Blog: Lawrence Almeda


Lawrence G. (L.G.) Almeda is a shareholder at Brinks Hofer Gilson & Lione (founded in 1917), one of the nation's largest Intellectual Property law firms. L.G. chairs the firm’s Nanotechnology Practice Group. He focuses his practice on patent opinions and prosecution in the medical, chemical, nanotechnology and mechanical arts. Particularly, his practice has an emphasis on patent protection on medical devices, nanomaterials, micro- and nano-devices, chemical processes, polymers, fuel cells, and hybrid engines. Mr. Almeda also has significant experience in counseling clients on patent infringement and validity evaluations.

Mr. Almeda is a Director at Large of the Washtenaw County Bar Association where has served as chair to both its Intellectual Property Law and Business Law sections. He is also the past President of the Michigan Asian Pacific American Bar Association.

L.G. is a 2007 graduate of Leadership Detroit, a regional leadership program sponsored by the Detroit Regional Chamber Foundation. He is a member of the Governor's Advisory Council on Asian Pacific American Affairs and has recently been appointed to the United States Commission on Civil Rights, State Advisory Committee.

Mr. Almeda received his LL.M. in Intellectual Property from The John Marshall Law School, his J.D. from the University of Detroit Mercy Law School, where he was a published member of the Law Review, and his B.S. in Chemical Engineering from Purdue University.
Lawrence Almeda - Most Recent Posts:

Lawrence Almeda - Post 3: Enhance Your Client Service Practices

Client service is an intangible parameter that can yield extremely favorable results involving client relationships. Finding ways to enhanced client relationships can affect your bottom line. Thus, in addition to providing a premium work product, it would behoove service providers to focus on ways to add value by providing enhanced client services, especially during these economic times.

First and foremost, you must provide high quality work. If this is not part of your practice, nothing else will have an impact. The last thing a client wants is a service provider who cannot produce a high quality work product.

So the question becomes: "How can I enhance client service?" I have provided intellectual property counseling for many years and am still discovering different ways to enhance client service and satisfaction. Here are some suggestions.

Be responsive. My first suggestion is a well-known practice, but must be restated again and again: Be highly responsive, even if it's not for work to be performed, but rather an inquiry about the status of a matter. Your clients will appreciate the fact that you showed attentiveness and interest in their requests.

This is not to say to drop everything that you are doing at that immediate moment. However, don't wait too long to respond to an e-mail or a phone call from a client or prospective client. If the matter is time sensitive and you are unresponsive, some clients will move on to the next person on their list to discuss the work to be completed. In many situations, they (consciously or unconsciously) strive for the feeling of progress by merely having the project assigned. And if it takes you more than 24 hours to respond to a communication (this is not preferred), you need to acknowledge the delay and explain what the hold-up was, e.g., you were out of the office, on a client assignment or handling a time sensitive matter. It is important to assure them that you are concerned with their matter. This implies that you were not being unresponsive without cause, and it also shows a sense of respect and appreciation for their business.

Find ways to make your clients' lives easier. Be creative. Your clients undoubtedly receive a vast amount of e-mails, phone calls, and faxes every day. Make their lives easier by being crystal clear and simple, spelling-out each task that you need them to perform. For example, when presenting a document for their review, where applicable:

  • E-mail pre-screened background material to the client. The pre-screened background material is a filtered-down version of the voluminous information that you could have otherwise sent to them. The pre-screened material should be only a reasonable number of pages (use your best judgment) to adequately bring them up to speed on a matter.
  • Have handy a ready-to-send comprehensive version of the filtered-down version in the event it is subsequently needed. Inform them that the comprehensive version is available.
  • Provide a brief summary. In the e-mail message that attaches the pre-screened material and document for review, provide a brief summary of what you need the client to review, stating it within the first couple sentences.
  • In situations where a content-packed e-mail is unavoidable, give the client a "heads-up" via phone call to simply inform him that such a communication is on its way and that it is high in content, but necessary for an adequate review of the document.

Provide a layman's translation with your advice. When delivering suggestions, advice or opinions during a client meeting, state your advice in industry terms and then follow through with a simplified layman's version. This will be much appreciated, especially by those who do not have experience in your field of practice.

Follow-up and follow-up. It can't be stressed enough: Keep your main client contact in the loop at all times. These days with speed of e-mail, keeping your clients in the loop is very easy to do consistently. But believe it or not, many clients still complain that their former service providers were lacking in this area. Even when there is no news to report, use a quick status update as a way to keep the lines of communication open by letting them know there is no news to report. They will appreciate the fact that you are checking in. This will show that you have them on your mind, are thoughtful and are still working on the project. It will again show your respect and appreciation for their business and assure them that you have their best interests at heart.

Make your client look great. Know their business. As a service provider, one aspect of your job should be to help your client look impressive, particularly your point person. Your point person ultimately has a boss who will be evaluating her job performance. Find out what affects their performance evaluation, and find ways to help them improve performance in those areas. This task coincides with your goal of providing a high quality work product. For example, if your point person is a business manager of the client, help him look outstanding in front of his vice president. If the VP is your point person, then make her impressive before her CEO, president, etc.

In summary, the bottom line is that you need to know and understand your client's business model, seek ways to add value to your relationship, be highly responsive to time sensitive matters assigned to your point person, provide practical suggestions that are consistent with their business model, be clear and concise with your advice, and provide detailed options with a simplified breakdown of steps.

These are merely some suggestions which should be taken on a case-by-case basis. However, a strong focus on providing enhanced client services will certainly enhance your relationships with clients and can ultimately affect your bottom line.

 


Lawrence Almeda - Post 2: More Work to be Done

This is America. Like many, I have kids. I have three young active curious boys and one baby girl literally a few days old. I want UNLIMITED opportunities for my children. I want their goals to be reachable so long as they work hard. I want their dreams to become a reality—The American Way.

When my parents immigrated to the U.S., their decision was mostly about economics to make a better life for their family in the new world. Today, I also want to make a better life for my family, but I'm not just concerned about economics; Asian American issues today are a little more complex.

For example, with their acclaimed work ethic, Asian Americans apparently have less issues about being employed with decent jobs. However, have you heard of the bamboo ceiling for many Asian Americans? How many Asian American corporate managers/supervisors are you aware of? Better yet, how many CEOs or members of corporate boards are Asian American? How many Asian American (Article III) federal judges do we have in Michigan?

Zero.

How many Asian American federal judges are there across the nation? Nine out of more than eight hundred. I'll say it again. There are 9 out of 807 federal judges with Asian American decent. Most of them are in California and Hawaii.

Locally, how many Asian American Oakland County circuit judges—state judges—are there? As of October 2007, the first Asian American was sworn-in to the Oakland County Circuit Court. People say "This is great progress!" I say, "It's about time." Some call this discrimination, but I call it a lack of cultural awareness from both sides.

From the Asian American side, I believe it's a lack of understanding of what it takes in America to influence others. And influence leads to change. Asian American immigrant parents teach their kids an excellent work ethic, e.g., work hard, do a good job, be on time, follow the rules -- all of which are recipes for success wherever you go. But many also teach them to be quiet, be humble, don't speak up, avoid confrontations, keep a low profile -- all of which are recipes for success in Asia.

However, as we all know, components for success in America are almost direct opposites. From the mainstream, as mentioned, I believe it's a lack of Asian culture awareness, along with overlooking the potential and strength that Asian Americans have.

Today, I promote ethnic and cultural awareness through a number of organizations in which I actively participate. As a shameless plug for them, some organizations in which I serve include the Governor's Advisory Council on Asian Pacific American Affairs --a bi-partisan group of appointed Asian Americans in Michigan who serve to advise the Governor on issues that impact the Asian American community; American Citizens for Justice (AKA Asian American Center for Justice)--a Michigan-based Asian Pacific American civil rights group that was initially formed in 1983 out of reaction to the 1982 racially-motivated fatal beating of Detroit Chinese-American Vincent Chin; and the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, State Advisory Committee—a group of federally appointed members who serve to assist the Commission with its fact-finding, investigative and information disseminating functions.

I encourage Asian Americans to retain and embrace their Asian identity, and not just assimilate. Most immigrant parents were concerned with establishing themselves in the new world and literally putting food on the table, so it is understandable that Asian cultural awareness may not have been emphasized in my household or in the 60's and 70's or even the 80's for that matter. Today, though, I have no excuse not to help promote Asian cultural awareness in the United States.

And it is needed today. My first grade teacher was innocently not aware of many other cultures other than mainstream American cultures. That was 30 years ago, but believe it or not, there is still a lot of awareness needed in our communities today.

Not long ago, my friend Jack—a Chinese American—was approached by a Caucasian male who innocently asked Jack whether the Chinese language was the same as Japanese or Korean languages. Before this happened, I could think of no person who may have considered this. There are many people today who could use cultural awareness, perhaps not to this magnitude, but nevertheless would greatly benefit from cultural education.

Today, there are strong incentives to learn more about Asian countries and cultures. As Asian companies continue to grow and maintain businesses in the United States, I take advantage of this wave of opportunity and advocate yet another reason to spread cultural awareness.

Lawrence Almeda - Post 1: A Defining Experience

From migrating to the U.S. in the eighteen hundreds, to working in the California gold mines, to graduating from the nation’s best schools, to living the dreams of their immigrant ancestors, Asian Americans have come a long way. But there is more progress to be done.

I'd like to take you back about 30 years to the mid 1970’s and my first grade class. I attended an elementary school in then Rochester, now Rochester Hills, where my friend of Korean descent, Youngjean, and I were the only Asians, or minorities for that matter, in our entire class.

It was the fall of 1975 and I was just getting to know my classmates. I remember one particular day at school; it was the afternoon and my palms began to sweat as I realized the magnitude of embarrassment that was about to take place. My teacher, Mrs. Randolph, decided to round up the students for gym class by lining us up in order of the breakfast dish we had eaten at home that morning. She would guess the dish aloud and those who consumed such a dish for breakfast would be granted permission to stand up and fall in line.

She probably thought that such an exercise would be a fun and interesting way of obtaining attention and participation from each child. However, like most citizens in my community at that time, she didn’t seem to know anything about any Asian cultures.

As Mrs. Randolph guessed each dish, I felt strangely alone for no good reason other than a lousy gimmick to get first graders to fall in a single filed line for gym class. The last guess, “pancakes or waffles,” rounded up four of my classmates, leaving me as one of the last students still to waiting to line up for gym class. As those four shuffled toward the end of the now populated line, I looked around and soon noticed in horror that practically all eyes were staring at me.

After Mrs. Randolph’s next 3 incorrect guesses, it was clear to me that she would never guess my breakfast dish. However, I could see that it was not yet clear to her. By the look of determination on her face, Mrs. Randolph seemed believe this was a great game of challenge and deduction that she had invented. After several more dreadful guesses, including options like eggs benedict, french toast, and Cream of Wheat, I believe she did finally start to understand how far removed she really was since only Youngjean and I remained. After I noticed the lack of confidence in her facial expressions, I remember the solitary feeling as I, for the first time in my life, grasped why Youngjean and I were still remaining.

I knew that my morning breakfast dish -- fried rice (which was by far my favorite dish) -- would be very embarrassing, but I didn’t realize until right then the degree of publicity I would receive for having it. Finally as time went by, Mrs. Randolph merely walked up to me and quietly asked what I had for breakfast.

Like a first grader who didn’t want anyone to know what he had for breakfast, I softly answered, "fried rice."

Innocently, she then announced "OK, those of you who had FRIED RICE for breakfast, please file in line." There was silence as I stood up with head down and fell in line, knowing that all eyes were on me -- or possibly on Youngjean, since I then heard "and those of you who had FRIED RICE WITH SHRIMP, please fall in line."

It may surprise you, but I have many stories like this growing up in Michigan. Although I typically try to find humor and make light of my experiences, this one was indeed relatively traumatic at the time. I didn’t realize it then, but that experience and many other similar ones during my childhood helped define me and helped me know who I am. I could not put my thoughts into words at that time, but I dreamt what it would have been like for people in the mainstream, such as my first grade teacher and classmates, to understand my family’s ethnicity and culture. Had they done so, that traumatic experience in the fall of '75 would probably not have happened.

The story described above exemplifies the lack of diversity and cultural awareness in Michigan in the 70's. Since then Michigan certainly has come a long way and I am very proud to say I am from suburban Detroit. But our journey is not over.

For example, in the thirty years ago, Asian history was not taught in elementary schools. Today, across Michigan, Asian history is still absent in most elementary schools. Yet look at the dramatic increase in the Asian population in our state. And think about the growing importance of Asian culture on the global economic stage. There is still more work to be done … with more courage…more boldness …and audacity on the part for Asian Americans. When I say audacity… I mean the daring required for Asian Americans to break out of our cultural boundaries. My parents moved themselves here, but it is now the “second generationers” et. al. time to move us forward.

Many of these experiences have taught me, among other things, to have courage and take some risks, knowing that without either, one gets nowhere. I've put everything in perspective. For example, my parents immigrated to the United States from the Philippines in 1963. They first started out in The Big Apple, where I was born. In New York City there was a demand, as there is today, for physicians. My father was and still is a physician, and had a dream of raising a family in the United States. Thus, with English as their second language, my soon-to-be parents journeyed halfway around the world to America to make a new life -- a better life as they saw it -- for themselves and their future family.

It has literally taken me years to realize the courage, risk, and determination such an endeavor required of them. Looking back, I can only imagine the challenges we would have faced had my wife and I packed our belongings shortly after taking our marital vows and moved to an unfamiliar country and culture. Taking a step back, my parents took the ultimate risk. And I look where they are today. Whenever I need a boost of courage, I merely imagine the courage my parents had and I immediately get that needed boost.

… There is more work to be done as discussed in my next blog …
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