Productivity: Taming the Dreaded Desktop Beast

If you haven’t discovered Kinkless.com yet, you need to. The brainchild of Ethan Schoonover, the site talks about “simple tools and ideas that help us work, play and create.” Something every Inspired Solo could use! Ethan caused quite a stir with his hack for a Mac program called OmniOutliner last year – KinklessGTD, to help users implement Getting Things Done. Now, he’s back with the No Mercy Desktop Cleanup. It’s written mostly for Mac users, but I think Windows users can get a lot from it,too. Be warned, though: it’s radical stuff. You may never look at your computer desktop the same way again.

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Interested in Amicus Attorney? Now’s the Time To Buy

First time buyers of Amicus Attorney will receive 15% off their purchase (up to 10 licenses) of any Amicus product, including the front and back office product Amicus Small Firm, now through June 29th. For more information, see the order form here.

It’s interesting – the more I work on these articles and e-books about practice management for solos, the more my own practice is becoming hectic and diverse, and the more I’m seriously considering trying this CMS thing again. (I tried Time Matters originally, but it was way too much program for my needs.)  I’ve uploaded the Amicus demo, and am giving it a trial run. Either way, I’ll post a review here on Inspired Solo.

If you would like to write a product review of any CMS program you use, or are familiar with, or any other product you think solos would be interested in learning more about, please let me know either in contents or via email (sheryl at schelinlaw dot com), and I’ll hook you up as a guest reviewer!

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Do You Have an Emergency Plan If You Get Sick?

All the press about Andrew Speaker, the Georgia solo who has drug-resistant tuberculosis and caused a ruckus after flying home from Europe on a commercial flight, has me thinking lately: what would happen to my clients if I became seriously ill?

Answer: {the sound of crickets chirping ….}

Clearly, I need a plan. So do you. Being inspired means having made sufficient plans for foreseeable emergencies that you no longer have to worry about such things, and can turn that energy into being creative with your practice and your skills. Having a backup solo nearby that you can depend on (and s/he, in turn, can depend on you) will not only help you sleep better at nights and protect your clients’ interests in the event the worst happens, it might also lower your malpractice premiums!

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Habla Espanol? You Should

ed. note – OK, I know I saw this topic somewhere in the blawgosphere lately, but I’ll be darned if I can find it now. If you were the smart person who blogged about lawyers learning Spanish, please let me know so I can credit you properly! Found it! Evan Schaeffer wrote about it right here

If you don’t speak Spanish, consider learning it. Not only is it valuable intrinsically (learning a new language keeps the brain cells humming at optimal frequency, plus – learning anything new is good, people!) it may someday soon save your practice. According to some sources, almost 13% of the US population speaks Spanish as their first language, and that number is only getting bigger. What are the odds that, one of these days, your clients will include immigrants who don’t speak English – or don’t speak it well enough to assist in their case?

Consider pro bono programs, if you don’t think you’ll have a communication problem with your paying clients. If you participate in such programs at all (and more and more bars are strongly encouraging their members to do just that), you will undoubtedly run up against a language barrier one of these days.

Still not convinced? Then how about those of you (like me) in states that require attorneys to assist in indigent defense? Think you might get called down to the local detention center one of these days to meet your new client who speaks Spanish – and only a little English, not enough to tell you his or her version of the facts?

If I haven’t convinced you yet, then think of it as a marketing tactic. The percentage of Spanish-speaking immigrants in this country is growing – there’s no doubt about that. That’s a huge market that’s being underserved by the legal profession. What would be the ramifications to your practice as an Inspired Solo to be able to say, proudly “Se Habla Espanol” in your radio ads and on your website? Or even have a Spanish version of your website’s materials?

Well, I convinced myself, so I signed up to get the materials from the Missouri Bar’s upcoming teleseminar, Spanish for the Legal Professional. Tip of the hat to Evan Schaeffer for the referral and suggestion!

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TechnoMarketing: Give Your Website or Blog a Checkup

Website Grader is a free tool that will analyze your blog or website for a number of relevant SEO markers for free, giving you a roadmap of improvements you can make to improve your site’s relevance, ranking in search results, and traffic. Did I mention it was free? This is Inspired Solo marketing at its finest!

Information is power in the Information Age, and that’s what Website Grader delivers. Start by entering your website URL – ex.: http://www.schelinlaw.com, or inspiredsolo.wordpress.com – and the URL for one of your competitor’s websites. Choose one that is, in fact, comparable – blog to blog, SC bankruptcy lawyer to SC bankruptcy lawyer, Georgia estate planning firm static website to Georgia estate planning firm static website. (This is optional but it’s good info to have, although I would never recommend positioning your marketing solely in response to a competitor.) Type in some relevant keywords – what do you expect your site’s visitors to type into a search engine to find your site? Use some different options; for instance, for my bankruptcy practice blog, I used “bankruptcy, SC bankruptcy lawyer, debt relief.”

Then just provide your email address and click “Generate Report” – it only takes seconds, and it will show in the browser window, as well as in your email inbox as a link.

My bankruptcy practice blog received a surprisingly low score. I was a little surprised, honestly, with over 50 inbound Google links (though it’s showing as 43), steadily increasing traffic, and a page rank of 4 (not awesome, but at the higher end for most practice blogs). But looking at the evaluation the website provided, it makes more sense: my designer didn’t put in meta keywords or page description plugins for my WordPress blog. Clearly I have some SEO work to do!

Another interesting development – this site’s report showed a pretty good score – 73 out of 100. I truly expected those two scores to be reversed, given that this is a WordPress.com hosted blog, it’s newer by several months than the other, it’s not a unique domain (yet!), and I’ve done precious little in the way of SEO work here. The main difference I see is 3 del.icio.us bookmarks for this site, none for the bankruptcy blog. I wouldn’t have thought that alone would mean such a significant difference, especially since the other blog gets about twice the traffic this one does.

Thanks to Deb Ng from About Web Logs for the tip.

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Productivity Problems? Get Honest With Yourself

I recently received an email from an attorney who expressed great frustration with her inability to become as productive as she’d like. Her email was a lengthy explanation of her situation and contained a fairly complete analysis of the different factors impeding her progress in this area. Her main culprit, she said, was her email inbox. She complained bitterly about how long it took to go through this mail and respond to the few threads she thought merited a response. She just couldn’t understand why it was the way it was – or what she had to do to fix it. Her problem, in a nutshell, she described as a “lack of information.”

I feel so strongly for this woman! This is a universal problem for solos of all stripes. And it’s an emotional one – we feel robbed of our time and energy when we realize we’re spending all of both on items that don’t fulfill us or move our dreams forward.  Certainly, in a time when people are declaring “email bankruptcy,” we can all appreciate her antipathy towards her inbox – heck, most of us probably share it!

But as much as I feel for anyone in this situation, I also know there’s a problem in the way this woman sees the problem. How do I know this? Because I see her emails – they’re more properly described as letters, I think – frequently over 15 paragraphs long, incredibly well written, amazingly helpful to the person who initiated the thread to which the woman’s responding. There’s a ton of value in her emails!

So what’s the problem? It’s not the kind of value she wants to create. The problem, in short, is one of self-honesty: she sees her problem as other-imposed. I see it as self-directed. She doesn’t have to respond with missives. She doesn’t have to respond at all. She chooses to, because it gives her something in return. Now, realize, please – there is absolutely no value judgment here. The choices themselves are neutral in value – the value is in how well the choice matches up with your intentions.

If I choose to lose weight, but I keep eating cake and ice cream, there’s no match-up here. This is a problem.  If I choose instead to eat properly but never exercise, there’s a slightly better match-up but it’s not optimal. When I choose to make all my actions support that goal of losing weight, I’ve reached the optimal state of productivity.

The problem? None of us are ever going to reach that optimal state 24/7/365. We’re all going to stumble a bit. Frankly, I think the occasional stumble is important – it makes life interesting, more valuable, and more “educational”! (I know I learn the most from my failures, not my successes.) We each have to choose where, on that spectrum, we want to fall. What suits me may not suit you. And vice versa. And that’s the way it should be.

So bottom line: you have to get honest with yourself about (A) your intentions, (B) your actions, and (C) how well (B) supports (A), if you want to achieve real productivity.  How to do this – the tricks and tips – can and do fill endless volumes. I’m not sure the mechanics are as important, though, as truly understanding that one simple equation: how well does B support A?  Only a thoroughly honest answer is going to help you there.

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Is Case Management Software Necessary for the Inspired Solo? Depends.

Whether you need case management software (CMS) depends on a few factors:

  • Your practice area
  • Your average number of open cases
  • Your current software

OK, you’re probably saying right about now, “I get the first two. But what does the last have to do with anything?”

In a nutshell: you might be able to fulfill the functions delivered by CMS using only the software you currently run, and/or web-based products.  The advantage is obvious for anyone who’s done some comparison shopping for CMS – the price of standalone products like TimeMatters and Amicus are enough to make a bootstrapping solo take a moment’s pause (or several).

But there are some disadvantages, too. First, such solutions are crafted and cobbled; as such, they may have gaps in coverage that dedicated CMS would not. And while much of those kinds of gaps can be predetermined with careful planning and a thorough understanding of how you need CMS to operate in your practice, some of it is going to be inevitably discovered through trial and error. Second, as a crafted solution, using current software “off-label” as it were can be less stable than CMS.  Finally, any solution that depends on more than one product might create some degree of extra effort that CMS would save you.

Is it worth it to you, as a cost-conscious solo to adopt one of these solutions, or create one for yourself? Only you can  say for sure. But I’ll be uploading some e-books over the next few weeks at The Inspired Solo Bookstore, and I will post a short summary and excerpt here as I do. Each e-book will focus on a different program and how it can be used in the solo practice to serve the CMS function.

Foonberg’s Rule

Second Circuit: Pro Bono Fees For Small Firm? Depends On Your Motives, Apparently

From Susan Cartier Liebel at Build a Solo Practice, LLC, comes this tale of a really bad 2nd Circuit decision that denied a successful pro bono lawyer’s application for fees on the amount submitted and held, basically (as far as I can tell from the snippet Susan published) that the client’s expectations (read: pro bono = free service!) determined the value of the fees assessed. So, Susan points out: “What is especially galling is if the attorney can show he did not take it on for moral reasons but strictly monetary ones, she will get her full fees.”

Doesn’t do much for supporting pro bono efforts in small firms and solos, does it?

Inspired Solo Bookstore Grand Opening!

I’ve started something new here at Inspired Solo – well, technically, not here but related to this site, anyway! The Inspired Solo Bookstore is now open for business. There’s more about this move (which isn’t a move, per se, but an addition to the Inspired Solo family) here in this post at the Bookstore, and I’ll post more about that decision in the days ahead.

Other things you can expect at the Bookstore:

  • Reviews of the books highlighted in the sidebar
  • Reviews of upcoming books about or relevant to the solo practice of law or entrepreneurship in general
  • Interviews with authors who write about subjects we cover here at Inspired Solo
  • My own writing – including e-books and PDF articles about going solo, evaluating whether it’s for you, planning the bootstrapped firm, and much more

I hope you enjoy this double offering of Inspired goodness. As always, if you have suggestions, complaints, or love to share, fire away in the comments below, or reach me at s dot schelin at gmail dot com! Thanks for reading.

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