Snapchat’s Sleight Of Hand & Lessons In PR For Law Firms

Like a magician sleight of hand trick, Snapchat founders CEO Evan Spiegel and CTO Bobby Murphy settled its contentious lawsuit quietly while Apple was announcing its new iPhone launch.

Former fraternity brother and alleged cofounder Reggie Brown had sued the dynamic duo, claiming he developed the initial idea for the app, according to Forbes. And while Snapchat has just raised funds leaving its valuation at a whopping $10 billion, the company had much wealth at stake.

This is just one of the many lawsuits facing app-building billionaires. One of Tinder’s creators, Whitney Wolfe, also settled a lawsuit, although its terms are highly confidential, according to Forbes.

As for Snapchat’s admission? Spiegel smartly said (via Forbes):

“We are pleased that we have been able to resolve this matter in a manner that is satisfactory to Mr. Brown and the Company. We acknowledge Reggie’s contribution to the creation of Snapchat and appreciate his work in getting the application off the ground.”

Certainly no big surprised in that statement. Nor any doubt shed on the success of the company, itself, admit such controversy.

If there’s one thing these companies understand, it’s that image matters most. So, while the world was looking toward iPhones and iWatches, entrepreneurs were putting out litigious, fictitious fires.

For law firms, this is the best outcome for a client. However, sometimes image problems emerge regarding firm wrongdoing. Hiring a smart public relations firm may be as valuable as gaining new clients for equity partners.

Law firms—like any private company—experience a fair share of litigation. Whether it’s a dispute filed by a former employee, accidental release of confidential client information, or compliance issues, online news these days breaks faster than cold glass in hot water.

And your firm will be in hot water if it’s not prepared.

Richard Levick, President of Levick Strategy Communications, writes of law firm PR strategy:

“Reporters are like stray cats –if you don’t feed them, they go to someone else’s door. Call them back first, even if it is to say that you can’t say anything. Reporters remember who calls them and who doesn’t. Not returning the journalist’s call today, no matter what the reason, guarantees that you won’t get the call when you do want to be in the paper.”

A PR person does not substitute for a well-spoken (and sometimes apologetic) law partner. But, law partners may need to consult a PR professional before he or she can become well-spoken.

Reduce the risk of malpractice claims (and the need for a PR firm!) by listening to C4CM’s webinar: “Drafting Ethical, Effective Engagement Letters that Reduce Firm Liability and Improve Client Relationships.”

It will address:

  • The five key components every engagement letter should include,
  • How to use engagement letters as tools to substantially reduce firm risk, and
  • Why well-drafted engagement letters are vital to improving client relationships.

Why? Because when risk managers audit a law practice for the risk of legal malpractice, the first item they pull from the file is the engagement letter. This one document is the most reliable indicator of whether a law practice has in place systems that can effectively reduce the risks of malpractice claims.

So follow Snapchat’s lead, and while the world is temporarily distracted looking one way, address your potentially problematic PR issues today.

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Don’t Be The Best, Just Better: Lessons From Obama To Law Firms About Measures Of Success

The latest jobs report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows unemployment at just 6.1 percent—the lowest since 2007. This means President Obama outperformed Reagan on jobs growth and investing, reports Forbes.

This is great news. But in a way you may not expect.

A study by researchers at the University of Warwick and Cardiff University found that money only makes people happier when they perceive this money as being higher than their friends and colleagues. In a nutshell, people are only happy when they’re doing better than others.

“Our study found that the ranked position of an individual’s income best predicted general life satisfaction, while the actual amount of income and the average income of others appear to have no significant effect,” said lead researcher Chris Boyce about his findings in the paper “Money and Happiness: Rank of Income, Not Income, Affects Life Satisfaction” published in the journal Psychological Science.

“Earning a million pounds a year appears to be not enough to make you happy if you know your friends all earn 2 million a year.”

So when it comes to unemployment numbers, Americans are less satisfied to know that an additional 2.5 million new jobs will be created in 2014, or that 142,000 jobs were created last month alone. These are just numbers, not statistics.

Americans are only happy if they discover this year is better than the year before it. And, while this decade will never outperform the last, the 2000s-2010s could have the 1970s-1980s beat.

In the 1980s, President Reagan dealt with a recession much like the one President Obama is grappling with today, which is why the two are so often compared.

“President Reagan has long been considered the best modern economic President. So we compared his performance dealing with the oil-induced recession of the 1980s with that of President Obama and his performance during this ‘Great Recession.’” said Bob Deitrick, CEO of Polaris Financial Partners and author of Bulls, Bears and the Ballot Box, to Adam Hartung for Forbes.

And what did the comparison show? President Obama’s job creation prevented unemployment from peaking at as high a level as President Reagan, pushing people into the workforce faster than President Reagan.

“President Obama has achieved a 6.1% unemployment rate in his sixth year, fully one year faster than President Reagan did. At this point in his presidency, President Reagan was still struggling with 7.1% unemployment, and he did not reach into the mid-low 6% range for another full year. So, despite today’s number, the Obama administration has still done considerably better at job creating and reducing unemployment than did the Reagan administration.”

Which is great news for those who are keeping score—and studies show, we are all, consciously or not, keeping score.

Taking the lesson of comparative gains into account, law firm managers might consider reassessing some of their policies of business practices. For example, you may not be able to offer bonuses to employees this year, but perhaps you can offer comparatively better benefits (that cost your firm less to offer).

Clients may not care as much about the price per hour for your legal expertise as much as the fact that it is comparatively lower than your closest competitor.

Last year, two-thirds of law firm revenue involved flat rates and other “alternative fee arrangements” or pre-negotiated discounts to billable hours. What are these discounts, and can your firm offer comparatively better ones?

The Center for Competitive Management offers a webinar that explores the latest tools and approaches that law firms are using to set prices that are fair, collaborative, and align firm pricing with client-defined value.

This means providing a comparative advantage when you can’t provide an absolute one.

Sign up for the webinar titled “Law Firm Pricing: Developing a Pricing Capability, Negotiating Fees, and Locking in Clients,here. It takes place from 2:00pm to 3:15pm EST on Thursday, September 25, 2014.

During this interactive session, you will learn real-life strategies as employed by top pricing managers/directors in the field, including:

  • What clients really want from firms in terms of value and pricing (and how to deliver)
  • The latest pricing practices at top firms and how they might work for you
  • How to assure that pricing and overall firm strategy intersect (and make fiscal sense)
  • Why project management data is essential for developing successful pricing
  • Latest Alternative Fee Arrangements trends in 2014, and how legal AFAs have changed in the last five years
  • Factors to consider before your firm brings in a pricing director/manager (and what to do with them once they arrive)
  • A day in the life of a pricing manager: responsibilities, who they should report to, etc.
  • Getting Started: steps your firm can take today to begin a pricing culture reinvention
  • Top five pricing mistakes and how your firm can avoid them
  • Much more…

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Phone Calls Vs. E-mail? Why Picking Up The Phone Makes A Better Law Firm Professional

Phone calls are out, e-mails are in. At least, that’s what one business writer at Forbes would have you believe in his article, “10 Reasons Phone Calls Are A Waste of Time.”

Now, in some professions–technology, medicine, or education–perhaps this may be the new way of the world. In law, however, it’s the opposite. In many ways e-mails are ruining the good practice of law. Using the article’s same 10 reasons, here is why:

1. They demand immediate responses (which aren’t always the best responses).

This is pretty self-exlanatory. Are you a patent lawyer filing an appeal for a patent? Then you pick up a phone to call the patent examiner for advice. An e-mail will certainly get you nowhere.

Lawyers are looking for immediate responses in their deadline-driven work product.

2. You can’t go back and review phone calls later.

“Email, on the other hand, has the distinct advantage of being permanent, archivable and searchable, and allows prior conversations to be referenced and reviewed for accuracy or to refresh your memory,” writes Jayson DeMers for Forbes

Great! Lawyers deal with confidential and private information. All the better not to leave a paper trail of e-mails. 

Speak to your law firm manager about your firm’s policies regarding e-mail security before sending over any client files via cyberspace.

3. They’re an awkward dance of silence and interruptions.

It’s true that phone calls can get messy. Who is leading the call? What is the call about? If you must write an e-mail, answer these simple questions and send them about an hour before your phone call. That way there’s no confusion and less of chance for constant interruptions.

4. They cause existential overhead.

“Existential overhead is the mental cost in distraction and stress of uncompleted tasks. Unfinished work (or in this case, looming scheduled phone calls) can hang over your head, whether consciously or not. According to Jim Benson, genius behind the concept of existential overhead, looming tasks are never really “out of sight, out of mind”: ‘When you have a workload, you are always thinking about the individual elements of that workload. In the back of your mind, you know what you haven’t done,” (via Forbes).

So that means a phone call on Tuesday may (or may not) hang over your head on Wednesday. However, for lawyers, e-mails can also pile up. So 10 e-mails received on Monday become 20 by Tuesday. So, instead of scheduling a phone call, you now have a dozen or more e-mails that take an hour to respond to instead of ten minutes over the phone.

5. They kill productivity and work flow.

“According to research cited by The Wall Street Journal, frequent interruptions can have dire physical consequences among office workers, including 9% higher rates of exhaustion, and a 4% increase in migraines and backaches,” writes DeMers for Forbes.

“Think there’s no harm in just quickly answering a call? According to a study conducted by researchers atMichigan State University, workers participating in a series of tasks who experienced a 2.8 second interruption made twice as many errors following the interruption.”

How many times do you check your phone for new e-mails? E-mail is far more disruptive than phone calls. They’re more frequent and seeminly “quick” to respond to. It’s just one click. Unfortunately, after writing five to six e-mails, you will soon realize you’ve lost an entire billable hour to unnecessary correspondance.

6. They necessitate small talk, the biggest time waster known to man.

Part of your job as a law firm professional is to speak to clients or potential clients. Phone calls are personal. Chatting about a person’s kids, their business, and other minutiae is helpful in generating a rapport and positive client reviews or referrals for the future. People love to chat on the phone, that’s true. And 30 minutes of conversation that could have taken 30 seconds of e-mail may–in the end–lead to 30 years of loyal business.

E-mail is lazy. When you don’t want to research the answer yourself, it’s easy to compose a 1-line e-mail. Imagine how many phone calls you’d have to make if each e-mail was equivalent to one phone call… and then, reconsider your use of cyberspace.

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What’s Your Firm’s Associate Compensation Model & Should You Change It?

Working as a first-year associate in a law firm used to be simple–painful, but simple. There was lengthy, tedious document review and paying your dues (literally and figuratively).

But today, the job has become much more complicated. Firms are dissatisfied with the traditional compensation model for younger associates and are looking to leverage more out of each one. Numerous law firms have completely thrown out the old hierarchical, lockstep model of associates and replaced it instead with a merit-based one.

Keeping your head down and listening to what the name partners tell you is no longer enough. Associates are now evaluated on going above and beyond, on “delivering legal excellence,” “driving client value” and “building a practice,” in the words of Seyfarth’s merit-based pay system.

“It takes the process off of autopilot, so we’re really dependent upon getting feedback from partners,” Laura Saklad, the chief lawyer development officer for Orrick Herrington & Sutcliffe LLP, one of the first firms to ditch former lockstep models for associate pay, said to Law360.

“We have found that moving away from an automatic advancement system has actually created a greater buy-in among the partners for the need to give really substantive answers.”

Although this system of constant evaluation may seem stressful to associates, law firm managers believe merit-based pay not only improves performance and productivity, it also helps increase communication between associate levels.

“We’re putting a lot of energy into ensuring that we have a strong mentoring program in place and that mentoring conversations are happening in between reviews so associates are getting clear messages about where there are skill gaps and how to fill them,” Saklad said to Law360.

With these types of compensation systems, it’s impossible to simply dismiss a performance review or to forget to follow-up in a matter. Associates must make the grade in order to make the pay. This requires diligently listening to areas where your performance is weak and then making concerted efforts to improve those skills.

Although there appear to be many benefits to such a system, what are its downsides?

First, it certainly encourages competition, not comraderie among same-level associates. Second, it’s a more difficult system for larger firms. Finally, it may reward favoritism. Should an associate receive a lackluster review beause he or she has a less dynamic personality? Is there such a thing as a completely objective evaluator, and if not, should pay really be tied to such a subjective measure?

Reed Smith, the large Pittsburgh-based law firm, announced a similar restructuring of its policies with regard to associate performance and promotion, stating:

“The firm has revamped its associate model, doing away with associate classes based strictly on entry date in favor of three associate groups that will have formal training from the time they enter the firm until they are ready to be considered for partnership. . . . The goal of the program is to provide a road map for associates detailing the specific skills required at each of the newly created levels–junior, midlevel, and senior associates. Associates won’t be able to move to the next tier until they have met those requirements. Compensation will be tied to those competencies by 2011 as well.”

Changes in traditional associate compensation models are here to stay. The question is, in the land of billable hours and time constraints, do these law firms have the capabilities to successfully implement such large-scale, high-stakes training programs?

A lot is being blamed on the economic crisis. Will new associates ever be as profitable for the firm as they were before the economic downturn? The answer is yes. But, to return to pre-crisis levels of profitability, law firms need to adapt to the current situation. It involves new technology, new tools, new management, and new ways of motivating your employees.

Revamping the Associate Model for Max Profitability: Leveraging New Lawyers for Higher Per Partner Profits is an information-packed webinar that examines the strategic and financial implications of the changing associate model, and what law firms should do to stay competitive and profitable in this rapidly shifting environment.

Attend Wedesday, September 3, 2014, from 2pm to 3:15pm EST and explore current associate management trends, new compensation systems, and other key aspects of associate management that impact your firm’s bottom line:

  • Where we are today and what has changed
  • Emerging economic models and how they affect associate profitability
  • New profitability drivers for 2014 and beyond
  • Trends and changes to the associate management process
  • Real-life firm examples of how to monitor associate’s progress and performance
  • Best practices for handling the first two years
  • Methods to make the associate evaluation process matter more
  • Why versatility matters when it comes to associate advancement and how to build it in to your programs
  • Common associate communication snafus and how to fix them

Trust experts like The Center for Competitive Management when you’re looking to upgrade your law firm management style. 

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Google Says “No” To RSS Readers–Should You, Too?

Members of the legal profession know well how to create a glossary of complicated acronyms for various official filings.

Remember that case where the ACM (“Association for Computing Machinery”) sued the GBF (“Gravitational Biology Facility”), but the jury verdict went to the opposing side—totally NMP (“not my problem”). Still, your boss asked to see you ASAYGB (“as soon as you get back”). What a BDATO (“bad day at the office”).

An unabbreviated word of caution, however. A California judge went so far as to reprimand lawyers for the egregious number of acronyms used in their appellant’s opening brief. Judge David Sills of the Fourth District Court of Appeal criticized the lawyers for “descending into an alphabet soup of jargon-based acronyms,” according to the Legal Pad blog (via ABA Journal).

“Judging by the briefing in the case before us now, nobody got the hint. Unfortunately, there are no rehab clinics for acronym addicts,” Sills wrote in his opinion (via the ABA).

“Consider, for example, this sentence, committed on page 32 of the appellant’s opening brief:” Sills continued, “‘In June 22, 2000, CARB adopted an SCM for AIM coatings.’ Huh?”

Huh, is right. Acronyms sometimes make a simple idea or statement seem unjustly intimidating.

Take, for example, RSS feeds. Or, RSS readers. Although blog articles (like this one) are always encouraging professionals to use them, what is an RSS, really?

It’s time to explain.

RSS stands for “Rich Site Summary.” RSS is a format for delivering regularly changing web content, such as news-related sites, blogs and other WWW (“world wide web”) content.

There are three major advantages to using RSS feeds (see, What is RSS):

  1. You use one source to stay informed on any subject that you deem interesting.
  2. You save time by retrieving the latest content at one site, as opposed to looking up each site individually.
  3. You maintain higher levels of privacy because you don’t need to input your personal information to sign up for an online or e-mail newsletter.
  4. RSS readers allow individuals to skim pre-screened headlines (e.g., re: news, fashion, law) to pick and choose—filter, if you will—the vast space that is the Internet. Then, you can narrow in on only those subjects that matter.

With RSS readers, a lawyer can stay informed without sacrificing those precious billable hours.

To get an idea, try out some of the most popular RSS readers, including Amphetadesk (Windows, Linux, Mac), FeedReader (Windows), and NewsGator (Windows – integrates with Outlook), My Yahoo, and Bloglines. Google Reader closed its digital doors in 2013, but you can still download some of RSS’ best alternatives. See a review of them here.

There are also a myriad of other legal tools available in app form for Android listed here.

However, like overusing acronyms, don’t let overwhelming RSS feeds overrun your life. Unplug, desync, and disconnect once in awhile.

Keith Lee, author of An Associate’s Mind Blog, writes, “It was almost with dread that I opened my RSS Reader on Monday morning. There were 300+ new blog entries, news stories, infographics, etc. waiting for me. There was a sense of obligation about the whole thing.”

“With social media, blogging, etc. many people seem to think that a person needs to remain ‘engaged’ and stay on top of things 24/7 in order to be doing it properly,” laments Lee.

The solution? It may have two letters, but it’s not an acronym. When technology starts to get the best of you, don’t be afraid to just say “no.”

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Microsoft Throw Hat In Ring With New Case Matter Management Software

Microsoft showcased its legal document management solution for Office 365 at the International Legal Technology Association (ILTA) conference in Nashville, Tennessee, this week. The program, called Matter Center, claims to make “it easier to organize files by client and matter, review documents, and find information when needed without ever leaving Microsoft Word or Outlook.”

Its main features include:

  • A cloud-based briefcase — The solution provides 1 TB of individual storage and a personal briefcase that automatically syncs documents.
  • Access controls — Users can be granted or excluded access to a matter.
  • Collaboration tools — Matter Center enables legal professionals to share files with others, both within and outside their law firm.
  • Document and matter search — Legal professionals can search and find matters and related documents directly within Outlook or Word.
  • Integrated document management — Legal professionals can drag, drop and save emails into documents or matter.

Microsoft has built a security-enhanced, cloud-based document management application that allows our professionals to quickly locate and collaborate on documents with our counsel from virtually anywhere,” John Frank, Microsoft’s vice president and deputy general counsel, said in a prepared statement.

“We’ve decided to make this solution more broadly available at the request of our outside counsel [to those] who want to utilize it in their own environments.”

Although Microsoft has yet to announce when Matter Center will be available on the mass market, interested legal professionals can sign up for the pilot program here.

Case Matter joins Time Matters, ProLaw’s Legal Case Management Software, Legal Track, LawBase, and Rocket Matter in the legal matter management systems market.

Cloud-based legal software has become more common, but so has discussion surrounding security measures to protect legal information. Regarding cloud-based case management software, the Iowa State Bar addressed the potential legal issues that may arise when using these services, concluding:

“[A lawyer] must take reasonable precautions to prevent the information from coming into the hands of unintended recipients. This duty, however, does not require that the lawyer use special security measures if the method of communication affords a reasonable expectation of privacy. Special circumstances, however, may warrant special precautions. Factors to be considered in determining the reasonableness of the lawyer’s expectation of confidentiality include the sensitivity of the information and the extent to which the privacy of the communication is protected by law or by a confidentiality agreement.” [via Juris Page]

While legal technology and tools continue to develop, it’s important for an attorney’s sense of ethical responsibility to develop in measure. Just as there are myriad ways to store and access data, there are an equal number of ways to intercept, steal, or manipulate private and confidential information, as well.

How secure are your serves? What are your firms policies regarding storage of files on mobile devices? Do you require associates to have complex passwords on all devices and for all firm programs that evolve in complexity over time?

So, when you’re addressing the need to upgrade your case management software, don’t forget to train your employees on the risks inherent in these cloud and other mobile systems.

Before purchasing Matter Center, need to brush up on other Microsoft Office and Outlook tools? Go here for C4CM’s extensive tech webinars created specially for law firm professionals.

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How To Successfully Manage Millennials At Your Firm

If only you could get inside the heads of your law firm employees. It would surely make hiring decisions, salary negotiations, and case work easier.

For your Millennial employees, however, there is some good news. Because the younger generation believe that technology is near and dear to their very existence, managers can actually take a look—via blog, facebook, or twitter posts—at the this generation’s thought process.

Here are a few generalizations about Millennials (and how your firm can respond to them).

1. Millennials are looking to be the best at something… but something meaningful.

Millennials have read Malcolm Gladwell’s popular book, Outliers: The Story of Success and know that to become an expert you need to put in 10,000 hours. But, these days, it’s not enough to be an expert on a subject, Millennials want to work toward a higher goal.

Whether it be humanitarian, technological, or constitutional, Millennials are looking for a purpose for these 10,000 working hours.

Law firms should engage their younger employees in pro-bono work right off the bat. Encourage them to work for your firm’s foundation. Give extra time off to employees who volunteer at places outside the practice.

Through impromptu or informal interviews, ask your younger associates what motivates them to work in law or life. A happier employee is a more productive one.

And, although law school graduates are a dime a dozen, the ones worth keeping at your firm, that million-dollar legal mind, may not be as common.

2. Millennials are good at networking… and they like it

Millennials graduated in a difficult economic climate, and they unabashedly networked and made phone calls and sought out persons to hire and help them.

Millennials know the value of networking, and they do it well. So take advantage of this quality. Encourage your employees to attend legal networking events. Host happy hours and social events for friends and family of your employees. Find out who they are and what they do (and if they need representation).

Give incentives for recommending new hires. In general, tap into this resource. People enjoy doing favors and, in the end, are more likely to do favors for somebody they’ve previously helped (say, a manager or senior partner). It’s called the Ben Franklin effect.

In his autobiography, Franklin explains how he dealt with the animosity of a rival legislator when he served in the 18th century Pennsylvania legislature:

Having heard that he had in his library a certain very scarce and curious book, I wrote a note to him, expressing my desire of perusing that book, and requesting he would do me the favour of lending it to me for a few days. He sent it immediately, and I return’d it in about a week with another note, expressing strongly my sense of the favour. When we next met in the House, he spoke to me (which he had never done before), and with great civility; and he ever after manifested a readiness to serve me on all occasions, so that we became great friends, and our friendship continued to his death.

3. Millennials are looking for mentorship… and you should give it to them

Self-help books are popular with Millennials. They’re reading The Happiness Hypothesis, by Jonathan Haidt; How to Find Fulfilling Work, by Roman Krsnaric; and The Defining Decade: Why Your Twenties Matter, by Meg Jay.

Everybody needs a role model, from the small school-age child to the adult working-class parent. We need somebody to look up to. The workplace is no different.

To give your law firm a sense of purpose, to encourage networking, and to instill a culture of teamwork and community, create “hiring classes” or groups of new hires that get trained together.

Organize a week or two-week long training camp so that new employees meet one another, bond, and generally become attached to their work. Each new hire in this class should be assigned a mentor. Make sure that more senior mentors meet with the younger associates. By doing this, your firm will create a supportive, family-style culture, which will help retain your Millennial employees.

These steps will also encourage new associates to ask questions, which reduces mistakes and increases the productivity of your office.

You may not relate to the Millennial mindset, but you should try to understand it.

The business of law has changed dramatically. Firms of all sizes are under more pressure than ever to overcome fee resistance, deliver added value, and secure decreasingly loyal clients.

Tune in to The Center for Competitive Management (C4CM)’s audio conference on Thursday, September 11, 2014, titled “Top Five Profit-Killing Business Development Mistakes Firms Make, and How To Avoid Them.”

This power-packed webinar explores how successful firms are building cultures in which business development, cultivating relationships, and clear rainmaking goals increase revenue per lawyer and overall profitability, including:

  • When and how to begin business development training
  • Methods to include meaningful client contact for every lawyer (including first year associates)
  • What constitutes practical training and which efforts are a waste of firm time
  • The mentoring key and how firms are flubbing it
  • How to teach attorneys to see and address the profit potential of every relationship
  • Pros, cons and considerations of offering billable credit for lawyers who spend time developing rainmaking skills
  • A step-by-step outline for building a firm culture that promotes business development (with a defined path and essential steps for successful communication, engagement, and rewards)

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