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The Enigmatic Em Dash

10 hours 28 min ago

Knowing how to punctuate properly is essential to good legal writing. Besides the semicolon, though, lawyers probably misunderstand—and as a result misuse—the em dash more than any other punctuation mark. That’s because it’s possible for a lawyer to write for an entire career without ever having to use it.

But lawyers who consciously avoid using the em dash forsake an important legal-writing tool. They’re like carpenters who choose to work with rudimentary tools instead of precision instruments. The job gets done; but the result is hardly refined.

What’s an em dash?

The em dash (—) is about as wide as a capital H. In Typography for Lawyers, Matthew Butterick dispels the myth that the em refers to the letter M. According to Butterick, the em instead refers to units of typographical measurement: “In a traditional metal font, the em was the vertical distance from the top of a piece of type to the bottom.”

The origin of the em dash is unclear. Noreen Malone, in The Case—Please Hear Me Out—Against the Em Dash recounts speculation that the em dash has existed since the Gutenberg printing press (ca. 1450s) but she also notes that it didn’t routinely appear in print until the 1700s. If true, the em dash is a recent invention compared to other punctuation marks such as the period and comma.

Em dash as utility infielder

The em dash is a versatile punctuation mark, somewhat like baseball’s utility infielder. Besides doing their own work in a sentence, em dashes can substitute for commas, parentheses, and even colons to mark a variety of interruptions.

In Writing with Style, John Trimble lists five different circumstances where em dashes can mark interruptions. I’ve listed them below, along with usage examples:

  1. Marking an interruption or break in thought: Writers overuse em dashes—well, to be fair, careless writers overuse them.
  2. Serving as a conversational colon or light bridge: One writer is known for using em dashes haphazardly—Emily Dickinson.
  3. Isolating a concluding phrase for emphasis or comic effect: Punctuating properly is necessary to write well—unless, of course, that’s not your goal.
  4. Marking a gathering-up of ideas or series of subjects: Avoiding buried verbs, minimizing prepositions, using the active voice—these are easy ways to improve writing.
  5. Inserting a parenthetical explanation, qualification, or amplification: The leading authorities on American legal writing—Wydick, Garner, and Kimble—agree that em dashes are an excellent way to set off parenthetical or explanatory material.

Skilled legal writers usually limit their em dashes to Trimble’s fifth circumstance because the other four, which all require a single dash and force the reader to stop abruptly, occur less often in legal writing.

But consider number five above. Notice how commas or parentheses wouldn’t have the same attention-grabbing effect on the explanatory phrase:

  • The leading authorities on American legal writing, Wydick, Garner, and Kimble, agree that em dashes are an excellent way to set off parenthetical or explanatory material.
  • The leading authorities on American legal writing (Wydick, Garner, and Kimble) agree that em dashes are an excellent way to set off parenthetical or explanatory material.

Sentences such as this one call for a pair of em dashes. Commas or parentheses—while grammatically acceptable—simply don’t do the job.

Misusing em dashes

Like other writing tools, lawyers can misuse the em dash. Here are some things to avoid.

  • Don’t use more than two em dashes in a sentence. Otherwise, as Trimble points out, “[y]ou’ll simply confuse your reader, and your prose will look like chopped carrots.”
  • Don’t litter your writing with em dashes. In The Practical Stylist, Sheridan Baker puts it best when he says that overusing em dashes is a “sign of ignorance, or of laziness.” In Woe is I, Patricia T. O’Conner says that too many em dashes signify unclear thinking: “[W]hen thoughts are confused, it’s easier to stick in a lot of dashes than to organize a smoother sentence.” So don’t give the critics of the em dash more fodder; after using an em dash, take a break for three or more sentences before using another one.
  • Don’t call one or two hyphens an em dash. Novices take the hyphen shortcut, perhaps assuming that their readers won’t notice the difference. Typing two hyphens was a common way to indicate an em dash when lawyers used typewriters. But modern word-processing programs can directly insert an em dash into a document. In Microsoft Word 2010, you can insert an em dash by selecting the Insert tab and then the Symbol subtab. If you have a Mac with Word, you can insert an em dash by simultaneously pressing the Option + Shift + Hyphen keys.
Em dashes add energy, variety, polish

Now that you know the basics, consider trying out the versatile em dash. You’ll find that the em dash adds energy—and much needed variety—to your prose. The em dash also gives you another option when the standard commas, parentheses, or colons don’t quite strike the desired tone. Like a carpenter with precision tools, em dashes will polish your prose and make your legal writing stand out from the mediocre.

This column is adapted from an article originally published in the Minnesota Lawyer on July 1, 2013.

  • 2013-07-13. Originally published.
  • 2014-10-22. Republished.

Categories: Teknoids Blogs

Facebook Goes on the Offense on Passwords

Tue, 10/21/2014 - 07:00

Fed up with landing on front pages every time someone gets ahold of some passwords, Facebook has decided to be proactive. Last week, Facebook announced it built a system to monitor “paste” sites commonly used to distribute login credentials or advertise credentials for sale.1

When it gets ahold of login credentials, Facebook’s system will check them against its users’ credentials by comparing the hashes.2 If they match, Facebook will alert the user and force a password change.

Related“Q: Doesn’t My Password Protect My Computer?”

It’s pretty awesome that Facebook is doing this, and I hope more companies will follow suit.

(h/t Ryan Calo)

  1. If you want to see an example, just go to Pastebin and type in passwords

  2. “This is a completely automated process that doesn’t require us to know or store your actual Facebook password in an unhashed form. In other words, no one here has your plain text password.” 

Categories: Teknoids Blogs

John Oliver Finds a Way to Put Cameras in the Supreme Court — Sort Of

Mon, 10/20/2014 - 10:46

Don’t watch this unless you want to see Scalia depicted as an actual bulldog, Alito as a poodle, and the court reporter as a chicken.

Fire up your video editor, because here is Last Week Tonight‘s raw footage so you can remix the Court’s arguments yourself.

Categories: Teknoids Blogs

Q: Doesn’t My Password Protect My Computer?

Mon, 10/20/2014 - 06:12

A: No.

There are basically two “doors” to your computer, and you need to lock both of them to prevent someone from accessing the information on your computer. The front door is through your operating system (Windows, OS X, Linux, etc.). You can put a lock on the front door by using a password. This is the password you use to log in to Windows.

This password — your operating system password — prevents someone from using your computer as if they were you. This is a good idea, but it does not protect the back door: your hard drive.

In most computers, your hard drive is not much different from a USB drive (thumb drive, flash drive, whatever). It just plugs into your computer’s Serial ATA port instead of a USB port. Here is an $8 cable that lets you plug any hard drive into a USB port. Once plugged into a USB port, the data on your hard drive is as easy to read as any other USB drive.

Here is how easy it is to remove your hard drive:

The “hard drives” in many tablets and ultrabooks are a bit more difficult to access since they are soldered to the motherboard. That just means it takes a few more steps to read them; it does not make the data more secure.

Related“Encryption: Enabling Basic Client File Security”

There is no password that can protect the data on your hard drive. You need a different sort of security: encryption. Encrypting your hard drive scrambles the data as if every bit of information were run through a Little Orphan Annie decoder ring. Except way more complicated.

Enabling encryption is, fortunately, not complicated at all. Turning on Bitlocker (Windows) or FileVault (OS X) is just a setting. Turn it on, and your back door is locked. (If your version of Windows does not have Bitlocker, you need to upgrade to a version that does.)

Once you enable encryption, you don’t have to think about it. When you log into your computer with your password (make it a good one!), your computer will decrypt your files on the fly as you need them. You can open them, attach them to emails, and use them as usual. But when you log out of your computer, your files will be encrypted and your back door will be locked.

There are, of course, other potential “doors” into your computer, but those are a bit more complicated to deal with, so they are a question for another day.

  • 2014-07-13. Originally published.
  • 2014-10-20. Revised, updated, and republished.


Categories: Teknoids Blogs

It’s Time for Lawyers to Re-Think the Cloud

Fri, 10/17/2014 - 09:11

We are living in 1984. The novel, that is, not the year. Big Brother is watching you — and reading your emails, browsing your contact lists, keeping tabs on your call history, and tracking your movements. If you represent non-US clients, Big Brother may even be reading your confidential attorney-client communications, according to the New York Times.

This probably does not raise any serious ethical concerns for most lawyers. That is, I don’t think you will lose your law license because you use email. But it should make you pretty uncomfortable.

And while there is probably no reason to panic, it also means you should probably change the way you use the cloud.

I no longer think it is wise to use the cloud as the default place to store your information. Maybe that was always a bad idea, but it definitely looks like a bad idea now.

A year or so ago, I thought it made sense to use the cloud as a default. I put nearly all my information in the cloud, unless there was a good reason not to. After last June, the documents released by Edward Snowden started hitting the media. We now know that the NSA is not only vacuuming up information from the public Internet, but infiltrating major companies, undermining fundamental security software, and even intercepting computers in the mail to install spyware. It is also unclear which companies are cooperating, although some seem like they might even be on the NSA’s payroll.

Apart from governments — our own and others — the last few years have seen a resurgence in malicious hacking by non-government actors. It seems like every week we get a new warning to change our passwords because a popular cloud service has been compromised.

I no longer think it is wise to use the cloud as the default place to store your information. Maybe that was always a bad idea, but it definitely looks like a bad idea now. I think we have to assume that the government has (or can easily get) access to anything you send through the air or over a wire, especially (but not only) if it is unencrypted. So can many others. So if you weren’t already thinking carefully about what you put in the cloud, you must do so from now on. Put stuff in the cloud only when it needs to be in the cloud.

Be Smart About the Cloud

There is no reason to fear the cloud. Instead, be smart about the cloud. If you choose your services carefully, using the cloud is at least as secure as not using it, and it can be more secure. In fact, for most people the cloud is far more secure than hosting a private server.

“[E]veryone needs to recalibrate their baseline expectation of confidentiality ….”

I reached out to several cloud software vendors to find out what they are doing in the wake of the Snowden revelations. None of them are using RSA, and all of them say they are using best practices when it comes to security. Clio‘s Jack Newton probably described the general feeling best when he quoted Microsoft’s general counsel, Brad Smith, who characterized the NSA as an “advanced persistent threat.” MyCase‘s Matt Spiegel said that “these are concerns we have always known existed,” and that Snowden’s revelations were merely confirming what most security experts already believed. Rocket Matter‘s Larry Port agreed, saying “the NSA revelations were a gift, in that now everyone else is as paranoid as I am.”

Newton admitted, though, that “everyone needs to recalibrate their baseline expectation of confidentiality … every medium is less secure … whether it’s a cell phone, personal computer, private server or a cloud-based application.”

Related“5 Things I Wish You Would Learn About Computers”

On the basic question of whether the cloud is more secure than managing your own IT infrastructure, Spiegel (unsurprisingly) called the cloud “infinitely more secure, for many reasons, than data simply being kept on your local computer or server.” He has a vested interest in saying so, but I tend to agree with him. Few enough lawyers are proficient with Microsoft Word, much less setting up solid automatic backup or a secure file server, and there aren’t many lawyers willing to pay a security professional to keep their network secure at all times.

Still, lawyers have a duty to use appropriate security, and to me, that means using the cloud only when necessary.

Re-Think Your Use of the Cloud

If you only had one computer and no smartphone or tablet, you could probably get by just fine without the cloud. But most of us now have at least two devices, and we really want to be able to sync up our email, calendars, tasks, and access documents wherever we are and whatever we are using.

Related“How to Share Files with Clients”

Currently, the only way to do that is the cloud. (The “personal cloud” concept is just beginning to take shape, but it is not yet a realistic option for most users.)


Email was cloud-based before the cloud was even a thing. And storing your messages in one place just makes sense, whether that is Gmail or your own server. But email, by its nature, not very secure. Most email is transferred unencrypted and in the clear. Think postcards, not sealed envelopes. It is so easy to intercept email in transit that anyone who wants a copy will probably get one.

Because of the relative insecurity of email, you have two choices: watch what you say over email, or encrypt it.

In general, watch what you put in email and talk to your clients about email security. If you would not want the NSA to read your message, do not put it in an email. In fact, an experienced lawyer once told me not to put anything in a letter that I would not want to see on the front page of the newspaper. That sounds like a good guideline for email, too.

There are two alternatives for securing your digital communications: secure portals and encryption.

A secure portal is a website you can only connect to via HTTPS that holds any messages (and often, files) you want to give someone else access to. For example, you would log in, type a message to your client, and hit send. Your client would get an email letting them know they have a message, which they would have to log in to get. A secure portal is cumbersome, but it is an effective extra layer of security. (It is also a good idea if you are representing employees and worry about them reading emails from you at work.)

Some secure portals include Clio and MyCase, which send notifications by email, but do not include the substance of the message.

Another, higher-security option is encrypting your emails. This works, but it is even more cumbersome than a secure portal, and you will have to train your clients to do it properly. Still, if you want to secure your communications, email encryption works.

Calendars and Tasks

Calendars and tasks are much more useful when stored in the cloud so you can sync them between devices and share calendars with co-workers and family members. But meeting requests generally go out over email, and not all online calendars are secured by HTTPS by default (Google Calendar is a notable exception).

To ensure calendar and task security, look for cloud services that use HTTPS by default, and avoid sending meeting requests if doing so would reveal confidential information.


Documents are especially handy when kept in the cloud. The ability to pull up your client files from anywhere using your smartphone is pretty great. But you definitely don’t need anytime, anywhere access to all your files. There is probably no reason to store your closed files in the cloud, for example.

Cloud file sync and storage also includes a variety of security levels. Dropbox, probably the most-popular option, transfers your files over a secure connection, but does not encrypt your files until they reach Dropbox’s servers. And Dropbox is able to decrypt your files. Plus, Dropbox may be cooperating with the NSA.

Still, Dropbox is widely supported by mobile apps, making it the best choice for files you really do need to be able to get to anytime, anywhere. Which is why I still use Dropbox for some things, like draft blog posts and eBooks, camera uploads, and board meeting documents for the non-profits I work with. But I don’t put my client files in Dropbox anymore.

You could use something like Boxcryptor or Viivo to add an extra layer of encryption to Dropbox. I found Boxcryptor to be clunky, but Viivo works great and makes it easy to open your files in other mobile apps (although they will not be encrypted in those apps, obviously).

SpiderOak is often touted as a more-secure alternative to Dropbox. It is, as far as I can tell, but the security comes with some downsides. Like Boxcryptor and Viivo, almost no mobile apps support SpiderOak, which limits your options for getting your files onto your phone or tablet.

You can either have security or convenience, in other words. Not both. At least not yet. Recent updates to iOS are making it easier for apps to interact, which makes it less important which cloud file storage service you decide to use.

Another option is to skip the cloud entirely and use BitTorrent Sync. As we have discussed in the Lab, BTSync is relatively new, and has yet to either open-source its code or submit to a security audit. That said, BTSync is file sync without the cloud. It syncs up files between your computers and devices, but they are never stored on anyone else’s servers. Files are transferred (really quickly) over a secure connection, which means it is just as secure as Dropbox file transfers, but you don’t have to entrust your files to a third party. And while app support is weak, there is a nice BTSync app, which lets you view your files and send them to other apps. BitTorrent Sync is also growing really fast, which means third-party support should follow. Plus, it is free.

For backup, I continue to recomment a combination of local backup and CrashPlan, which is about as secure as the cloud gets.

When Not to Use the Cloud

The bottom line is my new philosophy when it comes to the cloud: only use the cloud when you need to. And if you do use the cloud, make sure you choose the right level of security for the data you put there. If you don’t need to use the cloud, keep the information local and encrypted.

That said, I continue to think lawyers should use the cloud. The new comment to Rule 1.1 cuts both ways:

[A] lawyer should keep abreast of changes in the law and its practice, including the benefits and risks associated with relevant technology ….

If you don’t use appropriate technology, you are doing your clients and your ethical obligations just as much a disservice as if you use inappropriate technology. Sometimes, the cloud is the right tool for the job, and sometimes it isn’t. You cannot ignore it, but you cannot dismiss it as an option out of hand, either.

  • 2014-03-10. Originally published.
  • 2014-10-17. Revised and republished.

Featured image: “Businessman hand working with a Cloud Computing diagram” from Shutterstock.

Categories: Teknoids Blogs

Attorney Brings Newborn to Court Because Judge Says Maternity Leave is “No Good Cause” to Postpone Hearing

Thu, 10/16/2014 - 22:54

From the Associated Press Staci Zaretsky at Above the Law:1

An immigration judge in Atlanta denied an attorney’s request to delay a hearing that fell during her six-week maternity leave and then scolded her in front of a packed courtroom when she showed up with her 4-week-old strapped to her chest and the infant began to cry, the attorney said.

Well played, mom.

  1. Staci actually broke this story, and the AP apparently reported it without giving her credit. Lame. 

Categories: Teknoids Blogs

Nice Try, but Claiming Copyright Won’t Save You from Discipline

Thu, 10/16/2014 - 15:31

Illinois lawyer Joanne Denison created a blog about courtroom corruption that landed her in hot water with the Illinois Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission (IARDC) for “alleging professional misconduct in making false statements on her Blog.” In a creative and novel response, Denison tried suing the IARDC for including content from her blog in its complaint.

It didn’t work.

(h/t The Volokh Conspiracy via TechDirt)

Categories: Teknoids Blogs

Free White Paper: “10 Things the Best Law Firm Website Designs Have in Common”

Thu, 10/16/2014 - 15:17

Good design is the foundation of a website that brings in business. Whether your marketing focus is on offline networking or search-engine optimization, your website must convince potential clients to take the next step toward hiring you.

We have been showcasing the best law firm websites for five years, and we have found that the best-designed law firm websites have some things in common. A well-designed website should look good, of course, but the reason to take the design of your website seriously is because a well-designed website persuades clients to contact and hire you.

Compelling copy and solid search-engine optimization are also important, but in this white paper our focus is design — design that helps turn visitors into clients.

Get the White Paper

To get “10 Things the Best Law Firm Website Designs Have in Common,” just fill out this short form and we’ll send it to you.

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Categories: Teknoids Blogs

How to Cite Walter Sobchak on Prior Restraint

Thu, 10/16/2014 - 15:02

First Amendment lawyer Marc Randazza has found a gem: an opinion from the Texas Supreme Court quoting Walter Sobchak in “The Big Lebowski” on prior restraint (see the video above). With this, you can cite to a case instead of a movie. Here is the citation you need:

Kinney v. Barnes, 57 Tex. Sup. J. 1428 at n.7, (Tex. 2014) (citing SOBCHAK, W., THE BIG LEBOWSKI, 1998).

I’m not sure about those all-caps, but I will defer to Marc.

Categories: Teknoids Blogs

Why Lawyers Shouldn’t Write Their Own Website Copy

Thu, 10/16/2014 - 06:12

So you want to write your own website copy? I highly recommend you don’t, for these two key reasons:

1. You Have More Important Things To Do

Your time is precious, which means you should focus it on performing tasks that only you can handle. Like writing a brief. Or appearing in court. Or meeting with a prospective client. The list goes on.

Your business needs you to do what you are good at, as much as possible. It does not need you to spend countless hours figuring out what pages to have on your website, what copy should go where, or which words to use. DIY marketing is not the best way for you to spend your time.

2. Someone Else Can Write It Better

This is the crux of it, of course. You went to law school to learn about law, not writing marketing copy. Even if you studied marketing in undergrad, you have not spent the past few years keeping up with online marketing trends and best practices. A copywriter, on the other hand, does just that. Such a writer also knows how to write for online users, including how to structure and format copy for greater engagement. By working with an experienced writer, especially one well versed in the law, you increase your odds of having effective website copy without sacrificing your time.

If You Insist on Writing Your Own Website Copy

Writing and publishing website copy is important when it comes to online marketing. A professional writer can capture your voice and your message. If you decide that writing for your website is best left in your own hands, however, then I suggest you embrace the following five tips:

1. Forget Everything You Learned In Law School

When it comes to writing, that is. Legal writing and website copywriting are two distinct skills. For instance, if you want to connect with your audience, you need to write at an 8th-grade level, not a 16th-grade level. You need to stop writing long sentences and paragraphs and you need to avoid footnotes and sub-clauses. And you should absolutely stop throwing around legal phrases or terms of art that people outside the legal field don’t understand. This business law firm gets it right (and may be one of the reasons it was one of this year’s best law firm websites).

2. Let Go of Your Ego

Your website is not about you. It is about your prospective clients. What has meaning in the legal community may have little to no value to people outside of it (Martindale-Hubbell ratings, anyone?). Focus instead on the fact that people are looking for your services for a reason. They need help, and they want to know whether you can help them. They are looking to see if you can answer a few simple questions before they contact you. If you deliver the basics, they will reward you with phone calls and email inquiries.

3. Put Yourself In the Shoes of a Prospective Client

What is your prospective client looking for? What are his or her concerns? What common problems may arise? How are they feeling at the exact moment they find your website? Write content that speaks to your client’s fears and future, and you will find that you have created content that truly connects.

4. Sprinkle In Some Personality

The more you can be yourself, and the more you can show your audience who you are, the greater likelihood you will make a connection with your readers. Or have fun with your site, as humor is a great ice breaker. By adding personality to your site, your have a higher likelihood of further engaging with your prospective clients, which helps bring those prospects farther down the sales funnel. One great example of personality that I’ve seen is on the lawyer profiles of this website.

5. Do Not Assume You Know How to “Do SEO”

Optimizing your website for search engines does not mean stuffing as many keywords into a page as possible. And please, for the love of all things holy, stop thinking that all you need to do is use the following combination everywhere: City + Practice Area + Lawyer.  It takes time, research and experience to figure out what works right on your website from a search standpoint. So even if you write your own content, you should still hire an SEO specialist to help with your search engine optimization efforts.

Start following these tips and you will find that your content will at least begin to outperform your competition. But if you really want to make an impression on your prospects, you are better off reaching out to a trained copywriter who understands your industry and the Web.

Categories: Teknoids Blogs

Early Birds And Night Owls Can Both Be Unethical

Wed, 10/15/2014 - 06:12

Even though we have known for ages that circadian rhythms vary wildly, we still equate getting up early with virtuous productivity and staying up late with a slacker/procrastinator mentality. And those of us who like to get our work done at midnight are probably just hard-wired to be that way. What we did not know, however, is that our circadian rhythms might be driving us towards unethical behavior if we are doing our decision-making at the wrong time.

RelatedQuiz: “What time are you most likely to behave unethically at work?”
Washington Post

A recent paper by researchers from Johns Hopkins, Georgetown, and Harvard sheds light on how, left to your own devices, you may become an amoral monster if you have to make an ethical choice during the wrong time of day. Basically, Christopher M. Barnes and his team set up a study in which lying resulted in more money for the text subject. First, they had people take a quiz to determine their chronotype — a fancy way of identifying which type you are: a morning person or a night person. Then they randomly assigned people to work on a task at seven in the morning or midnight without regard to whether they were a night owl or a lark. Then they waved some cash in front of their faces.

Participants undertook a die rolling task previously established as a test for unethical behavior. In this task, they anonymously rolled a die and reported the number back to us, and we paid paying them based on the number they reported (higher amounts for higher rolls).

Although we didn’t know what numbers participants actually rolled, we did know that everyone should report an average of 3.5. So any systematic differences across conditions (morning people in the morning vs. evening people in the morning, for example), would indicate cheating. Consistent with our prediction, an interesting and statistically significant pattern emerged. Larks in the night session reported getting higher rolls (M=4.55) than larks in the morning sessions (M=3.86), and owls in the morning session reported higher rolls (M=4.23) than owls in the night sessions (3.80).

(Aside: Did it not remotely occur to the people participating in this study that if they were getting rewarded with cash, something about the ethical implications of how you got that cash might be at stake?)

Setting aside the fact that there is something deeply sad about a person who would lie during a psychological research study, this has real-world implications for those of us in fields that are ostensibly grounded in ethical decision-making. While it is implausible to assume that a district court will let you start having motion practice hearings at 10 p.m., it is not absurd to suggest that firm managers would do well to accommodate employees in scheduling matters to maximize both productivity and ethical behavior.

The important organizational takeaway from these findings is that individuals may be more likely to act unethically when they are ‘mismatched’–that is, making a decision at the wrong time of day for their own chronotype,” Barnes, Gunia, and Sah write. “Managers should try to learn the chronotype (lark, owl, or in between) of their subordinates and make sure to respect it when deciding how to structure their work. Managers who ask a lark to make ethics-testing decisions at night, or an owl to make such decisions in the morning, run the risk of encouraging rather than discouraging unethical behavior.

If you have the good fortune to be in charge of your own calendar rather than at the whim of a manager, you could consider ensuring that you schedule things like settlement conferences at at a time when you are most able to be ethical and effective.

Also, in case you are one of those night owls that are tired of always having your reputation besmirched as a lazypants, the study had something to say about that as well.

These results “cast doubt on the stereotype that evening people are somehow dissolute,” the authors conclude – early risers are just as likely to cheat when taken out of their temporal comfort zone.

If you are a night person, perhaps the researchers would write you a note you can give to your employer so you can finally stop trying to be in the office before dawn.

Categories: Teknoids Blogs

Dropbox Wasn’t Hacked, but You Should Probably Change Your Password

Tue, 10/14/2014 - 08:25

Gizmodo reports that some hackers are claiming to have compromised 7 million Dropbox accounts. Dropbox says the login information being passed around are actually from other services for which the users used the same usernames and passwords.

Dropbox says most of the passwords were already expired, and it has expired rest just to be safe. If you were affected, you should be asked to reset your password the next time you log in. Do that.

If you use two-factor authentication, you should be fine, though you might want to change your password anyway from an abundance of caution.

Categories: Teknoids Blogs

Should Lawyers Offer Discounts To Clients?

Tue, 10/14/2014 - 06:12

Are discounts or free samples the route to more business or a quick road to devaluing your services? Some top law firms are using discounted rates to retain their budget-conscious clients. However, discounts need to be considered carefully to avoid the challenges of not being paid. This article explains the pros, cons, and best practices of special offers.

The Pros

Coupons, discounts, and free samples offer some incredible benefits, such as fast returns and a jolt in client inquiries. Experts have uncovered some interesting psychological effects of coupons. For many people, saving money produces oxytocin — a chemical your body releases when something good happens. In other words, special offers delight some customers, and those good feelings often become mentally associated with the business that provided the special offer.

The Cons

Special offers can be expensive and ineffective, and they may negatively affect a firm’s brand positioning if done incorrectly. According to a recent survey of Lawyerist Insider subscribers, coupons may also increase the number of past due accounts. Some lawyers also worry that discounts cause people to underestimate the value of their services and attract the wrong kind of customers.

When Discounts Work Best

Especially online, customers respond to special offers. About 70% of respondents in a recent survey reported that they have used a digital coupon, offer, or online promotion code while shopping online. To many people, the idea of using coupons is so ingrained in them as part of the purchasing process, providing discounts can sway them to choose your firm over a competitor that offers no discounts. Even corporate clients consider discounting their legal rates: “We almost always negotiate rates down from the rack rates,” said Randal S. Milch, general counsel for phone giant Verizon. The result, he said, is a “not-insignificant discount.”

Free gifts or services can also attract customers, and not just because they allow clients to see you in action at no cost. One reason discounts are so effective at drumming up business is the reciprocity effect. Studies show that people who receive a free gift or service often experience a strong urge to reciprocate by patronizing a business in return.

Large businesses that purchase legal services in bulk are especially hungry for discounts, and the commitment of long-term business may be worth the loss incurred by offering a discount. Bigger clients that purchase long-term bulk services are the best bet for discounts and special offers. That bulk work is worth wooing with a discount.

How Law Firms Use Discounts Effectively

The cost of legal services and the need for capable professionals puts law firms in a unique position in the world of marketing by discount. People dread the expense of lawyers before they even hear the price, but the promise of not having to pay a percentage of the cost can encourage a potential client to call your offices to find out more. Since some firms are advertising special offers, customers may wonder why you are not.

Why not avoid some complication by simply lowering rates? Charging higher rates and offering a discount to offset that expense is often more effective than simply offering a lower rate outright. The difference is the effect on the customer’s perceived value of your services. With a coupon, the customer feels as if they are getting more value for less money. With a lower rate, customers feel they may be purchasing lower quality services. Most customers still believe the old adage that they get what they pay for (or in the case of discounts, what they do not pay for).

Of course, according to the Wall Street Journal, most law firms will not even discuss the discounts or specifics of their rates in the first place.

Why Discounts Do Not Equal Less Revenue

Many studies show the same correlation: ever since the financial crisis, firms have been steadily raising their rates and yet actually collecting less money. How can that be? They are offering special offers — discounts and free services — to entice customers by boosting the perceived value of their services.

In some ways, coupons, discounts, and special offers do not make much of a difference to the bottom line. As the use of special offers has increased, so have the hourly rates of lawyers. However, these numbers show that many law firms are embracing the power of the discount even as they raise their rates to offset the cost. Reports show that the gap between law firms’ sticker prices and the money they actually collect from clients has grown in recent years, with more and more firms pricing high and offering a discount.

Haggling and negotiating price is more common than ever before with law firm clients. But as customers have learned how to haggle over prices on legal services, lawyers have learned how they can offer the deep discounts clients expect — by raising their rates to the highest possible price. This approach not only takes care of creating a discount the customer is happy with, but also gives the customer more confidence in the services since most people associate higher prices with better quality.

How Customers Evaluate Law Firms

The sky-high hourly rates of some lawyers scare off potential customers, which is why many customers are eschewing the larger, well-known firms to save money at the smaller firms that offer a lower rate for less well-known, but equally professional lawyers.

Astute customers recognize not only the price, but the value of the services. Most decision-makers will pay more for superior service and value. The takeaway is that the best bet of a firm is to not only offer discounts, but also to raise rates to reap the psychological benefits of coupons.

Featured image: “special offer – isolated words in vintage letterpress wood type with ink patina

Categories: Teknoids Blogs

Podcast: Essentials for Starting a Law Practice

Mon, 10/13/2014 - 22:00

At this year’s Clio Cloud Conference, I sat down with Adriana Linares to talk about what you need to spend money on at the start of a new law practice.

I’m not thrilled with the “$4,000 or less” headline Legal Talk Network went with for the same reasons I eventually published a lengthy clarification of my “Start a Solo Law Practice for Under $3,000″ post. But now I’ve linked both of those posts and you can take that headline with a grain of salt.

With that out of the way, here’s what I think you need to start a law practice.

Categories: Teknoids Blogs

Exude Professionalism: Get a Real Email Address

Fri, 10/10/2014 - 06:12

In an age where email has become a standard medium for communication among lawyers, potential clients, actual clients, opposing counsel, and judges, the way you present yourself speaks volumes about your reputation, professionalism, and credibility. And as much as I would like to be able to say that the only thing that matters is the content of one’s communiqué, its presentation in terms of look, feel, and source also greatly influence its reception.

The digital age has made it far easier and more cost effective to become a solo practitioner, allowing individuals to design their own websites, write their own articles, produce their own marketing materials, and forego the use of a secretary for communications. But with this DIY ability comes the responsibility to ensure that one’s DIY projects exude the same competence and professionalism that would come with professionally produced materials.

All this is a long-winded, overblown introduction to why I think it’s important to have your own email address instead of an email address hosted at Hotmail, MSN, Yahoo, AOL, or even Gmail (my personal webmail service of choice).

For those in the know about the history of the web, each webmail service carries its own baggage (e.g., AOL is old and sluggish, Hotmail is free and full of junk and advertisements, etc.). Whether these judgments are true or not is irrelevant — all that matters is how the recipient perceives the email address. I know that every time I see another attorney’s email address that is not part of his or her own domain, I cringe a little and find myself thinking he or she is less credible.

Mostly this is because I know how simple it is to sign up for a website and set up an email account attached to that website. You don’t even need to have a website set up, so long as you have a domain purchased for yourself!

You can purchase a domain name for as little as $10 per year at Hover (what we use for or, and there are plenty of other options. Any good host will also have an option to set up an email address of your own choosing, which means you can end up with something as simple as My email address is Easy for people to remember, and professional to boot.

Also important to note is that any host worth its salt will make it easy to forward email from that email address to whatever other email address you may want to use. For example, I use Gmail as my email client because I love its interface and search capabilities. But I have my host set up to forward my email to my Gmail address, and I have Gmail set up to send email using my hosted email account. So even though I have and use all the functionality of Gmail, I have a professional-looking email address, which — although a small detail — helps establish me as a professional.

At $10 to $50 per year it’s hard to argue that having a professional email address is unaffordable. And given the tools provided by both web hosts and webmail providers (like Gmail) for displaying your email address, it’s hard to claim that it is too hard to set up.

So if you want an email address that is easy for clients to remember and professional-looking, sign up for a domain, add email service (if necessary), and start emailing like a professional.

Need help setting up your email forwarding or response address? Let me know in the comments and I will help as best I can.

  • 2011-11-01. Originally published.
  • 2014-10-09. Revised and republished.

Featured image: “Young successful businessman pointing and winking” from Shutterstock.

Categories: Teknoids Blogs

Could a Court Simulator Help Pro Se Parties?

Thu, 10/09/2014 - 14:11

From the Hartford Courant:

[L]egal aid lawyers in Connecticut and NuLawLab of Boston’s Northeastern University School of Law hope creating a video law game that puts litigants before a virtual judge will help the increasing numbers of people representing themselves in civil legal proceedings throughout the state and nation.

Seems worth a try, actually. It’s easy to give someone a script, but it’s really hard to teach them how to respond to questions. A simulation might do a better job of preparing pro se parties to stand in front of a judge.

(h/t LawZam & John Mayer)

Categories: Teknoids Blogs

Does Using Gmail Put Attorney-Client Privilege At Risk?

Thu, 10/09/2014 - 11:14

That’s the silly question asked by the ABA Journal in this blog post. The answer is no. Using Gmail will not void or waive the attorney-client privilege.

Related“Everybody Panic: Google’s Computers Are Reading Your Email”

But what the comments make clear is that most lawyers think Gmail can only refer to the free email service. But Gmail is also part of the paid Google for Work service, and it comes with different terms.

Those different terms may be important, particularly if you are in Texas, because Texas Disciplinary Rule of Professional Conduct 1.05 says attorneys cannot use “privileged information of a client for the advantage of the lawyer or of a third person, unless the client consents after consultation.” By letting Google serve ads on your client communications in exchange for “free” email, it certainly seems like you and Google are both getting an advantage your client didn’t consent to.

Even if you do not practice in Texas, you should probably pay for your email service — Gmail or not — and use your own domain as a matter of professionalism instead of letting some company serve you ads based on the contents of your attorney-client communications.

Pay for your email, whether or not you use Gmail, and you will solve the problem and look like a professional.

Categories: Teknoids Blogs

Be Less Awful About Your Social Media Use

Thu, 10/09/2014 - 06:12

If you are a practicing attorney, chances are high that you have had a person on the street stop and tell you that you need to leverage your social media presence. First things first: step away from anyone who uses the term “leverage” in any other context than using actual levers and force to move a thing.

Next, think about whether you want to actually be social or whether you want to be the digital equivalent of a guy who aggressively ambulance chases at his kid’s swim meet. You would not do that (hopefully) and you should not do that on social media.

Does that mean you shouldn’t have a social media presence? No. It just means that you should participate in the rich pageantry of social media like a normal human being, not simply as a client-gathering machine.

Be Social

Here is the big secret to being a successful social media person, lawyer or otherwise: be social. People are on Twitter and Facebook and Tumblr and Pinterest and Ello (okay, no one is actually on Ello) because they want to talk with friends, discuss issues of the day with like-minded people, and share pictures of their cute animals and children. They are rarely there to get yelled at about what legal needs they might theoretically have but never mentioned.


Perhaps because everybody and their mother (literally!) is on Facebook, lawyers do not seem to be quite as awful on Facebook. We all know that Facebook is where you post cute kid pictures, create a group for all your friends training for a marathon, or invite people over for a barbecue. It often functions as the digital equivalent of a neighborhood group or the more convenient version of an email list. Neither of those are places where you would just randomly start shouting your practice areas or credentials at anyone who stopped to talk to you. Do not do that on Facebook.


Twitter is a unique online experience. In fact, I can’t think of any real world analogue. Never in my pre-web life did I send small bits of text off into the world for anyone who might wish to read them. It would have been like mailing hundreds of postcards with the same message, at the same time, to a few people I knew and hundreds I did not. Perhaps because it is such an oddity, Twitter is the repository for a lot of bad lawyer behavior like the kind Sam wrote about.

This happens on Twitter when lawyers — or anyone else, really — don’t understand that Twitter may feel like a yelling into the void, but it really isn’t. Regardless of the superficial oddity of the format, Twitter still requires you to converse with people about things they care about other than your business. Yes, those people might be more attenuated than your somewhat-real-life Facebook friends, but they still do not need you to tell them every hour that you are a lawyer who handles bankruptcy cases.


Need I even warn you off of Pinterest? That is for posting recipes and paint swatches, not lawyering.


If you want a platform to advertise your credentials and discuss your last big win, use LinkedIn, particularly if you are job hunting. However, LinkedIn is generally the least social of all the social media, and rightly so. First, as far as talking to your colleagues, everyone knows it is not that interesting to stand around talking to other lawyers about your credentials. If that is the thing you love most, you are probably already networking in person. As far as talking to prospective clients, if they are finding you on LinkedIn, fantastic — but you are then taking that conversation offline (or at least to email) right away.

Be Ethical

Other corporations and brands use Twitter and Facebook to connect … why shouldn’t we? This is mostly because we are under ethical obligations about how we advertise.

You will not be surprised to learn that if you are going to use the Internet to promote your business interests, you fall under certain of the rules of professional conduct. The big thing you need to know about how the rules address social media is this: a consultation can now occur in any medium in which a lawyer advertises, and that presumably includes offering your services on Twitter. This means that your chat with a virtual acquaintance on Twitter or Facebook might drift into representation territory if you are not careful. Besides, even if it might be permissible under the rules of professional conduct in your state, do you really want to be the lawyer that offers a $100 discount for liking you on Facebook? Worse, do you want to be the person that begins conversations about people’s potentially sensitive legal issues in a public forum? No you do not.

Be Patient

Much like real-life friend-making, being social online is a process. You build a following on Twitter by tweeting posts that interest a wide variety of people and responding to interesting tweets posted by other people. You make and keep friends on Facebook by sharing common interests. People will follow one of your boards on Pinterest if you post pictures of delicious pies. Some or all of these things may lead to clients in the same way that real-life friendships can lead to clients. People learn to like you and trust you in a non-legal setting, paving the way to like and trust you as their lawyer. See? No mystery.

Categories: Teknoids Blogs

How to Cite Buzz Lightyear in a Legal Brief

Thu, 10/09/2014 - 04:11

Now you know. Although I think there is a space missing between Pixar and Animation.

I suppose you might also be wondering, “In what situation might I feel compelled to cite an animated action figure as an authority in one of my briefs?” That one I can conclusively answer: none. There is no situation in which you would need to or should do this.

Related“An Open Source Bluebook May Be Just Around The Corner”

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Categories: Teknoids Blogs

An Open Source Bluebook May Be Just Around The Corner

Wed, 10/08/2014 - 21:00

Looks like the good people at the Harvard Law Review who have been aggressively protecting the copyright of our be-loathed Bluebook against all those who would let legal citation free into the wild forgot to renew the copyright on the 10th Edition.

As a consequence, the 10th edition is in the public domain. Public Resource will thus publish an electronic version of the 10th Edition. [...]

[W]e have embarked on a joint project with Public Resource to create and publish a public domain version of The Bluebook – a project we refer to as Baby Blue. Our project will mix public domain portions of the 19th edition with newly-created material that implements the Bluebook’s system of citation in a fully usable form.

Couldn’t have happened to a nicer book.

Categories: Teknoids Blogs