Tag Archives: social media

Is E-mail Outdated?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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Is e-mail over?

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

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

“And by the end, it would be a couple weeks out of date.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Lawyers: Most Hated Profession Or Public Relations Problem?

Lawyers have been vilified for their professional choices since the Middle Ages; and the number of lawyer jokes has tripled since the 1960s. But, over fifty years later, lawyers are at a new low.

A 2013 study finds we’re a lot closer to fulfilling Shakespeare’s famous wish: “The first thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers.” (William Shakespeare, Henry VI, Part 2)

At least, that’s what a recent article by legal blog Above the Law would have us believe,

Above the Law reminds readers that not only are lawyers the most depressed among professionals, they are also the most despised. Which one of the two came first, we may never know.

But, Above the Law does bring much needed attention to an excerpt from the latest Pew Research Center survey on professional public esteem:

“While there have been modest declines in public appreciation for several occupations, the order of the ratings is roughly the same as it was in 2009. Among the 10 occupations the survey asked respondents to rate, lawyers are at the bottom of the list. About one-in-five Americans (18%) say lawyers contribute a lot to society, while 43% say they make some contribution; fully a third (34%) say lawyers contribute not very much or nothing at all.”

In 2009, one in four people agreed lawyers do “a lot” for society’s well being. Today, in 2013, we’ve lost a man. Now, only one and five can say the same thing.

Luckily, lawyers will still find advocates among their own kind. Staci Zaretsky, esquire, and author of the article “Lawyers: The Most Despised Profession in America,” points out:

“If you don’t think lawyers have contributed to society, take a look at the desegregated school you or your children attended. Go register for a concealed-carry permit in a state that once restricted their issuance. Attend a same-sex marriage and bask in the newlyweds’ joy. Burn a flag. Watch a film with a sex scene at the movies. Protest at the funeral of a soldier who gave his life for America.

Do you enjoy any of these things? If so, then reconsider your thoughts on the most despised profession in America.”

However, lawyers should consider doing more. More, that is, to relate to the public and reform the image of the legal profession. With little persuasion, people could be reminded of all the beneficial acts contributed to this country by lawyers.

After all, 25 of the 56 signers of the Declaration of Independence were lawyers—the results of which we all celebrated on the 4th of July.

Yes, teachers, doctors, and the clergy may get more positive face-time on television, but law firms can also orchestrate publicity for their acts of goodwill and charity. Whether it’s hiring a public relations professional or simply beefing up your firm’s website, it’s important to highlight those winning cases.

Reputation is important for gaining clients. PR enhances the image of your firm, but also reinforces what most Americans already know (deep, deep, deep down): that lawyers are looking to uphold rights and liberties of men and women, not restrict them.

In fact, brand loyalty is key in retaining clients. Create a brand people love, and business follows.

To increase your visibility and positive image, utilize social media. Participate in trending hash-tags on Twitter. Participate in hot legal debates and post answers to your clients’ most common questions. Include quirky and endearing profiles of your associates online. Personalize your practice.

Perhaps lawyers are misunderstood because they’re one of the few professions who still lacks a digital voice.

It may be too late to turnaround the image of lawyers as a whole, but it’s not too late to turnaround the image of your firm. And if, one by one, partners take control over their public image, it won’t take much for the health and well being of society (and your firm) to continue.

-WB

Need help? C4CM is there for your firm providing training resources and recordings essential to law firm management. Learn how to limit toxic workplace talk, improve efficiency, and navigate you most complicated Excel questions here.

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56% Of Consumers Use Social Media To Search For Attorneys

 How Your Firm Can Profit From & Avoid Pitfalls Of Social Media

This Spring, Tumblr hit the 100 Million mark—100 million blogs, that is. If we’re talking about numbers in terms of profit, Tumblr far exceeded mere millions. In May, social blogging platform CEO David Karp sold the company to Yahoo! for a cool $1.1 billion.

Karp, for those who don’t already know, is a 26-year old high school drop out who built Tumblr while still living at his mother’s New York City apartment in 2007, writes Brian Warner for Celebrity Net Worth.

In the same period it can take lawyers to settle a single lawsuit, Karp created and sold a billion-dollar business. If there was ever a time to praise the popularity of social media, Tumblr’s milestone in millions of blogs could certainly serve that purpose.

That’s why it’s not surprising to read in a recent study conducted by The Research Intelligence Group that 56 percent of consumers and 72 percent of minorities who searched for an attorney in the past year reported doing so via social media.

In fact, over one-fifth of survey participants went so far as to consult the social media pages of the specific lawyers or firms that they were considering during this search for legal representation, reports Kevin O’Keefe for Real Lawyers Have Blogs.

Law is a time-honored profession. As such, it maintains certain traditions and history. Ergo, lawyers aren’t often known for being on the cutting edge of technology.

Nevertheless, most law firms today have a website. Keeping that website up-to-date is critical.

Firm websites help you attract more clients, rise in search engine rankings, keep up with technological developments for electronic legal tools, update your firm and practice area information, and increase interaction with the legal community and community of potential clients, in general.

Recently 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)

Thus, with proper disclaimers, your firm can join the Twittersphere.

In the end, websites, blogs, Twitter, and other social media are not a new development in technology. The Research Intelligence Group’s survey shows that although the number of Internet users declined with age, a surprising 30 percent of survey respondents above the age of 50 were also professed social media users.

And, among survey respondents, nearly one-quarter made a final selection of a lawyer based, in part, on what they gleaned through their social media research, according to Kevin O’Keefe for Real Lawyers Have Blogs.

So, what are a few “must-haves” for attorney websites?

LexisNexis’ own blog suggests:

  • Areas of Law Practiced. Specify your areas of legal expertise and the services that you offer in each of those areas. If visitors can’t find this information quickly, or if it’s unclear, they are likely to leave the site.
  • Experience. Prospective clients want to know how long you have practiced law and whether you have previously handled cases like theirs.
  • Education. Reassure visitors that you have the know-how to resolve their legal issues. Tell them where you went to law school, and when and where you passed the bar exam.
  • Photos. Offer a glimpse of your personality through pictures, but remember to always use professional-looking shots. People who visit your site are searching for an attorney they can trust, not a drinking buddy.
  • Biographical Data. Sharing information about your family and your interests/hobbies conveys personality and helps build connections with potential clients. Just don’t overdo it. (But if your goal is to secure referrals from corporate counsel, our research indicates you should minimize such details.)

However, training your team in technology serves your clients in more ways than one.

In today’s Facebook world, lawyers use social media to attract clients, but they can also have an obligation to perform research on social media sites during investigations, as well.

Social media profiles are a potential treasure trove of information in litigation. But using social networking can ensnare attorneys in ethical traps in two different ways: (1) when accessing information in someone else’s profile, and (2) when an attorney’s own profile information might be used against them.

How can you effectively use social networks to gather information to gain a legal edge while ethically keeping out of trouble?

C4CM’s comprehensive webinar, Using Social Media in Legal Investigations: Traversing the Ethical Minefieldon July 16, 2013, from 2:00 P.M to 3:15 P.M. Eastern time, explores key strategies to improve your legal investigation on social media while keeping yourself safe from legal and ethical pitfalls.

If you’ve found this blog post via social media, you’re off to a great start. Keep up the momentum by exploring other important online tools for law firm managers here.

With so many consumers consulting social media, it’s time for law firm professionals to (*ah hem*) follow suit.

-WB

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What Law Firms Need To Know About The Computer Fraud & Abuse Act

Earlier this month, during the opening day of the Austin music festival South by Southwest, an audience gathered to commemorate the life and achievements of Reddit founder Aaron Swartz, who—faced with serious computer-related charges—recently committed suicide with the weight of litigation and public pressure on his shoulders.

Aggressive prosecution under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act has become the rule rather than the exception in the U.S.

Earlier this week, a federal judge sentenced notorious hacker Andrew Auernheimer to 41 months in prison for illegally accessing email addresses and other data belonging to more than 120,000 iPad subscribers from AT&T’s networks, reports Computer World, in conjunction with the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act.

AT&T alleged it spent more than $73,000 for breach notifications as a result of Auernheimer’s actions. However, in addition to full restitution for damages, U.S. District Judge Susan Wigenton of the District Court in New Jersey also attached a prison term.

The breached email addresses belonged to many high-profile names: New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, New York Times CEO Janet Robinson, ABC’s Diane Sawyer, movie producer Harvey Weinstein, and former White House chief of staff Rahm Emmanuel, to name a few.

But, the true high-profile matter at hand is neither the fame of the hacker nor the celebrity of his victims. It’s the law regulating Internet use and its huge consequences for all world-wide-web users today.

Both private and public lawyers, including the Department of Justice, have been using the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act to prosecute computer hackers and laypersons alike. Anybody who violates the “terms of service” policy is at risk.

These days, a terms of service policy is more prevalent on websites than legal disclaimers, which only increases your risks of being in violation. Unfortuntately, people are unaware of the law, as well as the fine print it’s regulating.

“When judges or academics say that it is wrong to interpret a law in such a way that everyone is a felon, the Justice Department has usually replied by saying, roughly, that federal prosecutors don’t bother with minor cases—they only go after the really bad guys,” writes Tim Wu in an op-ed for The New Yorker.

“That has always been a lame excuse—repulsive to anyone who takes seriously the idea of a ‘a government of laws, not men.’ After Aaron Swartz’s suicide, the era of trusting prosecutors with unlimited power in this area should officially be over.”

Although the constitutional implications of this law are vast, it’s really the pragmatic ones that are of concern for law firms.

Law firms should take the time to understand this law before creating internal Internet policies. For example, what is your law firm policy on Internet use on company time? What about for desktop computers in the office vs. laptops that employees take home?

Under the Computer Abuse and Fraud Act, employees potentially face criminal sanctions by merely checking the latest Facebook posting or sporting events scores at work when it is not “authorized” by the firm (although more recent cases of litigation are going the other way).

Who is liable for potential breaches of the “terms of service” under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act when employees use firm laptop computers out of the office?

Furthermore, are your clients aware of all the implications of this law for their business and home life?

In light of Aaron Swartz’s suicide, law firms should start to consider providing counseling for those clients who are being prosecuted. Swartz’s suicide is an apt reminder that while you—as a lawyer—may be comfortable with the progress and success of a case, your client may feel uncertain about both its future and his own.

What routines and practices has your law firm put in place to put at ease the minds of its clients?

Whatever your view on the legitimacy of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, it’s important to keep up with its most recent developments. The Volokh Conspiracy Blog provides occasional updates on its status in courts and Congress here.

Some argue, like Wu for The New Yorker, that America’s Common Law ancestry leads to a “rule of a lenity”, where ambiguous criminal laws should (de jure and de facto) favor the defendant.

The Supreme Court states, “When choice has to be made between two readings of what conduct Congress has made a crime, it is appropriate, before we choose the harsher alternative, to require that Congress should have spoken in language that is clear and definite,” (via The New Yorker).

However, if this week’s events surrounding iPad hacker Andrew Auernheimer and his 41 months in prison is any indication, a rule of lenity doesn’t seem to be much of a rule these days at all.

For more information on the Computer Fraud And Abuse Act, and its implications for your law firms, click here.

In 2011, over 100 employers were accused of improper social media practices or policies, according to The Center For Competitive Management. If not to protect your employees from strict law enforcement, protect your firm.

If you’re unsure where to start, try research and a round-table discussion with a mix of junior and senior attorneys. Along with administrators, ask the group to create a social media policy that reflects their own opinions on the matter. Most likely, your employees will know best what types of social media uses actually constitute abuses.

A round-table discussion will also ensure your employees take the time to read workplace policy; after all, they helped write it.

Finally, if you’re still stuck finding solutions, start by attending C4CM’s course on audio CD, Developing a Social Media Policy: Clear Guidelines to Prevent or Reduce Employment-Related Problems.

-WB

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3 Essential HR Tools For Law Firms

“Firms… need to incorporate objective tools to assess and reward their lawyers, and to improve the management of individual expectations and internal communication,” says specialist Maria Brito Goes about the importance of HR in law firms.

“This is essential in order to better ensure the awareness even the youngest lawyers have in the distinct cultures of their firms.”

Below are three essential tools in which your law firm should invest.

1. Social Media Tools

There are at least 5 online locations where HR employees at your firm should be active (in order of importance):

  • Firm website
  • Recruitment blogs
  • LinkedIn
  • Facebook
  • Twitter

According to a survey of social media in the legal sector by LexisNexis and Vizibility, 81 percent of lawyers claim that they already use social media as marketing tools. Another 10.1 percent saying they plan to deploy social media marketing elements within six months.

Only 12 percent of lawyers do not use a Blackberry, iPhone, Android, or other smartphone in their business. For everybody else, there are these top 10 apps for Android phone and iPhone users.

Without these social media tools for recruitment of new associates and new clients, your law firm is lagging behind the times and today’s technology.

2. New Associate Checklist & Training Schedule

Let’s face it, the training, summer schedule, and technology seminars required for first-year associates increases every quarter. But, even if the content changes, the outline and checklist should remain the same.

  • For example, new associates will always have:
  • Business cards
  • Office space
  • Office map
  • Login information
  • Job description and job function
  • Welcome lunch…

Yet, an efficient HR will have each of these items categorized.

First, the firm. Have a packet ready for new hires that explains the mission statement ad philosophy of your firm.

Second, the people. Your welcome packet should also include the names, contact information, office plan, and positioning of the people in your office (who to go to for IT problems, where on the hierarchy do the associates stand, etc.)

Third, the processes. Don’t forget to outline the day-to-day reporting, compensation, benefits, promotion, and timecard systems.

It’s easy to take this type of training for granted. But, even seasoned lawyers won’t be acclimated to the culture of a new firm. HR at your firm should be more than just a handshake and person available “if you have questions…”

Make sure your HR is ready and organized when it comes to hiring (or firing) documentation—if you do, both your business productivity and the employee satisfaction are bound to increase.

3. Employee Record Retention Guidelines

HR must be meticulous about records. Not only about its internal checklists and policies, but also the private information of its employees. Within a law firm, there’s no excuse for HR representatives to not be fully aware of the requirements and state and federal rules.

If your firm is confused about record-keeping, attend C4CM’s audio conference for more details on how your firm can implement an organized and legally compliant document retention policy, including:

  • Defining “document” in today’s technology
  • Identifying the documents under your “possession, custody or control”
  • Document timeline: How long do you need to keep specific documents
  • Special handling for medical records
  • Understanding document retention when impending or current litigation is at hand
  • I-9 Forms: When and how long to retain
  • Former employee personnel files: Can you get rid of them?
  • Updates to regulations that impact record retention
  • Retention for documents connected to EEOC charges and related records
  • Employees’ personnel files: what they should – and should not – include

Beyond these three aforementioned tools, HR can perform disciplinary actions from the perspective of a third-party. For example, tardiness, low billable hours, or lazy partner behavior can be kept in check with an empowered HR Department.

Allocating punitive power to HR relieves the managing partners from being the “bad guy,” and—ideally—keeps your ranks in order.

Although nobody likes to play a disciplinary role, it’s important to have structure, incentivized rewards, and penalties where appropriate in the office place. If your senior attorneys are struggling with this management role, assign it to administrative staff in HR who are already familiar with the personal and professional lives of your employees.

Investing in people means investing in HR. And, with today’s more globalized business and legal practices, this means investing in more and more HR tools.

As K&E partner John Hickey said (via WSJ Law Blog), “You come to the realization as you open up offices in London, Munich and China and have a billion-plus in revenues that there’s a lot going on.”

“It’s a big business, and you really have to have top-notch business people running it while lawyers are out lawyering.”

-WB

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Volunteer For Little League Soccer & Watch Your Career Score Big

Sure, volunteer work looks good on a marketing website or your individual resume. But, participating in volunteer work—specifically youth mentorship programs—can also help further your legal career.

Unconvinced?

Here’s what law firm professionals gain personally and professionally from volunteer work:

1. Patience. For leaders in the legal world, patience is often the least practiced skill. Yet, it can be one of the most important ones to perform.

Stories from corporate America are sadly rife with anecdotes regarding bad bosses, the ones who yell at associates, take credit for others’ work, and who consistently turn down your request for vacation days.

Now imagine these bosses become coaches for youth or student soccer teams.

Students are dependent on working parents to drop them off to the field on time, they are saddled with numerous extracurricular activities and homework, and they are full of high candy-induced levels of energy.

In this scenario, it would be impossible to punish or blame a young student for her parents’ tardiness or for her lack of skill and commitment (after all, she’s only 8 years old).

Patience is the key to parenting, as well as coaching. And, unsurprisingly, to leadership in general.

This is why law firm management and senior attorneys benefit from practicing with the associates the same patience they extend to this imaginary soccer team. Not because your professionals behave like children (although they might), but because their experience is immature and needs nurturing.

The next time an associate makes a mistake, remember it’s likely due to a breakdown in mentorship and training on the part of senior management. Show the same patience in explaining the problem and developing a solution to your associates as you would a youth soccer team.

Better yet, sign up for volunteer coaching and watch your skills for patience and understanding unfold.

2. Calm. When you envision children at play, typically it’s not with a sense of calm.

Children are chaotic, disruptive, and energetic. Which is why, youth mentorship or volunteer work with children will help you develop your own sense of calm.

Working in a volunteer setting—where the organization may be understaffed or its clients just rowdy—will help law firm professionals manage responsibility under stress.

In addition, the extra time obligation and personal commitment to a regular volunteer assignment has the power to quickly condition a person to mange their time more effectively; supervise multiple people despite a disruptive setting; and retreat to a sense of internal calm, when necessary, under pressure.

3. Youth. Today, when reflecting on the image of the younger generation, it’s easy to picture kids with white earbuds connected to iPods, smartphones in hand, notes being passed across classroom via instant message, and Facebook status updates (ok, that last one may be ageless).

With this particular portrait in mind, you—the professional—can profit from this youth.

“Each generation has its own favored communication tools, and you may be shocked at how much you profit personally and professionally from the savvy of the young,” write Bill Russell and Nancy Altobello for the Harvard Business Review Blog.

“For example, if you mentor a young person who grew up with Facebook and Twitter, you may gain a social media tutor in the process.”

Social media is an important field to master as a law firm professional, whether it’s to settle your online privacy lawsuit, to attract new small-business clients, or to update the firm’s blog.

So, next time you’re talking about “kids these days,” let the discussion be addressed to them and maybe you’ll learn a thing or two.

4. Appreciation for diversity.

“Today’s managers can expect to be part of diverse teams, so they need to be inclusive and to find ways to get the best from every team member. Mentoring is a great way to learn those cross-cultural skills,” explain Bill Russell and Nancy Altobello for the Harvard Business Review Blog.

“Since matching young people with mentors of the same race and ethnicity alone is less effective than matching them based on shared interests and goals, mentors are often paired with kids from social and economic cultures different from their own.”

Parents are still wondering—why youth mentorship? After all, your own little ones provide enough fodder for learning without the additional workload of volunteering.

It’s not just because there are millions of kids in the world looking for mentors and who need the extra aid, it’s because adults behave differently around their own children. And, children in need provide the best lessons that lawyers—of a different economic bracket—likely never get at home.

Volunteering doesn’t just look good for the firm; it creates better leaders in the workplace. Impress your clients superficially, but impact your professional career profoundly by participating in a youth mentorship program.

-WB

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Newest Privacy Lawsuit? Employers Starting To Demand Employee Facebook Passwords

Stories about the need for social media policies abound across the Internet. Whether it’s to protect lawyers from accidental jury tampering or to protect firms from their own associates’ blogs, social media policies—comprehensive and in writing—are crucial for the modern company.

Especially when you consider, for example, online murmuring about recent requests by employers for the username and password information of all their potential employees.

The idea of violating a job applicant’s privacy seems so blatantly wrong, you’d think these stories must be false, right?

Unfortunately, no. The Associated Press published this piece, which serves—in the least—as a warning to professionals about a scary new employment trend:

“Back in 2010, Robert Collins was returning to his job as a security guard at the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services after taking a leave following his mother’s death. During a reinstatement interview, he was asked for his log-in and password, purportedly so the agency could check for any gang affiliations. He was stunned by the request but complied. ‘I needed my job to feed my family. I had to,’ he recalled.”

The risk of privacy violations in this manner proved so real that even Facebook, through its chief privacy officer Erin Egan, issued a statement regarding the practice.

“In recent months, we’ve seen a distressing increase in reports of employers or others seeking to gain inappropriate access to people’s Facebook profiles or private information. This practice undermines the privacy expectations and the security of both the user and the user’s friends. It also potentially exposes the employer who seeks this access to unanticipated legal liability.”

The most alarming of these practices is the reported incidences of employers asking prospective or actual employees to reveal their passwords. If you are a Facebook user, you should never have to share your password, let anyone access your account, or do anything that might jeopardize the security of your account or violate the privacy of your friends. We have worked really hard at Facebook to give you the tools to control who sees your information.”

Obviously, Egan is not amused. And, if employers are not careful with their social media policy, Facebook might even throw a few lawsuits their way.

The tech community as a whole is also up in arms against this recent, unfortunate trend.

Charles Cooper for CNET recently wrote an article titled, “Fork over your Facebook log-on or you don’t get hired. What?” in which he states:

“Especially in the current economy, it’s the ultimate nightmare scenario: Choose principle, or choose your ability to put food on the family table. You can’t have both. That’s the sort of enraging choice politicians, technologists, and free-speech advocates find easy to rally against. Remove this from the Facebook context and it simply looks like an unfair (and counterproductive) hiring practice. Something along the lines of: ‘Gee, we’d like to offer you this job, but before we do, we need you to fill out a few forms so that we can look at your tax records for the last three years.’ Or some such absurd quid pro quo. Lawsuit, anybody?”

Congressmen and lawyers are cleverly harnessing this trend as an opportunity for increased action.

Maryland State Senator Ronald N. Young has already proposed a couple of social-network privacy bills, including one targeted at employers and another at colleges and universities.

“We’ve even heard that some universities hired people to friend (student athletes) to follow what they read and write on Facebook,” Young said to Cooper for CNET. “It’s unconstitutional. It’s like me applying for a job, and the employer saying, ‘I’d like to tap your phone and listen to all your calls and monitor your mail.’”

Lawyers, for their part, should become equally proactive.

Because the issue is so contentious and, apparently, widespread, it’s important that law firm managers advise their clients to create a social media policy and then review its content. Law firms should ensure this policy includes appropriate hiring and firing provisos.

This advice could be circulated through a memorandum or even via casual conversation. But, law firms should feel ethically responsible for the legal actions of their clients concerning social media.

In addition, law firms should revise their own social media policies to target hiring and firing practices. No associate should feel as though he is being monitored or his activity restricted on the Internet.

Nevertheless, law firms should guard themselves from overexposure on the Web. Social media can be an asset to business development, as well as a liability.

The American Bar Association recently published, “How to Create a Law Firm Social Media Policy,” on its website here. More specifically, your firm should learn the rules for disciplining and terminating employees for their social media posts.

In fact, even in non-unionized workplaces the National Labor Relations Board’s (NLRB) recently decided that disciplining or terminating an employee who engages in concerted, protected activity on sites such as Facebook or Twitter is unlawful.

What does this mean for employers? Even the most well-drafted social media policies may violate the NLRA if not kept up-to-date.

So, sign up your firm for The Center For Competitive Management (C4CM)’s social media courses, including this one: Social Media, Workplace Policies, and Violations Under Section 7 of the NLRA.

Or, this one: Developing a Social Media Policy: Clear Guidelines to Prevent or Reduce Employment-Related Problems.

However you decide to broach the issue, the time to do so is now. The reports of abuse—and subsequent legal action—are both real and plentiful.

In an uncertain economy, this is a lawsuit that no employer can afford. And one that no employee can afford to ignore.

-WB

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How To Increase Your Concentration & Productivity At Work

It goes by different names: prioritization, procrastination, pushing yourself…

Whatever name you prefer, these days, finding a way to concentrate in the working world is difficult. Professional environments are rife with distractions.

On the computer, out the window, or in the office, interuptions sneak up on you, keeping you from that important deadline or from finishing your work product.

“I’d love to stop working right now and check my email, or visit my refrigerator, not just because either one would provide a hit of pleasure, but also to get away from the discomfiting challenge of trying to wrestle the jumble of ideas in my head into clear, evocative sentences,” explains Tony Schwartz for the HBR Blog.

We explain away these stolen moments—coffee breaks, social hour, and trips to the refrigerator help us to rejuvinate, clear our heads, and generally work harder, longer, faster in the future, right?

To some extent, yes. It has been proven that small breaks to check personal e-mail or Facebook do help employees become more productive by giving the brain an equal chance to shut down.

However, too many “small” breaks add up to a big difference in efficiency and work flow. So, how can you tame your concentration at work?

“Over the course of my life, I’ve taught myself to stay focused in front of my computer. But even after four decades as a writer, it’s never easy,” commiserates Schwartz.

“The Pavlovian pull of email has only made it harder to focus in recent years—and nearly impossible for many people I know.”

But, it is possible. And, here are a few ways you can do it.

1. Separate space

Although this is much easier in a home office, any professional struggling to prioritize should practice separating workspace from space used for pleasure. For example, if you plan on spending a few minutes playing solitaire or watching YouTube clips, take your computer to a different room.

At a home office, this means watching Hulu on the couch—not at your desk.

At headquarters or law firms, swivel your computer monitor to face the other side of your desk or move your laptop to the guest chaise located in a separate corner of your bureau. That way, when it’s time to get back to work, your brain, body, and mindset are regrouped, refocused, and now placed appropriately.

2. Minimize temptation

This one was taken directly from Schwartz, who says, “Think about cake or cookies at an office party. If they sit there in front of you, you’re eventually going to succumb. The same is true of incoming email. If you don’t turn it off entirely at times, the ongoing pings will inevitably prove irresistible.”

Don’t keep Gmail, Facebook, or Twitter open in different tabs on your Internet browser. Turn off your smartphone and forward all calls to your office phone. And, hide the clock.

Tracking the minutes as they tick by can actually make time appear to slow. Remember the old adage, a watched pot never boils? Well, waiting impatiently for five o’clock happy hour works in the same way.

3. Create incentives

When marketing or work incentives fail, it’s usually because the founders don’t understand what really motivates their target group. This is why creating incentives for yourself is much easier.

For example, if you have a weakness for watching all of the Apple movie trailers, tell yourself that after 45 minutes of work (or set a work product target, like proofreading an entire brief), leave yourself five minutes of trailer time.

If your weakness is coffee, do the same for coffee breaks. Tell yourself in an hour and a half, you’ll treat yourself to the neighboring cafe’s best latte.

Schwartz has a similar idea, except he creates energy rituals, or specific behaviors done at precise times to alleviate your most difficult challenges.

Whichever method you choose, increase your productivity at work by setting small, attainable goals for your day. Check them off in increments—every 45 to 90 minutes. If you need to implement a closed-door policy at the office to accomplish this, do so.

It’s important not to fall prisoner to your work. But, don’t become a prisoner to procrastination at work, either.

-WB

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The Risks of Social Media Use For Lawyers

Although many legal consulting companies advise law firms to make good use of free and accessible social media, such as Twitter, blogging, or social network sites. Some consider the practice to be more of a trap than trail to success.

Thomas J. Watson, senior vice president and director of communications at Wisconsin Lawyers Mutual Insurance Co., recently wrote an article for the Wisconsin Lawyer titled, “Lawyers and Social Media: What could possibly go wrong?

According to Watson, “Potential hazards include losing control over your message, blurring professional and personal use, expending too much time and money on managing social media use, creating unrealistic client expectations, and making false or misleading communications about a lawyer’s services, not to mention the possibility of violating the rules of professional conduct.”

His article is full of sound professional advice, including, don’t talk about or to clients over social media, beware of the marketing-related Rules of Professional Conduct when writing online, and don’t give legal advice over the Internet.

In some sense, it’s common sense.

Of course, it’s natural to keep aware of conflicts of interest and to not engage in the unauthorized practice of law. Still, something about the anonymity of digital makes people forget about these daily professional conduct rules.

Also, the more software and technology used by your firm, the more necessary tools for confidentiality and protection, like an excellent IT Department, becomes.

Employees at your firm should properly secure its wireless network; update its antivirus software and build a firewall; and remember to remove metadata or password protect-sensitive email attachments.

But, are these risks—inherent in any online activity—so severe that they outweigh the benefits of using social media?

“Is fashion attorney Staci Riordan, perhaps the fastest woman associate to make equity partner at Fox Rothschild, a century old national law firm, advertising with her heavy use of Facebook and Twitter?” questions Kevin O’Keefe in his article “Is all use of social media subject to legal ethics rules?” on his blog.

The question seems rhetorical. And O’Keefe, author of Real Lawyers Have Blogs, believes social media is not about advertising, rather, it’s about building a conversation of trust between lawyers and their clients.

“Riordan, like many shrewd lawyers who truly understand relationships and reputation aren’t built by having separate online identities, uses Twitter and Facebook to network and engage with business leaders, other lawyers, civic leaders, and friends. Riordan knows networking to nurture relationships and establish trust with others so as to build a strong word of mouth reputation is the stuff life is made of for lawyers looking to grow their business and become better lawyers,” he writes.

Ultimately—like any great rivalry—O’Keefe and Watson want the same thing.

Both men want to watch the industry of law regain some of the reputation of honor and integrity it has lost over the years. And, both are eager to influence and advance their struggling profession.

As lawyer jokes become commonplace and the information highway makes pro se (and in-house) representation all that more accessible to Americans, law firms are seeking new outlets and tools for survival.

Using social media to keep up with the times has its risks. But, so does not using it. Embrace innovation.

If your firm still has concerns, consider hiring a consultant to guide you into the 21st century instead of driving you astray.

 

-WB

 

C4CM offers an audio recording that explains: Social Media at Work: Bulletproof Policies that Minimize Legal and Financial Risks

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Is Checking Facebook At Work A Federal Crime? Where Your Firm Should Weigh In…


Image: chanpipat / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

If checking Facebook at work were a federal crime, the government may as well outlaw office gossip and coffee breaks.

These days, Congress and corporate America seems to be pigeonholing the Internet as a workplace tool—and nothing more. But, for gamers, social media-istas, and chronic procrastinators, this determination is like being stuck between a rock and a hard-drive.

Why can’t the Internet be both a business tool and a conduit for leisure?

Mostly because the government would love to regulate the suspicious and potential dangerous online activities of its population, the way it can’t personal pleasure or freedom.

Yesterday, Chief Judge Alex Kozinski, in an opinion of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, decided the government had gone too far in interpreting an anti-hacking statute called the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA).

According to Judge Kozinski’s opinion, no, it is not a federal crime to check facebook at work—despite workplace policy. And, no, it is not a federal crime to gchat with friends, play online games, shop, or watch sports highlights in violation of employer policy.

 “While it’s unlikely that you’ll be prosecuted for watching Reason.TV on your work computer, you could be. Employers wanting to rid themselves of troublesome employees without following proper procedures could threaten to report them to the FBI unless they quit,” explained Judge Kozinski.

“Ubiquitous, seldom-prosecuted crimes invite arbitrary and discriminatory enforcement.”

The WSJ Law Blog points out that this ruling puts the Ninth Circuit at odds with the Fifth, Seventh,, and 11th circuits, which adopted a broader view of the law’s coverage.

“Were we to adopt the government’s proposed interpretation, millions of unsuspecting individuals would find that they are engaging in criminal conduct,” stressed Judge Kozinski.

As such, Judge Kozinski asked the three dissenting courts to reconsider.

“These courts looked only at the culpable behavior of the defendants before them, and failed to consider the effect on millions of ordinary citizens caused by the statute’s unitary definition of ‘exceeds authorized access.’ They therefore failed to apply the long-standing principle that we must construe ambiguous criminal statutes narrowly so as to avoid ‘making criminal law in Congress’s stead,’” wrote Judge Kozinski in his opinion.

“We therefore respectfully decline to follow our sister circuits and urge them to reconsider instead.”

Just as courts ought to reconsider their rulings, law firms should reconsider their related workplace policies.

In light of the potentially huge consequences for violating workplace social media policies (at least for federal crimes in the Fifth, Seventh, and 11th circuits), what kind of message are you sending associates?

Is your firm culture so severe that it would like to see its employees prosecuted for procrastinating online?

A study by American Express showed 39 percent of younger workers won’t even consider working for a company that blocks Facebook, according to Kevin O’Keefe’s points for “Why law firms need to stop blocking the use of social media,” on his site Real Lawyers Have Blogs. Because Facebook is now the primary communication and networking tool for many young professionals, why block its use and alienate this group?

Whatever your choice in language and limitations in a workplace social media policy, law firms should remember—in the least—to create one.

In 2011, over 100 employers were accused of improper social media practices or policies, according to The Center For Competitive Management. If not to protect your employees from strict law enforcement, protect your firm.

If you’re unsure where to start, try research and a round-table discussion with a mix of junior and senior attorneys. Along with administrators, ask the group to create a social media policy that reflects their own opinions on the matter. Most likely, your employees will know best what types of social media uses actually constitute abuses.

A round-table discussion will also ensure your employees take the time to read workplace policy; after all, they helped write it.

Finally, if you’re still stuck, attend C4CM’s course on audio CD, Social Media at Work: Bulletproof Policies that Minimize Legal and Financial Risks.

-WB

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