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March 2006

GAL is a Prince Fan

Yes, it is true.  I have been following Prince and listening to his music for over 20 years. In fact, my law firm was influenced by Prince in  many ways.  Prince's constant evolution and creativity have been hallmarks of my life since I first listened to his Dirty Mind album back in college.   This guy does not care what anyone thinks.  He quite simply exists for his own musical genius.

Prince tops US charts for first time in 17 years
Rolling Stone : Prince's "3121" Tops the Chart

Prince cast a funky purple glow over the charts this week, selling 183,000 copies of his 3121, according to Nielsen SoundScan, to capture Number One. Critically acclaimed and boasting the sexed-up single "Black Sweat," 3121 finds the Artist Formerly Known as a Symbol making music in the vein of his equally commercially successful album, 2004's Musicology. Though his songs might be slightly more PG-13 these days, Prince still injected some much-needed adult content into a chart recently dominated by the underage set.

Prince Acoustic

MUST SEE!   Classic VH1 performance of Prince. 


Technology Allows Lawyers To Do More, Requiring Lawyers To Hire More Staff

One of the fascinating things that I’ve discovered in my high tech law firm is that I can do four or five times the amount of work that I previously could do at my old practice. I know this because it now takes four full times staff, several law clerks, a paralegal and a couple of high school students to keep the administrative aspects of my law firm moving. Many law firms allocate one secretary to two attorneys. I have two full-time secretarial support staff to support one attorney, not to mention all the law clerks and paralegals doing work as well.

It is time for law firms to rethink the business model in terms of support. While adding support increases overhead with regard to some personnel, we more than make up for that additional expense with the virtual law clerks and paralegals which operate as profit centers.


Lawyers Need to Get Their Priorities Straight

For those of you who follow the Greatest American Lawyer blog, you know that we recently redesigned our internal processes to be priority based. When documents arrive at our office by mail, fax or otherwise, a document routing coversheet gets attached. That document routing coversheet indicates everything that needs to happen to that document. This sheet identifies where the document is going to be filed on our file server. It indicates everyone the document needs to be transmitted to and how the document is transmitted either by email, leap file, mail, and fax or otherwise. All the calendaring gets Identified and due dates marked on the routing sheet. There are spots and check boxes for uploading the information into the extranet etc.

But the most important part of the routing sheet from my point of view is the priority, 1-4. My secretary attaches a routing sheet filling in the information which is within her control. She routes the paper based on her priority belief to my office. There is a spot for priority 1, priority 2, priority 3 and priority 4 items. I review the documents and reprioritize as necessary (seldom needed). I then fill in the rest of the information on the routing sheet and send it back to my staff, again on a priority bases.

Every piece of paper gets treated as quickly as the priority dictates. Those items which are priority 1 (Urgent) move through the office swiftly and almost always within a couple of hours. Level 2 priority items are next and typically move through the office the same day or within 24 hours. Category 3 priority items are taken care of as soon as the top two top priorities are taken care of.

It sounds like a subtle thing but it has a dramatic influence on how your law office operates. The most important documents keep moving swiftly and surely through your office process.

I have to ask. How do you and your law firm make sure that the top priority items are getting handled on a top priority bases? Do you have a formal process or not? If your secretary is handling a large number of items, how does he/she know which is the highest priority? If your secretary is handling a number of top priority items, is there anyone else in your office who could step in and handle the remaining priority items? Is there a bottleneck in your office which allows priority items to sit because the person who is suppose to be doing them is already busy? Can more than one person in your office handle a top level priority item? Is your priority system captured in writing so that there is no possibility of miscommunication?

Handling paper on a priority bases is not only great for client service, but will drastically reduce the possibility that important matters fall through the cracks. So instead of thinking people, think priority. Enable a number of people in your office to keep the top priority items moving forward.


Lawyers, Not Computers, Do Critical Thinking.

A commentator by the name of Na'i posted the following comment. 

"What would you say about the lives of people depending on computers more to do their critical thinking rather than their brains?"

Well, what I would say is that computers don't think.  Computers, paperless technology and other digital information provide information access easily and seamlessly.  Having access to information allows smart lawyers to analyze cases and issues at a much higher level.  Technology makes information available.  Technology does not spit out the answer.  Only lawyers can do the critical thinking necessary to achieve their clients' goals.


Technology Makes Confidentiality More Difficult

Rosanna Tussey from the officesupportnow.com website, posted a comment about virtual law clerks.  She correctly notes that confidentiality is very important when it comes to paralegals and law clerks.  This can be especially true with virtual law clerks and paralegals, not because they are less trustworthy than other law clerks and paralegals.  Confidentiality is of course more difficult any time technology is involved.  As we email our clients' files to workers who are distributed remotely, all of the traditional issues concerning data access comes squarely into play.  For instance, what happens if someone gains access to the law clerks computer?  Of course, these issues have little to do with virtual workers and more to do with the technology we now all have available to us.  Any lawyer that's got a laptop knows that there are much greater risks of disclosure than previously.  Email and List Serves has taught us again and again that private conversations can quickly become public if we are not careful.  Thank you, Rosanna, for reminding us all that we need a heightened sense of awareness when it comes to matters of confidentiality in the technology age. 


Go Non-Solo Right Out of Law School

Another question from our readers ...

Hello Greatest American Lawyer,

I have been vigorously reading your posts since I found your website a couple days ago. I have a question for you that I hope you can publish an answer to (I don’t know if you take requests, but I thought I would ask and see if I get a response).

I am just about finished with my first year of law school. I am very entrepreneurial, having owned three companies during my college and pre-college years. After law school, I would really like to start my own practice, but I don’t know how wise it would be to hang my “shingle” right out of law school. What advice would you give a law student about starting a small practice right out of school?

Thanks,
_________________

Dear Reader:

You can go solo right out of school. It more possible now than ever in history. With a little low cost technology, you can make it happen in three easy steps:

1. start a blog now! if you start publishing content now, you can do six figures in income your first year out guaranteed. pick a topic and start publishing. you will be page one of the rankings in your niche area by the time you get your bar number. i did about 100k my first year in business from prospective clients who read my blog (not this one but my commercial blog site). walla. your first problem solved. You now have clients right our of the gate.

2. brand yourself as something and start proving it. i quickly became 'the high tech' lawyer in my neighborhood. where do you think the technology companies go when they have a legal problem. adopt skype, basecamp extranet tools, digital diction, nirto pdf, leapfile.com, gotomeeting.com. you will be tech stud.

3. be different. adopt a progressive client friendly business model. deliver service and don't be greedy. never take more value than you delivered. if you don't accomplish your client's goals, waive fees eve if it wasn't your fault. provide cost certainty to your clients. try "a max budget flat rate or hourly rate, whichever is less" billing structure. you will underbid a few projects. but soon your experience in bidding projects will put you on solid ground. if you are missing your mark, make the projects smaller. tell your client, we will do a basic documents analysis, chronology review and some basic research. do no more than $2,000 worth of work and then report your recommendation to your client. many times, it will make sense for the client to spend the next $2,000, and again, and again.

don't buy the big firm hype. it is pink kool-aid. go non-solo. be an independent practitioner. plan ahead and leverage technology. you can do it. the time is now. the only thing to fear is ... jump jump jump


Can You See The Greatest American Lawyer on L.A. Law?

A commentator by the name of "bztv" over at the News Views blog posted the following comment. He/She writes that they use to write for L.A. Law and wished that they had this blog back then. I take it from the comment that my firm, or at least the story of how I got here, would have been as unbelievable a sensationalistic as the L.A. Law soap operas which  I as well use to enjoy.


Commenting On Comments

I have to admit that I’ve been pretty delinquent at responding to comments on my own blog. This is not intentional. Often times, I am simply not at my computer when I am dictating my blog post. But I’m a little burned out to today. I’ve been working my tail off. I thought I’d take the time while I’m sitting here with my digital dictation to go through some of the recent comments and provide information that has been requested.

One of the frequent commenter’s on our Grant Griffiths at the Home Office Lawyer blog. I want to thank Grant for following the bouncing here and apologize for not getting back to him sooner. In this comment, Grant asks for more information about our paperless office. He wonders how we did it and what equipment we are using. He asks how we are storing our client information and what we are doing with the original documents. And Grant wonders how our clients have reacted to the idea. Well, here goes...

We implemented our paperless office using the technology listed here:

HP MFP (Scanner, Fax, Copier), Airspace Secure Wireless, Networks, MS Office, Copernic Desktop Search, Adobe Professional Software, Nitro Professional Software & Leap File.

We don't use a database tool between our scanner and our file server such as Worldox. We experimented with some products similar to Worldox but found that we simply didn't need that piece to the puzzle right now. We scan the documents in, mostly as images in order to reduce file size. We use a document routing coversheet in order to identify each and every activity that has to occur with that file (I'll post the coversheet in an upcoming post). That document routing coversheet indicates where the document gets filed, what calendaring activities need to occur with it, whether it gets uploaded into the extranet, every person the file gets disseminated to by email, mail or fax, and all to-do items associated with that piece of paper. Essentially, we really work the paper at the front door. Instead of just simply shifting it from one in box to another out box, we find out everything that is important about that piece of paper, capture that information and make sure that piece of paper gets everywhere it needs to go. All to-do items flowing out of that piece of paper are captured at this first critical stage.

Then, we simply file the document on our file server.

The original documents get filed in boxes by date. We don't spend a lot of time trying to organize that paper by client or matter. We simply box it up and ship it off to storage. Interestingly, in the one year that we have been completely paperless, I can't think of a single instance where we lost any piece of scanned paper. I can't help but contrast this with all of the paper based offices that I've worked for where you could almost never find the piece of paper you were looking for, or the overhead associated with finding that piece of paper in terms of time and energy out weighed the value in actually retrieving it. I don't buy the arguments that there is some sort of risk in going paperless because you might misfile a document. That simply has not been our experience. With Corpernic Desktop search you could almost always find a document which is misfiled by file name or otherwise. You don't even need to OCR the documents in order to have that capability.

Our clients have reacted incredibly well to the paperless experience. Keep in mind, every client conversation I have is way more powerful now than it was before. I can recall any document that I need to in real-time during the conversation (or preferably before the conversation) in a matter of seconds. So if I need to see the latest two pieces of correspondence to my client, I pull them up immediately. My PDF markups are already imbedded in the document. If I'm talking to another attorney and we're discussing the status of overdue discovery responses, I can immediately pull each piece of correspondence dealing with that issue in real-time. This gives me a tremendous advantage over the other attorney, who I know, can't get the piece of paper even if he has the file on his desk. The other thing my clients is the fact that I send them PDF files by email, often times already marked up in adobe. This includes audio comments which I embed directly onto the file. Instead of receiving a worthless piece of correspondence and the enclosure, they receive the document with all of my most important thoughts in audio comments embedded in it. I'm typically able to turn documents around to my clients far quicker than I used to be able to in a paper based office.

I think our clients also appreciate the fact that we are far more efficient in a paperless environment than we ever were before. We remind them that this saves them money and that it is the efficiency of technology which allows us to keep costs down.

Of course, our clients have access to their important file materials through our Base Camp HQ Extranet. They love being informed and involved in their own case. They love being able to see the exact status of the case and who is doing what at any given moment.

Thank you Grant for posting your comment and certainly let me know if you have any other questions. Of course you could always email me if you want a private tour of our system or our extranet.


Owning Your Life

I was having a discussion with a client today about a variety of difficult ownership issues they were experiencing with their partner. It caused me to look at my case portfolio. I quickly noticed that a large number of the matters I am handling involve, directly or indirectly, problems between business owners. It reminded me once again that being an independent practitioner means that I don't have to answer to anyone about how and why I make the decisions that I do concerning my business. Isn't it amazing how often things eventually sour between partners in a business?

Again, it causes me to ask an important question. What advantage do business owners get by having partners? In certain situations, you need partners because you need to bring capital to the table for business start-up. In some instances, you need partners because your business offers diversified services. But, the reasons for being partners are gradually dwindling down to a few in the technology age. It used to be that you needed partners because partners provided resources that simply couldn't be gained outside a formal business relationship. Technology allows me to connect with attorneys across the United States whether or not they are my "partner" or not. The relative drop in technology costs allow me to launch state of the art technology as an independent practitioner without breaking the bank. Technology connects me to all of my virtual workers, wherever they are located.

Law firms need to start rethinking the risks and rewards of partnership. Any attorney who is a true talent will find that it is getting harder to justify a partnership in today's world. All of the problems and headaches that partners bring to the table are no longer really necessary. Besides, do you really want to give control of your job and your life to others?


More Comments on Comments

Grant Griffiths over at the Home Office Lawyer recently commented on digital dictation.  Grant notes that he’s been using digital dictation for three years now and he loves the fact that he doesn’t have to worry about lost or damaged tapes. He is correct that all of the audio files which I send to my staff are also saved out in my personal directory. I can recall any dictation at any time. Both Grant and I would recommend digital dictation as a tremendous efficiency tool for any lawyer.