July 24, 2014

8 Tips to Get Your Email Read…and Answered.

If there’s one thing we do a lot of as lawyers, it’s write, and read, a lot of email. Making sure an email is read is as important as the information in it. An unread email might as well not be sent (except for liability reasons, but that’s another blog post…). [Read more...]

Got creative?

Behold, 29 suggestions for keeping that creative spark alive:

(h/t Lifehacker)

Practice Tip (via ABL): How to Become an (Almost) Indispensable Junior Associate

Short of going solo, there’s almost no way around the fact: you’re going to be a junior associate before you become a partner. But that doesn’t mean you have to wait to be a partner to start thinking like one.

Start now, says Above the Law.

Take ownership of winning your case or completing your deal.  Of course, the ultimate outcome of any case or deal is the lead partner’s responsibility.  But the point of taking ownership is to think like a partner, and demonstrate that you are committed to getting the best result for the client.  This involves much more than simply doing a good job on the tasks you are assigned.  Taking ownership of your case or deal requires you to first understand the case or deal as a whole, and then actively think about how every part relates to the big picture.  So, for example, even if you are stuck doing doc review or due diligence, approach these tasks with an eye toward spotting the important issues that will help prove the theory of the case, or information that your client would want to know about the company it’s buying.  And then don’t be afraid to bring up those issues to the partner or senior associate to get his or her thoughts.

As soon as you take ownership, it’s amazing how fast the case changes in your eyes. You make fewer mistakes, conduct more thorough research, and are willing to spend the extra hours to get the job done, or even to just be available to get the job done. Work starts to flow your direction, and suddenly–ta da! You’re indispensable.

Check out the full post over at ABL (an indispensable blog for every attorney’s sanity).

Utah Legislature Watch: “Lawyers should be good lobbyists…”

“..but really, they’re pretty lousy.”

http://twitter.com/#!/PubliusDB/status/40847592678109184

Ironic, I know. But that’s the word from Doug Foxley.

Last week I attended a Utah Bar CLE entitled “Utah State Bar Day at the Legislature.” Except, we really didn’t get over to the legislature itself. We sat in an auditorium over in the Capitol Office Building, and the closest we got to a legislator was several lobbyists and the Lieutenant Governor, Greg Bell, who is a former legislator.

So, not quite at the legislature. More near the legislature.

Details aside, however, they morning CLE was geared towards how to better influence and affect Utah’s legislators when we actually got over to see them. (Presumably, this is a “do it yourself” project, or a “do it on behalf of your client” project, perhaps.) But if we do get over there, don’t tell them you’re a lawyer. Or at least, don’t introduce yourself as a lawyer.

Yep. That’s what Doug Foxley said.

But, wait, you say, doesn’t that establish credibility? Not exactly.

You see, chances are, the legislator does not have as much education as you, the lawyer-lobbyist, has obtained. In fact, a recent study bears this out. Adam Brown found that of the 99 legislatures in America, the Utah House ranks #90 in education after high school with only 32% carrying an MA, 4% a JD, and 7% a doctoral degree of some sort.

With that in mind, remember that when you tell the legislator you’ve got some feedback on his legislation “because I’m a lawyer,” he’s not likely to take it so well. After all, who likes to be told what to do by someone who thinks they are smarter than you?

How do you get around this problem? Inadvertent or not, lawyers, intending to establish their credibility by stating their credentials, are actually hurting their efforts. Chris Kyler, who shared the stage with Foxley and Pignanelli, had some common sense advice:

http://twitter.com/PubliusDB/status/40846719411298305

At some point, it is important to let them know you’re a lawyer. Just not right off the bat when you shake their hand.

That said, here are a few other tips for communicating your message to legislators:

  • Remember that the legislature can be an emotional place. Frank Pignanelli called it an “emotional body.” Further, he said, “[l]ogic and reason have no place in the legislature.” Act accordingly.
  • There are hundreds of bills in the legislature, and it’s a really fast session–just six weeks! Legislators have a short attention span; get your presentation down to a two-minute elevator speech.
  • Don’t categorize legislators. Remember that politics makes strange bedfellows. Don’t get sidetracked by a legislator’s apparent ideology.
  • Last: make time to talk to the legislators. If email is your only way to contact them, likely you’re just educating a 20-year old intern, not the legislator.

Practice Tip #11: Strengthen your Memory

I am not known for my elephant-like memory, mostly, because I do not have one.  Like most people, my memory is pretty average (if not below average).

To compensate, I write everything down, keep careful a calendar events and meetings I need to attend, calls I should make, and tasks to finish. I take notes at meetings, and I take notes while I research, especially of where I can find things again. I even make notes in the margins of books I own so that I can return to points I liked during a first read.

Sometimes my average memory seems worse when I am put on the spot. I feel flustered, I stutter, and, worse, I forget my facts, points, and ideas. I could fill a whole post with the verbal flubs I’ve made while standing behind a pulpit or on a podium. But I won’t. You’ve got better things to do than read about my faux pas.

That said, I can’t hide the fact that there are times when I need data, information, or names and Google just isn’t an option. No matter how much we would like to avoid it, there are some things that we must memorize, if just because it’s more useful to have facts, ideas and information at our tongue tip than it is to check Google or our smart phone every time we need it (or when a judge, client, or opposing counsel demands it).

Influence doesn’t come from being able to Google an answer; anyone can do that. Influence comes from knowing the answer already, and having it when you need it. That’s right: great orators and influencers–guys like Marcus Cicero, Alexander Hamilton, and Abraham Lincoln–don’t use Google. They just recall it when necessary.

So what’s a guy to do if he has an average memory?

Apparently, all most of us have is an average memory, but we can all improve it. In 2003, Nature magazine reported on an f.M.R.I. test that scanned the brains of the eight people who finished near the top of the World Memory Championships (yeah, it exists). As it turns out, their memories weren’t any better than those of normal  people (read: you and me). Says writer Joshua Foer:

Researchers put the mental athletes and a group of control subjects into f.M.R.I. scanners and asked them to memorize three-digit numbers, black-and-white photographs of people’s faces and magnified images of snowflakes as their brains were being scanned. What they found was surprising: not only did the brains of the mental athletes appear anatomically indistinguishable from those of the control subjects, but on every test of general cognitive ability, the mental athletes’ scores came back well within the normal range.

So what’s the trick to pulling up data when you need it? Using different parts of your brain, parts that are more geared for memory than where we usually store data.

There was, however, one telling difference between the brains of the mental athletes and those of the control subjects. When the researchers looked at the parts of the brain that were engaged when the subjects memorized, they found that the mental athletes were relying more heavily on regions known to be involved in spatial memory.

Spatial memory–that’s the area of the brain that remembers, just like it sounds, space and distance around a person, their environment.

The Roman statesman Cicero once criticized Jul...

Image via Wikipedia

Interestingly enough, this type of memorization is not new. Cicero, the Roman politician that I mentioned above, rose from obscurity to the Roman consulship on the strength of his orations alone, even drafted his book on oratory, the Rhetorica ad Herennium, with techniques that included using spatial memory to recall important facts when necessary. Foer explains:

The point of the memory techniques described in “Rhetorica ad Herennium” is to take the kinds of memories our brains aren’t that good at holding onto and transform them into the kinds of memories our brains were built for. It advises creating memorable images for your palaces: the funnier, lewder and more bizarre, the better. “When we see in everyday life things that are petty, ordinary and banal, we generally fail to remember them. . . . But if we see or hear something exceptionally base, dishonorable, extraordinary, great, unbelievable or laughable, that we are likely to remember for a long time.”

In other words, maybe you won’t remember the banal or mundane, but you’re bound to remember the obnoxious.

What distinguishes a great mnemonist, I learned, is the ability to create lavish images on the fly, to paint in the mind a scene so unlike any other it cannot be forgotten. And to do it quickly. Many competitive mnemonists argue that their skills are less a feat of memory than of creativity. For example, one of the most popular techniques used to memorize playing cards involves associating every card with an image of a celebrity performing some sort of a ludicrous — and therefore memorable — action on a mundane object.

For more, check out the article by Foer in the New York Times Magazine here, and look into strengthening your memory.

Remembering what you need to recall, when you need it, is worth the effort. It might not make you this generation’s Cicero, but it certainly won’t stop you in your quest to become it. In fact, it might even help.

(h/t to Joshua Foer for his fascinating article)

Practice Tip #10: Keep it short

Dissection tools; Scalpel, tongs, scissors. Ma...

Image via Wikipedia

On writing, from the Curmudgeon’s Guide to Practicing Law, page 25: “Edit yourself.”

Really. Do it. If you don’t, someone else will have to edit your work for you, and that’s, well, embarrassing.

Further, shorten your sentences.

After I write a brief, I go back and re-read it, concentrating solely on matters of style. I read each paragraph to see if it has a topic sentence. I read each sentence to be sure that it is no more than three and one-half typed lines long. (The average reader can keep the beginning of a sentence in mind for only three and one-half typed lines. If the sentence runs on for five or six lines, the reader will lose his thought and be forced to go back and re-read the beginning of the sentence. This is no way to persuade.)

What are you as a lawyer if not a persuader? So go back to that sentence or paragraph you loved, the one where you waxed eloquent for several pages, and cut it down. Find the passive voice, and replace the verb “to be.”

No one will complain for having to read less to get the same point.

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Law Practice Tip #7: Beware Twitter

Image representing Twitter as depicted in Crun...

Image via CrunchBase

Be wise about your use of Twitter, Facebook, blogs, or anything else you post online. Assume that it won’t disappear or leave the Internet–ever. Someone will always be able to find it.

How will it affect your online reputation? Will it come back to haunt you? Think twice before hitting “publish.”

Also, if your boss is on Twitter, think twice before  accepting his follow request.

Trust me on that one.