advice you can use — short and to the point — every Tuesday, Wednesday & Thursday

technology  research  practice

All Our Practice Tips

The world of marketing remains a bit of a mystery for many legal professionals.  We know enough about it that many of us become do-it-ourselfers for our websites, blogs and even our branding.

Nonetheless, there is much we can learn from true marketing professionals.

To that end, I have the pleasure today of introducing the first in a series of videos on Marketing for Lawyers and Legal Professionals I’ve done with Sandra Bekhor of Bekhor Management and Toronto Marketing Blog. Sandra’s firm provides marketing and practice management services nationwide to lawyers and other professional practitioners.

In this installment, Sandra discusses marketing for lawyers and provides 5 tips on taking your firm’s marketing endeavours to the next level:

Here are Sandra’s key tips from the video:

1. Track where your client enquiries are coming from.

  • Generate data on what’s working for your firm today by asking your intake staff to ask new clients how they became aware of your firm and by including a question on your intake questionnaire that asks this same question. And, of course, remember to thank your referral sources.

2. Analyze your marketing budget (and spend wisely)  

  • Be aware of how much you are investing in each of your marketing initiatives over the course of the year, and determine which of those initiatives are delivering a good return.  If an initiative isn’t working, discontinue it.   If you are seeing success, consider how to extend and build on that success.

3.  Decide what you want your marketing to generate for you, and use marketing to shape the practice you intend to build.

  • Consider the “80/ 20 rule:” 20% of your practice drives 80% of revenue.  Decide what you want more of, and direct your marketing efforts toward those outcomes. Develop a sense of who your “ideal” target client is, and target those clients.
  • This applies to each individual lawyer.  Take a look at your practice – the kind of work you are doing and the kind of work you’d like to be doing.  Focus your marketing efforts on reshaping your practice to align with your professional aspirations and goals.

4.  Develop a plan

  • After analyzing what has already been working, deciding where you want to get to and establishing your budget, you will have compiled much necessary information to feed and direct your law firm’s marketing plan.
  • While there are many steps to getting there, ultimately your marketing plan is an action plan.  It tells you what projects you should be working on – develop a logo or tagline, expand your engagement on social media, arrange speaking engagements, or update your website, as examples.
  • It will likely include marketing activity that the entire firm will participate in, as well as personal level activities that are customized to each lawyer’s strengths and interests.
  • If a stated goal is to open x new files in a preferred area of practice or to drive y dollars in revenue by end of year, your plan will also help you determine how many of these marketing activities will need to happen (and at what frequency they must happen) to make your goals a reality.

5.  Implement your plan before the ink dries

In fact, start implementing even before you finish the plan.

6.  Bonus Tip (from me):  Involve Marketing Professionals

  • Marketing professionals bring objectivity, understanding of the marketplace and an assortment of strategic and creative skills to any law firm marketing initiative.
  • But perhaps most importantly, marketing professionals can help law firms to identify and clearly articulate their authentic identities and strengths.  They then can work with us to translate these articulated strengths into marketing initiatives aimed at building the kinds of practices we all genuinely aspire toward.

It’s not quite as simple as “if you build it they will come,” perhaps.

But if you build it and market it appropriately and professionally – and your firm delivers the quality of service it promises to deliver – you are likely to have a very successful career in the practice of law.

For the professional practice of today, I’d suggest, marketing has become one of the necessary – and unavoidable – components of such success.

Garry J. Wise, Toronto (@wiselaw on Twitter)

 

♫  Look at that sky, life’s begun
Nights are warm and the days are young
Come get up my baby

Golden years, gold, whop whop whop
Golden years, gold, whop whop whop…♫

Lyrics, Music and recorded by David Bowie.

retirement-to-sunSo many  articles on retirement all deal with the issue of finances and how to plan so you are not caught off guard on the money side.  Since that aspect has been explored in detail, this article is going to take us in a totally different direction. As lawyers, we get so much of our personal identity from simply being lawyers that the idea of hanging up our robes and walking out the office wearing the title “Retired Lawyer” causes us panic and a sense of dread.  Just *what* would we do with all that….time?

Furthermore there is the fact that as a lawyer, you are accustomed to spending large amounts of time at the office. After retirement, you are now faced with spending the rest of your life with someone that you may have only been seeing on a limited basis for the last while. You now need to start living life together and not in parallel.

Not surprisingly, according to A Satisfying Retirement Blog “[F]or married people over 50, the divorce rate has more than doubled in the last 20 years. Some lawyers report up to 25% of their clients are men and women over 65.”

Accordingly, I think that a good place to start is by asking ourselves “What is the vision that we (you and your spouse or loved one) have for our retirement?”  Do you see lots of travel ahead?  Spending time with family and grandchildren?  Playing sports and being active? Getting to know one another…again?

Another aspect to think about (and sorry for the dark undertones): What would you want people to say at your funeral about you?  Have you spent time on the activities for which you wish to be remembered? Now is the best time to start working on the legacy that you wish to leave.

Start a list of all the things that you (and your spouse or loved one) would like to do with the rest of your lives together.  Use that to start a conversation on how to plan to check off as many of these as you can together.  It is much better knowing that both of you are working in the right direction than to find yourselves at cross-purposes and disappointed about the turn of events in your ‘golden years’.

Retirement can have a very stressful effect on a relationship and when you add in possible health-related issues related to aging and the diminishment of income, you can see that you have the potential for a perfect storm. Like most challenges, dialogue and preparation can help you deal with complications if, and when, they arise.  You want to craft a life together that meets each partner’s physical, emotional and other needs and that allows you to take each partner’s feelings, desires and dreams into account.

The other factor to consider is the activities that you plan on enjoying in retirement.  You don’t just start doing them on day 1. You need to ease into them by taking the time ..now..to build a base and look forward to getting better at them in retirement. Whether it is golf, tennis, playing a musical instrument, pursuing photography, travel – you need to start enjoying them while you are working in order to really get the benefits of them in retirement.  After all you don’t want to look forward to playing the guitar only to find out that your hands are just not working the way you wished at this point in your life.

You also need to establish boundaries – there are still activities that you will want to enjoy with a group of friends that may not include your spouse….and visa versa.  Respecting that each of you need and desire this ‘apart’ time makes the situations more bearable when one person goes off to have lunch with the girls or a golf game with the guys.

One final issue for this column (but certainly not the final issue you will face in retirement) is the readjustment of tasks around the home.  If one spouse has been working full-time and the other perhaps has been taking a bigger share of the home chores to accommodate, this allotment of chores needs to be adjusted after retirement.  Set up ‘blue jobs’ and ‘pink jobs’ (our designation around our home) with expectations of how and when these will be done.  To keep the magic happening, if you are the one who does the ‘blue’ jobs, do a pink job occasionally in addition.  Believe me, it will be noticed..and appreciated in your golden years. Of further note, “blue” and “pink” jobs depend on your individual circumstance, background and understandings. The underlying understanding is that we support our spouse in whatever ways we can when we are looking up at the sky and saying life has begun.

-David J. Bilinsky, Vancouver, BC.

 

 

It crept up on us slowly, but Skype has become an  indispensable technology in the modern law firm’s toolbox.

A bit of historical context will set the stage:

Launched in 2003, Skype was one of the first mass market freely available forms of internet video conferencing. It took advantage of early developments in Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) technology to allow users to communicate with each other using their microphones and webcams. Previously video conferencing had been prohibitively expensive for the general public and was largely only used by companies. The burgeoning popularity of broadband over the last few years has led to an increase in the use of a constantly improving VoIP and a surge in the popularity of Skype. Microsoft purchased Skype in 2011 for $8.5 billion, together with its database of some 600 million users.

The Skype-call has become a routine entry in my calendar over the last year or so.  In fact, it is an increasingly-rare week that does not have at least one Skype meeting booked with an out-of-town client.

The videoconference via Skype offers many obvious advantages over the traditional voice call.

The opportunity for an eyeball-to-eyeball connection facilitates a much deeper rapport between lawyer and client, and in the process, helps build and strengthen the trust that is the necessary foundation of the lawyer-client relationship. This is  especially important where distance or disability make face-to-face meetings rare or impractical.

Perhaps there is something to be said from the client’s perspective for the opportunity to speak to one’s lawyer from the familiar surroundings of one’s own home or office.  A Skype call allows for professional communications in a context that is a bit more relaxed, convenient and comfortable for the client than a hectic law office.  That lends itself to the better and more natural dialogue that typically emerges.

There is probably a simple explanation for the increasing frequency of the virtual meeting via Skype in my office – we made a concerted effort to offer this option to our out-of-town clients.  Once they were made aware of the availability of virtual meetings, they embraced it, almost unanimously.

Connection glitches can still be an occasional, but generally manageable issue, however.   It’s not perfect, but Skype is very good.

As is always the case with new technologies, the legal profession’s opt-in to virtual videoconferencing will occur somewhat later than the rest of the planet’s. The corporate world has utilized videoconferencing to reduce travel costs and maximize efficiencies for two decades.  In the same timeframe,  telemedicine has revolutionized medical care in remote locations, using videoconferencing technologies to diagnose, deliver treatment and even perform complex surgeries.  Even our family courts have been considering Skype’s place in parental custody and access applications since at least 2006.

Our clients are already on Skype, connecting regularly with friends and family worldwide. It makes good sense, therefore, that they are increasingly ready to meet virtually with their lawyers and other professionals, using a technology that is already familiar to them, from the comfort of their own surroundings.

Skype, and videoconferencing generally, is truly is the “next best thing to being there.” While it doesn’t replace direct human interaction, it comes close – much closer than the phone call does or can, I’d suggest. Adding to the convenience, free mobile versions of Skype allow lawyers and clients alike to connect with smartphones from anywhere.

Ultimately, it’s hard not to foresee the videoconference eventually replacing the typical office visit with most clients on an increasingly frequent basis.  The opportunity to avoid parking costs, traffic snarls, scheduling difficulties and wait times might ultimately become too attractive an option for our marketplace to turn down.

So here is today’s tip:  Offer your clients the option of video meetings with you via Skype. They are probably already using this technology, and may jump at the opportunity to meet virtually with you, too.

Garry J. Wise, Toronto  (@wiselaw on Twitter)

 

♫ Walking in Memphis
I was walking with my feet ten feet off of Beale
Walking in Memphis
But do I really feel the way I feel?  ♫

Lyrics and music by Marc Cohen.

Liiketoiminta_06

The New York Times on Wednesday Jan 21 published an article “The Benefits of a Lunch Hour Walk” by Gretchen Reynolds.  It has important implications for those feeling stressed, out of shape and suffering from a less-than-optimal mood. She states:

“A new study finds that even gentle lunchtime strolls can perceptibly — and immediately — buoy people’s moods and ability to handle stress at work.”

What is different about this study is that it doesn’t focus on long term results – it looks at the short term results of walking just 30 mins at lunch.

This study was published in the Scandinavian Journal of Medicine and Science in Sports and involved researchers at the University of Birmingham and other universities.

According to the abstract of the study:

“During the intervention period, participants partook in three weekly 30-min lunchtime group-led walks for 10 weeks. They completed twice daily affective reports at work (morning and afternoon) using mobile phones on two randomly chosen days per week.”

This is not getting out and running 6 miles at noon.  It is simply walking – getting out of the office, hitting the sidewalks and taking in some (hopefully) fresher air, sunshine and conversation.

What did they find?

“Lunchtime walks improved enthusiasm, relaxation, and nervousness at work, although the pattern of results differed depending on whether between-group or within-person analyses were conducted. The intervention was effective in changing some affective states and may have broader implications for public health and workplace performance.”

Gretchen Reynolds stated:

“To allow them to assess people’s moods, the scientists helped their volunteers to set up a specialized app on their phones that included a list of questions about their emotions. The questions were designed to measure the volunteers’ feelings, at that moment, about stress, tension, enthusiasm, workload, motivation, physical fatigue and other issues related to how they were feeling about life and work at that immediate time.”

And what did they find from those who went for a walk?

“On the afternoons after a lunchtime stroll, walkers said they felt considerably more enthusiastic, less tense, and generally more relaxed and able to cope than on afternoons when they hadn’t walked and even compared with their own moods from a morning before a walk.”

All the volunteers showed gains in their aerobic fitness from the exercise. Unfortunately many could not continue with their exercise as they felt pressured by management to work through their lunch. Just a suggestion, but when it comes to improving people’s performance at work, perhaps management needs to take a walk…

 

 

 

With the 10 year anniversary of Wise Law Blog rapidly approaching  this April, my thoughts have turned recently to the nuts and bolts of law blogging.

There are numerous articles online about the virtues of law blogging, and all the benefits becoming a blogger can bring to you and your firm.

These positives include increased profile, better optimization for your firm’s website, and the genuine professional advantage of being current and engaged in topics of interest to you and your clients.

There is somewhat less guidance online, however, on “how to blog.” Not surprisingly, this is a question new writers often struggle with. I thought I would provide a couple of Tips therefore, on law blogging itself.

So here we go, with tips on becoming a law blogger.

  • Both Blogger and WordPress provide free platforms for blogging. The set up is intuitive and simple, and should not be an obstacle to anyone who has managed to make it through law school.
  • Keep it simple. Do not try to write a textbook within every blog post. People who are looking for textbooks will read textbooks. Pick one narrow topic, address one recent issue or developments in the law, and describe it concisely in plain, readable English.
  • Many of the best blog posts are short, often no more than five or six paragraphs. Some excellent blog posts can be only one or two sentences long. Less really can be more. Try it!
  • Clever headlines attract readers, but you should take care to ensure your headline has some relationship to the content of your article.
  • While I would not propose a specific “formula” for writing your blog posts, do consider including the following information:

1. Identify the legal development your post relates to – e.g. “In a landmark decision yesterday, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that….”

2. Explain why this development matters, and give examples of the changes that may flow from it – e.g. “The Court’s ruling brings major changes to the law of ___, as we have known it. As an example, Canadians will now be able to…”

3. Include an excerpt from the relevant court ruling, press release, or other primary document your blog article is describing. Try to limit your excerpt to a paragraph or two.

4. State your opinion about this development. Is it a positive or negative? Consider the possible ramifications of this development and employ your crystal ball to let your readers know what may lie ahead.

5. Close with a personal observation or pithy comment that brings it all home to the reader.

6. Always include hyperlinks to all cases, statutes, releases and journalistic materials you are citing. Ensure the hyperlinks are programmed to open in a separate window, so that your reader will not lose her place in your article if she travels to another site to view one of your references.

7. Give credit where credit is due. If you became aware of this development because of another blog article or newspaper story, give a bit of link love to the original writer. At its best, blogging is a dialogue between various writers, each providing a specific insight and often commenting, pro or con, on the opinions of other writers on the same topic.

A few other pointers:

  • Don’t plagiarize, post photos or graphics you are not authorized to use, or run afoul of the ethical duties that remain applicable to you, online and offline.
  • And fergawdsake, don’t even think about letting a ghost writer near your blog!
  • Avoid sweeping, general comments about the macro state of the law. There will likely be at least two dozen cases at least partially to the contrary. Be careful.  Be accurate.
  • Be considerate of your reader by being interesting. The purpose of a blog post is to educate, entertain, or even provoke. Your post is not intended to be a substitute for prescription sleeping medications.
  • Don’t worry about the Google machine when you write. Avoid keyword stuffing and other similar tricks. They tend to make blogs robotic and unreadable, and they don’t really work as optimizing strategies, anyways. If your content successfully addresses your topic, the important phrases and keywords will naturally find their way into your content in a way that Google and humans alike will appreciate.
  • Finally, be yourself. The more you write, the more comfortable you will be utilizing your new, online voice.

The most engaging blogs are those where readers come to have a personal connection with the writer. Those are the blogs that people naturally return to, because they are interested in the writers’ takes and thoughts on legal developments as they happen.

Good luck and happy blogging!

- Garry J. Wise, Toronto

 

Get a digital checkup.

Given this week’s news of attempts by “ransomware hackers” to extort payments from three British Colombia law firms by hijacking and blocking access to the firms’ confidential data, that will be my firm’s tech step #1 – and is my first Practice Tip – of the year.

Get a digital checkup.

Like it or not, law firms are increasingly vulnerable to malicious actors online; we are also perpetually vulnerable to the consequences of our own neglect within.

One solution to these very real threats is to institute an Annual Digital Checkup for your firm.

Have a qualified professional inspect your systems to identify any potential vulnerabilities, and to provide recommendations as to any necessary steps your firm should be taking to protect its data.

In an era where it has become predictable that hackings and security breaches will regularly affect even the largest and most secure of our nation’s institutions and enterprises, lawyers need to become more proactive in fulfilling our basic ethical duty to protect our digital data through appropriate security safeguards, backup procedures and in-house computer-use policies.

Where does your firm stand on this? How well do you protect your digital data?

As a basic step, we should all get a professional opinion on the state of our digital defenses. I fear that many of us might be surprised by the results.

It’s a dangerous cyberworld out there.

(And happy 2015, too.)

Garry J. Wise, Toronto

 

♫ Oh won’t you show me the way, every day
I want you to show me the way…♫ 

Lyrics, music and recorded by Peter Frampton.

Genie

The CBA’s Practising Ethically with Technology guidelines, published by the CBA Ethics and Professional Responsibility Committee, has identified five areas where lawyers most often face ethical issues using technology.

These are:

  • Confidentiality
  • Security
  • Marketing
  • Providing services electronically, and
  • Accessibility

There is a lot of information poured into these guidelines and it is an excellent overview of the most important issues facing lawyers today in terms of technology and its risks.  It is also a wonderful resource in terms of being a reference to further articles and information.

As much as some lawyers may prefer to not have to deal with the implications of technology in their practice, the fact is that the technological genie is out of the bottle.  Every story about Aladdin meeting the Genie highlights that, while the Genie is powerful and amazing, he does raise the spectre of the law of unintended consequences.

Accordingly it is incumbent on lawyers to understand how technology may not only be beneficial to their practice (I would go further and say necessary to their practice) but also how to recognize and minimize the risks that the technological genie raises.

Furthermore, as competition increases in the legal field and as the calls for greater access to justice get louder, technology is going to become more and more important in terms of being incorporated into the solutions to meet these challenges.  Accordingly understanding how to use technology ethically and appropriately will only loom larger.

For example there was a news story on cbc.ca yesterday on how a woman’s passport and other private information was freely available for viewing to anyone who was also on a hotel Wi-Fi network in Winnipeg. If she happened to be a lawyer and there was client confidential information on her laptop, that could have been not only embarrassing but an ethical breach of confidentiality as well.  Unfortunately with technology you can unwittingly stumble into problems.

These Guidelines are a wonderful resource for lawyers looking for guidance when using technology.  The CBA has stated that they intend to update this document every few years which is to be commended.  Given the rate of change in technology, these guidelines will help us to show us the way…

Photo by JD Hancock.

-David J . Bilinsky, Vancouver BC.

 

I was reminded earlier this week of the sage advice of one of my early mentors on the topic of “file avoidance,” a very particular form of procrastination that tends to attach itself to specific tasks on specific files.

He said:

“There will be files that you encounter in your career that, for one reason or another, you simply avoid.

“There may be no reason for it. You have tasks to be done and you absolutely know  how to do them.  But for one reason or the other, you never quite get to those files.

“They seem to linger and collect dust – and the problem just grows worse and worse until you fall behind.  But your avoidance just grows worse.

“There’s a simple solution. Whenever you encounter one of those files, just do something.

“Do something. Make a call, write a letter, draft a memo. Just take one step. The problem will magically disappear and you will be back on track.”

So this week’s tip, with the holidays immediately upon us, is that this is an optimal time to look through your file cabinet and identify any matters that have been unattended to for longer then you would have preferred.

And before embarking on that well deserved holiday break… just do something.

Write that email, make that call, send that memo, and create momentum so that inaction can be turned into action in the new year.

- Garry J. Wise, Toronto

 

♫  Inch by inch, row by row, I’m gonna make this garden grow
All it takes is a rake and a hoe and a piece of fertile ground…♫

Lyrics and music by: David Mallett, recorded by: Peter, Paul & Mary.

a dream is a wish

Abraham Lincoln is credited with saying: “The best way to predict your future is to create it”

Brian Tracy in his blog talks about the Golden Hour – a time that you set aside at the start of your day to work on the most important task you will have for your lifetime – namely your personal development.

Brian states:

[T]ake 30-60 minutes and read something motivational, inspirational or educational. Be sure that the first thing you put into your mind in the morning is positive, healthy and consistent with the kind of life you want to lead.

A colleague of mine, Tom Grella, has been following this philosophy for as long as I have known him.  He takes an hour a day to read books and study leadership as it applies to lawyers.  His time invested in this activity has paid off in spades.

Tom, the managing partner of McGuire, Wood & Bissette in Asheville, N.C., in 2012 was named the recipient of the Samuel S. Smith Award by the American Bar Association’s Law Practice Management Section.

“I cannot think of a more deserving honoree than Tom Grella. He epitomizes everything this award was created to recognize,” said Thomas Mighell, chair of the ABA Law Practice Management Section. “Tom stands out as a leader in LPM, the ABA and his law firm. His commitment to the improved growth and education of law practice management is steadfast, as demonstrated through his continued participation and leadership in LPM section activities.”

The lesson here is to start – today – in investing in yourself to become the person that you wish to be. Inch by inch, day by day, you will be making progress towards your goal.

Brian Tracy has great advice on how to make this happen. He says:

After you have completed your morning reading, take a spiral notebook and write out your top 10-15 goals in the present tense, exactly as if you have already achieved them. Write goals such as, “I earn $100,000 per year”; “I weigh 165 pounds and am superbly fit”; “I drive a brand new grey BMW”; “I live in a beautiful 3500 square foot home” and so on. Rewrite your list of goals every morning without referring back to the goals you wrote the day before. This is a very important success factor for you to practice in order to achieve your goals.

Only you will know what your goals are.. eHow says:

Think about what you value in life. Your goals and aspirations need to be in line with your values in life. Defining your values will help you to set a direction for your goals and keep you focused and on track.

Your goals can be as big and as broad as your imagination.  They could be to help your family and your children excel. They could be to make your business succeed. They could be to build your relationship with your spouse to be strong and powerful. Or they can aspire to achieve world peace and help end hunger.

As Ralph Waldo Emerson said: “Dare to live the life you have dreamed for yourself. Go forward and make your dreams come true.”

 

This week’s practice tip features a guest post from Rachel Spence, a law clerk  with Wise Law Office, on the importance of delegation in our work.  This article was previously featured at Wise Law Blog.

- Garry J. Wise

……………..

Delegate, Don’t Abdicate

The  simple truth is that as legal professionals, we require effective delegation like we require oxygen to breathe. There’s no need to be shy about why.

Delegation helps us to:

  • relieve stress,
  • improve efficiency,
  • complete client work at a lower cost (delegating tasks to an assistant or clerk who have a lower hourly rate),
  • move ahead in our careers by having time to take on new tasks,
  • create workplace trust,
  • enhance our knowledge base and others

Here is a step-by-step guide on how to delegate efficiently and effectively:

  1. Communicate the task – When is it due? Why does it need to be done? Are there any obstacles that may get in the person’s way? If so, detail them and how they can be avoided or dealt with.
  2. Provide Support – Ensure the person you are delegating to knows whether equipment, outside training, periodic feedback and meetings for review at critical points in the task are necessary.
  3. Determine Expectations - Be clear about how success will be measured.
  4. Confirm Understanding – Confirm that your expectations are clear and ask for evidence of understanding.
  5. Feedback on Results – Email, call or chat with the person about the end result.

It’s important to note that you should not delegate if:

  • There is not proper time to explain what needs to be done and why. This is key for legal professionals. You need to know the why to get to the how;
  • If the task is undesirable and you’re just looking for a scapegoat;
  • The employee clearly does not have the capabilities to get the work done;
  • If time is a crucial factor and,
  • The employee does not have the authority to complete a task.

The most important lesson in delegation:

Do NOT take the task back once it’s delegated. If you do this, you’re not helping yourself or the person you delegated the task to. If the task was not completed correctly, identify where the breakdown in communication occurred and resolve it immediately. Don’t waste time pointing fingers.

All of this said, it is important to note that implementing a system of procedures for employees to naturally follow is perhaps a more thoughtful approach to efficiency.

If you’re interested in further information on this topic, check out the links below:

- Rachel Spence, Toronto