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

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

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

Ian Hu (@IanHuLawpro)

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sandra Bekhor, Toronto

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sandra Bekhor, Toronto

 

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

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

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

Jackie Porter (@askjackieporter)

 

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

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

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

Ian Hu (@IanHuLawpro)

 

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

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

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

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

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

Ian Hu (@IanHuLawpro)

 

It’s tax time and the definition of insanity is to keep doing the same thing and expecting different results.    Do you feel that you are paying to much taxes but only complain to your accountant when its tax time?  A better approach to to be proactive.

Check out tips to help you stay on top of next years taxes:

IDENTIFY HOW MUCH TAXES YOU ARE PAYING – AND BE PROACTIVE ABOUT REDUCING IT

  1. Don’t wait until tax time. Contact your accountant early in the year
  2. Have your tax bill forecasted in advance to identify potential tax reduction opportunities
  3. Set aside funds for the tax bill as income comes into the business
  4. Stay on top of business versus personal expenses with your bookeeper. Use a credit card that is dedicated to business expenses  to ensure you are receiving all of your deductions and to audit proof your expenses
  5. Pay your quarterly tax  and HST bill on time to avoid penalties

TAX TIPS FOR PARTNERS AND EMPLOYEES IN FIRMS

  1. Ensure that your firm is taxing you properly based on regular income and bonuses received
  2. Consider making an RRSP contribution with any bonus income to reduce taxes to bonus  and regular income
  3. If your making RRSP contributions on your own, let your employer know, so they can reduce your taxes at source and you won’t have to wait until tax time for the refund on your contribution
  4. Determine if your firm can attribute some of your income to a lower income spouse

TAKE ADVANTAGE OF PROGRAMS TO REDUCE TAXES

  1. If you are self employed discuss incorporating with your Accountant
  2. Many firms are starting to let partners incorporate as well. Determine if this is a viable option for you.
  3. Look at maxing out your RRSP, TFSA room, especially if you’re a high income earner.
  4. Explore investments that provide tax efficient income at retirement.  These include TFSA’s, T Series investments, Universal Life Plans and corporate class investments to name a few.
  5. If you are self employed consider a private health plan to reduce taxes paid on income for medical expenses.
  6. Determine if you are a candidate for an individual pension plan in order to maximize savings for retirement and reduce taxes

Jackie Porter (@askjackieporter)

 

Lots of baby boomers are avoiding succession planning. One can only assume that at least some of them are lawyers!

So, for today’s tip, I’ll give you 5 good reasons to stop procrastinating:

  1. Proactively planning for succession allows you to minimize the risk of having to deal with it in crisis mode, should you decide to retire earlier than expected.
  2. It takes time to develop a thorough succession plan.
  3. It may take longer than you expect to implement your succession plan. So, you will want to pad projections for training, mentoring and hiring, in case things don’t go as planned.
  4. Taking action will stop your looming retirement from being a negative weight in the back of your mind. Avoiding it doesn’t, necessarily, mean that you’re not thinking about it.
  5. You will have a better chance of keeping your most talented individuals, if you tell them long in advance that this opportunity is coming their way.

You don’t have to retire any earlier than you would like, just because you’re working on a succession plan. If you love working, you can build the opportunity to have continuity with your job (in some capacity) into your succession plan.

So, instead of avoiding your succession plan, think about applying the same degree of professionalism to this exercise as you would, and do, with everything else in your practice.

You may even be able to sleep better knowing this is in the works… as often happens when procrastinating something big finally comes to an end!

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

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

Sandra Bekhor, Toronto

 

In the old working model, being less human—less attuned to interactions and emotional issues—was often a competitive advantage. Messy human stuff needlessly complicated matters. But the AI revolution will reward those who are more human in their approach to services involving high value consultation and collaboration.

How long will it be before robots learn people skills? Although there have been significant advances since the development of computer-based therapists several decades ago, humans have a solid head start that we need to exploit.

Gary Klein is a research psychologist known for his pioneering work in how people make high stakes decisions under uncertain, complex conditions. When he studied such experts as firefighters, pilots and NICU nurses, he found they were adept at rapidly drawing on experience, as well as noticing things that others don’t. Rather than observing a mechanistic, linear process of information analysis leading to the selection of a rational solution, he saw a more human process at work.

Klein’s best known book, Sources of Power: How People Make Decisions was written almost twenty years ago. Yet this work has growing relevancy as we ponder the evolving nature of work. What skills should we honing and what work will be taken off our hands by technology?

Let’s begin with the three qualities Klein recently identified that humans possess in contrast to AI:

  1. “Frontier thinking” which he describes as “working in new areas and imagining new consequences.”
  2. Social networking which means “knowing who to ask for help.”
  3. Responsibility. “Humans take responsibility for their decisions, AI doesn’t.”

In light of his hypothesis, our tip for today is: prepare yourself to be more human by honing skills related to collaboration, consultation and problem prevention. These will be the enduring differentiators.

A good place to start is by taking advantage of a group coaching method that accelerates expertise in people skills. Active learning (vs. passive learning) is designed to help us extract more know-how from every situation—both positive and negative. To keep up with the demand for people who are more human, we can develop a mindset for harvesting insight from our daily experience.

Sharon VanderKaay, Twitter: @svkaay

 

Think about all the aspects of your job that you weren’t trained for.

Delegating

Managing people

Priority management

Developing job descriptions

Interviewing

Performance management

Leadership

Business planning

Retreats

Marketing

How much of your day is spent on this list and other such functions? How much of your energy does it take to learn and do it all?

Can you assess the impact on your success as a professional, and even on your very quality of life, if you were to improve in any of these areas, by say 20%? 30%? 40%? What about improvements to multiple areas?

You see where I’m going with this.

Just as with any other professional development undertaking, coaching makes you better at your job.

Coaching teaches you to tap into your own knowledge about your profession, your clients and your staff and actively generate real insight about how to overcome hurdles and maximize opportunities.

How could that not translate into benefit for lawyers?

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

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

Sandra Bekhor, Toronto