Arizona Attorney Magazine


The Anxious Lawyer by Jeena Cho Karen Gifford book cover

In the current issue of Arizona Attorney Magazine, a book review explores what attorneys can learn about themselves and their world via meditation.

If you’re unsure about that idea and cotton toward the tried and true, let’s remember that meditation has been around for millennia. So it should be acceptable, even to your firm’s management committee. Just sayin’.

The review author is attorney Juliet Peters, and you can read the entire review here.

And the book co-authors are Jeena Cho and Karen Gifford—lawyers themselves, in case lawyers are the only ones you trust with your self-improvement.

Happily, Jeena will be a panelist on a program I’m co-producing in just a few weeks. Unhappily, the program will be in Miami, not Phoenix. But if you happen to be at the midyear meeting of the National Association of Bar Executives, drop in! Or if you’re in the environs that week for the ABA meeting, drop me a line at arizona.attorney@azbar.org, or tweet to me @azatty. It’d be great to meet and compare mindfulness strategies! (Spoiler alert: You’ve got me beat, and I don’t even know you.)

Here is a link to the conference. And here is a description of the panel, titled “Mindful Lawyer, Mindful Bar,” which also features Jayne Reardon, Executive Director of the Illinois Supreme Court Commission on Professionalism:

“Mindfulness has become top-of-mind for many people, including your members. Even as work–life balance, meditation, and increased fulfillment and satisfaction have become a more central part of a professional’s goals, those aspirations may seem harder than ever to achieve. Our panelists have learned through law and life experience how challenging incorporating practices such as self-care and mindfulness can be—but they have discovered the many wonderful benefits of these practices, including more joy and satisfaction. They will talk about the importance of mindfulness for the attorney. They also will offer practical tips and next steps to create robust mindfulness programs at your bar.”

See you in Miami … or wherever thoughtful lawyers gather.

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Big Data may mean Big Insights.

At least, that’s one major takeaway I got from the Legal Trends Report released by Clio late last year.

Yesterday, I shared my December editor’s column from Arizona Attorney Magazine in which I discussed the report and a few of its findings. But I also had promised to write about the part of the report that wasn’t so much about law practice, but about the power of data to make positive change.

Today, let me get back to that.

Here is the pertinent part of my column I’ll extrapolate on today:

“First—and maybe less interesting to you—is the newfound power of data to provide insight. I’ll write more about this in the future (probably in my blog https://azatty.wordpress.com/), but it’s incredible that via our own real-time software choices, companies like Clio can assess the state of law practice—all within the agreed-upon terms of use. They can see, moment by moment, how many new matters are opened, how many invoices are generated, how many remain unpaid. Does this spell the end of surveys based on self-reported data? We’ll see.”

Before I dive in, here again is a link to the complete report. Read it yourself and let me know what you think.

Clio logo

Data + lawyering? Yes, please, say Clio.

Besides the bullet points I mentioned in my column, here are a few more macro-level insights by Clio:

  • The total 2015 realization rate (actual hours billed as a proportion of actual billable hours worked) came in at 81 percent, but this differed noticeably by practice area and by state.
  • The total 2015 collection rate (actual revenue proportional to hours billed) was 86 percent.

So let’s jump in, shall we, and start with Clio’s premise, regarding the dearth of practice decisions driven by data.

Essentially, they’re saying, in the 4,000-year history of the legal profession, lawyers, firm owners, and decision makers have suffered from a scarcity of industry data. Law firms have had only sparse resources to find the business insights required to run a viable practice.

I know, dramatic, right? In the very first line of their executive summary, they’ve got me with a compelling narrative. Plus, they have subtly conjoined me with every great lawyer, from Hammurabi, to Abe Lincoln, to Sandra Day O’Connor. Those folks—and me. We’ve all suffered the same law practice pains that arise from insufficient reliable evidence. But we’ll solve it together.

OK, I joke, but there’s something to their point. The mass of data that we rely on do come from (as Clio says) self-reported data and often small sample sizes. And is there a way to know if the data we rely on REALLY came from firms of a size like our own firm? Unlikely.

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Hammurabi had a great Code, the best, really. But who knows what he could have achieved with better data?!

But the advent of Big Data and data aggregators has changed all that. Now companies like Clio—and others you interact with every day—have access to your actual choices and interactions with their products. They can see, moment by moment, how many new matters are opened, and how many invoices are generated, and how many remain unpaid.

Here is where I must note that Clio (like all reputable companies) is using all of our online decision-making anonymously, stripped of identifying data. But when they take this massive batch of anonymous data, and analyze it, a remarkable picture of us as a profession emerges. The world is changed—for the better.

So that was a bit of a wake-up call.

But I leave you today again, once again, with their visceral image of your practice as a funnel.

Any of us who practice or have practiced law understand that there is a flow to the work, and that we need matters to begin, end, and get paid for—and hopefully all those things overlap in multiple matters so there is actual cash flow. But picturing it like a funnel invites a disturbingly accurate assessment of where we all stand.

Because we are all busy, I invite you to turn to the report’s page 35. Or, if you’re really busy, I’ll type it for you:

Funnel Cloud? The Devastating Conclusion

Out of an eight-hour workday, the average firm collects payment on only 1.4 hours of billable time. These unit economics would be devastating to almost any industry, and they help explain why, despite charging an average $232 per billable hour, the average small-to-mid-sized firm struggles to make ends meet.

I hope you weren’t standing up when you read that.

Once again, here is a link to the complete report.

Enjoy.

Clio logo

Data + lawyering? Yes, say Clio.

Was it way back in December that I wrote about the new Clio law practice report? And promised you more?

Sorry about that.

Yes, it was in the December issue of Arizona Attorney Magazine that I chatted about the Clio Legal Trends Report. You can read the column here.

Because I’m super-helpful, I’ve pasted in below what I wrote, so you don’t even have to click.

And tomorrow, I’ll offer some more thoughts on what we can learn from the Clio report—and reports like it. Here’s my column (plus an image):

We thought we understood the way the world worked—and then the Cubs won the World Series.

I suppose it’s good we’re still capable of being surprised. It probably says something nice about our capacity for joy. Or something.

Of course, surprises are not always happy, which occurred to me as I read a new report on law practice trends.

Via their “Legal Trends Report,” the people at Clio—the cloud-based practice management people—want you to know two things about your law practice.

First, your practice is a funnel—one that may be malfunctioning.

And second, consider using data—actual facts based in reality—to drive your practice decisions.

Clio will likely say I’m oversimplifying a vast array of takeaways from the report released in late October. But those takeaways—and the underlying facts—are pretty stunning.

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Here is a link to the complete report. Read it yourself and let me know what you think.

And here are two insights compiled by Clio:

  • The average rate billed by lawyers across the United States is $232 per hour.
  • The total utilization rate (billable hours as a proportion of hours available in a working day) for lawyers in 2015 was just 28 percent. For solo lawyers, that number drops to just 22 percent.

What makes this noteworthy?

First—and maybe less interesting to you—is the newfound power of data to provide insight. I’ll write more about this in the future (probably in my blog https://azatty.wordpress.com/), but it’s incredible that via our own real-time software choices, companies like Clio can assess the state of law practice—all within the agreed-upon terms of use.

They can see, moment by moment, how many new matters are opened, how many invoices are generated, how many remain unpaid.

Does this spell the end of surveys based on self-reported data? We’ll see.

The second takeaway is related to the unprofitability of many attorneys’ law practices. When we look at just two of Clio’s many charts—Arizona’s average hourly rate, and its (gulp) average collection rate, the situation appears dire.

There’s definitely more to the picture. But as we head into 2017, we will seek ways to tell the true story of law practice challenges.

Until then: Go Cubs.

A week and a half. That’s all that’s left before our drop-dead deadline for the Arizona Attorney Magazine Creative Arts Competition. That’s our annual endeavor we’ve been doing for almost 15 years now. And we need your submissions sent to the contest email by the end of Friday, January 13, 2017. You can see one of our great call-for-submissions ads below.

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We welcome entries in the following categories:

  • Fiction
  • Nonfiction
  • Poetry
  • Humor
  • Music
  • Visual Arts: Painting, Photography, Drawing, Sculpture

We will publish the winners in Spring 2017.

Send submissions to ArtsContest@azbar.org and queries to the editor at arizona.attorney@azbar.org.

And do you like reading rules? We’ve got ’em; click here.

For inspiration, here is last year’s issue with the 2016 winners.

Remember: The submission deadline is January 13, 2017.

The Creative Arts Competition deadline approaches!

Blogging (even a wee bit) may help curb your technology fears.

Blogging (even a wee bit) may help curb your technology fears.

We’re midway through November, and I thought I’d share my wish (early New Year’s resolution?) regarding courage and technology.

That’s what I wrote about in the November Arizona Attorney Magazine, and I’ve posted my column below.

You can read the whole terrific issue here.

Someone—or someTHING—at ASU knows my name.

That was my somewhat disconcerting realization as I strolled through the new ASU Beus Center for Law and Society last month. Besides being filled with real, live humans, the building also has impressively sized screens scattered throughout, which offer information—often personalized for those who downloaded a free app.

Seeing your name appear on a screen as you approach falls somewhere on the creepy scale, let’s admit. My first impression was like something out of Blade Runner—Siri with bad attitude. But I had to admit that the ’tude was all mine. In fact, I came to be charmed by the devices, created by New York-based interactive design firm Unified Field.

Remember how odd GPS seemed, and now we can’t live without it? These screens are like that, HAL minus the antisocial personality.

Tomas Rossant, Ennead Architects, and Tom Williams, ASU, demonstrate an interactive screen in the ASU Beus Center for Law & Society, Aug. 10, 2016.

Tomas Rossant, Ennead Architects, and Tom Williams, ASU, demonstrate an interactive screen in the ASU Beus Center for Law & Society, Aug. 10, 2016.

Those screens are one of the things I spoke about at the California Bar Leaders Conference in September. Tasked with discussing communications beyond 2016, I also mentioned wearable technology, cloud services, Big Data, and more. I even snuck in a suggestion to get blogging.

Ultimately, though, I said that what I was really discussing was not tools, great as they can be, but a futurist outlook. Not video options, but experimentation. Not social media, but fearlessness. To convey my point, I shared more than a few photos.

One photo I snapped at Chicago’s Midway Airport. A narrow hallway, more of an alley, could easily be missed in the blink of an eye. The 40-foot dead-end meandered off the concourse, and what it held was an archaeological dig, of sorts—the airport’s land-line phones, a bank of telephone directories, and newspaper dispensers, for good measure.

The alley’s sole occupant sat at a telephone. Based on attire and brief-bag, I’m guessing he was an attorney—the only one who would partake of the mausoleum of ancient technologies. Is anyone surprised?

Advanced thinking is not what draws you into Midway Airport's Mausoleum of Ancient Technologies.

Advanced thinking is not what draws you into Midway Airport’s Mausoleum of Ancient Technologies.

Another photo I shared was snapped by my older daughter Willa when she was 3 or 4. She was so pleased by that picture of me—though she did cut my head off.

Both photos enliven the futurist impulse and remind me of technology advice from UC-Berkeley professor Richard Hernandez: Start even if you feel you’re not ready. And when it comes to cutting off heads in photos—and tech generally—the imperfect but genuine trumps the perfect but robotic—every time. Let’s get fearless.

A sans-head portrait of me by my daughter, circa 1999.

A sans-head portrait of me by my daughter, circa 1999.

Arizona election errors have been making the news ... today, and generations ago. November 2016 Arizona Attorney Magazine

Arizona election errors have been making the news … today, and generations ago.

If you haven’t voted yet, stop reading, put down your device, and get to your polling place. Now.

But if you have, then kick back with your I Voted Sticker (you earned it) and enjoy a tale of election administration errors from 1936. In many ways, the lessons it offers are as fresh as 2016.

Our cover story in the November 2016 issue is a terrific one. As attorney–author Joe Kanefield opens his article:

Attorneys Joe Kanefield and Kelly Schwab present at the State Bar of Arizona Convention, June 2013.

Attorneys Joe Kanefield and Kelly Schwab present at the State Bar of Arizona Convention, June 2013.

“The Arizona Secretary of State faces scrutiny after failing to distribute voter-information pamphlets in advance of an election as required by law. A concerned citizen fears that voters casting ballots for a controversial education proposition will be uninformed and files a complaint to postpone the election. The Secretary responds and urges the election to proceed.”

“No, this story isn’t about Secretary of State Michele Reagan in 2016—it’s about Secretary of State James Kerby, 80 years earlier in 1936. But if the story sounds familiar, that is because history has indeed repeated itself.”

“So, what happens when an election official neglects to perform a mandatory duty required by the Arizona Constitution and state law? What are the consequences? What should they be?”

“This article addresses these questions by reviewing the respective situations in which Secretaries Kerby and Reagan found themselves when they neglected to deliver pamphlets to voters prior to the November 3, 1936, general election and the May 17, 2016, special election.”

You can read the whole story here.

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Thank you to Joe Kanefield for conceiving of and writing such a relevant story of ballot woe!

And … Happy Election Day!

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David French reaches out to readers on the difficult topic of succession planning in the October 2016 issue of Arizona Attorney Magazine.

David French reaches out to readers on the difficult topic of succession planning in the October 2016 issue of Arizona Attorney Magazine.

If you know of a more moving and compelling way to write about business succession planning than the way David French did recently, please let me know. I don’t think a more moving recitation exists.

Before October leaves us, I urge you to read—if you haven’t already—David’s piece in the October Arizona Attorney Magazine. That is where he describes steps professionals should take to safeguard their firm, protect their clients, follow the Ethical Rules, and maybe even burnish their legacy. Happily, David takes a personal rather than a stiff approach to the topic.

David French

David French

(In a previous issue, I also covered a David French-moderated roundtable, here.)

Once you’ve read David’s story about his own dad, read about the national picture, in which a rising tide of many retirees is causing challenges for law firms.

Finally, it’s been out for a while now, but I’ve appreciated a documentary called “Period. New Paragraph.” In it, as the American Bar Association says, filmmaker “Sarah Kramer documents the experience of her father, Herbert Kramer, as he closes his law practice after 60 years.” Here is an excerpt.

You can buy the documentary here. Again from the ABA: “The film is accompanied by a discussion guide for bar associations or law firms that intend to use the film to explore the topic of lawyers’ transition into retirement.”

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