Tuesday, December 28, 2010

An Ounce of Prevention

Today, I received a letter from hedge fund where I have a small investment, letting me know that a laptop, along with my personal information, had been lost.  It read: “In order to assist you, we have arranged with a security company to provide you with complimentary use of an identity theft protection service, which includes $1 million in identity theft expense insurance, for two years.”  They were obligated to contact over 600 past and present investors.  The estimated cost for their new insurance expenditures is over $10,000.  That doesn’t include the long term costs they might incur if any identity theft actually occurs, nor does it include the time and reputational damage they’ve experienced, nor the sleep I’m sure they’re losing, worrying if this will be the death of their three-person firm.
Learn from their example.  The New Year is a great time to think about liability issues, the potential game-ending risks at your firm and above all, what you can do to mitigate or completely remove them.  Often, a small effort can fix potentially big problems.  In the example above, employing endpoint encryption on users’ PCs, only a few hundred dollars per year, could have avoided this entire fiasco.  (Shameless plug:  NexFirm provides encryption service.)  As your firm grows and matures each year, the risks you incur will change; and ongoing, periodic review is required.  For most law firms, the largest risks lie in three areas:  Data protection, Regulatory compliance and Insurance coverage.
Data protection
It’s good if your firm protects data from potential loss with a security system.  It’s better to prevent unauthorized users from accessing that data, whether it’s lost or sitting on your office desk.  So, get encrypted.  Encryption is a get out of jail free card:  If encrypted data is lost, you don’t need to notify clients, you don’t incur liability and you don’t need to worry that the data will be compromised.  Virus protection is the other side of the coin.  We recommend an administrator-directed security solution so you can confirm that your anti-virus regimen is followed religiously.  And to make your data protection plan complete, you need firm backup procedures, replete with data recovery plans.  To be fully effective, your backups must be off site, encrypted and provide a restore time frame that supports your business needs.
Regulatory compliance
Requirements change with surprising frequency and effect many parts of your operation, including data archival and employment responsibility.  Touch base with the regulatory bodies in your jurisdictions of practice and confirm that your procedures comply with regulations.  It makes sense to have an employment attorney review your employee handbook each year to make sure that you incorporate changes to the law and to confirm that your firm is using the best practices available.
Insurance coverage
You are forced to review your malpractice coverage each year for renewal, a helpful process that allows you to reassess your professional liability.  This is a good time to review the other types of liability your firm incurs and to assess whether additional coverage strategies make sense.  General liability, crime, fiduciary, employment practices, error and omissions and several other types of coverage could be worthwhile.  This is also a good time to consider creating or updating a buy/sell agreement for the partnership and purchasing life insurance and long term disability insurance for the principles of the firm.
I wish I could promise you that doing this type of review will be fast, easy and inexpensive; it may not be.  Compare that to the tumult you will experience should your firm face an issue, and you will find that the time and expense are well spent.  And, of course, if you feel stuck or generally unenthused by the project, give us a call at NexFirm.  We’re happy to help!

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

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

At NexFirm, we are eating our own dog food - Social Media

NexFirm is changing the way small and mid-sized services companies operate. We free up entrepreneurs to focus on producing top notch work product and develop new business by handling the arduous and time consuming task of managing back office operations. Our platform enables our partner firms to focus on what they do best, save money and enjoy a greater chance of success.

As part of our service offering, NexFirm manages the web presence for our clients, including their website and social media initiatives. You may think that social media is a vehicle for Ashton Kutcher to share his every whim with adoring teenagers. Maybe so, but at the same time it is a powerful and inexpensive way for businesses to cultivate relationships with existing and prospective clients. In the time it would take to write a thank you note, you can reach hundreds or even thousands with a value added bit of information. This keeps you fresh in the mind of your clients and enhances the perception of you as a resource and an expert in your field.

Social media can include company and industry blogs, Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn [you should input the trademark sign on these names] communications as well as email campaigns. To be effective, content must be added regularly and be tailored to the interest of the readers. This may seem like a daunting task when you already have a full schedule, but the results can be significant and amply justify the time and energy.

Starting in September, NexFirm will lead our clients by example by launching a comprehensive social media calendar. Our activities on the web will include weekly blog publishing, Twitter and Facebook activities as well as periodic web conferences and other online events.

Here’s what you can expect from NexFirm:

• During the first week of each month, NexFirm’s CEO David DePietto will publish a column entitled “From the Partner’s Perspective” which will discuss strategic and tactical issues faced by small and mid-sized firms for those who run or hope to launch a practice.

• During the second week of each month, Beth Anisman, CEO of consultancy B&Co. and board member at NexFirm will publish a column entitled “Operations: Confidential” which will cover a wide range of issues in the professional services space from business development and operational excellence to career advice and personal enrichment.

• During the third week of each month, NexFirm’s CTO Mark Mathias will publish a column entitled “TechTalk” which will discuss technology solutions, issues and opportunities for professional practices.

• During the fourth week of the month (and the fifth if there is one), NexFirm will invite a guest author for “The Hot Seat” which will address a wide variety of topics in the area of interest for small and mid-sized professional firms.

The objective is to establish NexFirm as a resource for those who run small or mid-sized service firms, and build a name synonymous with launching and operating firms of this type. Give some thought to your objective; then let NexFirm help you reach it by creating an online marketing program for your firm.

Email info@nexfirm.com
Web http://www.nexfirm.com/
Twitter www.twitter.com/nexfirm
Facebook www.facebook.com/nexfirm
Linkedin www.linkedin.com/companies/nexfirm
Blog blog.nexfirm.com

David DePietto is the Chief Executive Officer at NexFirm. He can be reached at 646-666-8990 or dd@nexfirm.com.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Be Like Seth

Be like Mike SETH

Being a successful attorney means being in the business of business development.  We all need new clients; bigger clients and better clients.  The question is, how do you achieve this objective?  What is the best way to become a big rainmaker?

The answer is networking.  Attorneys should strive to raise their visibility so they can demonstrate their expertise with potential clients and create credibility.  Strong business relationships are the vehicle for raising your visibility, and meaningful personal relationships are the cornerstone for business connections.

Recently, I had the pleasure of meeting Seth Farbman, CEO of Vintage Filings and Co-Chairman of Vcorp Services, a sharp little company that helps attorneys quickly and inexpensively organize corporations and do other corporate filings.  Seth is in an ultra-competitive business, and his success is dependent upon his ability to differentiate himself, even though the services his firm provides are seen as a commodity.  It’s a tough task, but Seth has done exceptionally well by building strong personal relationships with his customers and leveraging those into new connections.  If you want to play basketball, be like Mike.  If you want to be an attorney with a strong, committed network, be like Seth.

·         Focus on people that will be helpful to you.
Identify the smartest people in your space and don’t worry if they are not big hitters just yet. Today’s junior associate is tomorrow’s managing partner.  And, don't shy away from networking with competitors.  Cream rises to the top and people change seats many times over the course of their career; if you are playing for the long run it doesn’t matter if they can give you business today.  Spend your time networking with networkers and don’t waste time with those who don't respect personal relationships.

·         Don't say you are a good person to know, just be a good person to know.
Adding value is the key to business relationships.  Building a network isn't about listing contacts in your phonebook; it's about building trust with others and letting them see the value that you provide them.  Helping others network is the best kind of networking.  The tireless attempt to understand what people are trying to achieve and trying to help them achieve their goals is the most powerful way to build lifelong relationships.

·         Be honest, and don't try to hide your intentions or be afraid to ask for help.
There is nothing wrong with asking for help, or telling the people who you know that you want to be introduced to others.  Treating those to whom you are introduced well and making a point to say thank you to the connector is enough.  Giving gifts or trying to provide compensation for introductions can create a whiff of impropriety or just discomfort.  Reciprocate, don’t buy assistance.

·         Don't wait until it's too late.
People in positions of power and influence are difficult to connect to.  Introductions via mutual friends may open the door to a sought after contact (isn’t this even more of a reason to focus on growing your network?).  Instead of spinning your wheels with people who are unlikely to join your inner circle, pay special attention to those who need you instead of those who you need.  Those out of work or in the throes of a difficult time professionally or personally will remember you inviting them to use an empty office, taking them out to lunch or introducing them to someone who can help them.  People may forget the things you say to them or the things you do for them, but they never forget how you make them feel.  Let them feel like you are there for them.

·         Have fun.
If you commit to growing your network, you will meet people along the way who you enjoy and who become great friends.  You will be exposed to ideas that you might never have considered, learn from other’s mistakes and have opportunities that you may not have otherwise had.  If you enjoy the relationships you build, the results will be that much better.

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

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Cloud Computing for Small Firms

Cloud computing presents a monumental opportunity to improve the way information technology needs are addressed over the coming years. For small firms, particularly law firms, the benefits can be transformational to the practice. Understanding and embracing this trend should be a high priority for those who make technology decisions in these environments.
The days of buying servers and software and putting them in your office are all but over. Power, air conditioning, data communications, networking, fire suppression, security and other concerns related to in-office servers consume time and money that is better spent elsewhere. In a “cloud computing” solution, servers can reside in professionally managed data centers instead of your office. This reduces not only the one-time costs of buying the servers and creating your own mini data center, but also means you don’t have to hire people to design, build, and support these systems.

At one time or another we have all been a victim of the shortcomings of the traditional client/server environment. An email system in your office goes down on the weekend, someone has to: a) know that it’s gone down; b) be willing and able to fix it; and c) have the expertise and spare parts to fix either the hardware or software. The headache and expense of these technology crises add very little value to your practice.

Because cloud computing is still an emerging solution, the standards for service have yet to be defined. For now, it is recommended that adopters stick with established providers like Amazon, Microsoft, Google, and Salesforce.com, to name just a few. In core functions such as email (Microsoft Exchange, Gmail, Yahoo! mail or similar), Customer Relationship Management [CRM] (Salesforce.com, Microsoft CRM or similar) and applications (NetSuite, Google Docs, Microsoft Live or similar), these companies have established themselves as high quality vendors that small firms can trust.

The benefits are plentiful:

• Faster start-up time;
• No capital expenditure (CapEx) costs;
• No need to design, order and build your computing requirements;
• No need to use costly square footage to house servers in your offices;
• No need to hire people to manage your specific servers;
• No issues with evening and weekend support coverage;
• Access to high-end applications for a nominal fee; and
• No costs for upgrading software or hardware every few years.

Detractors point to the benefits of a traditional client/server environment:

• The ability to physically secure your data;
• Faster speed due to no telecommunications delays;
• Ability to customize the software and/or environment;
• Potential competitive advantage through customization; and
• Possibly less cost over four or more years.

Small firms will not typically leverage these benefits of a dedicated server; they will only bear the costs. For the typical small law firm, there is rarely a true need for in-house computers and servers other than desktop or laptop computers – and even that is changing. The use of cloud computing provides you with the ability to quickly and affordably access big company technology without all the headaches.

Mark Mathias is the Chief Technology Officer at NexFirm. He can be reached at 646-666-8992 or mmathias@nexfirm.com.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

What would you do if you had only 30 days to chase your dream?

Joe Trabucco and Stephen Menard spent more than twenty years building a flourishing litigation practice. To escape conflicts and adjust their rates to reflect the prevailing market, it became clear that for the benefit of their clients, it was time to leave Biglaw and strike out on their own. If they wanted to preserve the support of their key client, they had a window of only 30 days between trials to successfully launch Trabucco & Menard.

To get started they did what any good attorney would do: research. Quickly they amassed a task list that was long and unmanageable. They knew that they needed to put together a business plan, an IT platform, an HR and benefits program, a finance and accounting system, and a hundred other things – but they didn’t know how to get it done. They needed help.

“Once we found NexFirm, things started to come together” said Stephen Menard. “They helped us put together a business plan and offered us all of the operations and administrative solutions we needed. When we shared our launch plans with our clients, they were impressed and supportive of this strategy. It really put my mind to rest.”

As soon as they gave notice to their employer, the unthinkable happened: Joe found himself in a family health crisis that had him in the hospital day and night attending to his loved ones. (Thankfully, things have improved). Without his participation in the launch effort, Steve really had a lot on his plate. Nonetheless, Joe & Steve opened the doors to their new firm, Trabucco & Menard, 30 days later.

How did they do it? Joe Trabucco explained that “The team at NexFirm took care of the myriad of tasks in front of us. We would not have been able to grab this window of opportunity without NexFirm.”

“We love to see clients launch and operate successful practices” said David DePietto, CEO of NexFirm. “Our success is directly tied to our clients’ success.”

Quite a success it has been. Trabucco & Menard recently completed their first month in business ahead of projections, with a growing client list, and an outlook for a very prosperous year.

If you are an in-house or Biglaw attorney, starting a firm might be the best career path for you. Contact NexFirm and we will give you the tools to decide. 646-666-8989 or http://nexfirm.com.