Obsolescence

Well, age is making its ugly presence felt here in the little law office on the prairie; it seems that what’s not wearing out is being forced towards the abyss of obsolescence by the simple fact that software is an ever-evolving entity while hardware represents a fixed point in time. While it is possible to stay the ravages of time – a bump in RAM here, a solid state disk there – eventually the operating system gods will deem a given combination of hardware to be unworthy of their further attention; damning these silicon sinners to the cold, electron-less hell of the storage closet where they shall wait until they are cast down, stripped of their reusable components, into the recycler’s bin.

And so it goes here at the little law office on the prairie; having extended the life of my desktop, laptop, and server with injections of memory, SSDs, and a wee bit of overclocking the little silicon darlings that have served me 24/7/365 for the last decade have been rendered obsolete by the simple fact that the gods above have decreed that they are no longer worthy of further OS upgrades. Thus perturbing the general tranquility of the little law office on the prairie for now a choice must be made; are these faithful servants to be forced aside to make way for younger brethren or are they to be kept in harness even though the threat of a zero-day bug draws ever closer.

For some, the decision is an easy one; wear has loosened the USB port on my PDA to such a degree that to get electrons to flow through it requires a major act of planetary alignment and has reduced the home button on my tablet to a translucent spot through which, in the right light) a wee bit of circuitry may be seen. It is obvious that these soldiers have fought their last battles and obsolescence brings welcome relief. But then there are the others; a bit past their prime it is true, but still productive bits of silicon all the same. The challenge then is to weigh utility against risk – a tough task for both are difficult to quantify.

Here, risk lies somewhere between a perpetual fear of the devils and demons that stalk the ether and the blissful ignorance created by the assumption that all attacks will be thwarted by the guardian angles that lie within one’s firewall; being neither paranoid or innocent I tend to accept that with each passing day without updates risk increases. A similar duality exists for utility; does one rush to embrace the most recent generation assuming that improvement automatically walks hand-in-had with new or is it that familiarity breeds productivity. Eventually the demands of the software I use will cause utility to drop below risk and make replacement inevitable. Until that happens, I think this little law office will keep moseying along with its aging hardware and its aging attorney.

Rural Lawyer: Not Quite Mad Yet

March brings the first of spring’s gentle caresses to the little law office on the prairie and with them comes that mild madness that draws us out of our winter dens and onto the thawing landscape far earlier than prudence would dictate. Now, the heart becomes a bit lighter, lifted out of winter’s gloom; buoyed by the hope that we will be able to get an early jump on all that must be done once summer comes. For it must be a madness that possess us to venture out; March is nothing if not uncertainty – for what was a snowbank yesterday may be mud today and ice tomorrow and a balmy morning breeze can be either a harbinger of an evening’s icy blast or the handmaiden to a sun-drenched afternoon. While this madness may tempt us to greet Ostara sky clad, the prairie March teaches us to approach this turning point in the year systematically and to keep both winter’s outerwear and spring’s gum boots at hand.

Transitions seem beckon protocol and celebration – new years, birthdays, weddings, the seasons are noted and marked in a variety of ways. And yet, too often, the more mundane transitions that are a common place to a law practice go without a trace of pomp (to say nothing of the lack of circumstance) or protocol. Now, it would be madness to suggest that we provide cake and cookies each time we set up a new client file, receive a retainer, complete our monthly accounting, or close out a matter (though I will admit that completing one’s income tax does seem to call for chocolate and single malt) but these events, and the myriad of other transitions that abound in our practices, do call out for some type of protocol; some system to guide us as we mark their occurrence.

Perhaps it is the influence of my pilot training, but here at the little law office at the prairie checklists are the de facto protocol for common transitions. I like checklists for a number of reasons – they are simple (all you need is pen and paper to create a template) they are flexible (changes can be easily made), they are visual (I can see where I am and where I’m going at a glance), they can help prevent that nagging feeling you forgot something, and they are supported by my practice management software (supported, heck, they are built in and can be automated).

The only downside to checklists is that there will be a point when you start to think you might have a few too many and that it is somewhat ridiculous to keep filling them out now that you’ve been in practice for umpteen years now. First, let me go on record as saying there is no such thing as too many checklists (I have 13 pages of checklists for the single engine Cessna I fly and 24 pages for the twin engine Beechcraft and that’s just for the non-emergency stuff) but if it makes you feel better, simply stuff your checklists into a 3 ring binder, call it your risk management manual and send a copy to your malpractice insurance provider; they’ll love you for it and who knows, you might even get a discount on your premium. As for the assumption that experience trumps the checklist – let me point out that the pilots who safely landed their plane in the Hudson credit their success not to their 1000’s of hours of experience, but to their training and to their checklists. They flew their plane by “the book” not by experience.

ChecklistBC

The Rural Lawyer – A Techie Valentine To Me

February has announced itself with cold winds, wet snow and an absolute disregard to January’s rather mild precedent. Which hurries my steps along when I venture out of the little law office on the prairie and away from my Keurig – a wondrous fount of coffee, tea, and other warm delights; given the time of year, perhaps the most vital piece of technology I currently own. But I come not to sing the praises of the various bits of tech that keep me and the LLOotP working like a reasonable oiled machine or to wax poetic over my found infatuation with open source document management and private cloud software. No this time the love goes out to the work life balance. Work life balance is a bit of a myth out here in the little law office on the prairie for both work and life tend to blend one into the other for better or worse. But somewhere in this mélange, there are those times when me needs to take precedence. So, on the odd occasion I find it necessary to kickback at take some time to slow down in order to speed up. Now I’m not one for taking a spa day or heading out to buy shoes – farm equipment is an entirely different thing; I’ve been known to take a day, drive 300 miles just to look at a mower (now when I talk mower, I’m talking 100 horsepower and 14 feet of cutting width). I prefer to take my me time and learn about something entirely unnecessary. To that end, I fly planes and grow orchids. But if I really want to earn a few points, I’ll tackle something on the honey-do list (yet another use for Evernote). For those of you who’d like to play along and fit a little more life into your work there is a perfect opportunity heading your way. On February 14th, turn your tech off, let your social media go quiet, tell your staff you won’t be in the office, and spend the day getting to know yourself and your family again – remember a sitter and dinner out may earn you bonus points. And now for something completely off-topic – have you ever wondered how to check if your marketing efforts are working as hard as they can? Then Stacy Clark’s article Are your law firm’s Marketing Efforts Being Sabotaged? is for you. She provides a 10 question test to help you identify some of the common weaknesses in your marketing strategy, things like: –               Is your staff involved in your marketing efforts? –               Are you staying in touch with previous clients? –               Are you keeping your website up to date? –               What’s your value-add? It’s worth the time to google the article and to take the entire test. As solos, it’s hard to keep all the balls in the air and this may help you focus on your efforts as you start those 2015 marketing efforts. Speaking of updating your website, 2015 should be the year that you implement that responsive design website and stop losing those mobile eyeballs. While you’re at it, take the time to develop high quality content; once you get those new eyeballs, the very least you can do is give them something to read and you can stop worrying about keeping your content above the fold; mobile users are used to scrolling down. So as long as your content is compelling you are good to go long. By the way, the stodgy old law firm website has outlived its usefulness; try experimenting with typography. Google Fonts can give your website some visual impact without breaking the bank, Bruce M. Cameron Having decided that going to law school and opening a solo law practice would be a sufficient response to the male midlife crisis, Bruce now practices Collaborative Family Law and Estate Planning in rural Minnesota. When not in the law office, he can be found on his small farm where he and his wife are at the beck and call of a herd of horses, a couple of cats, a few dogs and one extremely spoiled parrot. http://www.rurallawyer.com

The Rural Lawyer – New Year’s Goals

To be perfectly frank, I stink at New Year’s resolutions. While my intentions are admirable, most of my resolutions seldom make it past mid January, early February at the latest. So this year, I’m resolving to avoid resolutions altogether and in their place try goal-setting instead. The cool thing is that there is some tech for that — granted it’s a analog device that Buddhists have been using for some 400-odd years, but I have no doubt that someday soon there will be an app for that.  It’s called the Bhavacakra (“wheel of life”) and it is a framework for laying out goals.

Step 1 – Identify the important stuff. Thing big picture; what are the 8 things you’d like to tackle this year. If you need some help coming up with ideas – one version of a Bhavacakra is pictured below. Think of these big picture items as forming the rim of the wheel.

wheel

Step 2 – Create a few aspirations to go under these big picture categories. Aspirations are your answers to questions like: I want to develop more…, I want to learn…, I want to try to… There should be at least one aspiration for each of your big picture items – but a many to one mapping works too, just remember not to bite off more than you can chew, after all you only have 365 days to work with. For our example, aspirations might be “I want to develop more clients” which maps to “marketing”, or “I want to be more mindful in my practice” which maps to “health”.  These form the spokes of the wheel and are usually where most New Year’s resolution stop.

Step 3 – Develop measurable, manageable goals with timelines that will meet each of your aspirations. These fill the sections of the wheels.  Goals need to be measurable so you can track your progress, need to be manageable so you don’t get overwhelmed and they should have a time line so there is an impetus to stay on track. The more specific you can make your goals, the better; details are things that can be tracked, measured and managed

The only thing left is to left to do is to execute your goals and the best way to do that is to find away to keep yourself accountable for them. This can range from blogging about your progress to finding an accountablity partner – someone to check in with on a regular basis and who’ll help keep you on track. The key is to find a process you are comfortable with and to go with it. Personally, I use a system of rewards to keep me on track (meet a milestone, get a treat – I find old Scotch and fine chocolate work well as). It’s basically operant conditioning without the electroshocks. If you want a bet of a technological edge, there are goal tracking apps out there; topping my list are Joe’s Goals, Mindbloom’s Life Game, Goalscape, Lifetick, and Milestone Planner. I would note that most of these could double as project management software as well, so while you are on the road to personal improvement, your practice could become more efficient as well – what a great twofer.

So, here’s to a new year and success in achieving your goals.

Bruce M. Cameron Having decided that going to law school and opening a solo law practice would be a sufficient response to the male midlife crisis, Bruce now practices Collaborative Family Law and Estate Planning in rural Minnesota. When not in the law office, he can be found on his small farm where he and his wife are at the beck and call of a herd of horses, a couple of cats, a few dogs and one extremely spoiled parrot. http://www.rurallawyer.com