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    Archive for February, 2008
    Off-site data storage and security issues
    Wednesday, February 27th, 2008

    musical note Yes, now you’re gone and from this moment on
    I’ll be crying, crying, crying, cry-i-i-ing
    Yeah crying, crying, o-o-o-o-ver you…
    musical note

    Words and music by Roy Orbison and Joe Melson

    With the increasing emphasis on digital information in a law office and the “paper-less” office becoming a reality, the necessity for reliable data backups is one of the issues facing lawyers and law firms. There are many methods of backup in use — tapes, CD-ROMs, DVDs, RAID arrays, external hard drives and the like. One method that is receiving increasing attention is online backup to a third-party host. This article examines potential issues that are unique to electronic storage via the Internet.

    The full article that I wrote on this topic can be found on the Law Society of British Columbia’s web site, specifically in the on-line edition of the Benchers Bulletin.

    Posted in Issues facing Law Firms, Technology, Trends | Permalink | No Comments »
    Law Firm Phishing Attempts and Fraud…
    Friday, February 22nd, 2008

    ♫Hey, everyone, listen up, your attention if you please
    We wanna give you a warning
    ‘Cause I found out this morning..♫

    Words and music by Weird Al Yankovic

    The Legal Organization Watch Blog has posted an entry today regarding a phishing email fraud that has spoofed a real Irish Law Firm and an individual who actually works in that firm – the Irish and International Practice of Arthur Cox. The details of the phishing fraud can be found at:

    In British Columbia a few years back there was a fraud attempt that spoofed a Victoria BC, Canada law firm. In that fraud attempt, the fraudsters created a false web site that mirrored the actual web site of the real firm – with the exception that the telephone numbers and email addresses went directly to the fraudsters rather than to the real firm. Somehow the real firm discovered the false web site and took steps to have it immediately closed down.

    In the circumstances, lawyers and law firms are well-advised to set up Google Alerts for their firm name and all lawyers and staff…and have one person in the firm responsible for reviewing these Alerts on a daily basis. In this way, you should be able to receive some notice if your good name and those of your firm are being used inappropriately. An added bonus is the ability to see the discussion on the Web that involves you and your firm. While you are at it, you could set up Alerts for your major clients and be proactive if you discover that there is suspicious activity on their behalf. A nice feather in your cap if you can alert them to a potential problem before it becomes a bigger problem! It seems that as lawyers and law firms, we should consider taking steps to discover if our good names are being used inappropriately. Perhaps these early examples of fraud attempts can serve as an early warning to all…

    Posted in Firm Governance, Issues facing Law Firms, Trends | Permalink | 1 Comment »
    Ride On!
    Tuesday, February 19th, 2008

    ♫ Ride ride ride let it ride
    Would you let it ride?…♫

    Words and music by R. Bachman and F. Turner, recorded by Bachman-Turner Overdrive.

    Fellow Blogger Rush Nigut (Rush on Business) has written an imaginative blog post based on the Register’s Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa. In the post he not only describes the race, but has done so in a manner that incorporates legal bloggers across North America as participants into the race. I blushed on reading that he has graciously incorporated your humble scribe into Day 4’s post:

    Day 4: Ames to Tama-Toledo – 75 miles

    Charlie gets ready to head off to Iowa’s version of the twin cities today. In the pancake breakfast line he meets Connie Crosby who is kind enough to introduce him to David Bilinsky. David tells Charlie all about how there is a great need for law firms to turn their senior partners into business leaders. David Maister overhears them and chimes in that one-firm firms are often quite successful.

    The whole blog post is delightfully quirky and fun. Hats off to Rush for thinking of this approach and for allowing his imagination to let it ride….!

    Posted in humour, Issues facing Law Firms, Leadership and Strategic Planning, personal focus and renewal, Technology, Trends | Permalink | 1 Comment »
    Learning from the mistakes of history, Part II
    Monday, February 18th, 2008

    ♫ Must I forever be a beggar
    Whose golden dreams would not come true
    Or will I go from rags to riches
    My fate is up to you.. ♫ 

    Words and music by R. Adler & J. Ross, recorded by Elvis Presley.

    History teaches us that men and nations behave wisely once they have exhausted all other alternatives, according to Abba Eban. By reviewing the alternatives that others have exhausted before us, the hope is that we can then learn from their wise advice. Here then, are further tips in the history of legal financial management:

    • Establish an adequate credit policy

    Always, always take trust deposits (advance fee retainers) and never work once your advance fee retainer is exhausted. Have a client engagement letter that clearly sets forth that a client’s trust balance must be in the black at all times or a firm will cease work, will seek to be removed as counsel of record and will return files back to clients (always check on the ethics of withdrawal in your jurisdiction in any particular circumstance for non-payment of your fee). Do not make exceptions. Have your practice management system set up to warn you well in advance of the exhaustion of retainers so that you can write to the client and tell them of what must be done and by when on their part in order that you continue with the file on your part.

    • Become comfortable discussing fees with clients

    Quick question: What should always be found at a birthday party and never on a legal file? Answer: A surprise. Clients do not like surprises, especially if they relate to the size of an account. This can be avoided by telling the client at the first meeting what you charge, how you charge and when you charge and what you expect from the client. Do not be afraid of scaring off the client – a client who is unwilling to face the cost of a legal procedure at the outset is not likely to change their mind at the end of the file. Better to put your time into marketing and attracting the type and class of client that will pay your accounts than putting that time into a file on which you are not going to get paid.

    • Track your time

    The first step in determining whether you were profitable on a sale of a service is being able to determine the costs of services delivered. To do that, you need accurate costing mechanisms that can include both direct and allocated (or fixed) costs. Direct costs are your time, and any direct disbursements incurred for the file (court reporter fees, filing fees etc). Allocated costs are the file’s share of the office overhead – staff salaries, rent, insurance fees, electricity rates etc. Since the biggest direct cost is the time that you put into the file, you cannot determine what a file cost you to produce unless you can track the time you put into the file – billable, non-billable, written-off etc. Why is this important? When it comes time to distribute funds among partners, not knowing the true costs of the files worked on can lead to gross inequities. For example, let us look at two files, each of which generated $100,000 in revenue (after disbursements). File A took three years and involved 400 hours of legal time (at $250/hr = $100,000) + hundreds of hours of staff time. File B took six months and 100 hours of legal time (at $250/hr = $25,000) and the same amount of staff time. Which file was more profitable? Not only was B more profitable, you could argue that File A resulted in a net loss to the firm since the total of legal and staff costs exceeded revenues. Yet, in most eat-what-you-kill systems, each file would be treated equally when it comes to determining partner compensation! Financial cost analysis can help you determine which files and practice areas yield the greatest return to the firm and which are black holes

    • Use current and former clients as marketing tools

    It is well understood that the best source of repeat and referral business is from existing satisfied clients. What is needed is a communication method to make past clients still feel like they are part of the firm and inform them of the services that can be rendered by every member of the firm. A newsletter – hardcopy or electronic, that provides updates on the firm and topical news on areas of law that are of interest to the readers – is a very good way to continue to foster the relationship. The readers will then have you and your services somewhere near the top of their minds and will be able to provide a quick recommendation when the need arises. There are of course, many other ways of marketing your services to your past and current clients. A good source of information and tips are: the Legal Marketing Canada Blog by Doug Jasinski, the Law Firm Web Strategy Blog by Steve Matthews and The Lawyer Coach Blog by Allison Wolf, who is the past-Chair of the Legal Marketing Association, Vancouver Chapter (*and of course, the LMA itself!).

    • Establish your own financial nest egg

    There are ways to ensure your financial future – today. Set up at least one financial institution to automatically pull and invest money from your checking account every month. It will take perhaps a few hours in total to establish and then you’ll be investing, in good times and bad, without doing any work at all. You can set up instructions on how those funds are to be invested – in stocks, mutual funds, term deposits – but the important fact is to start planning for your retirement – now. Once the account is established – take an interest in it and check it daily – to find out how you are doing. Measure your return against stated goals – determine if you are being well served by your financial advisor. Remember that you may lose in the short term – but over the long haul you will be adding to your financial stability and resilience.

    • Don’t use the Lottery as a partnership retirement plan

    One of the major issues facing smaller firms is dealing with the introduction of new partners and the funding of the buyout of existing but aging partners. Not having a succession plan in place that compensates the aging partner over time by establishing a retirement fund leads to the firm being unable to attract new partners – as any interested new partners who are on the upswing are most likely unwilling to contribute their billings to fund the exit of a diminishing partner. Furthermore, the lack of any retirement planning results in partners staying on in practice simply to maintain a cash flow and not for any compelling business reasons.

    • Don’t forget how to Smile!

    How do you greet your clients? Recall that attitudes are contagious – does your reflect that you are busy, happy and looking for more? Clients desire lawyers that are successful – and look for lawyers that act that way. Being glum about the stock market or your finances and the state of the economy etc may reflect the way you feel, but it may not be the best client development and retention tool. It also may not be a great way to approach your finances and your financial planning. Being cautiously optimistic allows you to keep your cynical side on alert while also exuding an air of confidence and competence to those around you. It may also be beneficial to reflect that notwithstanding the downturn out there, our predecessors have faced worse (the ’29 crash was much more personally devastating and longer lasting).

    Ambrose Bierce, never known as an optimist, said that history was: “An account, mostly false, of events, mostly unimportant, which are brought about by rulers, mostly knaves, and soldiers, mostly fools.” However, Johan Huizinga said that: “History is the interpretation of the significance that the past has for us.” Whether we are an optimist or a pessimist, our fate, whether rags or riches, lies in our hands.

    (this post is based on a column originally published in PracticeTalk in the Canadian Bar Association – BC Branch’s newsletter BarTalk)

    Posted in Budgeting, Business Development, Change Management, Issues facing Law Firms, Law Firm Strategy | Permalink | 1 Comment »
    More on Jott…
    Wednesday, February 13th, 2008

    ♫ Now that I feel the ground
    I’m close to home..♫

    Words and music by: Babel Fish

    Further to my earlier post on Jott, Jott has now announced local numbers in Canada!

    Below is the list of available Jott numbers in Canada. Find the number in your area code and program it to your speed dial.

    AURORA : +12898020110
    CALGARY : +14037751288
    EDMONTON : +17806287799
    HALIFAX : +19024828120
    HAMILTON : +19054819060
    KITCHENER : +15199572711
    LONDON : +15194898968
    MARKHAM : +12898000110
    MONTREAL : +15146670329
    OTTAWA : +16136861502
    QUEBEC CITY : +14189072209
    SAINT JOHNS : +17097570047
    SHERBROOKE : +18193401636
    TORONTO : +16477245365
    TORONTO : +14168001067
    VANCOUVER : +17787868229
    VANCOUVER : +16044841347
    VICTORIA : +12509847093
    WINDSOR : +15198000031
    WINNIPEG : +12042728154

    Now we can be Jotting using a local dial-in number (or at least for the major cities, anyway). I feel like I am closer to home!

    Posted in Law Firm Strategy | Permalink | No Comments »
    Tip from a Reader…Telecommuting!
    Tuesday, February 12th, 2008

    ♫ The bells are ringing
    The song they’re singing
    The sound is bringing the people ’round
    They hear the instructions
    They follow directions…♫

    Words and music by John Flansburgh and John Linnell, recorded by They Might be Giants

    Tip from Thomas M. R. Irwin, a lawyer in North Saanich, BC, Canada:

    Dear Dave:

    Just a note of thanks for your feedback and info about an office move. On December 20 I closed my office in “downtown” Sidney and moved it to my home office in North Saanich (10 minutes away). My wife Gillian (who is my conveyancer) and I have been delighted with the move. Yes clients can actually find us at the end of a rural road and they actually seem to enjoy the extra 10 minute drive in the country to come and see us. I am enjoying making house calls to see elderly clients who used to walk over to my office in Sidney.

    In your latest BarTalk acticle [editor’s note – I will add in the web link as soon as the BarTalk people take away the password requirement- sigh] about retirement you talked about the change in firm financial models with more of us wanting to work part time – I have the answer – electronic commuting, the part timers don’t need a full time office space at the firm – they can set up home offices, schedule office appointments for specific days that they come into the firm office. Dictation and document work as you know can all be done online/email. The Firm may even be able to downsize because they don’t need as much office space.

    I think this is an excellent tip on how to downshift and move into a more flexible work schedule without the overhead of a full-time office constantly hanging over you. Courtesy of the Internet, more and more lawyers will be able to work at least part of the time from their home or other location, meeting the need to see clients at their places of business if necessary. In Tom’s case, the clients hear the instructions and follow directions to his home office!

    Posted in Adding Value, Budgeting, Change Management, Issues facing Law Firms, Law Firm Strategy, personal focus and renewal, Technology | Permalink | No Comments »
    Google Uh-oh?
    Monday, February 11th, 2008

    ♫ Uh oh, uh oh, uh oh, uh oh …♫

    Words and music by: Anthony Anderson, Dane DeViller, Sean Hosein, Rosette Sharma, Steve Smith

    I was using GoogleDocs today and made a terrible discovery. I was using the automatic paragraph numbering in GoogleDocs and on the screen, the document looked just fine. I used the ‘print’ feature in GoogleDocs (rather than converting the document to Word) and found out that after the document printed, the paragraph numbering was scrambled…badly so.

    There was no indication that this would occur from looking at the screen.

    This is just a word of warning for those using GoogleDocs….all may not be as it seems when you print up something..and it isn’t a great feeling when you hand the document out only to find that it has errors..and all you can say is uh oh………

    Posted in Technology | Permalink | No Comments »
    Leading the Way…
    Friday, February 8th, 2008

    So let your light so shine before men
    Let your light so shine

    Music and new lyrics by Stephen Schwartz.

    We live in a dark, conflicted and confusing time. On one hand, we have never been so much in need of real leadership. We have international, national and regional corporations, non-profits and other organizations of all sizes looking for leaders. People are bemoaning the lack of enlightened and selfless leadership in politics and government. On the other hand, there has never been a time where so few real people are seemingly coming forward to serve as leaders to light the way. Wirthlin Worldwide (now Harris Interactive) reported in one of their studies that about 60% of current corporate CEO’s did not want to take their present job.

    A 2003 Greenfield/Belser survey found that one clearly distinguishing characteristic between extraordinarily successful firms and failed firms was their willingness to be innovative. Successful firms were much more open (in a statistically meaningful way) to implement innovation into their firm. As we all know, willingness to innovate is clearly tied to the leadership in the firm. If the leadership of the firm understands the relationship between strategic goals, innovation and success, if it works at consensus building around those strategic goals and provides meaningful metrics, feedback and mentoring around attaining those strategic goals and encourages all firm members to embrace change, then the firm has taken many of the steps necessary to transform itself into a extraordinarily successful firm.

    I have spoken many times of the paradoxes involved in the management of a law firm. Here is another. On numerous occasions I have heard senior partners express the need for training and mentoring for their younger members to bring them up to speed and turn them into successful lawyers and future partners. However, there is an equal need to take senior partners – who are successful in practising law – to train and mentor them to bring them up to speed and turn them into successful business leaders. These partners, in turn, having acquired the vision and the necessary leadership skills, can take the firm and start to transform it from an aggregation of successful lawyers into a cohesive legal team with a shared culture and shared goals that is actively seeking the next level of performance. That skill set is markedly different from the skill set necessary to manage and run your own practice and book of business. In many cases firms have realized that it is more productive for all concerned to bring in professional managers to take over the management of the firm and relieve the partners of this day to day chore. However, this does in no way abrogate the duty resting on senior partners to be active leaders of their firm. As we all know, managers do things right – leaders do the right thing. It is the continued setting and attainment of strategic business objectives that will keep the firm moving in the right direction and continuing to embrace change.

    How do you start on the road to change your senior lawyers into leaders? First, no longer be complacent about your current performance. Notwithstanding that your partners may be successful and happy about their current level of income and operating status of the firm, you have to remind them that in spite of the fact that they don’t wish to change, the world (especially their clients) are constantly in a state of change around them. Competitors are constantly working on their own aggressive business plans and are aiming to capture your clients. For example, if you have a dependency on only a few major accounts, then your firm is vulnerable to a major economic upset if one of those major accounts should leave. Your long-term existence as a firm is dependent on your continued development of leadership – just reflect for a minute and you can recall the names of law firms that no longer exist today. There is no law yet written that states that your firm must be in business tomorrow.

    Secondly, expose your major partners to new ideas and developments in the business arena that are outside of the law. Lawyers tend to narrow their practice focus – for obvious reasons – but this constant narrowing and development of their legal skills removes them from exposure to bigger ideas and new developments in other fields. Send your people to ‘thought conferences’ – gatherings that are not CLE-oriented but rather are aimed at developing business, strategy or inter-personal skills – that will immerse them in a nutrient-rich environment of ideas. Have them serve in leadership positions in other community-service organizations – where they will come into contact with leaders in other fields – and bring that wealth of experience back to the firm. Have the firm take on an important pro-bono file that serves to benefit both society as well as the partners by connecting to their inner ‘higher calling’ and sense of purpose and serves as a leadership example to other members of the firm.

    Thirdly, have your senior partners demonstrate the most important leadership quality of all – to become a living example of the qualities that they wish to see reflected in their associates and junior partners. If we are to develop lawyers into future leaders, we need to foster and encourage those who can clearly demonstrate that they can indeed, walk the talk. This is not a modern management principle. One of the earliest statements of this idea is as follows:

    “The soul is dyed the color of its thoughts. Think only on those things that are in line with your principles and can bear the light of day. The content of your character is your choice. Day by day, what you choose, what you think, and what you do is who you become. Your integrity is your destiny … it is the light that guides your way.” Heraclitus (?535BC-475BC) Greek Philosopher

    Our own collective future is premised in part on senior partners developing their inner leadership skills in order that they can ignite their own light for it to shine before others.

    (this post is based on a column originally published in PracticeTalk in the Canadian Bar Association – BC Branch’s newsletter BarTalk)

    Posted in Change Management, Firm Governance, Issues facing Law Firms, Leadership and Strategic Planning, Trends | Permalink | 3 Comments »
    Never Would have Made it Without You…
    Thursday, February 7th, 2008

    ♫ I would have lost it all,
    But I now how I see how you were there for me and I can say
    I’m stronger, I’m wiser, I’m better,
    much better,

    And I can say
    Never would have made it,
    Never could have made it,
    Without you…♫

    Words and Music by Marvin Sapp.

    In discussing law practice management with lawyers and others in presentations, it has quickly become apparent that the process of sharing information is one of the most beneficial aspects of getting together and discussing matters of common interest. Accordingly, I would like to take this concept and apply it here – and make this forum a place where those interested in law practice management can email to me or post a question. I can take these questions and create a new posting based on the question and see the collaborative results from everyone then posting comments thereto.

    So this is the invitation to all readers to post a question, comment or issue by either completing a ‘comment’ or by emailing your question to me at: It is my expectation that the collection of questions and comments can become a repository of information that is practical and useful to others. I am hopeful that we can create an on-line community whose overriding interest is in sharing information amongst each other in order that all of us can say that we are all stronger, wiser and better!


    Posted in Change Management, Issues facing Law Firms, Law Firm Strategy, Leadership and Strategic Planning, Trends | Permalink | 2 Comments »
    ABA Techshow 2008
    Tuesday, February 5th, 2008

    Here Comes the Night… ♫

    Words and Music by Bert Berns, recorded by Them (Van Morrison).


    Here it comes – ABA TECHSHOW 2008! This is *the* legal technology program for lawyers and anyone involved in the delivery of legal services. For three days, Chicago will host the best of the legal technology crowd in offering over 50 legal technology programs and training sessions. Aside from the presentations, there is the exhibit floor that hosts 100+ exhibitors with products and services in the legal arena.

    This year BC Crown Counsel Nils Jensen will be one of TECHSHOW’s new speakers, speaking on his innovative use of technology in the courtroom. Other Canadian speakers (full faculty listing can be found at: will include Dan Pinnington of LawPro, recently appointed Judge Carole Curtis (who was until recently a Bencher of the Law Society of Upper Canada), Dominic Jaar, a litigator with Bell Canada (and a fellow blogger: – Wines and Information Management) and yours truly. There will be the Taste of Techshow Dinners (where you can sign up to go for dinner with your favorite Techshow speaker), receptions and other mingling opportunities.

    If you are a Canadian Bar Association member, you can save $100 off the registration fee (the CBA is a program promoter of TECHSHOW). Techshow is March 13-15, 2008 at the Chicago Hilton Hotel.

    You will welcome the opportunity to go to a Chicago Blues Bar just to relax by the time Saturday evening hits, and say: “Here comes the night!” For more information go to:

    Posted in Adding Value, Change Management, Issues facing Law Firms, Leadership and Strategic Planning, Technology, Trends | Permalink | No Comments »