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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)

 

 

(Missed Part 2 of this series? Read it here: So Why Are Lawyers Spending So Much Time On Administrative Tasks?)

And Finally: Volume

I think the last reason attorneys are spending so much time doing administrative tasks is the increase in information we have all been subjected to as the world has gone digital.

According to Surprising Statistics About Lawyer Information Overload:

By the end 2015, attorneys on average were creating or receiving more than 70 documents every day (and for some, many more). That includes emails, email attachments, Word documents, Excel spreadsheets, PDFs, client records, opposing
counsel records, etc. That’s more than 26,000 documents a year!

But, that’s not all. Just two years ago, an average lawyer managed fewer than 18,000 documents annually. That’s a 50% growth rate just between 2013 and 2015. Not surprisingly, email communication and email habits are partly responsible for this growth.

Left without administrative staff for the filing and handling of much of the incoming, attorneys are physically handling more–more files, more papers, more data and more emails. Each piece of paper, electronic file and email requires time and focus to process–most of it not billable.

On a side note, when dictation was removed as a standard operating procedure, so too went the option for higher value staff to easily and efficiently delegate tasks, follow ups, reminders, calendar entries, instructions…pretty much anything a “boss” could tell an “assistant” to do was delegated via voice through dictation.

Removing dictation as the start of a firm’s workflow meant attorneys had no other option but to spend far more time entering new matter information or creating properly formatted documents than simply asking someone familiar with the tech and tools do to it, while at the same time getting it OFF of their to-do list entirely–which is about as efficient as one can get!

Now I certainly agree that attorneys should be competent in the completion of common office tasks and that it is good that an attorney have the ability to do any and all job which needs to be done in an office. But that does not mean they should be charged with doing it all, all of the time.

Certainly the data illustrates what I have long said – attorneys spend FAR TOO MUCH TIME doing the administrative work needed to run their practices.

And it’s not because they can’t type.

And it’s not because they can’t manipulate or are not proficient with technology.

It’s because there is far too much administrative work to do in ANY business, and the more successful you become, the more administrative work there is.

For attorneys who want to learn more about the trap of working in their business instead of on it, read The E-myth Revisited (no need to get the “attorney” version)…and to learn how best to delegate, I recommend a very oldie: The One Minute Manager.

When you include delegation into your workday, you will finally find a way to balance all that has to be done at work.

Just because you can type, doesn’t mean you should.

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

 

(Missed Part 1 of this series? Read it here: Being Efficient Doing the Wrong Tasks = Not Being Efficient)

So Why Are Lawyers Spending So Much Time On Administrative Tasks?

To start, in Time to Work Workflow Technology into the Law Firm Arsenal, Eric Wangler states:

Initially when the market shifted, firms turned to cutting administrative staff to decrease their costs. However, it was soon clear that this type of short-term solution had significant drawbacks. The remaining support staff were expected to do the same amount of work with fewer people, leading to increased stress and compromised work quality and customer service.

http://www.legaltechnews.com/id=1202769725593/Time-to-Work-Workflow-Technology-into-the-Law-Firm-Arsenal

While I agree with Eric’s assessments that firms first turned to cutting staff to save costs, a short term solution with significant drawbacks, I disagree that it was the remaining support staff who compromised work quality.

The shift in less support staff correlated with a shift in how work was produced: from attorneys delegating to doing their own typing. So the compromised work quality touched upon by Eric was far more likely due to that shift.

Fast forward a decade, and not only are attorneys responsible for typing all manner of properly formatted documents, but for the data entry work required to run the office. Along with not being billable, administrative tasks also happen to be extremely boring work – generally the data entry of numbers, names, addresses… tab…tab…tab… and yet at the same time it is also extremely exacting work thereby requiring great focus.

Great focus by anyone means slowing down and taking greater care. Slowing down and taking greater care being focused on non-billable work is exactly the wrong things attorneys should be doing. Reminds me of one of my favorites: “Drink Coffee – do stupid faster with more energy

Another reason attorneys are spending so much time on administrative tasks is due to the actual tech being served up as what is needed to create efficiency in the modern law firm. Many of the technologies used by lawyers today are resident in the cloud and that can mean a very long time from the time one hits submit (or tab) and the time the program registers the command.

In fact, one law firm I spoke with stated: “when California wakes up”, their law firm management solution grinds to a crawl. According to attorney Avi Frisch in his review of nine technologies aimed at the solo/small firm market:

The downside is that [the tech] is not at all optimized to getting work done quickly. Most tasks take multiple clicks, new matter intake requires entry of data in numerous places to get everything down and getting bills out to clients simply takes forever.

http://www.tinyurl.com/LPMReport

So besides not having the proper tools to delegate administrative tasks to those best suited to get them done, attorneys are spending far too much time “working” in agonizingly slow and cumbersome cloud based technology.

Coming next week in Part 3: And Finally, Volume.

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

 

We all love data. Crave it. We don’t put down our digital devices for a second of missing some interesting digital tidbit. Here’s some interesting data I’ve recently come across with regard to the administration of law firms:

Being Efficient Doing the Wrong Tasks = Not Being Efficient

According to Bob Ambrogi in: Exclusive Survey Results: Small Firms’ Greatest Challenges and What They’re Doing to Address Them, the numbers clearly show how the administrative functions of running a practice have taken over the average attorney work day:

Top five overall challenges (factoring in the issues ranked as both moderate and significant):

  1. Acquiring new client business (78 percent).
  2. Spending too much time on administrative tasks (69 percent).
  3. Increasing complexity of technology (63 percent).
  4. Cost control and expense growth (62 percent).
  5. (Tie with 4) Clients demanding more for less or rate pressure from clients (62 percent).

Top five overall challenges facing solos:

  1. Acquiring new client business (25 percent).
  2. Spending too much time on administrative tasks (22 percent).
  3. Clients demanding more for less or rate pressure from clients (20 percent).
  4. Increasing complexity of technology (16 percent).

Oddly, administrative tasks did not appear in the:

Top five challenges of firms of 11-29 attorneys:

  1. Acquiring new client business (37 percent).
  2. Clients demanding more for less or rate pressure from clients (22 percent).
  3. (Tie with 2) Succession planning (22 percent).
  4. Cost control and expense growth (14 percent).
  5. (Tie with 4) Information overload from growth in legal documents (14 percent).

Which leads me to believe the other 47% for spending too much time on administrative tasks is attributable to firms with 2-10 attorneys. Even without surmising, the above solidly shows that attorneys rank spending too much time on administrative tasks a major challenge.

Coming next week in Part 2: So Why Are Lawyers Spending So Much Time On Administrative Tasks?

-Andrea Cannavina
866-848-2195 x101 andrea@legaltypist.com

 

When a meeting takes longer than anticipated, minds may start to wander. An inefficient meeting can cause participants to “switch off” and cease contributing meaningfully.  Similarly, starting a difficult task without a time limit can seem too large a mountain to
climb, and make it easy to procrastinate. One solution is to consciously set a time limit for a meeting or a task, and do it both verbally and visually.

A meeting would begin with an announcement to the participants, “We have 30 minutes to get through our theory of the case. Let’s make each minute count.” A visual cue can be used, such as pointing at a clock and saying “when that minute hand hits the 6”, using a stopwatch, or a gadget such as the time timer, which shows the remaining time on a clock/watch/app in a bold red colour.

A task would be done the same way. Let’s say you have a large memo to write. Set aside “1.0” on the docket to write a section. Then start the countdown. As the time ticks away a sense of urgency will rise, limiting the distractions and helping you focus. When the time is up, you can take a break or start another countdown for the next task.

Another use is to set a time limit for breaks. If you find yourself surfing the net an hour later while at work and wonder where the time went, a visual cue can help again.

This technique – to limit the time for tasks – is a broader application of the Pomodoro technique, or “tomato timer”, where tasks are broken down into 25 minute increments. However much time you want to set for a task, typically it should be less than an hour. Research has shown that uninterrupted concentration tends to top out at about 45 minutes.

The key to effectively setting a time limit is to find a cue you respond to – whether it’s a tomato timer, a clock ticking away, or watching a big red pie get smaller and smaller with each second. Limiting the time for each task can mean you complete more and bigger tasks more effectively.

Ian Hu (@IanHuLawpro)

 

Mark Zuckerberg wears the same outfit every day. It may seem like a small thing, but even little decisions can eventually exhaust our ability to make good decisions. Decision fatigue, which is the theory that our ability to make good decisions deteriorates with each decision we make, applies no matter how small or large a decision. As the day goes on, we use up our decision-making fuel and make poorer decisions. If you’ve experienced at the end of a long day a breakdown in your willpower – getting easily frustrated and angry, or needing to go shopping, or eating a bag of potato chips – you may well have been a victim of decision fatigue. Self-control takes mental energy, and, it turns out, we have a limited amount of it.

You may not need to go as far as wearing the same outfit every day, but a healthy work practice may include doing your most important work in the morning when your decision-making fuel is topped up. If your to-do list has 30 items on it, whittle it down to three (or similarly small handful) and get started with the first item on the list. This may also mean putting aside reviewing emails and phone calls when you get into the office, no matter how strong the urge. Take away the distractions and focus on those top three tasks. You may find that by lunch time you’ve accomplished what you really need to do that day.

Another tip that comes out of this is to avoid sending difficult emails at the end of the day. If you receive an angry client email at the end of the day, your ability to self-censor may be at a weak point. A general rule of thumb is to “sleep on it” and re-visit the email the next morning.

Managing your tasks well is a seemingly mundane skill which can yield big dividends. Good task management means you are more likely to fully immerse yourself in your tasks and not miss important details. Maximize your time by taking on the most important tasks first.

Ian Hu (@IanHuLawpro)