Rule 1.5 requires a lawyer’s fees to be reasonable. ABA Formal Opinion 93-379 stated lawyers may not bill for more time than they actually spend on a matter. The potential ethical problem of billing amidst interruptions is that attorneys inadvertently bill for time spent checking texts or email more than any of us want to admit.

[M]ore than almost any other type of worker, lawyers overestimate the amount of time they spend working.

Lawyers aren’t being malicious when they bill for time spent checking email, Facebook, and Twitter. Rather, accurately accounting for time is virtually impossible with all the interruptions we face.

Was that Facebook break ten or twenty minutes? Did we spend five minutes or twenty minutes writing that email? These distractions happen so often that we have trouble even remembering them all. This is not a small issue: the onslaught of Interruptions is so great that the couple of minutes spent dealing with interruptions here or there add up over the days and weeks.

Lawyers can also easily lose track of calls, emails, and short periods of time spent on matters. That leads to a failure to capture and bill time actually worked. While it is not an ethical issue to underbill, this obviously harms your revenue stream.

A big part of the problem is that humans are terrible at accurately reporting how long they spend doing tasks. One study showed that people underestimated how long they spent watching TV by about 4.3 hours per week, as compared to data collected from their TV monitors. Another study found that college students overestimated the time they spent on Facebook by about two hours a day.

There is no reason to believe lawyers are any better at estimating how long they spent dealing with a matter in the face of distractions. In fact, some evidence suggests that lawyers might be even worse than other people at reporting how long they work. An analysis of the American Time Use Survey examined the disparity between estimated and hours spent working and actual hours (as measured by real-time time diaries, considered by many the gold standard in self-reported time). The analysis found that, more than almost any other type of worker, lawyers overestimate the amount of time they spend working.

How to Ensure Accurate Timekeeping While Facing Interruptions

Ensuring accurate timekeeping requires a healthy dose of self-awareness and possibly some difficult habit changes.

The first step is to take an honest look at how you are spending your time. Once you are aware of where your attention actually is, you can direct where you want it to be. If you experience a lot of distractions, classify them into two categories:

  1. Self-imposed Interruptions: These are interruptions you control and bring about yourself. They are things like checking your phone, checking your email, or taking stroll down the hall to talk to a friend.
  2. Externally-imposed Interruptions: These are interruptions you cannot control and that are caused by other people. Think of them as things like your boss popping by, the phone ringing, or impromptu meetings.

If you are interrupting your own work, try to figure out what triggers you to self-interrupt. What is going on right before you interrupt your own work? Perhaps you feel bored so you visit Facebook. Or you feel nervous that you’re missing out on important information, so you open your email. According to Charles Duhigg, author of The Power of Habit, most habits are part of a loop that begins with a cue. If you can identify your cues — the prompts or feelings that cause you to interrupt yourself — you can start to change the habit of self-interrupting.

Once you are aware of your triggers, you can begin developing more productive responses to the cues. For example, if you distract yourself when you hate the task at hand, perhaps you should force yourself to go ten more minutes, and bill accurately for that ten minutes. Then you can give yourself a real break. If you check Facebook when you have writer’s block, think of using writers’ prompts or other tools to break through. You’ll not only finish the task sooner, but you’ll also be able to more accurately bill.

External interruptions require a different approach. If you have an assistant, you can ask him or her to monitor your calls and emails for you. Tell your assistant to interrupt you only for true emergencies. If you don’t want to or can’t rely on an assistant, a well-crafted out of office message or voice message lets people know that they shouldn’t expect an immediate response from you.You can explain that you are working on high-priority projects and will respond to messages at certain times.

It’s a good idea to explain your clients why you may not be immediately available (absent emergency) during certain times of day. More likely than not, clients experience many of the same distractions you do and will understand the value of uninterrupted time. This allows you to be responsive when necessary and still maintain interruption-free times.

Using Applications to Reduce Distractions

There are a lot of applications designed to help you minimize distractions. These may help you become more aware of how often you’re interrupted. That said, these apps don’t address the root causes of your interruptions — your boredom, fear, or whatever is driving you to self-interrupt. But if you need to force yourself to get a task done without getting distracted right now, these will apps will help you get the job done. And over the long haul, these apps can help you understand your triggers better so that you can develop lasting solutions.

Strict Workflow

Although this Chrome extension lacks some design polish, it more than makes up for that in practicality. Strict Workflow blocks popular time-sucking websites such as Facebook, Twitter, and Reddit for a default of twenty-five minutes. And to keep you focused, Strict Workflow blocks you from editing your list of blocked sites until the timer is up.

SelfControl

SelfControl is an open-source mac app that works much like Strict Workflow, but really sticks it to those who go to extreme lengths to check their Facebook messages. Even if you uninstall the app and restart your computer, SelfControl will continue to block your websites until the allotted time is up. Extreme, I grant you, but effective.

Focus out Distractions

If you find yourself glued to your smartphone when you should be writing a brief, this Android app will block all your other apps for a duration of time that you set. This app is also free and has no ads.

The final trick to crafting accurate-as-possible bills is to enter the time contemporaneously to the work. The sooner you enter your time, the more likely you are to be accurate. You’ll never control or eliminate interruptions completely, but you’re more likely to remember how long you spent on a matter when you worked on it this morning than when you worked on it two weeks ago.

The ethics risks of billing in distraction flood zones depend on how severe the distractions are and the billing practices of each attorney. But what’s clear is that more focused, less distracted workplaces are better for your client’s pocket and for your personal sanity.

Featured image: “Closeup portrait serious businessman signing contract without looking at document” from Shutterstock.

Categories: Teknoids Blogs

The Gentleman Lawyer’s Guide to Facial Hair

Fri, 01/09/2015 - 07:00
A proper beard makes a man more intimidating to his enemies. And since lawyering is about 90% mental, you should all listen up.

Throughout history the beard has served as a sign of royalty, virility, and badassness in various cultures. A shorn beard used to be a sign of shame. Even today, many would argue that a proper beard makes a man more intimidating to his enemies. And since lawyering is about 90% mental, you should all listen up.

Unfortunately, since the time of Alexander the Great, beards have come and gone from the mainstream. He banned them because he believed they were a liability in battle. Today, some argue that facial hair is unprofessional, while others believe that there is simply a favorable bias to clean-shaven men. In fact, some employers even have policies forbidding or limiting facial hair.

I can agree that some facial hair does not belong in the courtroom.

Click to view slideshow.

But you should not let the one percent of inappropriate facial hair growers dissuade you. Nor should you bow to the naysayers. The idea that all facial hair is unprofessional or not appropriate for attorneys is ridiculous.

Facial hair can provide many benefits to a lawyer’s image. A consistent look will make you easy to find and describe. It’s hard to miss the guy with the Gandalf-esque beard. It can provide part of your image, as the Fishtown Lawyers illustrate with their home page. For younger attorneys, facial hair can make one seem older. But that is a double-edged sword. It can also make one look like he is trying to look older.

Considerations When Growing Facial Hair

Let’s assume I have convinced you that beards and facial hair are generally awesome. Before you embark on a facial hair journey, there are several things to consider. First, when will you start to grow or change your current facial hair? How long will it take? Can you definitely grow the facial hair you want? Will maintenance be difficult or time-consuming?

Timing

If your face is as smooth as a marble statute, a Monday morning may not be the best time to start growing your facial hair. It will give you the “I didn’t shave this morning” look for at least a day or two. And, unless you’re devilishly handsome, you may have trouble pulling off the five o’clock shadow without looking lazy or unkempt. Steve Wilson of beards.org disagrees with me. He thinks you should decide to go for the beard and just do it.

But in my opinion, you should give yourself some time or an excuse to grow your facial hair. A long weekend, a holiday, the NHL playoffs, or Movember are all great times to adjust your shaving habits.

Genetics

Let’s face it: some men cannot grow a proper beard. Some can grow a beard but not a mustache. Others cannot connect their mustache to a goatee. And that’s OK. We’re all unique snowflakes when it comes to facial hair. Others can grow a full beard, but the hair is so light it looks like peach fuzz. We are not here to insult your masculinity or judge your legal skills because of it. But you need to know your limitations.

To undertake a facial hair experiment without knowing your limitations is akin to taking on a client with no knowledge of the substantive law involved. It’s a bad idea. Know your limits and respect them.

The Morning Routine

Some men believe that if they have a beard or other facial hair, it will make their morning easier. After all, if you don’t have to shave your whole face every day, won’t it save you minutes each morning? Not exactly. With great facial hair comes great responsibility. Shaving around a beard, mustache, or goatee can take more precision and thought than just doing a clean shave. You need to be focused to make sure everything turns out OK. Otherwise you could end up shaving too much of your facial hair and having to start from scratch (which I have definitely done before).

The Options

Facial hair can be as varied as the men who sport it. But some looks are more amazing than others.

The Beard

There are only two acceptable ways to wear a beard at work. Either the beard covers your entire face, or it extends down onto your neck. If the hair is only on your neck, that is a neck beard and only appropriate for comic conventions. If the hair only goes along the side of your face and your chin, you’ve got a chin strap. Unless you’re seventeen or a biker, the chin strap is wholly inappropriate.

That being said, the beard can come in various lengths, ranging from short to dwarf-like. The longer the beard gets, the more difficult it can be to maintain a “professional” appearance. But a long beard is not necessarily a bad thing. Compare these short and long beards below:

Click to view slideshow.

Depending on the type of beard you decide on, maintenance can be very easy or somewhat time consuming. The longer beard, for example, may need to be hand trimmed with scissors. But a full beard can usually be managed with a set of clippers and minimal razor shaving.

The Mustache

Like the beard, the mustache can come in many variations. But unlike the beard, fewer variations are as widely accepted. Fancy variations like the Fu Manchu mustache, the handlebar mustache, or the Charlie Chaplan are much more difficult to wear, and require a very specific persona.

Click to view slideshow.

Eliminating those mustache possibilities still leaves the intrepid whisker-bearer with several options. A classic choice is the full, thick mustache often associated with Tom Selleck and 1970s porn stars:

But beware. That option could easily entail genetic setbacks if your mustache does not grow in thick enough.

A subtly different example of a full mustache comes from Burt Reynolds. Notice that Reynolds’ mustache is pointed at the ends, where Selleck’s is not:

As you explore thinner mustaches, there are more options for shapes. But with a thin mustache there is also a risk of that creepy look, so beware. To get your creative juices flowing, Wikipedia can provide some great examples:

Click to view slideshow. The Goatee

More than the other styles, the goatee is often dictated by how your hair grows and where it grows. If you cannot connect chin hair to your mustache, you may want to avoid the goatee altogether. If you can only grow a thin mustache, a thin goatee is probably your only option.

The goatee in general provides a nice look without the need for a full beard. It also usually looks better as it grows in, as opposed to just a solitary mustache. You can also have a little more fun with styling a goatee. Like Tony Stark. But you can keep it simple and it will still look good, like Tyrion Lannister.

Click to view slideshow.

You can easily manipulate the goatee. It’s a fun option because you get to combine the fun aspects of a mustache and a beard into one.

Go Forth with Confidence

The most important part of facial hair is how you wear it. And there is only one way to wear it: with confidence. Your facial hair will become a part of you. A part of your image. An extension of your face. Choose your style well, and enjoy the superiority you will feel over all your competition.

Updates
  • 2013-11-05. Originally published.
  • 2015-01-09. Revised and republished.

Featured image: “Set of men’s hair and facial hair graphic designs” from Shutterstock.

Categories: Teknoids Blogs

How to Design an Effective Law Firm Logo

Thu, 01/08/2015 - 07:12

If you have decided to create a logo for your firm or redesign your existing logo, use the five principles of logo design to evaluate your needs and assess the logos you are considering adopting.

The 5 Principles of Logo Design 1. Make the Logo Fit Your Industry

Logos are not one-size-fits-all (which is the problem with many cheap logos). Still, it’s important to look around at the logos of other law firms. Does the logo you are considering look like it belongs in the legal industry?

You want your logo to stand out, but you also want it to be recognizable for what it is, right from the start. Customers should sort of know what kind of company they are looking at just from seeing your logo. In other words, your logo should make it obvious that you are not selling coffee or donuts.

2. Keep it Simple

One way to help potential customers quickly size up your business is to have a simple logo. Simplicity also helps people remember your logo the next time they see it. A complicated image is more difficult to recall than a simple one.

Simplicity is important for another reason. You don’t want your logo to be difficult to see when it’s shrunk down to fit on letterhead and business cards — or as an icon in a browser tab.

3. Avoid Special Effects

Avoid special effects for the simple reason that they may be difficult to reproduce in some media. Your logo should be usable everywhere. The most powerful logos are woven into everything a company puts out, so make sure yours can be reproduced on your website, business cards, letterhead, and maybe even t-shirts and coffee mugs.

4. Make Color Connections

Color has meaning. Research your color scheme so you can evaluate the connotations of your message before putting it out there. A logo should only have a few colors, since colors can be difficult to recreate accurately, especially in print. More colors will also increase the cost of printing your logo on marketing materials.

5. Function Is As Important As Form

You will need your logo to be much larger and much smaller than you can anticipate now. It needs to look great at any size, which means you need to get suitable files from your logo designer.

Using the Five Principles to Create a Great Logo

Related “Why Your Law Firm Should Have a Logo”

Now that you know what makes logos effective, you can better analyze the logos you see every day. Logos tell stories. They reflect a company’s style, approach to business, and overall philosophy.

Before you create your logo, reflect on the story you want to tell about your firm. What words would you use to describe your company’s style?

Check Out the Competition

Research what your competitors are doing. Make a computer file of all the logos and brands you like best, and then look at them as a collection. Ask yourself these questions about the logos:

  • What is it about them you like?
  • Can you use the answer as a starting point for your own logo ideas?
  • What is it your firm does best, and how can you emphasize that in your logo?

Start a folder of logos that speak to you and seem particularly effective. Which firms have logos you find striking, and what about them stands out to you?

Decide What You Want

What is your firm’s personal style? It’s good to research the trends, but don’t be a slave to them. Your logo will hopefully last longer than the trends, so stay away from designs that will quickly go out of style. Another reason to buck the trend is because you don’t want to look like every other logo out there. You want your logo to look comparable to the competition, but also unique.

Consider your market position when conceiving a logo. Determine what practice areas you are covering and define your unique angle. How will your logo reflect your firm’s focus?

Hire a Designer

Hire a professional for the actual design of your logo, just as you would advise people to hire a lawyer rather than represent themselves. Designing something that looks simple takes a lot of work. You’ve already done some of the work by figuring out what you want; now you need to find a designer who can create it.

Look at the work of several capable designers and choose one with the design sensibilities you are looking for. Once design starts, provide feedback to your designer to ensure you get exactly what you want.

Another reason a designer is a good idea is the multitude of formats and sizes you will need to recreate. You will need versions of your logo for print, online, large displays, social media icons, and more. A professional designer will haev no problem creating all these for you.

Test Your Design and Tweak It

You don’t want your logo design to take forever, but you also don’t want to rush it. The key to any great design is the creation of several drafts and input from stakeholders.

Allow your current customers and employees to weigh in on your logo design. Do a test run, asking everyone currently in your social media feeds to weigh in with ideas and critiques. Not only will you get a lot of valuable feedback on what works and what doesn’t, but you will make your customers feel as if they play a central role in your business.

Of course, the main draw of any business is the firm itself and the quality work it does, but branding and a well-executed logo are hallmarks of an effective marketing plan. It’s worth your time to scaffold the public perception of your firm with a logo that efficiently spreads awareness of your business.

Featured image: “Construction site crane building brand text idea concept (modified)” from Shutterstock.

Categories: Teknoids Blogs

How the Avvo Badge Promotes Your Competition

Wed, 01/07/2015 - 07:12

Several websites are always at or near the top of Google’s search results for law firms in different cities and practice areas, and one of those is Avvo. Avvo is a sprawling and comprehensive site that, until recently, I assumed was so well-ranked because it is an established and trusted platform with thousands of pages of useful content. Avvo is one of the legal industry’s most highly trafficked sites.

Overall, Avvo’s search engine traffic has increased significantly in the last year.

It makes sense that Avvo would have a strong search presence, but the more I looked at its rankings, the more I was puzzled by how well each of their city directory pages ranked.

Here are a couple of examples:

Breaking Down Avvo’s Search Engine Success

When it comes to SEO performance, links that point to a web page are one of the most influential factors in how well that page ranks in search results. Each link is a “vote” that search engines use to rank web pages. Avvo excels at generating links to its local practice-area pages.

It turns out that Avvo’s local practice-area pages have lots of links coming from the websites of law firms in that city and practice area. So the Avvo page for criminal defense lawyers in Chicago, for example, has links from a bunch of criminal defense lawyers in Chicago. This doesn’t make much sense. Why would a law firm link to a list of direct competitors in its area?

If you look at the law-firm websites that link to Avvo’s local practice-area pages, however, they all have one thing in common: a bright blue-and-white Avvo rating badge.

The Avvo Badge

If you have claimed your Avvo profile, you have probably seen links to claim your badge, which you can add to your website in order to show visitors your Avvo rating. To do this, Avvo gives you a code you can copy and paste into your website to display your badge:

Avvo says the badge will send visitors “to your Avvo profile where they can review information about you and likely contact you for help to solve their legal needs.”

Easy enough.

What Avvo doesn’t tell you is that the badge also includes a link to an Avvo directory page specific to your city and practice area. That’s right: the badge includes a link to a list of your competitors.

They also fail to mention that should your website visitor click the badge, he or she could end up on the directory page instead of your profile page. It depends on where they click the badge.

That means someone who started out as your potential client could land on a directory full of other lawyers. And if your Avvo profile isn’t on page one of that directory page, the visitor won’t see you at all, which could further discourage them from hitting the back button to get back to your website.

This definitely does not help lawyers who use Avvo badges. So why would Avvo include this extra link? There is a one-word answer: Google.

The Quickest Way to the Top of Google

Success in search engine results is largely about acquiring links from quality, relevant websites. And if you run a legal site like Avvo, there are no better websites to target than sites that belong to lawyers.

There are over one million attorney profiles on Avvo; if even a fraction of those lawyers embed the badge on their sites, Avvo will receive thousands of links to its city pages, which are directly competing with individual law firms for search engine visibility.

And that’s exactly what’s happened. Over the last year or so, Avvo’s search engine presence has skyrocketed. A search marketer for the site even said so, in a legal marketing discussion group:

“I moved some mountains …  I can’t get in to specifics, but if you noticed that Avvo’s visibility increased over the past couple years, now you know one of the contributing factors.”

That is great for Avvo, but not great for individual law-firm websites.

This type of manipulative linking is also against Google’s webmaster guidelines, which outline the SEO industry’s best practices. Examples of links that violate these rules include:

“Keyword-rich, hidden or low-quality links embedded in widgets that are distributed across various sites …”

This is basically the definition of the city page links included in Avvo badges. The link provides no value to the website owner, and it is keyword-focused (the well-optimized “top lawyer” text on the badge links to the city page, not to the profile of the lawyer on whose website the badge appears).

In 2013, Matt Cutts, head of the webspam team at Google, addressed the topic directly.

In short, it’s an SEO no-no, but apparently it works. The badge links have given Avvo a huge leg up on every law firm trying to attract local search engine traffic.

If your practice relies on organic search traffic for potential leads, the Avvo badge is only helping Avvo, and making it more difficult for you — and your colleagues — to claim the top spots in Google.

What You Can Do Instead

The Avvo badge is a useful tool for building trust with online visitors, and the good news is you can use the badge without having to copy Avvo’s questionable website code.

All you need is an image of your badge and the URL of your Avvo profile. To get this, take a screenshot of your badge preview in your Avvo dashboard and put that on your website, linked to your profile. The only downside to this method is that you will have to update your image if your rating changes.

The Smart Way to Use Badges and Widgets

Badges can help you build trust and authority with your website visitors. But like the embedded Avvo badge, they may provide more benefit to the provider of the badge. When you add badges and widgets to your website, it helps to double-check what you’re really getting.

Avvo is a useful site that allows the public to easily find, compare and contact lawyers in practice areas and cities around the country. It serves a clear purpose and it’s a great platform for lawyers looking to share information and content.

But for law firms that focus on search engine traffic to generate leads, removing the embedded Avvo badge from your website is a good idea.

Categories: Teknoids Blogs

How to Use Virtru for Easy Email Encryption

Tue, 01/06/2015 - 23:44
“In 2014, encryption became a must-have tool for lawyers.” —Bob Ambrogi

Bob is 100% right, and he’s already done some tutorials on how to use various email encryption tools. His latest, on how to use Virtru, covers email encryption in Outlook 2010 and 2013, Gmail, Yahoo! Mail, Mac Mail, iPhone, and Android (and probably more).

For Google Apps and Android users, Jeff Taylor did a Virtru tutorial at The Droid Lawyer last September.

Categories: Teknoids Blogs

NetDocuments Adds Smart Email Management with Recommind’s Decisiv

Tue, 01/06/2015 - 23:33

Decisiv allows NetDocuments to add email management to its already-great document management. And not just email management, but smart email management.

From Bob Ambrogi:

According to NetDocuments, the integration of this functionality with its document management system will allow:

  • Predictive filing to the DMS. Decisiv allows for predictive filing based on criteria such as To, From, Cc, Subject, contents, etc. Predicted locations are visually ranked, indicating probability and enabling filing to the correct matter with just one click. Automatic filing can be enabled with a set threshold (e.g. email that reaches a 95% confidence rank or higher will be automatically filed to the predicted matter).
  • De-duplication. Email is filed to the content management system once, regardless of how many individuals file it.
  • Folder mapping. Select folders in Outlook and map to the document management system. Email filed to mapped folders will be sent to the DMS.
  • Global filing indicator. Email is visually tagged in Outlook for all internal recipients to see in their own mailboxes, indicating it has been filed to the DMS regardless of who in the firm filed it.

Read more at LawSites: “NetDocuments Acquires Decisiv Email from Recommind.”

Categories: Teknoids Blogs

Podcast #1: Alan Dershowitz’s Advice for Young Lawyers

Tue, 01/06/2015 - 07:12

As a well-known lawyer and (former) law professor, Alan Dershowitz gives a lot of advice to young lawyers. At one point, he wrote it all down in Letters to a Young Lawyer. The book has been around for a while, but it is still full of good advice for young lawyers — and so is Dershowitz.

When I asked Dershowitz what he would change about Letters to a Young Lawyer if he were writing it today, he pointed out that because law has become much more of a business, he would want to add a chapter on conflicts and billing practices, which are more relevant than they were.

In the book, Dershowitz places great importance on finding a mentor, but acknowledges that a great mentor is hard to find. We talked about how to avoid bad mentors, including two red flags:

  1. Lawyers who advise you to do the same things they have done in their career.
  2. Lawyers who do things just because they have always done things, despite the lack of any evidence those things actually work. There are some great examples in Letters to a Young Lawyer that we discussed in the the podcast.

I asked Dershowitz about imposter syndrome, which he says is an issue for him just as it is for many young professionals.

One of the things that jumped out at me in Letters to a Young Lawyer was Dershowitz’s take on work-life balance. He quotes the old saw that nobody regrets working too much when they are on their deathbed, then says that some people should regret not working enough. During our interview, he elaborated on the right way for young lawyers to approach work-life balance.

We also discussed his view that you should not do what you are best at, why the Yellow Pages and the Internet are a terrible place to find a lawyer, and the three arguments you make to a court:

  1. The one you think you made.
  2. The one you wish you made.
  3. The one you actually made.

Incidentally, Dershowitz claims at 5:59 that the hit show How to Get Away with Murder is a ripoff of his novel, Reversal of Fortune. I have no opinion, since I have not seen the show or read Dershowitz’s book.

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

Thanks to Viewabill for sponsoring this episode or our podcast.

Finally, we’re aware of the allegations (pdf) against Dershowitz related to his former client, Jeffrey Epstein. It’s hard to know what to think about that at this point. For what it’s worth, we recorded this interview a while ago, long before those allegations surfaced. (Thanks to Marc Randazza for that pleading.)

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

The Saddest Lawyer Video on YouTube

Mon, 01/05/2015 - 17:51

That’s a big claim, but I think it’s right.

Yes, that is a lawyer talking to a lewd doll. It is worse than wooden lawyers reading cue cards about themselves into the camera.

(h/t Scott Greenfield)

Categories: Teknoids Blogs

Why You Should Keep a Call Log

Mon, 01/05/2015 - 17:30
“Call Log: It’ll save your ass.”

Find out why at the Unwashed Advocate. Here’s a great notebook if you feel the need to get a new one to use for your call log.

Categories: Teknoids Blogs

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

Mon, 01/05/2015 - 07:56

Answering your own phone is killing your productivity, making you look bad, and setting a precedent for your clients. Avoid unscheduled phone calls to increase your productivity and have a better relationship with your clients. Just don’t avoid the phone when it would be quicker and more effective.

Killing Your Productivity

A ringing phone is an interruption that kills your productivity. To answer the phone, you have to stop what you are doing, switch gears, and then get back to work afterwards. Various studies (mostly linked from this Wikipedia entry) show that it can take as much as thirty minutes to resume work after an interruption.

Depending on how much your phone rings, that’s a lot of time wasted, especially since you don’t have to answer all those calls yourself. In fact, you may be making yourself look bad by answering them.

Making You Look Bad

Maybe you are the kind of person who doesn’t mind being interrupted, and you can quickly go from reading your opponent’s latest infuriating accusations to cheerfully answering the phone, having a productive call, and getting right back to work. I don’t think many people — lawyers included — can do that. Usually when I call a lawyer in the middle of the work day, I get someone who sounds annoyed, in a hurry, and doesn’t really want to talk to me. That’s probably not the experience you want callers to have — especially if they are potential clients.

If you can’t be cheerful and helpful whenever you answer the phone, you are just making yourself look bad by answering it yourself. You are also teaching your clients that they can reach you any time they want to.

Setting Precedent

When you answer your own phone, you indicate to clients that they can get you whenever they want to talk to you. Now, maybe that is on purpose. Personal service like that is a pretty high value, after all, if you are willing to deliver on your promise. Just make sure you mean to promise it.

If you are going to answer your own phone, make sure your clients know what to expect when it comes to your availability. Let them know your hours and how quickly you will get back to them. You may even want to charge a special after-hours rate for emergencies (say, double your usual rate) to deter unnecessary calls on evenings and weekends and give you an extra incentive to answer them. You can always waive the extra cost for legitimate emergencies.

Whatever you decide, set expectations carefully. You cannot answer your phone yourself all the time. You will have meetings, court, and a life. Make sure your clients know that. Also, make sure you are comfortable not answering calls from potential clients right away. Will you lose valuable clients because if aren’t able to pick up the phone right away?

Have Someone Else Answer the Phone

The bottom line is you should probably have someone else answer the phone. That was one of the best things I did for my own practice. My clients were happier with the service they got from my firm, and I was happier because I wasn’t being interrupted all the time.

Here are the pros and cons of the most popular options.

Voicemail. When I was trying to figure out how to spend less time being interrupted by phone calls, I stopped answering the phone and left a message like this on my voicemail:

I return phone calls at 10 and 4 if I am in the office. If you need to reach me more quickly, please send me an email.

It was an effective way to avoid answering the phone, and it did set expectations, but it wasn’t very nice. I doubt potential clients appreciated it. If you aren’t going to answer your phone, hire someone else do to it. Don’t just send callers to voicemail.

Virtual Receptionist. The easiest way to have someone else answer your own phone is to hire a virtual receptionist service like Ruby or Back Office Betties, or you can look for someone yourself who is willing to answer your phone remotely.

Related “Call Ruby is an Awesome Virtual Receptionist for Solos and Nimble Small Firms”

I did both. Ruby did an awesome job answering my phone for a fraction of what I would have had to pay someone to sit around all day waiting for my phone to ring. But after a while I got lucky and found someone with lots of experience as a legal secretary at a big firm who wanted to work from home until her kids started school.

Erica answered my phones and managed the firm’s intake process from the first call to the first meeting, including following up, bugging potential clients for documents, etc. It cost more, but she was able to handle things that went beyond the scope of what Ruby could do.

Both Ruby and Erica did such a great job that I regularly heard enthusiastic reviews from callers after they got through to me. If I were starting a new firm today, one of the first things I would budget for would be a virtual receptionist.

Receptionist. In fact, for purposes of answering the phone, I think a virtual receptionist service is better than hiring someone to sit in your office. Unlike a service, a receptionist in your office will require breaks, and getting someone who can answer the phone 13 hours a day like Ruby does (or 24/7 if you need that) is cost-prohibitive for most solos or small firms.

However, a virtual receptionist can’t greet your clients when they come to meet with you, help you scan and file documents, or help you maintain your calendar. And even if you hire a fairly skilled assistant to handle intake, you may need someone to help out with other tasks that aren’t so easily handled remotely.

Depending on your needs, you might be able to get by with a friendly law clerk from a nearby law school, but you will probably be better off hiring a full-time legal secretary.

Whatever You Do, Don’t Avoid the Phone

While you should give serious thought to whether you ought to be the one to answer your phone, don’t avoid the phone entirely. If you have a receptionist answer your phone, make sure they know when to transfer calls to you. When it comes to other communicaftion, remember that you can only do so much with email or by working through staff.

The point is to use the phone when you can be effective, not when you are going to be distracted and ineffective.

When it comes to scheduling appointments, negotiating, or clearing up misunderstandings, it is often more efficient and effective to just pick up the phone and have a quick conversation. You are also less likely to be misunderstood during a phone call than you are when communicating in writing.

Schedule calls whenever you can and it makes sense to do so. Before your calls, spend a minute or two making an agenda so you can be efficient with your time. Send an email with any questions that will require the other person to gather information.

Also, set up a regular time to make calls. It can be helpful to make calls in batches once or twice a day instead of scattering calls throughout your day. That doesn’t mean you should only ever pick up the phone during these windows; it just means you might be more efficient if you get all your calling done in one chunk.

Above all, Never use email when a phone call would be quicker and more effective.

Featured image: “a young woman sitting in office and calling has stress” from Shutterstock.

Categories: Teknoids Blogs