New Work Habits for a New Year

The nice thing about a new year is that it offers a second chance.  An opportunity to step back and take a fresh look at how to run your practice.  As someone who likes the idea of starting over and trying something new I am here to encourage you.  Please read on.

business-office

Are you in a rut?

Let’s face it: we all get stuck in a routine now and again.  Day after day we trudge on without question.  Depending on the routine, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing.  For example, following set procedures for responding to client email, docketing deadlines, or checking conflicts are helpful time management and malpractice avoidance techniques.  The problem arises when we form work habits that are self-defeating or even life-threatening.

Working long hours can kill you

Six years ago I reported on a study from the Annals of Internal Medicine that found people “who work an average of 11 or more hours per day have a 67 percent higher risk of suffering a heart attack or dying from heart disease than people who work a standard seven- to eight-hour day.  Those who work between 10 and 11 hours per day have a 45 percent higher risk.”

For those of you who champion working hard and putting in long hours, these numbers are a sobering wakeup call.

Sitting is the new smoking

In 2016 came the admonition: get off your duff to improve your health.

While deadlines may sometimes dictate longer hours, sitting in your chair for 10 or 11 hours a day shouldn’t be the norm.  Long hours translate to physical stress, little or no time to exercise, and eating habits that are often less than stellar (like grabbing fast food on the way home.)

The truth is that none of us can maintain a “7-7-7 schedule” (7:00 am to 7:00 pm seven days a week) without suffering the consequences.  Even if you buy a treadmill or standing desk.

Time for a do-over

If I am describing you, stop.  You can do better, and you’ll be happier for it.  Here’s how to cut back the amount of time spent in the office and still accomplish what you need to get done.

Learn to say “goodbye” and “no.”

Two of my favorite words.  And they should be yours too.

Find it hard to turn people away?  I understand how you feel.  Lawyers face economic pressure: I don’t really have a choice.  I need the money.  And emotional pressure: Family, friends, or former clients are depending on me.  

Next time you want to say “no,” but are struggling, follow this simple advice.

Overwhelmed by the amount of work on your plate?

This is a good news/bad news scenario.

Let’s start with the “bad news” first.  You have too much to do and can’t get it done.  You may be paralyzed or depressed.  You don’t know where to start.  Call the attorney counselors at the Oregon Attorney Assistance Program (OAAP).  They provide free and confidential help with issues just like this.  They can also connect you to resources that can help relieve the pressure.

On the “good news” side, having too much to do means you can afford to be more picky about clients and cases.  Time to cull the herd:

What are your priorities?

Yes, I’m talking to you.

What do you want to make a priority?  Create time that is sacrosanct to tackle what you want to get done by blocking out time on your calendar.  Treat this time as if it were a client appointment – take no calls, do not read email.  Stay off the Internet unless the task at hand involves being on the Internet.  Give the matter your undivided attention.

Multi-tasking is for the birds

Or rather, the bird brains.  Literally.  It’s just about the worst thing you can try to do.

The idea that we can juggle ten things at once is a myth – we simply can’t do it.  Here is one of the better explanations I’ve read about why multi-tasking doesn’t work.  It was the inspiration for this post.  If you want to do something well, not start over ten times, remember it afterward, and get finished sooner, then single task!

You can control client expectations

Learn to shape and manage client expectations – from the very simple (availability by phone, ability to accommodate unscheduled appointments) to the more complex (meeting client deadlines).  The Professional Liability Fund (PLF) offers sample client brochures that explain office and billing practices.

Give yourself a break with this easy time management technique

Form a new habit for 2017.  Check your calendar first before making a time-related promise to a client.  If there is no “deadline” per se, determine when you can reasonably fit the project into your schedule.  You gain nothing by promising a quick turnaround if you can’t keep your word.

In a pickle? Triage!

If you’re in a pickle – a deadline is approaching and you know you can’t meet it – start triaging.  Call your client.  Call opposing counsel if necessary.  Negotiate a new due date.

I know facing up to deadlines is hard.  I also know many lawyers hesitate to call their clients or the other side because they fear being yelled at.  Know this: your clients and the other side are far more understanding than you give them credit for.  Everyone has been there.  They get it.  It turns out that waiting is not really that big of a problem ninety-nine percent of the time.  And if you need support making these kind of calls, just give a ring to the nice folks at the OAAP.

Get back in control

Getting help may be just the ticket to get your workflow back in control.  Consider temporary staff or a contract attorney.  Questions?  Call your friendly practice management advisor at the PLF for help.

Leaving early?  Good for you!

Last but not least, ditch the guilt of leaving early – it is your well-deserved reward for good planning and efficient work habits.

All Rights Reserved Beverly Michaelis 2017

Postscript

Have I given this advice before?  Absolutely.  But a reminder never hurts.  Especially if you know, as I do, that we all feel discouraged from time to time.  Never forget: you can start over and you can make a change.  Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

ABA Blueprint: What Is it and Why Should I Care?

ABA Blueprint.combp is a new tool designed to help solo and small firm lawyers find what
they need to run their firm.  Any lawyer may browse the website for resources and information.  Technology, marketing, insurance, retirement, and practice management services are available to ABA members only.  Here’s an overview:

Services for ABA Members at Blueprint.com

  • Discounts on products and services
  • Access to free practice management consultants
  • Firm Builder (see below)
  • Ability to save solutions to your Blueprint account so you don‘t lose your research

If this sounds good to you, check out ABA membership here.  Dues are pro-rated based on your date of original bar admission.  Membership is free for 2016 and 2017 admittees.

Resources Non-ABA Members Can Access at Blueprint.com

Informative BLOG Posts

At ABA Blueprint, click the logo (upper left) to visit the Home page.  Scroll to the bottom to find a feed of the latest posts from the ABA Legal Technology Resource Center blog. Examples include using email newsletters, trends in legal technology, website costsgetting the most out of online forms, and state data breach notification laws.

Universal Solutions

Anyone can visit the Universal Solutions page to look at the curated list of products for starting a firm, growing a firm, getting paid, building a team, mastering eDiscovery, and insuring your family and future.  Keep in mind the listed discounts are for ABA members only.  The ABA expects to add more products in the future.  Here are the highlights:

Universal Solution Category Discount Offered
to ABA Members
Projected
Annual Savings
Start a Firm Now Office 365

Clio

$222.00-$363.84
Help Me Get Paid Clio

LawPay

QuickBooks Online

$361.60-$595.00
Help Me Grow Lexicata

MailChimp

LexBlog

$169.90-$578.80
Help Me Build a Team Ruby Receptionists

Fancy Hands

$833.28-$1440.88
Help Me With eDiscovery eDiscovery Assistant

PageVault

 

$714.00-$1394.00
Help Me Insure My Future ABA Insurance

ABA Retirement Program

No data available

What is Firm Builder?

Firm Builder is available to ABA members only. Online modules provide help for technology basics, virtual assistance, and marketing.  This is also the place where ABA members can connect to a practice management consultant.  Here’s how the modules work:

  1. Select a Firm Builder topic (technology, virtual assistance or marketing).
  2. Answer a series of questions.  (Don’t worry, there are plenty of options for “I don’t know, or I’ve done some research, but tell me more.)
  3. Once you’ve answered all the questions, Firm Builder proposes a set of solutions, i.e., products that fit your needs.  The product list is curated from the Universal Solutions page of ABA Blueprint.

Long story short

Firm Builder is a fancy tool that ends up replicating the information already available under Universal Solutions.  While this is redundant, don’t let it dissuade you from using the tool as it may help you focus more specifically on the products that fit your needs. In addition, Firm Builder gives you the option of contacting a live practice management consultant.  Thirty minute consultations are available at no charge via phone or email, and users are promised a 24-hour turnaround time. Live chat is available for quick questions from 9:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. Eastern Time, presumably 7 days a week as no limitation is noted on the website.

Who are these consultants?  For now, most or all of them will come from CuroLegal, a private consulting firm working with the ABA.  In the future, the expectation is that practice management advisors – like those associated with your bar or liability coverage provider – will sign on as ABA Blueprint consultants.

Endorsements and Ethics

Does the ABA endorse the products listed on their site?

No, as a matter of ABA policy.  Products featured on the site were selected based on “suitability for solo/small firm practitioners, the stability of the vendor, the availability of integrations, and the standing of the product in the market.”

Do the products on the ABA site meet ethical requirements for all states?

The ABA does not certify the ethical suitability of a given product or service.  The website recommends consulting your local ethics body for advice or guidance. Oregon lawyers can speak to private ethics counsel or contact the Oregon State Bar General Counsel’s office.

Speaking of Oregon Lawyers

If you need help, please take advantage of the abundance of resources available to you through the Oregon State Bar Professional Liability Fund, including access to free and confidential practice management advisors.  You are also welcome to call or email me. I dedicated the last 20+ years of my professional career to helping Oregon lawyers. Thirty minute emails and calls are always free.  Turnaround time is next business day.

On the CLE front, it’s not too late to sign up for Unclaimed Client Funds this Wednesday. Or start the new year off right with “Fee Agreements – Ethical Dos and Don’ts.”  This live, online webinar is scheduled for January 18, 2017. Registration is open now.

All Rights Reserved 2016 Beverly Michaelis

eCourt Malpractice Traps and Relation Back

eCourt is available twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. Convenient? Absolutely! But with convenience comes risk.

Tempted by the generous schedule, Clickhere_medFLT_490x250it is easy to form the habit of postponing filing until shortly before midnight on the day the filing is due.

While far from ideal, last-minute filing will succeed if your document is accepted. But therein lies the trap. Acceptance is not instantaneous. It may take one to three court days before the clerk processes your document. What happens if the statute of limitations expires during this time?

If you receive notice that your filing was rejected after the statute of limitations has run, your only hope is to request relation back. Beyond strict compliance with the rules – which lay out a detailed scheme for resubmitting your filing and seeking relation back – there are other nuances in play. Handling relation back correctly means your client’s case goes forward. Mishandling relation back may result in a legal malpractice claim.

To understand what is at stake, and the specific steps you need to take, let’s begin by reviewing the filing process:

When is a Filing Accepted?

As noted above, eCourt filings are not automatically accepted when submitted. Every filing is reviewed by a court clerk:

  • If the court accepts the document for filing, the date and time of filing entered in the register relate back to the date and time the electronic filing system received the document. When the court accepts the document, the electronic filing system will affix the date and time of submission on the document, thereby indicating the date and time of filing of the document. UTCR 21.080(4).
  • If the court rejects a document submitted electronically for filing, the electronic filing system will send an email to the filer that explains why the court rejected the document, unless the filer has elected through system settings not to receive the email. The email will include a hyperlink to the document. UTCR 21.080(5).

Resubmitting a Rejected Filing

If you receive notice that your filing has been rejected after the statute or deadline is expired, follow UTCR 21.080(5)(a) to the letter. Correcting your original filing mistake and resubmitting your document is not enough to receive relation back.

To apply for relation-back to the original filing date, follow these steps:

  1. Diagnose and fix your filing error. The rejection notice issued by the electronic filing system will explain why the court rejected your document.
  2. Resubmit the document within 3 days of the date of rejection. If the third day following rejection is not a judicial day, then resubmit the filing the next judicial day. Resubmission means submission of the document through the electronic filing system or physical delivery of the document to the court. UTCR 21.080(5)(a).
  3. Include a cover letter with your resubmitted filing that contains the following information:
    1. the date of the original submission
    2. the date of the rejection
    3. an explanation of the reason you are requesting the date of filing to relate back to the original submission
    4. include the words “RESUBMISSION OF REJECTED FILING, RELATION-BACK DATE OF FILING REQUESTED” in the subject line of your cover letter. UTCR 21.080(5)(a)(i).
  4. If your resubmission is filed electronically the words “RESUBMISSION OF REJECTED FILING, RELATION-BACK DATE OF FILING REQUESTED” must also be included in the Filing Comments Field. UTCR 21.080(5)(a)(ii).

Mistakes Happen

If you apply for relation back and realize that you did not fully comply with UTCR 21.080(5)(a), what should you do? If you are within the three day window for resubmission, there is no harm in trying again. The rule does not limit filers to a single resubmission attempt.  Resubmit your filing a second time, with the proper cover letter and required information in the filing comments field. Be aware that getting relation back – even when you meet the technical requirements set forth in UTCR 21.080(5) – is within the court’s discretion and not guaranteed. While every effort is made to ensure uniform application of the rules, practices may vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. Furthermore, responding parties may object to a request for relation back within the time limits as provided by law for the type of document being filed. UTCR 21.080(5)(b).

These are important points for eFilers to grasp. Even if you fully and timely comply with UTCR 21.080(5), getting relation back is not an automatic right. Your best defense is to do it right the first time and follow the tips at the end of this article.

Technical Difficulties

There is one other basis for requesting relation back. If the eFiling system is temporarily unavailable or if an error in the transmission of the document or other technical problem prevents the eFiling system from receiving a document, the court may, upon satisfactory proof, permit relation back. UTCR 21.080(6).

A filer seeking relation back due to “technical difficulties” must follow the same steps as any other filer resubmitting a rejected filing. (See the steps described above in Resubmitting a Rejected Filing.) In addition, the filer is permitted to attach supporting exhibits that substantiate the system malfunction.

PRACTICE TIP:  Slightly different language is required in the cover letter and filing comments field if relation back is sought under UTCR 21.080(6): “RESUBMISSION OF REJECTED FILING, SUBMISSION UNSUCCESSFUL, RELATION-BACK DATE OF FILING REQUESTED.”

CAVEAT: Technical problems with the filer’s equipment or attempted transmission within the filer’s control will not generally excuse an untimely filing.
UTCR 21.080(6).

What If Relation Back is Denied?

If relation back is denied, contact the claims attorneys at the Professional Liability Fund.

Staying Out of Trouble

Avoid falling into the relation-back malpractice trap by following these tips:

[All Rights Reserved 2016 Beverly Michaelis]

 

Kicking the Can Down the Road: Procrastination


Why Do Today What You Can Put Off Until Tomorrow?

This was a sign proudly displayed in the office of a lawyer I visited some years ago.  At the time, the lawyer was married, moderately successful, and wore his procrastination as a badge of honor. Now he is divorced, the sign is gone, and so is he.

The Emotion and Psychology of Procrastination

Understanding and addressing procrastination is difficult.  One of the better procrastination31explanations of this behavior appeared in a post on The Productive Mindset in 2010. Here are the takeaways:

  • Procrastination is not a time-management problem, it is a self-regulation problem.
  • Procrastinators often have anxiety or doubts about their abilities, or about the perception others have of their abilities.
  • Many procrastinators would prefer others think they lack drive instead of providing the opportunity for others to question their capabilities.
  • Underlying fear of failure or fear of success is common among procrastinators.

Fear, Anxiety, and Doubt

While the original Mindset post is no longer available, Googling “the psychology and behaviors of procrastination” reinforces that fear, anxiety, and doubt are major players here.

Does This Sound Like You?

  1. Do you put off taking care of important things to the point of jeopardizing relationships, career, finances, or health?
  2. Do you put off doing what you need to do until a crisis develops?
  3. Do you put off doing tasks unless you can do them perfectly or until you can find the perfect time to do them?
  4. Do you hesitate taking necessary action because you fear change?
  5. Do you think about things you’d like to do but rarely get around to doing them?
  6. Do you believe that projects or tasks will somehow take care of themselves?
  7. Do you overcommit yourself?
  8. Do you tend to do only what you want to do instead of what you should do?
  9. Do you tend to do only what you think you should do instead of what you want to do?

Adapted from It’s About Time, by Dr. Linda Sapadin with Jack Maguire [Procrastination Self Test.]

Ending the Paralysis and Self Sabotage

We all procrastinate occasionally.  But if putting things off is affecting your practice, home life, health, or finances – don’t struggle alone.

The Oregon Attorney Assistance Program offers “Getting It Done” workshops that offer practical, individualized techniques to effectively address procrastination.  In addition to the workshop, Oregon lawyers are encouraged to contact an Attorney Counselor at any time for help with this issue.  The Oregon Attorney Assistance Program is free and confidential.

You can read more about the paralysis of procrastination here.

All Rights Reserved [2016] Beverly Michaelis

Mac Users! Save Client Email in Five Easy Steps

If you follow this blog or read my articles in the Oregon State Bar Bulletin, you know I’m a big proponent of capturing email as part of the client file.

Read on if you believe, as I do, that email communications should be stored with the rest of your client documents to ensure a fully integrated, complete record of your work.

I Know You Love Gmail

Many lawyers are ardent users of Gmail. If you believe in saving email to your client file, this poses a problem.  Google doesn’t provide a tool to let users save multiple messages in one step.  You can print one message at a time to PDF or paper, but that’s about it.

Zapier

One workaround is to use Zapier, a web automation app.  [See my upcoming blog post on April 11.]

Outlook + Acrobat

Another approach [and my personal favorite] requires a combination of Outlook and Adobe Acrobat.  These two programs work together seamlessly, allowing the user to create searchable email portfolios that are automatically indexed and hyperlinked. When the Acrobat ribbon is installed in Outlook, you are only a few mouse clicks away from converting a single message, group of messages, or an entire folder of messages to PDF.  No need to worry about attachments, as these are automatically captured during the conversion process.  [Beware that Office 2016 requires an upgrade to Acrobat DC.]

What If Zapier, Outlook, or Acrobat Aren’t For You?

There are other options, but if you’re a Mac user, you’re in luck.  I can show you how to save client email in 5 simple steps without buying any new software.  All you need is the Mail App built into Mac OS.

Mac Users: Save Client Email in 5 Easy Steps

OK, I actually fibbed a bit.  First you need to set up your email account in Mail.  Macs are configured to help you automatically pull down email from Yahoo!, Gmail, and AOL, so this is very easy.  Your Web account stays intact.  All you’re doing is bringing your email messages into the Mail app.  Once you’ve set up Mail to pull messages down from your Web-based account, follow these five easy steps:

  1. Select the messages you wish to save [Use Command A to select all messages in a folder].
  2. Choose File, Save As.
  3. Verify the File Type is set to “RTF” [Rich Text Format].
  4. Verify that the box marked “Include Attachments” has a checkmark.
  5. Give the message string a name and save it to the desired location.

RTF [Rich Text Format] documents can be opened in Word, WordPerfect, Open Office, or any text utility [WordPad, NotePad].  This method will save your messages in a single thread which includes attachments.  The result is a searchable document that can be saved with all your other client documents.

Once the RTF file is created, you can delete the messages from Gmail, freeing up space.

Best Practices for Mac Users

IMHO, I would perform this maneuver as part of the file closing process.  Go ahead and leave messages in Gmail while your file is open.  When the work is complete, and your file is ready to close, make it part of your file closing ritual to “File, Save As” email messages to RTF.  Then delete the messages from Gmail.  This creates an integrated, complete client file.

Personally, I file as I go – an easy thing to do if you’re using Outlook+Acrobat, but I understand why lawyers prefer to leave emails in a folder while a file is open.  Many people find it easier to search email and use existing messages to send a new message. I get it.  My only caution:  If you do this, carefully review the original recipients of the message before you hit Reply All.  Clients, in particular, may have included someone else in an original email thread.  If you don’t notice this, and hit Reply All, you are sending confidential client communications to your client and someone else.

[All Rights Reserved Beverly Michaelis 2016]

[Note: no promises here that original attachment formatting will be preserved, but since most lawyers automatically save attachments as separate documents in the client file, I wouldn’t lose sleep over the fact that they aren’t perfect in appearance in your RTF email thread.]