get your google on. and be productive.

The following post originally appeared on the MyCase blog, thanks to a kind invitation from Niki Black. It’s the first in a series that I’ll be publishing here about the how to get your google on.

I admit that I’m an unabashed Google fan. Some of the simplest Google tools are the most powerful in my tech toolbox, enabling me to practice both productively and efficiently. One of my more geeky hobbies is learning about all of the useful but lesser-known Google tips and tricks. Here are a few of my current favorites:

Use Google as a timer. I’m most productive when I block out my time,  devoting a chunk to really focused work and then taking a break. I use Google’s built in timer to do this. How? Type “set timer 45 minutes” into a Google search bar and up pops a timer, set for 45 minutes. (Or whatever length you choose.) I then hit the full screen button and all online distractions are blocked out, making it easier for me to focus on my work.  

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Use OK Google.  Install the Google Voice Search Hotword extension. Open a new tab in Chrome, say “Ok Google” followed by your search term. Like magic, results appear. While not perfect (it’s still in beta), I’ve found Google understands my southern drawl and results are quite accurate.

Ctrl/Command +F. Okay, perhaps not lesser-known but it bears repeating. You’re using Google Scholar to research a key issue in a case.  Hit CTRL (or Command) + F to view all instances of a word or phrase in the document or webpage. An invaluable time saver.

Gmail Shortcuts. I have too many favorites to mention them all individually. Go here to peruse and figure out which shortcuts are most relevant to your email workflow. One favorite: Ctrl+Shift+c  [Command+Shift+c for Macs) to add cc: recipients. I use it multiple times daily.

Canned Responses. The single biggest email timesaver for me is this Gmail Labs add-on. You can save canned copy and insert it into any email, at any time, simply by choosing from your saved Canned Responses. My favorite use: email disclaimers. You don’t need the 250-word disclaimer in the email to a friend scheduling lunch. Save it as a Canned Response and add it only when it’s relevant and necessary (which is much less often than you think). I also have Canned Responses for general instructions that I give to clients about processes and documents I use regularly. The time I save is extraordinary. This helpful tutorial walks you through how to enable Canned Responses, and how to create and use them, as well. 

What Google tools are in your tech toolbox?

a better question.

I’m an unabashed fan of mentoring and connecting. I build time for both into my schedule. And I urge others to, as well. Based on my constant experience that mentoring is as rich an experience for the mentor as mentee, if you put your heart into it. And you simply never know where connecting with others will lead — it’s often somewhere not really obvious, but surprisingly good.

So I’m facing a bit of a conundrum at the moment. Because I keep coming across people who ask a single question when faced with a mentoring or connecting opportunity. The question: WHAT’S IN IT FOR ME?

The first time I encountered this question, I wrote it off as specific to that person, that situation.

The second time, I pondered …

Most recently, I was pretty much smacked in the face with it. A person I admire and respect professionally said: “I don’t respond to attempts at connecting or networking unless it benefits me.” This person went on to elaborate that if the benefit appeared to be one-way, favoring the other person, then the connection was ignored.

I suppressed the urge to ask some rhetorical questions of this person. The person is a professional. In a position to “connect” with a lot of people. Perhaps this person truly is just too busy to deal with such connections that don’t have an obvious benefit.

But if everyone is following this path, then I fear the undoing of a culture that should be encouraged rather than destroyed. A culture of helping those who are following in our footsteps. This is especially so in the legal profession, where well-developed mentoring programs are scarce, even in larger firms. They’re nonexistent for most of the attorneys who most need them – solos and those in small firms.

I’ve been on the receiving end of a mentoring relationship. And for the past few years, I’ve been on the giving end. I can’t imagine how I would’ve gotten through some pretty sticky situations but for the generosity of others who were willing to share their time and wisdom. And the words of thanks I’ve received from mentees makes it clear that I’ve made a tremendous difference for them, even if only by taking five minutes to offer an opinion.

Our time is precious and limited. But we’re not so precious — and let’s not be so limited — to seek connections only when there’s a tangible benefit to be had.

If you’re too busy or view your time as too important, then I must suggest that your priorities and time management skills may be a bit askew.

Let’s try this question instead: “How can I help?”

do you have “mindful awareness” of your practice? #mindfulwednesday

I spent some time last week with a few dozen attorneys, talking about law practice management, technology, and related ideas. When I give these talks, I tend to make them very interactive. As in, I ask lots of questions of the audience. How can I address their issues if I don’t know their issues? Thus, the questions.

Well, this wasn’t a very lively group. As in, radio silence when I would ask a question. But I didn’t relent. I kept asking. And eventually some bold souls accepted my challenge and started talking.

As the “conversation” (and I use this term loosely) progressed, I started to identify a core issue with this group: they weren’t answering my questions because they didn’t know how to answer them. I was asking questions about their practices that they couldn’t answer (for the most part) because they simply didn’t know.

They didn’t know why they handled time keeping/billing/whatever the way they did. They didn’t know why they did or didn’t have a process for intake or client communication or whatever. At least, they didn’t know the why well enough to share. Why? My educated guess is that it’s because they’ve been doing things they way they do them for so long that they’ve stopped wondering whether the way is a good way or not.

I was posing questions that forced my audience to start really thinking about the why and how of their practices. By the looks on many faces, this was both a novel and challenging experience.

The folks in that room were there because they seek a change. The first step: having a mindful awareness of the current state of your practice.

I’m borrowing the phrase “mindful awareness” from meditation, in which context it describes (loosely) a process of identifying a destructive thought pattern, labeling it, and letting it pass when it enters your mind.

In the context of a law practice, I conceptualize the meaning to get at the heart of the first step of change: identifying those processes (or lack thereof) that don’t work, that get in the way of a successful practice, that hold you back from being optimally happy in the way you work.

I’ve helped many folks through the process of changing how they work. Perhaps the sole truth I’ve witnessed: the best kind of change starts with a mindful awareness of the present.

It’s with that awareness that you’re able to truly focus on creating a practice that supports you and the life you want. Not the other way around.

communicating with an angry person.

This happens a lot to lawyers. We have to work with angry people. Generally, they aren’t angry with us (though sometimes they are). But they are angry. And talking with an angry person requires different communication techniques than talking with a non-angry person.

I happened across this article today — and it is spot-on re: how to deal when you’re face-to-face with the angry client or opposing counsel.

The piece is short and well worth a read. Highlights especially apropos for lawyers:

  • Remain calm and try to calm the other person. Don’t let the other person’s anger become your anger
  • Speak simply. Do not rely on official language or complex terminology.
  • Avoid communicating a lot of technical or complicated information when emotions are high.
  • Listen carefully. Do not interrupt or offer unsolicited advice or criticism.

Also addressed: nonverbal communication. Much of what we say is communicated not with words, but through our expressions, posture, and physical position (e.g. standing, seated) in relation to the other. Two key points:

  • Keep body language calm. Have a relaxed posture with unclenched hands and an attentive expression.
  • Get on the same physical level as the other person, e.g. both of you are standing or both sitting.

Any other techniques you’ve found helpful in communicating with an angry person? 

make a great first impression.

I started this little series of posts here. My inspiration was a recent opportunity to help someone essentially recreate a practice. From soup to nuts.

When faced with this blank slate, we started by strategizing about the first impression this person could make, through all the channels presented to a lawyer on a daily basis: website, calls to the office, email communication, interaction at networking opportunities, sharing a business card, conducting an initial consultation … and there are many, many more that deserve consideration. But I’ll start with these.

WEBSITE

This topic deserves a series of posts in its own right, but here are the obvious basics of making a good first impression on your website: Use professional images, not snapshots and not old pictures or ones that don’t look like you. Write your bio like a story, not like your Martindale-Hubbell bio. Yuck. And if you’re not a good story writer, then hire someone to write it for you. And don’t just talk about yourself — find a way to offer information to site visitors, whether through FAQs, blog posts, white papers or even ebooks. Finally, keep your target audience in mind as you design all aspects of your site. Your target audience is likely not other lawyers (at least not primarily). So don’t think like a lawyer when you create your site.

INCOMING CALLS

Not every practice requires a live person taking calls. But some do — especially in practice areas where clients have a perceived need to talk to someone (anyone) right at that moment. Criminal and domestic clients come to mind. If this describes your practice, keep in mind that you’re possibly losing potential clients if incoming calls aren’t handled well.

A person in crisis wants to talk to another person, and be given a clear expectation of what’s going to happen next. This is the first impression you should be giving, if your practice areas encompass crisis situations. Why? Because this will give potential clients a genuine reason to trust you, which makes it more likely they will hire you.

How to do this? You can hire staff to handle it in your office. Work with them to identify how various types of calls will be handled, even creating scripts (of sorts) for different situations, and nail down how you can make sure clients now what to expect going forward. By this I mean making sure the person taking calls clearly communicates to callers when follow-up communication will happen, e.g. “Attorney Smith will return your call within X hours.” The call taker can make this statement with confidence because you’ve already worked out the expectations to be set.

In lieu of hiring a person to sit in your office, you also can consider a service such as Ruby Receptionists — their staff can be trained to manage calls just as your own staff member would. If the thought of managing another person (or paying a full-time salary) discourages you, then you really should check out Ruby.

EMAIL COMMUNICATION

Yet another topic deserving of its own series of posts. The nutshell version: First, if you haven’t already done it, think through exactly how you’re going to handle initial contacts via email. Your website no doubt has an email contact form (or at least an email address), so you’re inviting people to contact you this way. So how do you respond? How do you make the right initial impression in this response?

I can’t answer these questions for you because they depend entirely on your practice and goals — but I can tell you that taking the time to think through an email policy, especially for initial contacts, is time well-spent.

Also, treat email communication as you would any other professional communication. Choose your words with care, remember that email can’t convey tone (or humor, often), and thoughtfully consider what information you share via email. Sometimes you need to pick up the phone (or meet in person), instead of hitting “send.” This may be especially so when responding to initial contact from a potential client.

Communication is the lynchpin of any successful attorney-client relationship. It’s so easy to do it right, and how you handle both incoming calls and email communication sets the stage for what clients can expect going forward with your office.

In the next post, I’ll share some thoughts on networking, business cards, and conducting an initial consultation …

tech, productivity, + an agile practice

The following post originally appeared on the MyCase blog, thanks to a kind invitation from Niki Black. It’s the first in a series that I’ll be publishing here about the ins-and-outs of an agile practice.

An inconvenient truth: technology doesn’t improve productivity. It won’t make you more efficient, successful, or happy. What it can do is help you create a workflow (or even a lifestyle) that enables your productivity, efficiency, success, and happiness.

It’s taken me 16 years in law practice to figure it out, but I’ve finally created a tech-rich workflow that really supports my productivity.

I call it my “agile practice,” in part because I’ve cherry-picked elements of agile methodology that fit into a modern-day law practice. Why agile? Because lawyers spend a lot of time putting out fires instead of working our to-do lists. Not me. Not anymore. An agile system accommodates the fires. Allowing me to stay on track, do more good work, in less time.

How? By following the core principles of productivity, and adding technology only if it supports the principles.  Start with these four:

Eat the frog. This simply means do the most important thing first, no matter how much you don’t want to, every day. If you do this, then it’s much less likely that you’ll be derailed by the unexpected or urgent. As well, it’s motivating to check that important thing off your list. Supporting tech: I currently use Workflowy, a simple and ubiquitous app, to manage my to-do list. The frog is always at the top.

Touch it once. When something (an email, a phone call, a task) appears in front of you, your goal is to touch it only once (or twice, at most). The order of action: (1) do it; or (2) file it away for doing at a specific time; or (3) delegate it. If (2) is the action, then touch it only once at the appointed time. Supporting tech: especially if you’re delegating tasks, a web-based app such as Trello or the collaboration features built into MyCase support this principle masterfully.

No multitasking. You can’t do two (or more) things concurrently and expect to do any of them well. In fact, trying to multitask can sap up to 40% of your productivity. So stop. At the end of each day, create your list of work to be done the following day, ideally arranged from most to least important. Then start doing the work, once step at a time. Supporting tech: here, the goal is to put down the tech while you focus on the work in front of you. But technology can also help you do this – try one of these 10 apps that fight distraction and support concentration.

Email management. Technology and principle are inextricably linked here. Managing email, instead of allowing it to manage you, is crucial for setting up a productive workflow. Simple steps: don’t work with your email open all day; check email only at set times during the day; reply immediately if doing so will take two minutes or less; get email out of the inbox once you’ve acted on it. Supporting tech: I use Boomerang to set automatic reminders for responding to email (or to remind me if someone has failed to respond to my email). Inbox zero is an unattainable myth, but with Boomerang I can keep my inbox under control.

Some final words of advice: If you spend more time trying to make the tech work, or fit in your desired workflow, ditch it. And don’t adopt new tech unless it truly solves a problem you’re having.

links i like.

What’s not here?

Want to surf the ‘net in stealth mode? Check out this fast and secure way to search privately.

It’s finally here. And here are five things you need to know about Microsoft Office for iPad.

Use Gmail? Worried about the NSA snooping through your emails? Here’s what Google is doing to thwart the snooping.

For anyone who stares at a computer screen much of the day (like many lawyers I know, myself included), consider using this app (for both Mac and Windows) designed to ease the eye strain.

No matter where you buy e-books, it’s possible to read them in one place. Here’s how. Very helpful for e-book addicts like me.

I’ve ditched Box for Google Drive, perhaps for good. I’m currently exploring the many things I can do with Drive, that I couldn’t with Box.

Try this one-minute hack to grow your Twitter following organically.

Your website copy probably needs reworking. (Mine does.) Schedule some time to rewrite. (I am.) Read this first. It will help you turn bland text into sparkling content.