Rumpelstiltskin! What is the darn password again!

Believe it or not, the most common password is the word password. Before feeling smug about that unique password you created, think about how many sites where you have used it. Fess up; you are not alone. The aggravation of forgetting a password has led many people to use one password everywhere. The danger is that if a hacker comes upon your password and a list of your accounts, the hacker can try to enter these other accounts with the password already known. How could this happen? I will share my own experience about when my personal gmail account was hacked.

I must fess up: I used one password on all non-financial related sites. The Gmail Hacker got into my gmail account, looked around in my in box and pulled up my Facebook account email. How did I find out? The Gmail Hacker began getting emails sent to my gmail address. Discovering what had happened, I changed my gmail password to a unique strong password then tried to deal with Facebook. I contacted Facebook to report I had been hacked and wanted to insure that the Gmail Hacker would be shut down out of my Facebook account. I also changed my Facebook password to be another unique strong password. To my aggravation, I periodically get emails from Facebook addressed to the Gmail Hacker asking to return to Facebook. I delete these emails, uttering a curse upon Facebook for ignoring my report of being hacked by this person(s). My hacker did not go by the name Gmail Hacker but I do not want to add to his/her hacking ego by repeating it.

So lesson learned. Use a strong password, strong because it’s length and complexity render it difficult to breech. Many sites now have a password strength meter to check how strong this password choice is compared to safety guidelines. Current security standards show that a safe password should be a minimum 16 characters long made up of upper and lower case letters, numbers and symbols. Your safest course of action is to use a password generator otherwise human nature resorts to a pattern that a hacker could figure out. Randomness and unpredictability are qualities that will keep your password safe(r).

Jotting your list of passwords on a post it and and sticking it on your computer monitor is not a good practice at the office or even at home. There are a number of good password keeper programs or apps that are very helpful. Be sure to create a long, complex, random and unique password to access your password keeper. Google password keeper and you’ll see there are password keeper apps for iPhones, iPads, android devices, web-based, or downloadable to your laptop or desktop. Some you might want to check out include Password Keeper (www.password-keeper.net), KeePass Password Safe (www.keepass.info.com), RoboForm (www.roboform.com), LastPass (www.lastpass.com) and eWallet (www.illiumsoftware.com/eWallet/). Whichever password keeper you use, keep it safe with its own unique password.  Now get busy changing all those unsafe passwords!

Battling Dragons as You Start Your Solo Practice

I see more lawyers these days who are launching their solo practice. Some line up office-sharing arrangements while others decide to go slow by initially working from home. An article I wrote for the Oregon Bar Bulletin, “Home Alone: Where to Hang Your Shingle” may give some ideas for lawyers thinking about this option.

An over-riding concern of lawyers starting up their solo practice is making sure that they don’t spend too much money all at once. For some, starting up on the proverbial shoestring seems to be the best they can do given the circumstances. Almost two years later, I still find my article “Law Office Start-Up: Law Office on a Shoestring” can help some lawyers think through their early budget. No matter how small, a budget is essential.

Starting up a law practice as a solo is starting up your professional life. Do it with at much thoughtful investigation as you can. Make a business plan and put it in writing. I remember the following adage: “Those who fail to plan, plan to fail” being drilled into my head early in the business world. It made me a planner! Sucessful ventures are usually accompanied by well-thought-out plans.

Not all of us are entrepreneurial. Not all successful solo lawyers are either. It is natural to feel nervous and even fearful starting up a business, especially a law practice. Some starting up now will be successful and some will hang it up before the year is up. The important thing is not to become paralyzed by fear wondering which will be your destiny. It’s not knowable today. Today, the task before is to take the first step. Summoning courage that carried you to this point, enables you to move forward or as Goethe urged, “to begin it.”

“Each indecision brings its own delays and days are lost lamenting over lost days…What you can do or think you can do, begin it. For boldness has Magic, Power, and Genius in it.” – Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Who Inspires Your Ideas?

When you are starting a new venture, you need ideas — lots of them! Who inspires your ideas? Do you have a friend, colleague, or mentor who can plug into what you’re thinking about and help you with the inspiration of new ideas? If so, try to have lunch with this person as soon as you can! Some people just seem to get animated or revved up with good ideas, whether for themselves or others. These are people with high ideation– concept people. They may be very creative, super bright, innovative thinkers, who generate original ideas that are simple and yet profound. They love opportunities to brainstorm, a way to exercise their brain, finding the process of generating ideas energizing.

Thanks to the Internet, you can connect to an idea pipeline shared by these people through their blogs and Twitter posts. Lately I have really been enjoying one in particular, Guy Kowasaki who Tweets under GuyKawasaki and has a great blog Holy Kaw! on his website Alltop. For me, getting a shot of Kawasakism kicks my brain into a more creative mode which helps me brainstorm with lawyers launching their new practice. Thanks, Guy.

Fortunately for all of us, there are a lot of really bright creative people just down the street, across the hall, or a mouse click away. I hope you plan to connect with one of them today. See if you don’t get inspired with some new ideas.

Attorney at Law not Dabbler at Law

There are many lawyers starting up their law practice these days. Some have become unemployed by larger firms downsizing as an economic survival tactic while others are newer lawyers who have decided to hedge their bet on getting an associate position. Whatever the push for opening up one’s own law practice, the attorney should take care to devote him- or her-self wholeheartedly to the clients who come seeking legal help. No dabbler’s in the law! You’d be horrified if a doctor set about to see a patient with a dabbler-in-medicine attitude. It is just as serious. What is dabbling? Though not a term of art, we all would agree that to dabble is to engage in something without the serious study and practice required of competent mastery.

Oregon Rule of Professional Conduct, Rule 1.1 Competence, based on the ABA Model Rules, states: A lawyer shall provide competent representation to a client. Competent representation requires the legal knowledge, skill, thoroughness and preparation reasonably necessary for the representation.

Four Quadrants of Competence: Unconscious Incompetence is a dangerous place for dabblers
You may have heard of the Four Quadrants of Competence: Unconscious Incompetence, Conscious Incompetence, Conscious Competence, and Unconscious Competence. Passing the State Bar Exam indicates you have minimum competence. The Bar Exam can’t test all areas of law practice or assess how well a candidate can deal with a specific issue facing a client. Herein lays the danger: you may not know what you do not know. This is the quadrant known as Unconscious Incompetence. Something you can’t forget if you are working by yourself without supervision by a more experienced lawyer.

Cure for Dabbling
If you have a mentor helping you, call. If not, you may want to contact the Oregon State Bar Lawyer to Lawyer Program which allows you to check in with a more experienced lawyer. You can reach the Lawyer to Lawyer Program by calling the Bar at 503-431-6408. If you want to help lawyers by participating in the rewarding program, download an application here. The Lawyer to Lawyer Program is especially helpful as more experienced lawyers find themselves feeling the need to practice out of their practice area in order to make overhead and cost of living expenses.

It takes time to move from Unconscious Incompetence to Conscious Incompetence – where you are aware that you don’t know something and seek advice. It takes years of practice, getting advice and guidance from senior attorneys, attending substantive area CLEs and studying to develop the mastery of a practice area with Conscious Competence where you are aware that you know it and are tuned into the process of doing the details with competence.

As you may recall, the fourth Quadrant is Unconscious Competence, where you just act with competence without being consciously aware of the many steps. You may see unconsciously competent attorneys seemingly engaging effortlessly in cross-examination of a witness. They are not just a natural giant in the courtroom; they have honed their skills over decades of hard work. Many of these members of the Bar are willing to serve as mentors. Ask around for who are the giants in a practice area; call on them for some mentoring. They can help you prevent dabbling in the law.

Happy Blue Moon New Year

Happy New Year. It’s a Blue Moon today. This is the second full moon December 2nd. The last Blue Moon was May 2007; the last Blue Moon on New Year’s was 19 years ago. The next will be New Year’s 2029. So consider this an auspicious start to a new year and a new decade. Personally it’s my 17th wedding anniversary. May we all be successful, healthy, and happy.

Remembering the first year of law practice– a call to mentor our new lawyers.

When I was in my last year of McGeorge Law School in Sacramento, California, I decided to start my own law practice. Along with my law books, I toted Jay Foonberg’s “How to Start & Build a Law Practice,” getting myself ready to run my own show. Jay was my mentor. Then I moved to Oregon. Took and passed the bar and opened up my solo practice in Portland, Oregon. Luckily, I rented office space from a great group of attorneys who owned their building and were willing to rent out the small office at the top of the stairs. Thanks, Bob Demary, Mike Sandoval, Susan Teller, and Carol Westendorf! You each supplied a bit of mentoring on the fly and devoted time to just talk about how it was going or wasn’t going. Shortly after moving into my office, I joined the Multnomah Bar Association. Through the MBA’s formal mentor-mentee program, I got my mentor choice in elder law, Cynthia Barrett who let me come into her elder law office and see how to best handle everything from client intake to document signing. I remember Susan and Carol both encouraged me to keep a journal of my first year – that it was an important one. I was too busy to keep a journal, but I kept good memories. That first year went fast. Though I was a solo, I wasn’t alone.

Last night I got to do my second of two mini-classes for the Lewis & Clark School of Law Graduate Fellows Program for the 2009 graduates. Wonderful young attorneys eager to start their careers. Eager to learn last week about calendaring, docketing, and file tickling and last night, avoiding conflicts of interests and ethical pitfalls. The first year is a foundational year. Many of the faces were young and I expect they will still be practicing law in 30 and 40 years. In 30 to 40 years, I’ll be looking among their midsts for a good elder law attorney no doubt!

Next Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday the PLF does its annual “Learning the Ropes” program for newly admitted attorneys and others entering private practice. There will be young lawyers who hail from Lewis & Clark, Willamette, and University of Oregon, and likely others like me who came from law schools elsewhere. What is their first year as a lawyer going to be like? Many of them will be wondering that same question. I don’t know how many of them have landed jobs already.

I suspect this year will be lean for law jobs. It may not be an exaggeration that the majority of newly admitted Oregon lawyers likely have not yet landed jobs. Some may decide to hang their own shingle as a solo or gather together a few fellow law school graduates to start their own firm. How are they going to get mentored?

I put out a call to each of you to remember your first year as a lawyer. If you’re an alumni of one our law schools, Lewis & Clark, U of O, or Willamette, give your alumni office a call and reach out to a recent grad. If you come across a new lawyer, offer to get together for a cup of coffee to find out how it’s going or not going. A year goes fast.

Supporting Oregon Attorneys

Law Practice Management.  Not a course covered in law school.   Although, I must plug Northwestern School of Law of Lewis & Clark College for their program for 2009 grads: Lewis & Clark Law School Graduate Fellows Program. It’s a two-hour session that has been running about three nights a week for six weeks and broadcast on a webinar for graduates out-of-the Portland area. I covering “Calendaring, Docketing and File Tickler Systems” on Monday October 19th and “Avoiding Conflicts and Ethical Pitfalls” on Tuwesday October 27th. Topics are on a variety of law practice management issues.

Law practice management is especially difficult for the solo and small firm attorneys finding themselves needing to wear different hats requiring different skills –finance, management, marketing, and technology.   Can one person be both entrepreneur and financial officer, addressing big picture and small detail?  Unique to Oregon, lawyers in private practice must be members of the Oregon State Bar and carry professional malpractice insurance from the OSB Professional Liability Fund.  The PLF provides free access to practice aids and forms and three practice management advisors.  As a lawyer and practice management advisor, I work for Oregon attorneys throughout the beautiful state of Oregon.  There are 13,500 Oregon attorneys and there are 7,000 attorneys in private practice.   The services of the PLF practice management advisors are free and confidential. As a supplement to that fine program, I hope this blog can be a resource to the lawyer in Oregon.

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