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Alternatives To “Big Law” For Recent Grads & “Out Of The Box” Law Firm Strategies

The good news is, this week Forbes reports, citing the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, that the U.S. Economy added 203,000 jobs in November, bringing unemployment down to a shockingly low 7 percent.

In addition to a lower unemployment rate, this week, the labor force participation rate was stronger, up to 63 percent from 62.8 percent last month, reports the same statistics.

So, in sum, the government is back in business and—better yet—reporting optimistic numbers for our employment outlook.

What’s the bad news?

The bad news is, employment for lawyers is still low. It has been difficult for the legal industry to efficiently match demand for low-cost legal services with the overabundant supply of highly educated (and thus enormously-expensive) legal professionals.

Law firms are still struggling to find the right combination of partners and associates.

And, the new generation of graduates is unlikely to see a return of the old BigLaw system offering stable, well-paying jobs. Of the 2012 law school graduates in private practice, just under half—43 percent—landed jobs at firms with between two and 10 layers, according to the National Association for Law Placement, as reported by the Wall Street Journal.

“Looking for other ways to practice law successfully is something people ought to be focusing on more,” said New York City Bar President, Carey R. Dunne, a former prosecutor and partner at law firm Davis Polk & Wardwell LLP, to the WSJ.

According to Mr. Dunne, the pool of well-paid jobs at big law firms is shrinking as clients push back on price and lower-cost alternatives, like outsourcing to foreign or in-house counsel.

Luckily, new programs are cropping up to solve this crisis.

The New York Bar Association is trying out a variety of alternatives to law firm placement for recent grads, such as placing novice lawyers in apprenticeships with big banks or other employers. They are also starting a new law firm that will test whether young attorneys can make a decent living while helping Americans who can’t doll out market rate.

Brooklyn Law School, in another attempt to match legal supply with demand, is launching a program that will place students in government and nonprofit organizations, which then hire them for at least one year after graduation, reports the WSJ.

Finally, Cisco Systems Inc. is planning to team up with the University of Colorado Law School on a program where students will be paid to work full time in the company’s legal department for around seven months, take classes to make up missed course work, and then receive a semester in free tuition.

“My goal is to develop a significant number of companies and law firms that are willing to take two or three students per year and do this, and create a really robust national program,” said Cisco’s general counsel, Mark Chandler, to the WSJ.

“I’m hoping that this is just one idea of many that will blossom.”

And, with the right education or private partnerships, your law firm can also create innovative training programs for their young associates.

It take a lot of effort to step outside that box, but—once you’re there—a world of opportunity (and efficiency) awaits.

-WB 

Still need some creative inspiration? Read C4CM’s guide on Creating The Flexible Workplace.

You’ll find tips and tricks on how to:

  • Lower costs associated with employee absenteeism
  • Improved staff retention and recruitment efforts
  • Maximized employee productivity and performance
  • Improved quality and effectiveness of employee  work and personal lives
  • Decreased health care utilization costs
  • Reduced organizational facilities’ costs
  • Enhanced reputation as an employer of choice

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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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How To Handle Needy Clients (& Still Get Work Done!)

Whether you’re practicing in large corporate firm or small mom-and-pop shop, as an attorney, you’ll keep facing the same issue: lengthy client consultation.

It may be in-person or over the phone, but lengthy client conversations happen, and they cost your firm money. Unfortunately, you can’t always bill these consultations as a client call.

In fact, keeping up with the issues your clients face is part of the job. It’s important to address client concerns, lay out case timetables, and explain the legal process. However, clients often can’t tell the difference between a legal issue and one, well, for a different type of professional—the psychiatrist.

“Clients want to talk about things that have nothing to do with the legal work I have to do. They ask the same questions that you can’t answer: ‘When will this be over?’ or, ‘Do you think (this) will happen?’ You’re tired of telling the client, ‘I don’t know, but just be patient.’ The client calls and says he “read” this, or “heard” this,’ or worse, ‘My friend had a case like this and…’” recalls Brian Tannebaum in his Above The Law article, “Strengthening the Attorney/Client Relationship.”

The problem is, law is personal.

For the small-business owner faced with the risk of losing his legacy, successfully passing on a business to his children that he built for decades from the ground up is no small issue at all. The woman filing for divorce or fighting for custody of children is understandably emotional. Imprisonment or freedom is, for many, a choice between life or death.

Everyday occurrences for attorneys are special occasions—and mostly stressful ones—for clients. Nevertheless, attorneys can’t play therapist to every needy client.

So how can you avoid unnecessarily long client consultations? Try empowering your assistant.

Train your assistant to handle those difficult client calls. For example, a legal assistant should understand the legal process and be aware of specific case updates or news to answer most client questions. He or she can certainly learn to disarm angry clients or soothe anxious ones.

Make sure it doesn’t seem like you are dismissing your clients. For example, don’t use phrases like “let me hand you to my assistant.” Instead, say things like “Mary handles your invoices,” or “John is really the person you should speak to…”

Get in the habit of handing off certain business or client calls to your assistant, that way your clients are comfortable hear his or her voice.

More than that, make sure your clients are aware of your assistant’s extensive expertise. Assistants come in all shapes and sizes. Because of the technical and complicated nature of law, legal assistants stand apart in specialization and certification.

Not to mention the billable hour of your assistant is less cumbersome than senior partner time.

When you have particularly needy clients, don’t shirk their calls. Due diligence involves, sometimes, a bit of handholding. Give your assistant a quick brief about the specific needs of your client, and have them handle status update phone calls or emails. Your assistant should always keep a tone of confidence and authority.

The idea is to empower your assistant, not enfeeble your clients.

Assistants shouldn’t, obviously, handle all communication. But, to keep up with the demands of your practice, there’s nothing wrong with managing the time of your clients and your staff more efficiently.

With this in mind, make sure you hire an experienced and knowledgeable legal assistant. With so many lawyers and legal professionals out of work, there’s labor-lost when it comes to hiring the right man or woman for the job. Consider looking for a person with a psychology background, as that’s the role they frequently play.

Start by writing a job description for the ideal candidate. Then, include adequate training that should include, for example, client interaction guidelines.

Boost the attorney-client relationship at your firm by not actually handling the relationship, yourself.

-WB

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The Hidden Costs Of Being Too Picky: Advice For Firms, Associates & Clients

Many Americans are out of work in the recession, but attorneys, specifically, are experiencing an overwhelming over-saturation of the job market.

At the same time, myriad employers are complaining about not finding the right fit for their firm. Companies protest that there is a skills-mismatch between computer illiterate older candidates versus young inexperienced applicants in today’s technologically-evolving world.

Meanwhile, recent graduates are refusing jobs. There’s a desire to “love what you do” despite the fact that there’s not enough to do in our suffering economy.

Finally, clients complain about high fees and billing structure for their legal representation; and yet, there’s plenty of competition for legal services on the market.

So, we ask, who is being too picky here? The employee, the employer, or the client? And, who has the most to lose in this confusing situation?

“I think it’s important to remember that employers control everything about the process. They define the job, they create the requirements for the job, then they decide how the word gets out to people, recruiting-wise,” explains Peter Cappelli, director of Wharton’s Center for Human Resources, in an interview with Knowledge@Wharton in Forbes.

“They set the rate of pay, which helps determine how attractive the job is, and then they handle the selection part where they look at the applicants and sort them out.”

The power of employers is at the heart of this problem. Employers believe that in a recessed economy, they can afford to be picky. As a result, many job openings remain unfilled.

“That’s certainly part of the problem—that the internal accounting systems in most organizations are so poor that they can’t tell what it costs them to keep a position vacant,” says Cappelli.

“They easily know how much it costs to employ somebody, but they can’t measure that employee’s contributions. So, in most companies, given their accounting systems, it actually looks like they’re saving money by keeping positions vacant. If you think that’s the story, then you’re obviously in no rush to hire. I think it starts there, and that’s clearly not a good thing for society or for employers.”

What’s another problem? Being too stingy with salaries.

Price must meet demand. So, if more attorneys are looking for work, the salaries that greet them must be lowered. Fair enough.

But, according to survey by Manpower, eleven percent of polled employers said they can’t get people to accept the job at the wage offered. Cappelli says, it’s not a mismatch of skills, these firms are just being cheap.

Attorneys have expensive student loans, families, and other financial obligations. Plus, they have a set of unique and specialized skills to offer. With a 50-plus hour workweek in store, if your firm can’t meet the minimum wage requirement of the job, people will prefer to stay at home (or start their own business and compete for your clients).

Employers, forgetting to invest in your own staff is hurting your firm.

Employers these days have forgotten about paying their dues. That’s right, bosses and firms are obligated to train their employees. Although it may be ideal to hire somebody with previous experience, it’s likely cheaper to hire a recent graduate and train them, instead.

Employees, for your turn, you are too picky about finding the “right” job.

Employees shouldn’t accept positions where they simply “pay their dues.” Employees should hold out for that job whose training does, in fact, pay dividends in experience. Nevertheless, employees—like employers—should count training as a benefit. It costs the employer money and it gives the employee skills. Plus, despite the well-known difficulties of a recession, being unemployed for long doesn’t look good on a resume.

If a job offer provides a lower-than-average wage but a higher-than-average training opportunity, don’t discount the latter—it is equivalent to payment.

Being too picky about salary without considering the perks of training is to the detriment of employees. Mentorship and training by experienced, older employees is invaluable—and unattainable if you start your own company directly out of college. Self-employment or lengthy unemployment may leave an individual with little options in the future–the hidden cost of a picky grad.

Finally, clients, recently, have the feeling they’re being cheated by law firms. High billable hours and competition among firms should benefit the client, right?

Unfortunately, clients often want to have their cake and eat it too. Clients want law firms to produce innovative work and billing schemes, and also compete for their business. Businesses should become more proactive when looking for representation.

Not satisfied with your current firm? You risk being left without representation at all. In this environment, that’s something entrepreneurs can’t afford. No lawyer is always worse than keeping your current lawyer.

Law firms should adapt with the economic recession and remain strategic about their hiring practices. This includes being open to client suggestions—or, at least, making it clear that suggestions by both employees and clients are welcome.

In any job, there are opportunities and then there are challenges. The key is acknowledging both. The truth is, in the best or the worst of times, it never pays to be too picky. Firms, associates, and clients should each compromise and find a middle-ground. Mutual gain is the way to achieve long-term success.

-WB

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5 Ways Your Firm Is Unknowingly Wasting Money

It’s true. The crystal vase in every senior partner’s office is a waste of money. And, nobody ate the catered food provided for today’s client meeting.

But, forget about the little extravagancies. Think, instead, about the everyday behavior and continual misspending at your firm.

You might be surprised to discover your law firm is wasting money in the most unsuspecting of ways. Find out why the following five money gluts are bound to catch up to your bottom-line.

1. Overstaffing projects

When firms are concerned with revenue, they look to increase billable hours. So, managers assign multiple associates to a single project, which not only boosts billables, it also seemingly increases the benefits to clients.

But, more hands on deck may not lead to more dollars in the bank.

Overstaffing a project leads to inefficiencies. Instead of making progress on a case, attorneys are duplicating work and then spending more time to filter out the redundancies.

And, instead of seeking out new clients or business streams, law firm partners are wasting valuable hours figuring out who did what and when for their cases.

Overstaffing projects can actually reduce your firm’s efficiency and profitability. Clients may become dissatisfied with results, employees disgruntled over long hours, and the opportunity to explore other revenue streams will certainly be missed.

There’s no added value to redundancy.

2. Using paper

Ok, enough with the photocopies.

Law firm professionals are inundated with documentation, from internal memos to official filings. But, there’s no longer a need to print out every single document—and definitely no need to create binders of discovery.

If discovery was collected and sent to your firm electronically, discourage employees from printing it out.

Not only does your firm run an added security risk should these binders of confidential information get lost or leaked, but going paperless makes more sense financially and environmentally.

Between laptop computers, smartphones, easy-to-view tablets, and cloud storage, there’s no excuse for turning digital age of legal documentation into the dark age.

3. Providing no training to employees

When employees are first hired by a firm, they need to be trained on a firm’s resources. Assistants, paralegals, and attorneys alike need training. There is no exception.

Showing employees where the MS Office templates are located, how to properly fill out a timesheet, and where to find the conference room is simple. Knowing that every employee is confortable with your legal software or specific computer packages, however, is not.

Don’t skip out on training. Your firm will pay for it later with lost productivity and poor time management. The last thing you need is a filing deadline missed by an attorney who has never seen an e-filing before.

4. Keeping the morale killer

You know that one person in the office who is always spreading gossip? Or that individual who always has a complaint on hand but never a positive thing to say?

Office morale declines when managers let it. Law firm managers are responsible for setting the right attitudes and incentives to keep employees motivated and productive. When there’s a person poisoning the atmosphere, it’s time to make a change.

Talk to that person. Come to a resolution. If necessary, create a morale-boosting event for your team. Whatever the problem, find a solution sooner rather than later. If you’re keeping the morale killer—unknowingly—you’re killing the productivity of others, too.

5. Catering to your weakest link

Law firm partners of a certain generation tend to be resistant to change. But, are you letting your weakest link dictate your firm’s direction?

Sometimes the weakest link in a work force is also the most outspoken one. As a result, policy for all tends to conform to the wishes of one.

Let everybody in your firm have a voice. Whether it’s to refine firm strategy or create new policies, make sure you’re not holding back your firm’s best interests (and revenue) to appease one obstinate partner.

-WB

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New Year & New Trend–Law Firm Partners Looking At Layoffs

Bells are ringing in the New Year for law firm professionals, but for whom does the bell really toll?

Unfortunately, law firm partners have little to celebrate in 2013, as their numbers decline in both health and good fortune.

Law firm partners face layoffs, according to a recent Wall Street Journal article.

“You’re only as secure as the amount of money you bring in,” a partner recently told Jennifer Smith of the Wall Street Journal. The aforementioned unnamed partner was first asked to leave a large national law firm during the recession, and then subsequently let go last year from his following firm.

This is just one anecdotal story of many in the legal industry. And, the problem many be more prolific—reaching coast to coast, continent to continent.

Once a managing partner for the British law firm Clifford Chance before leaving in 2000, law-firm consultant Tony Williams explained to the Wall Street Journal, “Firms are now much more clear in what they expect…and much less forgiving if people consistently fall short.”

Lawyers are no longer recognized for their mastery of the law. Instead, lawyers and law firm partners must be managers, leaders, and technological and social media savants all tied into one.

Like many of its predecessors, law firm Waller Landsen Dortch & Davis LLP, located in Nashville, Tennessee, also overhauled its partnership structure during the recession, adjusting pay and hour requirements, in addition to revenue goals for its partners.

“Over that time we went from about 85 equity partners to about 55,” said Chairman John Tishler of its 200-lawyer firm, according to the Wall Street Journal.

“We had a lot of hard conversations, and so some people left us.”

In fact, roughly 15 percent of nearly 120 firms surveyed in Wells Fargo Private Bank’s Legal Specialty Group study intend to cut partners in this year’s first quarter, continuing a three-year trend of partner layoffs, reports the Wall Street Journal.

So, what New Year’s resolutions are to blame for the New Year’s redundancies? Apparently, lack of productivity.

A legal consultant in the U.K. told the Wall Street Journal that partner restructuring was simply “good housekeeping,” seeing as many law firm professionals are having trouble keeping busy these days.

Partners are billing about 30 percent fewer hours per year than pre-recession industry benchmarks. Before the recession, partners averaged roughly 1,900 billable hours per year. Now, they’re lucky to reach 1,300 hours.

“There are a few very major firms that are genuinely and consistently busy,” law-firm consultant Paula Alvary admits to the Wall Street Journal.

But, death of the traditional partnership track means birth to a new, more efficient system.

Here are a few ways to make your partners more productive at your firm:

  1. Track more than just billable hours and new business. Consider leadership or management responsibilities, as well as mentorship as requirements among your partners.
  2. Make partnership duties transparent so that struggling partners can become inspired by the work of other more successful ones. And, more successful partners can see which of his or her peers need some extra help. Espouse an environment of mutual assistance, not competition to increase productivity.
  3. After promoting a new partner, require special partnership training. Don’t send your partners into battle without the proper legal weapons.
  4. For partners in large law firms whose specific practice may permanently fail, consider their cross-sectional expertise and what other departments may profit from their experience. Encourage partners to have multiple, cross-sectional knowledge and flexible skill sets.
  5. Retrain, don’t rehire. It may be tempting to make cuts to maintain profits. But, where possible, see where you can retrain current partners to become more productive. It often costs more in the long run to fire employees only to rehire one in the future. Before you layoff partners, find out if they’re willing to work part-time, contingency cases, or under a new title (Of Counsel, for example, with a smaller salary).

Law firm partners are certainly ringing in a new era of change.

But, change can start with communication. If productivity is the problem, think about putting partners on sabbatical or asking them to attend training on becoming managers or more efficient workers.

Certainly, partnership standards and cutbacks to increase profits at law firms have increased. But, increasing your firm’s creative management techniques and its communication about new partnership requirements to keep its top executives is just as valuable.

Adapt or downsize? Which New Year’s resolution will your firm follow this year?


-WB

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Studying Logic Better For Lawyers Than Studying Law, Judge Says

Surprisingly, the best lawyers may not be consist of individuals who dedicated themselves to the study of law.

Supreme Court Justice Lord Sumption told the UK Telegraph that it is “very unfortunate” that many up-and-coming lawyers cannot speak a foreign language and they have “much less in the way of general culture” than their predecessors.

Instead, Lord Sumption, 63, suggested that aspiring attorneys would benefit from first earning degrees in history or mathematics, and then attending law school.

Currently a judge, Lord Sumption, once had some of this common-law nation’s most powerful clients, including Chelsea Football Club owner Roman Abramovich. Today, his counsel is limited to ad hoc advice and informal guidance to future generations.

According to Lord Sumption, legal arguments are less about the law and more about correct factual analysis.

“Once you’re understood them it’s usually obvious what the answer is. The difficulty then becomes to reason your way in a respectable way towards it,” he says.

“That’s why the study of something involving the analysis of evidence, like history or classics, or the study of a subject which comes close to pure logic, like mathematics, is at least as valuable a preparation for legal practice as the study of law.”

Wise advice, but for many practicing law firm professionals, it’s a case of too little, too late. It’s impossible to re-draft your education and pedigree. So what now?

Taking Lord Sumption’s counsel, pick up a book on business, art, or literature.

Law firm’s should consider giving associates educational gifts for the holidays, such as Michael J. Mauboussin’s The Success Equation: Untangling Skill and Luck in Business, Sports, and Investing
 or even Logicomix, a comic-book about the quest for logical certainty in mathematics, as reviewed by the New York Times.

As a law firm, encourage your associates to participate in after-work book groups, philosophical seminars, math clubs, or sports teams. Your attorney’s next big legal inspiration may emerge from an extracurricular activity.

“Appreciating how to fit legal principles to particular facts is a real skill. Understanding the social or business background to legal problems is essential. I’m not sure current law degrees train you for that, nor really are they designed to,” Lord Sumption continued to tell The Telegraph.

“If you don’t have [a command of reasoning skills, an ability to understand and use evidence, and broad literary culture] you are going to find it difficult to practice [law]. If you don’t know any law that is not a problem; you can find out.”

By encouraging your associates to learn other languages, read extensively in other areas, or master other skills, you also lower the chances they’ll get burnt out on the law.

It’s time to take back productivity in your law practice… by practicing something else.

-WB

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What Every Lawyer Needs To Remember (And How To Remember It)

What to remember: Names and faces

Whether it’s shaking the hand of your client’s wife at a Christmas party or with your first-year associates in the office hallway, law firm professionals meet and greet a lot of people.

And, studies show that leaders who remember the people they’re leading are more effective, according to the Harvard Business Review (HBR) Blog.

How to remember: Repetition and association

Majid Fotuhi, M.D., chairman of the Neurology Institute for Brain Health and Fitness and an assistant professor of neurology at Johns Hopkins University, offered Forbes Magazine a few tricks for remembering faces and names.

“The first step is to make an effort. When you meet someone new, confirm that you have heard and can pronounce the name correctly. Then ask how it’s spelled and if it means something or has a cultural history,” explained Dr. Fotuhi.

“To really cement it in your brain try to use it, either by introducing the person by name to someone else or by using the name to direct a question to them. Nathan, do you live in the area?

Most people have mastered the trick of remembering names. The more you use a person’s name—say, to address them—the more you remember. But, what about faces?

To do this, Dr. Fotuhi pinpoints a unique or distinguishing physical feature. It can be a prominent nose, celebrity resemblance, or combination of two.

“The more ridiculous, the easier it will be to remember,” Dr. Fotuhi advices Forbes.

What to remember: Your pitch to a client

You have the chance to pitch to a new client. You know that this potential client is soliciting multiple firms. Not only should your pitch stand out, it should be practice perfect.

How to remember: Practice

Although not a memory trick, practice does, in fact, make perfect.

So, write out key points or a script. Read through your notes several times in advance. Then, choose family members or colleagues with which to practice.

Don’t let these helpers go easy on you, either.

“Research has established that fast, simple feedback is almost always more effective at shaping behavior than is a more comprehensive response well after the fact,” according to an article by the Wall Street Journal.

“Better to whisper ‘Please use a more formal tone with clients, Steven’ right away than to lecture Steven at length on the wherefores and whys the next morning.”

So, when your practicing your pitch, make sure your fake audiance is correcting you at every step.

Also, leave your notes at the door. Not only are presentations more engaging when the speaker makes eye contact, but they are also easier memorized ad lib. This means, you’re not memorizing words or phrases, but ideas.

If there are a few key ideas or information that must be communicated, use a pneumonic to remember them by. Don’t leave practice for the last minute. Not only will practicing in advance increase your confidence, it will increase your chances at delivering it with perfection.

The more you practice, the more you’ll realize that memorizing is just a trick. The key to a perfect pitch is being perfectly prepared to give it.

What to remember: Filing deadlines

Remembering deadlines for filings is the most basic requirement in the practice of law. And yet, with all the other client meetings, internal deadlines, and various obligations that a law firm manager faces, it’s hard to keep on top.

How to remember: Technology

Contrary to the previous points, the best way to remember important legal deadlines is the computer. Don’t trust your assistant or younger associates to write them down.

Download a iPhone, Blackberry, or Droid app that will keep track of your to-do list and deadlines. Get in the habit of setting alarms, calendar alerts, and other electronic reminders for even the littlest, daily detail.

After all, the one thing a professional—and certainly every attorney—is never without is his phone.

-WB

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Adding ‘Youth Boards’ To Boardrooms: Why Empowering Young People Boosts Law Firm Profits

American law is a system based on past precedent. Intuitively, this implies our law system inherently favors experience and historical wisdom over untried or untested claims of a more contemporary nature.

But, for law firm managers, this tradition doesn’t have to translate into rigid business practice.

In fact, in mustn’t. Here’s why.

Across the Atlantic, in Europe, entrepreneurs are asking politicians not to pass over its young population (see FT’s “We all need an infusion of youthful vigour”). Over a quarter of young people are unemployed, disenfranchised, demoralized, but they represent a newness of human capital that is an asset to this economically struggling continent.

Meanwhile, in the U.S., policies are emerging that benefit American youth—new patent laws, tax breaks for small-businesses (usually young start-ups), and changes in healthcare services.

However, how can longstanding, tradition-based institutions, such as law, do the same? When so much of law is based on experience, trust built over time, and rigid hierarchy, what do law firms gain from empowering youth?

First, young people know technology.

The basic function of law may be the same, but its form is changing over time. From online filings, to e-discovery, to text-recognition software and animated PowerPoint presentations, clients demand the best from their lawyers.

The best requires innovative technology.

Your legal consultants and accountants may create your damages models, but can you ensure there are no mistakes? Today, the blame game is rampant. And lawyers are on the chopping block.

Just ask legal representatives for Hewlett Packard. The company is searching for somebody to sue for the overvaluation of one of its acquisitions.

Due diligence at law firms requires constant oversight of errors, from as small as spelling, to as big as gaps in research, to as back- (and bank-)breaking as calculation and equation errors in Excel.

“Outdated structures and cultures must adapt—those that resist are condemned to decay,” reminds Luke Johnson—entrepreneur—in an article for the Financial Times (FT).

Technology is at the heart of this positive change. And, young people are the tools to exploit this for your firm.

Second, young people are enthusiastic, passionate.

When it comes to new technology, geriatric partners may be suspicious of social media, but the younger generation of attorneys are enthusiastic.

Don’t understand the hype for platforms like Twitter? Never read a blog in your life?

Well, your young attorneys have. And, they can help your firm attract new clients with these modern tools.

Furthermore, young people are less jaded about the profession. They’re eager to build strong resumes of experience, which requires seizing every opportunity, when given. Young legal professionals not deterred when the bad guy wins, or the bad judge or judgment prevails.

Instead, young people are passionate about the law and where the field is taking their nascent career. This is exactly why empowering young lawyers is important in law—it ensures your young attorneys keep up high billable hours and care about high quality work product, in the long-term.

Third, young people are less restrained, free, and flexible.

Remember that time-consuming administrative issue you keep putting off? Or your child’s soccer game missed so that you could attend a meeting with HR?

Here’s an opportunity to delegate some of your business tasks. Young people have more time and are generally more flexible.

“The old should mentor the young, and take a risk by promoting them early,” Johnson compels businesses in his FT article.

By nature, the low-in-rank take on more work. But, this work doesn’t have to be tedious in nature. In fact, it’s time to entrust some important business strategy and operations decisions to young associates.

Incorporating 20- and 30-somethings in firm policy and decisionmaking is vital, reminds Johnson in his FT article.

“For example, a retailing friend has formed a ‘youth board’ for his business. This comprises six of his brightest up-and-comers, who meet monthly to debate strategy and operations,” writes Johnson.

“Their role is to challenge the statutory directors and address the concerns and opportunities of customers under 40.”

Law firms should also consider constructing a youth board composed of up-and-comers.

Firm partners should be given one nomination each, and the reign of these young attorneys (or legal professionals) should last at least a year.

A representative for this youth board can then report directly to managing partners on a regular basis. This board should be official, transparent, and meaningful. It should be perceived as an honor.

Give your youth board concrete powers and abilities to impact firm policy and strategy—don’t make it an honorary position.

You will be surprised how a contemporary perspective on technology, operations, and office culture can increase efficiency and productivity. A youth board will better understand the ground-level needs of staff and young associates, including what incentivizes them to stay late and longer at your firm.

“This is a dynamic and diverse time—tired networks and prejudices are history,” Johnson clearly states.

First-year, second-year, third-year, junior, senior, partner… these titles may still exist in law practice at the present, but their de facto importance is a thing of the past.

Show respect for the ideas and enthusiasm of your young professionals by creating opportunities for them to excel. Consider a youth board.

If you do, you may find that the inexperience of young people brings an optimal balance of fresh ideas and flexibility to create high returns on whatever you’ve invested in them.

-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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