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March 2005

… My Wife's Top 5 Questions about LexThink

After being invited to attend, I was immediately struck by the question: “What is the goal of LexThink?”

Dicitonary.com defines “lex” as follows:
lex  n. pl. le·ges : LAW

So I can only surmise that LexThink is probably suppose to make you think…about law.  [I am certain that it the consistent demonstration of analytical skills which has placed me squarely on the invite list to this important conference of legal thinkers, albeit at the very last moment after a few concilations.]

Attendees will come to LexThink  fresh off a 3 day ABA Tech Show, which itself is preceded by the Blogger’s Dinner .  Attendees should each come with our top 5 most important issues in law and practice.  Attendees raise the issues they bring to the floor in an informal Open Space meeting format (self-managed workgroups with no agenda ;-). In the grand spirit of the internet itself and Ayn Rand’s objectivism, problems are identified and solutions proposed in a sort of anarchistic framework where Darwinism rewards the strength of only the best ideas.

With all the ‘thinking about law’ I have done these last 4 hours or so, my brain is abuzz with notions of changing everything about the practice of law.  So it was no wonder that within hours of being invited to LexThink a mere 2 hours after arriving home, I have already bored my wife to tears with all the details of who is coming [“No I have never met them or seen them on TV”].  I have explained in great detail - but without much by way of specifics - why this conference is so very important [“yes love, some of them even make money and work for real firms”].   She patiently listened to many things that have nothing to do with getting the children (7, 5, 3 - all boyz) in pajamas and bed. She privately wondered, I have no doubt, about the wisdom of taking 5 days off from a newly opened law practice to go hang out with a bunch of computer geeks who will never be clients. 

I know LexThink must be an important event because my wife smiled and tried to look interested as I rambled and she even pretended that she thought it was important as well ... and that almost never happens at my house during bed time.

In tribute to my beautiful wife’s patience and for not dousing my obvious excitement in cold water [at least yet. I can hear screaming children upstairs right now], I present to you the reader with …

… My Wife's  Top 5 Questions about LexThink:

  1. So I don't understand, are they lawyers?
  2. You mean you aren’t the only one whose marketing plan is to attack the entire legal system?
  3. What, you’re not coming home from Chicago until Sunday night now?
  4. Doesn’t it scare you that no one can think of an agenda?
  5. So you’re saying law.com will pay you to write stuff?

I will dwell on the questions my wife has posed, although I am confident that the answer is yes to all but the last question on the list.  And as to that question, I will let my wife dream of publishing riches, so that I can safely go to Chicago for 5 days of my own slice of heaven. 

On a serious note, I do hope that the answers to important LexThink issues will advance and change the way law is practiced. I couldn’t stand to think about an entire career trying to represent my clients against parties who are represented on the other side by the traditional hourly billing model.

I come to LexThink with passion in my heart and actions behind my words. I come ready to learn and listen. I sincerely appreciate the invitation.


LexThink Chicago

I just received an invitation to LexThink Chicago.  Thank you Matthew Homann from the [non]billable hour for including me.  I am excited to contribute. 

Lexthink_logo

Changing the foundation of legal practice is critical if new business models are to take hold and succeed.  We need to focus on our professional obligations, incorporate technology into our business process to reduce overall client costs and make changes in the justice system which allows for more economical dispute resolution without giving up the right to a jury trial.


A Duty To The Client

As time moves forward, my old firm seems to be struggling with certain basic ethical concepts.  Their overall approach to virtually every issue that arises is centered around ownership of clients.  In the last two months, I have not heard a single word about protecting any client interests.  They apparently told one client that they had no choice but to stay with the firm because the retainer contract with was the firm.  If true, this was a major ethical breach. The ethics rules mandate that the client be fully apprised of the situation caused by departure and that the client selects who will represent them moving forward. Law firms which take a 'client ownership' view forget that their duty is to protect the client's interest, and to keep the client fully informed. It is hard to protect the client when you have both hands on your wallet and both eyes fixated on the client files.

I am no longer of counsel with the firm as I had to opt out in order to avoid getting conflicted out of cases.  The further I get away from my old job, the more I realize that I should have left sooner.  Lawyers who see clients only as money have become all too prevalent. What's worse is that lawyers who work for such law firms too often rationalize their employment by convincing themselves that they merely watch such behavior from the sidelines.

I know I convinced myself that some of my partner's attitudes and business models were not my attitudes. What I now realize is that by furthering the firms goals, I was devaluing the very things about the profession which I now strive to protect.  Lawyers must demand ethical and professional accountability from their law firms, or leave those firms for more professional pastures.  No lawyer can claim to be an innocent bystander when it comes to curing the ills of the legal profession.

Is it any wonder people hold lawyers in such low esteem?  Shouldn't the public have a right to expect more from our profession?  As long as lawyers distance themselves from what goes on at their law firms, will necessary changes ever be instituted?  Too many questions for today...

Being able to focus on my client's interests without distraction is an incredible feeling.  The clients seem to like it as well.... :-)


The Tyranny of the Billable Hour

The eLawyer Blog (Better Delivery Of Legal Services Through The Internet) noted a new article titled, "The Tyranny of the Billable Hour" By Robert Pack, published by the DC Bar. This is a very good article on the downfalls of the billable hour for clients. This is a must read for anyone interested in the topic.

Here is the link

An excerpt:

Quantity Versus Quality
One of the major problems with the billable hour system, as the ABA commission pointed out, is that it is “fundamentally about quantity over quality, repetition over creativity. With no gauge for intangibles such as productivity, creativity, knowledge or technological advancements, the billable hours model is a counter-intuitive measure of value.”

“It’s certainly much easier,” says Jakovic, “to look at what the attorney has done, whether you’re looking from the client perspective or otherwise, and say, ‘Oh, they’ve worked this many hours,’ as opposed to ‘That was a great brief’ or ‘That was a great result.’” Jakovic strongly believes that the outcome of the case and the quality of the lawyer’s work should be taken into consideration.


Lawyers: Beware of Technology!

Monica Bay at The Common Scold asked an interesting question the other week which I finally got around to answering.

The Question:  "Q: What's the biggest mistake small firms make when using litigation support technology?"

My Response:  Having been the point person at several law firms implementing various levels of technology, I think there are a few things that regularly get lost in translation:

1.  Technology is not a one time spend.  It is an annual budget which requires a big down strokes of capital, and then monthly expenses for maintenance, upgrades and add-ons.  I can't count the times someone has asked me whether we will have to spend any more money this year on the computer systems.  My answer is always the same, 'of course.'

2.  Technology does not always work as planned. Expectations are important.  The goal is not to eliminate down time.  It is to reduce down time and make sure support mechanisms are in place when things go wrong.

3.  Can we shift the cost of technology to our clients?  I hate this question for many reasons.  I suppose the answer may be yes, with adequate disclosures to the client.  But any firm that passes technology costs to clients is missing the point of technology. Technology allows lawyers to provide more efficient service to clients and higher quality services.  Technology to me has always been about client satisfaction and retention.  The value of that exceeds the investment you will make if technology is installed, maintained and used correctly.

4.  The alternative to investing in technology is being left behind. When lawyers wince at the cost of software or hardware, remind them what the pay for their Yellow Pages advertisements.  Do they make their cleints pay for ad space?  While the Yellow Pages may bring a new client in the door, technology and good service will keep them coming back and improve the odds of success for both you and your client.

The Greatest American Lawyer
'changing the way law is practiced'


Revelations of The People I Have Been

I crossed the bridge which took me across the near frozen stream. My son ran to the bridge, jumped to the rail and kicked snow into the water below. "It melts," he said.

After a short explanation of the concept of 32 degrees, we ventured further into the woods. I was struck by the sensation that I could feel, a sensation that I once carried with me every day. It was more than the buzz of the little taste I had before venturing out of my new office and into the woods with my eldest son. It was cold, probably 15 degrees.

I was surprised Echo Storm began running down the snowy trail. "I know where there is a boomerang field'" I said. We bent under a fallen tree and into an open snow covered field. A huge open space used to store snow in the winter. I tried to envision the field in the summer. Would it be swaying in 4 foot long grass, or hard packed dirt? Whether a boomerang would ever fly in this field would have to wait for answer until Spring.

The sensation I had which buzzed through my body was one I once had walking the stream to and fro, from spot to spot, in Boulder, CO. I thought of my car and my growing dependency on it. I thought of the year in Boulder where I did not even own a car. I thought of my favorite saying "As long as I am getting to work by foot, I can handle anything during the day." I had not jogged to or from since I first entered my new office. I had only ventured twice thus far onto the hundreds of acres of trails right out the back door of my office. I could feel yet another new beginning beginning.

I am at a moment in life that has such potential for change. Keeping the best habits, the best attitudes of all the people I have been through my whole life. Any excuse to change what I think I know about myself is good excuse in my world. Sometimes, you just have to change life to keep perspective.

As I start yet another new life ... as so many of my many lives seem to be converging ... as change surrounds me everywhere I look and in all my dealings with mankind ...


Enter The Virtual Law Clerks

Most big law firms hire law clerks who put in  a few hours each week between classes.  I don't work in a city with a law school nearby.  But I still appreciate the enthusiasm and energy of quality law clerks, not to mention the economical billing rate for my clients. 

As my office 'comes on-line' I am starting to see the one unusual benefit which technology, especially a paperless environment, makes possible.  I am currently interviewing several top law school candidates to perform virtual law clerk 'task-based' services on an independent contractor basis.  I will provide them detailed research and drafting tasks, including the number of hours allotted for each activity.  They perform their work from the law school where they are located. They can work at their convenience within defined deadlines.  We can work collaboratively on my shared desktop through gotomypc.com.  I share digital .wav files with instructions with my Quickscribe Recorder.

Speaking of audio files, if you have not seen the cool embedded audio files you can insert in to Adobe Standard version 7.0 documents, you are really missing something.  Embedded audio files placed directly on .pdf files are incredibly efficient for sharing information.  I have included a sample .pdf with embedded audio here as an example.

I am also interviewing virtual paralegals and associates.  I'll let you know how it goes.