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

technology  research  practice

All Our Practice Tips

♫ Light gives way to darkness
Unless we come alive.
So be the change you need to see.
Let yourself ignite…♫

Lyrics, music and recorded by Heartist.


(image by Erralix)

In the UK, “The Lord Chief Justice and the Master of the Rolls, as Head of Civil Justice, have asked Lord Justice Briggs to carry out an urgent review of the structure of the courts which deliver civil justice.” As part of this review is the consideration of the creation of an on-line court (“OC”) for ‘lower value disputes’. ( )

It is designed primarily for use by litigants, in person; it is to be ‘investigatory rather than purely adversarial’; it is to include conciliation, mediation and it is to be a mainstream rather than an alternative method of dispute resolution.

Face to face hearings are to be used only if ‘documentary, telephone or video alternatives’ are unavailable.

The issues that they will be examining and considering are:

At what level of value at risk (or other criteria) to set the ceiling of the OC.

Whether there are types of case which, regardless of value, are unsuited for resolution in the OC.

Whether use of the OC (once fully tested and proved) should be compulsory.

How to assist those for whom the conduct of litigation on-line is impossible or difficult.

Costs shifting between the parties.

A suitable rules regime for the OC.

How to achieve the transparency needed for the process to comply with the requirements of open justice.

The design of an appropriate appeals process.

If this sounds at all familiar, it should. British Columbia’s Civil Dispute Tribunal will be coming on-line in the near future. The Civil Resolution Tribunal Act will require parties with minor strata (i.e. condominium ) disputes and small claims matters (expected to be $10,000 or less) to use the mandatory CRT. The CRT will be Canada’s first online tribunal.

The CRT is intended to be a cost-effective and accessible process for resolving disputes.  Parties will not be filing documents in a courthouse or indeed attending hearing or trials.  They will be accessing the CRT online. No need for taking time off work to go to the court registry; the CRT website will be available 24/7 and asynchronous communications can be used.

The CRT will consist of two systems: the Solution Explorer is intended to help people with tools to access their options and resolve their dispute themselves. The second system will be the Dispute Resolution Service which will enable early resolution options and adjudications if necessary. In this way it is similar to the online dispute resolution mechanisms of eBay which assist parties to resolve their disputes. eBay’s system works: they resolve some 60 millions disputes a year, of which  over 80% are settled by the two parties and the software.

Indeed the Independent reports that the UK OC will be modelled on the eBay system:

Thousands of legal disputes would be settled online each year under plans for an eBay-inspired revolution in the civil justice system.

Judges would rule on cases involving up to £25,000 without the need for courts to be booked or for the parties involved to appear in person to give evidence. The proposed shake-up – which is supported by senior judges –  could also save large sums for the Ministry of Justice (MoJ).

These innovations in civil justice are just starting. But the advantages of ODR (Online Dispute Resolution) as compared to traditional trials are quickly apparent. The Canadian Department of Justice lists the advantages of ODR as follows:

  • ODR is a generally informal, flexible and creative tool of dispute resolution which is not governed by strict rules of procedure and evidence. This may allow the parties to design or participate in a process which can be moulded to suit their needs and encourages a consensual rather than an adversarial approach.
  • ODR may reduce litigation costs: this is of importance both to corporate parties who wish to keep costs down and to parties who otherwise might not be able to afford the cost of litigation. The costs of the process or compensation given to the neutral evaluator are generally borne equally by all parties, providing all parties with an equal stake in the outcome and an equal sense of ownership.
  • ODR may be the appropriate option particularly for low-cost, high-volume transaction as it often allows for a timely, cost-efficient and efficient resolution to problems where the amounts in dispute may not be sufficiently high to justify the cost of a meeting-based mediation (e.g. consumer disputes).
  • ODR also allows for a more cost-efficient resolution of disputes where there is significant geographic distance between the parties and the amount in dispute may preclude the cost of travel.
  • ODR may be appropriate where there are sensitivities between the parties that may be exacerbated by being in the same room (e.g. matrimonial disputes).
  • ODR may allow for the participation of parties who could not otherwise attend an in-person meeting due to a severe disability.
  • ODR is confidential (unless agreed otherwise by the parties), subject to the application of the Access to Information Act and of the Privacy Act when the federal government is a party. The process is appropriate when confidentiality is considered important or necessary to the parties, which is often the case: parties utilizing DR mechanisms usually do so on the basis that they can discuss matters freely in the expectation that they will be disclosed, neither publicly, nor to a court.

Certainly there are disadvantages of ODR, not the least of which is having those who are disadvantaged or with disabilities access the online resources necessary to participate.

However, when it comes to increasing access to justice and moving the justice system into the 21st century, there is no question that greater online resources will play a big part. The challenge for the legal and the justice system is to be the change that we need to see and let ourselves ignite to the possibilities that change might bring.

-David  J. Bilinsky, Vancouver.



There is no shortage of evangelism out there on the importance of the Internet as a platform for marketing law firms. I’ve certainly attempted to be a strong voice on this topic for well over a decade.

According to Toronto law firm marketing consultant, Sandra Bekhor, however, the legal marketing landscape has evolved, and the question has now shifted.

The importance of a well-positioned, frequently updated online footprint remains a given for law firm marketing.

The critical question today is whether that, alone, will be enough to guarantee success. In other words, can we do it all via our websites, blogs, Twitter, LinkedIn, and other social media platforms?

In her recent blog post, The single biggest web marketing mistake everyone (almost) is making,  Ms Bekhor suggests that professional practices take a renewed look at marketing opportunities offline, and argues for a new, coordinated balance between online and offline marketing efforts.

She offers the following tips:

  1. Weave back and forth, from online to off – my personal favourite. Whether it’s to network with prospective clients or referrers, go to or create your own live events, anything from seminars to cycling and wine tastings. Get out there (with your team) and press the flesh. And for those of you that are already doing so, stop keeping those activities in a silo. Use the internet to share your experiences, post photos and reconnect with the very same people you met in the flesh. They will remember you far better than having briefly scanned your profile and your online efforts will continue to solidify the connection. Keep doing it and your internet marketing will be more targeted, one degree at a time.
  2. Market to the neighborhood – especially fitting for medical clinics and other services targeting the local client. Every neighborhood has its own culture. Read the local paper, visit complementary businesses and generally tap into the comings and goings of the area to discover the best opportunities to get the word out about your firm. There are ample opportunities from sponsoring local events or teams, public speaking, networking opportunities and promotional partnerships. Start walking and talking. You might even enjoy yourself. What’s wrong with that?
  3. Use snail mail to pop from the clutter – That’s right, snail mail is the new internet! How many letters do you get these days? Would you notice if you received a personalized package from someone in your professional network? And what if it included a handwritten message, clever marketing materials or a surprisingly likeable keepsake? Don’t be too quick to dismiss direct mail as a viable option just because you had a couple of bad runs. There may very well be a logical explanation. Objectively, was the message clear and compelling? Did it reach the right audience? Did they even receive it? Did you follow up with subsequent mailings to build up to the appropriate frequency? Investigate.
  4. Pick up the phone, you know the part with the numbers that can actually call someone?! – I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard from clients that nobody calls anyone anymore. Our phones may be smart, but are we? We’re so busy texting, emailing and ‘liking’ that we’ve forgotten how to connect as human beings. Remember that a short call is a lot more powerful that posting something on LinkedIn to the audience that never showed up to read it.
  5. Better yet, go for coffee! And don’t let distance stop you, skype coffees count too!

(Full disclosure: Sandra Bekhor is, among other things, my significant other, and is currently the thought-leader in our home on this topic. I’m glad to share her comnents with our readers. I think she has this entirely right.)

– Garry J. Wise, Toronto


♫ Is the glass half full or half empty ?
It’s based on your perspective quite simply
We’re the same and we’re not, know what I’m saying, listen
Son, I ain’t better than you, I just think different…♫

Lyrics, music and recorded by Nujabes.

mind map

Image created by: Nicoguaro.

“Think Different” was the slogan for Apple, Inc at one time.  Steve Jobs said in the “One Last Thing” documentary:

When you grow up you tend to get told the world is the way it is and your life is just to live your life inside the world. Try not to bash into the walls too much. Try to have a nice family life, have fun, save a little money.

That’s a very limited life. Life can be much broader once you discover one simple fact, and that is – everything around you that you call life, was made up by people that were no smarter than you. And you can change it, you can influence it, you can build your own things that other people can use.

The minute that you understand that you can poke life and actually something will, you know if you push in, something will pop out the other side, that you can change it, you can mold it. That’s maybe the most important thing. It’s to shake off this erroneous notion that life is there and you’re just gonna live in it, versus embrace it, change it, improve it, make your mark upon it.

I think that’s very important and however you learn that, once you learn it, you’ll want to change life and make it better, cause it’s kind of messed up, in a lot of ways. Once you learn that, you’ll never be the same again.

OK so you want to poke life, you want to be able to change it, you want to make your mark and never be the same again. You want to ‘think different’.  Well, how do you, like, begin?

One of the ways is to start listening to new voices. is excellent in this regard (watch the presentations that are tagged ‘jaw dropping’ for example. You will not be the same again).

Another is by reading new books and publications. for example, lists the Best Books of 2015 (so far).

But if you want to start doing things differently you need new thinking tools. Mind mapping software falls within that category. Rather than listing ideas linearly, mind mapping allows you to graphically organize information by starting with a central idea and branching out from there. You create the relationships between concepts and relate them back to the central idea.

According to Wikipedia:

[T]he use of diagrams that visually “map” information using branching and radial maps traces back centuries. These pictorial methods record knowledge and model systems, and have a long history in learning, brainstorming, memory, visual thinking, and problem solving by educators, engineers, psychologists, and others.

And now lawyers. I know colleagues who use mind mapping software to plan examinations for discovery, to lay out the theory of their cases and to strategically outline their business plans. They are excellent for brainstorming, for organizing large amounts of information, to visualize relationships between ideas and for helping to make decisions.

Wikipedia states that mind mapping may be helpful in assisting with memory recall and can improve learning.

Lifehacker (also another fabulous web site for helping you to think differently) has an article listing the 5 best mind mapping applications.

Mind Mapping may be just part of the solution if we are going to look at change and in particular, think differently. As Steve has said, we must embrace it, change it, improve it and look for tools to help make your mark upon it.

David J. Bilinsky, Vancouver BC.


I’ll be tuning into the videocast of Barry Fisher’s 16th Annual Employment Law Summit in a few hours, so I suppose I have CPD on my mind.

Today’s post might be half rant, half tip, but I do have a few suggestions on Ontario’s CPD program for the LSUC that I will take the liberty of outlining:

  1. As your technology departments are capable of the miracle that brings CPD programmes directly to our video screens in real time, surely they can also develop a simple protocol to automatically post our LSUC CPD hours directly to the LSUC portal once a programme has completed. (Simply place the onus on any lawyers who didn’t attend to correct the record).
  2. While we are on the topic of the LSUC portal, is it really necessary to spend untold licensee dollars to send reminders by snail mail (in October) to licensees who haven’t yet posted their CPD hours?  This vital communication probably could work just as well by email. And save a few dollars and trees along the way.
  3. I’d be interested in videocast of CPD’s offered in other provinces by other law societies.  They’d broaden my perspective. Could some kind of inter-provincial CPD exchange agreement be considered?
  4. We need to have an on-demand videocast library.  The Law Society’s CPD video library is a buried treasure that should be as important a research tool as CanLii. In fact, CPD videos should all be made available via CanLii after a reasonable period of time has passed.
  5. There is not enough advanced CPD content for senior practitioners.
  6. It is time for a survey of all licensees as to how well the mandatory CPD programme is meeting actual learning and professional development objectives.
  7. LSUC shold be more proactive in seeking licensee input on CPD curricula and suggested subject matter.
  8. LSUC should consider providing training workshops for presenters.
  9. The LSUC CPD programme is on balance extremely well done and state of the art.  It is a real feather in LSUC’s cap, in my view.  But there is still much room for making it even better…

(Sorry to readers outside Ontario that this post was a bit Ontario-centric).

– Garry J  Wise, Toronto


♫ I got something that will sure ’nuff set your stuff on fire

Tell me something good (tell me, tell me, tell me)…♫

Lyrics and music by Stevie Wonder, recorded by Rufus and Chaka Khan,


Lawyers are sensitive souls. No lawyer wants to receive a complaint from a client.  However, what you don’t know can, in this case, actually hurt you.  The failure to complain by a dissatisfied client may result in the client leaving quietly but then causing maximal damage to the law firm’s reputation by talking to others about their bad experience.

When given a rational choice between hearing from a dissatisfied client 1-1 or having that client go out and speak to many others about their negative experience with a firm or lawyer, virtually everyone would choose to speak to the client and at least try to remedy their feelings.  Yet how many lawyers and law firms seek to find those unhappy clients and find out what went wrong before they cause damage?  We all know that word of mouth endorsements are worth their weight in gold; similarly negative word of mouth experiences can sink a firm’s reputation.

Yet few lawyers conduct client feedback surveys.  According to Joel Rose, a management consultant to law offices:

Information obtained from client surveys may be the most important marketing activity a law firm can undertake. Most firms that initiate client surveys have found their clients to be impressed that the firm cares about their opinions. Also, as the result of surveys, law firms may detect certain misunderstandings which, if not clarified, could fester and result in dissatisfied clients.

There are many ways to conduct a survey.  It can be a Word or PDF document mailed or emailed to clients; it can be conducted using an online tool such as SurveyMonkey.  It can be a telephone interview with the client by a firm member.  It could be done by inviting a small select group of clients one evening to come and talk confidentially with a few of the partners.

The approach used can be reflective of the resources of the firm, the number of clients to be surveyed, the ability of the clients to navigate an online survey, the desire to meet with people face to face and the like.  However done, it does have the ability to learn more about how the firm and its services are perceived and more importantly, how you can change to better meet your desired client’s needs.

I once read (unfortunately I can’t find the reference) that there are three essential questions to ask your clients.  These are:

  • What did we do right?
  • What did we do wrong?
  • How can we do it better next time?

You can nuance these how you wish but the essence is to find out what clients liked about your services, what didn’t they like and how you can improve on the client experience.

There are many other possible questions such as “How likely is it that you would recommend our services to others?” and “How do you compare the value we provide against other law firms you may have used?” and “How did you find out about our services?”

In terms of general design, I believe a shorter survey is better and more respecting of your client’s time.  Many writers state that providing a reward for completing the survey could be useful (but ensure that the cost doesn’t balloon out of control).

However you do it, you are sure to get some very valuable feedback and information.  If you can manage it, inviting clients to provide feedback immediately after closing a matter allows you to also repair any possible dissatisfaction before it is too late.

Once you get that information and feedback, the onus then shifts to you to do something with it.  Asking clients for feedback and failing to implement change is only going to create an impression that you are going thru the motions without really desiring change.

In fact the survey is an underused tool in most law firms. According to Quantisoft, there are many surveys that law firms can use to identify their strengths, weaknesses and opportunities such as:

  • Partner Evaluation Feedback Survey (Associate Attorneys evaluate Partners)
  • Associate Attorney Evaluation Feedback Survey (Partners evaluate Associate Attorneys)
  • Associate Attorney Development Survey (Associates provide feedback on their career goals and development, and workplace issues)
  • Administrative Staff Feedback Surveys (Providing feedback to Administrative Staff)
  • Opinion/Engagement/Satisfaction Surveys
  • Risk Assessment Surveys
  • IT customer satisfaction surveys
  • Other surveys designed to meet your Firm’s special needs.

Whether you do surveys of clients or of people internal to the firm, you are sure to learn something that will sure ’nuff set your stuff on fire.

-David J. Bilinsky, Vancouver,  BC.


Large enterprises typically have entire departments dedicated to maintaining positive cash flow.  They employ predictable, set  billing cycles, procedures that address accounts receivables, and where appropriate, safeguards to ensure that adequate deposits are on hand to secure pending purchases or services to be delivered.

Small businesses and professional practices generally do not have the resources or the know-how to maintain such discrete departments or to otherwise implement such efficiencies.

Nonetheless, with a bit of planning, organization, and structure, businesses and professional practices of every size can adopt procedures that can generate significant improvement in ongoing cash flow performance.

Here are some thoughts on how to improve cash flow in law practices, many of which may easily be applied to any business or service:

  1. There are five pillars to maintaining positive cash flow: 1) ensuring adequate retainer deposits are on hand; 2) “doing the work” effectively; 3) accurate, prompt time docketing; 4) regular billing cycles;  and 5) scheduled follow-ups on accounts receivables.
  2. Every member of your team has a role to play in improving cash flow by maximizing performance in each of these areas. Identify each person’s role. Include it in his or her job description. Create accountabilities, monitor and address this vital area at performance review meetings.
  3. Bill often and bill regularly.  Clients can’t pay bills unless they receive them. They also appreciate knowing where they stand, and frequent billing helps avoid unpleasant financial surprises.  Pick a  date each month that will be your billing date, and if it’s the 30th, make sure bills are done on the 30th.
  4. Accurate billing requires accurate, up-to-date docketing. The easiest way to get behind in your billing is to get behind in your docketing. Therefore, whether you do your own time recording or have assistance from administrative staff in doing so, ensure that your dockets are up-to-date, each day.
  5. Ensure that your calendar for “yesterday” is checked, each day, to verify that you haven’t missed recording any phone calls, meetings or other docketable events.
  6. Make it easy for your clients to pay their bills. That means setting up systems to accept credit card payments, email money transfers, and even online payments.   If your firm is lacking any of these facilities, set up a meeting with your bank and learn about your options and associated fees. You will be amazed at the difference when you no longer have to wait for cheques that mysteriously remain “in the mail.”
  7. It’s still all about effective client service. Develop systems to “make things happen” in your practice. Don’t let files sit. Develop processes that help you complete each stage of your clients’ work as quickly as possible.
  8. Ensure that there is complete “buy-in”  from all members of your team to this approach, and that each member of your team has an  understanding of how his or her contributions can make a genuine difference in your efforts to have the kinds of happy clients that make it easy to improve cash flow.
  9. If you have paid a disbursement for a client, do a “disbursements-only” invoice immediately once the payment has been made.
  10. Just as invoicing should ideally occur on a specified date each month, so should follow-ups on accounts receivables. Make the 15th your A-R day. When monies are owed, make telephone contact with your clients, and directly ask for payment via credit card, which can be made right then and there via telephone.
  11. Get adequate retainers when you start a matter, and religiously require retainer replenishment when retainer funds are exhausted. Ensure your retainer agreement specifies this requirement and details when you will be asking your clients for additional retainer deposits.
  12. Beyond that, be aware of your schedule in the month ahead. Pick a date each month to review whether you have adequate retainers on hand for the events scheduled, and make written requests for replenishment where you do not.
  13. Don’t bury your head in the sand when you have a problem account. Your retainer agreement should permit you to terminate service in such circumstances. This should not need to happen, however, except in the most extreme circumstances. Before you get to that stage, particularly in legitimate, demonstrated cases of financial hardship, explore whether payment plan options are workable, or whether satisfactory alternate arrangements can be made.
  14. Where you are acting for an out-of-province or out-of-country client, do not perform services without adequate retainers in advance. Inform your clients from the outset of this requirement, and don’t make exceptions. Collections outside your jurisdiction are an uphill and expensive battle.

Above all, maintain good communication with your clients.

While financial issues can be delicate to discuss, the more direct, candid  and approachable you remain, the greater likelihood you have of success in all aspects of your professional dealings, including the financial ones.

Not every example of slow payment results from a client’s financial hardship. If there is an issue with payment, take the time to speak with your client about any service-related concerns that may be at the root of any financial impasse that has emerged.

To state the obvious, happy clients are far more likely to pay their bills promptly than unhappy ones. Listen well, and address any concerns that are raised.

You may be pleasantly surprised at the difference.

– Garry J. Wise, Toronto.


♫  I need to hear from You 
Before this night is through 
I need to hear from You 
So I’m waiting, waiting just to hear from you…♫

Lyrics and music by: Robert Hartman, recorded by Petra.


This week, Garry Wise and I chatted about the possible topics that we could cover in this column over the next while.  Without being exhaustive, I pulled together the following list from our discussions.  Now it is up to you. In the comments section, please indicate which topic(s) are of greatest interest to you!  We really want to hear from you and to write on the topics that you most wish to hear about.

Here is the (incomplete) list of possible topics:

New ways of working:

  • Virtual office examples
  • Virtual assistants
  • Virtual contract lawyers
  • Using Skype and other communication methods to reach out
  • Portals
  • Collaboration tools/applications/websites
  • Dragon Dictate and VR on the Mac
  • IBM’s Watson and AI: What are the implications?

New Software/web tools:

  • Emerging Canadian software
  • Apps, Apps Apps!
  • Websites: Are they relevant anymore?
  • Blogs: Are they relevant anymore?
  • Vlogs: Are they the way to go?
  • Smartphones
  • Tablets
  • Sony paper
  • Microsoft’s Matter Center
  • Why use Twitter? Facebook? LinkedIn? Other SM ?
  • Windows 10
  • OS X El Capitan
  • Do Process Software

Capturing, Organizing and Using Information

  • Evernote and OneNote
  • Don’t Forget the Milk
  • Wunderlist
  • IFTTT recipes
  • Wikis and law firms
  • CanLII Connect
  • SurveyMonkey and lawyers/law firms
  • MindMapping: The New Way of Legal Thinking?

Security and Privacy

  • Portals
  • Encryption
  • Cryptolocker and other ransomware
  • Ethical Hacking?
  • How do you handle a security breach?
  • Canadian Backup and Storage Services
  • Canadian Hosted and Managed Services

Practice Management Software Reviews

  • CLIO
  • Amicus Attorney
  • MyCase
  • RocketMatter
  • PracticePanther
  • HoudiniESQ
  • LegalFiles
  • PCLaw
  • ProLaw
  • TimeSolv Legal
  • Synergy Legal Suite

Legal Accounting Software and lawyers

  • PCLaw
  • Brief Legal Software
  • Quickbooks
  • Sage50
  • XERO
  • BillQuick
  • CosmoLex

Stages in a Lawyer’s Life

  • Entering law school
  • Finding Articles
  • Life as an Associate
  • Life as a junior partner
  • Life as a senior partner
  • Life as a managing partner
  • Life as ‘of counsel’
  • Going out on Your own
  • Moving Firms
  • Finding an Associate
  • Office Sharing
  • Easing into Retirement
  • Moving an Office
  • Closing an Office

Using Consultants and Service Providers

  • Bookkeepers
  • IT providers
    • In house IT
    • Managed IT services
    • Hosted services
  • Working with Security professionals
  • How to use IT Consultants to Max Advantage
  • Apple vs Mac vs Does it Matter Anymore?
  • Finding and working with an Office Administrator

Setting up in Practice

  • Finding the right location
  • Finding the right staff
  • Working with staff
  • Balancing life and work
  • Hiring, firing and managing staff

New Ways of Handling Legal Matters

  • ADR
  • ODR
  • Virtual courts and trials
  • Setting up a virtual practice/services
  • Taking Technology to Court/Mediations/Arbitrations
  • Taking Technology to clients

Other Legal Software

  • Optinet Systems
  • Emergent Solutions
  • Tracument
  • Triage Data Solutions
  • Dye & Durham
  • Thomson Reuters
  • Lexis Nexis
  • Econveyance
  • Esentire
  • Worldox
  • Primafact
  • SAI Systems Auditing
  • LexBox
  • WordRake
  • SimplyFile

Innovative ways of Practising:

  • Cognition LLP
  • Axess Law
  • ABS across the world

New Ways of Thinking about Legal Practice

Whatever we have missed.

Please indicate in the Comments (below) the topic(s) that are most important. Or drop me a line at  We hope to hear from you!



They may be the three most difficult words for certain professionals to utter.

The mere temptation to speak them aloud has even been known (among some, it is rumoured), to dredge up sweaty palms, blinding pillars of ego and fortress-thick walls of denial.

I don’t know. 

Or if you prefer, I dunno.

Je ne sais pas.

Or or as it is said in ancient legalese, “a comprehensive answer to this most important enquiry is not yet at my immediate fingertips.”

However you phrase it, get used to saying it.

I don’t know. 

There are lots of things we are all comfortable not knowing.

What will tomorrow’s weather be? Which leaders should we vote for? Does life as we know it exist elsewhere in the cosmos? Will the Leafs ever host another parade on Bay Street?

We just don’t know.  Somehow, we manage to live with that.

And when it involves our professional lives, I’d suggest that comfortably saying those three words is actually in our job descriptions.  And at times, our codes of ethics.

This is not something to worry over.

We can’t expect ourselves to know everything on the spot. We can’t possibly be fully up to speed on every section of every statute or every single reported decision that has emerged in the last 24 hours – or  24 years.  Our duty of care to our clients surely includes a duty, before providing an opinion,  to carefully research and consider all applicable law that will  be relevant to whatever riddles we are unraveling.

That will usually take a bit of time, and that is generally not something to be uncomfortable with.  Given the ample research and networking tools now available, we can all feel quite confident that good answers will never be very far away.

So, when you don’t know the answer, just say “I don’t know (but I will).”

I would suggest that for new lawyers, in particular, doing so is a survival skill.

Now, I am a realist, and understand that it may a hurdle too high for some to utter those exact three words.   In deference to them, I therefore offer my Top Ten* serious ways for lawyers to say “I don’t know” without actually saying “I don’t know:”

  1.  That’s a really good question, and I’d like to take a day or two to review the law before I give you a firm opinion.
  2.  The law has usually been “x” on this, but I’m pretty sure I came across a case recently that went the other way. I will look it up and let you know.
  3.  That’s a very technical question.  As a first step,  I’d like to consult with  a colleague who specializes in this area of the law.
  4.  That question may be one that would be better handled by your accountant. Let’s give her a call to discuss it.
  5.  That question is  outside my area of practice. I’d like to arrange a referral for you to speak to a specialist who works regularly in this area.
  6.  That question is likely governed by the [name of statute] Act.  Let me look it up and get back to you.
  7. There’s very good website that addresses this.  Can I send you a link?
  8. That question is now before the Supreme Court of Canada. We won’t really know until the court decides, at some point in the next six months.
  9. It will be necessary for me to review quite a bit of documentation in order to properly assess this  situation. That will take a little time.
  10.  This question is in a gray zone, and I’m not sure if a court  has ruled on it recently. Let me see if I can find a case that will give us some guidance on this.

(*to be used only in circumstances where factually applicable)

So that’s today’s tip.    You may not know the answer immediately, but you will find it. Just keep your clients in the loop. And take the time you need –  to know.

Garry J. Wise, Toronto


♫ Where you lead, I will follow
Anywhere that you tell me to
If you need, you need me to be with you
I will follow where you lead..♫

Lyrics and music by Toni Stern and Carole King, recorded by Carole King.


Lawyers, I surmise, believe with their long history and experience that they are the innovators of any changes in the legal/justice system.  However, that theory may need further examination. In fact it may have to be turned onto its head.

There is a countervailing theory, promoted by Eric von Hippel and others, that users and consumers of services, (in our case, legal services) are actually the innovators of new services rather than suppliers of those services, or in our case, lawyers.

For example:

“User innovation doesn’t only extend to tangible products but also services. von Hippel found that eighty-five percent of individuals self-provided themselves with accounting and banking processes before banks offered this service.”

Imagine. Clients finding and directing the changes that they desire in legal services and providing them to themselves.  How could this happen?

“An extension of user innovations is the idea of lead users. These are the individuals who first feel the need for a product or service and create it for themselves. Lead user identification is an essential method used by companies to identify the newest innovations in their product areas giving them crucial insight on the needs of their users.”

How many lawyers and law firms are focused on the idea of lead users and innovation? How many of us are focused on this innovation segment?   Indeed how many lawyers and law firms are actually focused on innovation in the delivery of legal services?

Professor von Hipple:

“finds it interesting that in the UK, 8% (3-4 million people) of consumers modify the product that they use.”

In fact,

“He stressed the fact that the number of consumers modifying products and thereby innovating outweighs the number of people doing this in companies”

Perhaps we need to be listening to our clients …much more than we are doing right now.  The consumers of legal services may in fact be showing us the innovations that we as lawyers need to make to our delivery of legal services.

In fact, they may just be showing us the way..


September has arrived, ushering in a new season, and, after our summer reprieves, the beginning of a new work cycle.

Whether you are a sole practitioner, a new lawyer, or the managing partner at a large firm, September is also an optimal time for big-picture reflection, planning and setting new goals.

On a smaller scale, however, it occurs to me there are a few simple  things we can all do that could be as positively impactful on our professional successes (and satisfaction) as the most elaborate of strategic plans.

In that vein, here are my tips for September:

  1. Help make your office as relaxed and happy as possible. Creating an environment that you and others in your firm look forward to being at will always be a winning strategy.
  2. Do it early. Deadlines are rarely a surprise or suddenly imposed.  Trying planning your schedule to leave real breathing space so that tasks can be completed early, not at the last minute.
  3. Don’t let that file sit.  One of my first mentors put it this way: “There will always be files you avoid, for good reasons or bad.   If you let them fester, those files will eventually bite you back.  The solution is easy  –  just do something. Make a call, write a letter,  send a memo or schedule an appointment, but just do something on the file.”  It is that easy to change momentum
  4. Less is more,  especially in pleadings and argument. Strive for  economy in your use of language.  People – including judges – will probably appreciate it.  And as an added bonus,  you will likely become more effective.
  5. Establish a system.  Have a look at your most frequent, typical tasks, and figure out ways to streamline them. Try to organize templates, limit unnecessary steps, and generally, standardize where possible.   This will save time, eliminate guesswork, and reduce the potential for errors and omissions.
  6. Take a walk. Build break time into your daily schedule, and try to keep those breaks as work-free as is possible.
  7. Say thank you. There are a lot of people contributing to your professional successes. Once in a while, let them know you appreciate them. They will appreciate you back.
  8. Listen to an expert.  It’s impossible for any of us to know as much as we would like to know about every thing. You will always have questions about practice-building and technical and factual issues in your files.  You may not know the answers, but someone will. Make it part of your job description to locate and connect with those “someones.”
  9. Delegate.  The MBAs of the world are right on this.
  10. Participate.  The CBA and law societies, among others, are almost constantly seeking input from the profession  on any number of current topics. Get involved. Let your voice be heard. It will make your job more rewarding and more fun, and you will meet lots of great people in the process.
  11. (Bonus tip) Vape, don’t smoke.

Enjoy our new season.  And to those who celebrated this past week, Shana Tova – a happy and healthy new year from all the Slaw Tippers to you and yours.

Garry J . Wise, Toronto