Monday, December 12, 2011

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.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

2011 Year-End Tax Planning: Tips & Strategies for Indivduals

Courtesy of Guest Blogger Steven Perrotta

2011 Year End Tax Deduction Acceleration Planning, Tips & Strategies:
  • You may want to consider paying tax deductible expenses by December 31, 2011 instead of 2012, including medical bills, charitable cash contributions, real estate taxes and/or make charitable non-cash donations by December 31, 2011.
  • You may want to consider paying your January 2012 monthly mortgage bill by December 31, 2011, to get an additional month of mortgage interest tax deduction on your 2011 tax return.
  • You may want to consider taking advantage of realized losses in 2011 on your stocks/securities while still being invested in the market.  There are several ways this can be done.  For example, you can sell your original holdings by December 31, 2011, and subsequently buy back the same securities at lesat 31 days later to avoid a wash sale transaction.  I would recommend discussing your year-end stock trades with myself as well as your financial advisor before making them.
  • You may want to consider increasing your 401(k) or IRA contributions for 2011.
  • If you become eligible to make health savings account (HSA) contributions in December of this year, you can make a full year's worth of deductible HSA contributions for 2011, which would reduce your taxable income.
  • You may want to consider using a credit card to prepay expenses that can generate tax deductions for 2011.
  • You may want to consider purchasing big ticket items in 2011, such as a car, in order to assure a deduction for sales taxes on the purchases, if you will elect to claim the state and local general sales tax deduction instead of the state and local income tax deduction.
  • If you are a homeowner, you may want to consider making qualified energy efficient improvements to your residence, such as installing energy saving windows, and energy efficient heaters and/or air conditioners.
  • You may want to settle an insurance or damage claim in order to maximize your casualty loss deduction for the year ending December 31, 2011.
  • If you expect to owe state and local income taxes when you file your 2011 tax return, consider asking your employer to increase your W-2 withholding of state and local taxes (or pay estimated tax payments of state and local taxes) before year-end to increase the deduction of those taxes in 2011, if it won't create an alternative minimum tax (AMT) problem.
  • Consider prepaying eligible higher education expenses f/y/e December 31, 2011 to obtain extra credit/deduction for 2011.
2011 Alternative Minimum Tax Planning, Tips & Strategies
  • Taxpayers who are affected by the Alternative Minimum Tax "AMT" have additional considerations to think about.  The AMT eliminates and/or reduces the federal tax deductions for medical expenses, state and local taxes, real estate taxes, and miscellaneous itemized deductions.  If you are subject to the AMT we encourage you to pay those expenses when they are due instead of trying to accelerate or defer them to avoid/reduce your chances of being in the AMT.
    • i.e. Instead of prepaying your real estate taxes for 2012 in 2011, wait until the actual due date to pay the real estate taxes since real estate taxes are an adjustment for the AMT calculations.
2011 Income Deferral Planning, Tips & Strategies
  • Consider asking your employer to pay out your 2011 bonus in 2012.
  • Consider holding off on selling stocks/securities and other investments with taxable gains until 2012.
  • Consider holding off on taking taxable distributions from an IRA or other retirement accounts until January 2012, to reduce your taxable income for 2011.
  • Consider making investments that won't generate income until 2012 i.e. purchase investments that mature in the following year.  The income on these investments will be reported in the year the investments mature.
  • Consider when you want to start collecting Social Security benefits.  If you will turn 62 in 2011 or 2012, you are eligible to collect SS benefits at a rate that is less than what you would collect at your full retirement age - Please visit www.ssa.gov for more information on your full retirement age.
Other 2011 Tax Planning, Tips & Strategies for Individuals:
  • You can make a tax free gift in the amount of $13,000 in 2011 to an unlimited number of individuals.
  • You may want to consider converting a traditional IRA invested in stocks or mutual funds, which have significant losses into a Roth IRA if eligible to do so.  This conversion will increase your income for 2011.  If you are in a high tax bracket in 2011 this may not be optimal for you.
2011 Year-End Tax Planning, Tips & Strategies for Businesses & Business Owners
  • If your Business wil be profitable f/y/e December 31, 2011, business owners may want to consider making fixed asset purchases that qualify for the full depreciation deduction under Section 179 of the Internal Revenue Code.
    • For tax years beginning in 2011, the expensing limit is $500,000 and the investment limit is $2,000,000.  A limited amount of expensing may be claimed for qualified real property.  Please note: this depreciation expense deduction under section 179 is not prorated for the time that the asset is placed in service during the year.
  • Business owners should also consider making qualified leasehold improvements that qualify for accelerated depreciation.
  • Business owners should also consider tax credits such as the: Work opportunity tax credit, this is a credit issued for hiring qualified workers (such as unemployed veterans, etc.) before December 31, 2011.
  • Self-employed business owners may want to consider setting up a retirement plan, such as a SEP.
  • Business owners may want to adopt a Defined Benefit Plan or Defined Contribution Plan for additional retirement savings as well as additional tax deductions.
    • Please note some of these retirement plans can be funded up until the date the tax return is filed, which defers cash outflow.
  • If you have an interest in a partnership or an S corporation, you may need to increase your tax basis in your entity, in order to deduct a loss that you may be incurring for 2011.

Above are some 2011-year-end tax planning, tips & strategies that can be implemented for the tax year ending December 31, 2011.  I would be more than happy to go over with you anything listed above, as well as other year-end tax planning tactics that I feel may fit your particular situation.


Tax planning is very important for everyone; don't let Uncle Sam get the best of you!

Steven Perrotta is Tax Manager at Schulman Wolfson & Abruzzo, LLP and can be reached at sperrotta@swallp.com.

Friday, July 8, 2011

7 Reasons to Invest in LinkedIn as Part of Your Business Development Effort

Courtesy of Guest Blogger Bruce Segall

LinkedIn has gotten a lot of press recently, between a very successful IPO and surpassing 100  Million members. 1.5 M lawyers are now on LinkedIn. But still some lawyers hesitate.  Statistics by themselves don’t justify spending precious time building a LinkedIn presence. The second annual Salary and Social Media Survey, jointly sponsored by the Law Firm Media Professionals and Hellerman Baretz Communications (April 2011), does provide some persuasive reasons. For example, one law firm marketer said:
“LinkedIn has resulted in a number of referral opportunities for a variety of our attorneys, as well as meeting requests to discuss potential client representations.”
This doesn’t often happen quickly, however, so I wanted to summarize some other reasons for including LinkedIn as part of your business development effort:
1.   It doesn’t take a lot of time. LinkedIn requires setting up your own special type of profile. With a little guidance from readily available online reasources, you can do this on your own in 60-75 minutes. With someone to help you, it could take 30-45.  Once set up, you can spend as much – or as little – time as you want, although spending more time increases chances for success.
2.   Become “smarter” about your network.  LinkedIn is especially helpful the first time you meet someone or speak on the phone.  If you are somewhat low-key like me, LinkedIn is a way to establish a common connection immediately and seem “smart” about people. Just the other day, I noticed that a connection graduated three years before my wife at the same school – in the same sorority no less!
3.   Re-connect with old colleagues. Layoffs and turnover continue in corporate America, but your clients remain loyal to you even if they have moved on. LinkedIn’s “Advanced People Search” feature enables you to find these “Client Alumni” - an invaluable source of referrals and future business. Using this feature, you can reconnect with colleagues from firms you worked for earlier in your career – another valuable referral and networking resource.
4.   Increase traffic to your firm web site.  LinkedIn provides a free distribution channel.  After you finish a new legal alert or other material, post the piece to your firm website. Then you can initiate a LinkedIn “Discussion” (LinkedIn’s equivalent to ListServs) that includes a link to the item. Called “Inbound Links,” these are a key way to increase the ranking of your website in Google search results. LinkedIn provides many other opportunities to post inbound links.
5.   Use your marketing dollars wisely. LinkedIn offers many opportunities to make yourself visible at absolutely no cost. First, “Share an Update” about your speaking engagements and CLE lectures to those who can’t attend. The bigger your network, the more people you reach. You can also use the “Events” application to spread the word. These are just two ways –there are many more.
6.   Leverage new features that LinkedIn is constantly developing. Just in the last year, LinkedIn introduced “Answers,” where LinkedIn Users post general questions on any topic, including five legal categories. Some of you may know about the option to have a firm profile in addition to your individual profile. Last November, LinkedIn gave these profiles greatly improved capabilities, including space to add video content.
7.   You can have fun with it.  I personally enjoy reconnecting with old colleagues and finding out interesting facts about people in my network. LinkedIn is career-related, but also a lighter diversion. You can spend a minute on LinkedIn as a break during the day or while watching TV on weekends.
While LinkedIn offers great benefits, you should keep in mind some of the ethical concerns governing lawyers and promotions. For example, LinkedIn recommendations are an important part of most people’s online profile. But the question of whether lawyers and clients can recommend one another generated a huge response, with no clear answer: http://abovethelaw.com/2010/10/linkedin-recommendations-yay-or-nay/
Some attorneys I know find LinkedIn intriguing and fun initially, but then find it taking time without producing tangible benefits.  If this happens to you, I suggest just focusing on one or two things.  Like “Sharing an Update” with your network before every speaking engagement. Or taking 10 minutes on a Sunday to look up the profiles of every person on your calendar during the coming week. Remember one of the reasons to invest in LinkedIn as part of your business development:
It doesn't take a lot of time.

Bruce Segall is a professional services marketer and President of Marketing Sense for Business LLC.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

10 Small Firm IT Goofs

Small firms are nimble and small firms are exciting, but small firms can rarely compartmentalize functions like larger firms do.

One function that is often underserved is that of Information Technology, sometimes known as IT or simply computers.

Technology continues to grow in importance to firms of every size.  Most office workers use a computer as their primary way to interface with customers and their work product.

Many small firms don’t have a staff person – much less a department – to set up and manage their technology.  When an aspect of a firm’s technology fails, the ripples can be huge.

Here is a list of 10 Small Firm IT Goofs and how to address them:

  1. Not Backing Up.  It used to be that tape backups would be made and someone would have to rotate them out on a daily basis.  Now, online backup services from Iron Mountain, Mozy, Carbonite and others provide automatic, off-site backups.  In the event of a computer loss or failure, these services can quickly restore the contents of your data.  There really is no reason not to backup anymore.
  2. Putting Servers On-Site.  There are very few reasons why people need a server on-site anymore.  The availability of “cloud” or software-as-a-service (SAAS) products ensures that there is no longer the need for on-site servers except in rare occasions.  Furthermore, the cost of these services has continued to drop so that the finances are very attractive.
  3. Hosting Your Own Email.  It used to be that hosting your own email server was actually cost-effective.  With various email hosting companies providing mailboxes for typically under $20 per month, it makes sense – financially or technically – for a typical small firm to host their own email.
  4. Not Encrypting Your Data.  Data encryption is now secure and affordable.  It also provides you and your clients with an extra level of assurance that in the case that a computer or disk is lost or misplaced that the information will remain confidential.
  5. Sharing Files Via Email. As soon as you start doing this, you will end up having file version error.  There are numerous file sharing tools that let multiple people work on the same file and the software keeps track of the latest version.  These tools include Google Docs, Microsoft SharePoint and others.
  6. Buying a Phone System.  Phones that use the Internet are now the only way to go.  They provide you with features that traditional phone systems don’t offer, they can go where you go, they’re affordable.  There’s simply no reason to NOT go with a VoIP (voice over IP) phone system.
  7. Having No Plan for Computer Outages.  Your computers will eventually not work.  Either they’ll stop working for a myriad of reasons or they’ll become lost or stolen.  As computers are critical to the ongoing functioning of businesses nowadays, having the ability to be back up and running within 24-48 hours is critical.  Businesses today need to have availability to spare computers, either on-site or through a provider.  In addition, the computer replacement needs to be able to have all of its data – typically emails and files – restored quickly and reliably.
  8. No Eye to the Future.  One of the aspects of computer technology is that it is constantly changing.  However, knowing what will work for your firm and what should be avoided is difficult to know, even for technology experts.  However you manage your technology, be sure to have a trusted advisor that can help you make sound technology decisions.
  9. Hanging on to Obsolete Technology.  Supporting obsolete technology can be expensive.  Systems that consist of common technologies typically interoperate better and experience less conflicts.  So, while keeping equipment or software that’s already paid for may sound attractive, it makes good business sense to retire obsolete technologies.
  10. Trying To Do It Yourself.  Much as the adage goes “An attorney who represents himself has a fool for a client,” unless one is skilled in technology and can keep those skills current, find a trusted resource that can at least advise you on how to take advantage of current and emerging technologies.

Look over these items and see which ones resonate for you.  Then take the needed steps to ensure that your technology infrastructure serves you well.

Mark Mathias is the Chief Technology Officer (CTO) of NexFirm.  He has more than 30 years of experience with large and small company technology matters.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Securing Your WiFi

With security breaches in the news almost once a week, business owners are beginning to realize that data security isn’t a tangential issue to business operations.  It’s a key concern, for you and your clients.  This is especially so for attorneys.

As WiFi technology becomes cheaper, more convenient, and easier to use, it becomes more and more ubiquitous, especially in high-density cities.  Just by sitting in a coffee shop in Midtown, you usually have access to more than a handful of networks.

One of the reasons why WiFi equipment is so widely used is that it’s easy for people to install. Out of the box it's typically set for being completely open and being willing to "talk" to just about every device that presents itself.

While that's good for ensuring that these devices work quickly, they are completely devoid of any security to protect you and your data.

Having an open WiFi network means that anyone who happens to be in the neighborhood can see and access not only your Internet connection, but also the other devices on your network, such as computers, printers, shared disks, etc.

The good news is that all equipment that provides WiFi service has built-in security capabilities that can help protect you.

The two primary ways to secure your WiFi connection are:

·         Password protect or hide your hotspot (figuratively speaking)
·         Encrypt your data

Every WiFi hotspot has a name, called an SSID (service set ID). A WiFi hotspot can choose to broadcast its SSID or not.  If the SSID is broadcast, everyone within range can detect that a WiFi hotspot by that name is available.  If the SSID is not broadcast, people who know it's there and know its name can still access it by telling their device to connect to a hotspot with that name.

Once a WiFi hotspot has a name, the administrator (usually you) can determine whether or not there's a password that's required access.  If not, the hotspot is considered "open."

But password protection doesn't guarantee security.  Without encryption, all of the data that's transmitted between the hotspot and the computer device is visible to people who know how to monitor this information.  These items can be emails, transactions, word processing documents, etc.

There are two major types of encryption that consumers use:  WPA (or WPA2) and the older WEP.  If available, use WPA2.  This requires the sharing of a "pass phrase" that people use when they connect to the hotspot.  It allows the hotspot and the device to encrypt the data so that only people who need to access the data can.

Another feature of some of the higher-end WiFi hotspots is a "guest" network that lets visitors have access to the Internet, but not your local network.  This way, you can give people Internet access while keeping them away from your network.  The Apple AirPort Extreme is one such example.

The bottom line is:  be sure to secure your WiFi hotspots.  Most manufacturers make it very easy to do, including Linksys (part of Cisco) that offers installation software for their products that configure everything for you so you don't have to be a tech to do it.

Keeping your network and Internet access secure is a smart and easy way to protect you and your data.

Mark Mathias is the Chief Technology Officer (CTO) of NexFirm.  He has more than 30 years of experience with large and small company technology matters.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Communicating With Clients: Social Media and New Technologies

Communicating with your customers has never been easier than it is now.  The trick is:  Do you have something worth paying attention to?

Much as laser printers and desktop publishing software gave people the ability to publish their own newsletters, the Internet -- and in particular social media -- allows people to speak on the global stage.

At the business level, most people use social media to promote their organization, their services and their products.  Although the list of available social media platforms and networks grows every day, the most common for marketing are still the two largest: Facebook and Twitter.

One thing to realize is that social media is entirely content driven, which requires a balance of quality and quantity.  People often believe that by having a Facebook or Twitter account, you must be very active in order to be effective.  Yes, there are people who seem to post all the time, but that's like the person who doesn't stop talking.  People typically get tired of others who don't say much of value.

The lesser said is oftentimes more listened to.

While it's natural to want to post about yourself (this is what Facebook was originally intended for), the savvy social media poster knows that unless you're Ashton Kutcher, people aren't really following YOU…they're following what you know.  When celebrities tweet, they’re marketing a product just like any other business.  In Ashton’s case, he himself is the product.  For a small law firm, your products are your services and your expertise.

Craft your message to your intended audience.  As an expert in a specific area, demonstrate your skills by discussing breaking news that affects your area of practice.  Let people know about loopholes or pitfalls they should be aware of.  Tell them about an upcoming event where you're speaking or exhibiting that they may wish to attend.

You need to promote your law firm’s social media offerings whenever possible.  Link to them on your website, mention them in marketing literature, at speaking engagements, even on your business cards.  Don’t expect anyone to go out in search of your Twitter account unless you make it as easy as possible.  You may not see an immediate effect on your bottom line, but you'll garner followers that will come to know you better and hopefully contact you when their needs align with what you offer.

By using social media, you can reach people that would otherwise never know about you.  If they need your services, great, but they can also recommend you to others who may need you.  Either way, social media can help your business grow and flourish.

Mark Mathias is the Chief Technology Officer (CTO) of NexFirm.  He has more than 30 years of experience with large and small company technology matters.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

I Used to Think David Pogue was the Devil: How to Keep Control of Your Week


It all started as a 10-minute break on Thursday afternoons.  I would read David Pogue's technology reviews in the New York Times Personal Tech email:  Sometimes I’d chuckle, sometimes I’d find out about new technology and occasionally, when I was busy, I would just click delete.  Good stuff.

Along the way, I started feeling anxious when that email showed up in my mailbox.  It was a warning that the end of the week was here, and it made me feel like a quarter of a month had slipped away and again, I hadn't achieved everything I had hoped to.  Scrolling through the long list of columns he’d written, I would freak out.  How does he put out so many articles, reviews, books and webcasts each week?!?  His emails, I felt, were mocking me.

Even though it was all David Pogue's fault, I decided to take action.  Managing my time better each week would help me avoid feeling this bad each Thursday. I created a task list, and I figured out the 8 best ways to take control of my week.

1)  Create a detailed task list each week.  Without one, your days will become a series of reactions: to emails, to phone calls and to the other requests and distractions that we all experience.  Keep a master list of everything you’d like to do, and select items from that menu to focus for the week.

2)  Plan on Friday.  Set aside 3pm to 4pm on Friday afternoon to plan.  No exceptions.  You will hit the ground running on Monday morning.  More importantly, next week feels far away, so you can convince yourself to schedule big tasks that you might avoid when you’re in the heat of battle.  Plus, you’ll know if you need to work over the weekend because you have an unmanageable week coming up.  Send out requests for information and assistance on Friday, and set meetings and conference calls as well.  Giving notice will help keep others from gating your efforts. 

3)  Be strategic.  Don't put things on your list simply to check them off.  Compare your task list against a list of your strategic goals.  Items that don't help further strategic imperatives should come off the task list.  (If you haven't taken the time to list your strategic goals, you ought to.  I will write about that another time).

4)  Don't be a doormat.  We are all forced to commit to tasks because someone is bugging us.  Don’t let pressure take you away from important things you want to accomplish.  To be in control of your career you must keep control of your schedule; so make plans that serve your objectives and tell the squeaky wheel to keep squeaking.

5) Leave time for emergencies, and personal business.  Some emergencies can’t be avoided.  If you don’t leave time to deal with them, you’ll never have time to complete the things you want to.  We all have personal lives that require our attention, so leave some time for that too.    

6) Say no.  If you treat every request you receive as an emergency, your week will be out of control.   Things that come up are almost always less important than the plans you have scheduled, so stick to your guns.  You have to say no.  When you can't say no, try to carve out tasks that fit into your schedule, or delegate so that you don't find yourself off track.

7) Don’t let deadlines rule you.  Facing deadlines on top of deadlines, it’s easy to forget to make time for the things that are not time sensitive.  Like lunch.  And thinking.  Leave time in your schedule to do important but leisurely things like taking clients and colleagues to lunch or committing new ideas to writing.  If you wait until your schedule slows down to do these things, you are never going to do them.

8)  Set expectations.  When you decide what you won’t be doing next week, let those who are affected know (nicely, of course).  Sharing your upcoming week’s plan will allow others to adjust, and hopefully be an aid to you instead of an anchor.

Once you’ve gotten your schedule under control, you can enjoy David Pogue on Thursday afternoons, too.


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

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Spend Smarter: How to Manage Your Legal Budget

This week, we'd like to present an interesting article written by the ABA and highlighted by Paul Lippe of Legal OnRamps. We hope it will interest our readers, as we think that in-house counsels are thinking along similar lines. 

All of the points in this piece create big opportunities for small firms (especially #5), because they require a "quarterback" for outside legal services.  Positioning your firm as the leader who defines the objectives and the process will show your worth to your clients.  They'll be more than happy to pay for your service.

Perhaps the best and most resonating point that Lippe makes is that there won't be a "return to normal" any time soon.  Consider his advice and create a new normal for your firm.





Monday, February 7, 2011

Eating Our Own Dogfood: Using My Own Services

Every day, I meet with founding partners to discuss their practices’ IT needs, and we often touch upon PC (or Mac) support mechanisms that will allow them to replace a lost or malfunctioning computer in a timely manner.  I cannot stress the importance of this kind of system.  In our view, timely means the next business morning.  There are expenses associated with support like this, but the math clearly shows that it is more expensive not to have it.  For an average attorney who bills 7 hours, losing one business day means thousands of dollars.  These dollars add up fast if a few days pass.  This doesn't include the reputational cost you incur when your attorney has to tell a client they can't service them because of a bad computer.  For a small firm, this can make you seem small time and cause clients to question your capabilities.
Often, I hear "We won't need this. I've had this computer for 3 years and I've never had a problem."  My favorite: "I have a Mac, and it's flawless."  It all sounds great until your computer goes bad, as mine did this week.  Oddly, this is actually the second time in a year that this has happened.  Last time my daughter poured a glass of water on my keyboard.  Goodnight, nurse.  This time, I have no idea what happened; it just quit.  Of course, it happened at the worst possible time.  Things are booming here at NexFirm and I couldn't be busier working on proposals for new clients or working harder to meet the needs of our existing clients.  As you can imagine, lots of deadlines and no computer equals enormous stress.  To make matters worse, I had photos of my kids, my music, and a bunch of other personal documents on that computer.  I felt completely crippled.
As unfortunate as it was, it gave me a chance to "eat my own dogfood," or to see how NexFirm's support and replacement service would work for me in this jam.  You might think that as the CEO of NexFirm I would get preferential service, but in practice I get on the end of the line behind our clients.  (Least favored nation status, so to speak.)  So, I waited to receive my computer, which arrived the next business morning, just as we promise to our clients.  While I waited, I used our web tools, which allowed me to access my email and documents and to stay productive working from my home computer.  When I received my new system, I hadn't lost any data, and all of my applications were just as I’d left them.  In the end, my heart attack turned out to be a tiny blip.
Without my NexFirm team, how might my experience have been different?  A quick check today showed a 7 to 10 day wait to receive a new laptop from Lenovo.  Dell was no better.  Since that would be untenable, and we couldn't find a way to get a replacement that met the specifications I needed on short notice,  I probably would have been forced to buy something inexpensive from Best Buy to get through the week while I waited for a new system.   That would have meant spending the day buying and configuring a computer, as well as trying to restore my data.  Then another day when my permanent system arrived.  The answer is lots of unproductive time, how much is hard to say.
Think carefully about the cost of not having IT support for your users, and include lost work time and the cost of temporary replacement solutions.  It's bound to be more than the cost of having a support system in place, and it will certainly save you from stress and aggravation.
David DePietto is the founder and CEO of NexFirm.  He can be reached at dd@nexfirm.com.

Monday, January 31, 2011

Would Rex Ryan Make a Good BigLaw Managing Partner?


As I emotionally recovered from the heartbreaking news that the NY Jets won’t be competing in this year’s Superbowl, I decided to go back and reread a post I first wrote in September but never published (some of the people here thought that Rex Ryan was controversial so the post would annoy readers).  Aside from the fun I had watching my team prepare for what promised to be an exciting season, I was really surprised to learn about the training camp coaching process as I watched Hard Knocks on HBO.  More to the point, I was incredibly impressed with the communication techniques I saw.  The NY Jets seem to be doing a better job of managing their organization than any law firm I can think of.  What can we all learn from Rex’s management style?  Set clear objectives, provide feedback and constantly measure whether your message is being received.

An organization with a single purpose.
During the first team meeting of the season, coach Rex Ryan’s slide show starts with the objective: Win the Superbowl.  He follows up with the steps to reach this goal: “To have the most wins on offense, to have the most wins on defense and to have the most wins on special teams.”  Well, this might not be a surprise, but it surely is clear.

Do your attorneys know what it means for your organization to “win the Superbowl,” or the steps it takes to get there?  If not, communicating your goals as an organization will allow them to keep focused on what is important, to think strategically and to be motivated by something that is often forgotten these days: Purpose.

Clear communication of individual objectives with honest feedback.
The frankness of Jets general manager Mike Tannenbaum in player meetings is noticeable.  He tells one player “I am not sure that you are good enough to make it in the NFL,” and tells another “you played your best but the other guy was just better than you.” The biggest surprise is that the player always appreciates the feedback!

Your attorneys may not respond well to such harsh feedback, but they do want an honest assessment of their work, good or bad.  Well articulated objectives and uncolored feedback are tools that we all need to succeed professionally, and we all value managers that provide them.  On the flip side, failing to let your staff know how they are doing creates frustration and distraction.

Speaking the language of your team.
It seems like Rex Ryan thinks that the language of his team is exclusively four letter words; maybe not a good strategy in a law office.  But I notice that his players, when interviewed, seem to use the same phrases that he does.  In my mind, that is a sign that his message is received and processed by his audience.  Speaking in a vernacular that resonates with the team is just the first step, repeating and measuring the receptiveness of the group is the key.  Scenes showing the coach visiting players in their bedrooms at lights out demonstrated his technique, but there are many ways to get belly to belly with your team and find out if they are clear on their assignment.

How do you suspect it would help your organization if you defined and communicated the company’s goals, clearly articulated each team member’s role and provided critical feedback on their performance and spent more time talking with them to make sure that they were on the same page as you?  Give it a try, who knows, you might just win your Superbowl.
Oh, and don’t throw the ball on 3rd and goal from the one yard line.

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

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Look Before You Sign: Learning What You Need Takes Time

Starting your business always costs more than you think, so holding onto your cash is typically going to be your primary objective when you first start out.
Many startups are founded by people who have left large firms where most, if not all, of their technology was provided for them.  So, if that’s you, you’ll have to make all of these decisions yourself.  And, if you find yourself  unprepared, you’re not alone.
If I can offer any advice, it would be these two things:
1.        Retain the right to cancel services, and pay as you go if you can.
2.       Customize your systems to suit your needs.
Sure, it’s possible to go out and buy all of the technology products and services you think you’ll need:  computer, software, phones (desk and mobile), email, Web sites, scanners, and all the other gadgets Fortune 500s take for granted. But paying a service for just what you need is a great way to try out a solution beforehand, and it helps you decide if you need to make the larger financial and contractual commitment.
By using a service that you can modify or cancel, you’re assured of keeping your initial capital outlay as low as possible while you try out services that are appropriate to your new business. For example, do you need a desktop computer and/or a laptop computer and with a myriad of options out there, which ones are right for you?  Don’t go out and buy the entire Apple store (and the 2 year contract that their mobile devices usually require) if you spend the day in your home office and only need a computer for email and word processing.  An inexpensive desktop might be all you really need.  Or, if you’ve got a lot of international clients, don’t commit to a long international phone plan without trying out cheaper web-based options, like Skype.
More than likely, you’ll need a technology environment that’s quite different than you had before you started your firm.  Rely on people who focus on small business successes (I can recommend at least one good firm) before plunking down your valuable cash on something you may have to “make do” with for three to five years.
When you do decide whether to buy or license your technology, you’ll know it works for you.
Mark Mathias is the Chief Technology Officer (CTO) of NexFirm.  He has more than 30 years of experience with large and small company technology matters.