March 2015

I make no secret of the fact that I have looked to Steve Jobs for ideas and inspiration.  I found this Fast Company article on the Evolution of Steve Jobs to be fascinating.  The discussion of his evolution as a collaborator was terrific.

As he steered Pixar through the many difficult periods that preceded the creation of Toy Story, he nurtured an intelligent, respectful, and effective culture. Catmull was so firmly in charge of the place that he was able to keep Steve from getting too involved in the production, so Jobs watched from a distance as writers and animators worked their way through failed plotlines, poorly conceived characters, and interference from Disney’s then-chief of animation, Jeffrey Katzenberg. After Toy Story, he got to see the team do it again, with A Bug’s Life, and then again and again and again. “Watching our collaboration, where we were making ourselves better by working together, I think that fueled Steve,” says John Lasseter, the director of Toy Story and The Incredibles, who now heads up Disney Animation and Pixar with Catmull. “That was one of the key changes when he went back to Apple. He was willing to be open to the talent of others, to be inspired by and challenged by that talent, but also to inspire them to do amazing things he knew he couldn’t do himself.

Collaboration is a phenomenal tool.  The most experienced people rarely agree on everything and fresh eyes are always needed to challenge conventional thinking.  No one person has the breadth of experience and the freshness of view so that their view does not benefit from challenge and the free exchange of competing ideas.  How people collaborate, then, is critical, and the highlighted sentence says volumes about the mindset needed for successful collaboration.

At Valorem, we so believe in the power of collaboration that we’ve designed our firm up to foster, indeed, require, it.  I think many of  the firms around us have embraced models that result in collaboration being an underutilized tool.  The benefits of collaboration to clients and firms alike are amazing.  Those that do not seek it and clients who do not demand it are missing out on one the most important tools available.

Have you ever read an email and wondered to yourself, “what’s the point?” Then you get to the end and realize there is no point. Or the point is something totally different than what you thought. When this happens, it’s annoying. Did you ever wonder if you annoyed anyone with your emails? You should. And you should do something about it.

We live in a world where massive amounts of information are transmitted daily. Many lawyers receive over 150 or 200 emails daily. Some of those lawyers are in-house counsel. Many of them are reading emails on mobile devices. If each email takes 30 seconds to open, respond to, file or delete, that is an hour and 15 minutes just dealing with email. But what happens if emails need to be open and closed more than once? You know what happens: you open an email, glance at it and realize it can wait, so you close it. That simple act of opening an email, glancing at it and then closing it takes precious time.

We also need to consider that people send emails when it is convenient for them, not when it is convenient for the reader. That is one of the fundamental flaws of the medium. We exacerbate the flaw by not communicating essential information in the subject line. With an eye on our clients, my colleagues and I have tackled this shortcoming by adopting some simple rules for email subject lines:

  • The first word will be the short name of the case. Jones. Not Jones v. Client. The client knows the case and they know their employer’s name. Use limited real estate wisely.
  • The second word or phrase will convey the level of urgency: URGENT, TIME SENSITIVE, NOT URGENT, etc. If a client sees something is not urgent, she knows she can open the email when it is convenient.
  • The third component is the action requested, so the client knows the point of the email. Informational, Signature requested, approval required and so forth.

The next problem is people get chatty in emails, apparently thinking every email should be a personal monologue designed to help the client know more about you. Most clients want to know immediately what needs to be done and by when. So we have implement a BLUF rule for emails—Bottom Line Up Front. The top line will not be a name or hello or any other greeting. The top line will be: “Signature required by COB 3/31/2015.” Any needed background can be in the text of the email.

The last issue relates to attachments. In reviewing the slides created to roll this out internally, one client said “And forwarding along updates/orders without telling me what is in the attachment is a pet peeve.  We frequently are checking email by phone, so we cannot easily read attachments.” I was reminded how much I hate opening attachments wondering if the effort do so is worth the time. Message heard.

These tips may not seem like a lot. But I promise you your clients will appreciate the effort to make their lives better. The feedback we received from a number of clients was uniformly and enthusiastically positive.

Copies of the roll-out slides for this effort are available. Email label protocols–Public

Nicole Auerbach
Nicole Auerbach

Yesterday was International Women’s Day.  There are a lot of great, strong women in my life, and I am all the better for it.  And while it is a fool’s errand to pick just one, I want to highlight just one, meaning no disrespect at all to the other women who make my life richer.

Nicole Auerbach is one of my fellow founders of Valorem Law Group.  We have been partners in this adventure for seven years. We have argued about cases, about strategy, about tactics, about people and lots of other things.  Her arguments always make my ideas better.  I hope I have returned a fraction of that value to her.  We have talked about values, about what we want Valorem to be and how we want it to become an institution that survives both of us.  We’ve never argued about those dreams or values. We’ve worked hard together, we’ve had fun together, we’ve listened to each other when struggles were encountered.  I find it hard to imagine anyone could be more as a partner.  I know no one can be more as a friend.