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Commentary

Call it touch, call it tact – whatever the case, it’s your best weapon (access required)

“The Touch” is what my father called it. Dad was in the furniture business back home, and in the old days he would come to the Southern Furniture Market a number of times of year. The best salesmen possessed that easy Southern way about them. When one of them got to the crux of the issue, the real point of sale, the salesman would put his hand on my dad’s arm. The Touch, literally and figuratively, was the salesman’s signal as to which of my father’s conditions of the sale could be met, and which ones could not be met. Hard facts about what the deal required were softened by the charm of it all.

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Goodnight, Irene, see you in our dreams (access required)

Long Islanders are a hearty lot, many of us having trekked here from as far away as Brooklyn and Queens without any sign of wear. We carved suburbia from the wilderness of summer estates, built schools and way too many fire houses, then perfected the art of shopping. We’ve withstood gypsy garbage barges and Amy Fisher, the Shoreham debate and Bobby Kumar’s kidnapping. Even today, we are a people that can butter a roll, apply makeup and tailgate, all at the same time. Irene should have known better.

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Create a “dashboard” of metrics to track firm’s financial performance (access required)

Every law firm is a business, and every business should know where it’s going. Like the driver of a car, a lawyer must look out the window to see what’s ahead (analogous to identifying new matters for generating additional revenue) while glancing at the dashboard to make sure all indicators (in this case, of financial performance) are positive. Admittedly, today’s financial information systems and software can and do produce extremely detailed assessments of financial performance. However, many of these programs tend to provide far more data than can be assimilated intelligently.

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Hearsay for baseball fans: How the prosecution balked in the Roger Clemens case (access required)

“A first-year law student knows you can’t bolster the credibility of one witness with clearly inadmissible evidence.” U.S. District Judge Reggie Walton, United States vs Roger Clemens (July 13, 2011). With all due respect to Judge Walton, I’m not so sure first-year law students would know this. But, they would surely know not to violate a judge’s prior ruling. Twice.

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Effective date of tort reform a headache for lawyers and plaintiffs (access required)

On July 25, the General Assembly voted to override Gov. Beverly Perdue’s veto of Senate Bill 33, a tort reform measure that places draconian limitations on the ability of medical malpractice victims to seek redress in court. The bill reads like a Christmas wish list for malpractice insurers, the state Chamber and the medical lobby: noneconomic damages capped at $500,000, virtual immunity for providers who perform vaguely defined “emergency” treatment, heightened requirements for expert witnesses and abbreviated periods of limitation.

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Mr. Smith goes to Washington for work… and Ms. Smith needs help! (access required)

It is 9 a.m., and Ms. Smith walks into your office to consult with you about her separation and divorce. She has gone through a tough period. She was a homemaker with a current empty nest and a spouse who has left her. She is approaching retirement age and desperately needs to discuss the division of property. In your consultation, she mentions her husband’s employment with the federal government and asks what rights she has to the federal retirement and how she might be able to retain a flow of payments after he dies. She also is concerned with health care coverage and life insurance.

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Learning to play to your strengths and away from your weaknesses (access required)

It seemed doable to me. My wife and I were adding a small deck on the back of our house. Our builder was a client with that easy country grace that is not as valued as it should be. But he also employed country frankness that sometimes stung when it hit the mark. Before I left for the office early one morning during the construction, I had outlined my idea of what the deck could look like, and what I hoped was possible. But my knowledge of what was possible was limited because I had virtually no skill at building anything with my hands.

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It’s not just a lease, it’s a strategic planning tool (access required)

I received a call from a lawyer wanting to know what percentage of his gross revenue should be allocated to rent and whether his percentage was in line with other law firms. I cited one study that put the average at 9 percent, but his comeback was that another consultant said the average was 12 percent. Such generic numbers totally miss the point on two levels. First, they allow lawyers to think that they need not try to do better than the average. And second, they obscure the point that the cost of office space is a statement about the law firm itself, raising issues that should be addressed in a strategic plan.

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You’re a practice group leader – now what? (access required)

The practice group structure has become an accepted organizational model in many firms. Such groups can also be called departments, teams or some other designation, but the concept behind them is fundamental. Practice groups organize and focus the firm’s resources in a given area of legal discipline to improve client-service quality, marketing performance, lawyer training and development, and competitive effectiveness. Practice groups reinforce to the client that service is provided by the entire firm and not just one lawyer.

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