Eliminating Waste in Your Law Practice

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Photo by Steve Johnson on Pexels.com

In the New York Times article “5-Hour Workdays? 4-Day Workweeks? Yes, Please“, Dr.Newport discusses attempts to change the way we work in the knowledge economy. He gives the example of a German entrepreneur, who put in place a 5 hour workday. Employees arrive at 8am and leave at 1pm. Employees do not work until returning the next day.  “Once you remove time-wasting distractions and constrain inefficient conversation about your work, five hours should be sufficient to accomplish most of the core activities…”

To accomplish the 5 hour workday, employees leave their phones in their bags and are blocked from social media on the company network. Almost all meetings are reduced to 15 minutes or less. Employees check their work email twice a day. By checking emails less, distractions and useless emails are reduced.

Dr. Newport applauds the 5 hour workday. He believes that we should be changing the way we work. Knowledge work is where automobile manufacturing was before Ford streamlined the assembly line. The way we work is convenient and simple but not efficient. Work flows along as an unstructured conversation through the electronic ether.

To believe, in other words, that our current approach to knowledge work — which is brand-new on any reasonable scale of business history — is the best way to create valuable information using the human mind is both arrogant and ahistoric. It’s the equivalent of striding into an early-20th-century automobile factory, where each car still required a half day’s worth of labor to produce, and boldly proclaiming, “I think we’ve figured this one out!”

Further to Dr. Newport’s comments, lawyers may be able to find places to reduce waste. “Lawyers in small firms spend over 40% of their day on non-billable work.” – Gimbal Canada Inc., Lean Practice Management Advisors

At the Ontario Bar Association TECHXpo, Karen Skinner from Gimbal Canada Inc. spoke about reducing waste. She pointed to 8 common sources of waste:

  • defects (missing a filing date, incomplete forms, bad drafting, data-entry errors)
  • extra processing (too much research, triple checking, over-staffing a file, too many drafts of a document)
  • motion (unnecessary travel for meetings, too many keystrokes to find a document, poor office layout)
  • inventory (unanswered emails, filing sitting on your desk, overflow of stationary)
  • transport (sending documents via courier rather than email, using cheques instead of direct deposit, too many approvals or hand-offs)
  • non-utilized talent (under using assistants, lawyers doing administrative work, doing work that could be outsourced  – even to the client)
  • waiting (for people, for information, for printers, interruptions that reduce concentration)
  • over-production (printing too many copies, cc’ing too many people, getting work done earlier than required)

Skinner argues that to reduce waste, we need to see where the waste is. We can see the waste, by mapping out our work processes. Once we see the waste, we can change it.

Skinner also recommends that we take our long To Do List that we have scribbled on a legal pad and turn it into something visual. She recommends  using a matter management board, as seen below:

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(photo courtesy of Gimbal Canada Inc.)

You can use the TO DO, DOING, DONE model for an entire workload, one aspect of a single file, all aspects of an entire file, or work for your firm or group. The DOING section can be further broken down into the individual phases of a task.

There are digital boards that can also allow you to assign tasks, filter by team member, or filter by progress. To learn more go to gimbalcanada.com.

(Views are my own and do not represent the views of any organization.)

 

The Fight Against the Attrition of Women Lawyers

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“Within 5 years of being called to the bar, 57% of women and 49% of men will have left private practice. Many will move to in-house or government positions, but close to 30% (28% of women and 29% of men) will have left the practice of law entirely.” – Law Society of Alberta (2014): “Retention and Re-engagement Task Force Final Report”

The “Retention and Re-engagement Task Force Final Report” reveals that the number of young lawyers has remained stagnant. There are fewer lawyers between the ages of 31 and 40 practicing in 2010 than there were in 1990. In contrast, the number of lawyers over the age of 60 has tripled in the last ten years.

The attrition of young lawyers is problematic. As the Task Force points out “The private bar in Alberta is losing lawyers who may be among its best a brightest new members to other practice settings and to less stressful work outside of the legal profession.” The primary reasons for leaving practice were: the pursuit of better work/life balance; more rewarding opportunities elsewhere; and dissatisfaction with the practice of law. 

The Task Force reports that “Women were notably less satisfied than men with control over work, credit for work, opportunities for advancement and the mentoring available them.” Interestingly, Ontario studies have shown that the cost of associate turn-over is staggering. The cost of a fourth year associate leaving is estimated at $315,000.

In the CBA article “Why Women Leave“, it was reported that:

In 1993, the Canadian Bar Association published the first national examination of women in the profession and concluded that law firms were not “environmentally friendly” for women and must lose their “maleness” by overhauling a business model that was long ago built by men for men.

The 326-page report, entitled Touchstones for Change, found that women earned less than men, didn’t advance as quickly, and often felt they had to choose between family and career.

Fast forward a quarter of a century and large swaths of the report could still be written today. While men and women graduate from law school and work side by side as associates in equal numbers, three-quarters of law firm partners are still white men, according to the think tank Catalyst.

Most recently, the documentary Balancing the Scales explored five generations of women lawyers over two decades, finding that discrimination has shifted from overt to subtle, but remains ingrained.

Despite the statistics, I am optimistic for the future of women lawyers. In the article “Why is there a gender pay gap in law?“, it is pointed out that many clients are now considering diversity as a metric for engaging law firms. Additionally, as traditional models of work are being shaken up by technology, more people are asking how much of the way we work can be reimagined. “This investigation into the specifics of the gender pay gap by industry feeds into a broader debate: Do we need to work the way we do?

(Views are my own and do not represent the views of any organization.)

 

Buying Your Way into College: The Advantage of the Wealthy that Persists Past College

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It’s been alleged that dozens of parents have bought their children’s way into some of America’s most prestigious colleges. As a result of these allegations, many people have been forced to confront the myth of equal opportunity in America.

The image that once you are 18, you are making your own way through the world and that class doesn’t matter is a myth. However, exposing the illegal practices of gaining admission will not solve the problem of inequality.

The arrests this week won’t address the deeper issues of income inequality that exclude primarily black and latino students. As writer Matt Kwong for the CBC pointed out in his article “What bribery in U.S. college admissions says about the ‘myth’ of meritocracy”, wealthy parents will still be able to give their children an unfair advantage. They will still “send their children to SAT tutoring, place them into learning academies, or fly them to another state for on-campus tours to boost their admission chances by showing ‘demonstrated interest’ in the college.”

Even more troubling is that once students graduate college, the set of advantages or disadvantages from growing up wealthy or from a working class background continues throughout people’s lives.

In the article by Joe Pinsker “The ‘Hidden Mechanisms’ That Help Those Born Rich to Excel in Elite Jobs, Pinsker writes about research that shows how the customs of elite workplaces can favor those who grew up wealthier. The research was conducted by Daniel Laurison and Sam Friedman and can be read in their new book, The Class Ceiling: Why It Pays to Be Privileged.

Laurison and Friedman’s research shows that a series of “hidden mechanisms”, such as unwritten codes of office behavior and informal systems of professional advancement, benefit individuals that grew up wealthy. These same systems simultaneously disadvantage those with working-class backgrounds. For example, young adults from wealthier families may have their housing subsidized at the beginning of their career. Thereby allowing them to take lower paying jobs that can lead to greater professional advancement. Or the set of advantages may help people know the “unwritten” rules of appropriate office wear or talk. Making it easier for children of the wealthy to be “sponsored” by leaders in their office.

The effect of the series of hidden mechanisms can be seen in the New York Times article “Elite Law Firm’s All-White Partner Class Stirs Debate on Diversity. In the article, the announcement of the law firm Paul, Weiss of its new partner class was dissected. The new class of partners was made of 12 lawyers. All lawyers were white. Almost all of them were white men. “More than 20 women and people of color interviewed for [the New York Times] article described obstacles to achieving diversity at Paul, Weiss. Many said that opportunities to be groomed for partner are harder to come by for women and minorities. … they failed to break into the good graces and social circles of the firm’s top lawyers, who must champion those hoping to earn a lucrative spot as a partner.”

The researcher Laurison points out that one way to even the playing field is to “change workplace cultures to be closer to what … working-class people—and women, racial and ethnic minorities, and other historically excluded groups—bring rather than just trying to teach those ‘others’ how to adapt.”

Although inequality in opportunity will likely never be eradicated, we can begin to break down barriers by recognizing our own unconscious biases and working towards overcoming them.

(Views are my own and do not reflect the views of any organization.)

Diamond & Diamond: More Questions than Answers

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Last week Diamond & Diamond was unmasked by the Toronto Star Reporter, Michele Henry. She unveiled lewd text messages between lawyer Jeremy Diamond and a staff member and revealed that the firm operated mostly as a referral service. Meaning that the firm advertised to the public and then referred the cases to other law firms for a fee.

Her articles raised more questions than answers to me.

  1. Michele Henry is a food reporter with the Toronto Star. Why did she feel compelled to write about law firms all of the sudden?
  2. Why write about this now? Was she tipped off? Who tipped her off? What were their motivations? Or has she been investigating this independently for months?
  3. Will Michele Henry investigate other law firms? Diamond & Diamond is not the only firm that feeds off referral fees. Will she take on the other law firms that advertise on TV?
  4. Diamond & Diamond has been feeding off referral fees for years. Other lawyers have known about this for years. Did lawyers have an obligation to blow the whistle? Are personal injury/ insurance defence lawyers complicit in Diamond & Diamond’s scheme?
  5. Assuming advertising needs to be controlled, with the ubiquity of the internet, how do we control lawyers’ advertising?
  6. And lastly, will reporters look into law firms’ connections with hospitals? (Some law firms get client referrals directly from hospital employees. And is that source of referrals ethical?)

 

 

The Importance of Investigation

It has been said that the failure of a lawyer in the courtroom is the failure to critically analyze a case. Strong analysis of a case begins with proper investigation.

Proper investigation requires lawyers to ask the hard questions and physically attend to the scene. Don’t believe the client. They have a vested interest in remembering things a certain way. It is the lawyer’s job to challenge the client and corroborate their statements with independent evidence.

Immerse yourself in the life of your client and the life of the opposition. Develop the habit of asking questions early on about the case and asking how do I explain this & how do I prove it? By the end, you should be able to visualize the entire context that the event took place in. The defence will come to you once you have the entire facts straight.

Unfortunately, often times the way lawyers are compensated rewards mindless processing of a case, where lawyers just go through the stages and paper the file. Instead litigators should be looking backwards, intimately knowing what happened, and figuring out how to prove their version of accounts through the mouths of witnesses.

What’s Your Brand?

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Branding is important, even for law firms.

But what is a brand?

“A brand is a person’s gut feeling about a product, service, or company. It’s a GUT FEELING because we’re all emotional, intuitive beings, despite our best efforts to be rational… A brand is not what you say it is. It is what they say it is. ” The Brand Gap by Marty Neumeier

Neumer argues that how much we trust a product determines whether we will buy it. He asserts that there are no dull products, just dull brands. Any brand can be charismatic by following the five disciplines:

1) Differentiate

Unless, you have a compelling answer to the three questions: (1) who are you, (2) what do you do, and (3) why does it matter, then you don’t have a brand.

Focus, Focus, Focus!! “Be number one in your category” – even if that means narrowing your category.

2) Collaborate

Brands develop over interaction of thousands of people over a long time.

3) Innovate

“All brand innovation… should be aimed at creating a positive experience for the user.”

4) Validate

Test your ideas and measure “your company’s brand expressions for distinctiveness, relevance, memorability, extendability, and depth.”

5) Cultivate

“A living brand is a never-ending play.” When people experience the play, they tell others. “Your business is not an entity but a living organism” and so is your brand.

Targeted Legal Services Event

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Today I attended the Targeted Legal Services Event, hosted by the Law Society of Upper Canada. At the event, we discussed how unbundled legal services (legal services -usually for a flat fee- for a specific task) could be an affordable option for many people and would address the ever-growing barriers to access to justice.

However, to date, there is very little case law on limited scope retainers. Fortunately, there are precedents for limited scope retainers, like the one from Nova Scotia: http://www.lians.ca/sites/default/files/documents/00045362.PDF

During discussions, Professor Noel Semple suggested that The Co-operative Legal Services could be a model for Ontarian lawyers to follow in implementing unbundled, flat fee legal services. http://www.co-operativelegalservices.co.uk

Unfortunately, the Co-operative Legal Services model would be difficult to implement without access to outside investment, as in the case of alternative business structures.

According to the Law Society of Upper Canada, the currently-permitted structures are:
– Sole practice;
– Partnership, including limited liability partnership and multidiscipline partnership;
– Professional corporations (which must be owned by lawyers and/or licensed paralegals); and
– Affiliations.

An alternative business structure could include non-lawyer investment or ownership of law firms; firms offering legal services with other professionals; and the provision of do-it yourself automated legal forms.