#TechTuesday: conflict checking made easy.

Key to creating an ethically-compliant practice? Setting up a proper conflict checking system. It’s not hard and creating a solid system on the front end saves you time and effort. And possibly an ethics investigation.

I help lots of folks transition from an existing practice into a new one. My clients often are coming from a firm that handles this task for them, and thus are fairly clueless on how to set up a robust system. So, the conflict system is always at the top of our to-do list.

You can explore some general, helpful ideas on this topic here.

The system I recommend for my clients using Clio: when opening a new matter, create a Note within the matter titled [Case name] Conflict Check. Then add to the note all of the names (related parties) and any other information relevant to a conflict check.

For example, in an estate matter I can add beneficiary names:

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This saves all of the names (and other relevant information), so when I run a check in the future, any matter note containing the search name or term pops up. At my finger tips, I have not only the name(s), but all other pertinent information I need to conduct a thorough check.

Build this into your matter intake system and you’ll create a robust conflict checking system that makes this crucial task easy and efficient.

And if you’re not using Clio, think about the systems you are using and how you can integrate the conflict check in seamlessly. Other cloud-based practice management platforms (like MyCase and RocketMatter) have similar tools. You can also use Google Apps (contacts) in much the same way. Insightly, a CRM I use for project (and client) management, also includes multiple ways to create a database for conflict checking (through both contacts and notes within matters, all of which are searchable).

So if you’re not using your tech tools in this way yet, go do it. NOW.

the one thing you can do to improve your work life. immediately.

Over and over with clients, I see one thing that can make the single biggest difference in a person’s work life.

Sadly, it took me a little bit of time to connect the dots. The more lawyers (and other folks) I worked with, the more I saw this same issue come up. With some clients, it took a bit longer to get to. We were so busy focusing on a process or system that we failed to take our first look at the primary tool.

What is the primary work tool for most lawyers? Their computer. Of course.

Most of us spend hours on our computer daily. Drafting, reading, reviewing, composing and responding to emails , conducting research, wandering around through Facebook and Twitter feeds …

And once I started connecting the dots, I realized that the starting point for all of my clients was to assess their primary tool first. Before we considered whether a change in PM software, collaboration tools, or anything else was necessary.

What I learned? Pretty much everyone is using a slow, lethargic computer that is slowly sucking the life from them. Now, the reasons for this vary. For some, it’s a budget issue. Others? They’re tied to a system in their firm. And for many, they simply are so used to it that they didn’t realize how bad it was. Until they get a new machine and realize how good it can be.

Here’s the thing: your primary tool should be as good as it can possibly be. As fast, efficient, and powerful as you can afford.

With that said, not everyone needs a new machine. Sometimes a little maintenance can do the trick, to correct the lagging, slowness, and spinning beach balls.

And sometimes not.

While I don’t believe that we’re only as good as our tools, I firmly believe that using really, really good tools makes us better. And happier.

If you haven’t replaced your computer in a while, and especially if you’re experiencing any noticeable performance issues, then do an assessment to figure out if now is the time to replace. This handy primer offers some tips.

And if you’re anything like most of my consulting clients, don’t let you lack of time keep you from doing this. As with most aspects of your practice, you can hire someone to do the heavy lifting for you, and assess if it’s time to replace, and what you should buy. My suggestion is to hire someone who isn’t also selling the computer — you need someone who can figure out what you need, and get you that.

One consulting client of mine replaced an 8-year-old Dell PC. This was a really hard decision for her. Why? Well, moving from XP to Windows 8 didn’t excite her. At all. She, like most of us, would prefer to stick with what she knows works (even when it’s working really, really poorly) than dive into the unknown.

But dive, she did. And after tracking her time for just a couple of days? She realizes that she’s captured so much productivity. Why? Well, her machine isn’t slowing down or locking up anymore. (Yes, she had reached the point of lock-up and constant reboots. Even after de-fragging, cleaning temp files, uninstalling unused files, and the 30 other things you need to be doing to maintain a PC.)

The single best thing I did to improve my work life? Dump my old PC and go Mac. At the end of 2010, I was limping along on a slow slow slow Dell laptop. I would turn it on in the morning, go make coffee, enjoy at least one if not two cups, return to my desk, and wait 15 more minutes before the machine had fully loaded. One day, I had an epiphany. My life didn’t have to be this way. When it finally loaded, the first thing I did was go to the Apple store online and order a new laptop. Which arrived two days later. And my life has never been the same.

Perhaps it’s too big a leap for you to go from Windows to Mac, but being a Mac user myself, I must make a plug. I never felt truly comfortable with technology until I returned to Apple for all of my computing tools. Yes, there’s a learning curve. It’s different than Windows. And generally, machines with comparable stats (RAM, disc space, processing speed) are more expensive at the Apple store.

But if you view your computer as your primary work tool, and acknowledge its importance in your life, then you should give yourself permission to invest in the best.

I shall forgo a lengthy discussion on how to select a new computer. Others have written about what kind of computer to buy — go here and here and here, for example.

I will share a few salient points, however, based on my 16 years in the practice of law:

  • Get a solid state drive. Buy the biggest one you can afford. Why? They’re more reliable and faster than standard hard drives (which have moving parts prone to breakage and wearing out more quickly.)
  • If you have a mobile practice, buy a powerful laptop and add a nice, big, hi-res monitor when you’re working at your desk. I use both the 17” screen of my laptop and a separate 24” monitor when I work at my office desk.
  • If you’ve got the cash, get a lightweight laptop like a MacBook Air for your work on the go. The 11” is not much bigger than an iPad and is much handier for doing real work.

Here’s my set-up:

17” MacBook Pro (no longer made – 15” is currently the largest screen available) with 24” external monitor at the office. With a 500 GB solid state drive and external 3 TB hard drive for extra storage and back up. (I also back up to the cloud via two different platforms.)

11” MacBook Air – with 500 GB solid state drive. I use my iPad as a second monitor when I’m working out of the office (using this app).

27” iMac – with 2TB traditional disk drive, in my home office. It’s slower than my SSD laptops, but has lots of RAM so handles my needs well enough. When the time comes, I’ll replace with the same size screen and either a SSD or fusion drive, which combines flash and regular disk storage.

Enough about me. Stop reading this blog post on your old, slow machine. Go do some homework (or hire someone to do it for you), and upgrade your most important tool!

have you taken a break lately?

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I have. I just returned from a quite long one, actually. (See above for the view from my beach perch.) For a month (plus some), I took a break from [most] work and [most] media (including writing for this blog, Twitter, reading the 12 zillion blogs in my RSS feed, and other internet rabbit holes I frequent).

[Admission: I did spend some time on Facebook because I have family that will pester me unless they’re receiving semi-regular updates.]

I spent time with family and friends. Being truly present.

It was hard at times. Yep. I jonesed more than once for a feed — any kind of feed — on my iPhone.

But the mental, emotional and psychic break I got from disconnecting and truly breaking away? I’m still processing how important this was. Is.

I traveled some of the time. I think this is key to a real break. Get out of your daily routine. Get out of your comfort zone. Get away from what you know.

Relax expectations. This is also important. If you’re like me, you spend much of your time working to fulfill expectations. Your own, your family’s, your client’s. Someone’s. Let go of this, too.

We all know that the legal profession is filled with stress, anxiety, and too much negativity. Which makes taking a real break all the more important for legal practitioners. Not a working break. A REAL break.

I know this is hard. We are taught in law school that we can never work hard enough. The programming to work insane hours (way beyond any human’s productive capacity) continues for pretty much any law firm associate. I wager it’s worse for those in bigger firms, but I can tell you that the expectations in the small firm I worked for out of law school were the same. Stay long after 5:00 (or 6:00 or 7:00) has come and gone. Come in on the weekends. Failure to do so? Then you’re deemed not worthy. You don’t want it enough.

I’m not the only one who thinks that this is anathema to being a good lawyer. Or a healthy, sane, happy person. But it seems to be a perpetuated model.

Well, I for one don’t want to have a heart attack, develop a serious addiction, contemplate or attempt suicide, or alienate my friends and family.

So I take breaks. Long breaks. Doing things that have nothing to do with work. With people I love.

Breaks make us happier. Even in jobs that we don’t love. And especially in jobs we do. They make us more resilient.

How long has it been since you took a real break? If you’re reading this and thinking that there’s no way you can leave your work and truly disconnect, then I’ve got news for you.

You’re doing it wrong. Really, really wrong. There is no work, no legal practice, that stops you from taking a break. Create the right way to work, and the breaks happen. Because you build them into how you work.

I know this because it’s how I operate. And I’m not alone. But there are far too few of us in this club.

Come join the club. And send me a postcard when you get there.

the practice of law and depression, in three parts.

Along with many others, I’ve written about lawyer depression, most recently here.

I just came across a series of three posts written by a law professor (who also has extensive practice experience) about his experience with depression, and being a law student, lawyer, and law professor.

In this series, the author lays out the cold, hard facts. And he calls on lawyers and law professors to act.

However, as lawyers and law professors, we must to do more. It is clear that our students need us to do more. When you are depressed, you feel so terribly alone. You feel different. You feel ashamed. You feel weak. You feel like you will never feel better and that you can never be the person you want to be.

If 40% of our students feel this way, we must do more. They look up to us. They see us as role models and mentors. They see us as strong and successful and confident. They need to see that suffering from depression or anxiety or bipolar disorder will not curse them for all time and destroy their lives. These are treatable diseases, not character flaws. They need us to be brave and be honest.

-Professor Brian Clarke

Not every lawyer struggles with these issues. But most I know do, to some degree. Some of them sit in my office and cry. (I am not exaggerating. More than once, a lawyer seeking my help ended up crying in our initial consultation.)

In my humble opinion, the failure of our profession to grapple meaningfully with these endemic issues is tragic. And unacceptable.

The law professor who speaks out so openly in these posts is a shining example of exactly what we all need to do: TALK ABOUT IT. Bravely and honestly.

Acknowledging what most of us view as “weakness” will not be easy, or popular. But it’s absolutely necessary.

I’ve spent many of my 16+ years as a lawyer seeking a way to be really good at my work while simultaneously not losing my mind, my family, my friends. It’s not easy, folks. It takes brutal honesty to reflect and act in a way that goes against the grain for our profession.

The law part is not that hard (that was the fun part for me), but the business side of law is a bear. Finding clients, billing time, and collecting money, are just a few aspects of the business of law of which I was not a big fan. Keeping tasks and deadlines in dozens (or hundreds) of cases straight and getting everything done well and on time is a constant challenge. The fear of letting one of those balls drop can be terrifying, especially for the type A perfectionist who is always terrified of making a mistake or doing a less than perfect job. Forget work-life balance. Forget vacations. Every day out of the office is another day you are behind.

Professor Brian Clark

And it’s why I want to help other lawyers do it. It’s really the only reason I haven’t left the profession completely. Because really, when you pencil in the pros vs. cons, why would anyone stay? (I welcome challenges to this statement, by the way.)

As I wrote in a recent post, every lawyer I know as friend or client acknowledges the very same challenges and frustrations. I wager that every single one of them would leave the profession if the right opportunity presented itself.

Granted, my group of lawyer friends and clients is very self-selected. We are of a like mind. But I don’t think we’re the minority. Not anywhere close.

While I do not remember all of the details of my decent into the hole, it was certainly rooted in trying to do it all – perfectly. After my second child was born, I was trying to be all things to all people at all times. Superstar lawyer. Superstar citizen. Superstar husband. Superstar father. Of course, this was impossible. The feeling that began to dominate my life was guilt. A constant, crushing guilt. Guilt that I was not in the office enough because I was spending too much time with my family. Guilt that I was letting my family down because I was spending too much time at work. Guilt that I was letting my bosses down because I was not being the perfect lawyer to which they had become accustomed. Guilt. Guilt. Guilt. The deeper I sunk into the hole, the more energy I put into maintaining my façade of super-ness and the less energy was left for either my family or my clients. And the guiltier I felt. It was a brutal downward spiral. Eventually, it took every ounce of energy I had to maintain the façade and go through the motions of the day.

Professor Brian Clark

Does this sound familiar???

I recommend this series of posts highly to anyone who cares about our profession and the people in it.

Law Professors, Law Students and Depression … A Story of Coming Out:

Part I

Part II

Part III

If you feel, even the slightest bit, that you need help — seek it NOW.*

Know someone who you feel, even the slightest bit, may need help? Help them NOW.

Accept Brian Clarke’s challenge. Be brave and honest.

*I searched for a really good national mental health resource for lawyers. I see a gap.

we all have the same problems.

Two conversations. Two very differently situated lawyers. One is a litigation partner at a large firm. The other has a transactional practice, and is a member of a three-person firm.

It’s as if they were both reading from the same exact script. That echoed similar sentiments of lawyers I’ve spoken with last week, and the week before, and six months ago …

“I don’t have time to do my actual work.”

“Between business development and administrative duties, I can’t sustain my billable hours.”

“I have to wear too many hats.”

Big law, small law. Litigator, transactional attorney. We all face the same dilemmas, don’t we?

We have to do our legal work, e.g. practice law. AND manage a business, e.g. manage people and processes. AND build the business, e.g. network and market.

What this looks like for each of us may vary, depending on how, where and what we practice. But the solution to our dilemma? The same.

Figure out where you can get the help and support to do the work that you don’t want to do, don’t have time to do, or aren’t good at.

You’ve (hopefully) figured out that a CPA is better-situated to handle your accounting and taxes. So you hire him to do these things.

So why are you writing content for your website or other digital assets? Or, even worse, you’re ignoring it. Along with many other opportunities to market yourself.

Or why are you constantly switching either (a) software/cloud applications (thinking that the next new thing will actually get the job done this time) or (b) staff (thinking that if you find just the right person, she can help you create and implement processes that will actually work this time).

For most lawyers, time is not well spent doing any of the above (along with a lot of other things).

I’m not suggesting that the same set of rules apply to all of us. A lawyer who is a really good writer (not legal writer — a writer writer) may actually do a better job of telling his or his firm’s story than a content writer with no legal background. But this is the exception, not the norm.

The solution is actually simple, though perhaps not easy: Figure out what you should be doing — and then find the resources to get the rest of the necessary stuff done by someone (or something) else.

It may be that technology and process can take over — for example, software that automates work, making it easier to convert from hourly to flat fee billing. You spend less time to produce a result that thrills your clients. Everyone is happy. Nice.

Or what about a system for soliciting feedback from happy clients, that gives you valuable information for improving client services and encourages and assists your clients in leaving positive feedback in places where it will have a measurable impact on your practice? This achieves a number of marketing and client development objectives, and can be completely automated.

The bottom line: no matter your practice area, there are many things you do — or should be doing — on a daily basis that can be delegated to another person, process, or technology.

The first steps are to perform a self-analysis, uncover the potential for delegation, and make the commitment to act.

So … GO! Do it. Analyze. And tell me what the first act of delegation is that you’re going to perform.

tech tip tuesday: unlocking a locked pdf file

Today’s dilemma inspired today’s post. I have a locked PDF file that I need to edit for a client, which I received via an email attachment.

I don’t have the password so I can’t unlock it. I can’t copy and paste it into a Word doc (my default method for creating a Word doc from a PDF), nor will PDF2Officeconvert to Word due to the password protection (my backup conversion method).

I tried converting to Google Docs for editing, which often works for PDFs that I can’t copy and paste into Word. But not this one. Docs reads much of the text as an image, which I can’t edit.

The solution: open the PDF in Chrome and print it to PDF (or open PDF in Preview if using a Mac). The new PDF created is unlocked.

I’m now able to copy and paste into Word, to my heart’s content.

It truly is the little things. 🙂