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Beware Of The E-mail Hydra: How To Increase Productivity By Decreasing Responsiveness

Some people know how to ruin a good thing.

It was the first person to use a cell phone in the movie theatre or get too drunk at a work function. Now we have to watch advertisements about how “silence is golden” and drink from cash bars at office parties.

Not to mention, America used to be entertained by Donald Trump’s tweets; now the novelty is over and opening Twitter feels more and more like opening Pandora’s Box.

“It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it. If you think about that, you’ll do things differently,” Warren Buffett once said. In business, one failure, one event, or one person is all it takes to ruin a good thing.

Unfortunately, the same applies to the Internet (and politics—but we won’t go there today).

Once considered the best thing to happen to business, the World Wide Web is opening a world wide can of worms. From Facebook browsing during office hours to computer viruses, the Internet has put workplace efficiency in jeopardy.

With marketers trolling for bits, cookies, and IP addresses, say goodbye to your privacy. With sites like Wikipedia, forget finding reliable information online. With the immediacy of email, proper etiquette has been replaced by emoticons.

“As our inboxes have become more demanding, we have all become less responsive — because we get so many messages it’s hard to keep up. But the harder it is to keep up, the more messages (‘I just thought I’d send another email asking if you got my first two emails’) we send,” writes Sarah Green for the Harvard business Review Blog.

“The problem with ‘responsiveness’ is that email then becomes like a hydra—cut off one head (answer one email) and you spawn nine more,” continues Ms. Green. “The more responsive you are, the more email you receive, and the more responsive you need to be.”

Sometimes, increasing your productivity means being less responsive to e-mail. Put an end this inefficient desire to be “responsive” by following some simple steps here.

Or, you can tap into new technology. Take, for example, Yesware.

Yesware is an oldie but goodie ad-on to Google Mail that transforms what many have ruined in electronic communication—informal or inappropriate greetings, responsiveness, and excessive urgency—into a good thing once again.

Geared toward salesmen, Yesware is an ideal email productivity app for lawyers. With Yesware, law firm professionals can:

  • Get alerts each time someone opens an email or clicks on a link
  • Know exactly when to follow up with your clients and prospects
  • Know where in the world your message is being viewed
  • View the device that prospects are using to open your email

In addition, the Yesware app is customizable. Restore formal language in business communication with Yesware’s email templates:

  • Choose your best templates by seeing which ones your customers reply to most
  • Incorporate links and rich text to send great looking messages at the click of a button—every time
  • Use [brackets] to indicate custom fields to make your templates even faster and easier to use

Finally, seize business opportunities with Yesware’s analytics functions:

  • Know exactly who is best to follow up with by using our personal tracking reports and gauge your email opens for the last 30 days
  • See where in the world people open your emails from inside your inbox
  • Find out if your message is reaching top decision makers
  • Prioritize your email prospecting with subject filters and email activity sorting

Forbes says about the app, “If You Want To Be Awesome At Emails, Add Yesware To Your Gmail Today.”

But, whether it’s yesware or other productivity solutions, be carefuly what you say. And, more importantly, how fast you say it.

Taking more time to write messages (or tweets) may save your productivity and, in the end, your credibility.

-WB

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Uber’s 3 PR Tips For Law Firms: #DeleteUber & Why “Trending” Isn’t Always A Good Thing

Yesterday was a PR nightmare for Uber (and a political one for Republicans).

New York City’s yellow cabs were showing solidarity with opponents to Trump’s executive order targeting people from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen.

But, just as the drivers licensed from the Taxi & Limousine Commission halted rides to John F. Kennedy airport, Uber decided to lower its fees for commuters.

It’s hard to say if this was just poor timing or a creep on cabby market share, but Uber’s decision to continue to pick up passengers at JFK felt immediate backlash.

Shortly thereafter, on Twitter, #DeleteUber started to trend.

New Yorkers were supportive of the taxi drivers’ decision to host a one-hour strike in protest of the policy. After all, many of their employees are immigrants from the nations being targeted by the travel ban; and, many New Yorkers are, too.

“Honestly, it was really touching to see how many people stood up for our strike,” alliance director Bhrairavi Desai said to the NY Daily News.

“Uber is a Wall Street darling. We’ve never had illusions that it operates on Main Street.”

Then, Lyft—a direct Uber competitor—announced it would donate $1 million to the ACLU, which commanded the fight to free detainees (via CNBC). Eventually, Uber tried to set the record straight about not wanting to break the stike. The company even pledged $3 million toward a legal defense fund to cover legal expenses associated with the ban. Nevertheless, damage was done to Uber’s reputation. Some might call their actions, too little too late.

Don’t let #DeleteUber happen to you. Here are three PR pitfalls your law firm should watch out for.

  1. Pretending Your Firm Is Immune to Client Feedback. Your firm is in the services game whether you like it or not.

Law firms, like taxis, are accountable to clients. Ultimately, firms offer legal services—“services” being the operative word. In service industries, it is crucial to address customers directly. Communicate with them via Twitter and social media. Be sensitive to their whims.

Find out through surveys or direct communication what type of action, pay schedule, or social justice a client may want. And, even when it costs you money, do it. Paying up front to accommodate a single, needy client will result in client referrals and positive client feedback. Damage done by a negative review can lead to an irreversible negative reputation.

  1. Believing More Publicity Is Good Publicity. You’re not a celebrity or socialite. IN law, publicity is not always good publicity.

Uber was already facing a dubious reputation in New York. Now, it might have given market share over to its chief rival (and litigant). Sometimes law firms want to stay under the radar when it comes to cases—even ones with successful outcomes.

Carefully curate your public image. A groundswell of negative public attention can quickly take over thanks to social media.

  1. Employing Hands-off PR Strategies. PR agencies should not shoulder all the responsibility and work involved in creating a positive image for your firm. Partners and associates must all chip in when it comes to managing the PR poker game.

Uber should have immediately ceased operations at JFK. It should have considered donating money to a legal fund directly benefiting employees of the Taxi & Limousine Commission who went on strike.

Employing third-party consultants does not exempt attorneys from speaking to the press or representing their firm. A PR person is not a substitute for a well-spoken (and sometimes apologetic) law partner.

Richard Levick, President of Levick Strategy Communications, writes of law firm PR strategy:

“Reporters are like stray cats –if you don’t feed them, they go to someone else’s door. Call them back first, even if it is to say that you can’t say anything. Reporters remember who calls them and who doesn’t. Not returning the journalist’s call today, no matter what the reason, guarantees that you won’t get the call when you do want to be in the paper.”

Need more help crafting the right message to your employees and clients? Check out the Center for Competitive Management’s Legal Services training webinars here.

Because in today’s powerful social media world, “trending”—like #DeleteUber—isn’t always a good thing.

-WB

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How Law Firm’s Make Use Of Introverted Employees & Social Media In 2017

The social media age. Upside, your law firm takes advantage of the windfall of electronic recommendations and attracting new clients via LinkedIn, its website, Twitter, Facebook, etc. Downside, somebody has to keep updating your tweets.

Social media has empowered businesses and consumers alike. Individuals have never held so much influence in changing the world with just one click of a button. And, at the same time, businesses are empowered to advertise their products and services to a market much larger than before.

At first, law firms were a bit slow to take advantage of digital days. Not anymore. Now it’s necessary to task young associates with managing your Facebook page, Twitter account, and—hopefully—blog posts, or risk your bottom line by falling behind.

Here’s how your firm gets noticed:

  1. Publish your posts on media aggregators. 

Upside: Websites like Reddit, Shoutwire, and Digg allow individuals to submit links to websites, blog posts, or any Internet-based page. The community of readers then votes up (or down) the link based on a review of its content. Create flashy titles and you’ll likely see in a flash the rise of your readership.

Downside: Comments by readers can be harsh. The anonymity of the Internet allows people to wriste down criticisms (NSFW) that may end up permanently cached on the World Wide Web.

  1. Add website sharing buttons.

Upside: Your firm’s website should have links to all of your social media accounts, as well as ways to share your posts. Programs like “Click to Tweet” make this easy.

Downside: Your firm may need a small amount of Internet savvy to create buttons on your website and restore broken links.

  1. Create interesting content.

Upside: Remember to write thoughtful arguments accompanied with eye-catching photos. There’s so much competition already when it comes to online content, your firm’s additions must stand out.

Downside: Yes, this requires a little more time and thought to write captivating posts and tweets. Consumers would rather see the “Yeti Seen Prowling the Streets Near Boston” than your tips about hiring Of Counsel at your company.

  1. Do your research.

Upside: If you know what time your readers are logging on then you’ll know the best time to publish your posts. Maybe you’re getting a lot of hits first thing in the morning. People are remiss to start work at 8am and decide to read legal news or browse the web. With this knowledge, you can now set your social media to publish at certain times to target your audience.

Downside: Due diligence on your casework is no longer enough. Time to do due diligence on your business development, too.

  1. Crossover multiple social media platforms.

Upside: Happy you finally mastered the art of blogging for your firm? Time to summarize that blog post on your LinkedIn and Facebook page and compile a 140-character hook for your Twitter account. Don’t be afraid to repeat the same ideas on different mediums.

Downside: Now you’ll have to memorize more usernames and passwords. More social media means more potential backlash.

Speaking of backlash, protect your firm from recent changes in the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure (FRCP) governing e-discovery, which covers the legal use of social media e-discovery in cases.

Throughout 2016, the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure (FRCP) amended the scope of discovery, timing of discovery requests and availability of sanctions for data preservation mishaps, and motivated judges to issue notable e-discovery opinions and interpreted new FRCP provisions.

Now, in 2017, in addition to keeping your social media prowess up-to-date, your firm must swift through e-discovery using up-to-date procedures.

There’s a lot to keep track of in the social media and electronic information world, and this will only get more difficult when it comes to training and managing employees—not to mention the fact that with the press of a button, the same information you created at your fingertips is lost at them, as well.

What does this mean for you? There’s still time to push social media at your law firm within the 2017 FRCP compliance.

For example, Michele C.S. Lange for Above The Law blog advises, look for intent when dealing with deleted documents.

“With an average litigation matter often involving thousands (or even millions) of documents, it is no secret that data preservation is one of the thorniest issues in ediscovery. How does an organization and its counsel ensure that all relevant documents are protected? Changes to Rule 37(e) were designed to reset the preservation duty by allowing courts to use good faith, intent and reasonableness when determining if a party should be sanctioned for destroying digital evidence. However, ‘proper preservation’ is still a blurry line, often dependent upon a myriad of case-specific facts, and in 2016 many judges delved into whether a party’s conduct was sufficient under Rule 37(e) to levy sanctions. There will be a steady stream of cases in 2017 addressing reasonable steps to preserve, intent to deprive another party of relevant data and the inherent power of the court to administer sanctions when data is lost.”

The Center for Competitive Management (C4CM) offers myriad webinars and services to help you navigate social media and technology at your law firm.

C4CM will also help you with law firm management. It’s difficult to give assignments to associates who are proven introverts. Learn more about how to structure meetings and trainings to encourage participation by introvers with C4CM’s live webinar. Sign up before January 25, 2017, and attend, “Introverts in the Workplace: Harnessing the Untapped Power of the Introvert,” for free on Tuesday, January 24th, 2017, from 2pm to 3pm EDT.

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Law Firm Resolutions: New Year & New Productivity Plans For Equity Partners

The year 2016 was the year of things ending.

Hoverboards, the Galaxy Note 7, Yahoo, and Vine. Whether it was business acquisition or spontaneous explosion, last year was not a good one for new technology or old ventures.

And, according to a 2016 Altman Weil Flash Survey, law firms are not faring much better.

Firms are having trouble maintaining billable hours, with half of surveyed firms reporting that their equity partners are not sufficiently busy. Worse yet, 62 percent of surveyed firms report that of non-equity partners are also not sufficiently busy, particularly firms with 250 or more lawyers.

With so little going on in 2016, growth looks unlikely for 2017. Only 53 percent of surveyed firms believe that growth in lawyer headcount was required for firm success, and a vast majority believes that fewer equity partners will be a permanent trend.

In fact, the disappearance of the traditional partnership track is another casualty of an overall (fiscally) depressing year.

Nevertheless, death of the traditional partnership track might mean the birth to a new, more efficient system.

In 2017, consider implementing a few of the following 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).

This year, consider better communication among, rather than excommunication of equity partners. 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 boost profits at law firms have increased. According to the aforementioned survey, 73 percent of firms reported removing “underperforming” partners and nearly half were already in the process of de-equitizing full partners. In fact, over half of the firms surveyed utilize part-time or contract lawyers.

Instead of downsizing your firm, increasing your firm’s creative management techniques and its communication about new partnership requirements to keep top executives may be just as valuable.

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

Not yet resolute? The Center for Competitive Management (C4CM) is here to help you decide. Attend the live webinar, “How Many Lawyers is Too Many Lawyers? Managing Firm Headcount, Capacity & People Power for Increased Profits,” on Thursday, January 12th, 2017, from 2pm to 3:15pm EDT.

-WB

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Counting The “Pros” To Pro Bono Work: Law Firm Gift Giving & Tax Write-Offs

It’s the season for giving. But, instead of wrapping something under the tree, consider giving the gift of time.

Pro Bono. Three words that—in this economic uncertainty—no lawyer wants to hear.

Or maybe they do?

Pro bono is essentially providing legal services to poor, marginalized, or at-risk individuals, groups, and communities without pay in order to serve a higher purpose—the provision of justice.

Some say pro bono work is altruistic and therefore difficult to incentivize among attorneys. Economists at Princeton University, however, may disagree with this statement after a recent study.

“Molly Crockett, a psychologist at the University of Oxford in the United Kingdom, combined the classic psychological and economics tools for probing altruism: pain and money,” writes John Bohannan for Science magazine.

The scientist’s task? To find out who many electric shocks would be dolled out—and to whom—when money was at stake.

The pain given via electrode was deemed “mildly painful, but not intolerable.” And the price tags of each shock varied, from $0.15 to $15.

The randomly chosen “decider” in the trial was given a choice of number of shocks for money, and the shocks were either to the decided, themselves, or to another participant—although the decider always got the money.

Although we as society would like to believe that people would be willing to give up some sort of gain, financial or intrinsic, to avoid the distress of hurting somebody else, this idea has yet to be supported by previous scientific research, points out Bohannon.

In fact, the opposite result has been proven time and time again, as far back as the 1960s with Stanley Milgram, whose psychology experiments are some of the best known and widely discussed.

In 1961, Milgram sought to test our obedience to authority figures. He was motivated, in part, by the behavior of Nazi war criminals, many of whom were facing trial at that time, such as the infamous Adolf Eichmann.

Subjects in Milgram’s experiment were instructed to give a series of escalating electric shocks to an unidentified person in another room. The shocks ranged from 15 volts to 450 volts. Although the subjects were separated, they could communicate between the walls. Participants dolling the shocks could hear the (faked) reactions of their counterparts, which included screaming, banging on the wall, and complaints of heart conditions. After a while, the participant would hear nothing on the other side of the wall. Throughout the experiment, the subjects were not threatened or yelled at, rather, they were given stern and consistent instructions not to stop administering the volts.

So did they?

A (no pun intended) shocking 65 percent of the subjects followed orders and administered the final—and seemingly fatal—450-volt electric shock to the person in the next room.

But today, it finally seems possible that altruism—or at least incentivizing it within people—can exist.

In the more recent study, the results show that while participants did not like the pain of receiving a shock (they were willing to make about $0.30 less money per shock on average to receive fewer of them) people were willing to lose twice that amount, $0.60 per shock, to hurt an anonymous other less. The full results can be found online in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Fifty years later, society can sigh in relief that people are more altruistic than they first seemed in Milgram’s portrayal.

For lawyers, however, Pro Bono work is not actually altruistic. On the contrary, it can provide law firms with many profitable opportunities, among them:

  • Networking opportunities for lawyers
  • A chance to bolster a lawyer or firm’s reputation
  • Enhancing a positive firm culture of team-building
  • Boosting staff morale
  • Fundraising opportunity for a firm working with charities or other endownments
  • Enhancing skills and experience of younger lawyers
  • Providing leadership opportunities for younger lawyers
  • Attracting paying clients through high-profile pro-bono work
  • Attracting young talent who value a Pro Bono, idealistic firm culture

And, in the end, Pro Bono work is at tax write-off for law firms.

The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) writes about tax deductions for pro bono legal services:

“Although you cannot deduct the value of your time or services, you can deduct the expenses you incur while donating your services to a qualified organization.” 

Lahle Wolfe, About.com Guide, answers all your questions about similar tax deductions She writes:

“Before listing the types of expenses you may be able to deduct, they need to meet two IRS qualifications:

  1. The expense be incurred as a requirement in order to perform the service for the organization; and
  2. The services must primarily benefit the charity and not the taxpayer (but both can benefit.)

Examples of expenses you may be able to deduct, or partially deduct, include: cost of supplies needed to provide or perform the service that directly benefited the charity; travel expenses; and other direct expenses.”

Therefore, by serving those in need—including your own self-interests—your firm can get the deductions it needs. With ample online guidance about tax write-offs for pro bono work, there’s no excuse for not offering these services to your community.

It’s the season for giving, so sign-up to give pro bono work this holiday. Do it for both the philanthropy and the profit-seeking it inspires.

-WB

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More Than The Holiday Blues: How Your Firm Can Combat Employee Anxiety & Depression

Thanksgiving sparks the beginning of family get-togethers, year-end deadlines, and, as a result, mental health concerns.

Considering this contentious, recent election coincides with the arrival of holidays already associated with anxiety, stress, and drinking way too much, it’s important to discuss how your law firm or business will handle behavioral health problems of its employees this season.

The American Bar Association (ABA) recently partnered with Hazelden and reported findings from its study on the rates of substance use and other mental health concerns among lawyers in the Journal of Addiction Medicine. While they may not surprise you, the results can help law firm managers better prepare for a potentially dicey December.

One of the more interesting takeaways was that younger lawyers are at higher risk for abusing alcohol. Apparently attorneys in the first 10 years of their practice experience the highest rates of problematic use (28.9%), followed by attorneys practicing for 11 to 20 years (20.6), reports Above The Law blog.

It goes without saying that anxiety and stress are highly correlated with alcohol abuse. And, the study somberly states, “ubiquity of alcohol in the legal professional culture certainly demonstrates both its ready availability and social acceptability, should one choose to cope with their mental health problems in that manner,” (via ATL).

It’s easy to think that symptoms of these behavioral problems would be evident. If younger associates are starting to smell of alcohol or miss deadlines, certainly that’s cause for concern.

However, extreme reactions to stress and anxiety can happen under the radar. Take, for instance, a sad story about a law graduate who recently committed suicide after failing the California Bar Exam.

The graduate’s parents issued a statement. In addition to expression surprise, they implored other students to reach out for support.

“Our son Brian Christopher Grauman unexpectedly took his own life on Friday evening 18 Nov 2016, after learning he did not pass the California Bar Exam. We are still trying to understand such an extreme reaction by Brian. We know he loved studying and debating law, and he was intently focused on fulfilling his dream of practicing law in the courtroom….”

“It appears the idea of repeating the last 7 months of his life to again prepare for the Bar Exam and then once more nervously await months for the results was too much for him. We deeply regret that he did not take the time to talk to anyone after learning his exam results.”

In the ideal world, a law firm manager can sense his or her associate’s breaking point. But, in reality, the human emotional state can be fragile and unpredictable.

That’s why it’s really important to bring these issues out into the open and provide a forum for your employees to express their anxieties, desires, and concerns.

Here’s how you can do it.

First, survey your associates to find out how prevalent these issues are within your firm. Ensure its anonymity. Second, confirm with your healthcare provider that your firm’s employees have affordable access to counseling and other mental health services. Circulate these options in a firm-wide memo.

Finally, make it clear to your office that you take mental health seriously by offering preventative activities, such as gym memberships, gift certificates to local spas, bring in a masseur this month for 15-minutes massages, or invite a yoga teacher to offer classes before work for a week to introduce associates to the sport.

Consider making wellness a priority and outlet your employees’ happiness, not happy hour. You won’t just survive this holiday season—you’ll thrive.

 

-WB

For more ideas about how to generate a productive, thriving law firm, learn more from The Center for Competitive Management’s webinars here.

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Trump & Trademarks: Managing Leadership Transition at Law Firms & What Not To Do

Speaking of the recent election, Jess Collen of Forbes, wrote, “If the candidates in an election between a former IP lawyer and a king of brand names don’t talk about trademarks in a campaign, no one ever will.”

Apparently, no one ever will. But that doesn’t mean that Mr. Trump won’t pull an ace from his sleeve during his presidency.

Trump, or at least his company, owns many trademarks. In addition, Trump has a reputation for being litigious.

Forbes alleges that there are likely more than one hundred existing federal registrations to Donald Trump and/or his companies. It might make businesses wonder if Trump is in favor of reorganizing the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, or if he is happy with his current cache.

We will have a President who is hyper-sensitive to the value of brand names. Efforts by the courts, legislature or government agencies to lessen those protections will not find a receptive audience in the White House,” concludes Collen for Forbes.

“The incoming President may even argue that his success is built entirely on the fame of his marks. Will that matter?” 

Trademark law is not the only reason businesses are cautiously reacting to a Trump victory.

The pharmaceutical industry, where patent law is highly influential, has been especially tight-lipped in their reaction. Sucampo Pharmaceuticals (SCMP.O), which increased by roughly 31 percent after it raised its full-year sales forecast, was sure not to rock the boat of its shareholders this week, reports Reuters.

“Obviously Hillary Clinton’s agenda was much more well-articulated,” said Chief Executive Officer Peter Greenleaf about Clinton’s promise to regulate prices in the pharmaceutical industry.

“I will be interested to see what we learn as Mr. Trump takes office and we learn more about what his agenda is going to be for the industry.” 

Whether it is as a Presidential leader or law firm one, it is important to articulate a plan of succession. America’s biggest loss at a Trump win is the fact that the President-elect’s policies have not been specifically laid out. In fact, nobody knows what to expect.

In fact, a Trump win fueled a “violent reaction” in the bond market—spooked by Trump’s vague rhetoric calling for massive infrastructure spending and tax cuts, reports CNN Money.

Investors are worried—and confused.

Clients are often concerned for the future when a law firm partner steps down. In most firms, a minimum of 20 to 30 percent of a firm’s total revenue is controlled by partners over the age of 60; naturally, when those partners retire, it puts the business—and its clients—at risk.

Client relationships are your most valuable assets. But far too many firms neglect to plan for the inevitable retirement of senior partners.

Not only should law firms plan for the eventual retirement of senior partners, it should provide to clients detailed answers for the following questions:

  • Who determines whether clients need to be transitioned?
  • Who determines when clients need to be transitioned?
  • Who determines how clients should be transitioned?
  • When to tell the members of the firm (and clients) that a significant rainmaker will be reducing his or her active involvement in the firm?
  • How to select the most appropriate successors?

If you are a law firm manager and your firm has no such plan in place, take The Center For Competitive Management’s live webinar, “Transitioning Partners and Client Transfers: Guide to Retaining Key Clients When Partners Retire,” on Thursday, December 1st, 2016, from 2:00pm – 3:15pm Eastern (EDT).

This essential webinar will explain (1) how to make client transfer decisions for individual partners as they transition to retirement; and (2) how smart firms can prepare for issues associated with senior-level partners’ departure, before a client crisis occurs.

The stock market may not have fully recovered from a Trump victory, but your firm can protect its assets and clients from experiencing a similarly volatile leadership transition.

-WB

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