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Ways Your Law Firm Is Wasting Money & How To Stop It!

It’s true. The crystal vase in every senior partner’s office is a waste of money. And, nobody ate the catered food provided for today’s client meeting.

But, forget about the little extravagancies. Think, instead, about the everyday behavior and continual misspending at your firm.

You might be surprised to discover your law firm is wasting money in the most unsuspecting of ways. Find out why the following five money gluts are bound to catch up to your bottom-line.

1. Overstaffing projects

When firms are concerned with revenue, they look to increase billable hours. So, managers assign multiple associates to a single project, which not only boosts billables, it also seemingly increases the benefits to clients.

But, more hands on deck may not lead to more dollars in the bank.

Overstaffing a project leads to inefficiencies. Instead of making progress on a case, attorneys are duplicating work and then spending more time to filter out the redundancies.

And, instead of seeking out new clients or business streams, law firm partners are wasting valuable hours figuring out who did what and when for their cases.

Overstaffing projects can actually reduce your firm’s efficiency and profitability. Clients may become dissatisfied with results, employees disgruntled over long hours, and the opportunity to explore other revenue streams will certainly be missed.

There’s no added value to redundancy.

Overstaffing projects with costly attorneys? Maybe you need to attend C4CM’s course: Utilizing Paralegals for Increased Profitability, Productivity and Efficiency.

2. Using paper

Ok, enough with the photocopies.

Law firm professionals are inundated with documentation, from internal memos to official filings. But, there’s no longer a need to print out every single document—and definitely no need to create binders of discovery.

If discovery was collected and sent to your firm electronically, discourage employees from printing it out.Not only does your firm run an added security risk should these binders of confidential information get lost or leaked, but going paperless makes more sense financially and environmentally.

Between laptop computers, smartphones, easy-to-view tablets, and cloud storage, there’s no excuse for turning digital age of legal documentation into the dark age.

3. Providing no training to employees

When employees are first hired by a firm, they need to be trained on a firm’s resources. Assistants, paralegals, and attorneys alike need training. There is no exception.

Showing employees where the MS Office templates are located, how to properly fill out a timesheet, and where to find the conference room is simple. Knowing that every employee is confortable with your legal software or specific computer packages, however, is not.

Don’t skip out on training. Your firm will pay for it later with lost productivity and poor time management. The last thing you need is a filing deadline missed by an attorney who has never seen an e-filing before.

Want your first training idea? Take C4CM’s course on Tuesday, February 4, 2014, at 2PM EST: Excel Pivot Tables: Shortcuts, Tricks, and Time-Saving Tips to Crunch Data More Efficiently.

4. Keeping the morale killer

You know that one person in the office who is always spreading gossip? Or that individual who always has a complaint on hand but never a positive thing to say?

Office morale declines when managers let it. Law firm managers are responsible for setting the right attitudes and incentives to keep employees motivated and productive. When there’s a person poisoning the atmosphere, it’s time to make a change.

Talk to that person. Come to a resolution. If necessary, create a morale-boosting event for your team. Whatever the problem, find a solution sooner rather than later. If you’re keeping the morale killer—unknowingly—you’re killing the productivity of others, too.

Get rid of incivility now with C4CM’s course Friday, January 31, 2014, at 2PM EST: Preventing Incivility at Work: Specific Strategies for Creating a Cooperative and Collaborative Workplace.

5. Catering to your weakest link

Law firm partners of a certain generation tend to be resistant to change. But, are you letting your weakest link dictate your firm’s direction?

Sometimes the weakest link in a work force is also the most outspoken one. As a result, policy for all tends to conform to the wishes of one.Let everybody in your firm have a voice.

Whether it’s to refine firm strategy or create new policies, make sure you’re not holding back your firm’s best interests (and revenue) to appease one obstinate partner.

Need CLE hours and interested in avoiding mistakes that cost companies millions? Attend C4CM’s course Friday, February 14, 2014, at 2PM EST: The Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA): Methods to Actively Reduce Risk and Avoid the Mistakes that Cost Companies Millions.

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Why Your Employees Plan To Quit in 2014 (& How To Stop Them!)

Roughly 21 percent of full-time employees plan to change jobs this year, reports Yahoo News about new research from CareerBuilder. Can your firm afford a one-quarter employee turnover?

Citing over dissatisfaction with their job, chances to be promoted, and work-life balance, this is the largest expected turnover since the recession, post 2008. Last year, just 17 percent of full-time employees planed to change jobs.

According to the CareerBuilder, among those who were unhappy with their job, 58 percent plan to leave in 2014, citing concerns over salary and feeling unvalued.

“Rosemary Haefner, vice president of human resources at CareerBuilder, said offering frequent recognition, merit bonuses, training programs and clearly defined career paths are important ways to show workers what they mean to the company,” writes Chad Brooks, a BusinessNewsDaily contributor.

In fact, of the 79 percent of employees who do not plan to leave their jobs in 2014, many cite work-life balance satisfaction—also a contributor to job unhappiness—as the source.

So if positive work-life balance leads employees to stay with their firm, and negative work-life balance motivates employees to leave it, isn’t it time your law firm reevaluate its policies and perks?

Many companies, including law firms, have accepted the advantages (and disadvantages) of offering Flex scheduling.

This may mean working one day per week, or every two weeks, remotely.

“I work a four-day week which is incredibly valuable, and I’ve been really encouraged to see that some of my male colleagues have switched to working flexibly so that they can meet the demands of a young family,” says Lauma Skruzmane about her city law job to The Telegraph.

“For me, this also underlines the fact that balancing work and family is not to be branded a ‘women’s’ issue, but it is a challenge that all parents, or other careers, face.”

But parents aren’t the only demographic looking for flexible hours.

Working from home can be a relief for anyone. Perhaps your law office is experiencing temporary negativity in its corporate culture. Maybe the office has become of hub for gossip or distraction.

Whatever the reason, traditional workspaces may not be the most productive environment for all your associates. Allow them to take advantage of new media and technology, which often means anybody can be digitally anywhere at any time.

A healthy work-life balance also means adequate exercise.

Sign your firm up with a local gym. Give your employees incentive to work out at lunch or after dinner. Exercise will help improve efficiency and productivity among your staff by relaxing the brain and increase endorphins in the body.

Finally, lead by example. Take coffee breaks. Make time for face-to-face visits with your employees. And, don’t miss your child’s first student bake-sale because you felt obligated to stay an extra hour at the office.

Let you employees take five every once in awhile or risk taking their two-weeks notice.

While for many companies’ increases remain conservative for the coming year, employers still need to keep their organizations competitive. The strategy going forward is to wring every last drop of positivity out of the raises for their people, and turn to alternate methods, like enhanced reward programs, to increase engagement, boost productivity, and improve overall work-life balance.

If you’re an HR or compensation professional, the salary information in this comprehensive webinar will provide you with the tools you need to prepare your budgets for 2014 and keep pay competitive.

Our compensation experts will also provide you with an in-depth look at 2013 compensation spending and anticipated 2014 compensation trends, projections, challenges, and alternatives, including:

  • Trends and statistics: Base pay data for a variety of industries, regions and employee groups
  • Competitive intelligence: Insight into how other companies make pay decisions and best practices
  • Future state: Outline of what companies are planning for 2014 and beyond

Take the course here today!

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Is E-mail Outdated? A Law Firm’s 2014 Guide To Best E-Mail (& Productivity) Practices

Remember study hall in school? Wouldn’t it be nice to have one hour every day in the workweek to devote to “homework”—that is, to complete all those deliverables and other documents you couldn’t quite finish between case status meetings and conference calls.

Reading and answering e-mail takes up approximately 28 percent of the average workweek for employees, reports a 2012 study by McKinsey & Company. Communicating and collaborating internally takes up 14 percent of the workweek, and searching and gathering information just 19 percent.

That means, the time that’s left for role-specific tasks—the tasks your employees were actually hired to perform, for which your employees were trained—take up only about a third (39 percent) of the average workweek.

So why does coordinating effort between employees and communication take up so much time and dry up so much productivity?

In many ways, e-mail has transformed menial labor into a performance-eating monster.

E-mail, once a more efficient way of communicating from your law firm in New York to its client in Shanghai, has now become the most abused way of communicating from your law office on Floor 1 to its counterparts on Floor 2.

What’s the solution for this time-sucking glut of a technology? Some experts are calling for a total elimination of the culprit.

Is e-mail over?

Recently in an article with Wired Magazine’s Marcus Wohlsen, Facebook co-founder Dustin Moskovitz admitted he had trouble keeping up with the 180 employees he oversaw.

“I would spend weeks collecting information about the state of the world,” explained Moskovitz.

“And by the end, it would be a couple weeks out of date.”

The world has come a long way in terms of digital communication—Twitter feeds, Facebook status updates, Instagram photo posts. Moskovitz left Facebook to establish a single application to combine project management with a communications system. He co-founded such a technology with Justin Rosenstein in their San Francisco start-up company Asana.

Although both Asana founders still use e-mail, “Rosenstein says that, with Asana, he needs just 15 minutes a day to get through the email that needs his attention. The rest of his time, he says, he can devote to real work,” writes Wohlsen in his article for Wired.

“All the email and meetings, all that work about work, all this soul-sucking effort, is not real work. It’s a distraction,” Rosenstein says.

“If we can get rid of that distraction so we can actually get some work done, that just totally opens the doors.”

It may be a couple of years before Asana’s product reaches law firm doors. And, who knows if a new communications platform will ever—in our lifetime—replace the golden standard of e-mail.

Nevertheless, it’s time to stop wasting billable hours on inefficient e-mail habits. Come up with a friendly and effective e-mail guidance policy. One with rules such as:

  • E-mail across U.S. states or national borders, not walls
  • Never use “reply-all”
  • Face time with firm partners goes farther than Facebooking
  • Monday mornings are a firm-wide e-mail blackout. Whatever needs to be said should be conducted in-person or on the phone

Perhaps it’s time law firms and businesses reinstate the school study hall. Choose an hour, an afternoon, or a day to black-out technology and write-in work. A meeting-less morning, a conference-call free afternoon, or e-mail-less day goes a long way in productivity for the firm and project deliverables for your clients.

E-mail is not dead yet, but innovative time-management ideas for your employees might be the next best thing.

Still got a lot on your plate? Read C4CM’s guide: Effective Time Management: Take Control, Tackle Work Flow Chaos and Overcome Productivity Challenges.

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Are Machines Replacing Man? How To Put Law Firm Professionals & Technology In Sync

This is no longer a question limited to science fiction novels or Hollywood films. Instead, real-life economists and statisticians are debating a larger-than-life issue: are machines replacing man in the labor market?

Stenographers in court cases have already butted head-to-head, so to speak, with their digital technology counterparts. New Jersey recently transitioned to high-tech digital recordings to track legal proceedings, replacing salaried stenographers.

Man vs. machine, is one becoming obsolete in law?

Apparently, according to a Bloomberg BusinessWeek article (online, of course), robots are getting all the good jobs.

“’What’s different now is the speed and scale of what’s happening,’ says Erik Brynjolfsson, director of the MIT Center for Digital Business. Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee, co-authors of the recently published book Race Against the Machine, argue that the economy is in the early stages of a ‘Great Restructuring’ that is hollowing out the labor market and exacerbating inequality,” reports David Lynch from his computer.

Instead of a human resources department, your law firm uses Google Analytics and LinkedIn.

Instead of a public relations department, you have first-year associate updating Twitter feeds and posting to the firm blog.

Instead of masses of associates filtering through discovery, you’ve outsourced doc review to India.

Instead of rooms full of documents and binders, lawyers talk about accessing servers and storing to the cloud.

Who or what really make up your law firm staff?

On the other hand, some aren’t buying into the debate.

James D. Hamilton of the University of California at San Diego reminds us that technology constantly ruffles—not replaces—the labor force.

For example, today, only 2 percent of Americans work on farms. However, in 1900, 41 percent of Americans toiled the Terre. This doesn’t mean 39 percent of ex-farms were forced into unemployment. Nope, they found new jobs.

“In 2005 the average U.S. worker could produce what would have required two people to do in 1970, what would have required four people in 1940, and would have required six people in 1910,” Hamilton writes in an e-mail correspondence with Lunch for BusinessWeek.

“The result of this technological progress was not higher unemployment but instead rising real wages. The evidence from the last two centuries is unambiguous—productivity gains lead to more wealth, not poverty.”

Nevertheless, this month’s issue of The Atlantic and Forbes magazine unearths this question once more. Should you use Big Data to hire, fire, or promote employees?

Grant Gordon for Forbes advises companies to take advantage of both works. Target undervalued or unemployed workers via technology, but the rely on human instinct and in-person interviews to finish the job.

Who or what most efficiently gets the job done? Unfortunately, there’s no easy answer. Only your managers can evaluate that. So, get together with your IT department and weigh the pros and cons of man vs. machine.

Certainly there will be advantages to both. But, the real value add is when man understands machine, and in tandem, these productivity gins lead to more wealth for your firm.

In the end, don’t blame technology for the recession. Embrace digital systems within the walls of your office, and you may soon find the ensuing growth of your firm leads to a need for more professionals—the ebb and flow of an industry lies in our continuing to advance with it, not against it.

Take, for example, these C4CM analytics of alternative billing trends. According to the 2010 Alternative Billing Benchmarking Study, more than 87 percent of practitioners have some sort of alternative billing arrangement available to clients. Find out what billing arrangements you can offer clients in this training resource here.

-WB

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Should You Go Long? Super Bowl Preparations & Superior Law Firm Performance

This season’s Super Bowl has already proved controversial.

The Super Bowl Committee is already warning fans that tailgating will not be tolerated at the New Jersey MetLife stadium in February. And, this will be the first Super Bowl in an outdoor stadium in cold weather in several decades.

Of course, snow is predicted.

But, as much as you prepare (or don’t prepare) for events like the Super Bowl, there are always unanticipated outcomes.

Take, for example, Super Bowl XLV held in Dallas, Texas. Jerry Jones, owner of the Dallas Cowboys, had almost four years to prepare, during which time he built a $1.2 billion stadium, complete with a closed roof.

Despite unexpected amounts of snow and sleet, transportation issues, and general chaos, the Packers and Steelers game went off without a hitch. Well, almost.

The Packers had fifteen players on the injured reserve list at game start and two more out by halftime. Nevertheless, with the leadership of Super Bowl MVP Aaron Rodgers, the Packers won.

Even more surprising than the events leading up to the Super Bowl is perhaps the events leading up to Aaron Rodgers’ position. Rodgers was attending Butte Community College when he had a lucky break—a Cal recruiter spotted him while recruiting one of Rodgers’ teammates. Rodgers was twenty-fourth in the 2005 draft, and sat for three years as Green Bay’s back up to Brett Favre.

By all numerical accounts, Rodgers should not have been a champion. But, as Rodgers modestly said on the David Letterman Show, “The things you can’t measure give people the most success.”

Law firm managers—like MVPs and sports stars—can’t always rely on rankings and outcomes. In fact, many times intuition about a person’s performance, potential, or aptitude is as important as checking the stats.

In hiring, promotions to leadership positions, or football draft picks, there are multiple factors and features that add up to success that are—literally—impossible to add up.

“The idea of measurement may seem obvious as a point of view, but in the innovation world there is a complication waiting to trip the unwary.  That complication is the need to focus on measuring features of the innovation ecosystem, rather than outputs of the innovation ecosystem,” explains Henry Doss, venture capitalist and contributor to Forbes.

“And the science of measuring features—things such as normative trust, win-win value systems, diversity of point of view, and so on—is not as fully developed as our ability to measure output.”

Basically, we trust numbers more than normative ideas, like reputation or reliability.

Why? When you think about it, who is more valuable to your law firm—the 4.0-GPA recent law school grad with book smarts or the mid-to-average law school grad who can think on his feet and hold his own in front of a judge?

In terms of motivation, would your employees become more productive with a monetary incentive or a simple “thank-you” note? Many studies believe that the latter proves more powerful.

Doss would ask law firm managers to answer the following three questions about the incentive system at your firm:

  1. To what extent does the incentive system create trust?
  2. To what extent does the incentive system create collaboration?
  3. To what extent does the incentive system create a “win-win” culture?

It’s time your law firm prioritizes and reinforces some its valuable, but non-measurable assets: a strong corporate culture or identity, loyalty of clients, or trust among its employees.

Although it is important to embrace non-measurable values like trust, reputation, or respect, Doss warns, “Never let the absence of measurement be an excuse to rely solely on judgment.”

So, seek to inspire, innovate, and incentivize normative values at your firm. But, in the long-term, also track your productivity, clients, IT systems, and revenue in numbers.

In American football, like law, the risks you take are both calculated… and not.

-WB

 

Teamwork on and off the football field is also about delegation. Give your law firm professionals C4CM’s guide “Effective Delegation: Strategies to Improve Performance and Productivity” to learn more. Available here.

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Alternatives To “Big Law” For Recent Grads & “Out Of The Box” Law Firm Strategies

The good news is, this week Forbes reports, citing the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, that the U.S. Economy added 203,000 jobs in November, bringing unemployment down to a shockingly low 7 percent.

In addition to a lower unemployment rate, this week, the labor force participation rate was stronger, up to 63 percent from 62.8 percent last month, reports the same statistics.

So, in sum, the government is back in business and—better yet—reporting optimistic numbers for our employment outlook.

What’s the bad news?

The bad news is, employment for lawyers is still low. It has been difficult for the legal industry to efficiently match demand for low-cost legal services with the overabundant supply of highly educated (and thus enormously-expensive) legal professionals.

Law firms are still struggling to find the right combination of partners and associates.

And, the new generation of graduates is unlikely to see a return of the old BigLaw system offering stable, well-paying jobs. Of the 2012 law school graduates in private practice, just under half—43 percent—landed jobs at firms with between two and 10 layers, according to the National Association for Law Placement, as reported by the Wall Street Journal.

“Looking for other ways to practice law successfully is something people ought to be focusing on more,” said New York City Bar President, Carey R. Dunne, a former prosecutor and partner at law firm Davis Polk & Wardwell LLP, to the WSJ.

According to Mr. Dunne, the pool of well-paid jobs at big law firms is shrinking as clients push back on price and lower-cost alternatives, like outsourcing to foreign or in-house counsel.

Luckily, new programs are cropping up to solve this crisis.

The New York Bar Association is trying out a variety of alternatives to law firm placement for recent grads, such as placing novice lawyers in apprenticeships with big banks or other employers. They are also starting a new law firm that will test whether young attorneys can make a decent living while helping Americans who can’t doll out market rate.

Brooklyn Law School, in another attempt to match legal supply with demand, is launching a program that will place students in government and nonprofit organizations, which then hire them for at least one year after graduation, reports the WSJ.

Finally, Cisco Systems Inc. is planning to team up with the University of Colorado Law School on a program where students will be paid to work full time in the company’s legal department for around seven months, take classes to make up missed course work, and then receive a semester in free tuition.

“My goal is to develop a significant number of companies and law firms that are willing to take two or three students per year and do this, and create a really robust national program,” said Cisco’s general counsel, Mark Chandler, to the WSJ.

“I’m hoping that this is just one idea of many that will blossom.”

And, with the right education or private partnerships, your law firm can also create innovative training programs for their young associates.

It take a lot of effort to step outside that box, but—once you’re there—a world of opportunity (and efficiency) awaits.

-WB 

Still need some creative inspiration? Read C4CM’s guide on Creating The Flexible Workplace.

You’ll find tips and tricks on how to:

  • Lower costs associated with employee absenteeism
  • Improved staff retention and recruitment efforts
  • Maximized employee productivity and performance
  • Improved quality and effectiveness of employee  work and personal lives
  • Decreased health care utilization costs
  • Reduced organizational facilities’ costs
  • Enhanced reputation as an employer of choice

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Five Ways To Be Your Firm’s Next Rising Star

A hot new article on Forbes today is “Five Ways To Be Amazing At Work,” by Steve Siebold, a corporate consultant and author of 177 Mental Toughness Secrets of The World Class.

It’s hard to resist a title like that!

First, we’re told to be obsessed with productivity. Well, on a Friday, it’s easy to be obsessed with productivity. Every wasted minute at work is one less for leisure during the weekend.

But, what can we do specifically at law firms to improve productivity? Set the mood. Shut the door. Play calming music. Set a timer and work in 15-minute increments to keep totally focused.

Productivity is often about time management. Allocate a certain amount of time to a task and then disconnect. Unplug the phone and put “do not disturb” on your office door. The fewer interruptions the better the creative flow.

The second step to being amazing at work is to solve problems says Siehold.

This is an easy one. At work, keep a running tally of problems at the firm and within case matters. Create a two-column page with one side “problems” and the other “solutions.” It’s amazing how such a short exercise can go a long way in solving problems with law firm management practices or with cases in particular.

Third, take risks. For law firms, this isn’t necessarily the best advice. Of course, risk taking can pay off. But, it can also backfire. Luckily, there’s a simple adjective that can solve this problem. Take calculated risks.

And, take calculated risks on people. Give young associates a chance to shine.

“The great ones never play it safe when it comes to leading their teams through change, knowing their job is to serve as a guide and coach,” writes Siehold.

Fourth, have a strong work ethic.

For lawyers, it’s important to have a strong ethic in general. Don’t forget the right and wrong of cases you’re trying to win. Dedication to your work and believing in its ethic will go a long way to increasing your passion and productivity.

Finally, find a coach. For law firms, a coach should be a mentor, whether it’s a senior associate or law firm partner. Mentorship is an important part of the law.

“If a person works hard and gets a pay check he has a job. But if a person works hard, gets a pay check, and learns a new skill, she has a career,” writes Joseph Folkman for the HBR Blog in the article, “Are You Creating Disgruntled Employees?

In any business, it pays to let people make mistakes. And, if you establish a mentorship program, it’s likely your firm will gradually see less and less of them.

With proper training, your employees can learn to communicate and cope–with confidence–during moments of both success and failure. Not to mention that, in the future, your firm will gain good leaders and good lawyers.

For more ideas about how to increase productivity at your firm, read C4CM’s 69-page guide Creating a Flexible Workplace,” a powerful how-to resource on developing a workforce flexibility initiative that not only helps your employees manage their work and personal responsibilities effectively, but also boosts productivity and your company’s performance.

Some of its guidance includes how to:

  • Lower costs associated with employee absenteeism
  • Improve staff retention and recruitment efforts
  • Maximize employee productivity and performance
  • Improve quality and effectiveness of employee work and personal lives
  • Decrease health care utilization costs
  • Reduce organizational facilities’ costs
  • Enhance reputation as an employer of choice

-WB

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How Much Is A Law Firm Associate Worth? Here’s One Calculation.

If you like quick and dirty calculations, you’ll enjoy reading Samuel Blatchford’s back-of-the-envelope breakdown of the cost (and benefit) of associates to law firms (read his blog Ramblings on Appeal).

Billing a conservative 2,000 hours annually, associates bring as much as $640,000 in revenue for the firm per year, while costing a mere $340,000 in compensation, capital, and training, according to Blatchford.

Blatchford concludes in his Law Firm Economics that, “On this model, a partner in a leveraged firm (i.e., four associates per partner), could make $1.2 million in a year without billing an hour.”

Does this mark-up seem reasonable? Fair? Depending on your perspective, somebody might be getting the short end of the gavel.

Blatchford uses the Cravath Scale to first calculate average base salary and bonus for associates at first to sixth year levels.

Then, he makes a few necessary assumptions, like estimating the total expenses of an associate in real estate, technology, staff compensation, marketing, recruiting and training, charity, bar dues, retreats, and library expenses.

Finally, Blatchford uses the low-end of attorney’s fees ($400/hour) with an 80 percent realization rate for first-year associates.

So, by the end, we arrive at a surplus of $300,000 per year per associate for the firm.

If this is not the case for you firm, managers must be certainly wondering—where is all this surplus leaking to?

If your firm is not seeing enough value added by its attorneys, are your fixed costs or expenses too high? Are your billables too low?

It’s time for your firm’s own back-of-of-the-envelope calculations.

If your firm is not raking in the cash, maybe it’s because your clients are unaware of the true value of young associates.

In a recent survey for the WSJ by the Association of Corporate Counsel, a bar association for in-house lawyers, more than 20 percent of 366 in-house legal departments polled refused to pay for the work of first- or second-year attorneys, in at least some matters.

This survey demonstrates a rising trend where clients and the heads of law firms no longer want to pay high hourly fees to newly employed law school graduates.

It’s time both sides—clients and law firm managers—learn to invest in first and second year associates because they’re worth it.

If your clients are still concerned, consider posting more complete bios of your attorneys online. That way, their expertise and pedigree is clearly visible.

Also, before every new case, communicate to your clients exactly who will be working on the matter—and why. Even young associates have their advantage (knowledge of a new technology, new legal procedure, or even modern language).

Meanwhile, if your firm is, in fact, earning such a surplus, it’s possible you’re underpaying your associates. At least, that’s what Blatchford would have you believe. How about you?

-WB

Still having trouble assigning fair associate compensation?

Take C4CM’s course “Rethinking Associate Compensation: What’s Killing Lockstep?”

What do firms like Orrick, Flaster Greenberg, Fenwick & West, and Hastings know about making associates happy, committed and profitable? Turns out it’s quite a lot. In fact, these and many other firms responded to the recession by ditching traditional lockstep compensation in favor of a compensation system based in whole or part on associate performance.

So far it seems to be working. How are these firms using merit/performance based compensation to retain associates? Especially in a period when so many associates are being lost to in-house counsel positions with clients?

During this comprehensive audio conference, you will discover how many firms are making merit-based associate compensation work, along with the good, bad, and ugly lessons learned when making the transition.

Other practice management and associate compensation training materials available here.

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Do Workplace Dating Policies Reduce Risk? An Unorthodox Solution By Philosopher Blaise Pascal.

When Blaise Pascal was just a teenager in seventeenth century France, he invented the first mechanical calculator.

Son of a tax collector in Rouen, perhaps Pascal’s interest in numbers and organization is not that unusual.

But Pascal applied his talent in mathematics in a variety of surprising ways.

At age 16, Pascal had already written a treatise on projective geometry and worked with Pierre de Fermat to develop theories in probability theory. Pascal was also an accomplished physicist.

However, Pascal is most likely remembered for his thoughts (Pensées) as a philosopher and mystic.

This month, albeit roughly 360 years earlier, Pascal had a mystical experience. He wrote down the date and from that point forward, always kept it on his person. The date, November 23, 1654, was found sewn into the coat that he was wearing on his death, writes the Guttenberg Project.

This conversion profoundly influenced Pascal’s future research. And, still with logic and statistics in mind, Pascal started to argue the existence of God.

The argument, called Pascal’s Wager, posits that humans all bet with their lives either that God exists or does not exist—imagine a statistical theory and its counterfactual.

Whether God does or does not exist—and assuming the infinite gain (heaven and reward) associated with the belief in God or infinite loss (hell and damnation) with the disbelief—Pascal claims a rational person should always live as though God exists. In the end, if God does not exist, such a person will risk minimal finite losses (certain pleasures, luxuries, etc.) whereas in the counterfactual case, such a person risks infinite perdition.

So, why are we discussing Pascal’s Wager? Well, lawyers, the same logic can be applied to the question: Do workplace dating policies reduce risk?

Office romances are highly pervasive.

“According to CareerBuilder’s 2012 annual office romance survey, 38 percent of respondents have dated a co-worker at least once in their career, and one-third of them ended up married,” writes a Workforce article.

Unfortunately, these office romances can lead to sexual harassment suits, claims of nepotism, and other liabilities for your firm.

Take a lesson from Above The Law reader whose windshield was smashed in by a colleague he dated (and whose chances of employment after his legal internship are now dubious at best). Define your workplace dating expectations and follow them yourself.

Whether it’s a zero-tolerance fire-able offence policy; a “love contract” where employees sign statements admitting an office relationship is consensual; or confidential disclosure where employees alert firm HR representatives of potential complications, define a policy. Circulate it. Enforce it.

Law firm professionals know best that there are always ways to shirk contractual obligations, terms of agreement, or policy requirements. But, implementing such policies is better than nothing at all and often works as a deterrent to litigation.

Think about Pascal’s Wager. If workplace dating policies don’t reduce legal liability risk, you’ve spent a minimal amount of time and effort implementing one.

However, if the liability does exist and policies deter or reduce this risk, then hammering out dating policies can substantially lower the costs of litigation.

-WB

Gossip about office romances? Learn how to cub this toxic talk with C4CM’s guide Effective Management of Workplace Gossip.

Need help drafting workplace policies? Bonus material includs sample social media politic and case studies.

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How To Leave Early On Friday & Still Take Care Of That Needy Client!

Whether you’re practicing in large corporate firm or small mom-and-pop shop, as an attorney, you’ll keep facing the same issue: lengthy client consultation.

It may be in-person or over the phone, but lengthy client conversations happen, and they cost your firm money. Unfortunately, you can’t always bill these consultations as a client call.

In fact, keeping up with the issues your clients face is part of the job. It’s important to address client concerns, lay out case timetables, and explain the legal process. However, clients often can’t tell the difference between a legal issue and one, well, for a different type of professional—the psychiatrist.

“Clients want to talk about things that have nothing to do with the legal work I have to do. They ask the same questions that you can’t answer: ‘When will this be over?’ or, ‘Do you think (this) will happen?’ You’re tired of telling the client, ‘I don’t know, but just be patient.’ The client calls and says he “read” this, or “heard” this,’ or worse, ‘My friend had a case like this and…’” recalls Brian Tannebaum in his Above The Law article, “Strengthening the Attorney/Client Relationship.”

The problem is, law is personal.

For the small-business owner faced with the risk of losing his legacy, successfully passing on a business to his children that he built for decades from the ground up is no small issue at all. The woman filing for divorce or fighting for custody of children is understandably emotional. Imprisonment or freedom is, for many, a choice between life or death.

Everyday occurrences for attorneys are special occasions—and mostly stressful ones—for clients. Nevertheless, attorneys can’t play therapist to every needy client.

So how can you avoid unnecessarily long client consultations? Try empowering your assistant.

Train your assistant to handle those difficult client calls. For example, a legal assistant should understand the legal process and be aware of specific case updates or news to answer most client questions. He or she can certainly learn to disarm angry clients or soothe anxious ones.

Make sure it doesn’t seem like you are dismissing your clients. For example, don’t use phrases like “let me hand you to my assistant.” Instead, say things like “Mary handles your invoices,” or “John is really the person you should speak to…”

Get in the habit of handing off certain business or client calls to your assistant, that way your clients are comfortable hear his or her voice.

More than that, make sure your clients are aware of your assistant’s extensive expertise. Assistants come in all shapes and sizes. Because of the technical and complicated nature of law, legal assistants stand apart in specialization and certification.

Not to mention the billable hour of your assistant is less cumbersome than senior partner time.

When you have particularly needy clients, don’t shirk their calls. Due diligence involves, sometimes, a bit of handholding. Give your assistant a quick brief about the specific needs of your client, and have them handle status update phone calls or emails. Your assistant should always keep a tone of confidence and authority.

The idea is to empower your assistant, not enfeeble your clients.

Assistants shouldn’t, obviously, handle all communication. But, to keep up with the demands of your practice, there’s nothing wrong with managing the time of your clients and your staff more efficiently.

With this in mind, make sure you hire an experienced and knowledgeable legal assistant. With so many lawyers and legal professionals out of work, there’s labor-lost when it comes to hiring the right man or woman for the job. Consider looking for a person with a psychology background, as that’s the role they frequently play.

Start by writing a job description for the ideal candidate. Then, include adequate training that should include, for example, client interaction guidelines.

Boost the attorney-client relationship at your firm by not actually handling the relationship, yourself.

-WB

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