Tag Archives: management

Negotiation Tactics: #1 Don’t Get Caught By Surprise

From salary negotiations to severance to sick days, don’t get caught by surprise when negotiating benefits. When law firm manager or law firm employee, there’s much to be gained by constant preparation. Here’s how you do it.

For employees:

1. Know your true value

First, it’s important to know your true value. That means the market value for your current position in your current industry. Whether it’s via websites like glassdoor.com or information from your recruiter, find out whether your current salary is above or below your true value.

2. Know your relative value

Next, take into account your previous experience or unique skills. Are you bilingual? Do you have a second degree outside a JD, say a MBA or CPA? Did you previously work at the USPTO so that your patent experience exceeds that of much more tenured lawyers?

Make a list of these skills and experiences. This is your value added to the job in general.

Then, make another list of on-the-job training or tasks successfully accomplished at your current firm. This is your value added to the specific position you currently hold. These accomplishments are tangible benefits you’ve provided your employer.

“It’s all about demonstrating that you are the best person to help the employer address any challenges that may exist,” Roy Cohen, veteran career coach and author of The Wall Street Professional’s Survival Guide, said to Forbes, “that you are going to change the course of history at the organization.”

3. Keep a hardcopy of this list accessible

In today’s day and age, you never know when you might be laid off. Or, when your boss wants you to move from say, the New York office, to the Sacramento one.

If you keep this list up-to-date and accessible, then next time a manager calls you into his office, you’re prepared for anything—negotiating a new, higher salary or, in the worst case, a better severance package.

If you don’t have this list ready, or you need more time to prepare for negotiating, keep some delay-tactic phrases handy, like “I need some time to see if there’s an opportunity to advance in that office [or division].” Or, “My kids go to private school, so I’ll have to review the options and prices for similar schools in said-location.”

Don’t get caught by surprise. Stay calm. And, be well-informed when you negotiate.

For employers:

1. Know who is undervalued or overvalued at the firm

Just like your employees, managers should keep track of the range of salaries offered at the firm. It will help at the end of the year for raises and bonuses, but it will also keep you from being surprised by requests for salary increases.

Keep a ranking of your same-level associates. This ranking can remain unofficial, but it will help you answer key questions, such as: Do I play favorites? How can I assemble a balanced team of professionals for this case? Who deserves the biggest bonus? Who can this firm not afford to lose?

2. Reward ability, not ego

If a potential employee comes into your office with hardball demands and an over-inflated sense of self, this may not be the best employee or team member.

At the same, realize that employees with confidence in their abilities or value-add will be prepared to negotiate. Be clear and upfront with them about what you are personally allowed, or not allowed, to offer at this time.

Don’t lie to employees about compensation or advancement. In the end, employees will quickly figure out that bonuses are not as large as you let on, or advancement opportunities are not as they seemed. Not to mention, lying or exaggerating often transforms into a legal headache for firms.

3. Be brief

Whether you are caught by surprise by an employee or well prepared for difficult compensation discussions be brief. Negotiation, from the employer’s side, is best accomplished when the employee has to wait—anxiously anticipate—the outcome.

For your turn, in this economy, there are likely plenty of fish in the pond. The best match for any position after both sides negotiate is a win-win, where the person who gets what he or she wants in terms of compensation and benefits, and—in return—adds fair and longstanding value to your clients and firm.

Learn more in The Center For Competitive Management (C4CM)’s course: Mastering Difficult Conversations: Tips and Tools from an FBI Hostage Negotiation Trainer.

The course explores:

  • Best practices for handling tough conversations about behavior and performance
  • What techniques work best when dealing with emotional employees – and how to keep yours in check
  • Methods for dealing with sticky issues like discrimination, gossip or pay
  • Which laws and regulations you must comply with in order to reduce legal risk
  • How to decrease your fear of confrontations How to tame a tense conversation before it gets out of hand
  • Ways to respond to employee pushback
  • And more!

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President Ends U.S. Gov Shutdown: Congress (& Law Firm Managers) Learn Valuable Lesson On Time Value of Money

So, the Congressional standoff is finally over. Well, partially over.

President Obama signed a bill today to end the government shut down and raise the U.S. debt ceiling to avoid financial default, reports CNN. Federal workers are back in the office and—for the many national parks services employees—outside.

Although the U.S. avoided default, it wasn’t without cost.

The mere wait for decision-makers to negotiate and the fortnight of near foreclosure cost taxpayers plenty. And, for government workers, the shutdown meant a total shutout of salary payments, subsidies, etc.

The problem is, when debating how to spend money, the government spends money. Often making a decision—any decision—is better than delay.

A new study, for example, confirms this idea when it found that canceling government travel arrangements for budgetary reasons ironically leads to more spending, less efficiency. According to a new study conducted by Rockport Analytics for the U.S. Travel Association, “cancelling government participation in key events carries significant costs and undermines important functions of government.”

“Public agencies at all levels of U.S. government have made deep cuts to travel and meetings budgets in recent years,” said Jon Gray, vice president of research & insight, Rockport Analytics, LLC, who conducted the study.

“Our research found that these across-the-board cancellations offer short-term savings at a much greater long-term cost.”

For example, the 2013 cancellation of the Military Health System Conference, an annual training event for several thousand military medical personnel, cost the government more than $800,000. That’s $800,000 to not attend an event.

In the same vein, the decision made by NASA to withdraw its participation in the April 2013 National Space Symposium, the world’s most prominent international space exploration and policy event, carried planetary-sized monetary and non-monetary consequences.

“Some 30 nations are represented at our symposium,” explained Elliot Pulham, CEO of the National Space Foundation, a private organization that runs the annual conference.

“Important international partnerships are jeopardized, important international programs are placed at risk, and the U.S. government places serious strain on relationships with countries around the world when it does not attend.”

So while the U.S. stood still trying to balance the budget, its allies became unbalanced, unhinged, and highly concerned with how America runs business. This degraded perception of U.S. financial security has a cost.

This macro-level analysis applies to the micro-business environment, as well.

Take law firm meetings. Below are 5 reasons why you shouldn’t cancel your meetings with clients or subordinates… as demonstrated by the U.S. government shut down.

1. Cost

When your assistant organized a meeting to discuss a case matter, five law firm professionals cleared their schedules. They canceled phone calls with clients. They interrupted work flow to attend. Suddenly, you decide to postpone this groupthink. Now, all this time and—most importantly—billable hours have been wasted. It’s likely that this glut cost you more than if you simply carried through with the thirty-minute meeting.

Don’t forget the costs of postponing might outweigh the costs of a bad decision. Sometimes any decision is better than none at all.

2. Perception

When you postpone a meeting, you’re tacitly telling your employees that your time is worth more than theirs. If you cancel a meeting altogether, you’re telling employees directly that can’t manage your time. The perception of your leadership is as important as your real, tangible ability.

3. Productivity

If a decision must be made, postponing it won’t necessarily increase the information or resources available. At a certain point, reevaluating your options is like beating a dead horse. Present all the options, discuss them as a team, and then choose one with more pros than cons.

4. Long-term consequences

If you get into a pattern of canceling or postponing meetings, your employees may stop preparing for them. They may come to expect your bad habit of delaying. So, in the end, the one time you actually mean business, there may not be any business ready on the table to discuss.

5. Morale

Although most employees hate meetings, they are still a good way to boost the morale and cooperation among your team members. Meetings, over coffee or a brown-bag lunch, are scheduled to discuss a case or client. But, they also provide a forum for a general debate among colleagues.

So, even if you decide there’s nothing to discuss, don’t incur the costs of canceling. Go the distance, spend the money on travel, and sit in a boardroom. The long-term gain of increased camaraderie or communication among your employees will outweigh the costs of meeting sans agenda.

Scheduling meetings for the sake of meeting won’t increase employee productivity. But, indiscriminately canceling or postponing them once the decision is made might actually decrease it.

-WB

Discover how to overcome your fear and become a more confident speaker and effective manager in C4CM’s powerful audio conference, “Superior Speaking Skills: Becoming a Confident, Fearless Speaker.

During this information-packed session our expert faculty will give you crucial tips to help you in your next meeting to:

  1. improve your speaking style and keep yourself focused,
  2. engage your audience and speak with clarity and confidence, and appear calm, knowledgeable and professional—even if your palms are sweating!

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Has The Firm Failed Its Associates? 2 Of 3 Employees Unhappy At Job, Says Gallup

Here, take a quick test. The responses are “yes” or “no”, and there’s no right answer.

  1. I know what is expected of me at work
  2. I have the material and equipment I need to do my work right
  3. At work, I have the opportunity to do what I do best every day
  4. In the last seven days, I have received recognition or praise for doing good work
  5. My supervisor, or someone at work, seems to care about me as a person
  6. There is someone at work who encourages my development
  7. At work, my opinions seem to count
  8. The mission or purpose of my company makes me feel my job is important
  9. My associates or fellow employees are committed to doing quality work
  10. I have a best friend at work
  11. In the last six months, someone at work has talked to me about my progress
  12. This last year, I have had opportunities at work to learn and grow

Ok, there may not be a “right” answer, but it doesn’t speak well for your career choices if you answered predominantly with “no”.

These questions form part of a Gallup studying worker attitudes on the international plane.

It turns out that unhappy workers around the world outnumber their happy counterparts two to one, according to a recent poll by Gallup, which means the vast majority of people feel that their colleagues don’t care about them as a person, that nobody encourages their development, and that they have no opportunities at work to learn and grow.

For the world’s CEOs and managing partners, that’s a harsh realization.

In the U.S., Susan Adams for Forbes summarizes America’s dismal statistics: “30% happy in their work, 52% feeling blah and 18% who hate their jobs.” Except, these statistics are on the top-end of the survey. America is happy compared to their Asian counterparts.

Of course, Gallup dresses up depression with fancy terms like “disengaged” or “actively disengaged.” But, ultimately, 63 percent of employees are disengaged, checked out, disenchanted by their employers.

As if this worldwide epidemic of despair wasn’t enough, associate attorneys have drawn an even shorter straw.

According to another survey by a firm known as CareerBliss, “Associate Attorney,” is the lowest ranked in employee satisfaction (via Above The Law). American employees aren’t happy and American associate attorneys are, well, suicidal.

It could be argued, however, that this has nothing to do with the floundering of the economy or the fault of individuals. In fact, it’s a sign of the failing of the firm.

The firm should act like a family. Instead, today, firms are cold, profit-seeking automated machines. What happened to personalization? Sacrifice today for tomorrow’s gain? Where are the innovators, entreprelawyers?

It’s time to take matters into your own hands and re-energize and re-engage your associates. So, for law firm managers, here’s a start:

1. Create mentorship programs for associates.

Having a poor relationship with one’s boss and co-workers is one of the leaders in office dissatisfaction. So, start a mentorship program between associates and senior attorneys.

Create a unique lunch roulette game. Offer after-work activities—yoga, soccer, or other team sporting events.

2. Increase workplace resources

One of the sources of dissatisfaction for associates is job resources. Although compensation is also a complaint, sometimes employers forget that money isn’t the only way to increase productivity. Increasing the tools of the job will ensure employees are properly equipped.

And, when employees feel they are able to do a good job, then they enjoy their job.

3. Give growth opportunities

In the same survey, ranked number seven in unhappiness are legal assistants. Perhaps one of the reasons why both lawyers and legal assistants are dissatisfied with their positions is that there is no room for growth.

Employees are more likely to invest in their work if they feel the firm is investing in them, in return. The possibility for career advancement is key—especially for staff. So, make sure that every position has the possibility for expansion (if not in title, then in compensation or skills-gained), from legal assistant to senior partner.

4. Provide autonomy.

Finally, employees are happiest when they’re autonomous. Autonomy doesn’t necessarily mean decision-making power. After all, associates are still low on the law firm hierarchy.

However, it does mean a modicum of control over the work an associate does on a daily basis. For example, if your firm is rigorously controlling the case matter assignments, meeting times, deadlines, scope of the project, etc., it’s likely that your subordinates are super bored.

Allow your associates a bit of freedom in their cases. Lawyers as a whole may not be able to move down in the ranks of America’s unhappiest employees, but employees at your particular firm can.

-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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Tips For Handling Difficult Conversations In The Workplace

There’s a reason this article is about “tips” and not “tricks” for handling difficult conversations in the workplace. It’s because there is no way to avoid important human resources conversations: poor hygiene, denial of a raise or promotion, firing…

Take, for example, the recent layoffs at law firm Arent Fox. The Above the Law Blog reports that the law firm, faced with financial difficulties, has recently fired members of their staff. The law firm issued a statement, saying:

“Effective this week, the firm reduced the number of support staff by approximately 20 people in various offices and departments. Like many firms across the country, we are making hard choices to ensure that our resources are aligned with demand. This was a difficult decision that was made even harder because we are losing good people who have helped make Arent Fox an excellent law firm. Those affected are being provided with severance pay and health benefits. We wish them the best.”

Certainly, firing employees is difficult. But, so is explaining these firing to your clients and other colleagues. Arent Fox did an excellent job discussing this sensitive issue.

Why? They kept it short, honest, timely, contextual, and classy.

In general, the rules—if there are any—for handling difficult conversations are simple.

Be honest.

Being honest involves leaving emotion at the door. Honesty doesn’t mean telling an employee how you really feel: they’re incompetent, lazy, and toxic team member! Honesty involves concrete examples of poor performance, for example, or poor hygiene, if that’s the case.

Don’t hide behind excuses. If you’re firing a person for poor performace, bring up documented instances where that was the case.

In the case of Arent Fox, they admitted that individuals who were laid off had contributed greatly to the firm. Like any company in financial straights, however, there are tough decisions to be made. The statement issued by the firm is thus honest and understandable, although unfortunate.

Be timely.

As a corollary, honesty requires documentation and timely reports.

If you plan on using a complaint by a coworker against one of your subordinates, you need to bring it to their attention immediately. Give the subordinate in question time to defend or correct their behavior.

If you come to them even a week or two later, it’s likely they will simply deny the claim. And, it’ll be too long for you (or them) to truly remember the offense.

If you suspect, as a partner or senior manager, that there will be arbitrary lay-offs in the future, issue a statement alluding to that fact. Nothing is worse than being caught off guard by the financial woes of your employer.

Allow your employees to arrange their affairs in enough time. That way, like at Arendt Fox, employees who were let-go know that they will have severance pay and health benefits, and have hopefully put a job lead or two in order.

Be consistent.

Finally, be consistent in your statements. When faced with difficult conversations, it’s easy to talk in a circle. The important thing is to keep focused on the topic at hand, and to not make contradictory statements.

For example, if you are denying a person’s request for a raise because you don’t have the budget, don’t then promote (with a raise) another colleague. And, if you do, address the situation. Perhaps there’s only room in the budget for one raise, and the other person is more senior or more skilled.

Inconsistency can be interpreted as dishonesty, which—as mentioned earlier—is the easiest way to lose the respect of a subordinate and lose you handle on this difficult conversation.

In the end, there are also emotional and legal ramifications to holding difficult conversations in the workplace.

Read C4CM’s Guide on Handling Difficult Conversations: Communication Strategies for the Workplace to learn more. The 108-page guide provides practical and realistic solutions for tackling the hardest elements of workplace interactions, including:

  • Job Performance
  • Disciplinary Action
  • Termination of Employment
  • Employee Complaints about the Workplace
  • Disabilities (Related to Job Accommodations)
  • Personal Presentation/Hygiene

-WB

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Beefalos, Tigons, and the Hybrid Lawyer

Ever heard of the Beefalo? Tigon? Coydog? Pumapard (yes, that’s a real animal).

Since the mind-1800s, men have played god by creating hybrid animal crosses, such as the aforementioned: Beefalo (bison and domestic cattle), Tigon (tiger and lion), Coydog (coyote and a dog) and Pumapard (Puma and leopard).

It turns out that certain animal pairs are better together than alone. For example, in1847, the first zubron was born—a hybrid of domestic cattle and wisent (type of bison). Zubron are known to survive in harsh weather conditions and are amazingly strong. This is one of the reasons why they have been discussed as a more durable and efficient replacement for cattle.

Next, the “curly-hair-dog” or Mangalitsa is a highly specialized Hungarian breed created in 1833. This wooly pig that resembles a boar certainly won’t win any beauty pageants, but it does produce tasty, high-quality meat.

Some hybrid experiments were not as successful. The Zeedonk (Zebra and donkey), for example, Zorse (zebra and horse), Zebrule (zebra and mule), and Zony (zebra and pony) will likely never replace the real things. Zebroids, which look like horses with zebraesque stripes, in particular, are difficult to handle.

But different types of animals aren’t just genetic crosses. Sometimes they’re also socially compatible.

The Dallas Zoo recently added a Labrador retriever puppy into the cheetah cub den. Zoologists believe the pup will have a calming influence over the cats as they grow up in captivity.

Humans, too, experience beneficial hybridization. Certain combinations of seemingly unrelated skills can create the ideal career option.

Take, for instance, the lawyer-CPA.

“I think an accounting background gives somebody the opportunity to take a more global approach to the representation of a business,” says Stephen Kantor, who is both a CPA and a partner at the law firm Samuels Yoelin Kantor Seymour & Spinrad LLP.

He explains, “I stick to the law, although a lot of what I do involves accounting.” From the perspective of an attorney, Kantor is confident that a CPA designation provides additional insight into the industry of law.

And, with new tax legislation up for debate in Congress, it’s time lawyers brush up on their tax code.

The Ways and Means Committee plans to pass legislation that will rewarite the tax code this fall. The implications are significant for big business, especially those large corporations sheltered under a non-profit designation, reports Bloomberg Businessweek.

Sports leagues are specifically under fire. And, with football season just beginning, lawmakers have leaguers justifiably concerned.

Your firm’s biggest clients may have much at stake. So, if you’re not yet involved, it’s time to contact a group called the Business Coalition for Fair Competition, which has petitiond Congress for a more leveled playing field between companies paying income taxes and their competitors hiding as nonprofits.

The organization’s president, John Palatiello, said to Bloomberg, “There’s no question that there are significant revenue implications to this debate,” Palatiello said. Revenue that your lawyer-CPA hybrid should add up and mark down in your firm’s playbook and account book.

Hybridization has reached attorneys.

So, find for your firm a lawyer with a ledger. If you can’t, create one. Send your lawyers back to school and you may be the first to develop the ever-allusive Cabbit (a mythical cat-rabbit), which—let’s face it—has enough cuteness to reap huge rewards.

-WB

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Why Law Firms Should Think Small (Business, That Is…)

In some surprising statistics reported by Forbes and the information aggregator Docstoc, it turns out that over 50 percent of the working population, around 120 million individuals, work in a small business.

According to the Small Business Administration (SBA), a small business is an enterprise with less than 500 employees. And yet, small businesses are responsible for more than their fair share of job creation. Small businesses have generated over 65 percent of the net new jobs since 1995.

Just over half of the individuals who work for a small business work from home, and of freelance businesses, the fastest growing sectors are auto repair shops, beauty salons, and dry cleaners.

Finally, a vast majority (80 percent) of non-employer businesses for 2011, which accounts for 18 million businesses, reported less than $50,000 in receipts.

As a law firm, what do these statistics tell you?

Well, first, that small businesses are an untapped market for legal services.

Small businesses, in addition to facing financial risk, face legal risk. In 2013, 38 percent of small businesses in the UK experienced “significant” legal problems that resulted in a negative financial impact on the business at an average cost of 6,700 GBP (via Riverview Law news).

The same survey statistics report that only 13 percent of small business agrees that law firms provide a cost effective means to resolving legal problems.

Not only are small businesses in need to legal services, they also don’t go out of their way to seek them out. Your list of potential clients just grew exponentially.

Second, these statistics tell your law firm that its small-business clients are going to want the best deal possible for their legal services; otherwise, they may resist legal representation.

Instead, small businesses resort to untraditional means of dispute resolution. But, in the end, handling technical and complicated legal issues in-house brings its own set of risks.

What’s the win-win solution? Negotiation. It works for buying a house, a car, or a flea-market gift. So why do law firms turn their nose up when clients negotiate legal fees?

Part of the answer to this question is tradition. Law firms tend to traditional. They don’t like change, especially when it means to money out of your pocket. Nevertheless, times are tough and lawyers a dime a dozen. Innovative billing methods may sink or save your firm.

Because small businesses need to feel like their interests are being met and their concerns heard, allow them to negotiate contract terms and fees. Provide exceptions, not a rule to billing options.

It may be that a flat fee for your small-business clients ends up as the most efficient billing method anyway. Small businesses are often in need of standard services that law firms can provide with minimal effort—sending a stock cease and desist letter, writing a disclaimer, or drafting a standard motion.

Keep in mind that time is money for small businesses, too. It’s likely they will not be hounding your office with questions and requests the same way your larger clients can. When you are CEO, CFO, salesman, and cashier rolled up in one, you’re not pestering your lawyer for status updates.

Finally, your law firm may be a small business, itself. If this is the case, it’s time to consider innovative business practices. The majority of small businesses are home-based. Why? It saves on rent and allows for flexible, more efficient hours.

Law firms can benefit from at-home servicing. With work-from-home policies, your attorneys can maintain a healthy work-life balance and your firm can save on the cost of large (and largely vacant) office space.

There are myriad reasons to work with small businesses, and to take a page from their business plan. Policies and structure is an important part of profitmaking. But, so is customization.

This year, go out of your way to seek out small-business clients to incrementally boost your bottom line. And, don’t be afraid to emulate their non-traditional style of management.

They say think big—but thinking small can be good, too.

-WB

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Hilarious Cease And Desist Letter (& Lessons For Lawyers)

Who knew cease and desist (C&D) letters could be so much fun. Above The Law blog did. In fact, they often publish amusing C&D letters. But, this particular one is good for more than just legal satire.

“Teaser: Biglaw smackdown! Snarky footnotes! Spice Girls references! Lollipops!

The American Bankers Association (i.e., that other ABA), through an entity called Accuity, publishes a book called the ABA Key to Routing Numbers of the American Bankers Association (affiliate link). The book is a directory of all the Routing Numbers assigned to banks. Greg Thatcher has a website that takes Routing Numbers and publishes them in an easily searchable form online.”

What do we learn first? Footnotes are useful vesicles of sidebar information.

“Even that we have trouble buying.[7] There isn’t any copyright notice on the download. And you must be aware that information itself isn’t copyrightable. It just isn’t.[8] In fact, there was a case this real important Court decided back in the early ’90s that was about telephone numbers.[9] In that case, a company just took a local phone book and copied it exactly. The publisher of the phone book knew that the company had copied it because the publisher had popped some phony names in there. No kidding, right? And so the publisher sued the thieving company it caught red-handed. And the thieving company won because it was just information.[10]

[7] And we went to law school, which just illustrates how gullible we are.
[8] No matter how much one might want it to be. Even if one wants it like the Spice Girls want a “zigazig ha.”
[9] Feist Publications, Inc., v. Rural Telephone Service Co., 499 U.S. 340 (1991).
[10] I know, right? I remember reading this case and being all like, No way!

Obviously this letter is looking to amuse, but—notice—footnotes carry a different tone than text in the body of the document.

Nevertheless, even this farcical letter isn’t bottom-heavy. Don’t overuse legal footnotes. This letter carries as much weight without the footnotes (although it would definitely be slightly less comical).

For more information about the footnote ratio “rule” (they say it’s 2:1) read this article in the Journal of Legal Education.

Next, this C&D letter reminds us about the 1909 Copyright Act.

“Under the 1909 Act, copyright protection only attaches to published works with a notice of copyright attached.[11]

[11] Stewart v. Abend, 495 U.S. 207, 233 (1990) (“Under the 1909 Act, it was necessary to publish the work with proper notice to obtain copyright.”).”

These days we’re so fixed on potential violations of copyright that we often don’t bother to check too see if there was explicit notice of copyright at all. Law firm professionals should pay attention to detail and always go back to the basics.

Have your clients appropriately copyrighted information? Has your firm?

Circulate these ten facts about copyright to clients. And, quiz the associates in your IP practice every once in awhile, just to be sure those legal education loans aren’t for nothing.

“We know that you don’t really have much to gain from intimidating our client and you will probably leave him alone, which would be a wise choice. The public will see you and your client as big bullies if you pursue action against Greg,” continues the letter.

“…if you do file a complaint an send someone over with a summons, please have them wear something with a bit of purple… we all like purple.”

Law firms, and their big business clients, are frequently seen as bullies. Partly because of the confusing and threatening language they use, and partly because of errors in their public relations management.

Don’t be afraid to hire PR consultants to turn around the image of your firm. Maybe it’s the way your associates draft their briefs. Perhaps it’s the attitude of your lawyers. Or, it could be the way your website is laid out.

In 2013, a study found only one in five Americans believed lawyers contributed to society. Are lawyers the most hated profession, or is it a PR problem?

In the end, your firm has a lot to gain from maintaining a positive reputation, like, for instance, not having your C&D letters become the next victim of Above The Law blog’s public flogging.

Ultimately, this funny C&D letter gets to the point without any anger, threats, or questionable language. Because there’s no reason—especially in law—to forget commonplace courtesy and, of course, a sense of humor.

To read the full C&D letter, go here.

-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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5 Things That Make You Less Productive (& Popular) At The Office

Are you finding that your days are less productive than you’d like? Are you developing an unpopular repuation at the office, but don’t know why? Perhaps you’re doing one of the following five things guaranteed to slow down progress and aggravate your peers.

1. Being Late To Meetings

Maybe you’re the boss. Or, maybe you’re assigned the firm’s biggest case. It’s possible you had a really important phone call that ran long.

But, whatever the reason, there is no excuse for being late to a meeting. First, meetings are usually on the books well ahead of time, which means you should not have scheduled that phone call with a client a mere 30 minutes before.

And yes, you may be the boss so you’re time is most valuable. But, when you force 10 employees to wait 10 minutes for you to grace them with your presence, that’s a lot of misspent billable hours. It may actually exceed the value of your own.

Furthermore, if you interrupt a meeting that has already started, you may not be able to catch up on the subject-matter, which—in turn—makes you less essential to your team and less prepared for the work at hand.

Finally, even if there is a mildly-acceptable excuse for your tardiness, employees (and certainly managers) tend to dislike those colleagues who are habitually late to meetings. It shows a lack of respect to your peers and lack of time-management skills to your bosses.

It’s time to be on time.

If you’re having trouble finding the time, delegate. Take The Center For Competitive Management’s (C4CM) audio course Effective Delegation, and discover strategies to improve your law firm’s productivity and performance.

2. Take a phone call or check an e-mail while talking with a colleague

Law firm professionals have all done this at one point or another. It’s hard to ignore your Blackberry, especially when it’s pinging over and over. It’s instinct to look down, check your phone, and claim to be still listening.

The problem is, you’re not listening. And, most likely, the other person has stopped talking. Why? It’s impossible to take somebody seriously (or be taken seriously) when you’re faced with the top of a person’s head.

The quickest way to lose productivity in a conversation (and the respect of your peer) is to prioritize incoming mail to their in-person dialogue.

Don’t look down at your phone. Don’t even faux-pologetically say, “excuse me,” because, again, there’s no excuse for this type of behavior.

Double booked? Cope with multi-tasking, too many projects, and all those pesky incoming phone calls by taking C4CM’s course Effective Time Management.

3. Live on e-mail or the phone

Although there are many reasons to be grateful for today’s digital universe, don’t live virtually. You’re not an avatar. You’re a real person. So, think about whether or not it’s easier to get up from your desk, and have certain conversations in person.

On occasion, show your face around the office. There’s nothing more aggravating and counter-productive as receiving a phone call or e-mail from your colleague in the cubicle or office next door.

Are you hiding behind a domain name? Some conversations are difficult to have. But, that’s no excuse to resort to impersonal e-mail. Learn how to say in-person: “You’ve been accused of sexual harassment”…“Your performance is unacceptable”…“Your colleagues have complained about an offensive odor coming from your cubicle.” Take C4CM’s course Handling Difficult Conversations.

4. Don’t learn from your mistakes

Oops. You tapped reply-all instead of reply. It happens.

But, it shouldn’t happen twice.

The quickest way to lose favor and office-place efficiency is by repeating your mistakes. If you have problems with reply-all, then disable that feature on your e-mail service.

If you have a bad habit of misspelling the same word, then delete it from your MS Word dictionary. That way, each time the word appears, you must manually check it for errors.

Be proactive about learning from your mistakes and you’ll become much more productive around the office.

When it comes to learning from mistakes… document, document, document! Many organizations either fail to document or do not document correctly. Poor documentation can be just as hazardous to your company as no documentation at all. Learn about Best Practices for Developing and Maintaining Effective Documentation Practices with C4CM’s Guide.

5. Participate in workplace gossip

Workplace gossip can wreak havoc on an organization. It’s a morale killer.  It breeds resentment and becomes a roadblock to effective communication and collaboration.

Nevertheless, it’s human nature to complain, everybody gossips. You can choose, however, to ignore it. Become a one-man black hole. Gossip goes in, but never returns.

If you find yourself in desperate need to gossip, call a friend outside the office. Tell them the same story, but with the comfort of knowing that it won’t return full-circle to your colleagues in question. If you’re having a rough day with the boss, don’t walk next door to complain. Walk around the block.

Your office—and managers—know which employees participate in toxic talk. And, rest assured, gossiping is not part of the positive points on your performance review.

Managers can learn to minimize the effects of toxic talk with proper training. Consider C4CM’s course, Effective Management of Workplace Gossip.

Curb a few, if not all, of these unpopular and unproductive behaviors and you will find, finally, just reward for your work.

-WB

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