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February 2007

January 2007

Who Are the Entrepreneurs of the Legal Realm?

An entrepreneur is defined as: "someone who organizes a business venture and assumes the risk for it" by Princeton's WordNet, but the definition of an entrepreneur is much more encompassing than that. An entrepreneur is someone who is always looking for ways to innovate, scouting for new opportunities and ready to mobilize resources at a moment's notice, according to Dr. Michael Gordon.

The question that arose while reading through his article, was whether or not traditional firms still fit into either definition. Yes, they may have taken a risk back when they were first formed, but now, are they innovating? Are they still scouting for new opportunities?

It is fairly easy to see the line between the vibrant entrepreneurs of today, and those from generations long gone when you survey the field of law. Traditional firms have stopped achieving, stopped exploring, and are content with their own idea of "what works". On the other hand, tech-age firms are continually exploring, testing, and accepting new ways to conduct their business; never tied down by the constraints of tradition.

Throwing off the constraints of tradition is the only way to maintain the title of "entrepreneur" in this new century. In order to call yourself an entrepreneur within the field of law, you have to forsake the chains of the traditional model because it is inherently static, and thus, inherently contrary to entrepreneurship.

A true tech-age firm is anything but static - they are always looking for ways to enhance their business, always renewing how much they deserve the dual-title of "entrepreneur" and "high-tech". We who found and lead tech-age firms are the new entrepreneurs of the legal realm; we are the ones who are carrying this service into the 21st century.

Referenced: "Entrepreneurship Defined", by Dr. Michael Gordon


Sharing Details is Important if You Want to Change the Way Law is Practiced

As many of you know, I started out this blog talking a lot about my day-to-day experiences. It’s kind of like reality blog. I gave you the blow-by-blow. My emotions were worn on my cuff.

Recently, I have been blogging more about generic issues. I’ve talked a lot about digital dictation.

I blogged a lot about law firm marketing.

Other topics have included:

1. "Greatest Philosophy" If you ever wanted to know what my philosophical approach was to the practice of law, you would find it in this category.

2. "Problems with the Michigan Supreme Court" can be found here.

3. And of course, "extranets".

My brother is an attorney with 20 years experience. He is a partner with the firm he started out with right out of law school. He makes a good living and has been at his firm long enough to have escaped many of the pressures that drive attorneys early in their careers (being seen at your desk at the right times, working Saturdays, giving up vacations because of a "more important" legal research project or trial). He’s got a 3,000 sq ft house on the Black River and 39’ sail boat. He and his wife have been married something on the order of 15 years. They have 3 boys, 13, 11, and 9.

Two weeks ago my brother, Mark, gave notice to his firm that he was quitting his partnership and moving his family 300 miles north to start his practice all over again at our firm.

I’ll be blogging about Mark and my firm’s transition in the coming weeks. Yes, there will be issues that are personal to me (having a family member directly involved in my life for perhaps the very first time), practical issues related to integrating him into our process and philosophical issues (why Mark jumped and why you should too).

So stay tuned. It’s going to be an exciting time. Don’t forget that the Greatest American Blogger will be exposed on February 10, 2007.


Webmail as a Secondary Tool

We have been posting and receiving comments on a variety of email issues over the last 30 days. It is interesting to me that many of you are finding the topic interesting and commenting on the posts. A list of all of the posts in the email issue category can be found here.

Many people extol the virtues of gmail. Gmail has a unique way of tracking discussions so that emails, their responses and replies thereto occur in a threaded and organized manner. This is similar to what is accomplished in a bulletin board system.

We like gmail and use it for a variety of purposes. We also have webmail accounts that go with our primary email addresses through our webpost, but everyone at our office still uses Microsoft Outlook as the primary email tool. The ability to get your email offline, functionality of a client-side application, and the speed of Outlook functionality given significant advantages. When used with a desktop search tool like Copernic or Google Desktop Search, Outlook works better than webmail.

We use webmail as a supplement for our email service. Obviously, I can get webmail from any computer. I have my assistants type in dictated emails into webmail for sending. This allows me to generate emails using my portable Phillips Dictation System. I don't have to be sitting at my computer to compose email and make sure it gets sent.

I have my webmail set up so that the inbox empties when email is pulled into Outlook. This way, my webmail only shows those emails since my last connection to the internet through Outlook.

I can see how bulletin board systems such as encompassed in the basecamp extranet will be important steps forward in controlling and threading email discussions. But web based applications are still slower and clunkier than client-side applications. If I was not dictating bulletin board posts and emails, I would be significantly limited in my ability to generate information. Just because lawyers are willing to sit at their computers for hours on end, doesn't make it right!

At our law firm, we love technology and we use it as aggressively as anyone. The more aggressive you are with technology, the more you find yourself face-to-face with your computer screen. I cannot emphasize enough how important digital dictation and adequate staffing are to our business model. Without assistants sitting at the computer for me and executing my dictated tasks and content, the technology we use would be of much less value.

This illustrates the double-edged sword of technology. Increasing communication and capturing information are all worthy goals. But sitting at your computer in order to engage in communication and data capture are not valuable uses of attorney time. Clients certainly don't want to pay for an attorney to launch their web-browser, find their extranet site, log in, find the project they are looking for, click on the project, find the bulletin board area they want to comment on, click on the bulletin board, type in a subject, type in the body, edit for content and grammar, and hit "enter".


Both Plaintiffs and Defense Counsel Believe the Michigan Supreme Court is Biased

Here is the link to a very interesting article written by Attorney Robert F. Garvey and published at Michigan Lawyers Weekly. Mr. Garvey Follows up a headline from the January 8, 2007 cover of Business Week magazine called "How Business Trounced the Trial Lawyers." Essentially, Mr. Garvey correctly notes that the only for businesses to have trounced lawyers is to accomplish their goal their legislators and judges seeking a pro-business political agenda.

There is a lot of interesting stuff in this article. You should definitely read it. To me, the most amazing content it that a bi-partisan blind survey was done of plaintiffs’ and defendants’ attorneys throughout Michigan. The results point to a politically biased judiciary in Michigan essentially being run by insurance and corporate interests. Here are the stats:

Question 1: Do you generally agree that the decisions and opinions of the Michigan Supreme Court majority are the result of an agenda that is better left to the legislative branch?

Yes 83.7 percent

No 16.3 percent

Question 2: Do you generally agree that the decisions and opinions of the Michigan Supreme Court majority suggest a pattern of bias that favors insurance companies and large corporate interests over those of ordinary citizens in civil litigation matters?

Yes 79.3 percent

No 20.7 percent

Question 3: Do you generally agree that the decisions and opinions of the Michigan Supreme Court majority have resulted in a pattern of denial of the right to trial by jury in the State of Michigan?

Yes 80.5 percent

No 19.5 percent

Question 4: Would you generally support the concept of an analysis of the decisions of the Michigan Supreme Court majority as they relate to the denial of the right to trial by jury in civil cases?

Yes 83.5 percent

No 16.5 percent


The Required Mindset

The mindset of the successful tech-age entrepreneur is one of exploration and revolution. The successful tech-age entrepreneur is always keeping both his mind and eyes open to find new and exciting ways to enhance and maintain his advantage.

However, this mindset can sometimes be corrupted by getting more interested in closing the doors of the competition - in this case the traditional-style law firms - rather than simply seeking to best them. The danger with this mindset is that you lose sight of the key aspect of the business equation - the customers.

While this mindset of destruction is very dangerous for your own entrepreneurial goals because your customers do become subsidiary to the competition, seeking to drive your competition crazy, according to Guy Kawasaki, can be yield great benefits. Kawasaki's list of techniques are much more all-encompassing, but specifically, the idea of knowing what your business represents, and turning your "customers into evangelists", are ones of special significance to firms like ours.

In general, it is what tech-age firms represent, that gives them the competitive edge against our bigger competitors. This is because the basic identity of technology itself is of efficiency and ease, and to dedicate your business to that identity is to adopt technology's positive traits for your own; and in a world in which efficiency and ease is what everyone is looking for, providing it in legal service allows you supply the consumers with exactly what it is that they want.

The idea of turning "customers into evangelists" is also of interest to tech-age firms because of both the ease and necessity of doing so. I say it is "easy" because after you have shown your client the huge competitive advantage you hold over the box-firm down the road, it is totally illogical for them to return to the inefficient and more expensive service being offered by our competitors. We all know the necessity of getting these dedicated clients, but it is important for all entrepreneurs to keep that necessity in the back of their mind every time they are dealing with any of their clients; because after all, those are the clients that keep your business in the black.

Check out Kawasaki's post, "The Art of Driving Your Competition Crazy" for his full list of techniques.


The Advantage of Bulletin Boards Over Email

I have posted recently on challenges posed by the email inbox here and here. One of the advantages of our extranet system is that it contains a bulletin board system (BBS) inside the application. While not all of our clients communicate exclusively through the bulletin board, over 50% of the communication goes through there.

The advantage of the BBS is that it threads discussions much like Google’s gmail. There is no danger of a message or a comment to a message getting lost within the extranet. Everything is preserved in a single place and sorted by client and matter. Everyone on the team can see the communication, drastically reducing the chance that something will get lost in the mix. The problem with email is that it is typically uncategorized. Sure, people create folder systems in their email inbox and work diligently to put ingoing and outgoing emails into the appropriate folder. That approach is foolhardy. It takes way too much time to file emails by folder. Further, the risk that you’ll miss an important email makes the approach incredibly high-risk. By working through the extranet, emails are automatically sorted and categorized. This is one of the many advantages which an extranet has to offer.


Don’t Bother Trying to Sort Your Email

Anyone who is trying to find email within their Outlook inbox knows the difficulty and challenges which exist finding important information. The search functions of the Outlook inbox is-well-a joke. Watching that little magnifying glass go in circles is a pathetic waste of time.

Some people highlight an email from a person and then sort their inbox by that person’s name. This allows you to see all of the email from that particular person. But it won’t show you your responses to that person which are in your outbox or sent mail folder. And sometimes people use multiple email addresses.

If you are stumbling around in your email inbox trying to find information then you are failing to take advantage of some of the great technology which exist there to help you. Copernic Desktop search is a much better tool to look for email. This is a free tool which you can synchronize with Microsoft Outlook. It constantly searches and indexes your email folders. This includes your inbox, outbox and all data in between. When you want to find a particular email from a particular person, you could just search by that person’s name. There are advanced searches and there are basic searches. The key, however, is that you can pull up that information in less than a second. Unlike the Outlook search mechanism, Copernic search results are virtually instantaneous.

So what are you waiting for? Download Copernic now or tryout the Google Desktop Search Tool. Not only will they save you time, they will make you much more productive. And when was the last time that someone offered to reduce your malpractice risk for free?


There’s a Hole in Your Email

Think about it. When a piece of mail comes into your office, you have a whole system for dealing with that paper. This system that you’ve developed ensures that things get calendared appropriately, routed to the right people, and filed in the right place. I don’t know what percentage of information now comes into most law offices by email, but it has to be greater than 50%. In my office, I would estimate that 80% of the information that comes in is through our extranet or by email.

Do you have a system to deal with email information that arrives in your inbox?

For all of the blessings of email, email is fraught with problems. Most firms don’t have any system in place to standardize the processing of information which arrives by email. What happens if your spam filter accidentally pulls an email out of your inbox which contains important information?

I received an email this morning from a potential injury client less than a week before the statute of limitations runs. I knew enough to send a reply immediately telling them to seek other representation. Of course, it took me until late this afternoon to realize that that email reply was stuck in my outbox. What if I simply flagged that email for handling later? Yes, malpractice is lurking in your inbox everyday.

I suspect that lawyers will wake up to the downside of email over the next many months. This is not to say that email is ever going away. And I am certainly not suggesting that we attempt to limit or do away with email. What I am saying is this. We must find ways to develop a process around our email inbox, just as we have developed different processes for handling non-digital information which arrives at our office. I don’t have the answer. I suspect some smart technology whiz will help solve the problem. Here’s hoping…


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What happens when we turn over our courts to politicians disguised as judges?

Here is a post on a blog on the miblawg blog, which posts commentary on the Michigan Supreme Court.

The Michigan Supreme Court has been in the news a lot lately. It has been labeled as an extremist court dominated by neoconservatives. It has been labeled as a court run by politicians appointed to the bench by a governor who many believe was the most morally corrupt Governor in state history. Michigan Lawyers and Judges were recently polled by Michigan Trial Lawyers Weekly and overwhelmingly disagreed with the Wall Street Journal article, which had portrayed the Michigan Supreme Court in a positive light. 

There is little question that average citizens don’t pay much attention to third branch of government. Lawyers and many judges knows how dysfunctional the court system has become. And it is not because of jury trials. It’s because of courts and procedures and the infiltration of politicians onto the bench.

Miblawg raises some interesting issues concerning the Michigan Supreme Court. Do real people ever know that their rights have been taken away until after it’s too late?