Rocket Lawyer, Legal Zoom: How the Online Law Business Affects Your Business

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The success of Legal Zoom, the online legal forms service which advertises heavily on the web and on talk radio, has apparently demonstrated that there is money to made in the low end of the legal services industry. Wherever you find money, you’re sure to find Google, which recently invested in Rocket Lawyer, the newest contender in this growing market.

What does this mean for your practice?

For most lawyers, the answer is “not much”. Online legal services are still small relative to the size of the market and inasmuch as they primarily provide forms and access to inexpensive legal advice, provide no direct competition. Unless of course your practice targets the same lower end of the market and in today’s economic climate, more and more attorneys are doing just that.

I don’t have a crystal ball but here are a few of my predictions:

  • No matter what the economy does, the online legal services industry will continue to grow and continue to take business from attorneys who offer commodity-level services to consumers and small businesses.
  • Attorneys who continue to target the low end will find it harder to compete with the simplicity, speed, and lower costs available online.
  • The attorneys who survive this trend will be those who (a) abandon this market altogether, in favor of higher level services (e.g, “asset protection” vs. “simple Wills”) or offer services where the hands-on advice and ongoing involvement of an attorney is mandated, or (b) get very good, and very creative, at marketing and finding under-served niche markets where they can carve out market share.
  • The growth of online legal services will expand the overall legal services marketplace, ultimately leading to more work for all attorneys. How that work is distributed and at what price points is the multi-billion dollar question.

Never fear competition. Embrace it, learn from it, prepare for it. Competition will make you a better attorney and, in the end, make you more money.

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Social media marketing for attorneys in a nutshell

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This morning, I was reading an interview with Phil Libin, CEO of Evernote, which as you know is my favorite application. I’m not the only one who loves Evernote; they’re adding one million users a month, without advertising.

The company’s growth comes in large part from its enthusiastic user-base sharing their love of the product with their friends and colleagues. Libin said,

“The job of getting someone who’s [sic] never heard of Evernote to use it for the first time is the job of our existing users. The job of our marketing department is to help our existing users do that job.”

He’s talking about social media marketing, of course, also known as referrals.

It struck me that this is the essence of social media marketing for attorneys. Social media platforms are just another conduit for customers (clients) to recommend products (services) to others. Obvious? Sure. Then why do so few get the referrals they want?

The key to success in social media isn’t how many likes or followers or friends one has. Those numbers are important, of course, but far more important is “passion”.

I didn’t just recommend Evernote, I raved about it. Well, my version of raving. I wasn’t over the top, mad with emotion (the California Bar frowns on that, I think) but I hope you could hear the enthusiasm in my voice, my love for a product that has truly changed my life.

I don’t know how many readers of this blog or my social media posts and tweets will go to the Evernote web site and try it but I do know that Evernote doesn’t pay me a nickel for sending them. Social media marketing works and it’s free.

There’s another point I want to make but Libin made it for me:

“. . .we started measuring stuff and found that users who had been referred to Evernote by a friend were much more valuable to us than users who had stumbled across us by themselves. . . .”

Bingo.

Referred clients are better clients. They are pre-sold on you, more likely to pay their bills on time, and less likely to complain about something you did or did not do. Best of all, referred clients are themselves more likely to refer other clients.

If you want more referrals, do something your clients can get passionate about.

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Evernote helps lawyers get organized and get things done–Part 3

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In parts 1 and 2 of this series I talked about how I use Evernote for collecting and organizing information and for managing my tasks and projects. Today I want to show you the details of my set up and workflow.

Evernote allows you to organize notes in (up to 250) notebooks. Notebooks can also be arranged in “stacks” or sub-notebooks. While this does not provide a complete Windows Explorer-like hierarchal folder set-up (you can only go down one notebook level), it does provide a logical way to organize information. And by hiding sub-notebooks (click the arrow to the left) it makes the left navigation bar less cluttered.

In the beginning, I set up twenty or thirty notebooks. I had notebooks for different areas of my business and personal life, for projects, and to archive notes I probably wouldn’t need soon (i.e., finished projects, receipts, user manuals, etc.) After several months, I found some issues with this set up. For one thing, every time I “filed” a note I had to decide which notebook it belonged in. I have a lot of cross-over in my business and many notes could logically reside in more than one notebook. I had to take time to decide which notebook was best or defer the decision; either way it meant more work.

I could duplicate the note and put it in multiple notebooks. Also not good. If I ever changed or added to a note, I had to find and change the copies.

When you search for notes, you designate which notebook to search in. If you don’t remember, you have to search different notebooks, until you find it, or search all notebooks, and if I’m doing that, what’s the point of having separate notebooks?

Notebooks vs. Tags

I began reading other blogs, to see how others organized their notes. Many people use just a few notebooks and organize primarily using tags. Tags are notebook agnostic–they apply throughout your Evernote database. I’d been using tags since I first started with Evernote, but I didn’t have a system. That soon changed.

The lights went on for me when I read how some people used just one notebook. One notebook! They used tags and Evernote’s robust search function to quickly find things. I was sold. I eliminated all notebooks except two. First is my “Inbox,” my default notebook; everything goes in there first. I review my Inbox at least once a day, assign tags, decide if there’s anything else I need to do with the information, and move the notes to my primary notebook, which I’ve named “My Notes”.

This simplified approach makes my work flow much quicker and more intuitive. I could simplify it even further and use just one notebook, using a “inbox” tag to designate that a note has not yet been processed, but having the buffer of a separate Inbox notebook allows me to quickly upload notes without having to think about them and process them later.

Right now I also have two temporary notebooks. They are both “local” meaning they are not synced to the Evernote server (and I cannot, therefore, access them on the web or from my phone). The first is “Private” and includes passwords, log-ins, sensitive documents and the like. The notebook is temporary because I haven’t yet decided what to do with this information but with an eye towards simplicity, I am leaning towards merging it with all my other (synced) notes. I will probably use Evernote’s encryption function.

The other temporary notebook is named, “To be uploaded”. It is a repository for documents on my Windows hard drive, in queue to be uploaded to Evernote. There is a monthly upload limit (60 mb on the free account, 1 gb on premium) and I simply wait until the last couple of days my monthly cycle to see how much “room” remains in my monthly allotment, so I don’t exceed it. Once I’ve moved everything to Evernote, I won’t need this notebook any longer.

As for tags, Evernote allows you a maximum of 10,000, way more than anyone should need. I currently use less than 100, and, with searches and “saved searches,” another Evernote feature, I think I can get away with even fewer.

Like notebooks, tags can also be nested. Unlike notebooks, tags can be nested to as many levels as you want. You can create a true windows-like hierarchy, using tags like folders. Not only does that allow you to browse your notes, it makes for a very clean left navigation panel. I currently have only seven top level tags, as you can see in the screen shot below.

Getting Things Done with Evernote–My GTD Work Flow

As noted in my previous post, I manage my tasks and projects using David Allen’s “Getting Things Done(TM)” methodology, also known as “gtd”. If you aren’t familiar with gtd, I recommend you buy his book. You may not “get” everything the first time you read it (I didn’t), but with a little effort, I think you’ll find this to be the system that finally allows you to get organized and get things done.

I’ve set up Evernote with tags that allow me to utilize gtd. Below is a screen shot of my Windows desktop client, which I use about 95% of the time. (I occasionally use the web app and when I’m out, I use the iPhone app.)

I’m still tinkering with the names and nesting of my tags because as I use Evernote each day, I learn more about how I work best. Like you, I have different roles in life and many projects for each of those roles, as well as single “next actions” (as Allen describes them). So, by the time you read this, my tags may be different from what is now depicted, but the changes are likely cosmetic rather than functional. And yes, I know that some of what I do isn’t pure gtd.

My tag list shows the top level tags (think “parent”) and some nested ones (“children”). The “Projects” tag, for example, is used to organize “Active Projects” and “Inactive Projects” which are nested under them. Each of those tags has nested tags; to get to them, I click the arrow to the left of the parent tag.

The numbers to the right of the tag indicate how many notes have that tag. You’ll see I have 7 Active Projects and 17 Inactive Projects.

The !!Today tag is for tasks I want to do today, or as soon as possible. It is pre-pended with two exclamation marks to keep it at the top of the list. Below that is my !Next list; these are tasks I want to get to, well, next. As I complete today’s tasks, I find other tasks I want to move to the front of the line. I remove the !Next tag and replace it with !!Today.

I spend most of the day working in !!Today. That keeps me focused on doing what I’ve already determined I want to work on before I work on anything else. But I can also dip into other tags and find other tasks to do.

“Contexts” are preceded with the @ character, representing location or the tool (@Computer). Since I work from home, my context menu is pretty simple; you may have contexts for different locations and areas of your life: @work, @home, @calls, and others. The more I use gtd, the fewer contexts I’ve found necessary but they do come in handy when I want to, say, find tasks @computer, @15 Minutes, and tagged “personal,” or when I’m out and I need to find @Errands.

“Lists” are items I use regularly (e.g., my “weekly review checklist,” another gtd concept, or frequently referenced conference call numbers).

“Musing” is something I came up to tag things I’ve got floating around in my head that I need to think about. Once I’ve done that, they will be tagged !!Today or !Next or @Someday/Maybe, or they may be deleted altogether.

“Reference” is a catch all for all non-actionable items. It is my repository of notes and drafts and ideas, web clips and documents and everything else. I have nested tags in Reference for my two businesses, one for Personal, and a few other “top-level” tags. Each of these tags has tags nested within them. For example, for the attorney marketing business, I use a top level tag “am” and have nested tags for “am-blog,” “am-products,” “am-consulting,” and so on.

How I handle Projects

Each project has it’s own tag. I use a period in front of project tags to designate them as projects instead of single tasks. My project for setting up Evernote and my gtd work flow has the tag .Evernote/GTD. All notes related to that project get that tag. They will usually have other tags too, for context (@Computer, @Errand), Reference (e.,g. am-blog), and, if it’s actionable, !!Today or !Next. If I’m not sure if it’s necessary, I’ll use @Someday/Maybe.

Each project has a primary note tagged with “Active Projects” (if I’m working on it now) or “Inactive Projects” (to be done later). In this note are the objectives for the project and a checklist of tasks and/or “note links” to other Evernote notes. Thus, the main note becomes an index for the entire project with each task usually having it’s own note. That way, as tasks are done, they can be marked with a “Done” tag (or deleted) and the primary note can be updated to show that the task for that project has been done.

Evernote also has check boxes which can be used for checklists or for designating actionable tasks. Check boxes are also searchable, so you can find all tasks in Evernote that are done (checked) or not done.

Calendar: Appointments and Tasks (Ticklers)

I use Evernote to manage time-oriented tasks and projects by linking notes to my Google Calendar. (This may change once Evernote introduces a “Due Date” field which has been promised “soon”.) Each note in Evernote has a unique link. By right-clicking and copying that link, you can paste it into your calendar, either as an appointment (date and time) or as a task (“All day” event).

Every day I review my appointments and tasks, click the link and it opens the Evernote note I need for that appointment or task. (Actually, on gCal, the link isn’t currently clickable; I have to cut and paste the link into a browser window and that opens the note in the desktop app.) I also assign a “Tickler” tag to notes that have been tickled so I can browse those notes if I want to.

The Weekly Review

Every night, I go through Evernote and my calendar and decide what I want to work on the following day. Those tasks get tagged !!Today. Some days I get through the entire list, often I don’t. Tasks not done get carried forward to the following day or, if I decide there are other things I need to do first, I might remove !!Today and replace it with !Next.

I also do a weekly review, (Sunday mornings), to plan the following week. The daily and weekly review are key to making the gtd system work because you’re regularly looking at your lists and making decisions on what to do next.

As you can see, this is a very simple system. It works because it is simple and because I don’t keep anything in my head, everything’s in Evernote, which means I can focus on getting things done.

Read part 1 and part 2 of this series.

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Checklists every lawyer needs

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In his article in Lawyers USAJim Calloway observes that while most lawyers use lists and checklists in their practice, they don’t use them enough.

I agree.

Checklists can make you a better lawyer and make you more money. Checklists help lawyers

  • Avoid mistakes
  • Save time
  • Reduce anxiety
  • Impress clients
  • Train temps/new hires, open a new office
  • Increase profits

Every practice should have these checklists:

  • How to open a new file (what goes in the file (and where), letters to send, what to give new client to take home, what to send them, what to calendar, etc.; your intake form is a checklist of information to ask the client)
  • How to close a file (final letters/documents, what to remove/give to client, what to scan, archiving, storage, destruct date)
  • Handling leads/inquiries (what to say, what to do, what to offer, what to send, what to track)
  • How to prepare documents (complaints, responses, motions; trusts, agreements, letters, etc.)

If you handle litigation, you need checklists for:

  • Issues/causes of action
  • Possible defenses
  • Preparation of Complaint/Response
  • Discovery (each element)
  • Trial (pre-trial motions, other motions, evidence, witnesses, jury instructions, closing argument)
  • Post-trial (motions, appeals, judgement, liens, bonds, collection)
  • Settlement

For a transactional practice:

  • Information to request
  • Documents to request
  • Documents to prepare
  • Filing/registration fees
  • Timeline
  • Letters to clients
  • Letters to others

As you can see, this is a very broad list, a place to start. Start with the easy and obvious; add more later. Eventually, you  should have checklists for every aspect of your practice.

An additional benefit of creating checklists is that in the process of creating and updating them, you learn so much about what you and how you can do it better. Checklists will never replace you–your experience, your intuition, your quick thinking–but they can make your job a lot easier.

What checklists do you use in your practice? How have they helped you? What checklists will you put on your “to do” list?

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Lawyer TV ad spoof: would you hire this firm?

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Lawyer TV ads are often criticized for being tacky. “The Tackiest Lawyer Ad. . .Ever,” is a fine example. A lawyer advertising firm, hoping to attract lawyers for their services, created a parody of bad lawyer TV ads, but does it work? Would you hire the firm that created this spot?

[mc src=”http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xSKe42bxMZ0″ type=”youtube”]Bad ad about bad lawyer ads[/mc]

Do you think this is funny?

I didn’t laugh. Isn’t that the first objective of advertising that purports to use humor? In the first few seconds, I thought this was a cheesy lawyer’s attempt to advertise and I was embarrassed–for him and for our profession. Once I got the joke, I thought, “ah, a spoof, okay, we can all laugh at ourselves once in awhile.” But I still didn’t laugh; did you?

True, parody doesn’t always demand LOL and if this was just someone fooling around and poking fun, well, okay, it worked for some and not for others, but this is an ad by a company that wants us to give them their business.

Would you hire this firm?

The ad says, “lawyers’ ads are tacky and don’t work; we can produce an ad that’s not tacky and does work.” But they use a tacky ad to make that point. Is that good psychology? Is that good advertising?

I don’t think it is. At least not in this case.

If they showed us a successful ad they produced for one of their clients, would that be better? Yeah, I think it would. Show us what you do, not what you don’t do. Ads that demonize or make fun of “the other guy” can sell. But they have to get all the elements right and in this case, I don’t think they did.

What do you think? Click on the balloon above to add your comments.

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My take on the ABA list of 30 Books Every Lawyer Should Read

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The ABA Journal published a list of books lawyers said they would recommend to other lawyers. So I have some questions for you. My answers are in parentheses.

  1. How many of these books have you read? (Two).
  2. What books are missing from this list? (Anything by Earle Stanley Gardner (Perry Mason); his stories were part of the reason I became a lawyer. Also, To Kill a Mockingbird, also suggested by others. Also, see question number 4 below).
  3. Why are so many of the books on this list so. . . heavy-duty? (It’s the ABA).
  4. Why are there no books on marketing or making a living as an attorney? (It’s the ABA).

Many readers thought there should be a simple list of all of the books, instead of the awkward way the list is formatted on the site. Thanks to a helpful reader, here is the list:

  1. My Life In Court by Louis Nizer
  2. Colossus:  Hoover Dam and the Making of the American Century by Michael Hiltzik
  3. 1861:  The Civil War Awakening by Adam Goodheart
  4. The Story of My Life by Clarence Darrow
  5. Flourish:  A Visionary New Understanding of Happiness and Well-Being by Martin E.P. Seligman
  6. And the Dead Shall Rise: The Murder of Mary Phagan and the Lynching of Leo Frank by Steve Oney
  7. Personal History by Katharine Graham
  8. Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison
  9. Cleopatra: A Life by Stacy Schiff
  10. The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
  11. Leadership on the Federal Bench: The Craft and Activism of Jack Weinstein by Jeffrey B. Morris
  12. My Personal Best: Life Lessons from an All-American Journey by John Wooden with Steve Jamison
  13. The Death and Life of Great American Cities by Jane Jacobs
  14. The Horse’s Mouth by Joyce Cary
  15. In the Shadow of the Law by Kermit Roosevelt
  16. One L: The Turbulent True Story of a First Year at Harvard Law School by Scott Turow
  17. Simple Justice: The History of Brown v. Board of Education and Black America’s Struggle for Equality by Richard Kluger
  18. The Man to See by Evan Thomas
  19. The End of Anger: A New Generation’s Take on Race and Rage by Ellis Cose
  20. Justice Accused: Antislavery and the Judicial Process by Robert M. Cover
  21. Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ by Daniel Goleman
  22. A Lesson Before Dying by Ernest J. Gaines
  23. The Legal Analyst: A Toolkit for Thinking about the Law by Ward Farnsworth
  24. Cry, the Beloved Country by Alan Paton
  25. A Nation of Immigrants by John F. Kennedy
  26. Respect for Acting by Uta Hagen and Haskel Frankel
  27. The Trial by Franz Kafka
  28. Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide by Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn
  29. Justice for All: Earl Warren and the Nation He Made by Jim Newton
  30. Civility: Manners, Morals and the Etiquette of Democracy by Stephen L. Carter

In my opinion, this is a list of books one might recommend to someone thinking of becoming a lawyer, not a list for lawyers. We already drank the Koolaid; give us something to read that will make us happy we did.

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Evernote helps lawyers get organized and get things done–part 2

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Last week, I wrote about how I use Evernote to organize information. I love having all my information in one place and being able to access that information from anywhere. I also use evernote as a productivity tool, that is, to create and manage tasks and projects.

I’ve tried many other productivity tools–web apps, iPhone apps, desktop apps, even a paper based system. Each has its merits and shortcomings, features and functionalities. Some, I quickly abandoned, either because they had too many features and I got lost in their complexities, or they had too few and I couldn’t do what I wanted. I spent a long time using Toodledo, a powerful web app that syncs to many other applications. I liked it and still recommend it but I moved on because the clunkiness of the web app’s UI impaired its functionality and because Tooldledo doesn’t strictly adhere to  the “Getting Things Done” (“gtd”) methodology that I use.

One app that does follow the gtd approach is Nirvana, and I also used that for a long time. It has one of the best UI’s I’ve seen and isn’t tied to any one platform like some gtd apps for Mac (e.g., Omnifocus and Things). Nirvana will be coming out of beta “soon” and I will definitely consider it again. For now, I’m using Evernote.

Yes, evernote is a note management app, not a task management app, so why I am using it for tasks?

  • I already have all my notes in Evernote and use it daily to manage information; I like the simplicity of having everything in one application;
  • I can easily customize Evernote to suit the gtd methodology;
  • Not only is Evernote platform agnostic, it has an open API and encourages third party developers to create applications that integrate with Evernote, further increasing its functionality. As evernote continues to develop, I can see it playing an even larger role in helping me manage my life.

Evernote does have it’s limitations with respect to task management. For example, while it handles the past quite well, with fields for “Date Created” and “Date Updated,” it doesn’t have a simple way to manage future dates. (If you have an iPhone, Egretlist allows you to use Evernote to manage future tasks–but you have to use the app to do so. Also, one of the finalists in the Evernote developer’s competition has a promising app that seems to have worked around this issue.)

Evernote promises to add a “Due Date” field and this will give users and developers many more options. Until then, there are workarounds. I’ll show mine–a “tickler” system I use with Evernote and my calendar–as well as the rest of my Evernote set up and work flow for getting things done in the next post in this series.
Read part 3 of this series, or go back to part 1.
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