Beware of Ransomware

We read about it in the newspapers and on TV, but we think it never can happen to us. But it can. Hackers demanding ransom are not just fishing for big fish like corporations and big businesses. They also are fishing for the little guys, who they can shake down and score on.

It has happened to friends and colleagues, and it has happened to me. The solutions are complicated, anxiety creating and expensive.

Computer thieves come at you in conniving ways, they gain your trust, and they wear you down until you make even the smallest mistake. Then they are into your computer and poised to make your life miserable and put your resources at risk.

Do not give strangers your personal information. Do not share screens with strangers. Do not trust what strangers are telling you in e-mails, on the Internet or in any other way that will allow them access to your personal information. Including your bank accounts. And your investment portfolio. And your credit card accounts. And your Social Security information. And the list goes on and on and on.

Clean up your computer so that, if you do get hacked, you are not as vulnerable as you may be at this time. Paper files worked just fine in the day, and they can work just fine now. You owe it to yourself and all those people you communicate with through your computer who do not want to become part of the problem.

Many of you are in large law firms and government agencies where training on computer security issues is standard, frequent, and required. So it is a little easier for you to be tech savvy. But just as many of you are in small firms and businesses where you do not have the luxury of that kind of training. For you, it is trial and error. And the errors can be very costly.

So, be smart. Be cautious. Be secure.

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Thought For The Week: “Forgiveness does not change the past, but it does enlarge the future.” Paul Boese

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Young Lawyers: Are You Asking the Right Questions?

Recently I read a piece which was prepared as advice to young black women lawyers but has a broader application beyond that group. The piece addresses the right questions to ask when interviewing with a firm in this post-pandemic world. Experiences with COVID-19 have changed so much in our society, and that certainly is true when it comes to the post-pandemic practice of law.

You cannot assume that some of what you learned about interviewing pre-pandemic will any longer hold true. One of the most far-reaching changes in law firms, that of remote work, is especially important for firms with offices located in highly-populated urban areas where many of the firm members must rely on overcrowded mass transit for commutes.

Allowing firm members to work from home — or from Starbuck’s — has been the solution for many firms, and also has proven to be very profitable. So, it will be no surprise if remote work continues as at least a partial option into the future. As attractive as the opportunity to work remotely appears to many lawyers, it also presents significant challenges for new hires in terms of integration into a family of lawyers. And those challenges cannot be overlooked.

The essay, which was written for the Black Women Lawyers Association of Los Angeles, is based on the author’s experiences interviewing during the pandemic when everything, including meeting new colleagues and clients, communication with colleagues, clients, and staff, and developing rapport with members of those cohorts was done remotely. She emphasizes the “two-way” street of responsibility for positive outcomes and the importance of keeping new hires engaged to assure successful assimilation — and, I would add, to retain talent.

This is very sound advice and will continue to be important as “new normals” develop in law firms. So, here are the questions you should be asking (with a bit of editing on my part):

1. How has the firm handled the transition from office to remote work?
2. How are partners maintaining communication with associates?
3. How is the effective communication achieved between lawyers and support staff?
4. What does the firm do to ensure employees stay connected?

Asking questions in advance can alleviate a lot of pain down the road. Be prepared!

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Thought For The Week: “Of all the paths you take in life, make sure that a few of them are dirt.” John Muir

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When A Benefit Is Not Really a Benefit

A law firm employment benefit is something of value that is conferred on or available to an employee or firm member by an employer and is a term of employment — either at the beginning of employment or added at a later date. It typically is something that the employee or firm member otherwise could only get or would have to pay more for.

Think health insurance. Although the employee or firm member has to pay the health insurance premiums, the employee or firm member typically is part of a large group and, therefore, “benefits” from lower premiums than if that employee or firm member went out and shopped other healthcare plans.

Also think flexible work schedules. No one but your employer can give that to you, and it can confer a huge amount of value to an individual employee or firm member.

An article earlier this year in Above the Law announced a new “benefit” from a top Big Law firm. Here is how the benefit was described:

It’s now easier for those at the firm to save for future education costs. The firm recently announced a new benefit for employees, a 529 College Savings Plan which allows folks to start saving for those educational expenses through automatic payroll deductions.

Sounds good. But wait a minute. Is it really a “benefit”?

529 education savings plans are ubiquitous and are available through many state-sponsored programs. If you are not familiar with these plans, which are named for the section of the IRS code that enables them, you should Google it. People in all walks of life and varied circumstances are able to participate in these plans through their state governments.

So, unless I am mistaken, the “benefit” announced by this Big Law firm, a program that employees and firm members can use to save for their kids’ educations, provides nothing more than what employees and firm members already have available through similar programs. And any “benefit” conferred is simply an automatic payroll deduction. Not much of a benefit in the large scheme of things.

Do your homework. Get savvy. Do not be fooled by things that are labeled “benefits” and do not confer true value to you. And for sure do not accept those things in lieu of compensation. It is not apples for apples.

Labeling things as “benefits” can be a shell game, and you do not want to play.

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Thought For The Week: Remember those who served selflessly in our military and have passed away. We owe them so much.

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Two Ways to Look At End-of-Year Bonuses

End of year bonuses for associate lawyers are at an all time high right now. Many firms, mostly Biglaw, are celebrating what has been referred to as “stunning” profits in 2020 and sharing the largesse with associate lawyers in the form of bonuses. Some of those bonuses are far in excess of $25K, paid out in increments, and additional money is being thrown at newly hired laterals, who are able to introduce the firm to other interested and highly-credentialed associate lawyers who then also become lateral hires. One of the Biglaw firms reportedly is valuing that effort to the tune of $50K as a type of finder’s fee.

It is all part of a current war for talent and the resulting hiring frenzy at law firms. If this sounds like good news to young lawyers, I am not surprised. That kind of money gets everyone’s attention, especially associate lawyers with law school debt hanging over their heads.

But, I encourage you to see it for what it is. This is not just the generosity of law firms. This also is a way to keep associates at the firms where they are highly leveraged and producing significant income for the firms. There is an expectation at law firms that the high billables among associates during 2020 can be repeated again in 2021, and the ching-ching sound is very appealing to law firm management.

The “golden handcuffs” of high salaries for associate lawyers has been recognized for decades. The “gold” clearly is the compensation, and the “handcuffs” represent the constraints that accompany that level of compensation in terms of the lifestyle it enables. That lifestyle can include big home mortgages, expensive club memberships, and other trappings of wealth.

But it does not have to be that way. If you are one of the recipients of the big bonuses and/or finders fees, think about how you use that money. If you spend it all on expensive cars, boats and extravagant vacations, you will find yourself unable to leave the money behind and exercise your free will in the event that the Biglaw experience does not work out for you.

Be smart. Be strategic. Plan for your future. See things for what they really are.

For more information on the two sides to this particular coin, see this article recently published on Above The Law.

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Thought For The Week

“Forgiveness does not change the past, but it does enlarge the future.” Paul Boese

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