“The same way we expect our clients to come to us for professional advice, we should turn to trusted financial professionals for advice.”
It is time again for my annual Tidbits and Bytes column – that time in the year when I perform my spring cleaning of my reading materials and share some of this information with MSBA members.
The first tidbit comes from “Making the Most of Your Physical Network” by Daniel J. Siegel and published in the ABA Law Practice Management Section’s Law Practice, July/August 2012.
In this article, Siegel, a lawyer and law office technology consultant, gives some really useful and practical tips on upgrading or replacing your office network. Despite the use of the cloud, many firms are still using physical networks. According to Siegel, “Installing or upgrading a network is a major undertaking, and can affect your firm’s bottom line. As a result, asking questions and planning ahead are critical to assuring a smooth transition and helping you focus on generating more revenue.” And while this comment is not surprising, it bears repeating. Some of the many tips he gives are:
- Don’t do it yourself – no explanation really needed
- Talk to more than one firm and try a local firm – a good way to get recommendations is from other firms
- Consider flat fee proposals – but make certain you are clear about what is and is not included
- If you do not understand the proposal, ask questions – and expect answers. If you do not get a satisfactory answer or feel as though they are ignoring the questions, do not consider this vendor.
- Get warranties for all equipment – either through the vendor or directly from the manufacturer
- Buy the best you can afford (and maybe a little more than you can afford)
- Address confidentiality as it relates to the vendor having access to client data
- Make a list of all equipment, logins, and password
- Be certain the proposal addresses your data and data security
- Use only licensed software – it is illegal to do other wise
Next is “Security Tips for Smartphones” published in the March/April 2013 Law Practice.
Authors Sharon D. Nelson and John W. Simek are president and vice-president of Sensei Enterprises, Inc., located in Northern Virginia, and they have spoken at the MSBA Solo Conference many times as well as tech programs all over the country. In this article, they address the issue of keeping your smartphone as secure as possible. According to them, “Smartphones are no more than small computers that happen to make phone calls. Smartphones are extremely powerful devices, capable of storing contacts, calendar entries, email communications, electronic files, voice messages, and a host of additional confidential client information. As an attorney, you have an ethical obligation to protect the client data that is stored on your smartphone.”
A few of the 16 tips are:
- Do not be afraid of encryption. Consider enabling encryption.
- All of your devices should have a lock code – no exceptions, and make it eight to 12 characters. Set the inactivity timer to lock automatically for a short time. Despite being a nuisance, it can prevent someone from gaining access.
- Turn on location services to find the phone if it is lost and have the ability to remotely wipe it if it is lost or stolen and cannot be retrieved.
The theme of the January/February 2013 issue of GPSolo, the publication of the ABA Solo Firm and General Practice Division, is “Practicing in a Down Economy”. Although I think the economy is slowly improving, there are a few articles which may be of interest to solo and small firm practitioners who have had a harder time over the past few years.
In the article “Take Charge of Your Own Economy” by Cynthia Sharp, she does not offer any real new suggestions but many that bear repeating and reviewing. “The principles outlined in this article are geared toward those who do not have a sizable inheritance on the horizon or who are not yet financially independent. Although many will find the following six suggestions to be familiar, most have not applied them with persistence and consistency to their own lives.” Some of her tips are:
- Assess your financial health – this is true for everyone but the sooner you do this the better chance you have to prepare for future stability.
- n Set specific financial goals – in writing. Her steps include projecting the amount needed, determining a date for achieving the goal, establishing benchmarks, and reviewing and adjusting, if necessary, as you head for the goal.
- Develop budgetary discipline. This is probably the most difficult to achieve because we will tend to spend more as we make more but this can be the real problem.
- Do not carry balances on credit cards. Okay, this may be the most difficult to achieve but it is critical.
- Minimize investment mistakes. I would also add that you should work with someone you trust to review investment strategies. Too often we think because we are lawyers and considered to be sophisticated and smart, we understand issues outside of the law and will not make financial mistakes. The same way we expect our clients to come to us for professional advice, we should turn to trusted financial professionals for advice.
- Establish open financial communication in personal and professional relationships. This can also be difficult to do.
According to Ms. Sharp, individuals who have done well financially “share three common characteristics: First, they are financially literate, having committed to an ongoing education with respect to investment and money management principles. Second, emotional maturity and wisdom guide them in their decision-making process. Third, they heed advice given to them by financially astute mentors.”
My last tidbit is also on the theme of financial stability. There is a good article, “15 Proven Profitability Techniques” by Joel Rose in the July/August 2012 Law Practice. Below are a few of the 15 tips beyond the usual “spend less and charge more.”
- Expand your client base through better firm marketing initiatives. (See also an excellent issue of March/April 2013 issue of GPSolo on Niche Practices. The issue offers articles with specific suggestions on many new practices to consider.)
- Cross-sell your practice areas. Most clients may not know all the services you provide.
- Establish an annual budget for marketing. Marketing and client development should be part of your planning and budgeting process.
- Avoid unprofitable and troublesome new matters. If you have good client data base and intake procedure, you should be able to do this more easily than you think.
- Alternative fee arrangements. Not all matters need to have the same arrangements.
- Consider different staffing options for both legal and administrative staff. Consider contract workers, flex time, or even part-time.
I have done a better job this year by not getting so far behind in my reading but there are many more great topics and articles in the publications listed. Please look at some of them and you can benefit from my subscription to many of these publications.