The Cactus Quarterly Newsletter - 2Q 2018 Print

Past President's Report

How time flies when you are having fun!  The time for me to move from President to Immediate Past President of the fabulous AZ ALA Chapter has come.  I look forward to assisting new President Sonji Le Blanc as she takes the helm.  It is a bittersweet moment, as I have enjoyed the opportunity to serve as President (Captain) of our Chapter.  Alas, the ship sails on. 

I would like to thank all of the current and past Board Members who have worked with me, as well as all of the former Board Members and Chapter Members who stepped in and offered their support and guidance (lifeboats) over the past three years. Without you all I would have been shipwrecked.  THANK YOU!!

I am pleased to announce that with the hard work over the year of our Chapter volunteers we have once again been awarded the President’s Award of Excellence.

You may have noticed my theme aligns with our International ALA theme this year, “Navigate Our Future Together.”  I am excited to attend the conference and look forward to seeing many of you in National Harbor.  For those of you unable to attend, I hope you will take advantage of the ability to attend by virtual conference.  There are three sessions available this year covering the areas of Communications & Organizational Management, Operations Management, and Human Resources Management.  You can order one or all three and have the option of seeing them live or as recordings.  Visit for details.  This is a great way the Association is offering you navigational assistance in your own roles.

As I turn in my captain hat, I am very excited to see what great things Sonji and her Board have in store for our Chapter this year – take it away Sonji – smooth sailing - and remember I stand behind you with all the past captains’ navigational logs.

As always, to you all, be safe, be well and be happy!

Author: Sharon Williams, Past President, Arizona Chapter


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President's Report

There are plenty of people who are perfectly happy with the status quo. They show up for work each day, and stay within their comfort zone. But, if you're looking to develop new skills or conquer your public speaking fears, nothing beats the hands-on education of volunteering for the ALA. Today I can give a presentation or plan a big event with confidence. The ALA has helped me become the continuous learner I am today.

I came to Phoenix three years ago to start my first legal management position. I moved here from Los Angeles, and I felt like a fish out of water. I remember Past President Gina Sanfillippo calling to invite me to an upcoming ALA Chapter Social. Without that initial outreach, I may have stayed to myself, and I would not have made friends with anyone outside of my own firm.

Saying YES to the ALA has made a big impact on my life. It opened up doors for new friendships and opportunities. I have remained an active volunteer for the Chapter since the very beginning, and was even awarded the “newcomer” 2017 ALA National Quest Award. Having been in the legal industry for 25+ years, I find myself newly energized and excited to work in the business of law.

It’s pretty simple. When I’m having fun and learning, I feel fulfilled and the hard work is worth every bit of time and energy. I was especially delighted to learn that the ALA honored our Chapter with the President’s Award of Excellence for 2018, thanks to the guidance of our Past President, Sharon Williams. I hope to continue the tradition during my term as President!

Let me conclude by saying thank you for the privilege of leading our Chapter. If you have any thoughts to share, please email me at I will continue to work closely with our Board of Directors and Committee Members to help make the Arizona Chapter the leader of all the ALA chapters. I look forward to making a difference, together.

Author: Sonji Le Blanc, President, Arizona Chapter

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Letter from the Editor

Early in my career a manager of a successful law firm told me the success of their law firm was “accidental.” She said the success had “happened” to the owners.  As you may guess, that manager did not last long in her position. I’ll quote Jack Dorsey: “Success is never accidental.”

How do you achieve success and what is it? Here are some tips from self-made billionaires with some commentary from me.

“The best investment you can make is in your own abilities.” Warren Buffett

We hired an accounting supervisor, Letty, almost 12 years ago. She was an excellent accounting supervisor and worked well with our team as it grew from two in our accounting department to six. Several years ago she decided to invest in herself and went back to school to obtain her Masters in Accounting. That enabled her to transition into the role of Chief Financial Officer, something that would not have been possible if she had not spent the time, effort and money to improve her ability. Her reporting and analysis of KPI’s sets a high standard for our firm. She has served as Chief Financial Officer for the last three years and is a valued member of our Executive Committee.

Improve your skills, embrace every learning opportunity and you will be ready when an opportunity comes up.

“I’m always looking for the right person to solve a problem. I only have so much time.” Meg Whitman

Michelle staffs our front desk and has to make split second decisions all day long. A few examples:  A client called in and said (having received the fee agreement via email) she would come in to pay an advance deposit as soon as she found a place to print her fee agreement.  Michelle without missing a beat, said “Come on in and I can print it for you.”  Another example, a potential new client called in asking for an attorney that was no longer with the firm and instead of just telling the caller that attorney was no longer here, Michelle added “What do you need help with?” On finding out that it was an immigration matter, Michelle transferred the caller to our immigration department.

As you staff positions, look for problem solvers.

“Failure is another steppingstone to greatness.” Oprah Winfrey

How many times have you tried something new that did not work out? We opened an office in New Mexico three times before we were successful. It did not work out the first two tries, but now we have a supervising attorney for that office that has built the practice from one to four attorneys in just two years and it has become a profitable division of our law firm. We could have decided after the first failure (or the second) that New Mexico was not our market, but we would have missed out on a great opportunity.  We decide how our story ends!  Commit to the result you want and do not give up.

Be like Thomas Edison who said: “I continue to find my greatest pleasure, and so my reward, in the work that precedes what the world calls success.”

By: Jacqueline McAferty



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Enter to Win a RLMC Scholarship

Thanks in part to our business partner TOTAL NETWORKS, members can enter to win a scholarship to attend the ALA Regional Legal Management Conference in Austin this October. CLICK HERE for more information. Applications are due Friday, May 18, 2018.

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Building Business Relationships

Repeatedly, we all hear that to be successful we need to build good, strong, lasting business relationships. But it takes a good deal of time and energy and people don’t seem to want to put in the work.  Newsflash: Lasting business relationships just don’t happen without dedicated and consistent work. 

Here are a handful of ways to build lasting business relationships

  1. Be authentic – be who you are and accept others as they are. Find people and companies you feel a natural connection and ease of communication with and things you have in common.
  2. Identify shared goals and values – seek out people who share similar goals and values. Are they honest, knowledgeable, helpful? How do they treat others? We may not always share the same point of view with everyone, but the shared values are a must.
  3. Mutual Respect – this one definitely takes some time. We prove ourselves over time and through different activities and experiences. Be patient, selective and watch people in action. Building mutual respect is an essential for growing relationships.
  4. Vulnerability – we are all human and sometimes that means sharing and supporting people through difficulty, challenge and change. Showing vulnerability is part of our authenticity but use good judgment as this is best shared with a select few rather than publicly.
  5. Loyalty - show people you have their back by not partaking in gossip or unnecessary conversations
  6. Make connections – make meaningful connections for people to network with each other. Of course, be thoughtful, have the right motives and be connecting people for the right reasons.
  7. Get more personal – find opportunities for one on one conversations. Be willing to share experiences, ideas, points of view and simply learn more about each other’s story.
  8. Fun – Be willing to go out and do something fun that may not have anything to do with work. This will allow you to see different sides of people and hopefully have some memorable conversations.
  9. Expectations – always go into relationships with an open mind, realistic expectations and never assume. If we have preconceived expectations of people, then we are setting ourselves up for disappointment.
  10. Brainstorm – be sure to find time to brainstorm, engage and do business together. However, be sure to set time limits and have an agenda for what you want to accomplish.
  11. Be a giver first – when we educate, help and inspire others with our experience and expertise, we are building the foundation for trust that underlies relationships that endure. Serving and helping builds trust like nothing else. Trust is the one ingredient that builds strong, long lasting business relationships.

In conclusion, our business network should be a qualified, selective group of people we count on, tap into and rely on for support, direction and insight. We must find that balance of being givers and takers.  We can’t just give or take, we need both.  Selectivity, consistency and engagement are essential for finding great people and growing relationships with them to find that balance of being givers and takers.

Author: Katie Bryant, CLM

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ABA Retirement Funds

7 Things Every ERISA Fiduciary Should Know

When it comes to workplace retirement plans, there are three kinds of people: people who are ERISA fiduciaries and know it, people who aren’t ERISA fiduciaries and know it, and people who are ERISA fiduciaries and don’t know it.

If you’re in the first or last category — well, here are seven things that every ERISA plan fiduciary should know.

If you’re a plan sponsor, you’re an ERISA fiduciary.

Fiduciary status is based on your responsibilities with the plan, not your title. If you have discretion in administering and managing the plan, or if you control the plan’s assets (such as choosing the investment options or choosing the firm that chooses those options), you are a fiduciary to the extent of that discretion or control. If you’re not sure, there’s a good chance you are.

For the very most part, you can’t offload or outsource your ERISA fiduciary responsibility.

ERISA has a couple of very specific exceptions through which you can limit — but not eliminate — your fiduciary obligations. One has to do with the specific decisions made by a qualified investment manager — and, even then, you remain responsible for the prudent selection and monitoring of that investment manager’s activities on behalf of the plan.

The second exception has to do with specific investment decisions made by properly informed and empowered individual participants in accordance with ERISA Section 404(c). Here also, even if your plan meets the 404(c) criteria (and it is by no means certain it will), you remain responsible for the prudent selection and monitoring of the options on the investment menu (and, as the Tibble case reminds us, that obligation is ongoing).

Outside of these two exceptions, you’re essentially responsible for the quality of the investments of the plan — including those that participants make. Oh, and hiring a 3(16) fiduciary? You’re still on the hook as a fiduciary for selecting that provider.

If you’re responsible for selecting those who are on the committee(s) that administer the ERISA plan, you’re an ERISA fiduciary. If you are able to hire a fiduciary, you’re (probably) an ERISA fiduciary.

The power to put others in a position of power regarding plan assets is as critical — and as responsible — as the ability to make decisions regarding those investments directly.

Hiring a co-fiduciary doesn’t keep you from being an ERISA fiduciary.

All fiduciaries have potential liability for the actions of their co-fiduciaries. If a fiduciary knowingly participates in another fiduciary’s breach of responsibility, conceals that breach, or does not take steps to correct it, both are liable.

Your liability as an ERISA fiduciary is personal.

That’s right, the legal liability is personal (you can, however, buy insurance to protect against that personal liability — but that’s likely not the fiduciary liability insurance you may already have in place).

An ERISA fiduciary can’t just quit and walk away.

The Department of Labor cautions that “fiduciaries who no longer want to serve in that role cannot simply walk away from their responsibilities, even if the plan has other fiduciaries. They need to follow plan procedures and make sure that another fiduciary is carrying out the responsibilities left behind. It is critical that a plan has fiduciaries in place so that it can continue operations and participants have a way to interact with the plan.”

As an ERISA fiduciary, you’re expected to be an expert — or to hire help that is.

ERISA’s “Prudent Man” rule is a standard of care, and when fiduciaries act for the exclusive purpose of providing benefits, they must act at the level of a hypothetical knowledgeable person and must reach informed and reasoned decisions consistent with that standard. The Department of Labor notes that “[l]acking that expertise, a fiduciary will want to hire someone with that professional knowledge to carry out the investment and other functions.”

As an ERISA plan fiduciary, it’s never too late to start doing the right things the right way. But doing the right things means understanding what is expected of you — and appreciating the implications.

By: Nevin Adams

Seth Cohen
Regional Vice President
ABA Retirement Funds Program
Direct: (860) 918-1055

Registered Representative of Voya Financial Partners, LLC (member SIPC)

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Total Networks

Could the Spectre of Hackers create a Meltdown for you?

How to respond to the most recent data breach scares.

On February 6, 2018, Elon Musk made history as he launched his Tesla roadster into orbit around Mars. The words “DON’T PANIC!” were prominently displayed on the dashboard (a reference to The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy). 

In an unrelated story… a few weeks earlier, on January 13th, 2018, a bug uncovered and announced by Google’s Project Zero a “CPU data cache timing that can be abused to efficiently leak information”. This gave IT people everywhere a reason to panic.

‘Spectre’ and ‘Meltdown’

Spectre and Meltdown are two CPU chip bugs that allow unauthorized data access from nearly every computer made over the last two decades. And fixing it is not easy. The problem stems from a long-utilized CPU feature called “speculative execution.” Speculative execution is a performance-enhancing feature that’s been baked into nearly every processor since the Pentium Pro (1995)!

Patches are Problematic

Patches are available for some systems, but not all. Additionally, applying these patches is extremely problematic. The bug is very “low-level” or foundational. If there’s a problem at this level, systems don’t boot at all. So patching it is risky. Additionally, the patches slow your system down. Google reports that they have patched their entire infrastructure with fairly minimal impact.

Total Networks is treating this seriously. When this bug was announced initial patches were released. We began carefully patching, with a significant failure rate in our initial tests, so the patches were revoked. Similarly, because of the failures which may cause systems to be completely unbootable, Intel, AMD and Microsoft put a pause on the patches worldwide. We will continue to monitor the situation carefully.

For home PCs, the risk caused by Spectre and Meltdown is relatively low and the risk of an errant patch causing damage to systems is very high. So, DON’T PANIC and sit tight and do nothing for now. For business PCs and Servers, most businesses will have many of the exact same model or similar models of hardware. This decreased variability of hardware will generally allow testing of upgrades on pilot systems. In business systems, the stakes are also generally a bit higher. So, a very deliberate, cautious patch validation process and careful deployment is advised.

Big Risk in the Cloud

While both Spectre and Meltdown incur huge risk is with cloud providers. A CPU-based bug can theoretically break through every possible security layer you put in place. Additionally, since cloud systems are massively scaled, you generally have multiple customers, and many different businesses/entities SHARING COMMON HARDWARE (this is called hardware multi-tenancy). This means that you could theoretically have what appears to the cloud provider to be a normal paying cloud client actually be a bad actor trying to figure out a way to exploit the bug and get access to other people’s data!

In a cloud environment, the servers run within a master system called a “hypervisor” which runs on the hardware. Amazon Web Services (AWS) and Google Cloud Services (GCS) run linux-based hypervisors and they have both confirmed that they patched their hardware and/or hypervisors such that the threat has been neutralized. Microsoft Azure runs a Windows Server-based hypervisor called Hyper-V. Microsoft assures that they are patched as well, stating “Azure infrastructure is updated with mitigations against this class of vulnerability”. For all cloud services, it’s important to have a solid review and checklist to ensure that you are working with a good cloud provider. The patch status for Spectre and Meltdown should be on that checklist.

By: Dave Kinsey

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Arizona Office Technologies

AOT is proud to announce its partnership with PSIGEN Software, Inc. They have been leading the industry for the past two decades. PSIGEN is the innovative leader in advance capture applications.

PSIcapture provides a convenient, secure and simple way to capture documents, extract crucial information and route them to a digital repository as searchable files.

  • Easy and secure access to all your documents in one central location
  • Customize and automate Bates stamping within PSIcapture
  • Easily redact personal client information from documents going out for external consumption
  • Process documents from existing cases and stop paying to store physical files
  • Easily migrate files into 60 different case management systems such as Worldox or Summation


Microsoft Legal department has implemented PSIcapture to help streamline paper processes. PSIGEN solutions was selected for its ease of use, relative cost, and its level of integration with SharePoint. The department now uses PSIcapture workstations to process incoming records. Please see the link for the full case study, Legal Case study.

Kimball, Tiery & St. John LLP used PSIcapture to turn 175 file cabinets & 70,000 files into a paperless streamlined document process. The firm has seen reduced labor costs, improved time management and higher customer satisfaction. Legal Case study

Please contact me today and let’s set up a time to review your current processes and see how AOT and PSIGEN can help streamline your workflow processes.

Andrew Belew
Major Account Executive
Arizona Office Technologies
Direct: 602-346-3043 | Mobile: 480-518-5590
4320 E. Cotton Center Blvd. #100 | Phoenix, AZ 85040

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Savills Studley

7 Reasons to Take a Fresh Look at your Office Lease

Keep your office budget in peak condition with an annual lease checkup

Your office is a reflection of your firm’s brand, and most law firms are extremely conscientious when it comes to selecting office space. You probably retained a knowledgeable real estate broker, conducted a thorough search for appropriate office space, analyzed and projected your space needs over the life of a long-term lease, and negotiated for the most advantageous terms with a landlord.

Congratulations. If you took these steps, you probably secured a sound, cost-effective lease. But where is that document now? If your lease is sitting in a file drawer waiting for the next renewal date, you are doing exactly what your landlord hopes.

Leases can be very flexible instruments. It benefits a tenant to stay on top of its lease provisions, even midway through its term. Like a visit to the doctor every year, it’s a smart practice to take your lease to a professional for an annual check-up. Even if you don’t detect any symptoms that anything is amiss, there are several good reasons to pull your lease out every year and review it with your real estate advisor.

The seven vital areas to include in your annual checkup:

  1. Mark-to-market opportunities – Has the local market changed? Ask a real estate professional to run the numbers for prevailing office rents in your market and compare that to your current economics. If effective rents in your area have fallen, it may be possible to restructure the lease so it’s closer to market rate, or use it as a bargaining tool in negotiating other terms. Since market trends often vary significantly by submarket, be sure to ask for a breakdown of effective rents by submarket, which is often more instructive than a blended average.
  2. Space utilization – Since you signed your lease, has your firm grown or downsized? Take a look at how well you are using your space. Many law firms have embraced cost-saving measures such as outsourcing administrative services, pooling paralegal support in lower-cost locations, and asking attorneys to accept smaller, more uniform office sizes. Some firms have implemented flex-space office design, moving lawyers who don’t need to be in the office five days a week into shared office space. Depending on market conditions, you could negotiate to give some space back to the landlord, you could sublease it, or bring in an affiliated firm on favorable terms.
  3. Image fit – Do the office style and location still suit your business model? It might be time for a change if your people’s commuting patterns have changed, or if the primary neighborhoods where your client base and future clients are located have shifted. Are you located where your future talent wants to be working? Are the amenities near your office competitive, and does the office project the right image? It might be worth exploring how well your office space supports your firm’s business objectives.
  4. Pass-through expense audit – How well does your lease protect you from unexpected operating expense increases? Landlords typically try to protect themselves from absorbing any costs they can pass along to tenants, from tax increases to building improvements. A tenant-favorable lease often includes exclusions from operating expenses, but very frequently a landlord is not observing those lease provisions when determining your share of operating expenses. A qualified auditor can determine whether you are being charged fairly for pass-through expenses.
  5. Rights and prerogatives – Does your lease include the right to early termination, expansion or contraction? Even if you don’t foresee the need to expand or contract, often a landlord will find value in a tenant’s decision not to exercise a prerogative. These terms can serve as leverage in negotiating some other benefit that has greater value to your firm. Also, don’t assume that your rights are fixed as they are described in the lease; often, it’s possible to restructure the timing, size or economic terms of your rights, depending on overall dynamics of your building.
  6. Identity signage – How visible is your law firm’s name on the building signage? If another tenant has recently vacated, signage on the building or on a street-side monument might become available. Often, this kind of visibility is tied to the percentage of space you occupy, so unless you are leasing a full floor or more, it might make sense to consider moving to a smaller, well-located building if this type of visibility can enhance your firm’s prestige. Internal signage can be just as important, so review your lease terms to see if improvements can be made there.
  7. Benchmarking – Do you know how your cost structure compares to other firms you compete with? The legal sector is increasingly competitive, and your real estate costs directly impact the rate structure you can offer to your clients. An experienced real estate broker can often give you surprisingly detailed and specific information about what competing law firms are paying.In conclusion, an office lease can be a heavy burden, or strategic tool. The regular practice of evaluating your firm’s lease for the opportunities described above can help make your firm leaner, more agile and better able to compete in an increasingly competitive legal market.

By: Tiffany Winne, Executive Vice President, Director, Savills Studley - Phoenix

Tiffany Winne is Executive Vice President of Savills Studley’s Phoenix office and a member of the firm’s Board of Directors and Legal Tenant Practice Group. Savills Studley is the leading commercial real estate services firm specializing in tenant representation and has advised more than 76% of American Lawyer’s Top 100 Firms. For more information, please visit, or contact Tiffany directly at 602.783.1611 or

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How to Keep Your Printing Secure and Save Money in the Process

Anyone in the legal profession knows you can gain a competitive edge by managing your processes and workflows, especially when it comes to document management. Yet many firms continue to struggle with users printing out sensitive documents only to leave them on the printer.

Law firm print management software can significantly improve your workflows. Each print job must be authorized at the device before you can print and claim it. Using authentication has the added benefit of saving money when it comes to toner and paper not being wasted when someone prints and forgets.

It also allows you to set up rules to enforce print usage, waste, and other policies. You can control what gets printed and where it prints. For example, users can delete unwanted jobs rather than print them, or change to a black and white copy if color was inadvertently selected.

Print management software lets you print anywhere in your network, anywhere in the world. You can offer convenience to your users without adding more printers to your fleet all while being able to control your equipment costs. Printing anywhere technology allows users to move to the next available machine to print their documents rather than stand in line waiting for a large print job to finish. They simply authenticate themselves at an unused machine and print their job.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, law firm print management software allows you to guarantee secure printing. Many people have taken a stack of papers from a printer only to realize later they have someone else’s documents. Using print management software that makes users authenticate themselves before allowing a document to print puts users squarely in front of the printer while their job prints. Authenticating at the printer eliminates the risk someone else might accidentally take sensitive documents they should not see.

Documents are an important piece of your law firm’s workflows and productivity. You have a legal obligation to secure sensitive documents. Keep your clients’ information safe and secure with tools like law firm print management software.

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Atlas Network Services

Wrongful assumptions most firms make about their IT

Our firm’s technology is the most vulnerable link in our firm’s security.

Systemically, users tend to be the weakest link in any security system.  They can consciously or unconsciously circumvent established protocols and disseminate access to data.  Even so, the role of technology is critical because it can mitigate any single user’s potential damage. Combined with end-user awareness; an effective security strategy will involve both safeguards on the technology and personnel front. Moreover, end users should only have access to data that they need and be empowered to avoid common data breach methodologies. Does your firm employ an access control methodology and if so, has it been reviewed lately?

We have a modern backup solution therefore recovery will be quick.

Previously, the primary question when dealing with an incident was the integrity of data backups. Meanwhile, the demands for the ‘Always on’ computer system increased, and with it, the need for a quick recovery.  Most never inquire how quickly their firm can operate after a disaster, and most providers advertise ‘access’ to your data in a relatively short time. But if your firm is like most, access to data is not enough. You probably also need access to your workstation, which has all the programs required to interact with your data. The right backup system can recover both your servers and workstations to a secured Datacenter, within fifteen to thirty minutes. Could your firm respond to a client request during a recovery situation and if so, how quickly?

Our Firm pays a flat fee for IT. Therefore, everything we need is included.

Managed Service Providers enjoy widespread popularity. The simplicity and lure of flat fee billing are attractive to both providers and administrators alike, but for separate reasons. Administrators like it for the budgeting benefits, and providers like them because they are very lucrative. The problem is that Managed Services Engagements in the traditional sense, do not cover projects or significant upgrades, and a flat fee engagement cannot be profitable for a managed service provider without baking in a considerable margin. With a structured budget approach, a firm can achieve the same or better service with savings of 25%-35%. Please contact us for a detailed explanation of the two business models and their differences.

If I outsource my IT services, an Ironclad contract is necessary.

Contracts are a part of doing business, and play a significant role in evolving transactions between firms and IT providers. The most troublesome part of an agreement between a firm and their IT is the cancelation clause. Most IT providers insist on stringent cancelation scenarios, and in response, most firms will escalate by attempting to mitigate theoretical financial losses during that term. The resulting tug of war ends up costing valuable energy. Instead, our company allows for a contract cancellation with a thirty-day notice. The clause keeps us dedicated to the cause of excellent service, and it shows our customers that we do not rely on contractual obligations or financial penalties to win their loyalty.

Marius Lupascu
Atlas Network Services LLC
3001 E Camelback Rd. Ste #130
Phoenix, AZ 85016
602 424-8488

Atlas Network Services LLC is an IT Provider that engages primarily with Legal and Healthcare organizations. We take great pride in being a company mainly comprised of and ran by engineers. We believe no customer should ever feel they are getting anything than the very best from us. We are the only local providers that offer an SLA with a financial remedy for both support and backup recovery if we fail to live up to our promises, and finally, we tend to be less expensive than our competition. If you are looking to change providers, or if you are willing to entertain a second opinion, please give us a call. Otherwise, we hope you have a very productive year, and we will see you at the next event!

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Goodmans Interior Structures

Furnishing Your Law Office for Success

Space Planning Insights and Methodologies for Legal Organizations

In the legal profession today, your firm’s office is more than an office; it’s a space that speaks for your brand, your unique promise to your clients, and the culture of your staff.

In order to stay competitive, to attract and retain clients, and to make the most of your real estate investment, the design of your office is critical. With carefully designed workspaces and flexible furniture that can evolve as teams grow and restructure, your law office can become a critical tool for your business.

Brand and Character

Increasingly, progressive firms are making the strategic shift from viewing office space as overhead to viewing these assets as the fingerprints of their organization’s culture, the place where their brand promise becomes a reality. In an ultra-competitive industry, this results in a tangible point of differentiation, leading to business development opportunities.

Investing in space as a brand-building initiative does more than set you apart. A company’s identity is a draw for its employees. A firm with a strong, effective brand is likely to attract a talented, multifaceted team, thus maintaining an advantage over the competition. One way to address this is by improving both the aesthetics and functionality of the built environment.

As Doug Zucker, principal at Gensler, a global architecture, design and planning firm, expressed in Legal Management News, “At a time when real productivity is declining in most law firms and associate satisfaction is at an almost 10 year low, law firms can leverage the design of their office to help combat some of the contributing factors to these trends.”

So when considering both your brand and your culture, ask yourself: Does your staff prefer team-building in an open, airy atmosphere? Is privacy, yet accessibility a vital balancing act at your firm? Identifying your office’s identity is often the first step to organizing your staff’s physical space in a way that works for the entire team.

Attraction and Retention

Understanding the needs of a multi-generational staff is also critical to designing and equipping an office that can serve your team well.

By 2020, the U.S. Bureau of Statistics predicts the Millennials will become the majority of the workforce in the U.S. According to Susan Ascher, a Huffington Post writer for and contributor to the site’s “Millennials in the Workplace” topic area, “Millennials are going to lead in an unprecedented way by educating one another, team building, being transparent, and embracing differences.”

The current and incoming generations of attorneys are concerned about work/life balance, workplace environment, access to technology and mentoring, collaboration, and education. For them, an office designed around the principles of human-centered design will address far more of these concerns than one organized to facilitate the churn of more billable hours.

“A new law firm landscape is on the horizon and many are asking what our physical presence will look like in the future,” said Zucker, again in Legal Management News. “Office design is being focused around changes in staffing models, improved collaboration and flexibility of space.”

Attorneys of all ages are also more concerned about sustainability and wellness than they previously have been. The design and furnishing of physical space can reinforce your law firm's sustainability efforts, while also creating greater connection with their clients and their own sustainability goals.

Many law firms have begun to embrace environmental sustainability as a core value, and have instituted “green policies” around recycling and energy use. A growing number have committed to LEED standards for the new or renovated facilities. In addition to promoting stewardship and reducing operating costs, providing a more sustainable workplace has the added benefit of increasing worker comfort, especially in terms of air quality, temperature, and lighting. As in many industries, law firm leadership recognizes the important relationship between worker comfort and higher levels of satisfaction, loyalty, and productivity.

Real Estate Allocation

With a focus on collaboration and meeting the needs of attorneys and other staff members, legal organizations can achieve more efficient workspaces at reduced costs.

For example, technology has reduced the need for large law libraries, freeing up valuable square footage for use as in-demand collaborative work areas. This flexible, multi-purpose space can be used to host strategy sessions, client engagements, and work team meetings. At the same time, individually allocated private offices are no longer seen as the best way for a firm to divvy up its real estate footprint.

“In law firms, a change in title means a change in office,” says Todd DeGarmo, CEO of Studios Architecture. “Corporate America spent years engineering those costs out of their systems. There’s a lot more emphasis on how to make people effective than how to reward them with space.”

The focus has instead shifted to functionality, flexibility, and creation of a vibrant workplace, which often provides the added benefit of overall real estate reduction. Although the law firm’s hierarchical organization and traditional career track are unlikely to disappear completely, there is a growing impulse to have—or at least project—a more egalitarian environment. Instead of allocation of office space based solely on hierarchy, legal organizations are working toward more streamlined and standardized private offices with flexible multi-purpose rooms, shared offices, and client engagement space making up the balance of the overall office footprint. This is having an observable effect of fostering greater trust, collaboration, and camaraderie among staff.

A recent survey by Gensler demonstrates a strong correlation between workplace design and business performance. “Employees of the most successful firms spent less time in individual focused work,” Zucker explained, “and more time collaborating, learning, and socializing than their counterparts in less successful firm."

A Better Way

With thoughtful planning, legal organizations can make their offices desirable workplaces for their staffs and welcoming environments for their clients. With the right partnerships and an understanding of the top workplace-related issues facing legal organizations, equipping one’s law office for success starts with aligning business goals with the office itself, understanding how issues apply to environments, and creating environments that allow staff to flourish.

Steve Ferradino, Jr.
Goodmans Interior Structures
212 S. 37th Ave., Ste. 110
Phoenix, AZ 85009
(602) 263-1110

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ALA Resources and Useful Links

“How to Ethically Oversee Trust Accounts”
By: Richard Dippel, JD. MBA, CPA


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