Friday, April 8, 2011
Sunday, June 7, 2009
I don't know if the problem was with the cell phone or the AT&T network. I decided to change both. In 2007, I switched to Verizon Wireless and bought the Motorola RAZR. The RAZR had no PDA functions, it was just a very slim, easy to carry phone that actually worked! I looked at the Palm Treo, which was the most popular at the time, but had no desire to carry such a large device especially with a less than attractive screen display. I also looked at the Motorola Q, which looked too flimsy.
In 2008, I was tempted by the iPhone - the design is beautiful! But it was not designed for business and I don't have that many pictures or songs I need to carry with me. Also, I did not want to switch away from Verizon and take the chance of losing signal quality. The Blackberry looked interesting, but never compelling because of its large keyboard and I didn't want to be tethered to my email Inbox all the time. I'm not interested in texting on a continual basis or having clients think that I am at my computer 24x7.
Finally, Blackberry came out with the Pearl, a slim, attractive device that fits in my pocket and contains all the functionality of my old MPx 200! Not only does it sync with outlook, but it also provides live access to the Internet (extra $30/mo. for unlimited data usage). Now I can receive emails in real time and occasionally browse the web.
I was intially sold on its small form factor, but after using it for a few weeks found that it has a number of surprisingly helpful features:
Email/Fax/Voice Mail - My emails are received in real time. I can easily check for new messages from clients. It also has a great "search sender" feature that makes it easy to locate all the emails from a specific client immediately. My fax and voice mails are automatically forwarded to my email, which makes it "one-stop shopping" for checking all communications. Even my home phone sends voicemail to my cell phone (both work and home are VOIP phones).
Calendar - The cell phone has a calendar application that syncs with Outlook. I use Google to sync with outlook, which I bookmark on my cell phone. Not only does it track my personal calendar, but the office calendar as well.
News - I bookmarked a few websites that I like for news : nytimes.com, boston.com, and cnn.com. It is a great way to stay informed of the latest headlines. You can even request that it automatically update the news hourly and save the information off-line (in case you lose signal).
Maps - The phone comes with a maps program, which provides basic maps, but I don't use it. Instead, I installed Google Maps, a brilliant application that works even better on the phone than it does on my desktop computer. Google Maps shows current location, traffic, directions, and favorites. It also shows a "satellite view" if you want to see an actual picture of the location you are trying to find at street level. It has essentially replaced my need for a GPS. The killer application is the voice recognition. Last night, I was looking for a restaurant called "Cafe Mangal" in Wellesley. I said the restaurant name into the phone without mentioning the city. After a 10-second search, the name, address and map appeared on the phone. It found the right location the first time even though it was three towns away. It even had reviews for the restaurant!
Weather - A constant icon on the phone has the current temperature for my location, which I can click on to get a full weather report. It saves a lot of time every day not to have to check the computer or listen to the radio.
Voice Recorder - I use it to record meetings or presentations. The device automatically saves the files in 10 minute block so they can easily be emailed or uploaded to a website. The microphone is good enough to pick up voices at a 10-foot or more distance.
Camera/video recorder - The built-in camera is only 2MP, but comes in handy more than I expected. You never know when you need a camera (impromptu meeting with a friend, car accident, looking for a new house, etc.). Last week, I rushed to see my son's 5th grade music recital and didn't have time to pick up the digital camera. I was glad I had my cell phone to record on video his first time playing the trombone!
Accessories - The phone comes with many other useful applications like calculator, alarm clock, password keeper, task list, and memo pad. These are not essential, but nice to have. If you are traveling, you don't need to bring a separate alarm clock - it's one less thing to carry! If you are shopping, you can use the calculator to compute discounts, sales tax, or budgets.
The Blackberry Pearl makes it easy for me to stay in touch and be productive whether I am in or out of the office. It has become command central for news, updates and communications. There are a few applications that I have not gotten to work yet (e.g., remote control of my desktop computer), but I expect will be available in the future.
The bottom line is that the Blackberry Pearl allows me to work out my pocket. This is the ultimate in flexibility for being a virtual lawyer.
What kind of cell phone to you use? What cell phone applications do you like best? What computer applications would you like to access from your phone?
[6/14/09 - Update: It is clear that "smart phones" are going to fuel the next major technology boom. Netbooks and Internet-enabled phones reflect a long term convergence of computers, cell phones and PDAs. I have always appreciated the productivity boost from new computers and software applications. But the smart phones seem to go beyond prior innovations in terms of their functionality. My "crackberry" is now an essential devive both personally and professionally.
According to Apple, iPhone now has over 50,000 applications. I don't need that many. The Blackberry has enough that every day I find a new application that seems to enhance my life. The most recent are:
Google Integration: Google is amazing. Not only does it provide a killer voice controlled GPS-like service, it provides seamless integration with information, ratings and reviews. Google maps even integrates with Outlook calendar and contact list. Now, I can open an appointment or contact and make only one click to see a map of the location. It saves having to print out directions and carry them with you!
Banking & Investments: I can check my balance and pay bills from anywhere (very helpful when you leave for vacation and forget to pay that credit card bill). You can check investments or even make trades. Bloomberg, Fidelity, and CNBC all have applications that provide up to the minute news, quotes and stock charts.
Radio & Music: Many major radio stations across the country and around the world provide free Internet broadcasts. You can save your favorite stations and listen to them anytime, whether you are within the traditional broadcast area or on the other side of the country. Pick local news radio to keep up with your old home town, popular music, or national public radio. It's all available!]
Sunday, October 26, 2008
Wednesday, October 8, 2008
After I graduated from law school, I went the typical route and spent five years working for a series of major law firms. Eventually, though, I reallzed that I wanted to run my own shop, be my own boss, and handle my own cases. After deciding that lemon law would be my niche, I went about the process of building my practice, a process that was helped tremendously by technology and online tools.
Although I started by subleasing an office from another lawyer, my practice is largely "virtual." I have clients from all over the country and rarely see them in person. I use VOIP for my office phone system for onsite and off-site staff, which gives the impression of everyone being under the same roof. I also take advantage of the Web-based Google Docs application for online collaboration, and share practice management software using Citrix.
But one of the most useful tools for building my practice is the Internet itself. I'm a Google AdWords advertiser, and run my AdWords ads in multiple jurisdictions to obtain a highly targeted but diverse clientele. I've also used that cornerstone of Web 2.0, blogging (and guest blogging!), to extend the reach of my practice. I've extensively optimized my website to make it more search engine friendly, and have expanded it to include genuinely useful content. As a result, I've seen my search engine rankings climb.
In today's increasingly connected world, it's easier than ever to succeed in a solo practice. By using online marketing methods and technology, office walls become much less relevant and the practice of law becomes virtually boundless.
Thursday, January 31, 2008
Leveraging your time requires a different mindset. It is a change in the way you think about the practice of law. It is not just delegating your work to someone else or learning to use a Blackberry. It is not something you do just once. Leveraging your time requires continuous dedication. Also, leveraging your time requires separating yourself from your business. How can you run your business more efficiently without you personally doing all the work? As Michael Gerber wrote in his inspiring book The E-Myth Revisited, you want to think about "replacing yourself with a system."
Leveraging people is what big law firms do best. Partners hire associates and paralegals and then bill out their time to clients at 2-3 times the amount of their costs. Leveraging people is an option open to every lawyer. Even a solo practitioner can do it. For example, Grant Griffiths mentioned that he uses a virtual assistant to help his home-based law practice. The virtual assistant can increase his staff and productivity without hiring a full-time person, without having to rent office space (or expand his home), and without having to educate and train that person. And with advent of the Internet and new technology, it is easier for lawyers to hire virtual assistants than ever before. In my practice as a corporate lawyer, I have used outsourced assistants from the Virtual Paralegal Services. Founded by Denise Annunciata, VPS has a team of experienced paralegal with a variety of different practice skills who are available on short notice.
As noted a year ago, I believe Knowledge Management ("KM") will drive the law firms of the future. The ability to capture, organize, store and retrieve the knowledge and experiences of other lawyers will be critical for law firms in order to deliver high quality legal services in a timely and efficient manner. Leveraging knowledge requires an investment of time to create templates or forms that can be reused in the future. Most lawyers believe they are too busy with client matters and cannot afford to spend time developing "forms". However, if the legal profession goes into a recession and competition drives prices down, then lawyers may not be able to afford not to invest in KM. Cutting costs, improving product quality, and increasing efficiency will likely be the key to a successful law practice over the long term.
Technology, by its very nature, is designed to be leveraged. The reason we buy technology is because it makes our work easier to do. Drafting documents with computers and printers is a lot more efficient than writing out multiple pages by hand. Today there are thousands of ways to leverage technology, more ways than ever before to reduce unbillable time and overhead. For starters, every law firm should consider implementing digital pbx, fax-by-email, voice mail by email, e-billing, e-newsletters, contact managers, client extranets, document assembly, remote access, PDAs, personalized scanners, desktop search engines, and Google alerts. If you are not already using or at least thinking about using these new technologies, now is the time!
Leveraging Packaged Services
Packaged legal services are the efficient delivery of repetitive matters. The first time you take on a matter in a new practice area, or even a slightly different approach to an old practice area, there is a learning curve. You can not know how to solve every problem or streamline the process the first time that you try to do something. However, by the 10th time, or the 100th time, you get pretty good at it. A critical component to leveraging your time is developing legal services that are repetitive.
Repetitive work, does not happen by accident. You have to design (and market) your firm around the kind of business that you want to attract. It is counter-intuitive, but the more you specialize, the easier it is to attract the kind of work that you want to do and the easier it is to develop efficiencies. If you market yourself as an intellectual property attorney, you will get work relating to patents, trademarks, and copyrights and be competing with all lawyers who practice in those areas. If you market yourself as only a trademark lawyer, it will be easier for people to remember what you do, you will be competing with much fewer attorneys (who "only" do trademarks) and the work you get will be more repetitive (and therefore easier for you to develop efficiencies).
After you define a narrow field in which to practice, packaged services requires a dedication to the simple mantra "documentation, standardization, and automation." Start with documentation of procedures (ideally, as you do them the first time), create standardized forms and templates that you can reuse, and then and continually improve those tools over time with the goal of automating the process. Many parts of the legal profession require creative thinking. As a result, legal services cannot be fully automated. However, by using document assembly, citation checkers, online databases, and other innovative tools, the service delivery process for lawyers can be streamlined. There is no reason for lawyers to continually "reinvent the wheel."
Leveraging Office Space, Equipment and Other Facilities
Today, lawyers do not need to be physically present in the office on a daily basis in order to be effective. There are many ways that firms can leverage office space, equipment, and other facilities by encouraging lawyers who want (or need) to work out of their homes or at a remote location. This opens the possibility of sharing resources among virtual staff members. Video conferencing, teleconferencing, and digital (IP) phones all help to reduce costs and leverage valuable resources.
Determining the Leveraging Factor
Once you have considered the different alternatives described above, you may wonder how you can maximize your leveraging power and, therefore, optimize your law practice. To do that, you need to develop a way to measure your productivity enhancements. I'm sure the experts have some other name for it, but I call it the "Leveraging Factor." The Leveraging Factor is the amount of leveraging you achieve by making certain dollar investments in new resources.
For example, if you hire a paralegal at an "all-in" cost of $60K per year who can produce $120K annual revenues (1200 billable hours invoiced at $100/hour), the leveraging factor is 2 ($120K/$60K). Note: if you charge $150/hour, the leveraging factor is 3.
Technology makes it easier to increase the leveraging factor. If you buy a high-speed scanner for $10K that reduces the amount of unbillable time a paralegal spends on organizing and finding case files by 30 minutes per day, the paralegal could convert 120 hours of unbilliable time each year to billable time, resulting increasing the paralegal's leveraging factor to 2.2 at a billing rate $100/hour or 3.3 at a billing rate of $150/hour. However, if the scanner saves time for 10 people in the office, the leveraging factor improves by a factor of 10. As a result, $10K spent to purchase the scanner would have a leveraging factor of at least 12 ($12K revenues x 10 people/$10K cost). If the scanner reduces unbillable time for lawyers as well as paralegals, the leveraging factor would be even higher.
For an investment in knowledge management or resources, the leveraging factor could be higher or lower, depending on the volume of business. By determining the leveraging factor for each investment you propose to make, you can begin to allocate funds to those resources that produce the highest return. The more successful you are at allocating resources, the faster you can grow your business.
To summarize, if there is an asset or resource that may be useful in your law practice, think about how you can leverage that asset or resource. What new technology should you adopt? Whom should you hire? What leverage will those investments provide? How can you replace yourself with systems? How can you make those systems more efficient?
If you have thoughts on how lawyers can leverage their time, I encourage you to share them by posting a comment on this blog. If you have any other feedback on this topic, feel free to post that as well.
Monday, December 31, 2007
The problem for the solo practitioner and small firm is that it will get increasingly difficult to compete. Although the Internet is heralded for leveling the playing field, the rules of the game have changed. The new game is about having real-time, virtual, and personalized access, to people, information and tools that enhance productivity, improve results, and facilitate the practice of law. How will the solos and small firms develop these new resources?
In thinking about how to grow my own practice, I feel overwhelmed by the of scope of knowledge necessary to build a first class law firm today. Sure, I can just keep doing what I have always done: use my intellect to solve client problems. However, looking into the future and seeing the obvious competitive pressures from bigger law firms, relying on my intellect is no longer enough. There is a whole range of new technology, information, and systems that must be implemented in order to remain successful. And even as a solo practitioner (or now, in a two-person law firm), my goal is provide first class legal services, not just earn a living. How can a solo or small firm keep up?
The trend of law firms getting bigger, developing their resources, and implementing new technologies is presently at odds with the typical solo practice or small firm. Solos and small firms simply do not have the time or resources to invest in infrastructure, which disdainfully adds to their overhead. Solos and small firms are painfully aware that every dollar spent on overhead immediately reduces their available cash. The mantra of the solo or small firm is “do without” rather than do anything that would reduce their cash flow.
Here is the typical thought process of a solo practitioner. I can only generate X-dollars for my time. So, why should I reduce my take-home pay by adding to overhead? No matter how many computers or software programs I have, I still have to spend an hour of my time in order to be paid for an hour of work. Where is the incentive to invest in technology or spend time developing new systems?
This traditional mindset is a threat to the continued success of the legal profession in the United States. How can lawyers innovate, deliver better results for clients, and improve profitability if they don’t invest in new systems and technology? How will lawyers compete with the inevitable outsourcing of legal functions to virtual law firms in India, Russia or China? How will the profession respond when big law firms develop knowledge management systems that enable paralegals to perform better legal work and at lower cost than work produced by seasoned attorneys who work as solos or in small firms?
In the United States, over 50% of lawyers are solo practitioners and over 75% of lawyers work in firms with fewer than 20 attorneys (See ABA's lawyer demographics). And there is some reason to believe that these percentages are increasing as gen X and gen Y lawyers increasingly choose lifestyle over money in pursuing their career goals. How will the 75% consisting of solos and small firms compete with the 25% working in big firms? Should all lawyers just join (or become) big firms? I don’t think so. Solos and small firms fervently protect their independence and freedom to control their lifestyle as well as their style of practice. Lawyers who work as solos or in small firms need access to shared resources that enable them to develop the efficiencies of large firms without joining large firms. The answer, I believe, is collaboration.
What does collaboration look like? I don’t know yet. The legal profession, historically, tends to be more adversarial than collaborative. Collaboration is breaking new ground. And getting there means trying new things to see what works. Social networking, Internet communications, and online services hold a lot of promise for facilitating collaboration among lawyers. If lawyers generate new business through these new activities, they will naturally have an incentive to collaborate in more substantive ways. This is a phenomenon that we are beginning to see in our law practice. We started by forming an informal networking group for lawyers (and other professionals) called the “Business Lawyers Network” (BLN). Over the past three years, we have experimented with a number of initiatives that facilitate collaboration among lawyers including the creation of the LEXpertise.com website.
So far, the collaboration process has been very slow in progressing. However, I am very encouraged by the results. Many BLN lawyers have generated new business by participating in the various networking events and by sharing their knowledge and information on the LEXpertise.com website. And, based on numerous anecdotes from BLN members, these collaboration efforts have improved lawyers’ satisfaction with the profession. One lawyer commented to me that he was re-energized and, for the first time in years, he was enjoying being a lawyer and building his law practice.
How can collaboration help to grow your firm? In what ways can and should lawyers collaborate?
[This is the first of, what I hope will be, many articles about collaboration among lawyers. I'd love to hear what other lawyers thoughts are on this subject and encourage readers to post their comments on this blog.]
Friday, November 30, 2007
I wish I had a copy of the Success Kit when I started my own law firm six years ago; it would have made growing the practice a lot easier and much faster.
In 2002, I was RIF'd from an Internet-related venture during the post-dotcom period. Rather than look for another in-house counsel position, I decided to start my own law practice from scratch. I had 30 days severance pay and a half-million dollar mortage as well as a family to support. Talk about pressure to generate business!
With limited savings, I knew that I had to attract clients fast. I set a simple rule of meeting one new potential referral source per business day. I figured that by the end of the month, I would have 20 new contacts who could refer business to me, and that by the end of the year, I would have 240 new contacts (20 x12). Even if a fraction of those contacts referred business, I would be in great shape.
The truth was that I had no clue what I was doing; but looking back on it, I eventually stumbled upon many of the key principles outlined in the LegalBizDev Success Kit. Necessity is the mother of invention, but a tough way to go. With Jim's Success Kit, you can accelerate the learning process and improve the end results.
I first got to know Jim about two years ago, and since that time I have had the chance to put many of his business development suggestions into practice. Last year, I personally worked with 75 separate paying clients. These were clients that I actually chose and enjoyed working with, not just clients or projects that I felt obligated to take on. Almost all of these clients were businesses (meaning repeat services) as oppposed to individuals (meaning one-time projects). This year, the growth of my practice has continued to accelerate; I moved into larger office space and formed a partnership that effectively doubled the size of the practice.
One of the things that I like best about Jim's approach is his focus on people. As stated in the LegalBizDev Step-by-Step Guide: "The only way to grow legal business is to grow personal relationships." How does a lawyer develop personal relationships with clients and referral sources?
I used to think that developing (and maintaining) those personal relationships was more of an art than a science. Now, having read through Jim's materials, I am convinced that he has turned this art into a science. The Success Kit breaks down the process for developing client relationships into easy to follow steps, including everything from how to first engage the client to closing new business (without being annoying or salesy).
The Success Kit is very adaptable to each lawyer's unique style and preferences. The materials can be used like an intensive sales training program for a quick ramp-up in business or they can be used as a reference tool to gradually improve business over time. The audio CDs can be played on a computer or downloaded to an MP3 player. One lawyer may want to start at the beginning by following the complete Step-by-Step Guide. Another lawyer may prefer to use the Quick Start to pinpoint specific business development skills that he or she wants to improve.
Drawing on more than twenty years of experience, Jim has developed an innovative training program for business development. Jim also draws on the expertise of other sales and marketing professionals, extracting the essence of many of their time-tested concepts and applying it to his unique methodology. Although specifically designed for lawyers, Jim's approach to business development would be useful to other professional service providers as well.
Jim's practical approach to business development is very effective, but one thing he cannot do is make the process happen for you. In his Step-by-Step Guide, he is brutally honest in saying that "finding new clients is the hardest work you can do in a suit" and he admits that it takes a long time to build client relationships. That said, it is worth the time and effort to improve your business develpment skills. By investing the time now, you can reap the benefits for many years to come.
Do you consider business development to be more of an art or a science? What does your firm do to help lawyers improve their business development skills?
Wednesday, October 31, 2007
So, how can lawyers leverage their time?
Not by increasing their hourly rate. Even if you charge $1000 per hour, you can only get paid for the number of hours that you work. And if the competition in your geographical area is only charging $200 per hour, raising your rate will only earn you more free time, not more money. So what opportunities does a lawyer have to leverage their time and make more money without having to work harder? I would suggest that there are four things lawyers can leverage: (1) other people’s time, (2) knowledge (information), (3) technology, and (4) packaged services.
In building the law firm of the future, I have started thinking about how to leverage these four things. I will describe my thoughts in more detail later. In what ways do you leverage your time? Care to share any examples?
Saturday, September 29, 2007
The first time I used a computer was in highschool in 1972; it was a teletype terminal connected to a mainframe. It used simple BASIC programming language. I learned to write a simple program that would count from 1 to 10 or generate random numbers, but it was not very useful by today’s standards. In 1973, I purchased the "Bowmar Brain" for about $100, the first inexpensive calculator that was widely distributed; but it was not programmable and, therefore, would hardly fit my definition of a computer. In college, I majored in engineering but still had limited, if any, use for computers. A few classes required writing computer programs to solve trivial math or physics problems. The computers were mostly text-based terminals, and some had the newer graphics-type display. It wasn’t until I entered graduate school in 1980 at Dartmouth College that I first used a computer as a productivity tool. In 1981, I used a brand new “mini-computer” to perform engineering analysis and generate graphical representations of mathematical results. The mini-computer was still a terminal based computer with wired access to a central shared processor. For one experiment, I would submit a set of mathematical equations to be solved by the computer and wait 6 hours for a printout that I had to retrieve from the “computer center” half-way across campus. If there was one misplaced comma or typographical error, the printout (about 50 pages) would be useless and I would have to start-over and then wait another 6 hours. I bought my first computer, a Compaq “luggable” in 1984, while I was in law school (about 12 years after I first touched a computer). Instead of crunching numbers, I used the computer mostly for writing papers; it was a great improvement because I made too many mistakes using the electric typewriter. When I graduated law school in 1986, lawyers did not have computers, only their secretaries did. The fact that I had a computer at home made me an anomaly in the legal profession. It wasn’t until 1992, that I bought my first computer for work, which was a Dell 320N+ notebook (I was always a sucker for portability). The Dell notebook had a black & white display that operated using Dos 6.0 and Windows 3.1 (yes, you had to install them separately!) and a 10MB hard disk. In 1992, I also bought a generic desktop computer and set up my first computer network (using Windows for Workgroups). In 1994, I replaced my Dell with a new more powerful Winbook computer. In 1995, I joined a start-up software company and switched over to the Mac, buying a Powerbook with a color display and a super-friendly graphical user interface using the Mac OS 6.0 that cost about $5000! In 1996 and 1997, I acquired several old Macs using them for networking, back-up systems, fax receivers, graphic editing, spreadsheets, and word processing. By 1999, I had 6 or 7 computers operating in my house. When I joined a venture-backed start-up in 1999, I was forced to go back to the PC, being issued a popular IBM notebook. Being an employee of a computer software company, new computers every year was the rule. Technology was changing so fast that it was essential to keep up with the latest and greatest software applications, and to run those applications, you needed more memory and faster processors. The old Macs, being fundamentally incompatible with the Windows PC, were junked. If you don’t keep upgrading computer technology, the peripheral devices, software, and components all become outdated to the point of being useless within five years. Having worked inside of three computer companies, I got used to buying (or being issued) a new computer every year. When I went back to the practice of law in 2002, I found out that it was essential to buy a new computer every year. According to Moore’s Law, processing speed, memory capacity, and LCD resolution are improving exponentially, doubling approximately every two years. That means that a computer you purchase today for $1000 may be worth only $500 in a year. And, if you are like most people, you need twice as much memory to hold all of your new information (pictures, music, and documents). And with the advent of the Internet, computers are being used by lawyers for more and more functions such as communications, entertainment, and commerce. These new functions require the latest operating systems and networking technologies. A computer is different than a refrigerator, a car, or even a telephone system. Computers are productivity tools, whose technology is changing so rapidly that you must continue to replace (not upgrade) every year. If the value of the computer after one year is only $500, then in two years, it is only $250. It makes almost no sense to spend even $50 to upgrade memory in an old computer (not to mention the cost of the technician to install it). I find it very hard to justify spending money on computer repairs or maintenance services. The computer companies know this as well, which is why they try so hard to sell extended warranties. Every time I buy a new computer, I find that I am significantly more productive. The new computer comes with more RAM (processing memory), a larger hard-disk, and new more powerful software applications. The time savings increases my productivity and billable hours far in excess of the $1000+ that I spend on a new computer. Also, I prefer to buy notebook computers instead of desktop computers because they take up less space, use less electricity, and are more readily adapted to personal use (I typically recycle my old notebooks by giving them to family members). New computers also make the practice of law more enjoyable. The less time that I spend waiting for computer software to load, and the easier it is to use multiple applications, the more I enjoy the practice of law. How often do you buy a new computer? What’s your philosophy on buying computer equipment?
Friday, August 31, 2007
I understand that other lawyers may not send and receive faxes from their PC. I understand that other lawyers may not know how to convert a Word document to a PDF. I understand that they may not send bills to clients electronically. I understand that other lawyers may not know how to connect their wireless laptop to the free wifi at a “hotspot”. I understand that they may not be familiar with the latest web-based applications for time & billing. I understand that other lawyers may not even type their own emails.
However, I do know that all lawyers know how to use the telephone. And, I would be surprised if they have been practicing more than a few years without ever participating in a conference call. Well, imagine my surprise yesterday when I was scheduled to attend a meeting in Boston and they did not have a conference phone!
I have been working on a multi-million dollar transaction with a major financial institution, which is represented by an up and coming mid-sized law firm with brand new offices in Boston. The Boston-based firm organized a meeting in Boston inviting all the lawyers and their clients working on the transaction to attend. The transaction had been going on for months and the costs have been significant and steadily increasing. Since I was pressed for time, and driving into Boston required at least 90 minutes of travel time (or more with traffic), I asked if I could participate by phone. I thought, what a good idea, I can be more productive and save my client about $4-500.
Little did I know that setting up a conference phone would be a major technology hurdle. The lawyer organizing the meeting sent me a message from his BlackBerry the day before confirming yes, I could participate by phone. The meeting was scheduled for 11am at the offices of the above-mentioned financial institution. At 9:30am, I emailed the lawyer organizing the meeting and asked what phone number I should dial into to participate in the meeting. At 10am, I received an email back providing me with a conference service to dial into.
At 11am, I dialed in. Nothing, but music on hold. At 11:06am, I sent an email asking when the meeting would start. At 11:15am, I received a call from the attorney hosting the meeting that they were working on getting a telephone that they could use for the conference call. They tried one phone and the sound was so garbled that the voices could not be distinguished (even my speaker phone at home was better). They then asked me to dial directly into the conference room, but the phone line had severe and the microphone kept cutting out so that the conversation was unintelligible.
When I complained that about the static on the line, the hosting attorney asked everyone in the room, about 10 people, to turn off their cell phones (makes no sense to me). Nothing, still way too much static. I tried dialing in from a different telephone. Still, too much static. Not just a little buzz, but a kind of loud, irritating, crackling noise that makes you think no one could ever use that phone. And, the static wasn’t just due to the phone equipment because I could hear it on the line before the phone was even answered. By 11:30am, the room full of lawyers and their clients, whose time was worth at least $5000 an hour, had reached a level of frustration that caused one of them to interrupt and state that they had tried everything including turning of their cell phone.
This reminds me of a story told by my professor in law school. He said that President Lyndon Baines Johnson was once holding a press conference outside at the Lincoln Memorial. The noise of the airplanes flying overhead was so loud that he called the FAA and told them to stop all planes from flying in and out of Washington National airport until the press conference was finished.
Well, I am not LBJ, and when the conference phone didn’t work, the room full of lawyers and clients were not going to wait for me to get connected by conference phone. Midway through the process of trying to find a working conference phone, the hosting lawyer said, couldn’t you just come down here in person (as if I worked in Boston). I said no and that I thought conferencing was not new technology. The long and the short of it is that I did not participate in the conference call.
Conference phones have been around for more than thirty years. You would think this is standard equipment for law firms and financial institutions. The moral is no matter how much you think technology has been standardized, never take it for granted.
What technology do you think is standard equipment for lawyers? How about the fax machine, email or Microsoft Word? Have you ever been surprised when the other attorney says…that doesn’t work?