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    Archive for February, 2009
    Imagine This!
    Friday, February 27th, 2009

    You may say I’m a dreamer
    But I’m not the only one
    I hope someday you’ll join us
    And the world will be as one…

    Music and lyrics by John Lennon.

    In the Supreme Court of the United States decision in Pleasant Grove City, Utah v. Summum, decided Feb 25, 2008, Justice Samuel Alito Jr. quoted John Lennon’s lyrics from Imagine (in full in a footnote) and referred to them in the text of his opinion. He asked:

    ” What, for example, is “the message” of the Greco-Romanmosaic of the word “Imagine” that was donated to New York City’s Central Park in memory of John Lennon? See NYC Brief 18; App. to id., at A5. Some observers may “imagine” the musical contributions that John Lennon would have made if he had not been killed. Others may think of the lyrics of the Lennon song that obviously inspired the mosaic and may “imagine” a world without religion, countries, possessions, greed, or hunger.”

    Litigators and those seeking to persuade juridical bodies or indeed, people in general, have come to realize the strong message and imagery that song lyrics create in our minds and in our imaginations. They evoke not only an intellectual component, they also reach into the emotional and the sensory sides of a person’s mind.  If a picture is worth a thousand words, is a song worth a thousand pictures? We are moving up the scale in terms of being able to connect with as many different components of a person’s personality and thinking processes as we can when we bring in musical, lyrical and emotional components to our work.

    In a world filled with digital information at our fingertips, just imagine where all this can take us! You may  say I am a dreamer, but it looks like, courtesy of Judge Alito, I am not the only one…

    Posted in Adding Value, humour, Issues facing Law Firms, personal focus and renewal, Technology, Trends | Permalink | 1 Comment »
    ABA TECHSHOW 2009: My Kind of Conference
    Thursday, February 26th, 2009

    My kind of town, chicago is
    My kind of town, chicago is
    My kind of razzmatazz
    And it has, all that jazz…

    Lyrics by Sammy Cahn, Music by Jimmy Van Heusen, recorded by Frank Sinatra.

    On April 2-4 in Chicago a once-in-a-year, not-to-be-missed event will take place.  This year – of all years – should be the year lawyers, administrators, legal technologists, researchers and anyone involved in the delivery of legal services makes a bee-line to TECHSHOW in Chicago.  Why?  Simply because this recession is the best opportunity  to upgrade your systems and technology to be able to take advantage of the upswing (that is coming, notwithstanding the financial news).  It is difficult to either introduce new technology or get people to change when they are going gangbusters…hence the Stephen Covey 7th habit: “Habit 7: Sharpen the Saw: Principles of Balanced Self-Renewal”.

    This economic downswing is the perfect opportunity to take a step back, examine not only what you are doing from a business perspective but also how you are doing it.  What principles of workflow and efficiency can  you apply to your practice? How do you determine what are the best strategies for you and your firm? What have other firms done and how well is it working for them?  Lastly but certainly not least, what can you do for yourself to improve your own personal productivity and effectiveness?

    I have found TECHSHOW to simply be the best resource in this regard.  The collection of minds that assemble and speak, discuss, go out for dinner and mingle are the ones that will stimulate you, raise issues and ask questions at a depth equalled nowhere else.

    The keynote speaker is non other than:  Richard Susskind, OBE, who has 25 years of legal technology experience, and serves as Chair of the Advisory Panel on Public Sector Information and has been IT Adviser to the Lord Chief Justice of England. In an interview in The Times Online, Richard states:

    “[T]he UK Government is unquestionably reforming the legal profession and legal system at a rate of knots but in none of the white papers, consultation documents or speeches by ministers can I find a clear articulation of a distant end game that takes into account the phenomena that most long-range strategic planners are wrestling with — such as the impact of outsourcing or of Web 2.0 (two phenomena that are disrupting and reconfiguring most sectors) on legal practice.”

    Sir Richard will no doubt be addressing similar themes in his keynote, based on his latest book: The End of Lawyers? Rethinking the Nature of Legal Services. But Richard is but one voice to be heard at TECHSHOW.  There are 60 other notable presenters (including many Canadians: Nils Jensen, Steve Matthews, Joel Alleyne, Jean-François DeRico, Dominic Jaar, Peg Duncan, Donna Neff, Dan Pinnington and yours truly).

    Tracks range from “A Day in the (techno) Life” to Solo and Small Firm, Trial Skills, e-Discovery Update, Tech for Financial Management and others.  Sessions range from  Records Management Policies and Systems: Back to the Drawing Board? to Getting to Paperless: A Lawyer’s Step by Step Guide, Got Apple Envy? Macs in a PC World and my two personal perennial favourites: 60 Sites in 60 Minutes and 60 Tips in 60 Minutes.  There is also the full exhibit hall to visit with its incredible array of legal technology offerings.

    By registering as an early-bird by Feb. 28th, combined with a program promoter discount, you can save $150 off the full registration cost.  The Law Society of British Columbia’s program promoter code is: # EP929 and the Canadian Bar Associations’ is: EP927. A full list of program promoters may be found here.

    Chicago has all that jazz (and blues!) and it also has my kind of Conference…TECHSHOW is…I hope to see you there.

    Posted in Adding Value, Business Development, Change Management, Cheap is Good but Free is Better!, Firm Governance, humour, I'm a Mac, Issues facing Law Firms, Law Firm Strategy, Leadership and Strategic Planning, Make it Work!, personal focus and renewal, Technology, Trends | Permalink | 1 Comment »
    Cleaning out the C***
    Friday, February 20th, 2009

    I’ve got the demons within
    I’ve got to brush them all away
    I feel the demon’s rage
    I must clean them all away
    Yeah, yeah…

    Lyrics and Music by Josh Homme, recorded by Tool.

    These days frugal is the defining criteria.  Accordingly, it is great when you come across something that is both wonderful, works quickly and well, is easy to use and is, of course, *free*.   Accordingly CCleaner was a great find.  To quote their website:

    CCleaner is a freeware system optimization, privacy and cleaning tool. It removes unused files from your system – allowing Windows to run faster and freeing up valuable hard disk space. It also cleans traces of your online activities such as your Internet history. Additionally it contains a fully featured registry cleaner. But the best part is that it’s fast (normally taking less than a second to run) and contains NO Spyware or Adware! :)”

    I have been using CCleaner (originally called CrapCleaner, but they have, ahem, modified the name somewhat) for a couple of years now and totally love it.  It does just what it says it does, quickly and easily.  My only regret is that it isn’t available for a Mac (it runs under Windows 98/NT4/ME/2000/XP/2003/Vista including the 64-bit versions of XP and Vista).  The purists will probably tell me you don’t need the equvalent software on a Mac, but I digress..

    There are options if you wish to clean more than just the defaults – there is the “Advanced” tab to investigate.  It cleans Internet Explorer, FireFox, Chrome, Opera and Safari. It cleans your registry and Windows. It also cleans up temp files and such from third party applications.

    Piriform, the creator of CCleaner, also has Defraggler (a defragmentation tool) and Recuva (a file recovery tool). I haven’t tried those yet, but if they work as well as CCleaner, this could be a hat trick.

    Good to know that there are (free) tools out there for the times that you feel you need to clean out all the demons within…

    Posted in Adding Value, Cheap is Good but Free is Better!, Law Firm Strategy, Make it Work!, Technology, Trends | Permalink | No Comments »
    A Good Thing…
    Friday, February 6th, 2009

    ♫  They’re creepy and they’re kooky,
    Mysterious and spooky,
    They’re all together ooky,
    The Addams Family…

    Words and Music by Stan Adams (a.k.a. Vic Mizzy)

    I like cool applications – I especially like ones that are useful as well.  Accordingly I was pleased to come across Things Mac. This little application does one thing particularly well on the Mac – task management.

    Now perhaps task management  – looking after To-Do’s, errands, repeating appointments and matters that need to be done – may not *exactly* make your heart beat a bit faster.  But certainly missing any of these – particularly if they have to do with a limitation date, filing deadline or even something that you *need* to do but on which you keep procrastinating – will *certainly* do so.  For example, I am reminded of the best way to remember your wife’s birthday is to forget it once. But I digress…

    So one arrow in your task management arsenal is Things Mac.

    So you may say – quite rightly – that I *already* have Entourage for the Mac – which has to-dos and task management – why would I need Things?  Well, for one Things is written in a Mac format, where Entourage is well, foreign in feel and design.  For another, Things uses Tags (ok, Entourage uses Categories which is pretty much similar).  Things also syncs with iCal and the iPhone.  They both will do projects (albeit in different ways). Things just concentrates on Tasks where Entourage does mail, calendaring and task management.

    It may just be different strokes for different folks…but I like Things and how it works. As a practice management consultant, I am constantly on the prowl for ways for lawyers to look after deadlines that are easy to use and do the job well.  Things does that. Apparently others think so as well – Things received “Best of Show” at MacWorld 2009.

    So even if looking after deadlines and tasks is creepy and  kooky and all together ooky, it is good to know Things, just like Thing Aadams is right there, looking after you!

    Posted in I'm a Mac, Issues facing Law Firms, Technology, Trends | Permalink | 4 Comments »
    It’s a Heartache…
    Wednesday, February 4th, 2009

    ♫  It’s a heartache
    Nothing but a heartache

    Hits you when it’s too late
    Hits you when you’re down…

    Words and Music by Ronnie Scott and Steve Wolfe, recorded by Bonnie Tyler.

    I received an email newsletter from PCTools today (the developer of the  Spyware Doctor anti-virus suite) that chilled my heart.  For the record, I have no relationship with PCTools other than being a satisfied customer.

    They relayed the story of  John who, on Valentine’s Day, clicked on an e-card link. This Valentine’s Day link caused his computer to shut down, but not before it infected his computer, stole his credit card and banking information and mailed itself to his contacts in his address book.

    As a result he had to cancel his credit cards, close his bank accounts and inform his contacts that he had been infected and telling them not to open the dangerous email.

    PCTools gives a list of how to stay safe this Valentines’ Day:

    • Be wary of any e-mail received from an unknown sender and do not click on any links provided. Run up-to-date anti-virus and anti-spyware software with behavioural protection – such as Spyware Doctor with AntiVirus.
    • Ensure your software is up-to-date and run Smart Updates regularly.
    • Keep the programs running in the background at all times.
    • Use common sense.

    Even if you run a Mac, if you are running Windows inside VMWare, Parallels, Crossover or other Windows emulator, you could be susceptible.  After all, no one wants a heartache at Valentine’s Day.

    Posted in Fraud and theft, Issues facing Law Firms, Technology, Trends | Permalink | No Comments »
    Generosity, not Greed…
    Tuesday, February 3rd, 2009

    What is that
    Could it be
    The rescue that you need
    It’s not a dream, that’s happening…

    “Follow My Lead” Words and Music by Justin Timberlake.

    In my last post Billable Hours Giving Ground I quoted the author and lawyer Scott Turow, who postulated to The New York Times that greed may encourage lawyers to change their payment plans. I found that particular quote to be disheartening and disturbing.

    Fortunately today I learned that Ian Cartwright, a retired Ontario Superior Court Judge, gave a personal cheque for one million dollars to The Association in Defence of the Wrongly Convicted. This donation will provide capital funding and assist in service delivery to reduce time clients may languish in prison while a case for their exoneration is prepared.

    I think there are many other examples where lawyers, judges (who once were lawyers) and many others have provided generous gifts and donations to social organizations to allow them to continue to provide services.  For example, Justin Timberlake donated the proceeds of Follow My Lead to the Shriners Hospitals for Children, a charity dedicated to improving pediatric care for sick children.

    In both these cases it was generosity, not greed, that was the motivating factor. Especially in these troubled times, we need more people to follow Justin and Ian’s lead.

    Posted in personal focus and renewal, Trends | Permalink | No Comments »
    Billable Hours Giving Ground…
    Monday, February 2nd, 2009

    ♫  Every single day
    Every word you say
    Every game you play
    Every night you stay
    Ill be watching you…

    Words and Music by Sting, recorded by The Police.

    The New York Times reports:

    ‘ “This is the time to get rid of the billable hour,” said Evan R. Chesler, presiding partner at Cravath, Swaine & Moore in New York, one of a number of large firms whose most senior lawyers bill more than $800 an hour.’

    When the managing partner at Cravath says the billable hour is dead, the paradigm has definitely shifted.

    ‘Mr. Chesler, who is an advocate of the new billing practices, said that instead of paying for hours worked, more clients are paying Cravath flat fees for handling transactions and success fees for positive outcomes, as well as payments for meeting other benchmarks.’

    I have been a long-time advocate of changing the way lawyers bill, for reasons that are connected with improved client satisfaction, increased efficiency and tying the fee closer to the results achieved for the client (output-based measurements) rather than effort (input-based measurements).  I have seen firms achieve increased effective hourly rates and increased lawyer and client-satisfaction by adopting fee arrangements that reward the law firm for increased efficiency.  By allowing law firms to reap the benefits of investing in technology, knowledge management and efficiencies of scale, both the law firm and the lawyers come out ahead.

    However, apparently not everyone sees the shift away from the billable hour in the same light.  The NYT continues and states:

    ‘Greed may also encourage lawyers to change their payment plans. Law firms are running out of hours that they can bill in a year, said Scott F. Turow, best-selling author of legal thrillers and a partner at Sonnenschein Nath & Rosenthal in Chicago.’

    With respect to Mr. Turow, perhaps greed works well for book plots, but I find the vast  majority of lawyers are conscientious, hard-working, caring and very concerned about the welfare of their clients.  After all, I am a lawyer that deals with thousands of inquiries a year from other lawyers who are looking for ways to serve their clients better.  I think that not enough discussion has taken place to date on what alternative billing could look like and how firms go about implementing it.  Most, if not almost all, of the lawyers out there today have been taught to bill by the billable hour, except for certain files that are billed on a fixed fee, a contingency fee or a success-based fee.  If we open up the dialogue then we can come up with creative solutions that meet the needs of the client as well as those of the law firms.

    I recently moderated am ABA CLE teleconference presentation by:

    Christopher B. Marston, CEO, Exemplar Companies, Inc., Boston, MA, and

    Mark Robertson, Robertson & Williams, Inc., Oklahoma City, OK  (the co-author of Winning Alternatives to the Billable Hour, 3rd Edition, published by the ABA)

    entitled Winning Alternatives to the Billable Hour. This presentation highlighted how legal engagements can be restructured to allow for greater satisfaction, effectiveness and efficiency for both the lawyer and the client.

    The best part of adopting these new billing models is being freed from a system where the client is  watching every word you say and every night you stay….

    Posted in Budgeting, Change Management, Firm Governance, Issues facing Law Firms, Law Firm Strategy, Leadership and Strategic Planning, Trends | Permalink | 4 Comments »
    Conflicts – Taking a Systems Approach
    Sunday, February 1st, 2009

    Time and time again we hear the same old rumours
    Conflict doing this,
    Conflict doing that…

    Words and music by Conflict.

    Discovering you have a conflict of interest on a file can be more than just embarrassing. It can have ethical, professional and financial implications. It can damage your relationship with your client when they realize the file must be moved. It can also result in the loss of a substantial amount of future work that may have come your way (an economic loss of opportunity). With all of this at stake, it is surprising that conflicts are not afforded, to paraphrase Rodney Dangerfield, more respect.

    There are three distinct parts to unearthing conflicts before they become a problem. These are:

    1. Awareness
    2. Procedure
    3. System

    Taking each in turn:

    Awareness: This is recognizing that you are responsible (legally and professionally) with the task of determining whether or not you and your firm may have a conflict of interest at any point in time, but particularly whenever taking on a new client. There are several types of conflicts:

    1. Conflicts of interest between clients
    2. Conflicts which arise when acting for two or more clients
    3. Conflicts arising as a transfer between or merger of firms
    4. Conflicts between lawyer and client
    5. Conflicts which arise as a result of new case law and/or changes to Rules and Regulations.

    Procedure: Every firm should have a written office manual which outlines the process to be followed to discover a conflict of interest. Unfortunately, no procedure or system has yet to be devised that will uncover every conflict of interest. Having a written procedure to follow at least ensures that you go about the process of discovery in a systematic and consistent basis. Furthermore, the steps that were taken should be recorded in order that the procedure undertaken can be demonstrated, should it become necessary to do so.

    System: Relying on the lawyer’s (or legal assistant’s memory) never was a reliable and dependable system to uncover a conflict of interest. Furthermore, having a written or increasingly, computerized conflict checking database will only discover conflicts between clients and only if names have not changed. This database check will not necessarily uncover conflicts that arise as a result of the exercise of legal judgement.

    For example, s. 2 of Chapter 7 of the Professional Conduct Handbook (PCH) for British Columbia states:

    “2. A lawyer must not perform any legal services for a client with whom or in which the lawyer or any-one, including a relative, partner, employer, employee, business associate or friend of the lawyer, has a financial or membership interest that would reasonably be expected to affect the lawyer’s professional judgement.”

    Many lawyers do not have a written retainer agreement which outlines the steps to be taken in the event that they are working for two or more clients and a conflict arises between them. Such a situation typically results in the law firm being unable to act for any of them when a conflict arises.

    Furthermore, there appears to be considerable confusion as to what is a “simple conveyance” in accordance with Appendix 3 (Real Estate Transactions) to the PCH. It is respectfully suggested that this Appendix be reviewed periodically in order to keep awareness at the forefront of a lawyer’s mind.

    Lawyers should call the Practice Advice Department at the Law Society of British Columbia if they desire an objective and disinterested opinion as to whether or not they are in a conflict of interest.

    There is one thing that is certain and that is no firm wishes to have rumours on the street that they were in a conflict doing this or a conflict doing that and had to get off a file as a result.

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

    Posted in Firm Governance, Issues facing Law Firms, Trends | Permalink | No Comments »