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    Archive for June, 2009
    30 Questions for Busy Lawyers Who Use Technology – post #1
    Sunday, June 28th, 2009

    So you can see
    We’re friends in need
    And friends in need
    Are friends indeed
    We’ll keep you safe
    In the jungle forevermore
    That’s what friends are for!

    Music and lyrics by George Bruns, from Disney’s “The Jungle Book”.

    Thomas Spraggs

    We all know that it is a jungle out there.  Accordingly, this is the first in a series of posts in advance of the The Pacific Legal Technology Conference to be held in Vancouver, BC on Friday, Oct. 2, 2009 (www.pacificlegaltech.com) under  the category “30 Questions for Busy Lawyers who use Technology”.  They are to illustrate how all types of lawyers, from all types of practices, from urban, suburban and rural geographical locations, from the largest firms to solos, who range from newly called lawyers all the way to senior lawyers, with different backgrounds and experiences, have embraced technology, brought it into their firms and their practices and made it work for them. More importantly, they illustrate the theme of the conference which is lawyers and other legal professionals reachng out and helping others.

    They use PCs with Windows (and in rare cases, Linux) and Macs with OSX or a combo of these.  They use off-the-shelf software and custom-designed applications.  They use electronic filing, Adobe Acrobat, Microsoft Access, Word, Excel, Outlook, Amicus Attorney, TimeMatters, LawStream, Google and Firefox among other applications.  They have set up secure intranets, extranets and collaborative spaces using such products as Microsoft’s SharePoint. They have gone paperless, use Dragon’s voice recognition, desktops, laptops, netbooks, MacBooks, smartphones and iPhones and Blackberrys.  Some are past and present speakers at ABA TECHSHOW, The Pacific Legal Technology Conference and other legal CLEs. But the common thread running through each of their stories is how their strong vision for where they wanted technology to take them, their perseverance in searching for answers and their determination in continually striving for further efficiency and effectiveness gains resulted in strong benefits for their clients, their staff and their practices.

    Their message is that if they can do it, there is a way for the rest of us to follow their lead and do it too.  Their stories indicate that ‘one size definitely does not fit all’, for their solutions are all unique, varied and interesting.  I have enjoyed meeting with each of them and I hope the posts accurately reflect their passion for, and the depth of, their desire to not just accept the ‘status quo’.  Of course, any inaccuracies are wholly those of the writer.

    This first interview is with Thomas Spraggs, Jr. of  Spraggs & Associates of Coquitlam British Columbia, who is one of the speakers at the 2009 Pacific Legal Technology Conference.  Here is his story:

    1.    Could you briefly describe your firm (number of lawyers, staff, areas of practice etc):

    Tom: The firm is, by definition, a small firm.  We currently have seven lawyers and approximately 23 full time staff.  We also have very close relationships with a number of consultants in the area of communications, advertising, investigations, information technology, and business consulting.  Our practice is currently restricted to assisting plaintiffs in motor vehicle accident cases.  Occasionally, we will also assist current clients with small criminal matters and the occasional business transaction.

    2.    When was your firm established?

    Tom: The firm was established in 1971 with Thomas L. Spraggs Sr.

    3.    Where do you practice (one office, multiple offices, virtual offices, regional, national, international)?

    Tom: Our office location has been in Coquitlam since 1971.  Since 2000 the firm has established a presence in Edmonton Alberta where there is collaboration with another Edmonton law firm to assist clients with Alberta and Yukon injury claims.  We also use the features that Microsoft small business server provides to login remotely to desktops from home and when traveling.

    Robert M. Spraggs, (Thomas L. Spraggs brother) is a solicitor in Australia, and is working on becoming a foreign legal consultant to Spraggs & Co. for the purposes of better assisting clientele. The firm has had several clients who reside in Australia. (more…)

    Posted in 30 Questions for Busy Lawyers, Adding Value, Change Management, Issues facing Law Firms, Law Firm Strategy, Leadership and Strategic Planning, Make it Work!, Technology, Trends | Permalink | 1 Comment »
    Fraud Alert from LawPro
    Wednesday, June 17th, 2009

    Tell me, who can you trust or not
    The ones that be trying’ to get what you got
    Just listen to these words whatever you do…

    Words and Lyrics by Keri Lewis, recorded by Mint Condition.

    This is  a fraud alert from LawPro in Ontario on new fraud attempts on lawyers and law firms:

    LAWPRO E-Alert: Fraudsters using counterfeit bank drafts, ID of major banks on mortgage deals

    Ontario real estate lawyers are warned to be on the lookout for a new fraud scheme targeting them. For the first time LAWPRO is seeing a counterfeit bank draft fraud scheme that targets real estate lawyers on mortgage deals. Furthermore, the new scenario may include the supposed fraudster using the identity of a major national financial institution as the actual lender in the transaction.

    This new type of fraud works as follows:  A new and previously unknown client or lender contact allegedly from a major bank will ask you to act on mortgage matter. The source of the referral will be unknown to you (i.e. a person you don’t know or recognize). Shortly thereafter, you will receive mortgage instructions, and a legitimate looking bank draft drawn on a major bank. Loan amounts to date range from $640,000 to $685,000. Client will be in a rush to complete the deal.

    Please be wary if you are handling a matter that appears the same or is similar to the one described above.  We encourage lawyers and their staff to be extra careful when handling mortgage deals. Remember that these are very sophisticated frauds. The letters and other documents provided by the client and bank drafts received from the lender will look legitimate – but turn out to be counterfeit.

    Watch for the red flags on this type of fraud:
    > Client and/or lender contact are new to your firm
    > Source of referral is unknown or not recognized
    > Very large mortgage be placed on mortgage free property
    > Client is in a rush to complete the deal.

    It appears that the people behind this fraud have stolen the identity of the property owner, and that the property owner is unaware that this has happened. Use the title search, telephone book, Internet and other sources to cross-check client and bank names, addresses, phone numbers and other information in the documentation provided to you.
     
    Protect yourself when dealing with the bank. Don’t rely on oral confirmation from your bank at time of deposit that the bank draft is good. Don’t disburse funds immediately – even if your client is pushing! Wait until the second bank-to-bank verification before issuing funds from your trust account. For branches in major centres this often will take one or two banking days, and for branches in more remote locales as long a 8-10 calendar days. See the Show Me the Money article for more information on funds transfers (Summer 2008 LAWPRO Magazine at
    http://www.practicepro.ca/LAWPROMag/LawproMagArchive.asp)

    Please call LAWPRO if you are an Ontario lawyer at 1-800-410-1013 (416-598-5899) if you suspect you have completed or are acting on a matter that, based on this information, causes you concern. If you have or come into the possession of a fraudulent cheque or bank draft, please carefully place it in an envelope so that an attempt to recover fingerprints from it can be made.

    Please read LAWPRO’s new Fraud Fact Sheet at http://www.practicepro.ca/practice/pdf/FraudInfoSheet.pdf to learn more about the red flags to look out for on matters that are frauds. Or see the practicePRO Fraud page at http://www.practicepro.ca/fraud for information on fraud and how to avoid it.

    Hopefully by passing this information along we can stop those who are trying to get what you got and leave your trust account in mint condition.

    Posted in Fraud and theft, Issues facing Law Firms, Trends | Permalink | No Comments »
    Not Even Seeing the Dots…
    Monday, June 15th, 2009

    Well its time to change
    when its time to change
    …when its time to change you’ve got to rearrange
    move your heart to what your gonna be…

    Words and Music by: Raymond Bloodworth, Billy Meshel, Chris Welch, recorded by The Brady Bunch.

    A lawyer friend of mine lamented recently about an experience he had in running an in-house education session for his partners on web 2.0, social media, blogs and their implications for marketing by lawyers.  One of his partners in the middle of the presentation asked how the teaching partner was recording his time spent learning about this stuff. My lawyer friend was expressing his frustration regarding this partner who not only was not connecting the dots, he wasn’t even seeing them.  Unfortunately, there seems to be an ever-increasing gulf between those lawyers who ‘get’ the positive implications of technology, who see the benefits of learning about them and who know that entering into a dialogue with their partners regarding how to best take advantage of these new developments will result in the betterment of all; and those that don’t.

    Perhaps those who do not ‘get it’ do not want for clients or are satisfied with the state of their practice and see no reason to change. But that does not accord with what I am told daily by many many lawyers who are constantly looking for ways to improve their practices. There are shining examples of lawyers who do ‘get it’ and who have embraced technology and have seen huge changes in their practice as a result.  I will be shortly running interviews of select  lawyers in upcoming posts under the new category “30 Questions for Busy Lawyers who use Technology” in order to shed some light on real examples of lawyers who are leaders in their understanding, use and application of technology.

    But to introduce these interviews, I thought I would look at one technology that is already built and available for lawyers in BC.  This is Dye & Durham’s Ecorp. For any solicitor who maintains corporate records, limited partnerships, proprietorships, partnerships and societies in BC or Federally, this is one incredible system.

    From incorporating a new corporation from the precedent and form library, to maintaining the corporate records in an online library, to establishing a Trust or s. 85 or s. 86 transaction – the system is automated (and has built-in checks to ensure that you have dotted every “i” and crossed every “T”).  Existing corporations can be brought into the system. Historical searches are straightforward (imagine trying to read an older paper-based minute book and trace what happened to a particular share issue…).  The software maintains shareholder rights and restrictions – preventing you from inadvertently causing a problem.  The document assembly and document library allows for quick generation of forms and documents once the data is in the system – without any spelling or typo errors. All filings are done electronically  – and if you wish to also extraprovincially register the corporation in Alberta – that is also available.

    You can upload your own share structures into Ecorp and have them available to you in future transactions.  Tracing affiliate references between corporations can be performed, allowing you to produce graphical organizational charts simply and easily.

    The system is web-based; Dye & Durham has taken the US Patriot Act and its privacy concerns to heart as all its servers and data are hosted within Canada.  Within Ecorp, security access can be controlled via user management settings and the user administrative system.  The system uses digital certificates to encrypt communications.  Full backup of all data is performed real time and the system is further backed up onto tape throughout the day. Real customer support personnal situate in their New Westminster office are available during business hours to assist in any user issues.

    Best of all, Dye & Durham has priced the system in a manner that is eminently suitable to lawyers starting up to established law firms.  There is no purchase of software required and Ecorp bills you $29/corporation/year (or less) at annual resolution time – allowing you to run the system without any upfront costs.

    In my opinion, this system offers solicitors a very powerful, accurate and cost-effective way to build and maintain a corporate records practice, particularly those who are just starting out or in a solo or small firm and who may not have a great deal of financial resources. It allows lawyers to gain from the built-in forms, checks and balances in the system – it even does the math for you!

    When it is time to change you’ve got to rearrange – and Ecorp is a great example of how technology can be acquired, applied and appreciated by lawyers who not only see the dots, they know how to connect them to their future.

    Posted in Adding Value, Business Development, Change Management, Issues facing Law Firms, Law Firm Strategy, Leadership and Strategic Planning, Make it Work!, Technology, Trends | Permalink | 4 Comments »
    Lawyers find meaning floating on the Tag Cloud…
    Tuesday, June 9th, 2009

    Hey! You! Get off of my cloud.
    Don’t hang around ‘cause two’s a crowd…

    Words and music by M. Jagger & K. Richards.

    There is an expression: “A funny thing happened on the way to the Forum.” Well, despite all attempts to the contrary, a funny thing has happened to law: Change. In particular, rapid change, induced by technology.

    The results of this change can be viewed either as a threat to the profession as we know it or they can be viewed as a golden opportunity. The latest wave or change to wash over us can be summarized by the phrase: “Web 2.0.” One way to view the most important themes of Web 2.0 is by looking at a Web 2.0 invention: the Tag Cloud:

    While there are different types, in essence a tag cloud is a visual depiction of the aggregation of “tags” (or word counts) for all websites that reference the phrase in question; in our case it is the phrase: “Web 2.0.” The larger the font of any particular tag, the more often this phrase occurs on the Internet related to the reference phrase. (By the way, you could generate a similar word cloud for all the documents in a litigation case – the results may be more intuitive than other forms of case preparation. If you take it to the next level and tag phrases with issues/people/dates, the results may be even more surprising).

    In the legal world, Web 2.0 offers the promise of a lawyer practising not a “bricks and mortar” practice but rather virtually – a “clicks and mortar” practice. Marketing, distribution, communication, brand identity, core competencies – all are built and maintained online.

    The Yellow Pages are replaced by LinkedIn, Facebook and other social networking sites. Marketing takes place via blogs, Twitter “tweets” and other online networking. Supply networks are virtual since legal assistants, research and other services all can be contracted out and managed via the web. Work is separated from place since you can work from wherever you have an Internet connection. Relationships are fostered and encouraged via Web 2.0 collaboration software such as SharePoint. The office also goes paperless since all the documentation is now handled electronically. Most importantly in Canada, Web 2.0 allows any lawyer to establish a national practice in virtually any area of law courtesy of the Interjurisdictional Practice Protocol. Michael Porter’s work at Harvard Business School on focused differentiation (think “niche practice” as a strategic business strategy) is given life. The market for any law practice is no longer tied to geographic or residential concerns – distance becomes largely irrelevant.

    Fantasy? Not at all. There are B.C. lawyers who are pioneers and have established their practices on the cloud.

    For those lawyers willing to ride the updrafts, they may find that they have soared to the stratosphere courtesy of rethinking how they can practise law. The vistas up that high can be breathtaking. And the early adopters can say to the latecomers – hey you, get off of my cloud!

    (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, Issues facing Law Firms, Law Firm Strategy, Leadership and Strategic Planning, Technology, Trends | Permalink | 2 Comments »