A Shortcut Approach to Career Planning for Lawyers

The Preliminary Results from Boalt Research Project: 26 Factors in Effective Lawyering lists 26 skills, traits or characteristics successful lawyers have.
Assume that you are a reasonably successful lawyer considering getting out of the law practice. Sit down with this list and pick out your best 6 – 10 skills and the 6 – 10 you like best. Make a first cut on combining those lists.
Then start to work with a variety of combinations of the factors on your tentative combined list. Suddenly you’re not just another burnedout lawyer who thinks that all he or she can do is practice law. You are person with marketable skills.
Now, put together combinations of those factors that appeal to you and start thinking about jobs that fit them.
This exercise should take you about 15 minutes. You can thank me when you start your new job.

A Plain Language Guide to the New Tax Code Revisions

You can study various summaries of the new tax revisions or even the law itself and still not find the answer to the key question: am I going to get a rebate check this year?
Fortunately, Smart Money’s “What the Bush Tax Cut Means for You” puts it all together in a nice summary that is understandable and to the point. Compare this summary to some of the others that you’ll find and you’ll appreciate what a nice piece of work this article is.

Earth to Microsoft: Why Do You Make it So Hard to Be a Good Customer?

I thought that the basic premise of business was that you wanted to make it easy for your customers to be your customers or you wouldn’t stay in business.
Why then does Microsoft make it so difficult for a good customer to be a good customer? This post caught my attention because it sums up so many people’s feelings about the current state of dealing with Microsoft. If you try to stick with the program, you end up with a bunch of hassles. Small wonder so many people obtain copies of the software in “nontraditional” ways.
Example 1. I spent a bunch of time recently downloading and installing a huge number of critical and recommended updates for my various computers only to find that Microsoft has withdrawn one of the upgrades because it disabled Internet access for too many people. Did Microsoft tell me that? No. I learned that from a newsfeed I found that keeps me updated on Microsoft patch news. Do I have any idea what I’m supposed to do now? Nope. I still have Internet access so I must be OK, right?
Today, there’s another security update report from Microsoft. What’s the procedure – install the patches now or risk the exposure until you find out whether the patch breaks systems or not?
By the way, Microsoft has all my contact info because I had to sign up for a Passport account. How about a little help or just an email giving me a few suggestions?
And, the updates themselves? How about sending me a CD every now and then with the updates, at least the service packs? Despite Microsoft’s assumption to the contrary, not everyone has an ethernet network with a broadband connection.
Example 2. My old Win 95 computer that will soon become a Linux computer. All I wanted to do was upgrade it to Windows 98. Why doesn’t that cost me $10 or less instead of more than the value of the whole machine?
Example 3. Speaking of software that costs more than the computer how about those prices on Office XP? What about just a copy of Access?
Well, it was comforting to see a flurry of stories today that indicate I’m not the only one who had these feelings and experiences. Microsoft itself reduced the prices on Office products (of course, given that Office 2003 will be out soon that only makes sense), but they are still very high for personal and small business use. Microsoft has recognized that by liberalizing their education discount policy, even though it is still pretty difficult to comply with the letter of the academic license – I’m one of those people who tries to read, understand and comply with the license terms, since I practice in that area of law. If I have a hard time getting the rules straight, believe me, plenty of other people do too.
And there are other forces at play. The educator’s version of Office is outselling the standard version by about a 3 to 1 margin, which bears a rough correlation to the fact that it sells at about a 1/3 discount over the non-educator version. In a certain sense, this is found money for Microsoft because if the educator version were not available, some percentage of these customers would have opted for the “copying from a friend” approach rather than shelling out for the standard version.
Add to these stories the continuing saga of the controversial and widely-panned Microsoft business licensing plan and it makes you wonder about what happens when to a company whose customers start to feel that they are merely afterthoughts. Microsoft may want to come down off its mountain and talk to the people who use its products and figure out ways to make it easy for good customers to stay good customers.

The Technology is Cooler as a Solo

I’ve had a couple of demos and conversations recently that have pointed out to me what cool technologies, especially software, are available once you step outside the large firm environment. I don’t necesarily disagree that there must be a degree of standardization and lock-down in a large firm, but it sure keeps you from trying a lot of cool stuff.
For the first example, I’m rocking with a new Sony Vaio PCG-Z1A notebook with the Centrino chip. That means wireless, baby. I was at my local St. Louis Bread Company restaurant the other day using the wireless broadband to download the 29 or so critical updates it takes to bring Windows XP up to speed. It worked just like it was supposed to on the first try. Pretty cool. Wireless is one of those things that you really don’t get until you experience it in action, then, wham, you’re sold. I love that commercial that imitates the PBS Antiques Road Show where the guy brings in an old phone and the expert explains that in the olden days people were tethered to a wall with a wire, as they shake their heads. The Vaio notebook is a beautiful machine, something I rarely say about computers.
I finally have gotten the chance to go back to Worldox as a document management tool. I so much prefer it to what I was using over the last few years. It’s largely a matter of personal preference, but that means that my life is easier and it’s my preference that takes priority, not the preference of a committee. As a teaser on Worldox, you can incorporate your email into the doc management system, moving you away from the frustratingly rudimentary search and management functionality of Outlook.
I also got to be trained on CaseMap 4.5 over the phone by Danielle Carwell of CaseSoft. I’m not a litigator and have no interest in being one, but CaseMap is the only thing that’s ever made me even think about being a litigator. Every time I experiment with CaseMap I have a flood of ideas of how it might be used and I’m about to try some in a non-litigation context. I remember someone saying to me that “if you are not using Casemap, you’re not really litigating.” I still can’t imagination how anyone would hire attorneys in a litigation matter who didn’t use CaseMap.
Here’s another one: Enfish. Can’t find anything on your drives? Aren’t using Worldox? Can’t find old email? Enfish is kind of like a Google for your hard drive. It’s much more, of course, but you get the idea. Some people are good at scrupulously managing files and folders so they can always find things. I’m not one of them and I doubt you are either because I haven’t met many.
Finally, I had a great phone call and GoToMyPC demo of ActiveWords from Buzz Bruggeman. We speak the same language, it seems. ActiveWords in simplest terms is a universal macromaker, but that description doesn’t do it justice. Longtime Windows users have their own lists of common tasks where a graphical interface is a pain in the butt because it takes a lot of steps. Enter ActiveWords and you can automate that. I’m just scratching the surface with the program by using it to open programs quickly by typing a few letters, but it’s a godsend for making common tasks really easy. Like all good programs, it gives you room to explore doing things that you want and makes you think about ways it can help you.
By way of comparison, I was talking with a friend of mine at one of the top 100 firms who was lamenting using Office 97 programs. I got a cool new Lexar Jump Drive (the floppy may indeed be dead) and wondered what approval process might be required in some large firms. I just got to pop it in and go. It reminded me of the time I waited over a year for approval to have a $79 color inkjet purchased and installed on my office computer. You know what, I never did get that printer.
If you’re doing something cool with tech that fits into to the solo space (or not), I’m always willing to hear more about it.