Friday, August 31, 2012

Free Kittens and the Perception of the Value of Legal Services

I think it's remarkable how every so often there is a synchronicity in my work.  This past month I've had some good work for an animal defense group, a no kill animal shelter, and a dog rescue organization.  Each brought some unique questions to me and they are a lot of fun.  The toughest one though is the no kill shelter, because someone cleverly placed a floor to ceiling window between the meeting room and a room full of 10 week old kittens.  As the little darlings play they bounce against the window and distract the speaker from her detailed discussion of technical tax rules.  Very difficult.  An interesting thing that I learned is that it is very hard to find homes for all the black kittens, so there is no adoption fee for them.

Shortly after my visit to that client I came across an insightful article in Law Practice Magazine about Managing the Perception of Value of legal services.  Ann Gunn also appears to have a soft spot for kittens, noting that free kittens are hard to find homes for, but when they are $5 apiece the prospective buyers evaluate the kitten against price, and more readily opt for purring than an extra $5 bill in the wallet.  I like her ideas about explaining to clients the value of one's legal services.  She writes:

For the most part, your clients aren’t able to judge the quality of a brief, the brilliance of a closing argument or the skill required to negotiate a favorable outcome. They must look for something they can measure, so they look for value in other areas. To help them develop a perception of value around your services, you must deliver value in a way they understand.               

Her article gives some great advice on that front.  And next time I visit with my shelter buddies, I'm going to suggest that they put a higher price on the black kittens, just to test the theory.  I hope it works.  In the meantime, if any of you are looking for a new feline companion, give me a shout.  I can get you a good deal.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Drew's Alligator, Re Post

This past week I again committed the heinous crime of sending a short email that read as curt and offensive, when I was really just in a hurry to convey a seemingly ordinary piece of information.  I've now lost considerable amounts of sleep chastising myself for not using an emoticon or at least including some ego-stroking, girl-y chit-chat along with the information.  But on the bright side it reminded me to find and re-post this message that first appeared in January of 2009.  


Isn't this a cool photo? My nephew snapped it while on vacation in the Carribean last month. I wanted to use the photo but didn't really have a reason, so I did what I usually do when trying to write posts to this blog: free association. Hmm, alligator—litigator—nothing there but alliteration. American alligators live in swamps, they float with just eyes and nose above water until striking some hapless prey that comes for a drink…nope, still nothing. Alligators have the most powerful bite, and grab their unsuspecting prey then thrash in a death spiral until the poor victim drowns… I give up. No material relating to alligators seems useful when writing about leaders and lawyers and their relationships with each other.

On a completely unrelated topic, let's talk about email. Email is a wonderful tool, but I am continually astonished at how poorly it is used in client and lawyer relationships. Here are some observations about inappropriate uses of email for communicating with lawyers:

Email as Badminton Birdie: Lawyer receives email, responds with a query or tidbit of information rather than looking up the information or completing the analysis, and lobs it back over the net. The birdie floats in the air for some time, until someone else asks a question or adds a tiny bit of information, then lobs it back. The ubiquitous blackberry is making this game ever more attractive, because it is nearly impossible to actually provide substantive legal advice from a blackberry screen, but it is really easy to just lob the task back, down, or up. And if by chance the birdie has been lobbed into a gutter and no one has bounced it back, it can sit there for months before someone realizes that things aren't progressing. Just stop it. Do the work rather than playing a game, and follow up every important email with a phone call. Seems obvious, but apparently it's not.

Emotional Email: This has been discussed many times in the popular press, but it bears repeating. Never ever send an email when in any emotional state other than professional detachment. Sarcasm is absolutely off limits, even with "friends." Ditto anger, frustration and annoyance.

Email Jokes: Humor, too, should (almost) never be transmitted using a professional email account. I once relayed what I thought was a very funny Google joke (their April Fool's posting last year) and intended to make fun of myself, but it was received quite differently. Who new. Oh well, lesson learned. Best to reserve funny things for your friends outside of work.

Which brings us to Emoticons. I hate the things. But email doesn't convey a proper feminine vocal manner, one that speaks sweetly and deferentially and makes the point in a demure but accurate way. As one prone to sending brief email transmissions, I really wish there were some way to add to the text of every short, assertive message, the following disclaimer, in pink, right below the reminder to be green:

"This message is not intended to annoy anyone, it is merely a brief message of instruction or information. It should not be relied upon for assessing the personality characteristics or professional suitability of the sender. It is just information you asked for or that you need to know."
You can email me at :)


Monday, August 13, 2012

Call for Nominations

Know any great women networkers? Are you one yourself? For the second annual Women Leaders in Law program, The Recorder is recognizing women lawyers in California who've mastered the art of networking — in person, online or both.
Winners will be announced in October and honored at a reception in November.
Deadline for nominations is Aug. 17Click here for submission criteria. To nominate yourself or someone else,
Join the Recorder's LinkedIn group, where the honorees will be announced in October. Also, follow you can follow on @RecorderTweets and Facebook for updates and details.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Go for the Gold--With a Good Coach

I've always loved the Olympics.  My earliest Olympic memory is a vision of synchronized swimming that I must have seen on black and white TV in the 60's.  I can date that memory because it was before my first swimming lessons as a 7 year old--I remember being deeply disappointed that I wasn't being taught how to do that kind of swimming: beautiful, coordinated, and fun. All I seemed to be learning was that I would never make it to the end of the pool without nearly drowning.

Another fond memory dates back to August of 1984.  While I was in labor with my oldest son my husband kept sneaking off to watch the boxing matches.  His reasons had less to do with a love of boxing and more to do with trying to escape the anxiety, so I don't fault him for that.  Still, it would have been nice if he'd been just a little more present...

Anyway, fast forward to the 2012 Olympics and the veritable feast of video available now.  I figured out how to project from my laptop onto the obscenely large screen in our media room, and now we can watch every single sport!!  Last night for me that meant trampoline, taekwondo and dressage.  The night before it was rifle shooting and dressage.  Tonite we'll pick another obscure sport, and dressage.

I'm fascinated by these new events (to me) as I try to figure out the rules based on the scores.  It's relatively easy to figure out how the winner is selected in shooting.  Trampoline also seemed pretty easy to call; we were sure the woman who landed on her face wasn't going to score well.  But taekwondo is a complete mystery.  I suppose we could get a basic grounding in the sport by reading wikipedia, but I suspect that real critical understanding of the keys to success requires years of participation in the sport and a good coach.

Ditto Dressage.  You can read about it all you like, but until you've spent hours on a horse asking for walk, trot and canter in perfect circles, you'll have no idea what it takes to reach the highest levels of the sport.

Similarly, learning how to succeed in private practice requires more than reading about the law. Personal experience and coaching over a long period of time is essential.  While role models and peers are necessary, really excelling requires a coach, or, as we usually put it in the legal profession, a mentor.  Not everyone makes a good coach; some who can do a thing very well are very poor at teaching.  But a good mentor really understands private practice and what it takes to succeed.  And students who really want to succeed always seek out a mentor.  There are no athletes at the Olympics without a coach.  Young lawyers who want to succeed can't do it alone, either.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

The Dog Days of Summer

So I am sitting here this morning thinking I need to post something new and helpful, since I had a comment on a post recently to the effect that this blog is actually helpful.  Very encouraging.  Every time I think I am just about out of ideas and have nothing useful to add, someone comments on one of my posts so I sit here and stare at the computer screen until an idea emerges.

Today my free association started with wishing it were warmer outside.  Yes, I know much of the US is sweltering, but here in the San Francisco Bay Area we are damn near freezing.  Well not quite, but when the thermometer reads only 63 and you expect it to be in the 80s or 90s, it's disappointing.  Anyway I am musing about the Dog Days of Summer, wishing we were enjoying the characteristic heat due the northern hemisphere until mid August.

Other than the lack of heat, the pace of work certainly is suitable to the Dog Days--every project that involves more than 2 people seems completely stalled, as someone with a task in the critical path is undoubtedly on vacation.  So my secretary and I are keeping ourselves occupied by formally closing old client files.  This makes my risk management partners very happy, since at a minimum it clears the shelves in the file room and sometimes actually clarifies the limitations period...

But the most useful side effect of closing files is that the exercise encourages failure analysis.  As unpleasant as the task is, I know that taking time to look objectively at matters that ended on an unhappy note (either from my perspective when the client won't or can't pay, or from the client's perspective when things went over budget or did not reach the desired outcome) helps me to avoid the same mistakes in the future.  How did I go wrong in pricing this one?  What was the critical issue I missed when I first took this client on?  What was a red herring in this case, and what really mattered?  How should I have staffed this small project?

It is much easier to bask in the glory of successes and sweep the unpleasant stuff under the rug.  But I think there is much more of a learning opportunity in the failures than in the successes.  So that is how I have been spending these Dog Days, chilly as they are.