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Jan Copley
Certified Practice Advisor
Atticus, Inc.

530 South Lake Avenue, Suite 250
Pasadena, CA 91101
(626) 696-3145
(626) 421-6747 (fax)

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Ethical Technology – Part One

June 29, 2012

Filed under: Legal Ethics,Technology — @ 8:00 am

This has been my week for thinking about the overlap between legal ethics and technology. I attended a webinar about ethics and Social Media put on by the Law Practice Management & Technology Section of the State Bar of California; I’ve also found a number of blog articles about the ethical use of new technology in my email inbox.

Because it’s hard for practicing lawyers to keep up on all of this stuff, I thought I’d briefly summarize what I’ve learned here; there’s so much, I will be continuing the discussion in my next blog posting.

First, for all of my readers who practice in the United States — other than my readers in California — you may want to know that the ABA is considering proposed revisions to its Model Rules to adapt the rules to changes in technology. Among the proposed changes I find interesting:

  • A lawyer’s duty to competently represent his or her clients will now include a duty to understand and use technology competently.
  • A lawyer must use due diligence to determine if a third-party vendor — whether for outsourced work or for storing data — adequately protects client confidentiality.
  • If a lawyer outsources work to a third party, the lawyer should obtain the client’s consent before doing so.

The bottom line for the rules seem to be that a lawyer can use new technology, including cloud data storage, but that he/she must use “reasonable” efforts to protect his or her client. “Reasonable” is determined in light of circumstances, including the cost involved and the use of the data.

You can find a good summary of the proposed new rules in an article from Law Technology News, “ABA to Tackle Technology Issues in Model Rules at August Meeting.” If you want to see the proposed rules themselves, click here.

For my California readers, you might be interested to note that proposed rules relating to the ethical use of technology were submitted to the California Supreme Court in 2010, and, after a period for public comment expired, withdrawn. In the meantime, the State Bar has created a special page on its website, “Ethics and Technology Resources,” to provide guidelines to its members.

Please let me know how this helps you!

Having Trouble with Productivity? Get Away From Your Desk!

June 27, 2012

Filed under: Focus/Time Management — @ 1:21 pm

One of my jobs as a practice management coach is to help my clients get their work done. Many, many of the people I work with complain they can’t seem to finish projects because there are too many distractions or they just can’t concentrate. I suggest that they turn off the email reminders and have someone else pick up the phone or even just turn off the ringer.

However, that won’t work for at least one of my clients. He’s a solo. He has changed the settings on his computer to make email less distracting, but the only way he can ignore his telephone — even with the ringer off — is to throw a towel over it so he can’t see the phone light up.

So, for this client, I suggested he spend one morning a week at Starbucks, using the time to work on projects that require extended periods of concentration. He’s tried it, and he says it works pretty well — his only distraction is getting up to ask the barista for another cup of tea. Of course, my client doesn’t log on to the wireless Internet access while he’s there.

What I didn’t realize is that, according a recent online article in The Atlantic, “Why Crowded Coffee Shops Fire Up Your Creativity,” my client may be experiencing increased creativity, as well as productivity, during his Starbucks mornings. And it’s not only the caffeine. According to the article, “modest” background noise may create “enough of a distraction to encourage people to think more imaginatively.”

So, if you find that you sometimes have a creativity lag, or if the type of law you practice requires you to spend blocks of time on putting together creative solutions, you might consider going someplace where there is a modest level of background noise. Of course, it doesn’t have to be Starbucks (another one of my clients complains that nearly everything on the Starbucks menu has too many calories); just choose a place with an atmosphere that helps you get your work done.

Please let me know how this helps you!

Ugh! Performance Reviews

June 22, 2012

Filed under: Performance Reviews,Staffing — @ 8:00 am

When I was a salaried employee, I dreaded performance reviews. They happened irregularly and I was never really sure what was going to happen.

We all hate employee reviews. It never occurred to me that my bosses might dread reviews, too! Then, I opened my own firm and hired my own team members. It was then that I realized that everyone hates reviews. They’re hard, they’re uncomfortable, and too much — compensation, a person’s job — hangs in the balance.

You gotta do them. Yet, performance reviews are a necessary part of running a business. As a practice management coach, I often hear about my clients’ frustrations with their team members. Yet, when I ask if a client has spoken to the employee, I am very often told, “no.” If you haven’t said anything, how is the employee supposed to know there’s a problem?

Some tips for effective reviews. So, how do you make the whole process less painful for everyone involved? I have a couple of suggestions:

  • Have regular interim reviews. If you review someone’s performance regularly — on a quarterly basis, say — you and your employee won’t have the stress of attaching money to the conversation. This also allows you to correct performance issues before they become serious problems.
  • Base your reviews on objective criteria. If you are going to make judgments of someone’s performance, focus on things you can observe and document. Instead of asserting, “you’re using your lunch hour to get drunk,” say, “you’ve been late returning from lunch the last three Fridays.”
  • Have your employee measure his/her performance. Ask your team member how he/she would evaluate his/her performance. Your employee may have higher standards than you do!
  • Set measurable goals for future performance. It’s much more useful for you and your employee to know your expectations of each other, as well as how to measure those expectations. If you have employees who bill, one of the standards can be the number of hours billed. Look for ways to quantify other aspects of the employee’s job; ask the employee to help you develop appropriate measurements.

Please let me know how this helps you!

Tell Me About Your HR Department

June 20, 2012

Filed under: Staffing — @ 12:57 pm

Even if you run the smallest of small businesses, once you hire someone, you need a Human Relations department. The department may consist of one person — you! And, if you’re like many attorneys, you may muddle along with employee issues without really knowing everything that’s involved with human relations.

That’s certainly the way I ran my practice when I first hired employees. And my lack of knowledge paid off the way you would think it would: I had conflicts with employees, unmet expectations, bad hires, and I had to scramble to develop policies when unexpected things happened (i.e., how much bereavement leave should I give when someone’s parent dies?).

That’s why a recent article, “What Every CEO Needs to Know About HR,” in Bloomberg BusinessWeek caught my eye. The article lists ten ways an HR department can help a company. Some of the ten items only apply to larger organizations — it’s hard for the HR department to collaborate with “other leaders in the company” when the only leader is you — but I think that the following five functions very much apply to law firms:

    1. Making your company a desirable place to work, and getting that information out into the marketplace.

    2. Teaching your employees (including you, by the way) to tell the truth.

    3. Building a culture of collaboration between all employees.

    4. Asking your team members every day for ways to improve the business.

    5. Replacing fear with opportunity for everyone in the business.

Please let me know how this helps you!

What Do I Say? – Part 2

June 15, 2012

Filed under: Networking — @ 1:18 pm

In my previous posting, I wrote about how to start to establish a relationship with someone you meet at a networking event, even if you’re not comfortable working a room. You’ve taken my advice and now you’ve set a follow-up meeting. Good for you!

What’s next? You may be wondering what to say at your scheduled meeting. Well, I have a hint for you. Use what we at Atticus call, “The Interview.”

Know, like, trust. Because a successful referral relationship depends upon the parties knowing, liking and trusting each other, The Interview is a technique you can use to build that knowledge, like and trust. We suggest you ask people about the frustrations he/she experiences in his/her business. Then, consider floating some of the following questions:

  • What are some of your frustrations working with lawyers?
  • If you refer someone to a lawyer, what do you want to happen from that referral?
  • What’s a good client experience?

Does this sound hard? If you’re uncomfortable with this, consider trying out The Interview with someone you trust. In that situation, you can get more personal with your questions:

  • Is there anything I can do to improve my interactions with you or your clients?
  • Did your clients feel comfortable in my office?
  • Did we give them our full attention?

Why it works. People will appreciate that you’ve taken the time to learn about your concerns, and they’ll be touched by your desire to improve. If you get negative feedback, don’t be defensive — just acknowledge what you’ve heard. Be sure to thank the person for providing you with that valuable information; it takes vulnerability on that person’s part to answer your questions.

How would you feel if someone asked you these questions about your business? You’d be flattered, right? And you’d be more likely to like and trust them — and trust them with your clients.

If you’d like more information about The Interview, check out a recording about it on the Atticus website.

Please let me know how this helps you!

What Do I Say? – Part 1

June 13, 2012

Filed under: Networking — @ 1:03 pm

If you want to build your business, you have to meet people. You want to meet potential clients, and you need to develop relationships with people who have the ability to send those clients your way. In other words, you have to network.

Networking doesn’t come naturally to all of us. It’s hard for me to work a room. It’s not one of my natural abilities. I attended a large conference last summer, and my job was to work the room for the purpose of developing business. The first day of the conference I did fine; the second morning of the conference was harder; the second afternoon of the conference I was so tired I gave up and took a nap!

Apparently other people have similar difficulties, as evidenced by a Harvard Business Review blog article, “An Introvert’s Guide to Networking.” But, as the article points out, even though you may find entering a roomful of people intimidating, that doesn’t mean you can’t use the opportunity to successfully build relationships. The trick is to think small. Give up the idea of meeting and charming everyone there.

So what do you do? Rather, network on a micro level. Find someone you think will be interesting to speak with, and reach out to that person. You might prepare a couple of standard questions in advance to get the conversation going. But, if you show some genuine interest in that person and what he or she does, you’ll have the beginnings of a relationship.

After that, you can work on that foundation through follow-up meetings to create a relationship that will be beneficial for both of you. And, if you think about it, isn’t that the result you want from a networking opportunity? So, even though you may admire the people who seem to have no trouble chatting it up at a party, you, as the introvert, may ultimately have better results.

Please let me know how this helps you!

The Future of the Law Business

June 6, 2012

Filed under: Current Events,Growing Your Business — @ 1:38 pm

The Wall Street Journal recently published a short article, “Survey Says Post-Recession Shifts are Here to Stay” on its Law Blog. The article is based on the results of a new Altman Weil, Inc. survey, “Law Firms in Transition.” Altman Weil sent questionnaires to the managing partners of large law firms, asking about the partners’ vision of the future of the law. The survey reports on the answers.

The big guys are discouraged. According to the Wall Street Journal, the results of the survey are disheartening, at least to lawyers. The managing partners see, among other things, a future with more price competition, more commoditization of legal services, and more flat price billing. They have less confidence in the future of their businesses.

I find it interesting that Richard Susskind made the same predictions more than four years ago in his book, The End of Lawyers: Rethinking the Nature of Legal Services.

Is it really that ugly? I’m not entirely sure the news is as bad as the Wall Street Journal paints it to be. The law has gotten to be a bloated, ugly profession: a business model based on billable hours encourages inefficiency and client suspicion. I’ve read reports to the effect that most practicing lawyers are not happy. Is it possible the predictions from the survey will prompt positive changes in our industry? I, for one, hope so.

Change is hard, but sometimes necessary. I acknowledge that transition is difficult and uncertainty uncomfortable. But I also know that when I was practicing law, every time I got comfortable with what I was doing, I lost opportunities to improve my business. I think large law firms have made the same mistake.

To be successful businesspeople — and successful lawyers — we have to have the courage to welcome change and to adjust our practices to meet our clients’ needs. And, I believe that if we do so, we’ll still make a good living and that our clients — as well as ourselves — will be happier for it.

Please let me know how this helps you!

More About Your Prices

June 1, 2012

Filed under: Pricing — @ 1:02 pm

I find I spend a lot of time telling my coaching clients to increase their prices. I’ve blogged about it on several occasions, too. One of my clients told me he thinks all practice management coaches tell their clients to raise their rates. He may be right! But there’s a reason why we coaches for lawyers talk to our clients about what they charge for their services — very often, we find that our clients are not charging nearly enough.

So, I felt vindicated when I ran across an article, “Lawyers, Beware Low Billing Rates,” on the Lawyerist.com website. According to the article, lawyers keep their rates low because (1) they think they’ll generate more clients that way, and/or (2) the lawyer feels sorry for the client and charges what the lawyer thinks the client can pay. As far as I’m concerned, this is a terrible way to run your business!

First, very often, the client who hires you because your prices are low is the “D” client you don’t want, because the client’s judgment is based solely on price, and not on the work you do for him or her. With that kind of relationship, the client will always complain, and you won’t be happy, either.

Second, you should charge based upon the value of your services to the client, not because you feel sorry for someone. Additionally, if your charges are low, people may wonder about the quality of work you are providing; as the article observes, people expect legal services to be costly.

So, take a look at your prices and how you set them. Consider raising them. You may lose a few clients, but, as my friend Mark Merenda observes, if you double your prices and lose half your clients, you’ll still be making the same amount of money, and you’ll have time to market for quality clients (or get home in time for dinner). If you keep your prices low, I fear that you’ll always be on the treadmill of working for unappreciative clients and not making enough money.

Please let me know how this helps you!