All Our Practice Tips
A Practice Tips Vacation Break
David Bilinsky and I are going to take our own advice about work-life balance, and will thus be taking a short summer break from our Practice Tips posts.
We will return in mid-August with our usual musings each Thursday.
Wishing all our readers a safe and happy summer.
- Garry J. Wise, Toronto (@wiselaw on Twitter)
Your Wireless Dead-Spots Can Actually Get a Life
Do you have wireless dead zones in your office or home where your signal weakens or even drops? Well, good news is on the way. You can breathe immediate new life into your Wi-Fi coverage with a wireless range extender.
They come in various shapes and forms. Some plug into your electrical outlets and use your internal electrical wiring to carry signal, while others simply plug-in to your wall outlet, and connect wirelessly in a snap to your router.
We have had a difficult corner where our wireless signal has nearly always been compromised. The product I chose to solve our problem was the D-Llnk DAP 1320 wireless range extender.
By locating the wireless extender strategically in a location where signal was strong, we were able to carry the signal around an L-shaped corner, and presto voilà, problem solved, with three healthy bars now showing on my iPad’s wireless signal indicator.
By far, the DAP 1320 is the best reviewed product it its category for its ease of installation and superior performance.
About the size of an old iPhone 4 charger, set-up on the DAP 1320 couldn’t be simpler. To get started, you simply press a button on the wireless range extender, then press another button on your router, and the 1320 essentially does the rest.
As a final step, quickly configure the 1320 via your web browser to set your new wireless network name and password, and you are done.
At a cost of $39.95 it is pretty hard to argue with. Once installed, the expanded netwoprk hub will appear as a discrete network when you are searching for available WiFi signals.
Choose the extended network you have named, enter your password and you will be up and running.
So today’s tip is: Breath life into your wireless network – use a wireless range extender to inject new vigour and strength into your Wi-i-Fi networks.
- Garry J. Wise, Toronto (@wiselaw on Twitter)
A Time to Relax
♫ So go on, indulge yourself,
that’s right, kick off your shoes, put your feet up,
lean back and just enjoy the melodies.
After all, music soothes even the savage beasts. ♫
Lyrics and Music by Dexter Holland, recorded by Offspring.
There is a time to work …and there is a time to kick back and take it easy.
We happen to be in that magical time between Canada Day and Independence Day for our cousins down south.
So our post this week is – seize the moment and take the time …to relax…to detune…to enjoy the company of friends and family.
Turn off the office. Leave the smartphone on the desk.. take a deep breath….and feel the tension easing away.
The work will be there …what is important is to get away ..mentally, physically……realize that the summer lies ahead…and to make time to spend that time with those near and dear to you.
Life is not something that can be banked or rewound. We have to live it going forward. We can’t go back and rebuild bridges that have been burnt.
Take the time.. enjoy your friends and family …relish the fact of being alive and being with those who are near and dear to you.
Most of all cherish those close to you. Lean back and just enjoy…
-David J. Bilinsky, Vancouver.
Golden Moment: Handling Client Complaints
♫ Through the fire and the flames we carry on! ♫
Lyrics and music by: Herman Li, ZP Theart, Sam Totman, Vadim Pruzhaniov, recorded by Dragonforce.
Jo DeMars, of NetNeutrals (www.netneutrals.com) spoke at the 2014 Online Dispute Resolution Forum at Hastings College of Law at the University of California in San Francisco. This post is based on her most excellent presentation on Wednesday June 25, 2014. While her comments were presented in the context of resolving disputes that arise in e-commerce, her advice applies to virtually any consumer complaint, including client complaints regarding legal services.
She stated that most, if not all, people who have a complaint regarding a product or services are looking for five ‘psychological currencies’ from the provider. These are:
- They want a chance to tell their story;
- They are looking for a reasonable explanation of what went wrong;
- They are looking for assurance that their complaint will be dealt with;
- They wish to be thanked for their business; and
- They hope to receive an apology.
Her advice is that any provider should not hesitate to offer as many of these psychological currencies to people who are unhappy with your services. Why? Simply, it costs much more money to attract a new client vs. the cost to keep an existing client.
She explained that people who are feeling caught in this process typically go thru the same process: First they Feel; then Think, and lastly they Do/Behave.
She stated that when clients are feeling strong emotions, they are incapable of hearing you. You need to take care of the emotions before you can take care of the problem.
Accordingly she advises keeping calm. At the outset, your tone is everything and sets the stage for all that follows. Anger defusion is job #1. Once that is taken care of then the client is moving into a mindset where they can start dealing with the issues at hand.
She stated that many individuals or businesses hesitate in offering an apology. Jo stated that they should take time to master the Art of the apology:
- Clearly and completely acknowledge the problem
- Offer an effective explanation
Be honest with your clients and in particular, offer an honest apology to the client for how things transpired and the effect that this has had on them. Just hearing that a person or organization truly regrets what has happened to someone is a powerful message to help resolve a client complaint.
She also stated that it is important for the person or organization to tell the appropriate story. There are several components to this:
- own the problem,
- find allies if possible,
- take responsibility for making it right,
- follow thru, and
- tell the final chapter.
Her final advice was taken from firefighters: Run thru the flames – not away from them. It is easier and better to run to the problem thru to the other side than to run away from them.
-David J. Bilinsky, Vancouver (written in San Francisco), BC.
Knowledge Management – Tips for Small Law Firms
I had the pleasure of sitting down for a chat on Monday about knowledge management with Canada’s reigning Information Diva, Connie Crosby.
The video of our discussion is embedded below:
The focus of our conversation was how Canada’s smaller law firms can utilize current knowledge management approaches to better identify, organize and access their own, valuable knowledge inventories – their precedents, checklists, document templates, research memos, and other key data.
Connie is principal of Crosby Group Consulting, a Toronto-based firm, specializing in knowledge management, information management, social media and library management. She is a law librarian, Slaw contributor, law blogging pioneer and leader in the knowledge management field in Canada’s legal community.
While we had a good discussion about the nuts and bolts of developing and using knowledge management infrastructure, I think the key takeaways from my talk with Connie were about the importance of developing a simple system, in consultation with all users, to ensure maximum functionality, comprehensiveness, and of the utmost importance, buy-in by all.
Here is my summary of Connie Crosby’s tips for small law firms on getting started with knowledge management:
- Start out with a “knowledge audit.” Canvas all lawyers and staff in your firm for the precedents, legal research, templates and other documents they use that should be in the firm’s digital knowledge library. Also seek their input on the kind of system you should be developing and the features they would like your new knowledge infrastructure to have.
- Ask firm members about the workarounds they have developed, in the absence of a formalized system. Those workarounds could give you excellent clues about the kind of system that would best suit your firm.
- Keep the communications going with your end-users throughout the process of collection, compiling and organizing your firm’s key documents. Consult with users at key milestones in developing and implementing your new system to make sure you are headed in the right direction for them.
- After collecting your key templates and documents, review them to see if they can be improved upon, with a goal that only your best and most reliable documents will ultimately be found in your knowledge library. Discard duplicates and outdated precedents, and enjoy a digital spring cleaning of all those old and unnecessary documents that clutter up your current templates and precedent folders.
- Protect client confidentiality by removing client names and identifying information from all templates, research memos and other documents that will reside in your knowledge library.
- While database-based knowledge management systems are currently the state of the art and provide numerous benefits, there is no need to envision implementing a system that is beyond your firm’s means or technical ability to to create. Instead, when getting started, consider a Windows folder-based system for organizing and accessing the documents in your knowledge library. Get there faster by leveraging the existing technologies and skill sets that are already abundantly available in your firm.
- Organize documents into easily understood main folders and sub-folders. Consider grouping by practice area, office function, or other obvious categorization, so that your system structure will be easy to follow and require minimal training.
- Keep it simple. If you will be using a folder-based system for organizing and storing your knowledge, don’t overdo it with overly-complex sub-folder structures that may ultimately complicate and impede user access to needed documents – and potentially undermine users’ willingness to work within your new system.
- Develop a standardized naming convention for documents that will be in your knowledge library. Use plain-English in your naming conventions. If abbreviations are to be used, ensure they are easily understood. For example, if you are collecting templates for your employment law practice, create a main Employment Law folder, a pleadings sub-folder, and name your documents by type and point of difference, eg “Statement of Claim-harassment,” or “StatemtClaim-harass.”
- Ensure that updating your documents library regularly with all new and revised documents becomes part of your firm’s ordinary workflow. It should become standard practice that when a new template or research memorandum is completed in your office, it is added to your documents library upon completion.
- Save all templates in read-only format, so that they cannot be accidentally overwritten.
- Consider change management strategies, particularly for those who may be resisting or having difficulty adapting to your new knowledge management system. Users who do not wish to buy-in will develop their own, parallel knowledge management systems. That is probably not a good thing. Find a way to adapt your system to your real users’ preferences.
- It doesn’t have to be perfect. Knowledge management is a rapidly-emerging discipline, and the “gold standard” has not yet been achieved, anywhere. Rather than waiting for knowledge nirvana before acting, develop a system that meets your needs, improves your firm’s nimbleness in managing documents, and establishes best practices, simply by ensuring your staff and lawyers will always have ready access to your firm’s most current, complete and accurate templates and documents.
Many thanks to Connie for taking the time to provide us all with so much of her valuable expertise about knowledge management, today and in the future. These are great insights for law firms, both small and not-so-small.
So let’s start managing our knowledge.
- Garry J. Wise, Toronto (@wiselaw on Twitter)
The ‘Law Office Backyard Retreat’ Report
After much planning, and at least one eyeball fixed at all times on weather reports foreshadowing thunder, lightning, rain (and lions tigers and bears, oh my!) our Wise Law Office Backyard Retreat finally enjoyed its inaugural debut last Sunday.
I expect to have several SlawTips posts in the weeks ahead on the actual topics we discussed and the action plan that continues to emerge.
For today, I’m going to focus on the agenda, which is reproduced below.
WISE LAW OFFICE BACKYARD RETREAT AGENDA - June 8, 2014
11:00am – 11:15am - Introduction and objectives for the day (Garry)
11:15am – 11:30am - Review key insights from pre-meetings (Sandra)
11:30am – 12:30pm - Firm mission: Defining our promise to clients and our promise to ourselves
12:30pm – 1:30pm Lunch
1:30pm – 2:30pm - The business of law is the hardest part of law - Garry
2:30pm – 2:45pm – Starting out as Lawyers: What we didn’t know before we started and what we’ve learned so far – Associate Lawyers
2:45pm – 3:00pm - Legal assisting/clerking: Challenges and Opportunities in a small firm (Assistants/Law Clerk)
3:00 – 3:30 Group discussion on efficiencies including:
- retainer replenishment procedures
- delegating in a more specific manner
- how to handle referrals
- holding bi-weekly meetings for a period of 15 minutes on Mondays
- protocols regarding our authority to communicate with clients and OC
- ways to improve through continuing education, CPD
3:15pm – 3:30pm - Marketing and advertising
- creative ways to market the firm at the front end including: use of social media, use of networking, blog posts, updated website
3:30pm – 4:30pm - Action plan (Garry and Sandra)
4:30pm – 4:45pm - Recap and next steps (Garry and Sandra)
As you will note, we covered quite a bit of territory. Everyone in the firm had an opportunity to present on at least one topic, and I think it probably added to the day that we were able to hear from each of our lawyers and staff members.
Sandra Bekhor, a consultant who works with law firms on practice development, marketing and branding (and who is my significant other) joined us for the day. She had gotten the ball rolling earlier in the week by conducting pre-meetings with everyone in our office to learn their perspectives on our firm identity, strengths, opportunities and challenges.
Her report at the beginning of the day recapped the views she heard, and that helped set the tone for the day. We were gratified to see that, collectively, we were all pretty much on the same page. That makes planning – and working together – a whole lot easier.
We didn’t make it through the entire agenda, and have agreed to do our remaining topics in later sessions next week.
All in all, it was a very successful day. It was a good thing, too, that I had an overstock of hoodies and sweatshirts available, for use by all as it got a bit chilly during the day.
And…. as far as Tips go, I can give you my 100% warranty on this – a small office retreat is a very good thing to do. It brings the group together outside the office, allows the time to talk about important issues that just can’t be covered during the ordinary work day, and gives everyone a chance to get to know each other (and their boss’s cooking ) a little bit better.
- Garry J. Wise, Toronto (@wiselaw on Twitter)
Main Street..or Wal*Mart? Is It Time to Rethink Your Marketing Mix?
♫ These are the people of Walmart
Through mark downs, roll backs, and shopping carts
These are the people of Walmart
Where we save money and shop smart only at Walmart…♫
Lyrics, music and recorded by Jessica Frech.
They teach you in business school to carefully evaluate your ‘marketing mix”. When it comes to a law firm’s marketing mix, the discussion is typically centred around the 7 P’s of law firm service marketing:
- Physical Evidence
What is unique in North America is that there is a law firm – Axess Law – that has taken a bold step into rethinking the traditional marketing mix for a law firm.
Here is their contact info from their website for one of their offices:
What are their products? They state:
Whether you are looking for a real estate lawyer, an estates lawyer, a family lawyer, a notary public to notarize or commission your documents or a business lawyer to draft your business agreements, we can help you.
What is their promotion? This is from their website:
Axess Law has highly experienced, trained and dedicated lawyers and legal representatives on staff similar to what you would expect to find at any other law firm. Unlike other firms, our approach to law is refreshingly different. We believe that law should be accessible to all, should be available at times that suit you and at prices that make sense. ‘Law Made Easy’ is not just our trademarked slogan – it is the philosophy that guides our everyday business.
Their place is obviously just inside a Walmart store..with convenient hours and free parking.
Their prices are aimed at the Walmart shopper: They advertise the lowest legal fees in Ontario for home purchases (guaranteed! they say) and $99 personal wills.
Judging by their website, their physical evidence reflects their style: Simple, clean and uncomplicated. One major difference is that you won’t find the traditional listing of the lawyers in the firm with their stuffy bios. Their website is strictly focused on the consumer of their services.
Who are the people who deliver these services? They state: “Dynamic challenges. Amazing people. Your career starts here.” Their website is an active listing of the people that they are looking for to join them: …with the Law Clerk position listed first, then Client Service Associate and at the end, Lawyer.
What about their processes? Their motto is “Law Made Easy“.
This is one dynamic firm. They have obviously thought through their approach to the market and they are taking a different direction from most, if not all, of the law firms in North America today. These are the people – and the lawyers – of Walmart.
-David J. Bilinsky, Vancouver.
The Law Office Backyard Retreat
We’re going to try something different next month – the First Annual Wise Law Office Backyard Retreat.
It will be a day-long, out-of-office session to explore planning and teamwork and to ask to ourselves some fundamental questions about what it is that we do as a law office.
There will, of course be food and festivity too, but ultimately, it will be an opportunity for our lawyers and staff to put our collective heads together to do some creative, directed brainstorming.
In the planning stages for this event, I’m having lots of thoughts as to the issues we should be addressing. But the one topic for discussion that keeps coming to my mind is this:
What are our firm’s “service promises” to our clients – and what can we do – collectively and individually – to ensure that we always keep those promises?
A corollary question also comes to mind:
What are our own professional promises to ourselves, and how do we as a firm support and enable our people to actualize those career goals and aspirations?
We are a small firm, and it might seem a bit high-fallutin’ (to some) that we would attempt to address such lofty topics. In an era of change and rapid evolution in our legal marketplace, however, my conclusion is that those who fail to take a hard look at the big questions and the big picture are probably missing out on major opportunities.
There are many excellent resources and consultants on law practice management, strategic planning for lawyers and law firm branding. I very much endorse the involvement of those resources and professionals, and I’ve invited Sandra Bekhor of Bekhor Management (full disclosure – my significant other) to participate and facilitate the opening session of our day. I expect that her added insight and expertise will be helpful in guiding us.
It will be very interesting to see the ideas that emerge from within our group.
Will we conceive of new systems for doing what we do better? Or develop ideas for better implementing technologies into our day-to-day work? Is it time for a new blogging strategy? Will a mission statement be articulated that we can all buy into? Maybe we will figure out how to get better at saving trees and being paperless. Or perhaps we will establish a more rapid method of responding to new client enquiries. Perhaps we can look at the nuts and bolts of the business of law, while also focusing on the quality of our professional lives.
Or perhaps we will just enjoy a (hopefully) sunny day together, sample exotic delicacies, vegetarian and otherwise, and walk away with a better sense of who we are as a firm and who we aspire to be as professionals.
If so, I expect it will be a very good day.
- Garry J. Wise, Toronto (@wiselaw on Twitter)
Use an Air Gap for Security
♫ I want security, yeah
Without it I had a great loss, oh now
And I want it at any cost, oh now…♫
Lyrics and music by: Margaret Wessen, Otis Redding; recorded by Otis Redding.
I have been giving a number of presentations lately that in part, deal with the (in)security of law firm systems. This is based on the findings of the Legal Technology Resource Center of the ABA (“LTRC”) in their 2013 Legal Technology Survey. They reported that 15% of reporting law firms acknowledged that they had a security leak. 43% reported being infected by a virus, spyware or malware. Only 53% of firms reporting having a disaster recovery plan in place (these last stats cause me to picture a Venn diagram showing those firms that were infected, had a security leak and those who had a disaster recovery plan and the degree of overlap…or lack thereof…but I digress…)
Bloomberg reports that China-based hackers target law firms to get secret deal data. Unfortunately the law firms being hacked were Canadian – and Bloomberg states that they rifled one secure computer system after the next – eventually hitting 7 different law firms as well as the Treasury Board and Canada’s Finance Ministry.
Bloomberg further states that in a meeting with 200 law firms in New York City with Mary Galligan, head of the cyber division in the New York City office of the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation and her group: “..the FBI issued a warning to the lawyers: Hackers see attorneys as a back door to the valuable data of their corporate clients.”
Obviously this column is far too short to deal with this issue in any depth except to help raise awareness and to leave our gentle readers with one technique to protect sensitive communications and data.
Bruce Schneier is one person that I listen to when he speaks on security. Bruce has been writing about security issues on his blog since 2004, and in his monthly newsletter since 1998. He writes books, articles, and academic papers. Currently, he is the Chief Technology Officer of Co3 Systems, a fellow at Harvard’s Berkman Center, and a board member of EFF.
Bruce said – if you want to evade NSA (and basically any other spying) then don’t connect to the Internet. OK you say, how is that possible today? Well Bruce recommends having one computer with an air gap. This is a physical isolation of a computer (or network of computers) from the internet. If you want to get really really paranoid – you buy two identical computers, configure one by connecting it to the internet for a little as possible to get it running (and as anonymously as possible), upload those results to a cloud-based anti-virus checker and then transfer the results of that to the air gap computer using a one-way process. Then once you have the computer configured – never, never ever connect it to the internet again. Disable the Wi-Fi so it never gets accidentally turned on. Turn off all auto run features.
Bruce advises transferring files using a writable optical disk (CD or DVD). You can verify the data written to such a disk. Encrypt EVERYTHING moved on and off that computer (and of course have full hard-drive encryption on this air gapped computer).
Bruce states that even this is not foolproof. He has further suggestions in his blog. You can take things even further. Bruce should know – he is looking at Snowden documents. Bruce wants security at any cost…
-David J. Bilinsky, Vancouver BC.
A Little Night Music
♫ I close my eyes, then I drift away
Into the magic night, I softly say
A silent prayer like dreamers do
Then I fall asleep to dream my dreams of you…♫
Lyrics, music and recorded by Roy Orbison.
Well we are heading into the Canadian annual right of spring – the Victoria Day long-weekend.
With images of heading to the cottage, heading to the condo at Whistler or just kicking back and taking a few days to relax, I thought I would share my tip for the best music website that I have found to relax…or work ..to.
www.songza.com is a free website that contains playlists curated by experts. It can stream playlists based on mood, activity, artist, genre of music and time of day. You can get music to clean up, write, relax, party and much much more. You can give a ‘thumbs-up’ on a song or a ‘thumbs down’ (that immediately causes the service to skip to the next song in the playlist). Aside from the fact that it puts a virtually endless amount of music at your fingertips, it plays artists that you may not normally run across. For example, this post is being written to “The World of Roy Orbison” that not only contains many of his best works, it also has songs of those who were contemporaries and influencers of Roy. So it is a musical introduction site as well. At the moment Tom Waits is playing on the Roy Orbison playlist (and if you haven’t been previously introduced to Tom…well, there is no time like the present…)
You can also search by criteria – for example, songs of eras (50s, 60′s etc) or songs used in Apple commercials. You can try out songs from categories that you may not otherwise try - for example, searching ‘Philip Glass’ brings up this playlist (among others):
Cosmic Dreams: A look at the minimalist approach to composing music, with works ranging from modern classical to Japanese new age.
Songza is a gem. It has become one of my most visited websites EVER. I say a silent prayer that it isn’t bought out by someone and then morphed into something else.
In the meantime I can listen to the music, close my eyes and drift away….
-David J. Bilinsky, Vancouver BC