The Busy Lawyer’s Guide to Success

Essential Tips to Power Your Practice

Archive for the ‘Firm Management & Operations’

Boosting Your Productivity in 2011

December 27, 2010 By: Reid Category: Client Service, Firm Management & Operations, Making (more) Money, Marketing and Client Development, Strategy & Planning

With the New Year just around the corner, soon many of us will resolve to improve our law practices in 2011. To help with those resolutions, the ABA Inside Practice newsletter has published Tips for Boosting Productivity at the Office from our book. The list has a dozen practical ways to improve productivity within a law firm.

Best of all, the ABA has specially-priced our book to give this holiday season or to buy for yourself and your staff to start 2011 with a bang!

Order The Busy Lawyer’s Guide to Success by January 31, 2011 and save 30% by using discount code PEP0EBLG during checkout in the ABA Web Store. Order before December 31 to receive free shipping too!

7 Reasons to Take Your Practice Digital

August 02, 2010 By: Reid Category: Firm Management & Operations, Technology

In his July Lawyers USA column, our good friend Jim Calloway strongly encourages law firms to move away from paper files to digital files, and provides seven compelling reasons to make the move now. I’ve been an advocate of this too, but not as strongly or cogently as Jim puts forth in his column. Definitely worth the read.

From my experience, the main reason law firms don’t make the move to digital is that their computer files are often messier than their paper files. They just don’t have a standardized methodology to name, store, and retrieve documents when they need them.  And firms that have instituted a file naming and storing protocol within their firm can get sloppier over time, and then abandon it as staff turnover and lack of training can come into play.

Standardization is a pain in the neck to many lawyers, but as Jim’s column points out, times are changing and we need to move with the changes or become irrelevant to clients. Now is the time to commence or restart your document naming and storage protocol within your firm. If your protocol is working well, still take time to make sure each person in for office is fully trained and in compliance.

If you need help establishing a protocol, here is an excellent article by fellow ABA TECHSHOW Board member and Ontario lawyer, Donna Neff, that takes you through step by step. The ABA’s Site-tation blog also lists some excellent resources too.

What to keep in your employee files: A small law firm’s guide

April 23, 2010 By: Dan Category: Firm Management & Operations

Our very good friend Jim Calloway wrote a great column for the April 22, 2010 LawyersUSA. It covers what should be in small law firm employee files.

In many small law firms there is no formal personnel file or other records for employees besides payroll and tax records. Jim’s article suggests that, at a minimum, there should be a separate file for every employee. Each employee file should contain:

  • contact information for the employee;
  • emergency contact information;
  • every Form W-4 the employee has furnished to the firm;
  • copies of all W-2s and other payroll and tax information could be kept in the employment file (or in another location).

Beyond the basics, consider including these things:

  • A job description;
  • A written employment application;
  • Copies of all documents submitted during the application process;
  • A copy of the written offer of employment;
  • Completed evaluations of the employee’s performance;
  • Notes about the employee’s errors.

Read the complete article here.

Top Ten iPhone Apps for Busy Lawyers

February 11, 2010 By: Reid Category: Client Service, Firm Management & Operations, Marketing and Client Development, Technology

In a few weeks, I’ll be presenting the seminar 60 iPhone Apps in 60 Minutes at ABA TECHSHOW, but I thought I’d share a sneak peek at ten of the best apps for busy lawyers. Thanks to my co-presenter, Jeff Richardson, of iPhoneJD fame for his contributions to this post. These are among the top apps to keep iPhone lawyers productive and successful.

AppBoxPro.  Every iPhone owner needs one of these multi-function apps that includes a currency converter, date calculator, translator (text), tip calculator, international holiday calendar, unit converter, battery life meter, and more. AppBoxPro is the best I’ve found to date. This one $0.99 app thus replaces the need for many separate, single function $0.99 apps.

Bento. Bento is a $50 powerful but easy to use database for the Mac.  It doesn’t have all of the features of a professional database program like its big brother FileMaker Pro.  But if you use a Mac and you need to create a database to keep track of just about anything for yourself, Bento is a great fit.  It is designed to look like iTunes, and is just as easy to use.  The $4.99 Bento iPhone app can be used as a standalone product, but is most useful as a companion to the desktop app.  You can sync the app with your computer, and virtually all of the fields are carried over to the iPhone, including any fields that contain pictures. You can also create a new database from within the Bento app.  Indeed, if you don’t have a Mac running Bento, then this is the only way to use the app.  When you tap the “New Library” button you can create either a blank database or can start with a pre-designed template and then edit it.  Templates are included for the following: Projects, Contacts, To Do Items, Recipes, Diet Log, Events, Files, Inventory, Event Planning, Time Billing, Home Inventory, Expenses, Exercise Log, Vehicle Maintenance, Classes, Digital Media, Student List, Membership List, Products for Sale, Equipment, Issue Tracking, Items Sold, Customer, Donations, and Notes. Each one of those templates are excellent examples of the types of databases that it would be handy to keep on your iPhone.  The Bento app also, by default, includes a database called Address Book.  This database contains all of the contents of the Contacts on your iPhone and is always synced with the latest information.

Bump. Bump is a new way to exchange contact information instead of using business cards. Merely open the app and select the amount of personal information you want to divulge, then gently bump your iPhone against the other person’s iPhone and you will share information almost instantly. Yep, this is a high-tech business card exchange.

Documents to Go Premium
.  This app lets you edit, create, and view Microsoft Word, Excel and PowerPoint files.  (You can also view, but not edit, other file formats such as PDF, Apple iWork, and others.)  The editing features are sophisticated, but the app also does a much better job of viewing files than the iPhone does on its own.  And if you use Microsoft Exchange or Gmail for your e-mail, this is the only app that can directly access your e-mail attachments so that you can download an attachment to an e-mail, view or edit it, and then send it to someone.  This is an essential app for most every lawyer.

Dragon Dictation. Just as powerful as it’s big brother Dragon Dictate, this free, easy-to-use voice-recognition app is a quick alternative to typing e-mails, text messages, tweeting, or updating your status on Facebook. Damn accurate too.

DropBox. This is yet another file sharing service that provides on-line file storage, access, and sharing from multiple computers and mobile devices. It has a very clean interface and is easy to install and set up. Users receive 2 gigs of storage for free, with 50 gigs running $10 per month, a bit pricey given other available options. Still, I keep documents I am presently working on in my DropBox account, just in case I need a copy.

Google Mobile App. You can always do a Google search using the Safari web browser on the iPhone, but the marquee feature of the free Google Mobile app is the ability to just speak your search terms.  Start the app and hold up the iPhone to your face.  The app will use the proximity sensor to sense your face and play a beep so that you can say some search terms.  Give the app a second and look at the screen, and you will see search results.

.  This free app is essentially a national “White Pages” database at your fingertips, and a very good one at that. It can search for a phone number, requiring a last name and city; it will search for a person or business based on a street address and zip code; and it is a reverse phone directory too. It’s very handy for personal and professional use, and avoids many of the ads and sales pitches from websites promising similar services.

ScanR Business Center. There are other apps like ScanR (such as DocScanner and JotNot) and they cost less, but you’ll be happier paying the price for this one. ScanR allows you to create PDFs using your iPhone camera or using a picture on your camera roll. Just take a picture of the document you need, upload it to your ScanR account (free to set up), the document is next e-mailed to you as a PDF, but not a searchable PDF. If needed, quickly run the new PDF through OCR software and now you have an editable document. I’ve tested this from business cards to old magazine articles, and I have not been disappointed yet.

This app lets you make either free or very cheap calls on your iPhone using VOIP (voice over internet protocol).  While you can use this app at home, it is particularly useful when you are traveling internationally.  If you have Wi-Fi access, such as in a hotel, you can talk to any user on Skype for free, or even more useful, you can call any landline or cell phone in the U.S. for just a few pennies per minute, which is far less than you would pay with international roaming charges, not to mention far less than what most hotels charge to make international phone calls.
Bonus app because I couldn’t cull the list down to ten!

Things. This task management app is for iPhone users but also has a separate app for Mac computers. It does one thing very well and only one thing: it keeps track of your projects. It’s not cluttered with calendar, contact manager, and other functions, which allows this app to have a very clean interface. That makes it easy to use for just about anyone. When the app is opened I can clearly see what I need to complete today, what I have scheduled to do next, and what ideas I have recorded to complete in the future. When installed on both a Mac and an iPhone, information can be synced over the same wireless network.

Want more? Join us at ABA TECHSHOW in March!

The Best Law Practice Management Books are Now Up To 25% Off

February 01, 2010 By: Reid Category: Announcements, Collaboration, Firm Management & Operations, Making (more) Money, Technology

Many of the best books in the field of law practice management are on sale for up to 25% off, including The 2010 Solo & Small Firm Legal Technology Guide, Winning Alternatives to the Billable Hour, and my favorite–The Busy Lawyer’s Guide to Success! :-)

Word-2007 2010 Solo Small Firm Tech Guide Collaboration Tools & Technologies Winning Alternatives to the Billable HourThe Busy Lawyer's Guide to Success: Essential Tips to Power Your Practice

February is a great time to spend a few hours each weekend to chill out and read these books to get more ideas and information to have a more successful 2010.

Use these discount codes to save up to 25% through February 28, 2010:

Unbillable Hour Podcast Highlights Our 2010 Success Resolutions on Legal Talk Network

January 22, 2010 By: Reid and Dan Category: Announcements, Client Service, Ethics & Professionalism, Firm Management & Operations, Fraud prevention, Making (more) Money, Marketing and Client Development, Wellness and balance

We are big fans of the UnBillable Hour podcast on the Legal Talk Network so we were really pleased that podcast host Rodney Dowell, director of the Massachusetts Law Office Management Assistance Program, asked us to be his guests this month to expound on our Top Ten Tips for a Successful 2010 we blogged on New Year’s Day.

Take a listen to the podcast, that also features Judd Kessler of AbacusLaw, and take in our tips in a whole new way.

Eight Time-Saving, Productivity-Enhancing Management Tips for Busy Bar Leaders

July 13, 2009 By: Reid Category: Firm Management & Operations

I recently had the opportunity to address the incoming national and chapter leadership of the American Immigration Lawyers Association at the annual meeting in Las Vegas. It was a great event, and I want to salute the hard work of these lawyers who, in addition to having busy law practices,  help our profession through their volunteer work in this bar association.  The purpose of my presentation was to give this very busy lawyers time-saving, productivity-enhancing tips to help them handle their dual workload. The session received a very positive response, so I thought I’d post several of theme here for other busy volunteer bar leaders:

Trackle Your Life
Trackle is a new event-tracking site that alerts you via e-mail of the activities and events that are important in your life. You can set up hundreds of alerts: crime in your neighborhood, your name on the Internet, change in airfares, change in neighborhood home values, news about your clients or competitors, new book releases, and much more. Google Alerts are also great, but Trackle does more to help you track both your personal and professional lives.

Personal Portable Scanners
Portable scanners have come a long way since the Visioneer Strobe and HP Capshare hit the market almost a decade ago. Today’s portable scanners are smarter, cheaper, and easier to use. This class of scanner weighs under a pound, and can read business cards, understands what to do with credit card receipts, and helps organize those random documents that otherwise clutter your desk or get lost somewhere in your office. Models from NeatReceipts, IRIScan, and ScanSnap start around $150.

Be Sure You Take a Vacation
Psychologists agree vacations are a way to take a break from a busy, stressful schedule. Be sure to take annual holidays, plan ahead, and do not schedule a court appearance for days immediately following your return. Leave someone competent in charge of your files. Don’t over-plan your vacation. Scheduling too many things can be counterproductive to a relaxing vacation.  Avoid rushing to do anything, and leave time to be spontaneous.  And just make time to do nothing.  If you feel you must bring along work, laptop or cell phone, limit the amount of time you spend using them.  Otherwise, you are cheating yourself and your family or friends out of a meaningful, refreshing experience.

The Two-Minute Rule of Time Management
If you pick up a file, document, letter, or phone message, and can get it done in two minutes or less, do it immediately!  If it will take longer than two minutes, quickly assign it a high, medium, or low priority, then add it to your “to do” list.  Now get it off your desk and out of your mind until it comes up on your “to do” list again. Try this for several days, and see if it helps you get your work done!

Desktop Check Deposits
Never make another trip to the bank to deposit client checks! Some banks are offering a new check scanning service for small businesses to deposit checks directly from your desktop–no trips to the bank needed. Think of the time you’ll save each week!

Use Dual Monitors
With all we do today using the computers, it is more important than ever to have the screen space to do it: Rather than view documents and websites with one screen, add a second monitor to your desktop to be able to see more of your work in progress at one time. Most newer computers already support dual monitors; if not a new video card in the computer is just a few dollars more. (This tip received the biggest response at my live presentation.)

Keep Your Calendar Open
Keep your MS Outlook calendar open while using other parts of this valuable tool. At the bottom of the main screen right click the calendar icon and select “Open in New Window”. (Another good reason to have dual monitors!)

Travel Intelligence for Busy Lawyers
My favorite sites for making travel easier, more fun and productive are the following. Best hotels for wifi connections: HotelChatter; best city information and hotel reviews: TripAdvisor; best restaurant recommendations: Chowhound; cheapest brand-name car rentals (and one of the funniest names: RentalCarMomma; best seats on an airplane: SeatGuru; lowest fare finder: Kayak.

A Positive Reminder About Negative E-Mails

May 26, 2009 By: Reid Category: Coping with E-mail, Firm Management & Operations

Our friend and ABA colleague, Tom Grella, took a moment to share the following e-mail tip with us this week. More than an e-mail tip, it is sound guidance on helping to maintain law firm collegiality.  Tom says he’s not sure where he first came across this, but it has been a handy reminder taped to the corner of his computer monitor for a few years:

In general a positive tone is good – a negative, overly critical or unconstructive tone is not. The following are specific examples of undesirable behavior:
1. Needless, one or two word responses (such as ditto, right on, yea or I agree), or responses that are clearly directed toward one member, not the membership at large, and directed at another inappropriate email by someone else.
2. Direct comments about other attorneys or staff that are abusive, derogatory or defamatory.
3. Comments that could be reasonably interpreted to be malicious in intent toward any other attorney or staff member.
4. Unnecessarily or intentionally negative or unconstructive tone in comments, opinions or suggestions about the firm, or any of its attorneys or staff.
5. Comments that are divisive with intent to segregate or polarize attorneys or staff.
6. Statements with blatant, malicious, unsubstantiated inaccurate or deceptive information.
7. Unsubstantiated comments, negative or positive, about staff or attorneys.

Thanks, Tom. We all can use this reminder of the power of e-mail as a quick and often unretractable form of communication. Unfortunately, the reminder was not in time for a first-year associate at Quinn Emanuel Urquhart Oliver & Hedges last week who, according to the ABA Journal, could have benefited from it taped to his monitor!


The Death Of The Billable Hour And The ACC Value Challenge – Essential Reading For Lawyers And Clients Alike

April 15, 2009 By: Dan Category: Client Service, Firm Management & Operations, Making (more) Money

The death of the billable hour has been (allegedly) imminent for at about two decades now. But by most accounts, at least until recently, the billable hour has remained as healthy as Mark Twain was when he responded with his famous quote to the rather incorrect rumours of his passing. (He actually did this twice with two slight different quotes – read more here)

I included the at least until recently above because I am seeing evidence that things are finally changing, at least in the corporate and larger firm worlds (and no doubt it will trickle down to smaller firms and non-corporate clients). The current economic woes seem to be causing some clients to demand alternatives to the billable hour. As money is tighter these days, the drive behind this is nothing more than getting better value for the money spent on legal fees. Firms that want the work have little choice to respond to client demands, often with detailed answers to client RFPs that set out fees based on other than simple billable hours.

Question for the lawyers: Is your firm ready to make this change? (Stated a slightly different way: By matter type do you really know what it costs to handle the various types of matters your firm handles?)

Question for the clients: Do you understand the ways you can get more value for your legal spend?

Question for both: Have you talked to each other about this?

I suspect the answer to these questions for many law firms and their clients is no.

If you are a lawyer or a client and answered no to the above questions, you should visit the Association of Corporate Counsel’s Value Challenge website. The ACC has put together a truly amazing online resource to help clients and their lawyers understand what clients really need, want and are willing to pay for. While really aimed at corporate law departments and bigger firms – much of the content on this site is helpful and relevant to lawyers at firms of all sizes and their respective clients.

The premise for this resource is that many traditional law firm business models and cost management strategies (read reward more billable hours) are not aligned with what corporate clients really want and need: value-driven, high-quality legal services that deliver solution for a reasonable cost and develop lawyers as counselors (not just content-providers), advocates (not just process-doers) and professional partners.

The site includes some “Meet/Talk/Act” guidelines to help law departments and law firms open the dialogue on these issues. (And, I’m all for more lawyer/client communication as it can help alleviate the most common cause of legal malpractice claims – poor lawyer/client communication. See my LAWPRO Magazine article on the most common malpractice claims.)

To help you make changes there is a Toolkit that includes resources and tools on the following topics:
* Structuring Relationships
* Budgeting and Staffing
* Performance Management
* Teamwork & Communications
* Leveraging Knowledge

And the ACC also commissioned a major economic consulting firm to develop a computer-based model of basic law firm economics. This model allows in-house counsel and law firms to test assumptions and input data (for example, numbers of associates and partners, rates, overhead, etc.) and see how changes in these and other factors can affect a firm’s efficiency and profitability. Wow!

Kudos to the ACC wants for promoting a discussion on these issues between lawyers and their clients. If you want to succeed you need to make time to review and consider the content on the ACC Value Challenge site.

My Favorite Tips from ABA TECHSHOW 2009

April 08, 2009 By: Reid Category: Firm Management & Operations, Technology

The 2009 edition of the ABA TECHSHOW wrapped on Saturday, leaving attendees full of great information to bring back to their firms to organize, synthesize, and implement.  It’s that last step that is often so difficult. That’s why Dan and I like the tips format so much—the brevity of a tip can help streamline the implementation of new ideas within a law firm.

In fact, Dan and I were invited to present the TECHSHOW session, 60 Tips in 60 Minutes–a perennial favorite. Joined by Nancy Duhon and Ben Schorr, we launched 60 practical tips at our audience of 350+ lawyers in just over an hour. Many of the tips focused on new productivity tricks or helpful websites.  Here are a few of my favorites:

On-line Legal Dictionaries: As we do more and more of our work digitally, online and almost joined at the fingertips to our keyboards, having a digital searchable legal dictionary can be mighty handy. Come on, really, when was the last time you arm curled that six pound Black’s Law Dictionary to look up a word, or obscure Latin abbreviation? Two of the best online resources specifically for lawyers are: and its sister site They both also have links to medical dictionaries and abbreviations for those who need those as well. (Nancy)

Be the Evening News: YouTube and video technology will have the same effect on television news as the Internet has had on newspapers. No longer will visual content be in the hands of a few producers and purveyors. Law firms can create positive messages to influence debate, inform clients of important regulatory and legal developments, and extend firm marketing activities beyond the written word and static page. Current amateur efforts on YouTube will soon be replaced by inexpensive, but quality productions. Add these new efforts to your firm marketing and client development plans. (Reid)

GreenPrint and Fine Print: These small applications act as an intermediary between your print job and your printer driver. Once you click the print button and choose one of these drivers, you will get a preview of your print job and can determine whether you really need all those pages and graphics. You can also change your mind and produce a PDF instead. Wonderful way to set yourself and your staff thinking twice about continuing to produce paper, or at least producing less of it. (Nancy)

Banish the New E-mail Pop-up: Most people computer’s present that little “new message” pop-up window come up every single time an e-mail message arrives in their Inbox. Stop the insanity – it’s just a huge interruption. You know, the beep goes off, and you get bounced out of whatever you were working in, and your train of thought gets interrupted. Turn off that notification window!! Go with just the beep if you have to. And, if you don’t need to know the instant when something arrives in your inbox (and most of the time you don’t), consider turning off the beep too. You’re going to check your Inbox reasonably regularly anyway. (Dan)

It’s All “About Me”: Do you have a website or a blog with an “About Me” or biography page? How effective is your profile on that page? If it is just a few boring lines and a picture, why not take time to make it really work for you? Make it pop! Add links to your digital life and digital “ink”. Let viewers of your page connect to you via links to your social networking pages, as well as links to articles, case decisions, interviews, awards, pro bono work, and other information about you on-line. (Reid)

Excel: Fill Handle: Ever need to take a series of numbers, dates, months or letters and extend them down a column or across a row in Excel? Need to fill in the names of the months across a report for instance but get bored with typing them before you even get to May? Have a handy formula in a cell that you
want to copy down the next 250 rows but don’t want to have to copy/paste that many times? The Fill Handle is for you! When you select one or more cells in Excel you’ll see that the bottom right corner of the selection looks like a black box. Hover your mouse over that and your cursor turns to a black plus-sign. That’s the Fill Handle. Give Excel enough cells to establish the pattern and the Fill Handle can do the work for you. Just type “Jan” in a cell, then drag the Fill Handle across to the right and Excel magically populates the succeeding cells with the rest of the months. Type “1”, “2”, “3” in sequential rows, highlight all three of those cells, then drag the Fill Handle down and it will continue the series as far as you drag. (Ben)

Blackberry Typing Tricks: You want to make the most out of that microscopic keyboard, right? It works reasonably well once you get used to it, but here are some cool typing tricks you might not know about that will save you some time and effort in formatting and the like:
* To type a capital letter, press and hold the appropriate letter key.
* To type an accented letter, hold the letter key down, roll the trackball to view the available accented letters, and release to insert the one you want.
* To turn on Number Lock, hold the Alt key and press the left Shift key.
* To turn on Caps Lock, hold the Alt key and press the right Shift key.
* Pressing either Shift key will turn Number or Caps Lock off.
* To insert a period, press the Space key twice, and you’ll find that the next letter will automatically be capitalized, too.
* To insert a period or at sign (@) into an e-mail address, just press Space.
* To type a symbol, press the Symbol key and type the letter that appears below the symbol on your screen (read this one twice so you don’t miss the point—i.e., you don’t have to scroll and click on the symbols you want, you just use the letters instead). (Dan)

AutoHotKey: AutoHotKey is a free portable scripting language. That sounds intimidating but it’s not. With just a little effort you can create simple scripts that you can use on any Windows PC to automate launching programs, executing repetitive tasks, inserting specific bits of text. Create a signature block or disclaimer in AutoHotKey and you can immediately insert it into any program or website with just a couple of key presses or even a mouse gesture.
Best of all, it’s free at along with free sample scripts and tools that you can look at. (Ben)

Set Wider Scroll Bars: We all use scroll bars for moving around documents and Web pages, and making the bars just a bit wider will make them much easier to click on. Under the Item drop-down list, select Scrollbar. Next, use the up or down arrows next to Size to find the width you want. The default is 16. I have mine set to 21. Again, watch your changes in the Preview pane, and when you like what you see, click on Okay to keep the change. Note that making your scroll bars wider will also make the up and down arrows on your scroll bars larger, which will make them easier to click on as well. Changing the size of the caption buttons and scroll bars will give you the most bang for your buck. But look through the other things listed in the Item drop-down list. Alternatively, you can click on the various elements in the Preview box, and then make configurations changes to them. (Dan)

And then there’s the famous 60 Websites in 60 Minutes session at TECHSHOW too. We’ve cover our favorites there in another post later this week!