All Our Practice Tips
Making That Important Decision…
Sooner or later all of us will be facing a big decision.
Most of us put off making that big decision for a number of reasons…we fear making the wrong decision, we feel we don’t (yet) have enough information, we fear that we may be making the decision for the wrong reasons or we fear offending the feelings of those that are near to us by our choice (that may conflict with their views of what you should do).
Having done considerable research into this area just recently – in reading many papers, blogs and advice sites (and compared their information with what feels right) here is a summary of the tips that I have gathered in this area:
1. Collect as much information as possible. You can never get perfect information but you can be reasonably satisfied that you have done your due diligence in assembling the facts.
2. Don’t rush. Give your subconscious time to play with the situation, the facts and your feelings. This is a vital part of making the decision, otherwise known as ‘sleeping on it’.
3. Talk it out with others whose judgment and insight you trust. This is also vital – it provides you with a trusted ‘sounding board’ within which you can explore your thoughts, feelings, fears and desires.
4. Recognize that a big decision almost always means leaving your place of comfort and moving forward into the world. Don’t allow a fear of the unknown to create paralysis.
5. Clear your mind. Before you make that big decision go somewhere where you will be quiet and undisturbed. Begin by taking in many deep long breaths…and close your eyes….allow time and breathing to clear your thoughts and allow a calm to settle.
6. Ask yourself – what will bring you closer to your life’s goals and desires? If a decision is not in alignment with what you desire from life – the goals that you wish to reach..the “thing” that you need to do in your life to make it full and complete…then the chances are that this is not the right decision for you.
7. Now – Trust your Gut. In everything that I have read on this topic this is the most common and the most persuasive of all the techniques. Your mind and body have an internal sensor, compass or ability to discern what is right for you. Only you have the ability to tune into that internal voice. No one else can have this built-in ability to feel what is the right decision for you.
8. Now ..having made the decision…move on it! Allow yourself – wholeheartedly – joyfully – and completely – to act on your new decision. Allow it to now be part of you and your future.. Embrace it!
9. Give yourself time..but go back and evaluate your decision-making process. This is an important step – for you wish to be a learning individual. Making a big decision is a life-experience and you wish to take away as much as possible in order to make better and better decisions as you move forward in life.
All of us need to make a big decision sooner or later. Hopefully these tips will assist you in your next decision.
Dropbox and the Paperless Office on Steroids
Have you ever been at court or a critical meeting and wished you had a document with you that was still tucked away at your office?
Here’s a tip that will ensure you always have every document in your client file handy, wherever you are. Copy your entire client folder to Dropbox (or Google Drive) the day before any court appearance or other major event. Your client folder will then be available to you remotely, via the Cloud, if you need to check any documents that you left behind.
Dropbox and Google Drive are free online services that allow you to copy your files and folders to the Cloud, where they are stored securely. They can then be retrieved from any computer or mobile device anywhere, as long as you are online.
These services can function as the perfect complement to your paperless office. If you scan it, you can retrieve it – from anywhere.
When Dropbox is installed, it adds a designated folder to your desktop. You can drag and copy your files to your Dropbox folder, the same way you would transfer files between any Windows folders. The copied files are then automatically and seamlessly uploaded to the Cloud. Google Drive functions similarly.
If you’ve been looking for yet another good reason to go paperless, these services provide it. Combined with an iPad or iPhone, these services can help your practice function like a paperless office on steroids!
When choosing between services, storage capacity limits are an increasing point of difference. The basic Dropbox plan offers 2 gigabytes of free storage. Google Drive has just upped its free storage (shared with your Gmail account) to 15 gigabytes.
So today’s tip is a straightforward one – get an account at one of these services. Make it part of your office’s preparation protocol to upload your entire client folder the day before an event. At my office, our law clerk usually handles this function. One quick click (or drag) and it’s done.
And voila! You need never be without a key document at a crucial time again.
You may also conclude, as I have, that carrying a Dropbox-ready iPad is a far more pleasant experience than lugging around bankers’ boxes filled with documents you probably won’t need the next day – but you’ve brought them just in case…
So there you have today’s tip. Dropbox it.
It’s good for the trees. And it’s pretty good for the back too.
- Garry J. Wise, Toronto
All of us have to manage our time and our deadlines. At this point in my career, I think I have tried out a fair number of the alternatives: a DayTimer paper calendar, a paper notebook, Microsoft Outlook as well as other various appointment programs etc etc etc.. I think my all-time favourite was a very good personal information program entitled EccoPro (which was unfortunately dropped by the developer but I now see it has been kept alive by a strong user group at http://www.compusol.org/ecco/).
So the search went on. That was, until I found Wunderlist.
An iTunes Hall of Fame app, this cloud-based and synched task manager was named one of the “10 Best Productivity Apps of 2010” by The Next Web. It also happens to be free. It is a multi-platform (Mac, PC, iPhone and iPad, Android, Linux and the Web) and keeps your task lists synched between all of these multiple devices. If you wish you can share your tasks (useful for legal assistants and legal secretaries). You can email reminders and email yourself tasks to Wunderlist. Deadlines and due dates are incorporated as well as Notes and Prioritization.
I like that you can have multiple to-do lists. And reoccurring items and sub-tasks.
I think I have *finally* found the one way to keep all the tasks and deadlines in my professional and personal life in one place, organized and accessible at all times. Simply Wunderful!
David J. Bilinsky.
New (Tax) Year’s Resolutions
With tax season either just behind us (or just ahead, depending on your filing date), it’s an ideal time of year to review all things accounting and financial at your firm.
What’s your assessment – are your bookkeeping and accounting systems working for you and your practice? Could some basic financial planning make a difference in the year ahead?
With tax-time 2014 – and the regulatory and financial well-being of our practices – in mind, here are a few questions we could benefit from pondering (and acting upon):
- Are your firm’s financial records Law Society-compliant and up-to-date? Are there any dormant trust funds or credit balances that require attention? How can any issues be expeditiously resolved?
- Are you writing off more receivables than you’d like? Does this surprise you each year? Would a more regular billing cycle or updated collections strategy make a difference?
- Do your internal systems and accounting software get you the data you need – when you need it?
- Do you review information on where your firm stands financially on at least a monthly basis? Are you getting the financial reports you require – and are you acting on them?
- Does staff need training in any area affecting your financial practices and record-keeping?
- Are your “accounting computers” showing any signs of wear and tear that could reflect early warnings of system instability? Have your backups been working and is your data secure, firewalled and virus-free?
- Are the bookkeeping and accounting professionals you work with meeting your ongoing requirements and helping you build and maintain your practice?
- Are the inefficiencies in your firm’s bookkeeping and accounting processes? Would addressing any of these save you on professional fees – and make your life easier in the process? Have you requested input from your accountants and bookkeepers on any changes or improvements they might recommend?
- Is this to be the Year of the Cloud for your firm’s accounting data, or do you still prefer to wait it out a while longer?
- Could you go “paperless” in any areas of your financial record-keeping? Could you save a few trees by paying certain bills online? How about scanning those gas-station, restaurant and charitable donation receipts so they are more organized and accessible?
- Are your paper records stored efficiently and safely? Do you know where your paper records are? Would a binder system be worth considering to help you to locate archived records more quickly if and when they may be required?
- Would you benefit from arranging an automatic R.R.S.P. savings plan through your bank?
- What are your firm’s goals and targets? How can you leverage your firm’s bookkeeping and accounting resources to assist you in achieving them in the year ahead?
And more generally, do you need to make any new (tax) year’s resolutions?
- Garry J. Wise, Toronto
Use Outlook to Manage Limitation Dates
This upcoming monday I will be presenting at a CLE-BC seminar on the new Limitation Act here in British Columbia.
In advance of that presentation, I am taking a snippet from my paper on how to use Microsoft Outlook to manage limitation dates.
Of all the tasks that must be done in a law office, few of them have such long reaching professional implications as missing a limitation date. Missing a limitation date involves significant personal and professional embarrassment, loss of trust with the client, possible negligence liability, having to report to your Insurance Fund and not the least of all, loss of face.
Despite all the implications of a lawyer missing a limitation date, it is still a regular occurrence in law firms.
Managing limitation dates along with reminders of other important dates is a task that can be systematized. While paper calendars and/ or index cards organized by month, date and year was the traditional way of keeping up on limitation dates, these days computer calendars offer a distinct advantage over paper-based systems. One of the biggest advantages is of course the fact that electronic calendars can “push” reminders out to lawyers and staff while paper calendars must be examined (you pull the information off a paper calendar).
Given the fact that so many electronic calendars are now synchronized with smart phones, this now means that lawyers can obtain reminders of limitation and other important dates wherever they happen to be. This is another advantage as compared to the paper-based calendar or card system that lies sitting in the lawyer’s office.
This is just one tip on how to use the capabilities of Outlook to look after limitation (and other important dates). This tip concerns using “Categories” in Outlook:
Outlook allows you to create Categories, which is a way to group similar tasks (such as limitation reminders and tasks, for example).
While categories have many uses, one could use them to draw extra attention to limitation date reminders that are ‘tasks’ or To-Dos within the To-Do Bar.
You can rename an existing category to “Limitation Date” as I have done in the above picture (colored red). From now on I can ‘tag’ a To-Do as a Limitation Date – and it would appear with this red box next to it –bringing it prominently to your attention.
You can also use Categories for appointments in the Calendar and mark them as limitation dates:
As you can see, once you have created “Limitation Date” as a category, you can click on “Categorize” in the Ribbon and specify an appointment in your calendar as a Limitation Date. The extra visual ‘kick’ that this adds to the appointment makes it stand out.
Here is how the appointment stands out in your calendar view:
—David J. Bilinsky, Vancouver.
Work-Life Balance and Jamaica
It may be a sign of our times, but one of the more complex work-life balance questions I face every year – a couple of times at least, thankfully – is the appropriate level of work-life balance to maintain while I’m on vacation.
There is no actual paradox in this seeming contradiction in terms. The reality is I have no inclination to wholly disconnect, and I’m pretty sure I am not alone on that.
True confession time – I still work a bit while I’m away. I’d rather set aside an hour or so a day while I’m on vacation to deal with emails and urgencies than face 1000 unread emails and 100 pressing tasks on my first day back.
Truth be told, there are worse places to be in the morning than an oceanview cafe on a lazy resort in the sun, wearing my blue shorts and sipping on a coffee while answering emails and watching the world go by.
I should note that I’m generally surrounded by quite a few fellow travelers during these vacation work-breaks. There are typically lots of folks pecking on their iPads and iPhones and laptops, right beside me. In fact, I’d wager that for at least a few, a tropical thunderstorm might fall a remote second as a vacation crisis, compared to the quiet panic that would ensue in the face of an internet outage on the beach.
On a recent vacation, something significant and urgent actually did come up at the office – an opposing counsel who knew I was going to be away nonetheless caused a Statement of Claim to be served on my client the day after I left – after assuring me he wouldn’t. That wasn’t fun. But it had to be dealt with, then and there, and dealing with these things is part of this job we’ve signed on to do, I believe.
Now I do understand that some might view this all as a pathology-in-motion. And while I’m not sure the world is evenly split on this question of work-life balance during vacations – yet – I do note an increasing incidence in my practice of receiving email communications from colleagues who “are supposed” to be basking in the breeze and relaxing in the sun.
I suppose that every practitioner must come to his or her own terms with what “balance” truly means. For many, remaining 15 percent “on” while away just doesn’t seem like any sacrifice, at all. For others, this is clearly anathema.
As I say, perhaps it’s just a sign of our times that so many of us have such particularly close relationships with our Blackberrys and iPhones. At home, office, and the pool.
Not that there’s anything wrong with that.
All of the above is essentially just a preamble of associations I’m having with a Jamaican vacation looming in my not-so-distant future. I confess that to me, all the islands essentially are alike, but Jamaica has become a destination of choice, in no small part because its resorts’ internet facilities are so typically superior and reliable.
What do you think? Is this discussion just a subtle indication that the world as we’ve known it has ended, or a frank acknowledgment of modern professional reality?
Or is it just that we stay connected because we can?
- Garry J. Wise, Toronto
ABA TECHSHOW THOUGHTS
Having had the benefit of a few days of reflection after attending ABA TECHSHOW 2013 in Chicago last week, I thought I would highlight certain aspects and themes arising from the conference and in particular, why lawyers should be attending this or similar conferences (and indeed why it may be obligatory to do so).
Prepare to be assimilated. Only in this case The Borg = The Cloud. This was particularly brought home in the Office 365 session with Wells Anderson and Catherine Sanders Reach. Microsoft is moving to a monthly subscription model. The benefits to users to going to Office 365 as compared to the traditional way of installing MS Office on your laptop or desktop (the desktop licensing plan) is apparent.
Microsoft has made it both financially and practically advantageous to move to Office 365. One advantage to Office 365 (aside from the continual updating and interconnection with other services such as Lync) is the ability to save to the cloud or save to the local drive (i.e. you don’t have to store data on the cloud). According to Wells Anderson, Office 365 is the better choice as compared to other web-based office productivity suites.
Security and Privacy
This was a major theme of the conference in virtually all sessions. Sites such as MyPermissions.org highlighted how lawyers want to know who – and what- are gaining access to their personal information. People are leaving FaceBook due to privacy concerns (and moving to LinkedIn at least professionally). Viivo.com is being used to encrypt Dropbox for greater security. The Honeynet project hosts a web site that allows you to see..in real time..where attacks are taking place on the web (http://map.honeynet.org)
John Simek and Sharon Nelson in their session on the capture of the Craigslist killer highlighted how video surveillance, internet records and cell phone records all combined to lead the police to the medical student who was eventually arrested for the killing. It was a very interesting overview of how commonly recorded information can lead a path to anyone..depending on the circumstances and notwithstanding the attempts by the killer to use disposable email addresses, disposable cell phones and such to hide his tracks.
Macs and iDevices
The Mac Track was packed. And the vast majority of attendees – in all tracks – were using iPads, iPad Minis and MacBooks. If anyone doubted the impact of Apple on lawyers, the proof was evident. While I am sure that many were using their iDevice as a secondary device (BYOD), their questions showed that these lawyers were interested …intent … on using Macs in their practices. And the Droid users are not far behind…
Finding Information and Things
People are finding new..and creative ..ways to lever the internet to find things…people and information ..on the Web. For example, Google has a reverse image search..if you have an image (drawing, photograph, cartoon etc) you can use this service to find out who is using it on their websites. It also has facial recognition technology built-in.
You can use TaskRabbit.com to find people who are willing to do ..for a small fee ..the tasks that you don’t wish to do.
Then there are ways to hide on the Internet. DuckDuckGo.com doesn’t match your info to your IP address..allowing you to be anonymous (“We believe in better search and no tracking”).
You Can Live On
_LivesOn is an application that will keep tweeting in your name even after you have passed away (“When your heart stops beating, you’ll keep tweeting…”).
This is the first of applications that can be described as your social afterlife.
Ahh the things you learn at ABATECHSHOW. What was apparent is the technology has completely changed the way that law is practiced. It was evident to me that the ABA was correct this summer …that competence in practice includes understanding how to use technology appropriately. With the rate of change that is occuring in technology, it is apparent that lawyers should be attending a conference such as ABA TECHSHOW on a regular basis if for no other reason but to extend their knowledge beyond their ‘unknown unknowns’; or in other words, to learn about those things that we don’t know we don’t know. Isn’t that what competence is all about?
I can hardly wait until next year…(ABA TECHSHOW 2014: March 27-29, Chicago Illinois).
For the next 2 1/2 days, ABA TECHSHOW will be taking place in Chicago, Illinois. This year there are sessions over 8 tracks ranging from Advanced IT to Cloud & Collaboration, e-discovery, iOS, Large Firm, Litigation, Mac, Social Media, Solo and Small Firm (I and II), Tech Grab Bag, Tablets & Smartphones and others all on the theme: “Bringing Lawyers and Technology Together”.
If you can be there, you can experience the incredible range of sessions, speakers and topics that are the hallmark of ABA TECSHOW. Sessions such as 60 Sites in 60 Minutes and 60 Tips in 60 Minutes are long-standing stalwarts of the Conference and always a big hit. Then there are sessions that are totally new such as: New Geolocation Technologies AKA “Hello Location-Based Discovery.” The Mac invasion into the legal sphere continues with such sessions as”The Super -Awesome Mac Hour of Amazement.”
One great session first thing this morning was “Office 365 the Lawyer’s Preview” that showed how Microsoft will be taking all of us into the cloud, courtesy of the new collaborative tools that they have built into the web version of the Microsoft office suite (and courtesy of their new pricing scheme for the desktop vs the web versions of their venerable office suite).
The highlight of this year’s conference will be the New York Times Columnist and host of NOVA ScienceNow David Pogue’s keynote presentation.
If you have never been to ABA TECHSHOW you need to mark March 27-29, 2014 in your calendar – now – to attend this amazing conference.
If you can’t be there – then set up your TweetDeck account to follow the twitter hashtag #ABATECHSHOW and see the tweets that are coming from all the different sessions. It is - almost but not quite – like being here!
If you are here, come up and say hi (David Bilinsky speaking).
Solving the Communications Problem
Garry Wise: Last week, my co-scribe, Mr. David Bilinsky, posed a particularly simple, yet oh-so-important question:
What do you think that lawyers can do to make theirs – their client’s and their regulator’s – life a bit easier?
It all starts with communications.
And, when it comes to communications, I think I can actually answer David’s question – or begin to – in a short, but worthy SlawTip:
Once a practice has matured, no lawyer can do it alone. The solution to the communications conundrum is probably as simple as this – develop good communications systems for your firm and recruit excellent staff to implement those systems.
More specifically, with respect to written communications:
- Get an iPhone, Blackberry, Android or Windows phone and use it! Most email messages can be answered in less than 60 seconds – even while you have one eye on the hockey game. Or the news. Or your favourite reality show. Or a Supreme Court of Canada telecast.
- I suggest that it should be every firm’s policy that clients must receive copies by email of all correspondence and documents sent and received on their matters. Establish a policy that your assistant will immediately copy the client whenever a document is sent or received.
- This should occur, even when you are out of the office, so that the client is always in the loop. Copying clients on matters should be viewed as an administrative function, to be primarily handled by assistants. In this current email era, that means your assistants should have access to your inbox or be able download your email to their desktops.
- Of course, every so often a document will arrive that you will want to review before the client receives it. Train your staff members to exercise discretion in identifying those rare occasions when it is appropriate to delay copying a client with a document, pending your review.
- If you will be out of the office and unable to respond to email correspondence, set up a friendly auto-respond message to explain when and why you will be unavailable. Or ask that your assistant respond on your behalf with similar information and an offer to assist.
- Being paperless facilitates better communications. Once you have systems in place to scan all faxes, letters and documents related to every client matter, it’s not a major leap to instruct your assistants to ensure that clients receive copies by email of everything scanned as soon as it is scanned.
My thoughts on phone calls are similar:
- If you can’t immediately take a call or return a call, your assistant can do so on your behalf. At the very least, he or she can get details for you on the issue at hand, and perhaps even address it.
- I am a big believer in scheduling phone calls with clients and other counsel for specified times. Since it is often a challenge to be available at exactly the time arranged, I suggest scheduling a call to occur within a 15 minute window, where possible – for example between 3 and 3:15 p.m. Knowing a call is scheduled to occur at a specific time will focus your attention and allow for a file review or other preparation in advance.
- Brief your clients if you are unlikely to be reachable on a random-call basis. Help them to understand that you prefer to schedule calls, so that you can be sure to be available and fully informed when you do ultimately connect.
- While I suspect voice-mail is becoming an ’80′s technology of waning use and utility, don’t ignore your messages. Your assistant should be assigned the task of checking your voice-mails and returning calls – several times each day.
- If you are better at email than phone, and prefer to communicate that way, just let people know that. Many will prefer to communicate that way too.
- And finally, when you do speak by phone, do take good notes and confirm all discussions of substance by friendly email.
- Trust me on this. You are busy and you will forget important things if you don’t make good, contemporaneous notes. The person on the other end of the line, however, will never forget a single word discussed. That is just how life works. Deal with it!
Clients who are in the loop are likely to be happy with their professional advisors. Those who feel excluded from their own cases or files are much less likely to feel friendly.
So set up systems that prioritize communications, and train your staff and colleagues to implement them religiously.
Finally, a brief note on the client who insists on communicating by text message, tweet, LinkedIn post or Facebook video (yes – it’s happened to me).
Just say no.
But do it by email.
Let clients know you do not communicate using those technologies. It is difficult enough keeping track of the usual modes of communication. Make your life (and your regulator’s life) simple – make sure you have copies of all interactions. And just don’t interact professionally on media where it is difficult to keep discrete, easily accessible records.
Over to you David.
David J. Bilinsky: Garry, I think you have hit it on the head. So much starts – and ends – with communications – or the lack thereof.
So many times I have called someone only to be met with a voice mail message that says: “Hi – you have reached Joe Bloggs – I am not available right now – please leave a message.”
Just what does that tell you? Are they in the office today? This week? This month? When can I expect a return call *(if ever?)*. How often do they check calls? Joe Walsh in “Life’s Been Good” sings:
“So I got me an office, gold records on the wall.
Just leave a message, maybe I’ll call…”
Yet this seems to be the communication theme of lawyers. If you are gone…say so! If you are in the office and expected to return calls today…say so! Let your callers in on the secret – just when can they expect a response from you?
Like you Garry I am a big believer in scheduling things..if you are not available until 230 pm to return calls …say that in your voice mail. The caller will understand if you are busy until then. Better yet – invite the caller to send you an email to end the ping-pong of voice mail messages and cut to the quick. What is it that they need from you?
If you make a promise – ie to return all calls by the end of the day..then do it! Even if it is just to leave a message on their voice mail that you returned their call within your promised time. You build trust and reliance this way. After all – isn’t this all about letting people know that they can trust you to do as you say?
Communication, as it has been said, is the problem to the answer.
Communicate well – as promised and responsively – and you will have gone a long way towards not only solving one of the biggest headaches of legal regulators – you will have gone a long way towards building a solid bond with your clients. After all – if you follow through on the small promises (like returning phone calls) doesn’t that bode well for how you carry out the rest of your work?
Perspectives on Practice Management: the Regulator and the Practitioner
Garry Wise: On the weekend, I had the notion that it might be interesting if David and I devoted a post or two to answering some recurring law practice management questions we typically encounter.
My co-author, Dave Bilinsky, of course, is SlawTips’ resident guru on law practice resources. As a practice advisor and lawyer for the Law Society of British Columbia, he brings (among other elements in his broad perspective) a regulator’s vantage point to all things practice management. I come at these questions from a different place, as a practitioner and veteran of the legal trenches, having focused on litigation at a small, Toronto law firm since 1986.
I thought it might be interesting to see how our two, varied perspectives might mesh – or perhaps even, not mesh – in such a discussion.
So to start, I posed this question:
What are the three most common practice management issues each of us encounters in our respective day-to-day roles, and how do we address them?
David provided his list:
- Complaints from clients that they don’t hear from their lawyer
- Fees are too high
- Matters take too long
I provided mine:
- Staff supervision without micromanagement.
- Maintaining client communications
- Creating templates to establish best practices
And right away, I was struck by something revealing, as I compared our answers to this question.
The regulator’s window on practice management appears by necessity to be so largely defined by constant exposure to an endless refrain of complaints and public dissatisfaction with our profession that simply never seems to stop – lawyers, fairly or unfairly, perceived as charging too much to get nowhere, while keeping clients shut out and in the dark. We practitioners really do need to understand better that our Law Societies genuinely hear these very real concerns from the public – our clients – day in and day out. And we must listen - and do better.
But is that the whole truth?
By contrast, the individual practitioner’s practice management focus is on the day to day needs of our firms and the people we work with. Building the better “law practice mousetrap,” as we endeavour to innovate, improve services, get the job done, achieve results, create decent workplaces, and limit risk, as a matter of responsibility, efficiency and personal and professional pride.
Perhaps our regulators would do well to recognize – and dare I say learn from – the degree of dedication and determination so many of us have to getting it right, just as we must recognize how discouraging it must be for our Law Societies to so constantly confront situations where individuals in our profession fall short or are perceived by the public to fall short in delivering the most basic of client services.
When David so kindly invited me to join him for this Thursday SlawTips adventure, I confess I was both flattered and extremely interested in seeing where this conversation between the practitioner and the “Law Society guy” might lead.
And while we will get to the answers to the practice management questions above soon (I promise), my Practice Tip for the day is a simple one: When regulators and practitioners dialogue, only good things are bound to happen.
I will let David take it from here.
David Bilinsky: Well, to read Garry’s portion is to take me back. There was a time before I joined the Law Society ..18 years in fact..that I ran my own law practice (and part of that included studying for my MBA). So I know what it is like to try to juggle all the competing demands of life, practice, clients and more. Secondly, I would like to make it clear that I am speaking here from my personal perspective and not on behalf of the Law Society, who may or may not share my views.
I have great sympathy for all those lawyers trying to meet their client demands and make a living too (not to mention trying to maintain a life). But I am going to turn this around and ask Garry…What do you think that lawyers can do to make theirs – their client’s and their regulator’s – life a bit easier?
Here is my take on answering this question:
One: Set out yours and your client’s expectations clearly at the outset of the retainer. We all know the parameters: How long do you expect this matter to take? How much will you charge (approximately)? How can I contact you and when – and how often – will you contact me? How long does a client have to pay their bill or deposit $$ into trust to keep the matter moving?
If lawyers set this out – realistically – in writing and in a conversation with their clients at the outset – imagine how much more satisfied each party will be going forward? Stephen Covey (someone whom I admire greatly) once said “Begin with the End in Mind”. If we all start out by - accurately – describing the journey and the bumps to be expected along the way – then everyone will understand what to expect. Or to put it another way…no one likes surprises. If a road bump emerges, then tell the other party about it…immediately.
Two: Fees. No one expects a lawyer to be a crystal-ball reader in terms of predicting the final cost of a matter. But just imagine how unsettling it is if you took your car in for repairs and the repair shop said “We charge $45 an hour and we will let you know how many hours it took to repair your car at the end.” Certainly there are matters that must be billed by the hour. But there are many many more that can be changed to a fixed fee or alternative billing method. With respect, there is much that we can do here.
Three: Delay. We are all busy. But what can we all do to help keep matters moving forward? Procrastination is not unknown in the legal profession. Part of this is letting people know what is a realistic timeline for tasks to be done. But part of this is keeping ourselves accountable.
I *very* much agree with Gary about using templates..and checklists…and other ways to systematize and streamline the workflows in the office.
I like Gary’s point about maintaining client communications. I think this is key and echoed in my thoughts above. I also agree about staff micromanagement. After all, you hired this person to do your work – now – trust them to get it done! “Hovering” doesn’t assist anyone.
One of the people who had a strong and permanent impact on how I view law firm management was Milton Zwicker, who for years wrote a column for the CBA nationally. His advice was to make your firm ‘client focused’. That advice is just as important today as it was when he first penned it. From the perspective of fees, of communications, of time expectations…lay out your expectations..and those of your clients..from the client’s perspective. I think everyone stands to gain this way.
Garry Wise: Much food for thought, as always, David. The challenge here may be in moving from platitudes to practice.
I’m going to chew on your comments a while, and pick up on this dialogue next week.
To be continued….