It’s one of the two most important concerns for small law firm attorneys: your bottom line. If your firm is not profitable, even the other top small law firm concern, quality legal practice, will falter. Profitability matters.

With clients pressing your income down, and economic changes pushing costs up, how can a small firm grow profitability? Karl Florida of Thomson Reuters applies smart business practices to the current small law firm environment, and concludes that one thing can drive short-term gains and establish long-term stability: technology.

In the Independent Thinking article, How Technology Drives Short- and Long-Term Profitability for Small Law Firms.

Download the free article to read about:

• Three specific software options that can help you operate more efficiently
• Technology that can solve for immediate workload and personnel challenges
• How technology use today can drive long-term profit growth or firm expansion

Karl Florida leads Thomson Reuters’ small law firm business, which offers such legal solutions as the Firm Central cloud-based practice management platform, WestlawNext small law firm plans, and FindLaw’s lawyer marketing solutions.

Download a free copy of How Technology Drives Short- and Long-Term Profitability for Small Law Firms to learn more about smart technology choices that can impact and grow profitability for small firms.

Dear Reader, we’ve covered many topics over the past months: iPhones, Octonauts, Justins. We’ve covered TAR, cyber-security and playing well in the schoolyard (OK, I’m double-dipping, that was the Octonauts too). Surprisingly, one thing I haven’t covered, really, is probably only the biggest topic of them all in e-discovery: we have too much electronically stored information.

As I’ve detailed before, pre-TAR review workflows did not really fit the work in front of us or the skills we had with which to do it. We have been trying to review document collections as if we were reading novels: beginning with the first document and reading our way through until the end, hoping that we captured enough details to pass the triers’-of-fact exam at the end of the process. At best, we could be a bit more skillful when we had an index to guide us but an index is only as reliable as its input and, actually, we really needed to read the whole stack to create the index in the first place.

But, things are beginning to change. We have TAR now, the Indexobot 3000 that will crawl through your collection and attempt to predict, at least, which documents are not responsive. We have increasingly “intelligent” OCR technologies. We have indexes automatically generated by our databases. So, yeah, we have some assistance. But, we still have too many documents that are being generated too fast for us to make sense of in any meaningful way without expending increasingly onerous billable hours of review time.

And all of this is just to get a sense of what’s in the collection. We’re not even looking for the needles yet. We’re just trying to find out how much hay there is and what state it’s in.

Well, today, I’d like to introduce to the visualization modules . . . your best shortcuts to the best stuff!

While ediscoverers like to fancy ourselves as cutting-edge, I’d like to acknowledge that, for decades now, at the intersection of neuroscience, psychology, sociology and computer sciences – a community of researchers has been working to determine how humans take in new information and how to best deliver that information to them. The results of their studies have collectively come to be known as visual analytics. These are the researchers responsible for colorful maps depicting world-wide pandemics, economic disparities, species extinctions, hunger rates. They collect or acquire datasets from national archives and multinational organizations and hash them out into meaningful statistical pronouncements.

Also, they study humans and attempt to discern the most efficient means of delivering information to their brains in a format that can be quickly digested without losing any essential details along the way. For instance: they use pretty shapes and colors. They produce pie charts, bar and line graphs. They make learning simple, fun and – ideally – instantaneous!

Ok, maybe now you’re thinking, thanks Canary, why are you wasting our time here . . . we have documents to review!

Well, folks, visual analytics has arrived in full in the e-discovery market. Most providers offer some sort of it, most trade show booths have giant monitors showcasing it, and, if they want, most users now have the opportunity to use it.

Summation 5.0, AccessData’s document review platform, has an exciting array of visualization tools.

With Email Visualization you can choose from a variety of graphical formats. You can construct a timeline to graphically illustrate relationships within your data set based on emails in a certain date range and, once your graph is rendered by the system, you can easily identify the frequency of communication between your custodian and different parties.

With the Social Analyzer, you can see an overall view of communication at a domain level, identifying Custodian interactions and revealing connections that make literal the idea of a “document universe”.

And if you want to know just how many of your documents are – the horror – spreadsheets, you can click quickly on the Filetype Analyzer.

Your initial reaction to all of this might be, well, skeptical of the accuracy or utility of the tools; or perhaps you just think that “work” should not be so easy on your eyes. That’s fine. But remember, like predictive coding or other assistive technologies, this is just a tool. I’m not suggesting that you go a picture-only model of review. But, look above, why don’t you start this review with the orange slice of pie. It has all the documents. Or further up above, what’s going on with those outlying circles? They’re large because there’s a lot of activity but they’re far away from the more populated clusters because they come from a different domain. What’s that domain? Did you know about it before you quickly peeked at this image?

Ok, you’re still not convinced? Then go ahead and click on the X in the corner. Close the picture. You still have all the data underneath.

And all the time you need, right?

For more info on Visual Analytics, join me and a panel of experts here at the EDRM webinar series last week . . .

Eric Killough is the virtual canary AccessData has released into your digital mine. He is a JD, a CEDS, and a librarian. He thinks about electronic discovery probably more than he should. Please join him here, at Twitter, at LinkedIn, and at his own blog. He’ll be happy to meet you.

I’ll never forget the first time I was kicked out of a casino.

About eight years ago I was a professional card-counting blackjack player. Two alumni of the legendary MIT blackjack team mentored me, so for a year and a half I had a ‘side business’ of exploiting casinos through the legal means of gaining an advantage over them by counting cards.

Getting busted by a casino for counting cards meant that, once they discovered me counting, they would either ban me from the tables or they would assign a ‘pit boss’ to track my moves and tell the dealer to reshuffle anytime I made a big bet. It rendered my advantage back to a negative percentage, which meant I was gambling with negative expectation just like everyone else. It’s pointless to gamble unless you can control the circumstances and give yourself a positive edge over the competition.

The game of blackjack has a ‘memory’ and there is an inherent defect in the game that we can turn to our advantage if we learn how to bet in proportion to our advantage, and we can predict the future by paying attention to the cards that have already been dealt. The first time I was busted was at the Mirage in Vegas.

The pit boss tapped me firmly on the shoulder and told me I had to refrain from blackjack for the rest of the evening but I could play as much craps and roulette as I wanted. “But that would be gambling,” I quipped. “Why would I want to play at a disadvantage?” He didn’t appreciate my humor so I left and came back six hours later during the next shift.

During this time I became adept at making decisions based on probabilities, and learned the art and science of ‘game theory.’

I use ‘game theory’ in helping my law firm clients gain a competitive edge in the game of lateral hiring. Lateral hiring is a zero sum game which means that there are not enough rainmakers with big books of business to go around, and those firms not growing their headcount through lateral hiring will end up in a downward trajectory and will lose out to law firms which are adept at this skill.

Tip #1: PROCESS: Flow out your process using a visual diagram.

Recruiting isn’t rocket science and is actually a simple concept: Offer a compelling opportunity to those candidates who can benefit from your offering. That about sums it up. But the execution of the strategy is where you find most problems. Most law firms have an incomplete process, or in some cases utilize a shoot from the hip approach in how they recruit, onboard, and integrate laterals.

During my Navy days after my sea tour, I was a Total Quality Leadership instructor and taught W. Edwards Deming’s concepts of continuous improvement. At that time I learned statistical process control, which is the use of charts and graphs to measure variables so that managers make effective decisions. Deming was an American management consultant who pioneered the quality movement in the 1950’s and stimulated a major economic impact in the Japanese economy by showing the Japanese how to manage their manufacturing output in their recovery from the Second World War. In the 1980’s, his revolutionary ideas came to America, and the rest is history.

This personal early career experience shaped the way I viewed the world. If anything can be measured, it can be improved.

In looking at how law firms recruit and integrate prospective lateral candidates, I find that there is a need for a clearly defined process that is communicated to those involved internally in partner hiring. To help your firm improve, I am offering a free process flow chart tool to help you improve your effectiveness in recruiting and placing laterals. You can download this pdf tool here: LATERAL HIRING PROCESS. If you would like a Microsoft Word version of the tool which you can modify as your own template, please email me at scott@attorneysearchgroup.com and I will forward that to you.

This tool can be a talking point during management meetings among hiring partners, practice group leaders, managing partners, and recruiting departments. I would recommend using it as a baseline in shaping your internal protocols. By using the tools of measuring process, we can make improvements. My hope and intention is that that this flow chart helps your firm begin discussions in smoothing out the rough spots in your internal recruiting process and gain a competitive edge in the game of lateral recruiting.

Copyright © 2013 Scott Love

Scott Love grows law firms and accelerates attorney careers by facilitating law firm mergers and conducting partner-level recruiting for law firms. He has been a career ‘headhunter’ since 1995 and is a graduate of the U. S. Naval Academy. Scott lives in Washington, DC, with his wife, two children, and a toothless rescue dog named Smoky. He can be reached at 202-737-5555. To learn more, please visit www.attorneysearchgroup.com.

“Resiliency” is the word of the day for in-house counsel who want to not only survive, but thrive, in today’s changing business and legal landscapes. Learn how to incorporate the critical skill of resilience into your role as in-house counsel at the National Association of Women Lawyers’ Ninth Annual General Counsel Institute on November 7 and 8, 2013.

This unique program connects women in-house counsel from across the country for two days in a collaborative effort to discuss the power of perseverance, resilience and success. Hear amazing personal stories of resiliency from keynote speakers Lauren Stevens, former VP and Associate General Counsel of GlaxoSmithCline, who was indicted by the DOJ for, among other things, making false statements and obstructing justice, all of which were thrown out by the court; and Liz Murray, author of Breaking Night: A Memoir of Forgiveness, Survival and My Journey from Homeless to Harvard. Talk about resilience!

Meet top legal leaders from Gap, Estee Lauder, American Express, Godiva, Walmart and others. Explore cutting-edge issues and the direction of new legal changes focused specifically in areas of concern to in-house counsel, such as cyber-security and data privacy, regulatory policy and politics, and global intellectual property protection during CLE-eligible workshops.

Join more than 200 dynamic general counsel and senior counsel and experience the uniquely candid atmosphere that has become the hallmark of NAWL’s GCI program. As one past attendee exclaimed: “The energy and talent of the women in the room were beyond compare!” Register at http://www.nawl.org/calendar_day.asp?date=11/7/2013&event=90.

Be sure to join NAWL’s General Counsel Institute LinkedIn Group for more information on Resilience, GCI9, and other topics of interest to women lawyers. Join LinkedIn Group Here

When it comes to making financial progress, we can all agree that saving for the future is a critical part of the equation. But how much are you supposed to be socking away exactly? According to the 50/20/30 rule, your monthly budget should be divided into three distinct categories of expenses: 50% should be reserved for essentials (think housing and food), 30% should be allocated for lifestyle choices (things like nights out and 121 channels of cable) … and at least 20% should go toward what we call “financial priorities,” which include debt payments, retirement contributions and, of course, savings.

We spoke to LearnVest Planning Services CFP® Tonya Oliver-Boston to find out if we really need to allocate 20% of our income toward financial priorities each year—and how much of that 20% should go into savings.

Why Anyone Can (and Should!) Follow the 20% Rule
For many people, putting at least 20% of their net pay toward financial priorities isn’t actually all that difficult. In fact, Oliver-Boston finds that the biggest problem clients generally face isn’t that they can’t manage to allocate the 20% for financial priorities—rather, it’s that outsized debt, like student loans and high credit card balances, that eats up most of that 20%, leaving little left over for savings. But as Oliver-Boston cautions: ”Even if you have debt in excess of 20% of your net income, you still need to find a way to save!”

Translation: Prioritizing one financial priority doesn’t mean that you can ignore the others—be it debt payments, adding to your emergency fund, contributing to your retirement, or other savings goals, like accruing enough money for a down payment on a house.

So what’s the best way to divvy up that 20% across all of your financial priorities? ”It depends on the individual situation,” says Oliver-Boston. “But emergency savings and payments on high-interest debt tend to fight for first priority.” Retirement, she adds, is usually a strong third because it’s critical for your long-term financial health, followed by other savings goals, like that down payment we mentioned.

Need real-life examples? According to Oliver-Boston, if a client has a lot of high-interest debt but also has emergency savings, the client’s first priority would most likely be the debt because she has money in place to support her should she find herself in a situation in which her income could no longer cover her living expenses. If a client is cash-strapped, however, putting money into an emergency fund would probably take priority because the client doesn’t have the necessary cushion to cover her day-to-day expenses should an emergency arise.

Not sure where to start? Try the free LearnVest Money Centre to see exactly where your paycheck goes or chat to one of our financial experts and let them help you get on the right track.

LearnVest Planning Services is a registered investment adviser and subsidiary of LearnVest, Inc. that provides financial plans for its clients. Information shown is for illustrative purposes only and is not intended as investment advice. Please consult a financial adviser for advice specific to your financial situation.

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Do you have a Data Disaster Recovery Plan?

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As hurricane season arrives and tornado season wraps up, the last thing on your mind may be computer data. But in reality, small law firms are subject to data protection laws that govern your own and your clients’ information, regardless of the weather.

Most small business owners assume that cloud technology providers already have the ability to protect and recover data. Isn’t that the benefit of cloud technology?

Yes—and no. Software providers serve a wide array of industries, and not every industry needs high levels of data security. The legal community does.

It’s important to know what to look for—and even more important to know that the typical cloud security standards are not adequate (legally or practically) for law firms.

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Ed. note: The Aspiring Lateral, a new series from Levenfeld Pearlstein, will analyze a variety of issues surrounding lateral moves, drawing on the firm’s experience in the lateral market as well as the individual experiences of LP attorneys. Today’s post is written by Shelly Leonida, LP’s Director of Human Resources.

It’s 10:30 on a Wednesday morning, you’re cranking away at that brief, and your office line rings. You don’t recognize the number. You put your head down, waiting for voicemail to pick up so you can get back to the finer points of Massachusetts estoppel law. Because you know, inevitably, that on the other end of that line is yet another headhunter.

Sure, it’s annoying. But don’t let that experience turn you off from recruiters when it comes time to make a move. For one thing, let’s be honest: having too many people trying to get you a job isn’t the worst thing in the world. For another, recruiters taking the scattershot, cold-calling approach — testing your interest in a real estate practice in LA, when you’re quite happy at your corporate group in Chicago — are not the best representatives of the profession. The fact is, they can help. And I don’t just say that because I used to be one myself.

Brokers fill important roles in many markets, and recruiters — though not “brokers” in the strictest sense — do just that in the market for legal talent. First, and maybe most importantly, they are valuable sources of information. That may sound like a superfluous role in the Internet age, given all the information available on law firms’ websites and candidates’ LinkedIn profiles. But neither firms nor prospective laterals put everything out there for the world to see, and that’s where recruiters can be handy…

double red triangle arrows Continue reading “The Aspiring Lateral: The Value of Recruiters”

Long ago, long ago, oh, let’s say March of this year – I began writing this column. In those golden olden days, I wrote about e-Discovery. “e-Discovery” was this marvelously discrete little sector in my mind where law and technology met and created a little sandbox to try out new stuff in a limited universe defined by discovery requests. Everything else was irrelevant, er, not responsive. Sure, the limited universes were huge but we had awesome tools to deal with them. And, once the universe that began with an incident leading to a claim reached its end-point — settlement or judgment – it ended and we could move on to the next one, erupting somewhere in an HR Dept near you.

My first dispatch, which seemed radical to me at the time, concerned the fact that our collective creation of electronic evidence had expanded beyond our desktops. Mobility was the wave of the future, I bravely announced. And that was true. For a day.

Now, all these days later, mobility is simply part of our world. Paradigms have shifted. No one who follows this stuff at all can claim a lack of notice about the importance of mobile device data. OK. My work is done. You’re welcome.

Today, I am back from the mine to with another sector-shaking alarm: my friends, there is more than one mine! Our limited universe is cracking open as we work . . .

In December of 2010, our CEO, wrote an inaugural blog post for AccessData about the importance of integrating forensics into e-discovery. It is still powerful reading today. In March of this year, he announced the beginning of the end of the forensics/e-Discovery divide. This convergence of forensics and e-Discovery seems inevitable and, when you look at it from a certain angle, it makes more sense than considering them as separate mines. Both involve searching for data and making sense out of the data that’s found. In forensics, the data has been obscured by destruction or deliberate obfuscation; in e-discovery, the data is obscured by clutter, by the sheer mass of itself, and by negligence. It makes sense to me that, when you get down to 1s and 0s, the tools to discover and restore order to the universe would operate similarly to achieve something like an economy of scale. So, ok, maybe there’s still just one mine. My universe is still intact. OK.

But . . . there’s another topic that’s been creeping up on us e-Discovery folk this year. From down in the mine, it sounded first like a far-off scraping sound. Then there was a strange waft of warm air from behind the rock. And then a smell of sulphur . . . and then . . . our mine was breached. And the FBI had to tell us.

By now, we’ve all heard of the numerous FBI warnings this year alone that “hundreds” of firms are being targeted by cyber criminals, at this moment, and that client data ostensibly held securely in their counsel’s vault is popping up on the other side of the world. The threat is real. And, as the story goes, law firms are not ready for it. They simply don’t have the technology to fight back or defend themselves. Please review this white paper, written by yours truly, for a dire description of why.

I’m not going to spend too much time on this today. What I want to do is sound the canary chirp. We can no longer do our jobs as if e-Discovery (and forensics) is all we have to do. The documents we retrieve from our clients and adversaries are under attack. And they are ours to protect. We need to begin craning our collective necks towards securing them. And I believe that the answer for detecting malicious data, or detecting breaches in our security and preventing them before too much is lost, could likely lie in this: bad data is obscured by malicious intent. Our discovery tools can find it.

We sponsored the inaugural ILTA LegalSEC Summit and have written much on this blog and elsewhere about the now-surfacing crisis.

And, yes, I just said ‘crisis’ and maybe that’s alarmist but maybe it’s not.

Officially published on the day that ILTA 2013 opened, the results of LegalSEC’s survey are (pun intended, Las Vegas) sobering. I could, and may yet, spend an entire article’s worth on the findings of the survey alone but I’d rather you read it yourself. Here it is again. Please, read it. And, while you’re at it, please take some time and review the presentations from the LegalSEC Summit.

And, here is the presentation from their update.

As I said last time, e-Discovery is a just a set of tools and a set of problems, neither good or bad. But when bad guys are using tools to make bad data with an intent to steal or destroy, the good guys need to use our best tools to defeat them.

Please visit our website to learn about solutions already out there . . . and stay tuned for more solutions to come.

Eric Killough is the virtual canary AccessData has released into your digital mine. He is a JD, a CEDS, and a librarian. He thinks about electronic discovery probably more than he should. Please join him here, at Twitter, at LinkedIn, and at his own blog. He’ll be happy to meet you.

We’ve been conditioned to believe that lateral moves are all about money. Popular thinking — which may not be far from the truth — holds that law firms, held in collective thrall by the American Lawyer’s profit-per-partner numbers, focus on lateral hiring as the first step in a virtuous cycle that will increase their PPP metric, in turn attract more profitable laterals, and so on and so on. Laterals themselves, meanwhile, are viewed as economic actors lured away from their firms primarily through the prospect of increased, or guaranteed, compensation.

(Given the prominent role that guaranteed compensation is said to have played in the downfall of Dewey, and the pains Weil Gotshal took to point out its relative lack of compensation guarantees when announcing its recent layoffs, this particular carrot may be falling out of fashion. Even Weil conceded, however, that it has compensation guarantees in place for first-year laterals.)

In light of the focus on dollars in connection with lateral moves, it may surprise the reader to hear the head of a compensation committee say that in many cases, lateral candidates do not talk enough about money. To be more specific, lateral candidates often don’t scratch beneath surface questioning about their prospective new firm’s compensation system. If they did, their answers would inform them more deeply not only about their future paychecks, but the character of the firm they are considering….

As most laterals know, law firm compensation structures come in two general flavors. In the first, compensation is determined formulaically (e.g., X revenue from personal working time x Y revenue in originations = Z income). Other firms take a broader approach that bases compensation on a lawyer’s total contributions to the firm, including factors such as leadership and teamwork.

While most firms incorporate elements of both approaches, they tend to fall towards one end of the spectrum or the other. Also, most firms retain a bonus pool — ranging from 5% of profits to 15% or beyond — to be paid out based on any range of criteria.

What, beyond these obvious features, should laterals be inquiring about?

  • Does your firm have an open or closed system? At “open” firms, all equity partners know what their fellow partners make. At “closed” firms, partners know only their own point level or percentage of profits. Some firms prefer closed systems because it gives management greater discretion to act — for instance, to make a strategic investment in a particular practice area — without having to justify the decision in all cases to the larger partnership. This is as much a cultural issue as anything.
  • Is compensation focused on short-term or long-term results? Firms vary in how heavily they weigh a partner’s previous year’s performance, as opposed their longer track record. The size of the firm’s bonus pool will have an impact here (tending to reward short-term performance), but this element also reflects whether the firm has a long-term orientation generally.
  • Who belongs to the compensation committee? A firm that reserves seats on its compensation committee for particular geographic locations or particular practice areas — rather than simply selecting a cross-section of well-respected partners — could be indicating a territorial mindset where each member of the committee is expected to fight for the compensation of attorneys in that member’s practice area or geographic location.
  • What kind of input will I have into compensation decisions? Most firms allow individuals to “make their case” in some manner, whether through written submissions or an interview process. What form that process takes, how seriously it is considered, and whether the firm follows up with individuals after compensation decisions are made will indicate how genuinely they listen to their individual lawyers.

For the most part, there is not a right or wrong position on any of the above issues. But by probing about them, lateral candidates can certainly get a fuller picture of any firm they’re evaluating. They say money talks, and in this case they’re right.

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