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November 2007
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December 2007

Staying Focused Over the Holidays

I love the holidays.  For some reason, I always feel like life is starting again after Christmas.  The possibilities once again seem endless.  Opportunity abounds. 

It used to be that I was also very distracted by the holidays.  For some reason, I would loose momentum and become less focused.  When you practice law on your own terms and by the force of your own will, I find it is much easier to keep your eye on the ball during the holidays.  When you are essentially working for yourself, it is much easier to attack each day in relaxed and undistracted matter.  It is easier to make big things happen without the pressure of answering to someone else.

There is something about working for yourself that changes the whole dynamic of work.  When I worked for a firm, the money pretty much came in no matter what I did or did not do.  Because there were many other attorneys all pulling on the ores, cash flow was rarely a problem.  The bi-weekly paycheck got paid. 

But it was truly difficult to get inspired about going above and beyond the call of duty in a traditional law firm.  I knew that I would receive somewhere between one and six pennies for every dollar I brought in by way of bonus.  It should be pretty obvious that earning $60.00 for $1,000.00 in revenue or $600.00 for every $10,000.00 in revenue isn’t much of an incentive. 

Today, I got up out of bed with the same thought I wake up with on most mornings.  I want to get the day started so I can get to work and make something special happen for me or my clients.  It has now been almost three years since I started my firm.  I know have two partners, four staff and a slew of virtual workers.  This expansion has allowed us to take on major federal court cases across the country for large corporate clients. 

So as the new year approaches, I am already struck by how thankful I am for everything that remains possible in this coming year.  Opportunity is everywhere.  And my partners and I have the talent, will and desire to explore and expand on those opportunities.  What more could a lawyer ask for?   

Clients Who Don’t Understand Value

Over the past three years we have had two clients who we have asked to find other representation.  Both of these clients could not or would not grasp the concept of value billing.  In both cases, the clients wanted to know how many hours were spent and the billing rate of the lawyers involved.  In each instance, they believed that, because of our expertise, it shouldn’t have taken us very long to analyze the background information and generate a threat letter.

In both instances, the early email exchanges made it clear that these clients were going to use our expertise against us.  Their view was that they ought to receive our expertise at no charge.  Both instances involved a low level $1,200.00 threat letter.  This involved obtaining all the background information from the client, doing independent research and generating a five page threat letter with dozens of pages of attachment. 

In each instance, the deliverables were specifically defined and approved by the client ahead of time.  In each instance, every deliverable was achieved.  In both instances, the client did not receive the ultimate result they were seeking.  In the latest incident, a cybersquatter had provided all false registrant information.  Thus, the threat letter was not received by either certified mail and/or email.  The client’s position was that since the letter was not received, no value had been provided.  As we began discussing the matter with the client, all of the client’s communication focused around the number of hours involved.  The client erroneously assumed that the firm had not done all of its independent research, had worked diligently to try and identify false information.  In fact, the firm had taken on an investigation of a separate domain name under a different registrant at the client’s request in order to develop a tie between the two domains at the registrant level.  Despite all of that, the fact that service had not been achieved, an issue common in the domain area and of course beyond anyone’s control, was driving the client batty. 

Despite the fact that value and deliverables had been specifically defined and approved up-front, it became very clear that the client’s idea of value was not on pre-approved deliverables but that a single letter would result in immediate relief to the client.  The domain name would be voluntarily transferred immediately upon the receipt of the letter with little or no further activity.  In short, all the red flags were pointing to a mismatch between our services and the client.  We returned the client’s fee despite having provided all of the deliverables and provided recommendations to two other law firms who specialize in the particular area of law. 

What the client failed to realize is they had received tremendous value despite the lack of service (which would be inevitable once additional project phases were completed and the registrant was identified):

1. The five page threat letter would eventually be used with the registrant of the domain, or against the competitor which the client would ultimately reuse it for if a link was established;

2. The firm’s expertise in this area of law which allowed for a threat letter to be generated the same day as the project start date with all of the background facts and relevant law included;

3. The fact that our firm didn’t have to do any independent research to know exactly what the client’s rights were and the appropriate course of action on behalf of the client;

4. The flat fee quote itself.  This same project completed by another hourly law firm would have no doubt cost two to four times more than the flat fee our firm charged.  This is because of two primary factors.  The first is that most firms would not have the background and expertise to immediately act on the matter.  Second factor is that the client came to us in “emergency mode” seeking immediate response and results, as well as extending the project beyond its original definition.  Hourly lawyers love clients in this situation.  This client was so outranged by the cybersquatting, that an hourly billing lawyer would have had lots of different directions to go and possible hours to accumulate.

5. The fact that the deliverables were defined.  Again, an hourly billing lawyer could have taken the matter in many different directions almost immediately.  The opportunity for the lawyer without and project definition or cap on spending could have easily gotten to five or eight thousand dollars within a couple of days of work.  Defining deliverables takes risk off of the client that the number will simply grow and grow.

6. The fact that as in any phase one project, you are merely building a foundation for the future phases.  Our project specifically included negotiations or drafting of any documents assuming that the cybersquatter was willing to turn over the domains.  And the real value came from tying the particular domain to the client’s competitor.  The real value to the client, worth a lot of money, would be data tying the competitor to the infringing domain.  After sending the client on their way, we went ahead and completed what would have been phase two of the project, seeking to tie the competitor with the domain.  We have access to tools that few other attorneys, even those specializing in this area, can utilize.  We went ahead and spent the money required to access the database to see if we could find.  We actually found we actually found the smoking gun data to tie the domain and the competitor together.  Of course, we smile knowing that the client may never obtain that information, even if they spend thousands or tens of thousands of dollars with another domain specialist.

A law firm should never hesitate to monitor “red flag clients”, return their money even when you’ve delivered each and every item and send that client on their way.  I’ve always believed that law firms make their money by insuring they receive a solid match with clients.  Stated the other way, a law firm can lose a lot of money really quickly on a client that doesn’t understand and realize the value they are being provided.  The above client will in all likelihood spend significantly more money on an hourly fee lawyer and may never achieve anything close to the results our firm is uniquely positioned to deliver.  That is unfortunate for the client.  However, you can’t have it both ways.  One of the benefits of value billing is that the client knows exactly what they are going to pay for a particular set of deliverables.  Capping your exposure is a huge benefit over the hourly billing model.  Clients that want to have their cake and eat it to should suffer the hourly bill over the longer period only then will they understand and appreciate value billing.

Driving Your Cases Forward

One of the best benefits of the extranet is that it provides you with a unique ability to continue to drive your cases forward. Lawyers in traditional law firms tend to be far more reactive than proactive. They are putting out fires, rather than driving results. We are constantly reviewing our extranet on a project by project basis. By looking at the previous tasks and latest messages, it is almost always obvious what needs to happen next. Driving that next set of tasks is as simple as dictating them someone else who puts them into the extranet.

Finding and Fulfilling Your Potential

My nine year old son tested into the gifted program this year which required him to change schools.   He is no longer on the bus path.  As a result, I get the privilege of driving him to school each day at 7:35 in the morning. 

It’s only a four minute drive but each day we find something significant to talk about. 

Today, I was finishing up a GAL blogpost on my portable dictation as we were walking out the door.  I asked my son whether or not he minded if I finished the post.  He listened as I finished what you now see as the last post before this one.  He asked why I was always “talking into that thing all the time.”  I laughed and told him I had a lot to say.  I lead a pretty balanced life and spend good quality time with my family.  But I’m also constantly working in the background.  Evenings, weekends and vacations.  My digital dictation isn’t far away and my laptop computer is almost always on and handy.  Yes, sometimes this interferes with family time. 

The fact is, I do have a lot to say.  And my cases require a lot of attention.  And you never know when that critical task or client message is going to pop into your head.  And there is a beauty and benefit to being able to download it onto your portable dictation before it melts away.  Doing a data drop is better than letting the data pile up in your brain, continually pushing you out of the moment. 

I told my son that someday I wouldn’t be such a workaholic.  But I told him that there are things that I was saying and the things I am doing are important.  The GAL blog will be a permanent biography of one of the most exciting, creative and important periods of my life.   It will be here for my children and their children.  In the lessons found herein may be some of the most important lessons I ever teach to them.

We talked about how important it is to identify and then fulfill potential.  I encouraged him to be patient in finding the things that mean the most to him and then driving towards them over the course of his life.  I explained that I was fulfilling my potential in how important it is to balance your obligations to mankind, in my case the legal profession, myself and my family.  Everyone is Superman at something.  He understands that it would be inappropriate for superman to ever sit on the sidelines and watch his potential to help and change the world go unrealized.

Have you found your inner Superman?  Does your firm support and encourage you to find and realize all of your super powers?  The reason that I ask is that it’s almost the end of the year.  It time to start thinking about changing your life.  Most lawyers leave their firms in January, after bonuses are paid for the previous years work.  And any lawyer that works for their firm for a half a year never gets paid for the half they worked since that payment comes only at the end of the year.

So I encourage any lawyer that feels unfulfilled, unsupported and uninspired to consider change.  There is much more to gain than there is to fear. 

How Many Lawyers love Their Job?

One of the best parts about our firm is that we have managed to create an environment which drives me out of bed in the morning.  I’m usually awake by about 5 a.m. and out of bed by 6.  I can’t wait to pickup my digital recorder and start dropping tasks and messages into our extranet.  Sometimes they are on client cases.  More often, they are blog posts or agenda items for our “perfect law firm” Tuesday and Thursday meetings.  I have a sense of control and opportunity which brings me into each day.  I can hardly wait to see what is going to happen each day, which new clients will find their way to our firm and what will happen on the cases we have pending.  I have never been involved in a legal situation where we have returned so many extraordinary results to our clients.  Nothing feels better than hitting a grand slam on a difficult case. 

There are so many things that make this firm different.  As a digital law firm, we have instant access to all our case information from wherever we are located.  This allows us to accomplish things faster and more intelligently than virtually any other lawyers.  Our extranet also pushes so much information to the client level, that our clients are the most informed and involved clients of any clients our there.  We do more in terms of strategy than any other firm I’ve been involved with, by a multiple of ten.  This is largely because we document the deliverables and every task along the way driving towards a defined end zone.  Is it any wonder we accomplish extraordinary results?  Our virtual workers allow us to avoid lower level functions which distract us from focusing on strategy and client relations.  These virtual workers allow us to expand and contract with case load ensuring that the train is moving forward at a steady, even pace.  Our collaborative work environment means that all of our lawyers and staff are on the same page on every case.  Each lawyer is able to contribute to any case at any moment.  These types of checks and balances are critical for a firm and client success. 

Because we are constantly revising our internal process and overall approach based on whatever makes sense, our creativity is rewarded each day.  Innovation is the foundation of our firm.  Nothing is more exciting than finding ways to do things better and technology to make it happen.

Most law firms live in a cynical environment of “why not.”  We live in an environment of “can do” where problem solving is our most rewarding activity.  There’s nothing more unrewarding than writing CYA letters to clients, always working to cover yourself in expectation that things will eventually go wrong and essentially telling the client about all the problems in their case.  We make things happen for clients every day that other lawyers would say are impossible. 

The reality is that the traditional law firm can be a brutal, boring, negative, uninspired, underperforming and static environment.  Isn’t time you changed your environment?  Isn’t time that you found out for yourself what is truly possible?

How Does The Long Tail Apply to the Service Industry?

I finally got around to listening to The Long Tail written by Chris Anderson.  It is a fascinating book which in many ways states what is already obvious to observers of the information and technology age. 

But I’m left to wonder whether the principles of The Long Tail apply to the services industry?  Perhaps I am not that far in the book yet, but being able to store unlimited books in a warehouse and sell them through is one thing.  Providing legal service is another. 

Certain principles discussed in The Long Tail certainly apply to the services industry.  For instance, niche markets are much easily exploited by lawyers given the advent of technological advances and the internet.  Building a “community” of clients around niche practice areas has also  been made possible by the Internet. 

I wonder what other principles you believe also apply.  Post your comments here.

The Importance of Immediacy

In today’s high paced commercial world the immediacy is the ultimate differentiator among businesses and workers.  The industrial age allowed for tremendous time lag between thought and action.  The industrial model which still dominates the commercial landscape taught people to work between the hours of 9 to 5 and to put off tasks, thoughts and efforts until punching the time clock in the morning.

Many workers and companies will ultimately be unable to make the shift into the world of immediacy.  Immediacy allows us to respond to our clients using our Blackberry on evenings and weekends, and in the morning while getting ready.  Digital dictation allows us to immediately capture, transmit and convey thoughts, strategies, tasks and information the moment a good thought strikes us.  Laptop computers allow us to work from the air port, the plane and while on vacation. 

Many bemoan the inability to escape work and the expectations of clients for an “immediate” response or update.  Those workers will be left behind.  The companies they work for will be at a significant competitive disadvantage. 

The groaners and naysayers and complainers refuse to embrace the immediacy which technology makes available.  They fail to see the advantages of immediacy for both them and their client.  Under the industrial age model, tasks, ideas and information simply stack up, pile up and often get lost in the shuffle.  Workers come to work in the morning only to find an inbox full of email, distractions and an inability to move the ball and get things done.  They feel the pressure of the pile.  They lay awake at night worrying about the pile and the many things undone.  They realize they are non-competitive.  Their jobs are on the line. 

The reality is that the capability and demands in the immediacy aren’t going away.  There will be workers in companies which embrace immediacy and those that stand by and watch it happen.  Like everything else, the capabilities and expectations created by our world of immediacy are both good and bad.  Overall, I find the benefits of immediacy far outweigh the detriments.  When I realize that a task remains undone or an email needs to be sent, I simply pick up my portable dictation device and dictate the task or email.  I am immediately relieved of the burden of a task undone.  And my productivity while are the office is greatly enhanced.