The Value of a Good Website

Nuno B. M. Lumbrales,  

July 8, 2011

Post by Nuno B.M. Lumbrales, lawyer, partner at Lumbrales & Associados and LawRD user:

One year ago, as a partner of a newborn law office, I was confronted (relunctly and along with scarce financial resources) with the need to invest in the development of a website to the office.

At that time, our only target was to keep up along with our direct competitors, avoiding to “stay behind”, as we were resting assured that the website wasn’t going to provide us with measurable profits.

The first surprise was the budget presented to the website development and maintenance, which was quite reasonable. In fact, the competition between many of the Portuguese PME (Small and Medium Enterprises) in the computer sciences business was robust enough to assure that the prices kept reasonable and negotiable. The secret to get a good deal in computer sciences was to avoid making business with the highly acclaimed “monsters” (it only took the estimate budget of the project to get discouraged).

The second surprise was, once again contradicting our assumptions, that in our first year of existence some clients came to us stating they’d known our office through the website after performing some google searches.

At the end of the day, comparing the costs of the website and the profits coming from this specific clients, showed us that the balance was positive right in the first year, reason that led us to conclude that our investment was, in fact, profitable.

An overview on law practice software

Gustavo Rocha,  

April 14, 2011

Post by Gustavo Rocha, lawyer and consultant in management, IT and quality for law firms. He’s the author of Gestão.Adv.br (content in Portuguese only):

Some issues ought to be addressed prior to choosing your law practice software:

1. Ask yourself: where, when, what and who?
2. Is it the appropriate one for your management?
3. Who will be in charge of it?
4. Is it safe?

1. Ask yourself: where, when, what and who?

Where should it be installed: in servers at premises or over the internet? The first means that  its maintenance, servers, newer and better equipment, its all up to you and your firm; while as the latter all is lodged on servers in data centers and all maintenance and backing up is up to the vendor. Being the experts as they are it stands to reason this is the best choice.

When: What’s the firm budget to invest on such a  solution? The best and cheapest? Wrong! The app’s quality should match the needs of your practice. It’s better to start up with a simpler and leaner one rather than one that enables with lots of features but doesn’t meet your needs.

What: or which are your actual demands from the application? Since no software will ever solve all your problems, you’ll need to sort out it will manage for you. Is it the financial aspect of your firm? Is it he matters? Or just the office’s documents? All of the above?  There is no success without planning.

Who: once you have the  answers for the questions above, you are ready make your choice from the offer that is out there.

2. Is it the appropriate one for your management?

This question may sound a bit odd, but is has to be your own practice to dictate what are the goals to your choice of software rather the other way around. Don´t believe the hype that says that software will do it all. Pin pointing the needs in your firm will give a clear vision of what the software will handle for better results.

3. Who will be in charge of it?

It is of the essence that someone at your firm (one familiar and keen to IT) be in charge and trained to deal with the chosen app. It will not be enough that co-workers with management functions are trained to use it. Someone with a knack for IT and with law qualification is the ideal one for the job.

4. Is it safe?

Before signing up for any app, check out the following:

  • Where the servers are based at?
  • What are the its safety features?
  • What are the requisites for your firm to access the data center?
  • Should you cease the contract to using the app, how will all your data be retrieved?
  • Be sure that you only sign up for the minimum services.

These and other questions are  valid when installing  software in your premises:

  • How is the backing up made?
  • Is there external backing up?
  • How many licenses are there in the cost, for installing?
  • How much will the invest cost?

Finally, I leave some tips that apply to any software:

  • Always check whether or not a new client is already registered in the system.
  • Do not type with just higher case, use both high and low.
  • Log in the most data possible.
  • Avoid misspelling and grammar glitches.
  • Pdf or word format for annexed docs.
  • Passwords should be altered after a given time.
  • Passwords should be at least 6 characters long containing letters, numbers and special ones i.e.   #=)$(%/&
  • Deadlines, tasks, diligences and so on must be logged in and scheduled so they can be searched using an array of easy and intuitive filters.
  • Never forget to click the SAVE button.
  • Submit data that will reflect on future reports. Logging in data just for the heck of it is a waste.
  • Pay special attention when selecting data from the app’s boxes and/or columns. The mouse wheel may play tricks on you.
  • Always have more than one access to the Internet at your office.
  • Always save and back up the way your vendor advises to.
  • Many solutions automatically issue reports. Make the most of this feature and always check data up before printing.
  • Make a daily use of the app you’ve chosen. Have it running at all times and submit the most data possible.
  • If by any chance you can not access the system or any feature within it, take it easy and contact the system administrator or who’s in charge of it at the office. There might     be different levels of clearance.
  • How’s the client support? Does the vendor charge you for it? Do not overlook this point.

Testimony

Nuno B. M. Lumbrales,  

April 6, 2011

Post by Nuno B.M. Lumbrales, lawyer, partner at Lumbrales & Associados and LawRD user:

I was asked to write a personal review on LawRD, from a user point of view, a little bit over one year’s use.

Without being a fully comprehensive one, given the limited use within my firm features such as those related to billing (except for the use of timesheets which, once reviewed are the basis for issuing invoices via outsource accounting), LawRD stands as an important part within our management.

The features we use the most - contacts, matters, tasks and expenses - are all gathered in a single tool, both inexpensive and easy to use as well as particularly reliable, wherein the our data base is hosted, for consultation and billing purposes (as I mentioned above the latter is not our case,though).

I am adamant in saying that LawRD is a sure asset for our management efficacy and key in our practice’s success.

Management, the adjective for law practice

Gustavo Rocha,  

March 11, 2011

Post by Gustavo Rocha, lawyer and consultant in management, IT and quality for law firms. He’s the author of Gestão.Adv.br (content in Portuguese only):

A lot has been said on managing law firms, on how they need to organize and prepare present today’s market, etc.

Management is a wide, true and assertive word. Not the answer to everything, though.

Law practice management is like an adjective in a sentence, it needs a subject and a verb. How so?

Subject: What is the point on talking about standard procedures and results analysis when those in charge of the firm are not doing their homework? Management ought to be the first ones to be involved in any firm evolving process. They will be the driving force so all staff see changes in a serious, willing and respectful light.

Managing stands for assessing internal procedures, reviewing and change whatever it needs so the business  may thrive. This calls for the presence of all partners in this process. Executive tasks can be delegated, however, strategic ones are to be set by those who take all risks and sort the firm out i.e. the partners. A tree alone does not a forest make, of course. Everyone at the firm must be in tune with the practice and its project. For that purpose, the subject (be it a leader, a partner or a manager) has to be a constant presence so it all comes into being.

Verb: if we have subjects (people willing to face up the challenge of changing) the first step is taken. But with no concrete action (verb) nothing happens. It’s a basic law of physics: for something to leave it’s inertia something must alter that.

So, what actions are taking you presently on your practice? At least, you should invest on:

  • Law marketing;
  • Social networks;
  • Proper software.

One has to be connected to today’s market (law marketing) and present/future market (social networks), as well as, to IT as an edge in your business (more productivity with less people by managing data).  It not enough for you to be the subject, you’ll need to have and to be the verb of change.

Adjective: it is what specifies and distinguishes within a sentence. That is exactly what management does. There is none without subjects nor actions. Even if a firm is formed with driven, self assured and leading people in the legal practice, without management all is doomed in presence of the demands of the present market reality. Management provides firms with quality, efficacy and productivity.

Those are the demands that the market wants to be met. How is your firm doing in this regard? Are the subjects who work with you driven and focused? Have you any planning for strategic results? Is management an edge at your firm? More than qualifying, management differentiates in today’s market.

To conclude, management has to go along with driven subjects and focused actions towards quality, efficiency and productivity in your practice.

Is there such thing as “the perfect app for the legal practice”?

Gustavo Rocha,  

February 24, 2011

Post by Gustavo Rocha, lawyer and consultant in management, IT and quality for law firms. He’s the author of Gestão.Adv.br (content in Portuguese only):

When asking themselves this, everybody has in mind a software solution that does it all: it can manage matters, it organizes the firm, it will sort all that in your practice can be delt with in the cloud and still keep your business from fallling into chaos.

Foolishness!

Prior to solving the management of your office with a software comes the need to manage your practice.

What do I mean?

Any software solution will enable you with data, swift search (assuming it is provided with a comprehensive database), issue reports, etc. However, for a streamlined performance it will need for its data to be logged  within a certain logic and pattern. Reaching this implies that an advanced acquaintance with the app is a given, i.e. understanding its features, possibilities and actual implementation cost, so that an assessment of its cost/benefit ratio can be realized.

Some myths on legal apps are:

The complete solution

All app developers claim that their soltions are the bench mark of the market, they will meet all your practice needs. The reality is that apps will only do what they were programmed to and without an in depth try out,  there’s no way to find how suited for the task they are or not. Apps will enable you with countless resources that won’t do you any good if you don’t know how to make use of them or those resources are not suited for your needs.

Before buying software ask yourself the following:

  • What is my area of business?
  • What sort of data will be most usefull for my clients?
  • Can I access and log data at any time, from any place (from my cell phone for instance)?
  • What area the areas of my practice that the app will manage (matters, fiscal, documents, etc)?
  • Can I afford to invest in an ideal software solution or do I have other priorities?

The point is, before thinking of apps you should actually be thinking of management.

Managing matters versus managing your office

This could be a blurry issue. Taking matter management for practice management. Dangerous blunder.

Managing matters is a part of the legal practice. But that’s what it is: a part. Lawyers ought to be a part of their clients businesses, part of their decision making by acting preventively. Matters are important but not the sole purpose of your practice.

If they’re not your only goal, why turn them into the core of your office? No way. You got to manage  finances (bills to pay, invoices to receive, cash flow, costs, etc), e-documents (digitize everything, contracts, bills, etc)  clients and prospects management and so on.

If you still think that there is no app for that, you must have been out of the Earth for the last years. The market has to offer solutions that will serve for general office management and not just concerning matters. Don’t be dazzled with matter management, for it needs to be a complete one in order to be effective.

Implementation

This where lots of firms lose money. Believing that an app will solve all their problems, lawyers leave to the people in charge of implementing, fundamental decisions about their practices.

Not to demerit IT consultants and pros, however very few of these take business management really into their interest. The success of their app implementation in your office is their actual concern. How the data is going to be managed and used is not their aim.

This is the real issue here. Management comes before any sort of app implementation. Sort what routines in your firm are the most suited for the present reality and within a year’s time. You’ll have to know what an app can do, to assess it in your firm’s daily practice.

Once you’ve got this down, IT people can come over to train you and your employees, to implement and check on the reports that your management has previously determined and so forth.

To conclude: software will have to work for your firm and not be it to set what can be done or not. You paid for it, it should be working for you and not the other way around.

To be or nor to be web-based

Some by fear, others by prejudice and others by being oblivious of it, do not use wed-based software.

I am totally for it. More good than bad (if any) comes from it. Available from anywhere (even from your cell phone) you have data, documents, court sentences all within the reach of a LAN connection.

Is it safe? Quite safe. A hefty effort is put into web safety. To be true they invest more into safety than any one single law firm would. It is their business to be safe, isn’t it? And yours is to practice law.

So, is there such thing as “the perfect app for the legal practice”? Of course there is, but it is up to you and not to the app to say so.

Efficient Time Management

Gustavo Rocha,  

February 11, 2011

Post by Gustavo Rocha, lawyer and consultant in management, IT and quality for law firms. He’s the author of Gestão.Adv.br (content in Portuguese only):

What would become of us without the time we have?

We keep complaining about having not enough time, but we only worry with what we have to do, not with time itself.

Worrying with tasks alone, leads to the conclusion that there’s lots to be done.

By looking objectively at the time we have, we come to find that we may more of it than we thought by dismissing useless actions that we only are aware of by taking time to manage time.

Having time doesn’t mean having nothing to do. It actually means that you have managed your time better so that work, pleasure and leisure are part of your daily routine. Here’s an article with an interesting reflexion on the subject:

Time management

The simplest way to increase productivity is to manage your time better.  While many time management techniques sound like common sense, that does not mean they are easy to implement.

Start by identifying troublesome areas:

  • How often are you interrupted?
  • How do you manage disruptions?
  • Can you section off blocks of solid work time?
  • Do you make “to do” lists and prioritize them?
  • Do you have a flexible work schedule?
  • Do you complete your work during regular work hours?
  • Do you micromanage?
  • Do you take on all tasks yourself?
  • Can you say “no?”

Plan how to avoid situations that can waste your time, including:

  • Poorly completed work that must be re-done
  • Phone calls, email, mail, casual office talk
  • Lack of delegation or improper delegation
  • Information that is not easy to find or use
  • Too many review cycles or layers of approval
  • Multiple meetings that aren’t useful
  • Postponing your work
  • Unclear goals or objectives
  • Excessive paperwork
  • Too little time and too much work
  • Lack of authority to make decisions or too many levels of decision making
  • Only dealing with crises
  • Perfectionism
  • Poor organization

Identify the time management techniques that will work best for you, including:

  • Manage your stress
  • Prioritize your tasks
  • Organize
  • Follow your schedule
  • Avoid useless memos, travel, conversations, emails
  • Don’t procrastinate
  • Do the hard parts first
  • Start as soon as possible
  • Carve out blocks of time for important things
  • Delegate wisely
  • Give attention only to items that need it
  • Don’t let others give up and pass off tasks on to you. Help them to figure out how to accomplish their own tasks, if necessary.

Effective time management begins with taking a single step.  Identify one or two action items from the list above, and start today.

Now, do you honestly think you worry about time? If you do, just learn to manage it and turn your life around.

Models for Billing Methods

Nuno B. M. Lumbrales,  

February 8, 2011

Post by Nuno B.M. Lumbrales, lawyer, partner at Lumbrales & Associados and LawRD user:

The billing method is an issue that, mishandled, will cause nasty glitches in the relationships between lawyers and clients.

There are several ways of billing lawyer services, just like in any other area of business, bearing in mind the uniqueness and proper rules that apply in each country as to the legal practice.

One of the most common, and losing preference, is the hourly rate method, for billing lawyers fees. Such method has the quality of its flexibility thus enabling a balance between the service rendered by lawyers and its due compensation, overlooking the fluctuation that will occur unavoidably throughout the diligences.
On the downside, in this instance it is troublesome for clients to preview the cost of  the lawyer’s fee when a given period of time is agreed upon.

However, by demanding a specification for each of the billing invoices (as it is supposed) as to the description and time spent in each item clients can have some control. Without being utterly rigorous this will prevent costs from soaring.

A more classic method is a fixed rate that will settled upon for a matter (flat rate) or for a determined cycle of billing (retainer). This, being a quite clear method, has the advantage of eliminating almost any grounds for litigation on fee agreements (service quality and issues alike are not thus prevented, though). Its lack of flexibility regarding fluctuation of the amount of work through the procedures, come as a negative point.

One other billing method consists on agreeing to a percentage of the results that will come from the lawyer’s services on one or more legal matters. Many countries do permit this form of fee agreement in its pure sate, invoking that this will give way for the leayer to being too much as a directly interested part on the matter at appreciation in court for it will depend on the court’s decision, thus compromising the lawyer’s objectivity, impartiality and independence. A mixed form of this agreement with others is allowed, though.

These methods in their pure forms and an arrangement of different ones will give way for more ecletic and balanced billing methods.

The underlying question to choosing a billing method is the fare quantification of lawyers’ services, considering amount, quality and results they bring to clients.

How to Attract Clients in 10 Steps

Gustavo Rocha,  

January 14, 2011

Post by Gustavo Rocha, lawyer and consultant in management, IT and quality for law firms. He’s the author of Gestão.Adv.br (content in Portuguese only):

An interesting post by David Lorenzo on how to attract clients. Read it here.

Here are the 10 ways he proposes with a few comments:

  • Be likeable:i.e. be thoughtful, kind, considerate. People are drawn to us when they feel related to. Cordiality and consideration have to be cornerstones on our practice.
  • Think about the other person: a deal that is only good for you isn’t good enough. It ought to be good for both parties. By taking the client’s best interest at heart you’re adding value to your service.
  • Do not lie: clients want to work with someone who is honest, ethical, and truthful. Lying will get you nowhere. Keep your website, blog and social network profiles truthful to your business. It will make a difference.
  • Get yourself together:  People are attracted to people who are well dressed, well groomed. Don’t be just good, you’ve got to look good, too.
  • Be real: Show interest on how is the client doing, ask about the family, the company, etc. People like that others show they care about them.
  • Listen: you’ve got two hears and one mouth, use them in that same proportion. We all like to be listened to, we all like to talk, the real wisdom lies in listening more than talking specially regarding clients, though.
  • Look for common ground: Clients ought to be able to find some common areas of interest with you, i.e. sports, friends, points of view. Having some common ground brings people together.
  • Be humble: Do not argue over money nor attempt to win an argument. Just state your views plainly and avoid confrontation.
  • Appear busy: Don’t the notion that you only have that one client. Though people like to feel special, if they get the notion they’re your only client it will make them suspicious of your ability. Let show the idea of how hard the work is and never say: ” Oh, that’s quite easy…” If it is so, why should they pay you for it?
  • Be easy to approach:answer to clients’ questions. When clients ask you for information, give it to them. A simple information is just that: information.

These are common sense tips which, when used regularly on your practice may translate into profitability.

Give it a try.

Happy Holidays - 2010

LawRD Team,  

December 23, 2010

Searching the Horizon

Gustavo Rocha,  

November 9, 2010

Post by Gustavo Rocha, lawyer and consultant in management, IT and quality for law firms. He’s the author of Gestão.Adv.br (content in Portuguese only):

“Efforts and courage are not enough without purpose and direction.” John F. Kennedy

This quote summons something fundamental in the present world: Where should I aim my ideas and energy at? More often than not we come up with brilliant ideas, wonderful goals that don´t leave the planning stage or even get to be written down.

Why is that? Though we have the labour force need, have the will and guts,  the know how for all to work out at times we forget to ask the way and we are left with no objective direction at all.

For instance, buying new facilities for our business headquarters. This is an input of great value appreciation for our practice. How can this be achieved with no financial planning that embodies a secure way to that end?

It sounds simple, not for most, though. Anyone can have dreams, growth goals and figure out the way to reach them. “Figure out” being key, here.

Here are three tips, towards that end:

1- Write down
2- Turn PDCA over
3- Be practical

Putting your goals into paper so you can always remember: prioritize and timing. If not there’s always the chance that parts of the planning and follow up are lost, etc.

PDCA - plan, do, check and act is an excellent way to put a plan into motion.

Be practical: sounds easy but it isn’t. Theory and practice have to be in sync on all that concerns the project, in order to be so. A holistic approach is needed i.e. a full comprehension of all risks, values and odds involved.

To conclude:

Searching the horizon is the first step. Getting there is up exclusively to which steps you set yourself to take…

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