Welcome

Thank you for visiting the Family Law Lawyer Tech & Practice blog. My name is John Harding. I am a family law lawyer practicing in Northern California. Long ago I realized that I could practice law more effectively and more efficiently (i.e., better and easier) by availing myself of the technological tools that are out there. I also learned that a successful law practice requires successful marketing. Hardware and software working together make me a better lawyer, and make my life easier. Marketing helps to bring in the business necessary for professional survival. By this blog I hope to share the tips, tricks, and technology that I have learned about so that others may benefit!

Thursday, January 28, 2010

New Advances In Office Telephone Systems

For the last ten years we have relied upon a solid Nortel Networks phone system in our office. Multiple lines, voice mail, etc., etc. A solid system that continues to work well for us. And given the thousands of dollars that it costs us, I am in no hurry to replace it. That does not me that I get starry eyed when I learn of the great telephony technologies that continue to emerge.

Jay Fleischman has written a great article given his overview of telephone technologies, and his committing to a product called Grasshopper. Here is what he has to say:
When attempting to create a location-independent law firm, the first thing that’s important to handle is how telephones are used. Though we live in a digital world, for most the telephone is still the primary means of connecting. Courts need to get through to the office, clients call with a myriad of questions and issues, and we as attorneys are required to be available.

I thought initially of having a voice mail system that used the 4-Hour Workweek system of, “I’m not here, I’ll call you back at 2:00pm, leave a number and buzz off,” approach but quickly discarded it as unworkable for all but a few people in the office.

The old telephone system was unworkable, cumbersome and costly to maintain. 14 lines into the office just to be sure that callers never got a busy signal, proprietary handsets that could not be easily swapped out for replacements in the event of breakage, and lots of wires holding us to our desks.

If you’ve got a wired phone that lives on your hard-wired phone system, you’re hard-wired to your desk. Definitely NOT location-independent.

I tried RingCentral, a virtual phone system that lets you create multiple mailboxes and forward them to a variety of places, but ultimately ditched it. Though a great system and one that I think you should look into, RingCentral fell short in a variety of ways. For example:

RingCentral is a VOIP (Internet-based) phone system, which means that if their central servers go down then so does your phone system; and

RingCentral’s mailboxes don’t offer a huge degree of customization in the way phones are answered and calls handled.

So in the end I went back to Grasshopper, a phone system I’ve been using for my own virtual law firm for a number of years. The idea behind Grasshopper is simple – it takes what would otherwise be an expensive and full-featured phone system and turns it into a web-based service.

Here’s how it works: your caller dials your number and is met with an auto-attendant greeting (“Welcome to blah blah blah, if you know your party’s extension dial it at any time. For a dial-by-name directory dial 8, for the operator dial 0, etc.”) You choose your extension and dial it. The recipient’s extension dials and they pick up or send it to voice mail.

Simple, right?

There are a few things going on under the hood that make it spectacular:

The extension can ring to any phone – a cell phone, a desk phone, a Skype phone … any kind of phone you want. This means I can program Grasshopper to ring my extension (which happens to be 704) in my office, on my home phone line, my cell phone … anywhere I choose. So when someone calls me and connects with me, it doesn’t matter where I am physically.

You can choose when your extension rings to which phone. I can set it up that my extension rings to my office phone Mondays from 9:00am to 1:00pm, my cell phone on Tuesdays, my home phone on Thursdays, and on and on.

You can shut down your phone entirely. If my paralegal is out to lunch from 12:00pm-1:00pm each day, I can tell Grasshopper to stop sending calls to her during that time and send them instead directly to voice mail. If I know I like to get “real work” done each day from 3:00pm-5:00pm then I can tell Grasshopper to send all calls to voice mail during that time. My receptionist, who handles all new client calls, goes to lunch at 12:30pm-1:30pm each day; during that time, I tell Grasshopper to send her calls to a virtual assistant. No more lost calls for us!

Grasshopper sends all voice mail messages to the recipient’s email account in mp3 format. When I miss a call I don’t have to dial in and listen to messages – they come to me. But more important than that, I can save those mp3 files to the client’s folder in our computer system. Record-keeping becomes a breeze!

With Grasshopper, there’s never a busy signal. Though the system is POTS (plain old telephone system) lines rather than Internet-based, when someone calls my firm’s main phone line they never get a busy signal – period. So now instead of having to pay for 14 phone lines (at $50 per month, that adds up fast) for 6 people, I can just have 6 office phone lines going to their desks. That saves us $400 per month right there. Cha-ching!

Of course, we needed to keep our “main” phone line and set up call forwarding to the phone number provided by Grasshopper. But our new business cards will have the Grasshopper-provided phone number on them, so eventually that old number will be a relic. We will eventually decide whether to keep it or mothball it, but I suspect it will remain on the books for a number of years at least (it’s a good number).

Once I signed the firm up for Grasshopper we hired a voiceover artist on Elance for $125 to do a series of outgoing messages for us – the main one (“Thank you for calling Shaev & Fleischman …”), the transfer messages (what people hear when they’re on hold), and a few other main ones such as the one for directions and such.

Each month we’re looking at a significant cost savings over a “regular” phone system. More important, though, is the fact that the entire firm is now location-independent … at least, as far as the phone system is concerned.

Disclosure: The links to Grasshopper contained in this post are affiliate links. If you click on those links and ultimately become a customer of Grasshopper I will get a commission. That commission does not increase your cost for the Grasshopper service at all. Quite frankly, it’s not a ton of money in my pocket but it does help defray the overhead costs of this site. You can also find Grasshopper service online by doing a quick Google search.
Please click here for the original article.

Please be sure to visit www.hardinglaw.com, the website for the law firm of Harding & Associates, for more information on California family law.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Thoughts On Branding

Personal Branding is a hot marketing topic. Creating recognition as an expert. Gaining attention for yourself and your practice. Generating new business through brand visibility. All important stuff in my mind.

Kevin O'Keefe from Real Lawyers Have Blogs offers his latest thoughts on personal branding:

I love Google. Google's given us access to more information from more people than we could have ever dreamed of only a few years ago.

I love lawyers and the legal profession. I wanted to be a lawyer since I was a little kid. In almost 30 years as a lawyer I've had the opportunity to meet some great people in our profession. Judges, fellow lawyers, paralegals, legal secretaries, clerks, bailiffs, reporters, doctors, witnesses - you name 'em. More importantly, I've been blessed with the opportunity of helping so many people and seeing other great folks in our legal profession help so many more people.

So I was struck when over 220 lawyers from 30 states gathered in Seattle for Avvo's Internet marketing conference that the lion's share of the discussion was all about getting to the top of the search results at Google. Little on how to be a better lawyer or how to help more people as a lawyer.

I know the conference was on Internet marketing, and it was a fine conference. But nothing on what we stand for as lawyers, the obligation we had to the American public, or what we could do to improve the failing image of our profession. I don't see those concepts and Internet marketing for a lawyer as mutually exclusive.

On Friday evening after the conference a lawyer was trying to convince John Day, one of the best trial lawyers in Tennessee, that what he needs to do is sprinkle artificial links into his existing blog posts. From his blog John was advised to link phrases such a 'wrongful death' or 'auto accident' to pages on John's website addressing wrongful death or personal injury, respectively. The logic being that Google gives greater weight to text in links so Google will rank his blog posts higher for searches on such terms.

So that's what being a good lawyer and serving others, something at the heart of being a lawyer, is all about. Gaming Google. I don't buy it and I don't believe gaming Google is what's needed to excel as a lawyer - and to get the clients we want.

As good as the information being shared at Avvo's conference was, I couldn't help but think, if not Google, would lawyers have been listening to how to make the best yellow page ad, how to make the right ad buys on TV or radio, and what type of logo makes consumers most apt to choose you as a lawyer.

In the pre-internet days, I served as a board member of my state's trial lawyer's association. I was a sustaining member of the Association of Trial Lawyers of America and attended their conferences. Though we talked among each other about how we got our new clients and had a few presentations on same, we didn't spend days on the subject. We spent our time on how to improve what we did as lawyers. What we could do better to obtain justice for our clients.

I used to tell everyone in our law office that the more people we helped, the more successful our law firm would be. So I was pretty pumped in 1996 when I discovered that marketing a lawyer's services on the Internet was all about helping people.

I started on the Internet at AOL. I answered people's injury, medical malpractice, and worker's comp questions. The more questions I answered, the more work our firm got and the more successful we became. The more I listened to others and the more engaged I became, the more I enjoyed myself and the more people who contacted me to help them.

I discovered that Internet marketing was not all about me. It was about what I, as a lawyer, could do to help other people. Rather than buying cheesy yellow page ads and running expensive TV ads, I could get good legal work by helping people.

How great was that. I could have everything I wanted so long as I helped enough other people get everything they wanted. My firm's mission of becoming successful by serving others was in perfect harmony with my law firm's marketing.

Plus I was improving the image of our profession. Seeing what I was doing, US Today said "If OKeefe didn't stop what he was doing, he would give lawyers a good name."

13 years later it's still the same. The more you, as a lawyer, help your target audience through the Internet, the more successful you will be in your Internet marketing.

Google, whose motto is "Don't do evil," will tell you the same. The following is from Google's Search Engine Optimization Starter Guide (pdf).

Creating compelling and useful content will likely influence your website more than any of the other factors discussed here. Users know good content when they see it and will likely want to direct other users to it. This could be through blog posts, social media services, email, forums, or other means. Organic or word-of-mouth buzz is what helps build your site's reputation with both users and Google, and it rarely comes without quality content.

Rather than feeling overwhelmed that you can't keep up with other lawyers on Internet marketing, go back to your roots for why you wanted to become a lawyer. If, like me, it was to serve others, the Internet provides incredible opportunities for marketing your services.

Please click here for Kevin's original article.

Please be sure to visit www.hardinglaw.com, the website for the law firm of Harding & Associates, for more information on California family law.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Twitter Use/Growth Down

I am an unabashed pundit when it comes to relying on twitter as an actual business tool. I relish mentioning twitter with less than absolute frenzied adoration just because I am thrilled by the foamy, vitriolic, crazed responses twitter criticisms draw from the twitter jihad (anyone remember the savage attacks upon Larry Bodine when he dared to question the relevancy of twitter as a marketing tool?). Here is my hard data supporting my case.

Hubspot.com has just released its 2010 State of the Twittersphere report. The report indicates that twitter growth has fallen from a high of 13% in March of 2009 to 3.5% in October, 2009. In all due fairness, the report also indicates that those people still on board with twitter are amplifying their use of the technology. In summary, fewer people are using twitter; but those who do use it are using it more aggressively.

Don't believe me? Take a look at the report. I'm just reporting the findings.

Now, let the whining from the twitter community begin!

Please be sure to visit www.hardinglaw.com, the website for the law firm of Harding & Associates, for more information on California family law.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Yearly Rant About Yearly Upgrades

John Heckman publishes the Does It Compute? blog. A great resource, where he spends a good deal of time analyzing the most popular law firm software, including Amicus Attorney, PC Law, Time Matters, Worldox, etc. Today John had a great post exposing the exploitation that is the annual software update -- thoughts with which I entirely agree (Amicus it is one of the main reasona I left ya!). Here is what John has to say:
OK, so I sound off on this subject a lot more than once a year, but I couldn’t resist the title. I have often been asked why I am so adamantly opposed to yearly upgrades. There are two main reasons.

The first is a simple a priori: there is not a software company in existence, not even Microsoft, that has the resources to develop stable, worthwhile upgrades yearly. Microsoft, in fact, is notorious for buggy initial releases and new versions. In order to justify a new release, you need to offer “new” features. So existing bugs don’t get fixed and new bugs are introduced. Features that had previously been introduced are not fixed, rounded out or developed to their full potential – so you have an increasing number of half-baked features that were once “new.” To the extent that a firm holds fast to yearly releases, the quality of its software will get buggier and decline. LexisNexis encountered this problem and was forced to skip a year between versions 9 and 10 of Time Matters and then tout TM 10 as primarily a bug fix release (remember the disastrous service release of v. 9.3 which corrupted data in the database?).

This problem hit Gavel and Gown with particular acuity this year. Late in 2009, Compulaw, which makes court rules tracking software, made major changes to the underlying code of its software, with the result that it would no longer work with any existing version of Amicus. So willy nilly, G&G had to rewrite the integration. This obviously impacted seriously on the development of Amicus 2010. The rational thing to do would have been to delay the release of 2010 so that the Compulaw integration could have been fixed (there are a relatively small number of firms that use Compulaw, mainly in California, but those that do depend on it heavily) and other items scheduled for inclusion in 2010 finished. But no, the January 1 release date had to be maintained, so the final release was even more marginal than it otherwise would have been. Things that might otherwise have been fixed will probably now be put off until 2011, because with a yearly development schedule it is almost impossible to do anything but fix the most urgent bugs in between releases. For example, an improvement to the Custom Records function also introduced a new bug in that feature.

In a similar vein, although Time Matters 10 was promoted as a bug fix release, it did manage to break some of the integration with Worldox, even though no changes were supposed to be made to that integration.

The second main reason I object to annual releases is the one that has caused LexisNexis so much grief: clients deeply resent having to pay for “bug fix releases” every year. Annual releases are in effect an effort to “churn” the existing client base and extract more money from them without really offering very much that is worth it. Gavel and Gown would do well to draw the lessons from the public relations disaster Lexis has had with Time Matters and stop trying to imitate the policies that produced it.

Software companies try to disguise this issue by offering Annual Maintenance Plans (or “AMP’s” in Lexis-speak). This gives you the “new” version every year in exchange for a monthly fee. The argument is that then a firm is “always on the latest version” which makes life easier all around. Typically over a 3 year period these plans amount to a 15-20% premium over what a normal firm would spend by having just a tech support and upgrading when the cumulative incremental releases start to add up – about every 3 years or so. In fact, these annual plans are a half-way house on the path toward the Software as a Subscription (SaaS) model.

The fact is that most firms do not want to upgrade every year. The “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” mentality is firmly embedded in their consciousness and with good reason. So these plans come across simply as a way of squeezing more money out of clients in return for fixing bugs.

Typical yearly tech support is generally 20% of the purchase price of the product. The yearly maintenance plans tend to run closer to 40% of the purchase price of the product. There are still programs that offer tech support at a traditional rate AND include future upgrades in that support. Worldox and Tabs/Practice Master come to mind in that respect. But perhaps the most interesting example is (or was) PCLaw prior to its acquisition by LexisNexis. PCLaw offered all future upgrades with its reasonable yearly support plans (10-25% of purchase price depending on the number of licenses). AND tech support was a profit center for PCLaw. So all of Lexis’s subsequent increase in prices are either pure profit or represent a dramatic decrease in the efficiency of tech support.

In short, annual releases (1) will inevitably result in buggier software; and (2) are just a blatant attempt to extract more money from a given client base for very little in return.
Please click here for the original article.

Please be sure to visit www.hardinglaw.com, the website for the law firm of Harding & Associates, for more information on California family law.

Monday, January 18, 2010

How to Lose a Client in 10 Days

Kimberly Alford Rice reminds us that it is very easy to alienate, and thus lose, clients.

I recently attended the American Bar Association Law Practice Management Section’s Law Firm Marketing Strategies Conference at which numerous lawyers, marketing partners and other legal professionals from across the country gathered to learn how to integrate key marketing principals into their practices as the profession increasingly focuses on the essential aspect of marketing in the business of law, for both small and large law firms.

Some of the best minds in the law firm marketing arena presented an array of topics to broaden the thinking of how marketing is perceived and utilized in U.S. law firms and how practitioners can incorporate basic principals to strengthen their practices in the current economic climate.

Among one of the speakers was James King, in-house counsel of The Boeing Company in Ridley Township, Pennsylvania. He introduced six ways lawyers can lose a client and steps to avoid those landmines.

First, advice sans counsel. Mr. King asserted that clients do not merely look to their lawyers for advice but rather their insights and wisdom into a particular problem. It is more helpful to counsel a client on the full scope and implications of a problem and possible solutions than it is to simply tell someone what to do. There is a difference in perceived value from the client’s perspective.

Second, a quick way to lose a client is to demonstrate a lapse in integrity. Clients look to their lawyers to earn their trust through action, not just by their pedigree and resume. Once a client discovers she has not learned the complete and utter truth about a matter, regardless of how little or much is at stake, it is difficult to put the genie back in the bottle. Better to keep the lid on this one, real tight.

Third, one of the most frequent client complaints is that their lawyers fail to communicate with them. Because there are so many means of communications available to us, it is a useful practice to speak directly with your clients regarding their preferred means of communications whether by telephone, email, mail, fax or some combination thereof. Whatever a client’s preference, adapt your communication style to respond to their needs. This will send a positive message that you are listening to your clients and that you genuinely care about nurturing the relationship.

Fourth, untimeliness is a common problem between lawyers and their clients, and is another way to prompt a client to look elsewhere for their legal services. Often in a corporate environment, in-house lawyers are required to make legal decisions by committee. A frequent complaint is that their outside counsel does not anticipate this process and, as a result, does not deliver work product in a timely fashion in order to meet their client’s needs and accommodate their process. This problem can easily be remedied with direct communication in connection with a client’s expectations of how and in what time frame they need to receive ongoing projects.

Fifth, “nickel and diming”. We all can relate to this peeve. How many times have you phoned your IT consultant regarding a seemingly simple computer glitch and subsequently received an invoice for a 15-minute consult. Most clients expect their lawyers to invoice them for outstanding matters and communications, but it reflects poorly on the lawyer and his perception of the client-attorney relationship if he invoices a client for each and every time they have any contact. In an effort to build a long-term relationship with clients, lawyers would be well served to carefully monitor their billable time and resist the urge to bill for every 6 minutes.

In fact, a powerful way to communicate to clients the value you place on your relationship is to include in your monthly invoice one or two instances where you communicated with the client on a matter but did not charge her. Show the time spent and then beside it, cite no charge. Clients love feeling that they are receiving a few (valuable) minutes “off the clock” with their lawyer.

Sixth, tying into the communications theme above, clients appreciate receiving some form of “value-added” service through the lawyer’s usage of various marketing and communications tools such as newsletters, e-newsletters, legal alerts, blogging, or some other form of communications device. Not only as a means by which to stay abreast of relevant areas of law, clients appreciate hearing from their lawyer and law firm to learn how they are involved in the community, how they are positioned in the marketplace which may potentially lead to deeper connections for your client and their clients.

Lastly, while the six items described above can certainly lead a client to sever a relationship with her lawyer, it is safe to say that if lawyers heed the “Golden Rule” by treating others (in this case, your clients) as you would like to be treated (in a corporate sense, in this instance) fewer clients would decide to change teams, which is a loss to both lawyer and client.

Please click here for the original article from lawpracticematters.com.


Please be sure to visit www.hardinglaw.com, the website for the law firm of Harding & Associates, for more information on California family law.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Call for Proposals for Conference on Child Representation

Representing Children: Ethical and Practical Problems, April 2-3, 2010, Oregon Child Advocacy Project, University of Oregon School of Law, Eugene, Oregon

Representing children charged with delinquent acts or who are the subjects of child custody disputes or juvenile court dependency proceedings presents a host of issues in addition to the perennial favorite, whether to advocate for a child's expressed wishes or best interests. This conference seeks papers that explore these issues. Papers already have been published or may be works in progress. Possible topics might include:

· Client counseling and the best interests/expressed wishes dilemma;

· Competence to stand trial as an alternate approach to the best interests/expressed wishes issue;

· Scope of representation of a child's court-appointed lawyer—If a child in state custody may have a tort claim against the state, what can the lawyer do? What must the lawyer do?

· Representing siblings—current and former client conflicts of interest;

· Confidentiality and the child client—who can you talk to and what can you tell them?

· Impaired adult clients—who can ask for a guardian ad litem and what happens if you don't?

Please submit your proposal to ocap@uoregon.edu by Jan. 25, 2010. For more information, please contact Leslie Harris at lharris@uoregon.edu.


Please be sure to visit www.hardinglaw.com, the website for the law firm of Harding & Associates, for more information on California family law.