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Getting unstuck

Links from this article:
Clausehound.com
MaRS GrowCamp

Do you sometimes feel like your job is repetitively getting more boring?  In my years of working in big business, the snails pace of decision-making combined with rigidity around roles and responsibilities were difficult to bear.  If you feel the same way now, here’s a suggestion:  don’t quit your job and remortgage your house to start a business (just yet) – there might be some opportunities for you inside your company.  I’ve written down a few ideas on how to get “unstuck”.

Look for signs of life.  Check to see if there is an opportunity to learn and grow at your organization.  If your role is too rigid and has no room for creativity – you’re in quicksand!  Scream (to your recruiter, friends and mentors) for help!

Look for your champions.  Keep your eyes open for the fast risers and company superstars.  These are the people who get the most fun projects.  If there’s no-one like that to be found, try looking for a super-star mentor outside of your organization.

Make friends with the nice people.  Make sure the “champions” that you are following are nice people.  Nice people will help nurture you and want you to succeed.  The not-nice people will take advantage.

Get good at your job.  Get good, better, faster, more efficient and even “work yourself out of your job”.  That will give you time to discover new opportunities. If you’re good, your friends and colleagues will want to help you rise, and your good reputation will precede you and follow you.

Be curious.  “You get out of it what you put into it” is true for so many things. The volunteer work, and pro bono projects, will pay off in other ways. (Knowledge?  New Experiences? More responsibility?  Non-boring day?).  Serendipity!

Share your stuff.  Staying beneath the radar is my default setting, but over time I’ve worked hard at showcasing the good work that I’m proud of.  That’s led to unexpected opportunities.

Be patient.  One of our senior roles at my company was recently filled by someone who we met almost a year ago with a software show-and-tell, and for whom the timing and circumstances have only just aligned.

And…Never lose your optimism. Enthusiasm is contagious.

How I got unstuck in a big organization

Several weeks ago I reconnected with my mentor from my first corporate job at Bell Mobility (in the early days of their up and coming cellular business).  This brought back memories of a special project I had been invited to work on, which was to travel to the U.S. for the purpose of buying “spectrum licenses” at auction. I was in my early twenties at the time, and my mentor who became my boss on this project wanted a “techie” on the team.   It was fun!  I developed cool software, flew business class then (though never again), and made presentations to high-ranking people at the company (a completely new experience for me). I even got to talk company “strategy”, and to be entrepreneurial inside of a large organization.

The timing of this was great – I was starting to wither away in my regular day-to-day role and really needed a change.  When I think back to how that opportunity came about, it was a combination of working quickly through my regular job, sharing and talking openly around the office about the kind of work I liked to do, being open to new opportunities, and a bit of lucky timing!

 

Still stuck?  When is it time to call it quits.

 

As it turns out, one of the road hazards for you (and your employer) is that once you have a taste of creative, interesting, fast-paced projects, it might be hard for you to return to your slow and steady role.  I left Bell after the spectrum auction concluded. When I spoke to my mentor recently, he expressed disappointment that I didn’t stay on for the next round of the spectrum license project.  It wasn’t an option that I knew existed at that time, but even if I had known, I didn’t have the patience to wait for it.  However, calling it quits is not my advice for everyone.  Over time, I’ve found that it is a rare creature who sticks his or her head out from normal everyday work to look for new opportunities.  This article is not written for folks who want to “play it safe”.

But … if you think you are one of these rare creatures, it is my hope that this article will provide you with some optimism, and will help to guide you towards similar people and new opportunities.

Getting stuck can happen at startups too

I’m now responsible for building and growing my beloved Clausehound.com,  which is now in a growth-stage. I’ve also come to realize that “getting stuck” isn’t just a big organization thing – a startup can also get bogged down in details.

Taking my own advice from this article, I’m trying to become super-efficient to free up time so I can seek out new opportunities.  So I’m doing everything in batch – like only sending emails in the mornings, or only holding customer meetings later in the afternoon.

I am staying curious and continue to explore, and, to that end, I’m presently participating in MaRS GrowCamp which has been a fantastic immersion into other people’s businesses and growth challenges – prompting me to think analogously about how to solve our own problems. While I’m not trying to “get unstuck” from a particular rut, I’m finding that the core tactics provided in this article are now effective in a different way – they keep me flexible and agile in the way that I think and look at our business.

And to serve as a reminder to me that rigidity is the death of creativity.

 

– – –

Rajah is the Founder and CEO of Clausehound.com — a $10 per month DIY Legal Library containing tens of thousands of legal clauses, contracts, articles, lawyer commentary and instructional videos. Find Clausehound.com where you see this logo.

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Be it resolved

Be it resolved that I will go with the flow.

Be it resolved that I will not walk around all year with red, exhausted eyes. I will energize with ‎higher quality fuel (goodbye holiday treats..you were so good to me), take a full night’s sleep, reserve mind space for non-work related stuff, restrict myself to half-pint work events (so easy to slip into the second beer), and I will have a sales & travel workout plan.

Be it resolved that I will work smarter. I will stop using my commuting time to draft documents, instead, I’ll plan how to delegate and share the load with our talented team. I will ask for help.‎   I will visualize the daily lumps and bumps and will try to design the day in my mind, before arriving at work.

Be it resolved that I will let myself be open to the chaos.

I will shut my laptop hours before bed. I’ll put aside thoughts of investors and daily active users, and will just “hang”. I have the privilege of meeting new people every day on the road in my job. I will make new friends and will hang out with old friends. I will go with the flow.

Be it resolved that 2017 will be the breakthrough year for my beloved Clausehound.

Here we go!

 

– – –

Rajah is the Founder and CEO of Clausehound.com — a $10 per month DIY Legal Library containing tens of thousands of legal clauses, contracts, articles, lawyer commentary and instructional videos. Find Clausehound.com where you see this logo.

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My Journey into Social Consciousness

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metamotivation

Part One:  Feeling Shaky

We took our eye off the ball. I’m writing, of course, about the current political turmoil south of the Canadian border in the United States and its ripple effect felt around the world. Turning away from my company-building activities and website analytics for a moment, I think to myself, how did we end up here?

I know how I personally ended up here. I was, and possibly still am, socially unconscious.  For me, things are pretty comfortable. I like my job. I got married. I went away to university, got hired, started a business. After work I go to the gym, go out for dinner, see my friends. As a Canadian, I take social security for granted. I’m safe, nourished, and healthy.

But…In just the blink of an eye I’ve started to feel uncomfortable as a result of political processes south of the border. My sense of equilibrium was lost as the ground underneath me felt unstable, rocked by the quakes of an unhealthy malnourished society.  

I tried to process and to work this out. What if we nourished our society with the same effort as we give to nourishing the self? What would that nourishment look like? Citizens with diverse problems that talk to each other? Folks, like me, not staring at my desk but getting out there and working on societal issues with the same vigor as I do at my job?

Why haven’t we done that so far? After some introspection, I’ve decided that this was what was true for me – neglecting the bigger picture is a function of how much money I have in the bank. Yes, I said it, money. It almost feels to me like I’m opening myself up to scorn from myself and from others by admitting that for me, money has been a source of comfort, and lack of funds has been a source of discomfort. Money is not the motivation, it’s not the goal, but it’s so so often the means. Money means I can hire more people, afford the gym, go out to the movies with my friends. If I think of my life as one turn on a 24-hour clock, then a lot of my time is already up, and I’ve spent most of it getting fit, getting educated, and earning a living. Yes, I’m a regular volunteer, but I’m mainly trying to get to a state of personal stability, by earning money.

It is this personal feeling of stability and the right amount of personal safety/ security/ belonging which has led me to the right timing and temperament (described as “metamotivation” by Abe Maslow), to turn my lens towards my social contribution. But is it too late now? In my opinion, there’s no “right” amount of time or minimum time requirement for an individual to spend thinking about societal issues. My thesis of this article is that it is our struggle to get to this headspace that results in fragmented, disjoined, unsynchronized efforts, and our cyclical societal problems.

So then, how can I/we get from individual-thinking and into a social consciousness?

wakeup

Part Two:  Waking up

What if we formally changed our reward system in all aspects of our life? If money is distracting us from finding social stability, could we possibly redirect money and reimagine our reward system?

What if individuals choosing social impact careers were the highest paid and most rewarded members of society? The same structural system that puts us to sleep socially could awaken our best and brightest minds towards community contribution.

We could reward our students for an emphasis and achievements in social studies. We could reward our businesses with tax incentives designed to support employee social activities.

Immediately we could and should reward our employees for social activities and initiatives.  Google offers its employees 20% of work time or one day per week to work on anything that helps Google. Wow! That’s the same as offering fifty two additional vacation days. For companies that want to participate, but don’t have a Google-sized bank balance, what about government tax incentives or government/foundation funding matches for employee bonus days (or weeks) off to support social impact activities? Or company encouraged/sponsored breakfast activities before the work day? Or company-organization/participation in weekend social impact hackathons?

I’m sure that there already are structural frameworks, best practices and supporting organizations and I’ll need to do my research to find out more. If we are going to change the reward system, we must reward most highly the people and organizations who develop, facilitate and organize social impact activities with tireless commitment.

Whatever my next steps are, I can definitely start now even if I start small. I’m “meta- motivated” to write about this topic, but it took me a long time to get here. There will always be thinkers whose polarizing views are shunned by the majority. When we decide to let them into our mainstream thinking, it means that we, the mainstream, missed something important.

I’m starting to wake up from social unconsciousness.

Rajah Lehal

– CEO, Clausehound Inc.

 

– – –

Rajah is the Founder and CEO of Clausehound.com — a $10 per month DIY Legal Library containing tens of thousands of legal clauses, contracts, articles, lawyer commentary and instructional videos. Find Clausehound.com where you see this logo.

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From briefcase and shiny shoes to backpack and sneakers

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Spadina Bus

Some say you don’t become an entrepreneur – you’re born an entrepreneur, but I certainly didn’t start my career as one.  After a dozen years climbing the monkey bars of large organizations, I traded my corporate attire for an irregular paycheck, uncertainty, doubt and worry.  This week I was asked to speak to a class of students on my journey in starting a new business and so I sat back and thought about the steps that I took that brought me here.

Step One:  Get  bored.  Or get Crushed.  Either way – get creative.

Back when I worked in technology management (my first career), after a while my job became a well oiled “system”, leaving me with plenty of after-work time to think about other stuff.  I was bored.   Fast forward 10 years and I was in career number two.  Working for a large law firm resulted in the opposite problem – getting crushed with work left me with no free time, and that was stifling to my creativity.  In both cases, I started to gravitate to the creative and people-aspects of my job – idea generation, sales, negotiating, pitching new business.  I started to ask myself (and annoyingly and persistently asked my work friends) if I was more suited to doing something else – something non-traditional.  But I had already declared to the world that I was a people manager, and then a lawyer – so to take a left turn into the unknown world of startup was worrisome, and filled me with a lot of existential and personal credibility questions.

Step Two:  Sniff around for Inspiration.   No boss + no rules = no paycheque, which is why it’s daunting to jump into entrepreneurship when working for someone else is all that you know.  As an outsider looking in at the dot com people (in my early technology days), it all looked so sexy.  I attended tech events to learn as much as I could, and even volunteered in the late nineties for the dot com boom Toronto tech education event company Spadina Bus.  When I returned to school for my MBA I hung out with the former entrepreneurs (soon to be serial entrepreneurs) who were in my class.  I continued to volunteer, co-running the MBA student organization Entrepreneurs@Ivey.  This gave me a chance to meet more folks who were “out there”, “trying things”.  I think I was still fearful about making the jump but it was starting to become more “accessible”.

Step Three:  Get Impatient and Start Small

The initial idea for Clausehound formed months – maybe a year – before I launched.   Tired of waiting for our first version of Clausehound to go live as a result of software development delays, I scrapped our initial version, rolled up my sleeves, and pushed version 1.0 of Clausehound to the web by myself:

It was far from perfect, but six months later we saw 400% increase in web traffic from month one and I knew I was on to something.  This was an early lesson for me: to get impatient, get over the fear of looking silly, and to just get started.

hand full of money and holding a green plant

Step Four:   Save money

Diving into my venture was a hard decision, but doing so without money in the bank would have been impossible.   I needed a “runway” – the ability to survive without making any money.   For many people that runway can come from savings, friends and family, a co-founder who continues working at their job while you’re out building and hustling, or possibly an investor (although in my experience investors typically arrive after you’ve proven out some early elements of your business launch).  I started my venture with a tight personal and work budget that gave me a runway of 3 years before bankruptcy.  Of course that changed really quickly once I started hiring my team.

Step Five: Don’t Give Up (and Get Really Lucky).

Once you get started, It’s easy to fail, and running out of money is certainly a roadblock to success.

 “Sticking with it” – a stubborn, sometimes foolish determination to not fail, is harder than it sounds, but if it’s one of your qualities then buckle up and get ready – starting a business will throw you into a world of uncertainty.  I’ve had a few brushes with entrepreneur non-existence and have bounced back more than once as a result of finding a customer in a moment of need, which has a lot to do with good karma and staying positive and optimistic (a.k.a getting really lucky).

Step Six:   Build a support structure.  You answer to nobody as an entrepreneur – and in most cases that’s not going to work for you.  From school days, aren’t we’re all used to receiving assignments, meeting deadlines, and getting measured?  Remove that structure and you might find that the lack of accountability will turn an activity that should take a week into a month long saga (can any PHD thesis writers out there relate to this?).  Early on I organized a board to whom I had outside accountability.  When I had zero clients they held me to task on my go-to-market strategy.  We held monthly board meetings and I took very seriously the presentation of my business plan and board updates.  This was a somewhat artificial reporting structure as it was self-created, but it was important and worthwhile to keep the business on track.  A support structure can also be friends, spouses, anyone who can give you perspective on your ideas and the way that you present them.  I’m still getting by with a lot of help from my friends:  this month I called a friend and walked him through my investor pitch on a one hour call and was thankful for the feedback.

value

Step Seven:  Believe in the value that you’re creating.  Building a new product in the highly competitive market of legal services in North America would be impossible without a commitment to value creation.   The first version of Clausehound went live exactly four years ago this past Friday.  Four years later our 4.0 version has just been “committed to live”.  Getting here took a lot of faith, and for many months the “fuel” was hearing positive feedback from entrepreneurs or lawyers who told us in passing that they had bookmarked our site.  Persistence in creating value has led us to customers, and continued persistence has led us to customer referrals.

It wasn’t easy become an entrepreneur and still isn’t.   My pathway to entrepreneurship can be traced to a series of steps (and missteps), a few of which I have listed here, and many more to come I’m sure.

Rajah Lehal
–CEO, Clausehound Inc.

 

– – –

Rajah is the Founder and CEO of Clausehound.com — a $10 per month DIY Legal Library containing tens of thousands of legal clauses, contracts, articles, lawyer commentary and instructional videos. Find Clausehound.com where you see this logo.

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Trends on the Horizon: Five Drivers Transforming the Legal Industry

There has been a lot written up about changes to the legal industry. As a start-up lawyer, upstart small law firm founder, and legal tech CEO, I have often thought about, argued, discussed, observed and speculated about legal industry shifts (albeit quietly, and to myself). In response to the question “What are some interesting ways the future of the legal industry is trending” I thought I would “pen” some perspective from my lens watching this unfold and to that end, I’ve selected five ideas to share:

1. Demise of the suit
Not the lawsuit, the business suit! Lawyers will no longer wear suits, they will wear pyjamas. The virtual lawyer (working from home or within a freelance/co-working work environment) will be an occupation for many young lawyers due to the scarcity of jobs. Studies indicate that the herd of solo practitioners (especially in rural jurisdictions) is thinning out for a variety of reasons, and this gap will be filled by long-distance professional service relationships, and, quite often, from lawyers working in virtual law firms. Within firms, not all lawyers will go into the office every day; rather, a core team of lawyers will manage ordinary course legal matters (and I would argue that this is necessary as many legal activities require a team that sits in close proximity looking at each other’s screens and meeting both clients and one another), and specialists will “dial/skype/zoom” in to work on finite matters.6crAepdcK

2. Less negotiating, more transparency
Online document providers, especially renowned incubator programs such as Y-Combinator
(SAFE Note, for example) will share what they consider to be standard documentation. Early-stage companies will likely enter into these agreements with very little negotiation on the basis that they are standard — to which I would recommend, read carefully, and make sure the documents are not standardizing a situation that requires some customization! Because of the standard nature of these documents, blogs and explanation posts will allow entrepreneurs to self-educate. Lawyers who educate themselves on these standard documents will be able to provide hourly services to review. This affects the law firm’s sales activities as well – where legal services were most commonly a word-of-mouth purchase because of the “trust” element of the sale, it’s likely that showcasing knowledge online and providing easy online consultation or payment options will become the more important channel for lead generation. If you take a look online at many “traditional” lawyer websites, you will see ugly sites overstuffed with information and poor font and colour choices. Important activities in law will become social media marketing and tech related jobs including software development. As a result of standardizing contracts, a future benefit will be transparency on “market standards” on clause negotiation and term selection, which will streamline the negotiation process.

3. Blockchain
This brings me to blockchain which has been talked about as a contract-drafting alternative because of the immutable proof that it provides that a contract has been entered into. blockchain’s “ledger-based” recording qualities would allow for pop-up registries that contain (depending on the nature of the contract) a record of completed contracts, possibly a ledger of future amounts owing from a variety of counterparties, and/or liens registered against assets recorded in that ledger. While not displacing existing registries, where a register does not exist, one could pop up quickly and organically. (In a far-fetched yet close-to-home example, imagine loaning money to your friends using a blockchain-based app, but checking first to see if they had existing loans with other friends on a central ledger).

Beyond just creating a registry, from an analytics perspective, blockchain contracts would have multi-unary selected deal terms which, if made available for analysis, would allow: (a) lawyers and contracting counterparties to understand trends in legal term negotiation in a way other than the lawyers stating that “this is standard, I have never seen these deal negotiated any other way”; (b) the company CFO or CSO may use these types of analytics to understand the financial implications of adjusting commercial contract terms such as payment terms; and (c) lenders, economists, and so on can make decisions based on trends in deal points (location and liquidity of capital, understanding of leverage, etc.).

 

Tallbuildings-1

 

4.

Biglaw is coming downstairs
Physically and metaphorically, large law firms are coming down to earth. Formerly occupying the highest floors of downtown office towers, large law firms are now relocating to lower floors. Private offices are being replaced with the “open plan”. High billable rates precluding low-value startup/small business work is being replaced with “inshoring” (pioneered by firms such as DLA Piper and Riverview Law) – by sending work to a differently branded subsidiary law practice that provides limited scope fixed-fee services, and in some cases free services. The shift to entrepreneurship principles is creating a temporary churn of small business clients from small firm to large law firm (or their subsidiary firm) – I say temporary because the overheads, no matter how far reduced, cannot compete with “pyjama law” – however, small firms should not rest easy, and should look for opportunities to further reduce costs and onboard staff efficiently. Some legal purchasers will be attracted by the larger brand name, others will select service providers based on the level of service provided and cost.

5. Specialists will demand high prices
Machine Learning and/or AI software tools (like Blue J Legal for tax) will, for certain practice areas and based on the pricing and effectiveness, either make it easier for generalist firms to enter the market and to become educated on difficult topics, or, if the pricing is set too high, will create another barrier to entry behind which subject matter experts will be able to work even faster than before. For generalists, pricing is becoming increasingly competitive, overhead costs are being reduced (recall:pyjamas – not suits), and with transparent (posted) pricing being offered by many firms, this could end up being a race to the bottom for the generalists. Stay in school, kids, specialize! The squeeze-down on prices will also require firms to rely heavily on paralegals, law clerks and, as noted above, technology. As a consequence, technology jobs will start to be some of the most important jobs within a law practice.

This works both way – where technology tools are priced-right, this will enable generalist firms to go “upstairs”, and take sophisticated work away from the large law firms or specialist incumbents. Large organizations are already now accustomed to working with boutique and virtual law firms, so long as there is a pedigreed lawyer or team in the mix. This isn’t helpful for lawyers who never had the opportunity to work at a top firm. Yet, don’t give up hope young lawyers! Virtual law firms will be a pathway to doing really good and sophisticated work if you can prove yourselves. Boutique firms can successfully compete with access to a supportive team and a solid base of legal precedents and learning materials. Once a lawyer has the confidence to draft their own documents, easy access to legal information and DIY drafting guides such as my beloved Clausehound.com will accelerate lawyers to a basic level of general knowledge on many solicitor topics.

Rajah Lehal
-CEO, Clausehound Inc.

 

– – –

Rajah is the Founder and CEO of Clausehound.com — a $10 per month DIY Legal Library containing tens of thousands of legal clauses, contracts, articles, lawyer commentary and instructional videos. Find Clausehound.com where you see this logo.

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Journey Out of Net Neutrality

I took a journey into the internet see-saw and tried to journey back to a neutral place.

 

beyond-1087922_1280

 

For days, months or years, I have heard the term “net neutrality”, and, with very little effort, managed to give this very little thought, before now.  To have the full resources of the internet open to all seems like a given but the true state of affairs are quite different. Connected events are making this topic impossible to ignore.

 

Event: Mr. Donald Trump has decimated his rivals on the way to becoming the voice of the Republicans on the basis of fear-mongering and polarization.

 

But I’m sure that the voice of opposition will give me a non-polarizing view point, I thought to myself.

 

Event: Mrs. Hillary Clinton’s twitter opposition to The Donald wasn’t at all what I expected.  On the day that Ted Cruz bowed out, I expected Ms. Clinton’s twitter feed to espouse positive news about America and smart Democratic plans to keep America…great.  What I found instead was that 6 out of 7 posts were about the dirty tactics of her opponent Mr. Trump and the 7th post was for fundraising.

 

Dirty Tactics

 

Oh okay…But I’m sometimes lazy and like to learn politics from the opinions of informed  friends…surely if look around the room, there’s moderate voices that are being listened to by the moderate.  

 

Event:  I recently spent time in Munich drinking beer with (among others) a Pittsburg USA teenager who kept trying to stump me, and me trying to stump him, with a horrifying back-and-forth on nasty U.S. 2016 campaign political stories. ”Yes, I read that. Did you see this?…Yes I saw that. How about this?” Neither I nor him could stump the other because (embarrassingly) we both had read all of our news from the same source:  “f”.

 

Drinking Friends

 

Hmm.  If we’re reading the same news, and it’s always “extremist” in nature…then we are rewarding non-balanced thinking with our clicks and comments.

 

Also disturbing, “f” is sending me and my new friend the same posts even though our demographic, age, religious views, and geographic location are skewed.

 

Impatience is the commonality.

 

Event: Later that week, I watched a net video of a momma elephant block traffic on a highway after which her family – two baby elephants and the daddy – lumber across and disappear safely into the foliage. Loving this, I save the link and watch it with my wife a few minutes later.

 

The chase/race for clicks has made the fast consumption of online bullying, outing, shaming, tenderness, affection, and hope sensational.  The pace of consumption is fast and the flood of information is faster.  Clicks drives both sales and media and we, the impatient consumers of information, are foregoing carefully researched news for shoot-at-the hip journalism from untrusted media sources.

 

 

Where do we look for unbiased news? Established media sources, surely. I started digging and found that BBC was accused of bias in a recent poll, the results of which uncovered that, while more people consider the BBC an accurate and trustworthy source of TV news than any other channel in the UK, less than half of those polled regarded BBC to be “impartial and unbiased”.

 

Balanced or not, biased or not, I wonder to myself whether I have the patience to read a long article. I’m often clipping Medium and New York Times posts to read on my next flight, or on a rainy day…but, when it comes down to it, I tend to do my most focused work on flights and, on rainy days, I watch Netflix. Net neutrality is being rejected by ourselves in our thirst for fast information and rejection of carefully researched long-form articles.

 

Scrutinizing

 

Appreciating the irony that this blog is appearing on the Clausehound.com blog, which is a commercial site,  I’m happy to announce that our Clausehound team is starting to explore whether our site’s “document bursting” technology can further neutrality through political transparency and, to this end, a small team has commenced the development of Beacon, a legislation analysis tool.

 

Whether it’s WIki Leaks or otherwise, I am on the hunt for “slow eating” and balanced journalism.  Please write to me with your suggestions on how to “push” balanced viewpoints to the mainstream.

 

Rajah Lehal

–CEO, Clausehound Inc.

 

– – –

Rajah is the Founder and CEO of Clausehound.com — a $10 per month DIY Legal Library containing tens of thousands of legal clauses, contracts, articles, lawyer commentary and instructional videos. Find Clausehound.com where you see this logo.

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