Wednesday, September 5, 2018

Efficiency Through Technology

Ivy Lee was an efficiency expert early in the eighteenth century.  in 1918, he was contacted Charles Schwab, owner of Bethlehem Steel Corporation, and asked to help "get more things done".  Lee asked for 15 minutes with each of Bethlehem's executives, and promised immediate gains.  "How much will it cost me?" asked Schwab.  "Nothing" replied Lee, explaining that Schwab could pay him whatever he thought was fair after he saw the results after three month.

During the 15 minute meetings, Lee told each executive to write down the six things that were most important to complete the next day, in priority order.  He told them when they get in the next day to only focus on the first task, until it is complete.  Go down the list, one at a time.  At the end of the day, carry over unfinished items.  Do this every day.

Three months later, Schwab sent Lee a check for $25,000 (more than $400,000 in today's dollars).  The efficiency of his team had improved dramatically, and their success and profitability followed.

Are you as efficient as you want to be?  Do you accomplish the things you hope to each day?  Each month?  Each year?  

The tools you choose to keep organized can have a significant effect on your efficiency  and effectiveness.  When your career started they may have meant a yellow pad with a to do list, a well maintained day timer and a briefcase full with lots to read and work on.

All of these tools have been improved with technology, and improved dramatically with apps that help you to maximize these activities.  You might want to test drive:

Wunderlist.  Available on your computer, via the web and on your mobile devices, this is a to do list on steroids.  Create multiple lists, add deadlines and reminders, share tasks with others and include notes, documents and images in your list.

Evernote.  Never again will you find yourself in need of a bit of information that is written down in your office.  This electronic notebook allows you to have all of your notes available to you all of the time, and includes powerful tools to organize them into "notebooks", add documents, images, links, etc. and share with others.

Pocket.  This "electronic clipper" allows you to keep copies of every article you want to read, with a permanent copy on your computer/device available even when you are not connected.  With your organized, archived and searchable library of articles, you can use even small amounts of downtime to stay productive.

There are many more, but these seem to be the ones my attorney clients enjoy the best.  Consider giving one or all of them a try.  I'll let you decide what you want to pay me for this advice after you see the results.  



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David DePietto is the founder and CEO of NexFirm. He can be reached at 

ddepietto@nexfirm.com

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

10 Observations from the first half of 2018

As the CEO of NexFirm, I see the good, bad and the ugly when it comes to law firm management, as I watch from the cheap seats my clients around the country brave the trials and tribulations of law firm entrepreneurs.  NexFirm's clients skew to corporate practices with experienced attorneys that have AmLaw 250 pedigree.  They grow quickly and are quite profitable.  Even as the elite of the industry, they have their challenges.

1) Biz development works- for anyone.  It's a simple formula- Time and energy yield results.  Those who cop out with "I am not good at it" are hurting themselves professionally, and needlessly.

2) Hiring wrong eventually comes back to bite you.  When my clients lose a great employee, we typically find that the reason is bad communication at the time that they hired them.  Being thoughtful about compensation, and creating a career path for all on your team is your primary job as a law firm partner.

3)  Partners should "re-marry" every few years.  I see too many successful practices break up because of disputes that could have been avoided.  We encourage partners of new firms to talk exhaustively about expectations, to avoid disputes.  Time is the enemy of the understandings they arrive at before the launch of the firm.  It is important to sit down periodically and check in on goals, expectations, and perceptions of partners as they relate to the practice.

4)  If you are not hosting events, you are crazy.  There is no better return on investment than an event that puts you in a room with your clients.  Host a lunch or dinner.  Take a group to a ball game.  Present a CLE.  Just get yourself belly to belly with your clients.  The results will please you.

5)  Don't ever say no to a new matter; but use price to make it worthwhile.  If you like matter but are not sure about the client, increase your rate instead of passing.  And get paid in advance.   My clients are rarely correct when they pick and choose, and at least when you are unpleasantly surprised, you get paid for your time.

6)  Don't ask, don't get.   Insurance carriers said yes to price increases from clients who haven't seen them in years, because they asked.  Be sure to increase your rate every year, or at least try.

7)  Retainers are easier than collection agency.   I see so much wasted time, trying to collect unpaid bills.  Do the hard work up front, and don't waste your time if you are not going to get paid.  The time you save not doing unpaid work can be used in wonderful ways that can improve the success of your firm.  

8)  Trees don't grow to the sky.  When things are good, build up your cash- there is always a possible down cycle is coming.  A strong balance sheet, both personally and at the firm, can make the difference when the slow times inevitably arrive.

9)  If there is one thing that can put you out of business overnight (and I have seen it happen), it is a data breach.  Spend what is costs to be on the leading edge of data security.  You don't want your reputation hurt by this.

10)  Make your team a top priority.  Employees leave if you don't value them, especially when the labor market is as tight as it is now.  When you have a resignation, will you ask yourself if a gift card have made the difference? A dinner, a pat on the back, any sort of acknowledgement.

With half of 2018 still ahead of us, there is still time to focus on improvement and make this year the most successful your firm has ever had.  Just remember, doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different outcome is the definition of insanity.


----------------

David DePietto is the founder and CEO of NexFirm. He can be reached at 
ddepietto@nexfirm.com

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Will your practice be Amazon-ized?

Current projections have 4.5 million American workers who drive cars, trucks and buses being replaced by computerization/robotics over the next fifteen years.  Cashiers, surgeons and tax preparers are also in the cross hairs of automation.  The ramifications for our society and economy are exciting, but it is a terrifying prospect for those who stand to lose their livelihood.  Just ask Best Buy and Barnes & Noble who are struggling to compete, or one of the many retailers that has gone bankrupt in the wake of Amazon.

Automation in the legal industry is far from prime time today.  Despite a burst of applications in the e-discovery space over the past decade, most of the automation tools designed for the legal industry are just scratching the surface, and haven't made a meaningful impact yet to industry headcount.

So, how many lawyers will be put out of work by automation?  Forecasters say lots of them 20 years from now.  Between now and then, there are few precise estimates.  One thing is for sure- the number is not zero.  Attorneys need to be focused on this risk to their profession, and may find the opportunity to benefit instead of being hurt by these changes.

What can a small law firm partner do to protect against this risk?

(1)  Adopt automation where you can.  Take the time to understand the things you can do to improve efficiency in your practice, and be willing to spend when opportunities present themselves.

(2)  Give clients access to your work flow.  Your clients will work to automate their operations, and will take you in directions that will help you keep pace with changes.

(3)  Don't lose sight of the fact that relationships the are most important asset you have.  Your clients have a sense of loyalty to you; and strong relationships are less likely to be broken by technology than weak ones.  Keep your clients close and they will help you navigate these changes.

(4)  Focus on providing an end-to-end service delivery experience.  For example, if you negotiate contracts for clients, archive them and manage deadlines/expiration that are terms in the agreements.  The more you are part of your client's process, the more likely that you are included in process changes, instead of being automated out.

(5)  Be irreplaceable.  You know you are doing something right when your clients call to ask you to do legal work that is way out of your expertise.  That means they see you as their lawyer, not their real estate lawyer or their litigator.  Clients that value the guidance they seek from their attorneys are sticky.

(6)  Educate yourself.  Pay attention to the changes that are happening, and look for ways to adapt.  This is a trend you cannot ignore away.

Staying relevant is a lifelong pursuit in any career, but the changes on the horizon in the legal industry will be particularly challenging.  Pay attention.


----------------

David DePietto is the founder and CEO of NexFirm. He can be reached at 
ddepietto@nexfirm.com



Thursday, April 26, 2018

Automation in the Legal Industry

Current projections have 4.5 million American workers who drive cars, trucks and buses being replaced by computerization/robotics over the next fifteen years.  Cashiers, surgeons and tax preparers are also in the cross hairs of automation.  The ramifications for our society and economy are exciting, but it is a terrifying prospect for those who stand to lose their livelihood.  Just ask Best Buy and Barnes & Noble who are struggling to compete, or one of the many retailers that has gone bankrupt in the wake of Amazon.

Automation in the legal industry is far from prime time today.  Despite a burst of applications in the e-discovery space over the past decade, most of the automation tools designed for the legal industry are just scratching the surface, and haven't made a meaningful impact yet to industry headcount.

So, how many lawyers will be put out of work by automation?  Forecasters say lots of them 20 years from now.  Between now and then, there are few precise estimates.  One thing is for sure- the number is not zero.  Attorneys need to be focused on this risk to their profession, and may find the opportunity to benefit instead of being hurt by these changes.

What can a small law firm partner do to protect against this risk?

(1)  Adopt automation where you can.  Take the time to understand the things you can do to improve efficiency in your practice, and be willing to spend when opportunities present themselves.

(2)  Give clients access to your work flow.  Your clients will work to automate their operations, and will take you in directions that will help you keep pace with changes.

(3)  Don't lose sight of the fact that relationships the are most important asset you have.  Your clients have a sense of loyalty to you; and strong relationships are less likely to be broken by technology than weak ones.  Keep your clients close and they will help you navigate these changes.

(4)  Focus on providing an end-to-end service delivery experience.  For example, if you negotiate contracts for clients, archive them and manage deadlines/expiration that are terms in the agreements.  The more you are part of your client's process, the more likely that you are included in process changes, instead of being automated out.

(5)  Be irreplaceable.  You know you are doing something right when your clients call to ask you to do legal work that is way out of your expertise.  That means they see you as their lawyer, not their real estate lawyer or their litigator.  Clients that value the guidance they seek from their attorneys are sticky.

(6)  Educate yourself.  Pay attention to the changes that are happening, and look for ways to adapt.  This is a trend you cannot ignore away.

Staying relevant is a lifelong pursuit in any career, but the changes on the horizon in the legal industry will be particularly challenging.  Pay attention.

----------------

David DePietto is the founder and CEO of NexFirm. He can be reached at 
ddepietto@nexfirm.com


Friday, January 5, 2018

10 Observations from 2017


As the CEO of NexFirm, I see the good, bad and the ugly when it comes to law firm management, as I watch from the cheap seats my clients around the country brave the trials and tribulations of law firm entrepreneurs.  NexFirm's clients skew to corporate practices with experienced attorneys that have AmLaw 250 pedigree.  They grow quickly and are quite profitable.  Even as the elite of the industry, they have their challenges.

1) Biz development works- for anyone.  It's a simple formula- Time and energy yield results.  Those who cop out with "I am not good at it" are hurting themselves professionally, and needlessly.

2) Hiring wrong eventually comes back to bite you.  When my clients lose a great employee, we typically find that the reason is bad communication at the time that they hired them.  Being thoughtful about compensation, and creating a career path for all on your team is your primary job as a law firm partner.

3)  Partners should "re-marry" every few years.  I see too many successful practices break up because of disputes that could have been avoided.  We encourage partners of new firms to talk exhaustively about expectations, to avoid disputes.  Time is the enemy of the understandings they arrive at before the launch of the firm.  It is important to sit down periodically and check in on goals, expectations, and perceptions of partners as they relate to the practice.

4)  If you are not hosting events, you are crazy.  There is no better return on investment than an event that puts you in a room with your clients.  Host a lunch or dinner.  Take a group to a ball game.  Present a CLE.  Just get yourself belly to belly with your clients.  The results will please you.

5)  Don't ever say no to a new matter; but use price to make it worthwhile.  If you like matter but are not sure about the client, increase your rate instead of passing.  And get paid in advance.   My clients are rarely correct when they pick and choose, and at least when you are unpleasantly surprised, you get paid for your time.

6)  Don't ask, don't get.   Insurance carriers said yes to price increases from clients who haven't seen them in years, because they asked.  Be sure to increase your rate every year, or at least try.

7)  Retainers are easier than collection agency.   I see so much wasted time, trying to collect unpaid bills.  Do the hard work up front, and don't waste your time if you are not going to get paid.  The time you save not doing unpaid work can be used in wonderful ways that can improve the success of your firm.  

8)  Trees don't grow to the sky.  When things are good, build up your cash- there is always a possible down cycle is coming.  A strong balance sheet, both personally and at the firm, can make the difference when the slow times inevitably arrive.

9)  If there is one thing that can put you out of business overnight (and I have seen it happen), it is a data breach.  Spend what is costs to be on the leading edge of data security.  You don't want your reputation hurt by this.

10)  Make your team a top priority.  Employees leave if you don't value them, especially when the labor market is as tight as it is now.  When you have a resignation, will you ask yourself if a gift card have made the difference? A dinner, a pat on the back, any sort of acknowledgement.

David DePietto is the founder and CEO of NexFirm. He can be reached at 

Saturday, September 30, 2017

Tracking Time On Time

There has been an interesting flow of news stories lately about BigLaw firms cracking down on late time keeping.  Hughes Hubbard plans to cut the salary of attorneys by as much as 20% if they don’t get their time items in on a timely basis (their definition being “within 5 days”).  Simpson Thacher is doing something similar.  Akin Gump’s managing partner Steve Pesner recently penned an email to his team on the subject that was unforgettable—“For those of you who think you are exempt from doing time sheets on a daily basis, I’d suggest that you re-evaluate your importance and get ready to prove that (a) you are busier than I am on legal work, (b) you are busier than I am on client development work, (c) you are busier than I am on firm work and (d) [redacted] and I do not have better things to do with our time than beg you to be responsible … and incidentally, it is my understanding that the job market is not so good right now in case you did not know.”

While these might seem like rude and forceful reactions I, for one, don’t think that these are overreactions.  The timely recording of billable work enables three critical outcomes for a firm:  the precise collection of billable time, the rapid collections of receivables and real time analysis of staff utilization.  As you can imagine the bottom line effect in a BigLaw firm is significant, ranging in the millions each year.  While the dollars are smaller, the effect on a small firm is more dramatic.
Take for instance the precision of time collection.  I’ve heard higher estimates, but in my experience (at NexFirm), a timekeeper can lose as much as .3 hours per day by delaying the recording of entries to the end of the day as opposed to making them in real time.  To be conservative, let’s round it down to .1, or six minutes per day.  At $400 per hour, it is $10,000 per year in lost revenues.  For a firm of three, call it $30,000 of pure profit out the window.  I think any small firm would find this to be a meaningful amount.
Utilization management can drive even larger profitability gains. In the business of legal services, each minute that ticks away is gone forever and can no longer be monetized.  Using real time entry data, a managing partner at a small firm can more efficiently allocate work to those who are not busy.  If these efforts result in an additional .1 of billable hours per attorney per day, tack on another $30,000 of profit to our theoretical three person firm.
Sending bills out to your clients on time starts by having all of your time entries in the billing system, and drives a shorter cash collection cycle.  It’s a bit harder to put a dollar amount against this benefit, but if you run a small firm you are undoubtedly well aware of the need to drive cash collections.
Encouraging your attorneys to track their time entries in real time can pay big dividends.  To make this happen, create a billing environment that is user friendly and easily available.  Create a culture that encourages real time recording of entries; start by explaining the importance of these efforts to your team, set a good example by doing it yourself and provide reminders and policing that prevent timekeepers from getting off track.

______________________________________________________________




David DePietto is the founder and CEO of NexFirm.  He can be reached at dd@nexfirm.com.

Friday, March 31, 2017

Every Position, Every Player, Every Game

I have three active children; so I spend a good deal of my free time coaching a variety of sports teams.  It’s fun, rewarding, and at times quite challenging.  Everyone wants to win every game we play (I am talking about the parents, of course).  It's nice to win, but youth sports are about learning, not just winning.  The kids have to make their own mistakes on the field if they are going to develop.  So every game I coach, I create a substitution grid that allows me to ensure that every player plays every position in every game.  If it is our weakest player's turn to be in the scoring position in a tight game, so be it.  Sometimes we don't win as a result, but the kids gain valuable experience and grow to be better players in the long run. 

In the practice of law, it seems difficult to risk taking a "loss" in the name of cross training and professional development.  But, in terms of the long term strength of your team, providing access to skill building is key.  You, your clients and your staff benefit tremendously from these activities.  So, how can you incorporate training into your workflow without sacrificing the firm's work quality or reputation?

Here are a few things that have worked for our clients:

Capitalize on teaching moments.  Identify matters that are good teaching opportunities and get junior people involved in a meaningful way.  Leveraging inexperienced resources to provide assistance on a complicated case may increase billing opportunities, but it is unlikely to further their learning.  Assigning more comprehensive tasks on less complicated matters allows junior attorneys to learn to assume responsibility of deliverables, and is more likely to create lasting teaching experiences.

Delegate parts of matters.  Give a junior team member part of a matter with clear deliverables.  Not only will this give the junior member a chance to work and learn under your supervision, but it will also give you a chance to observe the workproduct of your staff.  With feedback and time, you will be able to trust in the quality of your staff's workproduct.

Use mentoring teams.  When a matter is large enough to require two attorneys, assign one more-experienced team member and one less-experienced.  The more-experienced attorney gets the opportunity to advise and mentor the junior member, and the junior member gets hands-on training.  It's a win-win situation.  This will also help your firm develop a culture in which junior members don't hesitate to ask for advice when needed, and senior members take an interest in junior members' development.

Perform an autopsy.  After a matter project is completed, or an issue occurs, dissect and critique the performance and overall results with your whole staff.  This is an excellent way to ensure that your entire team will learn from each others' positive and negative actions.  It's also an effective way for the managing partner to lay out a definitive process for similar instances in the future.  Performing regular project critiques may even inspire your team to generate new and innovative ideas. 

At some point you have to let people take the plunge and do something different.  If you can't ever feel comfortable that your team can exceed expectations without your supervision, you don't have the right people working for you.


David DePietto is the founder and CEO of NexFirm. He can be reached at dd@nexfirm.com.