Tag Archives: innovation

A To F: Alphabetical List Of Outdated Legal Technology

We’ve already complained about Luddite lawyers.

Technology is not only a pragmatic requirement of the practice of law; it is now an ethical one, too.

If your IT Department isn’t already the most integral and important part of your firm, it’s like you’re falling behind. Furthermore, if you use any of the following items on a day-to-day basis, it’s like your operations are as outdated, as well.

Eliminate some of these machines and office mores to get back on track.

“A” for Associates.

Associates are on the decline, and law firm employees on the rise.

Associate compensation models are changing as the legal marketplace becomes overpopulated with a generation of lawyers with very different workplace attitudes and expectations.

Firms are recognizing the growing obsolescence of the traditional lockstep model and are taking steps to rework it or replace it. Firms now have an opportunity to be much more creative in how their attorneys are paid and to use compensation as a way to drive long-term value. To create long-term value and retain good attorneys, a firm first needs to design a strong, coherent, and attractive strategy.

Rather than firing secretaries or de-equitizing partners, Greenberg Traurig law firm has created a new strategy for hiring associates in the form of a “residency program.” Firm managers view this program as a way to attract talented associates without having to endure the costly and risky hiring process. Also, it allows junior lawyers to sign on who may not have made the cut in the first place, reports Law21.

In addition, junior lawyers work case matters without billing their work at the high rates clients have come to expect. Sitting on conference calls and gaining on-the-job training, these “resident” attorneys gain the job experience needed to succeed in the future and sustain life in an over-saturated market today.

Greenberg is simultaneously creating a new non-shareholder-track position called the practice group attorney, similar to the positions at law firms Kilpatrick Townsend & Stockton; and Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe. 

The age of the Associate is over.

“B” for Binders

Why are you till making copies, printing out transcripts, and creating binders? Sure, every once in awhile, there’s a need for a hard-copy backup binder. But, it’s time to go digital.

Papers can be scanned, digitally stored, text-recognized, and then made searchable to improve the efficiency and cost-effectiveness of your law firm.

Binders are out, and electronic case material software—MyCase, Amicus Attorney, AdvantageLaw, LegalFiles, and OneNote—is in.

“C” for Conference calls

How many people really benefit from conference calls? Already, it’s impossible for more than one person to speak, and—often—people accidentally speak over one another.

Is a conference call more efficient than a memo? Do five people really need to bill the client for the same call?

Conference calls can easily be replaced with a quick person-to-person conversation, memorandums circulated over email, lists distributing work product, or—for the advanced law firm—discussions over a wiki (Learn how to create one here).

Ditch the conference call and develop your social capital at in-person conferences instead.

“D” for Dictaphones

Della may have used a Dictaphone for Perry Mason, but outside the world of black and white television is the real world of iPhones and Macbooks.

Your smartphone, tablet, and computer is capable of recording and even transcribing audio. So why are you still using cassette tape recorders? The Dictaphone should die in a fiery death, the app Dragon Dictation, however, is worth its weight in Silicon.

“E” for E-mail

Experts agree, e-mail is outdated. 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.

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.

Have you ever e-mailed a colleague who shares a wall with you? If so, it’s time to reconsider your e-mail etiquette and e-mail frequency.

Electronic communication certainly has its advantages. But, its overuse has made e-mail under-perform in comparison to old-fashioned office visits.

“F” for Faxes

Ok, keep your fax machine. But only if it’s paid for or used as a paperweight, museum item, or reminder to what legal assistants had to go through to file motions in the past. Otherwise, stick to e-filings or eFaxing.

If you’re having trouble keeping up with times, just consult The Center For Competitive Management (C4CM)’s list of courses and audio conferences on technology integration for law firms.

Also, keep reading this blog, http://lawfirmsuccess.wordpress.com/, for more tips of the legal trade.

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Lawyers Finally Forced To Embrace Technology (& Snubb Ned Ludd)

In 1985, Robert Calvert wrote and recorded a song “Ned Ludd,” which says:

They said Ned Ludd was an idiot boy
That all he could do was wreck and destroy, and
He turned to his workmates and said: Death to Machines
They tread on our future and they stamp on our dreams.

The year of 1985 was the year of the Polaroid, original Macintosh computer, and the digital Casio Keyboard. In 1985, Nintendo was shipped from Japan to the USA and revolutionized gaming. We also got a glimpse of Windows 1.0.

So, with so many amazing technological advancements, why were people singing homages to Ned Ludd?

Ned Ludd, for those who don’t know, is the person who gave Luddites their name.

In 1779, Ludd supposedly broke two stocking frames in a fit of rage. Thereafter, any and all violence by 19th century English textile artisans who protested against new, labour-saving machinery—the Luddites—was blamed on Ludd (read more on Wikipedia here).

Luddites hated technology. They fought against the Industrial Revolution. In the 1980s, the computer boom, like Calvert’s song, was experience a minor backlash of critism. Today, we are witnessing the same.

But, are lawyers Luddites?

That has been a frequent topic of conversation of late, particularly since the recent amendment by the ABA House of Delegates to Comment 8 to Model Rule of Professional Conduct 1.1 on Competence. The phrase (in bold italics) below was added to Comment 8:

To maintain the requisite knowledge and skill, a lawyer should keep abreast of changes in the law and its practice, including the benefits and risks associated with relevant technology, engage in continuing study and education and comply with all continuing legal education requirements to which the lawyer is subject.

The Lawyerist featured an article in December 2013 titled, “Luddite Lawyers Are Ethical Violations Waiting to Happen.

The article’s author, Megan Zavieh, comments, “During my first year of law school, we were not allowed to do computerized research. Instead, we were taught to use the leather-bound reporters, Shepherds, and treatises. It was only during our second year that we were deemed worthy to use Westlaw and Lexis to ‘confirm’ our book findings. (Of course, I doubt any of us ventured into the stacks again.)”

“This approach reflected the general attitude of the legal profession in the mid-to-late 1990s.”

Of course, the 1980s and 1990s for law and technology look nothing like the legal practices of the 21st century. “In 2013, email is ubiquitous, and just about every lawyer has some form of electronic research available on his laptop, tablet, or phone. And everyone—lawyers included—uses Google to find everything else,” writes Zavieh.

“In law practice, that includes research on witnesses, opponents, judges, and anything else not found in a Fastcase, Westlaw, or Lexis database. Technology is an unavoidable part of practicing law.”

The Lawyerist article is powerful, citing case precedent where technology—including “reasonable efforts” to conduct online searches during jury selection or considering the inclusion of social networking sites in due diligence as part of a “matter of professional competence”—has entrenched itself in courtrooms and cases.

Being ethical now requires lawyers to be technological. So, what does that mean for your firm?

First, “old-school” partners can no longer shun firm training sessions on legal services software. “The age of the law firm partner who can’t remember what Facebook is called, or who asks his secretary to print out his emails, or who goofs up a video conference during trial, is past,” Zavieh reminds us.

Second, new associates should be tested on their technological knowledge before being hired. Always.

Third, your firm might reconsider how it conducts its due diligence, and disseminate technology-friendly policies.

Fourth, your e-discovery software should be state-of-the-art.

Fifth, your IT department should circulate monthly memos on the top tech trends and how to incorporate them at your firm.

Sixth, your younger associates should keep track of technology-related legal precedent and what it means for important case matters.

Finally, if you’ve rejected any of these simple steps toward streamlining technology into the day-to-day operations of your firm, it’s likely you’re a Luddite. And, these days, Luddite lawyers are about as outdated, un-recruited, and under-performing as 19th century looms.

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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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Three Things You Should Tell Your Clients About IP

Law firm professionals are jacks-of-all-trades. They behave like lawyers, business partners, advisors, parents and psychologists all at once.

Clients expect law firms to have all the answers. What type of funding should I choose? What’s the best time to expand my business? Can you draw up this or that contract? What is the best IP strategy?

And, although law firms can’t (and shouldn’t) answer all these questions, they do—naturally—bring with them a variety of expertise.

And whether it’s in formal meetings or informal newsletters circulated to your clients, it’s time lawyers did some due diligence regarding intellectual property. With real estate prices the way they (still) are toady, it’s the only type of property that may still hold its weight over time.

1.  Protect your U.S. Trademark registrations.

“Think twice before filing a voluntary surrender of a US trademark registration or expressly abandoning an application, because, like the decision to burn a bridge, the choice is irreversible,” writes Steven Abreu.

It turns out, Registrant International Expeditions Inc. found this out the hard way as chronicled in a recent precedential Trademark Trial and Appeal Board (TTAB) decision, Christiane E LLC v International Expeditions Inc. (Cancellation No 92055645, May 24, 2013), according to the law firm Sunstein Kann Murphy & Timbers, LLP.

The case in question involved an questionable surrender of a trademark. And, although clients reserve the right to change their minds, courts reserve the right to fight against its.

“As the withdrawal of one’s registration (and in this case the entry of judgment against the registrant with prejudice) is an important and final action, it should not be done lightly,” agrees Abreu.

“Thus, it is incumbent on trademark counsel to advise clients that voluntary surrender of one’s registration or an express abandonment of an application cannot be undone, and the decision to do so should only be taken after a thorough contemplation of the reasons and frank discussion of the irreversible consequences.”

2. Beware of both upstream and downstream consequences to consumer laws.

“Once a consumer buys a copyrighted product, like a book, the copyright holder—whether it be the author or a publisher—has exhausted all rights to control the product’s downstream distribution,” explains Sharona Sternberg.

But what happens when copyrighted works are manufactured abroad and sold abroad? Current laws never addressed that question… until today.

“In March 2013, the Supreme Court finally provided an answer, in Kirtsaeng v. John Wiley and Sons. Supap Kirtsaeng, a citizen of Thailand, moved to the United States in 1997 to study at Cornell University.  Noting the discrepancy in the price of textbooks between the U.S. and Thailand, Kirtsaeng asked family and friends back home to buy foreign editions of English-language texts in Thailand at the lower prices and ship them to the U.S.”

After reselling these books, Kirtsaeng allegedly made hundreds of thousands of dollars through this business model. Finally, one of the publishers of these textbooks got ahold of Kirtsaeng’s scheme, and sued for copyright infringement. The case made it to the Supreme Court.

If you don’t know what happened already, read the entire tale (and analysis) here.

And, if you’re clicking on the above link in order to figure out what this means for your clients, perhaps you should be writing your own monthly newsletter (and brushing up on recent IP cases).

3. Creativity wins (cases)!


Whether it’s creative ways to reach out to rekindle relationships with old clients or attract new ones, creativity wins. And, it wins cases.

Video game developers have been winning cases against clone technology. Read more here about the defense of gaming innovators.

Meanwhile, what has your firm been doing to support the innovation of its clients, or to promote innovation within its own walls?

Whether its helping lawyer moms, using iPads in the office, building a unique law firm business plan, or restructuring to boost entreprelawyering, C4CM has ideas for you (read here).

If law firm managers are expected to know it all (and then some), it doesn’t hurt to get a little help.

-WB

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Lawyer Moms Can Do It All? Entreprelawyers Welcome Here.

Watch out female lawyers, the bar has been set for working moms.

Havona Madama, attorney at law turned entrepreneur, started out as an associate for a small insurance firm in Chicago.  Then, she started her own practice specializing in emerging technologies. Now, she’s a multiple start-up business owner in Brooklyn, New York.

“I didn’t realize how many day-to-day things entrepreneurs do when I was working mostly as a lawyer and sometimes as an entrepreneur. Now that it’s the other way around, it’s like “oh, wow! It’s an interesting combination of skills you need to be a full-time entrepreneur,” Madama said in an interview (link to video here) with Spencer Mazyck of Bloomberg Law.

Working with high-tech entrepreneurs everyday at the law office may have made it easier for Madama to open her own home office.

Initially, Madama started with a toddler clothing line, Dulcet Clothiers, all the while running her own partnership law firm full-time.

As her daughter grew and became more active, Madama started to look for family-friendly workouts. She created a yoga video for moms with children under three, who are still too young to go to formal classes.

Thus Tuesdays At Ten was born, an umbrella organization under which she could form more companies, including her most successful, KidKlass. KidKlass is an aggregator app and website for kid’s classes in Brooklyn, New York.

Constantly looking to learn and grow as a person, Madama was motivated to provide the same for her daughter. But, finding children’s classes, recreational and educational services in New York was both time-consuming and frustrating.

In today’s “generation waiting list,” Madama was looking to take the stress out of parenting.

It takes a lot of time to find local classes, recommendations from other parents about these classes, and ways to register officially online, as opposed to lengthy paper applications in-person.

It was then that Madama made the switch between full-time lawyer to full-time entrepreneur.

Is this a total abandonment of law? Not really.

“The kinds of clients I work with respect what I’m doing,” explains Madama.

Should she ever go back to practicing, her entrepreneur clients might value her experience even more highly. First-hand knowledge of what it takes to run a household (for family lawyers), a Fortune-500 firm (for corporate lawyers), or an insurance company (for litigants) is critical.

In fact, more lawyers should practice what they preach.

So, don’t be afraid to volunteer with your local non-profit organization to see the ins-and-outs of running a small, non-profit firm. When you go back to your not-for-profit clients, you may bring more compassion in addition to expertise to the negotiating table.

If you’re working on a contentious financial merger between two companies, spend a day shadowing the CEO of each company. Or, better yet, become a customer and watch how the day-to-day operations are handled on either end. You’ll have, at least, a bit more insight to why there’s so much emotion, as well as technical complexity, at play.

Finally, if you’re a hiring manager, don’t dismiss the non-legal experience of the incoming freshman class of associates. First, employment opportunities for young lawyers have been scare. And, secondly, experience beyond textbooks and courtrooms might—in the end—make it into both.

If a lawyer can successfully transition to be an entrepreneur, don’t underestimate the value of an entrepreneurial mind wishing to become a lawyer.

If your firm is ready to push their limits, encourage your associates to come up with profitable business ideas. Become your own venture capital firm and fund the best business ideas of your employees (at a percentage ownership and margin, of course).

The job market is in transition. Hybrid lawyers are abound. Embrace the entreprelawyer.

-WB

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Steady Growth or Innovation? What Your Law Firm Can Learn From Microsoft’s Crossroads

Last week, Microsoft Chief Executive Steve Ballmer announced his retirement. And, some sources are saying this is a good opportunity to reboot the company’s disenchanted corporate culture.

Is Microsoft in such dire straits?

Consider 2010, the advent of Apple’s iPad announcement. Microsoft had already created a buzz in the tech community for its mockups of a tablet computer. Dreamed up by the inventor of the Xbox videogame, the tablet folded like a book and its users could sketch directly on the screen.

But, Microsoft waited. And, while the Apple iPad transformed into a worldwide phenomenon, for its turn, Microsoft scrapped the entire tablet computer idea.

According to Steve Ballmer, Microsoft needed to refocus its efforts on the Windows operating system for which the company first earned its reputation.

“So ingrained is Microsoft’s culture of protecting entrenched interests that swinging for the fences is sometimes punished, and so people stopped trying, say current and former employees and outsiders,” reports the Wall Street Journal.

“They say that an outsider CEO may be the best choice to welcome back technologists who think outside the box.”

In any venture, it’s important to decide on a vision. There are two extreme choices in business: (1) invest in innovation or (2) invest in the sure-thing.

For centuries, entrepreneurs have known there exists a trade-off between risk and reward. Too much risk in finding the next, new, cutting-edge technology and your company may be left in the red. However, too conservative and your company may be left in the dust.

It seems as though Microsoft isn’t sure where it should land on this thin, insensitive line of risk and reward. To those law firm managers surviving the recession, do you?

Of course, a tradeoff does not imply one without the other. For law firms, there is middle ground between innovative legal resources and services and traditional practices.

“Whether to manage a company for growth or for efficiency is a classic business conundrum, and the choice isn’t simple,” Shira Ovide reminds us in the Wall Street Journal.

Before you throw out nautical décor and ask I.M. Pei to design your new law offices, consider the following:

  1. Is there a large innovation gap between your firm and others in your same practice area?
  2. When was the last time you updated your legal technology?
  3. What is the average age of your associates?
  4. What is the spread of ages for employees at your law firm?
  5. What is the type of profile for associates you hope to attract in the future?
  6. What is your mission statement?
  7. How large do you want your firm to grow in the next 5 years? 10 years?

Often innovative companies attract bright young talent. However, if your youngest associate is in his late thirties, how well will a 20-something tweeting law grad assimilate in your firm?

On the other hand, if your firm is top-heavy, it’s likely your firm is lagging behind in the best latest technology and methods for managing your firm.

If you haven’t yet, it’s important to create a 5 to 10 year plan for:

  • Risk Management
  • Global operations
  • Incorporating technology
  • Growth targets
  • Leadership training
  • Social media/mobile devices

In the case of Microsoft, Mr. Ballmer may scoff making radical ideas come true, but he knows how to make the company green—with money, that is. Since becoming CEO in 2000, Microsoft has become one of the world’s most profitable companies by quadrupling its annual revenue, making about 75 cents in gross profit for every dollar in sales.

Google takes in half that amount.

So, yes, maybe Microsoft’s digital music player was too little, too late (do you even remember the Zune?). And, perhaps Apple’s brand is little a bit more “cool”. But, if slow and stead wins the race, Microsoft is right on track.

Does your law firm strategy match your corporate culture? Learn how to grow your business with C4CM’s audio course: Increasing Revenue Per Lawyer: Creating a Healthy Culture of Business Development.

This information-packed webinar will present best practices used by today’s most profitable firms for creating a vibrant culture of business development, including (but not limited to):

Steps to build client loyalty, manage expectations and generate client referrals

  • Identifying and maximize cross-selling opportunities
  • How to match your marketing strategy to seniority level
  • Making business development a sustainable, ongoing part of your culture

-WB

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Out Of This World! A Story of Two Unique Law Firms & The Mars Rover

When Curiosity landed on Aeolis Palus in Gale Crater on Mars on August 6, 2012, few people believed such an amazing feat could become a reality.

The Bradbury Landing site was less than 1.5 mile from the center of the rover’s planned touchdown target after a 350,000,000-mile journey. Not only did the massive spacecraft land at the right spot, it landed at the right speed, angle, and positioning to successfully roll into infamy.

See, the best scientists in the world were tasked with the impossible. Build a rover that could investigate the Martian climate and geology; assess whether the selected field site inside Gale Crater has ever offered environmental conditions favorable for microbial life; investigate the presence or history of water; and study the in preparation for future human exploration.

Oh, and don’t break the rover on landing.

Luckily for NASA, Allen Chen was one of the many MIT alumni working on this aerospace challenge.

“We can’t use airbags (as the smaller twin rovers Spirit and Opportunity did in 2004), because the one-ton rover is too heavy. If we land the rover on a platform (to protect the legs), we need a way to get it onto the ground. That means it will have to roll down a ramp, but what if the rover lands on a tall rock, or on a hill, and the whole assembly is tilted? Then we’d need ramps of different lengths. Well, why don’t we just land it on its wheels? How do we do that? Dangle it from above … Eureka!” Anne-Marie Corley describes Chen’s thought process in her MIT Technology Review article, “Destination: Mars.”

Thus, the idea of a sky crane was borne.

Director of the Mars Program told Ms. Corley that one of the best parts of his job as program director was convincing NASA headquarters that the sky crane “wasn’t just crazy; it was crazy good.”

That’s the problem with senior management today—tunnel vision. They tend to be more conservative thinkers compared to their out-of-the-box junior counterparts.

In science, as with the Mars program, it’s a bit easier to recognize creativity and the birth of the next big idea. After all, scientists work in programs and office spaces designed for exactly that.

Meanwhile, in law offices, not laboratories, professionals are struggling to find sources of inspiration and innovation.

Finding an inventive and more profitable way to practice law seems as impossible as men on Mars. Still, men were on the moon and a robot is roving the deserts just one Planet over, so perhaps the impossible is near.

For example, Boston-based firm Exemplar Law Partners is a 10-lawyer firm that committed itself to an impossible: offering all cases on a flat-fee basis. Most lawyers remain in defense of the billable hour. Yet, these daring few are eschewing the tradition.

The legal services industry (rather, its clients) can thank Christopher Marsten, who founded Exemplar in January 2006 straight out of law school. His unconventional business plan includes the requirement that all firm partners possess a business degree in addition to a J.D.

Marsen’s martian business practice is not alone in the world. Hardcore Superstar Legal Management Corporation’s legal strategy stands apart, as well.

The firm claims it is the “new paradigm in effortless corporate services.”

Joseph Briante and Theresa Holiday James co-founded the firm in Vancouver, British Columbia, where they have attracted a handful of exceptional-quality clients in finance, software and technology, according to the American Bar Association (ABA) Law Practice Magazine’s article, “Maverick at Law: How Do You Get Inspired?”

One of the unique services offered is the firm’s Legal Services Audit. This service provides clients with a comprehensive audit of their outside counsel’s work, “carefully examine bills and work product of your legal team; prepare a report card for your legal team based on our findings; and provide recommendations, instructions and tips on effective use of counsel to keep down your legal bills,” reports the ABA.

“We’re definitely more fun than dealing with your current counsel,” boasts the firm.

In the end, while your law firm may not have NASA’s billion-dollar budget, it can still offer its clients a celestial-sized redesign in terms of innovative (1) billing structure or (2) range of services.

So, law firm managers, next time your subordinates pitch a seemingly space-age idea for your more grounded business problems, hear them out. You never know when dreaming big will actually land your law firm among the stars.

-WB

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Two Unique Law Firm Structures–Should You Adopt Their Strategy, Too?

A year ago, Forbes was certain that more law firms would go the way of Dewey & LeBoeuf.

“The demise of Dewey is blamed on the long-term financial commitments the firm made to lure rainmaking partners from other firms,” wrote Max Harris, chief executive of Axiom, a 900-person new-model legal services firm, for Forbes.

“However, the real problem is less the commitments themselves and more a firm structure that worships short-term interests and punishes long-term investments of any kind.”

Why? Because most law firms are structured in a way that allows partners to freely move firms (and take clients with them).

“The hyperactive market for mergers and lateral partner moves, akin to unrestricted free agency in sports, presents law firm managers with a seemingly intractable dilemma,” Harris lamented.

“Investment in the future, whether aimed at transcending industry pressures by acquiring game-changing talent or at innovating through increased use of technology and more streamlined delivery models, requires a deferment of near-term compensation, and thus it risks inciting an exodus by a firm’s top producers.”

However, not all law firms need to be crippled by their own organizational structure. In fact, law firms these days are not going down like Dewey. Instead, law firms are looking for new ways to market one of the oldest professional services.

Uniqueness is a great way to attract clients and retain employees. In a competitive market, it’s all about what sets your firm apart, rather than how your firm conforms to standards. In the past, clients wanted law firms that looked like a law firm (oak molding and boat paintings), moved like a law firm (billable hours and face time with the partners) and talked like a law firm (lots of legal jargon) to quell their fears about uncertain litigation.

Today, clients are looking for innovative billing practices, modern legal technology, and low-cost services. Associates are looking for adequate incentive to join and then stay in a firm.

How do you achieve uniqueness? Discover your firm’s value-add. Let’s take two examples.

According to Gabriel Cheong, owner of Infinity Law Group in Quincy, Mass. and Cambridge Divorce Group in Cambridge, Mass., over 90 percent of litigants in Family Court are unrepresented, pro se litigants. To fill this gap and differentiate his practice, Cheong is in the business of selling legal services, not attorneys.

See, Cheong’s firms provide unbundled legal services (or Limited Assistance Representation) that give individuals looking for help, but not representation, the legal advice they need at a low fee. Uniqueness in this case stems from meeting the client-side of the legal business.

How are clients being under-served? If you can’t answer this question for your legal niche already, just ask your current clients. Circulate a survey or mention it in the next meeting. Then, go back to the office and brainstorm new ways to meet this need.

Next up, Finnegan, Henderson, Farabow, Garrett & Dunner have chosen to solve a persistent associate-side problem: law school loans.

Does your law firm need to recruit and retain top new talent? Finnegan, Henderson, Farabow, Garrett & Dunner provide their attorneys with a law school loan payback scheme. Attorneys who work for the firm during law school as student associates qualify for the reimbursement program.

“I signed some checks for Harvard and Stanford in the past year that nearly made me choke,” joked Barbara McCurdy, managing partner, to the Washington Post. But “the benefit for us is that we attract really excellent talent.”

The program isn’t just for lawyers, either.

Lawyers don’t underestimate the value of a good assistant or paralegal. Often these support services make or break a case. That’s why it’s so important to retain talented staff.

At Finnegan, Henderson, Farabow, Garrett & Dunner, tuition reimbursement for non-attorney staffers is available at 100 percent for straight-A employees. B-students are eligible for 80 percent reimbursement and a C-students eligible for 60 percent, according to the Washington Post.

Your firm will only excel to the extent your human capital is excellent.

Whether it’s on the client-side or associate-side of your legal business, look at how your firm can stand apart from the rest. Do you feel secure that your equity and managing partners are here to stay? If not, what is your retention strategy?

Forbes was wrong to think that the legal market can’t handle harsh competition. Law firms are not all going bust like Dewey & LeBoeuf. Nevertheless, survival still depends on successful management of your firm’s long-term assets and investments. That’s right, long-term….

So, take stock, and stand out like a sore thumb. In law, a little soreness from growing pains may be a good thing.

-WB

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Why Entrepreneurs Need Lawyers & Why Lawyers Need Blogs (Or Other Innovative Business Practices)

Can lawyers be entrepreneurs, too?

Well, as we’ve already discussed, lawyers are successful entrepreneurs when:

  1. Their law firm practice stands the test of time;
  2. Their law firm practice earns more than it spends;
  3. Their law firm practice creates an impact on the industry;
  4. Their law firm practice earns public recognition; or
  5. Their law firm practice achieves its mission or goal.

How well a law firm manager improves the firm’s training scheme, ameliorates his personal leadership style, and advances legal technology used by associates will ultimately impact the number of clients he attracts and new business he sustains.

Luckily, this job just got easier.

The Virginia Supreme Court in Horace Hunter v. Virginia State Bar ruled on the extent to which law firms can promote their practice and previous legal wins via a blog or website.

“The Virginia majority held that Hunter did not have to seek clients’ permission to discuss past closed cases, even if there was a possibility that the clients would suffer embarrassment or some other harm by the public airing of their affairs. The court also ruled that Hunter’s blogging about past courtroom successes on his firm’s website constituted an advertisement, even though he also included commentary on the criminal justice system. As a result, the majority said he should have included a standard disclaimer cautioning against too much reliance on past results.” (via Above The Law)

When it comes to non-legal entities, like (ironically) the blog reporting on this blog ruling, not all legal blogs represent commercial speech.

Above The Law reports, “The opinion was kind enough to put our personal legal questions to rest by citing Above the Law as the sort of legal blog that transcended the strictures that apply to Hunter’s blog. According to the Virginia Supreme Court, ATL is not legal advertising because we have commenters. Thanks y’all.”

But, that’s not all.

Not only are courts smiling fondly on legal blogs these days, but the blogosphere itself is promoting legal work. Consider, for example, a recent post on the Harvard Business Review Blog. It reads, “Ready to Innovate? Get a Lawyer.”

As it turns out, lawyers can be entrepreneurs. And, entrepreneurs—in turn—desperately need lawyers.

Just as quickly as breakthrough innovations take place, laws are put in place to take them down. Scottish scientists closed a sheep named Dolly and then President Bill Clinton issued an executive order banning federal funds to do the same.

Fledgling start-up website Napster was shut down the same year incumbent music conglomerate Apple launched iTunes, reports HBR. Patent trolls roam the Internet putting a stop to innovators who license their intellectual property too late.

Just as new technology crops up, so does corresponding litigation.

“Now, more startups are even opening their own policy offices in Washington, Brussels, and other lawmaking capitals. Only four years into its existence, for example, Twitter opened a D.C. office headed up by a former senior Congressional and FCC staffer. Facebook’s D.C. office has almost 30 employees,” writes Larry Downes for HBR.

“Google, Microsoft, Yahoo and other Silicon Valley brand names all have their own, often extensive, government operations. For the new breed of disruptive innovators, it’s a necessary evil.”

Although calling law practice a “necessary evil” is certainly not what clients want to hear, lawyers—for their part—should be relieved to know that the business world is looking out for them. Entrepreneurs and lawyers need one another.

So, if your paid TV advertisement hasn’t reached the ears of potential clients yet, rest assured that bloggers are marketing your legal services free of charge.

In the end, Downes is addressing start-up companies and entrepreneurs in his HBR post. But, lawyers should also pay attention to his message. “When a single case can make or break your business, there’s no such thing as too much innovation—or too much lawyering,” Downes concludes.

In reverse, for those lawyers who resist change, fondly preserve “the good ole boys club”, reject new technology, or refuse to improve their firm management style, remember: when a single case can make or break your business, there’s no such think as too much innovation (period).

Don’t be stuck in a rut. Write a blog. Or, read more about innovation within law firms here.

-WB

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Patent Lawyers Happier Than Most?

Lawyers are happy in the Springtime. The months approaching April mean higher billable hours as tax season approaches. The smell of green abounds as lawyers help balance the books of their corporate clients.

What else makes attorneys happy? Going home early on a Friday or—surprisingly—staying late on Friday to work, if it’s for a rewarding case.

Lawyers, like other employees, are happier and more productive in their jobs when they’re intellectually engaged. A 2010 study by James K. Harter and colleagues showed that lower job satisfaction led to poorer performance in companies, according to the New York Times article, “Do Happier People Work Harder?”

Gallup estimates that the cost disgruntled American workers is a staggering $300 billion in lost productivity each year (via NYT).

We’ve already discussed that law firms can combat the too-unhappy-to-work blues by offering a legal issue roundtable.

A forum for discussion and learning surrounding legal issues or news will increase firm-wide happiness. A quick conversation in the morning can lead to higher levels of productivity all afternoon.

Even the U.S. government realizes the economic value of happiness. They’ve proposed incorporating an official Happiness Index alongside more traditional economic measures, like GDP.

But, if your firm is not ready to adopt more innovative approaches to workplace happiness levels, you’re in luck. This month, your firm should be busy with more than just double-checking tax returns.

This month, patent lawyers are especially happy.

On March 15, 2013, the new First-To-File patent system takes effect. For your clients, this could have important consequences and require immediate action.

Based on their patent strategies, your clients may want to get in that provisional application before the new system rolls out. In fact, some firms strongly believe the changeover will have detrimental impacts on inventors—which could be the end of your key engineering client.

Morrison & Foerster LLP recommends the following to inventors for the first-to-file changeover:

  1. Work with your scientists, engineers, or other inventors now to determine if they have new inventions that are ready or will soon be ready to file patent applications upon so that you can file any patent applications on March 15, 2013 or earlier.
  2. Accelerate research and development on commercially important inventions so you can file patent applications on them by March 15, 2013.
  3. Ensure that any new U.S. provisional patent applications that you file between now and March 15, 2013 are as complete and well drafted as any non-provisional patent application that you would expect a patent examiner to examine. If you add any new material when converting to a non-provisional application after March 15, 2013, you risk your invention being subject to the first-to-file system.
  4. File a second U.S. provisional application or foreign priority application or file a non-provisional conversion application on March 15, 2013, if you have additional material to add when converting to any U.S. provisional applications or foreign priority applications you filed on March 16, 2012 or later.

Read more about the downsides to the First-To-File system here.

Whatever your beliefs about the new patent system, however, one fact remains. Law firms should prepare notes on the regulatory changes and circulate them to clients.

The clock is ticking, and the litigation strategies of your law firm should be marching in time with it.

If you don’t want a happiness and productivity-boosting roundtable, why not a strategy session for your litigation department regarding patent cases. Now is definitely the moment to seize.

“I decided it would be fun to do patent trials,” said Richard Posner, former judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, to the NY Times. Surely, with all the new changes in patent law, the fun has only begun.

Never fear, patent lawyers—you’re happiness levels (and billables) have never been higher!

-WB

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