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November 2006

GAL Gets Sued Update

For those of you who have been following, you can see the history of litigation brought by my former firm against my firm for a quantum meruit fee on a particular case where we believe the former firm breached its ethical duties to the client. By way of brief synopsis, the former firm in its effort to try and retain the client, failed to advise the client of their right to select me as counsel. They, from my point of view, purposely deprived the client of information and proposed an illegal contract which would have precluded the clients’ choice.

The former firm’s position has been that it had no duty to inform the client that they had had a right to choose counsel. The former firm views that client as property of the firm. They brought a motion for partial summary disposition asking the Court to rule that they didn’t breach their ethical duties. That hearing occurred yesterday. The Court slammed my former firm and affirmatively held that there is an absolute duty by the former firm to advise the client of their right to select counsel. There is some great language in the hearing transcript which I will provide. Essentially, the Court confirmed my belief that a law firm may not disadvantage the client in any way while trying to serve its own interest in a fee.

This is a great day for the firm and exactly what I hoped would occur. For a while, I thought I was the only one who believed that you have to put your client ahead of your own interest. See my prior post on "Just Think of the Fucking Client".


Becoming Too Virtual

The ability to work from home, have employees who work from theirs, and to be able to maintain the same level of productivity as if you were in the office is great, but it should not be a replacement for time actually there. If you are working too remotely, the lack of face to face interaction can cost you. Working loads of hours from home may be great for your family, but you need to show your face at the office often enough, for both your colleagues, and your entire business.

You need to show your face to your employees to give them the help and support that they need in order to work their full capacity. While it is easy to assign a task to a colleague with a line in an email, it takes a little of “over the shoulder” supervision to make sure that you are both on the same page for its implementation.

Maintaining a good amount of time in the office is also a great way to stay connected to the basics. You probably have a person who handles the logistics of the firm, but don’t let yourself lose site of those basics, because they will leave you disconnected and distant from your own firm if you get too caught up in the high-end stuff.

By staying connected to the body of your business, and maintaining some time “in office”, you will surely maintain a great work atmosphere, where your employees and clients feel free to approach you for help or clarification. Further, your face, and being visible to show you working diligently will inspire your colleagues, and avoid from having employees who expect all higher-level communication from their inbox. This in turn, will create a more personable business and a welcoming atmosphere, which your clients will most definitely pick up their first time in the door.


Road Warriors Require Flexibility

To be a true road warrior, you need multiple avenues to accomplish the same task. I am currently down state for a multi day series of events for one of my friend’s fortieth birthday celebrations. This schedule is basically to party at night and work during the day.

When I arrived at my friend’s house, I discovered there was no wireless network. Luckily, I was able to receive emails on my Blackberry to know basically what was going on. We realized that one of our clients had been defaulted on a complaint they never forwarded to us. Of course, the motion to set aside the default had to be filed today. I needed to dictate some documents. I have my portable dictation device. I have my dictation software on my laptop. But my laptop could not connect to the Internet.

My friend did have an old desktop computer with an Internet connection. I logged onto our web dictation system and was able to dictate the motion to set aside default with only an Internet connection and a log in account.

True road warriors need two or three different ways to accomplish tasks on the road. When one avenue is blocked, another one is available. The beauty of web-based systems, such as our extranet and our web dictation, is that you only need "a" computer connected to the Internet. It does not have to be your computer.


Our Firm Sponsored the World Premiere Borat

It just occurred to me last night that my firm sponsored the very first showing of the blockbuster Borat at our local film festival. Borat is now the # 1 film in the country. Not only was I part of an audience that was the very first audience, including Warner Bros., to see Borat, but the introductions to the film at that event noted my firms sponsorship of that particular movie. At the time, no one knew if it would even hit the big screen, let alone become the blockbuster that it has.

Of course, this may be a clue for those who want to guess who the Greatest American Lawyer might really be… (No guessing if you already know).


What Makes a Good Worker in The Technology Age?

I previously posted about new skills required of the workforce in the technology age. I remember at my old law firm, we decided to abandon our Word Perfect/Corel Suite of applications when we got into a new computer lease. We were spending approximately $14,000 dollars in additional license fees by having both Word and Word Perfect on every computer. The commercial cases all involved word documents. Our clients were using word documents. But when it came time to tell the staff that we were switching, many of the workers rebelled. Despite the fact that we offered substantial retraining and resources to ease the transition, many of the workers were stuck in the Word Perfect mud.

Forgetting the fact that Word Perfect does offer a better "reveal codes" function, this was a relatively minor technology change in the grand scheme of things. Yet, you would have thought the world was coming to an end.

Those workers, who rebelled, would not qualify as good candidates in the technology age. A worker in today’s world must be flexible, be constantly willing to change with innovations being deployed by their company, and always be open to try new things.

At our firm, we deploy new technology and refine processes almost on a weekly basis. Our workers are the best kind of workers for the technology age. They know that there will be challenges in using and incorporating new technologies. But they are up for the task. Perhaps flexibility and open-mindedness are the most important traits for a true technology age worker


Outreach

The ability to work through the internet and connect with your colleagues with the click of the button is a great tool that drastically increases your capacity as a firm. The ability to work digitally allows your employees to work from home or across town with the same efficiency and work capacity as if they were right across the hall. However, it also expands your reach to encompass a much greater pool of potential paralegals and clerks by eliminating the problem of distance.

The advantages to having internet based work transcend the ability just to work from home. With case work and research being done online, and it unnecessary to require a “nine to five”, you do not have to restrict yourself to the paralegals and attorneys within your city limits. Technology gives you the capacity to utilize attorneys, clerks and paralegals from across your region, a capacity that could garner great returns for your firm.

Technology even allows you to tap into the best and brightest of the up and coming generation of lawyers. Utilize your capacity and sign on those first and second year students onto your practice while they are still in school. Without the restrictions from a traditional firm, those highly motivated "lawyers to be", will be able to work hard for your firm in between their studies and after class.

Technology in your firm opens up a much wider pool of prospective employees. The ability to work online will give you access to very qualified people who would not normally be able to work within your firm because of distance, or the constraints of a full load of classes; but because of your firm's ability to offer flexible hours and the ability to work from any computer, you will be able to bring in some great people.


Being There for Your Clients

Communicating with your clients and customers is an integral part of running any business, but it seems on many occasions too many of us forget this important aspect when working within the field of law; when in fact this field is where it is most important to connect with your clients.

Communicating and being available for your clients is so important within the field of law because of the inherently confusing nature of any lawsuit. To the average laymen who is involved in his first lawsuit, the court room is a confusing labyrinth of legal jargon and indiscriminate motions and rituals, in which lawyers maneuver around with their lives over the course of months.

These maneuvers consist of depositions, mediation appointments, pleadings and motions, and all play a very active role in the everyday workings of your office, but are a foreign language to many of your clients – who are relying upon you to decipher it for them.

This is why it is so important to communicate and make yourself available and approachable to your clients, because you need to walk them through the process and keep them abreast of their case at all points during the long process. An attorney locked up in their office is not the way to educate and update clients over the months during which they are working together, an attorney needs to be there for their clients and work hard to help them understand the status of their case as it progresses.

By constantly being available, in consistent contact, and transparent in your activities, you can open your office to your clients who will repay your work two-fold. Just as a suggestion from a new restaurant increases your interest - a great report from a friend about a lawyer, about how they always kept them updated of their case, will be better than any advertisement.


There Is Nowhere To Hide In The Law

Like every other service business, the law requires you to move the ball from point A to point B. Lots of clients rely on you each and every week. Documents have to be generated, negotiated and regurgitated.

People who sell products can sometimes walk away from the day to day grind of service. They can worry about things such as production and distribution.

Thank god for my virtual workers. When I am away for a week, atleast revenue is still coming in.

But we are what we work. Revenue is a direct function of effort.


Do Institutions Promote Stability or Simply Quash Innovation

Institutions are everywhere. Some are political, others are religious. The Bar Association is an institution. Even what we know is the legal profession, acts as an institution.

Institutions have all sorts of norms and rules which govern conduct and act to control behavior. Many institutions do so on the basis of morality or, in the case of the legal profession, ethics. Subtle and not so subtle pressures exist to keep everyone within the legal profession in a small tight box. Lawyers who step out that box are minumized, laughed at and shunned. In some instances, the institution actively seeks to attack the credibility of those who challenge the core precepts of the institution.

There was a time when institutions provided insulation against anarchistic behavior. Anarchistic behavior was perceived as bad. But innovation is only one step removed from anarchy. It is my belief that technology will in many ways erode the power which institutions have on our society. To the extent that you believe innovation and diversity are the core of capitalism, then we may actually be on the verge, for the very first time in American history, of true capitalism. As institutions lose their strangle hold on society and professions such as the law, market choices will increase. Discussions about what our society and the legal profession should look like will thrive. The institutions themselves will be challenged on intellectual, social and philosophical grounds.

Isn’t that what is happening right now in the blogosphere? Aren’t we seeing communities of like minded people banding together and entertaining national discussions about issues in ways that were never possible before?


Wake Up and Make Your Wife Coffee

I don’t know whether it is the fact that my life is no longer some robotic routine. Certainly, having the fexibility to work from home, make the kids breakfast in the morning and go to the office at 9:00 helps. Having your wife and kids visit you at the office on a regular basis is certainly a reminder of what is important.

I’ll admit it. Coming up on two years post "I quit", I am more in love with my wife and my family than ever before. I get to see them more often. The diversity of my day keeps a spring in my step. The best part about being an independent practitioner is that it breeds an appreciation for life, family and work which simply can’t be achieved at big law.

I have a busy day ahead of me. But I woke up early, cleaned the kitchen and made my wife coffee. The kids came down early. I got them fed and took a shower. I’ll be to work about 30 minutes later than usual. But there was no artificial time by which I had to be sitting in my chair. More importantly, there was no "pressure" for me to arrive at work at a certain time and make an appearance.

I was channel surfing last night and stopped on Larry King who had five guests on. I don’t know who they were but they each had a singular message. Life is what you make of it. You have the ability to see each situation either positive or negative. We have that choice at each and every moment of each and every day. Somehow, the sense of control one has when working for oneself spills over into other areas. No longer are we part of a large group. We are individuals. We do things because we decide that they need to get done. We are bound only by our own principles and motivated only by our own goals. We take charge of our lives as opposed to turning our lives over to others.

Why do we send our best law students off to the assembly line of big law? Why are greatest minds and talents wasted slaving to the will of others?

If the answer used to be because there was no other real alternative, then that answer is no longer a correct one. it is time to unshackle the lawyer slaves of the world. The age of individuals is upon us. Wake.Wake. Time is wasting. The time is now.

Oh! And don’t forget to make your wife coffee in the morning.