I’ve written about this before:
I’ve written about this before:
Keep track of the nice things people say about you, and of the people who are exceptionally happy with your work. When you are having a hard time at the office (or want to use some testimonials in your marketing materials) you have a list handy for a quick pick-me-up.
And in case you think it is a bit conceited to keep track of the people who love you, remember that you will build a far more successful business by marketing to your happiest customers than your unhappy ones.
Thanks to my friend, Steve Nipper, for the tip.
My friend Dennis Kennedy has given out his 2004 Legal Blogging Awards (nicknamed “Blawggies”) and I am pleased to accept the award for Best New Legal Blogger. I’m a bit under the weather today, or you’d be getting a really long speech here (lucky for you). Suffice it to say that I am thankful to everyone who has made 2004 my best year ever. Thank you!
I read a lot of non-legal books — mostly business books — to help me generate ideas on improving my legal practice and to get ideas for posts in this blog. I usually buy the books I read, and fold down the corner of each page that has something I want to come back to. However, what tends to happen is that I end up with a bunch of books on my bookshelf with beat-up pages that I’ve not looked at since I read them in the first place.
This brings me to my resolution for the day (and a simple Knowledge Management tip):
Whenever you finish a book, copy each page you “marked” while reading it. Put the copies in an idea file that you review regularly — or at least when you are stuck and need to think creatively.
Now that the holiday season is over, think about the one present you saw (on television, while shopping, under the tree) that made you say to yourself, “Boy, if I were a kid again …,” and go buy it for yourself. Whenever you are having a tough day at the office, or really need to do some creative thinking, pull it out and play with it. Here is the “present” I bought myself while shopping for my daughter’s Christmas presents — a Lego Ferrari F1 Racer. I can’t wait to put it together.
Here is one on my personal “to do” list next year:
Identify the most successful businesses in your community and find out who is second and third in charge there. Ask those people to lunch. Learn everything you can about their business. Don’t “sell” your practice or your services, but offer to help them in any way you can. Follow up with a personal thank-you note after the lunch.
You will start to see business from these people and their businesses before next year is out!
I didn’t know what to get everyone for the holidays, but Mark Hurst did. He is the author of the Good Experience Blog, and for a special Christmas treat, has compiled all of his “Fun Stuff” entries from his newsletter here.
Each entry is guaranteed to generate a smile.
Find employees who want to work second and third shifts and experiment with one or two days a month where the firm never closes. Advertise these days, and find out how many people who’ve never had time to meet with a lawyer come calling!
Just a few of the things on my Christmas list. I know it is late, but I won’t hold it against you if the gift arrives after the holidays.
A website designed by 37 Signals. These guys (and gals) are masters at making really functional websites look simple and elegant. Take a look at their 37Better Project, with redesigns of popular sites Google, FedEx, and PayPal. These guys are also behind the Basecamp project management tool (that I love).
A Tour Edge Exotics fairway wood. I’m on my fourth driver by this company and love their products, warranty, and customer service. Great prices on unbelievable clubs. Oh, and thanks for asking: the three wood with the stiff Fujikura shaft, please.
A Mirra Personal Server for home and office.
A clean desk.
Time to respond to my comments.
Oh, and one more thing: The ability to meet and thank every single reader of this blog.
I have dedicated (a growing) part of my professional and personal life to improving law practice and making this gig the one we all thought we were signing up for when we decided to go to law school. I am gratified beyond words at the response I’ve gotten from all of you. Blogging isn’t about conversations, it is not about ROI, it is about opportunity. I’ve learned more, met more fascinating people, and gained more from the fellowship of bloggers and blog readers than I ever thought possible. Thank you so much.
Every week, pick one of your "standard" forms (like retainer agreement) and give it to a sixth grader. Ask them if they understand it. Then rewrite it from scratch.
Find the biggest problem in your community and have a competition to solve it. Involve the schools and retirement homes. Give a prize for the best solution. Make sure everyone knows your firm sponsored the competition. Set aside another part of the prize money to go towards funding the solution.
Create a Firm Master To-Do List — This list isn’t for client matters, but for firm matters. Make marketing and firm development high priorities. Make sure everyone has access to the list and place at least one item on the calendar each week to make sure it gets done.
Look for space in your office where you can have a comfortable conversation with a client, partner, or staff member. Having a white board or other brainstorming tool would be a big plus. Make it a fun place to think.
Prepare a list of client commitments and stick to them. Include returning phone calls within a specified period of time. Send the commitments to clients with every bill. Offer discounts if you don’t live up to any of your commitments. Give clients a small discount if they send back a “Report Card” with their payment. Make it look like the ones kids got in the fifties. Follow up with them on any grade they give below an “A.”
I’ve run across some really interesting conversations about pricing design services here, and a new software product here. Don’t just read the posts, read the comments. Some great insights into pricing and value. It seems lawyers aren’t the only folks who have a hard time with pricing.
My friend Bruce MacEwen (Adam Smith, Esq.) asked me to join some amazing bloggers on his Savvy Bloggers Panel. He asked us, “Looking out five to ten years, what will the single most significant change be in terms of how sophisticated law firms (think AmLaw 200) are managed, on the ‘business side’?” All of the responses are here. This is what I wrote:
A: I have spent all but two years of my legal career as a solo practitioner or as a member of a two-lawyer firm. Because I’ve never worked for a “sophisticated” AmLaw 200 (or even AmLaw 20,000) firm, I’m afraid I can’t give a meaningful answer to Bruce’s question. Instead, I’ll answer a different question: What is the single most significant change small firm lawyers hope AmLaw 200 firms don’t implement in the next ten years?
The single greatest competitive advantage small firm lawyers have over their big firm counterparts is the ability to quickly adopt and implement innovative practice methods. Though many small firm lawyers have fallen into the billing-by-the-hour business model practiced by most large firms, I would suggest that a significant amount of the alternative pricing of — and value billing for — legal services comes from the small firm lawyers in this country. In my firm, for example, we have completely abandoned the billable hour and have moved to a service-pricing model that gives our business and transactional clients a range of services (including “free” telephone calls) for a monthly fee or a flat per-project cost. In doing so, we’ve managed to make our clients happier, increased our margins, and decreased the time we spend in the office. My greatest fear is that AmLaw 200 firms will adopt and embrace a similar business model.
In contrast to small firms, large firms have an unbelievable amount of institutional knowledge. For any given legal project, large firms have likely completed a similar (or the exact same) task hundreds of times. Their “inventory” of documents, memos, briefs, complaints, and opinion letters dwarfs the resources available to small firm lawyers. My fear is that if a large firm decides to couple that “huge selection” with “everyday low prices,” the WalMartization of the legal business will begin.
In short, if large firms were to apply the “Big Box” retail concept to the delivery of professional services, small firm lawyers would disappear like Main Street retailers when Wal Mart comes to town. Just think, the complex, expensive legal work most big firms seek is only a very small tip of a very large iceberg. Most business and transactional work is of the garden variety. There is no reason a large firm couldn’t set aside a team of associates and partners to do that kind of work for hundreds or thousands of small businesses for a low monthly or annual fee.
Doing quality work is just a small part of the equation. The big firms would have to deliver an improved customer-service experience as well. Instead of locking young associates away in the library for years, have them be the first point of contact for small business customers (even better, hire retired lawyers as “greeters” for new clients). Train these lawyers to answer the basic legal questions on the fly, perhaps by consulting a firm-developed knowledge base, and promise an answer to more complicated questions within a day or so. Guarantee telephone calls returned within 60 minutes – or that month’s service is free. Designate a chief client-service officer, and make that executive’s compensation dependent upon customer satisfaction levels. In short, take a look at what non-legal companies that excel at customer service are doing, and improve upon it.
Finally, to make this model a sustainable one, firms must hire the best and brightest students. Instead of focusing on the top five percent, recruit and hire law students based upon their capacity for creative and innovative thinking, people skills and business acumen. If law firms concentrated on hiring the best lawyers (instead of the best law students) schools may be forced to actually prepare students to practice law, instead of giving them the esoteric theory-based education most law students get now.
Do I think that most big firms will take these suggestions to heart? Not really. And for that I am thankful.
LexThink! Chicago: Building the Perfect Firm.
What do you get when you bring together a select group of innovative, big-thinking people from the worlds of law, business, technology, marketing, and consulting for a full day and ask them to design the perfect professional service firm?
We call it LexThink! Chicago.
Innovate. On April 3, 2005, we will turn the Catalyst Ranch space in downtown Chicago into laboratory space for a group of innovators and thought leaders. We’ll create and test ideas for transforming the delivery of professional services, to better match the needs of professionals and their clients alike. With a full day of targeted presentations, small group discussions, collaborative brainstorming and other exercises, we will will mix innovative business practices with proven client service strategies and promising technology applications to create the formula for the perfect professional services firm. The focus of every conversation will be on turning talk into action, and bold ideas into realities
Motivate. Attendees will take away dozens of practice-changing ideas while making many new friends. LexThink! Chicago will be a chance to meet in person bloggers, authors and speakers that have motivated and challenged us over the years. Spending a day with this group will generate renewed energy and enthusiasm and give you a new action list for making the changes you want in your practice, your business and your life.
Activate. In too many cases, the surge of enthusiasm from an inspirational conference drains away steadily as you return to the real world. LexThink! Chicago is designed to create extended relationships, with opportunities for structured feedback and continuing discussions, social support, and ongoing motivation to transform your practice. The collaborative experience will continue with ongoing discussion groups, monthly conference calls and other ways to connect with LexThink! alumni.
LexThink! Chicago is the brainchild of well-known lawyer bloggers Matthew Homann, Dennis Kennedy and Scheherazade Fowler, who have been thinking (and blogging) about ways to make meaningful changes in their professional practices. LexThink! Chicago grew out of one of their brainstorming sessions and their own “what if” questions.
To permit meaningful participation, to generate the best conversations, and to work within the limitations of the creative space we’ve reserved, participation in the first LexThink! Chicago will be by invitation-only. We’re limiting it to a select group of professional service providers—lawyers, accountants, consultants, strategists, coaches, technologists, marketers and entrepreneurs. If you are interested — or know someone who might be — get in touch with us soon by e-mailing Matt Homann at firstname.lastname@example.org. We will send out the invitations before the end of December, so make sure you let us know about your interest as soon as you can. We are seeking sponsors for LexThink! Chicago and expect to set the registration fee at less than $200 per attendee.
Many people always ask “Why?” There are also some who ask “Why not?” We’re the second kind. How about you?
I spent all day yesterday shooting a commercial for HP and Intel. I was interviewed about my mobile computing habits, the benefits of WiFi for mobile lawyers, and my use of the Tablet PC. I got to use one of HP’s Tablets during the shoot instead of my Toshiba M200 (not better, not worse, just different).
During the shoot I showed my Tablet (as well as the HP) to the sound guy. He had just bought an Apple iBook, but said he would have rethought that purchase had he gotten to use a Tablet first. I can think of no other Microsoft-based product that elicits a similar envious reaction from Apple users. Can you?
That leads into my resolution for the day:
Before you buy your next computer, try a Tablet PC. Use it for fifteen minutes or so. Once you experience the “magic” of using ink on your computer, you will have a difficult time with that boring old Dell or Thinkpad.
Trust me on this one.
Think about the amount of time and resources you’ve spent preparing for the holidays. Now, devote that same amount of time to devising your firm’s business strategy for 2005.
I know, I’m getting behind on my resolutions. Once you see the big announcement later today, I hope you’ll understand. Anyway, here is the first in a flurry of resolutions between now and Christmas:
Pick the three computer programs you use the most (or should use the most), and learn how to use them better. Set aside an hour per week to spend reading the manuals and playing around with the software. Better yet, get a “Dummies” book and read it through. You will be amazed at the amount of time you can save just learning the in’s and out’s of most computer programs. You would also be wise to make the rest of your office (especially staff) do the same thing.
Though David Giacalone and I disagree on many things, I do want to thank him for sending me this holiday bit of haiku:
for Matt Homann at the [non]billable hourNew Year’s Day
a lucky, lucky
light blue sky
I have a bunch of big announcements to make over the next few days, and here’s the first.
Zane Safrit, blogger and CEO of Conference Calls Unlimited, has been a participant in my Think Tank Tuesday Group since its inception. I’ve been totally smitten with Zane’s service since he set up our group with free toll-free conference call and webinar services. Zane is one of the businesspeople I know who “get’s it.” For example, his business has pulled most of its web advertising, and instead, put the money towards improving its customer’s experience with stunning results. Take a look here and here for examples.
I asked Zane how I could help his business grow, and he has made this generous offer — free to [non]billable hour readers. You get your choice of any one of the following:
One free web conference, with the included conference call; or
The first month free of their monthly flat-rate services; or
Ten Percent off a toll-free reservationless conference call.
Here is the rub: You have to call Chaz Czinder at 877–227–0611, extension 18. Chaz will be your personal conference calling expert. I’ve been using Chaz since we started the Think Tank Tuesday calls, and he’s great. He’ll explain the service and set up everything you need. He’ll even call you after your conference to make sure everything went well. Just tell Chaz that I sent you.
Oh, and one more disclaimer: I am getting nothing from Conference Calls Unlimited for this testimonial. If you think I’m alone in extollling their service, go here and watch video testimonials from other customers.
If you are unhappy in any way, and I’m sure you won’t be, drop Zane a line and he’ll personally make sure you are satisfied.
This year for the first time ever, the yoga teacher has been able to take a break.
Not for a week, or two weeks, but for a whole month. And all the while there is a steady flow of income coming through the door, despite the class being shut. That’s changed from last year?
The answer is: Recurring Payments.
You may not think it’s a big deal but there’s some part of your business, if not a major part of your business that could be continuously fed by a recurring system.
Lawn mowing services do the recurring thingy.
Fancy membership clubs do the recurring thingy.
And so do a lot of businesses.
Of course the yoga teacher is going to replace the one month away by giving goodies away to his class. But in essence, for the first time ever, that yoga teacher is getting a break. Some time to breathe. And all because he’s put a recurring system in place.
You should too. Right away.
This is another favorite.
Think of your best client. Now, go print out the MacKay 66. How many of these questions can you answer?
As I get caught up on my resolution series, here is a great post from one of my favorite new blogs, Marketing eYe. Read the entire post about how Alexander became “the Great.” The resolution I took away is this:
The best and the quickest way to become more successful is to focus on your one main problem. Focus on your “Darius.” When your main problem is solved, you will find that the other minor problems you had took care of themselves or are not a problem anymore!
My main problem is procrastination. What is yours? What are we going to do about it?
Success is the ability to go from one failure to another with no loss of enthusiasm. – Sir Winston Churchill.
Look around your work and your life: Is there a promise you made that you can “over-deliver” on? Go for it, and let’s hear it for the “little bit of extra” that goes a long, long way. (From Jason Womack).
I teach a law school class (Pre-Trial Practice and Procedure) at Washington University Law School. I generally enjoy the experience and have almost always had great students. This year was no exception.
Near the end of every semester, the teacher is asked to leave the room and the students fill out course evaluations. I don’t know how many other professors read them, but I do. In fact, I’ve learned quite a bit from reading the students’ comments and have changed my teaching style based upon some of the criticisms I’ve received. As helpful as the current evaluations are, I’d really like to read the responses to these questions from Jeremy’s Revised Course Evaluation Form:
Section I. Please rate the following on a scale from one (virtually none) to five (really quite high).
1. Odds you’re getting called on in any given class.
2. Odds you’ve done the reading
3. Chance the professor actually thinks he/she’s lecturing to a bunch of colleagues, who already know as much as he/she does about the subject.
4. Chance the professor actually wrote his/her most recent book.
5. Ease of online shopping while still catching enough of what the professor is saying so as to not feel completely lost.
6. Probability you’d be seeking emancipation if you found out the professor was your parent / grandparent
7. Amount of audiovisual equipment used.
8. Amount of food provided throughout the course of the semester.
9. Unpleasant professor odor.
10. Chance you’d take the class again, knowing everything you know now, except the material itself, because if you knew that, then taking the class again would be pretty silly, wouldn’t it?
Section II. Please answer with a percentage estimate between 0 and 100.
1. Percent of classes you have attended.
2. Percent of classes you wish you’d attended
3. Percent of students, on average, who return after the 5-minute break in the middle, if applicable.
4. Percent of students, on average, who fall asleep during any given session, with 10 extra percentage points added if there is regularly snoring heard throughout the room.
5. Percent of time you believe the professor has prepared for class.
6. Percent of time you believe that if the professor has in fact prepared for class, the professor needs some help in the “preparing for class” department.
7. Percent of time spent basically reading from the assigned materials.
8. Percent of time spent basically reading from unassigned materials.
9. Percent of time spent reading from the Bible.
10. Percent of your total net worth you would pay to have all memory of this class erased from your mind.
Section III. Open-ended questions. Please print neatly.
1. Is the professor funny? Give examples.
2. Do gunners seem to gravitate toward this class? Name them. We’ll get them.
3. Draw your best imitation of the professor’s blackboard penmanship, with an emphasis on illustrating the degree of legibility.
4. Would you recommend this class to your friends?
5. Would you recommend this class to your enemies?
6. Would you recommend this class be exported to Yale?
Section IV. Bizarre and Unrelated Logic Game.
John has Con Law on Monday and Tuesday. Katie has Corps on Wednesday and Thursday. Bill has Tax, but he can’t remember what days, since he never even bought the book. Susan signed up for a seminar, but wishes she didn’t since there’s so much reading. Classes that meet on Wednesday never conflict with The West Wing. Which class has the hardest exam?
Now, if any of my students are reading this and thinking about answering these questions for my class, remember, I haven’t turned in your grades yet!
David Young, on his Branding Blog has this interesting post pointing to an MIT Sloan School of Management Study that shows slightly more than half of consumers are willing to pay more for a product (while shopping online) if it comes from a well-known vendor.
The study, which ran from early 2003 to early 2004, monitored 10,000 searches by shoppers looking for books that were among the 100 most popular titles. The searches took place on DealTime.com, an Internet comparison-shopping service that lists several dozen retailer offers at a time. The listings include pricing and shipping information, product ratings and more.
Researchers chose to monitor book shoppers because the products they buy are exactly the same.
"We went in thinking a book is a book," Erik Brynjolfsson, director of the center for e-business at Sloan, said Wednesday. "But we found out that people care a lot about who they buy from, even if what they’re buying is a commodity."
Fifty-one percent of the shoppers scrolled down from the lowest priced books at the top of the list to the better-known retailers, paying several dollars more to buy their tomes from a vendor they knew. The hardcover books monitored in the study cost an average of $42.
Of course price made a difference to many, given that 49 percent of the shoppers bought the lowest-priced book. But Brynjolfsson and his fellow researchers expected closer to 100 percent of the shoppers to choose to pay the least possible for the same product.
"The vicious price competition predicted (on the Internet) by retailers and economists is not what we found," Brynjolfsson said.
The lesson from the study, according to Brynjolfsson, “Don’t think that price is all the consumer will care about.”
What should we take away from this study? Remember, it is not always about price. It is about trust, competence, and convenience.
If you are interested at all in learning about how other businesses have mastered the art of client service, read Secret Service by John R. DiJulius. DiJulius runs a string of spas in Ohio and details many practical yet ingenious ways he uses to deliver an unforgettable (and profitable) customer experience. I came away with literally hundreds of great ideas from reading this book. One of the three best books I’ve read this year.
Legal Affairs Magazine is looking for the country’s twenty most influential and important legal thinkers. I would have nominated Dennis Kennedy, but he doesn’t think much of the list, so instead, I’m nominating myself.
Today, I proudly announce my candidacy for the position of Influential and Important Legal Thinker. Though the nominations have closed, there is a place on the ballot for a write-in candidate (remember, my name is spelled “HOMANN”).
One more thing, I’m going to need a campaign manager. Rick, are you free?
Oh, and if you want to support me, I’ve got this great button you can put on your site.
On a semi-serious note, bloggers have accomplished some pretty amazing things. Wouldn’t it be cool to have one of our own (even if it is me) named as a more influential legal thinker than Clarance Thomas?
P.S. I can’t afford a nanny, so I think I’m pretty safe there.
Three closings (in three different counties), two emergency hearings, and one article due have kept me from posting the last few days. I’ll be back Friday morning with six more resolutions (to get back on track), and some really big news.
Until then, take a look later today at the first Savvy Blogger Panel postings at Adam Smith Esq.
Keep Sunday, April 3, 2005 open on your calendar. More details to follow…
This one is easy, and should be on all of our “to do” lists everyday. Think about that one person who helps you the most to do what you do (for me, it is my secretary Janelle). Go to that person today and thank them.
One of my favorite ideas I’ve found since I’ve been blogging is the one I blogged about here called “Stop, Start, Continue.” Divide your staff into three groups and identify a single problem or question you need to address in your practice (or your life).
Ask the first group to brainstorm and answer the question, “In order to _______, we need to stop doing _______.” The second group does the same with the question, “In order to _______, we need to start doing _______.” Finally the third group answers, “In order to _______, we need to continue doing _______.”
After all three groups have come up with a number of answers to their question, have everyone rotate and repeat the process two more times. Get everyone together, review the answers, and then devise a plan to put the ideas into action.
Review the look of your normal invoice. Then ask a seven year old to do the same. Are they readable and easy to understand? Do they have all of the information your client wants or needs? It also wouldn’t hurt to call a few of your best clients (or the people in charge of paying those clients’ bills) and ask them if there is anything you can do to make your bills easier to read and understand.
I got this one from The Nub:
1) Take any issue you want to consider. E.g: your relationship with your kids or partner; your relationships at work; your project; your time; your stress — ANYTHING.
2) Now create a sentence stem that focuses on your issue. E.g. If I want to improve my time effectiveness by 5% I must…
3) Then complete the sentence between 6-10 times. Don’t get fixed too long trying to say the right thing, if in doubt, invent – just make sure the ending is grammatically correct.
Example endings could be: If I want to improve my time effectiveness by 5% I must…
…get up 30 minutes earlier
…get to bed earlier
…organise my desk
…stick to my decisions
…accept that I can’t do everything
…keep in mind why I am doing something
Why only 5%? Because that’s not overwhelming. Try it out…There are tons of possibilities with this technique – I’ve just scratched the surface.
Who is your perfect client? Old or young? Rich or poor? Male or female? Once you’ve decided, go shopping. Go to the kind of stores your perfect client frequents, and look around. What draws your perfect client to the store(s) he or she shops in? Is it price? Is it selection? Is it quality? Is it atmosphere? Go back to your office and compare your office’s “look” with the look of your ideal customer’s favorite store. Could you make your office more inviting or accommodating?
Then think about what you sell (and how you price it). Are you Wal-Mart, Target, or Nieman-Marcus? Which one do you want to be?
There is quite a bit of back and forth between Denise and Evan on Jeff Jarvis’ idea of a Bloggers’ Legal Defense Society. Evan suggests the AmLaw 250 step up to the plate and contribute some cash to begin a sort of legal defense fund.
While it would be nice for the companies who provide most of the blogging software and services out there (Six Apart, Google, and now Microsoft) to contribute to a blogger defense fund, I think a better idea is to have the blogging companies provide some sort of blogging insurance as part of their service.
The insurance could provide bloggers in limited circumstances (such as Jason Kottke’s) with a defense, even if damages were ultimately to be paid by the blogger. I can’t imagine the cost of the insurance — spread among thousands (millions?) of bloggers — would be all that expensive. And the public relations boost to the blogging service that steps up to the plate first would be immeasurable. Having such insurance coverage available may even move more bloggers to a paid service from a free one.
Are there any insurance types out there who would like to work out the details with me on developing blogging insurance? If the big services won’t do it themselves, there may be thousands of bloggers out there who may pony up some of their own cash for a modicum of protection.
Now, back to your regularly scheduled programming.
Pick your five best clients and ask to meet with each of them before the year is over. Make sure they know they won’t be charged for the meeting. At the meeting ask them, “What do you want to accomplish in the next twelve months, and how can I help you to do it?”
Every time I see an advertisement for a time and billing “solution” for lawyers, it almost always has some variation on the theme, “If you could recapture just ___ more minutes per day, you would make $____ more per year.” When lawyers are tied to billing clients by the hour, so much of what we do (and how we are paid) depends only upon the time we spend that is directly attributable to a client’s file. And as the advertisement suggests, every extra minute we can recapture makes us more money. Or does it?
Regular readers of this blog know that I am no fan of the billable hour, and apart from its destructive impact on the relationship we wish to have with our clients, billing by the hour has a more insidious effect on our business’ bottom lines: We fail to take the time to think about the business itself. Every time I meet with other lawyers and share some of the ideas about how my partner and I are changing our law practices, they invariably ask, “How do you find time to think about all of this stuff.” Though I hold my tongue, I am thinking to myself, “How can they afford not to?”
That brings me to my resolution for the day:
Take 30 minutes per day to seriously think about your business. Are you doing the work you like to do? Are you working with clients that respect your efforts? If you answer “No” to either of those questions, are there ways you can change your practice to get to where you want to be?
For those 30 minutes, get away from the phone and the computer, and commit to writing down 25 ideas. File the ideas away, and look at them again at the end of each week. Out of the hundreds of ideas you’ll generate each month, there will certainly be a gem or two that will help you become the lawyer you want to be.
Trust me, if you work on your business for a change instead of just for your business, you will reap amazing dividends for your practice and your life.
While I still want to tweak my web design a bit and add some more things (my blogroll, for instance) I wanted to thank Fred Faulkner for helping me get the new layout up and running. I posted about some design changes I wanted to make and Fred graciously offered to help me move from the basic Typepad layout I was using to an advanced template design. Fred has his own blog, is an all-around good guy. Thanks Fred!
Identify your least favorite client — you know, the one that you hope doesn’t call, the one that pays their bill late, berates your staff, and/or makes outrageous demands on your time — and fire them. They don’t deserve your hard work (and probably aren’t getting your best work anyway if you hate doing it for them).
As an added holiday bonus, let your secretary pick a client to fire too! It is a great moral boost to everyone in the office when that one (and you don’t have to limit yourself to one) client is gone.
Because we all want to become better lawyers, make more money, work less, spend more time with our families, and generally retire rich, happy, and healthy, the dawn of every new year is the time we finally decide, “Well, now I’m going to do X,Y, and Z to improve my _______, stop doing ________, and be a better ________.” And even though we never have any problem filling in those blanks, I’m going to complicate matters by starting a new, limited-run series titled, “Resolutions for Lawyers.”
Until January 1, I’ll be posting a number of Resolutions. Basically, it will be a collection of quick ideas and simple suggestions for things we all can do in the next year to become better lawyers and run our businesses better.
I would love to hear your resolutions for the next year. Leave them in the comments to each post, and I’ll compile all of them at the end of the year in one giant post. Until then, look for one of my resolutions each day until December 31.
Have employees who are feeling a little under the weather? Are they still at their desks hacking and wheezing away trying to get through the work day? Next time, make them stay home — or so says this article from HBS Working Knowledge:
Employers worry a lot about absenteeism, but new research suggests a bigger threat to productivity is “presenteeism”: sick workers who show up at work but are not fully functioning. U.S. companies may lose $150 billion (yes, that’s billion) annually because of presenteeism, according to some estimates.
Now, tell them to go get that bowl of chicken noodle soup.
My friend Todd at A Penny For… posted this great quote today by E.B. White:
I get up every morning determined to both change the world and to have one hell of a good time. Sometimes, this makes planning the day difficult.
I just ran across Andy Havens’ Legal Marketing weblog and this post about announcing price increases to clients. Andy has a great blog, and I’ve added it to my list of daily reads. Here are my favorite passages from his post:
One thing I will caution against, and that is the “spread the pain” message. I’ve heard of several firms that basically say, “We’re gonna jack rates by 10%, but as a favor to you, we’re going to do it slowly; 5% this year, and 5% next year.” That’s the most dumb-ass customer communications gaffe I’ve ever heard of. If you’re going to screw somebody, do it and get it over with. Or do half now, and half again next year… but don’t telegraph it ahead of time. It’s like telling somebody, “I’m going to punch you in the mouth now… and then, in a second or two, I’m gonna punch you in the gut.” No, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no. Just don’t do it.
PS: Better yet, switch to project-based billing. You’ll make more money, you’ll keep 10-15% more because of the time-value of money that ain’t in the WIP for 6 months and your clients won’t be worried that every time they call to ask a 10 second question that they’ll be getting a bill for 1/10 of an hour.
1. Make classes smaller – especially in the first year. Classes of 100 or more people are an incredibly inefficient way to learn. They are an efficient way to move people through a degree program, but they are not a good way for those people to really learn anything. Law degrees should not be mechanically mass produced like automobiles. If you cut classes to a maximum of 20 students, you could cover the same amount of material twice as fast because you could approach the material much differently. Large classes allow for almost no discussion; therefore, law professors generally assign too much reading and spend all their class time trying to get one or two students to superficially summarize that reading and pull out one or two main points that the professor thinks important. Guess what? We can get the bulk of that from a commercial outline, and we don’t need to mortgage our entire future for the pleasure. Other graduate programs in the humanities and social sciences offer a better model for classroom learning. There, classes are generally “seminars” of 12-16 students. A typical class begins with the professor doing exactly what most law professors do-asking some basic questions and highlighting some main points to make sure everyone has read and understood the material. The difference is, in a class of, say, 20 or fewer students, everyone can ask questions and all of this introductory matter can still be covered in a tiny fraction of the time it would take to do the same thing in a class of 100. In these smaller classes, professors then often give a mini “lecture” on the material, offering background that wasn’t in the reading, and bringing in new material and perspectives for students to consider. Then the professor will generally begin asking more serious, in depth questions of individual students about the material, and the majority of class is discussion. This allows students to raise whatever issues or questions they’d like, and it ensures that those questions get treated seriously and that everyone can learn from both the questions and the answers. Finally, so much discussion exposes indefensible views and biases, while giving a fair airing to those for which legitimate arguments can be made. Having spent four years in such classes, I can say that they were much more difficult intellectually, and therefore much more rewarding. But more important, they’re simply a much better format than the 100-per-class model for addressing the complex moral and ethical issues at stake in every area of the law. I won’t attempt to seriously address the financial repercussions of cutting every law school class to a max of 20 students, but possible ways to cut current expenses include: cutting faculty pay by 20-40% at the top and 5-10% at the bottom (enough good people are dying to teach that this won’t damage faculty too seriously; if you’re a law professor in it for the money, you should get out, anyway); spending less money on aesthetic improvements (flatscreen monitors that are nice to look at but largely useless, lots of wood panelling, leather couches) that do very little to improve education but merely attempt to raise a law school’s U.S. News rank; locating law schools in lower rent parts of cities and towns, etc.
2. If you must have large classes, make use of teaching assistants. Since it could be a while or never before law schools get to smaller law school classes, then fergoodness sake, make better use of your top 3Ls by employing them as teaching assistants in those enormous classes. Three-five TAs per 100 students could meet for an hour a week in small sections to lead discussion of the issues that get skimmed right over in class. They could also manage web discussion boards and class blogs where students would be encouraged (and required) to participate in the conversation. The goal of all of this would be to get every student engaged and thinking critically about the material, rather than simply trying to memorize rules and cases to regurgitate on an exam. The TAs could be paid or volunteers, but the experience could be good for a couple of credits for 3Ls-especially those who think they might one day like to teach.
3. Forget about “blackletter law” for the first semester or year. The first semester should be general legal history and theories of what law is, where it comes from, the possible ends it might serve, different legal systems around the world, and a basic introduction to major schools of thought about the law (“crits,” formalists, law and econ, social justice, etc.). This new “context” curriculum for the first semester should also include serious examination of the difference between practicing law in the public interest v. practicing in the private interest-and isn’t simply that one of them pays more money. Why rearrange the first semester or first-year curriculum? Because this would teach students what it means to ask questions about what they learn and show them where to look for both the questions and different perspectives on their answers. How can you think critically about a law and econ approach to torts if you don’t know what “law and econ” means or what it stands in opposition to? You can’t. And where in the current typical first year/first semester curriculum is a law student supposed to learn this? The idea seems to be that one of the 1L profs is bound to mention what law and econ means at some point, but the random approach is no way to show students the terrain on which they’re going to live and work for their legal careers.
4. Drown professors in fines and peer opprobrium when they encourage students to become evil – even or especially when such encouragement is only implicit. From day one, my law school experience has been peppered with little jokes from professors and administrators through which they express their assumptions that their students are going to graduate and immediately begin doing anything for money, regardless of the moral or ethical consequences. These jokes come with a sort of wink in the form of, “I know none of you would ever rob six American Indian tribes blind, but the attorneys that did sure made a lot of money!” Ha. Ha. Ha. These jokes seem to come almost unconsciously from faculty, probably as a sort of cynical defensive mechanism they’ve developed to protect themselves from being paralyzed with horror by the awful things that lawyers sometimes do. However, here’s where faculty need to take a serious stand; they should be condemning such humor and behavior in the strongest terms, making an example of any faculty member who feels it is professionally acceptable to suggest to students that, while it’s officially wrong to lie, cheat, and steal, as an attorney, that’s what you’ll get paid for. The point of this reform is larger than putting an end to this form of dark humor in the classroom; the real objective is to require faculty to model good professional behavior to their students and to accept nothing less. This could be the beginning of a profession-wide renewed commitment to ethical lawyering. Faculty could join collectively in condemnation of every scandal that hits the news involving attorney misconduct, spending 5 minutes in each class pointing out what the attorney did wrong, and making sure every student understands that such behavior is a disgrace to the profession-not with a joke and a wink, but with serious and uncompromising disdain. The ABA could follow up by demanding that state bars institute serious, effective, and efficient malpractice grievance and punishment systems to help weed out the “bad apples” and begin showing the public that lawyers really aren’t the slimy subhuman species they so often appear to be. So long as the profession-at every level-tacitly endorses lawyer crime, lawyers will continue to be criminals.
5. Make clinics, internships, and externships mandatory, and/or make a J.D. a two-year degree. Breadth in education is great; however, law students pay too much damned money to waste time in a third year of law school simply for the sake of being more well rounded. The law degree could be a 1-yr. degree plus a 1-2 year apprenticeship, or it could be a 2-yr. degree with no apprenticeship, and the world would not suffer one bit. In fact, society would benefit b/c more law students could get through law school with small enough debt loads that they could actually afford to work in the public interest instead of the corporate/private interest. Seven states already offer ways to gain bar membership w/one year of law school or less; more schools should support such programs and encourage them in their own jurisdictions.
The next guest is Columbia law student Anthony Rickey, author of Three Years of Hell to Become the Devil:
First of all, thank you to the [non]billable hour for inviting me to one of his “Five by Five” forums. Before giving my five answers, I’d like to explain a bit of where I’m coming from. At the beginning of my 1L year, Scheherazade of Stay of Execution recommended that I read Patrick J. Schiltz, On Being A Happy, Healthy, and Ethical Member of an Unhealthy, Unhappy, and Unethical Profession, 52 Vand. L. Rev. 871 (1999). If you’re a law student, or considering becoming a law student, I can’t recommend it more highly. (Then go to Westlaw, check the papers citing it, and read some of the folks who disagree with Prof. Schiltz. It’s a good habit to get into.)
I picked up two things from the piece. First, that there the profession of law contributes to a chronic unhappiness among many of its members. Second, addressing these flaws may involve a lot of small steps, but it also requires a great deal of what we used to call “blue-sky” thinking back when I held the august title of “online strategist” and advised my clients on how to change their business processes.
So, I’m taking my host’s question very broadly and marking down the changes I would make if I had an infinite amount of political and social power, an unlimited budget, and more than enough rope to hang myself and ever co-conspirator I could ever hope to muster. These suggestions come from the perspective of a student skeptical of the justifications for leaving the practice of law as a profession rather than a business, so take them with however much salt you think needs to season them. But here goes.
1. Eliminate the ABA’s accreditation system. The requirement for ABA accreditation of law schools preserves little but the high price of becoming (or retaining) a lawyer. To the extent that these are “one-size fits all” rules, they prevent us from coming up with new and innovative ways of addressing the problems of lawyers and legal education. From online law schools like Concord to more traditional ideas of apprenticeship, there should be more than one path to a career in the law.
Did you know that the following are requirements: Every law school must have its own law library (Standard 601), and these may not include only electronic sources (Standard 606); that library must have a full-time director (Standard 603), who must be responsible for library policy in association with a dean (Standard 602); every full-time faculty member must have their own office (Standard 701)?
None of these seem too unreasonable in themselves, until you think of the innovations they forbid. Why shouldn’t all the law schools of New York City get together and contract out library services to some McLawLibrary? Why shouldn’t first-year full-time professors be made to share offices if it meant more could be hired? And why shouldn’t a school be able to survey its library usage and decide that for some things, paper is just a thing of the past? Does anyone really think that ignoring these requirements would result in substandard lawyers destined to fail the bar exam or underserve their clients? Is having a single micromanaged standard for the whole nation really in the best interests of justice, our economy, and our students?
2. Increase the signal-to-noise ratio in evaluation: One of the most frustrating aspects of my time in law school has been exactly how bad most signals of student success actually are. It’s a familiar chestnut among first years that you will get your best grades in the classes you felt you did worst in and vice-versa. Not only is this true, it fosters an immense cynicism: many of those who are successful feel more lucky than justified, while many of those less fortunate have little guidance for the future. A number of the latter students comfort themselves with the idea that the whole system rests upon random chance–and to a degree they may very well be right.
In my best courses last year, I had a number of assignments throughout the course, generally graded by TAs. These helped me guess at what I could expect on the exam. Even better were those professors who encouraged us to pick up our papers after the exam and review what we’d written. One professor had a simple and direct rubric for figuring our grades; another had a multi-layered, multi-level grading process explained in exquisite detail. The former professor gave me one of my worst grades, the latter one of my best, but either way I understood how and why I’d received what I did.
In too many other cases, a review of my exam revealed a bright and shiny letter grade and a few squiggled comments that I swear to God reminded me more of classical Japanese than anything approaching English. When asked, one professor said that grading was a more holistic process, too difficult to pin down numerically. I can understand that feeling, but that’s not an excuse: good feedback is what makes academic growth possible. Lack of feedback just makes the process look arbitrary.
Oh, yes, and by the way: make any grade curve center around something sensible, like a C+. B/B+ centered curves just increase the noise-level involved in grading because there’s not enough differentiation in grades. An A should mean something extraordinary, not just “good.”
3. Move EIP to the second semester of 2L year. I’m not giving away any secret here: at many law schools, most students accept crushing debt burdens in exchange for the promise of dramatically-increased future earnings. While there’s always the pro bono contingent, many of us are going through this whole system because we want a job. Change how one gets that job, and every other motivation shifts.
At the moment, too much of legal job searching focuses on the first year of law school. With the early interview process starting about the same time as 2L year, the only thing employers see is first-year grades. Since most students expect to work for their summer firm–or at least they hope for an offer–1L grades become overemphasized. This makes no sense at all to me, because first-semester 1L grades measure two different things (to the extent that they measure anything at all): what one has learned in a given class, and how fast one has picked up on a very new and often very foreign system. In many cases, I think the second factor is much more important than the first. But if a law firm is hiring for the long haul, is this really the quality they’re looking for?
Ideally, I’d get rid of the connection between 2L summer positions and final jobs, but I assume that this is driven at least partly by the law firms. Failing that, moving the entire process to the second semester of 2L year would increase by half the amount of information a law firm had to observe from a transcript. And at schools where 1L classes are fixed, some of the information would be much more indicative of an individual student’s personality: that 2L semester is much more likely to include electives at most schools.
4. Describe the whole lawyer, not just grades. When I was searching for my 1L summer job, I was struck by an odd contradiction in my law school’s rules: I wasn’t allowed to put my GPA on my resume, but I could send a transcript to prospective employers. Now, most law firms have some serious resources devoted to recruiting. Wasn’t it reasonable to expect that they’d just plonk my grades into a database that would spit out a GPA for them? (And indeed, this is what many of them did: I heard one recruitment coordinator typing my grades as she asked me about them over the phone.)
There’s a lot of this in law school: when faced with the fact that the evaluative techniques are too rough to be truly meaningful, systems are put in place to artificially underemphasize them. The feeling seems to be, “The information revealed by our current technique (a grade-point) is imprecise, so let’s have less information.”
This is backwards. As already mentioned, a lot of this problem could be resolved by recentering grade curves and grading more granularly. But wouldn’t it be better to have multiple systems of evaluation, each of them summarized on the transcript?
For instance, if a school truly wants to emphasize pro bono work, put the number of pro-bono hours a student has worked right on the transcript–and put it first. Want to give a student a chance to shine in his or her own particular area of interest? Let him or her choose an elective in the first year instead of competing in a uniform set of classes. Allow and even encourage students to do extracurricular legal work, pro bono or even for-profit, and put it on the transcript. Even better, if a school thinks a student’s GPA doesn’t accurately reflect the depth of the student, find a way to factor such things into the GPA itself.
5. New paths for students start differing new paths for professors. Too much of law school is built around “standard” patterns. Law students take the LSAT, get into the best school they can, work one or more summers at a firm, and end up an associate at one of those summer firms. Students compete to be on Law Review, and then compete for clerkships. Very rarely does anyone ask why. As Dahlia Lithwick puts it, “Not since the days of the Tonka backhoe and Malibu Skipper will you have so lunged for stuff in which you have no real interest, just because everyone else is lunging.”
What struck me this summer was how much further up the line this consistancy goes. This summer I received an email from a student–not at my school–quite bitter about not having made law review, angry because now he’d “never become a professor.” I tried to search out some advice–some page helpfully titled ‘How to become an academic even if you didn’t make law review’–and was shocked at how little I could find. The advice was almost always the same: get on the (not “a”) journal, clerk as high up the chain as you can, and then start the application process after a few years of practice.
There’s a certain sense of “as above, so below” to this system: so long as the majority of professors have the same background, they’re going to tend to guide pupils through the same set of experiences. Students will see how their mentors have advanced, and emulate them. I’d love to be taught by a professor who was granted tenure not because of a particular piece of scholarship (a “tenure” article), but solely because of his skill with students (perhaps “tenure” students) or his prior history in practice. The mere existence of such teachers gives hope to those who, for whatever reason, choose a different path for their own career.
That probably sums up my five answers: law school and the legal profession will flourish when success can be reached by differing paths. Students should be able to enter the profession in different ways, free of the stultifying hand of the ABA. They should be evaluated honestly, but in ways that reflect the differing skills and values that they bring to the school, and that they will take with them into practice. And no matter the path they took to become an attorney, they should be able to follow that path straight back into academia.
Now, certainly that was enough rope to hang myself. As I said, take it with a grain of salt: it’s a very large question, and if I knew the answers, I wouldn’t be a student.
The third spot in our Law Student Five by Five is held down by Jeremy Blachman, author of the eponymous Jeremy’s Blog. Jeremy is a 3L at Harvard who is not going to work for a law firm. Here are his five answers to our question, “What five things would you change about legal education?”
In a way, I feel like legal education is caught between two paradigms, and hasn’t figured out how to reconcile them. On the one hand, in a lot of ways, law school provides a very liberal arts-like education, with a lot of talk about legal theories and ways to think about the law, and very little comparative emphasis on the actual practice of law. On the other hand, from the moment you get to law school, you find yourself showered with information about law firms and how to get a job at one, and pulled toward this vocational emphasis. I think this creates a real inconsistency in trying to make sense of what the heck the point of law school is. Is the point to get a legal education, or is the point to get a law firm job? I think they’re pretending it’s the former, but really it’s just a cover for the latter.
At least here at Harvard, from the moment we arrive on campus 1L year, we’re invited to law firm receptions, information sessions, resume workshops, interview training, dress code seminars, job fairs, and handed printouts of 50-slide PowerPoint presentations on the process. We learn more about how to get hired by a law firm than what lawyers at law firms actually do. We learn more about the difference between cotton fiber resume paper and white linen resume paper than about the difference between corporate practice, litigation, and whatever the heck lawyers do if they don’t work at firms. We learn more about what to wear to an interview than why we should be thinking about going. So a few people get law firm jobs 1L summer, and the rest cry about how they didn’t. And then before school even starts 2L year, we’ve got resume deadlines and lists of firms to select and interviews to start preparing for.
2L fall meant half-filled classes while people flew out to visit law firms, and much more talk about the Vault rankings than about the merits of whatever we were supposed to be learning in class. By Thanksgiving of 2L year – less than halfway through law school – pretty much everyone has a law firm job lined up for the following summer, and since the firms can’t risk getting a bad reputation on campus by deciding not to give some of their summers full-time offers, everyone knows they’re set with a full-time job after law school, if that’s what they’re looking for. And the next year-and-eight-months is spent with one foot out the door.
As soon as the recruiting process was over, the collective energy of my law school class collapsed. Law school doesn’t matter anymore. Our grades don’t matter, our attendance doesn’t matter, the reading doesn’t matter, and learning doesn’t matter. Part of the problem is that classes just aren’t that engaging (see #3), but part of the problem is that if the point was to get a job, you’re done. Having your post-graduation outcome set for you less than halfway through school is stupid. It undercuts the whole point of being here for three years.
The presence of law firm recruiting on campus largely changes law school from an educational experience to a job mill. But I don’t know what the answer is. Obviously, there are lots of students who are here expressly to get a law firm job, or at least that’s one of the reasons they’re here. And that’s completely fair. So I don’t think we can or should necessarily forbid students to seek out firm jobs, or law firms to seek out students. But there ought to be some way to postpone the process a bit. In the broader sense, law schools need to decide their mission: are they trying to train lawyers for firm jobs, or is the purpose more high-minded than that? If they’re just training people to work for law firms, the education we get matches up poorly (see #2). But if the goal is something more, the presence of law firm recruiting and the emphasis given to it from the very start of 1L year is desperately hurting.
Law school hasn’t provided a particularly good sense of what lawyers do on the job, or how to actually practice law. We learn how to think about the law, but I took contracts and don’t know how to write one. I took civil procedure and don’t know how to file a lawsuit. I didn’t take evidence, and no one’s making me. Even after spending a summer at a law firm, I’m still not entirely sure what lawyers do. And lawyers who don’t work at law firms? Are there any? What do they do?
I think law school does a relatively poor job of introducing us to the range of careers that lawyers have, and what the day-to-day practice of law in a variety of settings is like. I have heard the excuse given that you can only learn these things on the job, and law school’s role is just to provide a foundation. That’s fine, but a little more emphasis on the practical side of things – especially if we’re going to have to decide our career paths before we’re even halfway through – would be nice, and not just as part of a pass/fail class designed not to be taken seriously.
I would change the tenure process. I would include a real teaching evaluation, and not just rubber-stamp candidates based on their research and publications. I would incorporate salary incentives for excellent teaching (I realize measurement is difficult, although, really, can’t you tell within five minutes of sitting in a classroom whether this is a professor who is truly competent or not?). I would demand excellence. I don’t think excellence in the classroom is currently demanded. I wish that would change.
4. Of course, good teaching would be easier if the materials professors were working with were stronger. Casebooks are awfully boring.
I have no problem with the case method as a foundation, although I haven’t really thought through the alternatives. I have no problem with the Socratic method. I think the Socratic method done well is really quite excellent. The Socratic method done badly is dreadful. But so is a terrible lecture.
The problem, I think, is that we don’t see enough materials in law school about how the law relates to the broader society, and to people’s lives. Some of the most interesting readings I’ve been assigned have been newspaper and magazine articles, television news program transcripts, and books written for ‘normal’ people. I think the cases we read can be supplemented with outside materials. The law is important in everyone’s life. If we practice law, we will be dealing with how the law plays a role in people’s everyday lives. Law school, especially in the reading materials we get assigned, pays relatively little attention to this. I think that’s a mistake.
5. Finally, I don’t think legal education does a very good job of fitting all of the pieces together.
I have a fine understanding of the isolated areas of law I’ve taken in classes in – I know some contract law, some constitutional law, etc. I have no idea how they all come together in one big legal system. I have no idea if there’s any relationship between our torts regime and our criminal law regime; between our tax law and our constitutional law. Maybe these links don’t exist. Or maybe if I sat down and thought about it for a while, I could come up with something. But I don’t know where I would even look to find a discussion of these macro-issues, what class I would take, or whether they’re even important. We have a legal system, but what we learn are fragments of it, and I don’t know that we ever see how it all fits together to create a rule of law. This seems like a gap in the education. I might be wrong.
I haven’t touched on other areas where legal education could improve –its use of technology, lack of focus (at least in the U.S.) on issues of international and transnational law, the unchanged-for-generations 1L curriculum, the high cost of education leading people to take the law firm route in greater numbers than might otherwise, the student-run legal journals, and more issues I’m sure I’m not even thinking of. But, for me, I think my five are the areas where I’d most like to see change, and feel like change would have the most impact on legal education overall.
Our second contributor in the law student edition of this Five by Five is another anonymous blogger. This time, the author of Buffalo Wings and Vodka gives us the Five Things he would change about Legal Education:
1. Make Legal Research & Writing a Real Class: I know this may be better at some schools, but a lot of places only give LR&W a pass/fail status, or, like UT, make it a one-credit-hour affair. I understand that this is in an effort to take some of the pressure off of us, but it doesn’t work because:
A. We do realize, on some level, that it’s the only useful thing we’ll get out of law school.
B. If it is for credit, no matter how small or insignificant, we’re going to stress out about it.
C. If we’re going to stress out about it anyway, then we should be rewarded in the only currency that law students (at least of the first-year variety) understand: Grade Points.
So make it a full class. I don’t care if you staff it with lecturers, or third-year students, or exceptionally bright kindergartners. Just stop putting it into our heads that it is somehow less important, and then sticking us with a pair of B-minuses that haunts us for the rest of our legal career, causing us to question our self-worth and to seriously consider dropping out and working at Applebee’s.
2. Condense it to Two Years: Don’t get me wrong: I love law school. But while I’m going to enjoy my third year full of interdisciplinary classes and whiskey, I would probably be better off out in the world, making money and impressing women. The only real reason for law school to last as long as it does is that universities need to pick up extra cash wherever they can, and I understand that. But why not milk the undergraduates instead? I’m just a future commercial litigator, trying to scrape by on $60,000 in living expenses a year so that I can go out and do God’s work. So let me do it already.
3. A Pass/Fail First Semester: Since nobody is going to accept the Two-Year Law School idea, we might as well make the three years a little more workable. Though I’m not
going to say that first-semester grades are no indicator of intelligence, I will suggest that they are an even stronger indicator of who has figured out how to take a law school exam. And it’s a shame that not everybody gets a chance to do this before stuff really starts to count. The fact that I’m awesome at bolding subheads and underlining key concepts should not be able to make up for the fact that I know less about the law than the dude next to me (or, for that matter than my cat). So why not give everyone a chance to get the lay of the land, so that you can make evaluations based on something that matters?
Now, I appreciate the need of law firms to have an early sorting mechanism, but this really wouldn’t hurt them much. We could move interview season to the beginning of the second semester of 2L year instead of the first semester, and everyone could still make their decisions in plenty of time for the summer. “But what about 1L employment?” you say. Well, I decided not to work as a 1L, and it didn’t hurt me. So I say that all law students across the country start using the 1L summer to get a tan, write that novel they’ve been
putting off, and cherish the last few months of freedom they’ll ever have.
4. Get Rid of Open-Book Exams: In law school as we know it today, everyone has a friend that it’s in an older class, and every friend knows someone who took every class, and at least one of those people is going to have an outline that is of publishable quality. So we all walk into exams with these massive binders that are tabbed and indexed and have charts and graphs and pop-up pages and advertising in them, and it’s just ridiculous.
Go back to closed-book exams. Go back to a system where I’m only responsible for as much as I can cram into my head. As things stand now, I’m carrying so much into an exam with me that I can barely get through the door, let alone get it all on paper.
5. Eliminate Wireless Access in Classrooms: The Internet, in general? Good. The Internet in law school classrooms? Bad. On any given class day, you’ll find someone playing solitaire, someone watching ESPN highlights, someone IMing people across the room, and someone reading stupid law student weblogs. Which is why I am absolutely not allowed to bring my laptop to class. I just can’t hack it.
But it’s not enough that I alone practice laptop abstinence. Because, since everyone else has one, I end up spending the class period watching someone else suck at poker, or buy crap they don’t need, or read “Sugar, Mr. Poon?”. And that’s just not good for anyone.
Our first panelist in the law student edition of this Five by Five is not a law student at all, but was when he started his blog, Sugar, Mr. Poon?, so I asked him anyway. Though I know his secret identity, I am sworn to secrecy (go to the FAQ’s 1 and 2 to see if you can figure it out yourself). So, here you go Mr. Poon.
Five Things I’d Change About Legal Education:
Note: I just noticed that my distinguished co-panelists are still law students. I’m a recent graduate now working at a big firm in NYC.
1. Teach Us to be Lawyers Better: My first-year Legal Writing professor told us that his pass/fail writing class would be the most important in our 3 years of law school. I don’t think that’s quite right — but I do think it’s right with respect to many students who don’t take advantage of clinical opportunities in law school. Evidence and Corporations and Tax and “Law and Jackson Pollock’s Motorhome”-esque classes provide a good basis of information, but when you’re practicing you’re gonna need to look up that issue of Delaware law to avoid malpractice, whether you got an A+ on your Corps exam or not.
I was fortunate to have been involved in several practice-oriented classes, and I’ve found that it was THOSE experiences that prepared me to be a lawyer — or at least a first-year associate at a big firm. (Although friends who are working in much different jobs — either at law firms or in other sectors or what not — agree with me on this point.)
Or, put another way, being able to debate the Supreme Court’s revitalization of the sovereign immunity doctrine is great, but it doesn’t give you a clue about what makes a good Statement of the Case.
(And don’t get me wrong — your ConLaw class has a good deal of value. I really enjoyed law school on an intellectual level because of classes like ConLaw and Torts and so on. But in terms of the “traditional” practice of law — be it at a big firm or as a solo practitioner — knowing how to draft a motion or defend a deposition are more important skills than knowing Potter Stewart’s shoe size.)
On that note…
2. Make the Third Year More Clinical: Maybe this is Part 1(b). I would be surprised if one of my distinguished co-panelist-type-people doesn’t offer the suggestion that law school be shortened to 2 years. I hear this a lot. I don’t think it’s the most terrible idea, especially given the cost of law school these days.
I have a better idea: integrate clinical/practical classes into the third-year curriculum and make one or two mandatory each semester. My school had a mandatory public service requirement, which was a very good thing. But it didn’t mean you’d get any practical experience. Integrating those experiences into the third year would keep that year alive and fill the practical experience void at the same time. (See also #5 for a discussion of judicial internships/clerkships in the third year.)
And one of those classes should be on Lawyerly Advice. Law students need to hear things like “Always hand in work that is good enough to be filed” and “Stay away from that Whitewater thing”.
(A more stark version of this model is used in a majority of American medical schools, where the education is (roughly speaking) 2 years of book learnin’ and 2 years of <strike>touching peoples’ privates</strike> <strike>poking and prodding strangers</strike> <strike>taking someone’s temperature… and not orally</strike> hands-on learnin’. Works well.)
3. More cookies: Seriously. Sometimes my professors gave out cookies or other sweets. And sure, I got a little jumpy from the sugar high and probably blogged more than usual during that class, but I recall paying attention more too. And besides, you know, like, cookies are yummy, and stuff.
4. Depress the Cost of Bar/Bi: Look. You can go to law school and not practice law. Fine by me. May be joining you sooner or later. You da mon.
Statistically speaking, however, most of us law grads at least take the Bar Exam and try out this lawyerin’ thing in one capacity or another. And the Bar Exam in each state in the Union now uses the Multistate Bar Examination — a horrid little 200-question test that I hate with a passion because it is evil and should be burned. (No, I’m not bitter – I passed the NY Bar. . . but I’m angry at that stupid f-ing test anyway. I hate you so much, MBE.)
The MBE deals in majority and minority rules and is generally designed to confuse you with poorly-worded sentences and trick you into not using your common sense. I think law schools should have a class on this stuff, just to get you ready. Could be an elective. Just a thought.
5. Push More Students Toward Judicial Clerkships and Internships: I think that a lot of law schools don’t push clerkships and internships enough. Yes, the clerkship market, especially in the federal courts, is very competitive. But internships are generally much easy to come by, and can be done while in school.
In fact, as part of “Mr. Poon’s Happy Fun Time Third-Year Clinical Bonanza” detailed in #2 above, I would reach out to judges in the area to set up semester-ly internships that get students into chambers and into court. Being in a courtroom for the trial process is great experience, both in law and in life.* Law schools should use their position in the community and prestige to create those opportunities for their students which will make them better prepared to be lawyers and/or good at Grand Theft Auto.
*May or may not be true — I got it from a fortune cookie.
PS - After re-reading the above, it may seem to some like I’m complaining that law schools aren’t enough like trade schools and/or lawyer factories. That’s not what I’m saying. I’m saying that for all the wonderful things I learned in law school – and I learned a lot – the things I learned in my clinics and internships were the most valuable to what I am doing now (and what most of my friends are doing, including those not at a job similar to mine). And they need to be a greater component of American legal education — or at least mandatory, for Newdow’s sake.
PPS - It also may seem like I’m complaining that law schools aren’t giving out enough cookies. I am. They aren’t. No, seriously.
I’ve been using Timematters (version 5.0) since it came out, and was a faithful user of 4.0 before then. Now I see that version 6.0 is out, with a bunch more bells and whistles. Apart from a very complicated interface, I’m generally happy with 5.0, and if the Outlook integration worked as advertised (or at all on my machines), I’d stay with that product. However, if the new version dramatically improved my user experience, I’d spring for the $500 or so the upgrade would cost our office.
Today I called LexisNexis Timematters sales and asked if I could download a trial version of the new software or get a demo disk. The salesperson told me that was not an option for me, because I was already a customer. Instead, I had to buy the upgrade and then take advantage of the money-back guarantee if I was unsatisfied. However, if I didn’t already own the product, the salesperson assured me, they would send out a working demo disk and give me thirty days to “test drive” the software.
This isn’t a rant against Timematters, per se. Instead, it should be a lesson to all of us whose business depends on returning clients or customers. Before you extend that “special offer” and limit it to new customers only, think about how your loyal customers would feel if they learned it wasn’t available to them as well. Why not give those existing customers the special perks and see how much more your business grows.
From Arnie Herz’s Legal Sanity comes this link to an ABA Journal article titled, “Home Alone. Using Available Resources, Working at Home Can Pay Off,” that suggests that working at home is a viable alternative for some small firm practitioners. However, this BBC News Article seems to point to an opposite conclusion. According to a study quoted in the article:
Less than 50% of people who work from home are satisfied with their home office space, with a quarter of them forced to work in the kitchen, 37% in the spare room and 10% “hotdesking” it to anywhere they can find. [In fact over] three-quarters of home workers have found themselves working in a cramped and cluttered space, and over 50% of those surveyed said they did not have enough room to work effectively.
What does this all mean? Make sure the productivity gains you experience by losing your commute or gaining convenience are not offset by a bad work environment. Just because something feels like it is more productive, does not make it so.
MarketingExperiments.Com is a member of the MEC Labs Group and a division of Digital Trust Inc. MEC is an online laboratory with a simple (but not easy) five-word mission statement: To discover what really works. The Lab tests every conceivable marketing method on the Internet.Our experiments range from three to eighteen months, and they involve budgets ranging from $4500 to $50,000+. We are often surprised, and sometimes embarrassed to discover just how much we DON’T know about marketing.
In a recent experiment, they worked with a leading psychiatrist and author to determine how to maximize online sales of a new book. They tested three price points ($7.95, $14.00, and $24.95) and measured the effectiveness and total revenue produced by each. Their results are a bit surprising. The lowest price point generated the second-lowest number of orders and the lowest amount of total revenue. The middle price point generated the highest number of orders. The interesting nugget (for me at least) was that when the book was priced at $24.95, the smallest number or orders still generated the highest amount of revenue. In fact, both the $14.00 and $24.95 prices generated more than twice the revenue of the lowest price.
While the lesson for lawyers might not be to change your billable rate to $1,000.00 per hour (and only work one hour per day), it is interesting to note that lower prices (rates) don’t necessarily translate into more sales (clients). We’ve been playing with some pricing strategies here at my firm for our value-based billing mode and I’ll share some year-end results with you soon. Until then, the MarketingExperiments.com newsletter is a worthy read. I highly recommend checking it out yourself.
Great post by Jeff Angus over at Management by Baseball about how the Minnesota Twins have incorporated a new innovative way to price their season tickets by using flexible vouchers. In short, Twins fans can buy vouchers for game tickets (each priced $2.00 less than normal ticket price). If a fan buys the minimum of 40 vouchers, they can go alone to 40 games, take a friend to 20, three others to 10, etc. Each time the vouchers can be used for different seats, on an “as available” basis.
When I first read about the Twins’ plan, I started to think about how lawyers could use a similar voucher plan in their offices. We are talking to a few of our clients about offering estate-planning vouchers they can pass on as gifts to adult children, friends, parents, employees, etc. Each voucher is good for two wills, and powers of attorney for health care and property. We’ll offer the vouchers at a slightly lower cost than our normal flat rate for the services. In the event a person needs more significant estate planning, we’ll apply the value of the voucher towards our normal fee for that service. If this year’s trial run goes well, we will offer all of our clients the vouchers beginning next year.
At the end of his post, Jeff sounds like he is speaking directly to lawyers, when he shares some of his own experience with “out of the box” thinking:
It’s amazing sometimes how rigidly a seller will adhere to a delivery scheme through inertia, even when the model has always been broken.
I worked for a swell software company where one of the highest-margin products it had was a product that could not be used by a single user. The fewest people this networked program could use was two. The buying of a single unit would only be for an upgrade (where an existing set of users needed to add another user). Dozens of times every week, technical support received phone calls from people who had just bought one unit and couldn’t do anything with it (imagine instant messaging where you’re the only person who has it).
Resistance to change was overwhelming. They had always sold 1-packs. It didn’t matter that a 2-pack required only another registration key (a slip of paper with another number on it), and would therefore cost about 15 cents more to make while nearly doubling the asking price, never mind it would cut down on angry or confused (or both) customers and those customers’ wrath directed at clueless resellers and our own technical support. And this was software, not something hard to package like a power-drill or a workbench or a piece of furniture — it was a book, a pamphlet, a card with a number on it and a disc. No-one needed to design new packaging.
It took over a year to even get the idea discussed. Ugly, but not unusual.
Decisions as to what to put in the box usually stem from earlier wisdom that was actually wise. The wisdom then loses some of its value over time, but systems and the people who run them fall into patterns they don’t want to change.
The Twins woke up and tried something different from what teams have been doing since their executives started working in baseball.
I’ve done it — I’ve found someone silly enough to pay me for doing what I was previously doing for free. As of today, I have become an “affiliate” of the Law.com Blog Network. The [non]billable hour is joined by The Volokh Conspiracy, May It Please The Court, I/P Updates, MyShingle.com, Jottings by an Employer’s Lawyer, and Crime and Federalism (click here for a link to all of our bios). I’m honored to be in such fine company and hope that my affiliation with the folks at Law.com profits everyone.
I have a lot more going on here too. In the next week, I’ll be putting up a “user’s guide” to this blog, and will rerun some of my favorite posts in a new “Best of the Blog” category.
I also hope to have an announcement soon on the innovation conference conference for lawyers.
Finally, I’m rolling out a new project here called “Building the Perfect Firm,” where I’ll draw upon the hundreds of ideas I’ve compiled in this blog, along with substantive suggestions from non-lawyer experts in marketing, architecture, client service, psychology, business and innovation to put together a blueprint for how law could be practiced in a fulfilling (and hopefully profitable) way.
Well, that should keep me busy for the next few months. If you are new to reading this blog, welcome. If you are a long time patron of t[n]bh, thank you. And if you are reading this post in your aggregator, click through to my site from time to time to look at the pretty ad. Grace needs a new pair of shoes.
I ran across this interesting article in the November 2003 edition of Design:Business newsletter. Though written for design professionals, there were some really good insights into the pricing of all professional services. Just some snippets:
Although there is no question about the overall importance of pricing to the success of a design business, overemphasizing it is a common mistake. Many designers assume that pricing is a very important factor in success, which it is not. Surveys of buyers of professional services consistently show that cost is never even among the top reasons clients give for choosing a supplier. Typically, the surveys show that cost ranks around tenth in importance. It is always lower than quality, service, dependability, flexibility, convenience, etc. Creative Business knows of no similar surveys specific to the buyers of design services, but our experience among better clients with good projects is that cost ranks fifth in order of importance. Ahead of it are “chemistry,” or how much the client likes the individual(s) he or she will be working with; degree of relevant experience; portfolio quality and creativity; and service. Also relevant is that the more creatively challenging the job and more sophisticated the client, the less importance cost takes on. And vice versa. Additionally, our experience is that skill in pricing ranks fourth in importance among the reasons some studios and freelances are more successful than others. Again, not number one. Higher in importance are the desire and motivation to succeed, the everyday working procedures that have been established, and marketing programs and efforts.
Understanding the psychology of design pricing is important because most clients accept that quality, results, and price go hand in hand. The higher the quality, the better the results, the more something is thought to cost. This belief is especially relevant to the design market because clients place orders without seeing what they’ll be getting. They make purchasing decisions on the anticipation of quality and results based on little more than samples of similar projects and their confidence in a firm or individual. Similarly, once the work is produced it will usually be subjectively evaluated before any market feedback is received. Here, too, client satisfaction depends mostly on perceptions of how well they believe their needs have been met. Aggressive (low) pricing in such situations sends the wrong signal. It can lead clients to expect a reduction in quality and results. It can also lead to a destructive pricing cycle: the more price-competitive a design firm is seen to be, the less their work will be valued; and the less their work is valued, the more competitive they will need to be in the future.
By Monday, I’ll have up the next Five by Five. This time, I’ve asked five law student bloggers to answer this question: What five things would you change about legal education? On the roster:
I’ve also asked my pretrial students at Washington University Law School for their responses. If you’ve got some good ideas, let me know.
This is just a test. The new design will be complete tomorrow, along with a bunch of new posts and some really cool news. Thanks for your patience.
I’ve been thinking about how the dream law office (or any professional services firm) would look and operate — if it were designed by clients. Any ideas?
I wrote here about my Tablet PC being stolen. It turns out that I had left it at a client’s office right before I ran to St. Louis (where I thought it was taken from my car). I had asked that client if he had seen my computer and he said no. Last Thursday, he brings it by my office. Apparently, his wife had picked it up and — assuming it was his — brought it home from his office. After about a week, he asked her whose laptop bag was in their foyer. When she said she thought it was his, he remembered my inquiry. Problem solved.
I’ll be making some big changes here at t[n]bh and ask that you cut me some slack with the design experiments. If you are reading this blog via RSS, continue to go about your business.
Complexity is a systemic effect that accumulates over time. So while you may have a perfect portfolio today, your customers’ tastes are changing—what’s good today is probably not good tomorrow. Many businesses respond by expanding their portfolio and placing more goods or services on the market. Each innovation may represent a source of customer value and profits at the time that it is introduced, but unless you have some mechanism for rebalancing that portfolio, complexity will creep into your processes, tax internal systems, and drive up costs. Even worse, you might strangle growth in the name of pursuing customer value.
Also, it consumes resources and can impede growth. If you have a portfolio of 4,000 products, you’re spreading your marketing resources across all those products, when you should be concentrating on core brands. We also find in our work that companies with a complex product or service line have a significant gap in their understanding of what truly drives their profitability. What’s important is that companies understand the relationships between complexity, cost, efficiency and growth, which we captured in a concept called the Complexity Equation. Management can then make rational decisions with these relationships being explicit, instead of implicit or unknown.
As a general practitioner, this article hits a bit close to home.
People put average effort into too many things, rather than superior thought and effort into a few important things. Pursue those few things where you are amazingly better than most others and that you enjoy the most.
Some radical new ideas are so obviously brilliant that you can implement them and watch the money roll in. But these ideas are few and far between. Most radical ideas are highly risky. If they work, they might put your company way ahead of the competition and establish your firm as a market leader; or they might slash 25% off your operational costs; or they might cost your company an arm and a leg. Unfortunately, a lot of companies do not implement their hottest ideas precisely for this risk factor. Although everyone in the company loves the idea, the CFO reviews the numbers and says it is just too risky to contemplate.
Clearly, of course, no company should put the entire enterprise at risk. However, every company can and should establish a high risk budget for implementing radical ideas. This might represent five percent of the operational budget or 25%. It depends on the company and the market.
By defining a part of the budget for risky projects, you give your company an opportunity to implement the most exciting ideas. Many will fail. But a few will work. And a small number will be real winners that will repay your high risk ideas budget many times over.
Moreover, granting an employee – or a team of employees – a portion of your high risk idea budget can be a powerful reward (see previous story on rewarding innovation).
The primary point of resistance many firms seem to have to dumping the billable hour is that it may turn out to be unprofitable. Why not set aside a certain number of clients (or an attorney or two) to implement some alternative billing strategies?
It’s time to dump the hourly rate once and for all.
To begin with, the hourly rate is a totally bogus number. It’s computed using very broad (and sometimes flawed) assumptions about a firm’s costs, volume and profit. And, many consultants toss those assumptions out the window and discount their hourly rates when they believe doing so will improve their chances of winning a project.
By charging a client for time alone, you completely undermine the expertise you’ve spent years building, and you limit the profit you can justifiably earn. Dozens of pricing alternatives exist that don’t rely on the hourly rate. Look for alternatives that lead to discussions with clients about the outcomes they want to achieve.
When pricing your next project, think results, not effort.
Thanks to Dana VanDen Huevel for the link.
I talk a lot about ideas here, and even sold quite a few at my garage sale a few weeks back. I wonder what I would have gotten for this, the Dictionary of the History of Ideas. Set aside a few hours and peruse this unbelievable digital version of Philip P. Wiener’s book from the early 70′s, ”The Dictionary of the History of Ideas: Studies of Selected Pivotal Ideas.” Really great reading.
My Tablet PC is gone. I think it was taken from my car in St. Louis last week, but I didn’t notice until the next day. Insurance company won’t replace without a police report — the problem is, though I believe it happened when I was getting gas (and all of my windows were down), I can’t say for sure. I’ve written here and there about how crucial the tablet has become to my practice and now it is gone. Anyone out there have an extra Tablet they’d like to give me? I’m really bummed.
What five things would you change about IP law and/or practice?
[What started as "five things" has quickly digressed into a rant to my fellow practitioners about how they need to change THEIR IP practice. Hope you all don't mind.]
1. Embrace the future. Lets face it, the Internet is changing the practice of intellectual property law. Many of the businesses we used to rely on for patent copies, copies of file wrappers, etc., have had to evolve or die as more and more of the USPTO’s data and knowledge is made available on the Internet for free. Do you really think that is the end of it? Do you think that it is not going to affect IP attorneys too? I’m afraid that you’ve got a big surprise coming. It is time to start thinking outside the box about how we provide our services, how we bill for them and how clients find us.
2. Due to the Internet, people now have unfettered access a litany of information about the practice of intellectual property law. Because of that, they are expecting more and more from us. Gone are the days when “the only thing my client needs to know about the law is my phone number.” Instead, attorneys need to realize that that your new client likely knows more about IP law than the average general practitioner does. You should treat them with respect. Work with them on projects instead of for them, make yourself more available to them, visit their office/factory/shop. Quit biting the hand that feeds you.
3. You are your brother’s keeper. One of the things IP practitioners tend to do is ignore our responsibility to spend time educating non-IP attorneys as to the basics of IP law. Lets face it, our colleagues (understandably) aren’t typically very good at issue spotting when it comes to IP issues. The result is countless pain and suffering (and much gnashing of teeth). Solution? Go teach a CLE to general practitioners, blog, write articles for your local bar journal, start writing a newsletter, etc. You will be rewarded.
4. The Princess Principle. At my house we joke about “The Princess,” often referring to my daughter being demanding (or when said jokingly to my wife, often followed by me sleeping on the couch…but I digress). Too often I see IP attorneys (especially the patent attorneys) strutting around like they are somehow better than other attorneys.like they are the Princess and everyone should worship them. I can especially see the Princess Principle when I look at how non-IP attorneys treat my staff (usually with respect) vs. how IP attorneys treat my staff (rudely, impatiently, etc.). Just because our IP attorney ancestors narrowly defined who could practice IP law doesn’t make any of us The Princess. Get over it, you were a geek who happened to go to law school and has benefited from the “System.” Realistically, we’re all more like court jesters than princesses.
5. Billing. What would a post on Matt’s blog be without talking about billing? Intellectual property practitioners need to work harder at providing alternative billing methods to their clients and need to be more responsive to billing issues in general. Why? Because the Internet is dramatically changing both the quantity and quality of competitors who are now only a few clicks away from your clients. Clients are becoming less and less inclined to merely get annoyed when they have issues with one of your invoices or your prices, and more inclined to start looking for your replacement. One thing you should remember about that replacement.it is just as likely to be a firm in a distant, smaller metropolitan area as it is to be a firm down the street. The Internet has really opened up the practice of IP law, making firms in smaller towns (with less overhead) able to provide competitive services to clients all across the nation. If you don’t take care of your clients.they (we) will.
Now that I have totally annoyed all of my competitors. I’m out.
1. Everyone needs to take a deep breath regarding software patents. The end of the world is not near, the seas are not going to be flooding our coastal cities and software patents are not stifling development of new and useful tools and processes. Software developers are simply going to have to become better business people and accept that nothing is free and patent clearance searches must be made an integral part of the development process.
2. Continuation application practice must be reformed to require the update of the “best mode” of practicing the invention every time a new continuation application is filed. A loophole (according to my opinion) in continuation practice is the fact that anyone can file as many continuing applications as they want and never have to update the “best
mode” in the application. If a continuation application is filed several years after the parent application, it is likely that the best mode of practicing the invention is woefully out of date. U.S. patent policy of limited monopoly rights for full disclosure would be better served by updating this crucial piece of information every time a new continuing application is filed.
3. Clients and businesses see the patent lawyer as integral to the business model and growth strategy. Any patent attorney that doesn’t request a business plan or meeting with management to discuss the implications of intellectual property filings should be disbarred. Do not pass go. Instantly disbarred and perhaps made to wear a chicken suit as future employment.
4. All law and graduate students should be required to take a general intellectual property overview class as part of their first year curriculum. Our society and economy is quickly becoming knowledge based. Every attorney (and business person) should have at least a fundamental understanding of the legal protections underpinning such fundamental aspects of day to day business and technology life.
5. Significant and substantive reform of the U.S. patent office procedure for patentees, lawyers and patent office employees. The current system is broke and the pressures put on patent employees are absurd. As applications become more complex, Examiners are not being given the appropriate amount of time, training and resources to complete
their jobs efficiently and expertly. Fee diversions must be stopped and quality made the “gold standard” rather than production and counts
What are some of the most important issues and developments in trademark law today?
In terms of jurisprudence, I think two of the most important areas are the development of the concept of initial interest confusion, and the development of contributory and vicarious infringement in the Internet context. With respect to initial interest confusion, a tremendous amount of what trademark owners hate about Internet activity consists of third parties using their marks to divert traffic to unauthorized sites. We saw this concept in cyber squatting litigation, and now see it in the use of keywords. Related to this is the development of the concepts of contributory and vicarious infringement. It’s hard to get one’s hands around fly-by-night operators, so trademark owners go after the Internet service provider or registry or search engine. I think these are the key areas in which we are going to see development in U.S. jurisprudence.
I also think that the development of the UDRP is an astounding success in that it represents a model of dispute resolution. There are times that a trademark owner has to walk away from the misuse of a mark in a domain because litigation will cost $50,000, but a UDRP can cost under $3000. The UDRP is not a perfect solution, but it has absolutely achieved what it set out to do. I still do a lot of them, probably one a week. I think the UDRP may pave the way to other forms of alternate dispute resolution for IP problems.
In addition, technological systems are developing to take some of the drudgery out of trademark practice. For example, xml, which stands for “eXtensible markup language” allows structured information, such as the information required in most trademark applications around the world, to pass from one system to another. So, for example, the information in a client’s database in the United States could be coded using XML to label the relevant information, such as the mark, the description of goods, and
applicant’s address, and transmitted into corresponding ‘buckets’ used by whatever software application is used by the foreign associate or foreign trademark office.
The “system”—training, docs, insurance incentives, “culture,” “patients” themselves—is hopelessly-mindlessly-insanely (as I see it) skewed toward fixing things (e.g. Me) that are broken—not preventing the problem in the first place and providing the Maintenance Tools necessary for a healthy lifestyle. Sure, bio-medicine will soon allow us to understand and deal with individual genetic pre-dispositions. (And hooray!) But take it from this 61-year old, decades of physical and psychological self-abuse can literally be reversed in relatively short order by an encompassing approach to life that can only be described as a “Passion for Wellness (and Well-being).” Patients—like me—are catching on in record numbers; but “the system” is highly resistant. (Again, the doctors are among the biggest sinners—no surprise, following years of acculturation as the “man-with-the-white-coat-who-will-now-miraculously-dispense-fix it-pills-for-you-the-unwashed.” Come to think of it, maybe I’ll start wearing a White Coat to my doctor’s office—after all, I am the Professional-in-Charge when it comes to my Body & Soul. Right?)
Innovation.net points to a best practices study by The Product Development & Management Association (PDMA) comparing performance and practices of over 400 companies and industries. According to the study (as reported by Innovation.net)
Not surprisingly from the 2004 study,”the best” performers generate 49% of their profits from new products — more than twice as much as “the rest”. Top performers recognize the incremental value that successful new products provide to customers and therefore to the bottom line.
How many new “products” have most professional service providers come up with in the last year? The last decade?
This is going to sound corny, but the fact is that I absolutely love being a patent attorney. I enjoy talking with inventors. They are generally smart, quirky and forward thinking. I get to think about and work with new technology all day and am paid to write.
I am clearly an optimist and tend to see the good side of any situation. I actually found it quite difficult when Matt asked me to take part in this 5×5. What is the bad side of the field I enjoy so much?
1. The Complaint (or Answer) should be a brief. This is your only chance to argue your position. Treat it like a memorandum in support of a motion for preliminary injunction or summary judgment by presenting your case as an advocate. Mere notice pleading allowed in our federal system is not effective for the circumstances.
2. The Pleading should be brief. Although the providers’ limitations on length are largely ignored and exceeded, as a Panelist I urge you to remember that effective legal writing is brief and to the point.
3. The Pleadings should follow the Policy. Follow the elements of the Policy in stating your position. Remember that the Panel must address each of these issues. Make it easy for the Panel to decide in your favor by organizing your argument around each element of the claim or defense.
4. Support your position with proof. You need more than bald allegations to prove rights and bad faith, and you will find an increasing number of cases in which complainants are called upon to make additional submissions or lose their claim due to lack of proof. Strong submissions present evidence by way of exhibits and short affidavits. But don’t merely shovel in piles of documents. Remember point 2.
5. Make good use of supporting authority. Give cases to support your argument and show why the cases are relevant. Avoid merely citing cases. There have been over 7800 reported UDRP decisions. Don’t assume the Panel knows the result and reasoning of each case you cite. Help the Panel by providing at least a parenthetical on the cases you cite.
6. Recognize the limits of the Policy. The Policy is designed to address cases of cybersquatting involving protectable trademarks. It is not intended for contract disputes, garden variety infringement cases, defamation claims, or personal names that are not entitled to commercial protection. Adverse decisions are often the result of claims that obviously stretch beyond the scope of the Policy. Matters outside the scope of the Policy are better directed to appropriate civil courts.
From the Canadian Globe and Mail comes this article: From Cells to Bells, 10 Things the Chinese Do Far Better Than We Do. Some great food for thought. Some highlights:
2. Informative stop lights
In Tianjin, a city of 13 million people, traffic lights display red or green signals in a rectangle that rhythmically shrinks down as the time remaining evaporates. In Beijing, some traffic lights offer a countdown clock for both green and red signals.
During a red light, you know whether you have time to check that map; on a green light, you know whether to start braking a block away — or to stomp on the accelerator, as though you were a Toronto or Montreal driver. (That’s probably why Montreal has a few lights with countdown seconds for pedestrians.)
4. Adult playgrounds
Hate paying those gym club bills? Loathe huffing and puffing around buff bodies in spandex? Beijing provides free outdoor exercise equipment in neighbourhoods throughout the city: walking machines, ab flexers, weight machines and rowing machines in bright reds, blues, yellows and greens.
Adult playgrounds get everyone out in the fresh air, especially seniors who might stay shut in at home. Teens like to hang out there, too. And it sends a not-so-subtle propaganda message about the benefits of healthy living.
6. Daily banking
We feel so lucky when a bank branch in Canada opens for a few hours on Saturday mornings. (Notice the long, long lines?) But Chinese banks are now open 9 to 5, seven days a week. Even on New Year’s Day and other national holidays, at least some branches will open for business. The ones that are closed post helpful notices directing you to the closest open branch. And, yes, they do have a full network of ATMs.
7. Wireless service bells
Trying to flag down your waiter for a glass of water? Just press a made-in-China gizmo at your table. Your table number lights up on a panel inside the kitchen and your server is soon hovering by your side. The bell also eliminates that annoying waiterly interruption: “Is everything all right?”
The same gizmo in spas alerts masseuses when you’re demurely under the sheet and ready for their attention.
10. Free hemming
This doesn’t count as cheap labour because only three people service an entire department store. In Canada, hemming a new pair of trousers adds at least $10 to the cost, plus two trips to the tailor. And you have to try them on again while you get measured.
At the No. 1 Department Store in Shanghai, the salesclerk measures you while you are trying on the pants, asking: “Will you be wearing these with high heels or flats?” If you decide to buy them, she scribbles the length on your receipt. You head to what looks like a gift-wrapping station where a man measures and chalks the pants, scissors off the surplus and flings them to two women behind him. One hems the raw edge on a machine and tosses it to the other, who stitches the final hem on another machine and presses them.
Even with two customers ahead of me, I swear it took under three minutes in all to get two pairs back.
When I tell the woman ahead of me that stores in Canada don’t do this, she’s astonished. “Really?” she says. “How inconvenient.”
I hope everyone had a safe and happy Halloween. We did.
One of the things we are working on at my firm is developing a systematic way to keep our clients happy and encourage them to recommend us to others they know. Ernest Nicastro writes about Customer Aftercare on the MarketingProfs.com web site (registration may be required). He suggests several ways to use direct mail as an effective customer retention tool. Here are the letters he suggests sending to clients with a time line as well:
“Thank You” letter: To be mailed the very day the sale is closed. Sure, this is something we all do—right? Well maybe all of us do it—but I know from experience that a number of those others don’t!
Letter from “Mr./Ms. Big”: To be mailed 10 days to 2 weeks after the account is opened. In a smaller company, it should come from the owner. In a larger company, a senior manager. This letter is a warm owner/senior management welcome and also informs the new customer that, ultimately, “the buck stops here.” Sample wording. “If the product or products you’ve purchased, or anyone in my organization, fails to meet with your complete approval—now or in the future—I would like to know about it.”
How did I/we do? Mailed a week after the sale. It’s a friendly letter explaining how important honest feedback is to you because it’s the only way you can improve. Attached to the letter is a brief customer satisfaction survey and stamped return envelope. The feedback you receive from this survey will be of tremendous value to you in your ongoing marketing efforts. It will help you make more sales and generate increased profits
Happy anniversary: Sample opening: “It’s been a year (__ years) since you opened your account (closed on your house, closed on your loan) with us. I just wanted to say Happy Anniversary and thanks again. We look forward to working with you for many more years to come.”
At random, customer appreciation letter: Sample opening: “Do you ever get so caught up in the mundane, everyday responsibilities of your job that you sometimes overlook things? I know I do. And that’s why I’m writing you.” From that point you go on to tell your customer how much you value and appreciate them and their business. Don’t do any selling in this letter. Helpful hint: Mail this letter right before you know your customer will be in contact with a large number of people—for example, right before Thanksgiving or before a trade convention or industry gathering. This way, you’ll get maximum mileage from the positive word of mouth that this letter creates.
“How are we doing?/How have we done?” survey cover letter: You should regularly survey your customers, at least once a year. Just the act of sending out the survey sends a message about how important they are to you. But the greatest benefit to you and your business is the feedback you’ll get on how you can improve. So, word your cover letter in such a way that it will encourage response. Sample copy: “At ABC Widgets, we’re committed to offering you the affordable high-performance widgets backed up by a level of service that sets the standard for the industry. Your feedback is of tremendous help to us in measuring how well we’re meeting that commitment.” The survey, whether or not they return it to you, is one more indication that they are important to you.
Birthday cards: It used to be that if you visited any Petco store, you’d find forms to fill out with your pet’s name, address and birthday. Complete one, and during the month of your pet’s birthday Petco would send your Fido or Mr. Whiskers a birthday card and an invitation to come to the store and get a 10% discount. Shouldn’t we treat our human customers with similar care and thoughtfulness? I think you know the answer.
Hand-written “Congratulations” cards: Whenever you or your assistant read or hear about awards, appointments, promotions and other forms of recognition earned by your clients—or their children—acknowledge this with a letter or card. This is a small thing to do, but it is greatly appreciated (and will pay big dividends).
Thanksgiving letter: What better time to show our thanks and appreciation to our customers than right before a national holiday dedicated to being thankful and appreciative? One client I sent my Thanksgiving letter to liked it so much that he insisted on paying me for it so that he could adapt it and send it out to his employees and customers. (For a copy of this letter, send me an email to email@example.com with Thanksgiving Letter in the subject line.) As Thanksgiving is traditionally the start to the holiday season, another benefit to this letter is that you can work in your holiday greetings and best wishes for the season. This way, you’ll be among the very first to do so and your sentiments won’t get lost in the deluge of Christmas cards and Season’s Greetings that will come pouring in later.
This is fantastic advice for any service provider. If you implement these ideas into your practice, you will be certain to be in the front of your client’s minds whenever they have a legal issue, or when someone they know is looking for a lawyer.
Why aren’t lawyers more creative? Not creative about solving client problems, but creative about being lawyers. Here is an exercise: Walk down any aisle of any new grocery store and notice how many products are there that didn’t even exist ten years ago. Heck, just look around at the store itself and see how different the shopping experience has become in just the last decade. Now, look at the legal profession. Any new products? Do our offices look different? Have we changed in any meaningful way how we provide our services or interact with clients (apart from e-mail) in the last ten years? Name another industry or business that has so systematically avoided innovation and shown such a disdain for new ideas.
I had a meeting on Saturday morning with another attorney and we were talking about our respective practices. He does nothing but personal injury and I’ve sent him quite a few cases. I shared with him some of the things I was implementing in my practice and he remarked how “creative” I was. I responded that every lawyer I know is pretty creative when solving client problems, but that creativity (or ability to think differently) doesn’t translate into high-level thinking about changing the way they approach the business of law.
The discussion reminded me about an article from Psychology Today titled “The Art of Creativity.“ There is a lot of great stuff on creativity in the article, but the part that caught my eye was the list of ways to discourage creativity in children:
Surveillance: hovering over kids, making them feel that they’re constantly being watched while they’re working.
Evaluation: making kids worry about how others judge what they are doing. Kids should be concerned primarily with how satisfied they-and not others-are with their accomplishments.
Competition: putting kids in a win/lose situation, where only one person can come out on top. A child should be allowed to progress at his own rate.
Overcontrol: telling kids exactly how to do things. This leaves children feeling that any exploration is a waste of time.
Pressure: establishing grandiose expectations for a child’s performance. Training regimes can easily backfire and end up instilling an aversion for the subject being taught.
The article also fingers a bit more subtle culprit: time.
Children more naturally than adults enter that ultimate state of creativity called flow. In flow, time does not matter; there is only the timeless moment at hand. It is a state that is more comfortable for children than adults, who are more conscious of the passage of time.
“One ingredient of creativity is open-ended time,” says Ann Lewan, a director of the Capital Children’s Museum in Washington, D.C. “Children have the capacity to get lost in whatever they’re doing in a way that is much harder for an adult. They need the opportunity to follow their natural inclinations, their own particular talents, to go wherever their proclivities lead them.”
Now, how many of these “creativity killers” are applicable to lawyers? Can you name any law firm associate that doesn’t experience all of them nearly every day? Is the answer to the question that started this post that our prevalent business model wrings all the creativity out of our lawyers in their first few years of practice? If so, what can we do to stop it?
I’ve got some ideas, and I’m going to be posting a lot more on the legal creativity conundrum in the next few weeks.
I’ve kind of watched with amazement at the number of comments my posts concerning LegalMatch have generated. Today, I received a comment to two of my posts from Lance Burton, "Director of Attorney Relation Services and Continuing Advanced Education" at LegalMatch. His comment, "For an informed response to the many comments listed here with respect to LegalMatch please review the items at the following site." The site is the LegalMatch Blog and I encourage readers to take a look.
In the response, Mr. Burton first addresses my major complaint about LegalMatch, saying:
The major issue in the blogs and in other chatter concerning LegalMatch is a complaint that we use deceptive and hard sales tactics to get attorneys to the phone. I’ll be the first to say, we do whatever we can to get a minute with an attorneys to talk with us about the clients we have attracted to our website. (Underlined emphasis mine).
and then he takes a shot at some of the people who have been leaving the comments in my blog posts:
The former employees that seem bent on making LegalMatch look like the bad guys in the ‘blogs’ and who continue to pop off about being exploited, or complaining that LegalMatch didn’t do this or didn’t do that, professing to hold special insights into how LegalMatch works, generally fall into two categories. First, there is the occasional contractors we hired who fooled us for awhile by pretending to understand the LegalMatch mission and to have the client’s interest at heart, but didn’t. We ultimately recognized the pretenders in this group whose only real interest was in lining their own pockets. They thought LegalMatch was just another Internet dot com that would yield loads of money for them to rip off. The second group of sales contractors we had to weed out were those individual who came to us as “labor fakers.” These individuals, who we asked to work hard in the interest of building LegalMatch goodwill so as to benefit our clients and member attorneys, misunderstood the work ethic necessary to keep a start up moving to solvency. Who could predict that these individuals were just too lazy and short sighted to recognize the opportunity put before them. They apparently thought they would never have to ever work hard again. Shame on them. I personally apologize to anyone who may have encountered these aberations.
I applaud LegalMatch for doing this. I’d love to see the dialog continued on the LegalMatch blog, instead of mine. However, the LegalMatch Blog doesn’t have comments enabled. Oh well.
Push the organization with big vision.
Account for big goals.
Seek out new ideas.
Show wins along the way.
Ownership must be clear.
Malcolm Gladwell, author of The Tipping Point and the upcoming Blink (which I can’t wait to read), wrote an article titled The Ketchup Conundrum for the September issue of The New Yorker. In the piece, he discusses how Grey Poupon paved the way for the hundreds of varieties of mustard we see in our supermarkets today, and suggests that ketchup may be next.
However, my favorite part of the article is Gladwell’s explanation of how Prego (the spaghetti sauce) developed their extra-chunky sauce:
Standard practice in the food industry would have been to convene a focus group and ask spaghetti eaters what they wanted. But Moskowitz does not believe that consumers–even spaghetti lovers–know what they desire if what they desire does not yet exist. “The mind,” as Moskowitz is fond of saying, “knows not what the tongue wants.” Instead, working with the Campbell’s kitchens, he came up with forty-five varieties of spaghetti sauce. These were designed to differ in every conceivable way: spiciness, sweetness, tartness, saltiness, thickness, aroma, mouth feel, cost of ingredients, and so forth. He had a trained panel of food tasters analyze each of those varieties in depth. Then he took the prototypes on the road–to New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, and Jacksonville–and asked people in groups of twenty-five to eat between eight and ten small bowls of different spaghetti sauces over two hours and rate them on a scale of one to a hundred. When Moskowitz charted the results, he saw that everyone had a slightly different definition of what a perfect spaghetti sauce tasted like. If you sifted carefully through the data, though, you could find patterns, and Moskowitz learned that most people’s preferences fell into one of three broad groups: plain, spicy, and extra-chunky, and of those three the last was the most important. Why? Because at the time there was no extra-chunky spaghetti sauce in the supermarket. Over the next decade, that new category proved to be worth hundreds of millions of dollars to Prego. “We all said, ‘Wow!’ ” Monica Wood, who was then the head of market research for Campbell’s, recalls. “Here there was this third segment–people who liked their spaghetti sauce with lots of stuff in it–and it was completely untapped. So in about 1989-90 we launched Prego extra-chunky. It was extraordinarily successful.”
What untapped market is there for your services? Can you find the unserved segment and be its “extra-chunky” Prego?
In Life Laundry, storage expert Dawna Walter helps people streamline their internal and external lives by cleaning out their clutter and offering advice, insight and top tips – while antique dealer Mark Franks help turn junk into hard cash – all in 48 hours.
But this is more than just a home makeover show. For some it’s an incredibly emotional experience as they struggle to come to terms with the past.
Faced with rooms too full of junk for their owners to use, to broken computers and washing machines that have sat idle for years, Dawna and Mark take drastic action, emptying the offending rooms on to the closest outside space.
Step-by-step they take the homeowners through their belongings sifting, sorting, and slinging out the clutter that has taken over their homes – and in some cases their lives.
From people who have allowed their possessions to take over as a result of trauma, to sentimental hoarders, over-zealous collectors and people and families whose relationships are under strain from the amount of junk cluttering their homes – the Life Laundry experts are on hand to help.
What would the Life Laundry experts find in your office? Old computers, printers that don’t work, dozens (hundreds, thousands) of books that you don’t use anymore? Piles of trade publications and legal magazines that you’ve set aside to read someday? Get rid of all of that stuff and be amazed at how little you really needed any of it.
I’m pretty happy with my actual working environment. I alternate between my Aeron and Leap chairs, have a cord-less keyboard and mouse, and use two monitors. Though the ergonomics of my situation could be improved slightly (maybe by throwing in some feng shui ), I feel comfortable when I work.
It seems that work comfort was on the mind of New Zealand’s Occupation Safety and Health Service when they passed these ergonomic guidelines for the workers in the nation’s now-legal sex trade:
Certainly some good tips here for all us workers in the “service” business.
I’ve been talking to some really smart people lately, and have been running an idea past them that I’ve blogged about before – a conference on innovation for lawyers. The goal would be to provide attendees with both the ideas and the tools to incorporate innovation into their practices, and to give them specific things to implement when they get back to the office.
Now for the agenda:
In the morning, I want several interesting people (preferably non-lawyers) to talk about innovation in their fields. I’d like to see authors, marketing gurus, creativity consultants, entrepreneurs, and even CEO’s of small companies tell the audience about the newest and coolest ways they are changing how they do business. In the afternoon, we’d brainstorm about specific ways the “big picture” ideas could translate to the attendees’ individual practices.
If this seems really cool to you, let me know if you’d like to attend. Also, if there is anything you’d like to see, drop me a line as well. Time and place are Chicago the Sunday after Techshow (April 3, 2005). If the interest is there, I’ll follow up with more information.
It has been a while since I’ve posted a picture of my daughter, so here goes:
She is two in December. My, how time flies…
I received this e-mail yesterday:
I hope this email finds you doing well. Are you currently available for
a 6 month++ contract opportunity? We have a Client located in Downtown
Chicago, IL seeking an experienced MS SharePoint Specialist.
You will perform analysis, design and development of the firm’s newly
implemented MS SharePoint Portal. You will be doing front and back end
development using Windows SharePoint Services version1 and version2.
You will also perform on-going technical research to identify solutions
for system requirements that arise through the use of the SharePoint
systems firm wide.
They are looking to start this position as soon as they possible/as soon
as they find the right fit.
I noticed your background on the web and thought we should talk. If this
basic description sounds interesting (obviously here is much more to the
project) and you are available please reply with your most recent resume as
a Word document.
If not feel free to forward my contact information to anyone you see fit.
I’m not even sure what Microsoft SharePoint Portal is, but my wife is from Chicago and it might be fun to go for awhile — until they find out I’m totally incompetent.
When the office temperature in a month-long study increased from 68 to 77 degrees Fahrenheit, typing errors fell by 44 percent and typing output jumped 150 percent. Hedge’s study was exploring the link between changes in the physical environment and work performance.
“The results of our study also suggest raising the temperature to a more comfortable thermal zone saves employers about $2 per worker, per hour,” says Hedge, who presented his findings this summer at the 2004 Eastern Ergonomics Conference and Exposition in New York City.
Now excuse me while I crank up the thermostat.
Evan has a great guest post over at Notes from the Legal Underground by Federalist No. 84 that has 14 steps to “finding your voice in the blawgosphere.” This post continues Evan’s history of some great guest posters. If you already blog, or are thinking about starting, it offers some really good advice.
Several months ago, I first posted about Think Tank Tuesday, but have been pretty silent since. Yesterday, we had our second telephone and web conference (compliments of Zane at Conference Calls Unlimited), and I am far more excited about the concept (and the group) now than when I first started putting the idea together. We’ve even started our own private blog to facilitate conversations and share ideas in-between our bi-weekly telephone calls.
Our “TTT” group:
Once we have our third “meeting,” I’ll post more about how we are using TTT to help us incubate new ideas and grow our businesses. If anyone would like some help starting a similar group, let me know.
If you are wondering when I’ll have another of those great 5×5′s, wonder no more. Beginning Monday, the series restarts with five intellectual property bloggers answering the question: What five ways would you change IP law?
For you non-IP people (like me), the topic seems a bit dry, but I’ve read most of the responses already and they are great! See you then!
Give everyone in a medium to large company an innovation budget. Each person’s budget would be based on their position in the company. Regular staff might get 2000 Euro/year; middle managers 5000; senior managers 10,000; and so on). Innovation budgets are to be used exclusively for developing ideas.
If an idea results in an RoI (return on idea), the idea owner receives an increased innovation budget based on a percentage of the RoI. Thus, innovative people get an ever larger pool with which to innovate.
Moreover, staff can form teams with each person contributing a part of their innovation budget towards implementing an idea. If the result is a positive RoI, each contributor receives an innovation budget increase based on the percentage of their budgetary contribution.
Finally, people can buy and sell ideas with their innovation budgets. If you have a great idea which you do not or cannot implement, you can sell the idea to a colleague who is interested in implementing it. The colleague then transfers part of her innovation budget to you.
Alternatively, if you have a great idea, but insufficient budget to implement it, you can sell stakes in your idea to colleagues.
Over time, the company’s most innovative people will amass substantial innovation budgets. These people can then become idea investors, providing innovation-budget-equity based investments in employees’ ideas; particularly big ideas which an individual employee would not have the budget to implement.
The beauty of the system is that it allows people to grow based upon their innovative strengths. People who are strong on creativity and ideas but weak on implementation, can sell their ideas in order to amass an increasing innovation budget.
People who are stronger on implementation, on the other hand, can buy ideas or co-operate on ideas in order to amass increasing innovation budgets.
Only those people who want nothing to do with innovation will see their budgets stagnate. But such people are usually rather boring. So we need not worry about them, need we?
Still trying to figure out how this can work in a law firm environment. Maybe my Innovation Assistant could help.
I need help. Since I started reading blogs (and writing this one), I’ve been bombarded on a daily basis with hundreds of incredible ideas from the coolest people on the planet. While I’ve been doing my best to share them with you while implementing some into my practice, I’ve found that the demands of my actual job are cutting into my time to innovate and think about new things.
Therefore, I’ve decided I need to hire an Innovation Assistant — a combination personal assistant, brainstorming partner, and project manager — to help me get some amazing and innovative projects off of my ”to do someday” list and into the real world.
So here is the deal: I want anyone who is interested to write me an e-mail describing what you think an Innovation Assistant should do – and then telling me why you should get the job. I’ll pay the ideal candidate well, and they will be able to work virtually from home 10-20 hours per week.
Great new website/blog called Clientcopia that collects stupid client quotes (mainly from the design industry). From the site:
There’s no getting around it. At some point in your career, your patience will be tested with a stupid client who is so clueless that you’ll question your sanity, career choice, and the future of mankind.
You may have dealt with one already, one that just stuns you like a deer in headlights. Dumbfounded to utter anything but an “uhhh…”. Some clients have no concept of reality. They make up their mind, just to change it again to an even more hideous decision. And will end up blaming you for the mess. Can we honestly blame the client? Sure we can…
Clientcopia was created to give you an escape. Take joy in knowing you are not alone.
We all feel your pain…
Some pretty funny stuff here. Check it out.
Genius Hugh MacLeod has another gem (I’ve collected so many, I might add them to my garage sale). Hugh writes about his favorite cab driver, but he could be writing about any service professional he uses:
About once a week, I have to catch the late train home. Bob the cab driver always meets me the station and drives me to my house.
Bob’s got what Seth Godin calls “The Free Prize”. He’s got what Tom Peters calls “The Wow! Factor”. He’s got something I like that no other cab driver has. It might be his jovial manner, it might be I like the fact his car is colored red. It might be the fact that he’s very reliable. The reason doesn’t matter so much. Regardless, Bob gets my business 100% of the time. When he can’t make it I let his brother pick me up instead, but that doesn’t happen too often. I call no other cab service but Bob’s. There are a lot of cab companies where I live. Cab driving is a pretty commodified business. But I call Bob. Every time. I like Bob.
The minute he pisses me off for whatever reason I’ll find another cab driver I like just as much.
Don’t forget that last sentence when you are dealing with clients. The biggest mistake lawyers make is to overestimate their client’s loyalty and tolerance for inattention.
Evelyn Rodriguez has a great post titled Accelerating Elusive Aha! Moments in which she talks about taking a “clarity retreat” to help her solve problems. Evelyn is kind enough to share the creative process she uses on her retreats. Her tips:
1. Stay Open. Ask the questions, but let go of the answers. You might think you have a solution in mind, but don’t cling to it. You’ll be surprised at how much more brilliant your breakthrough will be if you just let go of your fixation that you won’t come up with anything better than your so-so, blah(yawn) solution that’s your back-up plan. Kill the back-up plan.
2. No-Hassle Beauty. Go somewhere simple that doesn’t require a lot of pre-planning. No hassle = low-stress. This is not the time to go on a worldwind tour of Europe. Guy Kawasaki gave away a great retreat location if you live in the Bay Area in his new book, The Art of the Start. (I’m not telling in a public forum, though you can email me.) Ideally stay close to home to avoid air travel; somewhere quiet, typically in nature; and somewhere you’d enjoy being. Ideas can range from day hiking from a base camp/lodge; kayaking along a gentle river or sheltered bay; cross-country skiing hut-to-hut; soaking the gentle sunbeams on the beach as you watch the tide come in; or chilling out on the veranda sipping wine in Napa Valley. Twice I’ve gone on backpacking trips – but this may require too much preparation if you don’t regularly backpack.
3. Treat yourself. Re-treat yourself over and over. Make sure you are eating well (if you’re packing and making your own food, make it as simple to prepare as possible so it doesn’t feel like an ordeal…unless you adore cooking…) and sleeping well.
4. Bring a journal. Only journal if you don’t have to force the words on paper – only when and if you’re a conduit to your heart without filtering it through your head. Carry the journal wherever possible. You never know when you might want to sketch or write a poem or something seems important to jot down – leave the option open. Don’t worry if you never even crack it open. That may just be what’s needed especially if you do journal alot now. On one multi-day backpack trip to Grand Canyon, I didn’t write a single word. I thought I had “wasted” the retreat time. Nope, it turned out I needed a break from journaling as well. I was overwhelmed with ideas when I returned back home including the entire outline for a book.
5. Avoid email, cellphone and even blogging. Really retreat. Don’t listen to news, radio, or pick up the paper. If you are weak (as I am), you may need to go somewhere where it is impossible to stay in touch – you’d be surprised, even in Bay Area you can drive two miles outside of I-280 and be out of cellphone range and in the beauty of nature.
6. Go alone. With practice you can go with others that are also seeking time to be more contemplative, but the tendency is to be drawn to go sight-see, chat, and otherwise be distracted.
7. Focus on Being Present. I used to be pretty restless and extremely prone to boredom. If you don’t want to “do nothing” that’s fine. Fully engage with what you are doing. Anything that captures your attention fully – whether that’s because you enjoy it intensely or to let your mind wander would be deadly (whitewater-kayaking comes to mind for me). Limit your time reading – and when you do, make it inspirational instead of intellectual. The entire idea is to rest your mind. So whatever you are doing, really do it and nothing else. Be nowhere else that moment. See the glint of the water splashing on the stone, feel the caress of the wind playing through the aspen trees, note the firmness and the give as the autumn leaves crunch under your footfall, gaze at the crystal moon lying on your back against the meadow grass, admire the depth of the sheer vertical vermillion canyon walls echoing your call.
Evelyn’s blog Crossroads Dispatches continually has great posts like this one. I’m going to schedule a clarity retreat for three days next week. I’ll let you know how it goes.
I’ve pretty much cleaned out my "idea closet" with my garage sale and I hope that everyone found something worth taking. Reader (and friend) Yvonne Divita added this comment to one of the garage sale posts:
This ‘idea garage sale’ is a winner. It deserves a blog of its own…with several authors…with encouragement for input…I see some marvelous things coming out of it. Your cookbook reference to generating ideas is another great way to get the mind thinking "out of the box"…let’s find a way to start thinking "out of the book" because we too often rely on books to instruct us on how to do business. (as a writer it pains me to say that, but it’s true.) So, what kind of "out of the book" ideas can we come up with? I’ll start…first, get comfortable in your own space. You can’t begin a business if you’re still struggling to fit yourself into the space society tries to assign you. Create your own space, and fill it with your energy and your expectations. Watch how fast it fills up with useful ‘stuff.’
Any interest out there?
I love cookbooks, though I’m only a fair cook. The best things about cookbooks is they give you some great ideas of what to make for dinner — leaving the execution of the recipe to you. Here are some of my "Idea Cookbooks" I’ve accumulated. I hope they help you cook up some tasty ideas of your own.
Here are some "building materials" I’ve accumulated as I’ve worked on building my perfect firm. Some are extras, some were the wrong size and didn’t fit, and some are just taking up extra space in my garage. I’d love to sell the whole truckload at once, but will consider any fair offer. Just one thing — you have to come here and pick them up.
Here are a bunch of ideas I’ve had lying around. I’m sure I’ve bought them from somewhere, but I can’t remember where. If I’ve taken them (or stolen them) from you, I apologize for not giving you credit.
Weekly Free Time — Give employees an hour of "quiet time" every week — when the phones aren’t answered and meetings aren’t scheduled — to think, read a book, or just relax.
Incorporate Design – Hire a graphic design artist (with no legal portfolio) to review the format and design of every piece of mail and every type of document that goes out to customers. Also, find the best interior designer in your town and ask them for one hour of time to give you tips on making your office more inviting and less intimidating. Go to the most expensive and most popular stores and restaurants in your neighborhood. Look at how they are designed. Look at the people in them. These people are comfortable in those environments. If you want those types of people to be your clients, make your environment similar.
Commit to Clients, Send a Report Card– Prepare a list of client commitments and stick to them. Include returning phone calls within a specified period of time. Send the commitments to clients with every bill. Offer discounts if you don’t live up to any of your commitments. Give clients a small discount if they send back a "Report Card" with their payment. Make it look like the ones kids got in the fifties. Follow up with them on any grade they give below an "A."
The Monthly Status – Get a boilerplate monthly status report saved in every client’s file with their address, etc. Send it every month and tell them what happened on their case that month.
Find Spaces to Collaborate, Not Just to Meet — Look for space in your office where you can have a comfortable conversation with a client, partner, or staff member. Having a white board or other brainstorming tool would be a big plus. Make it a fun place to think.
Create a Firm Master To-Do List — This list isn’t for client matters, but for firm matters. Make marketing and firm development high priorities. Make sure everyone has access to the list and place at least one item on the calendar each week to make sure it gets done.
Fund a Local "Genius Grant" — Find the biggest problem in your community and have a competition to solve it. Involve the schools and retirement homes. Give a prize for the best solution. Make sure everyone knows your firm sponsored the competition. Set aside another part of the prize money to go toward funding the solution.
Start an Exclusive Client Club — Come up with an unprecedented level of service and benefits (at a premium price) and offer it only to your best three customers. Tell them they can invite others to join the club, but they must "vouch" for the new prospect. Wait ten years, then retire.
Rewrite all of your Firm Documents — Every week, pick one of your "standard" forms (like retainer agreement) and give it to a sixth grader. Ask them if they understand it. Then rewrite it from scratch.
Offer Gift Certificates — Find some kind of work you do and prepare gift certificates. Send a notice to your clients telling them the certificates are available for the holidays. In an estate planning practice, encourage clients to give the certificates to young couples who’ve just married or had children and might need a simple will. The certificate could be for a will, or even a "free" consultation.
Open Ended Billing – Send a bill with no amount on the bottom. Make sure you communicate all you’ve done for the client, then let them decide how much it was worth.
Open All Night — Find employees who want to work second and third shifts and experiment with one or two days a month where the firm never closes. Advertise these days, and find out how many people who’ve never had time to meet with a lawyer come calling!
Find the Smartest People — Ask everyone you know for the names of the smartest people they know. Invite those people to an exclusive dinner and offer to pay them for one hour each month of their advice — on anything.
Give Books — Go to your local school or library and donate several books on a topic that complements one of your primary practice area. For instance, if you do divorce work, give the school several books about how children can best deal with divorce; or give the local library several volumes on divorce for adults. Get your name in the front of each book and get your picture in the paper.
Reader Steve Nipper offered up a G-Mail invite in the comments to a previous post. I’ve got a few setting around too. First five people to leave comments get ‘em.
For day one of my garage sale, I’ve collected some blog posts. Twenty-five cents each, or five for a dollar. If you want to buy them all, the price is negotiable.
That’s it for today. Come back tomorrow for some more great deals!
Bookmarks for sale. These bookmarks are gently used and are in fine working condition. I’ve grouped them as best I can. Make your best offer!
Billable Hour Remainders
Toys for the Kids
Used Sports Equipment
Cool Things Defying Catagorization
Non-Legal Sites with Interesting Ideas for Lawyers
Web Design Stuff
Training and Seminars
I’ve been spending the last two weeks doing some housekeeping around the office: closing files, throwing stuff away, reviewing every open file, and generally organizing the stuff I have sitting around. One of the things I’ve noticed is how easy it is to accumulate things on the computer. For instance, I have over two-hundred items in my “to blog” folder on Bloglines alone. Add to that the hundreds of articles and web sites I’ve book-marked over the last four years and you start to get the picture of some of the electronic cobwebs in my office.
I have finally recognized that I have too many ideas sitting around cluttering things up. For the next week, I’m going to have an “Idea Garage Sale” on this blog. I’ll be throwing up tons of links, blurbs, and thoughts that I’ve found laying around for you to take if you want. If there is anything left at the end of next week, it will get shipped off to Goodwill.
And as for my fellow bloggers, I know you are in the same predicament as I am. Everyone knows that when the whole neighborhood has a garage sale, more people show up to buy and more stuff gets sold, so join me and have your own Idea Garage Sale, too.
Enjoy your shopping!
“I’ve found my niche. If you’re wondering why I’m not there, there was this little hole in the bottom…” John Croll (Thanks to Tom Asacker at acleareye.com).
11. Pigs Get Fat, Hogs Get Slaughtered. This is one I got from my partner Todd Wagner. He is right on. Sometimes you have to go for the jugular, but more often than not, the biggest mistake people make are getting too greedy. Every good deal has a win win solution. There is nothing I hate more than someone who tries to squeeze every last penny out of the deal. They often raise the aggrevation level to the point where it’s not worth doing the deal. They also raise the dislike level to the point where even if a deal gets done, you look for ways to never do business with that person or company again.
Business happens over years and years. Value is measured in the total upside of a business relationship, not by how much you squeezed out in any one deal.
If you are a lawyer reading this post, think about Cuban’s advice in the context of your relationships with your clients. Do you really need to turn your copy machine into a profit center? Does every single minute of time spent thinking about a client’s case need to show up on the bill? Several days ago a client complained to me about her previous attorney. She said that she would call the attorney to find out when the project he was working for her on would be done (it was already several weeks overdue), and she would get billed for the phone call! The $37.50 per call did not matter to the client financially, but she became so aggravated she not only switched lawyers, but tells everyone she knows about her experience.
I love reading business books. I find they often give me great ideas I can incorporate into my practice. The people over at 800-CEO-READ have started an Excerpt Blog with — you guessed it — excerpts from some books they sell. It has an RSS feed too! Check it out.
Warning, rant ahead.
I’ve been blackballed by the Highland, Illinois realtors! I’ve been doing the deeds for a local title company. It was a nice bit of business for my firm, and the title company enjoyed working with us because we provided the deeds and other work to them much more quickly then the attorney who used to do the work — resulting in fewer cancelled closings and happier customers.
However, once the local realtors found out I was doing the deeds, they went to the title company and said (allegedly), “If Matt Homann continues to do the deeds, we’ll use a different title company.” The reason? Because I’ve told people that, if they have a willing buyer, I can do their real estate sales documents and advise them through the closing for far less than the 6% commission our local realtors charge. Apparently not happy with their commission on 99% of the real estate transactions in a growing real estate market that happen here without any lawyers at all, the realtors are threatened by me helping my home-selling clients (who already have a buyer!) with their transaction.
The funny thing is that the realtors could build so much more good will by encouraging sellers with willing buyers to bypass the real estate system and see an attorney! If a realtor told me how to save thousands of dollars on my transaction, I’d recommend that realtor to everyone I knew. And if a realtor referred clients to me, I’d reciprocate, and send a lot of business their way.
I’ve not decided how to respond, if at all, to the realtors. Some friends and collegues have urged me to sue, but I don’t think I’m up for that. However, I do know this, when I sell my house soon, don’t look for a realtor’s sign in the front yard.
Two from Michele Miller in the same day! Michele links to this white paper authored by Real Living, a growing nationwide real estate company. The paper is a must-read for any real estate lawyer. Here are some excerpts:
Historically, consumers relied on real estate professionals for almost all information concerning the buying and selling of a home – a transaction model which positioned real estate professionals primarily as information disseminators. According to Real Living, women now rely on the Internet to gather information upfront, often before contacting a real estate agent. However, women who are short on time and long on needs place a high value on the agent to guide them through the home buying process once they have used the Internet to educate themselves and narrow down their home search criteria. This shift in behavior now positions real estate professionals as negotiators, time-savers and efficiency experts – demanding that brokers and agents find new, innovative ways to serve consumer needs for convenience and control.
Real Living advises that brokers and agents of the future must fully integrate technology into their normal course of business in order to maintain a competitive edge with today’s increasingly connected consumer. Key suggestions outlined in the white paper include:* Offer anywhere, anytime access to robust listing information (such as property details, virtual tours and mapping) to drive efficiency, convenience and control for consumers
* Deliver online customer communication, comparables and transaction forms to add value to the agent-consumer relationship.
* Leverage the Web as a real-time-marketing medium to provide home buyers with immediate access to all homes available for sale on the market.
* Target female decision makers through integrated, robust Internet marketing strategies supplemented by traditional advertising mediums such as print, radio and television.
* Meet consumer needs for efficiency and convenience by serving as a source for one-stop-shopping referrals for related services such as mortgage, title, relocation and home warranty services.
These tips are not only for real estate agents. This is sound advice for lawyers too.
I was checking out my referral logs today for the first time in a few weeks, and found several incoming hits from Google to this post. Google “Time Waster” and you’ll find that this blog has cracked the top ten for that term!
I know my wife has called it that before, but now it’s official.
Thanks to an astute reader (thanks Fred!), I’ve found that my archive links to most of my Five by Five’s aren’t working. I’ll try to get that fixed today, along with a new “Look what I found!” list on the sidebar.
85 percent of women will at some point in their lives be solely responsible for their homes,
90 percent of women will be solely responsible for their finances at some point in their lives.
Anyone who reads the blog knows how little I think about the billable hour. Until now, I haven’t given very many examples about how we are using "service pricing" in our business. Here is one way abandoning the billable hour has created "win-win" for us and one client (and yes, I’ve gotten permission from them to post this example on my blog).
First, the basics. A client has a development zoned for multi-family housing and is currently building about twenty duplexes (forty units) with sixty more ready to go. Originally, the developer believed that the market existed for selling each duplex to one owner — who would then rent out one side and live in the other, or rent out both sides. However, economic conditions have made it more profitable to sell each side to different owners — something currently prohibited by local zoning ordinances.
The obvious choice is to turn the development into condominiums. This allows individual ownership of each duplex side without violating local regulations. However, because all of the units aren’t yet built, to "condominiumize" all of the duplexes into one large development, the developer will have to do so in phases (as many as twenty). Each time a new phase is ready, the declaration of condominium (a legal document setting out ownership interests and voting rights among the duplex owners) and the plat will have to be amended. So far, so good. However, the developers want the maintenance of each unit to be shared only between the owners of each duplex, and not collectively among all of the units as often happens in a traditional condominum setting.
Normally, we would do the work and bill by the hour. Since this is a novel kind of project for us, we could easily spend between twenty and fifty hours drafting the first declaration of condominium. Gaining approval from local and county governments could easily double that investiment of time. Amending the declarations and plat each time a new phase is ready would likely add five to ten hours again.
When we laid out the time and cost to our clients, they balked. Asking them to pay us thousands of dollars for work to prepare the condominium documents was not an option to them, so we proposed a different arrangement. For $X00.00 per unit (two per duplex), we will do all of the documents necessary to condominiumize the entire development. We will be paid each time a unit sells (and not before), and do as many phases as are necessary until construction is complete. The developer bears all the filing and recording fees, but is not out of pocket a single dime for the legal work, and will likely pass the unit fee on to the purchaser of the condominium.
Now for the best part: The developer loves the idea. By eliminating the up-front cost, the developers are able to plow previously-budgeted legal costs into subdivision improvements. We will make two to three times the amount we would make if billed on an hourly basis, but only if all of the units sell. And while it may take some time for the development to close, we’ve secured an income stream for the firm for at least two years. And, we will likely be retained to represent the condominium owner’s association once the requisite number of units have sold. We’ve been representing other owners associations for a set monthly fee of $X.00 per lot per month.
We love it, the developers love it, and the home buyers will realize significant benefits as well.
Sorry for the posting blackout. A family emergency (resolved) and a crush of new business has kept me out of the blogging loop for nearly two weeks. Think Tank Tuesday will be rescheduled from today (September 14) and the regular blogging will resume with several longer posts I’ve been working on during my hiatus. I also have some really big personal and professional developments I’ll share soon.
Sorry for the lack of updates. I’m taking a little personal time, but will be back on Friday.
I haven’t posted about LegalMatch for several months, though my LegalMatch posts continue to draw comments weekly. In a comment to my initial “Why I’ll Never use Legal Match” post, reader Maury gives an unbelievably complete summary of all of the legal referral sites out there, along with his “grades” for visibility and cost.
Maury appears to work for a lawyer referral service himself, but the information seems pretty reliable. If you are looking for a comprehensive comparison of most (if not all) of the legal referral web sites out there (and Maury covers over 100 of them!), scroll down through the comments to the LegalMatch post. Thanks Maury!
I closed a few bank accounts yesterday that were left over from my solo days. The accounts were in the bank where my parents and I have banked since 1968. Then, it was the local “Farmers and Merchants Bank,” but in the last twenty years it has gone through four ownership changes, becoming first Eagle Bank, then Landmark Bank, then Magna Bank, and now Union Planters. The beautiful downtown building is nearly empty, with two tellers and a bank manager in the space that once housed almost fifty employees.
While I was closing my accounts, a woman in her mid-forties came in and asked the teller if she could cash a check for a hundred dollars. She said she was from out of town and visiting her mother-in-law, who was too ill to come to the bank herself. The teller told her that unless she had an account there, “bank policy” said she couldn’t cash the check. When the woman said her mother-in-law banked there, but was too ill to come herself, the teller apologized but told her she would have to go elsewhere. I observed the exchange while sitting with the bank’s manager, who watched the entire episode unfold but did nothing.
All afternoon, I tried to answer the question, “How many accounts will this bank lose over a single $100 check?” Certainly the mother-in-law’s account. If the ailing woman has any family in town, those accounts too will likely move elsewhere. Friends, family, and neighbors may move their accounts as well. I know I’m glad to have severed my relationship with the bank.
All for a hundred bucks. As for Union Planters, are its policies so inflexible that they can’t accommodate the visiting relative of an ailing customer? Are the managerial employees of this bank so afraid of breaking the “rules” that they are willing to jeopardize thousands of dollars in deposits? Do the employees get any customer service training at all?
How many little interactions like this do you have with your clients or customers? How many times has a “firm policy” kept you or your employees from doing what is right? I was almost sick when I saw how upset this woman was when she left the bank. I hope I don’t have clients leaving my office with the same feeling.
Think Tank Tuesday Participants: The roster is now closed. I’ll be e-mailing everyone about the details, but if I’ve missed someone, let me know. Think Tank participant Zane Safrit at Conference Calls Unlimited is providing us a free toll-free number for the meeting along with his web-conferencing service.
I’ve tentatively scheduled the first telephone conference for Tuesday, September 14. We’ll work out timing next week.
I’m new at this, but here are some of my ideas on how this whole thing will work. For the first meeting, when we’re all on the line, everyone will have thirty seconds to give your elevator speech introducing yourself and telling us what you do. This is more of a creativity exercise than a draconian measure to keep the meeting moving.
We will have one big question every month, and each of you should be prepared to discuss the question as it pertains to you or your business. We’ll take turns answering the month’s “big question” and getting input from the others in the group. I’d like to allocate a given amount of time to each person’s question, so nobody gets short-changed on their input from this fabulous group.
The first big question is: What one thing could I do to completely transform my business?
I’ll send out a lot more details in the next week, but wanted to get everyone excited about the Think Tank. Some other issues I am still working on:
Recording the conference call so others could listen in if they missed it.
Scheduling more than one per month if the idea is as successful as I think it will be.
Inviting a “celebrity” guest to join us once in a while.
Starting an “invitation only” blog with multiple posting privileges to facilitate group communication between calls.
As you can tell, I’m really enthusiastic about this idea, and welcome your comments (public or private) about what you’d like to see. If you’ve missed out on the first roster for the Think Tank, e-mail me anyway and I’ll do my best to squeeze you in or set up another one.
Summer is often a slower time for me, but this year it seems like I’m getting hammered from all angles. I have six clients who all have projects to get done now. I know that being in demand is a really great problem to have as a lawyer, but I’ve been neglecting the people I really care about — my blog readers.
All kidding aside, I have some great Five by Five news. In the works are Law Professor and Law Student editions, along with a Business Book edition (answering the question, “What five business books should every lawyer read — and why?”).
Up next, however, is a Five by Five I’m really looking forward to. I’m asking five lawyers who concentrate their practices in the intellectual property (IP) fields the following question:
What five things would you change about IP law and/or practice?
The participants are:
We are coordinating schedules for the posts, but look for the responses soon.
My friend Evan at Notes from the (Legal) Underground asked me to be his guest today. I wrote this post, titled Five Indispensible Tips for Law Students and New Lawyers, that Evan posted today. Check it out.
15. The most important thing a creative person can learn professionally is where to draw the red line that separates what you are willing to do, and what you are not. Art suffers the moment other people start paying for it. The more you need the money, the more people will tell you what to do. The less control you will have. The more bullshit you will have to swallow. The less joy it will bring. Know this and plan accordingly.
Hugh is the guy who draws cartoons on business cards. Though I love the one that accompanies the post, the one here has this bit of wisdom, “If an ordinary person can understand what you do, you’re already half way to becoming a commodity.”
Pretty funny. Screenshots of old Nintendo classics with a Microsoft touch.
I’ve recently read “The Now Habit” and I’ve been having a great time this week implementing its cures for my procrastination. I’ve spent most of the week cataloging all of my to-do’s (ala David Allen), and using the Franklin Covey Plan Plus software with my TabletPC. However, the best thing I’ve done is retreated to an abandoned conference room in my office building for two or three 30 minute blocks of time each day. I set my watch alarm for thirty minutes, take it off, and set it face down on the table. I start the project I need to work on, and work straight through for the 30 minutes. No telephone interruptions, no e-mail, no secretary asking me to fix her computer. The focused productivity has been absolutely amazing. I admit I got much of the idea from former Five by Five contributor Michael Cage, who writes:
The bulk of my income is derived from writing, and it has proven to be slow-going for me to write in my office. I’m an easily distracted person (the classic “hunter” profile a la Thom Hartmann). Ordinarily, I’d set about changing a trait that was an annoyance, but, in this case it is responsible for a large part of my success. I don’t want it gone, I just want better strategies for focus.
So, I bought an iBook.
It does not have E-mail set up and never will. When it’s time to work on important projects, I carry it into another office (that doesn’t have my stuff in it) to work; or strut over to Starbucks and down enough caffeine for the entire state of Virginia while pumping out the copy. In a sense, I’ve “ritualized” the entire process of writing including the tools I do it with. I’ve finished 3 major projects in the last 3 days that were dragging on for weeks. My productivity has soared. It’s great!
Like Michael, I’ve gotten more done in the last four days than in the previous two weeks. I’ll have a review of the Plan Plus software up soon, but right now, I’ve got thirty minutes set aside to get some real work done.
I know this may sound a little persnickety (to the unenlightened branding guy or gal anyway), but here goes: How come I pay well over $20 for a hair cut and I always leave with little hairs all over my neck and ears. Sure, the service and quality are decent, but come on! The salon should really consider my experience before, during AND after my visit. Right? I guess you should probably wonder as well, what insignificant bits of frustration are you leaving with your customers? Heed Mother Theresa’s wisdom: “Be faithful in small things because it is in them that your strength lies.”
As a lawyer, I do my best to focus on solving my client’s problems, but now I wonder if dealing with the problem is just the “haircut.” What can I do to improve the customer/client experience after they visit me? I’ve been thinking about a few ideas, including sending a follow up thank you note (mailed separately from the invoice) that includes a quick survey — and perhaps a coupon for a discount on future services like estate planning or something similar. Maybe even start a “birthday club” that gives them a quick 30 minute consultation on their birthday as my “gift” to them. Like I said, I’m just brainstorming here. Anybody out there have better ideas?
It is very clear to me, after 13 weeks at a law firm, that partners and associates work too many hours and need to expend too much mental and emotional energy into their jobs for this to be a truly fulfilling career unless you are passionate about what you are doing. Or at least very, very interested in it. If the work does not excite you, there seems to be — at least at a big New York firm — no way to be really happy doing it. Unless you’re lying to yourself, or really into the money. More than one associate this summer has said that the law firm life leaves you room for one other thing — a social life, a family, a hobby — but not more than one of those. More than one associate has talked about having to consistently cancel plans with friends, because the hours are not only sometimes long, but relatively unpredictable. There are slow weeks when they get out at 7:00 every night. And there are weeks when they don’t. And what type of week it is can change very quickly. More than one associate has talked about how a lot of the work is pretty mindless, especially for the first couple of years.
From A List Apart comes these tips for creating better invoices. The article contains advice on invoice contents, terms, delivery, timing, and aesthetics. Some really good advice for any business person who sends out invoices on a regular basis (Lawyers, are you listening?). My favorite part is the section on invoice content:
1. The word “invoice.” Obvious enough, but don’t let the client mistake it for anything other than a bill that needs to be paid. Make it big and bold and put it at the top of the page.
2. Your Employer Identification Number (EIN) or Tax ID Number. This will be important come tax time, when the client starts putting together W-2s.
3. Similar to the EIN, some clients may assign outside contractors a unique Vendor ID. This practice is usually found in larger companies. If you have been given one, be sure it appears conspicuously.
4. Names and addresses of both client and contractor. Make a clear distinction between the “to” party and the “from” party.
5. Date everything. Date the invoice (the day it goes out, not the day you write it) and list the dates of when items on the invoice were completed. In the terms, list the due date and penalty dates. If something ever goes to small claims court, the judge will look favorably on your scrupulous attention to detail.
6. A clear, itemized list of services rendered. Descriptions should be short and to the point, and all delivery dates indicated. Next to each item, list the hourly rate, hours worked and subtotal amount.
7. The total amount owed. On the bottom, labeled explicitly, bolded if needed.
8. The terms of the invoice. At the very least, this should include when the invoice is due; for instance, if you expect payment within thirty days (fairly standard), simply put “30 Days.” (You could also put “15 Days” or even “Immediate” if you don’t particularly like the client.)
As I read the tips, I remembered the hours and hours I’ve spent on my office’s legal accounting programs trying to get good-looking, informative invoices to print with the information I needed. PCLaw’s prepackaged invoices were absolutly awful (I’ve not tried versions 6 or 7), and the template “editor” was an exercise in futility. We’ve moved to Quickbooks and are rolling out a new invoice design, which incorporates most of the tips from the article. I’ll try to post a sample soon.
Dennis Kennedy has proclaimed St. Louis, Missouri “Blawg City USA” and I’m inclined to agree. However, what good is being a resident of Blawg City if you can’t get together and have a few cold ones (St. Louis is also the home of Anheuser Busch) over dinner. I’d like to wait until school starts (law school, that is) to get a few of our student webloggers on board, but in mid-September we’ll have the first Blawg City, USA dinner. Anybody in? Evan? Dennis? Buehler?
I’ve previously posted about my Innovation Tuesdays. I’ve renamed the group “Think Tank Tuesdays” and only have three more spots open for participants. We’ll do a conference call at least one Tuesday per month, and I’m shooting for the first Tuedsay in September for the kick off. Some of the non-lawyer participants are Don the Idea Guy, Lori “Sales Process Diva” Richardson, and Evelyn Rodriquez. Get me an e-mail as soon as possible if you are interested.
There’s a Brazilian steakhouse I like that could teach some serious lessons in as-needed customer service. When you sit down, you get a card (it looks like a coaster) on which one side is green and the other is red. When you want the waiters to bring more food, you leave the green side up. It says you are interested in interacting with them. When you’re done — read that, leave me alone please — the red side faces up. If every restaurant had that, wouldn’t meals be much more pleasant?
Adrian Burstein has some thoughtful ideas on the human cost of innovation in a weblog article he has written on the Cheskin Fresh Perspectives blog. Though writing about the postal system, his thoughts ring true for the legal industry as well:
If I go to the counter in a post office and hand in a letter, they will rush me and stamp on it whatever the standard is. The result is a missed opportunity to be relevant beyond efficiency, and a negated privileged role in providing customers with a meaningful experience through imparting and promoting a culture of knowledge.
But that’s not all. At a second layer, we need to understand that users aren’t only those who buy stamps or mail packages. The postal employees themselves are users of the postal system. They are the face of a system that has lost its charm. They are participants of an experience that nobody looks forward to, much less appreciate or see the value of spending an extra couple of minutes on it. This creates a vicious cycle that impoverishes the overall user experience for everyone.
This sounds so much like our business it is scary.
Arnie Herz, who writes the Legal Sanity weblog has some great advice for writing an “ethical will.” He discusses an article about how people are using their wills to hand down advice and blessings to their heirs (along with their money). There are some key questions Arnie pulls from the article. Worth a look.
I don’t use a lot or Powerpoint in my day to day practice, but I still get a tremendous amount of great ideas from Cliff Atkinson’s Beyond Bullets weblog. A recent favorite post of mine is this one, where Cliff says:
Often a PowerPoint presentation can become so packed with bullet points, charts and graphics that we lose our sense of clarity, direction and focus.
But you can find your way back to your goals by mapping your content to the 6 primary signposts that underlie every effective communication experience: who, what, where, when, why and how.
It may sound basic, but that’s the point. No matter how elaborate, detailed, complex and involved your story is, you have to clearly answer these 6 basic questions, or else you’ll lose your audience, and your own understanding.
What great advice. Take a look at the post for a visual example using these signposts in a Powerpoint presentation.
Children rate their fathers as among their least popular playmates because they are too competitive, according to research among more than 1,000 youngsters. They “played to win”, lacked imagination or were simply at a loss as to how to play games, said the Children’s Play Council, which commissioned the survey with the Children’s Society.
Children up to the age of 12 would rather play with their friends, their mother or their brothers and sisters. Only one in 16 chose their fathers as their ideal companion. Dads were rated slightly above grandparents (one in 33). One in 50 children said they would rather play on their own.
I hope my daughter won’t feel that way. Good thing we lawyers aren’t more competitive than the population at large….
I changed the name of “The Weekly Five” to “Look What I Found” in my sidebar. I know the name is still pretty lame, but take a look at the five or so sites I’ll throw up there every now and then. A new group is up today.
Thanks to Mike Docherty at Innovation.net for pointing me to this study (must sign up to read the whole thing) by Strategos measuring barriers to innovation across a wide variety of industries. The top five barriers to innovation:
Short term focus/ focus on operations (63%)
Lack of time, resources or staff (52%)
Lack of systematic innovation process (33%)
Leadership expects payoff sooner than is expected (31%)
Management incentives not structured to reward innovation (31%)
Does this sound familiar lawyers?
You can’t innovate if you don’t take time to focus on the future as well as the present. This is a problem I’ve been having myself. I have been so torn between completing our new business model and serving existing clients that I am running on fumes. I’ve just finished “The Now Habit” and am planning a week of “French Hours” beginning Saturday. I have several posts I’ll get up before then, but then this blog will go silent for seven days. Promise me you won’t forget me while I’m gone.
Excellent comments. However, I would suggest one subtle thing that is missing: learn how to type.
Time and again, the old partners were brought up with their dictation machines and cannot type at all. When it comes to email, they peck out terse responses with no explanation, and the computer becomes all but unusable to them. In fact, it inhibits their ability to function and they become afraid of the computer. Lord knows the clients are seething when they send an email for a quick question in hopes of avoiding getting billed 10 minutes for a simple yes/no question, only to have the partner bill them a half hour to type out three sentences.
I visited my kid’s sixth grade class and told them that the single most important subject I ever had in high school was not English, math, science, or anything but TYPING. In fact, it was the only class in which I got a C, but it was the most useful class I ever had. (My high school just got a brand new PDP-11 and I wanted to be able to use it, so I took Typing with one other guy and 30 girls.) I told my kid’s class that if you don’t learn to type, it will be like running with a limp for the rest of your life. Certainly these old crusty partners are. The sad thing is that those old dogs keep limping and might need to put in the effort to learn a new trick or two.
All the email tools in the world aren’t going to help the old partner who can’t type.
I couldn’t agree more. Like Russ, my most useful class in high school was typing. I can type nearly 70 words per minute and I can’t imagine how much more productive I’ve become because of it. Everytime I see lawyers “hunting and pecking” their way around a keyboard, I grimmace. It’s a diservice to themselves and their clients if they can’t effectively use their computers, and it ends up costing them much, much more in lost time, additional support staff salaries, etc. than a good six week typing class would
We don’t do any television advertising, and we take all of the money that we would put into television advertising, and instead put it into things like free SuperSaver shipping [free shipping on most orders over $25], lower product prices, category expansion, and invention of new features. We take those funds that might otherwise be used to shout about our service, and put those funds instead into improving the service. That’s the philosophy we’ve taken from the beginning. If you do build a great experience, customers tell each other about that. Word of mouth is very powerful.
What if lawyers took their money away from the yellow pages, and instead spent that money improving the service they offer. At my firm, beginning next year, our “advertising” budget will become our “client appreciation” budget. Apart from a single line listing in the yellow pages, we’re putting all of our advertising money (for us, nearly $1,000 per month) into improving our client experience. We’ll be finding new office space with room for clients to use as kind of a “business center” with free wi-fi, coffee, etc. We are also bringing our client concierge on board to coordinate our client service initiatives and surveying new and existing clients to determine how we can serve them better.
Boy, I wish I’d asked Dave Pollard to contribute to my Five by Five – Entrepreneur Edition. On his How to Save the World Blog, Dave has this great post titled, “Entrepreneurialism and the New Economy.” The long post is worth ten minutes of your time, but what I found most valuable were his rules for entrepreneurs to succeed in the “New Economy:”
1. Don’t try to play in the big guys’ sandbox. You may have a great idea for a new pre-moistened window-cleaning, eyeglass-cleaning wipe, but do you really think Proctor & Gamble will let you make any money at it? You have to find a need that the big guys, for whatever reason, can’t fill. Take advantage of their lack of agility, their focus, their disinterest in niches and specialization, their inability to customize, their physical distance, to find needs that they wouldn’t even think of trying to satisfy.
2. Don’t borrow money or give up equity. When the economic recession hits, or interest rates spike, those in debt, or with expensive equity, will fall like flies. Of course organically financed businesses are harder to get started, and they grow more slowly. But financial leverage is a double-edged sword. In bad times, it can kill you.
3. Avoid lawyers, and the need for lawyers. If you get into a legal fight to defend your intellectual property from a bigger guy, or because a bigger guy has sued you over your alleged infringement, you’re going to lose. It may not be fair, but in court the most expensive team of lawyers almost always wins.
4. Be careful lying down with elephants. Many entrepreneurs find that the Business-to-Business niche is more lucrative, easier, or better suited to their competencies than a Business-to-Consumer business. Often that means your customers are much bigger than you. If you’re careful, attentive, provide something unique and make a healthy margin with these customers, that can be a formula for great entrepreneurial success. But watch out if the elephant rolls over — if it gets sold, or decides to change suppliers, or decides to squeeze suppliers, you could be squashed.
5. Do what you know. And know what you’re doing. When times get tough, or new, disruptive innovations start creating waves in an industry, experts survice and dilettantes flounder. You must always be the best at what you’re doing. If the idea of being in a particular business intrigues you but it’s not in your area of competency, go work for someone else who is competent in it first. Then when you’re an expert, go on your own.
6. Follow the money. The four big-opportunity industries noted above are going to explode because they are aligned with the needs of baby-boomers, who (by sheer numbers) have much of the disposable income in our society. Read books like Boom, Bust & Echo to find out who has the money, and then follow it — find out what they’re spending it on and why, and what they’ll need next. This is especially true in a fragile economy, because the rich are the last to stop buying and the first to re-start.
7. Know your customer. Next to running out of cash, and making bad management decisions, not knowing your customer — what they need and why they buy — and not investing social capital in relationships with customers, is the biggest cause of entrepreneurial failure. The reasons why customers buy what they do, and don’t buy what they don’t, aren’t always logical or even informed. You can’t understand this from a distance — surveys and studies of buying patterns won’t tell you. You have to spend time with customers (real and prospective) and get inside their hearts and minds. These relationships also help recession-proof you, and, if you use them properly, they will provide most of the fodder you need for continuous innovation (rule #9 below).
8. Network with other entrepreneurs. The big guys network constantly with their suppliers, other corporate executives and even competitors. They leverage their contacts and, without the need for a LinkedIn or a Ryze, they know who to call for information and advice on anything that can happen that affects their business. They don’t need to have all their expertise on staff or on retainer. Entrepreneurs, for some reason, seem to do this less (probably they’re too busy trying to do everything themselves). Most entrepreneurs need to do it more, especially one-on-one.
9. Innovate. The big guys don’t want to innovate (they think it’s expensive and risky), they don’t have to innovate (in today’s economy it’s easier for them to litigate, pre-emptively patent and buy out innovators than to develop anything radically new themselves), and they’re no good at innovating (they’re too big, too inflexible, and too risk-averse and cost-conscious). That’s your competitive advantage as an entrepreneur. And innovation isn’t just about products and services, and about pre-start-up activity, it’s about every aspect of the business — products, services, processes, distribution channels, technologies, organization, structure, strategy, everything — and it must be continuous. There’s a simple, intuitive process for doing it:
Now, I don’t completely agree with number 3, but I think the rest is pretty sound advice for anyone running a business — lawyers included.
Well, that wraps up another edition of the Five by Five. For your linking pleasure, here are the all the links in one easy place:
And if you haven’t read any of the other great Five by Five editions, you can find them here, here, here, and here. Thanks to everyone for participating. I’ll have a preview of the next Five by Five before the end of next week.
Here are two ideas on security and three on marketing, in no particular order:
1. Anti-Spyware Software. Most lawyers have not yet figured out that if “malware” proponents can do something like change the home page in your browser, they can also do much worse. It’s not that hard for would-be snoops to things like install keystroke loggers that send everything you type to a snoop by e-mail. Even worse, snoops might surrpetitiously install a “remote access trojan” that lets an intruder do anything on your computer that you could do, a sort of malevolent version of legitimate software like PC Anywhere. Keeping such software off your computer involves a multi-layer defense of firewalls (preferably both hardware and software), frequently updated anti-virus software, frequent patches and common sense (like avoiding opening dubious attachments, clicking on dubious URLs or visiting dubious web sites) and, probably, avoiding MS Internet Explorer. Even if you do all this, your defenses may break down. A new category of software, anti-spyware programs, will help you find out if you have suffered a breakdown and correct it if so. No single anti-spyware program catches everything. Two current favorites are Spybot Search and Destroy and Spy Sweeper.
2. Encryption Software. The ABA ethics advisory opinion that using unencrypted e-mail does not amount to a waiver of the attorney client privilege put the e-mail security issue on the back burner for many lawyers. However, the issue has definitely not gone away. Attorney client privilege is an evidentiary doctrine, governing what evidence can be admitted in court. Most e-mail snoops want information that would damage you or your clients outside any courtroom. The ABA’s opinion on attorney client privilege is irrelevant to them. Most attorneys will not need to encrypt most of their messages, but it is foolish to send highly sensitive information by e-mail without encrypting it. More information about this is available in some essays on e-mail security at Netlawtools.com.
3. Blogs. As I’ve explained in detail over the past 18 months in articles, including the Ernie the Attorney piece, the Blogs As A Disruptive Technology article and threads at Netlawblog and eLawyering.org, well-executed blogs can provide enormous benefits to certain lawyers.
4. RSS Feeds on Frequently-updated Conventional Web Sites. This makes so much sense as a way of getting your message through the clutter. It’s a new form of “push” that works, and will work even more effectively as even more people begin to use news readers.
5. RSS Feeds to Supplement/Replace E-Mail Newsletters. Though I’ve been a proponent of e-mail newsletters for lawyer marketing from the earliest days of commercial use of the Internet, the spam deluge has lessened their usefulness. RSS feeds offer a new, more effective way of getting out your message, generating new business and earning client loyalty.
Matt asked me about 5 new technologies, but I decided to stray and discuss 5 aspects of a single technology that lawyers have attempted to incorporate into their practices, but have generally done a pretty bad job of it. What I’m saying is that there are attorneys like Matt and Evan Schaeffer who get it, but the majority of firms that deal with the tripartite corporate relationship do not:
The web aka the internet aka WWW.
1. Where is your law firm web site? Most law firms have them, but there are still some holdouts. Even when firms do throw one up, they are massively un-navigable. The firms generally make it very difficult to find any attorney by practice area, and even harder to find where they are located or how to contact them. All I want is to be able to copy and paste their contact information into a spreadsheet, because I may want to retain them. Why frustrate your potential customers?
2. Search Engines. If you’re an attorney that wants to market yourself to new clients and your name and/or the name of your law firm is not the first result in either google or yahoo and I have to start doing “searches” and multiple searches then I become annoyed. You see, I don’t use a rolodex. I use google. If I can’t find you doing a simple search, then why should I send work your way if I can’t even find you’re phone number.
3. Email. I understand that many firms don’t want their attorneys using this new technology, but letters and faxes get lost or go unread. Send me an email to update the status of the case. Send your bills via Pony Express.
4. Knowledge Management & Distribution (via email or your corporate web site). Lunch and after hour drinks work on many corporate clients, but I’m much more interested in the accumulation of knowledge. Sending me (along with the rest of your clients) a quarterly email or when an important decision affecting our business is handed down. Post some knowledge (or at least use a hypertext link) about recent decisions or articles you’ve written to your attorney bio page is key to your acquisition of new business.
5. Associate Blogs. There are a couple examples of attorneys using content management systems for the distribution of knowledge about legal issues (see above). But outside of the anonymous blogs, there aren’t too many (any?) examples of associates at law firms posting their thoughts to the web. I think as long as they avoid discussing client sensitive topics this can only be a benefit to your firm’s marketing strategy. Unless your firm sucks to work at, that is.
Bonus: New technology not to adopt: Stop using flash. Text works fine.
There is a certain sense of resignation in the question that, as the eternal technology optimist, I’m unwilling to accept. On the other hand, lawyers are notoriously late adopters of technology. I put together my first document assembly application for drafting wills in 1990 and document assembly is still treated as a new development by many lawyers.
Technology implementation should be considered in terms of portfolio management, just as you would do with your financial investments. Diversification should be your bedrock principle, mixing together low, medium and high risks and low, medium and high returns across your “technology portfolio.” Lawyers, conservative by nature, tend to stick solely to the low risk, low return approach, which will be as devastating over the long run as will a solely low risk, low return investment policy be as it gets hammered by cycles of inflation.
“Safe” and “prudent” approaches require that you direct some of your investment, in technology or otherwise, in higher risk, innovative approaches that may pay off extraordinarily well or may cost you your shirt, but make sense in terms of a diversified portfolio. The one approach that I believe all lawyers and law firms should incorporate into their practices, but probably won’t, is the application of modern portfolio theory to technology.
I’ve provided two sets of answers, a detailed set for individual lawyers and a quick list for law firms, because many times the interests of firms and lawyers are quite different. What the two should have in common today, however, is that technology should be implemented on an “lawyers first” priority, meaning that the needs of the lawyers in their practices should be given the highest consideration, rather than the traditional “secretaries and staff first” approach or today’s common “IT Department first” approach. My opinion on this point has proven to be more controversial than I ever expected.
Five For Individual Lawyers
I have a simple three-step approach for technology decision-making for individual lawyers. First, honestly and courageously identify your existing system that will be affected by the technology you are considering and clearly spell it out in writing – no matter how wacky it may be (e.g., “certain pieces of paper are stacked on my desk, others are on a chair, others are on a credenza and others are on the floor, but I (or my secretary) usually know where everything is”). Second, ask yourself whether the technology you are considering either (1) replaces the existing system with something better or (2) improves or enhances the existing system. If the answer is “no” in both cases, either forget about the technology or admit to yourself that you will buy it only because you “want” it. Finally, if your answer is “yes,” make your decision about how the costs and benefits balance out for you.
1. Technology to Help You Manage Your Time and Priorities. How many balls do you have in the air? There is nothing that would help any lawyer more, yet gets considered less, than something that will truly help manage time and priorities. The big problem is that every one is different, so there is no single answer. In a firm setting, you will get a one-size-fits-all-that-actually-works-well-for-nobody approach. The fact is that many lawyers have their own “DayTimer” or other system. They then create (or are forced to create) a parallel system on their computer. The result: the worst of all possible worlds – multiple calendars and to do lists and ensuing chaos.
You must find a technological solution that takes the place of the paper system to have any chance of success. There are solutions that may work well for you – The MasterList, Outlook with David Allen’s Getting Things Done add-in, case management programs, mind mapping programs. This is so important that, in a firm setting, you should be willing to spend your own money to get a solution that works for you. That’s how important this issue is.
2. Technology to Help You Find Things That You Need When You Need Them. Lawyers spend a stunning proportion of their time trying to find things that are hidden in piles, files and even in the ceiling tiles. The reasons relate to the problems I mentioned in category #1, the steady stream of interruptions and crises in the average lawyer’s day, and to their own failings at personal organization. “A place for everything and everything in its place” makes perfect sense, but the notion gets blown away when people drop off files, your mail arrives and you get fifty emails all while you are on a telephone call with a crisis that has interrupted what you were in the middle of working on.
Computers where supposed to help with this, but papers and voicemail still don’t make it into our digital systems and our computer world consists of separate and unconnected “silos” of information – documents, email, bookmarks, RSS feeds, and the list goes on and on. Our document management system does not do the trick. It doesn’t cover everything and we never bothered to fill in the field that would have helped us.
Interestingly, solos and small firm lawyers may be in the best position in this area. They can use a simpler document management program like Worldox, which includes a great local search capability, or get great results from a general case management tool. Both local search engine tools and the “enterprise search” category of tools also show some promise.
3. Technology to Help You “Remember” What You Already Know When You Need to Know It. This category is different from category #2. It’s what you can focus on only after you get a handle on the “finding things” problem. Because of your experience, there are many things that you “know.” There are also many things you (or someone in your firm) have researched, found an answer for, done before, found the appropriate resource person or created something that can be reused. It might be a document. It might be a note about a client’s birthday, a recommended expert, a recent case, a good article, an important URL or some handwritten notes. Unfortunately, there’s no personal search engine for your brain yet.
We need to capture, store, be able to retrieve, and, ideally, to incorporate into our existing forms and processes all of this knowledge and know-how. The phrase to remember is “personal knowledge management.” Unfortunately, the key word is “personal.” Again, this something we all do differently and there’s no single solution.
However, we need to work on finding a tool or set of tool. I advocate a “do-it-yourself knowledge management” approach. Start finding all of the tools you already have that you can use. You can use more features of some of the tools I mention in category #2 as a start. If you have document assembly applications, you can begin to incorporate experience, expertise and knowledge into your forms on a routine basis. In the litigation context, CaseMap is a perfect tool for getting results in this area. Another example Outlook 2003 users might consider is the suite of tools included in the “Business Contact Manager” component of Outlook.
4. Technology to Help Your Clients in Ways They Will Appreciate. One of my pet topics is “client-driven technology.” Lawyers and law firms are notorious for not using (and, in some cases, refusing to use) software that is compatible with what their clients use. I’ve talked with many people who have complained vocally about their lawyers sending them documents in WordPerfect or in a format they can’t use. In one case that I remember especially well, the complaint ended with this: “They are working for us and they should give us the documents in the format we use.” It’s hard to argue with that point.
Other stories abound about lawyers unable to use email, create PDF files or pronounce the word “Pentium” correctly. To make the situation worse, your business clients already assume that you have state of the art technology. When they say that they think you can create their agreements with a push of the button, they really mean that. I’ve seen lawyers who will say “yes, we can do that” to clients on legal issues they have never heard of tell clients that there is “no way” they can adopt a technology that would help the client. I’ve seen that even when the client has offered to pay for the new technology.
This category is the easiest category to make positive changes and see positive benefits. The first step is preposterously easy. Ask your clients about what they use and their preferred ways of working with you. Legal tech consultant Adriana Linares has a simple technology survey that can be made part of the engagement letter or the client intake process. The second step is to evaluate your current technology and any contemplated changes in light of its “friendliness” to clients. The third step is to do a little research into all of the “low hanging fruit” projects you can do right now. Take the lead on providing your clients with metadata scrubbing guidelines and tools or ways to address security issues. Use extranets, deal rooms and electronic workspaces where you can clearly save your clients money. How many clients today tell their friends, “My lawyer just came up with a great new way for me to save money”? Consider electronic billing, electronic closing binders in PDF, and the new ReportBooks in CaseMap 5. It’s all part of showing clients that you care about their businesses and not just yours.
5. Technology to Help You Practice Law in the Way You’ve Always Envisioned. If you talked the best students at the best law schools who want to work for the best litigation firms, you probably would not find a single one whose vision of the practice of law includes finding themselves in a rodent-infested warehouse full of cardboard boxes of old files stamping numbers on pieces of paper for twelve hours a day for months at a time. Yet, that’s where they might find themselves. I think the vision would be more that they are using sophisticated search and visualization tools on a laptop computer to locate the fact no one else could have found that wins the case and instant partnership for them.
That’s one thing. What’s worse, though, is seeing the lawyers who have reached the holy grail of partnership only to find that they work harder and longer hours, have more pressures, and find that they have little, if any, enjoyment about what they do. Tom Davenport, a knowledge management expert, has written that we may now spend 40% of our work day fighting against the tools that were implemented to help us be more productive. In any law firm, there will be a lot of hardware, software and systems that are far more burden than benefit. Almost everyone learns to live with that, to their detriment.
A far better approach is to focus your technological change on ways to reduce your pain and increase both your ability and your time to do the work you love. There are endless ways to do this. For me, the answer might be a blog that allows me to talk about a subject I like and attract others interested in the same thing. For you, it might be a way to automate a time-consuming and tedious process so that you can spend more time talking with your clients and helping them do what they want rather than trying to talk them into taking approaches that better fit your existing forms. For someone else, it might be to get the Tablet PC that you know would really help you out. For others, it might be finding a way to automate the routine work you are doing for a great client and free up the time to do much higher-level work.
There’s never been a time where we have had more tools and capabilities available to us that could enable us to spend more time doing the things that brought us to the practice of law and the things we love the most. I don’t want to be one of those people who said I could have done that, but I didn’t. As the quote goes, “some ask why, but I ask why not?” I’m one the “why not” people.
A Quick Five for Law Firms.
1. Client-retaining Technologies. Compatible software and systems; extranets; electronic billing; document assembly applications; online education; creative file management; allowing clients to track their projects.
2. Client-pleasing Technologies. Technology that reduces cost or streamlines process and allows you to try alternative billing methods; telling clients about solutions that have worked for you that might work for them; collaborative projects where you adapt to their technologies; automated delivery of relevant news and developments; automating processes requiring them to pay for the same number of hours over and over again; coming to clients with HIPAA, Sarbanes Oxley and other solutions rather than waiting for clients to ask for them.
3. Client-focused Technologies. Technologies that make it easy for clients to work with you; extranets or other applications designed with clients in mind; facilitating access to your IT staff to resolve problems; fixing technology and communications issues; taking the initiative in technology projects with clients; handling document filing and management issue or tracking cases; IP filings or other matters; getting bills to clients in a way that fits their accounting systems.
4. Client-producing Technologies. Websites, blogs and feeds; creative uses of extranets for training and other purposes; business intelligence and customer relationship management tools; innovative billing arrangements enabled by technology; winning a high-profile case using state-of-the-art presentation and other litigation technologies; not sending your lawyers out to clients with aging technology.
5. Keeping Your Best People Technologies. Willingness to take individual approaches; generous replacement and acquisition policies for new technology; willingness to allow test projects; listening to young lawyers; rewarding creativity and results more than raw numbers of hours; helping people learn to use software better; resisting the urge to say “no” to every request for new technology; getting technology into the hands of the people who are most likely to use it best; give your people the tools they need, the respect they need and a little room so that they can fly.
The Product List.
I got to thinking that Matt might have meant products. Here are five that should be on every lawyer’s list in today’s legal world.
1. CaseMap 5 (if you are a litigator).
2. Microsoft Office 2003.
3. Adobe Acrobat 6.
4. Tablet PC (or notebook) with WiFi and OneNote.
5. FeedDemon or news aggregator of choice.
Choosing specific technologies is less important than how you think about using technology:
1. Learn more about what you already have. Most lawyers have more software than they already know how to use effectively. And I am not talking about esoteric stuff either. Some examples:
Spreadsheets: Learn at least enough about spreadsheets to know when, if you can’t use one on your own, you should get someone to use one for you.
Presentations: PowerPoint is how many business people communicate. Learn how to use presentation software effectively and at least be aware of some of the more advanced features (e.g., how to use “animation” so that bullets appear one at a time).
Task Management: Figure out how to use the features of your personal information software (e.g., Outlook) to manage and track your many tasks.
2. Consciously develop best practices and figure out where technology fits. It’s one thing to know your substantive area of law, another to know how to practice effectively. Good doctors read medical journals to learn the latest treatments. The law has no equivalent of clinical trials to establish what “works best.” The burden is therefore on you to consider your own “processes,” everything from when, where, and why you save documents and information to how you deal with clients to how you keep time and bill. Examine how you work and compare it to other practitioners and incorporate technology as appropriate. For example, if you are a litigator, be sure you understand the legal and technology issues of digital discovery and various approaches to managing it.
3. Adopt a new personal productivity tool. Once you do examine how you work, you will undoubtedly see ways to improve your own productivity. My two current favorite personal productivity tools are full-text search software for my hard drive and Microsoft OneNote. Even if you are highly organized, for example, putting all e-mail messages and documents in hierarchically nested folders, you will have trouble finding your own work by browsing folders only. You need to use a search tool; a product called X1 has received many good reviews. For lawyers in large firms, lobby your firm to buy a robust, enterprise-wide search engine. Separately, OneNote makes outlining very easy and it’s a great place to store information – client, administrative, and personal – that otherwise tends not to be stored or gets lost across multiple locations. See my blog post on OneNote for more details.
4. Use technology to connect to your clients. You are in a service business. Technology can help you connect with and serve your clients; your choices are many, from blogs to extranets to expert systems. I think that one of the least discussed but perhaps most useful choice is a Web-based, desktop and application sharing tool. Provide a higher level of service by working with clients interactively, sharing files using tools such as Webex or LiveMeeting. Large firms can license these products for the enterprise. Smaller firms can “pay as you go” with ASPs (see, for example, Comminique). Consider using this software to offer Webinars to your clients – it’s a great way to market yourself.
5. Be curious and open-minded. Technology changes. Business changes. Your own needs change. Read the Wall Street Journal, Business Week, or New York Times technology coverage to learn what’s new. Talk to techie friends and ask for suggestions. Periodically, check out something you read or hear about and see if it will work for you. Invest some time occasionally to learn new software.
When you get me started on a topic like this, I can’t just stop at five, since there is much more available that lawyers should investigate for their clients’ needs as well as their own:
1. Using RSS Readers (News Aggregators)
On a daily or weekly basis, how would you like to stay up to date on a hundred or more different web sites and blogs in under an hour, all without having to surf individual sites until your mouse pad wears out?
I’m not exaggerating. Many mainstream news sites and blogs offer RSS feeds (Really Simple Syndication or Rich Site Summary). Much has been said about this topic, so I won’t go into the technical details. Suffice it to say, it allows people to read more content in less time and with less effort than manually visiting each site on their daily or weekly mental list. It’s a convenience and time management approach to keeping abreast of online content, both internally within an organization as well as on the Internet. Many RSS Readers have a search feature so you can search for specific topics across your selected sites.
Adding RSS feeds to you own site gives you additional reach to many more people who would not otherwise have given your site the time of day. This translates into more visitors, increased hits on your site, and potentially more business and referrals. And if more web site and blog operators end up linking to your site, you may just get higher Google rankings too.
With all due respect to legal publishers, if you’ve ever watched the movie, “Men in Black”, I consider blawgs (legal blogs) to be the “Hot Sheets” of the legal world. To adapt Tommy Lee Jones’ line: “Best damn legal practice commentary on the planet. But hey, go ahead, read the New York Times if you want. They get lucky sometimes.” RSS readers enable us to increase our overall awareness in a more efficient manner.
You’ll note that I’m consciously excluding blogs from my list, in the context of my not recommending that all lawyers publish blogs. Why? Because the question posed relates to all (or at least most) lawyers. While using an RSS reader to consume information is something everyone can do, even the technophobes, blogging itself is a bit different.
“Blogs have enormous potential, but it’s important to keep the phenomenon in perspective. I think we’re going to see another instance of the ‘80/20 Rule.’ It will probably shake out something like this: About 80% of all lawyer web logs will fail. The remaining 20% will have greater or lesser degrees of success, mostly modest. One per cent or so, maybe less, will be extremely successful. However, some of that 1% will be so successful that they will make their owners very, very glad they got into the blogging game.”
Thus I believe blogging (both in front and behind the firewall) has many benefits relating to personal KM, collaboration, best practices, marketing, and many more. But unless the people doing the blogging truly “get it” and invest the appropriate time commitment and mindset, I’m with Jerry. I believe they will be disappointed from what has been hyped on the subject.
There are also a slew of collaborative web tools available. Some lawyers will “get it” and use them with other attorneys and clients, some won’t get it at all, and probably many more will keep wishing for it, but not implement anything due to cost vs. ROI concerns.
2. Using Smarter E-Mail Tools
E-mail used to be a great tool, wasn’t it? It beat faxing for speed without long distance charges, and you ended up with an electronic document that was actually readable and could be reprinted if you lost the hardcopy. We got to stay in touch with friends, colleagues, clients, and could access it from a variety of methods. Sounds great, right?
Then came e-mail newsletters, listservs, a flood of internal “Does anyone know where the Smith file is?” queries, and worst of all, spam.
Thus e-mail has quickly devolved into a free-for-all of information glut, requiring spam filters, e-mail filter rules, and zillions of folders to sort, spindle, and archive all those seemingly important pieces of information. There was a lack of good tools included in the major e-mail packages to actually have a way to manage and find things without spending a lot of time trying to manually create organizational tools (e.g., folders and mail filter rules) and concocting creative search strings, hoping that you recalled the exact phrasing of the e-mail just right.
Worst of all, due to spam filters, we now have to worry that our message was actually seen by the recipient, thus forcing some to have to call the recipient to make sure it made it past her spam filters.
Is e-mail broken? You bet. However, it’s still an effective tool if you can get it under control. That’s exactly what new services or programs are trying to accomplish:
Gmail is Google’s new webmail service, with 1GB of storage, but without the need for using e-mail folders due to the ability to do a Google search within your e-mail.
Bloomba is an e-mail client with very fast search speeds and a PIM (Personal Information Manager), so you can instantly search all e-mail, attachments, calendar and contacts, and schedule appointments with colleagues remotely over the web. Bloomba is smart enough to know they can’t take on Outlook directly, so they are going after the smaller business and SOHO markets.
Nelson E-mail Organizer, or NEO, is a search or indexer add-on for Outlook, which offers a slew of additional e-mail management tools, including fast searching, categorizing, saved searches, search on conversation, etc.
New technologies in this category are on the horizon, as others are exploring the concept of meta-mail, the term for the extension of e-mail into a broader set of tools that can manage processes and the user’s attention, instead of just information and content.
While there’s a lot of hype in this space, it bears watching.
3. Spreadsheets – Financial, Trend, and Fact Analysis
Okay, so perhaps this isn’t a “new” technology, but there are numerous uses for spreadsheets that most lawyers just don’t realize. Besides number crunching, they’re great for creating charts, parsing data between different programs, spotting issues, and analyzing trends. I’ve found many attorneys tend to be “math adverse” (but ironically not “math challenged”, as they certainly dive into every detail of their yearly compensation and bonus plans). So what’s holding them back from using spreadsheets? In a nutshell, ease of use. Spreadsheets can be daunting at first glance. However, many overlook some of the wizards and pre-created templates that are included with various spreadsheet programs like Excel. Other programs exist to create spreadsheet-like “what if” comparisons, especially for tax and financial planning.
Savvy litigators are already using spreadsheets in a brand new way – analyzing facts and issues. CaseMap is a perfect example of an innovative use of a spreadsheet interface. In any case, but in particularly complex ones, mastery of the facts is a great advantage. Tie it together with a good timeline chart generator such as TimeMap, and you’ve got a powerful set of tools that doesn’t take an MIT grad to understand them.
Surprisingly, despite the above, I still see that many attorneys are not using these tools, which is why I think it’s a technology that many should incorporate into their practices, but probably won’t.
4. Alternative Billing Practices and Processes
This isn’t a technology per se, but savvy technology implementation sure helps in a number of ways to make this happen. Used properly, things like document assembly and matter management allow one to generate repetitive work in far less time than without it. And that provides the time flexibility to consider non-hourly billing options, including value-based, task-based, and flat rate billing options.
Clients like choices, and particularly, the ability to know exactly what a legal matter is going to cost them. The billable hour alone falls short in meeting this expectation. Over the years, I’ve had a number of business people and governmental attorneys tell me that they need the ability to set a monthly or yearly budget for legal fees, and many of them have sought out attorneys and firms who were willing to provide this level of predictability combined with competent representation.
5. Wi-Fi Access and Laptops
There’s a certain freedom and creativity that wireless connections provide. I wrote this post on my laptop at home on my Wi-Fi network while doing a number of other things that relaxed me and got the creative juices flowing: Sitting out on the deck, having a beer, later watching a movie, or listening to Internet radio stations playing exactly the kind of music I liked (with no commercials I might add), being accessible to my wife and kids, and so forth. In other words, I wasn’t chained to my desk and PC, and I had a fast Internet connection should I need to run a Google search on a whim.
But Wi-Fi isn’t just about you, even though it’s incredibly useful while traveling. It’s also a great resource to provide to visiting guests and clients, especially when tied to your office’s broadband connection. While you certainly don’t want to let them into your regular office network for security reasons, a Wi-Fi network can be crafted to allow guest Internet access in a DMZ (DeMilitarized Zone) or another area of your network that is separate from your sensitive areas. Which brings me to the next topic…
6. Wireless Security
It’s shocking and downright negligent that the vast majority of private wireless networks are left completely insecure. Many people just take the wireless routers and access points out of the box, plug in their Internet connection and PC’s and start surfing. Newer Wi-Fi devices include much more secure technologies such as WPA (Wi-Fi Protected Access) encryption, TKIP (Temporal Key Integrity Protocol, which provides a method for automatically rotating the security keys of your wireless network – very cool), and AES (Advanced Encryption Standard, a much more robust type of encryption). It’s definitely an area ripe with acronyms, jargon and technical alphabet soup, but it’s careless to ignore them completely.
When enabled, and especially when used in conjunction with other security measures such as MAC address filtering (i.e., limiting network connections to specific network cards), these newer technologies help make wireless networks more secure. Let’s face it, if a wardriver or hacker is not targeting you or your company specifically, then an appropriately encrypted, reasonably protected Wi-Fi network is going to require them to take much more time to hack than does your neighbors’ wide-open network. Unless they’re looking for a challenge, they’re going to move on to easier pickings.
Even though many wireless routers have easy-to-use browser based configuration screens, and it’s fairly easy to conclude that most people don’t have the necessary understanding of networking and wireless security to secure them properly. Luckily, a number of wireless manufacturers’ web sites include tips for securing their network, and folks like me have written things like “Wireless Networking Best Practices”. So you don’t have to be a networking guru to harden your Wi-Fi network. However, if it’s still Greek, I’ve found that some of the wireless manufacturers’ tech support people to be quite helpful in this regard for the how-to’s. And if all fails, you’re better off hiring someone knowledgeable to do this for you. Don’t just leave it wide open for convenience.
Lastly, don’t forget about installing personal firewalls, antivirus, and anti-spyware programs for essential protection.
7. Metadata Cleaners
More and more lawyers tend to know at least a little something about metadata. Yet only some are using metadata cleaners or using alternative measures for minimizing the risk of having embedded metadata being used against them. In this era of electronic discovery, that’s just an accident waiting to happen. Common metadata in MS Word documents show who authored it, how many minutes it’s been open in editing mode, the drive letter and directory path where it’s stored, and potentially the prior revisions and changes, among other things.
Thus I feel it’s a best practice to implement a method for removing the metadata from one’s documents, especially before sending them to the outside world, or even to another internal department. Generally, the cost per person for a good metadata cleaner is far, far, far less than the time, effort, embarrassment, and other costs and risks associated with leaving metadata unchecked in your electronic files.
8. Flash Drives
Call them thumb drives, key drives, flash drives, USB drives, or whatever, these tiny storage devices are easy to use and therefore a hot technology. In newer versions of Windows, you just plug them in and they’re instantly mounted as a new drive letter, just like a hard drive. Some come with encryption features for added privacy, and new features and faster read/write speeds are popping up all the time.
Regardless of whether you’re a mobile or office worker, and whether or not you have a floppy drive, these devices are much smaller than floppies and are perfect for transferring files between home and work, between laptops at meetings, and so on. Prices have plummeted so much that the smaller capacities can be had for as little as $10-$20. Some manufacturers and web sites have even provided tools and drivers to make them bootable as part of one’s emergency recovery tools.
The latest trend in flash drives is to provide the mobile user with a portable replica of their office PC’s data, look, and feel when working on a completely different PC in a different location. For instance, I’ve come across two emerging products that claim to do this: M-System’s Xkey 2.0, and Powerhouse Technologies Group’s Migo. Obviously, it bears watching to see if either truly delivers on all the promises. One concern it that when working from an untrusted PC (e.g., public kiosk, hotel business center PC, etc.), these solutions need to incorporate a method for scanning and ascertaining if that PC is free from malware including keyloggers, spyware, etc., before typing in anything confidential. Otherwise, one can unwittingly provide the perpetrators with sensitive information that could lead to many kinds of problems.
How much time do you waste doing repetitive task in Windows? Think of repetitive typing of common information, clicking on Start, Programs, Whatever, ad nauseum. ActiveWords is an interesting type of Windows macro program that allows you to automate a variety of tasks and assign a word to it. Typing the word nearly anywhere within Windows or a running program launches the macro to do your work for you.
Much of what we do everyday is repetitive in some fashion, so when looking for personal productivity boosts, macro programs are often a nice solution if you can make them work for you. The problem with creating macros the old-fashioned way is that one needed to be proficient in a macro programming language, such as VBA (Virtual Basic for Applications). I like to look for things that are simpler, yet deliver.
10. Tablet PCs with Microsoft OneNote or Similar Application
Tablet PCs have been available for a couple of years, but there’s two particular combinations I find compelling with an application such as Microsoft’s OneNote: The first is a “convertible” – a tablet PC which can be switched between a typical laptop screen/keyboard layout to a slate-like tablet. This way it can do double-duty between serving as a regular PC for applications requiring mousing and keyboard entry. However, for note-taking, something that attorneys do a lot, the conversion to a digital pad of paper is useful and compelling.
Programs like OneNote add some great features that allow you to take notes more in your own free form style, rather than have to conform to more rigid tools such as Word and outliners. A key feature is the ability to take your handwritten notes and convert them into actual text – this makes it a lot easier to search and pass them along in e-mail.
The other format I’d like, but have yet to see, is a “slate” (keyboardless) tablet PC that’s closer in size to a thin softbound book. It’s smaller than a normal 8 ½ x 11” pad of paper, yet larger than a paperback. Notice my reference to good ol’ paper – it’s critical because most people still work with paper and this human factor needs to be embraced for it to succeed. The idea is to have something small, thin, and lightweight to be your digital notepad of paper that never forgets. Smaller size makes it easier to carry around so you’ll actually use it more. For instance, if I took notes at a meeting 6 months ago, I want to be able to search for and pull it up in real-time at a critical meeting. Likewise, if I have a brainstorm at an odd time or in transit, I want to be able to write it down for further refinement later, without having to carry around a 20+ lb. bulging laptop bag. I consider this second category to be the ultimate genetic splicing between PDA, paper, and laptop – if it happens.
Now add Wi-Fi to these tablets, and you have an indispensable personal productivity tool to recall everything you’ve written coupled with the ability to get to the Internet and an organization’s network for accessing, saving, or disseminating additional information on the fly without having the need for anyone to type up your handwritten notes. The main thing I keep hearing from organizations is that the perceived cost premium and lack of compelling tablet applications is holding back wider adoption in the legal market. Truth be told, the price gap is narrowing. I also wouldn’t be surprised to see more attorneys interested if someone who understands their needs would just present them with the right hardware/software combination. Thus OneNote has possibilities.
The next edition of the Five by Five debuts today. Five all-star panelists answer the following question:
What five new technologies should all lawyers incorpoate into their practices, but probably won’t?
This edition’s experts are:
Jeff Beard – Attorney and Legal Services IT Manager with Caterpillar, Inc. Jeff blogs at LawTech Guru, and is a frequent national author and presenter on legal technology and practice management topics.
Jerry Lawson – Author of The Complete Internet Handbook for Lawyers and blogger extraordinaire, authoring or contributing to eLawyer Blog, IECJournal.org, Fedlawyerguy.org, Chesslinks Worldwide, and the Netlawblog and Netlawtools sites.
Dennis Kennedy – Attorney and legal technologist. Dennis is a prolific writer and speaker. Dennis blogs at the self-titled Dennis Kennedy Blog, and is one of the founding members of The Blawg Channel.
This should be fun, so here we go.
Barthelemy Thimmonier developed the world’s first practical sewing machine.
Walter Hunt devised a modern sewing machine.
Benjamin Franklin invented the Franklin stove.
Robert Jarvik invented a pneumatically powered heart .
German chemist Friedrich August Kekule discovered the ring structure of the benzene molecule in a dream.
English navigator George Vancouver explored Vancouver island.
Four days left, better get to work.
Hugh Macleod has an unbelievable post at his Gaping Void weblog, titled “How to be Creative.” Hugh has 12 well-reasoned and perfectly explained rules for becoming (and staying) creative. This is a must read for anyone interested in creativity. The first rule is my favorite:
1. Ignore everybody.
The more original your idea is, the less good advice other people will be able to give you. When I first started with the biz card format, people thought I was nuts. Why wasn’t I trying to do something more easy for markets to digest i.e. cutey-pie greeting cards or whatever?
You don’t know if your idea is any good the moment it’s created. Neither does anyone else. The most you can hope for is a strong gut feeling that it is. And trusting your feelings is not as easy as the optimists say it is. There’s a reason why feelings scare us.
And asking close friends never works quite as well as you hope, either. It’s not that they deliberately want to be unhelpful. It’s just they don’t know your world one millionth as well as you know your world, no matter how hard they try, no matter how hard you try to explain.
Plus a big idea will change you. Your friends may love you, but they don’t want you to change. If you change, then their dynamic with you also changes. They like things the way they are, that’s how they love you- the way you are, not the way you may become.
Ergo, they have no incentive to see you change. And they will be resistant to anything that catalyzes it. That’s human nature. And you would do the same, if the shoe was on the other foot.
With business colleagues it’s even worse. They’re used to dealing with you in a certain way. They’re used to having a certain level of control over the relationship. And they want whatever makes them more prosperous. Sure, they might prefer it if you prosper as well, but that’s not their top priority.
If your idea is so good that it changes your dynamic enough to where you need them less, or God forbid, THE MARKET needs them less, then they’re going to resist your idea every chance they can.
Again, that’s human nature.
GOOD IDEAS ALTER THE POWER BALANCE IN RELATIONSHIPS, THAT IS WHY GOOD IDEAS ARE ALWAYS INITIALLY RESISTED.
Good ideas come with a heavy burden. Which is why so few people have them. So few people can handle it.
Each of the other eleven ideas is as good as — or better than — this one. Absoutely fantastic stuff.
I’ll have some more specific news soon, but I’m working on a brainstorming and innovation conference in Chicago on April 3 — the Sunday following Techshow. Attendance will be limited to around 30. If you have any interest, let me know. I’ll post more details in the next few weeks.
Fun Money. $100 per year to spend on any fun family-oriented activity. Employees get reimbursed if they bring in a photo documenting the event, says Callahan.
Health Care for the Home. Home warranties, covering everything from kitchen appliances to plumbing.
Community Outreach. Eight hours of paid time annually to volunteer in the community.
Computer Purchase Plan. Up to $400 every three years toward the cost of a new PC.
A Five-week Paid Sabbatical. Available every seven years.
None of these things can cost much to implement, but go a long way towards keeping employees happy. I’d love to hear from some the readers of this blog about the kinds of things their businesses/firms do to reward employees. Alternatively, I’d be just as interested in horror stories.
Now please listen up because we’re getting to the important part. For most companies, the key cash flow drivers are as follows: pricing, sales volume, credit terms, inventory management, supplier terms, and expenses. In other words, the specific things that your company does in these six areas- from your pricing strategy to your payment terms to the amount of inventory you carry- will directly impact cash flow. That may not sound very glamorous, but the results can be exciting.
The advice in the article is (or should be) obvious to all lawyers, but it bears repeating from time to time.
I’m really going to have to come up with a new name for my sidebar’s “Weekly Five,” but for now, I’ve added five new links for your viewing pleasure.
They hate us because we’re never home. They hate us because we’re pulling out our Blackberries all weekend while we pretend (and they can tell when we’re pretending) to enjoy being around them. They hate us because work is #1, and they’re #2 — or #3, or #4. It’s sad. Because it’s not like years from now we’re going to regret not checking the Blackberry more often. It’s sad because time passes really quickly and it starts to feel like “too late” very quickly. That’s what keeps people here. By the time, maybe eight months into your first year, maybe a year a half — but not much longer than that in most cases — by the time you realize what this job is doing to you it feels like you’re stuck. “It’s too late.” And so you hope it gets better. And you hope, and you hope, and you work, and you work — and then it’s no better, and even more so, “it’s too late.” And then you may as well stick around and try and make partner, and then if you’re lucky enough and skilled enough and effective enough at what you do, and the right people know it, you make partner, and you think it’s all going to change. And a lot does change. But the hours are still long, and there’s still a hierarchy so you’re never really at the top of the totem pole, and the money jumps but the pressure doesn’t really slow down, and the people you compare yourself to change, and you aren’t really relaxed about it… and it really is “too late” now, because this has gone from a job to a career, and you’re stuck. And you never see your kids. And they hate you. And then you don’t even want to go home, and so you stay at the office, and the spiral continues…
Read the full post and the comments too.
Bruce MacEwen at Adam Smith Esq. beat me to posting about this article from Legal Week titled “The Client is Key.” Read Bruce’s post, read the article, and then dump hourly billing! As Bruce writes, “You have been warned.”
David Wolfe writes a fascinating post in his Ageless Marketing Blog about the differences in marketing to older vs. younger consumers. I work with a lot of older (65 years and up) clients and found his tips very interesting:
Older consumers’ more inner focused decision processes pose challenges to marketers who are more accustomed to pitching to the objectively biased minds of younger consumers that favor direct, unambiguous marketing statements. Brain scans in fact have shown that younger minds struggle more with clarifying ambiguity than older minds generally do.
In fact, older minds are more quickly repelled by black-and-white marketing claims. The ambiguity implicit in saying something “could be” or “perhaps is” is less likely to challenge the older person’s need for feeling independent in making decisions about the worth and meaning of what a marketer says.
One of the biggest differences between younger and older consumers in how they make buying decisions can be boiled down to the fact that younger consumers want to be told what something is worth and means while older consumers are more like to make that determination for themselves.
Something to think about when working with (or marketing to) the older client.
Dennis Kennedy, Ernest Svenson, Marty Schwimmer, and Tom Mighell have started The Blawg Channel, “a common platform from which the best of the legal bloggers can distribute their content and, more importantly, individuals or organizations can obtain this content all in one place automatically.” Dennis and I have had a few discussions about this project and I think it is a really cool idea. I’m just waiting for their first reality series: “Blog Swap.”
One of the (many) struggles lawyers have is carving out a niche for themselves in their firm or community. I ran across this post by Laura Ries in her new The Origin of Brands Blog titled, ”Positioning is Alive and Well.” She gives several ways to position a product (or service). Her examples:
1. The Open Hole. Price is the easiest hole in the mind to understand and it’s one of the easiest holes to fill. Haagen-Dazs’ decision to introduce a more expensive line of ice cream set up the “premium” ice cream position for the brand and made Haagen-Dazs one of the enduring marketing successes of the past several decades. What Haagen-Dazs did in ice cream, Heineken did in beer, Rembrandt in toothpaste, Evian in water, Orville Redenbacher in popcorn, Rolex in watches, Mercedes-Benz in automobiles. High price is only one of the open holes in the mind. Low price is another. What Haagen-Dazs did at the high end, brands like Wal-Mart and Southwest Airlines are doing at the low end.
2. The New Category. Sometimes there are no open holes in the prospect’s mind and you have to create one. We call this positioning strategy, “create a new category you can be first in.” Gatorade, for example, was the first sports drink. PowerBar was the first energy bar. Red Bull was the first energy drink. UnderArmour was the first in performance workout clothing. Zima was the first … well, what was Zima the first of? The label said “ClearMalt,” but nobody knew what that meant. The television announcement ads were no help either. “What’s in it?” asked a bartender. “It’s a secret. It’s something different,” replied a mysterious pitchman in his white suit and black hat.
3. The Number-two Brand. Consumers like choice. Sometimes you can build a powerful brand just by giving consumers an alternative to the leading brand. But what strategy can best deliver the No. 2 position? “Maybe if we can produce a better product than the leader,” goes the thinking, “we won’t necessarily overtake them, but we will wind up in the number two position.” This is the worst possible approach. Why is this so? Because the leader in your field already has the perception of producing the better product. Then how do you become a strong number two brand? You become the opposite of the leader. Coke was for older people, so Pepsi became the cola for younger people. Listerine was the bad-tasting mouthwash that killed germs and odor in your mouth. So Scope became the good-tasting mouthwash and a strong number-two brand. Home Depot is the leading home-improvement store, but its crowded aisles and jammed shelves appeal more to men than women. So Lowe’s became the home-improvement store for women with clean layouts and wide aisles.
4. The Specialist. Every coffee shop in America sells coffee, but they also sell hamburgers, hot dogs, French fries, apple pie, donuts and dozens of other foods and beverages. So Starbucks specialized in coffee and became a very successful brand. So did McDonald’s which specialized in hamburgers. And Dunkin’ Donuts which specialized in donuts. And Subway which specialized in submarine sandwiches. Enterprise Rent-A-Car specialized in the “insurance replacement” business and became the largest car rental company in America.
5. The Channel Brand. Sometimes you can position a brand to fill a channel hole. L’eggs, the first supermarket panty-hose brand, became the largest-selling panty-hose brand in the country. Today there are opportunities to create Internet channel brands. Amazon.com, eBay, Monster.com and Salesforce.com are just some of many successful “Internet-only” brands. Paul Mitchell became a $600 million hair and skin-care brand by focusing on the professional hair salon channel. Ping did the same in golf clubs by focusing on the pro-shop channel.
6. The Gender Brand. Sometimes you can build a big brand by focusing on half the market. Marlboro because a big brand by positioning itself as the first cigarette for men. Virginia Slims became a big brand by positioning itself as the first cigarette for women. Curves became a big brand by positioning itself as the gym for women. Secret became a big brand by positioning itself as the first deodorant for women. There’s a lot more to say about the subject of positioning. I suggest you get yourself a copy of the 20th anniversary edition of Positioning. You can’t go wrong if you simply take your mind off your product, your brand and your company and focus instead on the mind of the consumer. Since it is in the mind of the consumer that the real marketing battle is won or lost.
What position is your firm in? Where do you want it to be?
Laura has a lot of other great stuff at her blog. Check it out.
Jon Strande, one of this week’s Five by Five contributors has started the StoryBlog — a repository of stories for use in presentations. The blog is pretty new, but has some great stories on it already. My favorite comes from Nerio Vakil: :
This happened in one of Japan’s biggest cosmetics companies. The company received a complaint that a consumer had bought a soap box that was empty. Immediately the authorities isolated the problem to the assembly line, which transported all the packaged boxes of soap to the delivery department. For some reason, one soap box went through the assembly line empty. Management asked its engineers to solve the problem. Post-haste, the engineers worked hard to devise an X-ray machine with high-resolution monitors manned by two people to watch all the soap boxes that passed through the line to make sure they were not empty. No doubt, they worked hard and they worked fast but they spent a whoopee amount to do so. But when a rank-and-file employee in a small company was posed with the same problem, he did not get into complications of X-rays, etc. but instead came out with another solution. He bought a strong industrial electric fan and pointed it at the assembly line. He switched the fan on, and as each soap box passed the fan, it simply blew the empty boxes out of the line. Moral of the story: “Always look for simple solutions. Devise the simplest possible solution that solves the problem and learn to focus on solutions not on problems.”
1. An Angel says, “Never borrow from the future. If you worry about what may happen tomorrow and it doesn’t happen, you have worried in vain. Even if it does happen, you have to worry twice.”
5. Say NO to projects that won’t fit into your time schedule or that will compromise your mental health.
6. Delegate tasks to capable others.
8. Less is more (Although one is often not enough, two are often too many.)
9. Allow extra time to do things and to get to places.
10. Pace yourself. Spread out big changes and difficult projects over time; don’t lump the hard things all together.
11. Separate worries from concerns. If a situation is a concern, find out what God would have you do and let go of the anxiety. If you can’t do anything about a situation, forget it.
14. Have backups: an extra car key in your wallet, an extra house key buried in the garden, extra stamps, etc.
15. K.M.S. (Keep Mouth Shut) This single piece of advice can prevent an enormous amount of trouble.
16. Do something for the Kid in You everyday.
20. Get organized so everything has its place.
22. Write down thoughts and inspirations.
23. Every day, find time to be alone.
30. Take your work seriously, but not yourself at all.
31. Develop a forgiving attitude (most people are doing the best they can).
32. Be kind to unkind people (they probably need it the most.).
34. Talk less; listen more.
36. Remind yourself that you are not the general manager of the universe.
37. Every night before bed, think of one thing you’re grateful for that you’ve never been grateful for before.
Well, the Entrepreneur Edition of the Five by Five is done. Absolutely great advice for lawyers (and other service professionals) about how to cater to entrepreneurial clients. All of the posts are here in one spot.
Next week (or thereabouts) we’ll have five legal technology gurus answer the following question: What five new technologies should all lawyers incorporate into their practices, but probably won’t?
The final installment of the Entrepreneur’s Edition of the Five by Five comes from Barry Moltz, author of You Need To Be A Little Crazy: The Truth About Starting and Growing Your Business who also blogs about entrepreneurism and his book. Barry’s finishes up the Five by Five with:
1. Don’t just keep track of the hours you spend with me, think value. There is nothing that gets me more angry than receiving an bill from an attorney for a tenth of an hour. When an attorney does this I think they are more interested in their time than the value they can bring to my business. I would rather have the attorney make their rate higher and not charge me for these short phone calls. Although I know all the attorney has to sell is their time, please disguise it a bit better. It makes me feel better.
2. Stop charging me for all those copies you make or faxes you send. There isn’t another business on earth that charges me to make copies of my documents at 5- 25 cents a page or send a fax at $1.00 to $5.00 a page. I always kid my best friend who is a personal injury attorney that if he wants to make some money today, all he has to do is take out a file and start copying! Maybe, I am just jealous and wish I could do this in my consulting business. Again, hide this in your hourly rate. To me, this just seems like you are piling on! These services are a cost of doing business. Treat it that way.
3. Insist that I have all the correct agreements and legal documents. Entrepreneurs are famous for being sloppy on operating and partner agreements. Be ruthless with them and help them think through ALL the issues that could happen. Insist that these are update and in place.
4. Act as a “Lovecat” and connect me to your other clients that may be able to help my business as a vendor or customer. Entrepreneurs need your help referring them to other people that can use their services or products. You can be a key conduit. Try to make it happen. Likewise, maybe you other businesses that can help them as a vendor. Make the call and connect your two clients.
5. Counsel them not to sue every person that angers them. Tell them how expensive it will be. Help them understand that trying to mediate through issues is much better than going to court. In the end, at the court, the only one that usually wins in an attorney.
The fourth contributor to this the Entrepreneur Edition of the Five by Five is Rob, the anonymous Businesspundit. Rob writes one of my favorite blogs on entrepreneurship and business issues. Because he writes anonymously, he pulls no punches. His Five:
1. Think customer service. Lawyers are in the customer service business, and they should act like it. If clients aren’t happy, they shouldn’t have to pay full freight.
2. Change the way you bill. I’d rather get away from this billable hour nonsense.
3. Technology, technology, technology. Why do lawyers generate so much paperwork? It’s 2004.
4. Understand my business. I get way too many cookie cutter answers from lawyers.
5. Help me plan for the future. Most lawyers I have dealt with are great at writing and analyzing contracts, but I need more. Help me think about the way my strategies will play out from a legal perspective. Help me understand what issues and challenges I may face, and the best way to deal with them,
I’m proud to announce that this weblog has been named to the EDDix 50 – a list of the top 50 legal weblogs. I’d like to thank my parents for raising me the way they did, my lovely wife, my beautiful daughter, my agent, my producer ….
Really, I’d like to give kudos to the folks at EDDix, a new company in the Electronic Data Discovery business (get it, EDD). With a significant amount of work, they’ve managed to get most of the top “blawgs” to link to their new business site without paying a dime in advertising! Don’t get me wrong, I think my inclusion on the list is really cool, and Michael A. Clark and the others at EDDix have taken a lot of time to compile a great guide to legal weblogs, but I’m most impressed with the sheer brilliance of the marketing behind it. And like any list of Top 50 anything, there will be a bit of controversy — all to generate more links and traffic to the site.
What kind of thing could you do to get your clients or competitors talking about you? For lawyers, how about beginning a “Top 10 Small Businesses” award? Accept nominations from the public, have a panel of “experts” pick the winners, and invite all of the nominees (with their staffs) to a banquet you sponsor to honor the winners. Have a keynote speaker talk about a unique issue facing small businesses. Make sure your marketing materials are front and center and that you meet and greet every nominee. Arrange for photographs of the winners accepting their awards (with a firm member in each one), and send the pictures to the local paper along with a press release, or ask the paper to cover the event with a reporter. Total cost — a few thousand dollars. The ability to meet and interact with dozens of your target clients (and their families and staffs) — priceless.
I like this idea so much we’ll work on “The Silver Lake Group Award for Small Business” and see if
we can get it up and running for next year.
1. Form partnerships with other service professionals and offer entire solutions. For instance, I think the idea of being able to “plug in” to a business backbone would be cool. If I’m starting a small business, there are whole series of things that I need to do, file paperwork with the state, getting a tax-id number, getting some accounting software set up, printing business cards, etc, etc, etc. Imagine bringing together a bunch of preferred business partners together and offering a turn-key business formation service. The businesses in the “partnership” could chip in and pay for a concierge/liaison that would hold the hand of the business owner during the process. In addition to that, make the billing for the “service” simple… seamless across all the offerings.
2. Continue that service beyond the business formation stuff. That business concierge should be someone to facilitate anything at any time for the business owner. My point in this is that if you’re lawyer (or banker, or accountant, or whatever) you’re just a silo, you might have something to offer the time-starved entrepreneur, but you’re just a piece of the puzzle. You view the law as super important, and it is, but think about what the entrepreneur wants/needs – TO SELL. Not get burdened with legal stuff or anything else.
3. Play the role of connector. As an attorney, you have tons of contacts in various lines of business, facilitate introductions of clients that might be able to help each other. If you have a marketing firm as a client, introduce them to other clients that could use their services. If you want more business from someone, help them be successful, they’ll remember you for it and most people will repay that kindness by telling others about you.
4. Automate stuff that you can automate. Not to sell what an attorney does short, but several of the documents that you generate for clients are based on templates (be honest here), why not make that stuff available online, in a protected area, for existing clients. If I need a new contract for something at 8:30 at night, let me go online and create it instead of having to wait until 8:30 the next morning when you get in the office. Not all of the documents you produce can be automated, but for the ones that can be, automate them. Make them available to me when I need them. Add the simple stuff as well. Let me search other information, ask questions, etc…
5. Last, but certainly not least, remember that you’re in the people business. Treating people well, regardless of what business you’re in, is THE most important thing you can do… obviously.
The next contributor to the Entrepreneur Edition of the Five by Five is Michael Cage. Michael writes about “Small Business Success, Marketing, and Entrepreneurship” at his Entrepreneurslife.com blog. Here are Michael’s responses:
I was thrilled when Matt asked my to contribute to this edition of Five-By-Five. As a lifelong, parallel entrepreneur I’ve had more than my share of dealings with attorneys. My role has been as client, adversary, and occasional small business-to-business marketing “hired gun.” I’ve often found myself thinking, “finding a great attorney who understands my business just shouldn’t be so hard.” Alas, it is. And, I’m still looking. Hopefully my answers will get you thinking at a minimum, and jump-start some changes at best. I haven’t pulled any punches, nor have I been polite. I hope you’ll appreciate the intention behind this: I’m telling you what entrepreneurs think, but often don’t say, as they are walking out your door.
1. Don’t make the mistake of thinking entrepreneurs know all you can do for them. It took me years and numerous businesses to fully appreciate the ways a good attorney could help me, and I’m not alone. This is both a disservice to your clients and a profit-killer for your business, and it can be traced back to the general fear and total misunderstanding most attorneys have about marketing. Good marketing does more than bring clients in the door, though that is the standard by which it should be judged. It also teaches and educates about exactly how you can help businesses, why you are uniquely qualified to do so, and the dangers lurking around the corner if you are consulted you too late. How many times do you say, “If you had only seen me sooner?” This should not happen, and, frankly, you have only yourself to blame when it does. Get off the high horse and embrace marketing as a way to help both your practice and your clients.
2. I’m not hiring you to bring the apocalypse. All too often entrepreneurs see attorneys as the place where deals go to die. A close friend of mine, a millionaire many times over, once completed the negotiations for a substantial deal. He said the next step was to take it to his attorney, where he’d have to fight and argue for hours to get the deal OK’d. It shouldn’t have to be that way. Yes, I know your job is to keep me and my business out of trouble. I do appreciate it. But you can’t lose sight of the fact that, ultimately, entrepreneurs hire you to keep their businesses out of trouble AND make it possible to grow. When proposed deals and contracts do not make your first cut; pro-actively give an alternative way to make it work. Realize entrepreneurs are driven by questions like, “How can we make this happen?” instead of “How many ways won’t this work?” Cut the cynicism off, and work with your clients in a pro-active and positive way to make the deals happen. Then go from being perceived as “deal killers” to being known for understanding entrepreneurs and having the disposition to work with them.
3. Small business owners want specialists. Small business owners believe their business is unique. There is some, though not much, validity to the belief. The important thing to realize is that if you take the time to become familiar enough with your clients’ businesses to grasp the unique aspects, you will be rewarded with a unique selling proposition no generalist competitor can touch. The reverse is also true. If you do NOT take the time to understand what makes your client businesses tick, they will defect to the first “more specialized” attorney who comes along. Specialization can be as simple as have a specific set of marketing campaigns for a specific type of business. I’ve seen response increase by as much as 72% by taking a generic marketing piece and making a single change — calling out a specific type of business in the headline and delivering it to a targeted audience of those businesses.
4. Spend less time focusing on your peers and more time focusing on your clients. I’m fortunate to count three extremely good, prominent attorneys among my close friends and associates. All three are master marketers, and understand how their clients want to be communicated with and marketed to. They share another commonality. All three have been brought up on downright silly ethics charges because of their marketing. The real reason? Up-tight peers who adhere to an antiquated set of “marketing rules” that benefit only those lazy, apathetic, and fearful of competition. As an entrepreneur, an attorney afraid of competition is of no use to me. As a potential client, I want comparative advertising allowed, I most definitely want to see testimonials in advertising, and I sure as heck would love to see an attorney use a guarantee. Taking it a step further and shifting gears, I’ve yet to meet a successful business owner of ANY kind who spends more time worrying about what their peers do than what their clients want. Loosen the death grip on marketing standards, and everyone who is worth their business license will benefit. (Those who aren’t? They die or go work for someone else. As it should be.)
5. Entrepreneurs WANT to be marketed to. Once we do business, do not take me for granted or cease communicating with me. Thinking I will come back to you or refer business when I haven’t heard a peep from you or your office in months is a very poor assumption to make. At the same time, don’t mail off a newsletter produced outside of your practice and think it’ll do for maintaining our relationship. It won’t. If you want me as a client and a great source of referrals, you had better show you value my business by communicating with me on *at least* a monthly basis. The more relevant the content is to my business the better. And, above all, do not commit the cardinal marketing sin of being boring. Throw the tiresome, professional voice out the window and really communicate to me. Person to person. Just like you would a close friend who asked for your advice over a couple of whiskeys at the local bar. Remember, people complain endlessly about big, dumb corporations. Yet most professional service providers, and almost all attorneys, go out of their way to sound just like them. Take the time to learn how your clients like being communicated with, and the language they like to use.
I’ll leave you with this final thought: Be bold. If all else fails, observe what your colleagues are doing in terms of marketing and service delivery and do the opposite. Your peers might snipe at you, but your clients will love you. Think about it
First up for this edition of the Five by Five is Professor Jeffrey R. Cornwall, who holds the Jack C. Massey Chair of Entrepreneurship at Belmont University. Professor Cornwall has written four books on entrepreneurship and writes The Entrepreneurial Mind weblog. From the Professor:
1. “Invest” in your Clients. By this, I don’t mean that attorneys should literally become equity investors in the entrepreneurial companies with which they work. But, they may need to “eat” much of what would normally be considered billable hours when first working with a start-up company. During the time before the business actually starts creating revenues through the early stages of business development is when many key legal issues need to be addressed. Shareholder agreements, patents, financing agreements, leases, employment contracts, etc. all require careful business and legal consideration. Yet, many entrepreneurs are strapped for cash. By offering heavily discounted fixed prices for such services, or by discounting hours billed, the attorney can actually make a major contribution to the early success of the business. The attorney will reap the benefits of this in the longer term as the company grows and its cash flows become positive.
2. Talk openly about fee structure for any project and work within their budget. Even as a business grows cash flow and budgets can remain fairly restrictive. Work with your entrepreneur clients to give them the most value for what they can afford. Offer them a fixed project cost rather than open ended hourly billing.
3. Develop a long-term legal plan. Work with your client to develop a long-term legal plan so they can plan for legal expenses that they will need to consider into the future.
4. Help your clients to make you more efficient in your work for them. Let them prepare their own drafts on documents. This can save a lot of money and will result in documents that better reflect their business and their strategies. Encourage them to organize their meetings with you to help make each meeting more efficient by covering several issues at once.
5. Help them to understand your world. The world of law is where you live. However, it is a scary, foreign land to most entrepreneurs. Help to translate what you are addressing with them into language they will understand. It is not the precise and technical way of dealing with clients in which most of you are trained, but it will lead to better outcomes for all concerned
After a brief hiatus, this Entrepreneurial Edition of the Five by Five answers the following question:
What five things can lawyers do to better serve entrepreneurs and their businesses?
I’ll post each response over the next few days. As always, I welcome your comments. For the lawyers reading this, give me your ideas how you better serve your entrepreneurial clients. For the entrepreneurs, let me know how your lawyers should work for you. Also, anybody with ideas on a Five by Five they’d like to see, let me know.
An article in Ergonomics Today references a study claiming Error Rates for Nurses Increase With Length of Shifts. According to the study conducted by researchers at the University of Pennsylvania, nurses who work for more than 12 hours straight could face error rates as much as three times higher than their counterparts working shorter shifts. Makes you wonder if the same goes for lawyers trying to meet that 2400 billable hour requirement.
I feel like I’ve just hit for the cycle, won the trifecta, or (insert your sports metaphor here): horrible cold, internet down, computer network on the fritz, and three major projects to get through the door by Thursday. We think we’ve narrowed down the computer issues to a combination of lightning strike/power surge from this weekend and Norton Anti-virus gumming up the works. Light blogging to follow for a few days while we get caught up — I’m writing this from home now — but more big news on the next three Five by Fives (or is that Fives by Five) when I return.
One little rant first, today I went to McDonald’s (I know it’s bad for me, but I was in a hurry) and ordered some Chicken McNuggets. I asked for an extra sauce packet like I always have, and the helpful cashier told me that the McDonald’s is under new ownership and he would have to charge me extra for it. Now, I’m not a “regular” there, but I eat at this McDonald’s about once every two weeks. What a short-sighted business decision. I’m not going back.
If you are a lawyer, do you charge “extra” for copies, postage, or other things? When you clients get your bill for hundreds (or thousands) of dollars and see a $3.70 charge for postage for 10 letters, or $15.00 for copies, I bet they feel a lot like I did today.
The following passage is a direct quote from a proposed Order we received in the office yesterday. It was drafted by a real attorney:
Matter comes now for discovery management, by stipulation and agreement of the parties, Attorney X for the Plaintiff and Defendant Y, Pro Se. The Court is advised and notes Y’s substitution as Defendant in this matter by operation of law pertaining to Lis Pendens heretofore recorded with regard to this matter by Plaintiff. Thereafter, by agreement of parties herein, and in supplement of the Court’s docket Order of April ___, 2004. It is Hereby Ordered: …
I’ve been a bit quiet about upcoming Five by Five’s, but I have some really cool news to report, and some more in the wings. First, the bad news: because it is really difficult to keep the feature going every week, I’m going to spread them out just a bit. The great news is that I’ve lined up the participants in the next Five by Five. The feature will run on July 19 and the question will be:
What five things can lawyers do to better serve entrepreneurs and their businesses?
The All-Star Cast:
Rob a/k/a BusinessPundit.
Michael Cage – Who writes about “Small Business Success, Marketing, and Entrepreneurship” at his Entrepreneurslife.com blog.
To say I’m excited about this upcoming edition is an understatement. I continue to be amazed at the wonderful people who agree to participate in my little Q&A.
Coming soon: Five Legal Technologists answer the question, “What five new technologies should all lawyers incorporate into their practices, but probably won’t?”
Form a group of a few people to champion each other – here’s how it works:
In the morning, your group all calls into a telephone bridge line and you do a quick “check-in” on how many calls you plan to make, what type of calls, and any other activity goals.
Mid-day, you all call back in and do another check-in to see how it is going; and have some virtual “championing” which will naturally fire everyone up – enthusiasm and success are contagious!
End of day – final check-in. How did your day go? Everyone says what they accomplished, what they learned, and what they will do next.
I like this idea so much, I’m going to start “Innovation Tuesdays.” One Tuesday a month, I’ll set up a conference call for readers of this blog to call in and share cool marketing and practice ideas. I’d like to limit the number of participants to ten or so, but if the demand is high enough, we can do multiple groups. We’ll shoot for a Tuesday in August for the first one. Any interest????
CreateAThon® is an innovative way of handling your agency’s pro-bono work and an outstanding way to make a positive impact on your community. It is a 24-hour blitz of creative energy focused on benefiting local non-profit organizations. Here is a brief summary of how CreateAThon® works:
* Your agency solicits applications from local 501(c)3 organizations.
* You select a group of projects based on recommended criteria.
* The number of projects accepted is based on the capabilities of the individual agency.
* These projects are then completed start to finish during a 24-hour period.
Here’s the story from the ad agency that hosted one for the the Philadelphia/South Jersey area:
So on September 11, 2003, Hypno led CreateAThon with an elite crew of guest art directors, copywriters, account execs and lunatic friends helping needy organizations with $165,500 worth of pro-bono services. We used the article to recruit other like-minded creatives and businesses; photographers, printers and paper manufacturers all answered the call of duty.
When word spread that Hypno was hosting CreateAThon, I started getting emails from people I’d never heard of volunteering to work with us. There was no shortage of talent, although there was a run on available desk space. And Hypno was flooded with requests from needy organizations that heard about the event through the nonprofit grapevine. Nonprofits had been hit hard by the economic slump and many desperately needed creative services.
Within 72 hours of the start of the event—from the first scribbled notes during client meetings to the final products—we saw fully realized posters, brochures, newspaper ads, flyers, postcards, logos, videos, Web sites and billboards. The work was fantastic, and clients were tearfully happy, not only because the creative work, printing and materials were free, but because the projects’ quality was top-notch. An excellent printer, Chapel2000, donated printing and materials.
I’m trying to get my mind around a way this concept would work in the legal business. If you have any ideas, let me know.
First: Don’t think about the money. Not your fees, not the budget, not the print costs. If the solution answers the need in a way that delights and surprises, the money often works out.
Second: Be sure to also present a solution that responds to the client’s request. If you disregard what he specified, your client might take offense. Do what is requested and do what it ought to be.
Third: Don’t presume your brilliant solution will be accepted. If it never gets out of the gate, your client will appreciate the extra effort nonetheless.
And finally: Cultivate a mindset that constantly goes beyond the client’s stated needs. Listen carefully and critically, and dream on your client’s behalf. Satisfy the unexpressed wish.
Great advice for lawyers, too. HOW Design has some more great articles on creativity here.
There is a fascinating conversation going on right now at Anonymous Lawyer’s Blog over this post where Anonymous Lawyer writes about how his large firm recruits and retains top students. Read the full post, and then go to the comments for a great give-and-take between an attorney at a “Lifestyle” firm (lower billable hours, time for a real life, lower pay) and a bunch of law students and associates who’d like to work there.
Brodsky writes: “There are three myths about niches that can get in the way of building a successful business. First and foremost is the myth that you have to choose your niche before you start your company. Granted, it’s sometimes possible to identify a niche in advance, but often you can’t see it until you’ve actually gone out into the market and begun to sell.” Having been there I can assure you that this is wise counsel from a street-wise entrepreneur. And it applies to an existing business as well. Don’t assume – like Polaroid, Xerox, Kodak, et al – that your niche is niche-proof. Everyone is looking to grab a slice of your pie with innovative new products and services. So be smart. Stay tuned in to your audience’s dreams, wants and pains and preempt your competition with your own bold, new offerings that improve people’s lives.
Great advice. Have you looked at your niche lately?
Anita Sharpe at Worthwhile wrote about an interview with Kevin Carroll, a creative guru at Nike, in HOW magazine. Kevin was asked in the interview to quickly name six things that inspire him. Go to Anita’s full post for his response, but Anita wrote:
It’s a fun exercise, and if you do it quickly, you might surprise yourself, or, like me, you might produce something that sounds like a personal ad on Match.com: “Magazines. The Beatles. Great dinner conversations. Spontaneous adventures. Billy Crystal movies, or any humorous book or movie that also has a point. Views of water (I bought my house because a creek runs through the property; my office window has a view of a swimming pool and I count that, too.)”
My six things off the top of my head:
My daughter’s laughter.
My wife’s smile.
Being the first golfer to walk the course early in the morning.
The Missouri Botanical Garden
Having a client say “Thank you.”
Having a full day to do nothing but read.
Sometimes we need to step back and realize that work helps us live our life, and shouldn’t replace it. Now, back to our regular programming …
Ben McConnell and Jackie Huba, authors of Creating Customer Evangelists, have authored a FREE new e-book titled “Testify, How Remarkable Organizations are Creating Customer Evangelists” with additional profiles of companies that have made their customers fervent evangelists for their businesses. There are just too many great examples to list them all. The e-book is a 50 page PDF. Download it and read it today.
I’m back from a vacation visiting my wife’s family (perhaps an oxymoron?) and back to blogging. After my post on ergonomics last week, I realized I needed a desk lamp. I found this one at IKEA in Chicago Sunday. The roller blade wheels really make me smile.
10. You’re planning on watching 0.8 hours of TV tonight followed by 1.2 hours of pleasurable reading.
8. You tell your parents they can no longer tell you what to do because you’re in a different jurisdiction.
2. Your trash talk repertoire includes the line, “You are my wholly-owned subsidiary.”
Yvonne Divita, a participant in my first Five by Five asked me to return the favor. Yvonne interviewed me for her “Smart Men Online” feature that debuts today. Yvonne asked me some questions about technology, blogging, and the practice of law. I’m flattered she asked me and was happy to participate. Thanks, Yvonne!
Dennis Kennedy is taking a firm retreat. I’m taking a vacation. My wife and I are heading up to Chicago for almost a week to spend some time with her family. We’ll be in the Glenview, Illinois area. If anyone is close and wants to grab a drink or something, shoot me an e-mail.
Todd talks about the book The Partnership Charter on the 800CEOREAD blog. Todd really liked the book, and I’m going to pick it up based upon his recommendation (it will be my first order from the 800 CEO Read site — how’s that for the power of blogging evangelism). In his post, Todd quotes the following passage from the book:
“Researchers from the Center for Study of Entrepreneurship at Marquette University investigated a sample of nearly two thousand companies and categorized the top performers as ‘hypergrowth’ companies and those at the bottom as low growth companies. Solo entreprenuers founded only 6% of the ‘hypergrowth’ companies. Partner founded a whopping 94%, and many of those had three or more founders.”
I’m still digesting what this might mean for solo lawyers, but now that I have a partner, I can see how a good partner can make a business hum.
Want to know what makes an office worker more, or less, productive? According to a recent survey by Microsoft Hardware, 90 percent of workers believe their productivity is directly linked to their workstation design, and most would choose ergonomic tools to increase their efficiency over company-wide morale-building programs.
What struck me about it is just how little attention most lawyers pay to their own computer set up, much less that of their staffs. As my partner and I design our new offices (we are looking at new space soon), we are going to have small primary work offices with multiple meeting rooms to meet with clients. Because the attorney’s actual office doesn’t need to be a show place, we could do something like this or this instead.
Next, get three pieces of flip chart paper and label them “Stop” “Start” “Continue” — then ask your staff to work in groups of 3. First group brainstorms answers to the question: “In order to (raise revenue by XX dollars, solve this issue, etc.), what do we need to stop doing?”
Second group does it with “In order to (raise revenue by XX dollars, solve this issue, or whatever), what do we need to start doing?
Third group brainstorms this one: “To (raise revenue, cut costs, solve this issue, or whatever) what do we need to continue doing? Hint: Brainstorm about what’s working really well.
Then rotate everybody around so that everyone gets a chance to give each question their best shot. Now you summarize all the points, assign a financial impact to each point that’s been raised, make it all into a report that says exactly what you will do (lay someone off? cut a program?) if your stuff doesn’t work.
I love the “stop – start – continue” method. What would your firm’s three questions be?
While I’m not a lawyer, my past three years working in the legal industry has led me to these observations about the practice of law and what needs to change for it to survive for the future. These are in no particular order, but are somewhat all related.
1) Embrace Technology –
Get with the program folks. There are a plethora of technological tools that will help you not only practice law better, but give you more time to have that balanced life everyone is talking about. Those who have found the balance have learned to leverage technology to give them the freedom they need to get away from the office.
2) Loose the Billable Hour -
It may have been a profitable way of doing business in the past, but there are proven ways that show lawyers can get a better ROI on their time and investment in their practice by <em>not</em> being in a billable hour environment.
3) Understand That Practicing Law is Not Any Different Than a Regular Business -
It doesn’t matter if you are a solo, small firm, or a multi-national firm, you still need to understand overhead, payroll, management, administration, cost-per-employee, and other “business” activities to make sure you are in the black at the end of the month.
4) The Practice of Law is Not a Boys Club Anymore -
Women are here to stay in this profession, and in many cases they are better than men in the courtroom. Every individual brings certain qualities to the courtroom, male or female. Women can also bring the rain into the firm just as much as a male, so they should get equal opportunities.
5) Practicing Law is a Service, and Therefore Should Be Able to Marketed as One -
I know that marketing is a little taboo in the legal profession. Not that it isn’t allowed, but just not like most any other business. There are ethics that must be followed in any profession, but marketing your ability to be able to provide a service should not be as restricted as it is. Firms need to understand that marketing is crucial to the future of the profession (as well as all mentioned above). I know it is still in its infant stages, but lawyers need to understand that it can be done ethically, as part of everyday business, not be penalized than working on billable hours, and still be done right.
Those are my five things. If we can get off this high horse of “if it isn’t broke, don’t fix it” attitude, the legal profession will be better off.
1. Rambo lawyering is out; civility is in.
Let the law be known as the profession where lawyers can be vigorous advocates and go out of their way to respectful and considerate to others. Lawyers would promptly return calls. Lawyers would keep their clients fully informed and encourage them to promptly and completely respond to valid discovery requests. Lawyers would adhere fully to the spirit and the letter of the court rules and rules of professional responsibility. Lawyers would cheerfully and graciously share tips, forms, best practices, and other information with other lawyers.
2. Lawyers and the law would embrace technology and new ways of doing things.
Many others have spoken far more eloquently than I could about technology and its role in the practice of law. I came to the legal profession from another career and had used computers intensively for years. I was astonished to see that only the secretaries had computers. I was amazed that the lawyers touched only the paper files and routinely misplaced their contents. I was stunned to see the index cards for checking conflicts and looking up case law. I could not understand how these people functioned. Everywhere I looked, people were drowning in paper. Things have improved some over the years I’ve been in practice. Yet, even today when I read the statistics on the number of lawyers who do not use any case management software, I am shocked.
Lawyers say they don’t have time to learn how to use a computer, a computer program or a feature of a program. Lawyers also say that the systems they use work quite well and that they see no need to change they way they do things. I am reminded of the industries that saw no need to change how they did business and which are no longer in business today.
Lawyers have little incentive to be efficient, especially if they work on a billable hour model. Other billing models haven’t convinced me, yet. Any way, very little of the practice of law is based on what makes sense or is efficient. The whole system needs to be revised and made more efficient and more modern. There are some bright spots of change on the horizon, which is encouraging.
The ability to successfully implement technology in the practice of law would, in my ideal world, be as highly valued as the ability to successfully try a case or the ability to write a cogent brief or the ability bring in clients. Lawyers and law firms would recognize that it takes many different abilities and skills to be successful in the practice of law. Each of those abilities and skills would be valued and considered when compensation and promotion decisions are made.
3. Lawyers and law firms would make a commitment to revamp the practice law; then execute their plans.
Staff would be included and will be valued participants in the process. Everyone would look high and low for all the things that we have always done that don’t need to be done and can safely be omitted. Then we would stop doing them. We would ask your clients which of the things you do for them that they don’t need, don’t want, or don’t find helpful. Then we would stop doing them. We’d ask clients what things we could do for them that would be more helpful to them. Then we’d look for ways to do them and we would start doing them. Then we’d look for inefficiency and waste. We’d figure out how to get rid of it. Then we’d eliminate it.
If we’ve been hankering to try something, we’d go ahead and give it a whirl. When we find the right situation, we’d make the time to get it done. Then we’d do it. We’d expect some things to not work out and we’d value what we learned from the attempt. We’d share what we learned, our successes and our misses. We’d make this revamping an on-going process until we had completely revised our practices, our courts, and our profession.
4. Lawyers and law firms would institute a sabbatical program for lawyers, perhaps along the lines of the MacArthur Fellowship, funded by lawyers and law firms for the benefit of the profession.
Everybody needs a break or a change of pace at some point in their careers. Why not allow lawyers to go work for a limited time to improve access to justice, to develop e-lawyering programs, to do pro bono work in an entirely different area of law, to help reinvent local, state, or federal government, to work on projects for courts, or to undertake some other worthwhile project. There are literally thousands of things that need to be done. Lawyers are wonderful problem solvers. Let’s figure out a way to tackle some of those challenges and get them resolved! What a great way to recharge our batteries and get a new perspective.
5. There will be laughter in law offices.
Most of lawyers I know have wonderful senses of humor and love the work they do. They see the humor in a funny situation and their peals of laughter are an elixir. May each of us be blessed with at least one good belly laugh a day. You just feel great after a good laugh. Have one along with your apple every day!
The next contributor is the anonymous law student author of Ambivalent Imbroglio with this post:
1. Close down Lexis and Westlaw and bring an immediate and permanent end to for-profit legal research. The law belongs to the people, not Westlaw. The services now provided by these companies should be done by public employees paid by tax dollars, then the cost of legal research and representation would drop for everyone. See also Carolyn Elefant’s suggestion #1. Same idea, mine just goes further; instead of having one free Lexis/Westlaw account per library or school, every computer w/internet access should have free, unlimited access to the publicly-funded, non-profit replacement of Lexis and Westlaw. This new database should also be searchable by Google and any other search engine.
2. Dissolve the ABA’s cartel-like stranglehold on law schools and legal education. This would involve eliminating current requirements in most states that you have three years of law school before you can even take the Bar. Perhaps we should eliminate the Bar exam, as well. See Scheherazade’s suggestion #1 . But even if some sort of qualifying credential is required to practice law, it should not require any sort of formal training. If there’s a Bar exam or something like it, and you can pass it without a day of formal education, you should be able to practice law.
3. Reduce firm salaries and billable hours requirements by half, across the board, while at the same time doubling salaries for public defenders, legal aid attorneys, non-profit attorneys and all other “public interest” practitioners. That wouldn’t even the playing field, but it would go a long way. See also Scheherazade’s suggestion #4.
4. Make lawyers accountable for the work they do. I really don’t know how to do this, but perhaps a google-able database of lawyers and the cases they’ve worked on would go some way to making attorneys accountable for the work they’ve done to protect big tobacco, to help Enron rip off its shareholders and the American public, and convince the Bush administration that it doesn’t have to follow the Geneva Convention.
5. Require law schools do more than pay lip service to public interest law. Again, I’m not sure how to do this, but law schools need not be factories for producing BigLaw drones. For a start, professors who make jokes to their classes about how rich attorneys can get by screwing their clients should be fired. Becoming a lawyer should not be about making money.
Combined, my suggestions should go a long way to taking the money incentive out of the practice of law. Making the best available legal research free to all will reduce the overall demand for attorneys—more people will be able to do their own research and represent themselves. Freeing law schools from the dictates of the ABA will allow new schools to spring up, and eliminating the law school requirement altogether will allow the number of lawyers to skyrocket. All that great competition (lawyers love competition, right?) will mean no one will get much money. And, since legal research will be free, lawyers will be able to charge much less there, as well. Reduced firm salaries will become a necessity; therefore, law students will be much less motivated to go to BigLaw anyway. Plus, since they won’t be paying such high tuition (because there are more law schools and because some people won’t go to school at all to become lawyers), students will graduate with much less (or no) debt, removing another reason many people now go to BigLaw. Finally, if lawyers are forced to make a public accounting of the work they do, we’ll have fewer people writing terror memos and defending companies that destroy the environment and public health and all those other bad things. The world will be a better place, and all because of these five things.
What was it Aerosmith said? Was it, “dream on”?
These Five by Five come from reader Russel Trust:
1. Law Firms should be limited to no more than 100
lawyers. Why have law firms turned into corporations?
Maybe because law firms don’t look like law firms,
they look like corporations. There is no collegiality
when partners don’t even know each others names; there
is no professionalism when a law firm needs a CEO. If
law wants to stay a separate, distinct manner of
business, it has to stop doing business like any other
People hate corporations. People had the anomie, the
isolation, the inhumanity of it. Sure, it’s useful,
but only to a point. Why do so many lawyers leave the
practice? Perhaps in part because they can’t stand
True, 100 is still too large a firm size, but at least
it is a start.
2. Abolish All Mediocre Law Schools. One of the
reasons the practice of law is so troubled, is that
law firms can always find another monkey to do their
document review/boring research/etc. There is no
excuse for a Stanford Law graduate to have to look for
a job when a Georgetown grad has a job. The flood of
lawyers that the sub-par schools deluges the
profession with keeps salaries down and partnership
Thus, we should permanently close all sub-par law
schools. I’m not just talking about Hastings and New
York Law School, I mean American University, Fordham
Law, Duke Law, et cetera. Don’t try to tell me
there’s a “top 14″ these days. Face it–there are
good reasons you were rejected by Harvard Law. You
just are not that smart.
3. Increase Pay of Government Attorneys. Big time;
you want the best, you gotta pay for the best. A lot
of lawyers would love to do work for the public
interest instead of helping some big company avoid
paying its taxes. Those lawyers who do that should be
4. Fully Fund the Public Defender System At All
Levels. Ineffective assistance for poor people will
lead to a fundamental undermining of the legal system.
5. Cap Billable Hours At 1850. In the 1950s, the ABA
said that billable hours per year should be about
1300. And now, with Lexis, Westlaw and the internet,
billable hours are supposed to be longer? You’ve got
to be kidding me.
Working longer still does not equal working better.
The money-hungry part of the profession must be
capped, lest it drain out any joy. Being a lawyer
does not mean being rich; it used to mean being a
member of one’s community, of playing a vital role in
society. Just because asshole corporate lawyers have
perverted the practice, doesn’t mean we’ve lost
forever the lawyer-statesman.
As an obvious corollary, whatever rules we do have must be realistically enforced equally against everyone. Being a bee inside of a big law firm should not excuse anything, contrary to the assumption of MRPC 5.2(b). That’s the “Nuremburg Defense” writ large. Similarly, it shouldn’t matter whether one is representing a plaintiff, a defendant, a government agency, an administrative claimant, a buyer, a seller, a securities issuer, or whomever; one’s duties are the same, and one should be held equally accountable. That’s not to say that every transgression justifies disbarment, or even discipline of any kind; people do make honest mistakes, and sometimes circumstances leave an attorney no “acceptable” course of conduct. It is to say, however, that the nature of one’s clientele should not diminish one’s responsibilities.
Instead, at some point—and I think it vital that it be earlier rather than later—law students need to learn that there are people behind every lawsuit. Even when there are corporations involved, those corporations don’t act for themselves; instead, there are people who make decisions to act (or not). There are costs to litigating—and, sometimes, to not litigating—a dispute, or to contract and transaction negotiation, that go far beyond the attorney’s fees in the case. Perhaps this is more an indictment of our courts’ turn toward law and damages as the only appropriate means of decision, disfavoring equity and equitable remedies (which are hellaciously difficult to value in a contingency matter!). It is absolutely, however, an indictment of the “black-letter law” result of most casebooks.
This is perhaps more obvious to me than to most attorneys, because my clientele is intensely emotionally involved with every dispute, whether actual or potential. Books (and articles, and songs, and symphonies, and paintings…) are children to their creators, being sent out into the world. Some parents are abusive or neglectful; but not most. Most care deeply—often too deeply from an “objective” point of view—about how their children are treated, even after they “leave home.” The emotional cost of copyright litigation is often far, far greater to the actual creator of a work in dispute than is any possible financial reward; conversely, the emotional cost of doing nothing can be unbearable.
State-by-state regulation also creates some serious problems of its own, particularly in cross-border situations. It’s not just a case of “reciprocal discipline” being at one extreme nonexistant and at the other draconian. It’s that the differing standards create a bar with isolated but insulated pockets of both competence and incompetence, obscene expense and market rates so low that it’s difficult to support a family.
Ernie (point 2) understates the case, if anything, for appointment of judges. It’s not just the potential influence of campaigns, campaign contributions, and so on; it’s the appearance of partiality aside from the money. I live in a largely rural area, which means rather conservative and law-and-orderish. At least two judges currently sitting on state courts in this area were elected based on platforms promising to be “tough on crime.” What does that say to a defendant, particularly a poorly educated or non-English-speaking defendant, about his chances for a fair trial in front of those judges? It’s the appearance of impropriety here that is enough to call the concept into question. Then there’s the constitutional question—one largely punted to date—of whether an elected judiciary is a “Republican Form of Government” (Art. IV, § 4), when the only example of such at the time the Constitution was drafted was the Constitution itself, with its appointed and tenured judiciary.
The Two By Four ™.” It’s based on the old mule training proverb that you need to whack a lawyer, er, mule with a two by four just to get the mule’s attention. It will be a weekly collection of of four items from two well-known experts of things that most businesses already know or are already doing that it will take a whack from a two by four to get lawyers and law firms to pay attention to.
Dennis is a great friend and has been one of those fantastic acquaintances I’d never met but for this blog. I do need to check with at least one intellectual property lawyer to see if he’s infringing, though.
(This is my first test trying out BlogJet – If it works, I’ll write more).
Been cleaning up the blog a bit today. Dennis Kennedy suggested I make it easier to link to each edition of the Five by Five, so I’ve added individual categories for each week’s group of posts. Week One is here. Week Two is here.
I’ve also cleaned up my sidebar a bit and am working on editing the rest of my categories down to a manageable ten or so. If the maintenance results in a rehash of old posts for those of you reading the RSS feed, I apologize.
I’ll also have the new Five by Five up by tomorrow. I’ve gotten several great suggestions on how to improve the practice of law and I can’t wait to share them.
A few things:
First, my new Weekly Five is up today. I need to rename the list (in my sidebar) because I don’t want it to be confused with my Five by Five feature.
Second, if you are expecting an e-mail from me, a lot of spam filters are bouncing my e-mail provider. I’m trying to get that sorted out today.
Third, today my site will have its 15,000th visitor. Now, I know that the Typepad statistics are somewhat misleading (no measure of rss and atom feed views), so I don’t know if the fifteen grand number is at all realistic. I’ve been blogging since the end of January of this year, and posted my 200th item this week, so I’m pretty happy about the response from everyone and I wanted to thank all of you for visiting, commenting, and reading the stuff I post about.
“People may not remember exactly what you did, or what you said, but they will always remember how you made them feel.” – Unknown (via Mariano Delle Donne’s Blog)
If you had the power to change five things about the practice of law, what would you change?
I’ll post the responses next Monday, along with my own.
Anyone who is anyone has been given several G-mail invites to hand out like exclusive backstage passes(I don’t have one yet, so that confirms my belief that I am not anyone). Google has gotten people talking about their service (that is going to be free anyway) for months before its official rollout.
This got me thinking about what my firm could give away to build buzz and get our new name out there. I don’t want to just give away trinkets, mugs, calendars, etc. Instead, weve been thinking about doing small business incorporations for free. No strings attached. Of course, we’d pitch our monthly service pricing package to each small business and hope they’d retain us as their counsel. We might even pay the $150 filing fee to the Illinois Secretary of State out of our own pockets.
Why do I think this might work? Well, not everyone gets the deal. We limit the number we do every month to five or so, and businesses that want their free incorporation must apply by giving us a business plan or some other evidence they are likely to be around for a while. So, even though we are doing the work for free, we are getting to pick the applicants most likely to succeed and become long term clients. Mirroring the G-mail plan, current clients will get anywhere from 1-5 “invites,” and anyone who is referred by an existing client automatically gets one of the free monthly slots.
All of the month’s clients will have to come to a seminar where we cover the basics of incorporation, so we don’t have to cover the basics with each one individually. We’ll even bring in a CPA to cover tax issues with them.
Assuming we can cover ourselves from a malpractice standpoint, we will essentially be paying $150.00 (plus the time, of course) to acquire a new client and build goodwill. I’d love your comments.
We have a bonus contributor to this week’s Five by Five. David Giacalone, former author of the EthicalEsq. weblog and current proprietor of haikuEsq. chimed in with these five ideas:
1) A renewed commitment by the individual lawyer and law firm to accept only work that can be done diligently and competently.
2) An acceptance by law firm management of the responsibility to create an ethics-friendly and client-friendly environment (which will often mean lower hour/fee targets for each lawyer).
3) A realization that “the client comes first” applies to fees, too, and does not mean that the lawyer gets to $cr*w the client.
4) An effort to take full advantage of the digital revolution in ways that mean better service for clients, while sharing the cost savings, and permitting willing clients to perform as many functions/tasks as possible for themselves.
5) And, corny as it may sound, the renewed understanding that lawyering is a profession first and a business second; folks who switch that priority should be urged to look elsewhere for a livelihood.
Fully embracing suggestion (5) would make (1) to (4) inevitable. It would also mean vigorous efforts by the legal profession to use the digital revolution and self-help law to make civil justice available to all Americans.
Most of you know Ernest Svenson by his nickname (and blog), Ernie the Attorney. Ernie’s one-line bio says, “I’m a lawyer who likes change; I may have chosen the wrong profession.” Ernie is an business litigator and blogger extraordinaire. Here are Ernie’s Five:
1) Modify the contingency fee system to eliminate the conflict of interest that often arises when an attorney has a stake in the outcome of a case that is dependent on physical injury to a client or the client’s relative.
2) All judges should be appointed (not elected), or at a minimum disallow financial contributions from lawyers to judicial campaigns.
3) Create official video recording of all open court proceedings (this will encourage better behavior on part of attorneys and judges and be used against those who are incompetent, sleeping in court, or otherwise not behaving in a civil manner).
4) Wi-Fi in all courthouses and allow attorneys to bring in laptops and cell phones, but sanction them if they disturb proceedings by having phones ring or if they use the camera phone feature in violation of a court rule.
5) Eliminate requirements that attorneys get minimum hours in CLE for ‘civility’ or ‘professionalism’. I support efforts to enhance the profession by proclaiming that professionalism matters, but you can’t legislate behavior that is aspirational. If it’s not an ethical requirement then the people who are the problem are going to keep doing what they are doing (and they would probably do it even if it WAS required).
Evan Schaeffer is the author of Notes from the (Legal) Underground. I knew Evan as a lawyer before I knew him as a blogger, as he and I both practice in the Judicial Hellhole known as Madison County, Illinois. Evan thinks I asked him to participate in this week’s Five by Five because he and I are friends. Truth is, Evan has carved out a niche in the blogosphere as a funny and insightful commentator on our legal system. Evan’s other blogs, the Illinois Trial Practice Weblog and the Illinois Personal Injury Weblog focus on his plaintiff’s personal injury practice. Here are Evan’s five ideas:
Here are five ideas for changing the practice of law, each designed to make depositions more civil, presented in the form of a memorandum to a typical lawyer-opponent:
1) You and I both know that speaking objections aren’t allowed. Yet you and I will both try to slip a couple past anyway. Idea: Let’s agree we’re going to continue violating this rule, if that’s what it’s going to take to make us feel like real lawyers, but let’s also agree to stop if either one of us calls the other on it. Then we shouldn’t do it anymore for the remainder of the deposition.
2) You and I both have lots of documents to exchange. But is it fair to dump them on one another just before a deposition starts? Idea: Let’s give each other documents at least a week before we know the other will need them, assuming a timely request has been made.
3) You and I are both very tired. Like many lawyers, we’re sleep-deprived. That’s why our deposition could disintegrate into a shouting match after only about a half hour, even though we’ll both regret it later. Idea: Let’s try to get more sleep, and let’s quit shouting. Shouting doesn’t accomplish anything.
4) You and I both know how to use the phone, even if we don’t know the judge personally. So why are we constantly threatening to call the judge, rather than just picking up the phone and doing it? Idea: Either call the judge, or don’t call the judge, but let’s stop threatening to do it unless we’re going to follow through.
5) You and I are both much more experienced than the new lawyers coming onto the scene. If we wanted to, we could run rings around them. But do you remember how nice it felt as a young lawyer when an older colleague helped us out a little? Idea: Go easy on the young lawyers, because we were young lawyers once ourselves.
Denise Howell is the author of the Bag and Baggage weblog, and is one of the pioneering legal bloggers, having started Bag and Baggage in 2001. She is an appellate and intellectual property lawyer with a large Los Angeles law firm. Denise’s Five by Five:
1) Law should be practiced like yoga is practiced. Yoga practitioners know that the way to progress is to seek out the masters–those who have acquired, through time, dedication, and experience, skills so incredible they play havoc with the laws of the known universe–and work with them day in and day out. Yoga practitioners know to give their fellow practitioners plenty of space and respect. They learn by thoughtful and constructive critiques of their efforts, not abstract PowerPoint bullets and fly-ins. They know how to nurture their competencies and push their weaknesses to and beyond a new edge. “You may notice your mind shuts down when confronted with a challenge. Trust your intuition. Find a deeper resource.” My yoga instructor gave this advice while holding the class in a particularly long camel. It applies just as well to the tough spots that comprise a lawyer’s day. It makes little difference what law school someone went to, or how well they did in their class. The most law school provides is a rudimentary toolbox; someone needs to show you how to use the tools.
2) Just blog it. Just syndicate it. Lawyers have been trying to blog and syndicate their Web offerings since they first put up their original (pretty horrendous) sites–they just don’t know it yet. When they finally figure this out on a large scale, we’re going to be in for a sea change in how lawyers communicate with each other and the world. Blogging–both behind the firewall and in public–is good for lawyers in so many ways. It’s good for writing and research skills. It’s good for visibility and accountability. It’s good experience performing on a larger stage. And it’s not just good for lawyers, but the rest of the world as well. Blogging lets lawyers wrestle–in an open, accessible way–with difficult issues that matter to society at large. It lets lawyers provide front line reports from important legal proceedings the mainstream press might overlook or is ill equipped to handle with the same level of expertise.
Syndication takes all this visible and user friendly goodness and makes it even more so. Lawyers were scared of email when it first arrived; now it’s indispensable. So too it will be with blogging and syndication, and the sooner the legal field gets this, the better. As Seth Godin writes in his 07/04 Fast Company column, Rules for Off-Roading at Work: “Far better to be a lot less showy and a lot more bold.”
3) Law is a knowledge business; treat it like one. The legal world historically has chased would-be clients to financial centers, leased expensive space, insisted its minions put in long hours there, and hoped this would somehow help the bottom line. The fact is this strategy serves no one, including actual and would-be clients. I’m not saying firms should abandon their downtown office space, but they should be cognizant and supportive of how their own personnel and their clients actually work (or would prefer to work, given the choice). This means satellite offices and support facilities in areas closer to where people live. It means underwriting home and mobile office expenditures. It means helping lawyers achieve a balance between family and work by helping remove the roadblocks on both ends.
4) Leading, not bleeding. This point follows from the last. If law is a knowledge business, lawyers have to find ways to be on the leading edge of available technologies and not perpetually clinging to antiquated, yet “proven,” IT. If the legal field would otherwise steer clear of something invaluable like wireless networking, due to security or compatibility issues, it needs to bring its considerable spending clout to bear to help drive development in the right direction.
5) Bottoms up. Remember those junior people with the rudimentary toolbox from point one? Just because they have much to learn doesn’t mean they don’t have much to teach. The same goes for all the non-lawyers in the legal field. These are the profession’s best ties to the real world. The practice would greatly benefit from giving them a greater voice and greater participation in policy decisions. (Bottom up reviews are one idea. Blogging behind the firewall is another.)
Up next is Scheherazade Fowler, prolific author of the Stay of Execution weblog. According to her bio, she is a “young lawyer, an extrovert, and an insatiably curious woman living in Portland, Maine.” Scheherazade’s contribution to this week’s Five by Five:
1) Abolish the bar exam. It’s nothing more than ridiculous hazing. We all know that nobody remembers anything they learn for the bar exam, that the things everyone learns for the bar exam aren’t the law anywhere except for some fictitious “Multistate” jurisdiction that doesn’t conform to any actual place, and that the bar exam tests only one’s ability to outwit a particularly devious multiple choice testing service and/or a temperamental and unpredictable group of bitter essay graders. It has nothing whatsoever to do with functional mastery of subject areas, with compassion, judgment, or preparation to help clients. It instead serves the following functions: A) it enriches Bar/Bri, and perhaps a few lesser-known bar prep services, as well as the authors and graders of the exam. B) It empowers the bullies at the Board of Bar Overseers, who hassle and sneer at any nontraditional applicants, or people have life experience or pasts that might have given them wisdom or direction prior to entering the career of law. C) It keeps bright, qualified, ambitious, energetic young applicants off the market and in misery from May through August, without letting their energy, enthusiasm, brains, or knowledge benefit the profession, and without letting them learn any practical skills at all. Instead, they get sick to their stomachs and devote their days to memorizing the difference, according to the strict Multistate Bar Examiner Rules, between a springing executory interest in land and a shifting executory interest in land. D) It keeps bright, qualified, ambitious, energetic applicants in limbo from July through late October, wondering whether they’ll get the nod or whether they’ll instead have to repeat the misery. This benefits nobody, not the students, not the legal profession, and not the clients or the existing pool of lawyers.
There might be some good reasons that something like the bar exam was conceived. Maybe it was meant to be a means of testing basic competency in certain subject areas. That’s a sensible function. It seems to me that if a degree from an accredited law school doesn’t serve that function we as a profession might think about looking at the core curriculum of these accredited law schools instead of inventing a ridiculous test. Or we might test core competencies in subject areas and let people take those tests following a semester or year of study of the subject matter—when it’s likely that such knowledge has been learned in a way it might actually be retained. Demanding that people shovel huge amounts of obscure knowledge covering twenty or thirty subjects into their heads for a one-time test is almost a sure-fire way to minimize retention. This seems to undercut the stated goal of minimum mastery of a subject area. Or maybe the unstated goal of the bar exam is less noble: maybe the bar wants to keep these new lawyers off the market a little longer. There are still better ways we could do that. We could at least require them to apprentice to us for slave wages, like the medical profession requires of its residents. That would be more intellectually honest than pretending we are asking them to prove themselves when we’re just stalling. Or we could require them to do pro bono work, so that their talents and energy would perhaps be of service to human beings in the world and could provide them with useful skills, and would still keep them out of our hair for six months or so before we’d have to compete with them on the merits. But instead we ask them to learn obscure nuances that aren’t even the law in any jurisdiction, and that we all expect them to forget the day after they have taken the exam. This, to me, is the cruelest and most senseless act of hazing that the legal profession engages in. There are many alternatives to the bar exam, all better than the current system. The fact that we don’t change it is an indictment of the profession—our blind conservatism, our fear of change, our fear of young minds, I don’t know what. If the purpose of the bar exam is to keep the young graduates out of the profession, shame on us. If it is to require them to attain useful practical knowledge, let’s get real. Do you remember anything you learned for the bar? I don’t. Why do we make people do it?
2) If I had some money, and I were in charge of a big law firm, I would absolutely do the following two things. I would immediately abolish my summer associate program, and with the seven or eight hundred thousand dollars or more that I would save on salaries and lunch tabs, etc. over the course of a summer, I would set up a shop in India, or Romania, or perhaps even Ireland if the exchange rates were decent. And there I would set up a nice document review, research, and writing shop. Why on earth would I pay inexperienced people $2500 a week to do work that I could have done for a fraction of the cost, by well-educated, intelligent, English-speaking talent—talent that can work all night long and get me an answer in the morning because of the wonders of time zone differences. There’s not any kind of imperative that research, writing, and document review take place on site; a .pdf and a Westlaw password are pretty transportable. As head honcho at BIGLAW, I am aware that only a tiny fragment of my associates are going to last more than three or four years—neither they nor I have any illusions that this charming courtship will really lead to a long-term commitment. Why on earth should I take on that overhead? Why would I wine and dine these people who are, essentially, extremely expensive resources that are hardly irreplaceable. No, I’d eliminate the summer associateship and instead invest in smart folks overseas who can do more work, year round, at a fraction of the price. Like these guys are doing. Expect it.
To be honest, if I ran BIGLAW I’d have some grave doubts about whether I was meeting my fiduciary duties to my clients if part of the overhead of my firm were these lavish summers. And if you’re a client, why on EARTH are you paying fees that let your law firm take law students out to $100 lunches? Why are you paying for fountains and town cars and tickets to baseball games? How does this help your shareholders? If your law firm is profligate with its money, that means you are paying that firm too much. Invest in the firm that is thinking about how to bring value to you. I expect in the future that value is going to be offshore. Legal research, writing, and document review can and will move to smart folks who can do it for less money. If I ran a law firm, I’d be leading that trend. Those who will resist will couch their resistance in terms of “prestige” and “reputation” and wave their hands around saying “you don’t know what you’re getting if you farm out this kind of work.” These appeals to an ill-defined notion of “quality” will work perhaps for a little while, but ultimately are doomed, because the truth is that a lot of the work young lawyers do isn’t rocket science, and even if it were, talent is not the exclusive province of three or four New York law firms. It just isn’t. Knowing this, I would want to be the first “prestigious” law firm brand to exploit a worldwide talent pool and an extraordinary wage differential. That firm will be positioned to make great profits in the near term, and to be nimble enough to compete when savvy clients demand truly competitive rates.
3) I don’t think I fully understand the connotations of the word “profession” when people say that “Law is a Profession.” It appears to be used to imply something noble, exclusive, honorable, and dignified. That’s cool. I agree that law is a profession in that way. We’re all working to help sort out the consequences of human decision making, and the social consequences and procedures around decisions that are challenged. That’s a noble goal, and all (or most) of us doing it are doing something highly worthwhile. It is service in the best sense. But sometimes I hear the term “professional” used as a means of bullying someone into conformity, a way of expressing discomfort with informality or stylistic or aesthetic differences. Like the article on law blogs that suggested that it might be okay for a lawyer to blog about the hobby of sailing, but that it might not be professional to blog about an interest in NASCAR. I think that is a hijacking of the term “professional.” All of us, if we’re pursuing the highest good of the law, in a way that is courteous and thoughtful and earnest, are “professionals” paving a noble road. The style a person brings to that endeavour, the way he or she dresses or speaks while doing it, that’s not appropriate fodder for attack. To the extent some people in our profession use the idea of a “profession” as an excuse for conformity or a silencer of innovation or honest expression, I think that is wrong.
4) We should be more ashamed of ourselves. I am a capitalist at heart, and I don’t believe in government-induced salary caps, but I do think that social mores are powerful and that greed is ugly and shameful. I think there should be a real sense of social shame if you are earning more than 10 times more than the lowest-paid person in your office. Maybe that multiple isn’t right—maybe it should be 8 times, or maybe it should be 15 times, I haven’t thought through the multiple. But there should be a point at which people are just ashamed to look their assistants in the eyes, or the guy driving their cab or painting their house. Ashamed to look the court clerk in the eyes. I think many people in the legal profession are past that trigger point, whatever it is. Do we lawyers really think 10 minutes of our time is six, eight, twelve, forty times more valuable than 10 minutes of a fellow human being’s time? If we do, we should be ashamed of ourselves. And if we don’t we shouldn’t bill people as though it were.
5) Along with the other statistics that law firms give out to NALP (e.g. starting salaries, number of lawyers, billable hour requirements, percentage of minorities, pro bono opportunities, etc.), every law firm should publish the divorce rate among the attorneys at the firm. That’s a clear, measurable, statistic that I argue is relevant to the measure of the success of a firm and the attorneys within it. What if having lawyers with intact families were part of the measure of the prestige of a law firm?
First up in this week’s Five by Five is Carolyn Elefant, solo practitioner, and author of the My Shingle weblog. Carolyn’s site is more than a blog. She’s collected hundreds of links and resources for lawyers looking to go out on their own.
So, Carolyn, if you had the power to change five things about the practice of law, what would you change?
1. Every law school and courthouse library should be required to make full service LEXIS (not the junky lexisone service currently available free) and Westlaw, i.e., all the libraries and citation service, available at no cost on at least one computer. In fact, law schools and courts should make a free LEXIS and/or Westlaw (or both) account a condition of taking service from these companies.
To me, this proposal is really a no-brainer – and frankly, I don’t know why there hasn’t been an outcry for free research service by the bars, law libraries and the courts. Access to free legal research service in this manner is the cheapest way that I can think of to improve the quality of legal services for all. Many solo attorneys do not have access to this type of service and either rely on “manual” research which is incredibly time consuming and not nearly as effective (even law librarians will resort to LEXIS to answer questions rather than stumble through the decennial digests – and they are supposedly research experts) Moreover, the ability to run a search not only in one’s own jurisdiction – but across the board and to search law review articles might give practitioners ideas on arguments that they might raise. I would even go so far to argue that death row clients might not be there had their attorneys had access to LEXIS and Westlaw which would have afforded a whole range of issues to raise during a capital trial.
LEXIS and Westlaw already offer full service LEXIS and Westlaw packages to law schools for so-called “academic” purposes, so free service is not unprecedented. Moreover, it’s not as if these companies would lose customers by giving away service for free. Biglaw attorneys – and indeed, all attorneys with a decent budget – are always going to purchase some computerized research package to have 24-7 access and avoid a possible line at the free kiosk. Moreover, free LEXIS and Westlaw in libraries and courthouses would also give the general public a way to research the law, which after all, belongs to us.
2. The bar associations ought to encourage more mingling and cooperation between big firm, small firm and government attorneys.
I’ve said it before, but what I love most about the blog-o-sphere is the conversation and discourse between biglaw, solo and government attorneys. That’s something that I’ve never experiences with the bar. In fact, there’s very little crossover between big firm and small firm lawyers at least where I practice – and my experience, I don’t think, is unique. For example, on a trip to Boston this past fall, I visited with two friends who are biglaw partners and neither even knew a solo practitioner.
I realize that some of the segregation is self-selecting. For example, a solo might not have any interest in a bar committee on corporate securities law while a biglaw attorney would not be inclined to join a bar section on general practice. Still, one would think there would be opportunities for solos and biglaw attorneys to work together on pro bono projects. However, (at least in my area), what typically happens is that one law firm will man a legal clinic for an evening. And frequently, when the bar or a legal aid group assigns a large pro bono matter, it will be handled by one firm. Why not staff the matter with, for example, a solo attorney, a government attorney and a biglaw attorney? Solos and government attorneys might also be more inclined to accept a pro-bono matter if they could work with a biglaw attorney who could more easily cover most of the costs.
All of us – biglaw attorneys to solos – share the law in common. We can learn from each other and gain a new perspective if only there were more opportunities for interaction.
3. E-filing at every court with searchable data bases.
This is a dream, I know, but every court should aspire not only towards a robust e-file system but also one where attorneys can perform word searches to pull documents from court files. The federal court developed an e-file system in-house and it has drastically cut my work load and likely that of other users. But the cases that are filed – and all of the pleadings only searchable by party name or docket number, possibly case type. Users can’t use a word search to find documents with arguments that might relate to their cases. As a result, there is a wealth of information – pleadings with legal arguments, maybe even factual information about parties who’ve been in litigation before which is still impossible to find unless you know what case you’re looking for. What a waste to spend so much money on e-filing and only have it reach half its potential.
Also, relatedly, I have noticed that at least one court where I practice is now watering down e-filing and requiring attorneys to send paper copies of documents over 25 pages which is a minor annoyance. Let’s not go backwards on this.
4. Modify the case method as taught in law school.
I don’t advocate abandoning the case method system – after all, that’s pretty much what we attorneys need to do in our careers- understand the principles in cases and analogize or distinguish them to build our arguments to the court or advise our clients. Still, to get students thinking more about how the judge reached a decision, I’d take at least one case in every course and really analyze it in depth – review the complaint, the pleadings – all materials readily available in the court file (which should be much easier now that we have e-file). I’d have students look at the briefs – many will be surprised to learn that courts sometimes don’t address certain arguments – or mischaracterize others. Perhaps students will identify certain factors – like a sloppy, typo-ridden brief or a nasty tone – that may have influenced a judge to rule one way or another. I realize that after law school, some students take on clerkships and learn this anyway. But most other law students will never have an opportunity to examine cases in this way. And, this is one exercise in practical lawyering where law professors (many of whom have never worked at a legal job) could actually be of value, since most, if not all have held clerkships and could provide insight into the judicial decision process from that perspective.
5. At a minimum, allow lawyers who have practiced law for more than three years in one state to automatically be eligible to practice in any other state touching their jurisdiction. (so for example, a DC attorney could automatically practice in Maryland and Virginia after 3 years).
I understand that bars want to uphold professional competence standards and all that, but frankly, it is just ridiculous for attorneys admitted in one state to have to either take another bar exam or fill out a lengthy admission form and pay hundreds of dollars in fees (as well as annual dues) just to go to court on the other side of the border. And pro hac vice motions don’t help much either because in many jurisdictions, the attorney of record has to appear in court with the foreign attorney anyway.
This week’s Five by Five will follow this post. The question of the week:
If you had the power to change five things about the practice of law, what would you change?
Without further delay, here we go!
My partner and I have been struggling with pricing our new services. We are offering a monthly price to clients for a set range of services, including unlimited phone calls and weekly meetings (if requested by the client). I’ll post more on our full business plan later, but this article on pricing really resonated with me. From the article:
How much should you charge for a new product? Charge too much and it won’t sell — a problem that can be fixed relatively easily by reducing the price. Charging too little is far more dangerous: a company not only forgoes significant revenues and profits but also fixes the product’s market value position at a low level. And as companies have found time and again, once prices hit the market it is difficult, even impossible, to raise them. In our experience, 80 to 90 percent of all poorly chosen prices are too low.
Companies consistently undercharge for products despite spending millions or even billions of dollars to develop or acquire them. It is true that businesses and private consumers alike are demanding more for less; the prices of personal computers, for example, have been pushed downward despite their higher processor speeds and additional memory. Global competition, increased pricing transparency, and lower barriers to entry in many of the most attractive industries have contributed to the trend. But these are not the only problems. Many companies want to make a quick grab for market share or return on investment, and with high prices both objectives can be harder to achieve.
These concerns encourage companies to take an incremental approach to pricing: they use existing products as their reference point. If a new offering costs 15 percent more to build than the older version does, for instance, they charge about 15 percent more for it. Particularly in consumer markets, they might set the price slightly higher or lower than that of their main competitor.
The incremental approach often underestimates the value of new products for customers. One of the first makers of portable bar code readers, for example, calculated how much more quickly its customers would be able to assemble their own products if they used portable readers. The company then took the price of the older, stationary readers and raised it proportionally, solely to account for the time savings. This strategy also fit in with the company’s desire to penetrate the market quickly.
But by using an existing product as the reference point, the company undervalued a revolutionary product. The portable reader not only improved existing processes but also enabled companies to redesign their supply chains. Portability and instant access to information prepared the way for real-time inventory control, vastly improved logistics planning, and just-in-time deliveries, thus eliminating the need for large inventories. Buyers quickly recognized a bargain and flocked to the low-priced product. The company, which couldn’t keep up with demand, not only failed to capture the full value of its reader but also set the market’s price expectations at a very low level. A single bad decision easily erased $1 billion or more in potential profits for the industry.
There is some really great stuff here. I’m not suggesting raising prices is always the right course, but if you offer a revolutionary service or product, don’t sell yourself (or your service) short.
“Know the difference between rabbits and elephants.” When you’re a hammer, everything can look like a nail, but not all nails are created equal. The best thing a lawyer can do is to learn what’s relevant to the client, from the client’s perspective, and exercise judgment in focusing on what’s important to the client (the elephants) and not just dot i’s and cross t’s (the rabbits) for the sake of dotting and crossing. You can actually add value by helping the client see “elephants” that they would not have been able to see but for your expertise—and your efforts to understand what’s important to your client.