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How Lawyers Can Write Less
From the earliest days of law school every attorney learns that the profession is steeped in copious amounts of document writing. In this episode of The Legal Toolkit, host Jared Correia talks with Creative Content Specialist and “Spaceballs: The Animated Series” writer Adam Kosloff about why prolific writing is very costly for lawyers and how his five core strategies can help attorneys improve their writing efficiency.
After graduating Yale University with a degree in physics, Adam Kosloff moved to Los Angeles to pursue a screenwriting career. While enjoying the opportunity to work with industry greats like Mel Brooks (Spaceballs: The Animated Series), Adam supplemented his income by writing for the web.View transcript
The Legal Toolkit
How Lawyers Can Write Less
Intro: Welcome to ‘The Legal Toolkit,’ bringing you the latest legal trends and business initiatives to help you manage your law firm. Here are your hosts, experienced lawyers, writers, and entrepreneurs, Heidi Alexander and Jared Correia. You are listening to Legal Talk Network.
Jared Correia: Welcome to another episode of ‘The Legal Toolkit’ on Legal Talk Network. If you are looking for the new season of ‘Castle’, I have some bad news for you. If you are a returning listener, welcome back; if you are a first-time listener, hopefully you will become a long-time listener, and if you are a Wolverine, I want my sideburns back, man.
As always, I am your host, Jared Correia, and in addition to casting this pod I’m also the Founder and CEO of Red Cave Law Firm Consulting which offers subscription-based law practice management consulting and technology services for law firms. Check us out at HYPERLINK “http://www.redcavelegal.com” redcavelegal.com to find out more.
You can buy my book “Twitter in One Hour for Lawyers” from the American Bar Association, on iTunes and Amazon, and probably also at Ageless Pages in Sedona, Arizona.
Here on ‘The Legal Toolkit’ we provide you each month with a new tool to add to your own legal toolkit so that your practices will become more-and-more like best practices.
In this episode, we’re going to talk about How Lawyers Can Write Less. Yes, I said “Less”, but before I introduce today’s guest let’s take a moment to thank our sponsors.
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Today for your listening pleasure, we have Adam Kosloff, CEO of Virtuoso Content, LLC, and you just heard his eight months old son whimper there, obviously an Amicus Tourney user.
After graduating from Yale University with a degree in Physics of all things, Adam moved to Los Angeles to produce a screenwriting career.
While enjoying the opportunity to work with industry greats like Mel Brooks on ‘Spaceballs: The Animated Series’, Adam supplemented his income by writing for the web. What began as a day job blossomed into a full-scale business creating blog-posts, e-books and website copy, and Adam soon fell in love with working with his clients to help their firms achieve their full potential.
Adam’s eclectic career is bound by an unquenchable curiosity to see the world in new ways and he wrote that, he is a really good writer. He enjoys singing, playing chess and hiking. He lives in sunny California with his wife, three children and even Milkshake the cat, so welcome to the show, Adam and Milkshake and Adam’s baby.
Adam Kosloff: Thank you, we’re very happy to be here, thanks Jared.
Jared Correia: We have a full-house today.
Adam Kosloff: Yeah, my baby worry is potentially peeping a bunch of times, so hopefully it will add to the discussion.
Jared Correia: Kids love me.
Adam Kosloff: They do
Jared Correia: See, the baby is reacting to the sound of my voice. Well, let’s get started on the show here and we’re going to talk about writing efficiencies today.
Adam Kosloff: Yes.
Jared Correia: And between like substantive work and marketing copy busy lawyers probably actually write more than professional authors, I think.
Adam Kosloff: Right.
Jared Correia: So tell me why that’s a costly activity for lawyers, and if that’s the case, why don’t lawyers spend more time finding efficiencies in their writing tactics?
Adam Kosloff: Right, it’s very challenging because it’s one of those things the efficiencies are hiding in plain sight but no one pays attention to them. In international financial analysis it may sound that the average attorneys spend about 30% of their day writing and assuming a billable hour is like $300, that may be $900 a day or about $200,000 a year in effort that you do in writing.
And so you confined just 10% efficiency in that, you’re going to save $20,000 a year of your time, the reason why people don’t do that I think is because they don’t make those calculations. We tend to be really biased towards what we fear, so we’re related to madness.
It’s the same reason why people tend to be scared of shark attacks and terrorism when they don’t really fear as much like kidney disease and car accidents because those things are more mundane but they are actually if you look at the statistics they are more costly. So my message is we’ve got to pay attention to these efficiencies.
Jared Correia: Now that’s a good way to look at it and I think we’ll talk a little bit more further on down line about how you actually track this stuff, which I think is valuable.
Adam Kosloff: Right.
Jared Correia: But you’re right when you talk about lawyer’s hourly rate is expensive doing anything that detracts from that, it’s often times a loss leader, but not anymore because you’re going to teach lawyers how to write effectively.
Adam Kosloff: I hope so.
Jared Correia: So – oh I have full confidence in you so does Rory.
Adam Kosloff: Thank you.
Jared Correia: So why should lawyers define the standards and purpose then for every writing project they engage in before they start?
Adam Kosloff: Well, maybe not every writing project. If you are going to dash off an e-mail to your secretary or whatever then just go with it, but for bigger projects like if you are going to write an e-book or like write some kind of article for the Bar Association or what have you, it’s really useful to define the beginning of your criteria, like what does success mean to you, why are you doing something and what are your standards for doing it? And the reason you do that is it can save you a lot of time.
So if you are writing — let’s say if a colleague asks you write something for your alumni magazine and then you are like you could mindlessly go do it or you could say, well, why am I doing this? I am doing it because I want to stay in good graces with this person. Well, may be you can find some other way to stay in good graces with him and like just not do the project.
Jared Correia: So part of this you think is about saying, “no”, but part of it is planning to do something and having a real purpose to doing it. So this seems like you would track back to a marketing plan that a law firm would have?
Adam Kosloff: Right, exactly. You feel like I want to do blogs, I want to have a webpage, I want to have this and that, going back and asking yourself the “why” question will allow you to figure out like how you can do it at the fastest, cheapest and best for that purpose.
Jared Correia: In your experience with lawyers do you think this has some play in substantive practice as well like writing briefs recorder, is this only valuable you think for like marketing purposes?
Adam Kosloff: Well, that’s a great point. I think it’s also great for some more substantive stuff. I mean I am not an attorney so I can’t really speak to that piece —
Jared Correia: Yeah, that’s fair.
Adam Kosloff: — but I am sure. It’s like if you know — and one little hack I use to define my standards for writing projects or any projects is I imagine — and I got this from this guy, David Allen, who wrote this book called “Getting Things Done”, which is like a Bible of affectivity.
Jared Correia: I have heard that, dude.
Adam Kosloff: Yeah, he is great, but there is one concept he said, which is like, what you do is you imagine what you would tell someone if you had delegated a project to them. So like you can write my e-book as long as you… and then you figure in like, well, what the criteria are? It has to be within this budget, it has to be done by such and such time. If you ask yourself that question before you start any project you’ll then figure out your criteria.
Jared Correia: Except for basic e-mails?
Adam Kosloff: Except for e-mails.
Jared Correia: Just e-mail your secretary, everybody, it’s cool.
Adam Kosloff: Exactly, don’t ever think of that.
Jared Correia: So that basic question obviously and we are getting into it at this point but — so how would an attorney who hasn’t done this before, let’s say, go about defining standards and deriving a purpose for what they are writing about?
Adam Kosloff: I would do it in a written form, just go in a journal or in a Word document and just ask yourself why am I doing XYZ project, like you’re committed to doing some writing project or it’s been thrown on you. Just write down like why am I doing this, what’s the point, and then you want to ask yourself, well, these are my standards and you can use that exercise I just gave you.
And the other way do it, another really good thing to ask yourself in a journal is from the beyond the date of completion, like when this is done, what does success look like looking backwards? In other words, had this been a great success, what does that mean?
Jared Correia: That makes sense, and in detail your attorney clients do this yourself, I am sure, write something and then figure out ways to repurpose it, you think that’s valuable, I would assume as well, right?
Adam Kosloff: Oh yeah, definitely.
Jared Correia: And that’s a consideration and your purpose — that’s part of the purpose I would think, figuring out how you might use this in other places?
Adam Kosloff: Right, that’s a great thinking to thinking about like massive success for writing projects, you might say, well, I’d love to be able to repurpose this as like a video and a podcast and some article in the journal. So if you can think about your long-term plan, that’s helpful.
Jared Correia: All right, so let’s turn a little bit beyond strategy and start talking some about efficiencies to save time in what attorneys are writing.
So when I was a kid I loved the book “Cheaper by the Dozen”, and I’m sure a lot of people have read that, but it was a cool story because dad was an efficiency expert, he told his kids for example that it was better to fasten buttons up from the shirt than down which people traditionally do, and I think that’s really interesting on a number of levels because it underscores how much of a mindset change is when you are talking about adding efficiencies because people generally tend to start by doing things they are less comfortable with.
Adam Kosloff: Right.
Jared Correia: So with respect to writing, are there like three core strategies you can point to that attorneys can use about how to become more efficient writers?
Adam Kosloff: Yes, actually it’s five, but I can boil it down to three if you want.
Jared Correia: Oh five, well, hit me with five. Let’s do five.
Adam Kosloff: So I kind of wrote these out. So one of them I love to use is something called Parkinson’s Law, and this is basically the idea that work expands to consume the amount of time allotted for it. And so the idea is like, we all do this like when you write a term paper, right? You wait until the night before and then you do it on 10 cups of coffee and you feel terrible the next day but you’ve gotten it done in a very short amount of time.
Jared Correia: Yeah.
Adam Kosloff: But the idea is you want to figure out what’s the least amount of time you can do something and make it do well.
Jared Correia: Yeah.
Adam Kosloff: So my process is like pick a writing project that you do recurring like write a law review article every month. Step two is you estimate how long the project will take, like maybe four hours. Step three, record the actual amount of time it takes, so maybe it turns out to be six, and then step four is the next time you do the same project, you try to beat your score by 10%.
Jared Correia: Oh I like that.
Adam Kosloff: So like instead of six hours, whatever it is, like five hours and something minutes, and then you just keep doing that until you plateau. So Parkinson’s Law is really good for things that you have to do on a repeated basis.
Jared Correia: That’s cool. That’s a good point.
Adam Kosloff: Thank you. And strategy two is fall in love with bad first draft. This is a William Faulkner quote that I love which is, “The work never matches the dream of perfection the artist has to start with.”
So I love bad first drafts because it really kind of forces you out of a writer’s blog, which is a big time-killer, and so the idea is pick a short writing assignment, you can finish in 30 minutes or less, grind out of first draft, don’t stop, don’t edit, no delete key, and then you take a break, 30-minute break, do something fun, relaxing, feed your baby.
Jared Correia: Yes.
Adam Kosloff: And then when you return to the document and then you edit it. And the key here to a bad first draft is the intensity. You’re not just grinding, for the sake of grinding you’re trying to break this into phases, you’re trying to do intense relax, intense like — what’s it, The Pixies, right, loud-soft-loud.
Jared Correia: Oh yeah.
Adam Kosloff: It’s like you want to do really intense first draft, really put off the gas and really intense editing. So that’s the second strategy.
Jared Correia: Yeah.
Adam Kosloff: Okay, the next one is Digital Budgeting, which is — I am going to throw another quote here, it’s from Warren Buffett, of course because you always sound smart when you’re quoting Warren Buffett; he says, “The difference between successful people and really successful people is really successful people say no to almost everything.”
So the idea is, you make a list of all of your writing projects that you have, court documents, e-mailing your sister or whatever, you put it on paper, then you go through and you sort them into three bins. One is, to do as soon as possible against all else. The second is to do someday maybe, but not for a month, and then the third is to trash. And then step three is you move all those projects into one of the bins. You trash as much as you can, you push as many of the remaining projects into someday maybe and then every week and then you just go do the rest of the projects. And as every week, you review your project list and you want to basically get clear, like am I doing this or not?
Jared Correia: Yeah — yeah that’s good. All right three-for-three, I like it. Let’s keep going.
Adam Kosloff: You liked it, okay. Next one is —
Jared Correia: And we will do the next two.
Adam Kosloff: Okay, steal ethically and this is a T.S. Eliot, he said, “Good writers copy, great writers steal.” And so obviously you do not want to play drives, but there are ways like you can steal from yourself, like if you have written something before on a topic like, why not recycle it, this is what you’re getting back before about repurposing. So you kind of steal from yourself and say I’m going to take this blog-post and turn it into an e-book or I am going to do this like some interview I did and get it transcribed and use it on my blog. So stealing is useful as long as you don’t obviously take some of the people.
And then the last one is play your strengths and work around your weaknesses. And this is another good idea. I think attorneys tend to be very perfectionist and hold themselves to high standards and that’s very good, but it’s also really important to know what you are good at, what you are not good at.
Jared Correia: Yeah.
Adam Kosloff: And so, like if you can’t spell, that’s okay, don’t try and get better spelling just find a way to work around it. If you’re not really good at finishing briefs or articles, well that’s great, like find someone in your office who can do it for you, an associate.
So part of it is kind of self-knowledge, know thyself. If you know what you’re good at doing when it comes to writing, just like as if you know what you’re good at doing when it comes to the law, you can find more efficiencies because you are going to be faster at the stuff you are good at and you’re also going to kind of kick off the stuff that you don’t like doing that you are bad at. So those are my five tips.
Jared Correia: That’s good. I like that five-for-five, that’s really good. And I think that’s sort of a logical point for us to conclude the first half of the show. However, we are so efficient, we will be back in a few short moments with more from Adam Kosloff of Virtuoso Content, who is going to hang with Rory for a little bit, but before you go grab like a pound of turkey to eat, I want to tell you a little bit more about our sponsors.
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Jared Correia: Thanks for rejoining us. Now that you’ve washed down your turkey with some Cheetos, go wipe off your fingers because we’re continuing with our deep dive into writing efficiency tactics with Adam Kosloff of Virtuoso Content. I should mention, Adam, that you told me earlier today that you had a pound of turkey for breakfast, which I think is just staggering, but it’s part of the no-carbs lifestyle.
Adam Kosloff: That’s right. Yeah, my wife has — she can’t bear it. She is like I can’t abide by the breakfast you make, but you know what I am just —
Jared Correia: Did she actually watch you eat it?
Adam Kosloff: No, she refuses. She is like, hey, get that out of here.
Jared Correia: I would like lock myself in a closet, no offense. So let’s get back to this here, so I think lawyers often have a hard time admitting they need help —
Adam Kosloff: Yeah.
Jared Correia: — because it’s their job to kind of help everybody.
Adam Kosloff: Right, right.
Jared Correia: So let’s talk a little bit about outsourcing. So what writing needs can or should law firms be thinking about outsourcing?
Adam Kosloff: This is a tricky topic because I am an outsourcer so I do outsourcing for attorneys; they give me their content to do. So it’s like I feel like it’s like, well, the best solution is like just give it to me. But really like, I think outsourcing and also insourcing when you do it in-house are kind of part of the same coin and one of the things is that writing is terrible.
I say this as a professional writer, there’s a great quote — it’s terrible, I’ve got read this quote from Bennett Cerf, “Coleridge was a drug addict. Poe was an alcoholic. Marlowe was killed by a man whom he was treacherously trying to stab. Pope took money to keep a woman’s name out of a satire, then wrote a piece so that she could still be recognized, anyhow. Chatterton killed himself. Byron was accused of incest. Do you still want to a writer -and if so, why?”
Jared Correia: Yeah, that is some depressing stuff right there.
Adam Kosloff: It’s a depressing stuff because writing is grueling and so the idea is there is an attorney writing business and you make money when you market and build your firm and you recruit, and the time you spend writing is incensed time taking away from those more lucrative activities.
So to the extent that you can throw them off on people, on your team, your associates, your secretary or people like me that you hire from outside is good. My suggestions for doing this is like you — as I have used that process first, you want to select an ongoing writing project, simple and repetitive and annoying, like start with this. So maybe it’s like writing e-mails to clients alerting them about their past due bills.
Jared Correia: Yeah.
Adam Kosloff: You don’t want to do that but it keeps happening.
Jared Correia: Yeah.
Adam Kosloff: So the step is you map out how you’re currently working, you want to systematize, step-by-step, how do you write the e-mails, what language do you use, get into the details, step three is you hand off the project with that map and then you start with something inconsequential. So if it goes wrong, it’s not going to blow up the whole firm, and then you walk before you run and then you train your outsourcer, whether it’s someone in your firm like an associate or secretary or someone like me or what have you, you train them.
Invest the time and many of my clients do not do this by the way; in fact, a very few of them do. And I’m saying like it would help me – it would help anybody who has —
Jared Correia: But if they did.
Adam Kosloff: — if they did, I’d be like, oh, this is fantastic, you’ve written a map, you want me to improve it because ultimately you want the writers to own the process. You don’t want to be the process-owner, you want to be the beneficiary, and so you do that by writing it down.
And then in terms of outsourcing those few tips I have, number one — and obviously review and improve up your time. Number one, you want to be specific when you get feedback like comments like “this didn’t cut it” or “I don’t like this”, are much less helpful than like “this is wrong because blah, blah, blah.”
Jared Correia: Yeah.
Adam Kosloff: And then nothing is off-limits like use your imagination to figure out what you can’t outsource, you’d be surprised. How much of your written communication can be taken off your plate if you really think through it. And then, even if you love to write, remember that your law firm business needs you. I’ve a lot of clients who are like, yeah, I love writing blogs and eBooks, and I’m like, well, that’s great, do that as a hobby. Right now your clients need you. I mean I am not saying you shouldn’t, and there are some things that you can’t outsource because it is really hard to do, but like start with the stuff that you can and go from there.
Jared Correia: Yeah, like how you have a list for everything. I need to start writing less.
Adam Kosloff: Thank you.
Jared Correia: All right. Let’s talk a little bit about insourcing. So what should lawyers be thinking about insourcing?
Adam Kosloff: And again whether you’re doing it in-house or whether you’re doing outside a house it’s the same basic rules apply, I mean, again you want to sort of evaluate what your value is of someone in your firm. It was an associate writing your brief, is that a good use of his time or should he be doing something else, and you always want to look at the value people’s time.
Jared Correia: That’s fair. All right, so let’s talk about one of those writing tasks that attorneys really hate, but they don’t necessarily tend to view it as a writing task and that’s e-mail. Most of the professional communication is done by e-mail still, and I don’t know if I believe you, but you told me that your Inbox is zero every night. So why don’t you tell the listeners?
Adam Kosloff: My Inbox isn’t zero, I have three children, I have about 60 clients, I have — I write about low-carb thing, I’ve got tons of things going on but my e-mail box is always zero and —
Jared Correia: And you’ve got like eight turkeys in the refrigerator, don’t forget that.
Adam Kosloff: Exactly! At times you have time so you could eat like 20 pounds of turkey, so —
Jared Correia: Exactly!
Adam Kosloff: — the step is, as a process, this is again I got from David Allen, but it’s very useful, very simple. He’s got some YouTube video online, you can look to see it, but the first step is when you see an e-mail you ask yourself “is this actionable, can I do it, is this something I need to do or can I delete it?” And, there’s basically four buckets you put in, you can delete it, you can delegate it, you can defer it or you can do it. If it takes you two minutes or less, do it now; if it’s something that someone else can do, you forward it to them and then you put on a list waiting for Jared to get back to me on whatever.
If it’s something you can delete, delete it, and if it’s going to take you longer than two minutes what you do is you put it into a folder that says “Action” and then on the list, separate list, you say, like e-mail Jared about podcast, and you put the date on it. So that way I’m have not really explained this well, but David Allen’s got a video on YouTube about this, explains it better, but basically those four steps allow you to using your Inbox.
Jared Correia: Yeah. So you follow that and every night your Inbox is zero. I’m impressed personally.
Adam Kosloff: Inbox is zero and my wife has got like thousands of e-mails and I’m like, come on, Claire, and she is more organized than I am but like this hack is like really works.
Jared Correia: I know, I have like thousands of e-mails. So last question here.
Adam Kosloff: Yeah.
Jared Correia: One of the things that folks tend to have a big issue with is making good habits stick, right?
Adam Kosloff: Right.
Jared Correia: The bad habit is just stick around on their own, but what strategy do you have for lawyers who want to add writing efficiencies, how to keep up with those?
Adam Kosloff: This is really a question, I think it’s tempting when you hear like self-improvement podcasts like that, they would be like, oh man. There’s also like pretty good ideas like Adam like I’d love to do them all like — and then you often do none of them, and then you feel bad about it and it’s kind of a vague, sensitive disease and you’re like, well. So one thing you have to do is obviously take one and go with it. I like Parkinson’s Law because that’s so easy. You can also outsource which is anything else, and if you want I am obviously happy to talk to anybody about their strategies and help them.
The other thing to do, and I got this from my business coach and I use this all the time and the idea is like people don’t change. We all think we can change like we’re going to get better, but most people don’t change, and I include myself in that, basket, and so what you can do is you can think, okay, how can I outsmart myself, how can I outfox my own flaws? Assuming that like I’m not going to change, nothing about myself is going to change, how can I like organize my world and my team so that I can succeed in spite of myself?
So for instance like about the e-mail thing, you can have what your secretary reminds you every evening, hey, have you zeroed out your e-mail box, and so it’s on him or her to do that, it’s no longer your responsibility, and so it is like figuring out ways that you can be smarter than yourself.
Jared Correia: I like that, that’s good, and I think we’ll end on that – no — and now you can hang out for the rest of the day, you and Rory, so let’s do this.
This will do it for another episode of ‘The Legal Toolkit’, but I’ll be back next month with further insights into my soul the soul of America and the legal market. If you’re feeling nostalgic for my dulcet tones; however, you can check our entire show archive anytime you want at HYPERLINK “http://www.legaltalknetwork.com” legaltalknetwork.com.
So thanks again to Adam Kosloff for Virtuoso Content for hanging with us today and talking to us about turkey and bring along Milkshake, and Rory, this was one of the more eclectic podcasts I’ve done _______ something.
So, Adam, can you tell folks how to get more information about you and Virtuoso if they want?
Adam Kosloff: Yeah, absolutely. Is that a good thing that it’s more eclectic, I hope it’s good or is it like people are like, oh my God! This is ridiculous.
Jared Correia: I’ve enjoyed it. What are you doing next month?
Adam Kosloff: Yeah. I’ll come back whenever you want. Yeah, my website is HYPERLINK “http://www.virtuosocontent.com” virtuosocontent.com and you can just send me an e-mail through that and I’d love to talk to you about if you want just to learn about efficiencies and I am happy just to break it down for you.
Jared Correia: So thanks again, Adam Kosloff for Virtuoso Content. Now I’m going to be the first to know when you start work on ‘Blazing Saddles’ the animated series, right?
Adam Kosloff: Sure. Absolutely.
Jared Correia: I hope so. All right. And finally thanks to all of you out there for listening, I really appreciate it, especially you, Cleavon Little. Talk to you folks later.
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