In this episode’s discussions around the Community Table:
- A firm owner needs a computer policy for employees both in-office and working from home. What policies should she have for damage to the firm’s computers and client security? There’s insurance for physical damage. More important is protecting client data if a laptop is stolen or hacked. How can you protect client confidentiality, both for staff in the office and working from home? Is a contract IT team the answer?
- How do you split tasks between two admins? Hear how you can divide tasks to match each employee’s area of excellence. Carving out niches so each employee delivers maximum value creates a foundation for growth.
- You’ve hired a new employee, but they aren’t catching on. How much time do you allow before you know it’s not working, and you need to let them go? There is a reasonable period to expect results. It’s OK to be patient and retrain as needed, but don’t carry dead weight.
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Intro: The Un-Billable Hour Community Table where real lawyers from all around the country with real issues they are dealing with right now meet together virtually to present their questions to Christopher T. Anderson, lawyer and law firm management consultant. New questions every episode and none of it scripted. The real conversations happen here.
Our opening segment centers around a lawyer who wants to build a computer policy for both their in-office and remote employees.
Female Speaker: So, my question is about computer policy. I got one of my attorneys a new laptop. I used to have a tech stipend policy.
Christopher T. Anderson: Yeah.
Female Speaker: I recently abandoned that policy because I tried it out with a paralegal and it was a big pain in my tushy. So, I said enough. I’m not going to do that moving forward and nobody really understood it despite it was very clearly laid out. So now, I had to upgrade. I used to have a bring your own device policy.
Christopher T. Anderson: Right.
Female Speaker: But now, I don’t and as the machines need to get upgraded, I’m just transitioning them in due course. So, like we used to have CPUs. Now, I want everyone to have a laptop to be portable. This is the in-house people that are not remote.
Christopher T. Anderson: Right.
Female Speaker: If you’re a fully remote staff member, you have to use your own — for now, use your own device policy.
Christopher T. Anderson: Okay.
Female Speaker: That may change in the future, but my in-house attorneys, I needed to upgrade their system and I got my attorney a laptop. Look, the laptop and all the accessories and the docking station and all the things plus the protection policy turned out to be a total of $1,500.00. So, it’s not like — but as I grow and as I continue to upgrade this equipment and my managing director has a laptop too, like now I’m leaving these machines in these people’s hands to take with them here, there and everywhere. What if they drop it? What if they spill coffee on it? Are you going to tell me just, too bad, suck it up, just get him a new one?
Christopher T. Anderson: No. I mean, I think as with anything, good employees have obligation to treat the office property with reasonable care and shit happens. And so, there’s insurance for such things which might be something you want to consider and the truth is that the incidence of that kind of thing are fairly low. What I’d be more concerned about or most concerned about as an attorney and as a law firm is our obligations for safekeeping under the professional rules of conduct. That combined with adoption of the ABA model rules regarding competency specifically at 1.1 regarding technology because the model rules have added a competency regarding technology component. A lot of states have adopted that, not all have. So, you’ve got the duty of safekeeping. You got the duty of competency on technology.
And so, that means as technology improves, I think we have an obligation to improve how we safekeep. We are not supposed to be Fort Knox. We are not supposed to be James Bond proof. A lot of people get all twisted about, oh, you know, Tom Cruise could come in on wires from the ceiling and hover over the floor and get into our — you know, that’s not it. What I’ve gone into law firms that I do kind of like one of the points, I’ll show them if they have servers is like if they’re servers are going to unlock closet, like if I could walk out of your building in three minutes with your server under my arm, or if you’re storing the network password on a sticky note on your monitor, these are not James Bond issues and, to me, with laptops because everybody’s going to laptops these days or tablets, iPads, other kinds of tablets or various portable things. I think the risks are becoming greater and greater, right, because a laptop in the wrong hands is you could breach all of your client’s confidentiality all at once.
So, I would not pay so much attention to the coffee being spilled in the laptop. It’s going to happen. If you’re really worried about it, get insurance or self-insured, just whatever. If an employee does it more than once, you got a power. If there’s evidence that they’re abusing their equipment, like you’re going to need to deal with it like you would anything else. If they’re kicking holes in their wall or writing on the walls in the office. So, my attention would be more focused on not allowing storage of client information on the laptop, right? We all live in the cloud now and, from time to time, an attorney might want/need to store a file.
Like, oh, I’m going to court and I don’t know if the Wi-Fi work in court. Okay. I’m going to be on an airplane and I don’t want to pay for the Wi-Fi in the airplane and I don’t know if it’s secure. Okay. But download what you need and leave the rest in the cloud so that if someone steals your laptop, they’ve stolen a brick. There’s nothing on it and you just replace the laptop because the cost of rebuilding and finding all the information, putting it back on versus the cost of a laptop, it doesn’t compare. The laptop is dirt cheap compared to the cost of restoring. And so, if your laptop doesn’t actually have any data on it, then that cost goes down to zero or as close to zero as possible and that’s where like I think your head should be. I know Rob, you’ve got some probably some thoughts around employees and equipment and how those are distributed and what the rules are around that.
Robert Leitner: I do have some thoughts. Thank you. Here are some additional considerations in addition to what Christopher had mentioned. Number one, from a risk management point of view, if your remote users, your staff that’s remote are using their own computers, you may be opening up the firm to a little bit of risk and liability. You don’t know if they have spyware on the computer, if they’re using antivirus, if they’re using a firewall. So, they may not be protecting your client’s confidential data. They may not be using a due care standard of care. They could possibly be negligent and that’s something we can’t control when we let people use their own computers. So, one suggestion would be all employees receive a new laptop from the firm. That’s a suggestion.
Female Speaker: Okay.
Robert Leitner: Number two, we can certainly have all employees who receive a laptop sign some type of acknowledgement and agreement form which would basically delineate the ways in which the computer can be used, for example, business purposes and cannot be used. Okay, so that would insulate us a little bit and, of course, on our termination checklist, we have to have some type of SOP where we get it back. Warranty and insurance are being considerations. I would add whatever type of service plan we go with. It has to have on-site service as well or you’re going to be shipping computers around.
Female Speaker: Yeah.
Robert Leitner: Keep in mind that the policies we’re talking about can be equally applicable to a desktop, a laptop, a mobile phone and a tablet.
Female Speaker: Yep.
Robert Leitner: Another consideration backup of the data. As Christopher had mentioned, a lot of users from various reasons save stuff locally on the hard drive on their computer that. Not only is dangerous, but they may forget to upload it to your cloud storage solution and, therefore, it’s also not being backed up. So, if they have a really important file on their laptop and their laptop drowns, that’s it. It’s not on your cloud server and it’s not being backed up, and I would also just be careful to define the SOP for, what are they allowed to do in terms of personal use, if anything, with a law firm laptop? Those are some considerations I would throw into the mix.
Christopher T. Anderson: Yeah. I’m going to add one more. In today’s world, there are few and far between attorneys. I used to be one of them, not anymore, who can also be sufficiently expert in all the technology of the laptop, of the network, of the web, of the various web services. I say that because in a time where we just kind of handle our own IT in-house is over, right, and I recommend that everybody get — until you’re of a size where you can have a full-time IT team and don’t delude yourself with like having be able to afford a one full-time IT person because even one person cannot be an expert in all the things they need to be and they can’t be everywhere that they need to be all at once. And so, until you can afford your own in-house team, it’s important to have an external team local to you or to your offices that because like Rob said, on site is important that can handle these things and any team — this would be a perfect, not your Uncle Joe’s kid who’s home from college, right? We are talking about a real professional team who could also install some level of monitoring software on every single device that you assigned to your team, and I’m not talking about spying on what — some firms do that, right? Some firms have keystroke watchers and know when the team is working, when they’re not working their productivity and, listen, if that’s your gig, more power to you. That’s not my style but being able to monitor for malware, —
— being able to monitor for whether things are being stored locally, being able to monitor for performance degradation so that they know something is going wrong with the computer before you know it. That kind of stuff and, of course, the ability then those softwares tend to also have antivirus built-in and they tend to have remote access built-in so that if your team is having problems, they’ve got a built-in solution for the IT team to be able to jump into that computer. Some of them are even the monitoring software operates at a core level, not the operating system level, or at least not the windows level so that even if the machines locked up, they can still get in and do stuff. And so, that’s software beyond my kin and probably beyond yours but that good IT team. What I have found is that good IT teams are not particularly expensive compared to the risks that they help to mitigate. Yeah?
Female Speaker: Yeah. That’s all wonderful. And yes, we have a managed IT local —
Christopher T. Anderson: Right.
Female Speaker: — guy, and —
Christopher T. Anderson: That was more for — I have all the other listeners. I know you do, yeah.
Female Speaker: But we did. We got this laptop, but it was a brand-new out-of-the-box. I got Windows 11 or 12 Pro, whatever the reason is. I’m not even a Windows person. I know. Look at me, but because everything is in the cloud, I just downloaded the apps. I logged him in. And then, I called my IT people and they remote logged in and did all their fancy security software and they can log in. It’s running in the background all the time.
Christopher T. Anderson: Right.
Female Speaker: So, they login and any issues, they have a help desk with hard equipment or soft equipment.
Christopher T. Anderson: Yeah. I forgot to mention. The last thing that the software that can be put on the computer could also be tracking software and, again, it can be at a deep core level. So, it’s really hard to get out. So, at any time, if that were to be stolen any time if it’s opened like it’s basically advertising its location. But yeah, your question was about your policy about damage and that kind of thing. I think what Rob said, it’s really the way to do it. Just decide what you want that policy to be and have them sign for it. I would just be not overly onerous, like if you get a small scratch on it, you’re going to pay, like reasonable wear and tear accepted, but the policy should be both towards theft and I think Rob made a good point that I wasn’t making which is also dropping it in a swimming pool, right? Just like what would be lost if you dropped it in a swimming pool and the answer should be $650.00 for Windows machine or $1,100.00, $1,300.00 for a Mac. That’s what should be lost but no data. Nothing irreplaceable.
Female Speaker: Okay. Really, the bottom-line is don’t be so concerned about the equipment per se, be concerned what’s on the equipment.
Christopher T. Anderson: Yeah, I think in today’s day and age, that is absolutely true.
Female Speaker: And if they lose it or they drop — lose it, I can shut it down. It’s whatever. If they drop it in a pool or spill coffee on it or dent it all up, the next one won’t be so expensive.
Christopher T. Anderson: Yeah. It happens. I remember I was once working with a colleague and was not particularly paying attention. I would pour them a beverage and instead of pouring into another glass, I pour it straight into the keyboard. It happens.
Female Speaker: How many pours were you on?
Christopher T. Anderson: First pour, first pour.
Female Speaker: Yeah, I don’t believe it.
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Christopher T. Anderson: For our next segment in attorney wants to solve how to effectively split tasks among two admins.
Female Speaker: I think the last couple of times when we’re talking about moving in a cash crunch and trying to figure out what was going on.
Christopher T. Anderson: Yeah.
Female Speaker: Slowly climbing out of that cash crunch, but I have to pay so many people back, mom, husband. I don’t want to be indebted to them. So, we talked about hiring someone. I currently have a part-time legal assistant who handles my Social Security, appeals and new applications and talk to those clients. He only works Monday, Wednesday and Friday. I pay him $25.00 an hour and every time a team member goes to transfer a call to him, he never answers, never. So, the clients are frustrated that he is not answering their calls. Again, he was my manager for about four or five years at Social Security. He’s retired. So, I think that has a lot to do with the time he come and go as he pleases. So, I reached out to another young lady who I mentored at Social Security. She resigned in January of this year.
I’m in a cash crunch, but I felt the need to bring her on. She started this week, and she was able to get in and we showed her the software. I set her up with a training for the software, but if a team member transfers the call to her, she can answer any questions that the Social Security claim in head. I had spoken with my old manager about, hey, I’m hiring. Is there something you’re still interested in because she’s going to work full time. She’s going to work five days a week and she’s coming in. He works three days. He’s like, no, I think I want to stay out like this. I think the two of us can really take Social Security off your hand. You only need to touch it when it’s time to go to hearing. Yeah, it sounds great, but if you’re not answering phone calls, why should I keep you on if we’re continuing to transfer calls to you and there are couple of days delay for you to get back to clients. I’m just thinking, should I keep them all or should I?
Christopher T. Anderson: Well, is that his only job or is he crunching the numbers and getting the paperwork done and getting these claims set up in an excellent way?
Female Speaker: That.
Christopher T. Anderson: Okay.
Female Speaker: That he is supposed to be doing. Yes.
Christopher T. Anderson: So, who cares if he doesn’t answer the phone?
Female Speaker: Okay. They’re going to talk to the clients.
Christopher T. Anderson: Why?
Female Speaker: Because he needs to answer the questions. So, they’re going to say, oh, I’m going to terminate your representation. I can’t get anybody on the phone. Nobody would answer my questions.
Christopher T. Anderson: Right. But now, they can get this other person on the phone. So, I’ll just say can you bifurcate the job and have someone who can excellently produce the work and just have all the calls routed to her if you’ve got the volume for and, if she’s also crunching, is this going to increase your volume? Are you going to be able to take on more cases? If you’ve only got enough to keep her busy, then that, I mean, it’s very clear to me you let this guy go, but if this expands your capacity, you can take on more work make more money and, sometimes, you just have to — if an employee, if a worker, if an attorney has an area of excellence and they can be productive in that area of excellence, then let them do that and keep the other stuff away from them.
I’ve had lots of associates that I’ve locked in back closet. So, I don’t let talk to anybody, but who are grinders. They just grind it out and I’m happy to have them, and it just I put the load on other people to be minders and charismatic and be client-facing. Sure, it does. But if you’ve got both and they’re complementary, then do it and, if they’re not complementary, if this puts her on the phones and she’s not doing her best area of work because he’s pushing all the calls often to her that it’s not working, then you got to cut him. But if there’s a way where he can be the grinder and she can be the face of the firm, the front man, that maybe a best of both worlds if it increases your capacity and gives you more production so you can pay both of them and make a profit on both of them.
Female Speaker: Okay.
Christopher T. Anderson: Yeah, like the big challenge I find with managing people sometimes it’s trying to force them into what your picture of an excellent person is rather than finding the excellence that they’ve got and working that into your team.
Female Speaker: So, I guess, one of the options I need to do is just to get them both in a sit-down and see how we can structure whereas, yes, he will be that grinder handling the new claims and appeals and what she’s doing.
Christopher T. Anderson: And then, you have to ask yourself, can I generate enough business to keep them both busy and have them both profitably producing?
Female Speaker: Okay.
Christopher T. Anderson: Rob, any thoughts on top of that?
Robert Leitner: No, the only thing I’d add is, obviously, it’s critical that the phones get answered, period. So, that’s number one. We can talk about all these other facts, but the phone needs to be picked up. Number two, I would study the call volume. How many calls are coming in? What’s the average duration of the call? Can one person typically handle that? Also, what happens when she’s on the phone and another call comes in? Number one, how often does that happen?
And number two, where does that call go? It can’t not be answered. I agree with Chris that for certain employees, we do workarounds because they have skills that are valued and we carve out niches for them and we kind of give them a little bit of a free pass because they’re still providing value to the firm. Finally, I want to know if this system will be scalable. So, at what point would you have to hire someone else to answer phones? Then, you would have three people in that department and would that situation be okay for you, or would you hire someone who takes calls and terminate the part-time assistant? So, think about that as well. Not necessarily how it exists today but how it’s going to exist tomorrow with a little bit of increased call volume.
Female Speaker: Okay. Gives me something to think about. Thank you.
Christopher T. Anderson: Yeah. Can I just think it’ll a grinder on Social Security that you’re paying? I’m sorry. I’m just thinking in my head. Like if you’ve got this guy grinding out Social Security part-time and you’re paying them 25 an hour, that is mad profitable. Yeah.
Female Speaker: Yeah.
Christopher T. Anderson: That’s where I come from with that. Not just like I’ve just got a little money machine back there. Let me let him run.
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Christopher T. Anderson: In our final segment, a lawyer wants to know how much time to give a new hire before deciding whether to keep or fire them.
Female Speaker: We are re-building ourselves department. We have a lose sales manager as well as three new intake specialists. The sales manager does consults, and one of the intake specialists is in a hybrid position and does consults. When you have new people, how much time do you give them before making the go, no-go decisions?
Christopher T. Anderson: Particularly new people in sales?
Female Speaker: Right, they’re previous sales professionals, but they’re new in our firm.
Christopher T. Anderson: I have a different answer between the go and the no-go because, to me, there are two very different answers. Go is the easier one, right? You’ll have your basic training that you want to deliver because so that you know that your team has received the information that you want to provide to them about brand, about how we treat our perspective clients, about what were our goals are for the experience that they have, and we want to make sure that we deliver on those things. Then, go becomes when you give them some of that and where their performance is equaling what you expect or is equaling a milestone that you expected them to reach. That’s your go decision.
The harder one is the no-go decisions when they’re not quite reaching that, how much additional training, how much rope do you give them, how much time do you give before you say this is not going to work. To me, that’s a little bit more art than science is because you have to keep asking yourself, are they making progress towards the goal? Do I believe they’re going to reach it within a reasonable amount of time? For me, 60 days is kind of the outside of like if they’re not really getting close by then, then they’re not going to make it. But Rob has worked with a lot of sales teams too and help to build a lot of great sales infrastructure. So, I’d love for him to pop in on this.
Robert Leitner: Typically, for salespeople, if you brought on someone who has pretty good sales experience, I would get them on the phone as probably within a month. I would make sure I’m monitoring those calls and looking at their performance. For someone who is experienced in sales, it really should just be a matter of learning your product or service and how you guys do sales, but the actual art of sales should already be there and they shouldn’t have to be trained on that.
So, that’s a long-winded way of saying, if someone has pretty good experience and you bring them on your sales team, I would get them on the phone within a month and within six weeks, maybe seven weeks, eight-week tops, I would make the yay or nay decision.
Female Speaker: Okay.
Christopher T. Anderson: Does it answer what you were asking?
Female Speaker: Yeah. So, about 60 days.
Christopher T. Anderson: Yeah, on the phone. So, what Rob was saying it — Rob and I said it’s slightly different answers but really towards the same thing. He’s like get him on the phones within a month. So, as soon as you’re giving them some dry runs, some training, you’re getting some feedback from them. Sooner if you can, in my opinion, and within a month for sure and then you start assessing whether they’re performing to spec and, obviously, if they don’t close at 65% in the first three days, it’s not time to kick them to the curb yet, right? You’re looking for constant improvement over time. As long as you’re seeing that improvement and you believe it’s headed towards your target, you keep going and if they stall out or start to go back down before they hit that target, then that’s when it’s time to call the game. Give them some remedial training, redirect them maybe once, maybe twice and if they don’t resume their path towards the goal that you have evidence to believe is a reasonable goal, then it’s time to consider whether they’re not going to make it.
Female Speaker: Okay.
Christopher T. Anderson: The conversion rate of your peers and your colleagues and the consultants and anybody else who tells you what your conversion rate should be is worth about nothing because nobody’s in your market. Nobody is selling your exact product. Nobody has the marketing that you have. Nobody else has all these other things. So, if you have a hypothesis as to what your conversion rates should be, it should be based on what somebody else does your business have been able to achieve under similar circumstances, someone who you think did a great job. That person could be you. But also, like I’ve warned owners don’t expect anybody to ever close the way you do. It’s unlikely as if you’re good. If you suck, then maybe they’ll do better. But most business owners are pretty good closures and that would not be the benchmark I set.
Female Speaker: Right.
Christopher T. Anderson: So, some people might come out. I’ve heard people come out and say like 65% is good and some people come out and say 35% is good, and the people say, which one’s right? I’m like, they’re both right or they’re both wrong. I don’t know., right, because I haven’t walked in their moccasins. I haven’t sold in their business and their market with their clients, with their marketing and their products. And so, I would need to learn what’s good in that market. So, it needs to be evidence-based, not what somebody else told you is a good number because those are dangerous.
Female Speaker: Right.
Christopher T. Anderson: All right, that brings us to the top of the hour. So, I’m going to wrap it here, just reminding to all our listeners that you can catch The Un-Billable Hour Community Table.
You can come on it live, I should say, on the third Thursday at 3:00, 12:00 Pacific and, of course, you can listen on your favorite podcast channel. We are represented by the Legal Talk Network and you can catch us on iTunes or wherever you catch your podcasts. Until then, talk to you soon.
Outro: Thank you for listening. This has been The Un-Billable Hour Community Table on the Legal Talk Network.
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