Project Planning for Lawyers – Upping Your Game in a Chaotic World

In nearly two decades of practicing law, I have tried numerous systems to manage projects, stay on top of tasks, and delegate work to team members. The following is the simplest, most effective method I have discovered. For those of you who are Getting Things Done by David Allen enthusiasts, you will recognize his inspiration.

Master Task List

Writing all your tasks down to get them out of your head and stored in a reliable place is incredibly liberating. I have found that inputting all those tasks into a single list is a valuable habit to engage. Of course, half the battle is getting everything into a single list so you can decide what is the highest priority to tackle, which tasks you can delegate, and other ones that can be scheduled for a later date. I have also found that if you give in to the temptation to spread the list across multiple systems or people you are inviting anxiety about the list. So put them all in one place. Fight that temptation.

The list can be maintained in a simple spreadsheet or specialized software like Basecamp. We use proprietary project and task management software that integrates with our client and CRM systems. Because most of us work in a team environment, it is usually a best practice to designate an admin to maintain the list.

In addition to the name of the task, owner, and deadline, we have found tracking the following information to be helpful: task assignor, project manager, priority, client and matter, and practice area of the project. We also distinguish between deadlines (externally imposed obligations like a USPTO filing deadline or a court ordered date on a scheduling order) from a “next action,” which is what we call a task we wish to complete to move a project forward. Requiring the task assignor to include the deliverable requested (80% draft memo, key cases with passages highlighted, etc.) is also a valuable practice as it improves team communication.

I cannot emphasize enough how important it is to keep all tasks in a single list maintained by a reliable person or system.

Project List

Like a Master Task List, the Project List keeps track of all the various projects you either manage or have delegated. It also serves as a good reminder during the Weekly Review, and helps brainstorms next steps. For purposes of this system, I define a “project” to be anything requiring two or more next actions. A single task would be included in the Master Task List.

We track projects by client, matter, project manager, project team (people assigned to the project), and practice area. This allows for sorting and reporting in a variety of helpful manners. For example, I sort the overall Project List by practice area (litigation, trademarks, e-commerce) as well as by project manager. It is also important to distinguish between the projects you own as project manager, those you are assigned, and those you have delegated to others as that affects review and work flow.

Weekly Review

The Master Task List and Project List both should be updated dynamically throughout the week. I have found a few practices that dramatically increase efficiency. The first step is to periodically clear your head of all the tasks and things floating around. This includes emails, client requests, correspondence, etc. Basically, anything that needs attention and resides in your head needs to get out of your head and into the Master Task List. A daily clearing is helpful but not always practical. So I set aside time mid-week and as part of the Weekly Review. Second, I dedicate an hour or two per week to go over the Master Task List and Project List to ensure everything is updated. I have found doing this outside the office or on weekends is most effective because it requires uninterrupted focus. Finally, a weekly or bi-weekly project review session with the team is highly efficient in keeping everyone on the same page. For this session, we sort the Master Task List by project and we also separately review a list of tasks with upcoming due dates in chronological order.

Daily Focus

This last step is bonus points for any adoptee, and will really accelerate your performance. Like Texas Hold ‘Em, this step is simple to explain, but takes seemingly a lifetime to master. Based on the three above tools, you spend five minutes each morning planning the three most important, high-leverage actions to get done that day. Write them down to up your commitment, then create space in your day to give those three actions your highest priority. If you commit to that focus, you will achieve amazing results and start each day with a series of wins. The problem you will face is that the world (clients, opposing counsel, staff, even your own internal thoughts) does not share those priorities. This struggle largely controls your personal effectiveness, and is truly where rubber meets the road.

For more information and articles regarding law firm culture, please see our Culture Counts blog.

Porn and the Christian Woman

When you think of the word “pornography,” does it conjure up the image of a scruffy guy with messy hair in the basement watching porn in his underpants?

Truth is, though I get lots of requests for prayer and counsel from men who are slaves to porn, I recently had an encounter with a pretty young woman who was struggling with that same addiction.

I was already aware this problem existed among the gentler sex. I was awakened to that fact while listening to a Christian radio program on the subject many years ago and was amazed that half the callers were female teens. I’ll always remember the young girl who called crying because she felt powerless to resist the lure. A Christian girl, attending her Youth Group, the kids at school started passing around a website address. Desiring to fit in, she logged on. She was hooked. Not only was she hooked but she tearfully admitted she was confused about her sexuality, having found herself aroused by lesbian photos as well as the straight stuff.

My heart ached for her. Still does.

We are sexual beings. Just look at yourself nude in a mirror. Everything about our anatomy screams reproduction. Without the God-given urges we feel, there’s no other way would have ever procreated the species. Sex was God’s idea (and a great one at that). Leave it to Satan to pervert those desires and turn something beautiful into something so vile and harmful.

I found some 2003 statistics on pornography and its impact on society. I’m sure they’re worse now, 5 years later. Brace yourself:

Of the adults admitting to Internet sexual addiction: 10%; 28% of those are women (internet-filter-review.com).

This one impacts women more than we can imagine: More than 70% of men from 18 to 34 visit a pornographic site in a typical month (comScore Media Metrix).

Our young men, even the Christian guys, are being fed a steady diet of nudity and sexually-related lies. In real life, women don’t look or act like that.

But perception is reality.

Our girls simply cannot compete.

I was doing premarital counseling with a couple when, on our last night before the wedding, I gave them the opportunity to talk about anything they wanted to get out in the open. Sure enough, the young lady bashfully admitted her fear of disappointing her husband when he saw her body in comparison to all the others he’d been exposed to all his life, if only just at store check-out counters and magazine racks.

Girls, don’t be deceived. There are many wolves in sheep’s clothing. Outwardly, they may show all the signs of being “good.” Inwardly, well…they’re a mess. You have every right to get to know his internet viewing habits and see the magazines he subscribes to. Don’t be so quick to give your heart away and invite problems later. As a former Singles Pastor, my word of advice was always, “Become what you want to marry.” It’s the reaping and sowing factor.

Where porn’s impact on marriage is concerned, at a 2003 meeting of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers, two thirds of the 350 divorce lawyers who attended said the Internet played a significant role in the divorces in the past year, with excessive interest in online porn contributing to more than half such cases. Pornography had an almost non-existent role in divorce just seven or eight years ago.” (Divorcewizards.com)

STATISTICS ON WOMEN WITH PORNOGRAPHY ADDICTION

28% those admitting to sexual addiction are women (internet-filter-review.com).

That was five years ago.

34% of female readers of Today’s Christian Woman’s online newsletter admitted to intentionally accessing Internet porn in a recent poll and 1 out of every 6 women, including Christians, struggles with an addiction to pornography (Today’s Christian Woman, Fall 2003). There is much deliverance required and, sadly, too few who even know what that means to minister in that way.

The impact on families and marriages is devastating, affecting women in yet another negative way as their desire to e married and raise children in a healthy, happy home are dashed. 47% percent of families said pornography is a problem in their home (Focus on the Family Poll, October 1, 2003). Add that to drug and alcohol problems, teen rebellion, overeating, domestic violence, workaholism, and everything else that goes wrong behind closed doors.

CHRISTIANS, PASTORS AND CHURCH PORNOGRAPHY STATISTICS

I hear of far too many instances of clergymen having affairs with female Members of their flock. It’s no wonder. 51% of pastors say cyber-porn is a possible temptation. 37% say it is a current struggle (Christianity Today, Leadership Survey, 12/2001). In fact, over half of evangelical pastors admit viewing pornography last year.

Roger Charman of Focus on the Family’s Pastoral Ministries reports that approximately 20 percent of the calls received on their Pastoral Care Line are for help with issues such as pornography and compulsive sexual behavior.

In a 2000 Christianity Today survey, 33% of clergy admitted to having visited a sexually explicit Web site. Of those who had visited a porn site, 53% had visited such sites “a few times” in the past year, and 18% visit sexually explicit sites between a couple of times a month and more than once a week. These are our Church leaders. When a woman with a problem visits a man with the same problem, looking for spiritual assistance, what else can we expect? Like spirits attract, after all.

The sheep are fairing no better than the shepherds with 29% of born again adults in the U.S. feel it is morally acceptable to view movies with explicit sexual behavior (The Barna Group).

57% of pastors say that addiction to pornography is the most sexually damaging issue to their congregation (Christians and Sex Leadership Journal Survey, March 2005).

SEEKING COMFORT IN AN UNCOMFORTABLE WORLD

We are aliens on this planet. We’re not from around here and, therefore, should give up on our attempts at getting comfortable. Such attempts are futile. Nevertheless, because the cycle of emotional pain among women – even the Christian variety – has been going on for so long, our ladies are running to things like Valium, extramarital and premarital affairs, romance novels, soap operas, porn and, yes, even religion, in search of comfort. Some may even embrace timidity, manliness, or what’s referred to as a “Jezebel” spirit. They’re doing that INSTEAD of running to the God of all comfort; the loving Father who wants nothing more than to kiss them and make things better. They need ministry but too few ministers are equipped to minister in the required manner.

Why wouldn’t a Christian run to her Christ and, instead, run into the arms of another lover like porn? The answer is obvious: She doesn’t know Him. Like a man with homosexual tendencies, throwing himself into Christian service in hopes of cleansing himself and “getting better,” many woman expect that sitting in a pew each time the door is opened and attending conferences, even reading Christian books, will all make their problem go away.

It won’t.

Only Jesus has the power to do that. Only He is our Deliverer. Freedom will come when the foul Spirit of Porn bows to His Name and no other.

I’ve read that the early Church would minister exorcisms to new converts before baptizing and introducing to the Christian community. Great idea!

Here are some promises from Scripture that I hope will encourage you. I followed this with a prayer you may want to print and stick by your bathroom mirror. Remember this: God isn’t mad at you. Stop feeling so guilt-ridden and sin-conscious and focus on your relationship with the Redeemer. Jesus suffered for the sins of the world, including YOURS. There’s no judgment remaining, no wrath of God forthcoming, no punishment. The debt has been paid and God is satisfied. Between Calvary, which was judgment on Christ, and the Judgment Day, when all the books will be opened, there is no place for judgment in this world. Yet, most Christians cannot seem to overcome that sin consciousness that oppresses and suppresses them. The price has been paid! You’ve already been reconciled to God! When He sees you, He sees Jesus! You couldn’t be good enough and you’re not bad enough to lose your place with Him. This goodness of God is what will bring you to repentance. Don’t expect that from church services or Christian books.
Start down your road to recovery TODAY!

Psalm 10:17

Lord, you know the hopes of the helpless. Surely you will hear their cries and comfort them.

Psalm 23:4

Even when I walk through the darkest valley, I will not be afraid,for you are close beside me.
Your rod and your staff protect and comfort me.

Psalm 119:76

Now let your unfailing love comfort me, just as you promised me, your servant.

2 Corinthians 1:4

He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others.

Thank you, Lord, for being my Comforter. I’ve been crying out to be comforted since the moment I was born. Now, I feel that I need your comfort – the only REAL comfort that exists – more than ever. I’m tired of trying to overcome and I’m running to YOU – the One who dwells within me who cannot do anything BUT overcome. Be the Lord of my life; the Owner of my sinful nature, my bad habits, my addictions. Thank you for comforting me, Lord Jesus, so that I, in turn, will be better equipped to comfort others who are also struggling with bondages. I thank you, also, for healing me where I’ve been hurt. Not just physically but deep down in those darkest places that no one can see but you. Thank you for giving me the grace to forgive those who hurt me; they knew not what they were doing to me. I believe you are the One who can Deliver me; increase my unbelief that the things I struggle with are even real. Help me to un-believe MORE that I am trapped, that I am a victim, that I am a second-rate Christian. Help me to believe more strongly than ever that I am who YOU say I am…redeemed, delivered, healed, the enemy’s worst nightmare, part of a Kingdom of Priests and Kings. Thank you, Father. I love you and I pray this in the mighty Name of Jesus, the Name above every name. Amen!

Every blessing,

Michael Tummillo

Workplace Chaplain

http://www.YourTown4Jesus.com

Startup Law 101 Series – Key Legal Rules For Who Owns the IP Relating to Your Startup

As a founder, you need to understand work-for-hire. Why? Because it determines who owns key IP in your startup.

Copyright laws protect creative works, including IP that you develop. When you develop IP for others, the work-for-hire idea affects who owns it.

How does it work?

Here are some guidelines:

1. You develop IP for your startup as its employee — the IP belongs to your employer. Pretty basic. This is a classic work for hire.

There are gray areas but, if you create IP while doing employment duties for which you are paid, there is no ambiguity. All IP relating to such work automatically belongs to your employer, whether or not you signed any agreement relating to it.

2. You develop IP for your startup as a consultant and are paid for that work, but have no agreement in place relating to the IP rights — it might surprise you to learn that the IP here would belong to you and not to your startup.

Why? Because the default rule under copyright is that the creator of a work owns the copyright unless (a) it is done as a work for hire or (b) it is expressly assigned under a contract to the other party.

Contractor work is a work for hire only if there is a contract identifying it as such and, in addition, the work falls within certain specified categories of types of work that qualify as works made for hire.

No contract, no work for hire.

No contract, no assignment.

Thus, with no contract specifying that it is a work for hire and with no assignment, the default rule kicks in to provide that you own the copyright to the IP you created even if you were paid for your work.

3. You develop IP for your startup as a contractor and are paid and have a work-for-hire agreement that contains no express assignment provisions in it — again, perhaps surprisingly, you still would own that IP if it involved a software development effort.

Why? Because software development does not fall within the specified categories that would allow it to qualify as a work made for hire in the contractor situation.

Thus, to ensure that IP rights to software are transferred from the contractor to the startup, you will routinely find language in work-for-hire agreements that says, in effect, “this is a work made for hire but, just in case it isn’t, the contractor agrees to assign all IP rights anyway.”

4. Which brings us logically to our last case, that of the contractor who develops IP for a startup, gets paid, and does the work under a work-for-hire agreement that characterizes the work as one made for hire and that assigns all IP rights to the startup — in that case, the startup owns the IP rights free and clear and you retain no rights to the IP.

How might these guidelines play out in practice for you as a founder?

We can assume that you would want your startup to own all its IP. What are potential problem situations by which the startup could face claims from founders or others that parts of the company IP belong to them separately, with at best only a license to use it extending to the company?

Let’s look at some cases to see how the guidelines might apply when we strictly consider work-for-hire (for your specific case, see a good business lawyer.

You and your buddies are developing IP for a startup you hope to launch. There is no entity. Ergo, there is no employment relationship and there is no contract between you and any entity (nor, typically, between you and any other person) relating to your development work.

Quick quiz: who owns the IP rights to your work under work-for-hire principles?

Answer: you do.

No employment. No work-for-hire agreement. No assignment. Hence, the default rule applies and the person who created the work keeps all rights to it.

Let’s assume your buddies paid you for your work in the case just cited.

Who owns the IP now under work-for-hire principles?

You would still own it.

The mere fact of payment changes nothing. For the rights to transfer, you need a work made for hire or an IP assignment. Without an agreement providing for either of these, the ownership rights stay put with you as the developer – even if you got paid.

Now let’s take the same case and assume you are a developer working offshore, say in India. You have a software development agreement with a startup in the U.S. specifying that it is governed by U.S. law. That agreement has a statement of work, defines deliverables, a development timetable, and a price. You comply with all this and deliver the work to the startup. The agreement is silent on all other points.

Now who owns the IP under work-for-hire principles?

Yes, that’s right, you, the offshore developer, own it. Payment or no payment, if it is not done as a work for hire, and if the IP rights are not expressly assigned, the startup gets only an implied use license and not ownership of the IP.

Let’s shift a little.

You and your co-founders form your startup. You assign all IP rights into the company. Then, in the spirit of keeping things loose, you continue to work on the IP development after company formation without contracts of any kind and without setting up an employment relationship between the company and its co-founders.

Who owns the IP rights to the post-formation development work?

Yes, the founders do, individually that is. So if one of you bolts, the company may have a problem with its IP or may need to do a workaround.

Why so? No employment relationship. No work-for-hire agreement. No assignment. Default rule kicks in and the rest follows.

Let’s look at one last case, the one where your startup does a work-for-hire development project for a customer.

Your startup has core IP that it uses in all its consulting projects. It contracts with Big Company X to do some custom development work. It signs the customer’s standard form. That form says, “this is a work made for hire and, by the way, if it isn’t, you agree to assign all IP rights relating to the deliverables to the customer.”

Anything wrong with that?

Yes, there is plenty wrong, at least if you don’t want to compromise your startup’s rights to its core IP.

In such cases, the boilerplate language (which seeks to assign to the customer who is paying for it any IP that does not otherwise qualify as a work-for-hire) may have an unintended consequence: it potentially sweeps in, along with what is intended by the parties, the core IP that your startup uses for all its projects.

Oops.

As a founder, you need to be alert to the effect of such language. A simple carve-out solves the problem, assuming you catch it up front.

That wraps up our quick tour of some key legal rules for understanding who owns the IP relating to your startup. There are some obvious lessons here: if you as a founding team are drifting along without your IP rights buttoned down, time to get that situation fixed. Don’t be slack on this. You might have to pay a high price if something goes wrong.

By the way, in all cases, in order for the contract to stick, a work-for-hire agreement or an express assignment needs to be accompanied by some payment of consideration to the person doing the work. This can be cash or stock or anything else of value. Don’t neglect this vital piece.

A final caution: General guidelines will help you spot problem areas but you will need a good business lawyer to help you evaluate them. Gray areas and exceptions to the rules abound. When it comes to your IP, work with a good lawyer to do things right.