All Our Practice Tips
“Chunking” the Daunting Task
Ahead of me laid a mountain of a mediation memo. On one side a complex liability scenario had to be made easily digestible. Expert and lay witnesses provided converging and diverging testimony, and I had to explain why I happened to have the best interpretation. Hundreds of pages of reports lay in store, needing analysis with a fine-tooth comb and a magician’s touch to transform it all to less than a dozen pages. On the other side the damages story awaited. Millions of dollars claimed, another set of reports and analysis. Where to start, how to start, should I even start? It’s a good thing there was a deadline.
My mind wandered, staring into the abyss (self-starter? Who, me?), as I pondered the daunting task. Many moons ago I tutored wee little ones in math. They struggled mightily with algebra, confused by the letters that represented numbers (2x+5=15? Huh?). So we approached a problem by breaking into into chunks. We discovered even more basic problems with addition, subtraction, and counting. We began with the simplest chunks, counting with our fingers as we performed basic arithmetic. And slowly worked our way through, chunk by chunk, until the problem was solved. Thus the complex task was conquered, reconstructed into a sequence of simple chunks.
I approached the memo the same way. I broke it down into sections. Liability and damages to start. Then liability into five more sections, damages into three. I booked dates and times to do each section. I proceeded with the first section, then the next, then the next, and before I knew it I was done.
So if you’re stuck on a big task, “chunk” it. Break it down into smaller parts and approach each little part one at a time.
—Ian Hu (@IanHuLawpro)
Does Your Law Firm Need a New Website?
Web design is a fast-moving field. Do these changes make you wonder if it’s time to update your law firm’s website? The decision itself can be daunting. Does it need to be an overhaul? Or should we just tweak? How much is enough? Will it even make a difference?
Why not take a scientific approach and deconstruct your site to better assess its current state?
Here are a few questions to get you started:
- Branding – From words to pictures, does the website integrate your professional identity, appropriately and creatively? Or, put another way, does it make you proud?
- Audience – Will those who are a fit know that the site is speaking to them? Will those who aren’t know that it isn’t?
- Writing style – Is the voice an honest representation of your people, culture and attitude?
- Contact information – Is it easy to find on every page?
- Call to action – Is it clear and compelling why the reader should contact you? Are there more than one calls to action competing for attention?
- Navigation – Will visitors know where they are, no matter where they land on your site?
- Function – Does the site present properly on mobile? Does it download quickly on desktop? Is it secure?
- Search Engine Optimization (SEO) – Is the site findable? Have any people or branding objectives been sacrificed in making it so?
As you try to assess the scale and timing of any updates to your website, consider its greater value. How important is your website to practice development? Recruiting? Media coverage? As an online hub, generally?
If you have some clarity about the role your website plays in helping to meet firm objectives, you’ll be better able to assess the value of the cost and time involved in this update. That’s when you can stop wondering and start moving along with some decisions.
– Sandra Bekhor, Toronto
For more reading on website design, see these past articles on SlawTips:
Also, see the following articles by Sandra Bekhor at Toronto Marketing Blog:
AndreaCan’s No.1 Tip to Get a Grip
Begin your journey towards intentional organization™ with the first thing Master Virtual Assistant AndreaCan counsels her clients:
The first thing I teach to stressed out lawyers is to write things down. Not on post its or various yellow pads – in the same spot. Get a notebook, I recommend and use a Moleskin … cuz if it was good enough for Hemingway – seriously, because it is small enough to be portable yet large enough to be useful.
Every morning, I open to a new page, date it and use that page to capture any of the things I need to write down that day – things to do, notes from calls, numbers, names, etc. All that goes on the right hand side of the new page. On the left hand side is where I leave space for what I term more free flowing thoughts – the navigational trees, bubble maps and brain dumps.
At the end of the day, I take a few minutes to transfer anything that needs to go digital and I put a check mark through each item as I do. Now I can instantly see what is also digital but I’m careful not to obscure the information on the page <- you’d be surprised how many times you’ll use the book vs. searching digitally for information!
On the off chance I lose my notebook – I make a digital record by taking snapshots of each page and loading them to Evernote. That said, I have yet to lose one. In fact, I go through them all towards the end of each year – partly for fun and partly to help me work through the next year’s focus re: marketing, events and promotions.
To learn more about Andrea’s ways to calm the crazy, enter your email at the bottom of:
Have a Task? Book an Appointment to Do It
When I joined the law firm as a mid-level associate, the managing partner shook my hand and welcomed me. “We’re happy to have you”, he said. “I’m happy to be here”, I said, and asked, “where are my files?” “In your office. You have one hundred to start with.” I walked with excitement and, admittedly, not a little fear and trembling, into my office, fired up my computer, and thanked my lucky stars for joining a paperless firm. Then I clicked on each file from A to Z. Where to start? What to do? Didn’t every file need tasks doing right now?
I froze a bit and thought I should surf the web. That would really do the trick. The files run themselves, you know. Snapping back to real-life, I took a sip of coffee and reviewed every file, drafted up one-page summaries of each, and set out the to-dos for every file. Then I really did freeze. Same question. Where do I start? Best to procrastinate and get to know my fellow colleagues. I marched over and chatted with the lawyer next door – literally in the next office – and we talked about everything but files. Before I left, I casually asked, “By the way, how do you manage your tasks? I’ve got hundreds of tasks for all these files and don’t know what’s the best way to start.” And, as casually as I asked, casually came advice that changed my practice forever.
“Oh, that one’s easy. Book an appointment for every task. And book separate appointments for all your files to review them. Thirty minutes a file, three months between reviews, then however long you think is appropriate.”
I dutifully did so. And I have rarely been surprised by what needs to be done, or has(n’t) been done on a file since. So there it is. There are many ways to manage your tasks, from daily to-do lists to ongoing master to-do lists. This one, slightly novel, worked for me. Make your to-dos appointments in your calendar. When the time comes, do the task. If you can’t get around to it that day, book another appointment. Yes, this fills up your calendar, but the reward is an effective and free task-management system.
—Ian Hu (@IanHuLawpro)
Are You Intentional About Saving for the Future?
A number of Canadians wait until the last minute to contribute to their RRSP. Perhaps it’s a financial hangover after the Christmas bills have come in or a general avoidance to deal with their finances. Often the RSP investment is made without any real thought on how the investment will be withdrawn to create and income stream in retirement or without considering alternative types of investments such as a TFSA. Before the March 1st deadline ask yourself: have I created a plan to pay as little tax as possible when I start to draw an income from my investments?
Are all investments taxed the same? The answer is no….
The important thing to understand about passive income is that different types of investments are also taxed differently. For example Interest income is taxed more heavily up front and capital gains investments are taxed more when you withdraw them. Some have limits as to how much can be invested such as the RRSP and TFSA, for example.
How risky is it to invest?
Certain passive investments do not guarantee income, such as stocks or equity mutual funds, while other assets such as annuities provide a contractual income guarantee. Some passive investments receive income from different types of asset classes, such as a balanced mutual fund, and some depending on the asset type, will produce a small, moderate, or higher income to live on. Keep in mind RSP and TFSA can be invested in any asset class you choose.
Some investments that create income might be more conservative in terms of income earned (GIC for example) but a lower risk of losing the amount you invested while others might produce a higher return (like a stock) but your investment is at a greater risk of short term loss. Keep in mind RSP and TFSA can be invested in any asset class you choose.
The ideal scenario is to have multiple passive income streams working on your behalf so that you are not having to draw income from only one type of investment. This helps to spread out the taxes and risks over a number of investment sources.
—Jackie Porter (@askjackieporter)
Last Night I Dreamed I Was at One of My Old Jobs. I Woke Up to Heaven.
There I was at the office, churning away, berated by my boss, being laughed at, missing meetings, leavings tasks unfinished. Everywhere my heart raced, a test around every corner. Perform or perish – I was perishing. But then the fog of sleep lifted, the grey clouds of my old job giving way to the sunshine of reality. The old job long gone, I breathed in the heaven of the here and now. Sometimes a nightmare is good for the soul.
Perhaps because I love giving advice more than taking it, I often talk to lawyers considering a career change. I have seen lawyers write out a list of all the pros and cons about their current position, do the same about another position, and compare the two. I have seen flow charts looking like Nobel prize-winning chemistry equations diagramming possibilities and priorities. I have seen lawyers meander about from story to story, soul-searching their personal histories for the holy grail of meaning. I have seen calculations measuring income adjusted for standard of living, taking into consideration the cost of health benefits, sick days, vacation days, commuting time and cost, and pension matching programs, to arrive at the best possible total compensation. But it is the rare bird who thinks about the question under the three heads of happiness: autonomy, relatedness, and competence.
Strong research, and now popular psychology, supports the theory that happiness correlates with your own perception of your level of independence, the quality of your relationships, and how good you think you are at what you do. Young lawyers, you may have low levels of autonomy depending on the kind of files you are working on. Do you have the patience to wait it out, gain experience, and eventually achieve autonomy as a more experienced lawyer? Can you find autonomy and satisfaction in the task assigned to you? It may well be a matter of perspective and delaying gratification. Relationships at work can vary from place to place. If you are unhappy with your friendships at work, or lack thereof, is the problem the workplace or you? Might a change of scenery affect that? Feeling competent is hard for a lawyer. Most of us are perfectionists and little mistakes can be costly. Do your colleagues support you enough? Can you improve your resilience? (Research shows that resilience is one of the most train-able skills.)
So today’s tip: if you’re considering a change of scenery, take stock of your levels of autonomy, relatedness, and competence. Assess your abilities in each and determine if the weakness lies in you or the job. You’ll have a better idea of what to do about the former (train up!) and about the latter.
—Ian Hu (@IanHuLawpro)
Search Your Name!
You’ve probably done it before. And maybe there were no surprises. Nothing to worry about. That’s great. But how long has it been? This internet that we love so much? It’s not really known for ‘staying put’. Blink once and something will happen.
And while you’re developing new habits, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to also search your firm name and the names of your associates and staff, particularly if they’re meeting with clients.
You may be pleasantly surprised. Some new, complementary reviews that you didn’t know about? Great. Post them on your website. Thank the generous clients and referrers that wrote them. Ask if they wouldn’t mind cross posting the same comments elsewhere. LawyerRatingz. Google Plus. LinkedIn…
Or, you may find less than pleasing results. It happens. Bad reviews. Strange or inappropriate information about your team.
Either way, it’s helpful to know what’s out there before your clients do. That way, whether it’s good news or bad, you can position yourself to make the most of the situation.
– Sandra Bekhor, Toronto
The Power of a Deep Breath – Find Yours
Start right now.
Place your hand on your heart. Notice your heart beat beneath the palm.
Think of someone or something that brings you happiness. You can’t help but gently smile.
Take a slow, deep breath. Feel your chest rise as you inhale. Feel your heart beat against the palm of your hand.
Hold for one or two counts.
Repeat three to five times.
Remember, this practice is for you. Find your own pace, one that feels good to you. Time your inhale and exhale to the count of five or more if you prefer.
Close your eyes, or leave them open. Which is more natural to you?
If you are in a public place and don’t want to put your hand on your heart, that’s ok, leave that out.
Join me in practicing this simple pause to breathe three times a day. How hard can that be?
Really hard sometimes, until it becomes habit.
As a shallow breather by default, I now practice deep breathing three or more times a day to help counteract this natural propensity.
When I become immersed in my work, I stop breathing from my diaphragm. This increases both physical and mental tension.
Taking mini breaks during the day to consciously breathe helps me clear my head and body, and regain my focus.
Deep breathing also sends a signal to the brain I am relaxing and flips my mental switch from stressed to relaxed.
In a relaxed state we all have enhanced cognitive capacity and enhanced decision-making skills. We can better handle all the environmental distractions and triggers around us.
Join me in adding this simple deep breathing practice to your day.
Notice and enjoy the benefits.
Send me an email to let me know what you discover!
Uncivil Conduct Can Be Cured With Civil Conduct
For several years I worked in a small-ish town in a small-ish bar where everybody knew your name. Stepping into an examination for discovery was almost as familiar as stepping into Cheers. During an examination for a discovery of my client, defence counsel – a lawyer who was typically patient and good-natured – became frustrated and raised his voice. I let it go. But the anger continued into the next question, louder still, demanding my client answer the question with more clarity. I stuck out my hand, fingers up, palm out, to indicate to my client not to answer. Defence counsel whipped around, facing me, eyes digging into me, “What? I’m entitled to an answer!” To which I answered, poker-face, in as calm and measured as a tone as I could muster while maintaining eye contact, “For the record, defence counsel’s voice has raised to an unacceptable level in my view. Let’s take a break. I could use a coffee.” I nodded to my client and we stood up and walked over to grab a few snacks. Defence counsel followed suit, nary a word between us. When we returned to the room, the discovery continued civilly.
After the discovery I received an email from defence counsel apologizing for his conduct. He was going through some problems outside of work. It was unnecessary but a nice gesture – whatever wrong was done was forgiven quickly. Uncivil conduct can be cured with civil conduct. I try and remind myself whenever I see someone treat me poorly that “it’s not personal”. It is likely a bad day for that person, or it is how that person treats everybody. Somehow that helps me forgive and soldier on. It’s a small thing, but I hope it helps you too.
—Ian Hu (@IanHuLawpro)
Financial Headwinds to Avoid in 2018
2017 has already come and gone and while it may have seemed like a volatile year from a political perspective, it was actually a very stable rise in the investment markets. In fact the VIX, a measure of volatility in the markets, was one of the lowest on record we have seen in this decade. Often when we have had such periods of market stability, investors underestimate market risk. Here are some financial headwinds to avoid in 2018:
- Borrowing costs will likely rise in 2018.
The economy’s improving, and chances are interest rates will go up. Are you ready?
- Consider interest rates before taking on more debt.
If you have a variable-rate mortgage or a home-equity line of credit, expect your interest rate to keep pace with these increases. Protect yourself by paying down your debts.
- Dealing with low savings rates.
Rates on savings account will probably remain unchanged. Waiting for your big bank to boost savings rates to meaningful levels – equal to the cost of living, or better – is point- less. Search for an online bank with a competitive return on savings. My favorite online site for great rates is Ratehub.ca
- Following the crowd when it comes to crypto currencies.
There’s a gold-rush aspect to bitcoin and other crypto currencies, but it’s also a technology story, an investing story and a testament to how trust in public institutions is decaying. Remember, bitcoin is a virtual currency that isn’t backed by anything tangible such as a government and its central bank.
- Not having a diversified portfolio.
A common reason why stock markets crash is fear of recession. The economies in the United States, Canada and elsewhere seem to be improving, which should be good news for stocks. But there’s a feeling of complacency about risk these days that has to be acknowledged. DON’T forget bonds or GICs still have a place in your portfolio.
- Not understanding what you are paying for investment management fees.
It’s hard to find an investing expert who doesn’t believe we’re in an era of more modest investment returns than we’ve seen in previous periods. Current returns may be a temporary bubble. Lowering fees is one way to get back. Look at what you pay, and what you get for the money. An advisor who skillfully manages your portfolio, your retirement plan and your tax situation may be worth the money.
—Jackie Porter (@askjackieporter)