A Scam in Time for Christmas

Law firms routinely collect and issue W9 and 1099 forms. But if you receive an email requesting a tax form and weren’t expecting it, think twice. Ask yourself:

  • How did the email arrive? Via a website contact form, via your blog, or addressed to a specific person in your firm who would deal with such matters?
  • Do you recognize the sender?
  • Does the sender’s domain exist?
  • Does contact information given in the email match what you find on the web?
  • Do your records reflect that you did business with the sender this year?
  • Does any part of the email message seem “off?”

Remember scams can seem innocuous, even apologetic:

We are updating our new financial software and see that we don’t have a current W-9 or your tax id number in our system. If we could get this at your earliest convenience that would be wonderful. We realize and understand that you are tax exempt, but we would love to have the information fully entered into your new system. Thank you for your help and understanding. If you would like you can fax it to XXX-XXX-XXXX.
Have a great day!

When a request seems fishy (we understand you are tax exempt?) or oddly worded (we would love to have the information fully entered into your new system?!) take the time to independently verify legitimacy. Check your records, run a web search on the purported sender, and pick up the phone. Don’t use the contact information given in the suspicious email. Avoid replying, submitting a fax, or clicking on any links the message may include. Most importantly, educate staff on all levels and keep your antennae up for new variations of scams.

All Rights Reserved 2019 Beverly Michaelis

Phishing Scam Hits OJD Users

Here are the details.

Organize with OHIO

OHIO” is the pinnacle of the “touch it once” principle. It literally means:

  • Only
  • Handle
  • It
  • Once

When applied to physical and digital clutter, the idea is to act on requests, messages, or documents in the moment. The alternative being that you read the same messages or shuffle the same papers repeatedly. Perhaps while mumbling, “I gotta do that.” Then the process starts over again.

Next time try OHIO

Ask yourself:

Can I take care of this now?

If the answer is yes, do it.

Does it need to wait?

Not a problem. Create a calendar or task entry to circle back to the item when you have time. Meanwhile, get it off your desk and into the client file.

Can I delegate this?

Great! Forward the message or create a task and assign it. In Outlook, you can keep updated copies of assigned tasks on your task list and request status reports.

can I toss this?

Fortunately, we do receive messages and material we can toss, shred, or recycle. When something arrives that fits this description, dispose of it.

Don’t let clutter accumulate, whether it’s digital (clogging up your inbox) or paper (old bar journals and magazines). If it doesn’t serve you, get rid of it.

If you have more than 3 months of reading material in your office, you likely aren’t going to get to it. Bite the bullet, get over the guilt, and recycle it. The information exists online and can be retrieved if necessary.

Managing email

Someone once said “email is like a treadmill that never stops.” No kidding!

Reduce the burden email poses:

  • Apply OHIO. Act on each message by responding, delegating, or tasking it for the future. Don’t need it? Hit delete.
  • Eliminate unnecessary copies (cc, bc). Send messages only to those who actually need the information. Use “Reply to All” sparingly.
  • Unsubscribe to unhelpful lists, ads, or announcements.
  • Create rules and folders for email that is helpful but not client-related. Many lawyers find useful information in listserv message threads, but the sheer volume can be overwhelming. Create a rule that directs these messages to a folder so it doesn’t fill up your inbox. Set up a task that prods you to review and clean out these messages on a recurring basis.
  • Keep personal email separate. This will protect your privacy and keep email volume down.

Change your default setting

Email tends to be a lawyer’s default mode of communication. But as we learned from the legal trends report, it isn’t always the right tool.

Before you shoot off that next message, ask yourself whether you would be better off calling or scheduling an in-person meeting. As it turns out, clients often prefer that we communicate by phone or in-person.

Learn more

OHIO” is one of 30 ideas and strategies addressed in the CLE, “Practical Time Management.” If you missed this program, order the video and audio files on demand. Learn how to take control of your workload, manage your busy schedule, focus on your priorities, and make your workday more productive. Cost: $25. Includes program materials with presentation slides and resources, audio and video files, answers to polling questions addressed during the live CLE, and MCLE Form 6 to self-report CLE credits.

All Rights Reserved 2019 Beverly Michaelis

Legal Trends – 2019 ABA TECHSHOW

Curious about legal trends? Here are some interesting statistics and takeaways discussed at the 2019 ABA TECHSHOW:

When rating lawyers, people complain more about customer service issues than the cost of legal services.

When selecting a lawyer, clients value guidance, certainty, and clarity.

When assessing the emotional state of clients, lawyers chronically underestimate feelings of confusion, disbelief, frustration, and urgency.

Lawyers and clients are on opposite ends of the spectrum when it comes to communication:

    • The majority of lawyers expect clients to send an email or visit the office in person when asking to schedule an appointment. In reality, clients shun both approaches and prefer overwhelmingly to call.
    • 70% of clients want to meet in person when sharing all the details or facts of a situation. 18% are willing to meet by phone. Similarly, clients want to hear lawyers explain the legal aspects of their case in person (55%) or by phone (23%) not by email or other means.
    • For getting quick questions answered, 46% of clients prefer the phone, 29% prefer email.
    • Lawyers strongly prefer to call with status updates (64%), but clients are split between phone (37%) and email (35%) in their preference.
    • Signing, viewing, or delivering documents? 64% of clients prefer to do this in person. 20% are okay with email. Interestingly, 35% of lawyers prefer to review documents with clients by phone – only 5% of clients preferred this method.
    • Websites and client portals only factored significantly into client preferences in two areas: checking the hours a lawyer is spending on a case (26% of clients) and making payments (31% of clients).

Key Takeaways

  1. Solicit feedback from clients.
  2. Consider using client surveys that measure your “net promoter” or client loyalty score. Survey Monkey is one example.
  3. Focus on in-person moments with clients and minimize interruptions.
  4. When deciding whether to call, email, or meet in person, put the client first. For the most part, clients want to talk – not read messages or correspondence.

For more information and a link to the complete legal trends report, see my story on Wakelet.

All Rights Reserved 2019 Beverly Michaelis

Failure to Check Spam Folder Leads to Missed Deadline

Court notices delivered via email are a known point of vulnerability for law firms: failure to timely check messages, accidental deletion of court notices, or haphazard review of spam folders.

Now The Researching Paralegal reports on the latest variation of this theme.

A trial court clerk in Florida served an order by email awarding a significant amount of attorney fees to the prevailing party (appellee).  The opponent/appellant claimed it did not receive the order, resulting in its failure to file an appeal.  What happened? The opponent/appellant’s email system automatically deleted the court’s email as spam.

The opponent/appellant asked the court to vacate the original order on the grounds of excusable neglect.  The trial court declined and Florida’s First District Court of Appeal affirmed. The Researching Paralegal cites these factors:

First, the review of the court clerk’s email logs confirmed that the email with the court’s order was served and received by the law firm’s server. Second, the law firm’s email configuration made it impossible to determine whether the firm’s server received the email. Third, the law firm’s former IT specialist’s advice against this configuration flaw was deliberately rejected by the law firm because its alternative cost more money.

The trial court concluded the law firm made a conscious decision to use a defective email configuration merely to save money, which was not “excusable neglect.”

Another nail in the coffin was testimony by the appellee’s attorney. His firm assigned a paralegal to check the court’s website every three weeks to safeguard that his firm would not miss any orders or deadlines.  The court held that the appellant had a duty to check the court’s electronic docket.

Emerald Coast Utilities Authority v. Bear Marcus Pointe, LLCCase No. 1D15-5714, Fla: Dist. Court of Appeals, 1st Dist (2017).

What can we learn from Emerald Coast?

  1. Whitelist important email. Set your spam or junk email filters to allow receipt of messages from approved senders or domains. Include courts, administrative agencies, key clients, opposing counsel, and any other senders whose email you don’t want to miss.
  2. Review spam quarantine summaries daily. Aggressive spam filters will occasionally block senders and domains you have added to your whitelist if the filter finds content in the email to be possible spam.  Addresses and domains may also change, causing new notices to be marked as spam.
  3. Don’t forget to look at your junk mail folder, another place where legitimate messages can land.
  4. Check online court dockets. Weekly will work for most firms; others may need to login daily, depending on case volume.
  5. Listen to your IT staff.  Here, the IT specialist argued against automatic deletion of junk and spam messages and recommended hiring a third-party vendor to handle spam filtering.  He also suggested investing in an online backup system, another idea rejected by the law firm.  Following either of these recommendations may have prevented the firm from missing the deadline.

A few more takeaways

  • It should be clear, but just in case:  everyone needs a backup system. If you can’t afford the cost of an online subscription, buy an external hard drive on sale and use the backup utility built into your operating system.  For backup protocols and additional backup options, see How to Backup Your Computer from the Professional Liability Fund (Practice Management > Forms > Technology).
  • Can’t afford a third-party vendor for spam filtering or another IT task?  Understandable, but the work itself still needs to get done. This may mean you, your partner, or your staff.  Technology is a tool, not a substitute for human judgment.

There are some other interesting twists and turns in Emerald Coast.  For examplethe law firm also refused to join in on a motion for a case management conference – a step that would have likely revealed the existence of the attorney fee award.  Additionally, automatic deletion of spam wasn’t the only email configuration procedure that caused problems for this office.  If you have a few moments, read the full opinion here.

Beverly Michaelis – All Rights Reserved 2017