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All Our Practice Tips

Today’s tip is simply to share some basic reminders for making the most of your social media this coming year.

  1. There is effort in social media. Pick one or two services/platforms/techs and schedule the time to actually work them.
  2. Use all tech as intended. LinkedIn was created for business networking; twitter for little bits of you; Facebook for more personal connections.
  3. Any social media postings will impact your digital image and credibility. Once you start – keep going; no fits and spurts for maximum SEO.
  4. Fill in your profile. Use professional head shot – you want people to know, like and trust so let ’em see what ya look like.
  5. If your head shot is showing, it must be you who is publishing. If an account is for an organization or you delegate the writing to an assistant, use a logo or other non-you avatar/photo.
  6. When signing up for an account, don’t upload your contact list to any social media. Locate and click on the “skip this step”. Your friends will find you.
  7. Give. Educate. Assist. Don’t sell. Social media is for connecting not selling.

These tips really are simple and straightforward, but they’re also easy to overlook or lose sight of!

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

 

Personal tax rates have changed. The tax rate on income between $45,282 and $90,563 has dropped to 20.5 per cent from 22 per cent. Conversely, on income over $200,000, the rate has increased to 33 per cent from 29 percent.

TFSA contribution limits are lower. The TFSA contribution limit has dropped back to $5,500 in 2016 from $10,000 in 2015,  If you have not maxed out your contributions every year since TFSAs were introduced, you may have up to $46,500 in contribution room.

Donation credits have changed. For those earning over $200,000, there’s now a 33 per cent donation credit rate – up from 29 per cent. According to Deloitte, “for any donations made in excess of $200 where the individual’s taxable income is less than $200,000, a 29 per cent credit will continue to apply.” That’s good news for higher-net-worth individuals: “

A new child benefit. The Trudeau government replaced the Child Tax Credit, the Universal Child Care Benefit and the Canada Child Tax Benefit with a new Canada Child Benefit that better helps families with lower net. The Children’s Fitness Tax Credit and Children’s Arts Tax Credit, worth up to $150 and $75 per child, respectively, are also being cut in half in 2016 and then eliminated

Eligible capital property will be taxed differently. Capital gains are taxed in a corporation at essentially the same rate an individual is taxed at, says Mr. Cameron. In the 2016 federal budget, the government introduced changes to the way eligible capital property is taxed in a corporation.

The beginning of the year is a good time to look at  the impact of these changes and start planning now.

Jackie Porter (@askjackieporter)

 

 

In this second of nine posts inspired by Justice Carole Curtis’s Dealing with the Difficult Client, we discuss the vengeful client. The vengeful client often has an agenda that is unlikely to be satisfied by legal means. This kind of client has a myopic focus of what goals should be met, and has few qualms about what must be done to meet those goals. Whether it’s an injustice or a personal vendetta, the vengeful client is highly motivated. For example, a family member fighting over an estate may be driven by agendas far beyond the pale – did he feel slighted and ignored in the family, and now wants to get back at his  brothers and sisters, no matter the consequences? The scorched earth policy that follows may result in a decimated estate and an unhappy client.

Think twice before accepting a retainer with a vengeful client. You may never be able to right the wrong, and your client may ask you to take steps that are unethical. Even if you reach a legal resolution, you are unlikely to get another referral, much less thanks. Such clients may also lie to you and opposing counsel. Ultimately your reputation is on the line, even if your client is less than trustworthy.

If you do choose to work with the vengeful client, take all instructions in writing, and give all recommendations in writing. While this is good advice for all clients, it is that much more important to do so with the vengeful client, as you can anticipate that whatever legal result you obtain, the client is likely to be unsatisfied.

Finally, bill often and regularly. The vengeful client may expect you to do work above and beyond the call for free – but your job is to be a professional and charge according to the retainer regardless of the degree of zeal involved.

Malpractice claims can arise when clients with a strong sense of purpose are able to persuade counsel to act unprofessionally. No matter how much you agree with a client’s position, no matter how much you like the client, no matter how much you empathize with the client’s predicament, you must stay within professional bounds.

Ian Hu (@IanHuLawpro)

 

“Happy clients are all alike; every unhappy client is unhappy in one’s own way.” (Not Tolstoy)

This is the first in a series of articles inspired from Justice Carole Curtis’s Dealing with the Difficult Client (written when she was a lawyer). One of our most popular downloads, the article covers 9 kinds of difficult clients and how you can work with them. Let’s start with the angry client.

An angry client can take its toll on your ability to practice. Seasoned lawyers can likely recall their most angry clients by name and recite what happened and how. It’s not a happy memory and accumulating such memories makes it that much more difficult to practice. Learn how to work with an angry client, and, knowing your limits, when to stop working with an angry client.

An angry client is one that treats you and your staff in an angry or hostile manner on a regular basis. But a client that is always unhappy is not necessarily a client that is always unhappy with you. I worked with brain-injured clients and clients with mental disorders that treated my staff and I poorly – but I don’t blame their behaviour. Other clients may be angry at circumstances in their lives which have nothing to do with you. Nonetheless, this anger can be re-directed at you. Regardless of the reason for the anger, if your client treats you in a hostile manner, this is not appropriate and you should draw clear boundaries in the lawyer-client relationship.

If the reason for the anger is clearly something you can do something about, then de-escalate the situation. But if the source of anger is clearly out of control, you are not a therapist. Exploring a client’s roots of anger is not your role. Allow the client to vent for a short time. Then make it clear that it is unacceptable in a professional relationship. If the client does not calm down, cancel the meeting and book another time.

If the situation really calls for it, calmly suggest that a therapist would be better equipped to deal with the hostility. To this end, it is helpful to keep a referral sheet at reception for clients in need of social or other services, including telephone numbers and addresses. This is especially helpful for lawyers that frequently deal with clients under high levels of stress, such as poverty lawyers, family lawyers, criminal lawyers, and personal injury lawyers.

It is important that the very first time a client treats you angrily, you respond by saying that it is inappropriate. Boundaries should be drawn early and your response should always be consistent. If you have already allowed a client to treat you in a hostile manner on a regular basis, it is that much harder to change the nature of the relationship (but better late than never).

You can also bet that if the client is treating you poorly, your staff is probably being treated worse, as they are in a weaker power position. Train your staff to respond to anger the same way you do.

Finally, the old maxim to “know thyself” applies here. We all have different tolerance ranges. Know what yours is and do not let a client push you beyond it. If you go beyond what you are capable of tolerating, you may burn out. If a client refuses to take it down a notch, you may be better off terminating the retainer, while keeping in mind the Rules of Professional Conduct. The loss of one client is better than the loss of your practice.

Ian Hu (@IanHuLawpro)

 

 

It’s a new year. Some of us have resolutions that keep us true to what we want to get out of it. Those of us who don’t are still fresh from the holidays and keen on making the most of it. It’s a great time to start planning a retreat for your law firm. Perfect timing, in fact, if you’d like it to take place in the summer or fall.

So, today’s tip?

If you want your next law firm retreat to count, give it a purpose that’s sure to make a mark.

Don’t waste your previous day away with your team on secondary objectives that you can easily address at the office. And don’t turn it into something it’s not. A retreat isn’t a strategic plan, business plan or marketing plan. It’s certainly not another training session or business meeting.

A retreat is a blank slate waiting for a solitary, relevant and moving purpose. If you can achieve that, you’ll be free to discuss, brainstorm, plan and map out real solutions that go beyond surface issues. Creativity will flow, rather than being constrained or scattered by an unrealistic or incoherent agenda.

Aside from giving the retreat energy and focus, your purpose will also make it memorable.

Why does that matter?

It’ll matter when you get back to the office and are faced with business as usual and your retreat rapidly fades into a distant memory. If the retreat makes a big impact on one specific and important topic, participants are more likely to show enthusiasm and commitment about rolling out the resulting action plan.

They may even drive the process.

Don’t worry if there isn’t one obvious purpose jumping out at you now. It’s only January. Take the time to properly explore this. Bring in a consultant for a fresh perspective and expertise in the subject matter. Consider the possibility of conducting private interviews, focus groups or a survey that will help you to delve deep into a specific issue or opportunity expected to make a real difference to the firm’s future.

Identifying a purpose for your retreat will be the single most important decision that you make about your retreat. Besides which, the process of choosing a winning purpose that deserves your attention, will add great value in and of itself.

For more tips on planning a law firm retreat, see the following previous posts on SlawTips:

Also, see Sandra Bekhor’s previous posts at Toronto Marketing Blog:

Sandra Bekhor, Toronto

 

It seems there is never a shortage of bad news going around. 2016 has certainly had its share. Brexit, the unexpected presidency of Donald Trump, corporate restructures, not to mention turbulent financial markets. Most people approach the New Year with excitement and hope. However, what happens after the first bit of bad news hits your world? Whether its job loss, health crisis or stock market volatility? How do you handle it? What can you do learn from, thrive and find opportunity in it?

In baseball you can only score points/runs by taking risks. Playing it safe is not progress. Progress involves moving forward, taking chances and stepping outside your comfort zone. However, as with everything you must play it smart.

1) Ask yourself… Moving forward how can I minimize risks?

Learn everything you can about the problem you are facing. Concerned about the markets? Find out what is happening in the investment world. Take a course. If you are working with an advisor ask them for resources where you can learn more as a new investor. Get more involved and you will feel more in control.

2) Stretch yourself. Especially about things you fear.

Concerned about losing your job? Beef up your resume. Become more skilled at what you do. Ask yourself- What can I do to become a more invaluable employee, not just to your current employer, but to the industry you work in as a whole? Act as if you’re self-employed and take note of the results.

3) See the glass as full. There is always opportunity in failure and in uncertainty.

Ask Warren Buffet. His mantra is: “Be greedy when others are fearful and be fearful when others are greedy”. Look for the silver lining. I will never forget when I met a cancer survivor who said she was glad she had gone through the experience. She realized what she was capable of and what was important in her life.

Embracing uncertainty can be the ultimate gift that life has to offer…

Jackie Porter (@askjackieporter)

 

For many of us, getting and keeping client information and documents organized is a struggle.  Without a proper process in place, one generally ends up with piles, emails, notes and scraps of information all over the place – and by that I mean in both your physical office and on all your various devices and digital equipment.

Below I share with you 5 steps that anyone can take to get and keep each new client’s file, information and documents organized:

1. Create a client contact sheet.

A client contact sheet is exactly as it sounds – a sheet of paper containing the client’s contact information – telephone number(s); address; personal email; perhaps date of retention and any notes you may have taken during your initial consultation.

You can create a form for your client contact sheet and print out several blanks – which you fill in by hand as you are in the consultation or you can also type out the information and print out your client contact sheet after you have been retained.

Once completed, the client contact sheet gets stapled to the inside left cover of the initial file folder. You will soon realize how handy it is to have this information at your fingertips and not just stored digitally.

2. Create a physical file.

Once you have been retained, you will need to open a physical file.  Depending on the type of law you practice, this file may grow to include several red wells with several subfolders including correspondence, client documents, pleadings, motions, forms, memos to the file, etc.  However, to start, you need just one manila folder with the client’s initial documents, the signed retainer agreement and a completed client contact sheet.  As the file grows, you add red wells as necessary.

3. Create a digital folder.

On your computer’s hard drive or your firm’s networked drive, you will need to create a folder for the digital files and electronic information for this client.  I am a big believer in grouping like things, including clients.  So, first create a directory/folder labeled “Clients”, then create a sub folder/directory in it for each client. Whenever you receive an electronic communication or document, save it directly to the client’s electronic folder.

4. Add information to electronic contact database.

After creating your physical and digital folders, you must now add your client’s information to your contact database.  For me, that database is Outlook but your firm may use a legal specific product, such as Rocket Matter. Since the onboarding process for clients has several steps – and since we all know how easy it is to be interrupted by more urgent work (especially after the physical file is created and paperwork moved out of your line of vision), on my client contact sheet I have a box to check off after the client’s data has been entered into Outlook.  I cannot tell you how many times I have looked at a contact sheet and see the box NOT checked. Of course, I immediately add the data to Outlook and check off the box at that point.

5. Add information to billing/financial software.

Obviously, you’re going to have to bill this client, so will need their address and contact information stored within your billing/financial software. There is a box on my contact sheet for this as well.

That’s it. If you follow these 5 steps every time you take on a new client, you will always have each client’s information handy and you will be in a position to move forward in keeping all the documents, files, emails and information provided by this client organized.

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

 

In the past year, lawyers are reporting a more sophisticated kind of cybercrime: a hacker will gain access into a client’s email account and comb through the account to discover communications with the lawyer. The hacker will watch communications between the client and the lawyer until money finds its way into the lawyer’s trust account, such as when litigation is settled, a house is sold, or a corporate transaction is complete, the hacker will then pose as the client and send an email to the lawyer with instructions to redirect the funds into the hacker’s account.

In some cases the hacker will use the client’s email account, send the email, and then promptly delete it. The client never knows the email has been sent until it is too late, as no record of the email exists in the client’s account.  In other cases the hacker will use an email address that looks like the client’s email address but might be off by a character or two (such as ian.hu@lawpro1.ca instead of ian.hu@lawpro.ca). If the lawyer is even slightly distracted, such as reading the email on a cell phone, or working on something else at the same time, then the discrepancy is missed. Meanwhile, if the lawyer falls for the deception and assumes that the instructions from the client are genuine, the funds are redirected to the hacker.

Take extra care when a client instructs you to release funds. Anything out of the ordinary should alert your spidey senses that something might be amiss. Double-check the email address – in some email programs only the name of the sender is displayed, but not the email address. The name is easy to spoof. But if you click on a button such as “details”, you can make sure the actual email address is corresponds to the one for your client. If the client is giving you instructions to wire the money to an account you’ve never seen or to write the cheque to someone else, call the client to confirm the instructions.

The same basic pattern can happen if the hacker breaks into the email account of an opposing lawyer, a self-represented claimant, or a third party. The hacker monitors communications until money is exchanged, at which point a request is made to redirect the funds into the hacker’s account.

As lawyers it is natural to respond quickly to a client’s instructions. It’s this very instinct that hackers prey on when they pose as the client in an email. Pay special attention to instructions to release funds, and, when appropriate, take the extra step of confirming it through another communication channel.

The best practice is to get instructions from the client at the start for how monies should be released. If this changes at any point then take extra steps. Confirm the release of monies by cheque or wire transfer using a different mode of communication than the original instructions.

Ian Hu (@IanHuLawpro)

 

While it’s not quite as superficial as wearing flare jeans when straight cuts are in, there is an aspect to web design that is simply about keeping up with the times.

That said, deciding whether your law firm’s website is ready for an update goes quite a bit deeper than fashion sense.

So, if you’re wondering, if it’s time for a makeover or even a complete overhaul, it might be helpful to familiarize yourself with some of the qualities that exemplify modern websites:

  • Multi-media – Gone are the days of the static, ‘brochure’ website. Today, visitors are expecting to have choices about how they consume information. Whether your firm is targeting households, business executives or other professionals, research shows that some like to read, some like to listen and others prefer to learn through pictures. Multi-media sites leverage modern tools such as video, podcasts, whitepapers, infographics and slideshows, in order to have something for everyone.
  • Search Engine Optimization (SEO) approach – Search Engine Optimization remains a high priority for many law firms. But the game has changed significantly from even just a few years ago. Today, SEO results are influenced by social authority, readership, quality content, website structure, page domains and so much more. If your site is applying outdated SEO rules, it may be limiting your results.
  • User experience – Modern websites empower their users. They offer visitors more choices about how to navigate the site.  As a result, they are much more fluid than the last generation of websites, which could best be described as being rigid in their flow.
  • Design – Modern websites have a distinct, clean and fresh look to them. As well, photography, video and, even, fonts have taken on a new level of artistry.  Graphics are more integrated into messaging and, whether they are aware of it or not, visitors are becoming more sophisticated in how they assess the quality and meaning of these characteristics.
  • Language – Modern law firm websites speak to their markets with a modern communication style. They are client centered and, rather than trying to impress with professional jargon that tends to alienate, they are approachable and accessible.
  • Social integration – Today, links and feeds simply scratch the surface in terms of social media integration. For law firms that are heavy participators on social media, there is so many shared content that the lines between a Facebook or LinkedIn company page and the firm website are starting to blur.

The list goes on, including the very real need to address functional requirements for speed, mobile and responsiveness. But that’s a good start!

Underlying all the bells and whistles that make a modern website sing, however, is the strategy that ties it to your firm’s goals and brand strategy. Get that right and you will have positioned your website to pop from the clutter and facilitate connections with referrers and clients alike.

For more website tips, see the following previous posts on SlawTips:

Also, see Sandra Bekhor’s previous posts on her LinkedIn Blog:

Sandra Bekhor, Toronto

 

You’re sitting at an airport terminal and want to do some quick law firm work. You whip out the laptop, scan the wireless networks and bingo! there’s a wi-fi network available called “Airport Terminal Free Public Wifi”. But before you connect, consider that you may be walking into a hacker’s trap.

A hacker sitting in the same area can be operating the wi-fi network with an inexpensive hotspot device. If you connect to the hacker’s wi-fi network, the hacker may be able to snoop in and see what you’re doing online. It doesn’t matter if you’re at a coffee shop, hotel, airport, or office building. There’s nothing to stop the hacker from naming the network to something legitimate-sounding, such as “Starbucks – Free Wifi” or “Pearson Terminal 1 – Public” or “Hilton Hotel – Free” to lure you in. It’s all part of the deception.

Even if you actually connect to a public wi-fi network, you still run the risk of hackers snooping into unencrypted network traffic, especially if the network does not require a password from you to connect to it. The unencrypted communications pipe can be leaky, and a hacker can potentially see communication between you and a website or you and an app (such as practice management software) that connects to the internet. Using encrypted websites with an address that starts with “https” (the “s” at the end stands for secure) adds an extra layer of security. A virtual private network (VPN) is typically encrypted from end to end and considered even more secure. It also helps to learn about the cloud service or app you are using – the user agreement should inform you about the extent to which the service is encrypted.

What should you do if you need to do law firm work over the internet and you can’t use public wi-fi? A safer alternative is to use your cell phone as a wi-fi hotspot and connect your laptop to it. You’ll have to pay for the data usage but at least you know the provenance of the connection.

Ian Hu (@IanHuLawpro)