Building Your LinkedIn Network

LinkedIn is a professional networking platform. That means that the same rules of engagement for in-person networking also apply to LinkedIn. This short video gives you some times about how to network effectively on LinkedIn.

Email Tips: Don’t Let Email Be A Distraction!

Email can be a great productivity tool or it can be a huge distraction that puts others’ priorities ahead of your own and prevents you from getting important work done. This short video includes a few quick tips for keeping email from being a distraction.

Upgrade Your LinkedIn Headline

Upgrade your LinkedIn Headline with these tips!

Lawyers’ Anonymous Online Activity Still Subject to Ethical Rules

Anonymous lawyer
Anonymity won’t necessarily shield lawyers from ethical obligations

I’ve said it before, but apparently, it bears repeating:

Don’t say anything online that you wouldn’t say in a room full of people.

But perhaps we need to add an addendum, “…even if you think you are making your comments anonymously.”

Case in point: in December 2018, the Supreme Court of Louisiana issued an opinion disbarring an attorney because of anonymous posts he made on the internet.

The lawyer in question had been an Assistant United States Attorney in the Eastern District of Louisiana for 27 years. But despite his experience and seniority, he was disbarred after it was discovered that he made numerous anonymous posts on the website of a New Orleans newspaper between 2007 and 2012.

The posts commented on cases being handled by lawyers in his office at the U.S. Attorney, including cases he himself prosecuted, and in many of those posts, he opined on the guilt or innocence of parties involved.

As lawyers increase their participation on the internet, both on social media and on other sites that allow commentary and discussion, more and more seem to be getting into trouble because they are forgetting that, as lawyers, they have ethical obligations and other restrictions on their behavior and even on their First Amendment rights.

In this case, in addition to the ethical rules, both Department of Justice and U.S. Attorney’s office regulations restricted or forbid attorneys from making statements outside of the courtroom about both criminal and civil proceedings.

When you join the profession, particularly if you take a job representing the government or the people, you voluntarily agree to be held to a higher standard. You take an oath to abide by certain ethical rules and standards that govern your behavior, both online and off, and these standards apply even when you are not in the office or the courtroom. These ethical obligations need to be taken seriously.

In this case, the lawyer admitted that he was the author of the online comments, but claimed that he posted the comments as a means to alleviate stress, and that he did not intend to influence others or the outcome of the cases, nor did he expect that his actions would do so since he posted anonymously and did not identify himself as an AUSA. Accordingly, he did not believe he had violated the Rules of Professional Conduct. However, he later filed a stipulation in which he admitted to violating Rules 3.6 (regarding trial publicity), 3.8 (responsibilities of prosecutors and other government lawyers), and 8.4 (misconduct in attempting to violate the Rules of Professional Conduct or engaging in conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice).

The office of disciplinary conduct claimed that making public posts about pending cases and investigations had a substantial likelihood of prejudicing the proceedings and heightening public condemnation of the accused, in violation of Rules 3.6 and 3.8, and that his actions also violated Rule 1.7.

Rule 1.7 is the conflict of interest rule, specifically where a lawyer’s professional judgment could be adversely affected by the lawyer’s own financial, business, property or personal interests. In this case, it was found that the attorney violated this rule by putting his own needs and interests above those of his client, (the U.S. Attorney’s Office) who had an interest in those cases being investigated and prosecuted without interference or impediments.

The fact that one of the cases the attorney commented on resulted in a mistrial which was granted at least in part due to his comments, that his online commentary had received “significant media attention”, that his actions were found to have negatively impacted New Orleans’ recovery after Hurricane Katrina, and that they caused delay and additional expense in several pending proceedings were further evidence that his online commentary caused actual harm or the potential for harm. Coupled with the extent and number of his postings, the Supreme Court found that these facts justified a more significant sanction than suspension.

Although the disciplinary committee recommended that the attorney be suspended with a one year deferment, the disciplinary board ultimately determined that disbarment was the appropriate penalty because, despite the fact that the attorney did not intend to cause a mistrial, “his conduct with regard to Rule 3.8(f) was intentional, as there is clear evidence that respondent intended to heighten public condemnation of various individuals being investigated or prosecuted by the USAO. As recounted in the formal charges, respondent’s comments speculated on the guilt of various individuals subject to prosecution or investigation and cast these individuals in a very negative light.”

The disciplinary board also found that the attorney was, in fact, attempting to influence others about the guilt of individuals involved in the investigations or prosecutions being discussed.

The respondent filed an objection to the disciplinary board’s decision, and in its opinion, the Supreme Court of Louisian stated, in part,

” In this age of social media, it is important for all attorneys to bear in mind that “[t]he vigorous advocacy we demand of the legal profession is accepted because it takes place under the neutral, dispassionate control of the judicial system.” Gentile v. State Bar of Nevada, 501 U.S. 1030, 1058 (1991). As the Court in Gentile wisely explained, “[a] profession which takes just pride in these traditions may consider them disserved if lawyers use their skills and insight to make untested allegations in the press instead of in the courtroom.” Id. Respondent’s conscious decision to vent his anger by posting caustic, extrajudicial comments about pending cases strikes at the heart of the neutral dispassionate control which is the foundation of our system. Our decision today must send a strong message to respondent and to all the members of the bar that a lawyer’s ethical obligations are not diminished by the mask of anonymity provided by the Internet. In summary, considering respondent’s position of public trust as a prosecutor, his knowing and intentional decision to post these comments despite his acknowledgment that it was improper to do so, and the serious harm respondent’s conduct has caused both to individual litigants and to the legal profession as a whole, we must conclude he has failed to comply with the high ethical standards we require of lawyers who are granted the privilege to practice law in this state. The only appropriate sanction under these facts is disbarment.”

Although the respondent attorney claimed that his PTSD, diagnosed by a treating psychologist who testified at the disciplinary hearing, should be a mitigating factor in the determination of the discipline to be applied, the court found that his claims did not rise to the level of a mental disability because the psychologist testified that the respondent operated at a high level and knew right from wrong, and the attorney himself testified that he knew he should not be posting extrajudicial comments.

The court’s opinion notes,

“When asked why he engaged in commenting in a prohibited way, respondent candidly admitted that he was angry over public corruption and he vented this anger in the caustic criticism leveled against all who, in his judgment, warranted accountability, even though he knew this was improper. Respondent’s own testimony reveals he was aware that he should not post these comments, yet he decided to do so anyway. Clearly, any mental disability from which respondent suffered did not prevent him from knowing his actions were wrong.”

As a result, the court found that the respondent did not and could not prove that his mental disability (PTSD) caused the misconduct in question.

Bottom line: don’t put your career and your license in jeopardy. If you need to “vent” – which can be perfectly legitimate in a stressful profession such as law – pick another way to do it instead of posting online or in any other public venue. Seek professional help, if necessary.

Decluttering Your Law Office: Getting Started

Neat desk

While I wouldn’t define myself as a neat freak, I have learned over the years that my environment has a significant effect on my mood, my productivity, and my overall effectiveness. Whether at home or at work, I don’t like to have a lot of clutter around, and I like things to be neat.

Whether you think you are bothered by clutter or not, studies show that in fact, clutter can have a significant psychological effect on all of us – in short, clutter produces stress and anxiety – something lawyers certainly don’t need any more of.

I’ve been interested in organizing and de-cluttering ideas for quite a while and have bought and read a number of books on those topics over the years, and some of what I’ve learned I have incorporated into my work with clients. But that doesn’t necessarily mean I’m always perfectly organized. In fact, one of my own personal challenges is that I’m good at making things neat and finding places to stash things, but not always quite as good at letting go of what should be purged.

One of my most popular all-time posts over on the Legal Ease blog is this post on organizing your law office. As I discuss in that post, one of the first steps in decluttering and organizing is to purge – or get rid of – the unnecessary. Since I am admittedly better at the organizing part, over the past couple of weeks I’ve started doing some purging both in my home and in my office.

For some reason, this seems to be a February topic for me – the aforementioned blog post was also written in February. I’m not quite sure why. It could be because February is usually when I start gathering paperwork for my taxes, or because my birthday falls at the end of January and that sparks a need to get rid of the old and focus on a more promising future, or because it’s cold outside in February which means I’m spending more time indoors and I feel the need to work that much harder on my environment.

Should you Kon-Mari your office?

This year, all of this coincides with a sudden appearance of Marie Kondo everywhere.  Not a day goes by that I don’t see some reference to Marie Kondo in my Facebook feed or see another article or comment about her decluttering style. That could be because in the early part of the year people are focused on their New Year’s resolutions and making their lives better, or because of the recent Netflix series depicting Kondo helping clients to “tidy up.”

I was first introduced to Marie Kondo and her “Kon-Mari” method several years ago, and at that time, I purchased a (digital) copy of her book, “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up.” For those who are not familiar with her, Marie Kondo is a Japanese organizational consultant who helps her clients declutter and organize by category, rather than by room or location. In other words, she has her clients focus on all of their clothing at once (and I mean ALL of it – taking all of the clothing wherever it is located throughout the house and putting it in one big pile), then all of their books and papers, and so on, rather than tackling a specific room or drawer or cabinet.

The criteria Kondo uses for deciding what stays and what goes focuses – believe it or not – on what to keep, rather than what to throw away. This is a subtle, but important, distinction from much of the decluttering advice out there.

When making the decision about whether to keep an item or get rid of it (donate, recycle, give away or trash) Kondo counsels her clients to physically handle the item and ask themselves whether the item “sparks joy” for them. If it does, it stays.

Of course, Kondo also recognizes that some items are necessary even if they do not “spark joy” per se – and a lot of the clutter in your office probably falls into this category – but certainly not all of it.

Since clutter and organization is top of mind for me right now, and is a frequent issue for my clients, I thought I would do a series of posts tackling these issues and discussing my own experiences, along with the experiences of some of my clients.

Even with all of the advancement in technology that has occurred over the past several years, we are far from being a paperless society, and the practice of law is certainly not paper-free. Since paper remains one of the biggest clutter culprits in law offices, whether they are home offices or in large office buildings, it’s the first one I’m tackling.

De-cluttering office paperwork: What to do first

When dealing with your office, I’m not sure I can fully get on board with Kondo’s recommendation to take all of your paper and put it into one big pile to go through all at once (also keeping in mind that Kondo’s recommendation for almost all paper is just to toss it). I just don’t think that is realistic or that it could be accomplished within a reasonable amount of time, and it would be impossible to work while having all of your paperwork piled up in one spot waiting to be sorted.

For this reason, at least when dealing with paperwork in the office, I’ll stick with my original position for now, which is to tackle a small piece at a time. Modifying Kondo’s method, instead of doing one drawer or area of the office, I decided to see if I could tackle one category of paper at a time.

I started with my “reference” files, but you might prefer to start with your hard-copy caselaw or motion bank (have them scanned if you really need to save them), marketing or promotional materials, or your periodicals. This might work well for you if you can easily put your hands on all of the paperwork that belongs in a specific category at once. Otherwise, you may need to start one drawer or pile at a time – pick the oldest one, since it will typically be the easiest.

Right now I’m focusing on non-case or client-related materials, and paperwork not related to your practice financials, because I think they are easier to deal with, and you don’t have to worry about what your ethical rules or the IRS requires. In addition, working with these categories first means you can spend a few minutes at a time working on them and not interrupt the rest of your workflow. You can even take these categories of materials out of your office to a conference room or offsite to do your sorting and purging, if necessary.

How to decide what stays and what goes

My reference files consisted of a whole file drawer full of articles and reference materials sub-divided into categories. Many of these articles had been painstakingly saved from CLE programs and seminars or ripped out of magazines over many years. Some of them were my own articles or materials from CLE programs I presented.

Often, the articles I had collected had been filed without ever having been read – I’d dealt with periodical clutter at some time in the past by pulling out articles of interest and discarding the rest of the periodical. But I still didn’t have time to read the article, so I just filed it. Others were saved with the idea that when I had a question or wanted to write about one of these subjects, I could pull out the file folder for that category to do some research or get some inspiration.

Thinking about how much time I already spent pulling out, categorizing, and filing these articles and reference materials – and the fact that I very rarely ever pull open that file drawer when I’m planning my editorial calendar, getting ready to write, doing research to write a piece or plan a presentation, or even when I’m working with a client on an issue corresponding to one of my reference files – was a little mind-boggling. But it really drove home the point for me that saving all of that material wasn’t serving me at all.

Realistically, when I’m planning or writing now, I’m much more likely to hop over to Google to do research or look for inspiration, or to go to Evernote and see what articles I’ve got saved relating to the topic I’m writing on. I also have a tag in Evernote for “blog post ideas” when I come across a topic that might be of interest to my readers, so if I don’t know what to write about, I’ll search Evernote for that tag. What I don’t do is search through my paper folders.

Given all of the above, I purged about 85% of my paper reference files in relatively short order. Most of what I kept will be scanned, tagged and saved in Evernote for the purposes I mentioned above. Most of the rest I will go through again quickly and just add to my list of ideas for presentations or articles – the reference materials themselves will go.

One thing I always knew, but confirmed again by going through my reference files is that most periodicals recycle the same topics over and over, so there is little need to save them if you don’t have time to read them when they come out – it’s far better to search the internet (and many of these periodicals have digital versions now anyway) to find the most updated version of the article or topic.

In the post I referenced above from the Legal Ease blog, I recommended that when sorting/purging, you ask yourself some questions in the “organizing” phase, after you’ve already purged, but upon further reflection, they are useful for the purging process as well. Here they are with some modifications and additions:

  • How long have I had this, and when was the last time I used or referred to it?
  • What is the realistic likelihood that I will use or refer to this in the future? Under what specific circumstance might I need to reference this information or document in the future?
  • Is the information contained in it still relevant and up to date?
  • Is this something I need to use or access frequently?
  • Is this something I need to retain for legal or financial purposes?
  • Is this information I can easily find elsewhere if I need it?
  • Do I have the time and energy to deal with this again in the future, or would it be better to get rid of it now?
  • Does it fit my current practice and my goals for myself and my firm?

Are you ready to take on the clutter in your office? Accept the challenge!

If you’re sick of the clutter in your office, or just want to make some more space to focus on what is really important, I challenge you to go on this journey with me and start de-cluttering your law office.

Leave a comment on this post or come on over to the Legal Ease Consulting, Inc Facebook page and join the discussion. Tell me what your biggest clutter and organization challenges are and what steps you’re taking to tackle them. And let me know if you have questions or topic ideas for future clutter/organization posts!

Tuesday Tip: Working with Support Staff

Every working relationship is different, and it can be frustrating when the work you delegate to others doesn’t get done as well or as quickly as you’d like. Often, whether you’re a law firm partner, a mid-level associate or a brand-new attorney, it’s easy to blame problems on the staff or how they are working. But consider that the solution isn’t to change what your staff is doing – maybe the solution is to make a change in how you approach working with your staff.

Here are three tips for working more effectively with your support staff:

1. Stand in their shoes

Take a step back and look at the task or issue from the perspective of your staff, rather than focusing on just getting work off of your plate. Staff are people, too! Treat them the way you would like to be treated.

When something goes wrong, don’t be quick to point the finger at your staff – instead, think about how you might have contributed to the problem. Did you give them work at the last minute? Set an unrealistic expectation about how long it would take to complete a task or project? Fail to provide them with the information or resources they needed to perform the task as expected?

Do better next time by asking yourself questions like:

  • How are the circumstances different for your staff than they are for you?
  • What do you know that they don’t know?
  • What education do you have that your support staff doesn’t?
  • What resources might your staff need to make it easier to get the job done?
  • Who else is that staff person working for and what other obligations do they have?
  • What time constraints or other outside factors may be getting in their way or influencing their ability to get things done? How can you help minimize or eliminate the effect of those other factors?
  • How much time will it really take (recognizing that it may take them longer to do a task than it would take you, or it may be their first time completing this task)?
  • What does their day look like?

Doing this exercise can be eye-opening. It can reveal hidden obstacles to getting work done. When you take into account your staff’s entire day and the other demands on their time, you may realize that you need to alter your expectations, get additional help, or give your staff better instructions or resources. But don’t just leave it there – take the conversation to your staff to get their perspective.

2. Be a team player

You and your staff are a team. Instead of just passing work off or treating them like a dumping ground, approach tasks and projects with a collaborative mindset. Sit down and talk to your staff about how you can help to make them more successful. Do they need better equipment? More training? More opportunity to ask questions? How do they prefer to receive their information – do they respond better to written instructions or lists as opposed to oral explanations?

What part of the project might you undertake so that they can do the rest? How can you provide them with the resources they need? If you are asking them rearranging their priorities to get something done for you, what can you do to help them meet their other obligations? For example, if they will be skipping lunch to get your work out the door, offer to buy them lunch or let them leave an hour early. Take another task off of their plate so they can focus on the task you think is most important.

3.  Show your appreciation

You can’t be successful without your support staff, so show them that you appreciate what they do for you. As one of my clients said to me recently, “A simple thank-you goes a long way.” Applaud their efforts, even when they are imperfect (remember – you aren’t perfect either, and everyone makes mistakes). Not only will this make your staff feel good, but they’re likely to want to do an even better job for you.

Don’t limit all of your conversations to work-related issues – show that you care about them as a person. Inquire about their families, their vacations, their weekends, and their hobbies. It doesn’t take much time or money to show someone that you care about them. Give a handwritten thank-you. Send them flowers. Give a favorite book or a gift certificate for a night out with their spouse.

These are three easy steps that any attorney can do to improve their relationship with their support staff.

What Should Your Engagement Agreement Include?

I had an article appear in the October issue of the New York State Bar Journal entitled, “What Should Your Engagement Agreement Include?” Read it here or click on the link below the images to see the full article.

What Should Your Engagement Agreement Include – NYS Bar Journal October 18

Reprinted with permission from: New York State Bar Association Journal, October 2018, Vol. 90, No. 8, published by the New York State Bar Association, One Elk Street, Albany, NY 12207.

LinkedIn Groups Gets an Update

LinkedIn GroupsI’ve long been an advocate of LinkedIn Groups as a business development tool, but, especially with the previous round of changes that separated Groups into a stand-alone app, many lawyers didn’t take advantage of Groups.

This month, LinkedIn announced it’s making some changes to its Groups feature in both the website and mobile app that should improve the user experience.

Groups will now be re-integrated into the main LinkedIn user interface for a more seamless experience, making it easier to access your Groups from the LinkedIn Home page.

With the new Groups interface, you’ll also see conversations from your Groups right in your main LinkedIn news feed. Threaded replies will be incorporated, and you’ll be able to edit posts and comments and reply to comments from the app.

Rich media features will also be added to Groups, allowing members to post video, multiple images or rich media links to Group discussions.

For those of you who are overwhelmed with email, you may be happy to learn that instead of getting updates from your Groups via email, those updates will now be incorporated into your LinkedIn notifications.

Changes in LinkedIn Group Administration

The previous round of changes to LinkedIn Groups included a lot of changes in how Groups were administered and monitored.

LinkedIn is simplifying Groups administration by reducing the number of categories of users in Groups to just owners, managers and members. Groups members who were previously designated as moderators will become regular members unless the Group’s owner elevates the user to a manager.

All Group members will be able to post in their Groups without prior approval. Group admins should block or remove members who consistently violate the Group’s rules since pre-approval will no longer be available.

Both Group members and admins will still be able to report inappropriate content to help reduce spam, and admins will continue to be able to edit or remove posts and comments that violate that Group’s rules.

Group managers will be able to pin items to the top of a Group’s feed.

Why You Should Use LinkedIn Groups

LinkedIn Groups are an excellent tool for gathering valuable intelligence about your audience. By following Groups on LinkedIn that contain your target audience (existing and potential clients and referral sources), you can learn about their problems and concerns and see what’s important to them.

In Groups, people share information, brainstorm ideas, discuss their interests and challenges,  post informational articles or links and conduct polls, making it easy for you to get to know others and for them to get to know you.

Groups give you the ability to reach out to your target audience to ask for feedback, educate them about your services or the legal issues that affect their lives and/or businesses, demonstrate your knowledge, and increase your visibility.

Reviewing LinkedIn Group discussions and activity can also help you to generate ideas for new service offerings, blog posts, articles, presentations, and more.

Joining Groups gives you access to a wider audience that goes beyond just your direct connections. As a Group member, you can view the list of members who share a specific interest, and navigate to their Profiles for additional information or to connect.

Getting The Most Out Of LinkedIn Groups

To get the most benefit from Groups on LinkedIn you need to be an active participant, just as you would when joining a group or community in “real life.” Merely being a member won’t do too much for you-you have to get involved: start discussions, post interesting articles, engage with other Group members and their content, and reach out to begin one on one discussion or connect.

Engage naturally in Groups, just as you would in an in-person networking setting. Provide value. Don’t over-promote. Be sure to review the Group’s rules and abide by them. Post content that is relevant to the specific Group.

Don’t just post links – add your own commentary, ask a question or make a statement to encourage interaction.

The new Groups experience should begin rolling out to users shortly.

Improve Your Law Firm’s Collaboration and Productivity with G Suite

Improve Law Firm Collaboration and Productivity with G SuiteIntroduction

Looking to improve workplace collaboration & productivity within your law practice? Miles Hischier, of HiView Solutions, a Google Integration Partner, authored this article for Lawyer Meltdown to share insights about how law firms can use Google G Suite for work email, project collaboration, and document storage. Learn about G Suite  and the popular features relevant to a law firm.

What is G Suite?

Google G Suite, sometimes called by its former name, ‘Google Apps for Work,’ is a collection of Google office productivity apps for business. The G Suite package includes:

  • Professional email through Gmail (name@domain.com)
  • Google Calendar
  • Google Hangouts
  • Google Drive
  • Google Docs

. G Suite also includes administrative tools through the G Suite Admin Panel.

Google offers 3 plans: G Suite Basic ($5/user/month), G Suite Business ($10/user/month), and G Suite Enterprise ($25/user/month). This article focuses on G Suite Business, which is appropriate for law firms with fewer than 250 employees.

Google Doc Features that Lawyers Love

Suggesting Mode. Google Docs allows you to ‘track changes’ and provide specific feedback inline within a particular document. Suggestions appear in colored text and can be “accepted” or “rejected” by other editors.

Commenting. This feature can be utilized to provide metadata or commentary about a specific inline edit. Just like Microsoft word, comments are captured & labeled with the commentator’s name.

Version Control. Instead of manually versioning files by name & date, Google automatically saves all edits. At any time, you can review the entire version history of a document and identify who made the last change and what specifically was changed.

Interoperability with MS Word. Google Docs can be downloaded into MS Word Docs. Google Doc Suggestions & Comments will also transfer into the Word doc as well.

Google Drive for Document Storage

With G Suite Business, you get unlimited storage (with 5+ users) and Team Drives, which enables law firm ownership of files/folders instead of Drive file ownership at the employee level.

Team Drives. Team Drives can be a useful complement to your case management system. For instance, you can add multiple Team Drives, organized by client name or by case, and then archive Team Drives over time. With unlimited storage & Google Vault for data retention (see below), you’ll have an easy search panel to cull through old files down the road if needed.

Work with MS Office Files through Filestream. Filestream was created so you can easily work in MS Office from your local computer and save new versions to your Google Drive account. Filestream is a Dropbox-like sync client that connects to your G Suite account and automatically uploads a new version of your MS Office Document to G Suite. You only need to select the Filestream folder through Finder on Mac or Explorer on Windows.

Protect Firm Data through the G Suite Admin Panel

 Mobile Device Management. If you have employees accessing work data on their own mobile devices, you can use Google’s built-in mobile device management service to enforce a device passcode, helping ensure that a lost iPhone doesn’t compromise your firm’s information. Further, admins can configure ‘account wipe’ which enables you to remove all firm data from the mobile phone without deleting the employee’s personal data, like photos.

Drive Sharing Controls. Since law firms handle sensitive information, we recommend that you disable external link sharing. This means that links can be shared internally, or with clients/partner organizations that have been whitelisted through the G Suite Admin Console. If someone outside of this protected realm needs to access a document, they can still be added directly to a file as “contributor,” but will need a Google Account to access the file.

This can happen 1 of 3 ways:

  1. Their company has G Suite
  2. The account shared with is a @gmail account, or
  3. They’ve created a free Google Account with their work email address at accounts.google.com

This way, you always know who your information is being shared with. With external link sharing enabled, anyone with the link can open that file.

Security Controls. From 2-factor authentication to usage reports, there’s a range of security control options that administrators can enable through the Admin Console to ensure G Suite is secure. Read more about G Suite Security here.

Google Vault (eDiscovery & Retention). Google Vault enables law firms to archive historical mail, chat, and group history. Google Drive Files can be archived as well. Firms can enable a default retention rule, such as “save indefinitely” to retain information. Google Vault can also be used for Legal Holds, Search, and Exporting data. Audit reports are also available to show actions taken by Vault users.

Google Meet for video/audio conferencing with clients

 Google Meet is a scalable and stable audio/video solution. Google Meet offers a way to join via URL from a computer, as well as a unique dial-in number & meeting PIN. This way, you can present yourself on camera to your clients or colleagues in another location and review documents together. Sometimes, it might be useful to simultaneously share a Google Doc so you can collaborate in real time on the call as well. G Suite Enterprise is quite a step up in price but includes the option of recording calls if you desire that functionality.

G Suite = A new way of working

G suite offers law firms a collaborative set of tools that provides alternative workflows to the traditional Outlook/MS Word combo that many law firms rely on today. Plus, as you bring younger lawyers into your practice, there’s a strong chance they’re well versed in this set of tools already. Google offers a very similar toolset in their G Suite for Education package, and younger employees (most people under age 35) bring Google Apps knowledge with them to the office.

For employees less familiar with Google products, a quality Change Management engagement with a Google Partner like HiView Solutions can help you convert even the most stubborn employees over to new ways of working. To learn more about G Suite, visit gsuite.google.com.

Billing Tips for Solos and Small Firms

paying with credit cardThis post contains affiliate links. If you click through, I may receive a small commission (at no cost to you). 

One of the biggest hassles of being a solo or small firm lawyer is dealing with billing issues including tracking time (if billing by the hour), generating invoices, tracking payments, following up on late payments, generating financial reports, logging expenses, and more. And one of the biggest areas of conflict between lawyers and their clients is conflict about billing, invoices and fees, in part because lawyers don’t track or enter time properly, send bills consistently, or create bills that are easy for clients to understand and pay.

There are many solutions for solo and small firm lawyers to get rid of these headaches, including full-featured practice management programs that include time tracking, billing and invoicing, calendaring, document and case management. But if you’re not ready for a complete practice management program (or if your practice management solution doesn’t include billing and accounting functions), and you’re looking for an easy to use, quick to deploy billing and accounting solution for your solo practice or small law firm, FreshBooks might be the answer for you.


I personally use FreshBooks for Legal Ease Consulting and it has become an essential part of my practice. FreshBooks is a cloud-based billing and accounting software program that includes a whole host of features to help you with your firm’s finances, and the dashboard makes it ridiculously easy to see where you are financially at any time.

Estimates

Clients like to know that their legal matter will actually cost them, not just what your billable rate is. Any time you can provide clients with an up-front estimate or budget, it’s a win for you (if you stick to the budget and explain variables that might affect the budget or fee in advance).

FreshBooks has an estimates feature that can help minimize that friction with clients whether you’re billing on a flat or fixed-fee basis or billing by the hour. They can also be great for clarifying the budget or scope of work, or for giving clients a roadmap of the steps that will be needed for their matter to reach a conclusion.

FreshBooks has estimate templates you can use, and they can be customized with your logo, colors and images. Clients can view and accept the estimate online, and you’ll be able to check the status in your dashboard to see whether the client viewed or accepted the estimate. You can also create discussions through comments to work through any questions the client might have. You can also use the estimates to compare to actual invoices and fees in the future to improve your budgeting and estimating skills.

Time Tracking

Tracking time is unavoidable if you bill by the hour. It’s always adviseable to keep track of your time as you are performing tasks for clients. This not only leads to more accurate billing, but it saves you the time it takes to attempt to re-create what you did later.

FreshBooks includes a timer that will help you keep track of how long you spend on specific tasks, and you can easily see how much time has been logged by your associates or staff. Time can be logged on the go with the FreshBooks mobile app.

Once the time entry is created, it’s easy to add it to an invoice. You’ll also have the added benefit of being able to see how much time is being spent on specific tasks so you can improve your productivity (not to mention your client estimates and budgets).

See more about Freshbooks time-tracking here.

Professional-looking invoices

The days of manual billing should be long past us, but too many solos and small firms are still sending invoices on the fly using a word processing program. Not only does this make billing and payments difficult to track, but it looks unprofessional and it takes up far too much time.

If you’re meticulous about your work product, your business cards, your website, and your appearance when meeting with clients, why wouldn’t you be just as meticulous with your invoices or billing statements?

Your invoices should be well laid-out, easy to understand, professional looking, and contain your firm’s name (and/or logo), address, descriptions of the work performed for clients and the fees charged. FreshBooks can help you with all of that. It’s easy to create invoices, set due dates, or even send recurring invoices for clients on a regular payment plan. Again, you can use the templates already in Freshbooks or customize your own.

One of the things I love about FreshBooks is that I can see the status of every invoice that was sent out. I check my dashboards periodically to make sure that none of my invoices were overlooked by my clients. I can see whether a client has viewed the invoice, and if they haven’t viewed it within a specified period of time, I can reach out to them to make sure it didn’t land in their spam folder or get lost in the shuffle somewhere, and I can easily re-send the invoice.

I don’t have to worry about following up for late payments, either. I can set up FreshBooks to send my clients a late payment reminder automatically if payment has not been received within the amount of time I specify. If you want, you can also add late payment penalties.

See more about invoicing with Freshbooks here.

Accept credit cards and online payments

Make it easy for your clients to pay you – and get paid faster – by sending clients online invoices and accepting credit card payments. One of the great things about using FreshBooks is that you don’t need to set up a separate merchant account and payment gateway or jump through a lot of hoops to accept credit cards.

If you decide to take credit cards, you need to set up the feature in FreshBooks (they take a percentage of the fee, similar to other credit-card acceptance platforms), click a button in the invoice, and your client will be able to pay you with a click of a button in the invoice as soon as it is emailed to them.

But if you don’t want to accept credit cards, you can still send online invoices and tell FreshBooks that you only want to accept checks – your clients will still get their invoice by email, which can significantly decrease your wait to get paid.

Find out more about accepting payments through FreshBooks here.

Expense tracking

If you connect your bank account to FreshBooks, you can automatically track and categorize expenses, and even pass expenses along to your clients where appropriate. Freshbooks will also let you take a picture of a receipt and add it to an expense, making it much easier at tax time.

If you don’t want to connect your bank account, you can add and tag expenses yourself. Either way, it’s easy to see what your weekly, monthly and yearly expenses are.

Financial reporting

Don’t wait until tax time to take a look at your firm’s overall finances. Financial reports can help you see where your firm stands financially at any time, and can give you insights into average fees, fees billed vs. fees collected, how much work was written off, and more.

In addition to the dashboard mentioned above, FreshBooks has a host of financial reporting capabilities to help you stay on top of your firm’s finances (and to help you and your accountant prepare your taxes!). These include profit and loss statements, accounts aging and expense reports, among others. You can sort, filter and customize reports so you get only the information you need when you need it.

See more about financial reporting with Freshbooks here.

FreshBooks is just one of the tools that I use in my practice – it makes dealing with my firm’s finances not only easy to use, but easy to understand. You can try Freshbooks for free, or look at the FreshBooks Pricing Page for full details on all of their plans. (If you click on these links and sign up for FreshBooks, I get a small commission at no additional cost to you, but I wouldn’t recommend FreshBooks if I didn’t think it could be helpful to you!)

Checklist for a Client-Focused Website

10 Questions to Ensure that Your Website Attracts Clients

  1. Are your clients described on your site?

Can your clients ‘see’ themselves anywhere on your site? Is there sufficient detail so that clients will read it and say, ‘that’s me’? Does your site include testimonials from representative clients, or case studies of typical matters you handle so that clients can see the kinds of people or businesses you represent?

  1. Does your site accurately describe the legal problems/challenges faced by your clients?

More likely than not, your website gives a laundry list of practice areas. But does it talk about the specific problems your clients encounter, or the situation in which they find themselves at the time they’re seeking your advice?

  1. Does your site talk about your clients’ problems in language your clients understand?

Or does your site sound like a bunch of legal gobbledy-gook? Are the terms you use on your website the same terms your clients use to describe their problems or challenges? Use the ‘mother/child test’ – if you read your site to your mother or child, would he/she immediately understand it?

  1. Is your site easy to navigate?

Are navigation buttons clearly labeled? Are they easy to find? Do navigation buttons look like buttons? Is there navigation available at both the top and bottom of your web pages? Is your contact information easy to find?

  1. Is your site easy to read?

Are paragraphs and sentences short? Are key points highlighted or set apart from the rest of the text? Do you use headlines, bold type and spacing to give the eye a rest? Is your site easily skimmable?

  1. Does your site provide valuable information to clients to keep them returning to your site?

Is your site a resource for your clients or merely an online brochure? Do you provide clients with information, resources, case updates, facts, new information that could affect their business, changes in the law that might affect them? The more relevant content that is on your site, the more clients will keep returning. You’ll build credibility, loyalty and provide fodder for search engines.

  1. Does your site establish you as an expert in your field?

Does your site contain case studies or jury verdicts to demonstrate your expertise? Does it contain statistics, testimonials or other evidence of the results of working with you? Are there published articles on topics relevant to your clients’ business, challenges or legal problems? Do you list seminars and speeches you’ve given on your practice areas? If this information is listed on your site, is it easy to find? Is it listed in an organized fashion, by date or by category?

  1. Does your site pass the ‘so what’ test?

Clients read everything with the “what’s in it for me” mindset. To  be really effective and grab clients’ attention, you can’t just describe your office, your practice areas and your attorneys’ qualifications – you’ve got to answer the ‘so what’ – how do those things benefit the client?

Don’t just say it – show it. If your site says that you’re committed to learning the client’s needs and understanding the client’s business, you must demonstrate that on your site. Show that you know what your client’s needs are by telling a story, providing a case study, or talking about your clients’ businesses (in general terms) on your site.

  1. Do you walk clients through your site and tell them what to do?

You wouldn’t let a client wander around on their own in your office looking for an attorney’s office, the restroom, the conference room or the coffee machine, so why let them wander around your website on their own? ‘Signs’ (navigation buttons) alone aren’t enough. Give your client a tour and lead them through your site by providing suggestions about where to go next, or proposing an action step.

A client who gets lost, can’t find what they’re looking for, or doesn’t know what to do next is just as likely to click away from your site as they are to go back to the navigation bar to look for something interesting to read on your site.

  1. Does your site demonstrate the difference between you and your competitors?

Your site should be a reflection of your firm’s personality. It should give prospects an idea what it will be like to work with you and highlight the benefits and advantages your firm provides. Clients are looking for people ‘like’ them, or people they can relate to. If your site is too ‘flat’ and clients can’t get a good feel for the firm from it, they’re likely to move on.

[Infographic] Six Ways to Jumpstart Your LinkedIn Network

Is your LinkedIn network working for you?

In 2016, Dennis Kennedy, my co-author on LinkedIn in One Hour for Lawyers, and I wrote a two-part post on LinkedIn about how lawyers can reinvigorate their LinkedIn networks. That post was subsequently combined into one post on Law Technology Today.

As we say in the article, it’s usually best to send personalized invitations to connect and to always think strategically about who you want to connect with and why, as well as what might motivate that person to want to connect with you. But we also talk about some ways to add a lot of LinkedIn connections quickly at those times when that makes strategic sense for your practice.

We discuss these six ways to expand your LinkedIn network, whether you’re brand-new to LinkedIn or you’ve had a Profile for a number of years:

  1. Uploading your contacts/address book to LinkedIn to make connecting with those you already know in the “real world” easier
  2. Sending personalized invitations – your goal is to get the other person to accept your invitation to connect, so invite wisely!
  3. Using Groups to identify and reach out to potential new (targeted) connections
  4. Connecting with fellow alumni from your college or law school
  5. Searching 2nd level connections
  6. Using LinkedIn’s “People You May Know” suggestions

Although some things have changed since we wrote the initial piece because LinkedIn changed the user interface, the main ideas remain the same – you may just need to click in a different place to find what you’re looking for.

For example, now you’ll click Continue under add personal contacts on the left side of the page under My Network to upload your address book. And LinkedIn no longer provides the radio buttons to choose how you know someone when sending an invitation to connect. Find Alumni is no longer an option under the My Network menu, but you can still connect with fellow alumni by searching for your school and then clicking the See Alumni button.

You can find Part 1 of the article here (on my LinkedIn Profile) and Part 2 here (on Dennis’ LinkedIn Profile). Or check out this great infographic the folks at Venngage made for us for a quick visual reference:

Expand Your LinkedIn Network with Legal Ease Consulting

Tips to Avoid Lawyer Meltdown [Interview]

istockmicrophone000001548083smallI was recently interviewed by Law Firm Suites for their “Ask the Expert” series. They asked me for some tips for avoiding lawyer meltdown, as well as other tips for solo practitioners, especially new solos.

The interview was a good reminder of one of the lessons I’ve learned in my practice – to quote from the interview:

To be a great lawyer (or any type of service provider), you have to be a whole and complete person – and to be a whole and complete person, you have to have a life outside of work. To help others you have to fill your own well first – not just financially, but emotionally and creatively, too.

Make sure you make time for yourself and the things you enjoy. And if you need help with your practice, or if you’re a new solo, the interview covered a range of topics, including establishing a niche practice; learning how to turn away work; staying motivated; and necessary tools for solos. If you’re interested, you can find the complete interview here.

FREE Data Protection Checklist for Choosing Cloud Practice Management Providers

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Download our FREE data protection checklist for cloud practice management program selection – just enter your name and email below. I promise never to share your email – it’s safe with me.

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How to Do More In Less Time Podcast

How to Do More In Less Time Cover Image

Having difficulty managing your workload? Think you could be more productive? My newest book, How to Do More In Less Time: The Complete Guide to Increasing Your Productivity and Improving Your Bottom Line may help. The first part of the book will provide you with strategies to help you manage your day to day tasks, while the second part of the book will give you specific tips on how you can shave time off of everyday tasks by using the software programs you’re already employing in your law practice more efficiently.

Want a preview?

Listen to this podcast interview with me and my co-author, Daniel J. Siegel.