Tag Archives: Excel

What Is Project Management & Should Your Firm Care?

Three men, a project manager, an engineer, and a lawyer, traveled to the Grand Cayman Islands to conduct business there.

Although the Grand Cayman Islands are known for their bustling financial industry, they are—of course—also hub of tourism. So, the three men walk along the nearest beach until one of them stumbles upon a lamp buried in the sand. He rubs it and a genie appears. The genie says “Normally I would grant you 3 wishes, but since there are 3 of you, I will grant each of you one wish.”

The software engineer went first. “I would like to spend the rest of my life living in a huge house in St. Thomas, with no money worries.” The genie granted him his wish and sent him on off to St. Thomas.

The accountant went next. “I would like to spend the rest of my life living on a huge yacht cruising the islands around St. John, with no money worries.” The genie granted him his wish and sent him off to St. John.

Last, but not least, it was the project manager’s turn. “And what would your wish be?” asked the genie.

“I want them both back after lunch,” replied the project manager. [1]

Now, you may have already heard this joke. Surprisingly, it makes fun of somebody other than the lawyer.

Project management, in general, is not typically associated with legal work. In fact, most lawyers would have a hard time defining the term. Is it case management? Is it human resources?

The Project Management Institute defines a project as “the application of knowledge, skills and techniques to execute projects effectively and efficiently. It’s a strategic competency for organizations, enabling them to tie project results to business goals—and thus, better compete in their markets.”

Reading between the lines, project management adds value to a firm. Law firms are no exception.

“Until very recently, lawyers that did recognise the term have considered the concept of project management beneath them. After all, lawyers were artisans not merchants or manufacturers. Each matter was unique and required the utmost flexibility. But the topic has been getting growing attention, especially from clients who have seen internally how important project management can be to efficient operation. Many outside lawyers are, as a result, starting to realize the ‘artisan’ argument does not hold water. Much of what lawyers do is a commoditised process. Even within highly customised bet-the-company cases, there are elements of commodity work and the process is similar from one case to the next, even if the facts are not,” explains Patrick J. Lamb, author of Alternative Fee Arrangements: Value Fees and the Changing Legal Market. [2]

These days, during a recession, it’s even more important to streamline operations and ensure each department adds value. Thus, law firms can no longer ignore project management. It is necessary for firms to succeed.

So, how do you apply project management to case matters within law firms?

According to Jim Hassett, author of The Legal Project Management Quick Reference Guide, there are 8 project management tasks for law firms [3]:

  1. Set objectives and define scope
  2. Identify and schedule activities
  3. Assign tasks and manage the team
  4. Plan and manage the budget
  5. Assess risks to the budget and schedule
  6. Manage quality
  7. Manage client communications and expectations
  8. Negotiate changes of scope

On the other hand, project management is only as good as its tools. Assigning tasks, planning the budget, and assessing risks require data collection and analysis. For law firms, there’s no better tool than Excel.

Excel can be used as a method to effectively organize case assignments and avoid duplication of work effort. For example, when a senior attorney wants to know who is creating the timeline (in Excel, of course) for his case matter, the information, including the name of the assigned associate and the status of his or her work, is quickly and clearly accessible.

Excel is also a financial tool that can conduct risk assessments and managing accounting books. Luckily, Excel comes free on most computers, and there exist a myriad of help tutorials to get you started. In fact, here are all the MS Office tips and tricks that every lawyer should know.

At the same time, there is a plethora of legal software available to firms with programs customized to your needs. Have your IT Department education you on your options.

Finally, the question remains, if project management is necessary, who then is best at becoming project managers?

For starters, all senior partners should feel comfortable with the tools used to manage projects. There are a lot of time constraitns on the “boss”, but ensuring he efficiency, productivity, and profitability of every firm activity is of primary importance.

Next, consider using your legal librarians as project managers. There’s nobody better suited for a job surrounding organization than a person intimately familiar with the Dewey Decimal system.

Finally, make sure all employees take project management seriously. Whether you increase the managing responsibilities of current managing partners or hire a separate project manager, your law firm should place project managers in a position of authority and respect.

Achieve your wish of “no money worries.” Implement strict project management practices today.

-WB

Need help? Follow C4CM’s guide, Effective Time Management: Take Control, Tackle Work Flow Chaos and Overcome Productivity Challenges.

References:

  1. The Joke Index
  2. Jim Hassett, The Legal Project Management Quick Reference Guide: Tools and Templates to Increase Efficiency,  2d ed (Boston, MA: LegalBizDev, 2011), 3.
  3. Patrick J. Lamb, Alternative Fee Arrangements: Value Fees and the Changing Legal Market (London, UK: Ark Group, 2010), 52.

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What Is Project Management & Should Your Firm Care?

Three men, a project manager, an engineer, and a lawyer, traveled to the Grand Cayman Islands to conduct business there.

 Although the Grand Cayman Islands are known for their bustling financial industry, they are—of course—also hub of tourism. So, the three men walk along the nearest beach until one of them stumbles upon a lamp buried in the sand. He rubs it and a genie appears. The genie says “Normally I would grant you 3 wishes, but since there are 3 of you, I will grant each of you one wish.”

The software engineer went first. “I would like to spend the rest of my life living in a huge house in St. Thomas, with no money worries.” The genie granted him his wish and sent him on off to St. Thomas.

The accountant went next. “I would like to spend the rest of my life living on a huge yacht cruising the islands around St. John, with no money worries.” The genie granted him his wish and sent him off to St. John.

Last, but not least, it was the project manager’s turn. “And what would your wish be?” asked the genie.

“I want them both back after lunch,” replied the project manager. [1]

Now, you may have already heard this joke. Surprisingly, it makes fun of somebody other than the lawyer.

Project management, in general, is not typically associated with legal work. In fact, most lawyers would have a hard time defining the term. Is it case management? Is it human resources?

The Project Management Institute defines a project as “the application of knowledge, skills and techniques to execute projects effectively and efficiently. It’s a strategic competency for organizations, enabling them to tie project results to business goals—and thus, better compete in their markets.”

Reading between the lines, project management adds value to a firm. Law firms are no exception.

“Until very recently, lawyers that did recognise the term have considered the concept of project management beneath them. After all, lawyers were artisans not merchants or manufacturers. Each matter was unique and required the utmost flexibility. But the topic has been getting growing attention, especially from clients who have seen internally how important project management can be to efficient operation. Many outside lawyers are, as a result, starting to realize the ‘artisan’ argument does not hold water. Much of what lawyers do is a commoditised process. Even within highly customised bet-the-company cases, there are elements of commodity work and the process is similar from one case to the next, even if the facts are not,” explains Patrick J. Lamb, author of Alternative Fee Arrangements: Value Fees and the Changing Legal Market. [2]

These days, during a recession, it’s even more important to streamline operations and ensure each department adds value. Thus, law firms can no longer ignore project management. It is necessary for firms to succeed.

So, how do you apply project management to case matters within law firms?

According to Jim Hassett, author of The Legal Project Management Quick Reference Guide, there are 8 project management tasks for law firms [3]:

  1. Set objectives and define scope
  2. Identify and schedule activities
  3. Assign tasks and manage the team
  4. Plan and manage the budget
  5. Assess risks to the budget and schedule
  6. Manage quality
  7. Manage client communications and expectations
  8. Negotiate changes of scope

On the other hand, project management is only as good as its tools. Assigning tasks, planning the budget, and assessing risks require data collection and analysis. For law firms, there’s no better tool than Excel.

Excel can be used as a method to effectively organize case assignments and avoid duplication of work effort. For example, when a senior attorney wants to know who is creating the timeline (in Excel, of course) for his case matter, the information, including the name of the assigned associate and the status of his or her work, is quickly and clearly accessible.

Excel is also a financial tool that can conduct risk assessments and managing accounting books. Luckily, Excel comes free on most computers, and there exist a myriad of help tutorials to get you started. In fact, here are all the MS Office tips and tricks that every lawyer should know.

At the same time, there is a plethora of legal software available to firms with programs customized to your needs. Have your IT Department education you on your options.

Finally, the question remains, if project management is necessary, who then is best at becoming project managers?

For starters, all senior partners should feel comfortable with the tools used to manage projects. There are a lot of time constraitns on the “boss”, but ensuring he efficiency, productivity, and profitability of every firm activity is of primary importance.

Next, consider using your legal librarians as project managers. There’s nobody better suited for a job surrounding organization than a person intimately familiar with the Dewey Decimal system.

Finally, make sure all employees take project management seriously. Whether you increase the managing responsibilities of current managing partners or hire a separate project manager, your law firm should place project managers in a position of authority and respect.

Achieve your wish of “no money worries.” Implement strict project management practices today.

-WB

Need help? Follow C4CM’s guide, Effective Time Management: Take Control, Tackle Work Flow Chaos and Overcome Productivity Challenges.

References:

  1. The Joke Index
  2. Jim Hassett, The Legal Project Management Quick Reference Guide: Tools and Templates to Increase Efficiency,  2d ed (Boston, MA: LegalBizDev, 2011), 3.
  3. Patrick J. Lamb, Alternative Fee Arrangements: Value Fees and the Changing Legal Market (London, UK: Ark Group, 2010), 52.

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Microsoft Office (Even Excel!) Tips & Tricks That Every Lawyer Should Know

When you type, “are lawyers scared of technology?” in a Google search, you get a surprisingly large number of results.

The first result is a website devoted to paralegals working for attorneys who suffer from Technophobia. What’s the first sign of technophobia, you ask? Slow to adopt the hardware—laptops, iPads, or smartphones, for example.

If you don’t own any of these gadgets, you may suffer from technophobia (and, shame on you!).

But, never fear. There are a few treatments, such as focusing on the positive, educating yourself, and seeking a support group. At first glance, these suggestions seem farcical. But they create, in fact, the perfect vaccination.

First, stay positive. Attitudes are contagious.

Law firm professionals at every level should lead by example. Each time a law firm partner disparages technology or refuses to make even the smallest edits on PPT (unless it’s a billable-hour issue), it’s a symptom of technophobia. And people aim to emulate their superiors.

So, even if you don’t understand it, don’t put it down. There’s no doubt about it—the future of every industry is in technology. Law is no exception.

Second, educate yourself. Take a class or read up online. In the least, be familiar with terminology.

Did somebody in the office mention a “pivot table”? Look it up. In Excel, a pivot table helps summarize, analyze, and present data.

“In plain English, it means, you can take the sales data with columns like salesman, region and product-wise revenues and use pivot tables to quickly find out how products are performing in each region,” explains Purna “Chandoo” Duggirala in his online tutorial.

For corporate litigants, pivot tables can be quite useful. So, next time your financial consultants are explaining their data methods, you may not understand how to duplicate it, but you can at least define it.

See? That wasn’t so scary…

Third, seek a support group. There may not be a Technophobe Anonymous meeting in your area, but your firm can certainly create one. Law firm managers should provide year-round training for legal technology. Make attendance to at least one mandatory to encourage participation (and boost curiosity).

Employees in your IT department are familiar with the idiosyncrasies of your firm’s technology. And, a technology seminar increases the awareness by employees of software and tools available to them. Finally, a technology class at your law firm provides an efficient one-stop shop for all the questions employees were either afraid to ask, or who asked in 100 separate “help!” emails to their colleagues.

To get you started, check out the following must-follow features for lawyers in Microsoft Office. 

1. Microsoft PowerPoint (PPT)

A bit better corporation has everything you need to know about PPT. Check out the following suggestions, particularly useful for law firm professionals, like trial lawyers:

Save Your Fonts with Your Presentation

If you’re preparing a presentation that you plan to distribute to others, be sure that you check this option by clicking on the Tools button in the File/Save As dialog box.  This will work for most TrueType fonts on the Windows platform.

Displaying Keyboard Shortcuts in Tool Tips

If you’d like to see the available keyboard shortcuts for menus, commands, and toolbar buttons, go to Tools/Customize, click on the Options tab, and click on “show shortcut keys in screen tips.”

Making Auto-Fit Text Stop Auto-Fitting

Turn this feature off by going to Tools/Options, click on the Edit tab, and uncheck “autofit text to text placeholder”, click OK.

Getting Rid of Tri-Pane View

Unfortunately there is no way to permanently avoid this improvement, but you can quickly get rid of it by holding down the CTRL key when you click on the Slide View button.

Using Ctrl-Drag to Copy

You can quickly make a copy of any object by holding down the CTRL key while you drag on the object.  You will then “drag off” a new copy.

Making Slides Print Correctly

PowerPoint has certain defaults to determine how it prints each object on the page.  You can see over-ride these defaults. Go to View/Black and White; this will show you a gray-scale preview of how your slide will print.  To change the print settings for any given object, right-click on it, then click “Black and White”, and then choose the appropriate print option for that object.  Master objects can be selected by going to the Master page View.

Preview Slide Show Effects

While editing a presentation, hold down the CTRL key while clicking the slide show view button; this will open a tiny preview window showing that slide in slide show mode

For many more tips, visit PowerPoint Tips & Tricks.

2. Microsoft Excel

Use the following short-cut keys after reading exactly how lawyers use Excel for timelines, timesheets, and casework, here.

KEY

DESCRIPTION

CTRL+(

Unhides any hidden rows within the selection.

CTRL+)

Unhides any hidden columns within the selection.

CTRL+&

Applies the outline border to the selected cells.

CTRL+_

Removes the outline border from the selected cells.

CTRL+~

Applies the General number format.

CTRL+$

Applies the Currency format with two decimal places (negative numbers in parentheses).

CTRL+%

Applies the Percentage format with no decimal places.

CTRL+^

Applies the Exponential number format with two decimal places.

CTRL+#

Applies the Date format with the day, month, and year.

CTRL+@

Applies the Time format with the hour and minute, and AM or PM.

CTRL+!

Applies the Number format with two decimal places, thousands separator, and minus sign (-) for negative values.

CTRL+-

Displays the Delete dialog box to delete the selected cells.

CTRL+*

Selects the current region around the active cell (the data area enclosed by blank rows and blank columns).

In a PivotTable, it selects the entire PivotTable report.

CTRL+:

Enters the current time.

CTRL+;

Enters the current date.

CTRL+`

Alternates between displaying cell values and displaying formulas in the worksheet.

CTRL+’

Copies a formula from the cell above the active cell into the cell or the Formula Bar.

CTRL+”

Copies the value from the cell above the active cell into the cell or the Formula Bar.

CTRL++

Displays the Insert dialog box to insert blank cells.

CTRL+1

Displays the Format Cells dialog box. 

3. Microsoft Word

Ribbons. Have multiple documents open at once? Want to save them all? Save time by making this a ribbon.  The Save All and Close All commands are not part of the default Ribbon, but they’re easy to create. you can easily add them to your Ribbon.

Go to File –> Options –>Customize Ribbon. Select Commands Not in the Ribbon under Choose commands from column. Presto! Add it to your Quick Access toolbar and never worry about accidentally closing unsaved documents.

Oops. Did you accidentally close unsaved documents?

Recover unsaved documents with File –> Info –> Manage Versions. Then, click on the little dropdown and select Recover Unsaved Documents.

Lawyerword. This ad-on software steamlines MS Word for lawyers. LawyerWord software includes specific time-saving features, such as: firm templates, firm style sets, advanced document clean-up features, batch printing, layout tools, field tools, legal numbering tools, simplified markup tools.

Microsoft OneNote. MS OneNote is not, technically, MS Word. But, it may surprise lawyers to know that the MS OneNote program offers law firm professionals powerful ways to divvy up information and rapidly locate documents, photographs, and other electronic files.

“My opposing counsel kept looking at me with obvious envy as I made my argument to the judge why certain key evidence should be excluded from the trial we were involved in. I could tell from the look on the attorney’s face that he was puzzled how I could refer to portions of the record, prior witness testimony, exhibits, case law, and a brief that I had previously submitted, all without a single piece of paper in front of me,” reports one trial lawyer to Microsoft.

“The only thing I used was my laptop and a mouse. He sat at a table with loose papers piled haphazardly, manila folders strewn about, and a Bankers Box on the floor, stuffed to overflowing.”

Throw out clutter along with your technophobia.

As a law firm professional, you need to crunch loads of data in a short amount of time. You may already know a great deal about MS Word and PPT. Excel, however, reamains the most misunderstood and under-utilized arrow in a lawyer’s quiver.

So, educate yourself about Excel in C4CM’s 90-minute interactive webinar, Excel for Financial Reporting: Shortcuts, Tricks, and Time-Saving Tips.

By the end, you will be able to:

  1. Construct an integrated financial model – from scratch!
  2. Utilize new techniques that help you build spreadsheets effectively
  3. Use the What-If data analysis tool, and
  4. Applying tips that minimize errors, save time, and store information.

There will always be Google search inputs like the question, “are lawyers scared of technology?” But, hopefully, your firm won’t reach top of the list of results.

-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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How To Concentrate In The Cold & Other Practical Tips

Fridays are always rough. With floods in NYC and along the eastern coastline, snow in the Midwest, and general cold sweeping the country, it’s hard enough to get to work, let alone finish it.

But, with a few clear and concise daily goals, you can create a productive and welcoming start to what’s likely to be a slightly dreary weekend.

1. Concentrate despite the cold

Although the autumn weather is finally be turning, your office heat may still be turned off.

If you find yourself losing concentration in a cold office, try using the countdown method. Look at the clock and plan to work ten more minutes, read ten more pages, or write ten more lines of a brief. Then, reward your effort with a warm cup of tea or coffee.

Whether it’s due to temperature issues or end-of-the-workweek procrastination, don’t lose your focus. Counting down a few more minutes will help you finish that less stretch of work before heading home. Or, finishing that last memo before going to lunch.

You’ll be surprised at what you can achieve in just a few more minutes. More often than not, having a distinct, short-term deadline to complete a task will bring back your fat-waning concentration.

2. Do the most important task first

At the end of the week, it’s easy to waste your day working on little projects—filing papers or filling out timesheets, for example.

But, this usually leads to an unrelaxing weekend worrying about the more important case-related matters you left behind. And, it can also lead to a weekend spent at the office.

So, today, find your most important task at hand. Complete this item first.

If you funnel your concentration and effort into one, single work item, you’ll be more satisfied with your progress, and you’ll have set a more manageable goal for a Friday afternoon.

3. Ignore your email

Fridays are a great day for people to pass off work, delegate, or finally respond to e-mails from earlier in the week.

And, e-mail is the quickest way to lose your work momentum.

So, maintain your concentration by ignoring new, incoming e-mails—at least for awhile.

Create a schedule for checking them (say, every hour). This will also give you an occasional, much-needed break from completing your more important projects.

4. Don’t forget your to-do list

When you’re feeling overwhelmed, your concentration starts to decline. There feels like just too much to do in so little time.

Creating a to-do list is one of those basic, old, but still valuable tasks for any professional. Create a to-do list for the day and for the week. If you can, assign dates to each task (you can modify them later).

Creating a to-do list will get you in the habit of writing things down.

After every phone call, e-mail, or in-person conversation, write down the project being discussed, along with the related-tasks.

This is one of the many reasons why Excel was created.

At the end of the day, you’ll be grateful for the visual representation of all your work—especially once you see that none is urgent and your weekend about to begin.

-WB

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Prepare Your Case With Google–Or Watch The Supreme Court Do It For You

From reply-all senior associate dunces to technologically-inept lawyers to polls that show 15 percent of bar holders use a computer only when “absolutely necessary,” accounts about technologically-impaired attorneys abound.

And, law firm professionals seem to think it’s acceptable to ignore advances in technology when it comes to lawyering.

However, for those lawyers who eschew e-discovery or e-filing practices, and those firms that remain unaware of trends in legal technology, the jokes on you.

These days, even Supreme Court Justices Google. So when your firm is slow to upgrade its online resources and know-how, you may not survive the next court case.

Because, it turns out, Supreme Court Justices have been supplementing your briefs with their own online research for years.

A former clerk to retired Justice David Souter recently studied 15 years worth of Supreme Court decisions. Allison Orr Larsen, who is a professor at William & Mary Law School, found more than 100 examples of asserted facts from authorities that were never mentioned in briefs attached to the same case.

Additionally, in 120 high-profile, newsworthy cases from 2000 to 2010, Larsen found nearly 60 percent contained facts researched in-house.

“Virtually all of the justices do it regardless of whether they are traditionally labeled liberal or conservative,” explains Larsen, via the article “Should Supreme Court justices Google?” by Robert Barnes for the Washington Post, “and they cite authorities they find themselves on a wide range of subject matter (from biology to history to golf).”

Is this due diligence or simply judicial curiosity?

The fact is, information is exceedingly accessible today. It’s impossible to ignore it. 

“Now the justices (and their clerks and their librarians) are flooded with information literally at their fingertips. Social science studies, raw statistics, and other data are all just a Google search away,” writes Larsen.

“If the justices want more empirical support for a factual dimension of their argument, they can find it easily and without the help of anyone outside of the Supreme Court building.”

Many lawyers are starting to question the validity of this practice.

For example, in 2011, the court found a California law forbidding the sale of violent video games to minors violated the First Amendment. Justice Stephen G. Breyer in a dissent offered 13 pages of studies on the topic of psychological harm from playing violent video games. Justice Clarence Thomas cited 59 sources to support his view that the Founding Fathers believed that parents had absolute control over their children’s development—an overwhelming 57 of them were not in the briefs submitted in the case.

Is this organized legal justice or vigilante Supreme Court intervention?

Lawyers are welcome discuss this topic at length. But, wherever your firm stands on the contentious argument, the fact of the matter is, Justices do check the Internet.

When it comes down to your case, what will they find? And, more importantly, do professionals at your firm possess the technological skills to adequately prepare?

-WB


Fear your firm may be falling behind? Start with The Center For Competitive Management’s course, “Excel® Charts and Graphs Made Easy.”

And, read C4CM’s blog post, “Why Integrating Legal Technology Will Save Your Firm Time And Money.”

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How Lawyers Can Use Excel

Excel is just a complex calculator that comes free with Microsoft Word, right?

Wrong.

Excel is a multi-dimensional tool that is useful in a variety of industries, from accounting to finance to law. Yes, that’s right, there are a plethora of reasons lawyers should use Excel in their practice.

Below are a few suggestions of everyday legal activity that could be made easier and accomplished more efficiently with Excel.

Timelines

For internal reference and trial presentations, timelines are an essential weapon in a litigants quiver. Lawyers involved in complex litigation must have a clear understanding of the chronology of the case.

However, these timelines are also vital to a firm when the case goes to trial—jury members must understand case chronology, as well.

This means a timeline must be both functional and visually stimulating. Enter, Excel.

Excel has the ability to sort timelines by event and date in a meaningful and demonstrative way. Microsoft in Education even provides a tutorial to explain exactly how to achieve this in its article, “Create A Timeline In Microsoft Excel.”

Timesheets

Today, an increasing number of lawyers are using Mac computers and Apple software at the office. Just read the titles of new legal blogs on the web, such as The Mac Lawyer, Law Office Software For The Macintosh, and Criminal Defense With An Apple.

Even those lawyers, however, are keen on Microsoft products. Take, for example, Esquire Mac’s discussion of billable hour software versus Excel:

“Over the years, I’ve developed a fairly simple but flexible spreadsheet for tracking my billable time. For our firm, this represents the ideal solution at present. I have taken a liking to a few different Mac billing apps out there (like Billings, Involer, Invoice, GrandTotal, and iRatchet) but each of them falls short in one way or another for our purposes.”

No need to purchase expensive billing software when Microsoft Office is already uploaded to your office computers.

In addition, though some firms may have staff or consultants dedicated to case management analysis, for smaller firms, organizing timesheets in Excel can help trend your most significant cases over time.

For example, a legal administrator can organize attorney time by case matter, month, billable hours, or the billing attorney to discover which cases are the most active and which may need more attention, which attorney billed the most this month and which the least.

Access to this type of information will make a firm more attentive to any clients who might be falling through the cracks, and also increase its overall profitability, after it knows where to devote more billable hours.

Status of cases

Law firms circulate internally, and to the client, a case status update.

Excel makes this easy by providing a manipulatable database sorted by client name, county, type of case, date filed, place filed, date settled, opposing attorney, case settlement amount, and attorney fees to date.

At the end of the year, the compilation of all case status spreadsheets will give managing partners the perfect overview of upcoming casework and trials, in addition to closed and settled matters (not to mention, incoming income!).

Casework assignments

In a similar vein, Excel can expedite the process of assigning cases to attorneys. Excel can be used as a method to effectively organize case assignments and avoid duplication of work effort.

That way, when a senior attorney wants to know who is creating the timeline (in Excel, of course) for his case matter, the information, including the name of the assigned associate and the status of his or her work, is quickly and clearly accessible.

In the end, Excel has applications in many industries. If Excel is not frequently used in law, it’s because lawyers tend to fear it.

But, help forums and tutorials for Excel are copious online. These days, attorneys have no valid claims to MS-Office ignorance.

So, start small and get familiar with Excel’s massive potential for your firm. After all, the best part about Excel is that you already own it.

-WB

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Three Questions To Ask A Firm Before You Hire Them

In this economy, clients have the advantage of choosing from a wide-range of qualified law firms. Law firms, for their turn, must stay competitive in this tight market to seek out new clients and to keep old ones satisfied. As the industry progresses, it’s difficult to predict whether or not a prospective client will feel more comfortable with a gray-haired litigator, yellow legal pad in hand, or the young power-suit with an iPad 2.

Regardless of your preference on the above, certain technology in the legal field is necessary for law firms of every generation. To ensure a law firm is up-to-date on their legal precedent, you should ensure they’re current on their legal tools. The following lists three basic questions to ask the firm of your choice so that you know whether or not it’s best equipped to represent your interests.

Email.  

If the equity partners at the firm have never sent you a personal email, then it’s time to worry about what other technology they don’t understand. As claims become more and more techno-related—intellectual property disputes, dot-com bankruptcies, and start-up social media suits—so law firms should understand the interworkings of what it’s defending. After being wined and dined, think about whether excuses of “non discoverable communication” or “confidentiality” are just cover-ups for lack of computer proficiency.

 

Ask: Will you please email me the name of that restaurant you took me to? My wife really enjoys a good filet mignon.

Excel.

You wouldn’t hire an accountant who didn’t understand basic MS Excel macros or formulas. Also an expert in its field, a law firm should be able to back up its experience in corporate litigation with, in the least, last year’s version of Excel. If a firm is serious about its own financial tools, it will use the same diligence to protect yours.

Ask: Will you please send my invoices in .xlsx forma? I’d like to forward them to my CFO for budgeting purposes.

Secure FTP.  

FTP sites are certainly not the sole or most secure medium for transferring large document files. But, Trial Transfer Protocols (FTPs) have existed internationally since the 1970s, so it should reflect the firm’s electronic capabilities and basic understanding of the web (there’s a reason it’s called “world wide”).  In addition, an equity partner’s relationship with their Tech lead is telling to their level of respect for the field in general.  

Ask: Do you have an FTP site, and how do you ensure it’s secure? Please let me know when we can have a conference call with your IT manager to discuss this matter.

-WB


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