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.
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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.
What’s on your tech to-do list for next year? Maybe you’ve resolved to get more organized, go paperless once and for all, or move all of your practice systems to the cloud. Could be you’re dreaming of a new website — or a better laptop and new headphones would make you happy. What’s worthy of your technology investment next year?
We asked the practice management technology pros to recommend one good way for lawyers to upgrade their tech in 2018. Here’s wise advice from Heidi Alexander, Sheila Blackford, Joyce Brafford, Jared Correia, Tom Lambotte, Sharon Nelson and John Simek, and Lee Rosen.
(Tip: Consider Nehal Madhani’s advice on using “process mapping”to identify which areas of your legal workflow are ripe for automation — and where to invest in technology.)
HEIDI ALEXANDER: TAKING CARE OF YOU, FIRST
Quality client service is essential for a successful law practice. Indeed, elevating the needs of your clients will lead to more consistent collections, return clients and referrals. However, while there is no doubt that focusing on client service has its time and place, the only way you can provide real value and efficacy to clients is by putting yourself first.
Something accurate underlies that annoying recitation to put your oxygen mask on first before helping others. The reality is that practice is stressful and if you ignore your own needs, you will burn out. If you are so busy that you can’t stop to take a breath, it’s time to take a step back from your practice and focus on you.
What does this have to do with upgrading your legal tech? Well, legal tech solutions are no longer a scarcity; you can find a product to suit any one of your practice needs. Most importantly, though, implementing a legal tech solution requires thoughtful research, vetting, planning, training and more — not to mention budgetary considerations. If you don’t have the mental bandwidth or proper mindset to adequately implement legal tech, it will lead to frustration, increased costs and ultimately failure.
So, before you dive headlong into system upgrades, work on first taking care of you. Schedule time for yourself every day, try exercising regularly, and learn about mindfulness. Test out mediation using an app such as Headspace or Calm, or just take a moment to breathe. (Try setting a timer or use Apple Watch’s Breathe app.)
If you can make these activities a habit, you’ll reduce stress and approach your practice with a clear head, thus enabling you to effectively implement whatever tech your practice needs in 2018.
Heidi S. Alexander (@heidialexander) is Deputy Director of Lawyers Concerned for Lawyers, where she also leads the Massachusetts Law Office Management Assistance Program (LOMAP). She is the author of “Evernote as a Law Practice Tool” and serves on the ABA TECHSHOW Planning Board. In 2017, Heidi was appointed to the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court’s Standing Advisory Committee on Professionalism.
SHARON NELSON AND JOHN SIMEK: CONSIDER THE CLIENT PORTAL
If you don’t already have one, consider implementing a client portal. Client portals will help you solve all sorts of problems. Clients can access documents pertaining to their matters. They’ll know the status of their matter whenever they want to check on it. Clients will be able to “follow the money” and know how much the matter is costing, how much may be left in the retainer and even pay their invoice online if needed. Client communications is much improved as well. Client portals can allow document collaboration and even facilitate secure, encrypted communications.
The good news is that many case management platforms provide client portals as part of the offering. Having a client portal integrate with your practice management is an excellent way to improve the client experience (clients adore client portals) and make your practice much more efficient, profitable and attractive to prospective clients.
Jared Correia (@JaredCorreia) is CEO of Red Cave Law Firm Consulting, which offers subscription-based law firm business management consulting and technology services for solo and small law firms. A former practicing attorney, Jared is a popular presenter and regular contributor to legal publications (including his “Managing” column for Attorney at Work).
JOYCE BRAFFORD: EMBRACE SLACK
As an alternative channel for communication, Slack helps you be more responsive to conversations that really matter. It’s like a high-priority system for communication threads, tasks and calendars. Slack connects with many of the apps lawyers are already using, including Dropbox, Google Calendar, Box and Wunderlist. As a single platform to better communicate in the office and with clients, it’s a no-brainer.
LEE ROSEN: FOCUS ON BEST-OF-BREED APPS AND BRING THEM TOGETHER
Stop trying to find the magic bullet. There isn’t a single app that will properly manage your client information, track your time and billing, create your documents, control your calendar, and generate comprehensive management reports.
You’re asking for something that doesn’t exist and you wouldn’t really want it if it did. Software developers can be good at a bunch of things or great at one thing. Great always beats good, and you’re never going to be satisfied with the compromised software made by vendors trying to be all things to all lawyers.
Pick the best software for solving each of your specific problems. Then tie your best-of-breed applications together so that they share information. You won’t have to enter the same data twice, plus you’ll get applications built by specialists who completely understand your issues.
Pick the best document assembly system, integrate it with the best document management system. Tie both of those apps in with your client relationship management system and connect that to your time and billing product. Bring all that data together with your task management system and connect it to your phone system and your accounting application.
Products like Zapier, Automate.io and IFTTT are the glue connecting your apps to one another. Start small and, over time, go big.
You’ll end up with the best software, minimal data entry, and solutions that keep you satisfied rather than always wishing for more.
Lee Rosen (@LeeRosen) grew his North Carolina family law practice and sold it. He travels full time while helping lawyers grow their practices. His blog at Rosen Institute is an ABA Blawg 100 Hall of Fame honoree. He is a recipient of the ABA James Keane Award for Excellence in eLawyering.
SHEILA BLACKFORD: LEVERAGE TECHNOLOGY TO REDUCE PRODUCTION TIME
Lawyers who are tech-savvy are taking this year-end time to evaluate their business processes to identify ways to leverage their production time. Clients are choosing efficient law firms that deliver high value at the most reasonable cost. This means upgrading to technology tools that can reduce production time, such as document automation and document assembly software Pathagorus, along with speech recognition software like Dragon NaturallySpeaking. Tools like this will help get the work done more efficiently.
In 2018, something you need to do is find out if your digital credentials are for sale on the Dark Web. Digital credentials such as usernames and passwords connect you and your team to your critical business applications: case management software, banking, online file storage and much more. Unfortunately, criminals know this — and that’s why digital credentials are among the most valuable assets found on the Dark Web. Far too often, law firms that have had their credentials compromised and sold on the Dark Web don’t know it until they have been informed by law enforcement.
Dark Web ID, from ID Agent, will detect your compromised credentials in real-time on the Dark Web. It vigilantly searches the most secretive corners of the internet to find compromised credentials associated with your law firm and notifies you immediately when these critical assets are compromised before they are used for identity theft, data breaches or other crimes. Ask your IT provider if it offers this service.
Tom Lambotte (@LegalMacIT) is CEO of GlobalMacIT, a company specializing in providing IT support to Mac-based law firms. Tom is the author of “Hassle Free Mac IT Support for Law Firms” and “Legal Boost: Big Profits Through an IT Transformation.”
This is our 29th annual report on what’s going on in the legal profession. As in all the previous reports, it is based on information my colleagues and I continually gather from many sources — law firms, legal networks, other providers of legal services, legal departments, surveys and the press.
As always, this is not an attempt to report on every development, many of which are generally recognized, but only on those we believe should be noted because, in our opinion, they are having or will have an impact on the profession.
PRACTICE AREAS/INDUSTRY GROUPS
(Note: Four years ago we first reported that a few firms were restructuring their practice into industry groups containing multiple practice areas. This trend has continued.)
Health Care, regardless of what has happened to the Affordable Care Act.
Immigration, regardless of what policies the Trump administration pursues.
Cybersecurity. Will continue to be the No. 1 issue for both in-house counsel and consumers.
Financial Services. The economy will continue to strengthen. This will fuel almost every area of financial services including IPOs and mergers & acquisitions.
Food & Beverage due to continued increases in labeling, ingredient and testing requirements.
Bitcoins for those firms that have or develop the expertise.
Elder Law. Increasing in scope, as we have been reporting.
Sports. Particularly contracts.
Real Estate & Construction, both residential and commercial, in most parts of the country.
Other Sports, including eSports and gaming.
Commercial Litigation. The number of cases, and therefore the profitability, in most large and midsize firms continues to decrease although there are exceptions. However, as we reported in our Midyear Update, there are reports that litigation funding is regaining strength
Labor & Employment, separate from immigration.
NO READING YET
Environmental except in California, New York, Washington and Oregon, which are increasing their regulatory activity.
HOT GEOGRAPHIC MARKETS
Dallas. One of the most notable signs was Winston & Strawn’s opening there early this year.
Louisville. As discussed in Of Counsel’s June issue.
MARKETING & BUSINESS DEVELOPMENT
(Note: As we said in our Midyear Update, there are so many strategies and activities, old and new, proven and unproven, and so much written about them that, except for the items below, we feel it is redundant to discuss or list them here.)
Website design and development. The DOJ is expected to start enforcing Web Content Accessibility Guidelines, at least at Level A, early in 2018. Unless they also comply, law firms are not immune to these suits as well as to a loss of reputation and declining SEO performance on their websites, according to Content Pilot CEO Deborah McMurray.
Artificial intelligence. Just beginning to be involved in marketing, as well as providing legal services.
Sales professionals. The most aggressive personal injury firms are supplementing their advertising and promotion programs by hiring sales professionals. Other than personal injury firms, some firms are hiring non-lawyers to uncover and develop new business leads. It took literally several decades for the accounting profession to achieve worthwhile results from this strategy. Even with all the hue and cry for more change in the legal profession, we believe it will still not be even mildly successful.
Formal sales coaching training. Has been productive in some firms where supported and funded by firm management.
OTHER TRENDS & ISSUES
Another record number of mergers. This is due, in part, to some cross-border mergers but most continue to be acquisitions of small firms and smaller mid-size firms by larger firms.
Stagnant demand for legal services. This will continue.
Total number of lawyers in U.S. firms also remains flat. However, some midsize firms such as Spencer Fane have steadily grown due to first-year hiring and selective lateral entries.
First-year hiring will increase, according to Robert Half, in what it describes as “high-growth areas — Litigation, Commercial Law and Real Estate.” Frankly, except for real estate, we question this as far as firms go, but not necessarily in corporate legal departments.
Small offices. Some firms are closing them to reduce costs and to (hopefully) increase efficiency. However …
Virtual offices and working from home continue to increase. A major reason is that millennials prefer this and larger firms are developing systems and policies to accommodate them — as well as reduce space costs.
Gender bias lawsuits continue, according to the 2017 Law360 Glass Ceiling Report, because, while women comprise over 50 percent of current law school graduates, their share of equity partnerships remains around 20 percent and has not increased in recent years. However, note that each year there are women who are elected managing partners, succeeding men, in some mid- to larger size firms.
Alternate legal service providers (ALSPs) continue to increase in number as well as in the breadth of services they offer. However, note that there are still a substantial number of smaller in-house legal departments that need specialty services but do not yet use ALSPs.
In-house client teams. They continue to increase in both number and size in larger clients.
Legal incubators. A small but steady increase in the number of these programs continues to provide recent law school graduates with the training and infrastructure they need to launch solo practices.
Pressure on general counsels continues to increase as they are called upon to not only control costs but also provide business counsel as part of a company’s or organization’s management team.
More with less. Even the largest in-house legal departments continue to face pressure to reduce costs.
Blockchain being tested in other uses, not just in relation to bitcoin.This is part of the movement in certain states such as Arizona and Nevada to enact legislation or issue guidance regarding new technologies and digital currencies. As it becomes more widely used, this industry should expect more regulatory efforts.
Non-legal subsidiaries. As we reported in June, 15 years ago there were several hundred firms that were owned and managed them in a variety of industries. Although less noted until now, estimates are that many of them have continued. If properly integrated into the structure of the firm and well managed, they can enable firms to counter revenue and profit challenges as well as provide expanded service to clients.
Multidisciplinary practices (MDPs). As Susan Duncan discusses in her October post, some of the larger firms have gone beyond the subsidiary structure and have hired non-lawyers, i.e., consultants and other professionals, and integrated them into the practice or industry group structure as part of teams to serve their clients.
Other service delivery approaches involving technology, process improvement and knowledge management continue to be developed.
Non-lawyers managing firms. A Chicago firm recently announced it would hire a business executive to handle the firm’s operations, apparently at a level above that of chief operating officer. As much as law firms could benefit from effective business management, does this indicate a trend toward non-lawyer MPs and CEOs? Very, very doubtful. Several years ago a large Philadelphia firm brought in a Big 4 partner to be CEO. After two or three years he left the firm and the firm again elected one of its partners CEO.
Transition and succession plans. Not only solos but a gradually increasing number of partners in firms are addressing these issues in mid-practice, so to speak, rather than waiting until age, health or other issues force them to.
Contract and “flex-time” lawyers. The steady decline in the amount of billable work that began with the recession had already resulted in some of the larger firms replacing full-time associates — and even partners — with part-time lawyers who work only on projects as needed. Several of these firms have now formalized this structure and created flex-time lawyer platforms. There are now also several stand-alone flex-lawyer businesses such as Axiom and Caravel as well as virtual firms such as Taylor English and FisherBroyles.
Fee sharing. The District of Columbia is the only U.S. jurisdiction to allow fee sharing with non-lawyers. Otherwise, fees are not federally mandated but are set state by state. For the past four years, we have reported on the small but growing momentum to change these rules and allow non-lawyer ownership of U.S. law firms. Now, with PwC’s forming a separate entity called ILC Legal, the Big 4 will be perfectly positioned to take advantage of new rules and pose a big threat to the law firm business. As Craig Brown stated in a recent post, “ILC” really stands for “I like your clients.”
Less need for lawyers. Simultaneous with the gradual trend toward fee-sharing with non-lawyers is the continued growth of technology-powered services that do not require lawyers to deliver them. While lawyers are needed at various stages to help build these services, they are increasingly less needed in many areas to delivery them.
Chief Legal Operations Consortium (CLOC). This growing group is made up of people within law departments who, among other things, develop and keep the metrics on cases won and lost, fees billed and even diversity to provide information to the GCs so they can determine who they want to assign to a specific case or deal.
Cyber-attacks and theft continue to rise around the world and law firms are becoming prime targets. A principal reason why cybersecurity is a “red hot” practice area.
Law firm networks. As more of them are formed, they offer clients an alternative to efficient and targeted legal services without having to research large firms.
Alternate fee arrangements. Despite the predictions of the last several years, they have not replaced the billable hour except in two extremes: 1) Major litigation where clients want to drive down the fees, and 2) in many “basic” matters such as uncontested divorce where a fixed fee is more appropriate and accepted.
A Note of Thanks
As stated earlier, this is our 29th annual “What’s Hot and What’s Not” report. Like all the previous reports, it could not have been developed without the contributions of my colleagues, most of whose comments, by agreement, are not attributed to them. I am most appreciative of their input.
I will continue to publish periodic Legal Communiques as I see the need for them. However, this is the final “What’s Hot” report. As Kenny Rogers sings in “The Gambler”:
“You got to know when to hold ’em, Know when to fold ’em, Know when to walk away, Know when to run. Never count your money When you’re sitting at the table. There’ll be time enough for countin’ When the dealing’s done.”
Bob Denney has provided management, leadership, strategic planning and business development services to corporations, professional firms and non-profit organizations throughout the United States and parts of Canada. A respected speaker and author, his articles have appeared in many legal publications. His firm publishes the highly regarded reports on What’s Hot and What’s Not in the Legal Profession.
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).
Have You Considered Adding Video Conferencing to Your Practice?
According to a study conducted by the Legal Resource Technology Center of the American Bar Association, only about 20% of lawyers were using video conferencing in 2016. And, of those 20%, only about 4% were using video conferencing regularly. But, when compared to other businesses, that is far below average. Why? The study didn't reach that far, but there are several reasons why attorneys may not be using video conferencing. They may be skiddish about the technology, unsure about the security features, and unclear about how to make client confidentiality work in the context of both technology and security. But, other businesses are using these tools regularly because video conferencing can reduce travel and other related costs by as much as 30%.
Video conferencing comes with many benefits, particularly in a rural state such as Kansas where traveling to meet with clients can be costly and transportation can be an issue for many clients. Setting up video conferencing in one’s office can allow an attorney to meet with more clients in one day than would be possible by travel alone. And, it can allow the attorney to cover a wider catchment area as well, thereby potentially meeting needs in underserved areas.
The most important question to ask when considering video conferencing is what am I wanting this service to do for me? This question will allow you to sort through potential products and services out there in the realm of video conferencing to find the one that works best for you.
·Do you want to collaborate on documents with clients, share screens, and chat with clients and participants while on the conference?
·Will you use one room in the office for video conferencing that will remain set up with all of the necessary tools or will you be carrying your laptop around to do video conferencing on-the-go?
·Are you looking for a cloud-based service and, if so, what questions do you need to ask to know what happens after the call(s) – where is the data stored and what type of security is used?[i]
Additionally, the attorney will want to consider the cost of the product. There are some free products out there, but not many. A few, such as Zoom, will allow you to use the product for free up to 40 minutes and up to 50 participants, but if you want to add the additional features, support, and functionality, then you must pay for the service. And, this is true across the board. In order to have access to increased functionality and features, the attorney will need to pay for the service and the product.[ii]
When selecting a product, be sure to pick a tool that is easy to use. You will need to be competent on this tool so by picking one that is easy to master you will better ensure your ability to reach the level of competence. Also, your clients will need to use this product and if there is an excessive amount of downloading and technological sophistication needed to use it then you may have upset clients and decreased satisfaction with your services.
Support is an important feature to think about when considering video conferencing. Paying for a product will increase the accessibility to support and this will allow the attorney to focus on being the attorney on the call and not the tech expert. Thus, if the client has trouble logging in, or there is a problem with the platform, then there is someone else to call other than the attorney having to try to troubleshoot all of the tech issues along with the legal ones.[iii]
Some accessories may be necessary to make your video conferencing services flow. You will need a computer, security software, and the video-conferencing service. Zoom, Google Hangout, Skype for Business, WebX, and Go-to-Meeting are just a few of the services on the market today. You will want to explore the products available to find the right fit for your practice. Additionally, when setting up video conferencing in your practice you will want to make sure you have a high-quality webcam and headphones. Even if you are the only one in the room, or in the building, you may want to use headphones. Oftentimes, when speaking directly toward the computer it can leave a muffled echo that does not sound professional. You will want to test your sound quality prior to the first video conference with a client.[iv]
When considering any type of technology every attorney must consider the implications to client confidentiality. Given the range of ethical issues raised by using technology in a law practice, we must always try to identify appropriate security measures to keep client information safe and protected. Here are a few questions to ask regarding technology and data security at your firm:
·Are your physical, organizational and technological security measures adequate?
·Are you using firewalls and intrusion detection software appropriately?
·Are you using anti-malware software appropriately?
·Are there firm policies in place regarding technology use?
·Are firm lawyers and staff given adequate technology training?
·Do you have measures in place to ensure data integrity?
·Is your data backed-up?
·Are your passwords, other access restrictions and authentication protocols sufficient?
·Do you use encryption, where appropriate?
·When discarding equipment, do you take appropriate measures to guard against unauthorized disclosure of client information?
·Is there an incident response plan in place at your firm?[v]
Once a choice is made regarding a type of security, a video-conferencing product, and the place and type of storage for client information, all of this information should be listed in the client engagement letter providing notice to clients about how and where their information will be kept and secured by the firm.
Video conferencing can open your practice to new areas, new clients, and new possibilities. While there are many things to consider before jumping in to video conferencing, it can be an exciting opportunity to grow your practice. Before starting, you will want to remember to arrive at your conference early, every time, because software glitches happen, and you want to be prepared. If you are early to the conference, then you have a chance to troubleshoot problems and glitches. And, remember if you are on the screen, or in the room, then people can see you. You are always visible during a video conference, so be prepared to watch your mannerisms and facial expressions and be “on” for the entire call. [vi]
If you have any questions related to video conferencing, contact Sara Rust-Martin, KBA Law Practice Management Attorney, 785-861-8821, or firstname.lastname@example.org
[i]Why Video Conferencing Belongs in the Law Firm. Law Technology Today. (May 12, 2017).
[ii]Why Video Conferencing Belongs in the Law Firm. Law Technology Today. (May 12, 2017).
[iii]Why Video Conferencing Belongs in the Law Firm. Law Technology Today. (May 12, 2017).
[iv]Why Video Conferencing Belongs in the Law Firm. Law Technology Today. (May 12, 2017).
[v]Legal Ethics in a Digital World, The Canadian Bar Ass’n (2014).
[vi]Why Video Conferencing Belongs in the Law Firm. Law Technology Today. (May 12, 2017).
The Skill of Being a Successful Lawyer: Relationship Building
In law school, students are taught legal knowledge, how to write as a lawyer, and even how to think like one, but future lawyers are not often in classes on the most important skill of being a successful lawyer: relationship building.
To be a successful lawyer you will need relationships – all kinds of them. You need people to help you build your ideas, develop solutions to your problems, and offer key introductions to the “right” people when necessary. Professionally necessary people establish our network. We come to rely on them for all sorts of things inside and outside of the office. And, successful lawyers have a strong, diverse network.
Who makes up your network?
Don’t make the mistake of limiting your network to only lawyers or to people who are too similar to you. “When you interact only with people who are in similar positions, have similar views and share similar experiences, the result is an echo chamber – your network echoes back the same information and ideas to you. And, if everyone in your network has the same contacts that you have, you limit your opportunities to learn, grow, and develop new business.
The echo chamber effect is intensified on social media. Your news feed in Facebook, Twitter, or other social media platforms is likely to contain content from mostly those within your close circle of family, friends, and colleagues, many of whom have the same interests, concerns and views that you have, and is less likely to contain many people with differing points of view or perspectives.”[i]
What have you done to build or cultivate your network this week?
Be mindful of the limiting practices outlined above when building your network, whether online or off. “Instead of joining groups or speaking only to people who are like you, seek out people who have had different experiences and have different perspectives than you do. Look for new ideas and resources outside of your circle to avoid recirculating the same old information. Follow people from different industries and with different points of view on social media. Actively cultivate relationships with people with whom you disagree.”[ii]
Building business is, ultimately, all about relationships and trust, and these take time to develop, so the earlier in your career that you begin, the more successful you will be.
[i] Leading Through Relationships. Allison C. Shields. Law Practice (Nov/Dec. 2017).
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.