Category Archives: Practice of Law

Ask Better Interview Questions

Online retailer Zappos is well known for its commitment to company culture and customer service, going so far as to offer new hires $2000 after their first few weeks on the job to quit if they don’t like their new jobs.  They also share quite a bit about how they hire so well, and have posted their Core Values Interview Assessment Guide (.pdf), which includes the interview questions they ask prospective hires.

Here are a few of their interview questions related to customer service:

  • What does great customer service mean to you?
  • In your last job, how did you know if your customer was satisfied?
  • Give an example of a time you went above and beyond, why did you do it? Any regrets?
  • What’s the best work-related compliment you’ve ever received?
  • What’s something that you did at work that maybe no one else knew about but you are very proud of?
  • Tell me about a time you came up with an innovative solution to a problem.
  • Tell me who you think is the most unconventional person you have worked with. Do you think they were successful? Did they do a good job?

Check out the entire list of questions.  Adding a few of these to your next round of interviews might help you to hire better lawyers and staff.



Best of NBH: Create a Menu for Your Practice

This “Best Of” post comes from 2011 and is about creating a “Menu” for your practice offerings:

Do you know all the kinds of things your firm does?  Perhaps you should take a page (literally) from the restaurant industry and create a “menu” of your services.  Though you may not decide to use it with clients, merely deciding what goes on the menu — and what gets left off — makes you think a bit differently about your practice and the kinds of matters you regularly should say “yes” to.

And if you’re looking for some menu inspiration, I highly recommend the blog Art of the Menu.  It has dozens of creative menus from around the country, and is sure to give you some ideas if you decide to make your “menu” a regular part of your practice.

It’s Not You, It’s Me (the Market)

I ran across this quote from Andy Rachleff, here (via the Huit Denim newsletter) and it crystallized for me what so many great lawyers and firms are going through right now:

The #1 company-killer is lack of market. When a great team meets a lousy market, market wins. When a lousy team meets a great market, market wins. When a great team meets a great market, something special happens.

If you’re struggling hard to succeed in your practice (as an insurance defense lawyer, for example) it might not be you, it might be your market.  Perhaps it is time for you to find a better one.

Set Your Phrases to Kill

Brainzooming has a list of 29 phrases commonly used to shoot down innovative ideas.  If you’re a lawyer, how many of these have you heard in your firm?  And when you’re advising clients, how many have you used to discourage their key initiatives and squash their plans?

Here are a few I hear from lawyers all the time:

  • We’ve never thought of that before
  • We don’t know how to do that
  • Things are crazy busy right now
  • We don’t have the right people on board
  • We’ve done something similar before
  • I don’t see how we can pull it off
  • Nobody in our industry has ever done anything like that
  • We’re already trying something else
  • No customers are asking for that
  • It’s not in the budget
  • We don’t have time for that

Check out the entire list.  Any you’d add?  Any your clients hear regularly from you?

Some New Reading from Jordan Furlong

I’m a big fan (and friend) of Jordan Furlong, the author of the Law21 blog and a consultant with Edge International and Stem Legal.  When Jordan writes about something, I read it, think about it and then try to pass off his ideas and insights as my own (mostly kidding).
He’s got a new e-book out on the future of law practice that I’ve had the pleasure of reading.  I say “pleasure” because I’m no longer practicing law.  If I were still in practice, I might not have enjoyed reading what he has to say about where the legal industry is heading and the bumpy road ahead.  Nevertheless, it is a necessary read for lawyers who expect to practice beyond 2017, and I highly recommend it.
Here are the details from Jordan:
– Evolutionary Road: A Strategic Guide to Your Law Firm’s Future (published by Attorney At Work). It’s a 40-page e-book that provides lawyers and law firms with a strategic guide to the future of the legal market and where they fit into that future. I set out five stages of current and future developments in the marketplace, through the year 2020 and beyond, and supplement those forecasts with tools and recommendations with which firms can build strategic plans and embark upon retreats to chart their own course forward. It retails for $US19.
Read it and be prepared to think differently about the future of this profession.

New Client Strategery

I’m often amazed at how little strategic thinking lawyers give to new client selection.  It is one of the reasons I created the Client Worthiness Index, and is also why I’m sharing my New Client Strategy Plan (.pdf).

Client Strategy Plan


The New Client Strategy Plan is a worksheet that I’ve been using in law firm retreats for a few months.  It is loosely based on the wonderful Business Model Generation Canvas, and is designed to get lawyers ask client-focused questions of themselves and their peers before signing (or even targeting) a new client.

It is divided into nine areas, each which asks a series of client-focused questions.  The areas (and supplemental questions) are:

Who will do their work?

  • What is the work and who will do it?
  • What support do they need to get it done?
  • Will they need additional lawyers or staff?

What else can we do for them?

  • What other opportunities are there for new work?
  • Are there additional legal services they may need?
  • Who else in the firm should meet with them?

 Where do they need us?

  • Are we in a location that serves them well?
  • Should we be located elsewhere?

What technology do they demand?

What must we get better at?

  • What legal and non-legal skills must we improve?
  • How will we learn those skills?
  • How might we measure our improvement?

How do they pay for it?

  • Do they want to be billed by the hour?
  • Can we price our services differently?
  • How would they design our pricing?

Who are their key decision makers?

  • Who must we convince to hire us? 
  • How will we find them? 
  • What do they want to know about us?

Why won’t they hire us?

  • What are the roadblocks to hiring us? 
  • Who will be our key competitors? 
  • What should we worry most about?

What must we change?

  • What things in our firm must we change?
  • Will our firm structure support their needs?
  •  Does our compensation plan reward the behaviors that serve them best?

If there are additional (or better) questions you think I should be asking, let me know.

And the next time you’re strategizing about serving a new client, print out a New Client Strategy Plan (.pdf) and fill it out.  Even better, complete one with your best, existing client in mind.  You might be shocked to find you don’t have all the answers you thought you did.

What’s Your Big Number?

Bar Chart

This one comes from way back in 2009, but Paul Graham’s advice on starting a new business is as solid as ever — and contains useful tips for long-time business owners well.

He begins by reminding us that “it’s better to make a few people really happy than to make a lot of people semi-happy.” and then shares 13 things every startup should know.  Among his gems are these:

Better to make a few users love you than a lot ambivalent.

Ideally you want to make large numbers of users love you, but you can’t expect to hit that right away. Initially you have to choose between satisfying all the needs of a subset of potential users, or satisfying a subset of the needs of all potential users. Take the first. It’s easier to expand userwise than satisfactionwise. And perhaps more importantly, it’s harder to lie to yourself. If you think you’re 85% of the way to a great product, how do you know it’s not 70%? Or 10%? Whereas it’s easy to know how many users you have.

Offer surprisingly good customer service.

Customers are used to being maltreated. Most of the companies they deal with are quasi-monopolies that get away with atrocious customer service. Your own ideas about what’s possible have been unconsciously lowered by such experiences. Try making your customer service not merely good, but surprisingly good. Go out of your way to make people happy. They’ll be overwhelmed; you’ll see. In the earliest stages of a startup, it pays to offer customer service on a level that wouldn’t scale, because it’s a way of learning about your users.

And this one that explains much of clients’ dissatisfaction with lawyers:

You make what you measure.

Merely measuring something has an uncanny tendency to improve it. If you want to make your user numbers go up, put a big piece of paper on your wall and every day plot the number of users. You’ll be delighted when it goes up and disappointed when it goes down. Pretty soon you’ll start noticing what makes the number go up, and you’ll start to do more of that. Corollary: be careful what you measure.

Though most firms don’t put a big piece of paper on the wall, that billable hour number is the one measure everyone pays attention to.  And what happens when all firms measure is time?  Lawyers make more of it.

What if the firm’s “big number on the wall” was something different?  How might that firm’s behavior change?

What if the “big number” was:

  • Number of cases referred/shared among the firm’s lawyers? 
  • The percentage of clients who stayed clients of the firm over the last 1, 5 and 10 years?
  • The number of “very satisfied” clients derived from a randomly-surveyed sample?

You get the idea.  Try measuring something different for a few months and see what happens.

A Manifesto Worth Investing In

I’m constantly running across great books written for non-legal audiences that contain amazing advice for lawyers.  Blair Enns’ new book The Win Without Pitching Manifesto (which you can buy or read online for free) is one of those books.  Some examples:

We will not solve problems before we are paid:

Our thinking is our highest value product; we will not part with it without appropriate compensation. If we demonstrate that we do not value our thinking, our clients and prospects will not. Our paying clients can rest assured that our best minds remain focused on solving their problems and not the problems of those who have yet to hire us.

We will charge more:

As our expertise deepens and our impact on our clients’ businesses grows, we will increase our pricing to reflect that impact. We will recognize that, to our clients, the smallest invoices are the most annoying. Through charging more we will create more time to think on behalf of our clients and we will eliminate the need to invoice for changes and other surprises.

There’s also some great advice  about being selective:

Instead of seeking clients, we will selectively and respectfully pursue perfect fits—those targeted organizations that we can best help. We will say no early and often, and as such, weed out those that would be better served by others and those that cannot afford us. By saying no we will give power and credibility to our yes.

And the best one?  Time or Thinking, What Are We Selling?

We sell our thinking but we do ourselves a gross disservice in selling it by the hour. The surest way to commoditize our own thinking is to sell it in units of doing: time. Later in the engagement, when the strategy work has been done and we are deep into implementation work, the client buys our time. It is our thinking, however, that separates us from our competition and forms the basis of our ability to premium price. When we charge for this thinking by the hour we undo much of the work of the previous proclamations. “How much an hour?” we hear the client think. “How many hours?” When we employ commodity pricing we invite commodity comparisons, regardless of the value we deliver. The defining characteristic of a commodity is an inability to support any price premium. If we cannot win while charging more, then we must face the reality that we are selling a commodity. 

I’ve already bought my copy — even though I’ve read the entire Manifesto online — because I expect to open it up again and again.  I hope you do the same.

Your Firm’s Culture Club

In a thought-provoking essay titled What Your Culture Really Says, Shanley Kane calls B.S. on phrases organizations use to describe their  company’s “culture.”  Though her post is primarily focused on the startup scene, Shanley explores how the terms we use are often unintentional code words for something far different.

The hardest hitting phrase — and incidentally the one I hear most often from firms — is:

“We make sure to hire people who are a cultural fit.”

What your culture might actually be saying is… We have implemented a loosely coordinated social policy to ensure homogeneity in our workforce. We are able to reject qualified, diverse candidates on the grounds that they “aren’t a culture fit” while not having to examine what that means – and it might mean that we’re all white, mostly male, mostly college-educated, mostly young/unmarried, mostly binge drinkers, mostly from a similar work background. We tend to hire within our employees’ friend and social groups. Because everyone we work with is a great culture fit, which is code for “able to fit in without friction,” we are all friends and have an unhealthy blur between social and work life. Because everyone is a “great culture fit,” we don’t have to acknowledge employee alienation and friction between individuals or groups. The desire to continue being a “culture fit” means it is harder for employees to raise meaningful critique and criticism of the culture itself.

Look around your firm.  Next time you talk about your its “culture,” what are you really saying?  Are you rejecting people because they don’t “fit” your culture for the right reasons, or the wrong ones?

The Fastcase 50

I’m beyond humbled to be included in Fastcase’s second annual Fastcase 50, “honoring the law’s smartest, most courageous innovators, techies, visionaries, and leaders.”

I’m even more proud to say that the list includes more than a dozen friends and colleagues I’ve met in the decade I’ve been writing this blog.  Thank you Fastcase!


Advice for Young Lawyers

I absolutely love this advice for writers from Ira Glass, designed by Sawyer Hollenshead:

If you’d like to order it, you can do so here.

Rethinking the Retainer Agreement

Over on SLAW, Mitch Kowalski suggests that lawyers rethink their retainer agreement from their client’s perspective.  He includes several suggested clauses (taken from one used by a large multi-national corporation) including this one:

Legal services are expensive, reflecting the skills of the professionals involved and the quality of the work delivered. We respect your knowledge and expertise, and we genuinely hope to be a profitable client of your Firm. At the same time, we must ensure that we receive good value for the money we spend on law firms. In our view, the best way to achieve both fair payment and good value is to manage every matter closely, emphasizing communication and shared responsibility. We look forward to working in partnership with the Firm’s lawyers. Together, we can provide excellent legal work that meets our needs and that adds value to us and your Firm.

To achieve this goal, it is essential you understand the issue behind our legal project and the financial impact of that issue. This means, for example, that we expect the Firm to avoid overstaffing a matter, premature or peripheral legal or factual research, and discovery requests or other projects that are “what we always do” instead of what is appropriate for the particular matter. We will evaluate outside counsel on effective control of costs, as well as on the quality and effectiveness of your advice and work product.

The entire post is worth a read and contains several great client-centered retainer clauses — specifically the ones on expenses.  How would your retainer agreement change if your clients wrote it?

On Pricing Strategically

This is a tremendous article on Pricing Strategy for Creatives (written by the Chief Innovation Officer of an accountancy firm) that is spot-on for everyone struggling with pricing their services (including lawyers).  Please read it.

Here are some excerpts on becoming strategic about pricing:

1. Price by the service, not by the hour. Though very normal for the creative professions, one of the most non-strategic things you can do is to charge by the hour. Why do you charge by the hour? You may have read about charging by the hour in a book, seen your previous firm do it, or heard a friend say that’s how you were supposed to do it. 

2. Slow down your sales process. Slow down how, when, and who you take on as clients. You need time to determine a client’s needs before you price their projects. You must know what outcomes they desire. Diving into a project with a minimalist contract that speaks to your hourly rate will not let you know when your client is truly ecstatic about your work. And the only reason to serve clients is to bring great value to them and make them extremely happy!

3. Inject value into your client’s experience with your service. You simply have to charge more. That is a totally strategic move, and one you can’t do unless you have the guts to do it. But you can’t charge more for crap. It’s a little known secret that you can charge not only for your creative work, but for the client experience around the work you deliver. In essence, you can price things that have nothing to do with design, but have everything to do with the experience your client encountered throughout the process of engaging with you on their project.

There’s more in the article about establishing a better client intake process and charging what you’re worth.  My favorite part, though, the author’s discussion on how to have the “value vs. price” conversation with your potential client:

For example, you can ask a client “what is the greatest outcome you can imagine from my work with your company?” Maybe they’ll say “I want your work to be so effective that we sell 15 to 20 percent more products compared to this same time last year.” Now you can attach your price to their outcomes. So you might say, “My base price is $50,000, but if you sell between 15 and 20 percent more products than this time last year, then I will receive a bonus payment of 5 percent on your additional sales.” This links what you get paid directly to outcomes. And the clients won’t mind paying if you helped them sell more stuff. Everybody’s happy!

A great read.

Legal Learning Links

Together with many of my friends in the Continuing Legal Education industry, I’ve started another Tumblr site called Legal Learning Links.  We’ll be sharing some interesting stuff we’ve found about learning theory and educating lawyers.  Stop by and check it out.

The General Practitioner’s Dilemma

Remember, your clients don’t have general needs, they have specific ones.  They want you to be great at solving their problem, not good at solving everyone else’s.

And yes, you can actually buy this knife for just $999.00.

Do Teddy Bears Drive Better Behavior?

Here’s an idea for all the mediators and negotiators out there:  buy some teddy bears.

According to Sreedhari Desai, assistant professor at the UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School, Adults Behave Better When Teddy Bears Are in the Room:

Adults are less likely to cheat and more likely to engage in “pro-social” behaviors when reminders of children, such as teddy bears and crayons, are present.

Sreedhari Desai and her research partner Francesca Gino had people play classic psychology games in which the subjects controlled how much money other people earned and could earn more themselves if they lied. Half the participants were either in a room with children’s toys or engaged in children’s activities. Across the board, those participants lied less and were more generous than the control subjects.

Professor Desai continues:

In all our lab studies, we found that when subjects were near toys or engaged in activities like watching cartoons, the number of cheaters dropped almost 20%. In several studies we had participants play games in which they filled in missing letters to complete words. Those who were primed with childhood cues were far more likely to form “moral” words like “pure” and “virtue” than those who weren’t. In addition, people behaved better in the presence of childhood cues even if they weren’t feeling particularly happy.

Professor Desai discusses her research here.

If you’re looking for an edge in negotiating your next deal, it might be worth inviting a few stuffed animals into the room.  You just might get a better result for your clients.

Quarantine Your Best Ideas

Many of the attorneys I work with suffer from the same thing I do: Shiny Shiny Syndrome.  You suffer from S3 when you regularly give in to an overwhelming urge to start working on something new and better, instead of wrapping up your current projects.

Shiny Shiny Syndrome isn’t (usually) fatal, but the cumulative results of constantly starting projects at the expense of finishing others can have a debilitating impact upon your practice and your staff.

To combat my case of Shiny Shiny Syndrome, I’ve begun an Idea Quarantine.  From Wikipedia:

Quarantine is compulsory isolation, typically to contain the spread of something considered dangerous, often but not always disease. The word comes from the Italian (seventeenth century Venetian) quarantena, meaning forty-day period.[1] Quarantine can be applied to humans, but also to animals of various kinds.

Whenever I have a great idea for a project, I capture it so I don’t lose it, but then I wait at least 90 days before I begin working on it.  The “compulsory” waiting period keeps me from starting work on a poorly-formed idea I’ll later lose passion for.  It also gives me time to think about the idea and socialize it with friends and colleagues.  If I’m still enamored with the idea once the 90 days have passed, it goes on my “To Do” list.

If you’d like to begin your own Idea Quarantine, and want a fun template to use, here’s my Idea Quarantine. pdf from above.

Perform a File Autopsy

Remember the television show Quincy?  Jack Klugman played a Los Angeles medical examiner, and in every episode, his autopsy would reveal that the decedent (who’d seemingly died of “natural” causes) was a victim of foul play.  Using the clues he’d gained from his examinations, Quincy would convince the police a homicide had occurred, and then manage to singlehandedly finger the killer.  In a pre-CSI world, it was pretty compelling stuff.

So why all this talk about an obscure 70’s crime-drama?  Because if you’re really interested in identifying the work you love to do and learning how to serve your clients better, you may want to spend some time each week playing Quincy.  Instead of investigating foul play, however, you should closely examine those things you’ve given up for dead in your office:  your closed files.

Perform a File Autopsy.  Here’s how:

1.  Grab at least five old files that have been closed for at least a year.  Though you can choose files randomly, it works better if you’ve take some you liked and others you’d rather never touch again.

2.  For each file, complete the LexThink File Autopsy (pdf) form.  Be brutally honest with yourself as you answer questions, which include:

About the file:

  • In hindsight, should I have taken this file?
  • Were there any “red flags” I should have noticed?
  • What lessons did I learn from handling this file?
About the work:
  • Did I like the work?
  • Was I good at it?  How could I have been better?
  • If I didn’t like the work, how could I do less of it?
About the client:
  • Does this client have any other legal work I could be doing?
  • How would this client describe me to their peers?
  • How could I have served this client better?

About the money:

  • Was this a profitable matter for me to handle?
  • Did the client feel my fees were fair?
  • How could I have priced this matter differently?

3.  Every week, grab a few more files and repeat the exercise.  If you have staff, ask for their input as well.

4.  If you’re seeing common themes (either positive or negative) throughout the files, make sure to note them as well.

5.  Once you’ve performed 20-50 “autopsies,” you’ll have a better sense of the kinds of work you like to do, clients you enjoy serving and alternative ways to price your services.  Perhaps most importantly, you’ll understand the kinds of work you don’t want to do and learn to avoid taking matters and clients better passed on to your competition.

Love Two of What You Do




Rethinking Your Firm’s Bills

If your clients designed your bills, what would they look like?  Would they be easier to understand?  Contain useful case status information?  How about upcoming dates or milestones?  Would your bills include information about the people who worked on the case that month?  How about a report card seeking monthly feedback about how you’re serving your clients?


I decided to take a crack at designing a new kind of legal bill.

The bill begins with a “Case Update” that includes a brief summary of the month’s work, upcoming dates and milestones, as well as things the lawyers are waiting on from others — including the client.

There’s a page with pictures, names and contact information for all the lawyers and staff who’ve worked on the client’s matter that month:

There’s also, of course, a list of the work done that month, along with the price owed:

Finally, there’s a survey form attached at the end, with a list of client commitments and a place for the client to give the firm a grade:

The entire version is here.  Let me know what you think.



BigLaw Associate Economics

From the ever-perceptive Jessica Hagy:

Ask Your Clients Better Questions

In A Manager’s Primer on Asking Better Questions, Marty Baker at Creativity Central shares several dozen open-ended questions designed for various situations like Anticipation, Assessment and Clarification that serve as a valuable reminder that “yes” or “no” questions don’t always get you the information you need.

Here’s the suggested questions on “Exploration” from the post:


May we explore that some more?

Can we take a closer look at that?

What other angles can you think of that?

What are some more possibilities?

What’s another way of looking at it?

While many seem quite obvious, making a conscious effort to ask your clients questions differently may just prompt them to give better answers.

Legal Rebels Video

Here’s my six-minute / twenty-slide presentation on Building the Service-Centered Firm I delivered as part of the ABA Journal’s Legal Rebels project.

A Well Trained Lawyer …

I really love this quote, as it goes to the heart of the value (vs. time) of what lawyers provide:

“A well-trained man knows how to answer questions; an educated man knows what questions are worth asking.”
— E. Digby Baltzell (1955)

Hat tip: Kevin Kelly

Beef Up Your Clipboards

Want the judge to consider your arguments as more substantive than opposing counsel’s?  Hand the judge your brief attached to a heavy-duty clipboard.  Want your opponent to drive a softer bargain?  Make certain they’re sitting in the plush seat across from you.  Sound crazy?  These are some of the surprising results from new studies on touch:

In one study, subjects were asked to review resumés that had been placed on either heavy or light clipboards. Resumés that were read on hard clipboards were judged to be more substantive than those read on softer ones.  Other test subjects engaged in mock negotiations over the price of a new car. Those who sat in firm chairs drove harder bargains than those ensconced in plusher seats.  When another group of subjects were told an ambiguous story about an interaction between an employee and a supervisor, and subsequently asked to offer an opinion, those who had handled a wood block beforehand judged the employee’s behavior more harshly than those who had touched a soft blanket.

(Image from Jason Aaberg)

The Creative Counsel

Here’s the slide deck from my presentation to the Association of Corporate Counsel’s meeting in St. Louis last month.  The audience was (mostly) in-house counsel, and the presentation was geared at getting them to think a bit differently about their relationship with outside counsel.  I hope you like it.

Please turn off your cellphones.

Probably true in the courtroom, too:

Tell Your Clients What’s True

Seth Godin is fed up with the traditional business plan, suggesting they’re “often misused to obfuscate, bore and show an ability to comply with expectations.”  Instead, he’d like to see the modern business plan divided into five sections:

  • Truth
  • Assertions
  • Alternatives
  • People
  • Money

It seems to me that this breakdown would also be a great way to subdivide the traditional client status update (or case analysis) letter.  Instead of burying tons of information in multiple paragraphs, break down the letter into the five sections Seth suggests.  Your clients will better comprehend the information your giving them, and you’ll have an easy-to-use template for all your client correspondence.

Some Great Advice from Design Pros

I ran across this article titled I Wish I Would Have Known: Answers From 11 Top Freelancers, where several design professionals share their hardest lessons learned.  Here are a few of my favorites:

  From Steven Snell:

I wish I would have known that clients tend to not take a project very seriously if they are paying low rates. When I started out I knew that learning and getting experience was more important than making money at that stage, so I did some very cheap projects. I worked with several people who wanted a website, but it seemed that since they were investing very little into it financially, they just didn’t take it seriously and put in the effort on their end that is needed to have a successful web presence. Not only did that make it more difficult for me to do a good job, but it really did a dis-service to their business because their websites weren’t as effective as they could have been.

  From Sean Baker:

You’re closing up your meeting with a potential client. Everything went smoothly and you think you’re about to land the job. Said client asks for your hourly rate, in which you give and explain. Unless you’re underselling your talents greatly, their next question will almost always be: “Great, and how long will it take you?” Suddenly you’re in a corner… and you’re panicked. You don’t want to scare them away, so you feel implied to answer immediately, usually shorting yourself on time simply to appease. Congratulations, you’ve just pigeonholed this project. From here you’ll either be doing some free work or you’ll run the client off once they see a higher rate than you originally gave.

  From Brian Yerkes:

You have to ensure that you don’t take it personally, ever. This is the biggest thing that I personally struggle with. When a client emails to tell me that they aren’t happy with a design, it puts me in a bad mood for a few hours. It’s the number one thing that I try to deal with better every time it happens. Fortunately, 99% of the time, my clients are happy with my work, but you can never win them all.

  From Kostandinos:

Don’t be afraid to say “no” to a project. If I could only pass along one small piece of advice to kids starting out, and even to those who’ve been at it for a while, that’s it. Sometimes it’s really not worth it… in more ways than one. Have a bad feeling about a client? Trust your gut and walk away. One more thing: Sometimes the most important and best projects are the ones you do for yourself, including working on your portfolio and re-branding yourself. The devil is in the details… get out your pitchforks.

This advice could have just as easily be given by (and to) lawyers.  Remember, your clients, peers and friends often face the exact same challenges in their (non-legal) businesses.  Engage them, learn from them, and don’t make the same mistakes they have.

Should You Touch Your Clients More?

 There’s some very interesting research on the power of touch in business situations.  In this Harvard Business Review post, author Peter Bregman, shares this experiment that found that a brief, light touch affects people’s decision making:

In one experiment, as a woman showed subjects to their seats in the lab, she lightly and briefly touched some of them on the back of their shoulder. Then researchers asked the subjects whether they would prefer a certain amount of money or whether they’d prefer to gamble for the chance to win more money, receiving nothing if they lost. The people who were touched were 50 percent more likely to take the gamble. 50 percent!

And it’s not just any touch. A handshake didn’t achieve the same result. A handshake isn’t comforting, but a touch on the shoulder or back is.

Another study, profiled in the New York Times, found that touch can result in:

almost immediate changes in how people think and behave …. Students who received a supportive touch on the back or arm from a teacher were nearly twice as likely to volunteer in class as those who did not, studies have found. A sympathetic touch from a doctor leaves people with the impression that the visit lasted twice as long, compared with estimates from people who were untouched.

Obviously, good taste and propriety should rule the day when it comes to touch, but perhaps next time, instead of expecting that pat on the back from your client, you should give one instead.

Resolve to Land a Big Fish


Almost every lawyer has a “big fish” they’d like to land. Whether that fish is an individual client, a corporation, an insurance company or even a great referral source, your big fish isn’t going to catch itself.

And what better place to find advice on catching “big fish” than on a website called TakeMeFishing?  Some fishing wisdom to keep in mind when you’re Resolving to Land a Big Fish:

Fishing techniques:

The cool thing about fishing is that there are hundreds of species of fish to catch.  What’s even cooler is that there are multiple ways to catch a particular kind of fish.

When to fish:

You’ll soon learn that when it’s a bad day for fishing in one location, it could be a good day in another, and the locations may not be far apart.

Finding fish:

You don’t have to travel far or spend a lot of money to find a body of water with fish you can catch.

Landing bigger fish:

Don’t be anxious.  Even if you get the fish close to the boat, that doesn’t mean it’s done fighting.

Setting the hook:

It takes a lot of experience to know when to set the hook.  It also takes a lot of patience.

Some fish will nibble on your bait or lure, causing your line to tick or wiggle.  And some fish will try to swallow the entire bait, hook and rig all at once with one big hit.

Different fish strike differently.  And the same fish will go after your bait differently depending on the time of day or time of year.

Caring for your catch:

Fish spoil quickly if you don’t handle them properly from the moment you land them.

So as you plan on landing one big fish in 2010, make certain you’re prepared: know who they are, where they hang out, what you’ll use to attract them and what you’ll do with them once they’re caught.

Know the answers to each of these questions before you “go fishing” for big fish, or all you will end up catching are small ones you’d rather throw back.

Resolve to Juggle Less


This is one for the general practitioners out there: Resolve to Juggle Less. Remember, your clients don't have "general" problems, they have specific ones — and if you're the lawyer who will do "anything for anyone" they are far less likely to hire you do that "one thing" for them. 

So, how do you know if you're doing too many things?  Here's an exercise that just might help:

  1. Take a pad of Post-It notes, and on each one, write a type of matter you handle.  Err on the side of inclusiveness (write "Divorce," "Child Custody," "Legal Separations," etc. on separate notes instead of just "Family Law"). 
  2. Put all the Post-Its up on a wall.
  3. Ask your staff to add the kinds of things you do to the wall as well.
  4. Group the post-its in logical categories.
  5. Step back and look at the wall.

If there are more than 3 groups of Post-Its in front of you, you're probably doing too many different things.

In 2010, work hard to focus on the one or two categories that are most profitable, most challenging and most fun.  You'll have a much easier time finding clients, and a much better time serving them.

Holiday Gift Guide for Lawyers

My friend Reid Trautz is back with his fifth Holiday Gift Guide for Lawyers.  I want the Zvox Incredibase!

Prepare Better for High-Stakes Meetings

Here’s a checklist from The Eloquent Woman that she uses to prepare herself for every presentation she gives.  As I was reading it, I realized that her list isn’t just for presenters.  Instead, it is the perfect preparation for nearly every client meeting, negotiation and court appearance. 

My favorite section are the questions about intent:

  1. Do I know what the audience wants from me?

  2. Is that what I’m going to give them? Do my goals match theirs? If not, why am I speaking to them? How will I reach them?

  3. What do I want to get out of this speaking experience?

  4. What do I need to learn from the audience? How will I find out?

  5. Do I intend to engage the audience? Do I just want them to listen? Do I intend to get them to act on something?

Before your next high-stakes meeting, answer each question, first replacing “Audience” with Client, Judge or even Opposing Counsel.  I suspect you’ll gain answers that make asking the questions worthwhile. 

Some Tips for the Suddenly Solo

The fellas at Lawyerist caught up with me in Duluth after one of my presentations at Minnesota CLE’s “Strategic Solutions for Solo and Small Firms” conference. Sam Glover asked me to share some tips for the “Suddenly Solo” lawyers out there.  Here’s the video:

Interview with Matt Homann from Lawyerist Media on Vimeo.

Because You Can Do It Doesn’t Mean You Should

A quick tip that popped into my head while speaking in Minnesota earlier this week:

Tape the telephone number of your IT/Tech professional under your desk near the tangle of cords coming from your PC (and on your server, router, etc.) so you see it when you’re most likely to try to work on your tech stuff yourself.

Still tempted?  Next to the number, write your billable rate and write theirs.

Culture Lessons from NetFlix

Netflix recently released a "Reference Guide" titled "Culture" on Slideshare, giving everyone a chance to peek "behind the curtain" at the values the innovative company expects from its employees. There are some real nuggets in the presentation.  Here are a few of my favorites:

The "Keeper Test" for managers:

Which of my people, if they told me they were leaving in two months for a similar job at a peer company, whould I fight hard to keep…"

The irrelevance of "hard" work:

It is about effectiveness — not effort — even though effectiveness is harder to asses than effort.  We don't measure people by how many evenings or weekends they are in their cube.  We do try to measure peole by how much, how quickly and how well they get work done — especially under deadline.

The refusal to tolerate "Brilliant Jerks" in the workplace:

For us, the cost to teamwork is too high.

The preference of "Rapid Recovery" from vs. Preventing error:

You may have heard preventing error is cheaper than fixing it … not so in creative environments.

The entire policy for expensing, entertainment, gifts and travel:

Act in Netflix's Best Interests.

Please read the whole thing, and while you do, imagine how a law firm would thrive (or fail) if it adopted a similar culture as Netflix's.

View more presentations from reed2001.

Thanks to the Emerging Leadership Circle blog for the pointer to the presentation!

Get Your Writing to Flow

Want some great tips to get your writing to flow? Check out How to Add Flow to Your Writing from  Men With Pens. The author suggests you read your writing aloud with a pen or marker in hand — not to find grammatical errors, but to evaluate flow. Here’s why:

When you read aloud, you’ll find certain sentences don’t sound right. Your tongue trips over them. You lose track of what you were trying to say. You find that the comma you inserted in the middle there makes you sound like you have a mild speech disorder.

Great advice!

Blocked? Stop Typing!

The title of this short post from the 37 Signals Blog says it all: Writer’s Block is Sometimes Just Typer’s Block. If you’re having trouble writing, try this:

Record the conversation where you get it out right. When you speak an idea, it engages a different part of your brain than when you write it. You often say it clearer when you’re just riffing aloud. And you get to more gut-level stuff too. You bypass that “should I say this?” filter. You get it straight from your gut/brain instead of your fingers.

As someone who used to dictate all the time, I’ve gotten away from the think first, type later model of writing, but am going to break out my digital recorder and give it another try.

A Legal Blogging Roundtable

Last month, I participated in a legal blogging roundtable for the Bar Association of Metropolitan St. Louis that was published in their subscription-only newsletter.  My partners in crime were Dennis Kennedy (DennisKennedy.Blog), George Lenard (George’s Employment Blawg), and Evan Schaeffer (Trial Practice Tips and The Legal Underground).  Together, we have combined for more than 20 years of blogging experience.

Dennis took our contributions and republished them to his blog as A Blogging Guide for St. Louis (and Other) Lawyers (and Others).  Here’s one of our takes on the future of blogging:

Matt Homann: I think we’ll see the continued adoption of blogs by legal professionals as much by choice as necessity. The next generation of law firm clients have lived their entire lives online, interact with Twitter and Facebook constantly, and read blogs everyday. They may have never used the Yellow Pages, and instead look to the web before making any major purchasing decision. They’ll expect a robust online presence from the professionals they hire, and a blog is one of the easiest and most effective ways to build that presence.

George Lenard: Integration with the surviving remnants of mainstream media into enriched, customized streams of information in manageable chunks for busy readers, plus continuing contributions to the wealth of information available to web users through ever-more-sophisticated search technologies. I was recently told by a web-content distribution company that my posts now have the potential of appearing in a news stream on the Wall Street Journal’s law pages amidst conventional sources such as the ABA Journal, if they match the WSJ search criteria, with no distinction in appearance that would suggest that my content is in any way inferior or less professional than that written by professional journalists.

Evan Schaeffer: I don’t have any predictions about the future of blogging. If you think of blogging as merely a means of publishing one’s writing, which it is, you don’t have to be too worried about the future. Get into the habit of writing, and if you like it, you can always migrate to the next technological platform, if and when there is one.

Dennis Kennedy: Among bloggers, Twitter and microblogging is all the rage. That will continue to affect blogging, but blogging still has great potential, especially to cover niche topics. I remain bullish on blogging. As for predicting the future, I still like what Ernest “Ernie the Attorney” Svenson said in an article on the future of blogging from four years ago in Law Practice Magazine: “Perhaps the biggest question that remains is: How quickly will law firms move to develop blogs? It depends on a lot of internal and external factors. But the clock is certainly ticking. For some firms that sound is just loud and annoying, while for others it is stirring and prompting them to act. So when will your firm create a blog? Tick, tick, tick, tick, tick . . . .”

Twelve Truths About Time

In early August, I’m headed to Duluth, Minnesota to speak at the Strategic Solutions for Solo and Small Firms conference. One of the presentations I’m giving is called the Twelve Truths About Time. In it, I share twelve reasons why attorneys should abandon the billable hour. Here’s the slide deck for that presentation. 

It is still in “draft” form, and I expect to tweak it a bit before I use it live, so please let me know what you think. My friend and artist/designer, M. Jason Robards, drew the clocks. We’re working next on a “Real Innovation for Real Lawyers” slide deck.  I’ll share that as soon as it is done. Thanks!

Let Your Clients Pick Your Next Associates

Seth Godin shares how he narrowed down 27 finalists for his “Alternative MBA” program to just ten participants: he let the applicants decide. Here’s how he describes the process:

More than 48,000 people visited the page that described the program and 350 really cool, talented people applied. I picked 27 finalists and all of them flew out to New York to meet each other. This was the most fun I’ve ever had at a cocktail party (it helped that it was at eight o’clock in the morning).

The conversations that day were stunning. Motivated people, all with something to teach, something to learn and something to prove. I asked each person to interview as many other people as they could. After three hours, I asked everyone to privately rank their favorite choices… “who would you like to be in the program with you?”

After they left, I tallied up the results. It was just as you might predict: nine or ten people kept coming up over and over in the top picks. I had crowdsourced the selection, and the crowd agreed. (It turns out that the people they picked were also the people I would have picked).

On January 20th, the most selective (one in 40 got in) MBA program in the world got started. Since then, they’ve never failed to live up to my hopes.

What if your firm choose its associates this way, by letting the applicants choose the others they’d like to work with? Or be even bolder, and bring your applicants in to spend a day with a mixture of your best clients — and let the clients decide!

Meet Me in Missouri

I’m headed down to Missouri’s Lake of the Ozarks this week for the Missouri Solo and Small Firm Conference to speak about marketing, innovation, technology and the web.  There will be over 900 lawyers there this year — which makes it the largest solo and small firm conference in the country.

If you’ll be there, be certain to say hello.  If you can’t make it, I’ll be covering as much as I can on Twitter and will be using the hashtag #mossfc

100 Tweets: Thinking About Law Practice in 140 Characters or Less.

I really like Twitter.  For those who follow me, you know that I try to share lots of legal-themed tips, thoughts and ideas.  In fact, most of my Ten Rules posts started out on Twitter — where I’ll test 15-25 “rules” to see which ones work best before picking the ten favorites.

However, there’s lots of stuff that lives on Twitter now that used to live here on the blog.  And since I don’t expect everyone reading this to follow me there (or go back and read through my 2000+ Twitter messages), I decided to compile a “Best Of” list of my favorite tweets.

So, here (in .pdf form) is a little e-book I’ve titled:  100 Tweets: Thinking about Law Practice in 140 Characters or Less.  It contains my favorite 100 tweets, in no particular order, and should give you a sense of what I share on Twitter that you don’t always see here.

If you enjoy it, and would like to follow me on Twitter, I’ll see you there.

Selling Through a Slump E-Book

I had the privilege of contributing the legal chapter in the new Selling Through a Slump:  An Industry by Industry Playbook

Oracle and The Customer Collective co-sponsored the guide, which contains great advice for selling in multiple verticals, including accounting and consulting, retail, the public sector, health care, insurance, telecommunications, services, technology, media and manufacturing.  The author list reads like a who’s who of industry experts, and I’m honored to be in such great company.

Check it out here.  Registration is required, but the download is free.

Get a Life — In Only Two Days

I’ve been spending some time talking to the organizers of the Get a Life Conference, after connecting at Techshow and on Twitter.  It looks like a great event, and I’m really working hard to figure out a way to make it — and perhaps do some cool LexThink-like unconference stuff with them if I do.

Lots of great speakers, including the incomparable Gerry Riskin, are on tap.  Expect lots of talk about practical ways to make your law practice a more profitable business.  From their site:

In this two-day workshop, you’ll learn how manage all the moving parts of a successful law practice and still have a life. But there’s one very important thing missing – you! One of the greatest challenges you have is making time for what’s personally important to you – your hobbies, friends and family.

It happens May 27th and 28th in Chicago.  Check it out, and if you’d like to go, here’s a link to a 25% discount (Enter INSIDER upon check-out).  I hope to see you there!

Ten Rules for Law Students

Over a year ago, I wrote 15 Thoughts for Law Students.  It was one of my first “Rules” posts, though I wasn’t calling them that at the time.  Since then, it has been one of the more popular items on this blog, and was even republished in the Canadian Bar Association magazine

I’ve revised it just a bit, and shortened it to 10 “rules” for the law students out there.  Enjoy.

1.  Law school is a trade school. The only people who don’t believe this to be true are the professors and deans.

2.  Being good at writing makes you a good law student. Being good at understanding makes you a good lawyer.  Being good at arguing makes you an ass.

3.  You can learn more about client service by working at Starbucks for three weeks than you can by going to law school for three years.

4. Law school doesn’t teach you to think like a lawyer.  Law school teaches you to think like a law professor.  There’s a huge difference.

5. The people who will help you the most in your legal career are sitting next to you in class.  Get to know them outside of law school. They are pretty cool people.  They are even cooler when you stop talking about the Rule Against Perpetuities.

6.  Law is a precedent-based profession.  It doesn’t have to be a precedent-based business.  Challenge the status quo.  Somebody has to.

7.  When you bill by the hour, getting your work done in half the time as your peers doesn’t get you rewarded.  It gets you more work.

8.  Your reputation as a lawyer begins now.  People won’t remember your class rank as much as they’ll remember how decent and honest you were.  They’ll really remember if you were a jerk.

9.  There are plenty of things you don’t know.  There are even more things you’ll never know.  Get used to it.  Use your ignorance to your benefit.  The most significant advantage you possess over those who’ve come before you is that you don’t believe what they do.

10. People don’t tell lawyer jokes just because they think they are funny.  They tell lawyer jokes because they think they are true.  Spend your career proving them wrong.

If you enjoyed these, check out my other posts in the series:  Ten Rules for the New Economy, Ten Rules for New Solos, Ten Rules of Legal InnovationTen Rules of Legal Technology, Ten Rules of Hourly Billing and Ten New Rules of Legal Marketing

Also, if you’d like to get more ideas like these in real time, follow me on Twitter.

Ten Rules for New Solos

As our economy sours and the legal job market dries up, there are lots of lawyers looking at solo practice for the first time.  As a former solo myself, I’m sharing these ten “rules” for new solos.  There are more to follow, and please share yours in the comments.

1.  The good news:  As a solo, you are your own boss, can do whatever you want and answer only to yourself. That’s also the bad news.

2.  Your solo practice is far more likely to fail because you’re a bad business person than because you’re a bad lawyer. 

3.  If you are a bad procrastinator, you’ll be a terrible solo.  Nothing will impact your ability to succeed as much as your inability to manage your time.  It is unimportant how great you are at lawyering when you don’t send your bills out on time.

4.  Never underestimate the value of the water cooler.  You can find many “co-workers” online in Solosez, Blogs, Twitter, etc.  Just don’t spend all your time there.

5.  Would you let your plumber appear in court for you?  Remember your answer next time you’re fiddling with your phone system, computer network, etc…  You can’t expect someone to appreciate your expertise if you fail to appreciate theirs.

6.  If you’re looking for a guru, you can have Foonberg.  I’ll take Elefant.

7.  If you’re thinking of opening a “general” practice, remember this: Your clients don’t have “general” legal problems, they have specific ones.  They’ll hire you because you’re able to help them, not everyone else.

8.  Your friends, family and business contacts may hire you eventually, but they’ll rarely do so right away.  They have to need to hire you, not just want to.

9.  Never tell prospective clients that being a solo makes you cheaper to them.  Show them that being a solo makes you better for them. If your clients hire you because your rates are low, they will fire you as soon as your rates are no longer low enough.

10.  There is no shame in going solo.  Your clients don’t care that the legal market tanked, that you got laid off from BIGLAW or that you “wanted more time to spend with your family.”  They have their own problems, and are looking to you solve them.  When you do, you’ll both profit.

If you enjoyed these, check out my other posts in the series: Ten Rules of Legal InnovationTen Rules of Legal Technology, Ten Rules of Hourly Billing and Ten New Rules of Legal Marketing

Also, if you’d like to get more ideas like these in real time, follow me on Twitter.

Looking Back to the Future?

My friend Jordan Furlong writes a great post titled These are the Days of Miracle and Wonder about lessons we can learn from Obama’s win.  The great takeaway:

Twenty years ago, our parents would never have believed it. Twenty years from now, our children will take it for granted.

What amazing thing can you do TODAY in your practice that was unfathomable in 1988 but will be commonplace in 2028?  Get to it!

Ten Rules of Legal Technology

For your consideration:  Ten “Rules” of Legal Technology.  Not many are new, and very few apply only to lawyers, but these are a few more nuggets I’m pulling out of previous posts to fill out my portfolio of speeches I’ve got “in the can.”  Enjoy:

1. Since the first PC, legal tech companies have been promising to help lawyers capture more time.  Capturing time isn’t the problem, charging for it is.

2.  It is more important to get better at working with people than it is to get better working with technology.

3.  You should never have a bigger monitor or more comfortable chair than your secretaries do.

4.  Never brag about implementing technology in your firm that your clients have been using for a decade.

5.  The single piece of technology all lawyers should learn to use better is their keyboard. 

6.  Sophisticated clients don’t demand sophisticated technology, they demand sophisticated lawyers.  They assume the technology is part of the package.

7.  Social Media isn’t technology.  It’s your Rotary Meeting on steroids — though there are less lawyers in the room and the clients are better.

8.  Want to invest in an inexpensive communication technology guaranteed to improve your thinking skills and increase collaboration with clients? Buy a whiteboard for your office.

9.  Belt, meet suspenders: One backup solution is never enough.

10.  The only technology ROI that matters is your clients’ return on their investment in you.

Bonus Rule:  The one piece of technology your clients wish you’d get better at using is the telephone.  Call them back!

Also, check out Ten Rules About Hourly Billing and Ten New Rules of Legal Marketing.  If you’d like to hire me to speak, head over to LexThink.

Meet Your Future Clients

The other day, I suggested in my Ten New Rules of Legal Marketing that:

9.  Your future clients have been living their entire lives online and will expect the same from you.  If you’re invisible on the web, you won’t exist to them.

Now, I’ve stumbled across this article from Adweek titled Generation Watch Out that explains better than I ever could what I meant:

Today’s young talent represents not-able cultural shifts: They’re digital, message savvy, global and green. (Listen to the Flobots’ “Handlebars” and you’ll get the picture.) They mark fundamental changes from previous grads entering the industry. They’re more associative, culturally networked, nimble and intuitive. While they’re more cynical than cohorts past, they’re also more apt to call BS or volunteer for environmental or political causes. They are easy in their gay-or-straight, vegetarian-or-meat, tatted-or-not choices. F-bombs are tossed around like Frisbees. These kids run hard, adapt easily.

It’s the shortcut generation. That toolbar up top is for old-timers; these guys learned to Cmd-Option-Shift-A in middle school because it was cool, not necessary. Desktops are institutional holdovers. Everyone has a set of on-the-go tools: camera, laptop, videocam, hard drive, cool bag to tote it all. They’re experts early on, manhandling Final Cut or Flash with intuitive authority. They’re Idea 2.0, the mashup generation and one with confluence, that place beyond convergence where the old sloughs off and the new quickly gets morphed into the cultural DNA.

All this makes them, at their best, unbelievably creative and productive. On the other hand, they also think they have all the answers. Morley Safer wrote recently of this generation’s entitlement issues: They’ve grown up with everyone as winners, with inspired birthday parties and planned events, with middle-class privilege and opportunities at every camp, academy and take-your-kid-to-work experience. They expect careers, not jobs. And they expect to have their names—very soon—in an annual or this mag. Hell, they know their blog on a good day might get more eyeballs than the trades.

Get to know them. Understand them.  Because love ’em or hate ’em, they’re not just your children, they’re your future clients, employees and partners.  Learn to serve them or they’ll serve themselves.

Ten Rules About Hourly Billing

After the great response I got to yesterday’s Ten New Rules of Legal Marketing post, I’ve decided to share a few more “Rules” of Hourly Billing I’ve culled from my blog and my speeches.  Enjoy!

1.  Ask your clients what they buy from you.  If it isn’t time, stop selling it!

2.  Imagine a world where your clients know each month how much your bill will be so they could plan for it.  They do.

3.  If you don’t agree on fees at the beginning of a case, you’ll be begging for them at the end of it.

4.  Sophisticated clients who insist on hourly billing do so because they’re smarter than you are, not because they want you to be paid fairly.

5.  When you bill by the hour, your once-in-a-lifetime flash of brilliant insight that saves your client millions of dollars has the same contribution to your bottom line as the six minutes you just spent opening the mail.

6.  Businesses succeed when their people work better.  Law firms succeed when their people work longer.  Your clients understand this — and resent you for it.

7.  Every time your clients jokingly ask you, “Are you going to charge me for this?” they aren’t joking — and they’ll check next month’s bill to be sure.

8.  The hardest thing to measure is talent.  The easiest thing to measure is time.  The two have absolutely no relationship to one another.  Your law firm measures talent, right?

9.  Would you shop at a store where the cost of your purchase isn’t set until after you’ve agreed to buy it? You ask your clients to.

10.  There are 1440 minutes each day.  How many did you make matter?  How many did you bill for?  Were they the same minutes?  Didn’t think so.

If you’d like to get more ideas like these in real time, follow me on Twitter.

Touch Your Audience with These Touchy-Feely Tips

Here’s a must-read post from Laura Bergells with six “touchy-feely” tips that will help when you rehearse your next presentation (you do practice, right?). 

If you ever give presentations to clients, to peers or to juries, you need to be thinking about these practice ideas.  My favorite:

Record your presentation without video. Then, listen to it without watching the slides. I like putting my audio on my portable mp3 player — and taking a walk. While listening to myself on the ellipse machine at the gym last week, I found an area of my presentation that dragged so dismally, I barely registered a heartbeat while chugging along at a high incline! I went back to the office for a rewrite and added more powerful visuals. Listening to “audio only” helps you spot pace and pitch problems — but it also helps you later recall the words and inflections that work well.

Looking for the Ugly in Potential Clients

Kevin Kelly writes another insightful essay on The Technium titled “Looking for Ugly.”  Using FAA reporting on aircraft maintenance as his main example, he suggests that when we don’t penalize minor infractions (the FAA encourages penalty-free reporting of minor safety errors), we reduce major ones.  Put another way, to avoid major catastrophe, it is important to encourage people to look for and report “the ugly:”

Looking for ugly is a great way to describe a precursor-based error detection system. You are not really searching for failure as much as signs failure will begin. These are less like errors and more like deviations. Offcenter in an unhealthy way. 

I think he’s right on.  When evaluating new clients, for example, keep track of those things that don’t “feel quite right.”  It could be something as simple as the fact that they rescheduled three times, showed up late for an appointment, or “forgot” their retainer check.  While many of those prospects will turn into great clients, the handful of them that don’t probably have a lot of those little things in common. 

The more you pay attention to those “little things” as they enter your head (as opposed to using your 20/20 hindsight once the relationship has gone sour) the more likely you’ll get better at choosing great clients — and avoiding the “ugly” ones.

Building Banks with Generation-C

James Gardner at Bankervision has been thinking about “future-proofing” banks, and takes inspiration from Linux and Crowdsourcing:

We’ve been tracking a trend at the bank we call Generation-C, the generation that wants to Create. These are the people who write blogs, who mash up applications to create new ones, who contribute to forums and put themselves out there….

What might the power of crowds create if we let them loose on banking products and services?

Because if these Generation-C folk can create a better operating system for free than the folks at Redmond with billions to spend on R&D, what might fantastic things might Generation-C do for financial services?

Indeed.  I think the same goes for law practice.  What do you think?

Criminal Defendants: What I Learned

Want to know what defendants really think about their experience with the judicial system? Add Courthouse Confessions to your reading list. It is a blog by Steven Hirsch, and he interviews people as they leave the courthouse. In many ways, it reads like a more real-life version of Esquire Magazine’s What I’ve Learned series.

Some gems:

Moral of the story is my friends, hang with people in your caliber. If your a person person hang with good people. That’s the moral of this story. I’m a good person. I consider myself a good person. On a scale of one to ten I consider myself an eight. Timothy Jones

I kinda felt better on the sofa than I did feel in jail. ‘Cause I don’t have like a violent history, I don’t have no crime, I don’t have no record, period. Honestly, I should’ve stayed at home, it would’ve been more comfortable. Jamali Brockett

I just got out on five hundred dollars bail and I’m stressed out and I’m mad but um this is life, so this is what it is. Come to find out the marijuana that was supposed to be sold was Lipton tea. Tyrone Carter

I’m here on assault charges which I obviously didn’t do. All the assaults that I actually have done, I’ve never been to court for. Daniel Sbarra

Let me say on the record, I’d like to apologize to the City Of New York for taking a pee. I’d like to apologize to the garbage man that took my pee away in a garbage truck. There’s a reason that garbage man gets paid more then the police. Mark Mark Mark

Never buy phones off the streets. You know, I gotta go to a store and do like everybody else does. I’m not really interested in phones, long as I can make a call, you know? Cori DeSilva

Actually I’m proud and happy that I hit the cops. They deserve it. I feel better. Now I feel better. Evan Munoz

Graffiti is a part of my life. I start when i was a kid. Its like a spirit, it’s my life. I’m a student in graffiti design. Writing on the wall is like I was here, I was in New York, I was in Paris, I was in Amsterdam. It’s like a dog make a pee on the wall. I’m animal. Esteban Gonzalez

So she actually gave me a second chance at getting community service. So when I signed up for community service and they gave me the dates to appear I got drunk again and lost the paper work. Ian Jernigan

As long as I don’t sell no more weed to uncover cop, I’m good money. Kevin Dorsey

In my opinion drugs, selling drugs in my opinion is not a crime, in my opinion…. I’m not doing a public service but in my opinion at the time I was doing more like an entrepreneurship, an opportunist, I saw a large market, decided to go for it, supplied their demand. Jonathan Sierra

I stole a bra. I did. ’cause I wanted it, and I didn’t have enough money…. Sure, I would [do it again.] I had so much fun coming here to court, I met beautiful people, and I saw that it’s not as bad as you think. They were all laughing, the whole time through, we were laughing, joking. Stay good, don’t do bad things, you know? Do good things, don’t steal. Janet Braha

I may look like sh*t right now, but when I dress up and do my hair, and everything, I look very elegant, very classy. But my dream is to keep studying politics and run for the presidency when I get older…. I’m not gonna say that I’m gonna win, but I can say that I’m gonna try my hardest, because I have a lot of great ideas on a lot of different things, and I think I can make a difference and make a change, a better change in the world…. I feel that I’m qualified for that. Judy Guadalupe Schiller Perez Aversa

The Curse of Almost Done

A few days ago, I wrote about how I was suffering from The Curse of Almost Happy. I realized that being “close to” fulfillment in my life and career wasn’t close at all. So, as I’ve spent this past weekend knocking off several things on my “To Do for Too Long” list, it hit me that a cause (companion?) to that Curse is another one: The Curse of Almost Done.

Unless you’re a hyper-productive, always-on-top-of-everything person, you know what I’m talking about. The Curse of Almost Done is evident all around you. It manifests itself the moment you put off completing those last few steps of a project that is “almost done.” It keeps you from picking those projects up and finishing them now because you’ve got more important things to start, and since they are, after all, “Almost done.”

Well, I’ve battled the Curse of Almost Done all weekend. I’m finally happy to unveil the new It isn’t done, but it is done enough.

Let me know what you think. Still to come: links to my presentations, a client intranet site, some video, my first e-book, and a top-secret project that will launch in two weeks (I promise).

So what’s on your “To Do for Too Long” list? Set aside a day each week where you swear to not start anything new. Use that day just for completing things. “Finish Fridays” anyone?

Napkin Thinking for Your Practice

One thing I learned working for XPLANE, is that everyone (not just artists) can use simple visual tools to think better about almost anything. If you’d like to incorporate more visual thinking into your practicef (and communicate better with your clients), check out Dan Roam’s The Back of the Napkin. It is a great book, and if you want an intro, I highly recommend downloading the Visual Thinking Toolkit (pdf), which was just posted this week.

Zen Your Way Out of Bad Meetings

Conflict Zen has become one of my “must reads” lately. Author Tammy Lenski shares Seven Simple Hacks Guaranteed to Improve Your Meetings that collects several of her posts on conflict resolution in groups. I’d recommend her tips to any lawyer who meets with clients regularly, especially this one:

Have you ever been in a meeting where the chair asked something like, “Does that plan sound ok to everyone?” Perhaps there was a brief pause, an assenting remark or two, a couple of nods and silence from the rest. “All right, then it’s a go,” the chair may have said then.

Silence does not mean “Yes, I agree.” Silence can mean: I’m still thinking about it. I may agree but am not sure yet. Yes, I agree. No, I don’t agree but I’m not going to say it out loud here. No, I don’t agree but I’ll never admit to it.

If you’re trying to make a wise and effective decision in a group, avoid the “assumed yes” trap. When there’s silence, ask those folks what their silence means. Don’t challenge, invite.

Silence usually means I’m thinking.

You Always Have to Say “I’m Sorry.”

Want to keep your unhappy clients from suing you? Apologize. Bob Sutton writes about the Virtues of Apologies and shares a NY Times article about how doctors and hospitals are reducing malpractice claims (by a sizable amount) by simply apologizing. Read the article and the post for some of the reasons why you should apologize.

What I want to share, though, is this gem from Bob’s post:

[T]he best single diagnostic question for determining if an organization is learning and innovating as it moves forward is: What Happens When People Make a Mistake?

What’s the answer for your firm?

Title Tips for Better Slides

Want to write better titles for your PowerPoint slides (and nearly anything else for that matter)? Frank Roche gives five tips to help you Write the Best Damn PowerPoint Headlines Ever:

Make it good enough to print on a t-shirt. The word Introductions isn’t good enough for a t-shirt. Say hello to my little friend is. Not every headline has to be t-shirt worthy, but that’s not a bad goal.

Make it fit on one line. Hey, what you lack in quality, you can’t make up for in volume. Read the really great headline writers. I like the New York Times and USA Today, but CNN and the New York Post write the killer headlines. They’re short. Often two words. But two killer words.

Say what’s on the slide. Obscurity is great for the CIA, but we’re talking about PowerPoint and communication. If a single word will do, then please be my guest. Otherwise, write descriptive headlines. (And if you violate the “fit on one line” rule, it had better rock.)

Forget headlines. If you can’t think of a great headline, then maybe you shouldn’t have one. Steve Jobs doesn’t need headlines.

If your slide is filled with bullet points, even a killer headline won’t help. You see that little key on your computer that says DEL? Go ahead, push that one. Watch your presentation magically get better.

How many of your titles would look good on a t-shirt? Open up that last presentation and get to work!

Photo Phorensics

Via Photojojo comes a pointer to this Scientific American article titled Digital Forensics: 5 Ways to Spot a Fake Photo. Worth a look if you regularly deal with photographic evidence in your practice.

May I have your attention?

Watch this video:

Remember, what we look for is what we see. It is only when we open our eyes to see everything that we notice what should be obvious.

What are you looking for in your practice? Billable hours? Maybe you should look for something different. You might be surprised at what you’ll find.

Are your customers, or your employees, always right?

For another worthwhile read this morning, check out the Top 5 Reasons Why "The Customer is Always Right" is Wrong from the Chief Happiness Officer Blog.  Reason Number 4, it results in worse customer service:

[W]hen you put the employees first, they put the customers first. Put employees first, and they will be happy at work. Employees who are happy at work give better customer service because:

  • They care more about other people, including customers
  • They have more energy
  • They are happy, meaning they are more fun to talk to and interact with
  • They are more motivated

On the other hand, when the company and management consistently side with customers instead of with employees, it sends a clear message that:

  • Employees are not valued
  • That treating employees fairly is not important
  • That employees have no right to respect from customers
  • That employees have to put up with everything from customers

When this attitude prevails, employees stop caring about service. At that point, real good service is almost impossible – the best customers can hope for is fake good service. You know the kind I mean: courteous on the surface only.

Do you put your customers first, or your employees?

Need a Vacation?

Brad Feld has a great recap of the ways he takes time off to recharge, including a quarterly, week-long vacation and semi-regular weekend getaway:

Go Dark Weekend: When I find myself feeling burned out, I do a go dark weekend. I turn off my computer and cell phone at 6pm on Friday night and don’t turn it back on until 5am Monday morning. I cancel anything that is scheduled for the weekend and just do whatever I feel like doing. This is usually a once a quarter event; occasionally more frequently depending on how busy I am. I’m considering doing this around each of my marathon weekends also.

Anyone reading this feeling burned out? How about “going dark” this weekend and reconnecting with your kids?

Got Anxious Clients?

Think about it. Every client who enters a lawyer’s office is anxious. In fact, they’d probably prefer going to the dentist. That’s why this article on How to Deal with Anxious People is important reading. It sets out some research, with some valuable tips for deciphering visual cues, that every lawyer should know. Here’s why:

The more you talk over or at anxious people, the more pressure you put on their middle brain and the more they will close their minds to what you are saying.

Alternatively, the more you talk to an anxious person — or even better yet, with them — the more you alleviate that pressure and the easier it is to access their upper brain and open their minds to you. Here’s a critical point, though: the approach you may think you are taking in a conversation with an anxious person may not be the approach the other person perceives.

Also worth remembering when you are confronted with that big guy in the bar who accuses you of cheating at pool.

Notice What’s Right Before Fixing What’s Wrong

So often, we focus (obsess?) on fixing what’s wrong with our selves, our families or our businesses.  For a week, try to focus instead on what’s right.  Make a list of the three things that are the "right-est."  Take your three things and do just one thing this week to make them even better.  Challenge your family, friends, staff and even clients to do the same.  You can always go back to worrying next week.

How to Run Your Law Firm Like a Startup … or Not.

Jason Calcanis heads up Mahalo, a human-powered search engine.  In this post, widely circulating around the tech/startup blogosphere, Jason gives 17 tips on saving money while running a startup that will (I didn’t say should) surely resonate with some BigLaw managing partners.  Some of his “really good” ideas (since toned down a bit in an update to the post):

  • Buy everyone lunch four days a week and establish a no-meetings policy. Going out for food or ordering in takes at least 20-60 minutes more than walking up to the buffet and eating. If you do meetings over lunch you also save that time. So, 30 minutes a day across say four days a week is two hours a week… which is 100 hours a year. You get the idea. 
  • Don’t buy a phone system. No one will use it. No one at Mahalo has a desk phone except the admin folks. Everyone else is on IRC, chat, and their cell phone. Everyone has a cell phone, folks would rather get calls on it, and 99% of communication is NOT on the phone. Savings? At least $500 a year per person… 50 people over three years? $75-100k
  • Buy your hardest working folks computers for home. If you have folks who are willing to work an extra hour a day a week you should get them a computer for home. Once you get to three hours of work a week from home you’re at 150 hours a year and that’s a no brainer. Invest in equipment *if* the person is a workaholic.
  • Fire people who are not workaholics… come on folks, this is startup life, it’s not a game.  Don’t work at a startup if you’re not into it.  Go work at the post office or stabucks if you’re want balance in your life for realz.
  • Get an expensive, automatic espresso machine at the office. Going to starbucks twice a day cost $4 each time, but more importantly it costs 20 minutes. Buy a $3-5,000 Jura industrial, get the good beans, and supply the coffee room with soy, low fat, etc. 50 people making one trip a day is 20 hours of wasted time for the company, and $150 in coffee costs for the employees. Makes no sense.
  • Stock the fridge with sodas—same drill as above.

Sound like BigLaw to you?  Well, except for the awesome coffee machine.  That’s not a cost like copies that you can pass on to clients.

This Speech Sponsored by …

My pal JoAnna Forshee has (finally) started to do some blogging at her new venture InsideLegal.  She recently hosted the InsideLegal Summit, and it appears to have been a fantastic success.  The one topic that really caught my eye was the debate surrounding the “Pay to Speak” trend.  What is Pay to Speak?  It is when conferences (like LegalTech*) allow vendors to “sponsor” a conference track.  The controversy, which has been brewing in the legal conference industry for a while, is over what level of control the vendors have over their sponsored track, and what responsibility conference organizers have to disclose that control.

Why is this a big deal?  If a (fictional) company XYZ Discovery Solutions pays $25,000 to sponsor the “Electronic Discovery” track at a conference, what do they get for their investment?  More specifically:

  • Does XYZ get to pick the topics for the track?  
  • Does XYZ get to choose the track’s speakers, favoring those who sell or promote XYZ products, and excluding other speakers who don’t?  
  • Does XYZ have a responsibility to present information the attendees want to hear instead of information they want attendees to hear?

If the answers to any of these questions are yes, do the attendees know that the “CLE accredited” sessions they attend are given by a hand-picked roster of sponsor-friendly speakers?  And are any CLE accreditation rules compromised?

Right now, the answers to these questions aren’t clear, and I’m sure each conference organizer and each sponsor approach the “sponsored track” differently.  I don’t think the sponsored track should go away, but I do think some disclosure is in order.  Just as lawyers must avoid actual or apparent conflicts of interest (which in some cases can waived by agreement), conference organizers must recognize the inherent conflicts that arise when a for-profit vendor sponsors, designs and staffs a CLE accredited, “educational” session  

At a minimum, the conference must disclose whether the speakers in a sponsored track are chosen by the conference or by the sponsoring vendor, and whether those speakers are paid by the vendor.

I applaud JoAnna and her InsideLegal partner Jobst, for getting this out in the open.  Your comments are welcome.

* I use LegalTech as an example here only because I know they have sponsored tracks, and the InsideLegal Summit happened in NYC at the same time of LegalTech.  I don’t know what the vendors get for their investment and what rules (if any) LegalTech places on the speakers or the content in those sponsored tracks.

(How) Do You Take Credit?

Here’s a great idea for ways to remember the folks who’ve helped you along the way, from this post on How to Take Credit:

So when the time comes to take the stage, remember that you didn’t get here alone: go ahead, grab the microphone and acknowledge your team. Do it before a crowd and in e-mail. Say it with bonuses and baked goods — but be sure to say it. No one likes to be left out. By sharing the credit the right way, you won’t diminish your own accomplishments, you’ll add to them by building a reputation as the kind of person people want to work for and for your focus on developing others.

Not sure whom to credit? In their book, Becoming a Resonant Leader, Annie McKee, Richard Boyatzis and Frances Johnston suggest keeping running lists of peers who have helped you along your route to success — along with notes about what you actually learned from them. Keeping such a list will likely help ensure that you don’t forget them in your acceptance speech.

I really like the idea of keeping a running list of people who’ve helped you along with a note or two about how they’ve helped.  This is a pretty powerful way to not only remember how you’ve gotten to where you are, but to also remind you to give help to others who seek it from you.  More on this in the next post.

Kill Your Projects, Not Your Clients

Here’s an interesting idea from Scott Young that may just help with your growing to-do list:  Set up a Project Kill Day. In short, you schedule a distraction-free, off-site day to “kill” off one of your projects.  Check out the entire post for his step-by-step guide.

Not sure which projects you have that merit an entire day?  Try writing down the first client-related task you think of in the morning and the last one you think about before bed.  If it is the same one for more than a day or two, kill it before it kills you!

An Interview with Me

Just in case you’re interested, here’s a link to an interview I did about innovation, law practice and becoming a former lawyer.  It’s here if you’d like a listen:

Build a Better Firm Workbook

While I finish the e-book, I thought I’d share a workbook of sorts that I’ve been using as a handout when I speak to groups about building innovative law practices.  I hope you like it.

Think REAL Big: Ten Ways to Build a Better Firm.  (Download pdf)

A You-Tube for Legal Docs? Check out DocStock

Here’s a profile of DocStock, a site allowing people to find and share professional (including legal) documents. 

The profession is changing, my friends.  What are you doing to be ready?

Boise, Idaho … Here I Come!

I’m going to be in Boise, Idaho on Monday (November 5) to speak about innovation for lawyers to the Idaho Bar Association.  If you are in the neighborhood (and really, who isn’t?) come on by. 

15 Thoughts for Law Students: A Mini-Manifesto

I’ve written a few mini-manifestos for clients and lawyers before and remain quite enamored with the format.  Here’s one for law students with some random (semi-related) thoughts on law school and the legal profession.  Let me know what you think, and feel free to add your own in the comments.

1.  Law school is a trade school.  The only people who don’t believe this to be true are the professors and deans.

2.  Want to piss off your professors?  Ask them if they’ve ever run a successful law practice.

3.  Being good at writing makes you a good law student.  Being good at understanding makes you a good lawyer.  Being good at arguing makes you an ass.

4.  You can learn more about client service by working at Starbucks for three weeks than you can by going to law school for three years.

5.  Law school doesn’t teach you to think like a lawyer.  Law school teaches you to think like a law professor.  Believe me, there’s a huge difference.

6.  You can get through law school without understanding anything about what it is like to be a lawyer.  That is a terrible shame.

7.  The people who will help you the most in your legal career are sitting next to you in class.  Get to know them outside of law school. They are pretty cool people.  They are even cooler when you stop talking about the Rule Against Perpetuities.

8.  Your reputation as a lawyer begins now.  Don’t screw it up (and quit bragging on Facebook about how drunk you got last night).

9.  Law is a precedent-based profession.  It doesn’t have to be a precedent-based business.  Be prepared to challenge the prevailing business model.  Somebody has to.

10. Experienced lawyers work with clients.  Young lawyers work with paper.  You like working with paper, right?

11. You are about to enter a world where getting your work done in half the time as your peers doesn’t get you rewarded.  It gets you more work.

12. Except for prosecutors and public defenders, nobody tries cases anymore.  Especially not second year associates.

13. You have a choice:  You can help people and make a decent living, or you can help corporations and make a killing.  Choose wisely.

14. There are plenty of things you don’t know, and even more things you’ll never know.  Get used to it.  Use your ignorance to your benefit.  The most significant advantage you possess over those who’ve come before you is that you don’t believe what they do.

15. People don’t tell lawyer jokes just because they think they are funny.  They tell lawyer jokes because they think they are true.  Spend your career proving them wrong.

Web 2.0 Replaces Lawyers Again?

Brian Benzinger at Solution Watch writes about a new service called Tractis, which “allows you to negotiate and execute worldwide legally binding contracts online.”  Significantly, the service also has sort of a contracts wiki that allows folks to upload contracts and templates that can be edited, commented upon, tagged and shared.  Very cool/scary for lawyers.  Find out for yourself and take the tour.

Making Partner (Over)Bites!

From Indexed:

The Mobile Lawyer 2.0

It has been a long while since I’ve been so WOW’d by a business model as I’ve been this morning.  Simply put, this is the BEST template I’ve seen for building a home-based practice from, of all people, a physician.  Dr. Jay Parkinson, MD is building a web-based medical practice.  From his website:

  • I strictly make house calls either at your home or work. 
  • Once you become my patient and I’ve personally met you, we can also e-visit by video chat, IM and email for certain problems and follow-ups.
  • I’m based in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.  My fees are very reasonable.
  • I’m extremely accessible.  Contact me by phone, email, IM, text, or video chat.  Mon-Fri 8AM-5PM.  24/7 for emergencies.
  • I specialize in young adults age 18 to 40 without traditional health insurance.
  • When you need more than I provide, I make sure you wisely spend your money and pay the lowest price for the highest quality.
  • I’ve gathered costs for NYC specialists, medications, x-rays, MRIs, ER visits, blood tests, etc…just like a Google price search.
  • I mix the service of an old-time, small town doctor with the latest technology to keep you and your bank account healthyl

How much for this service?  According to the "How it Works" on his site, his fee is "far less than your yearly coffee budget but a little more than your Netflix."  His web site also provides "Real Life Examples" that describe, in plain English, how you’d use his service.  Oh, and he’s blogging, too.

Lawyers, if you are looking for a real dose of inspiration (or a glimpse to the future of mobile practice) you HAVE to check this Parkinson’s site and business model.  Simply brilliant.  Great idea, great web site, amazing copy.  If I were still practicing, I’d steal it in a heartbeat.  Look at it now.

Via: Zoli’s Blog.

Justify that Messy Desk

From an 2002 New Yorker Essay from Edward Tufte

Paper enables a certain kind of thinking. Picture, for instance, the top of your desk. Chances are that you have a keyboard and a computer screen off to one side, and a clear space roughly eighteen inches square in front of your chair. What covers the rest of the desktop is probably piles—piles of papers, journals, magazines, binders, postcards, videotapes, and all the other artifacts of the knowledge economy. The piles look like a mess, but they aren’t. When a group at Apple Computer studied piling behavior several years ago, they found that even the most disorderly piles usually make perfect sense to the piler, and that office workers could hold forth in great detail about the precise history and meaning of their piles. The pile closest to the cleared, eighteen-inch-square working area, for example, generally represents the most urgent business, and within that pile the most important document of all is likely to be at the top. Piles are living, breathing archives. Over time, they get broken down and resorted, sometimes chronologically and sometimes thematically and sometimes chronologically and thematically; clues about certain documents may be physically embedded in the file by, say, stacking a certain piece of paper at an angle or inserting dividers into the stack.

But why do we pile documents instead of filing them? Because piles represent the process of active, ongoing thinking. The psychologist Alison Kidd, whose research Sellen and Harper refer to extensively, argues that “knowledge workers” use the physical space of the desktop to hold “ideas which they cannot yet categorize or even decide how they might use.” The messy desk is not necessarily a sign of disorganization. It may be a sign of complexity: those who deal with many unresolved ideas simultaneously cannot sort and file the papers on their desks, because they haven’t yet sorted and filed the ideas in their head. Kidd writes that many of the people she talked to use the papers on their desks as contextual cues to “recover a complex set of threads without difficulty and delay” when they come in on a Monday morning, or after their work has been interrupted by a phone call. What we see when we look at the piles on our desks is, in a sense, the contents of our brains.

Ah, now I know the piles are there for a perfectly good reason.  Thanks to Stephen O’Flynn for the tip.

Thoughtful Law Blog

David Bilinsky has a great new blog:  Thoughtful Legal Management.  Check it out!

Raise the Roof or Lower the Ceiling?

I found something interesting in a study titled The Influence of Ceiling Height: The Effect of Priming on the Type of Processing People Use (via Science Daily — my new favorite RSS subscription):

“When a person is in a space with a 10-foot ceiling, they will tend to think more freely, more abstractly,” said Meyers-Levy. “They might process more abstract connections between objects in a room, whereas a person in a room with an 8-foot ceiling will be more likely to focus on specifics.”

The research demonstrates that variations in ceiling height can evoke concepts that, in turn, affect how consumers process information. The authors theorized that when reasonably salient, a higher versus a lower ceiling can stimulate the concepts of freedom versus confinement, respectively. This causes people to engage in either more free-form, abstract thinking or more detail-specific thought. Thus, depending on what the task at hand requires, the consequences of the ceiling could be positive or negative.

If you are designing your next office or workspace, should you build in different ceiling types and plan to do different kinds of work in each one?  For lawyers, should you take your depositions in low-ceilinged rooms?

LinkedIn for Litigation?

Guy Kawasaki explains how to use LinkedIn’s Reference Check Tool to avoid bad bosses.  In essence, you can input a company name and a range of years to find people who worked at the company during a given time period. 

This would be a great tool for locating potential witnesses in a litigation action.  Input the plaintiff/defendant company name and the years before, during and after the actionable conduct.  LinkedIn will serve up a list of people who may know a bit about company/facts/etc.  Even better, they may no longer be employed and more likely to help you.

I’m Sorry for Your Loss. Was He Funny?

A quick tip for meeting the family of a decedent at estate wrap-up time, courtesy of Tricks of the Trade:

If you have to interview a grieving family after a death, a good question to ask is: “Did he have a good sense of humor?”

This will almost always shake the family out of their grief, making it easier for them to talk to you, and bring up an anecdote that really shows the character of the dead person.

Make Tomorrow E-Mail Free

How about implementing “No E-Mail Fridays” at your office?  Check out this ABC News article to learn why it may be a good idea.

Talk Really Isn’t Cheap

Lisa Hanneberg writes about the high cost of communication.  Required reading (if you’ve got the time) before you send out that next e-mail to 50 people or schedule that next two-hour meeting.  If you haven’t got time for the whole post, just think about this:

If your department budget was charged $100 for every minute you spent communicating, would you choose your words more wisely? It is likely that the costs are that high or higher.

Join Me March 8th for a Teleseminar

I’d like you to join me for a teleseminar on March 8th, titled: Think Real BIG — Ten Creative Strategies for Building an Innovative Law Practice.  It is part of the online-only Career & Practice Development Conference

I will share ten unique and easy-to-implement strategies to help you create an innovative, service-centered law practice that you’ll love as much as your clients do.

The teleseminar takes place from 1:00 – 2:00 pm EST and the cost is $59.00.  You can register here.

Lawyers Appreciate …

Last week Gerry Riskin asked me to write a post that  begins with the words “Lawyers Appreciate”  (the idea was originally conceived here).  Here’s mine:

Lawyers Appreciate Gifts.  Here are three things I’d like to (belatedly) give all my lawyer friends for the holidays:

1.  A family who loves them.

2.  A community who respects them.

3.  Great clients who pay them. 

And if I didn’t spend all my budget on those three things, I’d add four more:

4.  One hour each day to dream about how they’d make their business better.

5.  The courage to try the things they’ve thought up. 

6.  The wisdom to ignore those who say those things can’t be done.

7.  Friends like Gerry to cheer them on.

17 Lawyer Tips: A Mini Manifesto

After writing 15 Client Tips: A Mini Manifesto, I figured that turnabout is fair play.  Here are 17 for Lawyers:

1.  Whenever your clients don’t understand what you are doing for them, they think about what you are doing to them.

2.  Many of your clients remain your clients because it is a pain in the ass to find another laywer – not because they love you.

3.  Every time your clients get your bill, they think about how beautiful your office is and about the nice car you drive.  And they wonder if you are worth it. 

4.  If your office is a dump and you drive a wreck, they wonder about that too.

5.  If your client doesn’t pay you, fire them.  Don’t ignore them.

6.  At least once a year, tell a client, “It’s on the house.”

7.  Taking a client to play golf doesn’t show how good a lawyer you are.  It shows how good a golfer you are.

8.  Quit being a pompous, demanding jerk around the office.  If you can’t keep good staff, you don’t deserve good clients.

9.  Your clients will always know their business better than you do.  They may even know the law better than you.  Make sure to seek their advice before giving yours.

10.  A lawyer charging extra for stamps and copies is like a car wash charging extra for water.  Stop it now.

11.  Your clients have wants.  Your clients have needs.  They often don’t know the difference.

12.  Whenever you interrupt a client meeting to take an “important” call, your client thinks about hiring another lawyer.

13.  Imagine a world where your clients knew each month how much their bill from you will be so they could plan for it.  They do.

14.  If you hate being a lawyer, be something else.  You are smart.  You’ll figure it out.

15.  A bill is not communication.  At least not the good kind.

16.  When is the last time you called a client just to thank them for being your client?  That’s what I thought.

17.    People don’t tell lawyer jokes just because they are funny.  They tell lawyer jokes because they think they are true.  Spend your career proving them wrong.

LexThinking Again 2.0

Dennis, JoAnna and I are working on a few new LexThink! events.  The one that’s almost ready for prime time is described here in Dennis’ post.  Check it out. 

Right Way Writing

Dumb Little Man has compiled a list of 50 Writing Tools from Poynter Online.  If you write at all, it is worth your time to check out some of the Poynter articles.  An amazing resource!

Get Your Lawyers to Use Technology

Here’s an interesting tip to spur firm-wide adoption of  new technology:  Cut Off Non-Adopter’s E-Mail

Make Someone Else’s ‘Employee of the Month’ Yours

Gerry Riskin and Michelle Golden have been talking about the importance of having a great receptionist.  Having had two amazing secretary/receptionists (Janelle and Sandy, thank you!) in my last two jobs, I second (third?) this sentiment. 

Now, how do you find that perfect receptionist?  Here are some tips on recruiting great retail employees, from a blog I’ve just moved from “probation” to my regular reads called Just Looking, that may give you some ideas:

Find the Employee of the Month wall in the retailer.   Normally this is back near the offices in a hallway that is accessible by the public.   Write down the names of the last 6 people who won, and then go find them in the store.   Walk up and congratulate them on winning and ask why they got the award.  You might have a great conversation that could end with “Here is my card, if your interested in examining other opportunities give me a call”

Look at stores that are not in your industry.   Too often, sales managers will only recruit from of retailers like themselves.  I found great luck recruiting in retailers outside of my industry.   Blockbuster Video was a great place to recruit entry level sales and customer service reps.     Anyone who walked out from around the counter to ask me if they could help me find something, got my attention and my card.    

Always Be Recruiting.   Don’t ever stop, because you never know when you might run across someone that would be a great member of your team.   I can remember two instances of this happening.  One was when I was out to dinner with some friends.   The waitress was amazing and during our chatter I found out she was looking for a part time job.   I ended up hiring her for for the holiday season and we both were very satisfied with her 4 month stay.  The other instance was when I answered the phone and a telemarketer began his pitch on the other end.    It was one of those telemarketers that didn’t give up at the first no, but kept the tone very light hearted.   He came in and interviewed for a full time position.

Recruit for the right traits not just sales skills.     There is no way you will ever be able to evaluate a potential recruits selling skills effectively but you can get a good feel for their passion and enthusiasm.    My goal when recruiting is to find someone who is outgoing, passionate and enthusiastic about what they are selling.     I can’t teach passion but I can teach someone with passion how to channel it into selling better.

Set a Recruiting Goal when you go out.     If you head out to go recruiting without a goal, all you will get is 2 to 4 hours of walking around.    Set a goal of coming back with 4 to 5 names to call and at least 2 business card drops.   A business card drop is when you introduce yourself and give them your card with a suggestion they call you.     The list of names are of people who you will call later that day and invite them to come in for an interview.

Keep a People Pool.   Don’t toss out information from old interviews.  Make a file and keep it around for later job opportunities.   You never know when a position will open that might be perfect for someone you didn’t consider before.

Network with other Sales Managers.   Find sales manager in other stores that do not compete with you directly.    They might be interviewing a candidate that needs more hours or income then they can afford, that might be perfect for your job.    A lunch, once a month with a few of these other sales managers could help you locate the people you need.  Who knows, maybe they might have a current employee who is looking for a change that is the perfect recruit.

Top Ten Things They Never Taught Me …

Michael McDonough has an article in the Design Observer titled The Top 10 Things They Never Taught Me in Design School that made me think he was actually writing about Law School.  Here are a few:

1. Talent is one-third of the success equation.  Talent is important in any profession, but it is no guarantee of success. Hard work and luck are equally important. Hard work means self-discipline and sacrifice. Luck means, among other things, access to power, whether it is social contacts or money or timing. In fact, if you are not very talented, you can still succeed by emphasizing the other two. If you think I am wrong, just look around.

2. 95 percent of any creative profession is shit work. Only 5 percent is actually, in some simplistic way, fun. In school that is what you focus on; it is 100 percent fun. Tick-tock. In real life, most of the time there is paper work, drafting boring stuff, fact-checking, negotiating, selling, collecting money, paying taxes, and so forth. If you don’t learn to love the boring, aggravating, and stupid parts of your profession and perform them with diligence and care, you will never succeed.

7. When you throw your weight around, you usually fall off balance.  Overconfidence is as bad as no confidence. Be humble in approaching problems. Realize and accept your ignorance, then work diligently to educate yourself out of it. Ask questions. Power – the power to create things and impose them on the world – is a privilege. Do not abuse it, do not underestimate its difficulty, or it will come around and bite you on the ass. The great Karmic wheel, however slowly, turns.

10. The rest of the world counts.  If you hope to accomplish anything, you will inevitably need all of the people you hated in high school. I once attended a very prestigious design school where the idea was “If you are here, you are so important, the rest of the world doesn’t count.” Not a single person from that school that I know of has ever been really successful outside of school. In fact, most are the kind of mid-level management drones and hacks they so despised as students. A suit does not make you a genius. No matter how good your design is, somebody has to construct or manufacture it. Somebody has to insure it. Somebody has to buy it. Respect those people. You need them. Big time.

I’d love to get a list of those things you wish they’d taught in school, but never did.  Leave a comment, e-mail me, or trackback to this post and I’ll compile them all for a future post. 

The Myth of the “Short” Meeting

In practice, I always preferred a face-to-face meeting with my clients to a telephone conversation or an exchange of correspondence.  I believed in-person conversations were much more effective and better for both client and lawyer — and still do.  However, it is important to keep in mind the true costs (to the lawyer and client) of that “short” meeting.  From 37signals:

If you’re going to schedule a meeting that lasts one hour and invite 10 people to attend then it’s a ten-hour meeting, not a one-hour meeting. You are trading 10 hours of productivity for one hour of meeting time. And it’s probably more like 15 hours since there are mental switching costs associated with stopping what you’re doing, going somewhere else to do something else, and then resuming what you were doing before.

Remember how valuable your clients’ time is.  Though you may not think their time is worth as much as yours, at the end of the meeting, neither of you will get that time back. 

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Computer Programs I Want: ToDo-per Scooper

Saw this about scheduling productivity “dashes” on 43 Folders, and had this thought:

Say you’ve got 10 (30, 200?) items on your To-Do list, and you are so overwhelmed, you don’t know where to start.  What you need is a Random Task Generator, (alternative title “ToDo-per Scooper”).  Here’s how it would work:

1.  It would take the list of your to-do’s, either inputed directly or scoured (scooped?) from your Outlook tasks list, along with the estimated amount of time you think each task will take. 

2.  It would automatically add 50% more time to your estimate (to account for innacurate and overly-optimistic estimating).

3.  Whenever you set aside a certain amount of time on your calendar for non-specific task completion, it would fill in that time with a randomly-selected To-Do (or To-Do’s) that fit the time you set aside.

4.  The randomness could be changed to give more weight to more important tasks — kind of like adding more balls for the bad teams in the NBA lottery.

BONUS:  If this feature were incorporated into an enterprise-wide calendaring and task-management program (legal software vendors, are you listening?), the business could set aside an hour each day when everyone could get access to a fresh set of to-do’s to complete in that hour.  I think it could make the whole enterprise more productive.

Anyone want to build this application with me?  Or is it already out there?

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Be Ready to Leave Your Best Message

Here’s a great tip to keep in mind next time you call a client:

Prepare for every telephone call expecting to get voicemail. This will help you focus your message and prevent rambling. You should treat your voicemail message as a short presentation, thinking it through ahead of time, not during the recording…

From this 1999 Report, via 43 Folders

Know What You Don’t Know

Ben Folds, from the song “Bastard” on Songs for Silverman:

“Why you got to act like you know when you don’t know?”

How many of us are afraid to admit to a client that we, “just don’t know” the answer?  Ben Folds would suggest:

 “It’s OK if you don’t know everything.” 

It really is.  Next time you don’t know, say you don’t know.  Your clients may appreciate your candor.

Lessons for Ford, and for Lawyers

In The Truth About Cars, Robert Farago offers up his prescription for an ailing Ford:

You want bold moves? Kill Jaguar. Kill Mercury. Sell Volvo. Sell Mazda. Sell Land Rover. Cut half the remaining models and plow money into the ones that survive. Re-invigorate your rear-wheel drive, box-frame car with new sheetmetal, a bad-ass motor and a killer cabin. Build a world-beating Lincoln luxury sedan. Make the Ford Focus the world’s best small car. Get the Explorer’s mileage into the mid-20’s. Develop a more powerful engine than the Hemi and stick it into everything– including a new minivan. Set SVT loose on the entire model line-up. OWN quality interiors. Don’t badge engineer ANYTHING.

Lose the glass fishbowl; redesign Ford showrooms to look like a modern retail outlet. Trim the dealer network and sell cars on the web. Undercut everyone’s price with every vehicle. Interact with every single customer on a regular basis via internet. Institute no-haggle pricing. Make financing cheaper. Drop 80% of your print budget and dominate the web. Do it all, and do it all at once– regardless of cost. Then sell value for money. Ford: the best car money can buy.

Imagine a big law firm (or any law firm) making similar moves.  What would that advice be, and what would the resulting law firm look like?

Deposition Tips

It has been over 18 months since I’ve taken a deposition, so I’ll pass this one on for what it is worth:  Take Great Notes from LifeHacker.  Some great tips for general notetaking, and a few that would work well for depositions.  For instance:

[U]se a simple system of symbols to make off 4 different information types in the column space left in the margin.

  • [ ] A square checkbox denotes a to do item
  • ( ) A circle indicates a task to be assigned to someone else
  • * An asterisk is an important fact
  • ? A question mark goes next to items to research or ask about

After the meeting, a quick vertical scan of the margin area makes it easy to add tasks to your to do list and calendar, send out requests to others, and further research questions. (This method is the brainchild of Michael Hyatt, someone who clearly has mastered the art of attending meetings.)

Time Alone for the Zone

Jason Fried has some great advice on how to get into the zone:

Getting in the zone takes time. And that’s why interruption is your enemy. It’s like rem sleep – you don’t just go to rem sleep, you go to sleep first and you make your way to rem. Any interruptions force you to start over. rem is where the real sleep magic happens. The alone time zone is where the real development magic happens.

One tip to help you create some alone time is… Set up a rule at work: Make half the day alone time. From 10am-2pm, no one can talk to one another (except during lunch). Or make the first or the last half of the day the alone time period. Just make sure this period is contiguous in order to avoid productivity-killing interruptions.

How much more work would your business get done if you set aside “zone” time.

Is it all the same thing?

Will lawyers ever realize that it is all the same thing:

We don’t spend 2 hours every day on marketing, we spend all day on marketing. We don’t spend 1 hour every day figuring out the best way to communicate what our products do, we spend all day figuring out the best way to communicate what our products do. We don’t spend 3 hours on interface design, we spend all day on interface design.

When the edges are blurred, and one thing is many things, you can achieve so much more with less time, effort, and people.

Good work for clients is marketing.  Sending a fair bill is client service.  Returning telephone calls and e-mails is relationship building.  It is all the same thing.  Go read the original post and the comments.  Great Stuff!

Only Make Smart Mistakes

Steve Pavlina sets out 10 Stupid Mistakes Made by the Newly Self-Employed.  They are a worthwhile read (go to the post for his explanation of each), even if you’ve been self-employed for a long time.  I know I still make a few of these stupid mistakes.  How about you?

1.  Selling to the wrong people.

2.  Spending too much money.

3.  Spending too little money.

4.  Putting on a fake front.

5.  Assuming a signed contract will be honored.

6.  Going against your intuition.

7.  Being too formal.

8.  Sacrificing your personality quirks.

9.  Failing to focus on value creation.

10.  Failing to optimize.

Does More Time Equal More Money?

Here’s How to Have a 36 Hour Day.  Now, for you lawyers out there, leave in the comments section your suggestions on How to Bill a 36 Hour Day.

Productivity Test

Need to get more done?  Try this tip from Scott Berkun:

Here’s a test to help sort how your attention is working for you. Make a list of all the things you read, check, skim, or browse every day (Include every gadget or device you use once a day). Make a second list of why you’re spending your attention on them. What are you trying to achieve or feel? Rank the first list based on the second. Then cut the first list in half or by one-third and see what happens.

Do Your Trial Exhibits Pass This Test?

Dave Gray has been doing some terrific blogging at Communication NationIn this post, he shares the results of a study about how people create visual diagrams.

A 1997 study found that when people create visual diagrams, they use about 6 to 12 visual elements, or “nodes” to describe a system.

What’s interesting to me is that this is true no matter what tools they used and regardless of the complexity of the system.

Dave suggests that the ways people create diagrams is related to the ways people understand diagrams from others.  His thoughts:

1. People construct “mental models” when trying to understand how things work

2. Most mental models seem to be made up of 6-12 components

3. A diagram with more then 13 components will probably not become integrated into people’s consciousness as a mental model

To me, that means that if you want your system to be understood and integrated into people’s thinking as a mental model, you had better boil it down to a simple picture.

If you are a lawyer that uses diagrams to communicate with clients (or juries), you should take another look at your materials and see if you can simplify them.  Maybe Bill Gates should take the same advice:


In this slide alone, I count almost 40 components — and I’ve seen a lot of trial graphics that are a whole lot worse.

Sketch a Solution with Clients

Ever have a client that’s has a problem you are struggling to solve?  Here’s a tip from Noise Between Stations that could help:

When you’re trying to solve a problem and you’re stuck it’s because you’re trying to solve it in your head. Just as you can do simple calculations in your head but need a calculator for everything else, you can’t solve tough business problems in your head.

When you draw, build, write, or use something that is physical, your physical senses help you understand more about the situation. You more fully understand the problem than if you only thought about it. Financial analysts do this by writing calculations on the back of a napkin or playing with numbers in a spreadsheet. Designers do this by sketching on paper or carving foam in the shape of a product. Engineers do it by combining parts they have on hand to make something new.

It’s important to ignore how well you’re doing what you’re doing, because that will distract you from accomplishing the goal. This may go against our usual inclinations to do things “right.” We’re taught to think things through and carefully design a solution. But when you’re stuck we need to overcome this tendency. Free your mind from all the rules you normally follow. Pick up the pencil and just sketch.

You might even use techniques you know to be incorrect because they help you move more quickly. This is good. The are only two guidelines here:

1. Do it quickly
2. Create something tangible

I can’t recommend this tactic enough.  When I was mediating custody disputes, I used huge easel-sized 3M Post-It notes to sketch out custody scenarios with my clients.  I’d draw a month’s worth of days in a grid, and would give each client their own big Post-it to diagram their ideal custody situation.  Often times, once the parents got up and put marker to paper, they broke out of their mindset that a reasonable custody arrangement couldn’t be negotiated.

If you have an office or meeting room, take down some of your diplomas and expensive art work and instead throw up some big Post-it notes (or a whiteboard) on the wall and see how many more client problems you’ll solve.

Technology does not equal productivity.

Here’s a must-read article from Wired, that shows how technology has made us less productive.  Some quotes from the story:

Workers completed two-thirds of their work in an average day last year, down from about three-quarters in a 1994 study, according to research conducted for Day-Timers, an East Texas, Pennsylvania-based maker of organizational products.

The biggest culprit is the technology that was supposed to make work quicker and easier, experts say.

“Technology has sped everything up and, by speeding everything up, it’s slowed everything down, paradoxically,” said John Challenger, chief executive of Chicago-based outplacement consultants Challenger, Gray & Christmas.

“We never concentrate on one task anymore,” Challenger said. “You take a little chip out of it, and then you’re on to the next thing. It’s harder to feel like you’re accomplishing something.”

Client Experience Matters

Found this article (via Digg) titled Why Features Don’t Matter Anymore: The New Laws of Digital Technology.   In the author’s words, “user experience (along with a strong brand, and clever marketing) is much more important for the success of a device then technical specifications.”  There is much to be learned here for all service providers as well, so I encourage you to read the entire article with that in mind.  Here are the author’s 10 fundamental rules (read the article for his explanation):

1) More features isn’t better, it’s worse.

2) You can’t make things easier by adding to them.

3) Confusion is the ultimate deal-breaker.

4) Style matters

5) Only features that provide a good user experience will be used.

6) Any feature that requires learning will only be adopted by a small fraction of users.

7) Unused features are not only useless, they can slow you down and diminish ease of use.

8) Users do not want to think about technology: what really counts is what it does for them.

9) Forget about the killer feature. Welcome to the age of the killer user-experience.

10) Less is difficult, that’s why less is more 

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Build a Strategy Network in Your Firm

Andrew Razeghi has a great article titled Create Success: Stop Thinking Like a Lawyer he wrote a few years ago, but that I just found.  Among other things, he takes on the topic of law firm retreats:

No firm can create strategy in a half day, or even a full day. Not only is the time insufficient, the contributors are isolated. There are typically no clients at such retreats, or any investment bankers, accountants, and other professional advisers that law firms work with. Therefore, the retreat often devolves into a feel-good exercise.

Wouldn’t it be better to have 20 attorneys thinking about strategy for four hours a month for 10 months? Who are those who make things happen? Who are the thought leaders in your firm? What if you gave them the chance to think strategically as a part of their job? Create a “strategy network” within your firm – a web of business thinkers with a structured forum in which to think about the business of law, not the practice of law. This network should not just include senior partners and rainmakers, but new partners and senior associates too.

I really like this idea and think it could be a good fit for a practice group or small law firm.  Anyone want to try this in their firm?  I’d be happy to help you get it off the ground.

Do your calendar and priorities match?

Mark at Manager Tools writes about an exercise he has all of his executive coaching clients do before he begins working with them:  He asks them to list their priorities and then looks at their calendars.  The result?

90% of the time they don’t match.

When I review with my clients what they said their priorities were, versus what their calendars proved they actually were, the primary emotion, once we fight through disbelief and dissembling, is embarrassment. The smart ones get something powerful from this: the disparity between what they know their jobs to be and what they spend their time doing is the primary source of their dissatisfaction in their role.

Such a simple, yet profound exercise.  Try it yourself and see if your calendar and priorites match?

Thanks to Lisa for the tip.

Choosing the wrong profession?

Via Autoblog:

According to the article [here], many mechanics charge between 100 and 140  pounds ($174 -$244) an hour just in labor costs. Junior barristers charge 30 – 100  pounds ($52- $174) as their typical hourly fee; physicians charge from 44 to 63 ($77-$110) pounds per hour.

So, that’s why you are suing me.

Management By Baseball breaks down a silly law suit by Major League Baseball against the owners of fantasy baseball leagues.  What’s so interesting about the post is the explanation of the three common reasons big companies sue small ones.  The third one doesn’t sound familiar, does it?

COMMON REASON #1 — The attacking organization is on a decline it cannot stem with the creative energy & growth in its market & is just trying to squeeze a little more juice out of the old beetle before it folds.

COMMON REASON #2 — The attacking organization is struggling to survive because even though it has creative energy, its markets are blocked & the chump change it stands to claim is more than it currently has.

COMMON REASON #3 — The attacking organization just brought counsel in house or hired new outside counsel and the newcomer is trying to make an impression or the hiring executives want to show off their new toy.

Attorneys Aren’t Knowledge Workers – Ron Baker

Attorneys Aren’t Knowledge Workers by guest blogger Ron Baker

In light of my last post titled Your Employees are Volunteers, this one is sure to cause some cognitive dissonance.  My VeraSage Institute colleague Dan Morris thinks I’m wrong about professional firms being filled with knowledge workers; he believes the majority of them are more akin to factory workers.

Now I know this is a heretical view, but Dan assembles a very powerful argument to support his assertion.  He doesn’t deny professionals have the potential to be knowledge workers.  His argument is they are not largely because of the incentives and structures of the firms in which they operate, which function like sweatshops of yore.

Now this is a powerful argument, and it made me pause to reexamine my core assumptions about automatically asserting that just because someone is a credentialed professional they are automatically a knowledge worker.

There’s no doubt they can contribute a certain amount of creativity and innovation to the jobs they perform and the customers they serve, but being a knowledge worker also requires that the leaders of your organization recognize and treat you like one.

Stephen Covey writes about exactly this in his latest book, The 8th Habit: From Effectiveness to Greatness:  “It’s the leadership beliefs and style of the manager, not the nature of the job or economic era, that defines whether a person is a knowledge worker or not.”

When you consider the metrics used by most firms to measure their team members, they all come from the Industrial Revolution’s command-and-control hierarchies (realization, utilization, billable hours, etc).  Yet as I discussed in my posts on The Firm of the Past and The Firm of the Future, the metrics we use to measure a knowledge worker’s effectiveness are woefully inadequate.

Dan further supports his argument by stating that true knowledge workers:

  • Don’t have billable hour quotas.
  • Spend at least 15% of their time innovating and creating better ways to add value to customers (this destroys efficiency under the old metrics!).
  • Understand that judgments and discernment are far more important than measurements in assessing performance.
  • Are focused on outputs, results and value, not inputs, efforts and costs.
  • Don’t fill out timesheets accounting for every 6 minutes of their day.
  • Are trusted by their leaders to the right thing for the firm and its customers.
  • Are passionate and self-motivated, and don’t need constant supervision.

If the above describes your firm, congratulations — you are a true knowledge organization.  Perhaps nothing illustrates the value knowledge workers can add to a business than last week’s purchase of Pixar by Disney for $7.4 billion in Disney stock.

Disney will have to respect Pixar’s culture and continue to let it make quality movies at its own pace, in its own way.  Otherwise, if Pixar’s creative talent leaves, “Disney just purchased the most expensive computers ever sold,” according to Lawrence Haverty, a fund manager at Gabelli Asset Management.

Unfortunately, most professional firms we’ve come into contact with around the world do not fit Dan’s criteria, which is why he makes such a strong case they function more like manual laborers than knowledge workers.

UPS founder Jim Casey remarked in 1947:  “A man’s worth to an organization can be measured by the amount of supervision he requires.”

The moment you feel the need to hover over your knowledge workers, either physically or metaphorically with the Sword of Damocles — the timesheet — you’ve made a hiring mistake.

Until professional service firm leaders begin to grant their team members autonomy — Greek for self-governance — and treat them like self-respecting knowledge workers, I think Dan’s argument trumps mine.

What do you think?

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Thirty-Nine Cents per Happy Client

Are you including self-addressed stamped envelopes when you send your bills to your clients?  You should be.

Don’t Just Pitch, Pitch In!

Patrick Lamb passes on a great tip from an article by Charles Green about how a law firm, given 90 minutes to “pitch” themselves to the General Counsel of a Fortune 50 company threw the pitch away — and hit the ball out of the park.  From the GC:

Then came firm three.  They said, ‘We have 90 minutes with you .  We can either do a standard capabilities presentation–which we’re very happy to do–or we can try something different.  We suggest that we get started on the job, right now–as if you had already given us the contract–and begin the job, right here, right now.  After 85 minutes, we’ll stop and you’ll have firsthand experience of exactly how it feels to work with us.’

Consider this approach for your next pitch — and let me know how it goes.

Things I wish I’d have known in law school.

Buffalo Wings and Vodka sets out a great list of classroom participation strategies.  My favorites:

The Admiral Stockdale:  Most professors will simply move on to the next student if faced with an answer like “POTATOES! I LIKE POTATOES! WHERE’S MY PONY? MOM? ARE YOU THERE? POTATOES!” Also known locally as “The Shawn Rutherford?”

The Paige Pipkin:  Really just a stalling tactic, forces the professor to clarify as many parts of the question as possible while you frantically flip pages in your case book: “Could you repeat the question?” “Could you say that one  word again?” “Could you give me the language of origin?” “Could you use it in a sentence?” “Could you use it in a sentence other than the original question?”

Scorched Earth Policy:  If the professor is going to take you down, then you’re going to take him down with you.  Pull in an unrelated law review article.  Cite Blackstone.  Bring up the war in Iraq.  Or abortion.    Calling your professor a racist is also good for this, though it often takes a little bit of creativity in some of the drier classes. Trust your instincts.

To that, I’d add the Mutharika Mambo:  When the professor dislikes your answer and asks you the question again, repeat your first answer verbatim.  The professor will likely be so confused he’ll move on to another student.  Or, in my case in first year contracts, reward the second answer (that, remember, was identical to the first) with a “very good, Mr. Homann.”

Baker’s Law: Bad Customers Drive Out Good Customers – Ron Baker

Baker’s Law:  Bad Customers Drive Out Good Customers by guest blogger Ron Baker

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal,…
-Thomas Jefferson, The Declaration of Independence, July 4, 1776

Whenever anyone quoted those immortal words from the Declaration of Independence — all men are created equal — Federalist Fisher Ames, an ardent opponent of Thomas Jefferson and a superb congressional orator, would retort:  “And differ greatly in the sequel.” 

While Fisher’s admonishment might not be the best way to administer a country’s laws — where all should be treated equally — it is profound when it comes to understanding no two customers are equal.  A German Proverb teaches, “He who seeks equality should go to a cemetery.”

Maximum vs. Optimal Capacity

All firms have a theoretical maximum capacity and a theoretical optimal capacity.  From a strategy perspective, it is essential to see how that capacity is being allocated to each customer segment.  Your maximum capacity is the total number of customers you firm can adequately service, while the optimal capacity is the point at which customers can be served adequately while maintaining your competitive advantage and pricing integrity. 

Insuring a proper amount of capacity is allocated to various customer segments, while offering a differentiating value proposition within each segment, is an essential element of implementing value pricing strategies.  It also prevents bad customers–those who are not willing to pay for the value you deliver–from crowding out good customers. 

The Adaptive Capacity Model

Think of your firm as a Boeing 777 airplane, similar to the one below: 


When United Airlines places a Boeing 777 in service, it adds a certain capacity to its fleet.  However, it goes one step further, by dividing up that marginal capacity into five segments:

A. First class
B. Business class
C. Full fare coach
D. Coach
F. Leisure,, and Bereavement fares

The airlines — and hotels, cruise lines, golf courses, car rental agencies, and other industries with fixed capacity — are adept at managing and predicting their adaptive capacity to maximize profitability. 

Lessons from Yield Management

The airlines understand it is the last-minute customer who values the seat the most and hence they reserve a portion of each plane’s capacity for their best customers.  They do this even at the risk the plane will take off with some of those high price seats empty — and that revenue can never be recaptured since they cannot inventory seats. 

Why do they take that risk?  Because the rewards of reserving capacity for price insensitive customers comprise the majority of their profits.

Airlines allocate only so many seats to coach, leisure, (or bereavement) seats, which they offer well in advance of the flight.  However, no airline adds capacity in order to accommodate these customers

This point is noteworthy, as too many firms will, in fact, add capacity — or reallocate capacity from higher-valued customers — in order to serve low-valued customers.  This is the equivalent of the airlines putting the upper deck in the back of the plane rather than the front.

Furthermore, many companies will turn away high-value, last minute work from its best customers because it is operating near maximum capacity, usually at the low-end of the value curve for price sensitive customers.  This is common during peak seasons; the lost profit opportunities are incalculable.

Many worry about running below optimal capacity and cut their prices in order to attract work, especially in downturns or slow cycles.  This strategy is fine, but you must understand the tradeoff you’re making.  Usually, that capacity could be better utilized selling more valued services to your first-class and business-class customers, who are less price sensitive than new customers. 

This way, the firm does not cut its price and degrade its pricing integrity in order to attract price sensitive customers, sending a signal into the marketplace it is willing to engage in this strategy and affecting the perception of its value proposition.

The conventional wisdom is you have to be at maximum capacity — where demand exceeds supply — to raise prices.  But since when do you have to wait to be fully booked to demand a premium price?  Do not confuse working harder (supply-side capacity) with working smarter (demand-side pricing).

Prices are determined by value created for the customer, not the internal capacity constraints of your firm.

How much fixed capacity are you allocating to each customer class?  What will be the criteria you use to ascertain where in your airplane each customer sits?

By viewing your firm as an airplane with a fixed amount of seats, you will begin to adapt your capacity to those customers who appreciate-and are willing to pay for-your value proposition.

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Why Customer, Not Client? – Ron Baker

Why Customer, Not Client?  by guest blogger Ron Baker

Customers are people; consumers are statistics.
–Stanley Marcus [1905-2002], Quest for the Best

Stanley Marcus was the son of one of the founders of Neiman-Marcus.  I believe he understood customer service better than almost anyone, and I have learned many things from his books.

One of his favorite sayings was:  “No ‘market’–or ‘consumer’–ever purchased anything in one of my stores, but a lot of customers came in and bought things and made me a rich man.”

Words mean things.  The words we use and the language we adopt, as a firm and as a profession, take on certain meanings over time.  They become part of our culture, the way we do things.

When I began researching the Total Quality Service (TQS) and customer loyalty movements in the late 1980s, it struck me how many organizations have tried to call their customers something other than a customer. 

The word client, when you look at its etymology, is an inappropriate word to describe the relationship between a professional and the person he or she serves in today’s marketplace.  Client is derived from the Latin word cliens, which is a follower, retainer, one who follows his patron.  In other words, a person dependent on another, as for protection or patronage.

According to my Dictionary, “among the ancient Romans a client was a citizen who placed himself under the protection of a patrician, who was called his patron; a master who had freed his slave, and retained some rights over him after his emancipation; a dependent; one under the protection or patronage of another.”  Are these the type of images you want to project? 

The Problem with the Contemporary Meaning

I realize words change in meaning, and they adopt contemporary usage and generally accepted definitions, and client is no exception.  The Dictionary also describes client as “a person or company for whom a lawyer, accountant, advertising agency, etc. is acting; loosely, a customer; a person served by a social agency.” 

But visit any governmental agency that dispenses aid to individuals, and you will soon discover they too use the word client.  A social worker may have clients but I do not believe this describes the relationship we have (or want) with our customers.

What has happened to the word customer, and why do so many businesses attempt to describe the people they serve as something else?  After all, customer is derived from the word custom, which is something done regularly.  Therefore, a customer is a person who buys, especially one who buys regularly.

Why is it when you see the doctor, you’re a “patient,” when you board an airplane, a “passenger;” when you get into a taxi, a “fare;” to your utility company, a “ratepayer;” to your insurance company, a “policyholder;” and to a newsletter, a “subscriber.”

What’s going on here?  Why not call customers what they are?  Why do businesses develop a special terminology to describe what is, in essence, a commercial transaction?  It is as if professionals believe we are not subject to the laws of supply and demand along with everyone else. 

Partially, it’s arrogance, a way for us to feel superior about ourselves relative to our customers.  After all, one doesn’t “sell” to a client; one doesn’t pander in the marketplace with non-professional advertising to attract clients; rather they rush to seek us out for our expertise, experience, guidance, etc.  Does this sound like the current environment in which we operate?

The customer is sovereign, period.  We may not like it, we may wax nostalgic for the good old days when customers lined up like passive sheep to be fleeced, but those days are gone, forever.  Professionals can no longer place themselves above the “crass marketplace.”  We must participate in it, and we must differentiate ourselves from the competition if we are to succeed.

Walt Disney insisted his customers be called “guests.”  His attitude, which still permeates the entire culture of all Disney theme parks, is that the role of employees (“Cast Members”) is to entertain the guests and show them a good time.  The words used to describe the people served by a business are a good indication of the attitude of the firm.

I’m not suggesting if you change your vernacular you will automatically instill a culture committed to the customer.  Far from it.  But the words you use to describe the people you serve says an enormous amount about the attitude of your firm–and it is the attitude and actions of your people that ultimately determine your firm’s culture.

I don’t expect many professionals to adopt the word customer.  And that’s a good thing, for you.  After all, you’re reading this Blog for the purpose of differentiating yourself from the competition, because competition really is conformity.  Start referring to your clients as customers, and you will discover it has a salutary effect on your attitude, firm culture, customer loyalty and respect, and ultimately, your bottom line.

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The Firm of the Future – Ron Baker

The Firm of the Future by guest blogger Ron Baker


In my last post, I exposed the predominant practice equation for The Firm of the Past, and dissected the problems with it, how it does not explain the success of professionals (because it is far too focused on hours, efficiency, and inputs, rather than results, output and value), and why it no longer comports to the intellectual capital economy professionals inhabit today.


The New Practice Equation offers a viable and proven alternative to leveraging the real critical success factors of The Firm of the Future:

Profitability = Intellectual Capital x Effectiveness x Price

The Market Share Myth


This theory has many advantages over the old one.  First, rather than focusing on top line revenue, the firm is forced to think about the profitability of each customer.  Business is a game of margins, not market share, and growth for the sake of growth is the ideology of the cancer cell, not a profitable business.


Further, not all customers are equal, and many firms could stand to lose up to 40-60% of their customers, and they’d be more profitable if they did so.  Marginal customers may contribute revenue, but they also absorb precious, fixed capacity that is better allocated to more valuable customers.


Mind Over Matter


Second, professional firms don’t sell hours.  They create and sell — and their customers buy –– Intellectual Capital (IC).  This is a far broader view than thinking about leveraging people and hours.  Microsoft didn’t create the wealth it has by pricing by the hour, and I doubt Bill Gates keeps a timesheet.


A firm’s IC consists of three components:  Human Capital (its people); Structural Capital (its systems, proprietary software, checklists, resources, etc., that enable it to perform its work); and Social Capital (customers, vendors, suppliers, referral sources, alumni, and alliances).  These components are the real levers of profitability in any professional service firm, not people hours.  You can’t leverage an hour; time is simply time, and all businesses –– indeed, all living beings –– are constrained by it.  So what?


There are so many more ways to leverage the three components of IC, but it requires a radical change of mindset to get away from the notion that “billable hours” drive a firm’s profitability.  As Archimedes said, “Give me a lever long enough, and I shall move the earth.”  The real lever in a professional service firm is its IC.


Doing the Right Things


Third, the Firm of the Future will focus on effectiveness, not efficiency.  There’s not much the average firm can do to squeeze another 15-20% efficiency from its Human Capital, which are only fallible human beings.  The focus on billable hours has hindered professional firms from focusing on being effective with their customers.


If you study surveys of how customers select –– or fire –– their attorneys, efficiency is never mentioned.  It is always because of outstanding service, or lack of service –– issues such as they don’t ignore me, they are proactive in looking after my interests, they are aggressive in helping me pursue opportunities, etc.  You can’t do all of these things if you are focused on nothing but billable hour quotas.


Therefore, the Firm of the Future will measure and judge team member effectiveness by utilizing Key Predictive Indicators (KPIs), which are leading indicators of performance.  Timesheets are lagging indicators, and don’t offer firm leaders a relevant, or timely, measurement of the right things (effectiveness); instead, they attempt to focus on doing things right (efficiency).  And they do a lousy job of it, since one can look great on a timesheet while having a lousy service attitude, or upsetting colleagues, or performing sub-quality work.


I will take effectiveness over efficiency any day in a knowledge environment.  Let me be clear:  The Firm of the Future does not have timesheets.


Pricing on Purpose


Last, Firms of the Future recognize they are a business just like the airlines, hotels, rental car companies, etc.  Businesses have prices, not hourly rates.  You’d never fly an airline that tried to charge you $4 per minute.  The idea is simply ludicrous.  In fact, professional firms need to start pricing up-front for everything they do, period.  No more excuses.


To retort a firm can’t do that because it doesn’t know exactly how long it is going to take is specious.  The customer doesn’t care how long it takes, they only care about the price relative to the value, and they want to make that comparison before they buy, not after.  Do you care how long it took Toyota to build your car?


Besides, from the firm’s perspective, it is much better to know the customer doesn’t agree with the price before you do the work, which helps you prevent committing precious firm capacity to customers who don’t value the work.


Pricing earthquake and other disaster insurance is far more complicated than legal services, yet my insurance company gives me a fixed price, before I buy (and before they know what their costs are going to be).  It’s called risk, and it is where all profits come from.  The professions are going to have develop pricing competency if they are serious about capturing the value they create, and if that means they have to hire pricing professionals, including actuaries, then so be it.


Pricing is the number one driver of profitability in any business, and is far too important to leave to people who lack the creativity, imagination and self-esteem to price based upon value.  You know who the mediocre and wimpy pricers are in your firm.  They are severely handicapping your profitability by leaving money on the table, since they are far too focused on costs, hours, and efforts to think clearly about results, outputs and value to the customer.


Lawyers are subject to the same laws of economics, and consumer psychology as every other business.  It is time they learned to Price on Purpose, and stop hiding behind the veil of billable hour. 


Do Professionals Hate Change?


Other consultants will tell you professionals won’t take this journey to become a Firm of the Future because they hate change.  In fact, the physicist Max Planck once said “Science progresses funeral by funeral.”


I reject this line of reasoning.  I don’t think a profession progresses by shooting its elder members.  It is not change, per se, lawyers fear, it is the uncertainty of the effects of the change they fear.  That is a much different issue to deal with.


If I was Lloyds of London, and I could insure a firm’s losses for a given period of time if they were to try my theory and it failed, I think many more would change.  Unfortunately, I’m not Lloyds and can’t do that.


I have to convert my colleagues based upon the logic of my arguments and ideas, through the use of words.  I am optimistic I can do that –– I have a fairly good track record so far –– which is why I will continue to write, lecture, educate, and disseminate my ideas into the national conversation, through our think tank, VeraSage Institute.


In fact, the Fellows at VeraSage are so committed to this process –– a group of 14 dedicated professionals world-wide assembled in order to better the professions and quality of life –– we offer any firm assistance, in the form of e-mail and telephone consulting, if they are truly serious about making the transition.  They can learn from our collective experience –and from other firms –– and this will help them avoid the mistakes others have made, thereby lowering their risk.


A Paradigm Worthy of a Proud Profession


Professional firms are Intellectual Capital organizations, and it is time for them to begin acting as if they understood this fact, rather than trying to constantly enhance efficiency by treating their Human Capital as if they had no mind of their own, redolent of the days of Frederik Taylor’s time-and-motion studies.


Humans are not simply machines that exist to bill hours, yet the old practice equation keeps us mired in this mentality.  No one entered this profession to bill the most hours; it is simply not a relevant metric to judge the success of an attorney.  I believe we can –– indeed, must –– do better than the one-dimensional opportunities presented by an antiquated model.


When I first publicly presented and contrasted The Firm of the Future with The Firm of the Past, a CPA explained to me at the break why she thought the new equation was so superior to the old.  She said, and I’m paraphrasing here, “Your equation presents so many more factors that enable a firm to achieve its objectives than the old one did.  It is like being freed from a cage that has restricted our firm for decades.”


I have offered you a testable hypothesis, one that is subject to the falsification principle of the scientific method.  I hope someday this theory will be replaced with an even better one, as that is how all knowledge creeps.  I only hope to live long enough to see it.


Clare Boothe Luce used to say, “The only difference between an optimist and a pessimist is the pessimist is usually better informed.”  When it comes to the professions, I certainly hope she was wrong.  But the road not yet traveled is long, and it seems the professions, to paraphrase Winston Churchill’s exhortation of America, will do the right thing –– once they have exhausted the alternatives.


Despite this, I remain optimistic.  Milton Friedman tells a wonderful story that may illustrate what we need:

A young nun was out driving a car down a superhighway and ran out of gas.  She remembered that a mile back there had been a gas station.  She got out of her car, hiked up her habit, and walked back.  When she got to the station she found that there was only one young man in attendance there.  He said he’d love to help her but couldn’t leave the gas station because he was the only one there.  He said he would try to find a container in which he could give her some gas.  He hunted around the gas station and couldn’t find a decent container.  The only thing he could find was a little baby’s potty that had been left there.  So he filled the baby potty with gasoline and gave it to the nun.  She took the baby potty and walked the mile down the road to her car.  She got to her car and opened the gas tank and started to pour it in.  Just at that moment, a great big Cadillac came barreling down the road at 80 miles an hour.  The driver was looking out and couldn’t believe what he was seeing.  So he jammed on his brakes, stopped, backed up, opened the window, and looked out and said, “Sister, I only wish I had your faith!”

The Firms of the Future must lead the profession by following a model worthy of its proud heritage.  If we reinvigorate and revitalize the professions, begin to understand and leverage the Intellectual Capital it creates, there is no limit to what we can achieve, as long as we do not lose faith in ourselves.


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The Firm of the Past – Ron Baker

The Firm of the Past by guest blogger Ron Baker:
Nothing stops an organization faster than people who believe that the way they worked yesterday is the best way to work tomorrow. To succeed, not only do your people have to change the way they act, they’ve got to change the way they think about the past.

––John Madonna, former Chairman, KPMG International

Nothing fails like success. Professional service firms have been operating under a predominant theory of the firm since at least the 1940s, which has served lawyers, accountants, among others, quite well.
The problem is, this theory is no longer relevant to the intellectual capital economy. We need a new theory of the firm. All learning starts with theory, since a fact, measurement or assertion not illuminated by a theory is absolutely sterile––we might as well read the phone book.
Why Theory is Important
There is also nothing more practical than a good theory, since it allows us to predict, control, or prescribe. We are ruled by our theories, whether we admit it or not. Professionals bill by the hour––and keep timesheets––because of a theory.
Yet theory is a dirty word in most business books and seminars. Usually the author will state something like:  “This book is not based on ivory tower theory, but on real world examples you can use Monday morning.” I recoil when I hear that, because I know I’m about to be bored silly with checklists and a plethora of platitudes that rarely rise to the level of common sense.
The scientific method originated in Europe in the 16th century, and is one of the creations that has significantly bettered the human condition and shaped the world we now inhabit. It is one of the fourteen meta-inventions Charles Murray documents in his fascinating and scholarly book, Human Accomplishment.
The concepts of observation, hypothesis, falsification, parsimony, and the experimental method are all components of the scientific method. All science progresses through dissension, not agreement, and being able to falsify theories and posit better ones is the catalyst needed in order to gain a deeper understanding of what we are studying, whether in the hard sciences, economics or business.
The Old Practice Equation
What is the theory of the professional service firm that has created the success we’ve enjoyed? If you were to think deeply about it, I believe you’d end up with an equation that looks like this:
Revenue = People Power x Efficiency x Hourly Rate
In Greek language, analyze means “unloosen, separate into parts,” which we will proceed to do with this theory to expose its many weaknesses.
First, since most firms have a relatively high contribution margin (revenue less direct labor costs), it gives them a false sense that any revenue is good. This in turn leads them to accept customers who are not as valuable to the firm as others, since marginally valuable customers take up a firm’s precious capacity, and keep it from reserving capacity for its most valuable customers. 
Second, the way most firms were built in the last century was by leveraging people, literally building a pyramid structure. As technology came on the scene––and especially when the computer hit the desktop––the pyramids began to flatten and firms started to leverage technology. Most firms, however, will put revenue before capacity, always playing catch-up to the workflow and customer demand, and working their people at full tilt. Most other businesses––think of FedEx, Intel, etc.––will put capacity before revenue. 
This constant full capacity utilization seriously hinders a firm’s ability to attract top talent, valuable customers and cross-sell additional services to existing customers, not to mention innovate. It also makes the partners and firm leaders believe the way to prosperity is to leverage people, and worse, billable hours. What David Maister calls the donkey strategy –– prosperity by carrying a heavier load.
Third, most firms focus on efficiency by measuring such things as utilization rates and billable hours. Yet, if you study statistics going back at least fifty years, you’d find utilization rates and billable hours are within a very tight range.  In other words, whether professionals are using a quill pen or a laptop computer, they can only charge so many hours in a year and realize so much on those hours.
Yet the theory leads partners to believe efficiency is the be all and end all of running a profitable firm. This is demonstrably false. I’m sure the buggy whip manufacturers were a model of efficiency before they were replaced by the automobile. What if you are efficient at doing the wrong things?
A business doesn’t exist to be efficient. It exists to create wealth for customers. The relentless focus on efficiency is misplaced in a knowledge environment, where we do not even have proper metrics to measure the output of a knowledge worker, let alone to value it. Yet we cling to our 100+ year-old metrics––designed for manual laborers––because they give us a false sense of security. 
I’d rather be approximately right than precisely wrong, by making subjective judgments about the right things not precise calculations of the wrong things. We simply do not know how to measure a knowledge worker’s “efficiency,” because it’s not a simple matter of looking at inputs and outputs. No one would suggest tallying the cost of canvases, paints and the hours Rembrandt took to create his paintings in any way measures his efficiency, let alone the value of his output. 
Was Einstein on budget for his research? Would you care?
No efficiency expert told Bruce and Jim Nordstrom to put pianos and piano players in their department stores. It certainly decreases efficiency, lowers sales per square foot, etc. Yet, how effective––in terms of customer service and competitive differentiation––has this strategy been? The legal profession has let efficiency retard its effectiveness, innovation and creativity.
I would suggest the most innovative firms––from Intel, 3M, and Disney, to FedEx, Apple and Microsoft––are not the most efficient. They are, however, amongst the most innovative, and profitable. Consider 3M, which provides its employees up to 15% personal time to work on whatever projects they desire. 
It’s not the most efficient scenario, but if they didn’t offer that type of personal time for people to create and innovate, we wouldn’t have Post-It Notes (and think of the wealth created in that market). I think most partners would be horrified to implement a similar policy. Hence, professional firms are not hotbeds of innovation and creativity. If professionals brought the same methods and metrics they use in their firms to the computer industry, we’d have Vacuum Tube Valley, not Silicon Valley.
Last, the Almighty Hourly Rate. The profession has taught approximately two generations of lawyers the only thing they sell is their time. This is unadulterated nonsense, for a very fundamental reason––no customer buys time. How can you sell something the customer doesn’t buy? 
Look at how any customer judges the success (or failure) of their attorney. Customers buy expectations, results, sleep, peace of mind, etc, not hours. The focus on hourly rates has held the profession back from getting paid for the value it creates, and that has to change before another generation is corrupted.
Alternative to a Flawed Theory
It is one thing to light a candle in the darkness and shed light on the obsolescence of a reigning theory; it is a valuable undertaking in order to complete the falsification step in the scientific method. The harder work is constructing a better theory, one that comports to the realities professionals find themselves in today––an intellectual capital economy, where wealth is created from mind, not matter. Where ideas and knowledge––what economists term human capital––comprise 75% of any nation’s, or law firm’s wealth-creating ability.
Stay tuned for the next post, where I will present the new theory: The Firm of the Future.

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Goflockyourselfable Language Test

I’m glad to see Go Flock Yourself is back.  It’s a blog about the absurdity of all things Web 2.0, and pretty funny to boot.  In a somewhat mean-spirited post ripping the use of the term “Syndicatable” in the new book by Robert Scoble and Shel Israel, GFY’s anonymous author shared a pretty useful language tip:

The only people to whom the word “syndicatable” is going to mean anything are the ones who already know what syndication is. Think of it this way, in what I like to call the “Room-full-of-middle-aged-suburban-women-test.” In this test, you walk into a room full of middle-aged suburban women, and say “Blog content is SYNDICATABLE.” Take the number of purely blank stares, multiply it by the number of them that get up and head for the coffee table or the bathroom, and you have a direct index of that statement’s failure to convey even a lick of meaning in and of itself.

As lawyers, how often do we use terms in client conversations that wouldn’t pass this test?

Get on the Same Level as Your Clients

Jack Vinson shares a suggestion from Sylvie Noel for laypeople communicating with experts:

[I]f you want to understand your local expert, tell her how much you already know about the subject. That way, she can adjust her vocabulary to your needs.

Good advice for starting out a new relationship with a client.  Have them tell you how much they know about the subject first.

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No Gain Without Solving Pain

Are you a lawyer who’s thinking of going solo?  Take this advice from Joel Spolsky:

Don’t start a business if you can’t explain what pain it solves, for whom, and why your product will eliminate this pain, and how the customer will pay to solve this pain.


Count the Days by Counting Cards

Here are a few great planning and productivity tips from Eric Maisel, via this post on Worthwhile:

Get seven decks of cards with similar backs. Lay out all seven decks on your living room rug, backs showing. This is a year of days (give or take). Let the magnitude of a year sink in. Experience this wonderful availability of time. (This is a powerful exercise.)

Carefully count the number of days between two widely-separated holidays, for instance New Year’s Day and the Fourth of July. Envision starting a large project on that first holiday (today!) and completing it by the second.

I wish I’d heard about the decks of cards exercise when I was mediating family law cases.  It seems like a great way to convey the healing power of time, or to help couples work out their division of custody (he gets red cards, she gets black, or vice versa). 

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Wanna Love a Lawyer?

I know, as a married guy, I’m a bit out of touch with the dating scene, but is there an audience for this?  From the website:

Lawyers in Love is the best place to meet successful, brainy lawyers, law students, and other legal professionals for friendship, dating, fun, romance and companionship. If your schedule makes it difficult for you to meet people, if you are still working during happy hours and other social events, if weekends are devoted to writing briefs, you will love this unique opportunity to find romance on the Web.

Temping in BigLaw

Temporary Attorney writes about temping in BigLaw.  The blog’s author, Tom the temp, has been thinking a lot lately about how law schools report their employment numbers:

Isn’t the legal profession and the law schools one big “Enron” kind of scandel? Think about it. Every year thousands of college graduates decide whether or not they want to “invest” in a legal education. (often a $100,000 proposition). They decide the feasibility of this investment not by relying on a 10(k), but rather by relying on the career statistics put out by the schools. The career statistics are standardized not by the SEC but rather by something called the NALP.

Whether law schools “outright lie” on their NALP forms Tom the temp wouldn’t know. This did get Tom the temp thinking about something he heard recently concerning a recently unemployed 2004 tier 2 law school graduate. Supposedly this woman was unemployed after passing the bar exam. Her career center wanted to know what she was up to because it was time to file their annual NALP employment report. At the time she was working a two day temp job stuffing envelopes in a law firm for four hours a day. Guess what the school reported? They took her hourly rate multiplied it by 2000 and claimed that she was an attorney in a 20-30 person law firm making a “projected” income of $50,000-60,000 dollars per year. Wow! Talk about an arithmetic trick. Under this mathematical model maybe Tom the temp isn’t doing so bad after all. If only the mathematical illusion matched the reality of Tom the temp’s unfortunate existence.


Entrepreneurial Lessons Learned

Rob May at BusinessPundit has given up entrepreneurship (for now) and gone back to a regular pay check.  He shares some of the lessons he’s learned in this fabulous post.  Here are a few of my favorites:

Know how you make money. Ideas are great, and I’m all for doing cool things, but cash is still king. How do you get cash?

Your estimates are wrong – Yes, even your worst case estimates.

You aren’t your own boss – Your customers are way more demanding than any corporate boss could ever be.

Nobody cares that you are smart or knowledgeable (and you need to know if you really are) – Why not? Because everyone thinks they are smart and knowledgeable. Everyone is convinced they are good at business. Everyone thinks they can hire a talented team. Everyone thinks they can sell. Everyone thinks there is something special and different about them that will make them successful. But accruate self-evaluation skills are critical to entrepreneurial success. You have to know what you are good at, what you aren’t good at but can learn, and what you will probably never be good at. I think this is a major reason businesses fail.

Doing Business with Friends and the Cost of Creativity

As the New Year begins, I admit I’m still in a bit of a reflective mood.  Here are some brilliant insights in this post from Speak Up:

Art and commerce have an uneasy balance in all of our lives. Costs and figures and negotiating have a way of blurring the focus we should have towards the work. It is why pro bono work can be so fun. It is why creative directors have so many other things to do during their day besides create.

The stresses. The paperwork. The bad dogs, sick kids, missed busses and fights with our significant other can all factor into a job. Every job brings with it a new set of challenges. Some of which will not come from the work.

Just like there is a cost of doing business, there is a cost of creating. I am still learning how to put a price on that.

Their Pain, Your Gain

Barry Moltz has a recap of the 10 Lessons his students should have learned in his entrepreneurship class.  The best one:

Every Business is About Solving Pain.  Find the People that will Pay for it.

This should be an easy one for lawyers in particular.  What pain do you solve?


Grinders and Drones

There is an interesting conversation taking place between Neil Witmer (via Larry Bodine’s blog) and Gerry Riskin about the ability of legal “grinders and drones” to become rainmakers.

A question that seems a bit lost in the discussion is just how do big-firm lawyers become grinders or drones?  With the tremendous number of billable hours big firms require, might the firms be responsible for their own plight — by turning otherwise social, interesting young lawyers into grinders and drones to get those billable hours in?  I do know this, big firms aren’t complaining when a second year associate ignores his/her family, forgoes a social life, and loses touch with former classmates while clocking 2,417 billables.

If the firms spent more time nurturing the skills that help young lawyers become rainmakers, instead of letting those skills atrophy, perhaps there would be a bunch more rainmaking partners.

UPDATE:  Check out the Greatest American Lawyer’s Post on the same topic.  As usual, he says it better than I did.

New Niche for Lawyers?

Looking for a practice niche?  Mike McLaughlin has an idea for you:

It’s estimated that more than 40 percent of employed workers plan to begin job searches during the next 12 months, and almost 25 percent are already looking.

This study, conducted by Yahoo/HotJobs, is unscientific but shows a noteworthy trend.

Most people are looking for new jobs because they’re not happy with their current compensation. And almost half of the respondents believe their current jobs offer “no potential for career growth.” The news gets worse: One in four people feels underappreciated as “valued employees.”

Imagine feeling stuck in a job, unappreciated and underpaid. That’s a dangerous combination, which leads to unnecessary turnover.

Some employers risk getting blindsided by this trend, so it’s a compelling topic for discussion with most any client. 

With 40 percent of employed workers looking for different work, how about marketing yourself as the Career Change Lawyer?  You could offer a flat-rate package that included review of (and advice concerning) any non-compete/confidentiality agreements, severance packages, benefit issues, etc. 

Heck, you accountants, bankers, and financial planners out there should do the same.

Grab the domain now and start your blog tomorrow!

“Presentation” does not mean “Documentation”

This post’s title comes from a comment in this 43 Folders thread on presentation tips.  I’d also recommend this post from Particle Tree sharing some more PowerPoint/presentation resources.

A Deposition Trick from Police Officers?

This is one of those cool Tricks of the Trade I found and wanted to share:

If you want to know if someone is lying about his identity and using a fake name, ask him or her to spell it. People are much slower at spelling fake names than they are at spelling their own.

Queer Eye for the Legal Guy

If your firm is doing some cool stuff with technology, but (like me) you could always use more cool tech stuff, check out HP’s Legal Technology Awards competition.  Sadly, I’m not eligible since HP sponsored the first LexThink and Dennis Kennedy and I did a commercial for them showcasing their Tablet PC’s.  Damn!

Entry deadline is December 1, 2005.

LexThink Alum Needs Help

Al Robert, an absolutely great guy and smart lawyer needs your help.

Clean Up in Aisle Three

I ran across a post in The Experience Manifesto blog that talked about a recent NY Times article on the identity crisis facing many supermarkets.  It seems that being a one-stop shop for groceries isn’t working so well anymore for the big chains like Kroger and Safeway, as they face competition from both the bottom (Wal-Mart) and the top (Whole Foods):

Now, the traditional supermarkets are trying everything they can think of to turn things around and win back customers. In a nod to Whole Foods, they are adding more organic and natural food items and selling more prepared foods for quick lunches and dinners. And they are cutting prices.  In a nod to Whole Foods, they are adding more organic and natural food items and selling more prepared foods for quick lunches and dinners. And they are cutting prices.  (Emphasis mine).

Let’s get this straight.  Traditional grocery stores, whose business model was built upon being all things to all people, have decided they can beat both Wal Mart and Whole Foods?  Since when can you win by competing on both service and price?

My advice, if you are looking for a new business, is to find one that can use an empty grocery store building, because there are going to be quite a few around. 

And if you are a lawyer?  Recognize that unless you dump hourly billing and leverage your productivity, the low-price battle is lost.  That leaves service as the only competitive advantage we have. 

Be Whole Foods, not Kroger. 

Law Schools, Meet Art Schools. Art Schools, Meet Law Schools

J.D. Jordan writes a great piece in Newsweek titled, I’m an Artist, but not the Starving Kind.  In it, he takes on the lack of practical business education in America’s law art schools.  Some excerpts:

In my small, windowless classroom, in front of a baker’s dozen of powerful G5 computers that line the walls, sit tomorrow’s crop of great graphic designers, illustrators, filmmakers and animators. But despite their skills, their burgeoning individual styles and their unlimited creativity, they are crippled by the narrow focus of their education.

What about creative business and copyright law? What about intellectual rights and business ethics? For that matter, what about basic history or civics? In a field largely defined by individual inspiration and accomplishment, where is the foundation for personal and financial success? Perhaps in an attempt to compensate for public schools which have stripped their curricula of arts education, art schools have left their graduates unprepared for the real world.

But what can one professor do? These kids should have to take business education as a freshman requirement to learn how to manage their artistic enterprises before their enthusiasm sweeps them into a depreciated marketplace.

How prevalent is this problem in “professional” schools?

Worker Blind for Big Law Associates

A few years ago, I visited one of my law school classmates at his BigLaw job in Chicago.  When we ducked out for happy hour, he threw his coat over his chair, turned on his desk lamp, and opened a book on his desk so anyone who stopped by would think he was still working, but had just stepped out for a few minutes.  If he’d only had thisThanks to B2Day for the link.

Being Part of the Solution: If Blawggers Ran Law Schools

So here’s my question:  If you could improve legal education in this country today, how would you do it? 

Last November, I asked five law student bloggers for their responses (find them here, they really are worth reading).  Since I’ve been doing a bunch of complaining, here are a few things I’d change if I ran a law school:

1.  Institute four core curriculum areas.  Here they are, along with the bloggers I’d recruit in each: 

Legal Knowledge:  I’d leave this to the law professors already in the business, because they’ve already got their lesson plans done.  I’d put Sabrina Pacifici in charge of them all, though.

Client Service:  I’d split the task for developing this curriculum between Ben McConnell and Jackie Huba, Zane Safrit, Kathy Sierra, and the CEO’s of Ritz-Carlton and Nordstrom— not a lawyer among them.  That’s on purpose.  I’d also bring in Ben Cowgill to teach legal ethics.

Law Firm Management and Marketing:  This one is tough — only because there are so many choices.  Bruce MacEwen gets tenure right away as do Gerry Riskin, Ed Poll and Kevin O’Keefe.  I’d also add Rosa Say and Lisa Haneberg to teach the art of management, and, if they’re ready for the cushy life of academia, Tom Peters and Seth Godin to shake it up from time to time.  I’d also add Larry Bodine and Ross Fishman to the mix.

Practical Skills:  There are so many great practice-area specific blawggers out there, I’d have a hard time chosing the right ones.  Instead, I’d leave that task to Tom Mighell who has the biggest “blawg of the day” rolodex in the country.  My only requirement?  Find room for Evan Schaeffer to teach trial skills, and Denise Howell and Ernie the Attorney to teach whatever the hell they want.  I’d also farm out the entire Intellectual Property department to the ReThink(IP) guys (who’d find a way to deliver their grades via RSS).

2.  Bring in Bar/Bri as a curriculum consultant.  If Richard Conviser can teach you everything you need to pass the bar in two months, imagine what he’d be able to teach in three years!  And while I’m at it, I’d negotiate a discount with Bar/Bri and make the bar review course free to the students (or included in their tuition).

3.  Develop a three-way mentorship program.  Assign every incoming 1L a lawyer and a client as mentors.  Make the client someone who is in the practice area the student wants to enter after school (though this may pose some liability problems for students wanting to practice criminal law).  Learning the old way of doing things from practicing lawyers is important, but the client contact would give a distinctive boost to the program.  I’m convinced that client contact is what law students crave — because after all, if they join a big firm, they won’t see another real client in the flesh for several years.

4.  Auction off legal research access to West or Lexis.  For the privilege of exclusive access to the law students, I’d make the company promise to give five years of free service to graduating students.

5.  Deliver lectures via podcasts.  I’d encourage students to attend class with attendance bonuses (an added 1–2% to their final grade), but wouldn’t require them to attend class.  Law students are adults, after all.  Let them decide how important listening to that boring professor’s lecture is to them.  Which leads me to …

6.  Teach the professors to speak.  I’d bring in Bert Decker and pay him double what he asks for to work with the professors on their presentation skills.  This may be the single most cost-effective way to improve class attendance and student satisfaction.

7.  Stop blowing smoke up students’ a**** about job placement. Admit right off that some students will be lousy lawyers and give them a way out of school with grace and dignity (see number 11).  Also, I’d bring in lawyers who’ve either failed as lawyers or chosen another field to help students understand that law practice is really, really hard.  I’d also make Curt Rosengren my Dean of Career Services.

8.  Reach out to small firms.  Seriously.  Carolyn Elefant gets the nod here as my Director of Outreach to Real Lawyers.  I wouldn’t ignore solo and small firm lawyers just because I want to get my school’s ranking in U.S. News and World Report up with the bucks the big firms pay.  Solo and small firm lawyers can help law schools.  I’d seek out successful small firm lawyers and give them an opportunity to share their mistakes and advice.  I’d also make sure to give them something in return:  access to student help, great CLE’s, free food and beer.

9.  Ignore big firms.  Seriously.  (As an aside, if other schools are taking any of these suggestions seriously, then big law firms don’t care about their graduates anyway.)  I’d make your students understand how miserable life can be for many big firm associates.  Let students chose that path if they want to , but for God’s sake, don’t push them into it.

10.  Partner with other schools.  I’d partner with business schools, design schools, or schools of social work.  I’d teach my school’s students to work with (and learn from ) the kinds of people they’ll interact with in the real world.  Hell, I’d even partner with/adopt local elementary and high schools. 

11.  Guarantee student satisfaction.  If I couldn’t deliver a satisfying scholastic experience, then I’d figure out how.  One idea:  Give the first semester of law school to students for free.  If students don’t want to stay, I’ve given them a way to do what they want to do, and not feel trapped in school for another 2.5 years.  Everyone will be happier.  Students will be in school because they want to be.  Professors will be teaching motivated students.  And think of the positive publicity!  Admission applications would go through the roof.

12.  Remember, the law is not rocket science.  I once proposed a class on small firm management to a St. Louis law school.  One professor rejected the idea because he didn’t think it would be “academically rigorous enough.”  That’s like refusing to teach doctors to give patients aspirin when the patient is having a heart attack because it’s not as rigorous as teaching open heart surgery.  Law school, like law practice, can be difficult, but it doesn’t have to be hard for the sake of being hard.

13.  Remember, your students are your clients.  If you actually run a law school, remember, your best source for ideas and inspiration are under your roof.  Ask your students how they’d make law school better.  You’ll get much better ideas than these.  And one more thing, don’t be invisible.  Your students want to know who you are and what makes you tick.  I shared about five words with the Dean of my law school when I was at Washington University.  I never had much to say to him, and he never introduced himself to me, or asked me a single question.  Know how much cash I’ve given to my school?  Less than I made from’s sponsorship of my blog.

Well, that’s it.  If you want to chime in on changing law school, feel free to do so in the comments to this post.  I look forward to your suggestions.

Thinking Like Law Professors

Bruce MacEwen continues my rant from last week.  In his post Name the Missing Law School Course, Bruce takes on (much better than I did, I’m sad to admit) the systematic failure of law schools to prepare their students for real-world law practice.  As much as I hate to pull the bulk of his post into mine, I’m going to do it anyway (please don’t sue me, Bruce):

Far meatier and insightful is an article I stumbled across from July 2002 pointing out the existence, and the consequences, of a deplorable gap in law school education:  The all but complete absence of courses on law firms as businesses.*  This leaves associates starting out utterly in the dark about the fundamental dynamics that drive what they cost and what they’re worth to their firms.  Note that we’re not talking about weighty strategic choices, the long-term impact of market positioning, the dilemmas facing mid-tier full-service firms, or any other advanced management issues:  We’re talking about billing, realization rates, the relative profitability of different practice areas, and other “low-hanging fruit.” 

To recur to my own experience, I had no clue at what point the firm might “break even” on me (and the firm, as you might expect, would have been the last to tell me).

Ignorance can lead associates into an attitude of entitlement—always an endearing trait to partners!—because they are simply clueless about how the money behind their salary check is generated.  Associates with at least a modicum of savvy about the business realities of a firm are far less likely to fall into that trap.

Why are there virtually no such courses?  This is an example of microeconomics trumping macroeconomics, as it were.  (I’m somewhat contorting these terms, but bear with me.)  From the “macro” perspective, the profession would be far better off, immediately and at very little cost, if law school graduates had been exposed to Firm Economics 101.  On this I hope all readers of “Adam Smith, Esq.” can agree.

But from the “micro” perspective of law school faculty or deans designing curricula, firm economics is an orphan:  It isn’t “academic,” in the conventional sense; it doesn’t have anything to do with training one to “think like a lawyer,” it bears no connection to either substantive or procedural law; and it’s a safe generalization to say that personality types attracted to the career of law professor don’t think like businesspeople or economists. 

Well, there you have it.  Two leading legal bloggers agree that law schools suck at making lawyers.  Anyone else out there?


Don’t Talk About It, Be About It

Rick Klau points us to an article about two guys delivering high-tech (tv/internet/phone) services in the Bronx.  Two quotes jumped out at me.  The first is the title of this post and the second:
New York City is so big and so dense that you don’t have to be terribly successful to be terribly successful.
The company’s founder was suggesting that his company could be successful by focusing on a small part of the market and not worrying about competing with the “big boys.”  However, the quote took me in a different direction.  I read it and wonder if this is the ultimate reason why we see so little innovation in the legal marketplace among big law firms.  I’ve beaten this drum before, but do big firms eschew change because they don’t have to be terribly successful to be terribly successful?
The story is obviously much different for small firm practitioners.  Contrary to public perception, small firm lawyers have to be terribly successful to be terribly successful.  Put another way, management skills become more important as firms get smaller because the consequences are greater — one month of failing to get the bills out on time can result in late mortgage payments or uncovered payrolls.  For every small firm lawyer making $200K per year, I’d wager there are five small firm lawyers making $50K or less.  I’d go further and suggest there is no measurable difference in legal skill between the successful lawyer and the lawyer opening his mail each day praying for some client checks to come in so he can pay his rent and his secretary.
What separates the two?  Management skills.  You know, those skills that aren’t taught at all in most large law schools.  Think I’m kidding?  Ask your lawyer what law school taught them about running a law firm.  Why is there so little focus on management skills for lawyers in most law school curriculums?  I’ve got a bunch more thoughts on the issue of the woeful failure of law schools (at least those in the “top tier”) to prepare future lawyers for the harsh realities of the legal business, but here’s one:  Of the people running the law schools (deans, administrators, professors, etc.), how many of them have actually practiced law?  Of that number, how many worked in a small firm environment?  Even of those that worked in a large firm, how many stuck it out long enough to make partner and finally get exposed to the business side of legal practice? 
We are creating generations of lawyers who aren’t taught by lawyers.  And don’t give me this B.S. about law school teaching students to “think like lawyers” because that’s not true.  Law students are taught to think like law professors.  The most successful law students are the ones most likely to follow the same career path their professors did:  clerkship/big firm/academia.  If law schools were in the business of teaching students to “think like lawyers” they would be teaching them to think about marketing, client development, and how to pay the bills on time.  Can’t remember much of that from my law student days.
Can the same be said for business students?  Architecture students?  Are those students as removed from the day-to-day business of their professions as law students are?  I’m just asking.  I know this is heresy, but law schools could take a page from chiropractic schools: teach a bit about running the business you are “preparing” your students to enter. 

Deductible Business Expenses

Leah Maclean, writer of the wonderful Working Solo blog, asked me to contribute (along with several other writers) to her series on the importance of a healthy lifestyle to business success.  My contribution is here.  The other contributions are great, and I encourage you to read them all.

One thing that’s kept me thinking was this line from my post:

Poor health and strained family relations are both "business expenses" I’m unwilling to pay.

I’ve been traveling a lot lately and it seems that everytime I return home — if even from a three day trip — my daughter’s face has changed and she sounds different.  At least to me.  Because Grace is a growing two year old, I’m quite certain she may actually be changing "right before my eyes."  But I wonder, is this an experience that will continue to happen as she grows older?  Right now, travel is  both difficult and exciting — because while I hate to miss a moment of her growing up, it is really cool to meet a different person when I return.

While I’m on the parenthood riff, here are some other random observations.  It used to be that kissing any hurt, no matter how big or small, made it all better.  Just this week, my daughter sadly says, "It still hurts, daddy" after I gave her the traditional healing kiss on her most recent boo-boo.  Are my miraculous healing powers gone forever?  And is this a sadder moment for me or her?

Every night, when my daughter sees her first star, she makes a wish.  When we ask her what she wishes for, she proudly (and loudly) proclaims, "CANDY!"  My wish is to have such simple wants and needs.  Think about how cool it would be to have a wish that could be satisfied so easily.   The children in Louisiana and Mississippi right now don’t have the luxury of wishing for candy.   Please do what you can to help. 

Thanks for listening.  Go hug and kiss your children.    And pray for all of the children without a home.

Thank you, and good night.

Bert Decker has some really fantastic tips for ending a presentation.  Decker suggests that the last three seconds of any presentation are among the most important.  His tips:

  1. Don’t step back.  If anything, take a half-step toward your listeners at the end.  Don’t step back verbally, either, by softening your request to “I surely hope something…” or worse, “There seems to be a need…”  Keep saying “we” and “you” to the end.
  2. Don’t look away.  Some people harken back to the last visual-aid, as if for reinforcement.  Some people look aside, unwilling to confront listeners head-on at the last words, the murmured “thank you,” or the instant of silence that follows.  Stay with them.
  3. Don’t move on the last word.  Hold still for a half-beat after the “you” in “thank you.”  You don’t want to look anxious to get out of there.  If anything, you want to let people know you’ve enjoyed being with them and are sorry you have to go.  Don’t rush off. 
  4. Don’t raise your hands.  In our seminars, we recommend “clean and firm endings” to actually show people you’re finished.  You must “let them go” visually.  If you keep you hands up at waist level, you look as if you have something more to say.  You’re still “holding them.”  (You can see this same phenomenon in on-on-one seated conversations:  the person whose hands are up still “holds the floor” and the listener will not begin talking until the hands themselves are finished.)  In speaking, think of yourself as the gracious host or hostess as you drop your hands with an appreciative “thank you.”  That image prompts you to be warm and natural. 
  5. Don’t rush to collect your papers. Or visual aids, or displays.  Stop and chat with people if the meeting is breaking up, then begin to tidy up in a calm, unhurried manner.  Otherwise you might be contradicting your calm, confident demeanor as a presenter.
  6. Never blackball yourself with a critical grimace, a shake of the head, eyes rolled upward, a disgusted little sigh.  So what if you’re displeased with yourself?  Don’t insult your audience by letting them know you were awful; they probably thought you were pretty good.  One lip curl in those last three seconds can wreck 30 minutes of credibility.

Bert’s blog is one of my new favorites.  It is chock-full of great tips like these.  Add it to your aggregator.  You won’t be sorry.

It’s all about the grades.

Freakin’ great advice.  Don’t major in something that interests you.  Don’t challenge yourself.  Don’t worry about learning anything important. (Thanks to Buffalo Wings and Vodka for the tip.)

Teach Creativity Everywhere

Michelle Golden hits the nail on the head:

Partners continue to complain that associates (managers, supervisors, seniors, etc) don’t know how to develop business and don’t know how to even spot additional service opportunities whilst serving clients.  Senior partners frequently complain about the same problem with some of their younger partners. 

They even know it is largely their own fault. But they don’t know exactly why or how to fix it.

These partners haven’t realized that their firms have so strongly squelched the characteristics of creativity and problem-solving, not to mention listening, IN the office that their people don’t know how to do an about-face to suddenly exhibit these characteristics OUTSIDE the office?

One cannot successfully breed a problem-solving mentality in people without allowing them to practice constantly. Instead, firms are training an assembly-line mentality. And instead of role-modeling open-minded, creative behavior, they are employing a ‘do as we say, not as we do’ approach to client relationship management, sales, mentoring, and firm management. So, why is there so much surprise at the present result?

Partners, you cannot have it both ways.

In her post, Michelle adds a link to DumbassReviewNotes, a site from CPA Robin Jerauld that contains some great (and funny) bits showing that accountants’ prevailing business model is just as broken as attorneys’.

Are you your own worst boss?

Jeremy talks about his horrible boss, too bad he can’t find another.

My boss needs to be fired. He lets me come in late, he lets me leave early, he doesn’t stop me from spending hours doing things completely unrelated to work, and he gives me unlimited vacation days. He doesn’t hold me to deadlines, he accepts lame excuses for why I don’t get anything done, and he refuses to impose any sort of structure on the work day. He’s pathetic. The problem is that I can’t fire him because he’s me. I’m a terrible boss. I came to the realization a few years ago that I’m consistently motivated more by trying to impress others than by anything inside of me, but didn’t really believe that was completely true. It’s completely true. To impress someone I respect and want to think highly of me, I will do anything, and I will do it quickly, and I will find the motivation somewhere. It’ll just be there. It’ll keep me up nights. It’ll kick in, every time. Without that, it’s like pulling teeth. I turn the Internet off and ten minutes later I turn it back on to check e-mail. I promise myself no food until I write another thousand words, and I eat anyway. I can’t hold myself to anything. I need to get better at that, or get my editor to whip me with a belt or something. I’m a terrible boss. Two months and I still don’t have a regular daily schedule. I make the excuse that writing is governed by the inspiration. I need to get over that crock of baloney, because I don’t think it’s really true. I’m just a bad boss. At least when I’m the employee. I suck at this part of being a writer, I really do.

Trying Steve Pavlina’s 30 Days Formula

I ran across Steve Pavlina’s blog post titled 30 Days to Success just over a month ago.  In it, he outlines a fairly simple way to make dramatic changes to your life.  First, Steve’s explanation:

A powerful personal growth tool is the 30-day trial. This is a concept I borrowed from the shareware industry, where you can download a trial version of a piece of software and try it out risk-free for 30 days before you’re required to buy the full version. It’s also a great way to develop new habits, and best of all, it’s brain-dead simple.

Let’s say you want to start a new habit like an exercise program or quit a bad habit like sucking on cancer sticks. We all know that getting started and sticking with the new habit for a few weeks is the hard part. Once you’ve overcome inertia, it’s much easier to keep going.

At the time, I was drinking 3–5 Diet Mountain Dews each day.  I figured I’d take Steve’s advice, and resolve to stop drinking soda for “only” 30 days.  Days 1–3 sucked, but I slowly replaced my morning Dews with one cup of Green Tea and drank water the rest of the day.  Gotta tell you, it worked.  The thirty days was an easy amount of time to measure, and though I fell off the wagon a couple of times, it was pretty easy to get back on.  I don’t miss the soda at all.

Now I’m looking for another 30 day challenge.  For you lawyers out there, how about resolving to return every phone call within 24 hours just for the next 30 days.  I dare you!

Ten Law Firms that Wouldn’t Hire Me Out of Law School

One of the perks of being a member of the Blog Network is that I get to share with you this sneak peak of the Am Law 100.  After the jump, you can order an electronic spreadsheet or subscribe to American Lawyer to see the other 90 firms that wouldn’t have hired me either.

UPDATE:  Bruce at Adam Smith Esq. has the entire list.

How comfortable are your client chairs?

I blogged a bit about this before, but Howard Mann gives a great tip on seeing yourself (or your company) as others do:

I asked the President of the company to go outside and come in as if he was a client arriving for an appointment. Within 5 minutes of sitting in his own reception area he didn’t like how uncomfortable the chairs were, hated that he could see a bunch of old boxes in a cubicle down the hall, didn’t like how dark it was and we stopped right there.

Stupid exercise?…perhaps. Definitely simplistic. But it was a start.

It will all seem unimportant until it is you waiting in the reception area or stuck on hold.

What if you took some time away from trying to figure out what your clients want next and spend time every month experiencing how they actually see you today.

A quick quality of life quiz.

Anita Sharpe has this quote (which I’ve edited just a bit) from a book she just read:

Of course, everyone spoke ill of his profession, but, basically, it was all a question of selling his time, like everyone else. Doing things he didn’t want to do, like everyone else. Putting up with horrible people, like everyone else. Handing over [ ] his precious soul in the name of a future that never arrived, like everyone else. Saying that he still didn’t have enough, like everyone else. Waiting just a bit longer, like everyone else. Waiting so that he could earn just a little bit more, postponing the realization of his dreams; he was too busy right now, he had great opportunities ahead of him, loyal clients who were waiting for him. . .

What profession?  Take a look here to find out.  Or read the book.

Next Stop, Law Review!

Saw this story from the Boston Globe (via Fight the Bull):

THREE MIT graduate students invented a computer program that can spit out randomly selected words to create grammatically correct research reports that make absolutely no sense. Now they have had one of those papers accepted for presentation at a July scientific conference. . . . Jeremy Stribling, Max Krohn, and Dan Aguayo call their paper ”Rooter: A Methodology for the Typical Unification of Access Points and Redundancy” — which might have been seen as a tip-off that scientific beaks were being tweaked. After all, why would anyone want to unify redundancy?

But the four-page send-up, laced with confounding graphs, was accepted by an international conference that itself sounds like a spoof: ”The Ninth World Multi-Conference on Systemics, Cybernetics and Informatics.”

If only I’d had their program in law school.  I may have actually made law review.

Hell freezes over first.

AJ Levy, at Out-of-the-Box Lawyering points us to a law review article (not online, I’m afraid) suggesting law school professors have an obligation to engage in law practice.  The cite is here — Bluebook be damned:

"The Dangers of the Ivory Tower: The Obligation of Law Professors to Engage in the Practice of Law."  50 Loyola L. Rev. 623 – 673 (Fall 2004) by Amy B. Cohen.

The author, a professor herself, came to her groundbreaking conclusion after taking a one semester sabbatical to return to law practice!

I’m not going to take potshots at Professor Cohen, because I totally agree with her argument.  But one semester, come on.  If she had taken five years to rejoin her law school brethren (and sistren) in the trenches, she would have gotten a better picture of current law practice, but may have penned this article insead:

“What the Hell was I Thinking:  The Obligation of Law Professors Never Ever Ever to Leave the Ivory Tower.”

Showing Jim Drazen the Power of Blogs

Just a test for Jim Drazen.  How are you Jim?

How can you let law practice get in the way of blogging?

As I posted last week, I’m moving to California.  My wife is taking a temporary (now between 9 and 18 months, we’re told) assignment with Nestle in Glendale, California.  My wife leaves in two weeks, and I’ll follow around March 15th or so.  What this means is very light blogging.  I have set aside today for blog and LexThink related stuff, so while I can’t promise an all-request day like my friend Dennis Kennedy did last week, I’ll be clearing out some cobwebs and throwing a bunch of stuff on-line.

Who knows, as my wife and I prepare to sell our house and clean out all of our accumulated junk, I may decide to host the first-ever combined real garage sale and virtual idea garage sale in the history of the internet.

Two “Wrongs” can make a “Right”

David Batstone, in the Worthwhile blog, tells us to Make Promises We Can Keep.  One of his four tips:

Turn your mistakes into opportunities for invention. That is how CEO Jeff Bezos keeps his company on a creative edge. Bezos says that he reviews the Amazon site every Saturday and lists the 10 things that are “wrong,” and that sets his agenda for Monday morning. “Perfect people” are boring…and delude themselves about their imperfections.

I really like this idea.  Ten "wrong" things are a bit overwhelming for a small organization, but maybe two or three.  I think a perfect compliment to Bezos’ method would be to identify three things that are "right" and take the week to make them incrementally better.

Process Management

I ran across a post, titled Re-Invent Your Business, in the Project, Process & Business Improvement blog that really summarizes what we’ve been trying to do in our firm as we move from a task-centered model to a whole-business centered model.  Here it is in its entirety:

An organization, be it a business, a school, a non-profit agency, is a collection of processes. These processes are the natural activities you perform that produce value, serve customers and generate income. Managing these processes is the key to the success of your organization.

Unfortunately, most organizations are not set up to manage processes. Instead they manage tasks. Think about it. Isn’t your company organized around functions. . .the accounting department, the engineering department, the sales department, the customer service department?

As a result, people tend to focus on departmental concerns instead of the company-wide needs of customers. Sub-processes evolve within departments without consideration of other functional areas. Layers of communication and management are created to ensure desired outcomes, thereby adding to costs and lengthening cycle and customer response times.

Inefficiency and waste become part of the system. They rob your organization of profits, productivity and its competitive advantage. But, there is a way out.

Process mapping is a simple yet powerful method of looking beyond functional activities and rediscovering your core processes. Process maps enable you to peel away the complexity of your organizational structure (and internal politics) and focus on the processes that are truly the heart of your business. Armed with a thorough understanding of the inputs, outputs and interrelationships of each process, you and your organization can:

* Understand how processes interact in a system
* Locate process flaws that are creating systemic problems
* Evaluate which activities add value for the customer
* Mobilize teams to streamline and improve processes
* Identify processes that need to be re-engineered

Properly used, process maps can change your entire approach to process improvement and business management. . .and greatly reduce the cost of your operations by eliminating as much as 50% of the steps in most processes as well as the root causes of systemic quality problems.

As you put your plans and goals for 2005 together, re-invent your business.

What will you say “no” to?

Sam Decker has this absolutely amazing list of things he resolves to say “no” to:

1. What strategies, initiatives and activities will you say no to?

2. What measurements will you not pay attention to?

3. What customers will you not target?

4. What people will you not keep?

5. What competitors will you not follow?

6. What will you remove from your web site?

7. What money will you not spend?

8. What meetings will you decline?

9. What trips will you not make?

10. What slides will you not create?

11. What will you not say?

12. What thoughts will you not entertain?

Read Sam’s entire post — especially the comments under each “resolution” — and resolve to not do some things yourself this year.

Legal Buzzword B.S.

Michael Cage, in his newly renamed Local Small Business Success S.T.A.K.S. Blog (Strategies, Tactics And Kick-Ass Systems, if you must know) suggests playing this Buzzword B.S. game:

 When someone, especially a consultant who is trying to take your money, explains what they are going to do using a buzzword, tell them to explain it again. But without the buzzword.  When I first started doing this, I added on: “…and do it in one sentence.”  Problem was, they’d end up giving me a 97-word sentence.  So, nowadays, I just ask the question and wait. …  If they can’t clearly explain it in one sentence, they don’t know what they are talking about. And they get no money.

How would you respond if one of your clients started playing this game with you?

Keep Sick Workers Home

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.

To work at home — or not?

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.

The Dream Firm

Jessamyn West at has this post about her dream library.  Two of her suggestions:

  • We’d be open when people wanted to use the library, not just when librarians wanted to work. How would we know? We’d ask them. [some surveys: here, here, here and here]
  • In my library, we’d fix your computer for you. We’d work the information booth at your event. We’d answer your questions any time and any place, not just when you come to us and wait at the reference desk for us to be free. We’d save your time, even if it sometimes meant sacrificing our own.

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?

Tom’s Rage Against the Medical Profession

Tom Peters is taking on the medical profession/industry in this post.  The money quote:

 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?)


The Law Office Experience 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

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?

The Creativity Conundrum

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. 



Highland, Illinois Real Estate

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.

Value Pricing: Real World Example 1

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.


Tips for Law Students

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.

Insignificant bits of frustration.

Tom Asaker had a rant that got me thinking about my law practice. First, Tom’s rant:

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?

At least you know what your getting into.

Harvard 3L to be, Jeremy Blachman, reflects on his summer clerkship at a large New York City law firm:

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.

Writing an Ethical Will.

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.

How to design a memo.

Greg Storey’s Airbag has this post demonstrating how he would have redesigned the memo to George W. Bush about the Bin Laden threat. I don’t write about politics, but the redesigned memo is quite striking and makes me want to rethink my client correspondence design. Greg writes:

I seriously doubt the White House cares about such things (Condi if you are, lets talk) but it would seem to me that if USA Today made it easier for a nation to monitor the weather through good design, why not give design a crack at making it easier to stop terrorism?