#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:


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.

rabbit holes and willpower.

The internet is full of rabbit holes. Some of the known ones: Facebook, Twitter, Feedly, Reddit, and pretty much any eye candy “news” site (Buzzfeed, Huffington Post, even The New Yorker and Mother Jones for that matter …).

Staying committed to your work instead of engaging in an hours-long dalliance? This requires willpower, my friends.

Ironically, a daily visit to one of my rabbit holes (my Feedly RSS feed) yielded this timely advice to avoid the distraction afforded by rabbit holes (and other things):

• Treat willpower as a skill that you can (and should) practice.

• Set achievable goals. Start by breaking down big projects into smaller pieces. And start knocking them out.

• Focus on one thing at a time. Multitasking (at least effectively) is a myth.

• Don’t deplete your reserves on things that don’t matter. Get enough sleep; delegate the work that sucks the life out of you; don’t eat junk; get some exercise. You get the picture.

• Do the hard stuff first. Mark Twain called this eating the frog. Get it out of the way and the rest of your day is a piece of cake.

• Make the effort. Strengthening your willpower muscle isn’t hard, but you have to take the steps to do it.

[Inspiredlawblog is written by Cat Moon, a lawyer + coach who is sometimes successful in exercising her willpower muscle, and loves helping others be successful, too.]

are you moving?

What are you doing to move today? Like Einstein, I think this may be a key to balance in life. The thing that keeps you from going over one edge or another. Or, heaven forbid, stopping altogether.

A challenge: each day, do one think that moves a goal you have forward. It can be a little, big, or in between thing. Just move. Act. Take a step. Do something.

Put it on your calendar. Add it to your kanban board. Each day, move the MOVE card from “ready” to “doing” to “done.” Tomorrow, start over.

[Inspiredlawblog is written by Cat Moon, who practices law and also helps people figure out how to keep moving.]

are you choosing your should or MUST?

If your work life and the rest of your life align perfectly and you are blissful in your practice, then there is no need for you to read this. And congratulations!

However, if this isn’t the case … if you have any twinge of desire to do things differently, whether it’s a shift in how/what/where you practice [or maybe doing something altogether unrelated to the practice of law?!], then read this.

For those of us who allow ourselves to go there? We have a MUST. And most of us don’t pursue the must. We obediently follow the should. How sad.

Me? Lookout MUST! Here I come.

[Inspiredlawblog is written by Cat Moon, a lawyer + coach who is committed to living her MUST and loves helping others do the same.]

Illustration by Elle Luna.

is the practice of law killing your creativity?

Yes, creativity. And I’m not talking about your cast-aside attempts at pottery-throwing or watercolor.

I’m talking about your ability to be a good lawyer. A lawyer who thinks creatively to solve clients’ problems. Or avoid them in the first place.

A good lawyer is a creative lawyer.

But if you’re a lawyer who isn’t getting enough sleep or finding  (even a little) time to relax and release stress and anxiety? Then you’re more likely to suck at finding creative solutions for problems. Both your clients’ problems. And your own.

Why? There’s a perfectly logical, scientifically-based reason. Of course.

Our creative insights are more likely to come when when our brain is in a relaxed (RELAXED!) enough state to create new neural connections.

Seriously, it’s a wonder that lawyers have any creative thoughts at all, given our level of stress and anxiety depression. But I digress …

Here’s the deal: our brain has two separate pattern recognition systems: the explicit and the implicit.

In the explicit (rule-based, tied to conscious awareness), the neurons communicating with each other are typically in close proximity.

But not so in the implicit. This system, which relies on skill and experience, isn’t consciously accessible and can’t be described verbally. “When the implicit system is at work, far-flung corners of the brain are chit-chatting.” And this, my friends, is what creativity feeds on — your brain’s ability to put information together in new ways.

Before you can try out the hacks to work the implicit system to your advantage, you have to actually create the opportunity for your brain to relax. Yep.

Get enough sleep, e.g. > 6 hours (for most of us). Exercise. Meditate. Disconnect from the constant connection to work.

Not only will you find the brilliant, creative thoughts flowing, I predict. But you’ll also be happier. An added bonus!

[Inspiredlawblog is written by Cat Moon, a lawyer and coach who works with lawyers and other interesting folks who seek fulfilling, happy lives. Even at work. Especially at work?]

*quote by John Steinbeck

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!

you’ve done your digital planning. right?

You’re a lawyer, so no doubt you’ve gotten your estate plan in order. Right? (Even if you don’t know squat about estate planning, you hired a colleague to put a plan together for you, I”m sure. Right?)

And you’ve created a succession plan for your practice. Right?

And both your personal and practice plans handle all of your digital assets. Right?

Sadly, when polling my lawyer friends and clients, it appears that very few have planned generally. And none have done any planning for digital assets. Yep, none.

I guess we really shouldn’t be surprised. Many lawyers remain in a state of tech-phobia or tech-avoidance. Even those who embrace technology seemed to have forgotten that their succession and estate plans should address all of the accounts they have living in the cloud, and not just bank accounts.

A handful of states have started addressing this issue, including Delaware, which recently enacted the Fiduciary Access to to Digital Assets and Digital Accounts Act. (A matrix of state laws (not including Delaware, appears at the bottom of this post.)

Whether or not your state of residence/practice has provided any guidance in this area, plan you must. If you use any kind of cloud-based platform (email, practice management, social media,  cloud backup???), do these things, now:

Read the terms of service agreements for your digital accounts. Not only are you ethically compelled to do this, it’s the only way to find out what a platform does with your account upon your death. So read and find out. If you don’t see a clear statement from the provider on this, then ask.

Take the appropriate steps for each platform, to enable access. Now knowing what Facebook does with your account, make sure that you’ve addressed how this account can be accessed when you’re gone, and provide instructions to your executor (or digital executor, if someone other than your primary executor will be in charge of your digital assets).

Figure out who will handle your digital assets. As I note above, you can have these accounts managed by your executor (appointed in your will document), or by a “digital executor.” Why have a digital executor? Given the number and nature of your digital accounts, you may want (or need) to have these handled by someone with the appropriate technical capacity. And if the accounts contain confidential client data, then this should be taken into account when appointing someone.

Commit your digital asset plan to writing. And make sure that the right person(s) have this information, or know where to find it when the time comes. And if you live/practice in a state with a law governing digital assets, make sure that your wishes are in line.

Review your plan annually. You should be reviewing your estate plan annually, anyway. So add digital assets to the list. Why? Accounts come and go. The backup provider you used last year may be different than the one you’re currently using. So you’ve got to update the plan accordingly. The plan is only helpful if it’s accurate.

Seriously, if you haven’t made a plan and you’re not reviewing it annually, then you’re failing at a very important part of being a responsible adult who also practices law. This stuff isn’t hard or time-consuming to accomplish. So add it to your to-do list, Kanban board, or calendar. And get it done.


Image source: Pew Research Center