Tag Archives: Efficiency

From Yellow Legal Pad to iPad—A Law Firm Evolution Explained

In 1888, Thomas W. Holley had an idea.

The 24-year-old worked at a paper mill in Holyoke, Massachusetts, and he discovered a way to make use of old scraps of paper discarded by the mill. Holley decided to bind the scraps into a notepad and sell them at a discounted rate.

In gathering scraps of paper to make his pads, Holley constructed a fairly successful refurbished paper business. And, in the 1900s, a local judge asked Holley to add a margin to the ruled pads so he could have some extra space to make comments on his own notes.

Thus, the legal pad was borne.

With 1.25-inch margin, yellow legal pads are now iconic in the legal industry. American Pad & Paper Company—Holley’s entrepreneurial firm—finally closed their factory in Holyoke, Mass., but the company and its legacy lives on in courthouses and law offices across America.

Lawyers have formed a psychological attachment to legal pads. Philip Moustakis, a mid-level associate at the New York firm of Curtis, Mallet-Prevost, Colt & Mosle, uses one legal pad per case. He prefers yellow over white pads and a faint, as opposed to a dark, rule, telling Legal Affairs Magazine, “The darker lines intrude upon my thinking—they’re yelling back at you.”

“You want a more subtle line.”

Nevertheless, technology is encroaching on more traditional industries, like the market for notepads. And, corporate social responsibility, especially concern for the environment, is taking hold in firms.

Iris Harris, the assistant director of purchasing at Mayer, Brown, Rowe & Maw, told Legal Affairs Magazine that her firm no longer leaves stacks of pads lying around on conference tables. Harris’ firm consumes, on average, 1,200 legal-size legal pads, 12,000 letter-size legal pads, and 4,200 Junior-size legal pads a year. Around 2000, her firm switched from yellow to white pads.

“Yellow wasn’t recyclable,” Harris explained.

Today, lawyers are more economical and ecological. The yellow legal pad has been replaced by the iPad.

Luckily, technology today is more flexible than in Holley’s paper mill days.

Jotting down notes, writing in the margin, and drawing diagrams are often the work of handwriting. Many have trouble typing on the iPad, even if they appreciate its dynamic uses.

Instead of using a laptop or typing on the touchscreen, consider one of these iPad apps that make paperless notes both practical and productive.

Notability is an app that allows legal professionals to switch between typing and handwriting notes. The thickness of the stylus is adjustable, as well as the ink color. Notability also allows the user to record a message and embed it into the digital notebook.

Organizing your notes has never been simpler or thinner with Notability’s filing feature.

Penultimate is another popular iPad handwriting notebook. Change the background from ruled to grid to plain paper, and channel Holley as you do it.

Use Your Handwriting is a great app for iPhone and iPad.

A more organic reflection of handwriting, Use Your Handwriting lets lawyers create sublists, quick alarms, and sync data with one press of a button. It’s clear we’ve moved a long way from the mill to mobility in notetaking.

The iPad may not conform to the patented standards of a yellow legal pad, but where it remains deficient in screen size, it will likely exceed in expectations and outcomes for efficiency.

-WB

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How One Person Can Ruin A Good Thing: A New App Restores Efficiency In Email

Some people know how to ruin a good thing.

It was the first person to use a cell phone in the movie theatre, the first person to run over a pedestrian with their skateboard, and the first person to get too drunk at a work function. Now we have to watch annoying advertisements about how “silence is golden,” ride skateboards exclusively in the skate park, and pay cash at the once open office-party bar.

The problem is, all good things come to an end… and they usually come to an end quickly.

“It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it. If you think about that, you’ll do things differently,” Warren Buffett once said. In business, one failure, one event, or one person is all it takes to ruin a good thing.

Unfortunately, the same applies to the Internet.

Once considered the best thing to happen to business, the World Wide Web is opening a world wide can of worms. From Facebook browsing during office hours to computer viruses, the Internet has put workplace efficiency in jeopardy.

With marketers trolling for bits, cookies, and IP addresses, say goodbye to your privacy. With sites like Wikipedia, forget finding reliable information online. With the immediacy of email, proper etiquette has been replaced by emoticons.

“As our inboxes have become more demanding, we have all become less responsive — because we get so many messages it’s hard to keep up. But the harder it is to keep up, the more messages (‘I just thought I’d send another email asking if you got my first two emails’) we send,” writes Sarah Green for the Harvard business Review Blog.

“The problem with ‘responsiveness’ is that email then becomes like a hydra—cut off one head (answer one email) and you spawn nine more,” continues Ms. Green. “The more responsive you are, the more email you receive, and the more responsive you need to be.”

On a personal level, you can put an end this inefficient desire to be “responsive” by following some simple steps here.

Or, you can tap into new technology. Take, for example, Yesware.

Yesware is an ad-on to Google Mail that transforms what many have ruined in electronic communication—informal or inappropriate greetings, responsiveness, and excessive urgency—into a good thing once again.

Geared toward salesmen, Yesware is an ideal email productivity app for lawyers. With Yesware, law firm professionals can:

  • Get alerts each time someone opens an email or clicks on a link
  • Know exactly when to follow up with your clients and prospects
  • Know where in the world your message is being viewed
  • View the device that prospects are using to open your email

In addition, the Yesware app is customizable. Restore formal language in business communication with Yesware’s email templates:

  • Choose your best templates by seeing which ones your customers reply tomost
  • Incorporate links and rich text to send great looking messages at the click of a button—every time
  • Use [brackets] to indicate custom fields to make your templates even faster and easier to use

Finally, seize business opportunities with Yesware’s analytics functions:

  • Know exactly who is best to follow up with by using our personal tracking reports and gauge your email opens for the last 30 days
  • See where in the world people open your emails from inside your inbox
  • Find out if your message is reaching top decision makers
  • Prioritize your email prospecting with subject filters and email activity sorting

Forbes says about the app, “If You Want To Be Awesome At Emails, Add Yesware To Your Gmail Today.”

According to Forbes, Yesware raised a Series A of $4M from IDG Ventures and Golden Venture Partners (alongside Google Ventures and Foundry Group that participated in their $1M seed round in 2011) exactly one year ago. So, it’s only a matter of time before somebody finds a way to ruin the efficiency of web-based business behavior that Yesware has finally restored.

Say “yes” to Yesware (or similar productivity solutions) and salvage efficiency from email.

-WB

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Legal Conversations: How To Know When In-Person, Phone or Email Responses Are Appropriate

Communication has never been simple. Think about those difficult relationship conversations or heated workplace debates. But, in today’s modern world, communication problems are exacerbated by technology.

Templates for thank-you notes and get-well-soon cards used to be the source of discussion. Now, it’s hard to know when to pick up the phone or a pen.

Worse yet, it’s nearly impossible to derive tone from an email. And, efficacy comes into play. Especially within law firms—do I call my colleague or email him? How much will I have to charge the client for a phone call when just a quick email will suffice?

It’s hard to know when replying to a client, colleague, or superior, whether am in-person conversation, phone call, or email correspondence is enough.

Here’s a quick guide for legal conversation that hopefully clears up any conversational etiquette problems for the modern professional.

1. In-person conversations

Nobody wants to bother the boss. But, sometimes it’s important to put in face time. For important conversations—urgent casework issues, problems with coworkers, quitting, or promotion requests—an in-person conversation is a must.

It can also be helpful to pop-in a supervisor’s office if you haven’t seen them in awhile. Although there are some benefits to remaining invisible at work, it’s also a sure-fire way to stay invisible during year-end bonus allocations or promotion opportunities.

However, don’t be an annoying brown-nose. Also, don’t pester superiors with minor issues (like you need a new office chair). A quick “I got your email, the answer is yes,” merits an in-person interaction; a long-winded (and likewise costly) conversation detailing your every move for the week does not.

2. Phone call

First, to be clear, unless you are friends outside work (you have nicknames for each other) or operate in a small company, always introduce yourself with your full name. This clears up any confusion and also establishes boundaries for the phone conversation—it’s work related, professional, and brief.

Second, these days workplace etiquette regarding phone calls is complicated. Many people prefer in-person visits—they’re more personal—and others choose the efficiency of email. Phone calls lie in the gray area in-between.

So, conduct phone calls wisely. Phone calls can be useful between colleagues in offices in different geographical locations. Phone calls are a friendly way to contact clients.

Phone calls (or, especially, in-person meetings) are also a great way to keep conversations private. Beware of creating a paper-trail from confidential or sensitive statements. Or, you may, one day, have to pay the piper, like DLA Piper.

Within the same office, phone calls are useful to schedule a time for in-person meetings (to avoid back-and-forth email chains or the always awkward “just stopping by to ask when I can stop by…”). Be aware of the norms and routines of your particular office. For some, calling a colleague in the next room is considered time-conscious and productive. For others, it’s just plain lazy.

3. Email correspondence

Finally, email is the primary method of communication these days. It’s quick, immediate, and sensitive to other people’s time and work priorities.

However, be sure you follow proper email etiquette: don’t put the body of your emai; in the subject line ; practice high-tech politeness; stop calling every email and task “urgent”; and don’t be so efficient with your words (and abbreviations) that all meaning is lost.

These days, you usually can’t go wrong with e-mail.

At the same time, don’t forget the power of handwritten letters. Special occasions, thank-you notes, and anything important is worth the wait.

-WB

 

What’s the most difficult conversation to have with employees? Communicating Compensation. So, use C4CM’s essential guide to facilitate the conversation. Communicating Compensation to Employees will provide your firm with a powerful resource that gives you clear communication guidelines to manage difficult conversations and improve existing systems.

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5 Ways Your Firm Is Unknowingly Wasting Money

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.

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.

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.

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.

-WB

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For Higher Growth & Revenue— Don’t Hire New Employees, Get To Know The Ones You Have

Year-end growth results for the legal industry are the best Wells Fargo has reported since 2008, according to Jeff Grossman, head of the bank’s legal specialty group, reported by Thomson Reuters.

The bank confidentially surveyed 100 law firms, which reported a five-percent increase in gross revenue in 2012. In addition, net income rose by six percent. For managers, the good news continues as profits per partner rose five percent, reports Thomson Reuters.

What changed in our downturn economy? Policy.

“Grossman cited the fiscal cliff negotiations between the Obama administration and the U.S. Congress over automatic tax hikes scheduled for Jan. 1, as one possible driver of the revenue growth,” says Thomson Reuters.

In late 2012 and early 2013, some law firm said their mergers and acquisition, tax and trust and estates practices received extra work in the fourth quarter as their clients prepared for tax hikes, according to the Wells Fargo report.

Nevertheless, don’t stop penny-pinching quite yet

“Top law firms are getting what little premium business there is,” Grossman said to Thomason Reuters in an email.

Luckily, with a new year comes new ideas for revenue generating. The following tools will help your firm keep up the good growth, without growing in numbers.

Don’t hire new associates when you can just make better use of the ones already hired. Here’s how.

Firm Competency Database

If you were a baseball coach, you would be sure of the home-run and strike-out averages of a player before putting him up to bat.

Likewise, as a law firm manager, you should be aware of the capabilities and experience—both pre-hire and post-hire—of all your employees. This is not just a list of cases won or lost, however.

When hired, associates bring in a certain set of skills. But, once working, these same employees develop new ones. CVs may be updated, but current employers are often left in the dark.

Develop a sophisticated model for tracking employee competencies. For example, include number of years experience both at the firm and outside, create a rating system for computer skills (and provide a standardized test for it, if necessary), and record area-specific knowledge, from patents to accounting to foreign languages (and if they worked on cases requiring these skills).

Most importantly, keep this list standardized, up to date, and eyes-only. There’s no need to circulate this database outside managing powers-that-be. Nevertheless, when assigning projects or cases, you’ll have a better idea of who among you is best suited for the job.

A competency database will increase your efficieny in assigning cases and the productivity of those assigned to them.

You were already wondering how lawyers use Excel. Consider this your first chance to try out new technology. You’re at bat!

Career Leadership Opportunities

You don’t need to hire another administrator to balance the budget, write internal policies, or manage social media for your law firm. Why? It’s likely your firm already has these competencies, but just doesn’t know it yet.

Chris Smith, partner and co-founder at the management consulting firm ARRYVE, helped develop career leadership opportunities or CLOs at his company. He explains in the Harvard Business Review Blog that CLOs are mini-projects given to employees.

The projects address a specific need of the business while allowing employees to develop new skills and competencies.

“Similar to 3M’s or Google’s innovation time, CLOs give employees a way to try out their ideas in a less risky environment—but in the context of the company’s needs, as well. Some of our marketing-oriented consultants, for instance, jumped at the chance to develop our firm’s social media strategy,” explains Smith.

“This helped them build new skills, reduced the cost we incurred on outside agencies, and created a great case study for the strategy work we sell as a service.”

Lawyers have diverse backgrounds—whether it be in technology or accounting—so it’s natural that a firm would exploit these talents. In turn, it provides a little variety what can be a monotonous workday for lawyers and fodder for annual bonuses at the firm.

Furthermore, lawyers can seize this chance to build their arsenal of competencies. For example, a senior associate can learn the ins and outs of social media by taking charge of a CLO project aimed to increase a firm’s online presence.

CLOs don’t have to be assigned. In fact, they will be more effective if the projects are voluntary. So, create a list of your various firm needs: Twitter account, website content editing, social media policy, short-term strategic plan, year-end budget goals, fantasy football organizer, pro-bono work, etc.

Create a “catchy” pitch for the task, and watch employees sign up!

With the right incentives, every associate can exploit his or her creativity and satisfy his or her secret entrepreneurship ambitions. Associates are waiting for an opportunity to impress their superiors, break up a stagnant workday, and increase their chances for promotion by being a team-player. Put me in coach!

Public Awareness Committee

If you don’t already have an in-house public relations representative, consider creating a “public awareness committee” at your firm. This group should be responsible for proofreading press-releases, organizing benefits, and generally ensuring a positive image on the world-wide-web.

In this economy, it’s never enough to trust word-of-mouth referrals or equity partners to bring in new clients. Even the legendary Babe Ruth needed a publicist.

Proactive firms are also aware of their public image. Do you know yours?

-WB

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Ways To Ensure A Misunderstanding

Do you assign tasks to your associates and get them back quickly, and exactly as you expected? Do you hold meetings, look into the crowd, and see that everybody is alert and attentive?

Do you ever hand out long, complicated memos and reports to your team and realize that everybody is on the exact same page?

If your message is never lost in translation, then try these four easy steps to be misunderstood. It’s guaranteed that next time you give a presentation, you’ll be hearing crickets instead of handed questions.

1. Overuse the pronoun “we”

An internal memo might read, “We need to boost our bottom line by finding ways to operate more efficiently…” But, in this case, who is “we”? Is “we” every single individual who is reading the memo? Does “we” refer to a team? If so, who is assembling this efficiency-seeking team?

Managers are sometimes averse to using pronouns. They’re wary of using the pronoun “I” so as not to take sole credit for team successes. Managers are equally cautious about the pronoun “you,” to avoid the blame game for mistakes.

Nevertheless, when it comes to assignments or needs of the firm, the pronoun “we” makes allocating tasks difficult and the responsibility for work product ambiguous.

So, be specific. If you are speaking about personal goals, use the first person. “I will draft our 2013 business goals.” If you’re expecting a response, say “you should get back to me tomorrow about that action item.”

Pronouns—accompanied by clearly expressed deadlines—are the simplest way to get what you want (unless, of course, you want to be misunderstood).

2. Make too many analogies

When you have a complicated idea, it’s tempting to use an analogy or Brothers Grimm story to present it. But, just like the game chutes and latters, there’s no easy way to the top (wait, what?).

Anecdotes and analogies, more often than not, backfire. When you have an idea, don’t try to oversimplify it.

Instead, explain your idea as clearly and comprehensively as necessary. Organize your thoughts in advance. Practice and preparation are the keys to the castle (or something wise like that).

To be misunderstood, go ahead and liken your idea to that obscure news story you once read and watch as people’s eyes glaze over.

3. Forget your main point

Whether it’s a talk with a subordinate employee, memo to your entire department, or an important meeting with clients, stick to the issue at hand.

In presentations, write down on a notecard in a single sentence your main point. If you stray off topic, look down to your notecard. Remind yourself, what is this meeting really about again? What am I aiming to accomplish here?

There’s a reason you circulated that internal memo, organized that client meeting, or called staff to the boardroom. Meetings and memos should stick to a single subject.

In emails, get to the point straight away. Forget fancy language, start by writing “Dear John, I’m writing you to find out when you expect to finish Project X.”

The quickest way to confuse your peers or be misunderstood by a manager is to ramble aimlessly about multiple ideas (in no particular order).

4. Don’t answer the question asked of you

Finally, people ask questions and expect a response.

If you’re looking to be misunderstood and lead your colleagues astray, don’t answer their questions. In fact, answer a different question, just to throw them of track.

Responsible emailers, business writers, and presenters listen to a question, process it, and answer thoughtfully and succinctly. For everybody else, there’s long-windedness, hearing what you want to hear, and flippant dismal.

-WB

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“Routinize” & Other Ridiculous Words That Are Here To Stay (For Good Reason)

Science has been given the “ok” to make up its own words. Take, for example, “methylchlorisothiazolinone,” the mouthful give to an ingredient in perfumes and cosmetics.

Science fiction has its own selection of nonsensical lexis, like “flux capacitor” from the movie Back to the Future or “the Force,” from the trilogy, Star Wars.

Of course, comics won’t be left out of the game. “Adamantium” is the strongest metal in the Marvel Comic Book Universe. And, who doesn’t remember the illustrative language used in TV show The Simpsons, which certainly embiggened our vocabulary (“embiggen,” which was used to mean “to make larger”).

But, despite social acceptance within these industries, should terminology absurdity be adopted by the typically pragmatic study of business strategy?

According to President Obama, absolutely.

When author Michael Lewis decided to write an article for October’s Vanity Fair about the daily life of President Obama, Mr. Lewis discovered a curious business strategy… and also coined a new word.

“I share President Obama’s practice of routinizing‘ the routine,’” writes Robert Pozen, Senior Lecturer of Business Administration at Harvard Business School, about Lewis’s discovery (italics added).

To routinize your routine is the act of simplifying certain aspects of your daily, muntane decisionmaking process in order to maintain the mental stamina necessary to make more difficult decisions.

For example, President Obama revealed to Mr. Lewis that he only wears blue or gray suits. The President explained, “I don’t want to make decisions about what I’m eating or wearing. Because I have too many other decisions to make.”

Essentially, President Obama is imitating several experiments performed in the 1990s by Roy Baumeister (a professor at Florida State University) and his colleagues. Baumeister demonstrated, according to the Mr. Pozen at the Harvard Business Review, that certain types of conscious mental actions actually sapped away from the same finite “energy source,” thus gradually decreasing a person’s ability to make intelligent decisions.

In the business world—filled with multi-million dollar deals and life-or-death litigation—the ability to make smart, rational choices from the beginning to the end of the day is crucial. So, in order to keep your metal energy stores at a maximum, you need to keep trivial decisionmaking at a minimum.

Here’s how:

1. Prepare the night before

You do it for your kids to save time, so do the same for yourself to save mental energy. Lay out your clothes for the next day the night before.

You can make all the superficial decisions you want at the end of the day when work is done without worrying that it will deplete your vital energy supply. If you have a lunch meeting or coffee date, prepare your choice of restaurant or bistro in advance.

Or, outsource your decisionmaking. Ask your legal assistant to take over less sensitive decisionmaking, such as where to hold new associate training, what to say in your new employee welcome speech, or how to organize your case materials.

Your assistant may be happy for the additional responsibility, and you can concentrate on the bigger picture, like trial prep.

2. Make a list of your activities and sort by importance

Each week, write a list of the activities—from work to pleasure—that are planned. Re-sort this list in order of importance.

With this in mind, distribute the decisionmaking throughout your days. For example, make the most important decisions first. Then, in the afternoon or evening, think about the other more mundane tasks at hand.

Got a list of 10 decisions? Give the last 3 to an associate or paralegal. Tasks that are listed low on your priority list will suddenly be first on a young attorney’s priority list. So, those decisions—while trivial for you—will be given more than enough time and consideration by somebody else.

Outsourcing and redistributing decisionmaking can become Pareto optimal, where the big decisions are always made by a person who most values making them.

3. Reflect on your most unpleasant decisions

Do you really hate deciding apples or oranges, peas or carrots, beef or chicken in the grocery store? Or, do you dread choosing between taking the subway or driving your car to work each morning?

Whatever your most unpleasant decision, there are two choices. Your first is to “routinize” your decisions so that you are on autopilot, i.e., decide now to always take your car to work unless it’s raining; or, alternate the weeks you buy apples and oranges (and then never stray), for example.

Your second choice is to work on eliminating that decision all together. Don’t waste the mental energy on making breakfast each morning (eggs? omellette? yougurt?). Go ahead and eat out.

On the surface, “routinizing” your routine sounds like the most ridiculous word on the planet. But, as it turns out, its impact on the productivity of daily life can quite profound.

-WB

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Ditch The Law Library, Keep The Librarian

What’s one of the best and more affordable ways to adorn your new home? Filling the shelves with leather-bound legal texts that you buy in bulk.

Today, the libraries with the largest selection of law books may not actually lie within law firms. Individuals looking for an aesthetic solution to filling large wall space have capitalized on the business of books by the yard.

And, with the way computers and technology is progressing, there’s a good reason why the use of legal texts has transformed from due diligence to decoration.

Ever since the existence of law practitioners, there were legal apprentices.

Today, first-year associates are paraded around law firms in a tour boasting the number of resources—human and still—that firms can offer these young grads. Counted among the assets might be knowledgeable mentors, (alleged) accessible partners, and training programs.

Next, first-years will wander the halls and marvel at the expansive offices, hardwood floors, and of course an impressive (and likely quiet) law library.

And, although law libraries still help firms attract the best candidates, during day-to-day activity, they remain largely empty and unused.

With online resources like WestLaw and Lexis, the dewy decimal system now seems obsolete.

“Everything is done electronically now, as far as legal research,” John Bolus, an attorney at Maynard Cooper & Gale PC where only 800 square feet on one floor is needed for the firm’s library, said to the Birmingham Business Journal.

Nevertheless, there’s an argument for preserving the law library tradition, despite technological advancement.

“I’m a big believer that aesthetics matter,” Marc Ayers, an attorney with Bradley Arant Rose & White LLP said to the Journal.

“When you walk a client in, they like to see those old books that look very classy. There’s a reason they like to see that, because it’s settling for a client.”

But, while the old-fashioned concept of a physical law library may be outdated, there’s still one aspect of this scholarly trade that adds value to legal practice: the law librarian.

In the modern world, law firm managers should create a new version of the law library. Within it, books are just a tangential benefit. In fact, consider storing them to a small closet space (they could probably use dusting off, anyway.).

But, as you ditch the library, keep the librarian.

Law librarians are “information and research professionals in an era when finding essential information is more important than ever,” writes Patrick Lamb, ‘82, founder of the Valorem Law Group in Chicago for an ABAJournal.com article.

“Associates, who do most of the research in law firms, are not research or information professionals. … When you live in a value-fee world, someone who finds the right information efficiently is really valuable.”

In the same way that attorneys are specialized in their field, librarians are as well.

And, considering the amount of research that lawyers are obligated to conduct everyday, expert help is indispensible.

For firms, empty law libraries take the place of what could be additional associate offices. So, save money by boxing up those archaic books.

However, thinking the firm might save money by replacing law librarians with legal research software is a mistake. Inefficient searches on Lexis and Westlaw cost the firm in both billable hours and efficiency.

“What some of the summer associates quickly learned (and I also took advantage of as a young associate) was that the librarian was a treasure trove of helpful information. Many times, she helped me craft effective searches for expensive online databases—like Lexis or Westlaw—saving me from looking bad by racking up too much in online searching costs,” Jennifer Selby recalls of her time as a young associate at Harness, Dickey & Pierce.

If—on the rare occasion—your firm still doesn’t have enough work for the law librarian, why not attach “associate training” to his job description. Librarians are terrific resources when it comes to patience, teaching, and efficiency training. Plus, associate training is often the most overlooked competitive advantage for firms.

Remember, successful research is the product of human capital as much as physical capital. So, invest in people and watch the ample returns.

-WB

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Bad Employee Behavior That Results When Managers Reward Busyness

Every law firm associate knows it’s unacceptable to have free time. If your first-year isn’t stressful, full of all-nighters, and fraught with anxiety over busyness, then you risk not returning the next day.

Especially in the current competitive environment, employees need to look invaluable—an irreplaceable cog that if removed would topple the firm’s steady churning revenue and positive returns for its clients.

But work, realistically, comes in waves. And, like it or not, there is always some idle time. The question is, how do your employees react to these instances?

More often than not, employees understand that firms encourage full-time engagement, late nights, long hours.

Unfortunately, this behavior hurts the efficiency and profits of your firm. When managers encourage busyness—as opposed to high quality work product—your employees will behave in the following unproductive manner:

1. Pretend to be busy (all the time)

If it’s unacceptable to be idle in the office—to spare one single billable hour—then your employees will fill the void. Not with actual work product. No, instead, they’ll pretend to be busy by reading, then rereading filings (for professional development, of course) and learn to familiarize themselves at a snail’s pace with cases.

The reality is, time passes more quickly when a person is busy. As a result, most legal professionals never fear being busy. They welcome it.

What professionals do fear, however, is looking incapable or lazy whenever their manager enters the office with the loaded question, “are you busy?” on the tip of his tongue.

Unfortunately, instead of rewarding high quality and even quantity of work product, managers, these days, seem to be rewarding those associates who have mastered the appearance of busyness the best.

2. Rebudget time to spread out work

Time management skills suffer in offices where busyness is rewarded.

For example, a young lawyer realizes he must linger in the office until 8pm to appear busy. But, high quality work only demands staying until 7pm. The solution? Budget work pace around the time, as opposed to the reverse.

Suddenly, a client emergency arises at 7pm. Now, employees truly are preoccupied, without any free time to contribute to the crisis. Instead of letting the type of work decide the hours, your employees are slowing their hours to the work.

By most definitions, this is poor performance and poor productivity. For clients, it even borders on fraud.

3. Become intimidated at the thought of actual busyness

When you’re accustomed to pretending to be busy, you start to fear the day you’ll actually find yourself so.

Not to mention, as employees start to become conditioned to a drawn-out pace of work—for the sake of appearing busy—they’ll be ill equipped to handle key assignments in a crunch.

4. Stop answering your questions honestly

Knowing that managers reward busyness, associates will always claim that they’re engaged with important projects. This will eventually snowball into a dishonest boss-employee relationship that will ruin professional trust and cooperation.

Employees should feel free to answer your questions honestly. Perhaps they do have the time for extra work—not because they’re lazy and unmotivated, but because they happen to have completed a previous assignment quickly.

Or, perhaps employees don’t have the time. They should feel comfortable saying no to their boss once in awhile. There shouldn’t be negative repercussions to free time; otherwise firms may start billing excessively for pencil sharpening.

5. Question your managerial skills

When teams leave early because their work is done, counter-intuitively, it’s a sign of successful management.

Managers who overvalue busyness start to assign menial and pointless tasks to employees who have (quite efficiency) finished all other work product.

In addition, only the most unproductive of managers will hold meetings during a lull, rather than letting employees ride it out in their own way.

Idle time doesn’t have to be wasted if you encourage employees to fill it creatively. Push them to be proactive about their own careers or cases during these times.

It turns out, busyness is only productive when the work is also meaningful. Take, for example, a 2008 MIT study where researchers asked participants to build a series of Lego models.

“Finished models were either kept, or they were disassembled in front of the participant and handed back for rebuilding. (This was called the “Sisyphus condition”, after the mythical figure condemned to repeatedly push a boulder up a mountain only to watch it roll back down again). Even though the two conditions involved exactly the same type of work, participants in the ‘meaningful’ condition were willing to produce more models (and built them more efficiently, for a lower median wage) than those who mimicked Sisyphus,” explains Susan David for the HBR Blog in her article, “Is Busyness Bad for Business?”

“Surely Michael, who attends one meeting only to have another scheduled, and completes one spreadsheet only to be presented with new figures, is starting to feel like he’s pushing that boulder.”

Statistically, employees will respond more enthusiastically and productively to work with meaning, as opposed to work that simply replaces potential idle time.

One hour spent with friends and family to improve the work-life balance will have infinite more meaning than waiting longer at the office because it’s unacceptable to leave before a certain time. As a manager, don’t be afraid to send employees home when the work is done.

In the end, free time is an asset to your firm—like a contingency fund. You never know its true worth until it’s gone.

-WB

To take control, tackle work flow chaos and overcome productivity challenges, read The Center For Competitive Management’s 73-page guide Effective Time Management, available online here.

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Delegation: It’s Not Just So You Can Go Home Early…

Delegating is one of the hardest leadership skills to master.

It involves a measure of trust in your subordinates, as well as a lack of control. To compound this problem, managing a law firm—though ultimately a business—is rife with personal risk.

Cases are predominately about people. Thus, what’s a stake is also personal.

This is why it’s so hard to let go. Law firm managers and senior attorneys “want to get it right” the first time, and it’s with hesitance that they cede work to others. Unfortunately, this makes for poor business practice.

When a professional refuses to delegate, it often leads to late nights, procrastination, missed deadlines, lack of full attention to the task at hand, and other inefficiencies. This is why great leaders understand how to delegate work and who to delegate it to.

Not to mention, as a manager, you can’t be everywhere all the time.

“Your most important task as a leader is to teach people how to think and ask the right questions so that the world doesn’t go to hell if you take a day off,” said Jeffrey Pfeffer to Amy Gallo of the Harvard Business Review Blog. Pfeffer is the Thomas D. Dee II Professor of Organizational Behavior at Stanford University’s Graduate School of Business and author of What Were They Thinking?: Unconventional Wisdom About Management.

A 2007 study on time management found that nearly half of the 332 companies surveyed worried about their employees’ ability to delegate. So, what did these companies do about their concerns?

Nothing. Only 28 percent of the surveyed companies offered training on the topic, according to the HBR Blog. Luckily, there’s still time for your firm.

There are two tiers of delegation within a law firm: Delegating to legal staff and delegating to associates.

Delegation To Legal Staff

Don’t overlook legal assistants and paralegals in the office.

Frequently legal staff are as equipped as junior attorneys to proofread briefs, research legal forms, or conduct other more menial tasks. And, that’s exactly what your support staff is there for.

“Most people will tell you they are too busy to delegate—that it’s more efficient for them to just do it themselves,” said Carol Walker to Gallo for the HBR Blog. Gallo is the president of Prepared to Lead, a consulting firm that focuses on developing young leaders.

Not true. In fact, legal assistants have a profound expertise. Furthermore, legal staff have another secret weapon and value add to your firm: lower billables.

As a result, your legal staff can devote the time and energy necessary to complete a job more comprehensively, meticulously, and quickly than their busy junior associate counterpart.

Why ask an associate to perform these duties (i.e., pleadings, research, or deposition summaries) when your legal assistant is more than capable to do the same, for less?

If you don’t yet know the breadth of skill or ability of your assistant, go ahead and test it now. Task him or her a deposition to summarize, PowerPoint to format, or trial prep work to complete that you’d typically assign a first-year. You’ll be glad you did when there’s a crunch time in the future.

Delegating To Associates

As mentioned above, law firms should teach and practice the art of delegation in order to maintain a cost-effective billing structure for its clients.

Typically, lower-paid associates take on the bulk of casework so that higher-paid associates—more senior ones—spend less time on busy work and more productive time approving, modifying, or signing off on the final product. Think about where partner time is best spent.

If your leaders are not delegating work properly, it’s likely that you’re overbilling clients.

As a law firm manager, keep track of each associate’s assignments. Ensure that the responsibilities delegated to them are commensurate with their position at the firm and their career path.

Monitor the hours of your more senior associates. When necessary, force them to delegate more high-profile work to junior associates—so young attorneys gain experience and more practiced attorneys learn to trust the team.

Like word processing, writing, or the practice of law, delegation is a skill to be acquired.

So, sign up your managers today for a course on time management (like this one by C4CM) to ensure your firm boosts its efficiency, regains control of its productive time, conquers clutter, and ends procrastination caused by poor delegation.

-WB

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