Archives - February, 2009



27 Feb 09

I love Twitter! I learn so much. One of my fellow legal colleagues, Matt Homann of the (non)billable hour, mentioned his proposal to one of his legal consulting clients (he’s a consultant to law firms, among other things). Here was the tag line that caught me by surprise, “Just had another great call with coaching client. Building him a brand new, timesheet-free practice niche in Omaha! Gonna be really cool.

Timesheet-free practice??? I have to admit, I was fascinated by how this was going to be possible! Upon inquiring, here was our exchange….

@LegalAdmin (me): “Timesheet-Free??? Tell us more!”

@MattHomann
: “Tell me more. Why must you measure time spent to measure success?”

@LegalAdmin (me):
Suggesting that we not keep track of productivity is like saying a business shouldn’t care how many widgets they produce.”

@MattHomann
: “
But timesheets don’t measure productivity, they measure time spent working. Big difference. Client happiness is better metric.”

@LegalAdmin (me): Don’t get me wrong, alternative fees are fantastic, but it can’t be treated as pulling a rabbit out of the hat.”

@LegalAdmin (me): Of course client happiness determines success! As a business we still have to track COGS. (Tough discussion in 140 characters)”

So, as I said in my last post, continuing this conversation 140 twitter characters at a time would never give either of us a chance to explain real points of expertise.

By all means, I know and feel exactly what Matt is talking about. Why shouldn’t we redefine how law firms and the practice of law operate? We’re certainly cut from that same cloth! Our variations of opinion are very complicated.

I hear him telling me that the only measure of success for any legal practice is the Client’s Happiness. I ceratinly agree that no lawyer or administrator should ever disagree with that thought.

Unfortunately, I think that theory lacks depth of thought from a business perspective. How invoices are billed to a customer (Summit calls them customers) doesn’t have to relate to the measurements of productivity inside the firm. However, in order for the firm to best evaluate how attorneys perform for their customers and how to evaluate how the attorney is paid, tracking time as the baseline for performance is the only way to measure services.

“Measure” is an internal evaluation. Using hours productivity is not to measure the success of a customer’s happiness. It’s a BASELINE

Let’s take an example from the manufacturing industry. They may have set a “flat fee” of $500 for XYZ Television. However, I would bet they can tell you exactly how much the pieces cost to go into that television. So, they know that the Cost of Goods Sold (or cost of the combine pieces and energy it took to build that television) is $380, leaving a profit margin of $120. So, how would they know that $500 is the right price if they didn’t also know how much the components were costing them?

Under Matt’s model in a manufacturing environment, we just sell TV’s. We don’t need to know how much each component costs or how many TV’s we produced today. As long as the customer buys the TV and loves the quality of the new TV, then that pays all the bills and the whole world is a better place.

Does that same manufacturer not create an Income Statement or other monthly financial statements? After all, these are also measurement tools for evaluating how we’re performing compared to past periods.

Customers can have the most amazing experiences and receive the best service and a lawyer can still go out of business when they don’t manage their business.

I don’t think recording hours has to affect fix fee arrangements at all! When a lawyer makes a fix fee arrangement with a customer, that is the fee, period. Even by setting a flat fee they still have to record their time to show themselves how accurate their fixed fee invoice was evaluated from a profitability standpoint. Fix fee arrangements aren’t so much to save a customer money, but to give the customer a tool for predicting and budgeting the investment in the legal project.

I hope this better explains why I’m concerned about completely abandoning the recording of hours. Elimating the “Billable Hour” as it exists on customer invoices is totally fine by me! But firms and lawyers still have to have a baseline and since the widget we sell is a service it’s still time regardless of how it’s packaged for sale.

(Matt I ceratinly hope you can educate me on your process.)


Filed under: Legal

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18 Feb 09

I always thought “Richard’s Legal Admin Place” was boring and I never really thought it was “cool” to have my name in the title. Hopefully “The Legal Hokey-Pokey” will be more catchy!! :)


Filed under: Blogging

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16 Feb 09

Whenever any friend of mine gets a new BlackBerry they hand it to me and let me take 5 minutes to do some minor “tweaks” to make it just a little better. Thought I’d take a moment to share some of these tips with you.

1) Change your default browser to “internet”. Go into “Options” > Advanced > Browser. Change both browsers to Internet (if that’s an option, some companies may not allow it, most of the time it’s initial default will be set to BlackBerry Browser). How will this help? BlackBerry Browser is supposed to “compress” the internet data in order to make it reach you faster. However, if you try to go to many “normal” websites using the BlackBerry Browser you’ll often get a “Data request was too large” error. Switching the default to Internet Browser as the default takes care of this error most of the time.

2) Hide icons you don’t use and move icons you use a lot to more convenient locations on your home screen. Many folks don’t even realize that they can hide icons. So, How do you do it? If you scroll to the icon you want to hide, click the BlackBerry menu button and select Hide. If you accidently hide one, you can click the BlackBerry button (doesn’t matter which icon you’re on), then select “Show All”. You’ll then see some grayed out icons. Menu click on any of the gray ones and uncheck the “Hide” option. To move the icons, Menu click the icon you want to move (you’ll notice a boarder around it) then scroll to where you want it and click again. VOILA!

3) Delete applications you don’t use. My new BlackBerry Storm came with a TON of “extra” software. Deleting this extra software can significantly increase the speed of the device. To Delete Applications, go to Options > Advanced > Applications. Scroll to the application you want to delete, click the BlackBerry Menu key, select Delete. What software should you delete? Well, instant messaging programs you have no intention of using, GPS software you don’t need/want/use, Rhapsody “music buying” software… These are a few examples of stuff I always delete. Anything on there you discover that you’d like to delete, but you can’t, just hide the icons with instructions from number 2 above.

4) Change the “Screen/Keyboard” options. Going into Options > Screen/Keyboard reveles lots of “secret” settings to making your viewing and operations much smoother and enjoyable. First and foremost set the “backlight” to the lowest setting. At first it might seem VERY low, but your eyes adjust very quickly and it will save TONS of battery life. Also, change the “Auto Daylight Backlight” to ON, in bright light the screen will be bright, in low light the backlight will be lower. This helps a lot! (keep in mind the indicator light IS the light sensor, so if you cover it the BlackBerry thinks you’re in the dark and will react appropriately)

5) Setting your Right and Left “Convenience Keys”. Many of the newer BlackBerry devices have at least one convenience key on the right side and the newest BlackBerry devices have one on each side. These buttons can be assigned to any application that is installed on your device. By default, the right side is set to the Camera and the left is set to Voice Dialing. For me, I like the camera, but usually set the left key to “Sounds”. This is the application that can help you select “Silent” or “Vibrate” and the sound/notification settings with one simple click (plus if you assign it to that key you can hide the button on the home screen!)

6) Setup some AutoText (I wrote an entire blog entry dedicated to this topic “Simplify your life with AutoText) items to help you type complicated text over and over and over very quickly.

7) If you have Operating System 4.5 or higher (on the BlackBerry Curve, Storm, Bold, and usually Pearl you likely have 4.5) there is an option for “Wireless Upgrade” of the OS to the newest updated version. If you go into Options > Advanced, then scroll to the bottom you’ll see Wireless Upgrade. By selecting this option and going through the couple question steps it will upgrade your BlackBerry to the most recent “official” release of operating system by your wireless carrier. This isn’t COMMON for many BlackBerry users, but it should be. An updated OS can solve many slowness issues you might have and sometimes even add new options and settings for better smoother options. Keep in mind, if the device does end up having an update to download, it takes a LONG time to do! I highly recommend plugging in the device and running the operation over night (make sure it’s plugged in, a large download like this can drain the battery very quickly, over a few hours).

8) Embrase third party applications IF you can use them. Do you have a Facebook account? Use the BlackBerry application (sometimes installed on the new devices, if not use the built in browser and go to http://mobile.blackberry.com) It’s free and really useful to keep in touch with friends and colleagues and upload photos directly from you BlackBerry to your Facebook page. Another application you might use is Flickr, a photo hosting website where you can also upload your photos directly from your BlackBerry.

9) Perhaps this should technically fall under #8, but it’s much more important than other software. The final piece to the software puzzle is Viigo, http://www.getviigo.com, it’s a news reader! Many people don’t use news readers, or if they do, they might use Google Reader. With this application you can receive news feeds from all your favorite news sources or blogs or other websites offering RSS feeds. By using Viigo effectively you can kill those annoying small amounts of time by catching up on news that you’d want to read anyway, on the elevator, out to lunch by yourself, commuting via public transit, these are all GREAT places to embrase Viigo.

10) The majical battery pull! The battery pull can solve most BlackBerry problems. If you ever think you BlackBerry is running slowly? Pull the battery out for about 5 seconds and put it back in. Experience a lock-up when opening or closing a program? Pull the battery out for about 5 seconds and put it back in. Mysterious things happening to your BlackBerry randomly? Pull the battery out for about 5 seconds and put it back in. Basically it solves lots of memory type issues. If all else fails, try the battery pull before going to your BlackBerry expert (usually known as your company’s IT department, but sometimes that means a friend).

Ok folks, that’s it for now! Enjoy!!


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14 Feb 09

Below is a blog entry from BlackBerry Cool I thought the legal community should investigate very closely. Looks like this might be a step in the right direction!

Welcome back, BlackBerry Nation, to Nan the Power User! Today, we are going to check out Momentem from Redwood Technologies (http://www.blackberrycool.com/2008/11/momentem-blackberry-hands-on/).

Momentem is time tracking software that helps you squeeze every last drop of billable time from your BlackBerry. Let me start by disclosing that I typically don’t purchase software for my BlackBerry. I’m a deal hunter who looks for free apps or beta tests to slide in for free. Further, monthly subscriptions scare me more than rattlesnakes in the floorboard of the Jeep at the ranch. (Everyone else is folksy these days; I wanted to take a stab at it.) So when I was asked to check out Momentem at $9.99 per month, I was prepared not to like it.

As a business consultant, I am bombarded with emails and phone calls throughout the day. Many of them are read and answered via my BlackBerry. Whether you realize it or not, this can be a parasitic loss to you when you bill for your time. Sure, you think you just fired off that email in a moment or two, but over the course of a day, week, month and year, these little increments of time add up.

How Momentem Works:

Once you have installed Momentem, it sits quietly, running in the background. You enter the minimum time that a call and email message should be to be considered billable, as well as what you charge for an hourly rate. You can also go back and edit this if you want to raise the threshold for the software.

When you either have a call or an email, regardless of whether it is inbound or outbound, Momentem jumps into action asking you if you want to Tag It, Not Now, Dismiss or Add to the Ignore List. “Tag It” allows you to assign a contact, project cost and time to that call or email address. The duration is calculated for you automatically both on calls and emails. Emails are timed on how long you read the message and how long it took you to respond. You can even add notes to the charge. “Not Now” lets you procrastinate and tag it later. “Dismiss” removes it from the Not Now list, say for a personal call or email, and “Add to the Ignore List” is perfect for when you’re in touch with your significant other, as they are not usually the type of people you bill.

I was worried about potential crashes, and that my BlackBerry might experience slowdowns due to the software. I also feared an overall sense of annoyance by having the software on my device. Fortunately, none of those issues were true at all. It is easy to close the pop up window if I am hammering out calls or emails, simply by pressing the back or end key again. Momentem took the brush off gracefully each time by putting that activity in the Not Now list for me to process later. And process later I did. At my leisure, I was able to hit up Momentem and go through my Not Now list and file those calls and emails into the proper place. It was as if the software said, “I know you’re busy and important, so I’ll put these aside for now and we can do the dirty work later.” After you’re finished processing, Momentem provides the option to run a report and check your progress at any point in the month or you may export your time sheet as an Excel spreadsheet via email. Very cool.

Challenges:

Momentem does have some quirks that deserve a mention. At present, Momentem allows you to attach a project to a client, but it does not create a universal project list that can be selected for each new contact. So if I am working on a project with multiple people in an organization, the Project list does not provide a drop down to select that project name, and I have to enter it over again for each contact I am working with at that particular company. Also, Momentem does not synchronize your BlackBerry contacts directly into its contact list. Instead, it will only show you the phone number or email address (this is coming very soon in a future release, ed.). Then, when you choose to add that person as a Momentem contact, it will populate it for you from your BlackBerry contact list. It seems to me that the program should be able to connect these two address books in your device, but maybe there are technical challenges that RIM has placed. One other issue was that while calls would indicate whether they were incoming or outgoing, emails did not specify.
That would be a nice touch.

The Bottom Line:

These small frustrations aside, I am pleased to recommend Momentem. It is a rock solid piece of software that ensures that I am able to bill to the maximum of my abilities while using my BlackBerry. The integration is excellent overall. It makes my billing easier at the end of the month because the accountability level is very high. Additionally, it never became an annoyance; instead it became better every time I used it. I can say that this is the first piece of software on my BlackBerry that I’ve used which quickly pays for itself. Here’s some quick breakeven math with a few billable rate options:
$100 per hour = 6 minutes of calls or emails to break even in a month
$75 per hour = 8 minutes of calls or emails to break even in a month
$50 per hour = 12 minutes of calls or emails to break even in a month
$25 per hour = 24 minutes of calls or emails to break even in a month

Do yourself a favor and see what you’re missing. Momentem is the way to go for people that bill for their time. Congratulations Redwood, you broke me of my distaste for monthly subscriptions; I’m a believer.

Download Momentem for BlackBerry (http://store.blackberrycool.com/product.asp?id=21812&n=momentem)
DOWNLOAD FREE TRIAL of Momentem for BlackBerry (http://store.blackberrycool.com/common_files/inc_productAjax.asp?ref=39805.6944097222&nTrialLabel=1&nTrialAvaiable=0&sDivID=showTrial&action=updateContent&id=21812&posid=145&platformid=5&did=)

As an extra bonus, I have a small wish list that I would like to send over to the folks at Redwood Technologies. If you are using Momentem, leave us a comment on what you might want to see in the next release.
– Provide the Excel script to allow people who bill in increments that are smaller than an hour so they can maximize their time, instead of aggregating their time at the end of the month (thanks, Ralph).
– Add keyboard shortcuts
– Add BES integration, so time is also tracked when you’re on your computer
– Add a link on your website with tips and tricks instead of only allowing it on the device

© BlackBerry Cool for BlackBerry Cool (http://www.blackberrycool.com), 2008


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10 Feb 09

Back in the WEE beginnings of my management career I started operating by one simple general rule, everyone I work with or for is my customer. I am my own company. I manage my “own business” and my own product. I am the keeper of my own reputation. If someone thinks I performed poorly, either a) I DID, or b) I didn’t communicate well enough during the project to allow my customer to see I made every possible effort to accomplish the ultimate goal: their satisfaction.

The more people I managed the more I tried to help everyone understand that our operating unit was it’s own separate entity from any other department in the firm. If I was the accounting manager, I insisted we answer THE questions: Who were our customers? Were they ACTUAL customers? Or were they other employees? Were they managers internally? Were they vendors from whom our company buys products and services? Usually iIt didn’t matter. They were all our customers in one way or another and our goal was to make sure we did exactly what we could (within legal limits) to perform their required tasks, duties or projects to their satisfaction. That doesn’t mean, “Well, here’s your report.” “What? You don’t like it? Well that’s how I’ve always done it. So this one must be good enough too.”

Isn’t this always a general rule, “If ‘they’ are happy, we are happy.” Sometimes “they” can never be happy. Sometimes we’re never told if “they” are happy. And then sometimes “they” always seem happy, even if they are miserable and want to put you on the next boat to nowhere.

Now that I work in law firms (aka the “service industry”) customer service is talked about a lot. Every law firm thinks (and knows) that their primary mission is to service the “client” (or customer at Summit). Every firm prides themselves on ultimate client satisfaction. If we all say that, and we all do that, how does that make any one of us different from the other? On the other hand of COURSE we can’t say, “Well, we have mediocre customer service, and we’ll get back to our customers when it’s convenient.”

I’ve worked at enough companies now in my 33 years to know that performing great customer service to your customers is only a small part of what will make a company REALLY successful.

When the customer is the customer this all makes sense! But what if you start looking at your employees as customers instead of “people who work FOR you”?

I’d like to propose “Big Circle” customer service. Big Circle Customer Service starts internally, selecting employees whom you respect enough to treat as well as you would any “paying customer”. Selecting vendors and outside service providers to not only perform the tasks you ask, but who enhance your own customer service while YOU enhance theirs! Know that every internal meeting or management process that takes place somehow affects the customer service your firm ultimately gives to your “paying customers”.

So, starting with employees: you HAVE to make sure you’re communicating with each employee as clearly and cordially as you would your paying customers! Every single employee in your organization makes it successful somehow. If that employee is not contributing to the success, then, just like any paying customer who can’t contribute to your company’s success, they have to go. “Well, they report to me, therefore they have to do what I say.” Well, for those few who might actually live/manage by that moto, I’ve got news, slavery ended decades ago. You don’t own them, they just work for you, and voluntarily I might add!

A quote I learned from management consultant Michael Nash about paying employees for work, “You can buy their hands. You can buy their backs. But they volunteer their hearts and their mind.”

Picture each interaction with each employee as a customer meeting. What’s the goal? Who has to accomplish it? Is that the right person for the job? Do they have the tools and knowledge to accomplish the mission?

By treating our employees like our other customers we gain their respect. They “invest” more of their heart and their brain into the organization and, ultimately offer better customer service to their customers.

Customer service isn’t for someone else to give. It’s your job too.

(Since part of Summit’s customer service philosophy is our Value Adjustment Line, allowing customers to adjust their invoice up or down appropriate to the value of the services they believe they received, I wonder if I could ask for a Value Adjustment Line to be added to my paycheck! Hmmmmm… Maybe I’m just one step ahead! How about I just be greatful for what I have!)


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