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    Archive for May, 2008
    Firefox’s latest!
    Thursday, May 29th, 2008

    ♫Let me stand next to your fire
    Let me stand next to your fire..♫

    Words and music by Jimi Hendrix.

    My favourite web browser, Firefox, has released Firefox 3 Beta 1 for download. Now this is just a beta version, but I am very impressed with the new version! Firefox states that this latest version enhances performance and stability along with other aspects of this browser.

    Three major enhancements for me were:

    • Speed (Firefox 3 is noticeably faster than Firefox 2 and other browsers that I have tried);
    • Memory use (I was finding my computer was slowing down for no reason – I thought it was due to my desktop search engine;  it now appears that this was at least partly due to memory “leaks” in Firefox 2 and other applications that gradually slowed down my machine. Firefox 3 has plugged 300 ‘leaks’ which should help address this issue) and
    • Reliability (if the system crashes, Firefox attempts to preserve your data notwithstanding the fact that the system has gone down).

    The tweaked Firefox 3 interface is cool, too.  From a security perspective, they have increased Malware protection, web forgery protection and identity verification.  They have also increased the user functionality, which you will notice as soon as you start to use this version.

    I haven’t found any issues so far from the fact that this is a Beta release.  You can download this beta from:

    http://www.mozilla.com/en-US/firefox/all-beta.html

    There are versions available for Windows, Mac and Linux.

    Grab the latest download and come and stand next to the fire!

    Posted in Technology, Trends | Permalink | No Comments »
    Attitudes Rule the Day!
    Monday, May 26th, 2008

    ♫ My hands were steady
    My eyes were clear and bright
    My walk had purpose
    My steps were quick and light
    And I held firmly
    To what I felt was right
    Like a rock…♫

    Words and Music by Bob Seger.

    During a particularly trying day, you take a deep breath and look around you. Reflecting for a moment, you wonder – knowing what you know now, if you had to hire any of your present employees or join any of your present partners – would you? Are there staff members or partners who just seem to make life more difficult for themselves and for all others around them? Personalizing this line of thought, you consider: if you had to be considered for your own job today – would you be? What if you were let go right now from your present position – are there other organizations out there that are just waiting to snap you up? Or would you sink out of sight?

    Complainers can spread negativity through the workplace like a contagious disease and infect even the most optimistic and productive employees. The ultimate result: dropping productivity along with the slow erosion of corporate culture, even in offices that recently had good morale, according to Michelle Neely Martinez, a contributing editor of HR Magazine.

    It is a sad fact that while pessimists are more often right, optimists accomplish more (Cathy Woodgold). Accordingly, what can we do right now to improve our attitudes and in the process, improve our organizations and take out some insurance for our own personal survival plan?

    Be Consistent: Pessimism occurs when internal standards are not being maintained – when company policies and procedures are not being consistently applied. All staff need to see that everyone is being held up to the same standard. If certain staff members consistently come in late and leave early, then a perception is being created that work and rewards are being unfairly distributed.

    Measure Up: Do you do regular performance reviews? (for staff and partners alike) Are you forthright on what your expectations are and how people measure up? More importantly, do other people (who can and do see what is going on) see that management is actively dealing with the deadwood? This sends a message throughout the entire organization that expectations and performance are taken seriously – and rewarded appropriately.

    Communicate: All too often, staff feel disenfranchised regarding ongoing change. Do you involve staff in decisions? Is their input valued or even sought before changes are made? A classic example is in the technology area – since partners feel they are paying for the equipment, they also feel that the decision on what to buy is theirs and theirs alone. However, this overlooks the fact that the staff must use this equipment on a daily basis – and can feel belittled and marginalized over their lack of input.

    Be Up Front: When you come across someone who is complaining, turn to them and ask: “What would you do about it?” This technique forces the complainer to change positions from passive complainer to being engaged in seeking solutions. This technique can also serve as an internal check: before making a comment, ask yourself – “How would I change this situation for the better?” You can shape others’ perception of yourself as a leader and active problem solver – and a hot commodity to have around.

    Don’t Blame: Do you have someone in the office who starts looking for someone to blame when their early-warning radar goes off? Looking for fault may be the purpose of a lawsuit, but it is rarely productive in an office situation. Valuable employees recognize a situation for what it is and start searching for ways to improve it.

    Practice Creative Ignoring: Albert Bernstein, a clinical psychologist and author of Dinosaur Brains: Dealing with All Those Impossible People at Work (Random House), advises that when you’re surrounded by people screaming, yelling and demanding somebody’s head, do nothing. That response is much more thought-out and creative than agreeing with them (or worse, engaging them and allowing them to vent even further).

    Live Long and Prosper! Maruta, T., et al. in an article in the Mayo Clinic Proceedings 2000 Feb; 75(2):140-143 entitled Optimists vs Pessimists: Survival rate among medical patients over a 30-year period found that being pessimistic is a risk factor for an early death. Negative attitudes may contribute to bad health decisions (and bad career moves, to boot).

    Stick with It: John Bingham, in his book No Need for Speed, A Beginner’s Guide to the Joy of Running (Rodale, 2002) says that dedication is so much more important than discipline. Being a dedicated runner rather than a disciplined one means understanding that frustration is an important part of the combination of ingredients that leads to progress. For the dedicated runner, frustration is to be accepted and savoured, not avoided. As in running, so as in life.

    Focus on the Big Picture: When you hear someone complaining, ask yourself: What are they trying to accomplish here? Are they trying to enlist you in their cause? Are they looking to be rescued? Are they trying to torpedo someone’s project? By taking a step backwards and taking the 50,000 foot view, you may serve as the compass that brings everyone back to focus on the important goals and objectives.

    Be a Leader: Yogi Berra once said: “I don’t want to make the wrong mistake.” All too often, decisions are put off since no one wants to be blamed for doing the wrong thing. Developing a culture that encourages risk and decision-making empowers employees and turns the organization into a “doer” rather than a “follower”. It also discourages “siloism” - the lack of sharing what you are working on for fear of negative comments and criticism.

    Be Strong: Inner strength can be communicated in many ways. One of the best is having the ability to do what’s right. A criticism that was recently leveled against certain politicians was that they asked: “How would this affect me politically” before they asked “What is the right thing to do for my constituents?” Having a good attitude means you have the strength to do the right thing – not just what is politically expedient.

    Developing and holding onto the right attitude is equivalent to being a lighthouse – standing firm while the storm howls and breaks around you. Like a Rock.

    (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, Law Firm Strategy, Leadership and Strategic Planning, Trends | Permalink | No Comments »
    Living a Life in the Law
    Friday, May 16th, 2008

    ♫Just open your eyes,
    And realize, the way its always been.
    Just open your mind
    And you will find
    The way its always been.
    Just open your heart
    And thats a start…♫

    Words and Music by Graeme Edge and Ray Thomas, recorded by The Moody Blues.

    At the American Bar Association’s Law Practice Management Section meeting in Santa Fe, New Mexico that is happening on May 14-17, 2008, there was a panel discussion by Jamie Spannhake, Mark Komer, Ed Flitton and Diane Costigan on Living a Life in the Law. This panel presentation was all about achieving a life-work balance while practising law.

    To begin with, the panelists had to draw a definition of what is living a balanced life. The definition that was put forward was “Using your time effectively so that no one area of your life is neglected”. To place this in context, Ed Flitton noted that at his firm, Holland and Hart, partners are expected to log 1700 billable hours/year and associates, 1800. On top of that are pro bono hours, education time etc to bring every lawyer’s total logged (billable and non-billable) time to 2500 hours/year.

    If lawyers worked a normal number of days/year (231 is typical taking into account statutory holidays and 14 days/vacation/year) that means that lawyers have to log 10.8 hours/day in the office. This clearly implies that lawyers are clearly spending long hours and weekends in the office to meet their billable hour requirements. The situation is further compounded when you realize that there are many law firms out there that have even higher billable hour requirements from partners and associates alike.

    So how do you start living a life in the law? One suggestion that was put forward was to build in a sabbatical of 3 months every 5 years for partners. For one, this adds to the motivation to become partner! Furthermore, clients are shared among the lawyers in the firm, as no one can simply leave their practice for 3 months. This promotes a cultural change in the firm to regard clients as firm clients and not to horded clients by partners. This cultural change is seen as being very positive and team-oriented.

    Other suggestions were to choose your law firm carefully and try to work with lawyers who share your values. Furthermore, exercise personal leadership in defining what success is and a successful life are to you and not allowing others to set these definitions (and your schedule) for you.

    Lastly look to creative ways to rework your time/career relationship with your firm. Jamie Spannhake brought forward her personal story to reduce her time requirements by 30% at her firm, in order to allow her to build a personal practice as a holistic health counselor (www.thenourishingbalance.com). She was the first lawyer at a major New York firm that brought in a reduced hourly rate requirement for someone for reasons that had nothing to do with family and child needs.

    The first step is to open your mind and your heart … and that’s a start!

    Posted in Change Management, Firm Governance, Issues facing Law Firms, Law Firm Strategy, Leadership and Strategic Planning, personal focus and renewal, Trends | Permalink | No Comments »
    Keep it Simple and That’s That
    Monday, May 12th, 2008

    ♫ But we got to keep it simple to save ourselves…♫

    Words and music by Van Morrison.

    I have run across the absolutely coolest application that I have seen in a long time …and it has quickly become indispensable to how I work. And the best part of it all is that it is also one of the simplest pieces of technology that I have seen in quite a while.

    This particular application is an intelligent filing assistant for Microsoft Outlook (I have used it in both Outlook 2003 and Outlook 2007). At least that is how it is described on the web. I simply call it magic.

    Here is how it works: SimplyFile, once installed, sits in your Outlook as a toolbar. Now, click on an email – any email. SimplyFile guesses into which folder this particular email should go. Amazingly, it seems to guess right at least 80-90% of the time. Click on “File Message” and *zap* the email goes into the right folder. When you reply to an email, it also guesses which folder the reply should go. SimplyFile is $39.95 per user, with a volume discount available for those who may wish to take advantage of this.

    I am sure that it does more, but I really don’t care. When it comes to saving ourselves from the email avalanche, we have to just keep it simple and that’s that.

    Posted in Change Management, Technology, Trends | Permalink | No Comments »
    Another Clever Fraud Scam…
    Friday, May 2nd, 2008

    ♫I want the easy
    Easy money
    Easy money
    I could get lucky
    Oh, things could go right♫

    Words and music by Billy Joel.

    There is a a new and quite clever fraud scam being attempted against lawyers.

    Generally, the fraud was attempted by an entity (CreditCo – in this case from Hong Kong) retaining a law firm to undertake a collection against a debtor (DebtCo). The law firm is engaged to write a demand letter to DebtCo on behalf of CreditCo (in this case, for a largish amount of money).

    Low and behold a bank draft arrives payable to the firm in the full amount of the claim! This was the first small alarm as the demand letter did not ask for the funds to be paid to the law firm.

    The lawyers notify CreditCo that they have the funds and CreditCo gets anxious and states that they want the money wired to them ASAP (second small alarm). In other words, CreditCo wanted the firm to circumvent any normal caution or internal controls regarding the bank draft and any clearing times on the draft.

    In this case, the lawyers called the bank at the number listed on the bank draft. Not surprisingly, the telephone number was answered professionally and the bank draft declared to be valid.

    Fortunately, the law firm in question did not accept such assurances at face value. The lawyers, out of an abundance of caution, called their own bank and asked them to make inquiries regarding the bank draft and the issuing bank. Not surprisingly, the lawyer’s bank determined that the bank draft was bogus.

    The bank draft, it should be noted, was entirely professional in appearance. And the entire attempted scam was conducted in a professional manner. Lawyers are cautioned to put into place proper prudent internal controls regarding retaining funds until they are reasonably assured that any negotiable instruments are indeed valid and will be honoured by the issuing financial institution. There is no assurance that any negotiable instrument, bank drafts included, may not be forged. Fraudsters count on trust – and internal controls are designed to place any transaction – no matter how innocent – under a critical eye. Lawyers should be examining every and all financial transactions with a view towards whether the transaction is indeed what it appears to be.

    The increasing sophistication of scams such as this one only reinforces the principle that if it seems too good to be true, if the money seems disproportionate to the services rendered, if the result is just too easy, then the easy money comes with a different kind of price; and the lawyer in question is not lucky when things ultimately do not go right…


     

    Posted in Fraud and theft, Issues facing Law Firms, Law Firm Strategy, Trends | Permalink | 2 Comments »