links i like.

image

I’m consumed with workflow this week. So much so that the it’s inspired a transformation of the whole iLawPractice enterprise. More on that soon.

In the meantime, some links I like. About workflow and progress:

This post on A List Apart about prototyping workflows goes directly to issues we all have when trying to iterate and improve on our workflows.

One of my newest obsessions: Kanban. I’m a visual thinker and this simply rings lots of bells for me. I can see its application in so many areas apropos to the practice of law.

Turns out that progress is about ebb and flow. Not an orderly ascension. <Imagine this makes a few folks kind of uncomfortable.>

Effective workflow is a very personal thing. This guy spent a year trying different methods of productivity to tweak his workflow. Here are the 10 top things he learned.

Apparently the average working person spends 28% of the day dealing with email. Egads! Perhaps a more disciplined approach to email can help?

How, where, when you work — all part of the many choices we make. I like Seth’s advice.

How to get stuff done, and avoid burn out, in three steps.

And what to do if you’re already experiencing burn out. Sadly, I know many folks who should read this. Maybe they’re reading this post, too.

links i like

image

Are you present? If not, you could be screwing up. It’s easier than you think. Like, 3 seconds easy.

This contradicts much of what I was taught (which, admittedly, wasn’t much) in law school about negotiation: emotions matter and you should use them.

Another something that law school completely missed. Seriously, this matters. The Importance of Kindness (George Saunders).

Nearly half of consumers visiting websites judge a site’s credibility based on DESIGN.

I’m an Amazon addict. Not a fan of its user interface. [I fall in with those who judge on design.] Now I use Canopy. Ahhh.

Do you engage in self-improvement porn? This is for you. How to take action. And stop fantasizing about taking action.

How folks handle email befuddles me on a daily basis. We can all use a little reminder about email etiquette.

And while we’re on the subject of email … here are 5 ways to write better ones, and get more replies.

Seven ways to bore the hell out of people [online]. Yep.

Set a date. And once you set it, stick to it. Valuable advice on so many levels.

it’s all in the presentation.

image

I’m going to assume that you know the law. You know what you need to know, to perform the legal work that your clients need you to perform. You, and likely many hundreds — if not thousands — of other lawyers who could also serve your clients.

So why does a client choose you, and not one of the other hundreds or thousands?

It’s all in the presentation.

I know, I’ve probably lost you at this point. Didn’t take long. Because we lawyers spend little if any time thinking about this.

And by this, I mean all of the little things that make the difference for clients. You’re a superlawyer? Well, so are a lot of other lawyers. You’ve been doing this for X [insert impressive number of] years? Ditto. You have a high Avvo or Martindale Hubbell rating? Again, ditto.

None of these things set you apart. Now, they might appeal to another attorney who’s looking for someone to refer a client to, but to your ideal potential client? Not so much.

This is why someone hires YOU instead of another attorney: HOW YOU PRESENT YOURSELF.

So, how do you present yourself? What is the first impression of a potential client who …

visits your website?

calls your office?

sends you an email?

meets you at a networking event?

asks for your card?

has an initial consultation in your office?

You have one and only one opportunity to make a great first impression.

Spend some time answering the above questions. Really think about how you present to the people who you most want to work with. What can you do to present well to these folks?

I’d love to know what you come up with. And I’ll be sharing a few thoughts of my own in the next post …

but what do our clients want?

Since 2009, I’ve offered some form of an extranet to clients for sharing documents, communicating, and general collaboration. In fact, the moment I learned about extranets, I was mildly obsessed. The concept seemed to solve so many problems: no deleted emails or lost attachments, a clear chain of communication, and security. One place for everything!

The security point was (and still is) really important to me, especially when it comes to sharing sensitive documents and communication. Email is not the place for this. Even if you use encryption on your end, never lose sight of the fact that the minute you hit send, you have completely lost control. Even encrypted email, once decrypted, is subject to the recipient’s whims. I live by this golden rule: don’t put it in (or attach it to) an email unless you’re okay with the content appearing on page one of the New York Times.

My extranet journey started with an investigation into VLOTech, the predecessor of the Total Attorneys Suite that includes a client-facing portal. I ultimately opted for an extranet product by PBWorks that predated its current offering, PBWorks Legal Hub.

For a couple of years I diligently created PBWorks workspaces for business and estate planning clients in my transactional practice. Configuring the workspaces was somewhat cumbersome, which made me feel all the more invested in having clients use them. (Note: I’ve tooled around in a free PBWorks LegalHub account and configuring a workspace is no longer so cumbersome).

I loved my extranets. My clients did not. Well, for the most part. Those who did like it, like my developer and my creative clients, were already accustomed to using a cloud-based collaboration tool. Everyone else? They would log in to the workspace, but they didn’t use it to communicate. They sent me emails. They didn’t use it to share documents; they sent them as email attachments.

Why? Because my clients want me to meet them where they are: email. I even had clients who would respond to a message I posted in our workspace by sending me an email instead of leaving a message in the workspace.

And this behavior applied no matter the extranet platform I used. I eventually abandoned the original PBWorks platform because (a) it was so cumbersome to use, and (b) it was expensive, especially for something that clients didn’t view as a value add. I found more intuitive (and less expensive) platforms, but the underlying problem continued. No one but me (and some other like-minded lawyers I collaborated with) really wanted to use them.

What I’ve realized is that client extranets can be a fantastic tool for lawyers and firms, especially when part of an integrated platform that ties it directly into case management and billing. Relying on too many different platforms and software programs is a leading cause of inefficiency in any practice. Consolidating functions and tying them tightly together promotes efficiency, productivity, and sanity.

But this is a benefit to the lawyers.

Our clients aren’t interested in our integrated platform. Our clients want us to meet them where they are. They already have to log into too many accounts. When we ask them to add another, they ask, “Why?”

Well, there are very good reasons — which I explain to my clients:

  • Transparency: locating everything (documents, communication, calendars, billing records) in a single place online makes it easy for everyone to know where things stand in a matter.
  • Efficiency: clients have access 24/7 to their case/project information, and don’t have to spend time looking through email chains or attachments.
  • Improved communication: by locating all “discussions” (whether via an IM or email-type interface) in a single spot, clients are far less likely to ask the same question twice, and are able to find the relevant information when they need it.
  • Customization: designing and using the workspace in ways that best fit the client’s (and the matter’s) needs should improve the client’s overall experience.

Even knowing these things, clients generally don’t use the extranet. They prefer to use their own email for everything. (Surprise!) So for most clients I bypass the extranet, and honor their request to use email (while still following my golden rule, above). But I’ve tweaked the process a bit: for example, I use links (with expiration dates) to secure cloud platforms for sharing documents instead of attaching documents to email messages.

Despite all of this, I’m certain that others are having a different experience with extranets in their practices.  A survey conducted by ILTA in 2010 reports on client extranet use by the 49 firms surveyed. The results describe the value add to clients and suggest client satisfaction with extranets. Worth noting: all but one of the firms surveyed (PDF) has 50+ attorneys, and 16 have more than 700.

But I wonder if these results are widely indicative. A current consulting client (a firm recently started by three ex-large firm attorneys) responded this way when I suggested that they consider a client extranet for sharing the voluminous number of document revisions with one particular (corporate) client: “The company already has its own extranet. The last thing our clients want to do is log into someone else’s. They prefer email. So we use email.”

Anecdotal, yes. But telling.

Which leads me to a conclusion: cloud platforms that offer client extranet features (integrated with other practice management features) are a potential boon to all attorneys. Solo and smaller firms, who likely work with individuals as opposed to large entities, can benefit internally from the efficiency and productivity features of such platforms. But they may find their clients are less likely to use the extranet, preferring the platforms they’re already using (like email). And big firms may find that their corporate clients don’t want yet another place to log into, either. Why? They, too, just may prefer to be met where they are.

I don’t discourage anyone from considering an extranet, though, especially one that’s part of a larger practice management platform. Individual success will depend heavily on the type of practice as well as clients served. My experience may not at all be predictive of another attorney’s or firm’s. Although I do hope that firms consider the lessons I’ve learned when planning for the adoption and integration of an extranet into the workflow, and take clients’ preferences and needs into account.

And perhaps some of the extranet platform designers may start considering what our clients want, as well.

Here’s some solid advice for anyone wanting to sell a service or a product in the 21st century: “Build something just for the people who matter. Relevance is the new remarkable.”

Which leads to a suggested query: how can we meet clients where they are and make the extranet relevant to the client’s experience?

This post first appeared on the ABA’s Law Technology Today Blog.

a wicked little email attachment manager.

Email attachments were one of the 9 levels of email hell, in my opinion. But no longer, thanks to MetisMe, a wicked little Gmail attachment manager. MetisMe wrangles and manages all of your email attachments, in an intuitive and user-friendly way. The app does these very handy things:
  1. Creates an attachment stack — of all of your attachments, all nice and neat.
  2. Makes it quick and easy to search said attachments.
  3. Connects to your cloud apps of choice (Drive, Box, Dropbox, EVERNOTE!, etc.) — you can send attachments straight there with a click.
  4. You can set rules to automagically send attachments to certain spots. Yes.
MetisMe is free. It is awesome. Currently available as a Chrome and Firefox extension. You should check it out. P.S. The MetisMe blog is pretty cool, too — lots of productivity and email marketing hacks and tips.