All Our Practice Tips
Think Twice About Free Services From Google
So I belong to this listserv of mostly attorneys and everyone is talking about how they use Google for this and Google for that and all I can think is … is it just me?! Why would anyone wish Google to be scanning and indexing their business records and documents – let alone a bunch of attorneys?
*start of rant*
Of course, you KNOW – any time your data touches a Google server it is being scanned and indexed. Right?
Seriously – you are giving every keystroke/word <-as best as speech recognition can figure out the words I imagine – to Google just by using it. Oh and Google = not just search but, of course, gmail, chrome, anything done on a chromebook. All are collection points. Google was built to scan/index and it’s doing that to your and your clients’ info.
As for those using Google Voice – are you sure you’re getting all your calls? Who are you going to call if you realize, 3 days later, that your phone has stopped ringing?? See – it’s not when tech works that you have to worry – it’s when it doesn’t. Pay the $20 per month to have a business VoIP line or use unified messaging to work your cell as a business AND personal mobile device and stop using a free service, especially Google, for everything!
*Jumps off soapbox*
Note: the above is much more amusing when you read it like Edna Mode , dahling! #justsayin
Andrea Cannavina (@AndreaCan) helps law firms organize, automate and implement business process improvements to create efficient workflows and happier staff.
The Delegation Dilemma
You’ve had an up and down year, and suddenly when it rains, it pours. Clients are coming in by the bucket, tasks are piling up, and you have got to delegate your work. Your articling student ambles up to your office with a gentle knock, asking, “Hi – just wondering if you have any tasks I can help out with?” You make a mental note that this is a keen student, maybe a keeper. You hand her over a file, spend a few seconds explaining the task, and off she goes. That should do it, right?
But the articling student comes back a few days later with a barrage of questions, at just the wrong time. In the middle of drafting a big document you’ve been interrupted. You sigh and turn around, your body and your mind, to answer the questions. Before you know it you’ve spent another “0.5” explaining a task. Could you have done it sooner if you had done it yourself? Will the job turn out the way you want?
The delegation dilemma is this – you want to delegate your work but you also have to teach, give feedback, and occasionally handhold. Will the task be done better? Have you actually saved any time? Perhaps not this task. But the good news is, the better you delegate, and the better you train, the better your student/law clerk/assistant will be. And, with good work put in, you eventually will have that well-trained helper. Here’s some delegation tips.
Explain the whole file, every time. It may not be enough to say, “go look at my interview notes” and write that statement of claim. A good explanation means you can highlight what’s important and what the priorities are. You can point out the pitfalls before they’ve been fallen into, and you can hammer home the points that need support. It will take more time initially, but presumably the pay-off is a better work product. Similarly, explain in detail the task at hand. It may be necessary to provide precedents, to explain the formatting you desire, to paint a picture of the end product. If you want a well-written memo in full sentences, then say so. And if you want a short one-page note-form memo, say so. Give a sensible deadline to avoid last-minute calamities. Give enough time for your helper to complete the work, and give yourself leeway to review the work. And finally, determine the level of client contact you want to delegate. Is this a task that won’t require any client contact? Is the client too important and sensitive to delegate? Answer these questions before you hand off the work.
Good delegation can greatly improve your ability to take on more files and do good work. Make sure you review work that goes out in your name – you are still responsible for clerical mistakes, which account for some 6% of malpractice claims. Dedicate time up front to train well, and thereby resolve the delegation dilemma.
—Ian Hu (@IanHuLawpro)
Get More Mileage Out of the Friday Afternoon Doldrums
What’s the most productive day of the week? Most HR directors report that Tuesday has that honour. And the least productive? You guessed right! Friday.
Monday is a contender for most productive day of the week but what tends to get in the way of the doing are the meetings and planning that tends to get jammed into the Monday slot.
To help you get more out of your Fridays and to turn Monday into a productivity zone – try a Friday afternoon planning session.
A Friday afternoon planning session accomplishes three great things:
- It sets you up for starting Monday morning with a deep dive into work, as you will have your priorities set out.
- It helps you get a head start on delegating. You can see what you need to involve a junior or assistant on and can hand that off before the weekend so they can get a running start on it Monday morning.
- You get more peace of mind because all your outstanding To Dos are out of your head and onto your list and you have a plan of attack all worked out.
Once you get in the groove of Friday planning I think you will find you never want to give it up!
— Allison Wolf (@thelawyercoach)
Taking Responsibility for the Future: Are You Ready?
“Lawyer Norm Keith is 58 and laughs hard when asked about his readiness for retirement.” There is an old adage that most good lawyers live well work hard and die poor”, he says referencing the quote from American Lawyer and statesman, Daniel Webster. “Many probably for appearances sake, or life enjoyment or because they are not thinking or planning ahead.” (Canadian Lawyer Mag, June 1st 2015)
As a lawyer who owns or works for a small or large firm, or in the capacity as a sole practitioner, you need to be prepared to take responsibility for your financial future. Most firms don’t offer group retirement plans and even when they do, would not properly address what would be required to replace lifestyle expenses at retirement or earlier. Embrace the fact in most cases, You Are Your Retirement Plan.
Begin with the end in mind. Waiting too long to think about retirement means, working because you have to, not because you want to. Put a plan in motion that will allow you to put your assets to work for you, so that at some point you can decide to stop working altogether. Keep in mind, planning to retire can occur only when there are sufficient assets or capital available to replace your current lifestyle.
THREATS THAT CAN DERAIL YOUR RETIREMENT PLANS
- Loss of employment. The word on Bay street is that big firms are pushing partners out, in some cases in their late 40’s and 50’s in order to thin the ranks and make room for less expensive, younger lawyers.
- Divorce. Imagine you’ve been on track with a retirement plan and then it blows up because suddenly half of your assets are gone.
- Income declining or stagnant. Due to the reduced profitability of firms
- Market Conditions. Investment returns on portfolios have generally been lower since 2008
- Illness. A disability or critical illness can mean your tapping into assets sooner than planned in order to maintain lifestyle until you recover
(Source for point 1-4, Canadian Lawyer Mag, June 2015)
—Jackie Porter (@askjackieporter)
Use Your Downtime Well
It’s June, already! It’s been a long winter. Yet, somehow it feels like summer has crept up on us.
For some law firms, that can mean the beginning of a slower period. A chance for some well-earned, rest and relaxation.
Not to be a downer about it, but that also happens to be a good time to do some planning for your firm.
Whatever has been on your mind for the fall – a new website, marketing plans for the associates, a succession plan for a retiring partner or even a retreat – it will be easier to get started if you take the time to consider the strategy before you’re faced with a deadline on top of your usual client work.
So, this week’s tip is to use your downtime well. Make a list of all the practice building projects you’ve been meaning to get to. Prioritize the list. Then focus on just your top priority items. Get at least some of the preliminary considerations underway by reviewing relevant information or data, setting up internal meetings and also consulting with outside advisors to get a better understanding of what might be involved. You will be setting yourself up to have the time and space for some of that critical, big picture thinking and also to make decisions about the time and resources needed, the sequence of events and even possible collaborators.
Once that’s done, pat yourself on the back for getting ahead of the curve and enjoy the rest of your summer!
For more reading on business and marketing plans, see these past articles on SlawTips:
Also, see the following articles by Sandra Bekhor at Toronto Marketing Blog:
– Sandra Bekhor, Toronto
Mindsets Matter. Make the Shift From Fixed to Growth
Mindsets are simply deeply held beliefs, and in the words of author and professor Dr. Carol Dweck “we can always change our minds”.
Dweck discovered that people generally hold one of two mindsets, a fixed mindset or a growth mindset. And these mindsets have a strong influence on how we approach challenge.
With a fixed mindset, people believe their basic qualities, like their intelligence or talent, are simply fixed traits. They spend their time documenting their intelligence or talent instead of developing them.
Dweck says that with a fixed mindset every situation is evaluated: Will I succeed or fail? Will I look smart or dumb? Will I be accepted or rejected? Will I feel like a winner or a loser?
With a growth mindset, people believe that their most basic abilities are things that can be cultivated through effort. With a growth mindset we evaluate our progress based on how we did today compared with our own past performance. Growth mindset encourages us to take on challenges and contributes to our resilience overall.
To develop your growth mindset try this:
- Notice: When do you find yourself comparing yourself to others?
- Think again: When you catch yourself making this comparison take a moment to pause, and think again.
From a growth mindset consider your own goals, priorities and standards and compare yourself to these. How are you measuring up? What action could you take to improve?
- Test: Start small. Identify an example of fixed mindset thinking and test out a growth mindset approach.
One lawyer I know, Susan, loved cooking but thought she was no good at baking and never would be. She decided to try out a growth mindset by taking on some baking. She started with a simple bread recipe and kept going from there. What she discovered was that her baking kept improving and she really enjoyed it. With fixed mindset she had decided she was a hopeless baker. With growth mindset she realised she was becoming a good baker. Now she is applying this mindset shift to other parts of her life.
Where can you make the shift from fixed to growth?
— Allison Wolf (@thelawyercoach)
“Chunking” the Daunting Task
Ahead of me laid a mountain of a mediation memo. On one side a complex liability scenario had to be made easily digestible. Expert and lay witnesses provided converging and diverging testimony, and I had to explain why I happened to have the best interpretation. Hundreds of pages of reports lay in store, needing analysis with a fine-tooth comb and a magician’s touch to transform it all to less than a dozen pages. On the other side the damages story awaited. Millions of dollars claimed, another set of reports and analysis. Where to start, how to start, should I even start? It’s a good thing there was a deadline.
My mind wandered, staring into the abyss (self-starter? Who, me?), as I pondered the daunting task. Many moons ago I tutored wee little ones in math. They struggled mightily with algebra, confused by the letters that represented numbers (2x+5=15? Huh?). So we approached a problem by breaking into into chunks. We discovered even more basic problems with addition, subtraction, and counting. We began with the simplest chunks, counting with our fingers as we performed basic arithmetic. And slowly worked our way through, chunk by chunk, until the problem was solved. Thus the complex task was conquered, reconstructed into a sequence of simple chunks.
I approached the memo the same way. I broke it down into sections. Liability and damages to start. Then liability into five more sections, damages into three. I booked dates and times to do each section. I proceeded with the first section, then the next, then the next, and before I knew it I was done.
So if you’re stuck on a big task, “chunk” it. Break it down into smaller parts and approach each little part one at a time.
—Ian Hu (@IanHuLawpro)
Does Your Law Firm Need a New Website?
Web design is a fast-moving field. Do these changes make you wonder if it’s time to update your law firm’s website? The decision itself can be daunting. Does it need to be an overhaul? Or should we just tweak? How much is enough? Will it even make a difference?
Why not take a scientific approach and deconstruct your site to better assess its current state?
Here are a few questions to get you started:
- Branding – From words to pictures, does the website integrate your professional identity, appropriately and creatively? Or, put another way, does it make you proud?
- Audience – Will those who are a fit know that the site is speaking to them? Will those who aren’t know that it isn’t?
- Writing style – Is the voice an honest representation of your people, culture and attitude?
- Contact information – Is it easy to find on every page?
- Call to action – Is it clear and compelling why the reader should contact you? Are there more than one calls to action competing for attention?
- Navigation – Will visitors know where they are, no matter where they land on your site?
- Function – Does the site present properly on mobile? Does it download quickly on desktop? Is it secure?
- Search Engine Optimization (SEO) – Is the site findable? Have any people or branding objectives been sacrificed in making it so?
As you try to assess the scale and timing of any updates to your website, consider its greater value. How important is your website to practice development? Recruiting? Media coverage? As an online hub, generally?
If you have some clarity about the role your website plays in helping to meet firm objectives, you’ll be better able to assess the value of the cost and time involved in this update. That’s when you can stop wondering and start moving along with some decisions.
– Sandra Bekhor, Toronto
For more reading on website design, see these past articles on SlawTips:
Also, see the following articles by Sandra Bekhor at Toronto Marketing Blog:
AndreaCan’s No.1 Tip to Get a Grip
Begin your journey towards intentional organization™ with the first thing Master Virtual Assistant AndreaCan counsels her clients:
The first thing I teach to stressed out lawyers is to write things down. Not on post its or various yellow pads – in the same spot. Get a notebook, I recommend and use a Moleskin … cuz if it was good enough for Hemingway – seriously, because it is small enough to be portable yet large enough to be useful.
Every morning, I open to a new page, date it and use that page to capture any of the things I need to write down that day – things to do, notes from calls, numbers, names, etc. All that goes on the right hand side of the new page. On the left hand side is where I leave space for what I term more free flowing thoughts – the navigational trees, bubble maps and brain dumps.
At the end of the day, I take a few minutes to transfer anything that needs to go digital and I put a check mark through each item as I do. Now I can instantly see what is also digital but I’m careful not to obscure the information on the page <- you’d be surprised how many times you’ll use the book vs. searching digitally for information!
On the off chance I lose my notebook – I make a digital record by taking snapshots of each page and loading them to Evernote. That said, I have yet to lose one. In fact, I go through them all towards the end of each year – partly for fun and partly to help me work through the next year’s focus re: marketing, events and promotions.
To learn more about Andrea’s ways to calm the crazy, enter your email at the bottom of:
Have a Task? Book an Appointment to Do It
When I joined the law firm as a mid-level associate, the managing partner shook my hand and welcomed me. “We’re happy to have you”, he said. “I’m happy to be here”, I said, and asked, “where are my files?” “In your office. You have one hundred to start with.” I walked with excitement and, admittedly, not a little fear and trembling, into my office, fired up my computer, and thanked my lucky stars for joining a paperless firm. Then I clicked on each file from A to Z. Where to start? What to do? Didn’t every file need tasks doing right now?
I froze a bit and thought I should surf the web. That would really do the trick. The files run themselves, you know. Snapping back to real-life, I took a sip of coffee and reviewed every file, drafted up one-page summaries of each, and set out the to-dos for every file. Then I really did freeze. Same question. Where do I start? Best to procrastinate and get to know my fellow colleagues. I marched over and chatted with the lawyer next door – literally in the next office – and we talked about everything but files. Before I left, I casually asked, “By the way, how do you manage your tasks? I’ve got hundreds of tasks for all these files and don’t know what’s the best way to start.” And, as casually as I asked, casually came advice that changed my practice forever.
“Oh, that one’s easy. Book an appointment for every task. And book separate appointments for all your files to review them. Thirty minutes a file, three months between reviews, then however long you think is appropriate.”
I dutifully did so. And I have rarely been surprised by what needs to be done, or has(n’t) been done on a file since. So there it is. There are many ways to manage your tasks, from daily to-do lists to ongoing master to-do lists. This one, slightly novel, worked for me. Make your to-dos appointments in your calendar. When the time comes, do the task. If you can’t get around to it that day, book another appointment. Yes, this fills up your calendar, but the reward is an effective and free task-management system.
—Ian Hu (@IanHuLawpro)