All Our Practice Tips
Financial Headwinds to Avoid in 2018
2017 has already come and gone and while it may have seemed like a volatile year from a political perspective, it was actually a very stable rise in the investment markets. In fact the VIX, a measure of volatility in the markets, was one of the lowest on record we have seen in this decade. Often when we have had such periods of market stability, investors underestimate market risk. Here are some financial headwinds to avoid in 2018:
- Borrowing costs will likely rise in 2018.
The economy’s improving, and chances are interest rates will go up. Are you ready?
- Consider interest rates before taking on more debt.
If you have a variable-rate mortgage or a home-equity line of credit, expect your interest rate to keep pace with these increases. Protect yourself by paying down your debts.
- Dealing with low savings rates.
Rates on savings account will probably remain unchanged. Waiting for your big bank to boost savings rates to meaningful levels – equal to the cost of living, or better – is point- less. Search for an online bank with a competitive return on savings. My favorite online site for great rates is Ratehub.ca
- Following the crowd when it comes to crypto currencies.
There’s a gold-rush aspect to bitcoin and other crypto currencies, but it’s also a technology story, an investing story and a testament to how trust in public institutions is decaying. Remember, bitcoin is a virtual currency that isn’t backed by anything tangible such as a government and its central bank.
- Not having a diversified portfolio.
A common reason why stock markets crash is fear of recession. The economies in the United States, Canada and elsewhere seem to be improving, which should be good news for stocks. But there’s a feeling of complacency about risk these days that has to be acknowledged. DON’T forget bonds or GICs still have a place in your portfolio.
- Not understanding what you are paying for investment management fees.
It’s hard to find an investing expert who doesn’t believe we’re in an era of more modest investment returns than we’ve seen in previous periods. Current returns may be a temporary bubble. Lowering fees is one way to get back. Look at what you pay, and what you get for the money. An advisor who skillfully manages your portfolio, your retirement plan and your tax situation may be worth the money.
—Jackie Porter (@askjackieporter)
Silence Quells the Fire
It was an intimidating scenario for a young lawyer. Representing the sole plaintiff in a multi-millionaire dollar lawsuit, I attended my client’s discovery anticipating a bombardment of questions from four defendants’ lawyers, some with more experience lawyering than I had years of life. Deep into a long day, one of the lawyers asked a question I refused. “On what grounds?”, the lawyer asked angrily. “Irrelevant”, I said. Then the other three lawyers chimed in indignantly, “It’s clearly relevant!”, “You’re out of your depth!”, and, to each other, for my benefit, “He’s a young lawyer.”
I was shook, but I had not fallen off my chair. I had gotten what I wanted – the question refused – and everything else was theatre. As my client looked at me, I paused significantly, sitting still, eyes down on my notes, until silence took the room – a trick I learned from a mentor, a senior lawyer whose reputation soared far above my plebeian dreams. And looking up, I said simply, “The question is refused. What is your next question?” The angry lawyer recovered, everyone’s reputation unblemished, and the discovery proceeded routinely, insofar as a discovery with five lawyers can be routine.
Standing strong does not necessarily mean fighting fire with fire, an eye for an eye. When professional conduct begins to deteriorate, remember it takes two to tangle. Refuse to wrestle in the mud – having done what you can with the legal tools available, reacting with grace can be as simple as sitting quietly.
—Ian Hu (@IanHuLawpro)
A New Way to Look at Law Firm Marketing Plans
You’ve been hemming and hawing about whether or not it would be worthwhile to develop a marketing plan for your firm. Meanwhile, there’s been no change to the status quo, even though you’re not actually satisfied that you’re meeting your practice goals.
Well, here’s a new way to look at the problem.
Simplistically, there are five key aspects to a legal marketing plan:
- Target market – Who do you want to reach?
- Messaging – What is your unique and valued difference?
- Vehicles – Where will you distribute that message?
- Action plan – Who will do what, by when and for how much?
- KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) – How will you measure the success of your campaign?
If you’re hesitant to embark on a full-fledged marketing plan because you’re unsure that you (or your partners) have the appetite for it, instead try this approach.
Consider if you’re missing just one of the five aspects above (enough so that you feel the pain and you’re all in agreement that it’s an issue). If, yes, then begin with a short and focused planning exercise.
Just start somewhere.
So, for today’s tip. Consider viewing the marketing plan with a fresh perspective. If you can get anything out of it, then go forward, even if it’s just a limited exercise. Success builds on success. Any improvement that your partial plan can deliver for your firm will be sure to build upon itself.
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
Giving Feedback? Changing One Small Word Can Make All the Difference
Have you ever noticed how irritating it can be when someone points out our errors?
At home we might hear: “You forgot to sweep the floor again.”
At work you may be told: “You missed citing the leading authority on this issue.”
It’s never pleasant to be called out on our mistakes. And if the message triggers a stress response, the hormones released inhibit our ability to reflect and reason for a time.
One key to working effectively in teams, with an assistant, or delegating tasks is to learn to provide feedback in a way that supports the individual’s learning and growth. Mastering how to give feedback effectively is a valuable skill.
William Ury, author of The Power of a Positive No, writes:
“A natural human tendency is to point a finger at the person: ‘The product was delayed because your team took so long to get organized and because you made too many changes.’ Such you-statements, however, naturally make the other feel defensive and reactive.
A more neutral and effective way to get the same information across is to replace you with the. Here’s an example: ‘The product got delayed as a result of the many changes that were made.’ The-statements avoid conflating the person with the behavior. The-statements are a simple yes to the facts. No blame, no judgment, just the straight facts.” (Positive No, p. 105)
This month notice the difference when instead of focusing the feedback on the person, you zero in on the facts.
Here’s an example:
- You-statement: “The negotiation stalled because you took two weeks to respond to the emails and phone messages and then you changed your mind about the outcome you were after.”
- The-statement of facts: “The negotiation stalled because of delays in responses and the change in the desired outcome.”
In a case where a legal assistant has made an error on a document:
- You-statement: “You missed updating the dollar value on this settlement letter.”
- The-statement of facts: “The settlement letter does not have the updated dollar value.”
This small shift from you to the can make a big impact.
This week, watch for opportunities to exchange you with the-statements and notice the impact this has on the effectiveness of your communication.
This post originally appeared in the Lawyer With A Life Blog.
Is Your Law Firm Experiencing Growing Pains?
The growing pains experienced at law firms don’t usually get self-diagnosed as such.
Instead, they tend to be described in terms of the series of symptoms that happen to be manifesting, often at the same time.
- Without a parallel increase in billings, the lawyers, the staff and the law clerks, all appear to be more frenzied than normal.
- Individuals that used to work well together are, not infrequently, encountering ‘broken telephone’.
- A, not insignificant, percentage of work is being done by the wrong level or position.
- Tasks that used to be streamlined are starting to fall through the cracks.
- People are no longer feeling connected to the firm vision.
- Politics are, on occasion, becoming a distraction.
- Motivation is dropping.
It matters that, at the root, these complaints are all signs of growing pains.
A correct diagnosis would provide you with the opportunity to generate insight about appropriate solutions, rather than applying a series of band aids which could actually make things worse.
To illustrate the point, if you’re not viewing growing pains as a systemic issue, you might be concerned about the performance of specific individuals and begin appropriate measures to address that. If, instead, the problem was treated at the root level, with process improvements, structure adjustments and formal job descriptions, everyone would be part of the solution.
A very different approach.
So, for today’s tip, if you start to notice some (or many) of these issues all starting to present themselves at the same time, rather than problem solving one-by-one, give some consideration to what’s really happening.
Are these isolated issues? Or are they growing pains driven by larger systemic problems?
That conversation alone could be the driver of a completely different course of action… with potentially much better results.
For reading related to growing pains, see these past articles on Slaw and SlawTips:
Also, see the following articles by Sandra Bekhor at Toronto Marketing Blog:
Articling Students and Young Lawyers: Get a Mentor
I was not hired back after articling. After months of searching (soul and otherwise) I was ultimately offered two jobs at the same time. One was located in a trendy area in Toronto for the “young and eligible”. The other was in a small city outside of Toronto, as foreign to me as another country. I had no idea how to choose firms, other than that accepting the Toronto offer would let me stay in my hometown, as, after all, I was young and eligible, and pay me more (at least initially). So I sent a quick thank-you email to the lawyers that I used as references, saying that I was going to choose the Toronto job. Within minutes I received a reply, subject line: “DON’T TAKE THE TORONTO JOB”. And the replies kept coming, advising me to take the other offer.
Ultimately I followed my mentors’ advice, a move which I have been thankful for ever since. It helped launch my career, find a spouse and make a family, and establish a life in a town that I have come to call home. Sure, if I had ignored my mentors, I would probably have ended up just fine. But with the knowledge that I have come to gain in the years since, I know that given the same options I would make the same decision again.
Mentors have valuable knowledge that can help you as an articling student or a young lawyer. They have the benefit of wisdom accumulated over years of trials and tribulations – dealing with difficult clients, managing the ups and downs of practice, navigating a career – and on top of all that, they know you and can give you advice in light of your character. Offering more than just book knowledge, a good mentor may know you better than you know yourself.
Find a mentor in the senior lawyers you work with, in your colleagues, or with formal networks, by joining your local bar association or a section of the Ontario Bar Association. The Law Society of Upper Canada’s Coach and Advisor Network can connect you with a mentor for a specific purpose. The Advocates Society can help you develop skills. And various diversity associations such as the Federation of Asian Canadian Lawyers and the Canadian Association of Black Lawyers can help you network and connect with like-minded lawyers. Also check out practicePRO’s manging a mentoring relationship booklet.
—Ian Hu (@IanHuLawpro)
Avoid Communication Pitfalls With This One Simple Practice
Nothing causes trouble in legal practice quite like communication failures.
Communication is one of the most common sources of malpractice claims.
Honing proactive and effective communication skills has significant positive implications for everything from delegation, to the quality of your work, and the health of your personal and professional relationships.
With this in mind, focusing on improving your communication practices is probably one of the best investments you can make in your career. Where to start is quite simple, with your thoughts.
What are you thinking when you postpone communicating? And how is that serving you?
I work with many lawyers on practice challenges and many of these come down to how they are thinking about communication.
The thought is essentially this: Now is not the best time to communicate about this.
Here is how this thought plays out in practice.
I don’t need to communicate to the partner about my progress on the draft right now. I will get this draft to the partner when it is complete.
Think again. Talk to the partner about when she would like you to check in. You can’t read her mind and she may want an update sooner.
There’s not enough time to respond to this client, their matter isn’t urgent, and nothing is happening right now so I will get back to them later.
Think again. They are wondering what is going on and even if the answer is nothing they need to hear from you. Respond to their email.
These may not be your version of – I will do it later – so do look for what is, and catch the thoughts, and think again.
I recommend a Monday morning, or even daily practice of asking this question:
Who do I need to communicate with this week? And today? And make these communications priorities on your to do list.
When we are caught up in the flow of a non-stop stream of work and deadlines it gets very easy to forget to communicate. This simple practice of checking in with the question – who do I need to communicate with? – will help you keep up.
This post originally appeared in the Lawyer With A Life Blog
Don’t Let Anyone Bully You
This is easier said than done. Don’t let anyone make you do what you know is wrong – whether out of trust, love, or pressure from a bully. If a client tells you to hide evidence or lie, don’t do it. If a supervising lawyer tells you to take a shortcut that only partially fulfills your duties, don’t do it. If opposing counsel treats you maliciously and you want to retaliate in kind, don’t do it. As a lawyer, you are often the last and only person who can say no when someone tells you to do something you know is wrong. That’s why you’re a lawyer, to stand up for justice. Stick to what you know is right.
Malpractice claims have occurred when a lawyer is lured or pressured into shortcuts. In one example, a paralegal established a trusting friendship and business relationship with a new lawyer, but the lawyer was too trusting. The paralegal provided the lawyer with real estate files, but insisted on doing the work including processing all the documentation. The lawyer breached both professional duties and obligations to Teranet by letting the paralegal effect registrations using the lawyer’s electronic land registration account and disk. The transactions were fraudulent and the lawyer was compelled to resign as a licencee.
There are numerous other examples in which you will be pressured – a client instructing you to withhold evidence; opposing counsel encouraging you to settle a file you haven’t investigated properly; and so on. Don’t succumb. Stick to what is right – your Atticus Finch moments are found around many corners.
The Law Society of Upper Canada’s Coach and Advisor Network can also set you up with a mentor to provide you with insight and support.
—Ian Hu (@IanHuLawpro)
I Make a Good Income but Am I Really Wealthy?
According to Moneysense, earning the big bucks alone, doesn’t make you rich. Real Wealth is determined by” Net worth” what you own – minus what you owe. (Moneysense, January 2015) .
A financial plan is designed to help you build your net worth and get more from the money you earn. A financial plan address key areas of your financial life such as:
- How to make the most of your cashflow
- Identifying risks to you and your family’s cashflow
- Creating cashflow with passive investments when you are ready to stop working
- How to clawback your cashflow from taxes
- How to make the most of the cashflow you leave behind.
The question many people fail to ask themselves… I make a good income but am I really wealthy???
Take the all Canadian wealth Test:
—Jackie Porter (@askjackieporter)
New Lawyers: Document All Client Interactions
New lawyers, I hope this tip will follow you well for your whole career. Begin doing this now and do it every time, to the point where it becomes a habit. It will both help your practice and protect you in the event of a malpractice claim. Document all client interactions, whether over the phone, or in a meeting – even the quick or “0.1” conversation. If you are a young lawyer or articling student who may never encounter a client in your first year, this advice applies to your encounters with senior lawyers who give you assignments. Treat them as your clients, as you are in effect providing them with your legal advice.
When you step into a meeting, take a notepad with you and take notes. This applies even to the meetings where you are told “this will take just a second.” You’ll be surprised how often a second can become fifteen minutes of intense legal analysis. Every time you pick up the phone to speak with a client, open a note in the file and record what was said. Pay particular attention to instructions given to you, and recommendations you give.
When you are asked, ten days, ten months, or ten years after the fact about what happened, you will be able to reference your notes and recall the conversation accurately. Did you miss following through on instructions? Did the client take your recommendations? Did you discuss the possible outcomes and risks of the steps involved? It’s all in your notes – so long as you keep them.
—Ian Hu (@IanHuLawpro)