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Archive for the ‘Practice of Law’ Columns

Confronting the Underperforming Partner

I witness this same scenario play itself out, time after time, and we never seem to learn.

Imagine this: The practice group leader or managing partner has their attention drawn to the fact that one of our beloved partners is underperforming. This leader knew that the particular partner was underperforming. It didn’t come as a shock. But they were content to let the situation drift without resolution, rather than have to confront the ugly reality of the circumstances. But today we have the facts thrust before us and now something must be done.

Our devoted leader, unaccustomed to having to . . . [more]

Posted in: Practice of Law

Swapping Decision Trees for River Logic

My experience to date with legal knowledge engineering has consisted of using decision trees to automate legal documents in a field known as document assembly. I have never done hard coding or played with expert system shells. Indeed, there are not many of them to play with. The only ones I am aware of are those developed by Neota Logic (formerly Jnana) and RuleBurst (since acquired by Oracle).

So it was interesting to meet Dr. Pamela Gray, a legal knowledge engineer from Charles Sturt University, and her son Xenogene Gray, a computational physicist. Together they have developed a legal . . . [more]

Posted in: Practice of Law

Charity Begins at Home

A newly minted partner that I know, was hit with the realization that while she has a robust group of clients, she can no longer look to her firm to send her work as they did when she was an associate. Lisa knows that developing new business is now completely up to her. She also now has a responsibility to make sure that associates in her medium-sized firm are given sufficient work that they too are profitable.

When Lisa looks at her marketing plan, it includes all the right activities. She regularly contacts existing and old clients. She gives client . . . [more]

Posted in: Practice of Law

The Purpose and Place of Pro Bono

The most recent Canadian Bar Association annual meeting just wrapped up in Halifax, and while I missed this one, I attended many previous editions (more recently called Canadian Legal Conferences) while with the CBA. 

At each CLC, I came to notice, Chief Justice Beverly McLachlin’s keynote address could always be counted on to include a call for the legal profession to do more pro bono work. I suppose the fact that this is an annual request from the chief justice indicates that it’s not generating the results she might like to see. 

But it does illustrate the fact that . . . [more]

Posted in: Practice of Law

Going From a 2 to a 4

I’m watching a sailboat from my deck.

It’s a sunny day and there’s some wind, just a perfect day for sailing. As a picture, it looks idyllic. Call it a 10 on the idyllic-scenes rating scale. 

It’s Metaphor Time

I used to race sailboats, an amateur pastime at which I became reasonably adept. I can see that the person helming the sailboat isn’t very skilled. His (or her) sails are poorly trimmed, and he’s steering neither a straight nor terribly effective course. He rolled up his sails 30 seconds after I took the picture and turned to what sailors call . . . [more]

Posted in: Practice of Law

Time Out

When you’re a sole practitioner, you sometimes feel as though you always have to be on the job; never more so than when you first start out in your own office. The worry that you’ll miss the call or e-mail of that “potentially very important client” can be a powerful motivator to be near the computer or smartphone on a constant basis.

Here’s a secret: when that “potentially very important client” is looking for you, more often than not they’ll call back. Usually, the only people who think that lawyers need to be available all day/every day are other lawyers. . . . [more]

Posted in: Practice of Law

3 Introductory Steps for Small Firm Succession

The issue of succession for small firms and solo practitioners has received a significant amount of attention of late in Canada. The attention stems from a demographic reality that sees the majority of lawyers in many provinces in the country in excess of 50 years old and a general recognition that a substantial amount of these lawyers have not adequately planned for succession. Concerns regarding succession are especially poignant for small firms and solo practitioners who often suffer from a lack of resources to address succession issues but who are the most at risk for negative consequences due to an . . . [more]

Posted in: Practice of Law

If a Disability Prevents You From Working, What Happens to Your Business?

As a self-employed lawyer, you are directly responsible for your business expenses. So what would happen if a serious accident or illness prevented you from working?

Just because you can’t work doesn’t mean your business expenses suddenly stop. You’ll still owe rent, equipment lease payments, and utilities. In addition, you probably have employees with families who depend on your ability to pay a salary on time. 

You’ll need money to keep the doors open and the lights on so you have something to go back to when you recover. If it looks like you can’t return, you’ll need to cover . . . [more]

Posted in: Practice of Law

Taking a Summer Vacation Will Make You a Better Lawyer (Yes, Really)

If you were planning on working through the summer without taking a holiday, think again. Vacations aren’t just for fun, relaxation and time with the family, they can provide crucial recuperation for your mental muscle. When you don’t take vacation, you lose important recovery time, and over the long term your work (and you) may well suffer.

Here’s why: Our bodies work in rhythms. Our brain does too. Throughout the day we cycle through longer periods of energy exertion and shorter periods of recuperation. Our minds can maintain optimal focus for 60 to 90 minutes before needing a 10 minute . . . [more]

Posted in: Practice of Law

Thinking Like an Owner

The magic words that every associate wants to hear from a partner is that the associate is now “thinking like an owner”. These words mean that the junior lawyer realizes the difference between being an employee and becoming a partner in a professional services firm. It means that the associate has grasped the difference between a partnership structure and a corporation. 

Many young lawyers starting out believe that being smart, skilled and working hard will naturally lead to partnership. While this may lead to promotions within a corporate structure, in a professional services firm such as law, accounting or consulting, . . . [more]

Posted in: Practice of Law

Advice to a Leadership Successor

Early in July I launched Law Firm Leaders – the ONLY group on Linkedin exclusively for and populated by firm chairs, managing partners, and a few qualified executive committee members of (primarily U.S.) firms with over 100 lawyers in size. With an initial membership of over 60 law firm leaders, this question from my colleague, Brian Burke, quickly became one of the most popular, generating numerous responses:

As you think back over your years of service as a managing partner, as you think about some of the leadership lessons that you’ve learned (perhaps some through trials of fire), what one . . . [more]

Posted in: Practice of Law

Mediation in the Caribbean

As lawyers know, between the lengthy process and the various complexities that are inevitable within the traditional legal system, many people become discouraged with their attempts to obtain justice. As others have suggested, alternative dispute resolution mechanisms, specifically mediation, may offer the needed solution to for this lack of efficient access to justice. Rather than aiming to replace the established system, however, these mechanisms work in parallel with it.

Many non-governmental organisations here and abroad have realized the overwhelming inefficiency of the existing traditional legal system in the countries in which they are based. This is the reason many projects . . . [more]

Posted in: Practice of Law