New Notary Guide Available

This just in from the Oregon Secretary of State’s office:

We are pleased to announce the 2015 Notary Public Guide is now available from the Secretary of State’s website.

This free publication has been updated with new material, including information about advertising as a notary, preventing financial exploitation of the elderly, and notario publico fraud. The publication may be viewed online, downloaded, or printed from your printer, and has links to many other resources, as well. It includes a Good Practices review page and sample certificate blanks you can copy or download and printout.

While you’re on our website, don’t forget to check out our Training page.  The ONE online tutorial has been revamped to be even more user-friendly, and live presentations are scheduled throughout 2015. Anyone can take the training and, in fact, most notaries find the refresher very helpful. Look for a seminar near you!

Your Engagement Letter is Not a “One Size Fits All” Bucket

What a Good Engagement Letter Can Do

Engagement letters are an essential tool in the lawyer’s toolkit.  Done correctly, they set the stage for the lawyer-client relationship, provide clarity, and minimize misunderstandings.

The best engagement letters follow a predictable formula:

  • A specific description of the legal problems the lawyer will handle
  • A specific description of the legal problems the lawyer will not handle
  • Steps the lawyer has taken already on the prospective client’s behalf
  • Steps the lawyer will take, once engaged
  • Steps the clients must take for engagement to commence
  • Future or ongoing client responsibilities

Combine Your Fee Agreement and Engagement Letter for Maximum Effect

Ideally, the terms of engagement are wrapped into the lawyer’s fee agreement.  This simplifies the process – the client need only review a single document to know what the lawyer will do, how much it will cost, and what the client’s responsibilities are.

Create Templates for Efficiency

Practitioners can streamline the engagement process fairly easily. While some terms will vary, most of these letters contain enough boilerplate for a lawyer to benefit from creating forms or templates.  [Rewriting an engagement letter/fee agreement for each client is a real time-waster.]

Don’t Fall Into the “One Size Fits All” Bucket

Some lawyers attempt to use their engagement letter as a one size fits all bucket.  For inspiration, they look to every case where a transaction or engagement went awry and proceed to add disclaimers to ward off future problems.  For example, lawyers who handle matters where property valuation is an issue may add language to the initial engagement letter forewarning the client of the need to obtain an appraisal.

How Could this be a Bad Thing?

  • Multiple disclaimers make for longer, more complicated engagement letters and fee agreements.
  • The longer and more complicated your letters are, the more likely the client will miss the key points:  what you are going to do (or not do) and what it will cost.
  • In the end, it could all be for naught if the goal is to avoid a potential legal malpractice claim….

Which Approach is More Effective?

Lawyer 1 incorporates a disclaimer into his engagement letter forewarning the client: if property value becomes an issue in this case it will be client’s responsibility to obtain an appraisal.  Without an appraisal, client assumes the risk of under (or over) valuing said property.  Lawyer 1 proceeds with representation, relying on the disclaimer in his initial engagement letter.

Lawyer 2 limits her engagement letter to the usual points discussed at the beginning of this post.  When the value of property becomes an issue in the case, lawyer informs the client of client’s responsibility to obtain an appraisal and the risks of failing to do so.

Keep it Contemporaneous

This is a no-brainer.  Disclaimers given at the beginning of representation don’t have the same value as disclaimers given contemporaneously.  Clients need context to make sense of your warning.  At the beginning of the case, there is no context.  Even if the client nods and understands, the disclaimer in your engagement letter will be long forgotten by the time the property issue arises.

Parting Thoughts

A well-written engagement letter and fee agreement is all about balance.  Include sufficient information about the scope of your work, division of responsibilities, and what your services will cost, but don’t fall into the trap of trying to disclaim or forewarn of everything that could ever go wrong.  If helpful, consider developing a client handout that addresses common issues or questions that arise.  Give specific disclaimers and warnings contemporaneously when the client can put the information into context.

[All Rights Reserved 2015 Beverly Michaelis]

 

 

Five tips for working with Reveal Codes in WordPerfect

beverlym:

WordPerfect users: think you know everything there is to know about reveal codes? Check out this post from Jan Berinstein at CompuSavvy.

Originally posted on CompuSavvy's Word & WordPerfect Tips:

Long-time WordPerfect users swear by Reveal Codes, a quick and easy way of viewing the formatting instructions – codes – that are inserted into a document when you perform common tasks such as pressing the Tab key, setting page margins, inserting a footnote, applying bolding or italics, and so forth.  When I teach novices how to use WordPerfect (and yes, I still have WordPerfect training clients, including a few newbies), I introduce Reveal Codes by comparing it to an X-ray of the document.

The feature is incredibly useful for troubleshooting because it’s easy to see coding errors – usually meaning an incorrect or misplaced code.  With Reveal Codes enabled, it’s a simple matter to delete or move any codes that are causing problems.

For the benefit of both WordPerfect veterans and relative newbies, here are a few advanced tips for working with, and getting the most from, Reveal Codes.

Customize the Reveal…

View original 782 more words

Why Hiring Staff Pays YOU

money-treeLast week I blogged about client retention.  I ended that post with the following thought:

If we all know what to do to keep clients and cultivate referrals, why is it so hard?

Answer: because you’re trying to juggle too many cases without the proper resources.  Perhaps:

  • You are practicing beyond your areas of expertise
  • You know how to weed out bad clients or cases, but fail to do so
  • You are practicing within your abilities, but your overall caseload is too high
  • You are unwilling to invest in staff, technology, or other solutions to help your practice

The solution?  If the problem is too big of a caseload, and not enough help, hire somebody!  Both you and your clients will be happier because you won’t be struggling (or unable) to keep up with the work.

Penny Wise and Pound Foolish

Making money isn’t easy.  As a result, many lawyers skimp.  Ninety-nine percent of the time when a lawyer is failing (or flailing) they are trying to get by without hiring someone despite the fact they have more work than they can handle.  This trap is referred to as “penny wise and pound foolish.”

In an effort to save pennies, you avoid hiring staff.  Because you aren’t spending money on staff, you assume you are making more money.

What is Your Tipping Point?

There is always a tipping point in every practice when hiring staff means more money in your pocket.  You’ve heard the old saying: you have to spend money to make money.  Guess what?  It applies to running a solo or small law practice.

Make More Money by Hiring Staff

When you spend money on staff, you can delegate away billable and non-billable work and focus on only what you as a lawyer can do for the client.

Do the math:

  • The average Oregon lawyer bills more than $200 per hour.
  • The most highly paid legal staff in the Portland metro area earn $32.56 per hour.
  • The most highly paid legal staff person can work 6.14 hours to every hour spent by a lawyer on a task.  ($200 per hour divided by $32.56 per hour.)
  • Many of the tasks performed by highly paid legal staff can be billed to clients.
  • The average paralegal in our region of the country bills $133 per hour.
  • Round up the high end paralegal’s salary to $33 per hour, add 26% to cover the cost of benefits, and the highly paid paralegal’s total compensation rounds up to $42 per hour.
  • The typical lawyer can net a profit of $91 every time his or her highly paid paralegal bills one hour of time to a client.  (Billable rate of $133 per hour – $42 per hour compensation paid to high end paralegal = profit of $91 for each hour billed.)
  • On a weekly basis, a highly paid paralegal receives $1,680.  ($42 per hour x 40 hours per week.)  If that highly paid paralegal bills 12.63 hours during the course of a 40 hour week, the lawyer paying the paralegal breaks even.  ($133 per hour billed to clients x 12.63 hours = $1679.79.)
  • Any hours the paralegal bills beyond 12.63 is pure profit for the lawyer.  Even with a modest rate of 15 hours billed per week, the lawyer will net $315.21 on  a weekly basis.
  • If the lawyer’s paralegal sustains a billable rate of 15 hours per week for the entire month (60 hours by month-end), the lawyer will completely cover the paralegal’s salary and benefits PLUS MAKE A PROFIT OF $1,260.84 BEYOND THE PARALEGAL’S COMPENSATION.
  • In the meanwhile, the lawyer has relieved him or herself of 60 hours of billable work and approximately 100 hours of nonbillable work: paper filing, efiling, scanning documents, calendaring, running conflict checks, billing clients, banking, running errands, opening files, closing files, and answering the phone.

Your Numbers Will Vary, But the Math Still Adds Up

Obviously the numbers will vary – depending on the type of staff you hire, how you bill staff time, and your staff’s billable hours. But the underlying math is undeniable – staff need only bill a relatively modest amount of time to cover their cost.  Bill just a bit more, and you have a profit center.

So the next time you are evaluating the profitability of your firm, crunch the numbers.  In all likelihood, you will net more profit by hiring staff than not.

All Rights Reserved [2015] Beverly Michaelis

*The most highly compensated staff in Oregon are paralegals, with wages topping out at $5,666 per month.  On the average, there are 174 working hours in a month. A high-end monthly wage of $5,666 divided by 174 hours equates to $32.56 per hour.  Nationally, the average pay for a paralegal is slightly more, $36 per hour.

Office 2016 Preview

Interested in what the next version of Office has to offer?  Feeling a bit daring? Microsoft is offering a free preview of Office 2016 to all users.

What’s New in Office 2016

Check out this post from CRN highlighting 10 New Features That Will Turn Partners’ Heads:

  1. Enhanced document sharing, with prompts that discourage attachments and encourage links to content stored in SharePoint or OneDrive.  [Benefit: protects recipients from attachments that could be infected; ensures that recipients are accessing the latest version of a document.]
  2. Google Docs co-editing comes to Word. [Benefit: allows remote teams to collaborate real-time.]
  3. Improved help with “Tell Me.”  [Benefit:  any time you need help type your question in natural language into the “Tell Me” box and get answers immediately.]
  4. Create Work Groups within Outlook.  [Benefit:  “keep tabs on group activity, access conversation history, and manage files and group notes stored on OneDrive.”]
  5. Sway – a new alternative to PowerPoint [Benefit: supports drag and drop of Web content – including YouTube, Twitter, and Facebook, into a browser/smart device app.]
  6. Excel on steroids, now with Power Query [Benefit: allows users to import and aggregate data from multiple public sources like Wikipedia and data.gov and create data visualizations – think infographics.]
  7. Improved menus across Office – open, close, save, browse, and add attachments in fewer steps [Benefit: more straightforward navigation, less hassle.]
  8. A new way to tame your inbox?  Microsoft’s Office 2016 Clutter tool analyzes inbox workflow and automatically moves messages you are most likely to ignore into a clutter folder [Benefit: ignore email faster than before!]
  9. Upgraded security features allowing IT personnel and administrators to set “data loss protection policies.”  [Benefit: adds file-level encryption; permits IT staff to restrict delivery of files, prevent manipulation of content, or store data in a “Customer Lockbox.”]
  10. Improved click-to-run.  [Benefit: strictly about making life easier for IT personnel in network environments.]

Bypassing the “Backstage view” When Launching Word 2013

beverlym:

download

Customize your view in Word 2013 in a few easy steps – more good tips from CompuSavvy.

Originally posted on CompuSavvy's Word & WordPerfect Tips:

Whether you are upgrading from an earlier version of Word or moving straight from WordPerfect to Word 2013, you’ll notice fairly quickly the rather unusual way the program handles basic tasks, including common file-management functions such as opening and saving documents.[1]  But even before you open or save a document, you’ll experience a dramatic difference from the way most Windows programs work.  Indeed, the very first time you launch Word 2013, you’ll encounter what Microsoft refers to as the “Backstage view” (and what I like to call “the File menu on steroids”), the screen that ordinarily appears when you click the File tab in modern versions of Microsoft Office.  That is because unlike most Windows programs, Word 2013 typically opens not to a new blank document but to the Backstage view.[2]

Even long-term users of Word might be perplexed by the Word 2013 “start screen.”  How do you…

View original 1,105 more words

The Standard for Email Communications

What is the standard for electronic client communications?  Can lawyers freely use email, without a worry or care about encryption?

In “Odds & Ends – Safeguarding Client Information in a Digital World,” Oregon State Bar General Counsel Helen Hierschbiel sets us straight:

The first ethics opinions that addressed the use of electronic communications prohibited lawyers from using cell phones and unencrypted e-mail…. More recently, ethics authorities condone the practice, recognizing that the expectation of privacy in these modern methods of communication is comparable to and as reasonable as that of older methods of communication. For example, ABA Formal Ethics Op 99-413 (1999) states:

E-mail communications, including those sent unencrypted over the Internet, pose no greater risk of interception or disclosure than other modes of communication commonly relied upon as having a reasonable expectation of privacy… The risk of unauthorized interception and disclosure exists in every medium of communication, including e-mail. It is not, however, reasonable to require that a mode of communicating information must be avoided simply because interception is technologically possible, especially when unauthorized interception or dissemination of the information is a violation of [the law].

Does this mean lawyers get a free pass to use unencrypted email?

The answer is no, as Helen points out.  Special precautions need to be taken if:

  • The information to be transmitted is particularly sensitive
  • The contents of the email are subject to a confidentiality agreement
  • The client instructs the lawyer to avoid using email

Can a client waive the security risks associated with unencrypted email?

Yes.  “If a client requests it, a lawyer may … be allowed to use … a particular type of electronic communication notwithstanding expectations of privacy in the communication method.”

What role does metadata play?

As Helen notes, metadata may be a bigger danger than unauthorized interception of email  messages:

[C]ompetent representation requires that lawyers understand what information may be hidden in documents that they plan to send by e-mail so that appropriate steps can be taken to protect against inadvertent disclosure of what could be confidential or sensitive information. See, e.g., Arizona Ethics Op 07-03(2007) (lawyer must take “reasonable precautions” to prevent communication of metadata containing client information) and ABA Formal Op 06-442.

Since Helen’s article was published, Oregon has issued its own metadata opinion: Competency: Disclosure of Metadata, OSB Formal Opinion 2011-187.

Where does this leave us with encryption?

If your clients have consented to use of unencrypted email (or don’t care) and your messages are not particularly sensitive or subject to a confidentiality agreement, why should you give a whit about encryption?  In a phrase: ease of use.

What used to be difficult is no longer.

In the article “Encryption So Easy a Lawyer Can Do It,” Bob Ambrogi discusses three incredibly simple solutions that allow lawyers to send encrypted messages.  No more clunky interface requiring the sender to transmit keys before the recipient decrypts the message.  No more need for both parties to use the same software.  (Although a simple plug-in may be needed, depending on the software you choose.)

With secure cloud-based solutions like Enlocked, Virtru, or Delivery Trust from Identillect, Ambrogi concludes:

What all three programs have in common is that they make encryption as easy as the push of a button.  If you use email to communicate with clients or colleagues about sensitive matters – and what lawyer does not? – you have no excuse not to encrypt.”

 [All Rights Reserved 2015 Beverly Michaelis]

Adobe Acrobat DC

It is no secret to followers that I consider Acrobat to be the gold standard for PDF conversion and manipulation. I use it on a daily basis to insert, move, bookmark, and delete pages; edit and insert text and objects; remove metadata; redact; OCR; and much more.  


Since eCourt became mandatory in circuit court last year, the need for quality, comprehensive PDF software is more critical. (Mandatory appellate eFiling begins June 1.)


The New Kid on the Block 


Recently Adobe launched Adobe Acrobat DC, referring to “Document Cloud.”  This was a bit startling, as the name led some to believe that Adobe had switched to a cloud-only version of Acrobat.  Let’s set the record straight.


DC refers to a set of optional cloud services attached to Acrobat.  Here is an explanation of DC from Rick Borstein, author of the Acrobat for Legal Professionals blog:


Read more here.


eSigning

There is at least one reason you might want to consider using the DC part of Adobe Acrobat DC:

 

Learn more about electronic signatures here.

[All rights reserved 2015 Beverly Michaelis]

The Ethics of Crowdfunding, Revisited

When we last visited the subject of crowdfunding in January, I pointed out some of the ethical barriers to this method of fund raising.  While much depends on the lawyer, crowdfunding could implicate:

  • Improper communications concerning a lawyer’s services – Oregon RPC 7.1
  • Dishonesty, fraud, deceit – Oregon RPC 8.4
  • Fee sharing with a nonlawyer – Oregon RPC 5.4

I also noted that money raised via crowdfunding may well be taxable, even if the lawyer did not meet the minimum threshold to trigger a 1099.

This month I join forces with the venerable Amber Hollister, Assistant General Counsel of the Oregon State Bar.  We have co-authored an article for the OSB Bulletin entitled “Crowdfunding Your Law Practice.”  The article is scheduled for publication in the May issue.

In addition to the above, we identified other troublesome ethics concerns:

  • Potential third payment and trust accounting issues – If you are rewarding donors with a legal consultation in exchange for a donation and receive funds in advance or a donor is construed as “buying” a legal consultation for a third party, be sure to comply with all trust accounting rules.
  • Conflicts of interest are also a concern.  If a consultation is offered as a “perk or reward” in exchange for a donation, will the lawyer be able to perform?  Lawyers would be well-advised to forewarn donors of the necessity of conflict screening.
  • Running afoul of the rule prohibiting the lawyer from giving something of value in exchange for recommending the lawyer’s services – lawyers can’t give enthusiastic donors anything of value for promoting the lawyer’s crowdfunding campaign via social media.

None of this is shared to discourage Oregon lawyers from crowdfunding.  Rather, you need to go in with your eyes open and be sure you are tuned in to the ethics issues.  For a thorough analysis of this subject, refer to the article.

[All Rights Reserved 2015 Beverly Michaelis]

 

Everything TECHSHOW – The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly

I Want It All!

I had hoped to offer readers a post to all 2015 ABA TECHSHOW tweets, but after cultivating about 1800 from Saturday and Friday’s sessions, Storify crashed.

The Bad News

The Storify script failed and the story was lost.

The Good News

I still have my TECHSHOW Tagboard. If you’re a Flipboard fan, I’m betting you’ll like it.

Tagboard

Access Tagboard here or click on the image above.

  • Click on the “Latest” button (top of the screen, left) to show the most recent cultivated tweets.
  • To see more, scroll to the bottom of the screen and click on “LOAD MORE.”  Repeat if you dare.

TECHSHOW 2016

Already excited about 2016?  You should be!

2016 ABA TECHSHOW

Next year it falls on St. Paddy’s Day.

St. Patrick's Day

All Rights Reserved [2015] Beverly Michaelis