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February 2007

Routing Digital Documents in Your Paperless Office

I’ve had so many requests over the last year or so concerning our internal process for scanning paper that it is overwhelming. As you may recall, we receive all incoming mail and review it in paper form before scanning it. We tried scanning it first and sending it to a special folder, but that proved inadequate. The old adage "out of sight, out of mind" left too many scanned documents un-reviewed for too long.

So how do we deal with the conversion process of paper to PDF? First, the mail comes in. A staff member puts a document cover routing sheet on the mail which covers a variety of items including priority, calendaring, tasks, scanning options, server filing, routing (including by email, regular mail, fax, leap file), special instructions, opening of new clients in extranet and PCLaw, and any other activity or action item which comes out of the document. Because I am no longer anonymous, I am free to post our document cover routing sheet here Download Document_Cover_Routing_Sheet.doc (48.0K)

The whole goal is to make sure that every important task, event and routing path arising out of each and every document is handled comprehensively on the front end. Unlike most firms which simply place a sticky on incoming mail as it routes its way through to their secretary, we try and spend a lot of time with each piece of paper on the front end. If a piece of correspondence from opposing counsel suggests two new task categories and five new task items, I dictate those while I am filling out the routing cover sheet for uploading into the extranet. All tasks get assigned at the same time. If a piece of paper has to be sent to the client and the expert, the document cover routing sheet indicates as such.

By filling in the routing sheet completely and dictating tasks while reviewing the paper, we make sure that virtually nothing falls through the cracks.

Don’t hesitate to post questions or comments concerning the document cover routing sheet below.

New Additions to your Marketing Toolbox

Chuck Newton has a great new post on my favorite extranet tool, basecamp. He correctly notes that basecamp is not only a great productivity and team collaboration tool, but also a marketing tool. How does basecamp end up in the marketing toolbox.

Because you are transparent to clients and increased the level of collaboration, your clients tend to think of you more for new projects. Your clients tend to think of you not only for new projects, but also on new issues on current projects. Your clients tell their friends about the fact that your law firm is completely transparent. Clients want to know what their attorneys are doing and are impressed by the fact that they are involved at every step along the way.

If I paid you $500,000 a year, would you be happy?

Rhonda Muir, over at the Law People blog has a great post called "What all that money is buying you." Rhonda notes that the somewhat shallow strategy of major law firms in hiring associates, is to through more and more money at them. Law firms compete primarily on wages in order to be a prestigious firm; you presumably have to pay the highest wage.

Of course, those same associates are working seven days a week, 14 hours a day. Those same associates don’t take time off for their children’s birthday or even the birth of their child. Rhonda provides this statistic which says it all.

Has anyone taken note of the American Bar Association survey conducted just this past November? Of the 2,377 respondents (most of whom were between 26 and 35 and had been practicing law for five years or less), 84.2 percent said they'd prefer to work fewer hours for less money. More than 30 percent would like to work 20 percent less and said they'd give up between 25 and 30 percent of their pay in exchange. The next largest group-- 27.8%--would settle for a 10% cut in hours. Did you get that? Associates would prefer to give up proportionally more money for incrementally less work.

Attorneys need to make a fundamental choice when they select their employment. Do they want money, quality of life, earning potential, control, and prestige? There is nothing to say that lawyers can’t have a better quality of life and make more money at the same time. But that, of course, is a function of taking control of your situation. The vast majority of lawyers, especially associates, blindly run for the biggest paycheck when they graduate from law school. I should know. That’s what I did.

And what about the clients? Do clients gain any benefit by having overworked attorneys who hate their jobs. One of the most interesting things I have found as an independent practitioner is something called "breathing room." Breathing room is the phenomena when you get to take a deep breath, look around you and see what is important for you and your client. It is during periods of relaxation that we are best able to provide strategic advice to our clients. Yet, we’ve designed law firms that virtually preclude lawyers from having a moment to take a deep breath. Instead of strategy, clients get hourly bill chalked with busy activity leading nowhere.

Beyond the hourly bill ....

My old firm's recent lawsuit has sent me down memory lane. Here is a post from December, 2004 that I could not state better today. This is a comment which I posted on one of my favorite blogs, the[non]billable hour blog authored by Matt Homann (cofounder of LexThink).

It is interesting because the very concept that was in my mind when I was considering starting my firm is the same concept which we implemented and support two years later. Here is what I said back in 2004 ....

There is more to the practice of law than billing by the hour, flat fees and contingency fees. Lawyers should define and deliver results, and be willing to talk about legal budgets, expectations and exit strategies.

The billable hour symbolizes so much of what is problematic with the practice of law and, I believe, accounts for the lion's hare of the negative attitudes we see towards attorneys. The bottom line of the ‘hourly bill’ has become the bottom line 'period' for most law firms. You can't even question the hourly bill premise without raising eyebrows at most hourly firms. Law firms rarely treat clients as customers and have forgotten they are in the service business. If you ask a client why they don’t trust lawyers, it typically has something to do with billing practices and the perception that attorneys look after their own interests, rather than the client.

Unfortunately, it is not so much the ‘hourly bill’ model but how that model is practiced in today's legal environment. Instead of finding ways to make litigation more affordable, law firms only focus on new ways to add hours to the client's bill. In the end, legal representation becomes less affordable for most Americans and businesses.

People who propose tort reform often say they just feel there is something wrong with allowing our justice system to run on the same principles as capitalism as say, an automotive vendor, insurance salesman or store owner. Doesn't the legal profession require something more than profit motive?

When the practice of law is measured by the number of hours billed times an hourly rate, it is easy for the less tangible expectations to get lost. In many firms, 'hourly billing' becomes a standard in itself. The presumption is that only clients who think they received value come back for more legal services. But most people need a lawyer once in their life. They don't have the luxury of taking their next legal case elsewhere. The stakes on a clients one and only case are usually very high. You only get one chance to win your case. There are usually no 'do overs.' The wrong choice can be costly, especially by the hour!

In the sense that 'value is paid for value,' market forces are not inherently inconsistent with legal practice. Few attorneys think much about how legal value is measured. Market forces have less impact on law firms than a product manufacturer or store owners. Buying an hour of legal services is different than buying an hour of lawn maintenance. I can see that my lawn looks good after it is mowed. How does a client know if they received value?

I have posted regularly on the topic of billing models and finding a good attorney. You can find more information about my views on this topic by going to

Enrico Schaefer, Traverse City Attorney

How To: The Test Drive

One of the most important principles of the tech-age firm is that the advancement to which we ascribe is a relative one. We must always remain open-minded, just as ready to challenge the techniques of our traditional counterparts as our own.

The most important tool in challenging ourselves is through the "test-drive". New technologies are erupting everyday on top of the Web 2.0 wave, and only through exploring and testing those technologies can we ensure that our firms are still deserving of the "technologically advanced" title.

But how do you conduct one of these test-drives?

First off, the process needs to begin with a little exploration. Most of the time, this is the hardest part, as the sheer size of the internet can make it difficult to know of a breakthrough that can help you. To conduct this exploration a subscription to tech magazines and blogs can be extremely helpful, as it allows us to pool our resources together to discover and share advances that may be of use to firms like ours.

Another way to tackle this "discovery" stage is to ask questions. Get your staff together and discuss ways that your firm may be deficient, without regard to solutions. Once you have realized a need in your firm, it is easy to search the internet for something that could satiate that need. This can be extremely helpful because in most cases all it takes is a realization of a need to find something that can provide for it.

Once the discovery is over, it is time to subscribe, download, or login to, whatever it is that you have found. In this test-drive stage, I suggest handing it off to a staffer who can try it themselves and report back as to how helpful it really was. This way, you can test it on a small scale without causing any shift in daily business. This also allows that staffer to become an expert on that technology, and puts them in a position to lead a potential transition.

Following this test-drive your office should be in a position to make an educated decision as to the merits of a shift in technology or technique, but before the decision is made it may be necessary to brief and prepare your entire team, so that everyone may wholeheartedly embrace and make the shift.

When the decision to change is made, it is best to jump with both feet. Half-adoptions never work and cause a dangerous chasm in your firm. This is why the discovery and test-driving is so important, because you have to be dedicated and confident enough in the new technology to release yourself from old dependencies.

So thats the test-drive. Discovery, testing, and adoption. A mastery of these techniques will be a great tool for your firm, as you will be explorers riding the top of the technological wave that is propelling us all into this century; but more importantly you will be constantly checking yourself for inefficiencies, making your firm a fine-tuned legal machine.

Judge’s Ruling In Anna Nicole Smith Burial Hearing

Judge's Ruling (wav file)  Download Enrico1868.wav

The high-profile battle over the former Playmate's body has raged since Smith's untimely death on February 8. Both her estranged mother, Virgie Arthur, and Smith's former attorney, Howard K. Stern, want to handle her funeral arrangements in different ways — with Arthur wanting to bury Smith in her home state of Texas, and Stern wanting to bury her in the Bahamas, where he and Smith resided prior to her death.

I happened to be driving in my car when Judge Larry Seidlin s’s ruling came down in the Anna Nicole Smith case pending in Florida (I taped the ruling with my portable dictation device, pulled over, found an open wireless network and posted this.  It may be the first posting on the internet).

By the way, he gave Anna Nicole Smith’s body to the baby’s gaurdian ad litem. Giving the body to a newborn baby’s attorney is ridiculous. Like the baby has an opinion on the issue.

The Judge was a wacky as they come. The pundits seemed to both like him and hate him. But they all missed the point. Judges aren’t supposed to be media magnets. They are not supposed to insert themselves into the proceeding. They are supposed to be invisible. The don’t make law. They apply law. They are supposed to do so neutrally and, to the degree possible, invisibly.

This Judge cried from the bench and constantly brought the spotlight onto himself. Our justice system suffers more from bad judges, than bad plaintiffs or bad lawyers.

Given Anna Nicole’s fight over John Marshall’s remains, I guess this is just karma. What goes around comes around.

Just like the OJ trial, media trial’s like this make our justice system seem a joke. This Judge fed right into the media circus and became the rignleader. Tears from the bench! Come on….. Listen for yourself and let me know if this Judge doesn’t make your stomach turn… and turn our justice system on it's head.

Judge's Ruling

Egyptian Blogger Abdel Kareem Soliman

The whole shroud of mystery around the Greatest American Lawyer blog may be gone, but Egyptian Abdel Kareem Soliman may wish he had his own shroud of anonymity now.

According to the BBC, Soliman was the first blogger prosecuted in Egypt for criticizing "the country's top Islamic institution", and he now faces four years in prison for inciting sedition and insulting Mr. Mubarak. The BBC article also stated how Soliman's arrest is a strong message to "Egypt's thousands of bloggers" who would see their right to free expression upheld within Egypt.

I, as I hope you do as well, took this as a sad reminder of the reality for millions of other bloggers who do not find themselves in the comfort of the First Amendment; but I also take Mr. Soliman's example as inspiration.

The article also mentioned how a "number of bloggers" critical of the government had been arrested in 2006, but later freed. Mr. Soliman knew the risks of his posts, but still did.

This means that Mr. Soliman blogged in face of the danger from the Egyptian government, expressing his right to free speech in a place that would not uphold it. In a place in which speech itself is restricted Soliman used the blogosphere to do so anyways, and sadly, now faces the consequences. In light of the sacrifice made by Mr. Soliman, I hope that more Americans take this motivation to finally log into the blogosphere, to take advantage of the safety that he has been denied.

And to Mr. Soliman, my thoughts and prayers go out to you. Thank you for what you are doing for the Egyptian people; I shall remember you among the names of my American forefathers, and hope that future Egyptians may name yours among many patriots who preceded an era of freedom that Egypt has never before seen.

Do lawyers deserve all the jokes?

The Simple Kind of Life blog had this to say about lawyers:

We wouldn’t have lawyer jokes if lawyers weren’t notorious for bad behavior. Billing clients by the nanosecond every time they think of your case, charging outrageous fees for filing and copying documents, charging high retainers that average people can’t afford, and shady back room deals made to get sleazy clients off. Yep, it’s no wonder lawyers get a bad rap. They enter law school as young, fresh eyes, ready to take on the world…and then discover that being honest and ethical usually doesn’t equal the big bucks.

The author comments on a law firm out of New York offering "70% lower fees. No Bull." The hourly rate is quoted at $97.00/hr for the Brodsky law firm. I particularly love the "purple cow guarantee" which can be found here. First of all, I love the color purple. So the Brodsky law firm gets two thumbs up on color awareness. Second, I love the alternative approach to their model and their marketing. Third, it is clear that the Brodsky law firm is offering several commoditized services such as incorporating, contract review, green cards, wills, and other projects which, with the proper business process, can be done much more effectively and efficiently. It appears that the Brodsky law firm is simply passing along the savings of that process to clients.

Blogspiration: Inspired by Blogs

It never ceases to amaze me. When I feel myself rundown or when I grow weary of my role as a leader, I could always turn to the blogosphere for inspiration. Somehow, reading posts from like-minded people who are all fired up about issues I care about reenergizes my batteries. In fact, I started my firm in part after being inspired by the likes of Dennis Kennedy blog, My Shingle and the [non]billable hour blog. Realizing that I was not alone in my thoughts about the legal profession, I was "inspired" to jump from my firm. I was inspired to become a true innovator in the legal marketplace. I was inspired to inspire others along these lines.

So, thank you, to all of my friends who blog about issues I care about. You are my support group. You pick me up when I am down. You drive me to greater heights.

Forget Blogs. It’s all about RSS

Blogs are great for posting content if you are the author. But the power of blogs isn’t in publishing. The power of blogs lies within its reach. Blogs are relevant if they are well read. RSS allows readers to gather, review and access information categorized in infinite ways.

Dennis Kennedy has a great post on an issue near and dear to my heart. He submits that if he were on a desert island, he would chose a stand-alone (i.e. client side) reader, rather than the web-based readers that so many of us dabble in. Recently, I subscribed to Google Reader as well as Netvibes. Dennis is correct. Web-based reader applications are, no matter how fancy, limited. Dennis recommends FeedDemon as his reader of choice. I think I’ll give it a try.