Utah Business: Legal Roundtable

Every month, Utah Business Magazine partners with Holland & Hart and Big-D Construction to host roundtable events with industry insiders. This month we invited the top legal minds to discuss security, technology, and work-life balance. Here are a few highlights from the event:

Angelina Tsu, Zions Bancorporation: What is your firm doing to ensure that your client information is maintained in a secure and safe manner?

Dickson Burton, TraskBritt P.C.: We all invest a lot in the software protections and—but, really, we’re as weak as our weakest employee. The security holes that we all have start and end with the employees. And that’s where people get in is through email. There’s a lot of training that has to take place. And, of course, we’ve hired outside consultants to help with this and to try to see where our vulnerabilities are in our network, but also to help train our employees to recognize those deceptive e-mails that come in. And they’re getting more and more sophisticated as they target any of our companies, any of our businesses.

I mean, we had one scenario where our CFO received an e-mail, ostensibly from the president of our firm, asking for a wire transfer. And, thankfully, we have the two-signature required, dual factor authentication required for things like that. But she was ready to do the wire transfer. And it was for a significant sum. And she was just fooled by a very sophisticated spoof e-mail that seemed to come from the president of our firm. And we all get emails with attachments, with links, and things like that. But some of them are quite remarkably sophisticated. And we need to be careful and look for what the signs are. The bottom line is, we need to train even our lowest level employees, whichever employees have access to your network.

Angelina Tsu, Zions Bancorporation: Do you have a plan in place in the event of a data breach at your law firm? And what does that plan entail?

Graden Jackson, Strong and Hanni: We do have a plan. It’s something that we do keep within our management circle. But because we have two offices, we’re able to be sure that if there were a breach or something at one office, that client data could be retrieved at another office. And I think all of us have cloud-based systems these days that have some protection there.

We only allow folks at our firm to use firm computers when accessing our network. I know there was a push years ago to allow kind of everybody to have multiple devices to be able to access firm data. We’ve contracted that so that you can only use a firm device to log onto our network. That gives us greater protection. We can encrypt all the hard drives so if a laptop gets left in a cab or a hotel room or something, nobody can break into that laptop and access our system. And we have gone through other measures, training, that has been brought up before.

Angelina Tsu, Zions Bancorporation: The rule of law is the cornerstone of democracy. Why is the rule of law so important to a democratic society? And what can we, as lawyers, do to protect it?

Richard Burbidge, Burbidge | Mitchell: There is a saying that if you have integrity, nothing else matters. And if you don’t have integrity, nothing else matters. And that applies to your governmental system, especially in distributive justice. And the thing to understand is its culture. We have a culture of democracy. It’s being attacked, but we have a culture of democracy and respect for the rule of law. The rule of law is simply the rules by which a minority can legitimately become the majority without any bloodshed, without any chaos. And that is critical for our—for our system.

Christian W. Clinger, Clinger Lee Clinger LLC: The rule of law, and respecting and understanding the rule of law, are the key elements that bind us together as a society, communities, and country. And as important as it is to teach about the rule of law nationally and internationally, we also need to focus here at home.

I think as lawyers—and one of the goals of the Utah State Bar—is to teach about the rule of law through educational principles. And we need to get out into the schools, out into the community, out into civic groups, teaching about the importance of the rule of law.

Justin Toth, Ray Quinney & Nebeker: As we all watch current events, it’s exhausting. It feels like a daily onslaught. And it is! We are going through a stress test for our democracy and we are watching a stress test for the rule of law. And so the question you posed is: what can we do to protect it?

Well, we may not be able to affect exactly what’s going on in Washington or anywhere else in the world, but you can affect what goes on in your own environment and in your own cases and in your own relationships. So, to me, what we do is remember that facts matter. They matter in our cases. We don’t exaggerate facts. We don’t mislead. We honor the facts. The rules matter. We use the rules to resolve disputes. That’s what we fundamentally are. And when we use rules in that way and we treat facts in that way, then we respond to the stress test that our legal system is currently under. And we’re able to show the world around us that we are part of that valuable system that will survive everything we’re going through.

Dickson Burton, TraskBritt P.C.: I was able to attend a meeting in California two or three weeks ago. It was meeting of state bar leaders from the western United States. One of the topics was the reduced trust in institutions we have in America, generally, but specifically the courts. And there was some survey evidence presented that was really startling about the declining trust that Americans have in the judicial system. As attorneys, we do need to be advocates not just for our clients, but for the system. And we can do that in public, we can do that with our clients.

Angelina Tsu, Zions Bancorporation: Lawyers have not traditionally been on the forefront of technology and innovation. On the spectrum of early adopters to laggards, where do your firms fall with respect to adoption of technology to enhance legal services?

Dickson Burton, TraskBritt P.C.: Well, many years ago, it might have been 20 years or so ago, I heard a legal futurist talk about four basic things that lawyers provide: advocacy, counseling, information, and legal documents. This is his point of view. He said, “The last two are going away for lawyers,” meaning, the information and the document generation, document creation. “Advocacy and counseling are always going to be there.”

And I think that’s what we’re talking about, in a sense. I mean, we can still provide information and the documents, but our clients all come to us already having found what they could online. And sometimes they don’t even come to us anymore because they’re finding this stuff online. That’s where we need to innovate a lot. And I think it’s innovate or die in our business. We’re doing the same thing we did 20 years ago at our office for about the same price, but we’re doing a whole lot more of it and in higher volumes so that we can keep making money. And that is because of innovation. But the lawyering part, the advocacy and the counseling, is how we’re going to stay in business.

Jason McNeill, Magelby, Cataxinos & Greenwood: At our firm, maybe because we’re smaller in nature, but our our assistants are younger and better at technology than a lot of us. They have crossed this line of the paralegal and legal assistant such that now our assistants are becoming our paralegal and assistants. They have the ability to take it from assistant work all the way into what our paralegals would normally do. And they do it very well and very efficiently. So we’ve actually had to adjust such that the roles have changed at our firm, the roles of the staff members have changed. And it’s been a little bit painful. But we don’t have near the lines, I guess, or the roles that we’ve traditionally had in years past because technology has taken us that way.

Richard Burbidge, Burbidge | Mitchell: Yeah. Here’s the problem with technology. Practicing law is an intellectual art. And what I’ve noticed is younger lawyers come in not having spent a lot of time addressing discipline and sacrifice in their lives or in their—in their schooling. And they think they can go on the internet and get an answer. Well, if you’re doing sophisticated work, the answer is not on the internet. That is, you are going to intellectually address disparate pieces and try to find patterns, try to make patterns, try to develop narratives, try to think outside the box and see what argument can be developed to best represent the client. That’s what I find myself doing. I’m fighting the internet. I’m saying you’ve got to think. If I’m going to teach you, you’ve got to come at me having thought through it. I don’t want to talk to any of you until you’ve reached your best conclusion and can defend it. Then I want to talk to you. Then I can teach you. Coming to me half-baked with maybe this, maybe that, maybe this, you haven’t accomplished anything either for the client or for the associate. You really have to push.

Robert D. Walker, Kirton McConkie: You know, with my children, I told them they would never have an iPhone. They have iPhones. And it’s amazing how the more we push back on their approach, this younger generation’s approach, it’s like pushing a rope. It’s not going to happen. We need to learn how to work with it and to do so in the context of our practices.

We have a large group of associates at our firm, and it’s been a concern to us. How do we work with this change in technology? How do we work with this change in mindset? And as a result, we’ve developed a very detailed mentor program, where, with our younger associates, we’re focused on skillset, communication skills, and the importance of the practice, and what we can do to help them in their technology world be the best attorneys that they can be.

As we implement that program, it’s amazing how much we learn from them and improve our practices and become more efficient in the process. And then as they transition into more senior associates, we then shift that focus, with the skillsets hopefully in place and the things that they’ve learned, to profitability and client development. Both are learning from one another. And in so doing, it’s amazing how both the experienced attorneys and our younger associates have benefitted and have become better in the process.

Angelina Tsu, Zions Bancorporation: What, if anything, have you found has changed with the current crop of associates regarding focus on work and life balance? And what is really working out there to build balance and satisfaction?

Jen Tomchak, Tomchak Law PC: I think there’s a lot more focus on work-life balance. A lot of the issues that we’ve been talking about with respect to connectivity and being able to be available everywhere, makes it, in a lot of ways, harder to have work-life balance. But all of the things that we’ve been discussing about, you know, having people manage expectations with clients, being able to budget their time in a way that avoids distractions. I think that in a lot of ways we need to be mentors, not just with respect to work, but also with what we do with our time at home. I think a lot of the new associates want work-life balance, but they have a hard time not responding immediately to emails because they’re always looking at them.

And something else that I’ve noticed that’s a real challenge is that there is a real hesitation to just pick up the phone and talk to someone. It’s scary when you’re used to always having time to think about your response, to just pick up the phone and talk to the other side. But in a lot of ways, it’s a lot easier and faster to get it done that way, although it seems scary to do it.

Rebecca L. Hill, Christensen & Jensen: One of the things we try to do at our firm is to recognize everybody’s individuality. And I think that’s been a culture with Ray Christensen and Jay Jensen. How you decided to practice as an attorney is an individual decision. And we all can be successful in the ways we do it. Whether or not we are working 2,300 billable hours, like my colleague Phil Ferguson, who loves to work and who comes in six days a week. And then there are many of us who are in no way like that and have a different view of how to practice law. And that is one of the things at Christensen & Jensen, we want all kinds of people because it makes us successful in our business.

Jonathan Hafen, Parr Brown Gee & Loveless: One of the things I’ve learned is that it helps for the concept of face time to go away. I think that this relates in part to the concept of technology. But if we allow our lawyers, particularly our younger lawyers, and this is particularly important to women lawyers I’ve learned, to do other things between 3:00 and 7:00, but you know you’re still going to get great work at 8:00 or 9:00, that’s okay, and I think that really helps the associates. It lets them know that’s okay. We want you to prioritize other things in your life. That will make you happier. Work is one component of your life. So if you can’t be in the office every day from 9:00 to 5:00, that’s fine, too. Just do great work and that’ll work just fine for me. That seemed to have really helped take a bit of the stress off of some of these younger lawyers and make them happier about coming to work. Of course, sometimes we all have to show up. We have trials and other things. But I think they get that, too. What people don’t want to do is waste time. And I think some of them feel like face time is wasting time.

Wade Budge, Snell + Wilmer: Something we deal with a lot is associates striving for that work-life balance. One of the things that we try to do is, of course, communicate. It seems trite or overused. But if you go into an associate’s office and say, “What are your time demands, what do you think your day is looking like, and how can you get this project done,” and communicate with them, I think that helps them to prioritize and then to also think about how it is they can complete that in a time that’s relevant for you as maybe the assigning partner, but also for the client. And it helps them to understand that this is really part of the practice of law. You know, right now, as an associate, what they’re doing is they are practicing satisfying the client of a partner, and then soon they’ll be actually interacting with clients themselves.

The other thing we try to do is make other resources available to them. Because a lot of what an associate does doesn’t actually need to be done by that associate. So, paralegals, as has been mentioned by a couple of other participants, but also we have some staff attorneys who are there on an hourly basis as a resource. Then the associates know they have other people they can delegate to. And that also helps them understand that principle, learning it early, of delegating, which is what we’re all doing when we involve associates.

Richard Burbidge, Burbidge | Mitchell: If you practice law, you’re not delivering mail. I have nothing against postal workers. Not at all. But when you’re done, you can go home and never have another thought about it. And the next day you arrive at your reported place and time and it’s all the same. That is not the practice of law.

And what I’m trying to communicate to the young lawyers is that this is a profession and it is different. We have a monopoly. Folks can’t come to Joe Blow on the street, they have to come to Justin, they have to come to Todd, have to come to Brian, have to come to Scott. No choice. Right? And it comes with a great responsibility because you’re taking on their lives, their fortunes, their sacred honor, in many cases. So, it’s different.

I was trying a very difficult case brought to me by a young lawyer. Very complicated. And we were getting ready for trial. And we had to put a lot of time in. And she had children. And she said, “Oh, boy. They were really upset with me, blah, blah, blah, I had to come in.”

And I said, “Did you tell them what you were coming in for? Did you sit them down at the dinner table and explain what you’re going to be doing over the next two weeks and what’s at stake?”

“No. No. I haven’t.”

“Well, do that. At the dinner table, set out what you’re doing and why you’re doing it and the great need for your service.”

Totally different attitude. Next day she has to come in and the kids would say, “Go help her. Go help.”

And, of course, then you come in and you tell them about it. I have one son. He has a photographic memory. And he would say, “Whatever happened with that trucking case that you were doing? What was that about?”

So don’t work so hard to segregate your life into pieces, integrate it all. And bring your family into your practice. Bring your spouse into your practice. Let them understand what you do and why. And make them enjoy the triumphs and the defeats and and participate in it.

Work-life balance is a form of integration of all of the parts of your life.

To participate in one of our roundtables, email for more information. Upcoming topics include tech entrepreneurs, human resources, international business, and healthcare.

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.