Law Practice Management eNewsletter

Spring 2011

Section LinksContents
From the Chair
We're on Facebook
2011 ABA TechShow
Breaking the Mold
Coach's Playbook
Help Me With Hiring

Section LinksSection Links
LPM Website
Officers and Council

Bar LinksBar Links
SBM Website
PMRC
Calendar of Events
Public Policy Updates

NewsFrom the Chair

Greetings Section Members

I hope this letter finds you all happy and healthy and ready for warmer weather!

There are many exciting things to share with you. First, the Council has two new members. Please join me in welcoming Denise Glassmeyer and Sally VanDenBerg (Sally actually rejoins us, having been a member in the past).

Rebecca Simkins is still keeping busy with the Law School Outreach Program. We now have had every law school in the state express an interest in our program. Rebecca is working on coordinating speaking engagements for our members with the various law schools. Thanks, again, Rebecca!

We sent two of our members to the TechShow in Chicago. They both found it to be extremely informative, as always. Look for their articles in our newsletter!

Don't forget to check out our Facebook page! While you're there, check the box that indicates that you "like" us. It will increase our exposure to other interested parties.

At our last meeting, the Council voted to provide some financial support in the way of a $1,500 contribution to the Sophomore Summer Institute. This is a very worthwhile cause, as it provides extra help for students who are interested in a legal career in the future. Many of these students are disadvantaged and would not be able to attend without financial support. Additionally, we have been invited to participate in the program, which takes place in June. Three or four of our members will join in a panel discussion with the students.

Our officers participated in the Bar Leadership Forum at Mackinac Island on June 10-11. This event included a day-long meeting of the Strategic Planning Committee, where participants planned for the future of our Section.

Remember, the Council still has vacancies that need to be filled. If you know someone who might be interested in serving, please pass his or her name on to an officer. The time commitment is manageable, and it's a great opportunity to serve our Section.

Our next meeting will be held in Novi, at the Crowne Center Hotel, on July 16. Until then, have a safe and happy summer!


Stacey L. Dinser-Hohl
has a practice in Hamburg and is the Section chair.

Section EventsWe are Now on Facebook
By Melonie Stothers

The Law Practice Management & Legal Administrator's Section of the State Bar of Michigan is now on Facebook. Join us by clicking the link below and liking us.

http://www.facebook.com/LPMandLASection

Content from the Section will be sent directly to your feed. You'll receive updates on meetings, notices of events, and links to articles to help you better your practice. Using the discussion functions and wall, all members can raise questions on the page, take part in discussions, and learn from other Michigan lawyers the tools that work best and worst for their practice. Take part in the conversation and like us today!

Don't know how to "like" a page on Facebook? First, you must be a member of Facebook. After you log into Facebook, click the link above. You should then see a page that looks similar to the attached picture. The picture identifies where the "like" button can be found for the LPM&LA Section.

Are you having problems seeing the LPM&LA updates despite having liked the page? Check your feed settings. The default setting for Facebook only shows you the pages you regularly interact with in your home feed. To ensure you are seeing all of the posts from the LPM&LA Section, slowly scroll to the bottom of your Facebook home page. You'll see a box that looks like the blue one below. Click "Edit Options" and choose to show posts "from all friends and pages."

Melonie is a commercial litigator with Barris, Sott, Denn & Driker, PLLC in Detroit. She focuses her practice in electronic discovery and evidence.

 

 

Section Events2011 ABA TechShow
By Kris Krol

2011 was the 25th anniversary of the ABA TechShow in Chicago. I was lucky enough to be able to go this year for the first time ever. For me, a self-proclaimed technogeek with six desktop computers sitting in my home office, a MacBook, and several different formulations of iPods, two iPhones, and two iPads, it was really cool! I was in technology heaven. This event is something every person who deals with law office technology should attend at least once.

There were many offerings for educational sessions. I sat through all the iPhone/iPad trainings I could manage to find. There was even a "Taste of TechShow" dinner devoted to discussion of iPhone/iPad on Monday night at Tutto Italiano (very good food). Some of the educational sessions I attended were, "60 iPhone/iPad Apps in 60 minutes," "Meet the Author— iPad in One Hour for Lawyers" with Tom Mighell, "60 Apps in 60 Minutes," and "60 Sites in 60 Minutes." The talk with Tom Mighell was educational, even though I don't consider myself new at the iPad, and his book is quite basic. I highly recommend it for the new iPad owner/user, because he includes a chapter on apps that allow a lawyer to be productive with the iPad. Although iPad may have originally hit the market as a cool "large iPod Touch," a lawyer can be very productive with it. I've stopped taking my MacBook to court, in favor of my iPad and Apple wireless keyboard. Tom's book also has other valuable "getting started" information, which I found to be valuable to the new user.

Aside from good content, TechShow also offers some fun events. One of these was Monday evening's presentation of 25 years of technology—very interesting. I purchased my first computer and laser printer for business use in 1989, for $1,500 each. I still have the HP LaserJet Series II printer in my home office however, I don't use it, having upgraded to an HP Color LaserJet 2025dn, which is pretty sweet. Interestingly, at the age of 44, I actually recognized most of the items in the presentation. The presentation was part of a reception/cocktail-hour atmosphere, though so it was really there for those who were interested in paying attention to it. This was nicely done.

This article would not be complete without my review of the accommodations. The TechShow was held at the Hilton-Chicago on South Michigan Avenue, overlooking Grant Park. It's a lovely hotel, and I enjoyed my stay there. The room had a different layout from the standard hotel room, kind of a u-shape. The staff was helpful and did a nice job of taking care of us. I was disappointed in a couple of things, however.

When I travel, I must have Internet. While the price for the room is not outrageous, wi-fi in the rooms should be an included amenity. They do have a media system in the room, the use of which you may charge to your room. It allows you to get online for a premium, or you can do social media or other limited-use features. You can even get Internet radio for soothing sounds in the room, also for a fee. The other problem was the wi-fi available for the conference itself. I discovered that limited or non-existent wi-fi service for the conference has been an ongoing problem with the Hilton for the few years the TechShow has been there. This year they had assured TechShow staff that there would be good Internet access.

Overall, I enjoyed myself, met some great people and learned a lot. This is certainly worth the trip if you love law office technology or you just have a love-hate relationship with your technology. You can't go to TechShow and not come back with some golden nuggets that will be useful for your office.

Kristen Krol is small-firm attorney with Debt Relief Legal Clinic of Michigan, in Lansing, specializing in Chapters 7 and 13 Bankruptcies. Until December 2010, she was a solo attorney in her own practice, the Krol Law Firm, also of Lansing, for 12 years. Ms. Krol is keen on technology and how it can be used best in the efficient practice of law and is available to assist other lawyers in assessing their own needs in the area of technology. She can be reached at (517) 321-6804 or kris@drlc.com.

Other EventsBreaking the PowerPoint Mold
By Melonie L. M. Stothers

Normally, PowerPoint presentations are predictable, common place, and boring. That doesn't have to be the case though. PowerPoint can be a very powerful tool if used properly and with thought: it can animate models, integrate text with video, audio, and other visual aids, and it can be used to highlight evidence in a way that captures the attention of jurors, judges, and mediators who are regularly inundated with flashy courtroom dramas from television and movies.

To fully harness the power of PowerPoint, the first thing you need to do is throw away what you know about PowerPoint presentations. Your presentation should not be geared around an outline of text, but instead should be developed from the evidence you are presenting.

Start simply by loading each piece of evidence on one slide. This should include photographs of the accident scene, the victim, and the witnesses, images of key documents, clips from video depositions, and any audio, such as a 911 call. Do not worry about the order of the slides or how it all fits together. Merely gather all of the multi-media evidence in your presentation. (To insert pictures or video, click "Insert," then "Picture" or "Video.")

After the evidence is gathered, begin developing your story by moving slides and adding focal points. Text should be used sparingly and with purpose (not simply as notes from which you read). Refrain from using the busy templates offered as part of the program. Start with a plain background with contrasting, easy to read text (i.e., white on black). Take time to think through your argument and continuously revise, allowing your presentation to evolve over time. (Only at the very end should you add final color and style, taking into consideration your audience and subliminal messages that may be conveyed through color.)

Once the basic evidence is in place, identify the portions to highlight, such as the key phrase in a contract or a particular point on a picture. This is where PowerPoint shines. You can easily create custom animations to make callouts and draw the viewer's attention to the screen.

The easiest way to create a callout from a contract is to paste a second copy of the contract in the slide with the original image. Click on the picture to open the "picture" toolbar, then "crop" the contract portions down to the language you want to highlight and drag the corner to increase the size of the callout. Click the cropped language, then choose the "Animations" tab. Choose "Add Animation." For callout purposes, a subtle "Entrance" effect is probably best, such as "Expand." (If you do not see "Expand" in the main list of entrance effects, choose the option for "More Entrance Effects.")

To add a border to your callout, simply right click the cropped contract language, choose "Format Picture," then "Line Color," "Solid line," and choose a line color. Double click the image to the left to open a sample presentation, hit the F5 key on your keyboard, and click again to see the callout.

You can create an animated model for your presentation using the same technique. Starting with a blank slide, open the "Insert" toolbar, add a "Shape" such as a rectangle to represent a car, "Clipart," or a "Picture." Open the "Animations" tab. Click on your shape, choose "Add Animation," then "More Motion Paths." From there, you can choose how you want to make your car move. If you break down the movements at each turn, by adding spin animation, you can make the car look real. For example, choose "More Motion Paths" and "Right." Then add the animation "Spin" (under the heading "Emphasis") and, under "Effect Options," set the spin to 90o counterclockwise. Then add another animation of "More Motion Paths" and "Up." You should get your rectangle to turn left. (If the animation doesn't follow the correct path, click on the second animation line and move it to the end of the first animation line.) To make it so that your car moves without mouse clicks between each animation, open the "Animation Pane" click on each animation in the list, then click the down arrow and choose "Start After Previous." To open the sample presentation to the left, double click on the image, hit the F5 key on your keyboard, then click to see the rectangle.

By adding further animation and more drawings, and placing the animation over the picture of a street scene, you can easily see how PowerPoint enables an attorney to make dynamic presentations.

These same techniques can be also used to make a timeline come to life. Starting with a blank screen, from the "Insert" toolbar, choose "Table," then "Insert Table," and choose 1 row and 12 columns. Format your timeline using the tools at the top (the paint bucket will change the background color of the timeline and the icon that looks like four squares will add borders). Simply type in the boxes to add the text of each month (formatting the text is done using the "Home" tab).

To add timeline callouts, simply draw the callouts using the "Insert" toolbar, choosing "Shapes," then "Callouts." To change the color from the callout, right click it, choose "Format Shape." To add text, simply insert a text box. You should now have a simple timeline like this:

To animate this timeline, first group each text box with its callout by holding the "Ctrl" key and click the two to group. Then right click and choose "Group", then "Group". Using the "Animation" tab, you can make each grouped box show up in the proper time order just by custom animating each box in order with the entrance "Expand." Double click the image above to open the sample presentation, hit the F5 key on your keyboard, and then click again to see the simple animation. Continue clicking to watch each event appear. By making the animation occur on a mouse click, the presenter controls when the audience learns the particular point.

Practicing with those simple techniques will take your presentations to a new level, adding depth and interest.

Melonie is a commercial litigator with Barris, Sott, Denn & Driker, PLLC in Detroit. She focuses her practice in electronic discovery and evidence.

 

Other EventsCoach's Playbook
By Elizabeth Jolliffe

Positioning For Your Future
Several of my clients want to work as in-house counsel some day. A few others would like to be a judge. Most of my clients want to stay where they are and continue expanding their practice. Regardless of their personal goals, they are all thinking about how to best position themselves for a good future.

No matter your end goal, here are a few basic keys to your future.

  1. Start now. It is never too soon or too late to position yourself for a better future. If you don't have many contacts in your desired field, figure out a way to make them and get started. If you notice that most corporate positions require experience you lack, find a way to fill that gap or demonstrate the same skills in a different setting. If you want to be a judge, start developing name recognition with either the people who could elect you or those who could appoint you.
  2. Build on your strengths. Assess your professional and personal strengths and capitalize on them. Rather than spending most of your time trying to fix your weaknesses, spend more time developing your natural strengths. For more on this approach, check out various books on strengths identification and development by Marcus Buckingham, Donald Clifton, and Tom Rath.
  3. Be the professional you would want to hire. A potential interview question is: "How would your co-workers describe you?" Regardless of your future goals, make sure you really are living up to how you would want your clients or co-workers to describe you. Acknowledge this and start aligning your behaviors with your values. If you are behind on entering your time, you keep breaking promises to clients, or you have trouble staying focused on projects until completion, chances are you aren't being the lawyer you would want to hire.

You can wait for your future to happen to you or you can control what you can and start positioning yourself. String together a series of small steps to make these changes and then keep going. It's your future.

Elizabeth Jolliffe is a certified career management and business development coach for lawyers. She practiced for 19 years as a business litigator and partner at Clark Hill PLC. Elizabeth helps her clients take charge of their career and reach their own definition of success. (734) 663-7905 or Elizabeth@YourBenchmarkCoach.com.

Other EventsHelp Me With Hiring!!
By Rebecca Simkins

Believe it or not, even in this economy, attorneys and businesses continue to hire employees. Even with a large number of available applicants, it is still a challenge to find the right person to work at your law practice. I have been asked by a number of lawyers at different size firms about hiring, so I thought I would offer a few tips to help find the best candidate. While the emphasis is on support staff hiring, these strategies should be implemented for any hiring need.

One of the most important assets to the success of your business is its people. Your legal education is at the top of the list, but a good staff is a close second. For the law office, support staff and associate lawyers are often the eyes, ears, and voice of the lawyer. Associates have a behind the scenes role, or one that involves extensive contact with potential and existing clients. Therefore, it is critical that lawyers invest the time, energy and effort to identify the best candidate and to make sure that the person has the necessary skill set to succeed. To do this, lawyers must make the time for an effective interview, obtain a signed employment application, test skill set, and set a probationary period after hire.

A. The Employment Application.

A candidate may be seeking employment at a law firm in response to an ad, word of mouth, or just on a cold call basis. Every person that you intend to interview must fill out an application for employment. If you don't use one, start now. The application will allow you to obtain the potential employee's consent to certain terms and conditions, before you even begin to interview. If a person refuses to sign an employment application and agree to the terms and conditions set forth, there is no reason to continue the interview and the applicant should be provided with brief information about the law firm (always think about marketing) and thanked for their time.

The employment application should include legal requests for information about job experience and education. It should also seek agreements to certain terms and conditions of employment, which should include an affirmation of at-will employment, an affirmation that the information provided by the applicant is true and an understanding of the consequences if it is not, an express authorization to check references and communicate with prior employers, and an agreement to abide by company rules. The application should also advise that if there is a need for accommodation due to a disability that it must be disclosed as soon as possible, but no later than 182 days after the need for accommodation arose.

Once you have the executed employment application, what can you learn from it?

  • Penmanship, grammar, and spelling. Is this a person who will be hand-writing messages to you? Does the application appear to be neat and complete?
  • Job history—Is the person a job hopper? Are there blocks of time between positions?

If the interview goes well, check references and verify information provided in the application, including employment history and education. This is a critical, but often overlooked step.

B. From Application to Interview.

Once you have the signed employment application, you must conduct a meaningful interview. This requires preparation on the part of the interviewer. What is the position and job description for the job you would like to fill? If you don't have a job description—jot down the job duties for the job. What are the traits/skills of your ideal candidate? What special skills do you need? What are you willing (and able) to pay someone? What benefits can you provide? Are you realistic in terms of what you can pay and what you are looking for? Can you offer flexibility to an employee? Have all of this information thought out and prepared in advance.

The interview is the one chance an employer has to spend time with a person before they are hired. Unfortunately, lawyers do more talking than listening. (Are you surprised?) While I encourage every lawyer to market their practice a little during an interview—the purpose of the interview is to get to know the candidate. Questions to the applicant should be job related, and be framed as broad questions to get the applicant talking. Some of us spend more time with our co-workers than our family, so this is a critical step.

I personally think the best interview can only occur if the interviewee takes the time to make the applicant feel comfortable. This is a nervous time and we want to see the best in the person who has come to our business for a job. I always engage in a little small talk to make the person feel comfortable. I provide a brief history and overview of the firm. Then I go through the application, and discuss the employment and educational history. In terms of getting to know the candidate, avoid questions that state things like, "This is a stressful place—can you handle stress?" Instead focus on open-ended questions such as:

  • What do you like (or don't like) about working at a law firm?
  • What are the biggest challenges you face working at a law firm?
  • What is the most difficult situation that you have encountered, with a client or co-worker? How did you resolve it?
  • What areas of the law have you worked in? Which did you like the most? Why?

Or ask for a descriptive answer by asking questions such as:

  • How would you describe your style as a secretary/attorney/bookkeeper/receptionist in 3 words?
  • What are the three most important things that you look for in a job?

Remember when you are interviewing—do more listening than talking.

C. Legitimate Non-Discriminatory Reason for Hire/Not Hire.

Once you meet the applicant for the interview, you may know fairly quickly if the applicant is definitely not going to be a fit. When this happens, write the legitimate non-discriminatory reason on the application. The application is to be kept for three years, pursuant to the Elliot Larson Civil Rights Act since even workers who were not hired can file a civil rights charge claiming that they were not hired due to a discriminatory reason.

I recall interviewing an applicant for a receptionist person at a law firm. I knew within a few minutes that this person was not a fit for the job. She appeared at the interview in heavy make-up and dressed very unprofessionally. She chewed gum during the interview and responded to some questions, "yeah." These facts were noted on the application and then it was filed away so that I would recall the legitimate non-discriminatory reasons for not hiring this candidate for a receptionist position.

A client of mine interviewed a disabled person for an accounting position. All of this accounting firm's employees are tested for certain basic accounting skills. This applicant did very poorly on all the testing. The employer maintained all test results and when the applicant filed a civil rights charge claiming she was not hired due to her disability, the employer was able to produce the test results, showing a legitimate non-discriminatory reason for not hiring her.

D. Testing Skills.

Simply put—test skills. You must verify that the person that you are hiring can type as fast as they say they can, and put together a pleading, proofread a document, draft a letter, whatever skill you need, etc. How do you find out about this? By completing thorough testing and reference checking. Maintain test results and reference information with the application.

E. 90-Day Probation.

This is a reasonable part of the hiring process. If you want an employee to succeed, "maximum 90-day probation" can help you do this. Every 30 days, or even more frequently, if possible, the employer and the new employee can talk about performance issues that need to be corrected, training issues, and how things are going. Probationary periods should include an understanding that termination can take place any time during the probationary period.

Final thought: If you have any questions regarding these suggestions, you should discuss them with a lawyer knowledgeable about employment law.

Nothing in this article is to be construed as legal advice.

Rebecca Simkins is a member of Barris, Sott, Denn & Driker, P.L.L.C. where she practices labor and employment law, representing management. She is a past chair of the Law Practice Management Section. She also taught law practice management and Detroit College of Law/Michigan State College of Law and Cooley Law School. If you have questions regarding this article or the topics discussed, please contact Ms. Simkins. She can be reached at (313) 596-9319, e-mail: rsimkins@bsdd.com, at 211 West Fort Street, 15th floor, Detroit, MI 48226.

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