Disaster planning backup strategies

Filed under: Paperless, Practice Tips | Tags: , , , , , , , |

My law office is located in Colorado Springs Colorado – the location of the 2012 Waldo Canyon fire. On June 26, 2012, the fire broke over the ridge and started to come down the mountain quickly rushing into Colorado Springs. Foothill neighborhoods burst into flames. And no one knew how far the fire would go. Would the fire rush through all of Colorado Springs?

We quickly packed “go bags” with three days of clothes along with water, food and supplies, in case we had to evacuate.

But what about the office? We are paperless, so everything is digital. A couple of hard drives and we have everything. Smart, right? Well, there’s nothing like a disaster to put your finest plans to the test. The local backups are all on the full-size hard drives. They require their own power supply. This means a separate cable, power-brick, and of course, power. Three full-size drives and cables (one for the server, one for the laptops, and one for the Time Machine). Once you add in padding, you are looking at a carry-on sized bag. You think you have room for everything, until you actually start loading the car. You quickly find yourself running out of space. The trunk sags, and you need to make some hard choices about what you’re going to bring and what you will leave behind. Survival gear takes the priority: food, clothes, water, sleeping bags, medicine. However, with your “digital” office, you still have your laptops, and backups requiring the same space as a gym bag. It’s not big, but what do you leave behind so you can bring this?

In case you are wondering, I do use cloud backups. However, in a disaster, I am not counting on good conductivity. If I have to leave, I have no idea when I will be coming back, or even if I will be back. I need to be able to keep the office running and plan for contingencies, in case something happens during the evacuation. I need my first data location (on the laptop), and a backup.

Fortunately, we did not have to evacuate that night and I won an extra day. The next morning, I went out and bought two 1 terabyte bus powered hard drives, wiped them, reformatted for the Mac, and did a full image.

Two drives. Now I’m down to backing up the office onto something smaller than two paperback books. No long cables. No separate power supplies. Just a short USB cable. I slipped them into the pockets of my go bag.

Now, it is Friday, June 29, 2012. Three days since the fire came down the mountain. The weather has been favorable. The winds are blowing fire back into hills. There has been no growth in the fire and the firefighters are starting to gain containment. However, the fire still isn’t out. So, we stay ready. The car remains packed. I keep backing up: local, off-site, in the cloud, and onto the USB bus drives that come with me.

Remember, good backup strategy is about layers. You may have things backed up. However, if you have to leave in a hurry, give some consideration to how much space and weight those backups take compared to everything else you will need to take for yourself and your family. Add some bus powered drives – your business may depend on it someday.

photo by: FtCarsonPAO

Backup strategies for solo or small firm lawyers

Filed under: Cloud, Mac Tips, Practice Tips | Tags: , , , , , , |

It’s a new year and it is time to make good on that resolution to strengthen your law firm’s backup strategy (or to get one started)!

How to get your back-up plan in order, in case of a hard drive failure, theft or fire, is one of the most important things a solo attorney and small law firm can do — especially once you go paperless. Then it is all just bits. And you do not want them to go away. Fortunately, it is much easier to copy bits than it is paper documents, allowing you to have multiple up to date and versioned copies in multiple locations.

Goals of a successful backup strategy:

  • Automatic. You already know that if something is a hassle, it is not going to get done. You want something that works in the background whether you remember to use it or not.
  • Multiple locations. One of the worst backup strategies is to have your backup sitting next to your computer. You want to make sure you have offsite back-up. And having a backup in a completely different regions is even better.
  • Multiple copies. One backup is good, but several are better. You never know when a perfect storm will hit and take out your one backup.or
  • Multiple services. If something happens with your backup provider, even a temporary problem with connectivity, you could be left out in the cold. It is a good idea to put your eggs in several different baskets just in case.

Great, you say. You could read pabulum like this on any number of law blogs. So let me give you a quick and dirty guide to backing up. Some of this is Mac specific, but I am including PC alternatives for the Morlocks among you ;)

Read the rest of this entry »

Can your clients understand your forms?

Filed under: Podcasts, Practice Tips | Tags: |

I’m listening to the 4th Graders Read A Credit Card Agreement episode of NPR’s Planet Money podcast. In it, the hosts discuss the how eye-roll-back-in-your-head complex credit card agreements and notices are. Is it really necessary to make them so complicated? Is it even possible to make legal notices simpler?

With good design, the answer is YES.

Here is a sample disclosure document (click on the link for the full pdf).

Now, here is the same document revised and reformated for clarity and readability (again, click the link for the full pdf).

Of course the second one is easier to read. It is broken down into clear sections with nice signposts to tell the reader what s/he is looking at. Now, here is the question. Are your fee agreements and other documents more like the first set notice, or the second?

Law Practice Tip: Add “What to Bring” List to Emails

Filed under: Practice Tips | Tags: |

Want to make you clients happy? How about just a bit happier. Here is an easy way to make your client’s experience with your office just a bit easier and less stressful.

Add a “What to Bring” section to your appointment confirmations

You already know that you have to remind you clients of their appointments. Otherwise the chance of a no-show jumps sky-high. I have been transitioning to email reminders over the last 18 months. It has made my life so much easier. I use a pre-generated email template in Daylite which plugs in the next event. I simply review it, and hit send.

One thing I have recently added is section that says:

At the appointment, we will be checking for the following. Please do your best to have these available:

And I include a list of what I will be looking for at the next appointment.

It’s easy. It avoids the whole, “Oh yeah! We did talk about that last time.” Of course, it does not prevent forgetting on the day of the appointment. It does reduce it substantially, though.

Law Practice Tip: Do You Have A Client Notepad?

Filed under: Practice Tips | |

Here is an easy way to keep your clients happy and make their lives easier: have mini-notepads on either side of your desk. It is one of those ridiculously obvious things (except that a lot of lawyers don’t bother with it).

It took me years to figure it out. It finally occurred to me at a doctor’s office: at the end of the appointment, they rattle off a list of medications, dosages and schedules, and things to watch for and what to do. Finally, they ask, “got that?” before smiling, shaking your hand and running out the door.


Simply providing a pad and paper greatly helps our clients keep all of the information and instructions that we go through during appointments straight.

On both left and right sides of my desk, I keep mini sticky-back notepads with pens. This lets my clients take notes and take with them. It’s easy and it makes getting things done easier for my clients and myself.

Got a practice management tip? Tell me in the comments!

Dammit! I’m a Lawyer, Not a Soothsayer!

Filed under: Editorials, Practice Tips | |

Problem solving fortune cookie

It is an axiom in the practice of law that lawyers cannot promise a particular result.

It is also axiomatic that as soon as an individual requires the services of a lawyer, they will forget this. So, any question like…

If I do A, what will happen?

Falls into the realm of promising a result, if one tries to answer it. The same goes for the following:

If I do A, will B happen?
How do I stop B from happening?

This is a variation on promising a result, in the sense that it is a protection racket. “We can help you avoid B[ad thing], if you do the following, and pay us money.” The often unspoken part of these questions is…

I know what I want to do, and I want you to tell me that it is going to be ok.

Or, put another way, “I want you to ratify my action and indemnify me against bad consequences.” Now, do lawyers do this? Sure. Absolutely. Lawyers often provide advice on prospective courses of action to protect their clients. However, there has to be the understanding that:

  1. The lawyer cannot guarantee a result.
  2. If things go tits up, the lawyer will effectively go, “Huh? What do you know about that?”

Unfortunately, this tends to not go over well. Which often results in the client either being angry, or suing the lawyer, for not having a good enough crystal ball. Simply put, I hate these questions.

Creative Commons License photo credit: Tomasz Stasiuk

Low Quality Faxes – When Cheap Equals Stupid

Filed under: Paperless, Practice Tips | Tags: , , , |

Boy and Fax Machine

I just got a fax from a CPA on one of my Colorado Social Security disability cases. The fax is painfully low resolution. Frankly I am not sure it is not just one long Captcha. Figuring out the numbers requires an inordinate amount of squinting and guessing.

This just makes me wonder: what are you saying about your business with your faxes?

I know what this ink blot test of a fax tells me. It says:

I don’t care about my client.

I don’t care about the recipient.

I don’t care how my business looks to anyone in the outside of my office.

Regular readers know that every contact with another person or business is a chance to make an impression and to market your office. Do you want to squander that opportunity with poor quality fax? Is the money saved by using the low quality setting so substantial compared to faxing using high quality? Of course not.

Quick Tip: make everyone happier by faxing using the “high quality” setting.

Here’s an even better tip, send the scanned file as an attachment to email and give your recipient the highest quality version. Of course, make sure to scrub the meta-data before sending. Fortunately, Adobe Acrobat makes that very simple. Read the rest of this entry »

Permit, Recognize, And Reward Change

Filed under: Editorials, Practice Tips | Tags: , , , |

Torn & Cut One Dollar Note Floating Away in Small $ PiecesThe Japanese have a concept called Kaizen – or “continuous improvement.” The idea is that you continually make little changes which improve your overall product. Over time these changes add up and add to the quality of your product. My personal take on Kaizen is the string of pearls metaphor: keep adding features to your practice and improving on the ones you have.

These can be big or small changes:

  • Update your logo.
  • Add color printing.
  • Add SMS reminders for your clients’ appointments.
  • Revise the copy in your brochures and website.
  • Revise your letters.
  • Update your letter format: freshen the style, change the font, increase the white space.
  • Call up 5 contacts you have not spoken to in half a year.

Why polish when it is not rewarded?

The problem in many law offices is that the firm culture actively fights change. Even if it is the stated goal at the office to “empower” workers, completing assigned tasks or maintaining billable hours rules the day. Read the rest of this entry »

MILOfest 2010 Mark Merenda on Hiring Strategies for Law Firms

Filed under: Conferences, Practice Tips | Tags: , |

Mark Merenda‘s other presentation at MILOfest 2010 (Macs in Law Offices) covered mistakes lawyers make when hiring.

Mark was gracious enough to shares just some of the tips covered including the proper approach to hiring and what traits to look for in job applicants.

Mark Merenda consults on the business of running law firms and crafting law firms into a compelling experience for clients at SmartMarketing. You can read his blog at LawFirmHelp.com.

CC image credit: Simon Blackley

Systems: Save Your Sanity Through Effectively Mapping Stuff

Filed under: Practice Tips | Tags: |

motion gears -team force

CC photo credit: ralphbijker

Today’s post is written by Andrea Cannavina of LegalTypist.com

Hi.  I’m a Virtual Assistant.  I help attorneys and law firms streamline their tech and processes so they can get more done with less –  less time, less resources and less stress.  I’ve been doing this since 2001 and I’ve helped 100’s of lawyers irrespective of their chosen technology.

Everyone always asks me “how”? Simple.


Without systems, I wouldn’t be where I am, and some of my clients would not be in business.  Everyone is on information overload and the more successful you become, the more stuff you have to keep track of.

David Allen of Getting Things Done fame is big on systems and getting everything out of your head.  So am I.  Systems remove the need for you to be thinking about how to do something vs. just getting it done.

Not all that you do as a business owner needs to have a thought process.  By getting this easy stuff out – written and known – concrete – you free up lots of the gray matter for more important ruminations (you are lawyers after all).

Systems allow you to go on autopilot. You don’t have to think: ‘hmmm, what do I do with this?”.  You already know what to do when you receive the following Read the rest of this entry »