Don’t let technology run your life.

There’s been a lot of press lately on technology addiction.   Just one internet search on “technology addiction” brought up hundreds of articles and blogs on technology addiction.  Oh no, it can’t be that our (beloved, essential, “can’t live without them,” “turn the car around, I forgot my cell phone”) devices are the new problem!?!  Yes, it’s a struggle, and it’s real, and not new; this discussion has been going on for quite some time.

Way back in 2012, a Knowledge by Wharton report  gave us the disturbing news that a vast number of professionals checked email after work; more than half have taken a device (that’s work-related, not for personal use) with them on vacation and have sent emails while dining with family or friends.  Imagine how much more prevalent that behavior must be now six years later.  (And that’s not even talking about the people who have to tweet, or post on Facebook, every detail of their day-to-day lives . . . what they had for breakfast, where they eating, what movie they are seeing . . . don’t get us started!)

So, in this new day and time when being available 24/7, 365 days a year has become for some the norm how do we find balance?  How do we not stress out or burn out?  How do we find balance between our professional and personal lives?  Can we discipline ourselves to unplug during whatever we designate as personal “off-duty” time and enjoy  our friends and family, our pets, our non-working lives.

How about giving this a try?  First, take a deep breath.  A really good, deep breath.  Close your eyes if you feel inclined to do so (but not while driving or operating heavy equipment, please!)

Now, try being full present in the moment; you don’t have to do it for hours at a time to start.  Just dip your toe in the mindfulness pool.  Listen to the sounds around you; enjoy the rain.

When you leave your office today, discipline yourself not to check your email this evening.  Watch the Olympics. Not much for TV?  It’s Valentine’s Day – go to dinner with your significant other, or a friend.  Have dinner, have a good conversation about something that does not include work, clients or the law.  Not up for hearts and flowers? Go to the gym and really focus on how you are feeling as you work out.  You’ll be tempted to take just one look at your email, Twitter, Facebook, etc. . . . resist the urge.  It’ll be there in the morning.

Everyone deserves a little down time.  Yes, what we do as lawyers is important and has impact on clients’ lives.  But every professional needs a little time away – your doctor isn’t on call 24/7; first responders get time off – they aren’t available for life-saving duties 24/7, 365.  Enjoy the life your labors have afforded you.  All of the work will still be there, but you’ll be refreshed when you tackle it again.

 

Networking with peers (aka other lawyers) – some tips and observations

Networking takes time, effort, force of personality and endurance.  For lawyers who are shy or quiet by nature, it can be painful and exhausting.  Even for those of us who consider ourselves extroverted networking takes a deliberate effort.

A recent event for an affinity bar association presented a great networking opportunity for the lawyers in attendance, both new and more experienced.  In all, it was a gathering of a diverse group of lawyers in all age groups and a variety of practice areas.  A great atmosphere for building a wide circle of acquaintance, for meeting, exchanging cards and giving one’s “elevator speech.”  But what happened?

A number of newer lawyers attended with a colleague they already knew.  Is that automatically a deterrent to networking?  No, not if you don’t cling to each other like a drowning person clings to a life-preserver.  Sometimes having a networking buddy can give you  a little confidence boost and make it easier to engage in a conversation with someone unknown to you.  But being surrounded by a group of colleagues you already know can make it difficult to meet new people; who wants to be the one person who intrudes on a group of people who clearly already know each other?

Some long-time members settled in to catch up with people they hadn’t seen in a while. This included more than one more experienced lawyer who had recently made a transition in their practice and should have been talking to as many people as possible about their new career direction.  You can’t get referrals from your peers if they don’t know what you do, right?  While it was undoubtedly pleasant to see old friends, they missed a great networking opportunity.

While this was going on, a conversation with a long-time practitioner who has turned to mentoring new lawyers crystallized some basic thoughts on effectively networking.  Nope, not going to talk about the “elevator speech.”  But here are some practical tips – by no means an exhaustive list – about networking at a lawyer-only event.  (Networking at an event where there are prospective or potential clients requires a post all its own because of the ethical considerations and the ban on direct solicitation).

  1. Always, always, always have business cards on hand.  Give them out liberally to other lawyers.  If for some reason you don’t have business cards with you, ask the lawyer you are talking to for theirs.  Don’t be hesitant, that’s why lawyers have business cards.
  2. When you get another lawyer’s business card, don’t just drop it into your pocket, purse or briefcase.  Take a minute after the conversation to make a very brief notation on the card so that the next time you look at it you will remember the owner and a small detail about your conversation.  Why is that important?
  3. Follow-up on the contact if it’s one that will or may be useful to you in the future.  Send a quick email, or (I know, it’s shockingly archaic) a short hand-written note; you can now refer to that small detail (see #2) and remind your new acquaintance about yourself, your practice area, etc.  And if you didn’t have business cards with you at the event, you can enclose one with the note.  Rather than the “so nice to meet you,” your note/email, etc. can say “so nice to meet you and hear about your new arbitration practice,” or “so nice to meet you, I our conversation about “x” (your kids, your new car, your vacation, etc.)
  4. Follow-up with an offer to have coffee, meet at a State Bar event, etc.  Or if your conversation was more substantive and about your practice or some future opportunity, offer a phone call to discuss that specific potential opportunity.
  5. If you are at an event at which there are both high-top tables and “standard” tables and chairs, do not plant yourself at a “standard” table.  You will limit the number of people with whom you may be able to interact, particularly if your table fills up with people inclined to sit for a while.
  6. Dress professionally if it’s a professional event.  Even at a happy hour, dressing professionally is important to your brand – the image you are presenting.  Depending on the event business casual may be appropriate, but when you are presenting yourself to your peers at a networking (not strictly social) event think about how you would like your colleagues to remember your encounter – not only the conversation but their general impression of you.  Always be building your brand.
  7. Lastly (at least for today) but certainly not least, remember you are there to meet new people and let them meet you.  But a networking conversation is not necessarily a long, in-depth conversation.  Be mindful of social cues – a conversation can last too long; don’t wait for people you meet to be squirming to get away before you notice that the conversation should be over.  Plan for a cordial exit from a conversation that has run its course.  A handshake (well, maybe after flu season), a “it’s been nice to meet you,” and an invitation for follow-up if that appears warranted is a great exit.  There are many others – use your judgment.

Need to discuss networking, building your practice or other practice management resources?  Call us, Practice 2.0, at 602-340-7332 and check out the resources we offer here.

Make a good file retention policy your first new practice of the new year

We are frequently asked “how long do I have to keep files?”  Or even more common, and sometimes more problematic, “I’m retiring and I have (a ton of) case files from old cases, they are closed, can I destroy them?”

How long you have to keep case files may depend on your practice area, and certainly on advice from your malpractice carrier, and so is the topic for another post.  Today we’ll explore the second question – what to do with old case files.

At the outset, please permit your loyal Practice 2.0 practice management advisors to remind you that we have sample fee agreements, with language relating to file management and eventual file destruction on our Practice 2.0 webpage.   You may find them here.  But now, to the maybe-good, maybe-bad news.

If you already have a file retention policy in your fee agreement or engagement letter, you have complied with any statutory duties to retain the files, and if your malpractice carrier is happy with that, you may feel free to follow it.  (We will discuss the requirement for retention of trust account records in another post – but it’s five years from the termination of the representation.)

More commonly, though, we get this question when a lawyer does not have file retention/destruction language in their fee agreement.  Now it’s time to close down their practice – for a variety of reasons from changing firms, to joining a government or non-profit agency, to retirement.  Faced with what is sometimes hundreds of closed files, the lawyer wonders whether they can shred, or otherwise destroy the files.

Sadly, the answer is that the lawyer cannot just destroy files.  Remember, files are the property of the client and in the vast majority of situations, they are entitled to the contents, including work product.  So in the absence of that language (i.e., we will retain your file for “x” amount of time after the termination of the matter and thereafter will destroy it), the lawyer is faced with the daunting prospect of making a good-faith effort to attempt to contact all of those clients to offer them the opportunity to pick up their file.  Imagine, if you will, attempting to contact clients dating back twenty, thirty or more years.

If the lawyer is unable to contact the client, after a good faith effort (generally, think diligently searching online, not necessarily retaining a private investigator to find them)that may take days or months, we believe that you are obligated to retain what is now presumptively abandoned property for the statutory period (generally three years) before you may destroy them.  For lawyers who used paper files, that may mean paying storage fees and ensuring the security of files for that period of time.  Not the kind of thing you want to think about either in a new job or while planning your retirement travels.

So, what’s the gist of this?  It’s never too late to include a file retention/destruction advisory in your fee agreement.  Look at ours on Practice 2.0 or call us at 602-340-7332 to talk about it; you can even come in to see us at the Bar offices to discuss it in person.

More new year, new practices for your practice to come  . . . .

 

ABA TECHSHOW 2018

Have you already committed to attending the 2018 ABA TECHSHOW? There’s still plenty of time.  Register today, you won’t be sorry (and use the code at the end of this post for a discount on the registration fee!!) ABA TECHSHOW will be in a new, bigger, location in 2018 – and your Practice 2.0 folks can’t control our happy anticipation.

As a reminder, for those of you who don’t remember our last 2017 post . . Each March – for at least the past 30 years – the American Bar Association’s Law Practice Division plans, coordinates and runs one of the most amazing technology conferences.  In addition to multiple (five – seven) tracks of sessions on all things law-related technology – from practice management to e-discovery to innovations to  . . . well, use your imagination – they also assemble an amazing exhibit/vendor hall where lawyers, legal administrators, or anyone involved with the practice or business of law can talk to vendors and try out a myriad of law-related technology products.  Think of being a kid in a candy store, but you aren’t a kid and the candy is every version of technology related to the legal profession you can imagine.  And it’s not bad for you; it’s not fattening, it won’t hurt your teeth, and it won’t have your dentist, nutritionist, mother telling you to step away.  Wait, and there’s such a variety of educational sessions it will be hard to choose just one per time slot!!

The 2018 TECHSHOW (yes, it’s absolutely necessary to capitalize all letters) will be March 7 – 10, 2018, at the Hyatt Regency Chicago.  Each year attendance grows and the faculty, already stellar, becomes more so.

State Bar of Arizona members, or any readers of our blog, if you are going to TECHSHOW, use code EP1810 at checkout for a discount on your registration fee.  Register and see the details at http://www.techshow.com/. See you there!!

It’s time to start planning to attend the 2018 ABA TECHSHOW

Attention lawyers who love technology; calling all law-tech-geeks!  It’s time to plan to attend the 2018 ABA TECHSHOW (yes, all caps, those “in the know” never say “TechShow”).  What is TECHSHOW and why are we excited about it (and to say that we are excited is a vast understatement)?

From March 7 – 10, 2018,  in the Windy City (that’s Chicago, if you didn’t already know) leaders in legal technology and law practice management will attend this amazing conference with an expo hall that makes the most hardened of us seem like kids in a candy store.  TECHSHOW is presented by the Law Practice Division of the American Bar Association each year; and it’s no exaggeration to say that this show gets better every year.

With three days of educational tracks – for everyone from the neophyte to technology geniuses – taught by national experts and innovators – this is worth the trip.  It’s in a new location in 2018 – the Chicago Hyatt Regency – and word is that the expo hall (please see my reference to being a kid in a candy store) is going to be bigger and better than ever.  Want to know what’s on the horizon?  There’s a “start-up alley” of new legal tech products that will allow you to be on the cutting edge.

Information will be continually updated on the TECHSHOW website, so check back often.

Even better, we’ve got you covered for break on the registration fee.  Just use code EP1810 when you register and you’ll a discounted rate.

Are we going to be headed to TECHSHOW?  You bet we are!!  Look for more updates here as well.

As we bid farewell to 2017 . . .

As we bid farewell to 2017, your loyal Practice 2.0 folks are making our practice management wish-list for this holiday season.  What would we like – mostly for you, but some for us . . .  here goes.

1.  Two-factor authentication.  If you aren’t using it, it’s time.  The big data breaches that came to light in 2017, even though some of them  occurred years before, should bring home to all of us the need to secure our data.  If you aren’t yet using two-factor authentication, now’s the time to start.

2.  Succession plans.  It’s never too soon to plan for succession or business continuity.  Yes, we’ve mentioned this before, but in this case more is more.  Do you have a plan for when people leave your firm, when you plan to leave, or if you are suddenly unable to practice?  Check our succession planning manual and forms, then then call us for a consultation if you need help.

3.  Focus on well-being.  We can’t be the best lawyer unless we take care of ourselves.  Taking time for ourselves, for our physical and mental well-being, and to be with our families and friends is important.  It’s not an interruption – it’s a priority.  We count too!

4.  Be grateful.  Thanksgiving is a delicious reminder to be grateful – to take time to be mindful of this great profession, of our good fortune, and for  our colleagues, our friends and our family.  Maybe pets, maybe something else.  But the idea is to take the time to reflect and appreciate.

This list could go on and on, and maybe we’ll have a supplement, but we’ll end with this:

5.  Practice 2.0.  We are your resource – we are here for you.  We want to help you be the best lawyer you can be – and have the best practice you can build and grow.  It’s free, it’s confidential and it’s a member benefit.  Give us a call, book an appointment, and let’s talk about your practice and how it can be raised to the new level.

 

Google docs glitch – are you being careful?

The New York Times reported on Tuesday that a glitch in Google Docs had incorrectly locked out users due to a false positive for inappropriate content.  The article also highlighted a concern with free Google services that we’ve talked about before.  Google continually mines for data in all of its products and there is an on-going concern about privacy because of it.  The glitch in Google Docs causes numerous users to receive messages that their content had violated the terms of service and they were therefore locked out.

What? Are we going to warn you about data privacy again?  Well, not this time.  This time we’d like to remind you to read the terms of service.  Is the software/service you are using sweeping for, other otherwise collecting, data or content?  No, we aren’t suggesting that they have an actual person sitting in a room reading all of your content – although under the terms of service they probably could.  But are they collecting data or content that should be confidential?  And if they are, do you know what it is they are collecting or monitoring?

In fact,  most if not all practice management software providers have portions of their terms of service that give them access to your information for servicing issues, but be a diligent consumer and be sure you understand all the terms of service.  If you have questions, don’t hesitate to contact your provider to ask questions.  Yes, all lawyers handle confidential information but if you have clients who are subject to governmental privacy provisions (for example, clients with security clearance, HIPPA requirements, etc.) you will want to read the fine print.  Although this is an emerging area of law, the ethical rules require you to take reasonable measures to safeguard your client’s information — and certainly reading the terms of service is a reasonable measure.

Getting paid. Who doesn’t want to get paid?!?


After reading a good article on tips for getting paid, particularly if you are a solo or small firm lawyer, we wanted to (1) share and then (2) ruminate a bit on the practical realities.

The author, Gary Ross, big-firm lawyer turned solo turned small firm lawyer, had mostly great practical advice (there were a couple of tips that just wouldn’t work in Arizona).   The best of his suggestions were:

  • It’s better to not have a client than to work for a client and not get paid, in essence to work for free;
  • Impose good billing policies at the outset, because if you give clients a “deal” when you are building your practice it will be hard to change those billing terms later;
  • It’s usually not worth it to chase down clients who don’t pay;
  • Hourly fees are the most fair way for lawyers to get paid since you never know what may happen in the future;
  • Or if you really want to charge a flat fee, put a cap on the number of hours it buys the client.

Now, here’s the rumination part; we talk to a lot of newer lawyers who are building their practices while coping with law school debt and other financial constraints – maybe a family to support, rent to pay, an office to furnish, etc.  It’s hard to turn down a client or not to be sympathetic to some one with a need for the services of a lawyer.  So, should you discipline yourself to turn away clients who cannot give you an advance fee?  Or should you agree to some kind of payment schedule to make that financial burden more bearable?

We can’t make that decision for you, but here are a few suggestions (yes, we could spend pages and pages talking about billing and getting paid, but it’s Friday afternoon and who wants to read all of that?):

  • be realistic about whether you can afford to take payments over time.  If you choose to do so, be certain that there is a clear expectation of how much each payment will be, when it will be due, and that the final payment is due long before you anticipate the matter will conclude.  Even the happiest of clients will be less happy to have to continue to pay you after the case is settled, won or is otherwise over;
  • be diligent about billing.  Yes, it takes time.  But if you are a solo with no staff, there’s no one to do it but you.  If you aren’t diligent about billing when you should, your client may take a hint from you and be less diligent about paying on the due date;
  • be vigilant about missed payments, whether they are missed installment payments or the failure to replenish an advance fee when required.  If you don’t receive a payment, promptly have the hard conversation with your client about their duty to pay, and remind them of the consequences (that you have already put in your fee agreement or engagement letter), what does that tell your slow- or non-paying client?
  • consider low-bono work.  We’ve already talked about this in another blog post.  If you are financially able to take one or more cases on a reduced fee, then be deliberate about it – don’t reduce your fee because you haven’t gotten paid and you are now writing off unpaid balance after unpaid balance; and
  • your time and training are worth something.  Don’t feel apologetic for charging legal fees.  Of course, you want them to be reasonable and commensurate with the factors listed in the ethical rules; but giving a client a “bargain” at the outset may make it difficult to charge a more realistic fee in the future if they hire you for other matters.

This is the tip of the iceberg – yes, we could do an entire series of posts on this; and who knows, maybe we will. But for now, here’s some food for thought.

Want to talk about it further?  AZ Bar members, can call us at Practice 2.0, 602-340-7332 for a phone or in-person consultation.

 

Developing a Business Plan

If you are thinking about starting a law firm or if you already have a law firm, do you have a business plan? Having a business plan will enable you to have a base document that helps guide your operations.
There are some key components of a good business plan.
Executive Summary – This is the basic summary of your law firm.  Who is your market? What is your practice area? Where will you be located?
Financial Analysis and Plan – In this section, consider the financial aspects of your law firm.  What will you charge? What kinds of fees will you use? If you are doing flat fee work, consider what you will charge for a specific task. If you are working at an hourly rate, how much will you charge per hour? How do these rates compare to other lawyers? What expenditures will you need to make? What do things cost? What is your month by month budget?
Management Plan – How will your business entity be structured? How will your practice be structured? What is the work flow?
Marketing Plan – How will you get clients? Consider the responsibilities unique to lawyers.
Creating a business plan is discussed in more detail in our new (free member benefit) resource, Going Solo in Arizona available here. You can also always contact Practice 2.0 for guidance in structuring your law firm and considering how to build your practice to run it as a business.

For questions on running your law firm as a business, risk management,
Practice 2.0 at 602-340-7332
for a free, confidential consultation.

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