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Does Your Office Feel Like A War-zone? How To Successfully End Inter-Office Conflict

Nobody likes inter-office conflict—whether it’s disagreement between two employees or disagreement with a manager. Without resolving conflicts quickly, however, they can fester. Before you know it, the office feels like a war-zone and you’re looking for a cease-fire.

There are three major types of inter-office conflict, according to Ben Rabon in an article for weLEAD online magazine: (1) disputes over task responsibility; (2) disputes over how something should be done; and (3) disputes related to personality and work styles.

Because conflicts can lead to lower productivity, firms should work quickly to resolve disputes.

Your firm should have informal preferences and formal policies regarding employee reporting of workplace disputes.

First, it may sound counter-intuitive, but communicate your preferences, as a manager, for internal conflict management. For example, if two of your employees are in disagreement over task responsibility or how a task should be done, tell all of your employees that you prefer they work it out amongst themselves first.

In the event these two employees cannot reach an agreement, invite them to send you a joint e-mail, for example, explaining the situation. By expressing your preference for a joint e-mail, you are tacitly discouraging your employees from writing you numerous e-mails regarding the same topic or complaining about their peer.

In addition, by writing a joint e-mail, you are also encouraging these two employees to collaborate and cooperate—if only on a two-line memo—which is, after all, the root of their initial problem.

If this process breaks down, and these two employees are at such odds in terms of personality or working style that they cannot craft a simple e-mail, then it may be time for formal intervention. This is where formal policies regarding employee disagreement should be circulated.

These policies are generally straightforward in terms of written notice, formal meeting with a manager, and a note placed in personnel files. At this point you may need to make use of some conflict resolution skills. Rabon suggests the following five mediation steps:

  1. Air all viewpoints from both sides
  2. Clarify the problem and the interests involved
  3. Brainstorm solutions with both parties
  4. Help both sides reach agreements
  5. Be aware of your own bias and do not let it affect your ability to remain impartial

In many conflict resolution situations, the parties simply want to be heard. So, it’s important to be a good listener. Once all opinions are voiced, you are able—as a manager—to implement a solution and assign tasks how you see fit.

Don’t forget to explain your logic behind the decisionmaking.

Paradoxically, a recent study published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences suggests that showing people extreme versions of their own ideas that confirmed (not contradicted) their opinions on a divisive subject actually led them to reconsider their stance. Simply put, by showing somebody that you agree with their opinion, it may actually make them more receptive of opposite points of view.

In this study, led by Eran Halperin, a psychologist at the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya in Israel, researchers recruited over 150 Israelis and exposed half of them to video clips that related the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to viewpoints that the Israelis valued. Instead of trying to persuade the Israelis to change their opinion, they showed the study participants video clips consistent with their already established viewpoint.

“For example, the fact that they are the most moral society in the world is one of the most basic beliefs of Israeli society,” Halperin said to the Los Angeles Times. But, when researchers showed participants a video that claimed Israel should continue the conflict so that its citizens could continue to feel moral, people reacted angrily.

“You take people’s most basic beliefs and turn them into something that is absurd.”

The participants did not enjoy watching the clips, but, after numerous rounds of exposure over a period of months, participants’ attitudes on common political narratives, like the idea that Palestinians bear responsibility for continuing the conflict, softened considerably.

In the months leading up to the 2013 Israeli elections, participants reported almost a 30 percent increase in their willingness to reevaluate their position compared with participants in the control group. This shift persisted even a year after the study concluded, reports the L.A. Times.

In conflict, when you tell a person he or she is wrong, or try to convince them of your divergent point of view, you are often met with resistance. People become defensive when their ideas are questioned and can even become more extreme in their views of the same subject once challenged.

Although inter-office conflicts are far from being as divisive as Israeli-Palestinian politics, some of the same conflict resolution ideas may apply. When you disagree with one of your employees, try adopting their point of view first. See if you can’t get them to be more flexible on their own before you dictate your opposite personal agenda.

People just want to feel heard. And, most people are open to compromise. What they lack, however, is direction, management, and even a little compassion in this mediation process.

Interested in knowing more strategies to end inter-office conflict? Take The Center for Competitive Management (C4CM)’s course: Conflict, Criticism & Sensitive Subjects: How to Successfully Address Tough Topics at Work.

In this “how-to” webinar, you will learn specific strategies for:

  • Complaining to your boss (or about your boss)
  • Giving constructive feedback to colleagues
  • Bringing up those “sensitive” issues that people are afraid to mention
  • Why you need different “road maps” for bosses, coworkers, & employees
  • Seven questions you must answer to prepare for a difficult conversation
  • How to avoid surprises by “getting inside the head” of the other person

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Save It, Shred It, Delete It? Record Retention Practice Dos & Don’ts!

Well, this is embarrassing.

A Naples, Florida, property developer has apparently misplaced some important documents. So, they’re offering a $1 million reward to recover them.

What’s worth $1 million to developer Jack Antaramian? Accounting ledgers and books, including subcontractor bids,” related to the construction of his nearly 20-acre resort project in downtown Naples, reports Bloomberg Businessweek.

Ok…that does seem important!

A year ago when the company first discovered the missing documents, a reward was set at just $10,000.  Today, obviously, the need is much higher to recover them.

The project has come in over budget and took seven months longer than expected to complete, reports Bloomberg.

What’s worse, the matter has now been slowed down with lawsuits pending against the contractor, Manhattan Construction (then Kraft Construction Co.), by Antaramian’s family partnership since February 2010 for breach of contract. Antaramian wants to see where all the money has slipped away to since being advanced by a bank loan, which ended up foreclosing.

Yes, this is quite a mess. Without those financial documents, Antaramian can’t conduct the financial audit he’s looking for to close his lawsuit.

And, offering a reward for the information seems like, in addition to reactivating the lawsuit and suing his other partners in the project, according to Antaramian, “is the only remedy we can think of right now.”

The problem for Antaramian started when the files he wants to see for his financial audit weren’t transferred when his company moved offices in Naples. The contract with Manhattan Construction required them to keep records from subcontractors for three years after final payment, which they did not.

For law firms, the hazards of moving offices, identity theft, technological changes, and potential litigation all impact record-keeping in a big way. It’s easy to believe that law firms might suffer from a similar mishap by misplacing client records—in addition to their own books.

One of a law firm manager’s primary responsibilities is to maintain personnel records, for example. But what began as putting important files in a folder has developed into a complex web of compliance. And each year, compliance gets more and more difficult, as you add in electronic documents and other formats.

There are the modified FMLA rules, the updated ADA regulations, the FLSA, and the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, all of which have separate rigid requirements for retention. And the federal push for I-9 compliance means employers must have their immigration forms meticulously maintained.

Ask yourself, do you have a good document management system?

Have you established clear rules and regulations for which employees have access to which files, including a secure separation between I-9 forms or grievance complaints and an employee’s personnel file, for example?

Does your file management system have secure password protection or other security systems to ensure its confidentiality?

Do you have a back-up system in case something is lost?

Do you have a secondary back-up system in case both systems and back-ups are destroyed?

If you’ve answered “no” or are even uncertain about the answer for any of these questions, chances are your file management system is deficient and you risk major consequences to a compliance audit.

Numerous malpractice claims have been filed as a result of lost or misplaced documents. These mistakes could have been prevented with a properly organized file management system for both internal firm documents and client records.

The American Bar Association offers some basic guidance, such as a file organization checklist, to help avoid these conflicts here.

If your company’s personnel records were audited right this very minute, could they stand-up to a DOL probe, an EEOC investigation, or an ICE inspection?

If not, consider listening to The Center for Competitive Management (C4CM)’s detailed audio conference on Wednesday, July 23, 2913, from 2:00pm EST to 3:15PM EST called, “Save it, Shred it, Delete it? Employee Record Retention for HR.”

With your registration to this conference, you’ll also receive C4CM’s top-selling guide, Record Retention Compliance & Best Practices—a $249 value—free of charge.

That’s certainly better than having to pay $1 million in reward money to recover your records.

What’s the price of losing paperwork? Millions. The publicity shame is causes? Priceless.

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10 Behaviors By Summer Associates That Should Make Your Firm Think Twice Before Hiring

Congratulations, you’re a summer associate. With the right attitude and work ethic, you may become a salaried lawyer one day!

Condolences to law firm managers. You have to deal with a bunch of 20-something interns who haven’t a clue (but think they do).

There’s a time for forgive and forget and there’s a time for strict standards. When it comes to your summer associates, pay close attention. With so much competition these days, there’s nor reason your firm shouldn’t have the best that law schools have to offer. The following 10 behaviors by summer associates should make firm partners think twice about hiring:

1. Makes a bad first impression

Some people make bad first impressions. That’s understandable for a cocktail party or date, but not a professional event. If your summer associate can’t make eye contact, circulate the office and shake hands with everybody, or shows up to work in wrinkly or inappropriate attire, imagine the first impression they’ll leave on a judge or jury. The air of incompetence is not in-style this summer.

2. Avoids social events

Most summer interns are afraid of drinking too much and making idiots of themselves in front to firm partners, but that’s no excuse to eschew work events. If your summer associates can’t even attend events mostly designed to make them feel welcome, what are they going to do when you ask them to attend important after-hours events with potential clients, or professional galas that look well on the firm? Avoiding social events may be a sign your intern has no room in his or her priorities for the firm.

3. Is slow to answer your emails or calls

This is a no-brainer. You need associates who are serious, hardworking, creative, and—well—constantly available. That’s the nature of the law, it never sleeps, and your inters (for the first few years, naturally) shouldn’t either.

4. Doesn’t get along with other associates or summer interns

Yes, it is a cut-throat process, getting a job offer. But, it’s probably a bad sign if one summer associate doesn’t seem to get along with all the rest. Sure, the group may have disparate personalities or work styles, but so does the firm. You need a team player, not a lone-wolf in this business.

5. Name’s unknown to the partner

There’s flying under the radar and not getting noticed at all. If none of the partners ever know a summer associate’s name, it’s likely this person either (a) didn’t have any noticeable achievements or accolades from colleagues, or (b) doesn’t know how to network. Either way, it’s not the type of lawyer your firm needs in this do-or-die industry.

6. Doesn’t respect the support staff

Associates shouldn’t just be known by partners, they should be liked by support staff, too. A summer associate is lower on the food chain than support staff. They’ve not been hired, they’re here on trial, and they haven’t earned their place at the firm. Any associate who treats support staff like subordinates has no respect for the food chain—which sometimes means doing nitty-gritty and menial work and certainty not scapegoating support staff.

7. Makes too many mistakes on documents

There should be a learning curve in legal work, especially for summer associates. But, you should start to be concerned when an associate shows too many mistakes. Already, summer interns are given the lowliest jobs, which means it shouldn’t be too difficult to handle. And, mistakes are a sign that an inter was too afraid (or too arrogant) to ask questions of a colleague or classmate. Simple spelling mistakes reflect a carelessness (or lack of technical skills) that your firm just can’t afford. Another thing that’s costly? Constantly re-checking the work of one of your lawyers. You’ve got to have faith that your associates know the answer, know where to look for the answer, or know the right questions to ask to get it from somebody else.

8. Constantly appears frazzled

This is a difficult job. There are long hours. If your associate already feels overwhelmed after a summer, you should question their stamina for the “real world” of the law.

9. Says “no” too often

There is a time and a place to say “no” to work. But, your summer internship is not one of them. Saying “no” too often may be a signal that an associate has eyed another senior attorney or partner and plans on exclusively working for them, which means when hired, it will be more of the same. Or, saying “no” might signal poor organizational skills, where the associate is incapable of multitasking or managing his or her workload. Either way, take note of the person who says “no” too often.

10. Lacks social media or technical skills

Today there’s no excuse for poor PowerPoint skills or lack of Excel knowledge. Even law firms can’t get far without a website or social media presence. These are not skills left to the support staff. Rather, they represent the general willingness to progress and grow with the speed of new technology and a desire, on the part of an associate, to become more efficient and productive at what he or she does. You’d really have to go out of your way these days to lack such technical skills. And, as clients demand more innovative law firms, you can’t afford to hire one more traditionalist who favors to the yellow legal pad to an iPad.

As a manager you face unimaginable pressure to streamline costs, improve profitability, and do more work with fewer employees. In order to be successful in today’s harried corporate culture, you need to master the critical skills and competencies required for building and maintaining a productive and profitable workplace.

Take advantage of The Center for Competitive Management (C4CM)’s course on Friday, August 1, 2014, 11:00 EST to 12:15 EST, Smart Manager’s Guide to Building a Productive Workplace: 10 Proven Strategies to Boost Personal and Employee Productivity.

This interactive, practical and effective event, explores 10 proven tips to boost personal and employee productivity. During this information-packed session, you will learn how to:

  1. Build a workplace atmosphere that encourages cooperation, productivity,
  2. Better enable employees to do their work, without excessive oversight, and
  3. Remove common obstacles that prevent productivity.

Whether you’re a new manager, or have been in the trenches for years, this event will get you up to date on the latest productivity enhancement techniques for:

  1. Reaching quick and innovative decisions
  2. Reducing decision-making anxiety for you and your employees
  3. Holding timely meetings that remain true to a core purpose
  4. Making intelligent decisions by battling groupthink
  5. Brainstorming effectively

Plus, you’ll also learn which workplace productivity apps really work and how to get started using them today!

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Introducing Exhibit B… & Other Efficient Uses For The iPad At Law Firms

Imagine a world where a new client walks into your office. The receptionist welcomes him and hands over an iPad and tells your guest to press “Start”. There’s a short, automated video introducing your firm, its practice areas, and its partners. Afterward, a new client form appears, ready to fill out. Once your new client is done, your receptionist has an already digital copy of important information pertaining to this person’s case and business. And, the client can keep the iPad and browse your home page while he waits for the name partner to see him.

Streamlined, efficient, modern. The iPad is changing the way lawyers operate.

Patrick A. Wright, founding partner at The Wright Firm LLP in Lewisville and Dallas, is board certified in family law and is an active member of the ABA Law Practice Editorial Board. In an American Bar Association article, Wright said about his first use of the iPad in a court case:

“When I bought my first iPad, I decided that the best way to experiment and see if it was as versatile as it seemed to be was to use it in a high-profile case. The Cooke County case was an experiment. I intended to see if the court would allow me to play a few videos on the iPad through the VLC app while questioning a witness. With the iPad, I could quickly pause the video, replay an exact point and further emphasize what I wanted without the awkward television on a cart and a temperamental DVD player. I could control everything from the palm of my hand—if the court would allow it. The experiment worked. The court did allow me to use my iPad, and the videos and the iPad supplied the dramatic moment in a long custody trial that I ultimately won.”

Today, traditional PCs barely overtake sales of tablets. However, by 2015, predictions by Gartner Inc. believe that worldwide shipments of tablets will outnumber that of desk-based and notebook computers.

On the whole, worldwide combined shipments of devices, which include PCs, tablets, ultramobiles and mobile phones, are projected to reach 2.4 billion units by the end of 2014, a 4.2 percent increase from 2013, Gartner Inc. reported this week.

It’s not surprising that lawyers are making better use of slimmer, more portable technology.

Tablets are not just great to present courtroom exhibits, they also organize client files, allow regular contact with colleagues, courts, and clients, and facilitate the immediate access to records, codes and criminal procedures, or Fastcase when out of the office.

There are a myriad of apps designed specifically for law firm professions available for bothe the iPad, iPhone, and other mobile devices.

Tablets are also capable of running programs like PowerPoint of Apple’s Keynote app, even Excel spreadsheets.

If you’re worried about typing on the tablet’s touchscreen, most tablets now allow Bluetooth connection to wireless keyboards.

Finally, the iPad is low-profile and ultraportable, which means when you take notes during a meeting or courtroom appearance, you don’t have that distracted look on your face behind a giant laptop screen. It gives (at least) the illusion of concentration, with a 10 to 20-hour battery life.

In fact, iPads or other tablets are becoming such common place in the practice of law, clients are starting to expect it. Technology is a reflection of your firm’s willingness to get creative, be flexible, and innovative—key to surviving this cutthroat industry.

With the traditional PC market on the decline, it’s clear law firms need to get with the times by going mobile. Instead of using a laptop, consider using an iPad—going paperless is both practical and productive.

Update your firm home page to accommodate mobile devices. Create an internal app for employees and clients, and a public app to attract new business. Make sure your IT department is up-to-date on all social media.

The iPad may not have the old-school cache of a yellow legal pad, but where it remains deficient in tradition, it will likely exceed in expectations and outcomes for efficiency.

Of course, there are always liability issues when it comes to data-sharing and digital devices. Attend C4CM’s training course, “Smartphones and the Law: Avoiding Legal Liabilities in the Workplace” to ensure your policies and practices are air-tight.

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Is The Law At Odds With Women In The Workplace? How Women Can Become Better Bosses

Some days it’s hard to be a woman and appreciate the law.

Let’s take a recent incident in Iowa, for example.

For an entire decade a man enjoyed the hard work of his female subordinate. Ten years the two worked side-by-side in a dental office without incident. But, following a midlife crisis, failure in his own marriage, or some other unprovoked change of heart, the boss suddenly finds his assistant too attractive to be around. He promptly fires her.

“Dr. Knight said I couldn’t work in the office, because he was becoming attracted to me, and not able to focus on his family, and his family life… I instantly broke down in tears. All I remember is just sitting there, and not able to get up, telling him that I love my job,” explains Melissa Nelson in an interview with “20/20” correspondent Paula Faris, reports ABC News.

A lawsuit was filed on the grounds of wrongful termination due to gender.

Dr. James Knight, the dentist in question, doesn’t agree with Nelson’s claims. Although he doesn’t deny the sexual advances through text message or other incidents, his attorney told ABC News: “… she was not terminated because of her gender, but to preserve the best interest of his marriage.”

Sadly, the Iowa Supreme Court agreed with Knight. The most sympathy they could utter was that Nelson’s one month’s severance pay was “ungenerous” but his actions, legal.

This outcome is less surprising when we consider the justices, David, Daryl, Brent, Bruce, Edward, Thomas, and Chief Justice Mark. More than their verdict, there’s another commonality among these lawmakers—they’re all men.

See, it’s hard to keep track of the whims of men these days.

For every dollar men earn, women still earn just 77 cents. Nonetheless, the majority of Congress is unconcerned.

The Senate was six votes shy of passing the Paycheck Fairness Act this year. Why? Republicans argued that discrimination based on gender is already illegal, and feel their hands are tied to do anything more. If those laws worked for women like Nelson, then that would be true.

What’s sad is that these unjust cases of discrimination or sexual harassment are not new.

Bloomberg Businessweek admitted that an unpaid intern that is not legally considered an employee, and thus cannot sue for sexual harassment in the workplace:

“This discrepancy’s not new: Unpaid interns aren’t covered by Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, and while local laws can protect them, New York’s state and city laws do not.” In many states, it seems the law does not favor female subordinate employees. But, life’s even harder on female bosses.

Only 4.6 percent of public companies have female CEOs.

“The United States, once a world leader in gender equality, now lags behind other similarly wealthy nations in women’s economic participation. In the two decades from 1990 to 2010, our country fell from having the sixth-highest rate of female labor-force participation among 22 Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, or OECD, countries to 17th on the list,” writes Michelle Patterson, Founder and President of The California Women’s Conference and President and CEO of Women Network.

An astounding 46 percent of Russia’s leadership roles are held by women, 24 percent in Europe, and 31 percent in Turkey. These numbers are significantly higher than North America’s mere 18 percent, according to Career Bright’s article on the marginalization of professional women.

On a list of 200 companies with a workforce of over 1,000 employees, a survey by Glassdoor found only 2 companies with female bosses ranked high on employee approval of CEOs. Forbes, who reported on the survey, asks pertinently: “Do We Hate Female Bosses?

Well, do we?

Some blame confidence. Men are just more confident in leadership roles.

If that’s true, it’s not at all surprising why—given all the legal cards stacked against a women: Don’t look too attractive, don’t look too ugly, don’t be “bossy” or “bitchy” yet still command your subordinates with authority…

How could any woman balance such a heavy double standard?

If there’s one thing a woman in the workplace can do to be taken seriously, it’s speak up—more often and more assertively. Like this blog post. Like today at work.

Are you too nice, too modest or way too quiet when it comes to saying and getting what you want in the workplace? Do you assume the blame when things go wrong? And what about when things go right? Do you credit other people, good luck or circumstances for your success?

You’re not alone. In fact, a recent survey found that half of women managers admitted to feelings of self-doubt about their performance and career, but only 31 percent of men reported the same.

Condescending colleagues, gender bias, and stereotypes can make it hard for women to take credit when it’s due, or steer the company ship with confidence. But a woman’s actions, assertiveness and communication skills—or lack thereof—could also be sabotaging her career.

So, take The Center For Competitive Management’s audio course Friday, July 11, 2014 from 11AM to 12:15pm EST: The Smart Woman’s Guide to Confident, Assertive Leadership.

While it will likely take more time to convince lawmakers that effort and work ethic, not the sexual desires and whims of men, should take priority in the workplace, it doesn’t take much for a woman to ask for promotions, initiate salary negotiations, speak up at meetings, manage subordinates productively and successful manager, and master guiltless self-promotion with gusto.

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Twitter To Add “Buy Now” Button? How Your Firm Can Profit From Social Media

Screen shot 2014-07-03 at 11.57.53 AMTwitter may well become the Internet’s next online shopping platform.

For the first time, a “Buy now” button appeared on multiple tweets this month, all of which included products that link back to a shopping site called Fancy, reports Mashable.

The button only appears on Twitter’s mobile site, not its web version, and the company itself has yet to comment. But, allowing this sort of third-party link to shopping services isn’t at all that surprising.

“A law firm could develop landing pages for ‘simple legal services’ at flat fees and run ‘Buy Now’ ads on Twitter. The Twitter ad schema would enable ultra focused ads to reach locales and various demographic groups,” writes Kevin O’Keefe on a Real Lawyers Have Blogs post.

Sound farfetched? Not really. It’s already happening.

“I would never have dreamed lawyers would buy pre-written blog posts, sell a half hour of their time for $50 per hour on an a legal matching site, sell services via Groupon, or pay $90 per click through on Google Adwords,” admits O’Keefe.

But law firms do, and have.

Even if Twitter doesn’t rollout this new service, there are plenty of other reasons law firms should use social media.

Law firms, LexisNexis, and client management solution providers are just a few of the many legal services groups taking advantage of Twitter. LexisNexis does a great job at using Twitter to build relationships and enhance their visibility and reputation among customers.

LexisNexis has over 26 thousand followers on Twitter. And there’s no wonder why. Its posts are readable, interesting, and we’re all vying to be their next re-tweet.

Taking notes by hand (w/ pen & paper): A must for lawyers ‪http://bit.ly/1mWSKRY via ‪@lawyerist ‪@samglover

Blogger Kevin O’Keefe talks about the many positive takeaways from being re-tweeted by some of these bigger names in legal services:

  1. “I feel an enhanced relationship with the companies and their executives.
  2. I am more apt to speak positively about the companies and their work—when deserved.
  3. I begin to tweet things they blog or share on Twitter. I am more apt to reach out to the companies on ideas.
  4. I view these companies as more innovative and social. While most of the people in the legal profession, including law firms and companies serving the legal profession are slow to adapt to a real social presence, these companies are proving they understand the future of social.”

The last reason being no small thing.

Read more about how to use Twitter effectively as a law firm or legal services entity on O’Keefe’s Real Lawyers Have Blogs.

Twitter is just one social media tool of many. And even if you would never do the same, if you consider it nearly unbelievable, as many as 56 percent of consumers and 72 percent of minorities who searched for an attorney in the past year reported doing so via social media, according to a study conducted by The Research Intelligence Group.

In fact, over one-fifth of survey participants went so far as to consult the social media pages of the specific lawyers or firms that they were considering during this search for legal representation.

So whether or not shoppable tweets are on their way, there’s already more than one reason for law firms to use Twitter.

How can you maximize the potential of social media while ensuring the appropriate use of intellectual property and customer information? What can counsel do to proactively protect brands from infringement by social networking website users?

Listen to C4CM’s audio conference “Copyright and Trademark Enforcement in Social Media: Policing and Protecting Against Brand Infringement” and learn about the potential trademark, copyright, and privacy issues presented by the use of Twitter, Facebook, and Pinterest, and best practices for the protection of intellectual property and privacy on social media sites, including:

  • Copyright and Trademark Enforcement in Social Media
  • Social Media and Defamation, Patent, Copyright, Trademark and Trade Secret
  • Social Media and IP Policies You Need Today
  • Trademark Infringement Threats on Twitter, Facebook and Other Social Networking Websites
  • New Challenges Posed Both to Brand Owners and Users

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Should Law Firms Deliver Clients Good News Or Bad News First? Well, It Depends…

How do you tell a client that he’s lost his case, but there’s hope, at least, in appeal? How do you tell an employee you value their service, but the firm is downsizing?

The legal services business is rife with the good news/bad news scenario. So which do you present to people first?

Let’s start with the bad news. At least, that’s what most people would say.

In a paper published March 2014 in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, authors Angela Legg and Kate Sweeny studied whether or not participants would rather hear good news or bad news first. An overwhelming number of people (78%) preferred to receive negative feedback first, followed by positive feedback.

According to the study, participants believed that hearing good news last would help them end on a high note.

This is not entirely surprising as we’ve all been in the same position—wanting to jerk the Band-Aid off bad news quickly before reaching the healing, positive portion of the getting-news phase.

However, a second study, according to Psychology Today, turned around and asked the same participants to deliver good and bad news. It asked which order participants preferred to present it in, and the results are not what you might think.

Participants were split. Half wanted to deliver bad news first, assuming that’s what others wanted to hear, and half wanted to deliver good news first, believing it would be—selfishly—easier for them.

As a law firm manager, which matters most? Do you want to make bad news easier to hear or easier to deliver?

Well, it turns out, this all depends on what outcome you desire.

Let’s say you’re delivering a performance review to an associate. It may be that you want him or her to work on honing a specific skill or improving a certain behavior. In this case, it might be better to deliver bad news last.

Studies show that when negative feedback about a person’s personality is delivered last, people are more interested in changing their mood and behavior than if the same feedback is delivered first. Apparently once negative feedback is heard and followed by positive feedback, participants are less worried and committed to changing negative aspects of their personality.

On the other hand, let’s say you’re a law firm delivering good and bad news to a client. You likely want to retain their business, so leading with the bad news and ending your meeting with the good news might be the best way to go. Once clients hear the positive aspects of your firm’s performance and their legal prospects, they will have a heightened mood and perception of the situation.

Giving bad news last may sour a client’s opinion of your firm and leave them lingering on a low note.

In the end, it’s probably not a good idea to give people a choice: do you want to hear the bad news or good news first? Instead, decide what follow-up behavior you’re hoping to spur and decide on a sequence of news accordingly.

A law firm manager or partner’s position as the bearer of bad news is certainly not an envied one. But, with the proper ordering of feedback to clients and employees, perhaps society can learn to stop shooting the messenger.

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Why Your Maternity & Paternity Leave Policies Are A Hit & A Miss: Mets Fans Teach Law Firms About Priorities

This April, many Mets baseball fans were more up in arms about paternity leave than the opening day game. It turns out time off for fathers is as much as a hotbed issue for Americans as batting average and runs scored—which is saying a lot for the country’s number one patriotic sport.

In case you were watching the Mets get slaughtered by the Nationals that day, here’s what happened: Mets second baseman Daniel Murphy decided he would take his contractually guaranteed three days of paternity leave to spend time with his wife, Victoria, and newborn baby, born from cesarean section. This meant Murphy missed the season opener and one other game, spurring insensitive comments from two sports radio hosts, Mike Francesa and Boomer Esiason.

Among the worst offenders, Esiason said (via Slate), “Quite frankly, I would’ve said, ‘C-section before the season starts. I need to be at opening day.”

Esiason would go on to apologize to the many listeners appalled at his lack of taste or common sense (a healthy baby trumps a coach’s first-choice lineup). But, it reminded Americans of the sad fact that dads, by law, are just not prioritized in parenthood.

Outside Father’s Day and the FMLA, dads just can’t catch a break.

This week, Obama spoke out in favor of paid leave for parents. He cited the fact that the United States is the only nation in the industrialized world without paid maternity leave—something Obama is eager to change.

On Monday, at the White House Summit on Working Families, Obama said, “There is only one developed country in the world that does not offer paid maternity leave, and that is us.”

“And that is not the list you want to be on, on your lonesome.”

Neither is the list for professional sports stars taking advantage of time off. Whereas the Mets’ Murphy was allowed through the Major League Baseball (MLB)’s collective bargaining agreement in 2011 to take up to three days of paternity league, no other professional sports organization allows the same privilege.

The NBA and the NFL have no such agreement, and players who deign to spend time with newborn sons and daughters are often chastised by fans and authorities (Former NFL player Brendon Ayanbadejo implied recently that he believes he was traded for taking 36 hours of paternity leave, reports Slate).

Nevertheless, although businesses may loathe paid leave, Americans as a unified culture and a workforce do not. And they seem willing to speak out against companies with bad policies. A backlash that forces men like Esiason, radio host, to formally apologize.

Even in the U.S., which rewards the super-macho all-American man, people prefer the stable atomic family to wealth or recreation. Forbes staff admit that alternative work schedules are a must for entrepreneurs and today’s businesses.

“Telecommuting is not the future, it is now,” writes Karsten Strauss for Forbes.

“Across the board, telecommuting increased over 80% since 2005. Over 3.3 million people in the U.S. do it (and that’s not including the self-employed).”

So how can your firm handle changes better than the MLB?

Well, according to SHRM’s FMLA survey, tracking and administering intermittent FMLA leave was identified as the most difficult activity by 80 percent of responding organizations. In fact, some of the most frequently voiced issues were about the administration and abuse of the FMLA, particularly with respect to intermittent leave.

FMLA itself is confusing and difficult to interpret, especially following the recent sweeping changes to the law. Even seasoned HR professionals have difficulty figuring out how to calculate intermittent leaves, how to decide when the 12-month calendar begins, and how to determine if the leave request is actually legitimate.

So, start by reading The Center For Competitive Management (C4CM)’s guide, Managing Intermittent FMLA Leave, a no-fluff, plain-English report that will guide you through this intricate law. Jammed packed with compliance guidelines, this comprehensive, 101 page guide provides easy-to-understand FMLA guidance. Available here.

Next, create a flexible workplace for your law firm professionals valuing (and needing) time with their families.

Learn about the myriad benefits for the employee and employer, as well as strategies for implementation in C4CM’s training guide, Creating the Flexible Workplace. Available here.

Creating a flexible workplace that’s accommodating for moms and dads will lower costs associated with employee absenteeism and improve staff retention. It will decrease healthcare utilization costs and enhance your firm’s reputation as an employer of choice.

Don’t think twice, swing. It’s a homerun.

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Job References: Facts, Fiction & Fair Legal Practices

Why should employers do background checks? Should you outsource them or conduct them in-house? How far in a candidate’s past should you check? What’s legal, what’s not?

These are just some of many important questions law firm managers should ask before hiring new associates or employees. When you dig for dirt, it’s not just the EEOC you have to worry about. In fact, it’s essential that you also follow the rules put forth by the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA), Title VII, the ADA, and federal and state privacy laws.

And it’s not just employers that make mistakes. Employees should be weary of what references they list, as well.

It’s not your typical myth-busting episode, but background check experts Allison & Taylor Inc. talk about the seven deadly myths of job references in a recent article. Both employees and employers should be weary of confusing the following fiction with fact:

Myth No. 1: Companies are not allowed to say anything negative about a former employee.

According to Allison & Taylor Inc., approximately half of their clients receive a bad reference, despite strict policies in place.

For job candidates, it is important to realize that your chances can be seriously harmed by even one out of three of your references sabotaging your chances. Seriously consider your reference choices.

For employers, you have to take references with a grain of salt. What was this candidate’s previous position compared to the one being offered? How might the personality of this old manager influence his or her opinion about the candidate? Sometimes previous employers are simply bitter about losing a qualified employee—or one they spent time and money to train.

Make sure a bad reference really merits the maligning.

Myth No. 2: If I had any issues with my former boss, I can simply leave him or her off my reference list and nobody will ever know.

The reality is that background checks are incredibly thorough. A “social security check” will determine where a person has worked in the past, and include a number for the human resources department. You cannot be sure HR will omit the names of previous bosses.

Law firm managers should ask a candidate for reasons why they may have left off a place of employment. Not all omissions were made with malicious intent.

Myth No. 3: I sued my former company and they are now not allowed to say anything.

A law firm hiring an litigious employee? Now you’re treading on dangerous ground. Is it proof of an associate’s prowess and passion for legal practices or a liability? That’s for your firm to decide.

For the complete list of myths, click here.

In today’s world, where legal services demand is on the decline, law school graduates are likely to have non-traditional backgrounds. It’s for this reason that law firms may start to see non-standard backgrounds for associates during their reference checks.

Because of reduced on-campus recruitment, candidates may experience higher numbers of videoconference interviews and stronger importance placed on resumes and background checks.

Law firm managers should be sure they understand the most efficient way to cover their bases from afar, without risking compliance issues at home.

To learn more, take The Center For Competitive Management’s course, Background Checks: What’s Legal, What’s Not—a powerful resource you can use to ensure you hire the best candidate for the job and safeguard your organization against negligent hiring claims.

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Supreme Court Rules Against Patent Trolls (Again): What Does This Mean For Your Firm or Clients?

Patent Trolls beware. There’s a Supreme Court-backed knight crossing your bridge, wielding a powerful verdict.

On Thursday, in a unanimous decision in Alice Corp. vs. CLS Bank International, the Supreme Court ruled that ideas are not patentable just because they are performed on a computer. Although the ruling still leaves plenty of ambiguity in the patentability of software, it is one step closer in the recent anti-NPE movement.

Non-practicing entities, or NPEs, have been on the minds of high-tech business owners and the lawyers representing them for decades.

Today, however, the trial court invalidated Alice’s patents, stating they were just concepts, not patentable ideas.

“Viewed as a whole,” wrote Justice Thomas wrote (via New York Times), “petitioner’s method claims simply recite the concept of intermediated settlement as performed by a generic computer.”

“[The methods neither] improve the functioning of the computer [nor] effect an improvement in any other technology or technical field.”

In the recent past, the court was weary of hampering innovation by restricting patenting requirements. Long advocates for protecting intellectual property of both the individual and businesses, courts worry that reigning in patent trolls means restraining creativity and invention.

What do intellectual property experts think?

Dana Rao, Vice President, Intellectual Property and Litigation, Adobe, wrote to Forbes:

“The Supreme Court added another nail in the coffin of patent trolls with a decision that reinforces the common-sense belief that patents can’t be granted for abstract ideas that have been around forever. Importantly, they made a critical distinction between those abstract patents and valid software patents that improve a technological process,” said Rao.

“This ruling supports true innovators while helping rein in the abuse of the system by the patent trolls. We’re pleased to see the judiciary acting where Congress would not. But we still need Congress to act, as only they can meaningfully change the economic incentives that are driving the abuse of the patent litigation system.”

If that happens, patent litigators—like patent trolls—might also find themselves without a job.

According to Bruce Wexler, partner at Paul Hastings, who wrote to Daniel Fisher at Forbes, patent lawyers shouldn’t fret quite yet. In fact, maybe the Supreme Court’s ruling just made their job easier.

“Chief Judge Archer’s dissent in In re Alappat some 20 years ago is now the majority rule,” writes Wexler.

“The mere recitation of some structure ‎in a patent claim is not the dispositive test for patent eligibility. Patent law demands more. The invention must reside in the application of an idea. While this can raise grey areas, the argument cannot simply be about whether or not structure appears in a patent claim.”

If anything, the Supreme Court ruling is one more reason innovators should contact patent experts about what is, and is not, patentable. Law firm managers should keep their clients apprised of changes in patent law. Between the America Invents Act and recent rulings against NPEs, intellectual property practice areas will have their hands full.

If you haven’t done it already, consider alerting implicated clients of recent court decisions affecting their operations. A monthly newsletter to clients helps assure them you’re there and cross-sell your services.

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