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An Unusual Recipe For Your Law Firm’s Thanksgiving Dinner

I bet you never thought of these unusual Thanksgiving combinations:

  • Irradiated Turkey 
  • Thermostabilized candied yams
  • Freeze-dried mash potatoes
  • Thermostabilized cherry cobbler
  • Powdered (as in, literal powder) tea with sugar and lemon

But, each of these is on today’s menu for NASA astronauts in honor of this American holiday.

While you may be stuffing your face with Turkey stuffing, warm cornbread, and pumpkin pie, residents of the International Space Station must make do without refrigerators or heavyweight foods.

It allegedly took 18 months, according to the UK’s The Independent to develop this questionably mouth-watering feast for America’s finest. But even if this menu doesn’t wet your appetite, the unusual combination of science and creativity should.

Whether it’s hybrid animals like the Liger (male lion and a female tiger), the mix of bacon chocolate chip cookies (some say it’s gross, others glorious), or counter-intuitive combination of color and noise (yes, noise can have the colors white, pink, purple, or blue); this century is marked by atypical associations.

And while you may be grateful for your oven-roasted honey ham—a classic Thanksgiving blend—law firm professionals should look forward to another crazy combo: Technology and Law.

You may not foresee a future where hackers and lawyers come together, but it’s already happening between computer programmers and journalists with Hacks/Hackers, which encourages journalists to work with software developers on projects. It’s time to open up the legal space to hackerspaces.

One organization has taken the lead in this area: Legal Hackers, a group encouraging a tech-focused approach to tackling tough issues in the legislative and legal space.

“After scores of internet users opposed the passage of SOPA and [its Senate counterpart] PIPA through vocal and technological protest, Congress decided to table the bills for later consideration,” Legal Hackers states on its website, according to AssociationsNow Technology News.

“But the fact that the bills got so close to becoming law troubled a few Brooklyn Law School students. How could Congress come up with a law so devoid of stakeholder input and so divorced from a meaningful resolution to this common legal problem?”

Legal Hackers decided it needed to find a solution. It is working to build tools that help move lawyers from desktop-based inefficiencies (like, emailing Word documents instead uploads to the cloud or apps) toward a more mobile-friendly approach.

For now, Legal Hackers is a self-proclaimed low- or non-profit organization. In August, it presented at the American Bar Association’s annual meeting a session called, “Cracking the Code: Everything You Wanted to Know About Coding, Open Data & More But Were Afraid to Ask.”

But even if you see no place in your firm for work with Legal Hackers, the idea still stands that technology and law are two sides of the same service coin. They belong together, like turkey and stuffing or pumpkin pie and whipped cream.

If you don’t know how to upgrade your software or, more importantly, upgrade your corporate culture to a technology-friendly and mobile-first one, then seek support.

Hire consultants that know how to integrate technology and tailor these tools to your firm’s needs (C4CM has a variety of online courses to help you, here).

Today, thanks to mobile technology, you can watch football at home without fear of missing important work calls or deadlines. And sitting down to share Thanksgiving dinner with family this year is something to truly be thankful for.

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Electric Shock Study Shows We’d Rather Hurt Ourselves Than Others (& How To Apply This Attitude To Pro Bono Work)

Pro Bono. Three words that—in this economy—no lawyer wants to hear.

Or maybe they do?

Pro bono is essentially providing legal services to poor, marginalized, or at-risk individuals, groups, and communities without pay; usually it’s done in order to serve a higher purpose—the provision of justice.

Some say pro bono work is altruistic and therefore difficult to incentivize among attorneys. Economists at Princeton University, however, may disagree with this statement after a recent study.

“Molly Crockett, a psychologist at the University of Oxford in the United Kingdom, combined the classic psychological and economics tools for probing altruism: pain and money,” writes John Bohannan for Science magazine

The scientist’s task? To find out who many electric shocks would be dolled out—and to whom—when money was at stake.

The pain given via electrode was deemed “mildly painful, but not intolerable.” And the price tags of each shock varied, from $0.15 to $15.

The randomly chosen “decider” in the trial was given a choice of number of shocks for money, and the shocks were either to the decided, themselves, or to another participant—although the decider always got the money.

Although society would like to believe that people would be willing to give up some sort of gain, financial or intrinsic, to avoid the distress of hurting somebody else, this idea has yet to be supported by previous scientific research, points out Bohannon.

In fact, the opposite result–that people are not altruistic–has been proven time and time again, as far back as the 1960s with Stanley Milgram, whose psychology experiments are some of the best known and widely discussed.

In 1961, Milgram sought to test our obedience to authority figures. He was motivated, in part, by the behavior of Nazi war criminals, many of whom were facing trial at that time, such as the infamous Adolf Eichmann.

Subjects in Milgram’s experiment were instructed to give a series of escalating electric shocks to an unidentified person in another room. The shocks ranged from 15 volts to 450 volts. Although the subjects were separated, they could communicate between the walls. Participants dolling the shocks could hear the (faked) reactions of their counterparts, which included screaming, banging on the wall, and complaints of heart conditions. After a while, the participant would hear nothing on the other side of the wall. Throughout the experiment, the subjects were not threatened or yelled at, rather, they were given stern and consistent instructions not to stop administering the volts.

So did they?

A (no pun intended) shocking 65 percent of the subjects followed orders and administered the final—and seemingly fatal—450-volt electric shock to the person in the next room.

But today, it finally seems possible that altruism—or at least incentivizing it within people—can exist.

In the more recent study, the results show that while participants did not like the pain of receiving a shock (they were willing to make about $0.30 less money per shock on average to receive fewer of them) people were willing to lose twice that amount, $0.60 per shock, to hurt an anonymous other less. The full results can be found online in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Fifty years later, society can finally sigh in relief knowing that people are more caring and altruistic than they first seemed in Milgram’s portrayal.

For lawyers, however, pro bono work is not actually altruistic. On the contrary, it can provide law firms with many profitable opportunities, among them:

  • Networking opportunities for lawyers
  • Boosting a lawyer’s or firm’s reputation
  • Enhancing team-building among lawyers
  • Boosting staff morale
  • Creating a positive and altruistic corporate culture
  • Fundraising opportunity for a firm working with charities or other endownments
  • Enhancing skills and experience of younger lawyers
  • Providing leadership opportunities for younger lawyers
  • Attracting paying clients through high-profile pro-bono work
  • Attracting young talent to the firm who value an idealistic corporate culture

So, sign up for pro bono work today. Do it for the philanthropy–as the electric shock study shows, we’d rather help others than ourselves. And, of course, do it for the profit-seeking aspects, too. It can’t hurt.

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Why Tech Gurus Will Be Your Law Firm’s Next Hire

Founder of Dropbox Drew Houston, Founder of Paypal Peter Thiel, and former Apple CEO John Sculley, have a lot in common. They’re not just tech geeks, entrepreneurs, and billionaires; they’re also equally exhausted after speaking at this year’s Web Summit in Dublin.

They’re not alone. This year, the Web Summit gathered together 20,000 entrepreneurs, each with different objectives—to exhibit, to speak, to buy, or to sell—for four straining days straight.

Do you develop software? Then you were in Ireland last week.

Why? For the networking, for increasing your know-how, and for generally keeping up-to-date with technology news and invention.

One of the key issues being debated was Internet and online privacy. How should data be encrypted? What are the ethical ramifications of firms collecting and distributing user information? How can you stop security breaches on the cloud?

There were companies exhibiting mobile apps that store and protect your passwords so that you don’t have to remember them.

There were thousands of alternatives to Dropbox allowing users to store information in the cloud securely (or so they touted).

There were machines that coordinated your smartphone with smart accessories (Ringly—a company that sells rings that vibrate and glow depending on your mobile app notification, with semi-precious stones to boot—is sold out for a year). Ok, that has nothing to do with privacy or security, except that you can more discretely look at your phone during an important client meeting or even Friday date night.

One thing that was clear, among the thousands of exhibitors, there was no single solution to data security, there were many. And, everybody involved in web software and programming were prioritizing data security and privacy.

As should your law firm.

It should come as no surprise to know that there were legal services software representatives in attendance at the Summit, as well. They were also keeping up-to-date with what’s new in tech.

Legal services have permanently crossed over into the world of tech, even if key distributors—the lawyers, themselves—are a bit slower to the punch. This is why it is so important to train your lawyers in how to use legal tools and software, and why you should fully vet the software provider you end up choosing.

When was the last time your legal services software distributed a software update? What is their encryption strategy? Do they have a mobile app and how do they keep it secure?

As a law firm manager, if you don’t know how to ask hard (and hardware) questions, it’s time you hired an IT Department that does.

The Web Summit attracted software developers and engineers. The topic of tech has transformed select entrepreneurs into billionaires. But very soon it will also attract legal professionals (and it has already, just check out Clio, who attended).

In a bring-your-own-device, digital world, it’s time your firm understood exactly what these devices—mobile phones, tablets, and laptop computers—are capable of.

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Bird? Plane? No, It’s Your Employer & Its Drone.

What would you do with a personal drone?

Would you have your neighborhood Chinese restaurant send food by drone? Would you attach a camera and see if your kids are really doing their homework upstairs?

As an employer, maybe you’d monitor exactly how productive your employees are during the day—find out if it’s true that mice play while the cat’s away.

Sounds far-fetched, but the future of drones in our workplace and everyday life is imminent. Prices are coming down, leaving drones at increasingly accessible rates of $500 on Amazon.

If you’re a truck driver, beware. Drones may be taking your job.

“Drones will augment the delivery world,” Mary Cummings, a drone expert who teaches at MIT and Duke University, told ABC News.

“And one could argue that they would be much more environmentally friendly since they could take cars off the road for last mile delivery and help reduce congestion.”

But, if you’re a farmer, your job never got easier.

“Crop dusting is the most dangerous job in general aviation with a high accident rate. Drones cannot only do that job better, but much safer,” said Cummings to ABC News.

Creating a safer world full of unmanned drones, sounds exciting! Or is it?

With any new gadget comes new glitches.

A drone that flew over a Martha Stewart’s farm and took footage is now at the foot of a long lawsuit.

Questions about the right to privacy and sharing airspace are topical today more than ever. It’s so easy with a click of a finger to send an algorithm that will babysit–spy–on your friends, family, colleagues, even competitors.

In the workplace, employers who don’t know the rules for monitoring employees are sitting ducks for lawsuits. In fact, you’ve got some legal leeway to monitor, but it only goes so far before you’ve stepped over the line and sparked a lawsuit.

It’s easy to think you want to keep your “eyes and ears” open with hidden cameras keeping tabs on employees. But, as an employer, you can’t invade employees’ privacy when monitoring email, smart phones, social media, or other technology associated with work.

That means no drones in the boardroom, please.

Missteps can easily occur because technology and the rules surrounding them are evolving rapidly.

To further complicate this already complex issue, you’re also grappling with next-generation issues raised by the use of social media as a business tool and the increasing adoption of “bring-your-own-device” (BYOD) programs. If you allow employees to bring in their own devices, iPads, iPhones, computers, etc., or get on social media, suddenly Discovery for a lawsuit has become invasive and expensive.

Gadgets and devices are portable and affordable these days, which means law firms can’t afford to wait to create internal policies and protocols regarding the use (and abuse) of them.

Is your organization prepared for what’s coming down the pipeline for employee privacy?

Learn more about current strategies and best practices for each emerging trend – especially in legal gray areas, such as:

  • BYOD – bring your own device and the employer’s right to access info on the employee’s own phone
  • Social Media – particularly after hours use that the employer finds and wants to act on
  • GPS Tracking of employees via company phones and company vehicles
  • Hidden Cameras used to monitor employees in the workplace
  • Drones – Bird? Plane? No, it’s your employer and its drone (we’re not kidding).

Attend The Center for Competitive Management (C4CM)’s course, “Employee Privacy and the Complexities of BYOD, Social Media, GPS Tracking & Drones,” on Wednesday, November 5, 2014, from 2 PM To 3:15 PM EST.

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Why The French Can’t Attract Entrepreneurs & What Law Firms Should Know About Bureaucracy

Bureaucracy. Who knows more about that than the French?

Much like a woman’s rouge makeup, the French invented red tape.

Not one step in France is taken without first seeking approval from the appropriate committee, paying a few fees, and standing in a long line of très chic but also très surly Frenchmen.

Before even a new word can be formally admitted into the French language, the French language Academy (L’Academie Francaise) must convene and deliberate. Years after its innovation and cultural integration, hashtag has thus become le mot-dièse, although few French youths would recognize any other word than le hashtag (#truestory).

On a grander scale, the French are committed to their bureaucratic ways not just because the word comes from old French, but also because it is ingrained in their national vision.

“There is a difference between the French vision of liberté (as in their revolutionary égalité and fraternité) and our freedom,” explains A. A. Gill in his scathing op-ed in Vanity Fair.

“It’s the liberty to be, and the freedom to do. Freedom you are born with—it comes from the bottom up—but you are given your liberty. It is handed from the top down. So the French system, with its huge state—its committees, academies, and conventions of wise men—is prescriptive for your own good, to protect all the things it deems most important.”

Gill for Vanity Fair doesn’t see much of a solution in the way of changing French attitudes.

“Culture doesn’t arise out of nothing,” Gill writes.

“It is the symptom, the consequence, of all national life. The French political system—and the fatly satisfied ruling class—has stifled and penalized every sort of innovation. Employing anyone is an agony, unemploying them a trauma. The state taxes and flings out streamers of red tape, and a political orthodoxy has driven the wealth and opportunity creators abroad.”

The moral of this story? French entrepreneurs are not in France. They’re in London, New York, or Berlin. Again, the word entrepreneur may originate from France, but its future activities lay abroad. French government has lamented this fact but remains obstinately opposed to changing its business policies to attract start-ups. When it comes to great new talent, culture plays a large role in attracting it.

Culture. It’s crucial to nations and to companies.

It’s something that is created by an environment and people that motivates them to be productive and professionally satisfied. And there are detrimental effects when a culture turns negative.

Leadership. It’s a lifeline. France’s President Hollande knows better than anybody what happens when trust in your leader is lost (after news broke he was having a extra-marital affair, his approval ratings hit rock bottom). A bad reputation overshadows any other important domestic changes you might be trying to make.

Bureaucracy. It’s a double-edged sword. Of course productivity relies on a strict set of systems: hierarchy that inspires professional promotion, incentives, and proper training and oversight create an efficient workplace.

But, when that bureaucracy is what is holding you back, preventing innovation, and stalling growth, it’s time to reevaluate your systems.

Law firms have strong cultures, partnerships, tradition, and bureaucracies. Tradition and history is a source of pride for firms not unlike France’s proud society. Yet, there is something to be said for calling into question the old boy’s club, for giving opportunities to young associates, abandoning outdated internal policies, and adopting new ways of thinking about hiring employees or fees for clients.

As management partners, don’t destroy your firm’s panache. Look into ways your can modernize your business development today, #beforeitstoolate.

Want to find out how to gain that savoir-faire? Take The Center for Competitive Management’s audio course, “Increasing Revenue Per Lawyer: Creating a Healthy Culture of Business Development.

This webinar will present best practices used by today’s most profitable firms for creating a vibrant culture of business development, including:

  • Steps to build client loyalty, manage expectations and generate client referrals
  • Identifying and maximize cross-selling opportunities
  • How to match your marketing strategy to seniority level
  • Making business development a sustainable, ongoing part of your culture

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Legal Secretaries Of The Past & Present: Do Lawyers Need A New Support Staff System?

How did eighteen and a half minutes of tape vital for the Watergate investigation get erased? Just ask Nixon’s longtime and very loyal secretary Rosemary Woods. She demonstrated in court exactly how she “accidentally” erased evidence that could have changed American history in the early 1970s.

Think that’s bad? Secretary to Oliver “Ollie” North, a National Security Council aide, admitted in trial that she helped shred important documents during the Arthur Andersen-Enron debacle. Fawn Hall thus played a key role in exposing the arms-for-hostage deal that occurred during the Iran-Contra affair.

Single mom Erin Brockovich became famous for having Julia Roberts play her in a movie about her life—overshadowing, perhaps, her true claim to fame as being the legal secretary who exposed an industrial polluter.

Gone is the day when there was a traditional “legal secretary.” Just short of becoming another Brockovich, legal secretaries do not fit the one-size-fits-all model.

Legal powerhouses WilmerHale, Bingham McCutchen, and Arnold & Porter are among many established firms that are changing the way legal secretaries provide and channel administrative support to attorneys. Many top firms have completely revamped the work, the roles, and the ratios of legal secretaries by:

  • Redefining administrative positions,
  • Standardizing the work,
  • Enhancing teamwork, and
  • Applying creative new administrative models to expand coverage ratios.

Changing the way administrative assistants are assigned and utilized starts with a real-life assessment of what lawyers do and don’t need from their assistants.

But how can you analyze attorney needs and revamp its administrative approach for max savings (without sacrificing quality)?

First, analyze your needs. Ask your lawyers, from junior associates and senior partners, how they are using your support staff services, and what needs are not being met. Make sure to write down which of these needs are billable and which are not.

Then, ask your support staff how they think their services are being used. Do they think lawyers ask too much? Too little? Your support staff is best equipped with knowing what services they are able to provide, and what training or tools are needed to go further.

Next, determine what kind of model is needed for your firm. For example, your firm can match the skill set of secretaries to individual needs or it can assign single secretaries to particular types of work—transcription, case matter organization, answering the phones.

What hours of the day are busiest?

Do your legal secretaries prefer flexible or part-time schedules? Do their preferences conform to your lawyers’ needs? Is there middle ground?

Finally, write down your firm’s measures of productivity and achievement. Then, design a training program for your support staff that sets them up for success.

This year, make sure your legal secretaries are famous, not infamous.

For more concrete tips and tricks, attend the Center for Competitive Management (C4CM)’s webinar, “Legal Secretaries: Methods to Revamp, Regroup & Reassign Administrative Services for Max Profitability & Productivity” on Wednesday, October 22, 2014, from 2pm to 3:15pm EST.

Read more about “Some Real Secretaries Are As Famous As The Fictional Ones,” in Margo Harakas’s article for the Sun Sentinel here.

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Why Multitasking Associates Are Costing Your Firm Money & How To Stop It!

Did you stay up all night working? Were you busy answering emails on your phone while trying to tuck the kids in bed? If so, you may consider asking for a proofread on that brief you’re turning in this morning, or take a quick glance at the “sent mail” folder from last night.

It turns out that multitasking is as bad as, say, staying up all night or even smoking marijuana, on your cognitive ability. Research shows that multitasking both slows you down and lowers your IQ, reports Forbes.

According to a new study by Stanford social scientists, multitaskers—people who regularly switch between several streams of electronic information—do not pay attention, control their memory, or switch from one job to another as well as those who prefer to complete one task at a time.

“They’re suckers for irrelevancy,” said communication Professor Clifford Nass, one of the researchers whose findings are published in the Aug. 24 edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, to the Stanford Report.

“Everything distracts them.”

Wait a minute. I know what you’re thinking: But I have a special gift—I’m good at multitasking!

Wrong. Students who regularly multitasked performed worse on tests of attention, organization of thoughts, and memory–despite thinking they would do otherwise.

In one experiment, the test subjects were shown images of letters and numbers at the same time and instructed what to focus on. So, for example, when they were told to pay attention to numbers, participants had to determine if the digits were even or odd. When told to concentrate on letters, participants had to say whether they were vowels or consonants.

Multitaskers performed worse at this task than people who prefer focusing on a single task. Even the so-called light multitaskers performed better than the heavy multitaskers.

“When they’re in situations where there are multiple sources of information coming from the external world or emerging out of memory, they’re not able to filter out what’s not relevant to their current goal,” said Wagner, an associate professor of psychology, to the Stanford Report.

“That failure to filter means they’re slowed down by that irrelevant information.”

Ok fine. Maybe it’s true that multitasking is bad for productivity. Even still, you’re thinking: But I don’t have a choice!

The practice of law does not require multitasking. Yes, there are multiple tasks to complete. But, you’re not obligated to think of, or work on them all at once.

Multitasking is a state of mind. Multitasking is watching your child’s theatre performance while thinking about work. Multitasking is listening in on a conference call while simultaneously proofreading a legal brief.

Multitasking is composing an email on your phone while you’re listening to an associate update you on a case matter.

If you do these things, you’re severely sacrificing quality for quantity. And the negative effects of multitasking on cognitive ability and IQ have been shown in studies to last long-term. 

So, to prevent huge losses in productivity, eliminate multitasking. That means changing the way you work and the way you think. When you have to finish up writing a motion, then turn off your phone and close your email for an hour while you do so.

When you are on a conference call, really ruminate on what is being said—take notes to keep focused.

It sounds elementary and it is! The problem is most people don’t do it.

If you’re a law firm manager, lead by example. Create electronic-free zones in the office. When somebody stops by your office, turn off your devices and turn on your attention to their question.

Consider “e-mail free” hours of the day. For example, from 6pm to 7pm (let’s face it, you’ll still be in the office) when there’s limited (or no) response to email.

If you don’t, your multitasking associates will cost you and your clients money in poor-quality work product and slower deliverables.

Take back productivity at your firm by turning off its multitasking mindset.

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