Tips Tuesday

For the return of Tips Tuesday in the new year, we’re presenting the top tip from each of the three areas — technology, research, and practice — as chosen by the editors of those areas. “Top” might mean editor’s or readers’ favourite, one that’s considered most useful, or one that got the most attention or garnered the most tweets. But for more than a year’s worth of great, use-ready tips, simply go to SlawTips.

Technology – Dan Pinnington Editor – DAN’S PICK: 

All the Accounts You Should Enable Two-Factor Authentication on Right Now

I have given this tip before, but it is worth giving again (thanks to the nudge in this LifeHacker post): Two-factor authentication is one of the best things you can do to make sure your online accounts are more secure and don’t get hacked. More and more popular services are offering it, including: Facebook, LinkedIn, Google/Gmail, BlackBerry, Yahoo, Apple, Microsoft, Amazon web services, PayPal, Dropbox, Hootsuite, Twitter, Evernote, WordPress and LastPass.

Two-factor authentication is a feature that asks for more than just your password. It requires both something you know (a password) and something you have (for example, your phone). After you enter your password, you’ll get a second code sent to your phone, and only after you enter it will you get into your account. It’s a lot more secure than a password and can help keep hackers out of your online accounts. If you use any of the above services, enable two-factor authentication right now.

See this LifeHacker post for more info and a video that demos it: Here’s Everywhere You Should Enable Two-Factor Authentication Right Now.

Research – Shaunna Mireau Editor – SHAUNNA’S PICK:

Watch for See Also Notes

CanLII has added “See Also” references! No, I am not talking about references within CanLII to other things on CanLII, like the growing Commentary section on the site. In this case, I mean See Also references to case comments linked to outside sources as in the image below for Sumner v PCL Constructors Inc., 2011 ABCA 326 (CanLII),

Commercial services like Westlaw Canada and LexisNexis Quicklaw offer excellent lists of case commentary in their noting up services. This is a new feature for CanLII. I like the way that it links out to the web.

Practice – David Bilinsky & Garry Wise Editors


Perspectives on Practice Management: the Regulator and the Practitioner

Garry Wise: On the weekend, I had the notion that it might be interesting if David and I devoted a post or two to answering some recurring law practice management questions we typically encounter.

My co-author, Dave Bilinsky, of course, is SlawTips’resident guru on law practice resources. As a practice advisor and lawyer for the Law Society of British Columbia, he brings (among other elements in his broad perspective) a regulator’s vantage point to all things practice management. I come at these questions from a different place, as a practitioner and veteran of the legal trenches, having focused on litigation at a small, Toronto law firm since 1986.

I thought it might be interesting to see how our two, varied perspectives might mesh – or perhaps even, not mesh – in such a discussion.

So to start, I posed this question:

What are the three most common practice management issues each of us encounters in our respective day-to-day roles, and how do we address them?

David provided his list:

  1. Complaints from clients that they don’t hear from their lawyer
  2. Fees are too high
  3. Matters take too long

I provided mine:

  1. Staff supervision without micromanagement.
  2. Maintaining client communications
  3. Creating templates to establish best practices

And right away, I was struck by something revealing, as I compared our answers to this question.

The regulator’s window on practice management appears by necessity to be so largely defined by constant exposure to an endless refrain of complaints and public dissatisfaction with our profession that simply never seems to stop – lawyers, fairly or unfairly, perceived as charging too much to get nowhere, while keeping clients shut out and in the dark. We practitioners really do need to understand better that our Law Societies genuinely hear these very real concerns from the public – our clients – day in and day out. And we must listen – and do better.

But is that the whole truth?

By contrast, the individual practitioner’s practice management focus is on the day to day needs of our firms and the people we work with. Building the better “law practice mousetrap,” as we endeavour to innovate, improve services, get the job done, achieve results, create decent workplaces, and limit risk, as a matter of responsibility, efficiency and personal and professional pride.

Perhaps our regulators would do well to recognize – and dare I say learn from – the degree of dedication and determination so many of us have to getting it right, just as we must recognize how discouraging it must be for our Law Societies to so constantly confront situations where individuals in our profession fall short or are perceived by the public to fall short in delivering the most basic of client services.

When David so kindly invited me to join him for this Thursday SlawTips adventure, I confess I was both flattered and extremely interested in seeing where this conversation between the practitioner and the “Law Society guy” might lead.

And while we will get to the answers to the practice management questions above soon (I promise), my Practice Tip for the day is a simple one: When regulators and practitioners dialogue, only good things are bound to happen.

I will let David take it from here.

David Bilinsky: Well, to read Garry’s portion is to take me back. There was a time before I joined the Law Society ..18 years in fact..that I ran my own law practice (and part of that included studying for my MBA). So I know what it is like to try to juggle all the competing demands of life, practice, clients and more. Secondly, I would like to make it clear that I am speaking here from my personal perspective and not on behalf of the Law Society, who may or may not share my views.

I have great sympathy for all those lawyers trying to meet their client demands and make a living too (not to mention trying to maintain a life). But I am going to turn this around and ask Garry…What do you think that lawyers can do to make theirs – their client’s and their regulator’s – life a bit easier?

Here is my take on answering this question:

One: Set out yours and your client’s expectations clearly at the outset of the retainer. We all know the parameters: How long do you expect this matter to take? How much will you charge (approximately)? How can I contact you and when – and how often – will you contact me? How long does a client have to pay their bill or deposit $$ into trust to keep the matter moving?

If lawyers set this out – realistically – in writing and in a conversation with their clients at the outset – imagine how much more satisfied each party will be going forward? Stephen Covey (someone whom I admire greatly) once said “Begin with the End in Mind”. If we all start out by – accurately – describing the journey and the bumps to be expected along the way – then everyone will understand what to expect. Or to put it another way…no one likes surprises. If a road bump emerges, then tell the other party about it…immediately.

Two: Fees. No one expects a lawyer to be a crystal-ball reader in terms of predicting the final cost of a matter. But just imagine how unsettling it is if you took your car in for repairs and the repair shop said “We charge $45 an hour and we will let you know how many hours it took to repair your car at the end.” Certainly there are matters that must be billed by the hour. But there are many many more that can be changed to a fixed fee or alternative billing method. With respect, there is much that we can do here.

Three: Delay. We are all busy. But what can we all do to help keep matters moving forward? Procrastination is not unknown in the legal profession. Part of this is letting people know what is a realistic timeline for tasks to be done. But part of this is keeping ourselves accountable.

I *very* much agree with Gary about using templates..and checklists…and other ways to systematize and streamline the workflows in the office.

I like Gary’s point about maintaining client communications. I think this is key and echoed in my thoughts above. I also agree about staff micromanagement. After all, you hired this person to do your work – now – trust them to get it done! “Hovering” doesn’t assist anyone.

One of the people who had a strong and permanent impact on how I view law firm management was Milton Zwicker, who for years wrote a column for the CBA nationally. His advice was to make your firm ‘client focused’. That advice is just as important today as it was when he first penned it. From the perspective of fees, of communications, of time expectations…lay out your expectations..and those of your clients..from the client’s perspective. I think everyone stands to gain this way.

Garry Wise: Much food for thought, as always, David. The challenge here may be in moving from platitudes to practice.

I’m going to chew on your comments a while, and pick up on this dialogue next week.


Articling Tips for Students-at-Law

As summer arrives, so does a new articling season throughout the nation.

The future of articling has been subject of much debateover the last year. With the dust now settled on those deliberations, Canada`s law offices will, over the next few months, begin to welcome their new crops of eager and talented students-at-law.

For many students, it will be the best of worlds and the worst of worlds. And since articling rarely comes with a user manual, here are a few SlawTips for Students-at-Law on succeeding and navigating through the many challenges ahead in your new articling gigs:

  1. There are no shortcuts. Articling is hard work. So is lawyering.
  2. Find a mentor in your firm or elsewhere, and establish a trusting relationship. Make it your business to identify the doors that are most open to offering you guidance and support, and enter them as often as is reasonable and comfortable.
  3. Ethics, ethics, ethics. You are in the final phases of becoming a legal professional. You must now be acutely aware of the professional duties and responsibilities of our profession. So bookmark the applicable Code of Professional Conduct in your province or territory, and read it. Often.
  4. In particular, always strictly abide by your duty of confidentiality – at home, at work and at play. No exceptions. Period.
  5. You will meet many people you admire in this industry. You will probably also encounter a handful (or ten) that you don`t care for as much. Be civil at all times, nonetheless – with colleagues, clients, court staff, opposing counsel and the judiciary. It is your duty. It will also make you a better and more respected professional.
  6. Be concise in your written and verbal communications. Avoid legalese. Edit all redundancy from your work, and make it your point to just get to the point. Proof read everything twice. Check your spelling, grammar and sentence construction. Make the consistent submission of well-written, error-free work the hallmark of your articling career.
  7. Seek clarification on your assigned tasks and instructions as often as is required. If you aren’t sure about the parameters or requirements of a project you are working on, ask someone who knows for direction.
  8. Demonstrate respect and appreciation for the law clerks, legal assistants and support staff at your firm. You will soon come to appreciate their knowledge, experience and vital contributions to the successes of the practice you have joined.
  9. Remember to say “thank you.”
  10. Work with only one file on your desk at a time. Your desk is not a filing cabinet or storage counter. It is a work space. Eliminating clutter will improve your concentration and reduce the risk of error.
  11. Be over-inclusive rather than under-inclusive in your research and written work, especially at the beginning of your articles. Doing more than is necessary is always preferable to doing too little and possibly missing the point. Over time, honing in on the central requirements of your assigned work will likely become second nature. It is one of many skills you will acquire. In the meanwhile and thereafter, cutting corners will never be O.K.
  12. Your legal education may seem at first to have prepared you for surprisingly little that you will encounter as a student-at-law. Over time, however, you will likely see that your legal education has trained you well in the methods you can employ to acquire the knowledge and competencies needed for success as a student and a lawyer.
  13. Procrastination and “file avoidance” are serious occupational hazards for lawyers. If you feel these issues creeping into your professional life, the solution is a simple one. Just do something – anything – on that file or task you have been leaving behind. Make a call, draft a memo, send an email or speak to a mentor. But do something. Create new momentum. Don`t let a matter sit. If it sits, it will just get worse.
  14. If you have made an error – big or small- advise your supervisor or principal immediately. The solution will often be simple to implement and you will have managed risk effectively.
  15. Experiment with technology, and to the extent your firm permits it, use software, the web and mobile apps to augment your effectiveness and skills. Even if your firm isn`t paperless, try to limit the amount of paper you consume and waste. Use your iPad, iPhone (or reasonable imitations thereof) as often as you can. The world is going mobile. The legal profession will catch up, eventually. You don`t have to wait.
  16. Become a regular reader of Canada`s manyexcellent law blogs, journals and legal magazines. They will make you smarter. I promise.
  17. CanLII and Google are a student`s best friends.
  18. Get involved. Find the time to participate in and enjoy the extra-curricular activities and culture of the legal profession.
  19. If your articling experience does not meet your needs and expectations, don`t be trapped. Actively look for a better fit elsewhere, and if it presents, make a move. Having said that, it will always be in your interests to maintain positivity and professionalism in every environment, so long as you are there. There are worse things to do than working through a challenging situation.
  20. Lawyers are real people and so are you. Learn the skill of maintaining work-life balance, whatever the demands upon your time may be. Articling marks the beginning of a critical professional and personal journey. You will need to be comfortable in your own skin to succeed and enjoy your career. So be yourself -always – and let your innate ability and personal strengths shine.

In short, make the most of your articles.

Enjoy observing your own growth. It will be quite rapid – and quite gratifying. You will almost certainly look back on your articling year fondly and frequently as one of the key building blocks in your career. And however it plays out, it will be over before you know it.

Good luck then, to all 2013-14 students!

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