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As this fall marks another season of incoming new lawyers and articling students, this tip is for you. When you receive your first assignment from your articling principal or senior lawyer, you may be left wondering where you should start. Sometimes the answer is with the assigning lawyer’s assistant or law clerk. The assistant can provide you with similar precedents the assigning lawyer has already perfected. These precedents can provide you with valuable insights into the legal writing and work product you are expected to achieve.

Yes, you can tackle the work on your own without any guidance – but wouldn’t it be easier to follow the well-worn path? Many assignments do not require you to reinvent the wheel. A statement of claim is likely to set out the theory of liability and damages, which may closely mirror past cases. Pay attention to the wording used in precedents, as the phrases used may be taken directly from cases. The same goes for research memos, letters to clients, factums, etc. While Google and CanLII can be very helpful, don’t neglect the human resource available to you a few steps away.

Ian Hu (@IanHuLawpro)

 

This tip was inspired by a young mother I know, a senior associate at a big firm, who shared with me her recipe for handling the challenging tension between mom-time and lawyer time: the early escape.

Here’s how it works: One night a week she stays late at the office, until between eight and ten at night, depending on the week. Then, two days later, she leaves the office in the early afternoon to pick her kids up early from daycare for some special time with them.

This wonderful “life hack” checks two important boxes for her. She checks her productivity box by getting gets a nice uninterrupted period of time each week to push through a whole lot of work. She also checks what she calls her “mommy box” with this dose of fun unstructured time with her kids.

Once you put in your time and rise in the ranks in a law firm, these opportunities for flex time open up, if you are willing to take advantage of them. The twin bottom lines in private practice – service to clients and the billable hour – can both be well served within a flexible schedule.

It turns out this strategy is also frequently employed by professionals in other sectors. New York Times journalist Neil Irwin reports on this trend in his article: “How Some Men Fake an 80-Hour Workweek, and Why It Matters” citing the research conducted by Erin Reid, a professor at Boston University’s Questrom School of Business. Reid conducted a study of more than 100 professionals at an elite consulting firm.

“Some 31 percent of the men and 11 percent of the women whose records Ms. Reid examined managed to achieve the benefits of a more moderate work schedule without explicitly asking for it.

They made an effort to line up clients who were local, reducing the need for travel. When they skipped work to spend time with their children or spouse, they didn’t call attention to it. One team on which several members had small children agreed among themselves to cover for one another so that everyone could have more flexible hours.”

Our devices allow us to be connected to the office day and night. For many this on-line connectivity functions as a ball and chain that means we are never truly off work. By setting boundaries though, and using these devices to their full advantage, you can get out of the office and onto the soccer field when you need to. There are many ways to be out of the office and in a meeting. It might be a meeting with clients, or at your child’s school. In the case of one very in-demand associate I know it meant he was at the gym.

There are still those old school lawyers – dare I say dinosaurs – who insist that what really counts is time at your desk. They want to see you in at the office in the early morning and still there past the supper hour. I say what really counts is the quality of your work, your relationship with your clients, and how you manage your practice. All three of these get the most optimal results when you are well rested, energized, and in a positive state of mind.

Have a look at your workweek and see where you can introduce some flexibility into the mix. Experiment with mixing up your working hours and see what kind of an impact that has for you overall. I especially urge you to get out of the office early some of these last days of summer. Give it a try – you just might like the results.

[This tip by Allison Wolf originally appeared on the Lawyer with a Life Blog]

 

No one likes to talk about digital security. Heck, say “F T P” to some people and watch their eyes immediately glaze over.  I get it. It’s techy and geeky and those who are not, just smile and nod.  However, whether you are geeky or not, digital security is immensely important to the health of your business and even your personal life.

I’ve been trying to get the core concepts of digital security out there for over a decade.  My first presentation for the OIVAC (way back in 2006) only touched upon what one needs to consider when it comes to the security of their privacy, equipment, business/client information, data collection and website.  I got rave reviews, but the comments made me realize just how little attention anyone was paying to the digital security of their business <-and that you couldn’t put that much raw intel about digital security into anyone’s head in one sitting. 😉

I’ve refined that presentation over the years, breaking it up into more digestible parts.  At just about 2 minutes, this short and pithy video captures the basics of digital security in, what I like to think, is a relatable and fun way:

Digital Security Salad http://ow.ly/7eZ230eyWua

Please comment if you like or not — I’m reworking the parts about data collection and website security next and would LOVE to know if the whole “relate it to food” concept works <g>

____________________

Andrea Cannavina (@AndreaCan) helps law firms organize, automate and implement business process improvements to create efficient workflows and happier staff. 

 

“Measure Cash flow by how much you keep not how much you earn,”  Lifehacker 09/08/2014

Lawyers have a notorious reputation for appreciating the finer things in life. High end cars, vacations, a beautiful home in a desirable location, designer clothing and other luxury items are often some of the perks lawyers associate with being successful in their profession.

Unfortunately many lawyers often do not realize what their lifestyle is costing them.  Very few track their spending to see if the money being spent is actually in line with their priorities. I encourage you to take a closer look at your spending in order to hone in on your values.  Ask yourself, does my spending reflect my priorities; am I spending most of the income I earn?  The truth is, if you do not have a sense of where your money is going, you are likely to spend more of it, even if your income continues to increase.  This leaves you vulnerable in getting caught in the lifestyle trap of always having to work to create income

As you become more successful and mature as a legal professional, the lifestyle trap means you could be earning a significant income,  have all the trappings of wealth, but no real wealth or savings to rely on in the future.

Jackie Porter (@askjackieporter)

 

A client insisted on meeting me in the midst of a busy day. Fully booked, I reluctantly agreed to meet the client at the end of the day. We began happily enough with the usual pleasantries. But once we sat down, a monster arose from the deep. One problem after another fell on my lap, and I began to parry. Despite all my best efforts, we began to talk in circles. Exhausted, my better judgment, along with my defences, fell, and tempers flared. After hours passed by, we bid adieu, accomplished nothing, each left stewing at the other. Despite all the other good interactions we had, the argument left a lingering bad taste. When the file resolved, I was, I’m sure, as relieved as the client was, to part ways. There are better ways to practice law.

Decision fatigue is the theory that we begin the day with a full tank of decision-making gas. With every decision we make, we burn up a little more gas. By day’s end we are running on empty, and we fall into two precarious states: conservativism, by which we stick with the status quo simply because it is the path of least resistance; or irrationalism, by which we make poor choices. Any one who has eaten a bag of potato chips at midnight understands this plight.

So the tip: avoid the end of day meeting if there is any potential for conflict. It is better at the beginning.

Ian Hu (@IanHuLawpro)

 

While interest in the role and importance of leadership in law firms continues to grow and solidify, it may not yet be obvious to many when investing in such improvements should become priority. If you’re starting to wonder if your law firm needs more leadership, you may find that before you can answer your own question, you first need a better understanding of the various dimensions and implications of leadership.

So, what is leadership within the context of a law firm?

Well, there are two ways of looking at it – internally and externally. Internally refers to leading others within the firm. Externally refers to playing a leadership role with clients, referrers and the general community, outside of the firm.

Either way, to begin making an assessment about the firm’s current leadership level, start asking yourself questions about vision, engagement and reputation. To get the discussion rolling:

  • Do others follow the firm’s leaders, even when they don’t report to those individuals?
  • Do the partners, lawyers and staff feel like they have a sense of purpose?
  • Do the firm’s leaders have influence with others in the firm? Outside of the firm?
  • Can you describe the firm culture and its impact on employees and clients?
  • Is staff turnover a concern? Is client turnover a concern?
  • Are employees engaged?
  • Do people work well with each other?
  • Does the firm have a positive reputation (for its work and otherwise) with referrers and in the general marketplace?

If you conclude that your firm is lacking in any of these areas, likely it would benefit from more leadership. So, where should you begin?

There are many ways to facilitate this change. But the right way for your firm will depend on where on the organizational chart leadership is lacking. If it’s at the top, a strategic plan might be in order. If it’s needed throughout or only a priority with specific individuals (key players or managers lacking experience), a combination of mentoring, training and coaching may be the answer.

So, today’s tip? Start asking probing questions to assess if your law firm needs more leadership. If the answer is yes, begin the process of planning for change!

For reading related to leadership, see these past articles on SlawTips:

Also, see the following articles by Sandra Bekhor at Toronto Marketing Blog:

Sandra Bekhor, Toronto

 

How is marketing a law firm different from marketing a packaged goods business? Instead of creating desire for a product, you are creating connection with people.

So, it stands to reason that the basic structure of a marketing plan that say sells detergent doesn’t quite cut it for lawyers. Aside from the obvious difference in the implementation of the plan, there’s a critical step missing. The piece that outlines how to market the individual professionals participating in the plan (whether they are speaking, writing, networking or other) is called the personal marketing plan.

  • The firm level marketing plan includes all the aspects of the plan that represent the firm as a cohesive unit, like the logo, website, business presentations, brochures, business cards, signage, stationery, company pages on social media, firm videos, newsletters… Essentially, all the elements that require a high degree of consistency and professionalism, across the board.
  • The personal level marketing plan, on the other hand, includes the specific activities of each participating individual.

While the firm and personal levels of the marketing plan are distinct steps, there are many synergies between the two. So, for example, if the individuals participating in the plan were planning to be heavy users of social media, the firm level plan could include a modern web presence, a blog, a social media strategy and a PR strategy. If, instead, participants were planning to do a lot of speaking, the firm level plan could include proposal letters, research on venues, a power point presentation and a newsletter.

The beauty of formalizing personal marketing activities (which many lawyers actually get to, but on more of an ad hoc basis), is that they create a self reinforcing loop with the firm’s marketing efforts. Individuals are set up to succeed, by way of the firm’s activities. And, in turn, when the individual lawyers succeed with their personal plans, the firm’s efforts get a boost. And so on. And so on…

For more reading on marketing plans, see these past articles on SlawTips:

Also, see the following articles by Sandra Bekhor at Toronto Marketing Blog:

Sandra Bekhor, Toronto

 

This is especially important if you run a firm where your income varies significantly from one month to the next, such as personal injury and other litigation practices.

I have seen lawyers run into trouble when they didn’t meet regularly with their Bookeeper and organize themselves to make quarterly GST payments. All of a sudden a large bill comes from CRA that was not necessarily on the budget for the month and compromises cash flow.

It’s also important to stay on top of and track personal versus business expenses monthly to ensure the business is taking advantage of all deductions available. In particular, if there is not a dedicated company credit card and the owner manager has to remember all of the expenses that were personal and business later in the year.  This can be time consuming and very tricky!

Jackie Porter (@askjackieporter)

 

In this sixth post of a series inspired by Justice Carole Curtis’s Dealing with the Difficult Client, we discuss the depressed client. The depressed client can come in various degrees, from being sad all the time to suicidal ideation. If the client’s life is in danger, remember that you are not the client’s therapist. Refer the client to help, such as a family physician, therapist, social services, or other community services.

When taking instructions from a depressed client, document clearly what you have communicated and what the instructions are. Confirm afterward – perhaps waiting several days if possible – that the instructions have not changed. If you have made recommendations that the client does not want to follow, which can happen if the depressed client is unwilling to take risks, however sensible, then make sure you have documented the exchange by email or letter.

A depressed client can also be slow to take action. In this case it may be worthwhile to schedule in-home visits or make phone calls at various times. The client may decline a phone call the first time, but take it at another, when the mood has lifted. In most cases, calm persistence can eventually lead to a successful lawyer-client relationship. At the same time, if you simply cannot get instructions in a timely manner, consider ending the retainer.

Ian Hu (@IanHuLawpro)

 

In this fifth post, inspired from Justice Carole Curtis’s Dealing with the Difficult Client (written when she was a lawyer), we take a look at how to handle the dishonest client. There are different degrees to which a client can be dishonest. On one end are clients who may tell half-truths or who conceal facts from you, and on the other are clients who maliciously lie to you. It isn’t often clear whether the intention is malicious or if the untold truth can come back to hurt you or your client at a later date.

Outright lies can be a good reason to terminate the relationship. It may signal a lack of trust between you and the client that cannot be repaired. If you make misrepresentations on behalf your client, the danger arises if you knew or should have known about the misrepresentation. A client that is lying may be using you for malicious reasons – avoid this client at all costs.

That said, there are sometimes excusable reasons a client can lie. A personal injury client may not recall his or her previous injuries very well. A small incident leading to pain and a visit to the family doctor can be forgotten years down the line if it resolved quickly. Similar seemingly innocuous incidents can easily be forgotten or re-interpreted as time goes on. For this reason, it is important in such files to order medical records (the third most common source of malpractice claims in civil litigation, and over all practice areas, is inadequate investigation).

Once obtained, meet with the client, go over your notes documenting what your client told you, and review with the client the medical record which contradicts the client’s account. These kinds of lies are not necessarily malicious and may simply indicate that the client needs to be sure about certain aspects of the file, and that words should be more carefully chosen (“That has never happened to me” vs. “If it happened, it’s been rare”.

Another reason a client may be unwilling to tell you everything is cultural. If the client comes from a culture where encounters with lawyers and “the system” are negative, the client may see you more as an obstacle and necessary evil than as someone who is there to help. The client may think there is something to hide, when in fact it is better to disclose to you. In this case it may take time to build trust, and patience may be rewarded.

Ian Hu (@IanHuLawpro)