If you’re sick of Calibri and Cambria, change your default heading and body styles so you can start every new Word document with the fonts you prefer.
Put Font Frustration Behind You!
One of the most persistent frustrations legal users have with Microsoft Word is the default font settings. Fortunately, you can permanently change just two Styles (+Body and +Headings) to give your documents a more businesslike typeface.
These settings are found in the Design tab (introduced into Microsoft Word with version 2013).
Over on the far right is a drop-down called Fonts. Clicking on Fonts will give you a list of preconfigured font sets. From here, you want to choose Customize Fonts.
That’s going to take you into the Create New Theme Fonts dialog box. On the left, you’ll see Heading font and Body font. This is where you set the two Styles I told you about earlier, +Body and +Headings, which in turn control basic settings for many of the other Styles in a Word document. Just use the drop-down for each to find a font more to your liking. Then you can name your preferred font set before clicking save.
Once you reset the font style, the default text size is an easy fix, too.
Go to the Home tab and click on the small launcher arrow in the lower right-hand corner of the font section to go to the Font dialog box. Select +Body and the size text you want, then click Set as Default in the lower left-hand corner.
Word will ask whether you want to make this the default for this document only or for all future documents based on the Normal template. Choose the latter and click OK.
Save everything you’ve done by clicking Set as Default on the Design tab (next to the Colors and Fonts buttons).
Now Every New Document You Start in Word Will Use the Fonts You Prefer
This doesn’t affect documents you receive from others or any existing documents you created. However, once you reset your default fonts, at least your days of adjusting the fonts every time you start a document are behind you.
Since 2009, the number of legal malpractice suits has escalated along with the costs to defend them, according to annual surveys by Ames & Gogh, an insurance broker. They say:
Insurers have paid claims of $50 million or more in 2016.
Malpractice claims are most commonly triggered by conflicts of interest and cybersecurity issues.
Business transactions result in the most claims, which tend to center around improper preparation, filing and/or document transmission.
If you want to do everything possible to ensure you’re never among the firms accused of malpractice, take advantage of law practice management software, advises Nerino Petro, technology co-editor for the ABA “GP|Solo Magazine” and CEO of a legal consulting firm.
“Properly implemented, law practice management can help reduce malpractice exposure by significantly reducing opportunities for human error, and that’s huge,” he says.
Top law practice management software brings the highest level of diligence to conflict checking by searching your entire database, including notes, files, text documents, images that have undergone optical character recognition scanning, and emails. It then can run a report of results.
This is a vast improvement over typical conflict-checking methods, says Petro.
“These can range from a lawyer poking his head out of his office and yelling, ‘Anyone ever represent Joe Goglioni?’ to circulating a list of names throughout the firm to running names through a time-and-billing system,” he explains. “If there’s no response or nothing shows up, they assume they’ve done a conflict check. It’s no wonder malpractice claims for conflict checks are increasing.”
2. Keeping Track of Deadlines
“If you have never woken up in the middle of the night, panicking that you might have blown a statute of limitations date, you’re in the wrong field,” declares Nerino, “because that should be something that keeps you up at night.”
Law practice management software can help you ensure you never miss a deadline (and sleep much easier) by:
Automatically calculating court deadlines to eliminate human error — like overlooking holidays, weekends, and rule changes — that can happen too easily when deadlines are calculated manually.
Automatically update you if rule sets have changed. The most trusted practice management systems employ attorney editors who continuously monitor rule sets across the entire U.S. judicial system. If a rule changes, you will be automatically notified so every deadline in your case can be updated to reflect it.
Alert you of tasks to complete to meet the court deadline. If the court deadline shifts, your task deadlines will, too.
3. Providing Thorough Documentation
Practice management software acts as a repository for all of your matter information. It details every action you take and when you take them to move your matters forward.
This came in handy for Cynthia Sharp, Esq., when she owned a law firm (she is now an attorney coach). She recalls when a client’s daughter accused her of not “doing anything” with her mother’s case for two years. Because of her law practice management system, Sharp was able to counter this assertion with 200 time-stamped actions she had taken to move the matter forward.
“I would have never been as convincing if I didn’t have the technology that helped us track precisely what we did on behalf of her mother,” says Sharp.
In addition to meticulously documenting actions taken on a matter, the best law practice management tools document communication through secure client portals. A built-in client portal allows you to securely exchange documents and messages with clients while recording and time stamping the actions taken regarding the communication.
“If a client insists that they never got a response to an issue, you’ll be able to pull up the communication and point to the date your response was sent, if they opened it, and how they replied,” notes Petro.
4. Mitigating Cybersecurity Issues
Malpractice insurers have seen an uptick in malpractice claims related to hackers. This shouldn’t be surprising considering that the latest ABA Legal Technology Survey
Report reveals that most law firms with fewer than 10 attorneys don’t take any action to encrypt their emails or files. This makes small law firms an appealing target, says Petro, because the information they’re responsible for — whether that’s details of a merger or simply social security numbers — is valuable. That’s why he believes a cybersecurity needs to be a top, if not the number one, priority for law firms.
The easiest way to make sure your law firm is up to speed with the latest and best cybersecurity is by taking advantage of law practice management software, which provides industry-leading security that would be too costly for small law firms to obtain on their own. This includes:
The same cybersecurity as the world’s leading financial organizations, including SOC 2 compliance and certification.
Encryption for emails and data while in transit and storage.
Daily data back up on multiple servers, in discrete locations, with 24/7 physical security and cybersecurity protection.
“Law practice management tools can help you efficiently meet your obligations under the rules of professional conduct,” says Petro. “From keeping your client’s information confidential to providing detailed documentation of activities, time and billing, and communication, you’ll have the data you need to mitigate the situations that cause lawsuits. It’s no wonder many insurers provide discounts to firms that have a law practice management subscription.”
Find out how easy it is to rest easier knowing that your firm is doing everything possible to avoid the human error behind malpractice claims. Take advantage of a two-week free trial of Firm Central that includes all of the features discussed in this article. (We know lawyers get busy, so if you forget to notify us in a couple of weeks that you’re not interested — don’t worry. You won’t automatically be rolled into a subscription.)
And, if at the end of the two weeks you’re wondering how you lived without it, you’ll be relieved to know that subscriptions are affordable — about the same as a basic cell phone or cable bill.
Here's the legal lowdown on document management software
BY NICOLE BLACK
Choosing the right technology tools for your law firm can be a confusing endeavor. After all, there are so many different types of software products available and so many choices to make when it comes to features, pricing and security. Sifting through the maze of information can be a time-consuming process that can quickly become overwhelming.
That’s why my goal with this new monthly legal technology column is to get lawyers up to speed on their legal software options. In each column, I’ll focus on a specific type of software—such as billing or contract analysis software—and explain the choices available, including features built into software suites and stand-alone platforms devoted to handling a particular law firm function.
Most of the software tools discussed will be those aimed at small and midsize firms, since large firms have very different, more complex needs. I’ll also focus primarily on cloud-based tools since even the most traditional software providers are transitioning many of their products to the cloud. Generic consumer-focused tools will not be discussed since legal-specific software is designed with lawyers’ needs in mind, both in terms of functionality and security, whereas consumer-focused software is not.
In this column, I’ll cover the document management software options for solo, small and midsize law firms. Because the practice of law is document-intensive, firms of all sizes have document management needs. Some rely on the foldering systems built into their word processing software, but most firms require a more robust system. That’s where document management software comes in.
Document management software is designed to provide a built-in organizational system for your documents. Documents can be associated with case files or matters, and access can be limited to certain firm users. Some more robust systems include document versioning and audit trails that track user access to documents. Document collaboration and sharing features are also built into some platforms and allow secure external sharing with clients, co-counsel, experts and more. Another feature included in some software products is the conversion of scanned documents into optical character recognition format, which creates searchable, indexed PDFs.
Your firm’s document management needs will depend in large part on the size of your law firm and the practice areas handled by your firm. Some practice areas are much more document-intensive and thus require more robust document management tools.
For solo and small-firm lawyers with practices that aren’t document-intensive—such as family lawyers, trust and estate lawyers, and criminal law attorneys—a stand-alone document management system is likely unnecessary. Instead, the document management features built into most law practice management systems such as Rocket Matter, Clio or MyCase (note that I am the legal technology evangelist with MyCase) will often be sufficient and more cost-effective than using both law practice management software and document management software.
The document management features built into law practice management software typically include the ability to store and associate documents with client matters, basic document versioning, and the ability to share documents using secure online portals. Some even allow document collaboration using secure communication portals, a functionality that is all the more important in the wake of ABA Formal Opinion 477, wherein the ABA Standing Committee on Ethics and Professional Responsibility concluded that particularly sensitive client information should no longer be shared using unencrypted email.
Of course, some small and midsize law firms have more complex document management requirements. Three leading stand-alone systems for such firms to consider are iManage, Worldox and Netdocs. Worldox and iManage have been around for years as premise-based solutions, and both recently rolled out cloud-based options. Netdocs, on the other hand, has always been a cloud-based solution. This means Netdocs was designed to work in, and take advantage of, cloud functionality from the very start, whereas Worldox and iManage’s cloud versions are based on functionality and features found in their premise-based software.
All three platforms provide advanced document management features. In addition, they also include robust document versioning, audit trails and OCR conversion from scans that permit document indexing and search features. Each also includes email management tools, knowledge management capabilities, and other features specific to larger firms, including key integrations with Office 365, e-discovery platforms, and more.
Finally, because all the document management systems discussed above—both the stand-alone and built-in options—are cloud-based, mobile document access is available no matter which software solution you choose. When your firm’s documents are securely stored in the cloud, you can easily and securely access those documents from any location via the mobile app of your chosen software program using any internet-enabled device.
With today’s document management software, gone are the days of scrambling to locate documents. Instead, you’ll be able to quickly and easily access, share and collaborate on your firm’s documents no matter where you are. Another bonus is that with cloud-based document management software, you’ll be well on your way to digitizing your firm’s documents, allowing your firm to easily transition to e-filing when it’s required in your jurisdiction.
So if you aren’t already using document management software in your law firm, what better time than now to make the move?
Nicole Black is a Rochester, New York, attorney, author, journalist and the legal technology evangelist at MyCase, legal practice management software for solo and small-firm lawyers. She is the nationally recognized author of Cloud Computing for Lawyers, and she co-authored Social Media for Lawyers: The Next Frontier.She also co-authored Criminal Law in New York, a Thomson West treatise. She writes regular columns for The Daily Record, Above the Law and Legal IT Pros, has authored hundreds of articles and regularly speaks at conferences regarding the intersection of law, mobile and cloud computing, and internet-based technology. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
You have at least three phone numbers (home, office, and cell), at least two email addresses (work and personal), and at least two social media accounts (Facebook and LinkedIn). You can be texted, tweeted, emailed, snail-mailed and even faxed. If people want to reach you, they expect to do so almost immediately. It’s no wonder you feel pulled in too many directions and think your scarce time is being wasted.
Add to that the evolution of our professional landscape — the fact that being an expert in your respective field requires a more complex understanding of facts and trends than ever before. To earn and keep your clients’ business, you have to impress them with information they didn’t already know (or could Google).
Then there’s business development, an endeavor once sufficiently addressed with a listing in the phone book, an ad in the paper, and a membership with the Rotary club. Now, it requires constant networking, social media posts, charity involvement, PR, conference attendance, competitive intelligence, and persistent “pinging.”
Ways to Make More Time for Business Development
A healthy practice is already a full-time job. The key is to be as efficient as possible so that you have time left for business development (or whatever else you’ve been neglecting). Here are six steps you can take to increase your efficiency.
1. Start your day with a task list, and use it to guide your activities. This is not as easy as it sounds. All too often we find ourselves starting our day with an idea of how it will go and what we’ll get done, only to find that we get sidetracked, distracted, held-up, and rain-checked by various other people and projects. If this happens, be disciplined in getting your day back on track. Keep a white-board or some other large, visible list in your office that you can use to remind yourself of your priorities for the day. The harder it is to miss, the better.
2. Establish set times for email responses, and stick to them. If you always start every day with email, you’re immediately entering a reactive work mode. Your email inbox is like a to-do list assigned by 100 people, none of whose immediate concern is whether or not you bring in new clients. And email is typically the gateway to an entire day spent in that reactive mode. Of course, you’ll tend to your clients’ needs, but it’s very easy to fall into the trap of serving others’ needs all day long, without ever getting around to yours.
Before you open your inbox in the morning, start your day with a proactive business development project. Maybe it’s reviewing a list of prospects you’ve recently collected, or inviting a colleague out to lunch to see if he or she could provide any potential for referrals. Start your day doing something proactive that serves your goals, because chances are that you won’t find time for it once the day gets started.
3. Stop multitasking. There is a widespread misconception that multitasking is doing two or more tasks simultaneously. But this is inaccurate; multitasking actually involves switching back and forth between different tasks (often with mediocre results). This task-switching consists of two stages. The first is goal-shifting: deciding to focus on another task rather than the one on which you’re currently working. The second is rule activation: recalibrating your mind away from the “rules” of the first task and toward the “rules” of the second task. This recalibration can squander as much as 40 percent of your productive time — hardly worth it. Instead, make a conscious effort to “uni-task,” (i.e., work on only one task at a time). Block out time in your calendar and close your office door to ensure there are minimal interruptions during your designated uni-tasking time.
4. Clear off the mess on your desk, so you can think straight. Rather than leave papers cluttered on your desk, apply the “touch it once” principle. For each item, ask yourself if you have time, right now, to touch this item just once? After opening and reading it, can you deal with it quickly? Then decide whether it needs to be filed, responded to, or delegated. Whichever of these three actions is required, do it immediately. If you don’t have time now to “touch it once” and get it off your desk, then leave it until you’re able to focus on it.
5. Use a timer to limit the number of minutes you spend on any given task.Perfection is often the death of production. Whether drafting an email to a client or updating your bio, there are diminishing rates of return on projects that take up too much of your time and attention. Estimate at the outset how much time you will need to devote to a project in order to get your final product to a solid B+ grade level. If it takes hours longer to make it an A+, it’s probably not worth the effort for a result that is only marginally better.
6. Delegate more of your work to someone else, even if they don’t always do it the “right way.” The only way to survive the frenzy of a busy day is to prioritize — to cut low-yield activities out of our lives so that there’s enough room for the ones that produce the best results. Most of the successful rainmakers I know are obsessed with leverage. They are constantly looking for ways to minimize the time spent on client service so they can focus more on client acquisition. Why? Because it’s far easier to find a service partner than a rainmaker.
Prioritize, own your schedule, then delegate. You might find that you have more time for business development than you thought.
David Ackert is the President of Ackert Inc. and a mentor to high-achieving professionals in the legal, corporate, finance and accounting sectors. David has advised hundreds of lawyers, CEOs and professional-services executives on overcoming business development and marketing challenges. He has developed and implemented business development programs for countless firms, from AmLaw 100s to local boutiques. Follow him on LinkedInor Twitter @DavidAckert.
Do you dread going to work? If so, maybe it's time to look at the other ways you can flex your legal skills, Nancy Levit says. There are many types of jobs for lawyers, and sometimes what you thought you wanted to do doesn’t work out, Levit tells the ABA Journal's Stephanie Francis Ward in this episode of Asked and Answered.
Levit shares tips on how to find the work you want to do and how to find joy in the work you’re already doing.
One way to adjust your mindset at work is to look at who you’re spending time with, she says. Are you hanging out with colleagues who have positive outlooks, or with the workplace worrywarts and complainers?
Levit advises keeping a mindset of “upward” comparisons. Comparing “downward” means focusing on the things others have that you don’t, while comparing upward makes you grateful for the things you do have. Lawyers tend to want perfection, she says, and the quest to keep up with the Joneses—or the Jones Days—can cause people to be unhappy.
This podcast was brought to you by our advertiser, LawPay. “Did you know that attorneys who accept online payments get paid 39 percent faster on average than those using traditional payment methods? With LawPay, the only payment solution offered through the ABA Advantage program, you can accept client payments online, via email, or in person—no equipment needed. Visit LawPay.com/podcast to sign up and get your first three months free.”
Nancy Levit is a professor at the University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Law and the interim associate dean for faculty. She teaches defamation and privacy, employment discrimination, gender and justice, jurisprudence and torts, and is the co-adviser to the UMKC Law Review. Levit is the author of several books, including The Happy Lawyer: Making a Good Life in the Law and its sequel, The Good Lawyer: Seeking Quality in the Practice of Law, both co-authored by Douglas Linder.
Now that you’ve survived — maybe even enjoyed — the rounds of law firm holiday parties, the slate is wiped clean for 2018. No doubt, resolutions and good intentions bubbled up with the start of the new year. You may have noted them in your head or purchased a new motivational calendar with quarterly pages for tracking your goals.
Lawyers are two to four times as addicted as those in other professions.
Lawyers are four times as depressed as the general population.
During the first 10 years of practice, lawyers have the highest rate of addiction.
There’s Nothing Like a Civilized “Hunger Games”
Of course, this could be the year you break the predictable cycle of broken promises to yourself (and your spouse, your family, your doctor) and insert more balance into your life: eat better, get more exercise, spend more time with family and friends. You know the drill.
Unfortunately, as they climb the rungs to partnership or work to build a viable practice of their own, few lawyers really believe they have a choice in the matter. Finding balance is especially difficult in a law firm of any significant size, where each day is essentially an “interview.” You’re under a microscope as others scrutinize your billable hours, client originations and ability to respond immediately to any demand. You are at the 24/7 disposal of new partners, new clients and new peers who will like you or not, respect you or not, and assess over a six- to nine-year period whether you have “the right stuff.” Nothing like a civilized “Hunger Games,” right?
Tangible, Realistic Ways to Begin a Shift Toward Balance in Your Life
On the bright side, many law firms are shifting away from unhealthy work models, hoping talented lawyers can avoid burnout — and that they’ll stick around. Eventually, this culture shift should reduce defections and lead to more lawyers having long and robust careers.
Until then, however, here are five concrete things you can do to take control of your work-life balance:
1. Disconnect from technology whenever possible. Set up a message on your voicemail and email systems stating you are unavailable and provide contacts for those needing help. Leave an additional number to reach you in a real emergency (it typically is not one). Most senior partners and clients expect 24/7 instant availability, so this won’t be easy. But, it can be accomplished with some creativity. Doctors learned this decades ago by assigning “on call” weekends or weeknights. Maybe your practice group can do the same.
2. Learn to say no. Set realistic work boundaries that permit you to do quality work and maintain high energy. In my experience, a senior partner has more respect for young lawyers who are honest about their workload and do not wish to compromise quality.
3. Take all vacation and comp days. Make them real vacations, not “staycations,” especially if you have finished a major project or trial, or have been traveling excessively for work. Take off for two weeks — not one. You need at least three or four days to feel your body relax and then you’ll have a full week to decompress. And try not to plan too many trips that are exhausting in and of themselves.
4. Commit to healthy habits. Easier said than done, but here are the basics:
Take frequent, quick breaks: a quick walk, five minutes of deep breathing, a short meditation.
Every night, spend an hour doing something for yourself that you can look forward to — a good book, some Netflix, yoga.
Follow good nutrition habits instead of binge eating when you’re feeling starved or late at night.
Get some social interaction outside of work.
Make a sustained sleep schedule a priority. Studies confirm that we lose all stability if our sleep is compromised for any period of time.
5. Get in touch with your life’s priorities, goals and passions. Have you discarded or forgotten them? Your tombstone is not going to read that you had the highest billable hours for a decade. Here are a few tactics to use when looking to reconnect with your passions:
Identify your greatest joys. Feel free to go back to your childhood.
List five things (jobs, volunteer work, hobbies, adventures) you would like to do.
List five more things that you are very good at doing (even if you have never done them in public or as part of a job).
Complete this sentence: “My life is ideal when … ” Do it again 15 times, then reduce it to your top five.
Everything in life that results in real change begins with simple and tangible action steps, not a January flood of empty promises to yourself and new gym memberships.
Congratulations! You survived law school, passed the bar and got a job. By now you’re somewhat settled in. Some partners have learned your name, and you’ve received a few paychecks.
So, what will you do with the steady earnings?
Since it is far easier to start your financial life on the right foot than be forced to adjust bad habits decades later, here’s a checklist covering what to do and what to avoid as a new attorney.
Before we dive in, please note that the following items are presented for educational purposes only. Nothing here is or should be considered specific financial advice for you. As your situation is undoubtedly nuanced, you should seek the advice of financial and tax professionals before using the strategies mentioned.
Don’t Live at the Level of Your Income
Sometimes called “lifestyle creep,” this personal finance villain snares countless lawyers, and it is especially prevalent among those whose incomes have recently jumped. Newly minted associates are particularly susceptible.
Lifestyle creep might covertly enter your post-law school world as a few nicer things here and there … nothing too extravagant. The occasional nicer dinner with friends, a car that regularly starts, and a vacation to a local beach or lake. At this point, everything is fine.
With blinding speed, however, those “nicer things” can morph into German autos, Italian leather goods, a seven-figure home, and vacations to places seen by most only on the Travel Channel.
Why does this matter? In a word, freedom. Living at the level of your income and routinely spending every dollar that enters your bank account will shackle you to your job. Once you become accustomed to a certain standard of living, it’s tremendously difficult to adjust your spending and lifestyle downward. Lifestyle creep will cripple your professional and personal flexibility.
Eventually going part-time, starting your own firm, entering public service, returning to school, and in some cases, even going in-house, are all out of the question. Your lifestyle simply won’t afford any downward adjustment in income.
How do you not live at the level of your income? Aim to live like (or almost like) you did in law school during your first few years of practicing. While this might be tough to do, you’ll be glad to discover in a couple of years that your credit card debt is gone, you’ve saved some money, and you are free to explore career options.
Realistically, you’ll need to upgrade a few things once you’ve started working, and that’s OK. Just do it discerningly.
Do Understand Your Cash Flow
Young lawyers run into trouble when they’re not cognizant of how much comes in and how much goes out of their bank accounts each month. Lack of awareness leads to spending everything that comes in (and not saving), or worse, spending too much and running up credit card balances.
How do you avoid overspending?
Find the amount that actually enters your bank account each month. Let’s say it’s $4,000.
Write down the fixed expenses you know you’ll have to pay each month: rent or mortgage, car note, phone, cable/internet, utilities (use a three-month average), student loan payments, credit card minimums and so on. Let’s say this all adds up to $2,250.
Subtract this expense total from your monthly take-home pay. You will need to spread the remaining amount — $1,750 — over the four weeks of the month to cover variable expenses, such as gas, groceries, eating out, entertainment, savings, additional credit card payments and surprises. That means you’ll have $437.50 per week for these expenses.
Get familiar with your weekly figure. Your options for boosting it: slashing expenses, or earning more money (or both).
Over time, earning more money has a far greater impact. But you can’t realistically renegotiate your pay six months into your first year. So instead, look to cut expenses.
Look first at reducing your fixed expenses. Renegotiating a cable bill, changing utility providers and rebidding your car insurance can often yield savings without disrupting your lifestyle. From there, look at cutting back on your variable expenses — the restaurants, groceries, shopping and entertainment, and so on.
Regardless of what you choose to adjust, awareness of your cash flow will drive better decisions.
Do Tackle Your Debt
Get organized and confront credit card and student loan debts head-on and you’ll find them less daunting.
For credit cards, visit each card’s website to find your current balance, interest rate and required minimum monthly payment. Enter this info into an Excel or Google spreadsheet to get organized. Focus your efforts and dollars to pay off one card at a time. Choose either the “snowball” method (lowest balance first) or the “avalanche” method (highest interest rate first) and stick with your choice to pay off your debts. Here’s a more in-depth discussion of credit card paydown strategies.
With federal student loans you have two main paths:
Pay off the debt as quickly as possible (this often involves refinancing).
Or, use an income-contingent plan, pay as little as possible, and maximize the amount of loan forgiveness you can receive.
Analyzing these choices is too complicated and nuanced to responsibly discuss here. Take a look at the Student Loan Planner’s blog for several in-depth student loan discussions.
Don’t Ignore Free Money
If your employer matches your retirement plan contributions up to some level, then contribute up to that level. That’s free money.
Seriously, increase your contributions today to take full advantage of any matching dollars. You’ll be amazed how fast this increases your savings. To gauge the impact of increasing your retirement plan contributions, use ADP’s paycheck calculator.
Do Beware of Your Biggest Expense: Taxes
That’s right. A variety of taxes devour a material portion of your gross (pretax) income. Understanding how much you pay, and why, will serve you well for the rest of your professional career and beyond.
Start by preparing and filing your own taxes for a few years. This isn’t nearly as complicated as it sounds and will provide you with a good basic tax education.
Bonus Tip: Look Ahead, Leverage Recruiters
Yes, calls from recruiters can be disruptive and tend to come at the worst times — like when you’re waiting for a partner, an opposing counsel, or a client to call.
However, when you do need a recruiter, you’ll want to have the relationship already established. While this may be more relevant for Biglaw attorneys considering lateral moves, a good recruiter can help you benchmark your salary based on your experience and the geography in which you’re practicing — even if you’re at a smaller firm.
Also, many jobs are never posted publicly. Recruiters network constantly and are often better informed than your colleagues about which firms are hiring. And if you’re considering a move to a business-oriented, nontraditional legal role, a recruiter can do wonders to package and present your skillset in a way that lands interviews for you.
Ryan McPherson is the founder of Intelligent Worth. He helps solo practitioners and partners in smaller firms align their personal and business finances to generate wealth and avoid missteps. Ryan is a Certified Financial Planner and an IRS Enrolled Agent. He is a member of the National Association of Personal Financial Advisors (NAPFA) and the XY Planning Network. Follow him on Twitter @RyanDMcPherson.
End of the Year Reflection: Why I Love Being a Lawyer
As we close out this year and welcome in a new one, I wanted to offer something that might remind us all of why we love being a lawyer. This work is stressful, frustrating at times, and often depletes our energy. But, there is also great benefit and value in being a lawyer. At this time when we reflect on what we've accomplished this year and look toward the next twelve months, let's reflect on why we love what we do.
I've included "5 reasons why I love being a lawyer" from Daliah Saper to help us in our reflection:
"Amid the stress of practicing law, we often forget how much of an impact we have on the individuals and businesses who hire us to provide legal counsel. Being a lawyer is rewarding! For my last article in 2017, I figured I’d reflect on why I love being a lawyer. Here are my top five reasons, in no particular order. What are yours?
Exposure to different industries. Even though I focus my practice on three or four areas of law, my clients come from a wide range of industries. This week, I helped an e-commerce store, an apparel company, a surrogacy company, a musician, a distributor of colored contact lenses, and an author. Few other professions give you the opportunity to learn about so many different kinds of businesses and allow you to actually advise those businesses.
Events. When you represent a wide range of clients, you often get to attend interesting events or take interesting trips. Clients have invited me to movie premieres, fashion shows, art exhibits and galas. One year I was invited to attend the Arabian Horses Breeders Cup in Las Vegas, where the guest list included foreign dignitaries and Arab sheikhs!
Teaching and Mentoring. I credit two important mentors for helping me start Saper Law. Now, I welcome the opportunity to mentor newer attorneys whenever I have the chance. It feels great to be a resource.
Closing deals and creating new law. Most legal services have a natural start and end. I love being a part of the process of facilitating a negotiation, obtaining a settlement, or winning a case. Helping to create new law along the way is an added bonus.
Great war stories. Even though the average lawyer’s life is not like anything we see in the movies, most of us have unusual stories to share over drinks or dinner. Stories can range from unusual case fact patterns to interactions with opposing counsel. See also, Nos. 1-4."
Don't forget the impact you have on others' lives. Your work is important, valuable, and worthwhile. I hope you have time for rest, reflection, and rejuvenation during this holiday season.
The next Tech Tip/Practice Pointer blog will be posted in the New Year.
Sometimes lawyers and law firms need to clean up online reputations sullied by lawsuits, bad press, negative reviews or poor social media choices. While there’s no magic bullet, reputation management is possible. There are two approaches you can take: Either hire a company to help you, or do it yourself. Here are the pros, cons and considerations.
Reputation.com, which has been around since 2006, is the oldest of a growing number of services that advertise help with managing or cleaning up online reputations. These services purport to employ strategies to make positive information about you rise to the top of search results, but a few words of warning:
They can be expensive, adding up to thousands of dollars annually.
A few are scams — companies that will take your money and run — so be careful.
Critics argue that they don’t provide anything above and beyond what you can easily do yourself to protect your online identity.
However, such services can be a good choice if you have plenty of money, are strapped for time or have a complicated problem that can’t be buried by other means.
Do It Yourself
With time and a bit of work, it’s possible to safeguard your online reputation on your own. Here are six tips to help if you choose to go this direction.
1. Begin monitoring. Set up a Google alert on your name, or if you have a complicated issue such as a lawsuit, consider a service such as Zignal, Klout or Brandwatch that will provide social media as well as general web monitoring.
2. Google yourself. When you get a handle on online content about yourself, you can start to change it.A typical order of appearance for top search engine results is:
Company or law firm web bio
Images of you from around the web
Articles about you or by you
Start with the first four items on this list. The good news is that they are completely within your power to edit.
It’s especially important to keep your firm web bio/profile up to date. Google rewards pages that are recently refreshed over stagnant ones. Every time you write an article or complete a major project, make sure your bio is updated and you’ll help your page to stay high in rankings. This pushes pages with unflattering information lower in your search results.
3. Protect what you can. Pay attention to social media privacy settings, and lock down as much as you can. Then go through your personal networks and eliminate language or photos you don’t like; this ensures that inappropriate content falling outside the privacy shield won’t be visible.
4. Address negative reviews. While there are competing opinions as to whether you should claim your Avvo listing, for example, unless you do, you do not have control over content published there. However, one thing you should never do on Avvo (or any other site) is respond in anger to a negative review. Not only will this look bad to potential clients, it may get you reprimanded by your state bar. A measured response is a more appropriate choice and will often actually make you look better and more professional in your online profile.
5. Combat negative or fake news. The rise of fake news complicates communications today, and there is no one-size-fits-all approach when addressing it. While you might be able to approach a professional journalist to ask for a retraction (though only if it’s categorically wrong, and if other options, like pitching an update, are off the table), approaching a blogger intent on digging for dirt will make your situation worse. Nefarious bloggers have been known to publish and sometimes alter correspondence with their targets, so your only option in such a scenario is to try to bury them in a flood of other press.
6. Get proactive. While you can’t control everything that is written about you, you can control what you write, create or produce. Content in credentialed publications appears high in search engine results. Ensuring you have a stream of this content (bylined articles, features on pro bono work, podcast appearances, etc.) will be one of the most powerful gifts you can give your online self.
Whether you have something as serious as a malpractice suit or as simple as photos from a party you’d rather forget, know that clients are searching for you on the web. Even attorneys without reputation issues need to regularly attend to their digital identity. Monitoring your online reputation and keeping it clean are integral parts of building and sustaining your practice, and should be ongoing priorities.
Helen Bertelli is a marketer and entrepreneur, having helped to build two PR startups as well as founding the marketing department for a national law firm and her own digital publishing company. She is now Vice President with Infinite Global, an international communications and public relations firm serving the legal industry. Follow her on Twitter @HelenBertelli3.
As we approach the end of the year, it is a great time to run through your practice’s systems to see which ones may be ethics risks in their current state. This will help you prepare for an end-of-year audit of your biggest risks — and plan how to fix them in the new year.
The purpose of evaluating risks before the end-of-year crunch and New Year’s resolution time is to narrow your focus, so you can set priorities and zero in on bigger projects ahead. It seems we spend a lot of time in self-reflection at the tail end of the year. How great would it be to head into the new year with a clearer idea of where to focus?
Think of this “pre” year-end checklist as like a syllabus for your year-end coursework.
List Key Areas of Your Business
To begin this process, list the key components of your practice. For most of us, this will include at least the following:
Each practice will differ, but these are some common components of a solo and small firm practice.
What Keeps You Up at Night? Write It Down
With your list in hand, separate the components of your practice into those that keep you up at night and those that do not. Use a yellow pad or simple spreadsheet with three columns labeled “Concern,” “Worry” and “Not Worry,” respectively. Or download the worksheet here.
Do you ever awaken in the middle of the night worrying about a CLE deadline? Put that in the “Worry” column. Know that you have a kick-ass paralegal who keeps excellent track of all client deadlines? Put calendaring in the “Not Worry” column.
The items that keep you up at night will be the first-tier items to tackle when you begin your year-end audit. These may not actually be your biggest areas of risk, but if they raise your stress level, they need to be fixed straight away.
Evaluate Your Systems and Processes Honestly
Beyond the late-night heartburn, are there systems and processes where you really do not have it all together? Be honest with yourself — you know how to spot them.
Perhaps you operate with spotty client files, yet always manage to find what you need. If you look closely at your systems, you might realize there is not one single complete client file in either electronic or paper form. Put maintenance of client files on your tier-two list for your year-end audit.
Or maybe you know your malpractice insurance is not adequately protecting you. Are you overpaying because you never shopped around? Are you under- or over-insured? If you updated your practice areas, did you tell your carrier that you expanded into a new area of law? Or, do you just copy last year’s renewal application and send in a check each year?
Any part of your practice where you know you need to do better — even if it doesn’t bother you on an emotional level — needs to be identified as something to improve this year-end.
Remind Yourself Why
It is easy to get swept up in holiday festivities and enjoy a slower time of year for law practice. But remind yourself why it is worth investing time and energy in improving your systems.
Being investigated by the state bar over an ethics complaint is a major stress and serious time drain. Plus, consequences of a bar complaint can range from private admonishment all the way to disbarment.
You might think that ensuring your calendar is syncing to your phone or practice management software is helpful, but not critical, for ethics compliance. In truth, simple systems that help you keep on top of deadlines and return client calls might save you from a major headache with the state bar.
It is well worth the time and effort to shore up weaknesses in your systems.
Begin Looking for Resources
Once you identify your practice’s main pain points, take the next couple of weeks before the year’s end to gather resources for making improvements. Read legal blogs, take a crack at Googling your issues, and begin talking to colleagues. Get a handle on where you can turn when you actually sit down at the start of the new year to make some serious improvements.
Laying this groundwork will make that precious year-end time more productive and valuable. Make 2018 the year your practice runs more smoothly and is more ethically compliant than ever before.
Megan Zavieh is the creator and author of "The Playbook: The California Bar Discipline System Practice Guide." In her law firm, Zavieh Law, she focuses her practice exclusively on attorney ethics, providing full and limited scope representation to attorneys facing disciplinary action, and providing guidance to practicing attorneys on questions of legal ethics. Megan is admitted to practice in California, Georgia, New York and New Jersey, as well as in multiple federal courts and the U.S. Supreme Court. In "On Balance," Megan writes about the issues confronting lawyers in the new world of practicing law. She blogs on ethics at California State Bar Defense and tweets @ZaviehLaw.
I know, I know — another cautionary tale about law firm holiday parties. We all know the drill: Have fun, but not too much. Keep in mind the party — whether it includes staff, spouses or clients — is a professional work event. What happens reflects on not only the individual but the firm itself.
You have no doubt heard the same old warnings as each holiday season approaches. And as you should; everyone attending a firm’s party should keep those in mind. But what about those hosting the party? Is there is a separate set of guidelines for partners and firm management to make the night a professional — and social — success?
If you’ve attended more than a couple of years’ worth of parties, you know it as a source of lucid folklore. Everyone remembers the year Jim did this, or Jenna did that, or what Jim and Jenna did together. Blowing off steam after a rugged journey to reach economic and business goals at year’s end is implicitly expected to generate juicy gossip or myths of scandal and embarrassment. Anything less is seen as boring, an unwelcome post-party verdict.
But this year is a little different.
Welcome to the most dangerous party in your firm’s history.
The Reality of 2017
As you are well aware, not much is the same in the practice of law today, and those changes are manifestly affecting the outdated template of the holiday party. For example, it has been found that 21 to 36 percent of practicing lawyers are active problem drinkers. Another growing segment medicates their stress or exhaustion with opiates, sedatives and stimulants, often problematically mixed with alcohol. Welcome to an open bar party at the end of the year!
Further, the issue of sexual harassment has dominated daily news feeds in recent months, across all industries. Past deeds are uncovered while current misbehavior is subject to new and severe in-house scrutiny. DUIs are no longer acceptable to the firm or the licensing and disciplinary boards. The firm’s legal liability for its holiday party can extend to physical harm, harassment, discrimination, workers’ compensation and a host of other legal theories to come.
According to studies, more than 10 percent of attendees at holiday parties act out in some manner that compromises their professional standing. They do so under the watchful eye of countless phones and cameras, waiting to be tomorrow’s Instagram post. And mind-altering substances are not always the culprit — many lawyers have strong personalities that become enhanced in the environment of the annual bash.
As defenses fall with each drink, lawyers might act out on their yearlong peer or subordinate crush. They may drink too much just to relax, even if they are not typically problematic drinkers (often a more destructive scenario than with the seasoned drinker). Others may decide to vent their frustration or anger about the firm, often when impaired and exhausted, or even attempt to drive home while legally incapacitated.
But on a Positive Note …
Although it might seem as if holiday parties are littered with landmines, the reality is they serve a positive and necessary purpose. In fact, because firm culture often is more impersonal and businesslike these days, hosting such events is critical to boosting spirits.
The end of the year is a milestone and a reckoning, good or bad. Lawyers, professionals and staff have been in the trenches together for a year attempting to reach personal and professional goals. The holiday party is essentially “shore leave,” an opportunity to bond, celebrate, find inspiration, build camaraderie, blow off steam, laugh, enjoy one another outside of the office, and give a nod to the holiday season. It is both a recognition of the sacrifices and achievements of the past year as well as a pep talk for the upcoming year.
In other words, a holiday party can and should be a wonderful experience filled with relatively sober and relaxed conversations, a toast or speech from firm leadership, and perhaps a fun activity. (I was at a firm where each year the associates made a video for the partners, which premiered at the party.) Attendees may even experience some gratitude for their bond with the firm.
Every firm is different, and some decidedly have more of a “family” culture, but this party should serve as a positive experience for all, no matter what the nature of your firm.
Predictable Problems: Mitigating the Risks
Taking a few discrete actions, including the below, can minimize predictable problems.
1. Send invitations and emails outlining the firm’s expectations:
What to wear
The importance of respectful physical and verbal behavior
The notion that the party is an extension of the workplace
A heads-up on the enhanced scrutiny of workplace behavior and a gentle warning to behave accordingly
2. Limit opportunities to become intoxicated:
Provide a certain number of tickets for alcohol for attendees.
Make the length of the party shorter rather than longer.
Don’t permit shots.
Offer good food and non-alcoholic alternatives (and include low-alcohol punch).
Give a relatively early “last call.”
Designate a member or two of management (not HR) to be sober observers to monitor potential problems.
3. Provide Uber or another ride-share service for every attendee to and from the party. It is impossible to identify every person who may be impaired, so the money will be worth it. My recommendation is that Uber be paid for even when the attendees go to an after-party or meet at a bar. These post-party gatherings are common and it’s often when the attendee has that one drink too many. This policy also protects attendees who choose to have a “pre-party,” a not uncommon tradition for nervous associates who may be socializing with senior partners for the first time.
At the end of the day, a party is still a party, with all the fun and risks attendant to a gathering with alcohol, music, food, and scores of different personalities and skills. As host, your firm can certainly put some boundaries and practical tools in place to avoid potential damage to guests and to the firm itself. Neglecting to do so in December 2017 would be a serious error.
Make this year’s party memorable for all the right reasons, even if there are fewer war stories to add to the firm’s history.
Ask Daliah: 5 ways to wish clients happy holidays (without the clutter of cards)
BY DALIAH SAPER
Dear Daliah: What is your opinion on mailing out greeting cards to clients for the holidays?
Dear readers: Every year, toward the end of November and beginning of December, my desk starts to pile up with greeting cards. The majority of them are part of a mass mailing with either a stamped signature or sometimes no signature at all. I look at them for 5 seconds, set them aside, only to look at them again for 5 more seconds right before I throw them out.
Every year I wonder why firms think it is a good idea to invest hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars on these cards. Firms, especially smaller firms, should allocate their holiday marketing dollars more effectively.
This year, instead of sending out greeting cards to clients, consider one of these five alternatives:
E-cards. Instead of spending your firm’s hard-earned money on physical cards, send electronic greeting cards. Most e-blast programs allow you to quickly and efficiently personalize each email and track which clients actually open your greeting card. Additionally, an electronic greeting gives you more room to discuss your firm and highlight important and interesting news about your year.
Gifts to charity. Since e-cards cost a fraction of what regular cards do, use the funds allocated for physical cards to donate to a charity that resonates with your law firm. In your holiday news blast, let the recipient know you are donating the dollars you would otherwise have spent on greeting cards.
Physical gifts with social impact. Sometimes you have to give an actual gift along with a card. In those cases, rather than a fruit basket or a flower arrangement, give a gift with impact. For example, Packed with Purpose partners with socially conscious companies to create unique gifts that help give back to the community and people in need. You can choose from a variety of curated gift sets or create custom gift boxes to send your clients.
Gifts your clients sell. Or if your practice is like mine and you represent a variety of businesses, use this holiday season as an opportunity to promote your clients. Give gifts sold by your clients or work with them to create holiday promotions that you can share. In my latest news blast, I promoted my client Birchbox, and included a discount code they gave me specifically for my network. Your clients will appreciate the gift of increased exposure and your network will appreciate the gift of a good discount.
Holiday parties. In addition to sending a holiday greeting or meaningful gift, consider throwing a holiday party. Holiday parties allow you to communicate with your clients in a more relaxed setting. Plus, everyone benefits from the opportunity to make new friends and just have a good time. I usually photograph and video my holiday parties and include links to view the holiday party album in a follow-up email. You can view some of those videos here.
Daliah Saper opened Saper Law Offices, an intellectual property, digital media, entertainment and business law firm based in Chicago, in 2005. Saper is regularly interviewed on national TV, radio and in several publications, including Fox News, CNN, CNBC, ABC News, 20/20, the New York Times and the Chicago Tribune. She is an adjunct professor of entertainment law at Loyola University Chicago School of Law.
We are all vulnerable to disasters whether they be floods, tornadoes, ice storms, or other emergencies. The question is: how prepared are you?
Would your practice survive an ice storm that shuts things down for two weeks? What would happen if all the computers in your office were stolen? Or, what would occur if you had a heart attack tonight? Having your practice prepared for a sudden emergency or disaster is a must do for all solo, small, and large firms. A Disaster Recovery Plan can assist your firm in reducing or eliminating some of the dangers associated with a disaster, creating a better response to the emergency, recovering faster from the event, and it minimizes financial losses and service interruption.
To be successful, a plan will need to be strategically developed with foresight and planning offering the appropriate level of detail for your firm structure. Additionally, a plan will only be successful if it is supported by senior management and offers appropriate budget and resource allocations. Disaster plans should always be in writing and discussed and shared with all staff members of the firm. And, because this is a Disaster Plan, one copy should be kept off-site in case your electronic and hard copy files are inaccessible during the emergency event.
A Disaster Plan must, at a minimum, cover proper back-ups and recovery of files, create and keep updated an emergency contact list, and maintain adequate and proper insurance coverage through all emergencies and disasters.
If you’d like to learn more about Disaster Planning attend my session at the Plaza Lights CLE held December 7 & 8 at the Intercontinental Hotel on the Plaza (Presentation on Business Continuity and Disaster Recovery on December 7 at 2:50 pm: register at ksbar.org/cle) or at the Slam Dunk CLE Conference held January 29 & 30 at the Hilton Garden Inn in Manhattan (Presentation on Business Continuity and Disaster Recovery on January 30 at 8:30 am: register at ksbar.org/cle).
Our next edition of Webinars for Busy Lawyers will show you how to reclaim your time and money from distractions and optimize your ability to focus – in 30 minutes or less.
How many times are you distracted from your work on a typical day? You’ll lose almost 25 minutes on average returning to your original task each time. If you’re still billing by the hour, it’s a quick calculation to turn that loss into dollars.
Recent studies have shown that if you don’t regularly use your ability to focus and concentrate, your abilities will be greatly reduced. In today’s digital world, email and other device distractions often prevent us from concentrating time and mental energy on larger projects such as trial preparation or brief writing.
Loss of focus means time lost trying to get the job done. That means more time in the office but less money to show for it! The key is to reverse this trend by practicing your focus and concentration.
Join us for a fast-paced webinar filled with tips, tools, and strategies to reduce your distractions and increase your productivity.
Reid Trautz is the Director of the American Immigration Lawyers Association’s Practice and Professionalism Center, where he provides ethics guidance and management advisory services to lawyers to help improve their businesses and the delivery of legal services to their clients. He is a nationally recognized advisor, author and presenter on practice issues, including business process improvement, law practice technology, and legal ethics. He is co-author of The Busy Lawyer’s Guide to Success: Essential Tips to Power Your Practice, published by the ABA, and is a frequent contributor to legal publications nationwide. Reid is an elected Fellow of the College of Law Practice Management, and was named to the Fastcase 50 list of global legal innovators in 2012.