Make Amazon’s Customers Your Customers (or Clients?)

That’s the come-on for the latest offering from Amazon.

Some people claim that Jeff Bezos, Amazon’s insatiably driven CEO, is determined to conquer every market segment of the economy, one by one, and to do it by undercutting the existing price structure in that segment. While that’s probably a little overblown, Amazon does seem to offer almost any product you can think of these days at lower-than-market-leader-prices, so I wasn’t really surprised to hear that Amazon recently announced Amazon Payments, their move into the electronic payment processing market, and that they undercut many of their competitors’ prices in the process.

The part of the offering that will be of potential interest to lawyers is Amazon Local Register, a service that allows the processing of Visa, MasterCard, American Express and Discover credit and debit cards via smartphone or tablet, with a current, set flat rate of 1.75% per swipe. They also boast of no monthly fees, no long term contract, no fee for chargebacks, no fee for refunds and no fee for international cards, and will guarantee the swipe rate through December 31 of next year if you sign up by October 31st. The rate is set to move to 2.5% beginning January 1, 2016, which is still below that currently charged by Square or by Intuit for QuickBooks users. The secure card reader needed for Amazon Register is $10, which they say they’ll credit against your first $10 in processing fees.

The bar offers a member benefit for credit/debit card merchant services through LawPay, which we believe is the best bet for lawyers because of features such as the ability to maintain one merchant account while directing charges to either your operating or trust account, as appropriate, and the assurance that neither chargebacks or fees will be processed against your trust account. But I can’t help but wonder whether Amazon’s move into this market will result in downward pressure on the rates all merchant account providers charge over the long run. And that would be good for everyone, lawyers included.

Back to Basics

As a new bar year begins the theme of “back to basics” seems to be coming up over and over. ASB President Rich Raleigh has adopted it as his guiding principle for the upcoming year, and it offers a lot of room for thought and improvement in both the way lawyers practice and in the administration of justice. So I wasn’t entirely surprised when the July/August issue of GPSolo magazine hit my desk this morning touting this same idea. As always, it’s chock full of feature articles and regular columns that go right to the heart of the issues that solos and small firms deal with every day, such as:

There’s even a great article entitled Why Are You Practicing Law in the First Place? on how the authors have incorporated their passions into their practices, and many more. Check it out online today. There are bound to be several good nuggets of wisdom you can put to use in your practice right away!

Boost Your Bottom Line With Document Automation – Free Webinar!

Once upon a time automobiles were individually made by hand. They were beautifully crafted and richly appointed, and only the wealthy could afford them. Then, Henry Ford devised the first assembly line and the Model T became affordable for the masses. Legal services aren’t an exact parallel, but there are lessons to be learned from the comparison.

Law offices moved easily, if somewhat reluctantly, from typewriters to word processors, and the ease with which documents could be created, modified and re-purposed made the work of both legal secretaries and lawyers somewhat quicker and easier. But many legal documents are still much like hand-crafted autos – one of a kind and expensive – even though they don’t have to be. Over the last few years there’s been a quantum leap in how documents can be generated using document automation systems, yet very few law firms are taking advantage of the radical increase in productivity, and profitability, these systems can offer.

If you would like to know more about document automation and how it can improve your life and your bottom line, and start to think about how you could begin to implement more streamlined document generation processes in your law office, you’ll want to take advantage of a free one-hour webinar sponsored by the folks at The Form Tool. Set for Thursday, July 31st at 10:00 a.m. CDT, this program will cover the five steps to elegant document automation, and is designed to help everyone, no matter their level of experience or the tools they are using. Register here.

A Loaf of Bread, a Jug of Milk and an Uncontested Divorce?

What’s on your shopping list? Walmart in Canada is getting into the legal business.

An article in the ABA Journal reported that a handful of Walmart locations in Toronto have begun to offer a limited range of simple legal services through an arrangement with Axess Law, a law firm which focuses on providing standardized commodity legal services, such as powers of attorney, at very low prices and in a non-threatening environment. Examples cited in the article include simple wills for $99 and notarization of documents for $25. The firm expects to add uncontested divorces soon, and the plan is to roll out legal services to the rest of Ontario in the next two years and to other parts of Canada within four years. More complex legal problems that don’t fit within the firm’s business model will be referred to other lawyers.

My first thought was that, while it may cut back on some of the bread and butter work of solo practitioners and small law firms, it could offer the potential to increase access to justice. My second thought, though, is that this simple legal work often subsidizes more complex matters that lawyers perform for less than full price for economically disadvantaged clients. Which brings me to question whether this is truly a step forward for legal consumers or just yet another economic hit for both small firms and less well off clients. Does a law firm contracting to provide legal services through a distribution center such as Walmart have an ethical obligation to provide pro bono services?

One thing is for certain. If you are a solo or small firm and you want to hang on to this type of work you’re going to have to do two things. First, you must streamline your work processes so that you can deliver this type of service at the lowest possible cost. Then, you’re going to have to find a way to differentiate your firm so that clients would prefer to receive such services from you rather than from Walmart, even if your services cost a little more. If you don’t, there are other lawyers out there who will.

How to Handle Heartbleed

I was out of the office last week when the Heartbleed bug burst into the news so, while I’m a little slow getting information posted about it, things seemed to have resolved themselves and I now feel comfortable providing our members with some information and recommendations about how to deal with it.

What is Heartbleed?

Many websites allow users to log in to complete tasks such as viewing and sending web based email, purchasing goods, viewing bank balances, transferring funds, paying bills, or doing legal research or interacting with client information such as calendar items, to-dos or client documents stored in the cloud. In order to keep your information confidential, the websites encrypt it before it’s transferred over the internet, using what’s called a private key. Many of these interactive websites use an open source program called OpenSSL to handle the encryption, and Heartbleed is a flaw in the program that allows an intruder to find the private key and use it to unencrypt the data being transmitted and read it, including usernames, passwords, the contents of email and financial data.

A real world analogy would be that you hid a key to your house in the potted plant next to the front door, but you left it so exposed that anyone coming up on the porch and looking into the plant could see it, take it, and gain access to your house if they wanted to. And like in this real world example, you’d never know that someone had used the key to come into your house unless you caught them inside.

There is no way to be sure at this point whether someone has or has not intercepted your data transmissions while you interacted with a site that uses the software with the flaw.

Does Heartbleed affect me?

If you use interactive websites that allow you to log on to engage in secure transactions, it’s likely that at least some of those websites used the software with the flaw. In addition, some other devices such as internet routers and telephones that use VoIP (voice over internet protocol) rather than the phone company’s copper wires, may also be affected.

The Alabama State Bar’s site uses an older version of OpenSSL, which did not contain the flaw.  Thus, none of our users were affected when logging in to our site.

Major sites that were affected include Google and Gmail, Yahoo and Yahoo Mail, Dropbox, Box, Instagram, Pinterest, Tumblr, Etsy, Flickr, Minecraft, Netflix, SoundCloud and YouTube. It appears that Facebook and Pandora may also have been affected. Although Amazon’s sales website was not affected, Amazon Web Services was, meaning that any website operator who uses this hosting service to provide its website has vulnerable users, too. The major banking sites don’t appear to have been affected, but USAA’s site was.  You can find a list of possibly affected sites here. To determine whether other websites that you log into are affected, try the Heartbleed Checker provided by LastPass.

What should I do now to protect myself?

Because Heartbleed is not a virus that infects your computer but a flaw in the software used to operate a website that you can interact with over the internet, you will need to change your password for every affected website, but you should first make sure that the operator of the website has fixed the flaw in their version of OpenSSL and also renewed the security keys and issued a new SSL certificate. As long as the website still relies on an unpatched version of OpenSSL for encryption or hasn’t renewed the security certificate after patching, the data you are transmitting remains vulnerable and changing your password won’t help.  In fact, doing so will expose the current and new password.

The LastPass checker linked to above should give you both an assessment of whether the site was affected and the date the most recent security certificate was issued. If it doesn’t, IT World writer Melanie Pinola has a good article on when to change your passwords and has also posted a spreadsheet listing all the sites she has checked, the date she checked them and her recommendation of whether it’s time to change passwords.

If you use the Google Chrome browser, there is an extension called Chromebleed which, once installed, will alert you if you navigate to a site that is affected and has not been patched, but this can give you a false negative because it won’t tell you whether the security certificate has been reissued.

5 Steps to Easy(ier) Legal Accounting

The Legal Technology Resource Center, a part of the ABA Law Practice Division, is now facilitating free webinars to help lawyers with practice management issues, and the next one, 5 Steps to Easy(ier) Legal Accounting is Tuesday, April 8th, from 1:00 to 1:30 p.m. (CDT).

Sponsored by Clio, the cloud-based practice management system which is an Alabama State Bar Member benefit, this session will cover the basics of accounting, how legal accounting differs from accounting for other businesses, and how to select and integrate the best accounting tools for your practice.

You don’t have to be an ABA or Law Practice Division member to take advantage of this short, non-CLE credit program which may help you move forward with improvements to legal accounting in your practice or firm. Sign up now.

Check Out PacerPro – It’s Free!

Lawyers who practice in the federal court system have long grumbled that the PACER system is clunky and hard to use. One lawyer, Gavin McGrane, was so disgruntled that he decided to invent a better mousetrap and, thus, in 2012 PacerPro, a $25 per month service that provided a more workable web interface for the PACER system, was born.

Beginning in January of this year, PacerPro became a free service and, since no one should look a gift-horse in the mouth, if you practice in federal court you may want to check it out. According to the FAQ on the site, it costs nothing to register to use PacerPro’s basic services, which include simultaneous searches across multiple district courts in real time, one-click downloads, bookmarking of cases and more; however, you do have to have a PACER account and regular PACER charges apply.

Free PacerPro basic service is likely designed to get you hooked on additional paid services in the future but if it’s half as good as it sounds like it is, it’s probably worth a try.

Hat tip to former ASB President Alyce Spruell for suggesting this post.

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