You Need a Break

Memorial Day is right around the corner.  While you’re honoring our military men and women and taking time to relax over the three-day weekend, I want you to start planning your summer vacation.  Yes, I just said that.

Build time off into your work schedule now – no excuses!  It takes effort and organization, but your body and mind will thank you.  We all need true recuperative time away and three days just isn’t enough.  Here’s a game plan to help you get started:

Budget now to go on vacation later.

“If I’m not at the office, I can’t bill.  If I can’t bill, I won’t get paid.”  True enough, but there is a solution:  budget for your vacation.  A bit of research and number crunching is in order here. First, calculate your vacation expenses. This should be relatively easy.  Next, quantify the lost revenue you need to replace during your time out of the office.  Now that you know how much you need, begin setting aside funds every week to meet your financial goal.  If necessary, find little ways to cut back that can really add up: like bringing your lunch to work, deferring your daily Starbucks fix, using public transportation, or telecommuting.  Saving weekly will keep you on track and help manage expectations. If you’re just getting started, then your plans this year may be more modest.  Next year, you can begin saving for your summer vacation in January.

Clients are important enough to schedule.  So is your vacation.

Work will never go away, but I guarantee that if you look ahead in your calendar you will find a block of time with no commitments.  Even if you haven’t made plans yet, block the time out now before your calendar fills up.  If you have a habit of backsliding, enlist your family as enforcers.  This time should be sacred.  If you need an extra incentive, consider non-refundable travel reservations.

Preparation is Key!

If you’re a member of a firm, going on vacation is a matter of meeting with other lawyers who will be covering cases during your absence.

If you are a sole practitioner, use the buddy system.  Find a colleague who is experienced in your practice area and willing to cover for you.

This arrangement is usually reciprocal and is helpful if you have an unexpected absence from the office due to injury or a medical condition.

Follow this checklist:

  • Notify clients, opposing counsel, judges, or other appropriate parties that you will be out of the office;
  • Prep your files.  They should be well-organized and current, with status memos so your buddy can easily step in if needed;
  • Create a “Countdown Schedule.”  Identify what needs to be done when and whether certain tasks can wait until your return;
  • Allow for wind down.  As your vacation approaches, leave time in your schedule to finish up last minute work.  Reduce or refer out new matters;
  • Train staff.  Do they have a clear understanding of office procedures?  How will they screen client calls during your absence?  Give them parameters for contacting you or your buddy in the event of an emergency.
  • Resist constantly checking voice mail, e-mail, or text messages.  Technology is a God-send, but part of rejuvenation is taking a break from our instant Internet society. Checking in is okay, but stick to a schedule to avoid obsessing over what is going on back at the office.  Remember – you have an emergency plan in place.  If something happens, staff or your buddy will get a hold of you.
  • Avoid post-vacation overload.  Just as you blocked out dates to go on vacation, allow yourself time to get back up-to-speed.  Otherwise, you’re right back where you started.

Give yourself and your family a well-deserved break.  With a bit of organization, you can budget for (and enjoy) your time off.  Thank you for tolerating my nagging!

All Rights Reserved 2018 Beverly Michaelis

Postscript

As we speak, I am planning my escape now!

The Best of 60 in 60 from the 2018 ABA TECHSHOW

It’s hard to categorize the annual “60 in 60” tips session at ABA TECHSHOW because it could be anything – useful websites, new apps, career resources, gadgets, editing and proofreading tools for lawyers, or anything else the panelists find that we can’t live without.  Below is a sample of what was covered this year.  For the complete list, view my story on Wakelet.

The short list from 60 in 60

  • TimeFlip – a battery-powered cardboard polygon that uses an app on your smartphone to track time spent on meetings, phone calls, email, and other tasks.
  • Dryver – the mobile app where you can hire a driver starting at $15.95/hour to drive you around in your own car.
  • Ceev.io – the free Chrome extension that uses your LinkedIn profile to create a resume. Here’s mine. Choose from four themes, nine accent colors, and five different fonts at no charge. Unlock more options for $10.  My tip: also consider Strikingly, which allows you to create a website using your LinkedIn profile.
  • The Noris digital pencil from Staedtler – an electromagnetic input pencil that feels like your old #2, looks like your old #2, and works with Samsung smartphones.
  • Sideways Dictionary – a site that demystifies tech babble like “sandboxing” or “honeypot,” which have nothing to do with kids playing or bears eating honey.
  • PerfectIt – an intelligent editor and proofreader with a special style sheet specifically designed for lawyers. $99 a pop, integrates with Microsoft Word. Check out the free trial.
  • Flow-e – an email and task management platform combined to transform your inbox into a highly visual task board (Kanban style) or Sanebox, which automatically filters unimportant email out of your inbox (works with Gmail, Office 365, Apple iCloud, etc.).

There’s so much more … like how to create your own digital medical exhibits

Hopefully I’ve tempted you. Check out the complete list from 60 in 60!  Where else will you learn how to validate websites, determine if your passwords have been compromised, use private browsing, convert your blog into a podcast, check Google trends, or mute calls using your Apple watch?

All Rights Reserved 2018 Beverly Michaelis

Postscript

For more summaries of 2018 ABA TECHSHOW tips, advice, and resources for lawyers, see my main Wakelet page.

How to Say No to Clients

 

Did you answer “yes” to one or more of these questions?  You are in good company!

As we discussed in 7 Steps to Building Better Client Relationships, lawyers often feel pressured to practice “door law.”  The source of the pressure may be economic:  I don’t really have a choice because I need the money.  Or it can be emotional: Family, friends, or former clients are depending on me.

Either way, saying no can be incredibly difficult, so here is some sage advice that first appeared in In Sight.  These tips apply no matter who is doing the asking: clients, friends, family, or neighbors.

Five steps to saying “no”

  • Be respectful.  Listen to the asker and don’t interrupt. Respect the request, then respect your right to decline the request.
  • Keep it simple.  You have the right to say “no.”  Elaborate justifications aren’t necessary [and may lead to backsliding, since many of us say “yes” to avoid feeling guilty].
  • Assign responsibility elsewhere:  “That sounds very nice; unfortunately, my
    calendar is booked solid.” Now it’s your calendar’s fault. Stand firm. Avoid engaging in discussion or negotiation.
  • Refer to others who might fill the opening well.
  • Say yes when there is a good reason to do so, it will benefit you, or the cause is one you believe in.  [Life is too short to take on a case or client you find repugnant.]

I encourage you to read the full article here.

Still need persuading? Time for tough love

You are not the only lawyer who can help your clients.
If money is an issue, there are other lawyers who participate in the OSB modest means program, offer sliding fee services, or take pro bono referrals.  If you continually give your time away to nonpaying clients, your practice will decline and you may need to close your doors.  If you close your practice, you aren’t available to help anyone.

If the case can’t be won, are you doing a service or a disservice by taking it?
Once a lawyer commits to a case, many clients assume the case CAN BE WON, no matter how you qualify your representation.  Not all clients have a legal remedy, for a variety of reasons. This can be a bitter pill to swallow, but the truth is better than false hope.  You can always suggest [and should suggest] a second opinion.

A good case and a paying client don’t necessarily mean the case is right for you.
Don’t let someone push you out of your comfort zone. Law is complex. Staying on top of your desired practice areas is hard enough. Straying into unfamiliar areas is stressful, time consuming, expensive (because of the learning curve), and more likely to result in a claim or bar complaint.

You are a lawyer, not a doctor.
Keeping clients who won’t follow your advice, don’t cooperate, and look to place blame anywhere but with themselves, is a pure misery.  This is not a situation you can cure, except by firing the client.

All Rights Reserved 2018 – Beverly Michaelis

 

Are You an Effective Negotiator?

In law, negotiations between parties can end in a win-win for both sides or they can break down and leave your client further from their objective. It’s a delicate dance that requires a clear understanding or your client’s needs and desires as well as those of the opposing party.

A recent NW Sidebar posts highlights these tips for negotiating effectively:

  • Adopt a negotiator’s mindset
  • Prepare yourself mentally
  • Stay focused on your client’s goals
  • Practice total awareness
  • Be honest
  • Know when to stop
  • Confirm agreements

Read the full post here.

Before the Beginning

You can’t focus on your client’s goals if you don’t know what they are. Negotiation is a serious subject. If possible, meet with your client in person. Be open to what the client has to say, but be prepared to curb his expectations.

  • If there are boundaries you feel you can’t cross, speak up.
  • Identify and verify lienholders and others who may have third-party rights to settlement proceeds.
  • Compile your costs to date (and likely future costs).
  • Use this information to discuss the difference between gross and net settlement values. Give concrete examples.
  • Allow the client time to think even if it appears you’ve come to a mutual understanding about how to proceed.

During Negotiation

During negotiation, keep the client informed. Technically, it may not be necessary so long as you are operating within your settlement authority.  However, keeping the client involved will give her a better picture of the overall process.

Remember: the ultimate decision to settle is the client’s, not yours.

After Negotiation

Don’t stop at confirming agreements with opposing counsel. Confirm the client’s consent to settle in writing! Let the client know the likely ETA of the settlement proceeds and what the disbursement process will involve (for example, waiting for a check to clear). Provide a written settlement accounting. A sample settlement accounting and checklist is available on the PLF website. Select Practice Management > Forms > Litigation.

All Rights Reserved Beverly Michaelis 2018

 

The Link Between Clutter and Stress

Why do we accumulate clutter?

  • Does it fuel our creativity?
  • Do possessions make us feel successful?  Or safe?
  • Make us look busy and important?
  • Are we too emotionally attached to weed out what we no longer need or use?
  • Are we hoping that someday our stuff will be worth a lot of money?
  • Or because we paid a lot of money for our stuff, it’s too good to get rid of?

In an extensive four-year study, UCLA researchers documented the debilitating effects of clutter on our mood and self-esteem. The greater the clutter, the more stress and anxiety we feel. This is especially true for women.

Tackling stress

There are many excellent articles on how to declutter. Start with these steps from Simplemost and HouseLogic. For ideas on managing stress, see the March 2017 issue of InSight. Read the article Stress Management: How to Reduce, Prevent, and Cope with Stress and download the associated Stress Management Self-Help Checklist and Stress Relief Toolbox. Don’t hesitate to contact an attorney counselor at the Oregon Attorney Assistance Program (OAAP). The OAAP can give you guidance on how to develop your own stress management program using deep relaxation, meditation, time management, and other proven stress-reducing techniques. Best of all, contacting the OAAP is free and confidential.

All Rights Reserved Beverly Michaelis 2018