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June 2006

The Greatest American Law Clerk

I would like to introduce everyone to Brian, who I shall now refer to as the Greatest American Law Clerk. Not that he necessarily is the Greatest American Law Clerk just as I am not the Greatest American Lawyer. But someone has to ascribe to the ideal. If I have to do it for lawyers, then Brian has to do it for law clerks.

Brian will be posting every once in a while when he sees fit. GAL has granted him access to the username and password for TypePad. You will know Brian’s posts because he will sign them with his name. That way none of my insanity will be attributed to him by mistake. Good luck finding your voice Brian; you are going to need it if you are going to be part of this law firm.

Even L.A. Law Had Some Great Ideas on Law Firm Management

I know some of you will think it is somewhat odd that this morning’s team meeting was the first one we have had at our law firm. We actually sat down in a single room together and went through each case item by item, to do list by to do list. It is a bit embarrassing to say that we had never done this before today’s meeting. Going through the case review process, I felt a little bit like we were on L.A. Law for two reasons. One, because we do many internet and technology cases there is a crossover with pornography. Many of our clients’ stolen domains are redirects to porn sites, for instance. We also have a couple "sexy" employment discrimination cases. I remember that on L.A. Law, the fact patterns and discussions that occurred at those weekly meetings seemed unbelievable.

The truth is that we should have been having these sit-down meetings since the very beginning. But initially, it was only Jenny and I and we talked all the time. We have grown so steadily that I do not think it occurred to me, until recently, that we have such a large team of people, that we really need the face-to-face time. While our extranet provides a lot of information to everyone on the team, there is still no beating an across the table meeting to go through the items in the extranet.

As you know, I also believe that 50% or more of the things that should be done on cases handled by law firms remain unidentified, un-tasked and thus undone. My theory is that you could walk in to most busy law firms and conclude that (1) All of the lawyers are billing to their targets, but (2) many items are still not being done. Firms are so focused on hourly billing that they only care about hourly quotas. They forget they are attempting to achieve a result for the client and do not spend enough time on strategy and execution. Having a task-based system documented in an extranet available to all team members, and then sitting down and going through the extranet in a face-to-face meeting with team members is optimal.

Do Bad Lawyers Create More Work For The Rest Of Us?

Last year, we had a company called Deck Defenders clean and stain our deck. By this year, the deck was a mess and the stain was actually peeling.

I just finished talking to the guy who is going to do our deck this year. He works for Deck Doctors (talk about trademark issues). We were talking about how much clean-up work he had to do for this other company and the fact that he was actually getting bad-will as a result of the closeness in the company names. I told him to change the name. But as we thought about bad-will, we ended up thinking about the increase in demand for services as a result of the clean-up work Deck Doctors has to do for jobs done last year by Deck Defenders. After discussing it, we agreed that the bad quality by Deck Defenders actually increased demand for services.

Do bad lawyers drive up profits for good attorneys? Of course, the answer is yes. The real question is what are the qualities of a bad lawyer. A bad lawyer simply argues about everything for no other reason than he/she is being paid by the hour. A bad lawyer never tells their client how they are going to win the case or achieve the client’s goals. A Bad lawyer keeps their client in the dark and tells the client not to bother them. A bad lawyer fails to prepare their client for deposition.

Do bad lawyers drive up the overall cost of legal services? Of course they do. I dare anyone to suggest to me that it is otherwise.

Lawyers Need An “Off” Button

One of the hardest things to do is to actually turn off the lawyer. Let’s face it, no one wants to be married to a lawyer or have a lawyer as a dad or mom, especially if the lawyer is going to bring the adversarial part of the job home. Wouldn’t it be great if we had an "off button" so we could go back to being a real human being at the end of the day?

The Law Is Nothing But Questions And Answers

It never ceases to amaze me that the legal thought process is really so simple. A lawyer presented with a problem faced by one of their clients is faced with a series of questions that need answering. The question may be a factual question. The question may be a legal research question. The question may be a political or strategic question.

The lawyer who identifies the questions and obtains the answers the best will win in the marketplace.

The reason our virtual worker program is so powerful is that it allows me to obtain answers to important questions. At any moment, an important question can pop into a lawyers mind. Digital dictation allows that lawyer to immediately dictate a to-do item, assign it to a virtual worker and receive the information needed in order to answer the important question. Lawyers spend little time trying to identify important questions and seem institutionally challenged in obtaining good answers. I am convinced that the hourly billing model creates a situation where many tasks are left undone in mid and upper level attorney offices. Lawyers who should be strategic thinkers, planners and strategist spend time wallowing in the pits of practice, to distracted from finding the end zone for their client. Lawyers need to think more about identifying questions and finding great timely resources for answers. Lawyers need to think about having a flexible staff on hand ready to jump into answers to important questions.

Sometimes Lawyers Shouldn’t Talk

I have not posted a lot over the last couple of weeks. Sometimes I get tired of talking. With digital dictation and a large flexible staff, I am able to assign tasks to numerous workers across several talent areas. However, it is draining being "on" all the time. Sometimes even the best lawyers need to give their mouth a break.

Sound Familiar?

Jeremy Blachman's Anonymous Lawyer satirizes life at a large law firm in a major city from the perspective of a fictional hiring partner.  The website is funny and the blog is hillarious.  However, if I had to live the anonymous lawyer's life day-in and day-out, I do not think I would be laughing.  Is it time to change how law is practiced yet?

Hanging Out With The Legal Legend

I am standing here with one of my favorite people, a person by the name of Dean Robb. I am showing him The Greatest American Lawyer blog and teaching him a thing or two about technology. I am working hard to get Dean Robb to step up and launch his own blog. I told him that we do all the typing and maintenance of the blog if he would just simply dictate the content.

Don’t we all have an obligation to find the elder statesman of the law and encourage them to share their knowledge? Do you have a friend or acquaintance that should be sharing their information online but simply doesn’t have the time or technology skill to pull it off?

I think that we all should find a mentor and help bring them online. I have the resources to drive content. My staff can type anything that is dictated up. I’m going to get Dean trained to dictate blog posts and put them online. I will let you know when he goes live.

Adaptability as a New World Trait

I have been thinking a lot lately about the skill sets of The Greatest American Lawyer. Knowing that the Greatest American Lawyer is an ideal, I would be interested to know what our readers think about the capabilities of The Greatest American Lawyer. Just as Ayn Rand created the mythical Howard Roark and John Galt, we might all be well served to think about the ideal.

I am beginning to think that adaptability is amongst the most important traits for any new world lawyer seeking to innovate. We have lived in an age where patterns and norms are taught in the school systems and our societal norms. There was an economic incentive to make things the same.

In today’s information and technology-based world, standing still means being left behind. The Greatest American Lawyer would need to adapt quickly and easily between environments, capabilities, roles, projects and tasks. Let’s face it. Some people don’t adapt well. Change is perceived as a threat. Assuming that we are creating something better, continuing to strive forward for that "something" is imperative. A person can hardly move forward if they are standing still.

It also occurs to me that the Greatest American Lawyer would not be a slave to the workplace. Yes, he/she would understand the hard work required in order to achieve the ideal. However, there would be time for personal growth. There would be time for family. There would certainly be time for children.

I am sitting here at one of the greatest resorts in North America watching my eight, six and four year old sons play by the river and beg me to put down my Dictaphone so we can get to the waterfall pool. The temperature will be about 80 degrees today. It is time to play. Being able to switch between work and pool will be one of the most important tests for me today. I have a hearing tomorrow I have to prepare for. Of course, I have not started. Will I multi-task? Or will I simply allocate time to prepare later in the day. And in between events, will I adapt well? When I am working, will I be thinking about play? When I am playing, will I be thinking about work? The Greatest American Lawyer would adapt from one set of ideals to another. In fact, The Greatest American Lawyer would realize it was a single ideal being served on both tasks.