The Death Spiral of America’s Big Law Firms

The Atlantic:  “How some of America’s top law firms devoured profits before the Great Recession, got too fat, and are now suffering the consequences. . . . During the early and mid aughts, firms built unsustainable business models that survived off the froth flying from Wall Street. Now, many have become too bloated to change course and adapt to a new era in business. . . . How did firms set themselves up for a fall? To put it bluntly, they got fat. . . . Firms were able to finance their growth and maintain their obscene profitability by pushing through through large yearly rate increases that met little resistance from clients. When the recession hit, these slow and flabby firms were broadsided. Business dried up. Clients balked at the annual rate hikes, and many started demanding discounts. Most firms maintained profits by laying off associates and staff.”

For more on this subject read an article in Bloomberg Businessweek called “Law Firms’ White-Shoe Blues,” which says:

” a dozen large and prominent partnerships have called it quits in the past decade. . . . There’s more at work here than the Great Recession. Inept management and the weakness of the partnership model have also played crucial, if lesser known, roles. And as unsettling as this shakeout will be for employees of many large law firms, it’s one that is overdue. . . . Part of the problem is that the partnership structure—in which the owners jointly make all the major decisions, including how to divide the profits—works better in smaller, more stable firms with simpler finances and more modest levels of acquisitiveness. Partnership does not nurture broad-minded managers skilled in running sizable operations. . . . the industry suffers from excess labor. The number of people with law licenses grew from 212,600 in 1950 to 1,225,000 in 2011—a sharp change from a ratio of one attorney for every 709 Americans to one for every 257. Forty-five thousand newly minted attorneys become available every year in a field with only 25,000 job openings”

By |2018-01-14T08:51:50-07:00April 23rd, 2012|Ramblings|0 Comments

Journalist Declares “Death to Microsoft Word”

Tom Socca wrote an article published in Slate on April 11, 2012, in which he announced his hatred for Microsoft Word 2010 and predicted its death.  He says:

“Nowadays, I get the same feeling of dread when I open an email to see a Microsoft Word document attached. Time and effort are about to be wasted cleaning up someone’s archaic habits. A Word file is the story-fax of the early 21st century: cumbersome, inefficient, and a relic of obsolete assumptions about technology. It’s time to give up on Word. . . . it’s become an overbearing boss, one who specializes in make-work. Part of this is Microsoft’s more-is-more approach to adding capabilities, and leaving all of them in the “on” position. Around the first time Clippy launched himself, uninvited, between me and something I was trying to write, I found myself wishing Word had a simple, built-in button for ‘cut it out and never again do that thing you just did.’ It’s possible that the current version of Word does have one; I have no idea where among the layers of menus and toolbars it might be. All I really know how to do up there anymore is to go in and disable AutoCorrect, so that the program will type what I’ve typed, rather than what some software engineer thinks it should think I’m trying to type.”

Read the entire article.

I mention the “Death to Word” article because it illustrates a point I have made many times of the years.  I call it Keyt’s Technology Rule Number 3:  Few people ever invest the time needed to become expert users of their software or devices, but instead learn only how to do the most basic functions.

Tom Socca is a journalist.  He writes for a living.  The primary tool of his trade for years was his word processor software program, i.e. Word.  Despite using Word for untold thousands of hours he never took the time to learn how to use the powerful features built into the software, many of which can make him a more proficient and efficient Word user.  You would think that a person who used a software program a lot would want to become a true expert in the use of the software, but that rarely ever happens.

I disagree with Mr. Socca.  Word is not going to die soon.  In fact, Microsoft is moving with the times and taking Word to the cloud, which makes sense, especially for law firms and businesses.  The only reason Mr. Socca has a problem with Word is he doesn’t now how to use the program other than for its most basic and simple functions.

Take the Word Beginner User Level Knowledge Test

Few people ever invest the time to learn the powerful features built into their software. People can use a program like Word (Time Matters, Outlook, Hot Docs, WealthDox etc. pick your software) 8 hours a day, day after day, month after month and year after year, but are really novices and ignorant about the power of the software.

Take this test to see if you are a novice user of Word or an advanced user of Word.

1. Do you understand and use styles?

2. Do you know how to use and actually use track changes?

3. Have you ever set up and configured autocorrect?

4. Do you know how to use and do you use automatic paragraph numbering?

5. Do you know what the format painter is and do you use it?

6. What is paste special and do you use it?

7. Can you create a document that has merge fields in it and create multiple documents that merge text into the merge fields?

8. Do you know how to create and use macros?

9. Do you know what “keep with next” means and do you use it?

10.  Do you know that you can create your personal tool bar with the icons for the Word features you use most often and do you know how to create and modify that tool bar?

If you answered no to more than two of the questions you are a Word novice, but I suspect you are at least semi-happy with the program because you can get Word to do what you want it to do – usually. If you use Word regularly you should know how to use and actually use regularly each of these fundamental Word features.

Word is a relatively simple program. It does not have the complexity or the features of a good contact management system like Time Matters. The ignorant masses who don’t’ become experts in Word have little chance of learning how to use a powerful program like Time Matters much less be able to purchase the hardware and set up the hardware and software so that it works the way it should. You need a TM consultant/expert for that, but good luck in finding a true expert.  Hint: Call Tom Caffery if you need a Time Matters consultant.

Keyt Technology Rule Number 3 Applies Even in Situations Where Lack of Knowledge About a Device Can Kill the User

This problem of users having minimal knowledge of software applies across the board to all forms of technology. I first learned about Rule Number 3 during the period I flew combat missions over North Vietnam in 1972.  I observed that people will not invest the time needed to become an expert in their technology even when their lives depend on the knowledge or lack thereof. My airplane (the F-4 Phantom twin-engine fighter-bomber) had a black box called a “Radar Homing and Warning System” (RHAW). This device could detect whenever any radar energy struck the airplane. Based on the frequency of the radar energy the RHAW gear detected the type of radar (anti-aircraft artillery (radar guided guns), early warning radar, air to air radar (Mig-21 jet fighters), surface to air missile radar, including SAM acquisition radar, tracking radar and missile guidance radar energy). The RHAW system included a little TV that displayed coded information as to the type of threat and it generated an audio tone that could identify each type of threat.

This device could save a pilot’s life because the RHAW black box told him if he was being attacked by a Mig-21 fighter or if a 32 foot long supersonic flying telephone pole (a surface to air missile) was fired at him. You’d think it would be good idea to understand everything about the RHAW gear because the knowledge truly could mean the difference between life and death.  It took a considerable amount of time to become a RHAW expert.  When used over North Vietnam the RHAW gear generated considerable amounts of information.  Here is a partial list of what we say and heard while over enemy territory:

  • The little TV screen displayed a coded strobe for every type of radar beam that struck the F-4.  The TV was round and the F-4 was at the center of the screen.  There were four concentric circles, each with a different radius around the center of the TV.  The length of the strobe corresponded to the distance the radar was from the F-4.  Each type of radar had a particular strobe such as the examples listed below.  The list is not complete because my memory of that time has faded, but the point is that every pilot needed to know from looking at the little TV what type of radar was looking at his F-4.

1.  A series of dots meant the radar was an anti-aircraft artillery gun – a radar guided gun.

2.  A short straight line followed a dot that repeated meant an early warning radar

3.  A short straight line followed by two dots that repeated meant a surface to air acquisition radar

4.  An unbroken line meant a surface to air missile that was fired and guiding on the F-4

  • The clock position of each strobe showed the clock position of the particular radar.  If the strobe went from the center of the TV out in the direction of 5 o’clock it meant the radar was at the airplane’s 5 o’clock position.
  • The RHAW gear included rectangular black box on the instrument panel called a “threat display unit” or TDU that contained two horizontal rows of lights that indicated which type of radar was hitting the F-4.  If a radar guided gun was looking at the airplane the AAA light on the TDU would be illuminated.
  • The RHAW system also generated an audio tone in the pilot’s headset that had a different pitch for each type of radar that struck the airplane.  Because the different types of radars were at different frequency the RHAW system was programmed to give an audio tone that was specific for the type of radar.  The purpose of the different audio tones was so the pilots could tell from the tones they were hearing what types of radars where looking at them without the need to look in the cockpit at the TDU or the TV.
  • The TV had a red light in upper right corner of the device that had the letters A/S just to the left of it.  A/S was short for azimuth / sector.  This light would illuminate if a surface to air missile site was preparing to shot a SAM at the airplane and while the missile was in the air guiding on the F-4.  In other words, when the A/S light came on it meant the bad guy were either getting to fire a SAM at you or had already fired it.  We called this light the “aw shit” light because that’s how a person would feel when the light came on.
  • If a surface to air missile were actually fired at the F-4 the pilot would get the following RHAW warnings:
1.  The A/S light would illuminate.
2.  A very loud and distinct tone would be heard in the pilot’s headset.
3.  The Missile light and the Launch lights on the TDU would flash on and off quickly.
4.  When the pilot pushed a switch next to the A/S light it caused all strobes on the TV to disappear except the one strobe coming from the missile guidance radar.
  • Needless to say it was impossible to not know that a SAM was fired at you (unless you had turned the RHAW gear off).  When a SAM was fired at an F-4, the pilot had to immediately take the following action to avoid being shot down by the supersonic radar-guided 32 foot long explosive telephone pole:
1.  Determine the clock position from which the missile is coming from
2.  Turn hard (4 gs) to put the missile at the 2 or 10 o’clock position.
3.  Find the missile visually.  If you don’t see the missile you cannot take evasive action unless you just get lucky.  If no clouds were between the F-4 and the missile the missile was easy to see because it had a flame coming out of it and it left a long trail of smoke.
4.  With the missile at the 2 or 10 o’clock position push the throttles forward to accelerate and push the stick forward until weightless (zero g) and start a descent.  When the F-4 starts to descend the missile will change it course and descend at a faster rate than the F-4 because it has to always aim at a point in space in front of the F-4.
5.  When the missile gets so close you can’t stand it any more pull back on the stick (4 gs) to start a climb.  The missile will try to change course and make a sharp turn from descending to climbing, but because it has small wings and not much time it cannot make the turn necessary to get back on a collision course so it will go way behind the tail of the F-4 and detonate harmlessly (hopefully when it passes behind the F-4.

The RHAW system was a very important black box that saved many lives.  To learn how to use the RHAW system properly, however, required a substantial investment of a pilot’s time.  More than a few pilots did not invest the time.

I noticed that many pilots could not differentiate between the different audio tones or the different coded strobes displayed on the TV screen. I knew pilots who flew into the most heavily defended area in the history of aerial warfare who TURNED OFF THEIR RHAW GEAR BECAUSE IT GAVE THEM TOO MUCH INFORMATION or at least that’s what they said. I believe the main reason they turned off the RHAW gear was because they did not invest the time to learn the technology and could not use it effectively.  Some pilots did not invest the time needed to become an expert user of the RHAW system even though their lives depended on the device.

Many powerful software programs used in businesses today are much more complex than the F-4’s RHAW system and require a substantial investment in time to become an expert user.  Most people won’t ever invest the time, but you can and should.  The investment will pay off many times over.  You will be more efficient and productive by becoming an expert user of your software.

To learn more about flying the F-4 Phantom in combat in the Vietnam War see my website called Flying the F-4.

I Love Word

I have used Word since 1998 when the big law firm where I was a partner switched from WordPerfect to Word.  The firm offered all non-attorney personnel a 20 hour class on using Word, but attorneys were given only 3 hours.  I was one of only 3 lawyers out of approximately 80 who attended the 20 hour class.  I also bought a great book called “Word 97 for Law Firms” and studied it.  Within one month after my firm converted to Word I was an expert on Word and have been an expert ever since.

Everybody else in the firm was pulling their hair out and complaining about the transition to Word and how difficult it was to convert WordPerfect documents to Word.  I created some Word macros to assist in converting my WordPerfect documents to Word, including a macro that converted WordPerfect’s automatic paragraph numbering to Word’s automatic paragraph numbering.  I was able to quickly convert without any problems.

I constantly hear people complain about Word (and many other wonderful software programs), but I know from experience and my own use of the same software that the only reason they complain is because they are mere beginning users of the software despite spending tons of time using the software on a daily basis.  The attitude of most people is show me the basics and that is all I need to know.  Instead, the attitude of a person that uses a software program a lot should be I’ll invest the time necessary to become an expert user of the software so I will be more efficient and productive.

Learn to Use the Tools of Your Trade

The lives of attorneys, legal assistants, legal secretaries and law firm personnel do not depend on being experts in law office software so they have little incentive to invest the time needed to become an expert in a software program.  I submit to you, however, that if you use a program like Word a lot in your business why wouldn’t you want to be an expert user of the software?  If you are an expert the software can help you to be more productive.  I’ve always looked at learning my software as something absolutely necessary to help me be more efficient and productive so I could make more money. When you think of it that way rather than a necessary evil you tolerate, you have taken the first step to independence from experts towards the goals of doing your job better and making more money.

How to Easily Learn a Software Program & Become an Expert User

Learning to use popular software programs today like Word is extremely easy in the 21st century and not all that time consuming.  The best way to learn how to become an expert user of a software program is to watch one or more instructional videos at Lynda.  I’ve paid Lynda $25/month for years to have unlimited access to it library of software training videos.  As of the date of this article Lynda has to 1,320 courses and 75,244 video tutorials organized by subject and software.  Watching Lynda how-to videos is an easy way to become a software program expert.

Several years ago I bought Adobe Acrobat 8 Professional because I wanted to make pdf fillable forms for online engagement agreements.  At that time Lynda had a 20 hour instructional video course on Acrobat 8 Pro.  I didn’t watch all of it – just the the parts that related to making fillable pdf forms.  In no time I was an expert.  See for yourself – check out the online pdf fillable engagement agreement people use to hire me to form an Arizona limited liability company.

Last year I bought Word 2010.  It’s great.  It does have some differences between Word 2007 and a lot of differences between Word 2003.  The Lynda videos on Word 2010 quickly brought to the expert level.  One area that I spent time learning was styles, which were substantially different from styles in Word 2003.  If you are a Word user who doesn’t know how to use styles and who doesn’t actually use them, you are missing a very powerful and useful Word feature.  Every document we create in our small law firm uses Word’s styles.

When Acrobat 9 Professional was released, I watched portions of its 20 hour instructional video to learn the new features of the program.  I now use and recommend Adobe Adobe Acrobat X Professional for making pdf fillable forms and Acrobat 10 standard  Adobe Acrobat X Standard for people who don’t need to create fillable pdfs.

By |2019-06-17T07:03:59-07:00April 14th, 2012|Ramblings, Software|0 Comments

Richard Keyt’s Attorney Tech Rules

Keyt’s Technology Rule Number 1

Learn to use your software so you can teach others how to use it. If you cannot use your software you will be dependent on third parties (to whom you will pay a lot of money) for your productivity and profitability. These third parties include consultants, but also include secretaries. Every time you get a new secretary you must hope he or she knows how to use your software because if not, there will probably not be anybody in the firm who can teach the secretary how to use the software beyond a basic entry level. See Keyt’s Technology Rule Number 3. In 1986, a lawyer friend who also used CMS billing software that I used called and said that his billing clerk told him that CMS did not have the capability of printing a list of the names and addresses of all clients. Of course it did, but the billing clerk was not sufficiently knowledgeable about CMS to know how to use all of its features. This leads me to the second rule of technology.

Keyt’s Technology Rule Number 2

Everybody needs a good contact management program. There is no better way to collect, retain, find and access information about ANYTHING than within a good contact management program. For example, I have a contact in Time Matters for each of my cars. If I go to the record for a particular car, I can find every important fact about that car such as copies of the title, the registration, every invoice for maintenance and description of the work done. Create a record in your contact management program for everything that is or may be important and then collect all information and documents pertaining to that item within its record

Keyt’s Technology Rule Number 3

Most people will only take the time to learn the bare minimum necessary to use a software program. Word is the most popular word processing program, but I have rarely met anybody who knows more than the basics, i.e., how to save and print a document. You may think you do not fit this description, but if you do not understand and use styles when you use Word you are a bare minimum Word user. Almost all of the lawyers and legal secretaries I have ever known are bare minimum users of Word and every other software program they use. To become an expert at any software program requires time and effort and maybe even reading the manual. Have you ever studied the manual for any software you use in your law practice? Few lawyers have the time or the inclination to learn software. When my large law firm converted from WordPerfect 5.2 for DOS to Word 97 for Windows in 1998, all lawyers and legal assistants were given three hours of Word training and all secretaries were given 20 hours of Word training. I was one of only a few lawyers in the firm who took the 20 hour class instead of working 20 billable hours. Although the class was a good introduction to Word, I did not learn enough to become a Word expert. Being a Word expert was of paramount importance to me because since 1980, I made my living as a writer of legal documents. My word processor software is the tool I use to make my documents. I must always be an expert in using my word processor. I purchased “Word 97 for Law Firms” and studied it. Because I devoted a lot of time initially to learning Word, I became a true Word expert in thirty days. I modified my word processing habits to conform to the way Word worked and made a series of useful macros that I use to this day. Everybody else in the firm pulled their hair out for months because changing from WordPerfect 5.2 for DOS to Word 97 for Windows is a nightmare unless you understand Word 97 and how to make the conversion.

Keyt’s Technology Rule Number 4

If you build a website or blog they will not come.  Yes your law firm needs a website or blog or both, but do not expect that it will get much traffic initially.  Content is king.  A lot of good original content is what results in high search engine rankings which in turn send visitors to your website or blog.  It takes time to create content so the sooner your law firm starts adding content the sooner it will get high search engine rankings.  Without content your website/blog is nothing more than an electronic firm brochure that will not bring traffic to your website.  Make a commitment to yourself and keep it that you set aside time every day or week to create original content.  Your goal should be to add a minimum of 50 – 100 original articles a year to your site.  In ten years your site would have 500 or 1,000 articles.  Getting traffic to your site is a long term goal.

Keyt’s Technology Rule Number 5

I call this the Website Content Equation.  It is the website formula for making more money.  The equation is:

more blog posts or website articles = more website content = higher search engine rankings = higher web traffic = more new clients = more revenue

By |2018-01-14T08:43:09-07:00April 5th, 2012|Ramblings|1 Comment
Go to Top